This Wednesday, December 15, I will be giving a talk at the Danvers Historical Society about my new biography of Salem Village Witch-Hunt victim Rebecca Nurse: A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse. The event is free, and starts at 7pm in Tapley Memorial Hall on Page Street. In addition to Nurse, whose home is a museum today on Pine St. in Danvers, I’ll also discuss some of Danvers’ other links to the 1692 Witch-Hunt. Books will be available for sale and for signing. More details can be found here.
For long-distance followers of the blog, the Danvers Historical Society presentation will be recorded and posted on their website after the event. Additionally, on January 6th I will be giving a Zoom presentation on the book with the Rockport, Mass. public library. Details for that free event can be found here.
For more information on A Salem Witch, reviews, and links to order it, see my author website here.
Rest assured, there will be more Danvers history blog posts in the coming year.
In partnership with Salem Historical Tours and the Danvers Historical Society, on six Saturday mornings this fall I am giving a walking tour of several Salem Village historic sites in Danvers related to the 1692 witch-hunt. A portion of the ticket price goes to support the Danvers Historical Society.
Salem is where people visit to learn about the 1692 witchcraft trials, but Danvers, formerly Salem Village, is where it first began on a cold February day.
Two young girls began acting out and the local doctor’s diagnosis was that they must be under the Devil’s hand. The witch-hunt was off and running, turning neighbor against neighbor.
You’ll visit several significant historical sites including the remains of the parsonage where Reverend Samuel Parris’ 9-year-old daughter Betty and 11-year-old niece Abigail had their fits that began the witch-hunt.
This special tour will be held on six Saturdays in September and October. The walking tour will be all outside, and stops along the way will include the Training Field, Parsonage site, Ingersoll’s tavern, the Salem Village Witch Trials Memorial, and the First Church of Danvers (Salem Village Church).
Daniel A. Gagnon, a life-long Danvers resident and author of A Salem Witch, will lead the tour that will give you a greater understanding of one of the more compelling stories of our country’s early history.
Available to book now. Tickets are $25. Details on the meeting location in Danvers and directions will be in the confirmation email.
Last week the Salem News had two articles (see Erin Nolan’s reporting here and here) about a curious auction: the letters of Danvers patriot leader Dr. Samuel Holten. Taking place in Cincinnati, Ohio the auction of 200 letters between Holten and other famous patriot leaders was expected to go for about $10,000-$15,000 but instead sold for more than $46,000. Who is this Danvers revolutionary whose writings are so valuable?
Holten, a member of both the Continental Congress and the first US Congress, rose to prominence as a leader of the patriot cause well before the American Revolution. Educated by the Rev. Peter Clarke in the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers, he was destined for Harvard at age 12 before illness prevented him from attending. Instead, he studied medicine with Dr. Jonathan Prince, and opened his own practice at age 18. He became active in Danvers politics and the local militia, rising to the rank of Major.
His first steps towards becoming a revolutionary occurred in September 1768, when word spread throughout Massachusetts that British troops were being sent to the colony to restore order, and ostensibly to put down protests over British policies in Boston and other towns. An extralegal, unofficial meeting was called in Boston to decide how to respond to the approaching British fleet. One hundred and four Massachusetts towns and districts each elected a representative to attend, and Holten attended as Danvers’ representative.
Meeting even after the royal governor declared it an illegal assembly, these delegates voted to petition the government in London and to protest against the British troops. A month later, when British troops arrived, news of this convention had already reached them and this show of opposition so alarmed the British fleet that they feared Massachusetts may have already taken up arms. Upon their arrival, they therefore sailed their warships into Boston Harbor in battle formation, with their cannon aimed at Boston, and disembarked troops in full battle gear, as if invading an enemy land.
Holten continued to oppose British policies over the next few years, as events such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party occurred, and as the people of Danvers began boycotting tea and other British goods. Holten was Danvers’ delegate to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1774, when General Thomas Gage ordered the Massachusetts legislature to be dissolved because it was controlled by patriots opposed to Gage’s administration in Massachusetts. Instead, the House of Representatives declared themselves to be a “Massachusetts Provincial Congress,” the true representatives of the people, and therefore the legitimate authority in Massachusetts – not General Gage.
After war broke out when the British advanced on Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775, the British soldiers retreated into Boston, leaving the Provincial Congress and the Massachusetts militia in control of the rest of Massachusetts. Holten was appointed to the executive committee that served in place of a governor – since General Gage still claimed to be the rightful governor of Massachusetts.
Recognized for his ability and dedication to the patriot cause, in 1777 Holten was among the Massachusetts representatives to the convention that drafted the Articles of Confederation, America’s first constitutional document, and he signed the Articles on behalf of Massachusetts alongside John Adams, John Hancock, and other revolutionary leaders.
