Fish Flake Hill, located in the heart of Beverly’s harbor, from the waterfront up to Stone Street and Rantoul Street over to Bartlett Street, is Beverly’s oldest and smallest neighborhood.It was first settled in 1626 by a group of people led by Roger Conant, who came across the water from Salem.Fish Flake Hill quickly became a strong waterfront community with widespread activity all over the many wharves of Water Street.(see image) The Privateers, hired by the Colonial Navy, which came into these wharves, had the greatest economic impact on Fish Flake Hill.Regardless of the money though, it was the fishing boats and many merchants that docked in Fish Flake Hill that had the greatest impact on the neighborhood as a whole.In fact, the name Fish Flake Hill can almost be credited to the fishing boats themselves, since it comes from the many fish flaking tables that were setup all over the hills of the small waterfront community.1
Unfortunately, by the time the twentieth century hit Fish Flake Hill had undergone some drastic changes both economically and physically, due to the declining waterfront businesses and increased use of railroads.Despite everything though, Fish Flake Hill’s sense of community and pride was stronger than ever.Most of the residents were English speaking American born, lower class families who worked either on the docks or in a nearby shoes factory or were unemployed.(see image) (see image)The trade ships and fishing boats that had once made this neighborhood so strong began to fade out and were replaced by boats bringing fuel, but this business would not last long.In the early 1900s there were more than half a dozen wharves located on Water Street, mainly dealing with coal and other sources of fuel and all independently owned.Within the next forty years this began to change.Wharves began to move and combine with each other; New England Coal and Coke Co. bought out one of the independent oil and coal companies and caused others to close.The economy slowly changed and people started to have less money.Surprisingly they dealt with it quite well since they had never really known much better lives.2
Recreation was important in Fish Flake Hill, despite the lack of organized recreational groups or clubs directly in Fish Flake Hill.There were plenty of groups and clubs nearby downtown, but most of the people spent their recreation time down at the waterfront.They spent their time fishing and boating and doing other water related activities.Due to the small size of Fish Flake Hill, there were no parks directly in the neighborhood, and rather than leave their home area, most of the children also spent their free time down by the docks playing and fishing.They became known as the ‘wharf rats’ and were extremely happy with the lives they lead, not knowing how poorly they had it sometimes.3
Due to the small size of Fish Flake Hill there were no churches located directly in the neighborhood; although religion was still an important aspect of the community.It claims to have been home to the first Sunday School in the United States.(see image) And even though there were no churches directly in the neighborhood, there were many located a short way down Cabot Street, so all the members of the community made the short trip downtown to celebrate mass and such.As for transportation to get downtown, most people probably drove automobiles.Unfortunately, the train, which so drastically changed the economy of Beverly, did not run through Fish Flake Hill, so they had to depend on automobiles for intercity transportation.They could however, use boats and ferries for transportation to Salem and other neighboring cities on the water.4
One of the few common neighborhood attributes that was not affected by Fish Flake Hill’s size was public services.Being so close to downtown it would seem that when it came to fire and safety they would just depend on the central fire station on Hale Street, that was not the case though.At the far corner of Fish Flake Hill, where Rantoul Street and School Street meet, there was a small fire station.This fire station was home to one engine, originally the number two hose engine and later, in the mid 1900s, the second main engine.Fish Flake Hill also had a school of its own.In fact, by 1914, there were two schools located in Fish Flake Hill.5
The South School, located at fifteen Stone Street had been a part of Fish Flake Hill for most of Fish Flake Hill’s history.But in 1914 the population in Fish Flake Hill, Goat Hill and the lower half of downtown became too large to be housed in just the South School, so the Edwards School was opened directly across the street from the Rantoul Street Fire Department building, in the upper left corner of Fish Flake Hill, right where Rantoul Street and Edwards Street meet.6
Fish Flake Hill is one of Beverly’s strongest neighborhoods.It was one of the founding neighborhoods in Beverly, and without the support of Fish Flake Hill’s waterfront based economy built up in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, Beverly may not have become the well-built city that it is today.Fish Flake Hill was even able to adapt and change when the economy of Beverly moved away from the waterfront and left Fish Flake Hill behind.In honor of Fish Flake Hill’s great historical significance, in 1971 it was declared a historical district, Beverly’s first.This caused Fish Flake Hill’s historical buildings and wharfs that were falling apart to begin to be preserved as opposed to turned into waterfront condos and for the neighborhood as a whole to being to turn around economically and begin its journey back to being the glorious waterfront neighborhood it once was.7
1) Historic Fish Flake Hill Brochure and Map
2) Beverly City Directory Volume II (Beverly: Crowly and Lot )
Beverly City Directory Volume XXX (Beverly: Crowly and Lot )
Lindsey, Jay. 1966. “History brings renaissance to Fish Flake Hill”. Beverly Citizen, 13 December, 5.
3) Beverly City Directory Volume II (Beverly: Crowly and Lot)
Lindsey, Jay. 1966. “History brings renaissance to Fish Flake Hill”. Beverly Citiczen, 13 December, 5.
4) Beverly City Directory Volume II (Beverly: Crowly and Lot) Lindsey, Jay. 1966. “History brings renaissance to Fish Flake Hill”. Beverly Citizen, 13 December, 5.
5) Beverly City Directory Volume II (Beverly: Crowly and Lot)
Beverly City Directory Volume XI (Beverly: Crowly and Lot)
Beverly City Directory Volume XXX (Beverly: Crowly and Lot)
6) Beverly City Directory Volume II (Beverly: Crowly and Lot)
Beverly City Directory Volume XI (Beverly: Crowly and Lot )
7) Lindsey, Jay. 1966. “History brings renaissance to Fish Flake Hill”. Beverly Citizen, 13 December, 5.
Historic Fish Flake Hill Brochure and Map
All photos courtesy of the Beverly Historical Society