To the editor:
When I first started writing about streets, I received an interesting email from a reader who as a child had moved within Salem from Peabody Street to Buffum Street. He still clearly remembers the smells of Buffum Street after a spring rain, and freezing air on winter mornings after a new snow. “It was so cold,” he wrote, “that it would take my breath away as I raced down Buffum Street hill on my American Flyer sled.”
The Buffums of New England are descendants of an early Quaker, Robert Buffum, who came to Salem from Buffum, Yorkshire, England in 1634.
Because Quakers refused to attend Puritan religious services, they were brought into court and fined at regular intervals.
Robert’s son Joshua was banished from the colony for being a Quaker. He went to Rhode Island but later returned to Salem when the Puritan climate here became more tolerant.
Fifth in line from the original ancestor was Jonathan Buffum, for whom Buffum Street is named. He and his brother Caleb laid out the North Salem street through their land, noted in an 1806 deed as “a new Road or Street called Buffum Street.” (Essex Registry of Deeds, 179: 21).
Jonathan was both a farmer and a tailor who made his living by farming his “considerable” land. In 1818, he built a substantial house at the corner of Harmony Street, which, according to Wm. D. Dennis in the Saturday Evening Observer (June 29, 1912), was for quite a while the only house on the street.
In the mid-19th century, a Harvard-educated Quaker named George F. Read kept a school at his home at 30 Buffum St. Although he was known in the community as a cheerful man, he wore the traditional drab outfit with a long cloak and attended meetings at the Friends Meeting House, corner of Essex and North Pine streets, even after the membership had decreased until finally he was the only one sitting in the room!
The famous Salem Gibralter is identified with Buffum Street, where Mrs. Spencer from England made the first batches using sugar, water, cream of tartar, corn starch, and oil of peppermint — then peddled them in a horse-drawn wagon from one shop to the next where they caught on fast, becoming known far and wide.
Later, the company was sold to John W. Pepper, who opened a candy factory on Buffum Street, where Gibralters continued to be made and the equally famous Black Jack was invented.
Today, you can still buy “original” Gibralters and Black Jacks — souvenirs of 19th century Buffum Street — at Ye Olde Pepper Companie, right across the street from The House of the Seven Gables.