At about a half-mile in length, the elaborate cast-iron fence that surrounds the Salem Common is one of Salem’s oft-overlooked treasures. Constructed in 253 sections, each about eight feet long and five feet high, the fence was built in 1850 at a cost of $7,000. The Common it encircles is approximately 9 acres. Prior to the addition of the cast-iron fence, the Common’s fence had been made of wood. “Salem Common on Training Day,” an 1808 painting in the Peabody Essex Museum by George Ropes, Jr. shows that the Common in the Federal Era was bounded by a white rail fence with its gateways flanked by urns on posts. This was constructed in 1801 at the largesse of Elias Hasket Derby, when the Common was renamed Washington Square.
We, collectively, value the Salem Common because of its public nature and ownership, and it is this same characteristic that creates challenges in preserving the fence. In 2012, horses participating in the anniversary of the First Muster were spooked and pulled down four sections of the fence. Many other sections had been damaged by weather and time...and snow-plow drivers. Currently, Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds are being used to restore the fence. In 2013, 20 sections of the fence and three gated entrances were restored (using Capital Improvement funds), in 2015 a further 22 sections were fixed and in 2018/19 more work is planned to replace large sections of the fence that are missing.
It is easier to preserve than to replace, therefore Historic Salem supports ongoing efforts to make sure the fence is not damaged through carelessness or vandalism.
“Salem Common on Training Day,” an 1808 painting by George Ropes, Jr.
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Founded in 1944, Historic Salem Inc. is dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings and sites.