The Washington McIntire Arch
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The Salem Common has been in use since 1637 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 part in the Revolution. In 1805 ,the City of Salem decided 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. The woodcarving was performed by Ramon Parga of Salem. Expertise with respect to the steel fabrication and construction was provided by the 101st Battalion National Guard Corps of Engineers, Reading Ma. Johannes Maki was the project supervisor. Reno Pisanno served as consultant, James Kieran and Richard Redfern were the carpenters and the staff of the Essex Institute contributed substantially to the venture.
The Arch was formally dedicated by Mayor Levesque on July 4th, 1976. The reproduction arch was showcased int he 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 and a visiting ship of Naval cadets gave the structure a fresh coat of paint. On January 10, 2013, President Obama signed Public Law 112-241 that named Salem, Massachusetts as the birthplace of the National Guard. Each spring, the National Guard hosts a Muster and formal review of the Troops on the Common in honor of Washington’s original visit.
Today the Arch stands forlorn and rapidly deteriorating at the top of Winter Street. It is the hope of the Salem Common Neighborhood Association to restore the Arch adding it to the map of historic interpretative themes. The restored Arch will 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 style as shown in the federal-style homes around the Salem Common. An interpretive sign that describes the Common as the birthplace of the National Guard,the visit of George Washington to Salem, and the work of Samuel McIntire, architect and wood carver, thousands of visitors, and the stewardship of the City of Salem and the SCNA will ensure the preservation of the Arch for future generations.