Content taken from the 1977 Salem Handbook with updated information.
Salem boasts a wealth of architecture spanning four centuries. However, the variety in our built environment can be taken for granted. Indeed, modern history illustrates that at times the vitality of our older buildings has not been a major concern in local decision-making. For instance, Salem’s 1965 urban renewal plan called for the demolition of 145 of 177 downtown buildings and came close to destroying the historic and architectural fabric of the city’s core. Citizen protest halted this original scheme but not before dozens of buildings (surrounding what is now the Church Street parking lot) were destroyed. Once the folly of “urban renewal” was recognized a philosophy followed which gave credence to preservation guidelines and the adaptive reuse of existing commercial buildings was encouraged. Salem’s downtown now reflects a successful integration of old and new buildings and urban spaces.
The neighborhoods matter
In Salem, as in other cities, it is not just the downtown core that should be appreciated. Our older residential neighborhoods contain a legacy that garners their own attention. It is not important if these areas are officially designated as “historic districts.” What is important is their social value, for never again will typical houses be built with such high quality materials and workmanship, and only the slow working of time can create their genuine character. As thousands of visitors flock to our city in search of this country’s roots, we as residents should take note of their interest. Old buildings in all of our neighborhoods can help us understand the importance of our past by providing a shared history and a strong sense of community.
Over the past fifty years Salem and historic preservation have changed in many ways. In the early years of urban renewal “new” was equated with progress and our architectural inheritance was neglected, or destroyed, in the process. Thanks to widespread opposition to traditional “urban renewal” tactics the attitude of city planners evolved in the 1970s, however the urban core continued to lose businesses, value, and residents through the 80s. Slowly, though, with the work of visionary citizens, business owners and residents there began to be reinvestment in downtowns across the nation. In Salem, these efforts have resulted in an urban core that is lively and vibrant. It is surrounded by historic neighborhoods that are attract residents who value the location and quality of life that these areas offer. It is easy to be optimistic about the future as we continue to work toward Salem’s betterment. Yet we must remember that the active reuse of historic buildings requires a thoughtful commitment from all of us. Salem, like other New England communities, must still confront the needs that a modem society requires from an environment of aging buildings. In a prosperous city, change is inevitable, but we should ensure that change respects and reflects the unique character of our historic neighborhoods.
In most cases, it is you, the homeowner, who will ultimately determine whether this character is retained. Only if you carefully consider how renovation or new construction will affect your building and your neighborhood will our older neighborhoods remain livable and attractive. With a click of a button one can access an excess of opinion on how to undertake a historic renovation. The challenge is to separate misguided or inappropriate information from the useful and sound. In an effort to assist you, Historic Salem, Inc. is web-publishing this manual. The content is time tested and reliable. We hope it will be an invaluable resource, guiding you in the care of your house and our city.
Read last week's Introduction to the Salem Handbook
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?
Sunday, February 26th marked the 242nd anniversary of Colonel Leslie's retreat & over 200 people came out to celebrate with a reenactment! Thank you to Reverend Jeffrey Barz-Snell and the First Church congregation for hosting the reception. Thank you to Stacia Kraft for helping organize the event and thank you to our actors Charlie Newhall, Jonathan Streff, Eric Rodenhiser, Jeff Barz Snell, and Alicia Diozzi. Thank you to Hamilton Hall & Murphys Funeral Home for providing meeting locations. And thank you to our friends & neighbors for showing up and having fun with history!
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