The Washington McIntire Arch
The Salem Common has been in use since 1637 beginning as the drill field for Salem’s Militia units. On October 29, 1789 General Washington visited Salem to thank those on the North Shore for their significant part in the Revolution. In 1805, the City of Salem decided to construct a tribute to President and Commander-in-Chief George Washington. This included two arches (East and West) and two turnstiles (North and South). Samuel McIntire, Salem’s genius woodcarver and self-taught architect, was commissioned to design and construct four gateways for the sides of the common. The main gateway was designated the “Washington Arch” and was located on the westerly side of the Common at the head of Brown Street.
McIntire molded his design based on those used in ancient Rome in welcoming processions. The arch on the Salem Common featured ornate carvings including an oval portrait of Washington flanked by swags of drapery. It was then topped with a gold eagle to symbolize our newly formed United States of America.
In 1850, the Common was again remodeled adding walkways and the cast iron fencing. The arches were removed at this time. In 1976, the Bicentennial Commission under the direction of Robert Murray commissioned to have the arch reconstructed and designated it the “McIntire Washington Arch.”
The “new” Arch was constructed of metal and wood and located at the corner of Washington Square South, facing where the Tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel is now. Carl Peterson contributed the architectural drawing for the project. Ramon Parga of Salem performed the woodcarving. The 101st Battalion National Guard Corps of Engineers, Reading Ma, provided expertise with respect to the steel fabrication and construction. Johannes Maki was the project supervisor. Reno Pisanno served as consultant. James Kieran and Richard Redfern were the carpenters assisted by the staff of the Essex Institute who contributed substantially to the venture.
Mayor Levesque formally dedicated the Arch on July 4th, 1976. The reproduction arch was showcased in the Peabody Essex Museum’s 2007 exhibit Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style – Symbols of the New Republic.
The Arch was moved in the mid 1980’s to the top of Winter Street as part of the rehabilitation of the Common. The Arch was neglected until 1988 when the Salem Common Neighborhood Association (SCNA) and a visiting ship of Naval cadets began basic restorative efforts such as painting. On January 10, 2013, President Obama signed Public Law 112-241 that named Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard. The National Guard hosts their annual spring Muster and formal review of the Troops on the Common in honor of the Guard’s founding as well as Washington’s original visit.
Due to the ongoing dedication of the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, the restoration of the Arch continues. The restored Arch will continue to stand as a tribute to George Washington, our first President and Commander of the Continental Army, for whom the streets around the Salem Common are named. Once restored, the National Guard troops will march through the Arch during their annual muster. It will also serve as a tribute to Samuel McIntire reflecting his unique style as shown in the federal-style homes around the Salem Common. Interpretive signage will be added that describes the long history of Salem Common including its being the birthplace of the National Guard, George Washington’s visit to Salem, and a memorable display of the work of Samuel McIntire. Through the stewardship of the City of Salem and the SCNA, your help will ensure the preservation of the Arch for future generations of residents as well as visitors from around the globe.