June 5, 2019

Resource Guide - Polish Community of Salem, Massachusetts



Polish Industrial Bank on Derby Street
Polish Industrial Bank on Derby Street, c. 1920s
Salem State University Archives and Special Collections
In the early 20th century, Salem's Historic Derby Street Neighborhood was predominantly Polish. Attracted to job opportunities in the city’s mills and factories, Polish immigrants began arriving in Salem around 1890 and by 1911, Poles comprised about 8% of the city’s overall population. Religion played a strong role in the Polish community and as the number of Polish Catholics in Salem grew, the need for a permanent house of worship became apparent. Herbert Street and Union Street became the heart of the Polish Catholic presence in the city, after the opening of St. John the Baptist Church, a parochial school, convent, and rectory. St. John the Baptist’s Reverend John Czubek was a central figure in this community, marrying or baptizing many of Salem’s Poles. 

The new church increased the settlement of Polish immigrants in the neighborhood and multiple single-family homes were converted or replaced with multi-family tenements to house the growing population. The neighborhood became a tight knit hub of all Polish activities. Multiple shops, restaurants, and social clubs lined Derby Street and its offshoots, catering to Poles from all regions and religions. The House of the Seven Gables, the namesake of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel, played a crucial role in this community. Caroline Emmerton opened the museum in 1910 to support her adjacent settlement house, which provided classes and workshops to the local immigrant community, a role the museum still honors to this day.

In 1976, The Historic Derby Street Neighborhood was designated a National Historic District due in large part to the hard work of neighborhood residents, led by sisters Alice and Dolores Jordan.

Resources for the history of Poles in Salem, Massachusetts: