A Revolutionary Neighborhood in Salem
A glimpse of the history of this interesting neighborhood
An area of Salem that has always interested me is the small enclave of buildings and stores at the North Bridge entrance to North Salem.
Thinking about it, I can recall being stuck in traffic and reading the small monument plaque explaining Leslie's Retreat that stood for many years just off the overpass of the North River. Reading the plaque I'd try to envision what the area looked like on that Feb. day in 1775. You can refresh your memory about Leslie's Retreat by reading my Patch column from Feb. 28, 2011.
This area of Salem was referred to as the "North Fields" by the early settlers. From the banks of the much wider North River they could glimpse the Native American settlement along the opposite bank in the area that would
become Mason Street. During the early days of Naumkeag and Salem,
the area was accessible by dugout or ferry. The North Fields was privately
owned farm area and considered separate from the main settlement growing along the opposite shore.
At that time the main road from Boston Street to the Salem Ferry to Beverly was an eight foot path along the North River. The first bridge over the river was built in 1640 at the hollow at Boston Street. That bridge was replaced in 1646 by a causeway. This main road was the access to the other settlements in the colony.
For over a hundred years this arrangement worked and resulted in little development in the North Fields area. In 1744 the first North bridge was built giving access to the area as well as another more direct road to Danvers.
The length of this causeway and bridge was 860 feet, eighteen feet wide with an eighteen foot draw in the middle. It was referred to as the "Great Bridge" because of its intricate construction. This was owned by the North Field proprietors but had to be free for residents and kept in good repair or it would be forfeited to the town. In 1755 it was forfeited to the town and a new company was allowed to maintain it which it did until 1789 when it was again forfeited by mutual consent.
At the time of Leslie's Retreat there were few houses in the vicinity of the bridge. Robert Foster's house and adjacent blacksmith shop was on the corner of Franklin and North Streets. Foster was the recipient of the canons the British troops wanted to seize in the confrontation. He was to mount carriages on the cannons in his shop where the Hess Gas Station is today. Nearby were a few other houses. Many of these residents were members of the Foster family.
In 1789 the town rebuilt the North Bridge enlarging and improving the road, making the area more desirable for development. The area rapidly became a mixture of homes and businesses that lined the narrow tree canopied road to Danvers. The road was eventually widened after the Civil War with most trees removed.
In the early 19th century several businesses lined the street mostly on the Mason Street side where there were carpenters, shoemakers, painters and a grocery. At the corner of Mason street, Joseph Dixon the noted inventor had his home and foundry business for some 20 years before moving to New York and making his fortune. In the 1850's Salem and South Danvers Oil Company was on this end of Mason Street.
The few buildings from the 18th century that have survived to this day are at # 98 built around 1750 and #100 which was built around 1800. These two buildings are among the oldest in North Salem.
Number 98 was built shortly after the first North Street bridge was opened. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries this was a multi-family residence for workers in the area. According to the early city census records, this area in the early 1800's was an area with carpentry shops, blacksmiths, tanners, groceries, painters and masons as well as workers for the wood wharf and the Salem Laboratory. The Salem Laboratory located on Laboratory Street (now Foster Street) was incorporated in 1819 and for many years produced chemicals for the various businesses in Salem. It closed down in 1884.
98 North Street remained a residential structure until 1973 when part of the first floor was converted into a store front, housing the Americana Corporation Book Publishers. In 1975 this space was converted into Kiddie Koop Day Care Center. The day care and kindergarten remained here until the late 1990's when it moved around the corner to 11 Foster Street. In the last years of the 20th century DJD Calling Center was here. In 2001 Niko's Cakes took over the property and has remained here providing pastries and special occasion cakes for patrons. The business is currently for sale, according to a sign in the window.
Number 100, the next oldest house in this area was built around 1800 and has been a residence throughout the centuries.
The house at #96 while built around 1890, is notable as a restaurant site since 1950 when John & Ray's Restaurant opened on the lower floor. In 1982 the restaurant was renamed, 96 North Street, and operated as such for about a year. In 1983 the restaurant became Leslie's Retreat after the historical incident just feet away from here. The owners acknowledging the historical nature of the neighborhood have decorated this tavern/ restaurant with an historical motif that calls to mind the American Revolution. Utilizing paintings, prints and photographs they highlight both this action as well as the American Revolution. The overall impression is of a Revolutionary era tavern.
The vintage photograph that shows the commemorative arch highlights how through the years Salem has held commemorations of Leslie's Retreat. The first such memorial took place on July 4th 1862 where the lessons and resolve of the Revolution were utilized to highlight those attitudes needed for the Civil War. The vintage photograph is from the July 4, 1876 centennial celebration. There was also a bicentennial celebration in 1975.