Walking Tour of Franco-American Salem

(RE)DISCOVERING SALEM’S FRANCO-AMERICAN LANDSCAPE: A self-guided walking tour

Stops on the self-guided tour are numbered on this map.
Stops on the self-guided tour are numbered on this map.

1. St. Joseph’s Church on Lafayette Street
This site has been the home of St. Joseph’s Parish since 1884. The 19th-century wooden church was replaced by a brick structure that was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1914. On the eve of the fire, there were 16,000 parishioners. The current International Style church was completed in 1948. Remnants of the brick church can be found underneath the current building, and the statue of St. Joseph that adorned that church is buried somewhere on the grounds. The parish complex also includes a rectory, or “Presbytère,” built in 1917 in the Second Renaissance Revival Style, as well as a school built in 1921 and a convent built in 1962. The parish was the center of the spiritual, social and cultural life of the surrounding neighborhood.

St. Joseph's Church was located at the site of the 135 Lafayette Street apartment building. The brick church shown here was built in 1913.
St. Joseph’s Church was located at the site of the 135 Lafayette Street apartment building. The brick church shown here was built in 1913.

2. “La Pointe”
The streetscape seen from this location on Congress Street is representative of the vernacular architecture of the Point neighborhood after the Great Fire of 1914. Here, Franco-Americans lived, worked, shopped, played and socialized. Small-scale markets and other businesses occupied the first floor of many buildings with residences above. Brick apartments, triple-deckers and two-family homes housed large families whose maternal language was French. An example is 75 Congress Street, where Franco-American families lived above the “Les Canadiens” bar. Anchoring this end of the Point neighborhood was the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company (also called the Pequot Mills), which closed in 1953 and was reopened as Shetland Park office complex in the 1980’s. The mill is what drew thousands of French-Canadians to the city of Salem in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Their labor helped fuel the Industrial Revolution here and in other cities throughout New England. Ethnic enclaves like the Point neighborhood were often called “Petits Canadas” or “Little Canadas.” The photo here was taken by Emile Devoe, a popular Franco-American photographer whose studio was on Congress Street.

Photo of the Point, circa 1950, shows the neighborhood anchored by the Naumkeag Mill (top of photo) and the St. Joseph's Church (1948 structure, bottom of photo).
Photo of the Point, circa 1950, shows the neighborhood anchored by the Naumkeag Mill (top of photo) and the St. Joseph’s Church (1948 structure, bottom of photo).
(photo courtesy of Armand Devoe, private collection)

3. The Old Salem Police Station
Public buildings in Salem are not often associated with the Franco-American community. The brick Colonial Revival building at 17 Central Street was designed by local architect John Gray and built in 1913. Later converted to condominiums, it served as police headquarters until 1992 when the Robert M. St. Pierre Police Station opened on Margin Street. The new police station is named in honor of the Franco-American Chief of Police who grew up in the Point neighborhood and served the city of Salem for 25 years. He is an example of many second- and third-generation Franco-Americans who have contributed to the growth of the city in all areas of public service. Former mayor Jean Levesque, who also grew up in the Point neighborhood, served the city from 1973 to 1983.

4. Essex Street
In the 1930’s and 1940’s, Essex Street was the center of Salem’s busy commercial district. The department stores, theaters, banks, and businesses attracted hundreds of thousands of shoppers per year from throughout the North Shore. While serving the general population, many businesses catered to the French-speakers of Salem with advertisements in the local French-language newspaper, Le Courrier de Salem, and with sales assistants who spoke French. Bernard’s Jewelers, co-founded in 1934 by Raymond Tetrault Sr., is an example of one of many longstanding Franco-American family-owned businesses that were established in the early decades of the 20th century. Originally located at 137 Essex Street (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum property) the store remained on Essex Street well into the 21st century. Many Franco-American family-owned businesses survived and even flourished in Salem while the large department stores folded with the coming of Route 128 and the suburban shopping malls.

5. Former Lyceum Restaurant
The building at 43 Church Street was erected in 1831 as the permanent home of Salem’s lyceum—offering public lectures by leading luminaries on topics of the day. But by the 1970’s, the central business district had fallen on hard times and the lyceum building was slated for demolition. Franco-American Joan Boudreau, who later served as Chair of the Salem Redevelopment Authority, led the downtown revitalization movement when she used her life savings to purchase the structure and renovate it, creating The Lyceum, a popular upscale restaurant opened in 1970. Boudreau was chef and manager for a decade. The restaurant has changed names and owners over the years, but still exists in the original building today. Salem’s urban renewal and economic rebirth since the 1970’s have been tied increasingly to cultural tourism thanks in no small part to another Franco-American, Biff Michaud, whose brainchild, Haunted Happenings, is a hallmark of Salem life each October.

