Peabody puts its history to the test

PEABODY — The Peabody Historical Society and Museum has been closed to visitors since March 16, but the society continues to promote the city’s rich history and traditions.

The society’s latest initiative is the Downtown Peabody Architectural Scavenger Hunt, which wrapped up this week.

“We created snippets of interesting buildings in the downtown area and also provided a small walking map so people could get out and learn about their city’s history,” said Assistant Curator Nora Bigelow. “We thought it was just a way, during this period of isolation and quarantine, to explore history. To do that, you can walk outside your door. History is all around us, you don’t need to come inside the building to learn.”

The society assembled a collection of nine historically significant buildings in downtown Peabody, posting it on its Facebook page along with the map. The following week the names of the buildings were revealed along with a challenge to take “a stroll downtown or a virtual walk via Google maps and ‘look up’ and learn.”

Over the next nine weeks, interesting facts and historical information about each building was revealed via Facebook post. 

Using Facebook’s metrics, the society tracked the activity (through clicks, likes, comments and shares) to determine the buildings that generated the most traffic.

The winner? Bigelow says it’s still too close to call.

As of Friday, the Second O’Shea Building was on top with 5,288 people reached. The Peabody Institute Library was right behind with 5,125, while the Peabody Central Fire Station was third with 3,745.

The Second O’Shea Building is located at the corner of Main and Foster streets. Leather company owner Thomas O’Shea, spent $200,000 to build two commercial buildings spanning from 9 to 17 Main Street, the site of the birthplace of American Revolutionary War General Gideon Foster. Completed in 1907, the building at one time had a bowling alley in the basement.

Completed in 1854, the library, located on Main Street, was made possible through George Peabody’s $20,000 donation. He believed that everyone should have the opportunity to learn regardless of their ability to pay. Richard Bond, who also designed Salem City Hall and Lewis Wharf in Boston, was the architect.

The fire station, located on Lowell Street, was built in 1873 at a cost of $31,000 and later restored in 1989. It is one of the oldest continuously operating fire headquarters in the United States. Horses played an integral role in firefighting before the advent of motorized vehicles. Peabody’s last two horses, Tom and Jerry, were retired in 1926.

The oldest buildings were Sutton House, 31 Washington St. and the former First Unitarian Church, 7 Park St.

The Church cost $8,734 to build. Most of the building was paid for by selling pew subscriptions. The more a donor paid, the better his seat.

Prominent tanners Abner Sanger and Benjamin Goodridge contributed in exchange for allowing them to store hides in the church’s cellar.

The first session of the Peabody High School was held in the attached chapel on June 7, 1850.

Sutton House, a Gothic Revival cottage was built in 1847 by General William Sutton as a wedding gift to his daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, Abel Peirson Jr. The house was donated to the Peabody Historical Society in  2009 and moved to a lot adjacent to a lot adjacent to the Osborne-Salata House on Washington Street.

Other buildings in the series included St. Vasilios Greek Orthodox Church (1917), Peabody City Hall (1883), Osborne-Salata House (1852), and the  Former Synagogue for Congregation Anshe Sfard (c.1897).

Bigelow said the hunt was such a big hit,  that the society may consider another series.

“It was very popular and it was gratifying to see how interested people are in our social media base. I saw so many people whose names I didn’t know from our traditional in-person programs, so that was great to know that people are interested in what we do.”

“Right now we are in the process of figuring out the subject matter for another series. It’s in the works mentally and we are so happy that people are continuing to enjoy it. We are always trying to find quirky ways for people to learn about Peabody’s rich history.”


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