News Release – September 26, 2022
For more information, please contact:
Susan Baker, collections manager
The House of the Seven Gables
$509,919 Coastal Resilience Grant award
State grant enables major short- and long-term climate change study and planning at The House of the Seven Gables
SALEM — The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association is extremely pleased to announce the award of a $509,919 grant from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM). These funds from the state’s Coastal Resilience Grant program will be used to address the impact of climate change on this 354-year-old historic property now and into the future. The grant, to be jointly administered by The Gables and its project partner, Salem Sound Coastwatch, is the first in the state to go to a nonprofit museum like The Gables. The two-year project will result in an adaptation plan that lays out short term site improvements, as well as a series of longer-term actions and decision points. Of significance is the fact that this process will result in a procedural model for other similar institutions in the region.
“We are thrilled to have the support of the state, the city of Salem, and so many other partners on this project,” says Gables’ Executive Director Dakota Russell. “This level of cooperation speaks to the urgency and importance of addressing climate change and sea level rise in our community.”
The Gables’ site, located on Salem Harbor, includes seven historic structures including The House of the Seven Gables and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace. Built in 1668, what was then the Turner Mansion has once before undergone a major preservation effort. Salem philanthropist Caroline Emmerton bought the mansion in 1908, restored it in collaboration with prominent colonial revival architect Joseph Everett Chandler, and opened it for public tours. Emmerton used proceeds from ticket sales to support a settlement program for local immigrants. Her program offered language education, social and recreational activities, skills training, childcare and citizenship classes. Many of these programs are ongoing. In addition, the Settlement Association has maintained all structures on the National Historic District site since Emmerton’s major restoration.
It is once again time for a thorough evaluation of the site, which has grown and changed considerably since Emmerton’s prescient intervention. Since 1880 alone, the sea level has risen more than 13 inches, says Barbara Warren, executive director of Salem Sound Coastwatch, a 30-plus-year-old nonprofit dedicated to water quality in Salem Sound. But rising sea levels are only one part of a much larger set of urgent problems that The Gables and other historic properties in Salem are now confronting.
Gables’ Collections Manager Susan Baker, who has led The Gables’ efforts to get involved in climate change actions, is responsible for the institution’s collections and, in part, for the structures themselves. “We’re not just concerned with coastal surges and rising sea levels,” she says. “It’s also increased rain, and heat and humidity that leads to rot, mold and pests, affecting the historic structural elements of the buildings as well as the collections and archives housed within them.”
These are complex problems, she says. “They drive the future of the site, and we all recognize that now. And we cannot be totally reactive.”
Baker joined Preservation Partners in Salem, a city-led forum for historic preservation groups to meet and share news and concerns. The issue of climate change and what to do about it was a frequent topic. Evidence of damages to structures in the city due to climate change had become undeniable. The question was: How to adapt to the challenge the city faces?
“Those of us who were particularly concerned formed a sub-group,” says Baker. “Led by the city’s preservation planner, it included Salem Sound Coastwatch, Historic New England, the Peabody Essex Museum, Essex National Heritage Area, Destination Salem, Historic Salem and the National Park Service.” The group has organized two conferences devoted to the topic of climate adaptations, and is beginning to plan for the third to be held in September 2023. Over the course of the sub-group’s work, Baker and Warren began to discuss the possibility of creating an adaptation plan for the Gables that could reach beyond the Derby Street historic district. “We thought, how great it would be if The Gables could tackle a big project as a model for other similar institutions in the region,” says Baker.
“So, Barbara Warren and I collaborated to develop a Coastal Zone Management grant request,” she says. The urgency was already at hand. “At The Gables, our seawall is under greater stress than ever and is now over-washed and undermined with sinkholes forming behind the seawall, and we’re struggling to maintain it. It’s getting beaten up.” The two-year project should begin in earnest in mid-October after all the contracts with consultants and engineers are signed. Year-one work includes site data gathering, building and site analysis, adaptation planning, short-term maintenance planning, and both peer-to-peer and public outreach.
In the second year, there will be continued reporting on site analysis, detailed planning for permitting, construction-ready planning, drawings and documentation for near-term modifications and longer-term adaptation recommendations. There will be continued peer-to-peer and public outreach and, also, delivery of the final adaptation plan report. Total project cost is $604,242, with $94,323 contributed by The Gables.
“Salem is unique in its number of historic buildings. Not all are at risk, but the city does have at-risk areas and the sooner that everyone comes together, the better,” says Warren. “Because of the work this grant enables, we will have a better understanding of how, together, the city can become more resilient as climate change intensifies.”
The Gables’ executive director says he looks forward to the work ahead. “Climate change poses a threat to nearly every aspect of our lives, including the preservation of our cultural sites and resources. The House of the Seven Gables is literally on the front lines of this fight, and I’m proud that we are taking proactive steps to plan and adapt for the future. I hope our work can be a model for other sites in New England and across the nation.”
About The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association and its mission
Vision: To preserve, share and continue the American Story.
Mission: To be a welcoming, thriving historic site and community resource that engages people
of all backgrounds in our inclusive American story.
For more information visit www.7gables.org.