6. Old Town Hall
Dating from 1816-17, The Old Town Hall is the oldest surviving municipal structure in Salem. It is a wonderful example of the Federal Style and portions are attributed to both renowned Boston architect Charles Bullfinch and renowned Salem architect and carver, Samuel McIntyre. Since its opening, the second floor has been used for public gatherings, a tradition which continues to this day. The first floor was designed as a public market, a purpose it served into the 20th century. The Subway Market, a meat market which occupied the lowest level, was owned and operated by the L’Heureux family at the turn of the 20th century. Here patrons could buy all manner of meat products, including the pork that was common in much traditional Franco-American cuisine. The market’s two doorways were on the Front Street facade, flanking the central door. They have since been filled in and today the only clue is the newer brick visible on the lower portion of the building. The main floor is now home to the Salem Museum, but the recently established Salem Farmer’s Market recalls the building’s original use.

7. Lower Lafayette Street
This section of Lafayette Street from New Derby to Harbor served as the main business district for The Point neighborhood, replete with offices, restaurants, shops and bars owned by and catering to members of the Franco-American community. At the center of the stretch was 94-96 Lafayette, a grand brick building originally constructed as a garage and rebuilt following the 1914 fire. Beginning in the 1920’s this was the home of The Canadian Klondike Club, a French-Canadian social club founded at the turn of the 20th century. The club occupied the second floor. Large windows overlooked the ballroom where countless dances, wedding receptions and other festivities took place. Over the years, the building’s other floors have housed a bowling alley, a billiard lounge, furniture stores, and a beauty supply store. For most of the 20th century the Lafayette Hotel and the nearly block-long yellow-brick Lincoln Hotel faced each other at Harbor Street. Both were owned by Franco-Americans. While many of the street-level facades on the east side of Lafayette now boast Spanish names, reflecting the changing ethnic makeup of this historic neighborhood, Lower Lafayette has remained home to a number of Franco-American-owned family businesses with names like Soucy, Deschamps, Gangon, Delande and Bainville. This blend of cultures and names speaks to the ongoing and critical role immigrants have had and continue to play in Salem’s economic life.

8. Monument to Veterans from St. Joseph’s Parish
The monument in Lafayette Park honors the memory of the 2,105 Franco-American parishioners from St. Joseph’s, formerly located across the street, who served in the two world wars. Erected in 1947 and entitled “La Victoire du deuil” (“Mourning Victory”), the granite statue was designed by Franco-American architect Norman Nault, a native of Worcester, Massachusetts. The central figure, with a sword presented “at attention,” mourns for the lives lost. Joseph F. Pelletier, a prominent lawyer and parishioner of St. Joseph’s spoke the following words when presenting the statue to the Mayor of Salem as a gift to the city in 1948: “Ce monument attestera puissamment de notre dévotion, de notre patriotisme, et des sacrifices de nos Américains de descendance française. Puisse-t-il toujours être une source d’inspiration pour la jeunesse de notre ville et un exemple de tolérance et d’égalité” (This monument will strongly attest to our devotion, our patriotism, and to the sacrifices of our Americans of French descent. May it always be a source of inspiration for the youth of our city and an example of tolerance and equality.)

Acknowledgements

This document was developed with the assistance of participants of the Franco-American Oral History Project at Salem State University, along with contributions of stories, memories and photos graciously shared by members of the Richelieu Club of Salem, the Club Richelieu Nord de Boston, and alumni of St. Joseph’s and Ste.Chretienne’s high schools in Salem.

Additional Resources

Franco-Americans in Salem

La Paroisse Saint-Joseph: Salem, Massachusetts, Salem, Association Laurier, 1948.

Curley, Jerome M. and Nelson L. Dionne, Salem: Then & Now, Charleston, SC, Arcadia Publishing, 2009.

Donnell, Robert P., ed., Locational response to catastrophe: the shoe and leather industry of Salem, Massachusetts, after the conflagration of June 25, 1914, Syracuse NY, Syracuse University, 1976.

Franco-American Institute of Salem. La revue de Salem. Lynn MA, Franco-American Institute of Salem, 2006-2016.

Kampas, Barbara Pero, The Great Salem Fire of 1914, Charleston, SC, The History Press, 2008.

Franco-Americans in New England

Brault, Gerard J., The French-Canadian Heritage in New England, Lebanon, NH, University Press of New England, 1986.

Fox, Cynthia A., “Franco-American Voices: French in the Northeastern United States Today”, The French Review, no. 80, 2007, pp. 1278-1292.

Gosnell, Jonathan, “Between Dream and Reality in Franco-America”, The French Review, no. 80, 2007, pp. 1336-1349.

Richard, Mark. Loyal But French: the negotiation of identity by French-Canadians in the United States, East Lansing, Michigan State University Press, 2008.

Roby, Yves, The Franco-Americans of New England: Dreams and Realities, Mary Ricard, Trans. Montréal, Septentrion, 2004.