To the editor:
As another anniversary of Leslie’s Retreat draws near, certain North Salem street names come into focus as permanent markers of this important day.
Feb. 26, 1775, was a freezing cold Sunday that would later be remembered and recorded in history books for the events that unfolded at Salem’s North Bridge.
On that afternoon, Capt. John Felt of the Salem militia, for whom Felt Street is named, was able to convince Col. Alexander Leslie, commander of the British troops, that it would not be in his best interest to open fire on the townsmen who had gathered at the scene.
Leslie and his troops had been sent in search of cannon and stockpiled ammunition.
The colonel was clearly frustrated and angry because he could not cross the bridge with the draw up as it was.
When he realized that the locals had no intention of lowering the draw, he instructed an officer to “face about this company and fire upon those people.”
With well-chosen words, Felt quickly answered, “Fire! You had better be dammed than fire! You have no right to fire without further orders! If you do fire, you will all be dead men.”
Capt. Felt, who later owned sizable lands in Northfields, lived on Lynde Street near the North Church, which stood about where Wesley United Methodist Church is now. A story is told that one Sunday after the minister had ended a sermon with “God save the king!” Felt boarded up his pew.
In his younger days, Felt was a shoreman, owning vessels that traded along the coast. To supplement his living, he made shoes and was known as a skillful cordwainer. Later, he became a merchant, and according to John Emery Morris in the “Felt Genealogy,” probably traded in West India goods. His warehouse was near North Bridge.
Felt Street was laid out in 1805 through Capt. Felt’s North Salem estate. Because of its shady location, the street was known locally as Lovers’ Lane. It runs from 63 Dearborn to the junction of Orne and Sargent.
Most of the houses here are relatively new, dating from 1914 to 1950. There are two older houses: One, lately called “the other Ropes mansion,” is being happily restored by its new owners. The second is a Colonial-style dwelling built about 1807.
The old Lynde Street house that belonged to Capt. Felt was later moved to 47 Federal St. At one time, it had a tearoom by the name of “The Nook.” It is now the law office of Hensey Judge, P.C.