Downtown Fountains May Face The Wrecking Ball

Pedestrian mall improvements to eliminate both fountains?

As plans for a redesign of the Essex Street pedestrian mall begin to emerge, the fate of its two once vibrant and refreshing water fountains seems set.

Seven hundred feet apart, they stand as bookends for the brick and cobblestone walkway. As things look today, these fountains, proud but worn monuments to Salem history, will be no more. 

Each fountain tells us something of Salem history.

The bigger fountain, across from the East India Marine Hall, details how Salem grew as a result of trade with the farthest ports of the rich east. An Asian gateway represents the maritime trade while two layers of cobblestone display the Salem map as it appeared before and after the landfill projects that eliminated most of the wharves and a lot of the waterfront.

The layers of cobblestones fascinated me as a kid. I would stand there and try to visualize what Salem looked like prior to the landfill projects. The North and South rivers were longer and wider. In my mind's eye, I saw the wharves of the South River with large ships sailing off onto the the open seas. Many a seafaring adventure played out in my imagination.

The smaller fountain in Town House Square tells another older story. Legend has it that this was the location of the main fresh water source in Salem even before the Europeans arrived. The first town pump was built there which became the focus of "A Rill From The Town Pump", Nathaniel Hawthorne's satirical riff on the temperance movement. Its birth in 1976 fulfilled a pump's request from that poem which was: "when I shall have decayed, like my predecessors, then, if you revere my memory, let a marble fountain, richly sculptured, take my place upon this spot. What stands today may not be marble, but it does serve to remember.

This smaller fountain also attracted my young imagination. The bronze relief depicting scenes from Salem history brought me on many a journey. I wore the bronze helmets and encountered the local natives in many a heroic scenario. I love it when tourists engage me in conversation, and I can relate the story of this fountain to them and point out the millstone embedded in the sidewalk in front of .

Over the years, the entire pedestrian mall has degenerated through neglect. It is difficult to blame any one group or person. Years ago, there was a maintenance and repair budget for its upkeep. When I started at the , there was a $25,000 budget just for the market place. Over the years, the money in those budgets was redirected and then just eliminated.

If you don't maintain something, it is bound to fall apart and that is what happened here. The cobblestones need to go, they were a nice idea 30 odd years ago but were never practical. Improved access to storefronts is well advised. Better landscaping with some trees is also a nice idea.

Eliminating the fountains? Not a great idea to me. I like them. I appreciate them. I want them to stay. The smaller fountain is situated so as to still allow vehicle access. The bigger fountain when operational and filled with water brings a cool vibe and the story of Salem to a visitor on a hot day.

It will be a sad day for me when the wrecking ball comes to the Town Pump.

