Salem Willows Historic District

Salem Willows is a historic district in Salem, Massachusetts and is home to Salem Willows Park. The district spans 100 acres and is located on Salem Neck, a peninsula in the northeastern section of Salem.

Most of the Salem Willows and Salem Neck area was used for firewood and cattle grazing during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Salem Willows area, which is named after the European white willow trees planted there in 1801, has two significant features: the Juniper Point neighborhood and the Salem Willows amusement park.

Salem Neck:

In the 17th century, the residential area of the Salem Willows Historic District on Salem Neck was home to Mordecai Crawford, a fisherman who built a house near the causeway leading to Winter Island around 1677.

During the 18th century, a local tanner named John Ives owned a farm on Salem Neck. Ives sold 40 acres of this land in the mid-18th century to farmer Richard Derby Sr who then built the Derby House on the property in 1758. The house was used as a tavern and still stands today at 5 Columbus Square.

In 1776, Fort Lee was built on what is now Fort Ave on Salem Neck to help defend Salem harbor against an attack by the British during the Revolutionary War.

View of Salem Willows from Fort Lee,  photo by Frank Cousins circa 1914
View of Salem Willows from Fort Lee, photo by Frank Cousins circa 1914

In 1910, a section of wooded land on what is now Memorial Drive was used as a tuberculosis day camp called Camp Naumkeag and the first building was constructed at the camp in 1916.

The buildings at Camp Naumkeag were destroyed in a fire caused by a storm in 1931. These buildings were rebuilt the following year and the camp was renamed the Salem Health Camp in 1934.

The camp was later used as a day camp by the Carpenter Street Home for Children and then the Salem Girls Scouts from the 1940s until 1964 when the Naumkeag Association formed and began operating it as Camp Naumkeag.

After a local business man John C. B. Smith died in 1925 and left some of his land on Fort Ave near Cat Cove to the city, his widow bequeathed $20,000 to the city of Salem in 1933 for the construction of a salt-water pool on the land as a memorial to her husband. A bathhouse was also constructed on the property and the land opposite of the pool became a city park.

During WWII, the Coast Guard, which had a station nearby on Winter Island, closed the Smith pool for security reasons and it remained closed even after the war ended.

In 1949, a section of land that was once part of the City Farm at the Almshouse near Collins Cove was turned into an athletic field and park called Memorial Park.

In 1962, the bathhouse and summer houses at the Smith pool were demolished but the pool remained.

The city then agreed to turn the Smith pool land over to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1963 in order to build a marine biology research facility.

The Block House Square Fire Station was built on Fort Ave in 1952.

In 1960, two acres of Memorial Park were transferred to the School Department for construction of a school. The Bentley School, a public school building, was constructed the following year on the Memorial Park land on what is now Memorial Drive.

In 1970, the Cat Cove Marine Laboratory was built on the Smith pool land on Fort Ave.

Salem Willows Park:

In August of 1639, the land at Pignal Point on the eastern shore of Collins Cove was granted to Thomas Pickton.

This four-acre lot was later owned by Daniel and Hannah Darling and transferred to their son William Rotch, a local whaler, on July 16, 1718 and became known as Rotch’s Point and later Roaches Point (Curley 2012.)

In 1723, Rotch sold this land to Benjamin Ives who then exchanged it with the town for land adjacent to his farm on the lower end of Salem Neck in 1739.

In 1747, the city built a “pest house,” which was a smallpox hospital, on this land near the wharf at Collins Cove. In addition, the city also established a quarantine burial ground on the grounds of the pest house for the patients who died.

In 1799, the pest house at Collins Cove was discontinued after a new pest house was built that year at nearby Hospital Point and an almshouse was built on the spot in 1816.

In 1801, the city planted numerous European white willow trees in what is now Salem Willows Park to create a shaded place where the nearby smallpox hospital patients could walk and get some exercise.

In 1844, a Hospital for Contagious Disease, which also served as an insane asylum, was built next to the almshouse.

Salem Willows was designated a city park in 1858. The park is 35 acres in size and contains three beaches, a sandy beach at the northeastern edge of the park, called Juniper Beach, and two beaches along the western shore of the park called Dead Horse Beach and Fort Pickering Beach.

In the 1870s, a number of restaurants opened along the north shore of the park, such as Judge Chase’s Willow House, which opened in 1874. This area soon became known as Restaurant Row and became popular for its “shore dinners” which consisted of fried fish, lobster, and chowder and was offered at all the restaurants on the row.

Salem Willows, Restaurant row, photo by Frank Cousins, circa 1914
Salem Willows, Restaurant row, photo by Frank Cousins, circa 1914

The amusement park at Salem Willows opened on June 10, 1880. At the time, the park consisted of the Willows Park Theater, where visitors could watch concerts and opera, a carousel known as the Hippodrome, and a ballroom known as Professor Kennerson’s Casino at the corner of Bay View Avenue.

In 1885, the local Negro Election Day celebration is moved from Lynn to the Salem Willows Park. The event celebrated the anniversary of the first black voting day in 1740 when members of the black community began electing a governor each year to serve as a leader of the black community.

