North River

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The North River is one of the major waterways in Salem, running through the northern section of town, towards the town of Peabody. Mostly known for its activity around the leather industry in the 1800's, some factories on the northerly side of the river, including Salem Oil and Grease produced oils for use in the leather industry. Because whale blubber was the primary source of that oil, the North River leather district became known as Blubber Hollow. Factories unrelated to the leather industry also appeared along the North River. These included Salem Gas Light Company and a jute-bagging plant at the bottom of Skerry Street. Eventually, the toxic waste from the factories, especially the leather shops, combined with sewage from throughout the city making the North River very polluted. In 1885, the city tried to solve the problem with a project to dredge and build a canal. A preliminary city sewage plan was implemented in 1885. The demise of the leather industry at the turn of the century alleviated some of the ongoing pollution. Recent efforts by the city and groups like Salem Sound Coastwatch to clean up the waters have made the North River more healthy.


Old North Bridge

See Also

  • Vertical File in Salem Collection - North River
  • Postcard Image courtesy of
  • "Other waterfront also rich in history" Salem Evening News, May 5, 1999, p. A2
  • "North River's smelly past led to cleanup and a new park" Salem Evening News, Apr. 17, 2002, p. A3
  • "Journey by canoe along polluted North River confirms environmentalists biggest fears" Salem Evening News, Oct. 5, 1998, p. 1
  • "River Walk Worries; some say North River park is unsafe" Salem Evening News, July 10, 2000, p. A1
  • "Return of smelt is an encouraging sign" Salem News, May 8, 2006, p. A1
  • "Volunteers prepare North River for fish" Salem Evening News, Mar. 13, 2002, p. A1
  • "Council approves new canal neighborhood plan" Salem News, Dec. 8, 2005, p. A2