“I frequent downtown often. It’s hard to walk down the road without meeting someone you know.”  This describes the aura of the downtown neighborhood: one of friendship and cooperation. The Oxford American Dictionary defines a neighborhood as, “the people living in a district.” However, the downtown neighborhood takes this definition to a higher and more complex level. The area known as downtown is centered around the economic highlights of Rantoul and Cabot Streets. Creating an oval shape around these streets, the surrounding boundaries of downtown are: Cabot Street (N), School Street (S), Lothrop Street (E), and McPhearson Drive (W).  These surrounding boundaries can be referred to as the suburbs of this bustling neighborhood.
The neighborhood itself is enriched with approximately 200 years of cultural, social, and economic history. Beverly was first settled along the coast in 1626. The downtown area was settled soon after around the years of 1650-1700. However, it did not become a true neighborhood until the early 1800’s. Beverly was early known as a merchant and fisherman town. The downtown area soon changed the sea-based economics of Beverly with the arrival of hundreds of immigrants looking for low-skilled work.
Transportation in the early 1900’s revolved around the streetcar located on Cabot Street. The tracks connected with other neighborhoods such as Ryal Side and Montserrat. It tended to be used most for downtown travel. The car itself was originally pulled by horses. (see image) With the arrival of more advanced transportation such as the railroad and automobile the streetcar became less popular. The streetcar was demolished in 1939. Downtown contained two major railroad companies called the Boston Marine Railroad and the Boston & Northern Railroad.  Downtown held the main depot of the city on Park Street, which not only connected neighborhoods, but cities. The stations and railroad companies were primarily used for economic and social growth. Examples of such include relationships between cities, and shipping and receiving in business. The automobile was not very popular in the downtown area. Automobiles tended to be a symbol of wealth which the residents of downtown did not necessarily have. Both the railroad and automobile gained popularity through the 1930’s and 40’s.
The neighborhood of downtown held practically a church of every religious denomination. Religion was a part of most inhabitants lives. Religious acceptance was also practiced by most. The four major churches of the 1900-1940 time period were the First Calvanistic Baptist Church , Dane Street Congregational Church, and St. Mary’s Star of The Sea Roman Catholic Church.  Each had a solid amount of participants and involvement in the community. Children in the area were participants in the Sunday schools offered. St. Mary’s developed their own private parochial school on Chapman Street. Even on days of work parishioners could still be found in worship throughout the downtown churches.
Downtown held almost all recreational opportunities. Practically every organization, club, or group was located in the area. Examples of such include: Bass River Lodge, Cabot Club, Consort Lodge, Elks Lodge , and over 100 more. Each of these groups usually met at Odd Fellows Hall on Cabot Street. The building was considered “the mother” of recreational activities. The citizens of the area also used the Common , church, the Ware Theater, and Dane Street Beach as social meeting places. Recreation generally stayed the same between the years of 1900-1940. Old Home Week , or what Beverly would now call Homecoming Week, was the popular recreational activity of the year. In 1902, Governor W. Murray Crane declared the week of July 27-August 2 Old Home Week. The governor stated it would be a time to celebrate Beverly and its history. Cabot Street was decorated from head to toe with American Flags, banners, and streamers in celebration of the yearly event. The event was viewed as a unifying event for the neighborhood.
Downtown throughout the years of 1900-1940 was considered the economic center of the city of Beverly. The neighborhood held over 100 business’ and even more employees. Examples of such business’ include: William H. Cann Contractors, Amore’s Barbershop, New England Telephone and Telegraph, and Beverly National Bank.  One of the largest economic strengths of the downtown area was the shoe factories. There were three factories in downtown alone, the largest being the Woodbury Shoe Factory. The factory had a large employment number and profit margin. The economy of downtown was bustling until the 1930’s when the depression hit. Nancy Jennie Consolgio, a 16 year old downtown resident stated at the time, “By the looks of things it seems as if the Banks are going to stay closed for quite a while.”  The downtown area became a barren economic desert. However, in the late 1940’s downtown began to resume a normal and stable economic life.
The downtown neighborhood can also be seen as the educational center of Beverly. The area alone contained seven schools. These include: Miss Kilham’s Kindergarten, Miss Studley’s Kindergarten, Hardie School, Prospect School, Washington School, High School , and Miss Nettie Woodbury’s Prep School.This collection of educational facilities covered grades K-12. The subjects of reading, writing, arithmetic, and typing for women were among the main classes offered. There is no information on whether or not education was highly valued in the neighborhood but one can assume that with so many facilities it probably was. The educational system of downtown did not change during the time period of 1900-1940.
In between the years of 1900-1940 downtown held most of the public safety facilities in the city. The police department was located next to City Hall on Cabot Street. It was an average size station that increased through the years of 1930-1940. The fire department had two stations located in the downtown area. The first was the main central station located at 15 Hale Street. The second was Hose Company 2 located on the corner of Rantoul and School Streets. The stations did not receive engines until the 1910’s. Before this point they used horse drawn wagons. These wagons were very inefficient and unreliable. In the early 1900’s the hospital of downtown was located in the home of Dr. Samuel W. Torey on 106 Cabot Street. Dr. Torey then founded Beverly Hospital on 14 Central Street. The institution was then moved out of the neighborhood to Herrick Street in 1915.
The citizens of the neighborhood were primarily immigrants. Ethnicity’s represented included Italian, Irish, Canadian, Greek, and Russian. The 1910-1920 Rantoul Street census concludes that approximately 50% of it’s inhabitants were Italian immigrants. The immigrants of the downtown neighborhood were a vital factor in the economic system of the area. These immigrants worked in almost every business in the area. (see image) However, a large amount worked at the shoe factories. Italian women were among the seamstresses, Greek men among the oilers, and Irish and English men and women among the other staff. Christina Pipillo, an Italian immigrant in downtown, owned the Italian Market located at 374 Rantoul Street. Pipillo also served as an Italian interpreter for those who could not find jobs or were in legal trouble. Immigrants such as Miss Pipillo were quite common in the neighborhood. Each had a special talent and culture to add to the area. Ethnicity is truly the special characteristic of the downtown neighborhood. The ethnicity generally did not change throughout the 1900-1940 time period.
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The neighborhood of downtown is truly a marvel to any historian. Unlike many areas in history it is rich in transportation, religious, economic, educational, public safety, recreational, and ethnic history. Each area has it’s own unique story to tell with special and interesting characteristics. Without downtown, Beverly would ceist to exist. As a citizen of Beverly I look to the downtown neighborhood for reminders of the past, the life of the present, and hopes for the future. Downtown, forever.
 Crowley & Lunt, The Beverly City Directory (Beverly, MA, 1915), 200.