“Preserve the past, save the future,” is the motto for the Mississippi Stone Guild whose president, Michael Drummond Davidson, has been working to conserve the facade of the Salem Witch Museum since the Spring of this year. The time has come to confront the challenge of preserving the historic exterior of a building which has become a prominent landmark in Salem.
THE BUILDING’S FAMILY TREE
Designed by Minard Lefever, a prominent nineteenth century New York architect, the country English Gothic church built 1844-1846 as the East Church is now in need of a facelift. Like his other notable works of the time, for example Saint Ann and the Holy Trinity Church pictured at left, the East Church had a crenellated facade (notched like a fortress battlement) with three pointed-arch entrances topped by point-arch traceried windows. A fire in 1902 damaged parts of the building. Then in 1925 the octagonal towers were cut down from their original height. The building served as a church for about 100 years until 1947.
In 1957 the building was converted into an antique automobile museum. When another fire struck in 1969 there was so much damage that the interior was gutted. The structure became the home of the Salem Witch Museum in 1972.
IT’S LIKE…CSI: SALEM
“This work is scientific sleuthing,” says Mr. Davidson, reminding me that no one who was involved with building the structure is alive today for consultation. Devising a solution to reinforce the shell of this unique building first requires assessment of the composition of the original stone. One must deduce through this investigation how the stone was fabricatd at the quarry, how the structure was engineered and how the stone was attached to the building. Historical construction materials are not always compatible with modern ones. Therefore, it’s important to understand how the materials respond to temperature and moisture, for example, and match these with appropriate new patches.
…WITH A DIFFERENT KIND OF GIL GRISSOM
Michael Drummond Davidson, the conservator on this job, was trained in Scotland as a stone mason 25 years ago and has consulted on the restoration projects at Ellis Island, Carnegy Hall, churches throughout New York as well as American Embassies in Warsaw, Poland and Athens, Greece. The Chicago Tribune Tower in Chicago, Illinois and the Philadelphia, PA City Hall are also among his preservation projects.
The project is expected to be complete by October of this year and, if done as intended, the exterior of the architecture will appear…to be exactly the same! Anticlimactic? Indeed the GOAL of the preservationist and the stone mason Roger Tremblay is to keep the visage of the Salem Witch Museum in tact. In an effort to inform visitors and the community, we’ll be making video shorts showing various stages of the conservation available on youtube.com Unveiling is scheduled for early October .
Architecture in Salem: An Illustrated Guide by Bryant F. Tolles, Jr. with Carolyn K. Tolles, pp. 13-14