From 1778 to 1780, he represented Massachusetts in the Second Continental Congress, returned home to help draft the Massachusetts Constitution, and then once the Articles of Confederation were ratified served in the Congress of the Confederation, at one point serving temporarily as its president during a brief absence by Richard Henry Lee. Since there was no executive branch under the Confederation, President of Congress was the highest political office in America.
After returning once again to Massachusetts to serve in the state senate, he was elected and served as Congressman from 1793-1795 in the third U.S. Congress under the new federal Constitution. Notable for being a supporter of Thomas Jefferson, he was an opponent of the first Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton. After his time in Congress ended in 1795, he continued holding elected positions in Danvers, and was an Essex County Probate Court judge.
After he returned to Danvers, Holten continued to live in his family’s house at the intersection of what are now Holten Street, Centre Street, and Collins Street. This historic structure, located in the Salem Village Historic District, has been owned and preserved by the Gen. Israel Putnam Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution since 1921. Built in 1670 by his ancestor Benjamin Holten, the Holten family also played a prominent role in the 1692 witch trials, with members of the family among both the accusers and defenders of those accused of witchcraft.
Dr. Samuel Holten died in January 1816, and is buried in the Holten Burying Ground, which bears his name on Holten Street. Once Danvers established its first public high school in 1850, it was named Holten High School in his honor, the name used until the new Danvers High School was built in Woodvale in the 1960s. The old high school building and the old Richmond junior high building are currently used for the Holten-Richmond Middle School.
In addition to Holten’s letters that were recently auctioned, he has other letters in the collections of many major archives and libraries that were written to various leaders of the American Revolution, papers from his medical practice are at Harvard’s Countway Library of Medicine, and there are many of his documents located in the Danvers Archival Center.
Dan Gagnon is a lifelong Danvers resident and the author of the forthcoming biography A Salem Witch: The Trial, Execution, and Exoneration of Rebecca Nurse.
Mulholland, Elizabeth. “Judge Samuel Holten and His House.” In 250th Anniversary of the Town of Danvers, 98. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers 250th Committee, 202AD.
Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.
Town of Danvers. The Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a Seperate Municipality. Boston, Mass.: Fort Hill Press, 1907.
Glen Magna, the beautiful mansion at the center of Endicott Park, started as a haven from the British during the War of 1812, and went on to become a center of high society, and the site of a near-assassination of the British politician who governed the worldwide British Empire.
During the War of 1812, Salem merchant Joseph Peabody moved to Danvers because he feared that the New England coast could be attacked by the British Royal Navy, with the port of Salem a likely target. Peabody rented the inland farm in Danvers from Capt. Jonathan Ingersoll, a shipmaster in Salem, and later purchased it in 1814.
A cousin of George Peabody, the famous London banker and philanthropist, Joseph Peabody was the wealthiest ship-owner in Salem until his death in 1844. His fleet of merchant ships traversed the globe, trading in ports in Europe, Africa, and the East Indies. He bought additional nearby land, and increased the estate’s size to 300 acres. As a very wealthy man, Peabody greatly enlarged the mansion on the property, which served as a private home for more than 140 years.
Peabody became an integral part of business in Danvers in addition to his Salem ties, and employed many Danversport men on his ships. One Danversite in his employ was William Endicott, who served on Peabody’s ship Glide that was wrecked in 1829 on an island near Fiji inhabited by cannibals. Endicott survived, living among the natives for four months before he was rescued, and his story became famous among the seamen of Salem.
After Peabody died, the farm was inherited by his daughter Ellen Peabody Endicott and her husband William Crowninshield Endicott Sr. – the son of the William Endicott who sailed on Peabody’s ship Glide. This family traced its roots back to the Crowninshields of Salem, another wealthy family in the maritime trade, but also to the Endicott family of Danvers, descendants of Governor John Endicott, the first resident Governor of Massachusetts, whose farm had been along Endicott Street.
William Crowninshield Endicott Sr. was a successful lawyer, a Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and an unsuccessful candidate for Governor of Massachusetts. In 1885 President Grover Cleveland appointed him to be Secretary of War, a role that he held until 1889. While living at Glen Magna, Endicott and Ellen Peabody had two children, William Crowninshield Endicott Jr. and Mary Endicott, who were raised among the political elite and high society.
Due to Endicott’s official position, many important figures in world politics and society visited him at Glen Magna and in Washington, including the British Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain. As this was the height of the British Empire, Chamberlain was one of the most powerful figures in the world, managing an Empire on which the sun never set. Soon after he first met Endicott’s daughter Mary at a British Embassy ball in Washington in 1888, Chamberlain proposed to her, and the President was in attendance at their wedding.
