, Salem, MA

July 29, 2013

McAllister: Remembering those who helped preserve region's history

Essex County Chronicle
Jim McAllister

---- — This week’s column, a hastily put together but heartfelt tribute to seven Salem area residents who have passed away in the last six months, and whose collective contributions to the region’s cultural and tourism industries cannot be measured, was prompted by the recent death of model builder Leon Masse.

In his retirement, this beloved Salem carpenter and handyman began building birdhouses that were actually replicas of famous buildings from around the world. From there, Leon moved on to scale models of regional lighthouses — he built more than 50 of them — and eventually replicas of important Salem buildings.

The latter group included the Salem Cadet Armory, which took him a year to research and build and which is now on display at the Salem Visitor Center on New Liberty Street; the Old Salem Train Depot; the Custom House at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site; and the House of Seven Gables. Leon’s final effort in this arena, a model of Salem’s First Church, was completed just before his death last week at age 100. All were given away, incidentally, never sold.

Robert Murphy, who died late last winter, sold antiquarian books in a shop in Derby Square before buying and moving to the Joshua Ward House on Washington Street. A wonderful carpenter with a love for historic structures, Bob set out to restore the Ward House interior. He did most of the work himself, using a variety of antique tools but, sadly, never got to see the project through to completion.

Bob’s Higginson Book Company was a leader in the print-on demand industry. Through the company catalog, he made available to the public more than 10,000 family genealogies, in addition to local histories and books on his personal passion, the Civil War.

No discussion of area genealogists could ignore the late Kay Piemonte. Kay was a longtime, active member of the Essex Society of Genealogists and taught courses on how to do genealogical research at both Salem State University and the Explorers Life Long Learning Institute in Salem.

The Salem resident was just as active at her beloved Tabernacle Church. Over the years, Kay undertook the research, writing and publication of the church’s history, the creation of a church archive, and the mounting of a small permanent exhibition of historical church documents and photographs. In 2012, she played a leading role in organizing the bicentennial celebration of the departure of Salem’s — and America’s — first foreign missionaries.

A wonderful quilt maker, Kay produced personal memory quilts for folks willing to make a modest contribution to the Tabernacle Church.

The impact that Danvers’ Anne Turcotte had on the regional tourism industries was immense. She started as a tour guide on the Salem Trolley, owned by her mother, Gloria Lampropoulos, and later took over that business. Her career also included stints at Salem Wax Museum and the House of the Seven Gables. In 1998, Anne joined Hawthorne Tours, a Salem firm owned by her good friend Helen Medlar, as the company’s head tour operator.

In her role as president of North of Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, Anne was a relentless promoter of the region’s heritage. Anne was the recipient of both the Governor’s Award of Appreciation and an award created in her honor, the Anne Turcotte Leadership Award, by the visitor’s bureau.

Jean Levesque served as mayor of Salem from 1973 until 1983. During Levesque’s administration, the architecturally sensitive “New Salem” central business district conceived by his predecessor, Samuel Zoll, was completed. With the help of the Salem Redevelopment Authority and other important public and private entities, Mayor Levesque oversaw the restoration of many of the historic commercial buildings in downtown Salem and the building of visually compatible new ones.

His administration also helped pave the way for the creation of Pickering Wharf. This waterfront commercial complex drew attention and visitors to Salem Harbor, and provided a long sought-after link between the downtown and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the House of Seven Gables.

Colleen Bruce spent more than half of her 60 years on earth working for the National Park Service. She joined the staff of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site at a time when the park was undergoing a major overhaul with the help of a massive infusion of funds from the federal government and other sources.

As Marine Division chief, Colleen oversaw the restoration of the site’s decaying wharves before turning her attention to Friendship, a replica of an actual Salem vessel that dated to the late 18th century. While she had no experience in the field of ship building, operation and maintenance, Bruce quickly grew into the job. She became the vessel’s biggest advocate, and drew many others to the cause. Colleen played a leading role in defining and implementing Friendship’s mission, and lovingly and tenaciously fretted over its welfare until her dying days.

And finally, we remember Don Costin, longtime Wenham resident and antique collector, whose meticulous restoration of “Greymoor” at 329 Essex St. ca. 1980 inspired an article in a major American publication.