john April 09, 2012 at 06:35 PM
I see no way to reopen Essex St without removing the fountain in the square
Nancy Weston April 09, 2012 at 07:37 PM
Save the fountains!
Matt Buchanan April 09, 2012 at 09:48 PM
A few years back I helped run a program out of Salem High School for students to work, landscaping around the city. One of the areas we worked in was the mall area in a partnership with City Hall and the Salem Garden Club. When this area gets some attention, it looks really good, we kept up the garden beds, cleaned trash, planted flowers, removed debris from the tree beds, and watered. This was a few years ago, I remember back then the map fountain was usually on. When the fountain is working it's a magnet for people to enjoy a beautiful afternoon and when people take the time, it offers a unique view of Salem's history. There were days we'd be working surrounded by people and I would always take a moment to appreciate what a beautiful city I live in. I'd hate to see the fountains go, but agree that they deserve some attention. I think the fountains are unique and should be incorporated in any plans moving forward.
Joeli Gewirtz April 09, 2012 at 11:35 PM
Keep the fountains. Let me know what I can do to help the cause. On another related topic: I personally don't think allowing cars down Essex street is the answer. The stores there don't do good business because there arent diverse options... For locals especially...and we are the ones that would shop there daily.. Instead, the options for shopping are geared towards tourists and they don't come in hoards anytime except October. How many palm readers, tshirts shops and kitchy witch gift shops do we need? Look at any town that has a walking downtown mall: Burlington, VT, for example....the commerce is fantastic! Why? Because the shoppiitself fantastic. Downtown Salem has to bring in a shopping experience that is fun and diverse. It has to have more mom and pop places to acquire good food, visit good bars, boutiques, grocery...etc. i cant get a fresh loaf of bread in Salem on my way home from the train at 7pm because there isn't a shop that sells convenience items to us locals that are ready to stimulate this economy. Salem doesn't currently have the right mix of commerce in the right pkaces so does driving down Essex street to the same old shopping options allow for more business? I know I still have no need to regularly visit any one place on Essex street.. I have to go to Swampscott to buy groceries. Sorry...but for my and many others I've spoken with...it's the truth. Driving instead of promoting a good walk is not good for society, either.
Joeli Gewirtz April 09, 2012 at 11:40 PM
I honk there was water in it once last year for a day or two. I agree... fIX the fountains... Don't do away with them. I'd support getting rid of the fugly pieces of "art" they've scattered through the mall, though. no offense to their designers... They just don't represent Salem to me.
Joeli Gewirtz April 09, 2012 at 11:42 PM
I agree regarding the pedestrian mall. The city needs better shopping, not more places to drive cars.
john April 09, 2012 at 11:54 PM
Imagine Salem with outlet stores! Today I see the mayor is leading the charge to tax internet shoppers so we will all be on an equal ground. Is there any tax mayor driscoll is not in favor of? The mayor was elected to manage the city not take on Amazon.Fix the streets before you take the world.
Driving In Salem April 10, 2012 at 12:23 AM
I can't agree more that downtown shopping (especially on the pedestrian mall) is a mixed bag (I'm being kind) - we would like to spend more time & money downtown, but the restaurants and a few stores are all that serve residents - everything else is a small version of a larger store that's usually worth the cost savings and larger selection to drive to highland, vinnin sq, or the mall region for. Opening the mall to drivers is an incredibly terrible idea, especially as one of the most snafued (and that's saying something) roads in the city is the stretch of Washington between Norman / Derby and Bridge - with the absolute worst area being where Essex meets Washington. We do NOT need more traffic flowing into or turning out of that area unless they can knock down all the building on either side and make each direction two lanes of traffic, with lights at Essex. We all know that's never going to happen.
Donna DeMarco April 10, 2012 at 12:32 AM
The cobblestones have got to go!!! I don't think allowing cars is a good idea however.
Driving In Salem April 10, 2012 at 12:35 AM
Making the mall car accessible is no more helpful to those retailers than the Mayor's "internet tax". It appalls me that she has gone on record in favor of internet taxes under the guise of "supporting main street" - which is total B/S. If Amazon is operating in Massachusetts & should be charging Mass sales tax, that's one thing & I don't have an issue with it. That said, I don't understand why she feels she should be championing it across the board when there are larger issues closer to home. It feels like grandstanding for higher office, which I don't approve of or appreciate. Main Street shops will lose to larger, faster, better retailers with deeper pockets, no overhead & a longterm plan - who have buying power to dictate pricing that's passed on to consumer. I can buy from Amazon at a huge discount & have it delivered for free in 2 days or less. Why go to the local bookstore to find out it isn't in stock or find it & pay a 30-40% higher price? The Joke is that Main Street retailers are making up for lost walk-in business by selling online. None of that internet tax money will benefit Main Street retailers any more than it will you or I. She may as well advocate bailing out Borders. If an idea's time has come, nothing will save it, that's evolution. That said, the Burlington VT example is excellent. I'd rather see effort spent luring quality businesses to Salem than grabbing more money from ordinary consumers to fund an overspent/spending government.
john April 10, 2012 at 01:36 AM
Not only is she in favor but she is leading the charge.She has one thing in mind and that is taking more from the taxpayers to balance the budget. Parking meters at Steve's market while Holyoke Insurance has private, reserved, free parking on the streets around their building.Throw us a bone and give up the car at least.
Michael P Reilly April 10, 2012 at 01:44 AM
Unfortunately, the tv witch statue likely draws more attention (and hence more $$$) than both fountains combined. And as William alludes to, projects go where the money is. I love both fountains and have enjoyed watching my children playing around them and explaining the stories behind them. Sad to hear yet another part of Salem could be going away.
Diane Wolf April 10, 2012 at 05:08 AM
The reason they don't have water MIGHT be that there are some vandals out there who keep soaping them - which costs hundreds of dollars to clean up each time. We just can't have nice things.
Nelson Dionne April 10, 2012 at 02:00 PM
I've just downloaded a few photos of Essex St an the square; Reality may help everyone decide what we really want.
