Salem's "Big Dig" - Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, MA, USA

Washington Street looking toward Salem's Eastern Railroad Depot.(Pre-1888)

In July 1949, well before Boston, Salem embarked on its own “Big Dig” project. To better manage the city’s increased downtown traffic and unite the divided shopping district, city officials proposed the reorganization of Salem’s railroad system, including the replacement of the 1839 railroad tunnel. A new tunnel was recommended; it would move the tracks underground from Bridge Street through Washington Street and to the foot of Canal Street. The $5,500,000 project was overseen by contractor Tony Farina of Farina Brothers, Inc. and was divided into three stages. The plan was met with both optimism and apprehension by locals and business owners. Many merchants worried that instead of bettering Salem’s downtown, the construction would ultimately drive shoppers away. The project was often met with delays, partly due to the fact that regular railroad traffic could not be halted during the construction process. Portions of the new tunnel were built while the old tunnel was still in service only feet away.
Washington Street during tunnel construction, 1958
After nearly a decade, on Friday July 31, 1958, a crowd of 10,000 gathered to watch the end of one era and beginning of another. The last train through the old tunnel departed, as scheduled, for Boston at 8:12pm. It was followed by a brief ceremony with local officials and a ribbon cutting for the new tunnel by Boston & Maine Railroad President Patrick B. McGinnis. At 9:15 pm, a special train from Beverly with over 600 people on board made the first passage through the new tunnel as crowds cheered from above.
In the following days, after serving Salem for 120 years, the old tunnel was filled in and Washington Street paved. Boston & Maine Railroad reminisced about this transformation in their Fall 1975 bulletin, stating:
“Looking back today, the glory that was promised Salem by the opening of the new complex has not come to pass. Beset by all the problems of cities in general, Salem has fared worse than some. The merchants’ early fears that many customers lost during the years of upheaval during construction would not return seem to have been valid. Many people who regularly took the train to Salem to shop gave it up due to the inconvenience of its location and the climb to street level. Today, besieged by the suburban shopping centers on all sides, Salem has turned to Urban Renewal as a last resort to save itself. Much progress has been made but only time will tell what effect it will have on the city’s prosperity. In any case, an era ended with the removal of the railroad from the streets of Salem. It is too late to change of that.”

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections
Images above are from their collections.  

Reverend Joseph J. Czubek - Salem, Massachusetts

Salem, MA, USA

Joseph John Czubek (sometimes referred to as John Czubek) was born on August 8, 1874 in Toledo, Ohio, one of five children belonging to James and Mary (Nowak) Czubek. His parents immigrated to America from the Province of Posen, an area of Prussia that became part of the German Empire in 1871.  At the age of 24, Joseph was ordained at a Polish Seminary in Detroit, Michigan. 

In 1901, Reverend Czubek was beckoned to Salem by Father Chmielewski of Boston, to conduct mass in Polish. These services were given in the basement of an Irish parish, the Church of Immaculate Conception on Hawthorne Boulevard (then Walnut Street.) Czubek was quickly welcomed by Salem’s parishioners due to his support of the need to erect a Polish Catholic church in the city. Reverend Czubek created and tasked a committee with raising over $2,000 needed to purchase and convert a dwelling into a new parish. Following the building’s completion, Czubek was appointed the pastor of St. John the Baptist Polish Roman Catholic Church, which held its first mass at 18-20 Herbert Street on July 3, 1903. 

Reverend Czubek continued expanding the church, purchasing additional buildings on Herbert Street and the surrounding area to house a school, rectory, and a convent.  After only three short years, the church building on Herbert Street had already become inadequate for the growing number of parishioners. Czubek purchased a vacant, former Baptist Church on St. Peter Street and picked a committee to oversee the building’s restoration. The new church was completed in 1909 and the former Herbert Street church was converted into additional classrooms for the Polish parochial school, which had previously occupied the basement.

Reverend Czubek’s legacy was cemented on June 25, 1914 when the Great Salem Fire destroyed 1,600 buildings over 250 acres. More than 14,000 Salemites were displaced from their homes including many from the Derby Street area. After hours of devastation to the city, the fire stopped at the foot of Herbert Street and Central Wharf. Many Poles have credited this to Reverend Czubek. Local lore states that Czubek stood in the middle of Derby Street with holy water and a crucifix, praying for the fire’s end.

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