The married couple spent most of their time in England where Chamberlain served in the cabinet and on Her Majesty’s Privy Council, governing Queen Victoria’s realm. In England, the couple was at the height of power of influence, with Mary Endicott Chamberlain accompanying her husband on official visits to various British overseas colonies and Dominions.
They summered at Glen Magna in Danvers, where Joseph Chamberlain temporarily established his office, and while not working he designed one of the estate’s elaborate manicured gardens, known still as the Chamberlain Garden. He often brought his children from two previous marriages to Glen Magna, including future Nobel Peace Prize-winning British Foreign Minister Austen Chamberlain, and also future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. Infamous today, Neville Chamberlain is known for his policy of appeasement in the 1930s that allowed Hitler to take Austria and Czechoslovakia and rebuild the German Army without any consequences.
While Joseph Chamberlain was fêted in London as a leading advocate of British imperialism, his policies were less popular in America. Chamberlain was loathed by Irish Americans for his decades-long opposition to Irish Home Rule – the movement to allow Ireland, a British colony for centuries, a degree of self-government. Additionally, during the Boer War in South Africa (1899-1901), Chamberlain’s office led the war effort that included the world’s first modern system of concentration camps, in which the wives and children of the Dutch Boers were imprisoned and starved. They were only given sufficient food if their husbands gave up fighting, as a way to convince the Boers to surrender to British troops.
During one summer visit to Glen Magna, Mary Endicott Chamberlain was sitting with Joseph Chamberlain on a bench in the elaborate gardens when he was nearly killed. An assassin, enraged by Chamberlain’s oppression of the Irish, crept up to the hedge behind the couple with the goal of killing the Colonial Secretary. However, upon seeing him sitting beside his wife, he wavered, not wishing to murder him in front of her, and the assassin was then caught by the British security detail.
The estate stayed in the Endicott family through the first half of the 20th century. In 1901 Ellen Peabody Endicott, wife of William Crowninshield Endicott Sr., purchased the Derby Summer House – also known as the Tea House, the small two-story structure built in 1793 by Samuel McIntire for Elias Haskett Derby – and moved it to Glen Magna, where it now stands.
The summer house was willed to the Danvers Historical Society in 1958 by Louisa Thoron Endicott, the wife of William Crowninshield Endicott Jr., and a few years later, the whole estate was put up for sale and expected to be subdivided into 276 house lots. In 1963 the Danvers Historical Society purchased the central portion of the Glen Magna Estate to preserve the historic mansion, and after a public campaign by local residents the Town purchased the rest of the property to establish Endicott Park and save the open land from development.
“A Topic of Discussion.” Boston Daily Globe, November 11, 1888.
“Chamberlain Going to South Africa.” Boston Daily Globe, October 27, 1902.
“Danvers Buys 130-Acre Estate For Green Belt, Recreation.” Boston Globe, July 19, 1694.
Danvers Historical Society. “Glen Magna Farms.” Danvers Historical Society, 2020.
Passed by many in Danvers each day, the blue memorial marker on the street sign for Lane Parkway near the Holten-Richmond Middle School stands in remembrance of a Danvers veteran: Lt. Ralph W. Lane, who died defending the United States in World War I. During the war, 730 men from Danvers entered the service, and 15 were killed either in combat or from the flu pandemic that ravaged military bases.
Born in Springfield in 1894, Ralph Lane later attended Worcester Academy and the University of Maine before moving to Danvers in 1911. A single man in his early twenties who was new to town, Lane lived in a boardinghouse at 20 Lawrence Street and was very active in the community. He was a member of the Maple Street Congregational Church and several clubs and bible study groups associated with the church, along with the Amity Lodge of the Danvers Masons, and the Danvers I.O.O.F.
Lane served in the Massachusetts state militia and was briefly deployed to the Mexican border in 1916 as part of an expedition sent to capture Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, who had led an army across the border and attacked New Mexico. After this campaign, Lane returned to Danvers and was appointed drill instructor at the state armory on Essex St. in Salem.
Once it became clear in 1917 that the US would likely join the ongoing world war, Lane’s state militia unit was federalized into the National Guard. Promoted to second lieutenant in August 1917, Lane and his regiment were under the command of Col. (later Major General) Edward Lawrence Logan, for whom Logan Airport was named, and were assigned to the newly-formed 26th Infantry Division in September 1917. Known as the “Yankee Division” because it was made up of New England National Guard units, the 26th Infantry Division is the namesake for Route 128: “The Yankee Division Highway.”
