, Salem, MA


May 31, 2013

Our view: Pioneer Village at a crossroads, again

There’s no arguing Salem Pioneer Village is a city treasure.

Considered one of the nation’s oldest living-history museums, the three-acre village off West Avenue was built in 1930 for a city-organized pageant marking the 300th anniversary of the arrival of Gov. John Winthrop to Massachusetts’ shores. With a blacksmith’s shop, wigwam and thatched-roof cottages among its buildings, and with all the work done with methods and materials used at the time, the site is meant to depict Salem as it would have appeared to Puritans arriving in the 1630s.

Though small, the site is an invaluable window into an important era in the history of the region — and in the history of what would become the United States. In that way, it’s every bit as important as the city’s major historical attractions, including the Custom House and Friendship, the House of the Seven Gables and any number of museums and monuments addressing the witch hysteria.

Unfortunately, however, that historical importance may not be enough to keep the site open past June.

Pioneer Village enjoys none of the advantages of the city’s other historic and history-themed sites, with their downtown locations, interconnectedness and dramatic story arcs. Tucked away behind Forest River Park, it’s not easy to get to. And the story it tells is of daily life in the 1630s. There is no talk of pirates, secret staircases or witch trials. For those who treasure local history, that makes the site a labor of love.

For the last five years, the site has been managed, along with Old Town Hall on Essex Street, by Gordon College. By all accounts, the college has devoted a tremendous amount of time and effort to rehabilitating and running the site since it took over the property in 2008.

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