SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

March 21, 2008

Essex County Chronicles: Salem's 'Northfields' has a rich history

It may not be a designated historic district, but North Salem possesses plenty of history and character.

For starters, it is the city's oldest neighborhood. Long before the white settlers arrived, the area was inhabited by Native Americans. Rev. John Higginson recalled that a settlement of Naumkeags existed at the intersection of what are now North and Osborne streets when he came to Salem in 1629.

North, Dearborn, Liberty Hill, and Orne are some of the neighborhood's oldest streets. William Dennis, writing in the Salem Observer in 1912, noted that North Street was once "The Country Road" and Dearborn was known as "Liberal" or "Generous" Street because of its width.

The bottom of Liberty Hill Avenue was the site of Cold Spring. This spring was a popular source of fresh water for local inhabitants until recent years. It was also a favorite stopping place for Nathaniel Hawthorne, a one-time Dearborn Street resident, on his rambles around Salem.

Manning Street owes its name to Hawthorne's uncle. Robert Manning, one of America's leading authorities on fruit, who established his famous pomological gardens on Dearborn Street in 1823. Manning's "Book of Fruits" was the last word on the growing of pears, cherries, and other fruits in New England.

Agriculture was the primary activity in North Salem in the 17th and 18th centuries. Maps of Salem in 1700 show the area between the North River and Dearborn Street was subdivided into narrow farms and was known as Northfields. Access to the Salem peninsula was by ferry until the original North Bridge was built in 1744.

According to William Dennis, the area north and west of the bridge near what is now Mason Street and Mack Park was once called "Paradise." North Salem in general was known as Pigeontown (or Pigeonville). Wild pigeons were trapped in the Liberty Hill-Kernwood area and sold at market.

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