Arriving in France as the first unit of the National Guard deployed overseas, Lane and the Yankee Division trained with the French army to learn trench warfare techniques before entering the front line in February 1918 along the Western Front under the command of a French army corps. As soon as the Germans realized that Americans were in the line for the first time, there was a heavy German offensive in the area to try and break these new arrivals, but the line held.
That summer, Lane and the Yankee Division fought to slow the Germans’ spring offensive. While fighting along the Marne River, the Germans used poison gas against Lane’s position on the front line, causing him to be seriously hurt and hospitalized.
In a bizarre twist, when Lane was recovering in an Army field hospital, he encountered another Danvers man who served on a different section of the front with a field artillery regiment: Corp. Harold P. Sillars. Not only were these two men from Danvers, but they were friends who lived in the same boardinghouse on Lawrence Street! This unique “joyous reunion” was noteworthy enough to be mentioned in the Boston Globe.
By October, Lane was back with his unit to participate in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, the final push that ended in the armistice of November 11, 1918. But, he never lived to see the Allied victory.
The Yankee Division was along the front line north of Verdun, near Belleau-Bois just below the French-Belgian border. This area was desolate, charred, and cratered land that had been destroyed during the Battle of Verdun two years prior, and known as “Death Valley” to the troops. The Yankee Division, as one of the most experienced American units in France – which previously survived bullets whizzing overhead, charges of German shock troops, constant shelling, mud, rats, and poison gas – was given the task of fighting through difficult hills and ravines in this wooded region of the front.
As the offensive began in other sectors, Lane and the Yankee Division assaulted Belleau, a wooded ridge alongside the road to the village of Crépion. They advanced into the wood on the 23rd, had to withdraw that night due to heavy shelling, and then advanced 500 yards on the 24th starting the attack under a smokescreen, at which point they encountered fortified German positions of timber and concrete. Four times that day the Germans withdrew, called in heavy artillery on the Americans, and then the moment the shelling ceased, charged the American line inflicting heavy casualties.
After a full day of brutal fighting, at 2:30am the next day, October 25, the Yankee Division charged back into the woods, in the pitch dark and pouring rain, as German shells fell around them. They took the wooded hill, but Lane was killed – only 18 days before the end of the war, and only three miles from where the front line ended up on Armistice Day.
On December 8, 1918 Lane’s obituary ran in the Boston Globe, alongside a large list of Massachusetts men reported killed overseas. The Globe noted his father John S. Lane as his only surviving relative. Back home in Danvers, the Maple Street Church held a memorial service on February 9, 1918 for Lane and Sgt. Hadley McPhetres, two members of its congregation who died in the war. This was the closest thing to a funeral that Lane ever received.
Lane Parkway’s memorial sign, dedicated November 11, 1929, notes Lane’s death on that October night, and the Army records likewise note his death that day, but he has no grave. According to the American Battle Monuments Commission that oversees the American cemeteries in France, Lane’s remains were either never recovered or never identified, and therefore his name is inscribed on the “Tablets of the Missing” at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery in France. Closer to home, the sign on Lane Parkway keeps his memory alive.
Just north of the Putnamville Reservoir in Danvers was one of the frontlines of the Cold War. Pointing skyward in their launchers atop a fortified concrete bunker, white-and-gray nuclear-tipped missiles stood ready to defend the United States from Soviet attack.
Army bases with Nike missiles, such as the one in Danvers, were built surrounding major American cities, with 12 such bases around Boston. The three sites on the North Shore – at the Beverly side of Beverly Airport, Nahant, and Danvers – came online by 1955. In the era before intercontinental ballistic missiles, the biggest nuclear threat facing the United States was the possibility of Soviet bombers dropping atomic bombs on American cities, especially along the coast. Originally carrying only conventional warheads, the missiles in Danvers had a range of just 25 miles and were designed to be launched into the Massachusetts skies to destroy enemy planes if Soviet bombers were attacking Boston.
Each missile battery was split into two halves, a radar/control site and the launch site. In Danvers, the radar/control site was on a hill off North Street, which today is the Lt. John A. Fera United States Army Reserve Center. Fera, a Danvers resident, was killed in action in Vietnam in 1968. This site hosted several radar emplacements that would track the enemy planes and guide a missile towards them.
Today, many of the original buildings at the radar/command site remain, but are used for other purposes, and although the radar towers were removed, the large concrete pads that they were situated on remain visible. When originally built, this radar post was isolated, surrounded by fields and forest, though today the nearby neighborhood comes right up to the fence surrounding the site.
