For the most part, Salem Street adheres to the historic, well-kept and neighborly character of the West End. On warm evenings residents congregate in the street, or can be seen in their backyards gardening and tinkering with household projects.
All seems normal and pleasant here until you reach 5 Salem St. Clearly, something has gone wrong.
The two-story house is sagging, the siding is peeling, there’s junk stacked in the windows and the piles of trash and overgrown weeds in the yard threaten to annex the building. It looks deserted but for an unregistered car in the driveway.
City tax records indicate that the six-bedroom house, built way back in 1864, is owned by the “heir” of Elizabeth Dabrowsky Clowes, who died 12 years ago. That would apparently be her daughter, Carol Anne Clowes, who may or may not still be living there.
Earlier this year, the city’s housing inspections office received two anonymous complaints about the property. The first, this past February, stated that “transients” had been seen entering and leaving the house. Inspectors visited 5 Salem St. and reported that it “appeared to be vacant/secure from vandals.”
In April, the Inspections Division received a second complaint, this time from a different neighbor who expressed concern for the well-being of the middle-aged lady spotted entering and leaving the house via the basement door.
Holly Kidder owns 6 Salem St. and has lived there since 1999. She said Clowes has been living in the house across the street for years — apparently without heat, electricity or running water.
Skip Matson lived on Salem Street for many years before he moved earlier this decade. “During the twenty-some years I lived there, I only saw [Clowes] maybe twice,” he said. Matson began noticing the home’s deterioration in the mid-1980s, and said his guess is that Clowes lost the will to maintain the property after her mother became ill.
”I think that she just wants to be left alone now,” Mattson said sadly.
(Oddly, Kidder, Matson and other neighbors I spoke with all referred to Clowes as Elizabeth, her mother’s name.)
Repeated attempts to reach Clowes at the property were unsuccessful. The windows are all dark at night. A phone line at the house listed in the name of John Clowes just rings and rings.
Kidder routinely cuts the weeds, removes the trash and shovels the snow in front of her neighbor’s house. She said she has no resentment toward Clowes, just concern for her welfare.
“I’m not sure what the real issue is,” said Kidder. “But if she has some personal desire to see the house rot to the ground in order to heal something, then so be it.”
— Cotton Estes