Local groups win grants that support region's sense of place

Posted: Sunday, April 26, 2015 2:00 am - By Terry Date tdate@eagletribune.com

LAWRENCE — At the spring gathering of the Essex National Heritage Commission at the Everett Mills, 150 guests celebrate the region’s strong sense of place and the award-winning projects that enhance that dynamic.

Daylight streamed through tall windows at the Thursday morning event and brightened the sturdy hardwood floor that factory workers once trod. The long, wide room with a high ceiling smelled of brick and wood and looked spacious enough for a basketball game.

The crowd heard that three of the 15 projects receiving awards are local: Groundwork Lawrence, Friends of the Lawrence Heritage State Park and the Lawrence History Center.

Speaking of the region, Annie Harris, CEO of the Essex National Heritage Commission, said the 500-square-mile heritage area — within the traditional boundaries of Essex County — teems with places of historic and cultural value.

These places are the nearly 10,000 properties on the National Register of Historic Places, 26 national landmarks, 86 museums and historic sites open to the public, 400 working farms, nine state parks and two national parks.

These locations, imbued with history and culture, are a magnet for people to live, visit, work and retire in this region, she said. This is especially true in a country that is, increasingly, losing landscapes — with historic landmarks — to crowded roadways crammed with flat square buildings and generic signs.

Everett Mills owner Marianne Paley said Lawrence’s traditional brick-and-stone mills continue to meet the needs of entrepreneurs, diverse small manufacturing operations, schools and other tenants.

The city’s mills are thriving with thousands of workers and companies, she said.

Her grandmother, who came from Russia to Lawrence in 1910, worked in the mills. Her father bought Everett in 1981. She is the third generation to work there.

The mills represent a story of rebirth, she said.

Part of that success relies upon access to education, said Lane Glenn, president of Northern Essex Community College.

The community college’s downtown Lawrence campus has 3,000 students, double what it had a decade ago, he said.

And this fall, the college will partner with two four-year schools to open up access for students aiming to earn bachelor's degrees.

Annie Harris said a sense of place is becoming more important to young people.

As they grow up and enter the workplace, they are seeking livable walking places to which they can forge a connection.

“That is what is so unique about our region: The cites and town recognize the importance of these (places),” she said.

In the region, "people can buy vegetables and cheese from farms that have been around for hundreds of years; they can build a boat at the oldest operational boat shop in the country,” she said.

And, just outside the Everett Mills windows you can see the face of the Industrial Revolution: the most ambitious planned industrial city in the country, a city split north and south by the meandering Merrimack River.

“And today it is the blend of these historic mill buildings and the river that are revitalizing this community,” she said.

Over the next year, the 15 grant recipients will be working to implement a diverse range of educational, interpretive, and preservation projects throughout Boston’s North Shore.

2015 Essex Heritage Partnership Grant Recipients

Lake Gardner Improvement Association
Seeking to increase awareness and use of Amesbury’s publicly owned historic conservation properties, the Lake Gardner Improvement Association will partner with Amesbury Trails to improve, interpret and promote a recreational trail connection linking the Town Forest to the Woodsom Farm Conservation Area. The all-volunteer project includes trailblazing, construction of a boardwalk and installation of trail signage through Amesbury’s Great Swamp and across land managed by Essex County Greenbelt. In addition, maps and related materials will be created for distribution online and via social media.

Boxford Border to Boston Trail Committee
Employing the graphic and interpretive style already used by four contiguous trail communities, the Boxford Border to Boston Trail Committee will develop and install two informational kiosks along its recently opened section of the emerging 30-mile Border to Boston Trail. Spread over approximately four miles, the visual materials will enhance the public’s safety and provide directional and cultural information on the railroad’s history and its surrounding sites. When completed, seven of the nine Border to Boston Trail communities will have installed branded interpretive displays funded, in part, with Essex Heritage grants.

Essex Technical High School
Combining elements of vocational education and place-based learning, students at the new Essex Technical High School will create a conservation and preservation plan for the school’s campus in Danvers. Commensurate with the school’s stewardship of its natural resources, students studying Natural Resources Management and Environmental Technology will focus on the campus’s wetland environment. While taking into account both the local watershed and historical land patterns dating to the colonial era, students will be engaged in topics such as site assessment, watershed hydrology, botany, soils and regulatory law, and will produce and analyze GIS maps and water quality data.

Essex Shipbuilding Museum
Part tourist attraction, part community ambassador, part teachable moment, the 15-foot, hands-on exhibition model of the Schooner Effie M. Morrissey is a centerpiece of the visitor and school field trip programs offered by the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. The beloved model is a replica of the state’s official sailing vessel, the 1894 Schooner Ernestina-Morrissey. With such a pedigree, the “Effie” serves as a three dimensional gateway to discussions about sailing vessel design, Arctic exploration, immigration and prominent role of Essex-built vessels in the sail-powered era of commercial fishing. A victim of her popularity, the Effie will be returned to her place of prominence following the publicly viewable repair and refinishing of her hatches, masts, rigging, hardware and wheeled cradle.

Maritime Gloucester
In order to better connect residents and visitors to Gloucester’s maritime traditions and unique ecology, Maritime Gloucester will pilot a summer program offering experiential activities at its waterfront campus. Throughout the summer, visitors will be able to explore a changing set of programs in a drop-by format. Examples include rope making, sea-faring board games, navigation tools, “plein air” painting demonstrations, historic films, fish feeding, "mug ups" with local fishermen, mast rigging, fish filleting demonstrations and net making. These enhanced daily offerings will provide the visitor with a memorable experience of the maritime traditions and skills still practiced in coastal Essex County.

Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Community Arts & Education Foundation
With the goal of reusing the vacant 1891 Cogswell School as a community art center, the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce Community Arts and Education Foundation seeks to preserve a beloved vestige of Haverhill’s past by capitalizing on the city’s cultural renaissance. Recently buoyed by a 3-year lease-to-purchase agreement with the city, the foundation will use an Essex Heritage grant to plan and execute a community awareness campaign. Activities include creation of a brand identity, on-site signage, enhanced web presence and a fundraising prospectus.

Ipswich River Watershed Association
To promote conservation and recreation on the Ipswich River, the watershed association will create a branded network of educational kiosks. The river, a source of drinking water for 350,000 residents and businesses, is used by thousands of people every week during the paddling season, making it one of the most-used recreational resources in Essex County. The project builds upon the work of an Eagle Scout and entails the refurbishment or installation of eight wooden kiosks at key access points in five Ipswich River communities. Featuring a unified design, the kiosks will engage river users with a regional map, photographs, and messaging about the importance of protecting the watershed.

Groundwork Lawrence
Designed by Groundwork Lawrence staff to introduce the natural environment to urban youth with few opportunities to experience it, the “Knowing Your Environment” program will take Green Team members to ecologically significant sites in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Ipswich, Newburyport, Georgetown and Lawrence. The high-school-aged youth will explore different ecosystems, learning how they operate and why they matter. The lessons about soil, vegetation and water will be applied as the Green Team members return to Lawrence to provide hands-on project assistance on environmental and healthy community initiatives.

Friends of Lawrence Heritage State Park
With Essex Heritage funding support, Lawrence Heritage State Park will conduct its popular interpretive boat tours on the Merrimack River on Sundays during July and August. Begun in 2005, the free tours are offered in partnership with the Greater Lawrence Community Boating Program, which maintains the 18-passenger boat that is piloted by a Coast Guard-licensed and insured captain. The 1.5 to 2 hour tours are narrated by interpretive staff from Lawrence Heritage State Park and focus on the natural history of the Merrimack River, early settlement of the region and the vital role the river played in Lawrence's industrial development.

Lawrence History Center
Built in the 1880s by the Essex Company to house its growing operation in Lawrence, the handsome brick building complex is now home to the Lawrence History Center. As part of its strategic commitment to honoring the city’s heritage, the Center is replacing all 40 of the aluminum storm windows on its main building with new, historically appropriate, exterior-mounted, insulating storm windows. In addition to returning the building to its original appearance, the new storm windows will help preserve the building’s original 1883 windows, improve thermal insulation, and preserve the building’s contents by eliminating the penetration of ultra-violet light.

Methuen Rail Trail Alliance
Built downtown in 1907, the brick Methuen railroad depot is the starting point for many of the organized community activities taking place on the 2.4-mile Methuen Rail Trail. To enhance the user experience, the Methuen Rail Trail Alliance will use Essex Heritage funding to create an attractive gateway setting around the depot. The project will include landscaping and the installation of wayfinding and interpretive signage describing the trail’s historical and present day links to mill buildings, the Spicket River Greenway, the Nevins Bird Sanctuary and marshlands leading to the New Hampshire border.

Thacher Island Association
Drawing upon its 25 years of experience with the famed twin lighthouses on nearby Thacher Island, the Thacher Island Association will undertake the interior rehabilitation of the Straitsmouth Island light keeper’s house located near the entrance to Rockport Harbor. The project scope includes the house’s walls, ceilings, floors, stairs as well as electrical and plumbing systems. Once completed, the circa 1878 structure will be used as a residence for volunteer lighthouse keepers who will watch over the 30-acre island as well as welcome visitors and provide tours.
The Thacher Island Association will manage the project on behalf of Mass Audubon, which shares ownership of the Straitsmouth Island with the Town of Rockport.

The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association
It is toured by hundreds of thousands, but no visitors to The House of the Seven Gables in Salem have ever seen two key rooms of this venerable National Historic Landmark, built in 1668. In an effort to enhance the public’s access and understanding of the First Period structure’s 350-year evolution, the settlement association will prepare detailed plans for restoring the original second-floor dining room chamber and accounting room. In addition to guiding the organization’s interpretation of the spaces, the grant funded work will inform fundraising goals and provide vital information for institutional records.

Topsfield Historical Society
Since the late 1600s, the citizens of Topsfield have been documenting significant civic and church events. Since the late 1800s, the Topsfield Historical Society has organized and published more than 34 volumes of this material now contained in the town’s archives. With the objective of making Topsfield’s local history available to a much larger public audience, the Society has initiated the “Digital History Project.” The primary focus of the grant-funded work will be the creation of a new website and portal to the society’s digitized collections, links to Topsfield material available on other websites and robust search tools to access information from all sources.

The Great Marsh Coalition
Addressing the pressing need for increased public awareness about climate change, the Great Marsh Coalition is sponsoring the production of four banners illustrating the consequences of sea level rise on the Great Marsh ecosystem. Created by artist and environmental planner Susan Quateman of Gloucester, the works of public art will be informed by Coalition initiatives such as marsh inundation, invasive species, land protection and salt marsh restoration. The weatherproof banners will be displayed on a rotating basis throughout 2015 at Rough Meadows Wildlife Sanctuary in Rowley and the popular Cox Reservation in Essex to coincide with several large-audience events. The project is being managed by Essex County Greenbelt.