Date Of Visit: February 2, 2019
Location: The Point, Salem, MA
Parking: Street parking is available in the area and the closest parking garage is at 10 Congress St
Handicapped Accessible: Yes
Dog Friendly: Yes
Summary: Rich in history and art, The Point neighborhood is one of the less noticed areas of Salem, MA.
Salem isn’t just about witches and ghost tours.
Cackling witches, costumed partiers and other tourists flock to the downtown historical Salem area every Halloween. But, they often drive or walk past one of the more interesting parts of Salem.
The interesting thing about The Point, besides its history and the street art that is scattered throughout the neighborhood, is that is a mere half a mile (give or take) south of the bustling Essex Street and other commercial areas of Salem.
Located off Congress St, The Point encompasses mostly Peabody and Ward Streets. It is a short walk or drive from the intersection of Congress and Hawthorne streets. One landmark to look for is Shetland Industrial Park. You can easily spot the area of Congress St by the murals that are visible from the street.
But, The Point area wasn’t always known for street art. Once the main area for fish drying along the peninsula, The Point was the center for Salem’s early maritime business and played a critical role in the economic development of the area. These wooden fish drying “stages” gave the area its original name of Stage Point. Once the peninsula was filled in, the mostly French-Canadian mill workers adopted the name “La Pointe” for the area.
The Point would later become a hub for leather and shoe workshops in the early 19th century, The Point utilized its proximity to the harbor to take in imports such as coal and cotton. One of the chief companies in this trade was a company founded by several Salem merchants called the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company (there’s that name again – see previous Facebook post if you’re scratching your head right now).
As the area attracted more and more immigrant workers to the growing industries, boarding houses and company owned tenements (with modest rents I’m sure) were built to accommodate the growing population.
Sadly, the area would be destroyed by the “Great Fire of 1914” which destroyed 1,376 buildings and made over 18,000 people homeless or jobless. Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company remained there, though. At least until a wildcat strike in 1933 which highlighted the tensions between management and the workers.
Eventually, the Naumkeag business began to move their production to South Carolina in the 1940s and the company closed in 1953. I’ve always found it interesting how the demographics of the various areas in New England (and the country) shift with the changing business landscapes. As the Naumkeag company began to close mills, the French-Canadian people began to migrate. In their place, new immigrants, chiefly from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. This diverse community exists largely in the area. The name of the area changed yet again to “El Punto.”
Murals and street art are spread throughout the “El Punto” area. One of the first works of art you may notice is this mural on the side of a business.
From the Congress St entrance to The Point, there are two streets. Most of the art is on these two streets. On Peabody Street there is a series of works of art along a fence created by artists in the area. Unfortunately, the shadows were a little tough to work around and I was working on a tight schedule so I wouldn’t wait for better light. This is a prime example of why mid day light is one of the worst times to photograph, although it is a common time for people to go out and photograph because you can’t always shoot during the blue or golden hours. So, you work around the elements. Luckily, I did have some cloud cover for some of the shoot which helped. Also, the streets are very busy with traffic, so do take care if you go and parking is tight on this street. I love how many of the murals look like art you might see in a museum or in a book.
I had to take some of the photos from unusual angles due to the parked cars on the streets and because of the areas where some of the murals were located. For instance, this work of art of a woman with a chicken was located at the corner of a building which didn’t have a wide enough walkway to photograph from. There were actually many murals on the buildings on Peabody and Ward streets.
There were several spots on the buildings like this.
These murals on the apartment buildings in the aea and businesses were easier to photograph from the street. I especially like the art that has a three dimensional feel to them.
The murals are not just on Peabody and Ward streets though. In fact, you have to hunt for a few of the street art (some of which may technically not be in The Point area).
These works of art were located in an alleyway off Lafayette St. There were lights strung up between the buildings in this alley. I can only imagine they look even prettier, and are more fun to photograph, during the evening hours. Mental note, come back for some evening photography another time.
And this lone mural was located on an unnamed (or at least there wasn’t a sign for the street) adjacent to Ward St. Sometimes I wonder how annoying it must be for people who live in these buildings or in the area to have people stop by to take photographs. But, I will also mention how on my many excursions to this area I have never been bothered. People are both friendly and, I assume, used to seeing people in their neighborhood taking photos. Naturally, I do try to be respectful and not spend too much time taking shots. Despite the good nature of the people there I can’t help but feel like an intruder of sorts.
The Point is not just a place for art, though. There is also a park at The Point, logically called Peabody Street Park (15 Peabody Street). The park has trees, benches, a jungle gym and some pretty views from the Salem Harbor Walk.
There are also ceramic works of art from that appear to have been made by children that line the walls in the park.
Birdhouses are placed in some of the trees at the park.
There is also a mural from the downtown Salem area across the river which is visible from the Salem Harbor Walk.
This mural is on a business located on Derby St not far from the Point. It shows just how close the busy tourist area is to the largely unnoticed Point area.
With its beautiful works of art, pretty views and charm, The Point is definitely one of New England’s hidden gems.
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