Nestled behind a row of houses on Mason Street and a row of businesses on Commercial Street sits an industrial building that is, for the moment, empty. It started life in 1917 as a Hood ice cream plant before it became an adhesive factory and most recently a metal fabrication shop. Soon it will be rehabilitated to house 10 condos, with its grounds home to an additional 19 townhouses. This type of project is really exciting for Historic Salem for two reasons. The first is that this project seizes the vision of the decade old North River Canal Corridor plan, and the second is, of course, the that it reuses a historic, industrial building.
But why does the reuse of this rather nondescript and relatively unknown old building matter?
Urbanist Jamie Lerner wrote: “Each city has its own history, its own points of reference, the places that belong to the city’s collective memory and are vital to its identity – the intangible bond that forges a sense of belonging.…There is nothing that flatters a neighborhood – indeed an entire community—more than the revival of such ‘lost’ spaces.”
There are grand and notable buildings that tell part of our city’s history, but if we only know of Old Town Hall or the Witch House, then we only know our city on the surface – as acquaintances, or fans. When we learn about the intricacies of our past we gain an intimacy and a better understanding of this place we where live.
Chances are you have never noticed the old Hood factory that is a physical reminder of the North River and Salem’s industrial history. In two years, though, 30 to 60 new neighbors will come to our city and introduce themselves by saying, “I just moved into, or next to, the old Hood plant on South Mason Street.” Their presence in this old building and in our neighborhoods will help us know our city better.
Emily Udy is the Preservation Project Manager at Historic Salem, Inc.