Cobblestones in Salem cause clash of history, practicality

By Rosa Nguyen Globe Correspondent July 18, 2015

SALEM — They are as much a part of New England as clam chowder and crisp fall foliage: cobblestones, pathways to the past, evoking images of horse-drawn carriages clopping along stone-speckled streets.

But in this historic North Shore city, where they cobbled Bridge Street and the surrounding hillside from 1881 to 1883, history and practicality are clashing, with the reign of cobblestone roads yielding to the age of asphalt.

It is a battle that has been fought for decades in New England, emerging anew in Salem in recent months. Workers ripping up an old layer of pavement at the intersection of Bridge, Lynn, and River streets, in the city’s historic McIntire district, unearthed a bed of cobblestones beneath the torn-up tar.

City leaders wanted to proceed with the repaving, but impassioned history buffs pushed to preserve the cobblestones, more accurately known as Belgian blocks.

“Tourists come to Salem and marvel at the original street that they had never seen. It’s like being in a museum,” said Jane Arlander, who lives in a Federal Street home that has been in her family for nearly two centuries. “Cobblestone is part of the fabric of this neighborhood. Asphalt is not.”
History buffs are pushing to preserve the cobblestones at the intersection of Bridge, Lynn, and River streets.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

History buffs are pushing to preserve the cobblestones at the intersection of Bridge, Lynn, and River streets.

But city engineer David Knowlton said the stones’ uneven surfaces can hold snow and ice in the winter, becoming slippery and difficult to plow. Mary Margaret Moore, executive director of the Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann Inc., said cobblestones would restrict the mobility of people with physical disabilities.

“We design streets for everybody,” Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll said. “The trouble with cobblestone is it’s a difficult site to traverse.”

John Carr treads on cobbled paths every day, as does Arlander, whose driveway is dappled with sandy-colored Belgian blocks. In the garden of Carr’s River Street home, which dates to 1784, he has arranged cobblestones in a circle near a cluster of arborvitae trees. He puts antique stones on a pedestal: A mid-19th century millstone is the focal point of his yard, propped atop a brownstone platform surrounded by lawn chairs.

A passion for historic building materials isn’t the only reason Carr defends cobblestones.

“Our primary focus is safety,” he said. Drivers “treat Lynn Street like a highway off-ramp, and they don’t slow down until they’re halfway in the neighborhood.”

Stacia Craft, a Federal Street resident, called the cobblestones’ traffic-calming properties “miraculous.”

“When the streets were dug up, cars went as slow as a bridesmaid’s procession,” Craft said.

Salem is no stranger to the consequences of speeding: In 2009, a World War II veteran, Philias Verrette, was raking leaves when a car struck and killed him in front of his Mason Street home.

And in 2011, a vehicle struck a McIntire district woman at an Essex Street crosswalk.

Salem police records show no accidents at the intersection of Lynn, Bridge, and River — where the old cobblestones were uncovered — in the past decade. Still, residents agree speeding cars are an issue.

But as the city seeks to comply with policies that aim to make roads equally accessible to pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, and drivers, some residents and city officials said cobblestones may actually hinder street safety.

“While I agree with Mr. Carr that the recently uncovered cobblestones might be aesthetically pleasing, the primary function of that intersection is that of a public street, so it must be passable and safe to car, bicycle, and foot traffic,” said Rick Johnson, a fellow River Street resident.

City Councilor-at-Large William Legault said pedestrians have sued the city after tripping and injuring themselves on cobblestone paths.

“We’re a historic city,” Legault said, “but we need to maintain a balance for what’s safe and what’s sensible.”

In an attempt to reach a compromise between history and modern safety standards, Driscoll halted the Lynn Street paving June 7 and discussed the matter with McIntire residents, said Dominick Pangallo, the mayor’s chief of staff. After a late June meeting at the much-disputed intersection, the mayor decided to leave two 48-inch-wide and 18-foot-long cobblestone strips across Lynn and River streets, in addition to a 7- by 10-foot triangular island at the center of the intersection. Stonemasons reset the cobblestones and placed them on their sides.

The repaving budget for Lynn Street was initially $27,120, Pangallo said. The city’s engineering department estimates the cobblestone work will add $20,000 to the project — about 74 percent more than the original budget.

The island and cobblestone strips will act as a traffic-calming feature, said Knowlton, the city engineer.

But residents are not entirely pleased by the compromise.

Some neighbors said the traffic-calming measures may prove ineffective, because the cobblestone speed bumps are at the end of River Street, slowing cars only after they have whizzed through the neighborhood.

“It’s window-dressing,” Carr said. “It’s like putting a speed bump on the last leg of the Indianapolis 500.”

Inside his house, 18th century figurines posed in their porcelain petticoats, standing, silent, on the mantle as a grandfather clock ticked the time.

“Fifty years from now, I’m not going to be here,” Carr said. “But the cobbles will survive.”

But for others, the New England of yesteryear is a memory that should stay in the past.

“It’s not appropriate anymore to use,” said Jeff Bellin, chairman of the Salem Bicycling Advisory Committee. “We don’t have horse and carriages anymore.”

