, Salem, MA

April 18, 2013

Letter: Osborne Street's Mechanic history

The Salem News

---- — To the editor:

“The only Indian settlement in original Salem whose location can be identified from records was near the corner of North and Osborne streets in Salem.”

— Sidney Perley, “The History of Salem, Mass.,” Vol. 1, p. 45.

Here, the first English settlers in the area found a small community of Native Americans living in wigwams.

Osborne Street was originally known as “the road to the fish flakes.” By 1837, however, it was called Mechanic Street. What an odd name for a street, right? Well, not exactly: At the turn of the 19th century, a new class of workers emerged — the metal workers, the skilled craftsmen, the men who built and ran the machines that powered industry. Together with other working-class men, they organized in various parts of the world as “mechanics.”

In 1795, the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association formed with Paul Revere as its first president. Salem’s association organized Oct. 1, 1817.

Salem’s Mechanic Hall, a center for concerts, exhibitions, lectures and, later, theatrical performances, stood on the corner of Essex and Crombie streets. It contained a library of 6,000 volumes. (Incidentally, you can still find Mechanic streets throughout the eastern half of this country, wherever there were Mechanic Institutes.)

In 1869, the name of the street was changed to Osborne. The family house of Henry Osborne and his sister Hannah at No. 24 was well-known by that time as the Osborne house.

Henry was a hatter, in business with his brother Stephen at their hat, cap and fur store on Essex Street. Aside from the robbery that took place at the Osborne store in 1858, business went well for Henry and his brother. Henry’s son the Rev. Louis Osborne made it into “Who’s Who in the World” (1912).

Today, Osborne Street presents a quiet contrast to busy North Street. The Osborne house still stands in its original location with the same house number, except that it is now an apartment building with seven units.

I spoke with the current owner, Claire Chalifour, who has many memories of the Osborne house, once owned by her grandparents. Claire grew up in this house and remembers when it had a shed roof and a McIntire mantel in one of the rooms.

I walked down Osborne Street to see the house. It is large and neat, and the property is well-kept. What an interesting morning I had, discovering Osborne Street and meeting Claire, who clearly values the history of old-town Salem.

Jeanne Stella