Then & Now: Model T Memories
This building gives us a glimpse of the transition from horses to horseless carriages.
The area where this building stands has a long history dating back to the beginnings of Salem.
In October of 1649, Robert Buffum, aka 'Goodman' Buffum was given a grant of 40 acres of upland and five acres of meadow and marsh as recorded in the Book of Grants for Salem. Buffum built a homestead and this area became known as ‘Buffum’s Corner’.
This designation gave rise to a Salem expression — “it’s just one mile from Buffum’s Corner to the Neck Gate.” There are many mentions in Salem histories of Buffum’s Corner and this proverb. In 1991, The Buffum Family Association erected and dedicated a 400th anniversary memorial to Robert Buffum in Harmony Grove Cemetery.
As Salem developed, the land was divided and sold, becoming the site of the A. S. Rogers Shoe factory in the late 1800s. That factory was removed and a single-family residence was built here at 405 Essex St. in 1898.
On June 25th 1914, the Great Fire of Salem swept down Boston Street and
burned that residence as the fire consumed 1,376 buildings in a swath of destruction.
In the aftermath of the fire, the City of Salem appointed the Salem Rebuilding
Commission to oversee and enforce tightened building codes. Combination
industrial and residential buildings were required to be of fire proof construction
or exterior masonry construction not to exceed four stories in height.
With the advent of the model T car and later models, automobiles were growing in popularity and rapidly become a must-have possession. By 1915, there were some two million cars in the entire country. In Massachusetts in 1914, there were some 77,000 cars registered along with 7,000 trucks.
These vehicles generated a number of new professions to see to their upkeep and repair. More often than not, the first garages or repair facilities were converted stables as horses gave way to these new carriages. Blacksmiths and machinists became mechanics for the cars.
As the automotive industry took hold, new garages were built that focused on this new specialized service where cars could be serviced with fuel and repaired if needed.
Robert Robeson, who lived on Boston Street, decided to build a new garage for cars on this land cleared by the fire. It is easy to imagine that Mr.Robeson wanted to hedge his bet on the future of the automotive industry by adding apartments to the building. Given that the area was rapidly being rebuilt, it was obvious that factory workers would be in need of local housing. He was correct — early census data shows the apartments were rented by machinists and shoe workers at local factories. These apartments have continued to offer housing ever since. Recent census data shows that a number of students have rented the apartments along with local trades people.
The result of the combination of the evolving design of car service garages and building code changes is the building we see in the attached photographs. It is a very interesting design which recalls the early days of automobiles with its single central vehicle entry to the garage reminiscent of carriage houses and stables. The yellow brick exterior, now painted white, complied with the then new fire proof design.
Robeson’s Garage rapidly became a fixture here and stayed in business until 1941 when the garage changed hands and was renamed Cooper’s Garage. Cooper’s Garage was also successful in this area. As the photographs show, the garage added gas pumps over the years and became a full service station.
Cooper’s Garage with its Shell Service Station remained in business here until the early 21st century when the building became the headquarters for ASAP Drain Cleaning Company which remains here.