Group intent on preserving city’s past

Preserving Salem’s past for the present and future — that’s the proud work the members of Salem Preservation have been doing for well beyond a quarter of a century.

“We’re known for our celebration of preservation, honoring buildings saved or preserved by owners downtown and throughout Salem, homes too,” Salem Preservation President David Schwartz said.

This summer the group has been hosting free educational seminars for homeowners, with the first two focusing on landscape lighting and window restoration vs. replacement. The next program at 7 p.m. July 11 talks about how to get recognition for a historic home, conducted by Ginger Grilli at the Ruth Smucker House on South Broadway. A program slated for 7 p.m. Aug. 1 will deal with the historic color palette from different times and architectural periods.

Schwartz said Salem Preservation will return to its roots this summer, too, possibly with historic walking tours in the downtown historic district and South Lincoln Avenue historic district. The group is known for its home tours of historic areas in Salem besides trying to preserve “architecturally and historically significant sites, objects and landscapes.”

During the tours, Schwartz said some of the local history will be highlighted.

“We’re going to give the stories connected to the buildings, not just the architecture,” he said.

For example, South Lincoln Avenue is one of the largest Grand Avenues intact with single family homes in Ohio. The neighborhood joined the National Register of Historic Places in 1993, followed by the Salem Downtown Historic District in 1995.

Last weekend, homeowners in the South Lincoln Avenue historic district gathered together for a block party, a get-to-know-you event which attracted 60 residents, including the new owners of the Ambler mansion who flew in from Utah. The couple has a son who lives in Lisbon and Schwartz said they liked the area. They plan to restore the home located at the southwest end of the avenue.

Salem Preservation came to be when Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Ohio Secretary of State’s office in March 1993 to establish the group as a non-profit. According to Schwartz, though, the group’s efforts predate the official start. He said their work actually started with Unserheim, the home on Franklin Avenue of local abolitionist Daniel Howell Hise, who was part of the Underground Railroad network in the 1800s.

Word was that the house was in danger of being torn down and Schwartz said Carolyn Caldwell, who became Salem Preservation’s charter president, commented “this can’t happen.”

Through networking and conversations, they learned that Richard and Hope Theiss were coming to Salem to live, they saw the possibilities in the house and made the purchase, restoring the home to its former glory when they lived there. The home was placed on the National Register in 1998 and a historic marker was erected in 2003 in the front yard.

Schwartz said one of the group’s proudest accomplishments is visible to anyone driving down Pershing past Reilly Stadium, where the Reilly Wall committee from Salem Preservation raised funds and worked with the school district, which also put funds towards the project, to rebuild the north wall of Reilly Stadium, rebuild part of the east wall, build a new ticket booth and establish the alumni area.

The work made an impression on the Salem Public Library, which did some work to spruce up its parking lot entrances off of Pershing by installing a matching wrought-iron fence and stone columns.

The group also brought about the Design Review Board, helped the city get status as a Certified Local Government eligible for certain grants for historic preservation, established the First Ladies group which acts out conversations by past First Ladies and previously had an educational program in Salem city schools using box cities to teach about architecture.

Next, Salem Preservation plans to continue what Eagle Scout Gray Buta started with Burchfield Trace and the murals of art by famed watercolorist and boyhood Salemite Charles Burchfield by installing more murals.

The next big project will be McCulloch Park, the site where the McCulloch’s retail store used to stand in downtown Salem. The city owns the lot and it’s already known as the park, but Salem Preservation wants to renovate the space into a gathering place for residents in the downtown with a small music venue, flower garden and places to sit and hang out. According to plans, the parking lot will even gain a space instead of losing any.

Schwartz said the whole idea behind preservation is to preserve things that would otherwise be lost if someone didn’t step forward.

“If you lose those items, you’re losing your history,” he said.

Salem Preservation meets the first Thursday of every month at 7 p.m. at the Ruth Smucker House on South Broadway. Other officers besides Schwartz include Vice President Keith Berger, Treasurer Carolyn Caldwell and Secretary Jennifer Brown. The Board of Directors includes Schwartz, his wife Arlene, Berger, Brown, Elaine Kothera, John Gilbert and Ginger Grilli.

To learn more, visit salempreservationsociety.org