The second half of the base, the missile launch site, was across the Putnamville Reservoir, along the Danvers/Topsfield line off Route 1. This installation, which could be seen from the radar site across the water, was a long rectangular area split into thirds. The first part was a circle of identical ranch-style houses right off Route 1 built for the base’s officers. Beyond that is a gate and guard tower that led into the section of the base with the barracks and armory. The final section was the launch area at the farthest end of the base, in the woods north of the reservoir.
The launch area had small outbuildings in which missiles would be assembled. These buildings were surrounded by tall dirt berms that could contain a blast should there be any accidental rocket fuel explosions. Beyond these structures, on a slight rise a distance away, was a large rectangular concrete pad that had a long metal track that the missiles would slide across to reach their launchers, and three large steel doors that were flat with the ground. These doors covered elevators that brought the missiles up from the underground concrete bunker so that they could be launched.
Although the Danvers base was known to exist, and its rough mission was known, in later years the original Nike Ajax missiles with conventional warheads were secretly switched out for nuclear-tipped Nike Hercules missiles – a fact unknown to most locals until years later. Although the payload changed to an atomic device roughly equivalent to what was dropped on Nagasaki and the range was increased to 75 miles, the mission did not change. The reason for the upgrade was that the original Nike Ajax missile could only take down one enemy aircraft per launch, and the radar could only guide one missile in flight at a time. What if the Soviets sent a whole formation of bombers? It was possible that not enough missiles could be launched in time to take down the planes one by one.
The US Government, therefore, decided that the best way to counter Soviet bombers was to add the nuclear element. If there was a fleet of enemy bombers approaching Boston, a Nike Hercules missile would be launched into the skies, the missile would collide with an enemy plane, and then the missile’s nuclear warhead would detonate in the skies over Massachusetts – or over the Atlantic along the Massachusetts coast. Sure, this weapon could bring down an entire formation of enemy planes, but even in the best-case scenario, there would be a Nagasaki-sized atomic blast detonated in the skies over Massachusetts, which seems…. less than ideal.
The Nike launch site in Danvers was decommissioned in 1974, once intercontinental ballistic missiles replaced bombers as the main Soviet threat to the US. The radar/control site on North Street remains an army post that has had varying uses in the years since. Nike missiles remained in use in Western Europe until the 1980s, when they were replaced with Patriot missiles that are still in service around the world.
Today, the former officers’ housing along Route 1 at the entrance of the launch site is now aptly named “Nike Village” and serves as community housing. Beyond that is a rusting chain-link gate with a decomposing wooden sentry post that guards the entrance to an abandoned and overgrown clump of deteriorated buildings. The underground missile storage bunker was sealed when the base was abandoned, no longer needed to defend the skies over Massachusetts.
On August 1, 2020, I presented a livestreamed tour of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead that was broadcast online as part of America’s Summer Roadtrip 2020, a program that allowed people to virtually ‘visit’ historic sites that otherwise might not be accessible during the coronavirus. The Nurse Homestead, the only home of a victim of the 1692 Salem Village Witch-Hunt that is preserved and open to the public, was chosen as one of 12 significant sites in American history to participate in this program that drew thousands of viewers from across the world.
As the 20th century dawned, Danvers’ long-held farm town traditions became mixed with a new century of business and commerce that revolutionized daily life for Danversites. The program for Danvers’ 150th celebration in 1902 reveals much about what life was like in Danvers that year. The anniversary events are significant – with a grand parade led by Penn Hussey (whose equestrian statue is on Water St.), band concerts, a bicycle race, a “Rube” who gave a “unicycle exposition,” and races between the Danvers volunteer fire companies – but what is truly interesting and revealing are the advertisements. With ads such as a pig seller’s notice that declared “All the hogs are not found on the end seat of street cars,” those for horse products such as iron shoes, farm supplies that included new “gasolene” engines, the new “steam laundry” in town, and the electrician who advertised “speaking tubes,” the program provides a picture of a small turn-of-the-century agricultural town.
The vast majority of businesses noted in the program were clustered around Danvers Square, and one business advertised free telegram delivery within a mile of the Square. There are some similarities between the Square of 1902, and the center of town today. Luciano Zollo, a self-described “champion hair cutter” advertised a “Bay of Naples shaving parlor” at 64 Maple Street, and Zollo’s barbershop has been a fixture ever since.
Perley’s Corner Market, a combination grocery store and general store that opened in 1800, stood where CVS is today, and CVS serves more or less the same function as Perley’s store did then. Another grocer advertised that they were a distributor of King Arthur Flour, still in stores today. Though there was no Knights of Columbus on Elm Street, there was the Catholic Order of Foresters, a fraternal organization that provided life insurance to its members – a function of the K of C today.
