, Salem, MA

January 10, 2013

Letter: Looking back at Salem's Mason Street

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

Mason Street was originally part of the area known as “paradise.” Here on a hill, Capt. Jonathan Mason, for whom the street is named, built himself a large, handsome house.

Mason, a merchant who had commanded an armed brig in the Revolutionary War, was well-respected by his neighbors for initiating several neighborhood improvements — namely, a barber shop, a newspaper, a burial ground and a school (Northfield School). It is also said that on more than one occasion he served as a local arbitrator.

Mason Street, which runs from North to Grove streets, was laid out as a public way June 23, 1798. According to historian Joseph B. Felt, it was named in 1820. It appears on the 1820 map of Salem.

Circus performances were once held at the grounds here, near the foot of Barr Street. On the evening of May 9, 1848, during a grossly overpacked show of the Sands, Lent & Co. Circus, an entire section or two of occupied seats fell, taking with them several hundred spectators. Needless to say that although no one was seriously injured, the evening ended in mass confusion and vandalism of circus property.

In 1855, the Salem and South Danvers Oil Co. opened at No. 43. At first, the company manufactured resin oil and candles, later expanding its operations to include curriers’ greases, cylinder and machinery oils, lard, varnish, acids, ammonia, naphtha, kerosene, and gasoline, which was kept in stock.

With its history of fires, and changes of ownership and names, this enterprise was not to vacate Mason Street until 1941.

Throughout the years, Salem has produced some creative entrepreneurs. One who lived on Mason Street was Willard B. Porter, a potter who designed and crafted a Salem witch souvenir pipe that he advertised in early 20th-century housekeeping magazines as “an ideal Christmas gift.” The bowl of the pipe was a cauldron and the stem, a broom.

Both education and floriculture have figured in this street story. City directories show a primary school from 1850 to 1872. And Francis Putnam, a Salem florist, once owned a greenhouse on the street.

Mason Street is a thoroughfare. Part of it abuts Mack Park (formerly Ledge Hill Park for its extensive rocky ledge). After climbing the park’s 75 steps, you can get an excellent view of the city from the top of the hill. Remember to bring a camera and field glasses!

Jeanne Stella