Driving In Salem April 10, 2012 at 02:07 PM
The cobblestones don't bother me, although i could see that they may be difficult for the handicapped or someone in heels. Was just thinking that downtown Newburyport is a busy vibrant area and (if I recall correctly) has cobblestones or brick all over the place.
Michele Brown April 10, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Ugh. Every time someone mentions fixing the Essex Street Mall people start screaming about the pros and cons of opening it up to traffic, even when that is NOT the issue in question. They're not talking about letting cars on the Mall, they're discussing removing the fountain to "open up the space and make it more visible from the main street". I attended the series of 4 public meetings where the future of the Mall was discussed. And while there was lots of suggestions on redesigning the large fountain by the PEM (or fixing it so it worked!), there was no talk of removing the smaller fountain at the other end. So I was pretty surprised (and dismayed) upon learning of the plan to do just that. Making the Washington Street entrance of the Mall more visible was indeed discussed, and included ideas such as removing/moving the trees, light strings, and some kind of archway or banner to draw the eye. I don't recall one person saying "let's rip the darn thing out!" We were repeatedly assured it was not a plan to open the Mall to through traffic, and this shot from left field seems sneaky and underhanded. I sincerely hope that is not the case. Let's get the treacherous walking surface redone asap before someone breaks their neck and leave the fountain alone.
Jared Robinson April 10, 2012 at 04:27 PM
we need better businesses and shops in that area that cater to the 11 months of the year that AREN'T Halloween/Witch related... They need to attract more business that fills a need and not all these kitschy useless stores. How many T-shirt stores do we need in one quarter of a square mile...
Dungidog April 10, 2012 at 07:28 PM
I like the cobblestones.Put more of them in and get rid of the brick. The cobblestones add charm to the area. Some simulated gas lightposts and you could create something really nice for the city. Just upgrade the fountains, don't tear them down! Foolish thing to do
EL April 11, 2012 at 12:47 AM
I'm not a fan of the big fountain by the museum. I think it's quite ugly. It's suffered enough. Put it out of our misery. In its place i would put in an updated fountain, maybe something like a leap frog fountain. That can be easily covered and converted for entertainment space during peak season and still be of use and enjoyed by kids and families etc. during summertime. That rickety stage set up they build during Halloween is a disaster waiting to happen. I agree that the mall should stay pedestrian friendly. But yes the cobblestones need to go. I feel so bad for the elderly folks , disabled folks and babies who get a bumpy ride whenever I see them stumbling along. Pull up the stones and re-purpose them in another area for beautification. Surely there are some planters or borders that will be needed for the new parking garage by the train station. oh but there I go saving money.. oops
john April 11, 2012 at 01:55 AM
Regardless of the condition of these fountains,they can be dangerous for people and children to be walking around and playing in the water. In this day and age it's an open invitation for a law suit. If they do decide to keep them they should have barriers around them for legal reasons and to eliminate many of the past problems and I don't mean jersy barriers but something the looks good.
Maggi Smith-Dalton April 11, 2012 at 02:44 AM
Yup, Burlington is one of the places I thought of right away...a vital pedestrian mall, an artsy city "center" and you're right, it's the mix of shops that makes the difference. I may eat my hat on this one but I assume the fountains are going because, despite it all, they've already decided to send cars through. I believe this will truly come around to "haunt" us, pardon the pun.
chester suchecki April 11, 2012 at 11:53 PM
the fountains of salem buble baths of the homless and intoxicated.
chester suchecki April 13, 2012 at 11:48 AM
put the fountains on the common that way you could charge to waterboard some tourists. i for one hate going to malls an as this city stands right now i have no choice for xmas shopping or other shopping ( clothes, shoes, etc.) the shops downdown stink and usaly go belly up after a year when their lease expires. so you tell me if this is a vibrant buisness enviroment. i think not. even upper crust pizza moved out. agreat sushi takeout place on front street closed because they kept getting broken into. the downtown pedestrian mall is a ghosttown after dark. is this good for buisiness. the cons are endless on this subject. given the track record of city hall i imagine that that stupid dangerous buisiness killer is here to stay for at least another milenium. its too bad these people cant see past next week.
Rick Gor July 25, 2012 at 03:11 AM
Remove the big fountain and replace it with a children's playground like the one in the Common. Or fill it up with soil and turn it into a beautiful flower garden.
Carolyn Costain October 10, 2012 at 02:26 PM
I agree the fountains should be turned into beautiful flower gardens but keep the fountain parts with plants draping down them and also for watering them. "tearing them down is just another waste of taxpayers money."
Carolyn Costain October 10, 2012 at 02:30 PM
There is a very simple solution to the issues that the Mayor has people scratching their heads to and that is to " STOP VOTING HER BACK IN OFFICE!"
Jared Robinson October 10, 2012 at 02:45 PM
but... she runs unopposed...
Carolyn Costain October 10, 2012 at 03:22 PM
She runs unopposed because no one else wants to take the blame for her mess! Salem, over the years has turned from a quaint, pretty, old, nostalgic, town to a mini city of Boston and Roxbury crime district and soon to come cruise ships to over shadow the antiquity of our wharf. Next she will want a "City of Salem casino boat." "She did stand at the side of Governor Patrick on that issue, that has raised a lot of eye brows at what our Mayor was doing in Boston "in the news, pushing for a "yes" on that issue?? People come to see Salem because of its history. The Mayor seems to be destroying its historical value with her new futuristic idea's!
Jared Robinson October 10, 2012 at 03:23 PM
you're comparing Salem to Roxbury with a straight face?
Carolyn Costain October 10, 2012 at 03:40 PM
More like an angry face! We have gangs like the worst part of Roxbuy and knife fights in the streets. Salem looks very bad and its reputation is getting worse every day. Its sad. "OK so I put Aliens all over my house on Halloween But they are "Ancient aliens" older than the city of Salem lol but Down town should be filled with fun "witches and phony ghosts" not gangs and street fights and people stabbing each other trying to create a real ghost! Its very sad for Salem.


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