In contrast, many business practices have changed in the past century. Several business ads give not only the address of their business, but also the proprietor’s home address where business was also transacted. In 1902 some businesses did not have their own telephone number, and their ads simply note “telephone connection,” and one had to call the operator to be connected through. Moving goods was its own issue in the day of horse carts, and several freight carriers advertised their services. One such company announced its four daily trips into Boston where goods could be transferred to “railroads and steamboats,” and also reminded its customers that it “Runs direct to Danvers Asylum daily.”
Some businesses seemed to provide odd combinations of services: An express freight delivery company also sold sod cutters. One Salem business advertised “Balletto tables” (now known as pool/billiards tables), along with cameras, and “All kinds of talking machines. All kinds of records. All kinds of talking machine supplies and repairs.” J. F. Porter in Danvers Square sold “refrigerators” (what we know as an ice box) for $11 and also screens to keep flies out of the house.
Specialization was coming to Danvers, though, as one insurance agent’s ad noted: “The time has passed when the insurance agent was also bill poster, white washer and general utility man. Insurance is a business by itself.” One other specialist was Ferdinand A. Butler, who sold bicycles, though the ad refers to them by their nickname: “a wheel.” They were billed as efficient transportation, but also relaxing: “Drop that nerve tonic and buy a wheel, and we guarantee ‘that tired feeling’ will soon disappear.”
Outside of the Square, there was a coal yard on Holten Street, a greenhouse near Walnut Grove Cemetery, a man on Endicott Street who ran a sand and gravel business out of his house, a wagon maker on Andover Street, and mills and foundries in Tapleyville and Danversport. One such mill was Lummus & Parker’s grist mill on Water Street, which was standing at least as late as 1969. Another business outside the Square was the Calvin Putnam Lumber Company, noted in a previous article in this series, which was located at the Mill Pond.
What is most fascinating are the medical and dental ads. Dr. E. F. Carter, a dentist on Maple St., had an ad that noted “Electricity employed in desensitizing teeth in order to render the work of filling practically painless.” At this time laughing gas had been in use for decades, so apparently electricity was seen as the new innovative treatment. Fortunately, Novocain was developed only three years after this ad was published. Elsewhere, dentist Dr. Walter G. Fanning took out a full page ad that showed him in a cap and gown – proof that he actually had gone to school.
The turn of the century was prime-time for weird medical “cures,” and one Danvers “laboratory” on Oak Street marketed “Anti-Itis,” that was “antiseptic, hygroscopic, prophylactic, hydro-absorbent and anodyne” that “has the affinity to increase osmosis.” This strange miracle drug would supposedly treat “lung troubles, pneumonia, pleurisy, etc., tonsillitis, laryngitis, bronchitis, consumption, inflamed breasts, rheumatism, synovitis, dysmenorrhea, eczema, sprains, burns, boils, abscess, bruises, felons, enlarged glands, insect bites, milk leg, myalgia, neuralgia, neuritis, phlebitis, whitlow, wry neck, housemaids’ knee, sunburn, frost bites, corns, enlarged joints.”
Anti-Itis was advertised around New England in medical journals, and the product was a paste that was sold by the pound, which was to be applied hot to the skin. As if the modern reader were not already skeptical that Anti-Itis was effective at all, further digging through copyright records revealed that Anti-Itis was manufactured by the Standard Crayon Company!
Official Program: Danvers’ 150th Anniversary, June 15, 16, 17, 1902. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Mirror, 1902.
Sutherland, John P., and W.H. Watters, eds. The New England Medical Gazette: A Monthly Journal of Homeopathic Medicine. Vol. 43. Boston: Medical Gazette Publishing Company, 1908.
United States Patent Office. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office. Vol. 315. Government Printing Office, 1923.
This month begins the 250th anniversary of the start of Danvers’ role in the American Revolution. While the 250th anniversary of the 1776 Declaration of Independence is not until 2026, the people of Danvers played important roles during the years leading up to the Revolution: protesting injustices, briefly (and unhappily) hosting the headquarters of the British Army in North America, declaring themselves independent from the king long before the Declaration of Independence, and answering the call to fight the British when they marched on Lexington – to say nothing of other events that occurred during and after the War for Independence.
May 1770 – 250 years ago this month – was an important turning point for Danvers because the town meeting passed a resolution against the importation of tea and began shaming those who continued to support His Majesty’s Government instead of local elected authority. As Parliament leveled more and more taxes on the colony without the agreement of the Massachusetts legislature, and without any colonial representation in Parliament, the people of Massachusetts protested against this unfair taxation without representation.
