By Bethany Bray
---- — SALEM — The Washington Arch on Salem Common may soon be getting much-needed TLC.
A group of locals have put together a plan for some urgent repairs to the wooden arch, a 37-year old replica of a 19th-century archway designed by Samuel McIntire, Salem’s famed architect and wood carver.
Organizers say they’ll do the repairs without any municipal funding. The Salem Common Neighborhood Association has already started fundraising; this fall, Salem Boy Scout Troop 24 has pledged to contribute some of the revenue from their annual holiday wreath sales toward the project.
“I am so excited that we do have this plan and are going to move forward,” said Peter Lachapelle, who said he’s been working on the project since 2009.
Last night, city councilors voted 6-0 to give the group an initial OK to move forward. The issue will need a second approval from the full council at its next regular meeting.
The more-than-20-foot-tall arch is on Salem Common, near Winter Street. The repair project needs the city council’s blessing because it is city property.
“We want to bite off what we can chew,” Mark Meche, an architect involved with the project and one of the leaders of Scout troop 24, said to councilors last night.
Meche said their first focus will be to stabilize the arch’s carvings before winter sets in.
The carvings, including a profile of George Washington that is missing a large piece, are “in tough shape,” Meche said.
While the arch has begun to deteriorate in spots and some pieces are missing, “it’s better than you think,” Meche said. “... What we think this is, is a carpentry job.”
Meche said more in-depth repairs are being considered for the spring. The repairs — such as replacing, rebuilding and repainting some of the wood — would make the arch “a place to be,” instead of something to simply pass through.
He estimated the initial repairs will cost less than $10,000.
Salem Scouts sell wreaths door-to-door every holiday season. Troop 24 is taking orders now and will deliver the wreaths after Thanksgiving.
In addition to the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, the mayor’s office and Salem’s Veterans Council are collaborating on the arch repair project. The veterans have also reached out to the National Guard, which holds an annual muster on the Common.
“This is a great example of people working together,” said Councilor Bill Legault last night. “... I love the whole concept.”
The original Washington Arch dates to 1805, when four gates designed by McIntire were erected on Salem Common. The most memorable was the west gate by Brown Street, which had a large profile portrait of Washington. It was the official entrance to the Common.
The archway was only one of many tributes to the country’s first president, who visited the city in 1789.
Eventually, those original arches deteriorated and were removed. A century later, a new Washington Arch was erected across from Hawthorne Hotel as part of the country’s bicentennial in 1976.
When it, too, began to deteriorate, it was moved to its present location, virtually hidden on a back side of the Common near Winter Street.
Roughly one dozen uniformed Boy Scouts from Troop 24 attended last night’s council meeting. The meeting began a half-hour late because a quorum couldn’t be reached, initially.
Councilors Jerry Ryan, Michael Sosnowski and Bill Legault were at City Hall for the meeting’s 6:30 p.m. scheduled start. They called other councilors on their cellphones, and eventually Councilors Joseph O’Keefe, Robert McCarthy and Kevin Carr arrived, which met the required quorum of six.
For details on the Troop 24 wreath sales, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.