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Salem Post Office

by Jen Ratliff on 2024-02-06T08:36:30-05:00 | 0 Comments

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In 1930, Congress approved a fund of $360,000 (about $6.6 million in 2024) to erect a new post office in Salem at the intersection of Norman, Margin, and Creek streets. The location had been one of six suggested to the federal government in a report by a special committee of the Salem Chamber of Commerce, which wrote it was “strongly of the opinion that a Norman Street site with the widened streets and reconstruction of the whole area, bounded by Summer, Norman, and Margin streets, and Broad Street extension will not only prove very pleasing to all the people but will be a stimulus to residence building and business development, which will more than repay the city for its outlay.” The committee was chaired by Postmaster John H. Sheedy, and members included the president of Salem Normal School (now Salem State), J. Asbury Pitman, and landscape architect, Harlan P. Kelsey, who all publicly advocated for the location. Kelsey stated, “It is going to make a great difference in the future development of Salem in the proper direction…”

The idea of reconstructing this neighborhood had long been a topic of discussion. The Salem Evening News wrote in September 1925, “Everybody agrees that doubling the width of Norman Street would be one grand improvement as it would furnish a fine, wide, inviting artery for the accommodation of traffic which would with such a street, steer away from Town House Square, thus relieving much of the congestion at this heavily traveled point.” Plans showed the curb of Norman Street being aligned with the curb of Chestnut Street to create a straight thoroughfare, connecting Highland Avenue to Salem’s downtown.

The area between Margin, Summer, and Gedney streets was once known as Roast Meat Hill. According to Fred Gannon’s “Nicknames and Neighborhoods and Album of Pictures of Old Salem” Roast Meat Hill was where “an ox was once barbecued” Hence, the name. These streets contained multiple examples of 17th and 18th-century architecture, including the c. 1665 Gedney House on High Street. The neighborhood was predominantly Black throughout the 19th century; home to successful Black-owned businesses and active members of the abolitionist movement. The neighborhood transitioned into Salem’s Little Italy around the turn of the 20th century. Between 1880 and 1924, more than four million Italians immigrated to the United States. The majority traveled from Southern Italy and Sicily. More than two million Italian immigrants arrived in the United States within a single decade, between 1900 and 1910.

The demolition list included 16 structures on Norman Street, 6 on Margin Street, 20 on Creek Street, and 9 on Gedney Court, making a total of 51 buildings. The Beverly Wrecking Company was charged with the task of demolishing the first 28 of them. Other projects included installing and updating the area’s underground sewer and water mains. This employed more than 250 men, one of many initiatives throughout the city supported by Mayor George J. Bates to create employment using federal funds during the Great Depression.

In July 1931, The Salem Evening News listed addresses and last names affected by the first round of razing.

“The List of Buildings to be demolished in the area affected by the city's program follows: Margin Street – 2, 4, Tassinari; 28, 32. Calabrese and Grasso (brick building). Norman Street - 15, Tassinari: 25, 27, Grasso; 29, 31, Winer; 33, 35, 37, Diozzi; 39, Curran; 41, Phillips; 43. Phillips. Creek Street – 3, Grasso and Calabrese: 5. Quartrone; 7. Febonio; 9 1/2. Pardo: 9, Garro; 11-13. Rosetti: 15, Viselli; 17, Defranco; 19, Colletti; 21, Todd. Gedney Court – 7, 9, 11, Todd; 13, Luca, 15, LaMonica; 17, Garro; 19, Garro.”

Not everyone was supportive of this project. In October, John J. Condonis of Margin Street refused to vacate his home in accordance with the eminent domain process and was arrested after he failed to appear in federal court. He was later released after he promised to relocate.

Clearing the new post office site began in August 1931.

One of the buildings razed, the Ruck House at 8 Margin Street, was considered one of the oldest homes in Salem at the time. It had a prestigious past, including visits by John Adams and John Singleton-Copley.

The Salem Evening News reported: “Included among the buildings of historical interest in the post office area is the Ruck house on Margin Street, the third from the corner of Norman Street, which was built by Thomas Ruck before 1651. The oldest portion of the house is the northerly section. The building remained in the Ruck family until 1751 when the old part was conveyed to Joseph McIntire, joiner, father of Samuel McIntire, the famous architect…Many of the present buildings contain valuable woodwork and decorations for which the contractor has already had several offers.” Lumber from the Ruck House was salvaged and repurposed at Pioneer Village in one of the reproduction colonial structures. That building was lost to a fire in the late 1960s. A new structure was quickly built, also named the Ruck House, but it was destroyed by arsonists in 1978. 

The Salem Post Office was designed by architect Robert W. Hadley of Smith and Walker and mimics elements of the Georgian style. It is considered Salem’s best example of Colonial Revival architecture. Additionally, the building featured office space for other federal agencies, a first for Salem. Contractor Louis B. Cadarlo broke ground in July 1932 and the cornerstone of the building was placed that September. The project generated many jobs at the height of the Great Depression and the work was celebrated upon its completion.

On July 13, 1933, a dedication lunch for the new post office was held at the nearby Hawthorne Hotel. In attendance was First Assistant Postmaster General, Joseph C. O’Mahoney. O’ Mahoney was a former resident of Salem, who gained recognition in Wyoming when he was campaign manager for Nellie Tayloe Ross, the first woman in the United States to serve as governor of a state. She later became the first woman director of the U.S. Mint. O’Mahoney later served as senator of Wyoming.

The Salem Post Office opened a few weeks later, on July 31, 1933.

In 1986, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places due to its architecture and ornamentation.

Digitized Archives
Salem Post Office Photographs and Ephemera

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