Open House Today July 16th at Wheelchair-Accessible Garden in Topsfield

Friends North of Boston! The Topsfield/Boxford Open Garden Day is Today, Thursday July 16, 2015, from 10am – 4pm, and it’s FREE! Karl and I are participating for the third year in this event, and are so happy to offer our garden – the wheelchair-accessible MargFMac Front Garden Loop (0.1 mile) – for public enjoyment. Find us at 202 Haverhill Road (Route 97), in Topsfield, at the intersection of Linebrook Road. Look for our Open Garden Day sign at the end of our driveway.


For more information visit:

Bullying in public housing described as “plague”

Bullying in public housing described as “plague”
By Andy Metzger Published: July 14, 2015, 8:55 pm
STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, JULY 14, 2015….Concerned that public housing authorities lack the expertise and tools to stop bullying, residents and lawmakers urged passage of legislation that would establish a commission to study the issue.
“As a resident in subsidized housing for over seven years, I can confirm that bullying is a plague that creates a toxic environment, depriving us of the ‘peaceful enjoyment,’ security and psychological safety that we deserve in our home,” 79-year-old Jerry Halberstadt, coordinator of the Stop Bullying Coalition, told the Housing Committee on Tuesday.
A resolve (S 709) filed by Sen. Joan Lovely, a Salem Democrat, would create a 19-member commission to study “the prevalence and impact of the bullying of tenants, with a focus on elderly and disabled tenants,” develop best practices, raise awareness of the issue and make policy recommendations.
Rep. Brad Hill, an Ipswich Republican who is now the assistant minority leader, said bullying in public housing is a “big issue on the North Shore and throughout the Commonwealth” and he said other legislation aimed at addressing the issue nearly passed last session.
“We had it at the finish line last year,” Hill said.
“The committee looks forward to working with all of you,” House Chairman of the Housing Committee Kevin Honan told supporters of the legislation.
Jonathan Gale said he lives in public housing in Canton and cares for his grandchildren there. He said he is “unable” to allow his grandchildren to play on the suburban street because of bullying.
Bonny Zeh, who said she had been a middleclass software engineer and now lives in a public housing high rise in Somerville, said her building manager had previously ignored her concerns about bullying by other tenants, but the situation improved after officials there “put pressure” on the Somerville Housing Authority.
Zeh told the News Service the architecture of her building creates “pinch points,” and she said one neighbor would regularly hurl invective at her as she passed by. She said the building manager previously lived on site above the front entrance, and she suggested management should be trained in bullying and have policies on the subject.
“It’s calmed down. We still do have a problem with bullying,” Zeh said.
“Institutional bullying happens when there is no recognition of bullying and no effort to stop it by management or residents,” Halberstadt said in written testimony, where he said he applied his training in anthropology to understand bullying.
Copyright 2015 State House News Service

Northeast Legal Aid Legal Needs Survey

Northeast Legal Aid (the product of the merger of Neighborhood Legal Services and Merrimack Valley Legal Services) is conducting a Legal Needs Assessment in an effort to identify the most pressing legal problems facing low-income and elderly residents of Northeastern Massachusetts. The results of this assessment will help ensure that its resources are most effectively and efficiently deployed.


As part of NLA’s Needs Assessment, they have developed an on-line survey that they ask our membership to complete. Here is a link to the survey:


All staff, board members and consumers of ILCNSCA are encouraged to complete the survey.

Come Join ILCNSCA at The ADA 25th Anniversary Celebration in Boston!!

In Boston on July 22, 2015 we honor 25 years of the Americans with disabilities Act with a celebration on the Boston Common.The event begins with a march at 11:00 AM. The marchers gather at the corner of Bolyston and Tremont St.The march is .6 miles to the stage area at the corner of Charles and Beacon St. it is slightly downhill all the way. The ILCNSCA will be marching and carrying our banner! If you are interested in marching with us or just attending please let Grant Murphy know at 978 741 0077 ext. 130 or via email at Hope to see you there!

Uber Survery on Accessible Transportation Options in the Boston Area.

Independent Living Center of the North Shore and Cape Ann, Inc.’s Community Access Advocacy Team (CAAT) has been discussing advocacy ideas and strategies to get wheelchair accessible taxi or affordable private pay accessible transportation on the North Shore and Cape Ann. One of our members, Tom Muxie, a Community Access Monitor and accessibility advocate in Peabody reached out to Uber. A representative from Boston’s Uber Driver Operations Team responded to say that Uber is considering options for providing transportation and wheelchair accessible vehicles. Uber is requesting that folks who own wheelchair accessible vehicles or folks to know people who own wheelchair accessible vehicles complete a brief online survey at the following link:


This may lead to an opportunity to mobilize people with disabilities, or family members of people with disabilities, to become employed as private accessible transportation providers for Uber to transport our brothers and sisters with disabilities who do not qualify for THE RIDE or other paratransit services.

Please complete the survey and let us know your thoughts on this issue. Thank you.


Shawn McDuff, Deputy Director, ILCNSCA