A couple years ago when people were evaluating and voting for the downtown alley naming project, a couple of the proposed names were real head-scratchers. "Fortune's Corner Alley" was one of them that didn't make much sense.
|May 13th, 1908 - via Salem Reporter|
Salem Reporter had another history column yesterday on two of the names, and it seems pretty clear that "Fortune's Corner Alley" is based on a misreading. And when the Main Street Association and then Historic Landmarks Commission rushed the public part of the process without publishing more of the underlying historical analysis, they made it impossible for the public to catch things like this.
|The building wasn't up in 1908|
January 1st, 1910
The Main Street Association cites the ad at top from 1908 "for the U.S. National Bank at 'Fortune's Corner' in downtown Salem," but the bank building didn't exist then. So it is very unlikely that the ad is referring to anything specifically on that corner. Could it refer to Ladd & Bush, on the kitty-corner? I suppose so, but pointing out a competitor seems unlikely in this context. The map the Main Street Association published with their proposal references Ladd & Bush does ambiguously include it in the yellow highlighting, but that really is an anachronism based on our modern knowledge of the bank locations.
|Proposing "fortune's corner"|
In fact, the ad copy isn't principally about a street "corner" at all. The word is "cornerstone," though there is an erasure or awkward space in it.
|detail from ad|
Rather than being about a place, the corner of State and Commercial, "Fortune's Corner," the ad is about a generic idea, that the bank is the "cornerstone" for "fortune," any fortune, and any person who desires a fortune or to be fortunate. The ad copy in small type lacks end punctuation and is to be read with the following larger type:
Every dollar saved and deposited in bank is adding just so much to fortune's cornerstone.
We should read it primarily as Fortune's (Cornerstone) rather than (Fortune's Corner) Stone.
The ad was probably a one-off or part of a limited run, and not indicative of any place name in popular conversation. A similar ad in the afternoon paper ran from May 2nd to May 16th in 1908, and the word pair "fortune's corner" does not appear again in advertising or news articles.
|The afternoon paper, May 5th, 1908|
The alley name is not an homage to a real historical fact; the alley name is a new creation, even a little bit of a confection. In an attempt to manufacture interest it is, by accident or design, an instance of disneyfied history and fake heritage.
The other alley name discussed in the piece, an homage to the Wexford, does not seem to be factually wrong as much as wrong-weighted. The Wexford had only a very brief life on Court Street, and it does not rank very high on the list of historically significant features on the block. Old City Hall was right there! This was a missed opportunity.
|They definitely missed on the Old City Hall site|
It is not helpful to get too cranky about these names. They are small, minor things. But they do illustrate the erosion of historical understanding. If we repeat them often enough, they will become part of the conventional historical self-understanding for Salemites, and then they will become difficult to unwind.
More footnotey things...There seems to be two well-attested names for the corner, Moores Block and the Red Corner.
Here are two very early views from the front. They focus on three lots. US National Bank took Moores Block and the one next to it; the third building is now a void with the drive-thru. In these pictures, the Capital National Bank did not exist until much later.
Moores' Alley would have been a strong candidate for an alley name. John H. Moores was Mayor of Salem and State Senator in the very early days.
|The corner (far left) in 1861, March 28th, 1931|
Also, here in the Library Historic Photos
|Slightly later (middle filled in by 1864)|
January 1st, 1911
The note from 1911 suggests the Moores heirs sold the building to the bank in 1906. So that would rule out Legg owning it. (In his new book on Walter D. Pugh, Terrence Emmons suggests that Pugh also worked on the bank building at the tail end of his partnership with Legg.)
Perhaps in the 1880s or 90s, likely coinciding with a paint job, the
building became known as the Red Corner. That also is well-attested and would also be a better name for an alley.
|Red Corner as Red Cross Drug Store|
detail, circa 1905, via State Library
Here it is towards the end of
that era. (Note the bikes and the hops broker also. The conical tower of
the Capital National Bank is just visible.) The State Library says
circa 1902, and the "Red Cross" drug branding may mean it is from 1905
or later when the name changed slightly.
|April 14th, 1905|
|New name, October 10th, 1905|
|Demolition is coming, February 8th, 1909|
The Salem State Bank occupied rooms in the building next door, the one missing in the 1861 photo and present in the 1864 photo.
The United States National Bank opened to the public on February12th, 1910, again nothing an ad from 1908 would refer to.