Lafayette Street Historic District

Lafayette Street
Photo showing old-fashioned overhead lamps circa 1893
Photograph courtesy of the Peabody Essex Museum

Created in 1985, the Lafayette Street Historic District contains Salem's most important collection of late 19th century Victorian residences. The district is composed of three blocks, extending along Lafayette Street from Holly and Leach Streets to Forest and Clifton Avenues, in an area once known as South Fields. Although the land was originally held in common ownerships, by the early 18th century, most of the fields were in private hands and served as farms, summer homes and country estates. Ezekial Hersey Derby was a major property owner and he, with others, sponsored the construction of a new bridge in 1805 near the present intersection of New Derby and Lafayette Streets. From that time until 1900, many high-style homes were constructed along Lafayette Street.

As the century progressed, the larger estates were subdivided into building lots. Such was the case of Ezekial Hersey Derby's land along Lafayette Street, stretching from Laurel and Willow Streets to Forest and Clifton Avenues, bounded to the east by Salem Sound and to the west by the Mill Pond. In 1867 and 1868, this area was developed by speculators James F. Almy, Nathaniel Wiggin and Charles S. Clark (Almy was the founder of the department store of the same name). Fine houses were built on the former Derby Estate in the Italianate, Second Empire, Queen Anne and Colonial Revival styles. Then the disastrous fire of 1914 destroyed Lafayette Street from Derby Street to Holly and Leach Streets, leaving the buildings in this district as important historical and architectural survivors.