Arkham, the Legend-Haunted City
Arkham - History
A Brief History of Arkham
A considerably younger town than neighboring Kingsport or Innsmouth, colonials settled the Arkham area first in the late 17th century. They were ‘liberal thinkers’ fleeing the oppressive Congregationalists of Salem and Boston. Led by such educated men as Jeremiah Armitage, Jebel Whately, Tristram Curwen, and Abel Peabody, these earliest settlers laid out the first streets on the slopes of what is now known as French Hill. Town meetings for “the Plantation of Arkham” were held once a month in a small wooden hall on “the first wet day of the month when all are to appear there at the beat of a drum.”
Arkham grew slowly through the early 18th century, overshadowed by nearby-Kingsport’s successes with fisheries and trade. Arkham grew as a quiet farming community; when prices were good, a few fishing boats slipped down to the sea. For many years the only way to cross the Miskatonic was by way of Evan’s ferry, just large enough for a coach and four.
In 1761, Francis Derby and Jeremiah Orne returned to Arkham following successful careers as Salem sea captains. They brought five ships between them, determined to turn Arkham into another West Indies trade port. They built docks and warehouses along the north side of the river, in the area around Fish Street, and for a few years Arkham was host to ships plying the triangular trade, moving slaves to the Caribbean and the South, bringing molasses, sugar, and rum to New England, and exporting skins and dried cod.
At the height of this trade the first permanent streets north of the river were established, and the first great Arkham mansions—the Derby and Orne homes and those of their captains—rose in the area now called Easttown. Orne and Derby built the first bridge to span the Miskatonic River, a wooden creation near the site of the present Peabody
Jeremiah Orne died in 1765, leaving a library of 900 volumes and a bequest that, administered by trustees Francis Derby and George Locksley, was used to found
Miskatonic Liberal College. The school was housed in a large two-story building on the south side of College Street, overlooking the old Common.
A large second-story housed the Orne library and a small museum of oddities brought back from the West Indies and beyond by Arkham ships. This collection can still be seen at the Miskatonic University Exhibit Museum. John Adams Pickering, Harvard-educated and of the
Arkham Pickerings, was chosen the college’s first president. During the Revolutionary War, the Derbys and Ornes turned privateer. Operating mainly out of Kingsport, they sank or captured 23 vessels under the British flag, turning handsome profits. After the war, the families subsidized the purchase and development of the old Town Common—previously
used for pasturage and militia training—and soon installed a now-healthily-endowed Miskatonic College on the new campus. A new town square was laid out on the north side of the river, near the center of town, and, after much debate, named Independence Square.
The end of the war marked the decline of Arkham’s sea trade. Salem, Boston, and New York rapidly consolidated most of the China trade; the local remnant went to Kingsport. In 1808, the Federal Customs Office in Arkham was closed, and Arkham lost its status as a port of entry.
Despite the loss of international trade, Arkham grew rapidly in the first half of the 19th century, thanks to the vision of such men as Eli Saltonstall. Saltonstall, formerly a captain sailing for the Pickman family, foresaw the end of Arkham’s short-lived sea trade, opening in 1796 Arkham’s first textile mill, on the south side of the river at the foot of East Street. More mills opened soon after and, as New England farming declined, Arkham grew industries.
The industrialists—the Saltonstalls, Browns, and Jenkins—laid out new streets south of the college campus along the top of South Hill, and there constructed grand Georgian/Federalist mansions, financed by large textile profits.
In this period, in 1806, the town’s first newspaper, the Arkham Gazette, was established, underwritten by the Federalist Derbys. Republican industrialists were later to help
found the Arkham Bulletin. By this time the Federalist sea merchants were dwindling. Their last building spree saw the construction of the mansions that border the Common
along Federal and Curwen Streets.
By 1820, mills and supporting industries lined the south bank of the river, from Peabody Avenue east. Arkham became increasingly urbanized. By 1850, a telegraph line linked the town with Boston. Reputable scholars, in part drawn by Miskatonic College’s already famous library and by the proximity of the town to Boston, began to join the staff. Southwestern Arkham took on the feel of an Ivy League town.
Industry continued to expand. By 1850, brickyards, leather shops, shoe factories, watchmakers and, later, costume jewelry manufacturers lined the shores north and south on the eastern side of town. A great string of warehouses, eventually reaching West Street, were constructed along the south shore during this period.
In the American Civil War, Arkham’s finest formed a company of the 23rd Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment. Twenty-seven young men died in the struggle; a memorial in Christchurch Cemetery commemorates their sacrifice.
After the Civil War, Miskatonic College became a full-fledged university. Gas street-lighting was nearly complete by 1870. Visitors were frequent enough that a cab service existed, working out of the rail depot. In 1873, Arkham created a municipal police after members of a then-illegal fraternity got drunk at Doc Howard’s Bar and sparked a riot that damaged many shops and stores along Church Street. A law was soon after passed limiting the proximity of taverns in the campus area.
Unprecedented spring rains in 1888, coupled with offshore storms that drove the sea up the Miskatonic’s estuary, swelled the river far over its banks. The worst flooding ever recorded in Arkham caused extensive damage to the riverside mills. Southwestern Arkham, as far as part of the University campus, was inundated, damaging the basement archives of the library and destroying irreplaceable acquisitions.
In the next years, new concrete drains and levees eased the danger of a second killer flood. A little later, trolley lines were installed, and the first homes turned from gas light to electricity. Telephone lines appeared. Before the end of the century, a public sanitary water system was completed.
As though to spite these efforts, in 1905 a terrible cholera epidemic swept Arkham, killing many in the sudden plague. Among the many victims was Dr. Allen Halsey, then dean of the Miskatonic School of Medicine and a public benefactor loved by all. A statue to his memory was erected on campus and presently overlooks the town he loved.
Arkham’s textile mills never fully recovered from the flood of 1888. New England had lost much of the trade to the South; most of Arkham’s firms, underinsured against the disaster, never reopened.
In the Great War, Arkham gave its share; a bronze plaque at City Hall and a Commons bronze doughboy commemorates those who fell.
The economic boom in the 1920s passed by most of New England, whose industrial base was by now in rapid decline, but reached Arkham by way of the University. Town and school became inextricably linked. Many Arkham shops cater greatly or exclusively to the needs of
the University community. In 1928, the school is the heart of the town’s economy. Its administrators and faculty form part of the newest of Arkham’s aristocracies.
Though New England’s fortunes declined after the Great War, local survey shows that 83% of Arkham homeowners possess electric irons, 77% have gas or electric washing machines, and 51 % have or plan to purchase vacuum cleaners. Nearly 50% of Arkham families own at least one automobile, and merchants complain of those who park their machines in front of shops all day.
The interurban trollies that once linked Arkham, Ipswich, Kingsport, Bolton, and Salem have been abandoned with the coming of the automobile. A bus line has recently re-established some of these routes.
Problems persistently arise between Town and University. At present, the cost of campus police protection is being debated. The University’s young president, Dr. Wainscott, has dared to enter the controversy by running for mayor. Even if the election in November goes to the University, the perennial struggle for power between Town and University will not end.
Though there is no boom, the new construction of apartment buildings, University buildings, and filling stations attests to general prosperity.