In 1890, a casino and the Salem Willows Park Pavilion were constructed at Salem Willows Park.

A sea wall was constructed around the park in 1899 to protect it during storms.

Salem Willows Park, photo by Frank Cousins, circa 1914
Salem Willows Park, photo by Frank Cousins, circa 1914

In 1904, a women’s cottage, which was a public restroom for women, was built at Salem Willows Park and a men’s cottage was in built in 1905.

In 1910, Swenbeck’s Park Café opened at Salem Willows Park and became a staple of Restaurant Row.

The Charleshurst Ballroom, owned by Charles Schribman, opened at the park in the 1920s and a police station was constructed at the park in 1932.

In the late 1940s, the first annual Antique and Horribles Parade, a satirical event making fun of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company military parade, was staged on the 4th of July by local residents from Juniper Point. The parade, which is now simply known as the Horribles parade, has continued ever since and now satirizes local public figures, elected officials and current news events.

Around the 1940s, the restaurants at Restaurant Row slowly began to close down and, on July 12, 1952, the Chase House restaurant burned down.

The almshouse at Collins Cove was demolished in 1954. The contagious disease hospital building there remained and served as the Chronic Disease & Rehabilitation Hospital until the building was condemned by the State Department of Public Health in 1970 and the business relocated elsewhere in 1974.

The Salem Willows Park Memorial Shell was constructed in 1965 and the park gate was built in 1968.

In the 1980s, the city sold the land where the contagious disease hospital building was located and the building was demolished in 1985 and replaced by the Collins Cove Condominiums. The quarantine burial ground still exists on the grounds but only one headstone has survived.

Juniper Point Neighborhood:

During the early to mid-18th century, the Juniper Point neighborhood was owned by local farmer Jonathan Dustin.

In 1871, the Dustin family sold a lease of the land, on Juniper Point and Winter Island, to Edward Webber. Webber assigned this lease to Thomas and Daniel Gardner the following year. On September 24, 1875, Daniel Gardner purchased all 45 acres of the lease for $21,000.

Gardner then filed two plans to subdivide this land: a plan to build a series of cottage lots, which he filed in October of 1875, and a plan to build a series of house lots, which he filed in November of 1875.

Gardner began to sell the lots shortly after and the Juniper Point neighborhood continued to be developed well into the early 20th century although it hasn’t changed much since then.

Juniper Point in Salem, view from steam boat wharf, photo by Frank Cousins circa 1914
Juniper Point in Salem, view from steam boat wharf, photo by Frank Cousins circa 1914

A small neighborhood park, Columbus Square, was established in 1915 on a triangular-shaped piece of land between Fort Ave and Winter Island Road.

In 1945, the Salem World War II Monument, a boulder with a bronze plaque attached to the front, was erected on Beach Ave overlooking Juniper Beach in honor of four local Salem residents who died during the war.

In 1950, the Juniper Playground was constructed on Beach Ave.

Sources:
“Salem Neck and Winter Island.” Essex Institute Historical Collections Vol. XXXIII, Essex Institute, 1898, pp: 83-104
“Salem Willows.” Salem Web, salemweb.com/tales/willows.php
Curely, Jerome. “From Small Pox to Poverty – Salem’s Public Health History.” The Patch, 18 May. 2012, patch.com/massachusetts/salem/evolution-of-a-point
“Salem Willows Black Festival.” Salem Willows Arcade, willowsarcade.com/event/annual-black-picnic/
Ratliff, Jen. “Camp Naumkeag.” Salem State University, 30 Nov. 2020, libguides.salemstate.edu/home/archives/blog/Camp-Naumkeag
“Swenbeck’s Shore Dinners.” Salem State University, di.salemstate.edu/salemfood/exhibits/show/salem-menus–1912-1965/swenbeck-s-shore-dinners
Jacques, Kiley. “Salem Willows Park.” 17 June. 2015, North Shore Magazine, nshoremag.com/community-news/salem-willows-park/
“Salem Willows.” The Historical Marker Database, hmdb.org/m.asp?m=85992
“Park.” Salem Willows Arcade and Park, willowsarcade.com/park/
McAllister, Jim. “McAllister: ‘The Willows,’ Genteel Through the Years,” Salem News, 22 April. 2013, salemnews.com/opinion/mcallister-the-willows-genteel-through-the-years/article_57d9e6ee-3fcc-5622-a901-49f08fc201b5.html
McAllister, Jim. “Essex County Chronicles: Salem Willows Still a Favorite Picnic Ground for Many.” Salem News, 27 Sept. 2010, salemnews.com/opinion/essex-county-chronicles-salem-willows-still-a-favorite-picnic-ground-for-many/article_0baaa5af-a510-554a-b3a1-735d0f5f04a3.html
“Salem Willows Historic District.” MACRIS, Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System, mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=SAL.HA
“Salem Willows.” The Historical Marker Database, hmdb.org/m.asp?m=85992
Brody, Sharon. “Celebrating a black voting tradition in Mass.” WBUR, 16 July. 2022, wbur.org/news/2022/07/16/celebrating-a-black-voting-tradition-in-mass
“Negro Election Day History.” Salem United, salemunitedinc.org/about-me-text

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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