During the 1760s, patriotic merchants in Boston signed agreements not to import any taxed goods from Britain. The resulting economic harm forced Parliament to withdraw the taxes on many items – but not the tax on tea. On May 28, 1770 the men of Danvers gathered for a town meeting at the First Church to discuss the issue. Unanimously, they voted to boycott any merchant who imported British goods and agreed “That we will not drink any foreign tea ourselves, and use our best endeavors to prevent our families and those connected with them, from the use thereof” until the tax was repealed.
To emphasize their determination, a committee was elected to bring a copy of this town meeting resolution to residents and have every head of household sign it. If someone refused, the town meeting voted that “he shall be looked upon as an enemy to the liberties of the people, and shall have their name registered in the town [record] book.” Additionally, these resolutions were published in the local newspaper, the Essex Gazette, so that all were warned.
Because of this threatened humiliation and damage to one’s reputation, there seems to be only one recorded instance of someone publicly refusing to sign: A man named Isaac Wilson who lived in the southern part of Danvers, now Peabody. Due to his opposition, he was taunted about being a “Tory” (one who remained loyal to the king). Though, as the Revolution approached, a few other families in Danvers aligned themselves with the Tory side and remained loyal to the king, leaving town when the war began.
In addition to this example of outright opposition, some of the households that publicly signed the ban privately violated it. Tea was often bought in bulk, so why shouldn’t tea that a family had purchased before the ban be consumed? The tax had already been paid, so Britain received no further gain whether they drank it or dumped it out. Nineteenth-century historians note several instances of families acting this way, especially instances where wives decided to consume the tea they already had on hand with or without the knowledge of their husbands.
The most famous story of thwarting the tea ban in Danvers – though apparently kept secret at the time to not tarnish the family’s patriot reputation – was Sarah Page’s covert tea party on the roof of the Page House. This legend was enshrined in the poem “The Gambrel Roof” by Beverly writer Lucy Larcom (1824-1893), who knew Sarah Page’s granddaughter. Though potentially based on true events, Larcom’s poem is a romanticized version of the story that was published in 1874 during the lead up to the US Centennial in 1876.
Sarah Page’s husband Capt. Jeremiah Page was a Danvers militia officer and an ardent patriot who later fought in the Revolution. He agreed with the tea ban, and Larcom’s poem supposes that he said “none shall drink tea in my house.” One evening when her husband was out, Sarah Page is said to have invited several women from the neighborhood up to the porch atop the Page House’s gambrel roof, not doing so until sunset so that they would not be noticed. Larcom quotes Page as telling her friends, “Upon a house is not within it,” thereby finding a loophole around her husband’s directive.
The Page House remained in the family for two more generations, and was originally on Elm Street where “Instant Shoe Repair” and “Nine Elm” are today. Sarah Page’s daughter in-law Mary Page died in 1876 and her will put the property into a trust with the stipulation that once there were no longer any Page descendants to live there, the historic house was to be torn down. After Mary Page’s daughter Anne Lemist Page died in 1913, the trustee planned to demolish it according to her wishes.
Losing a house in which two local figures prominent during the Revolution lived would have been a tragedy, and the still relatively new Danvers Historical Society sued to oppose the will. The Essex County Probate Court sided with the Historical Society, and allowed the organization to purchase the house from the estate to preserve it, which it did in August 1914. The Page House was later moved a short distance around the corner to Page Street where it stands as the Society’s office and book shop, still with its gambrel roof and porch atop it.
Addison, Daniel Dulany. Lucy Larcom: Life, Letters, and Diary. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1895.
Gill, Eliza M. “Distinguished Guests and Residents of Medford.” The Medford Historical Register 16, no. 1 (January 1913): 1–14.
Larcom, Lucy. The Poetical Works of Lucy Larcom. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1884.
“Newspaper Items Relating to Danvers.” In The Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, 1:61–64. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1913.
Nichols, Andrew. “The Original Lot of Col. Jeremiah Page.” In The Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, 3:101–9. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1915.
Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.
During the Cold War, Americans across the country feared the outbreak of nuclear war – a conflict with the potential to end all life on earth. Once the Soviet Union detonated their first atomic bomb using stolen US intelligence in 1949, both sides had the capability of annihilating one another. Danvers, like towns across the country, took preparations in case the “hell bomb” fell.
During the 1950s, some citizens built makeshift fallout shelters in their cellars and constructed small concrete buildings in their backyards. The Danvers Chamber of Commerce worked with the VFW to construct an example home shelter on display near Danvers Square for interested Danversites to use as a model for their own homes. In 1961 and 1962, Massachusetts and local communities began planning and marking public fallout shelters in coordination with the local Civil Defense volunteers responsible for emergency preparedness.
