SALEM, MA — Scant evidence remains of the once robust Polish community that flourished on Derby Street in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The lively, ever-changing neighborhood does, however, reveal a few clues — a Polish street name and St. Joseph Hall — to a rich and vibrant past.
In the late 19th century, Polish immigrants moved to the Salem area to work at the factories and cotton mills. The western end of Derby Street soon became the heart of Salem’s Polish community, where the St. Joseph Society built the three-floor St. Joseph Hall to house the fraternal order that supported its community in good times and bad. Weddings, plays, and dances were held there, and the Society provided assistance to those experiencing illness and financial problems. Times changed and in 1988, the National Park Service purchased the building for administrative purposes.
On Wednesday, April 27, from 6 to 8 p.m., Dr. Emily Murphy, Salem Maritime National Historic Site park historian will talk about the importance of organizations like the St. Joseph Society and the House of Seven Gables Settlement House to the Polish community. Her discussion is the second in this year’s Seven Lectures at Seven Gables lecture series, held at at The House of the Seven Gables. Copies of the book, “Images of America: The Polish Community of Salem,” co-written by Murphy and Felicia L. Wilczenski, will be available for purchase in the Museum Store. The cost of admission is $7 for nonmembers. Members attend free of charge, and parking is available at 115 Derby St., Salem, Mass.
After the National Park Service purchase of St. Joseph Hall, the building was renovated. It now houses administrative and maintenance facilities, as well as the site’s educational center. The front of the building has been restored to its original appearance, and today there is an exhibit on Salem’s Polish community in the front windows of St. Joseph Hall.
Emily A. Murphy is the cultural resources manager for Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Saugus Iron Works National Historic Site. She holds a BA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College, Annapolis; an MA in American Studies from the Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from Boston University. During nearly 30 years of working in the public history field, she has used a variety of public records to examine the lives of people who have left few written records behind. Her major publications for the National Park Service include the walking tour guide Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Salem, and “Merchants, Clerks, Citizens, and Soldiers: A History of the Second Corps of Cadets.”
Those interested in reservations may email email@example.com, or call 978-744-0991, ext. 104.
About The House of the Seven Gable Settlement Association
The mission of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association is to preserve its National Historic Landmark and leverage its power as an icon of American culture to engage diverse audiences and provide education opportunities for the local immigrant community. For more information visit www.7gables.org.