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The Historic Derby Street Neighborhood

by Jen Ratliff on 2023-08-01T08:35:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

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The Historic Derby Street Neighborhood is perhaps the best example of Salem’s diverse and ever-changing history. The land was once part of the largest Native village inhabited by the Naumkeag people. Europeans began settling in here after 1626 and many of Salem’s remaining first-period homes line lower Essex Street, including the 1667 Stephen Daniels House, 1675 Narbonne House, and c. 1688 William Murray House. As Salem’s maritime industry bustled, seafarers built their stately homes in the neighborhood to be close to their wharves. As wealth increased in the early-to-mid 19th century, Salem’s elite moved to newly built estates on quieter picturesque streets such as Washington Square and Chestnut Street. Their former waterfront neighborhood became home to Irish immigrants looking for work in the city’s factories and mills.

In the early 20th century, the neighborhood transitioned again, this time from being an Irish neighborhood to predominantly Polish. Like the Irish, Polish immigrants were attracted to job opportunities in the city’s mills and factories. Polish immigrants began arriving in Salem around 1890 and by 1911, they 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. Masses in Polish had long taken place in the basement of the Church of Immaculate Conception, an Irish parish on the corner of Hawthorne Boulevard.



Beginning in 1903, Herbert Street and Union Street became the heart of the Polish Catholic community, with the construction of St. John the Baptist Church, a parochial school, convent, and rectory. Polish clubs, businesses, and restaurants continued to line Derby Street for the first half of the 20th century but began to wane as second and third generations spread out across the city and North Shore.

The settlement house at The House of the Seven Gables on Turner Street had attracted neighborhood residents since opening in 1910. The organization used museum proceeds to fund classes, social gatherings, and medical care to benefit Salem’s immigrant community.



In 1970, following a fire at their Hollywood studio, the television show “Bewitched” filmed several episodes in Salem and surrounding towns. The House of the Seven Gables was famously featured in one of these episodes and tourism to Salem following its premier spiked. That same year, Laurie Cabot opened America’s first witch shop one block away at the corner of Derby and Carlton streets.

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.

Digitized Archives
Derby Street Photographs and Ephemera
Polish National Alliance Records
The Great Salem Fire of 1914 Photographs and Ephemera
Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Records
The Great Depression Blog Post

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