In the late 1800s and early 1900s, Methuen’s downtown area along Broadway and Hampshire Street was a bustling center of activity. There were shops and stores of all types offering just about everything the people of the community could want. One such business was the James S. Dodge and Son grocery and hardware store at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence Street.
James was born in New Boston, N.H., in 1828. He moved to Andover, Mass., by 1855 where he was engaged as a trader and a grocer. He and his wife Evelyn had one son, Selwyn A., born in 1859. The family moved to Methuen after the Civil War.
In 1866, James partnered with Joseph W. Fulton in a grocery store at 42-46 Hampshire St. The following year, he purchased a fine home at 16 Pleasant St. He lived there with Evelyn for the rest of his life. The household also included a live-in female servant.
In 1878, James purchased a tenement block at the corner of Broadway and Lawrence Street to build a new store of his own. The impressive-looking three-story building was completed in the summer of 1879. Millett G. Copp of Methuen was the builder. Selwyn joined his father in the business about this time.
The spacious store occupied the first floor. Insurance maps show residential apartments on the second floor. The third floor was a large, architecturally designed lodge hall for the Odd Fellows fraternal organization (they built their own building on Hampshire Street in 1899).
According to an illustrated ad in the 1896 Methuen street directory, the store carried a wide selection of items including groceries, dairy products, hardware, lawnmowers, farming tools, etc. The business flourished in its new location despite competition from other grocery stores in the nearby area: Edwin J. Castle and Henry A. Merrill had stores on Broadway by Osgood Street, while Moffatt & George was on Hampshire Street at the corner of High Street.
These were far from the only businesses downtown. There were two drug stores, bakeries, boot and shoe stores, dry goods stores, meat and fish dealers and several other types of stores. At the southwest corner of Broadway and Osgood Street, A. L. Dame’s general store sold books, stationery, periodicals, cigars and tobacco, confectioneries, fancy goods and sporting goods. There was also the town hall, a police station, a bank, a post office, a newspaper office, a tailor, a Chinese laundry, a hairdresser, a veterinarian, livery stables, blacksmiths, an undertaker, realtors, physicians and attorneys.
Big changes occurred in Methuen at the end of the century. Starting in 1890, lines for electricity, telephone and illuminating gas were brought into town for the first time. The horse railroad running along Broadway was converted to electric streetcars. Within a few years, streetcar lines operated through the downtown and along several routes throughout the town. James Dodge was one of the first to have electric lighting installed in his store in 1891.
As the new century began, James was in his seventies and suffering from rheumatism (he died from the illness in 1906). In 1902, he closed the store and sold the building to Edward F. Searles. Searles repurposed it as a hotel and tavern known as the Turnpike Hotel (Broadway in the early days was known as the Turnpike). He completely renovated the building inside and out in grand style. Some of the more noticeable exterior enhancements were decorative columns on the Broadway and Lawrence Street sides of the building and a large belvedere (cupola) atop the roof. On the Osgood Street side, he attached a house he had moved from Park Street.
In 1911, the National Bank of Methuen relocated to the first floor of the building from its previous location in the town hall across the street. The bank purchased the building from Searles in 1920. The bank occupied that location for many years. The rest of the building, including the former Odd Fellows meeting hall, was turned into apartments.
John A. James and Richard E. Page, of Alden Edward Realty Trust, purchased the building in 1964. Richard and his wife, Dorothy, acquired ownership from the trust in 1988. The building was then known as the Page Building.
Dorothy died in 2005, followed by Richard in 2013. The family trust sold the property to Renov8 Homes LLC in 2015. There are currently offices on the first floor and nine residential apartments throughout the rest of the building.
Ken Doherty is a lifelong resident of Methuen. He served on the Methuen Fire Department from 1980 to 2010. He is the Fire Department historian and a former member of the Methuen Historical Commission. He wrote “Á History of Methuen and its Fire Department” in 1996. He is retired and still living in Methuen with his wife, Paula.