Danvers had public fallout shelters in all sections of town, which were located in the lowest levels of sturdy brick buildings and were to be used only if one could not take shelter in their own cellars. The fallout shelters in Danvers included Xavier Hall at St. John’s Prep on Spring St., St. Mary’s School on Otis St., Great Oak School on Pickering St., Danvers Savings Bank in the Square, the telephone exchange (Verizon building) on High St., Creese and Cook Tannery on Water St., Danvers State Hospital (with 11 shelters and a total capacity of 3,000 people), and the Sylvania building at 75 Sylvan St. These shelters were overseen by the local Civil Defense Committee, which stocked them with supplies such as snacks, flashlights, water, radios, and flashlights, but those taking refuge were expected to bring supplies with them.
Civil Defense had a chain of command, and at the state level it was headquartered in the governor’s nuclear bunker in Framingham, where the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency is based today. In addition to the state director, there was a regional director, town director, and local volunteer neighborhood wardens. Unlike the military side of national defense, women had important roles in the Massachusetts Civil Defense, serving as local wardens and assistant regional directors.
Danvers’ Civil Defense Committee was established in 1950 and was based in the cellar of town hall before moving to the cellar of the old police station on Maple St. across from Hotwatt. On the tower atop the old Central Fire Station (where Atlantic Ambulance is today) next to the old police station was a radio antenna that, along with a second one at the DPW garage on Hobart St., could communicate with all sections of town. For public warning, air raid sirens were constructed at Plains Park and on Route 1 near the state hospital. These sirens were regularly tested, though there was one incident during the summer of 1964 when the air attack sirens went off accidentally and threw the town into a panic.
Civil Defense trained locals in first aid, showed preparedness films such as “You Can Beat the A-Bomb” to local civic groups, established an emergency electrical generator system for Hunt Hospital, organized blood drives, and established a volunteer auxiliary police force for emergencies when Danvers did not have enough regular officers. Interestingly, during several years in the 1950s this special police force was called out on Halloween to manage the shenanigans of teenagers, which must have been quite out of hand. Civil Defense even had its own marked cars and trucks that were given to local communities from army surplus.
In addition to the nuclear attack preparedness associated with civil defense, the organization was also responsible for all types of emergencies: epidemics, floods, earthquakes, large fires, hurricanes, release of radiation from the Seabrook and Plymouth nuclear power plants, aircraft crashes, blackouts (such as the 1965 Northeast Blackout), and riots. If the town’s Civil Defense Director received the secret code word – in 1973 it was “MAYFLOWER” – from state officials he would mobilize all local resources to deal with whichever type of disaster was occurring, alerting the police and fire departments, the selectmen, the Civil Defense volunteers, the police auxiliary volunteers, and the Civil Air Patrol volunteers at Beverly Airport.
Along with these public programs, the threat of nuclear annihilation also spurred private citizens to act. One private endeavor in Danvers that dwarfs all others was Galo Putnam Emerson Sr.’s “doomsday motel” project. Emerson, the then-owner of Putnam Pantry Candies on Rt. 1, planned to build a “bomb shelter motel” – an ordinary motel with an enormous fallout shelter in the cellar.
The motel fallout shelter was meant to contain 6 months of supplies, including four giant underground tanks filled with fuel oil, kerosene, gasoline and water. Those saved by this shelter would be local Civil Defense officials, town leaders, medical professionals, a lawyer, estate planner – one might think that his job needed to be completed before the bomb fell – mechanic, farmer, fisherman, chemist, cook, teacher, and machine gunner, among other specialists. In addition to these professionals, the shelter was designed to include local citizens and whichever motel guests happened to be there, whose job was to repopulate Oniontown. To aid them in reestablishing humanity, the shelter included what the Boston Globe referred to as a “nuclear Noah’s Ark” – a cow, bull, rooster, chickens, seeds, farm equipment, and fishing gear.
Groundbreaking ceremonies for this last resort were held on November 14, 1961, and included guests such as the project’s engineer F. Parker Reidy, Danvers Town Manager Daniel J. McFadden, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Baron Mayer, and Massachusetts Civil Defense Director John J. Maginnis. However, it does not appear that the project continued any further then this ceremony due to the costs involved.
To directly counter the atomic threat, Danvers and Beverly each had a missile base equipped with Nike nuclear-tipped missiles to defend against the “Red menace.” These bases, which will be described in a future article, made Danvers and Beverly frontline communities during this period of atomic fear.
Danvers, Town of.1950-1970 Annual Town Reports. Danvers, Mass.: Town of Danvers, 1956.