Winter Island is one of Salem’s major but under utilized historical attractions. It is listed on the National Register as a Historic District and Archaeological site. It is also one of Salem’s leading City operated recreational parks. It contains the colonial Fort Pickering, the site where the frigate Essex was built and launched in the 1790s, and two significant former Coast Guard structures.
Major progress was made in 2003 to insure the stabilization of the 1934 hangar. A new roof was given to this unique historic structure closing it to the elements. Before the hangar can be utilized for public use, a fire suppression system must be installed. Funding for this system is presently not available. We encourage the City to continue to consider how this structure can be reused.
The former Coast Guard barracks and mess building is in great need of repair and is still open to the elements. A feasibility study was completed in 2007 as a first step in applying for grant money to restore the building. A recent grant application to the Massachusetts Historical Commission failed to secure funds. The search for a grant continues.
HSI highly recommends that the open windows and roof of this building be boarded up with plywood to keep out the elements and to show potential grant providers that Salem is serious about restoring this important historic structure.
Fort Pickering still requires significant preservation efforts as outlined in the comprehensive survey and planning study completed in 2004 of Forts Pickering and Lee. HSI saw the decision in 2005 to establish ten new RV parking sites on Fort Pickering as a major step backwards in the fight to preserve this fort.
In 2008, Sail Salem, Inc. began utilizing Winter Island for a program that offers Salem residents instruction in the art of sailing small craft. This program is meant to greatly benefit Salem children, who will be given virtually free instructions.
We have long supported the development of a comprehensive use, preservation and management plan and believe it is essential to the long-term management of this valued city asset.
We are very grateful to Doug Sabin who has been orchestrating an important oral history of Coast Guard Station Salem as well as leading several tours of Winter Island to help cultivate support for restoration of this premier park and historical resource.
We continue to encourage better utilization of the historic structures of Winter Island to tell its fascinating history. The interpretive sign system needs revision and better interpretive brochures should be developed. We encourage the City to look into the possibility of devising a guided tour program designed to promote public interest and support for the restoration of the historic structures on Winter Island, perhaps in a partnership between the City and Salem State College. Most fees collected from Winter Island go into the City’s general fund (as do the Witch House and Forest River Park fees). We recommend that the City consider having a significant portion of these funds go into a separate fund dedicated for the maintenance and restoration of the historic structures in City parkland.