Salem, one of the earliest English settlements in the State of New Jersey, was founded in 1675 by Quaker John Fenwick. Agricultural, mercantile, and industrial enterprises fueled its development throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and into the first half of the twentieth. Today, Salem is a small town struggling with unemployment and loss of population.
East Broadway (also NJ Route 49) stretches two-thirds of a mile through the City of Salem and was developed gradually throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by Salem’s middle-class population. The East Broadway neighborhood also claims a long African-American heritage; Mt. Hope A.M.E. Church is noted as early as 1875 as an African M.E. Church, and Mt. Pisgah on Yorke Street is significant as the earliest organized African-American congregation in New Jersey. By the turn of the twentieth century, East Broadway had reached the density of construction it has today. In the 1950s, Salem’s population began a slow but steady decline; the 2010 census reported an overall decline of almost fifty percent, and a twenty-five percent decline just in the preceding twenty years. The city received one more devastating blow in late 2014, when Ardagh Glass, formerly Anchor Hocking, a glass manufactory that had operated for 150 years, announced it would be closing. This resulted in the loss of 290 jobs and ended glassmaking in the City of Salem.
The rise and decline of Salem is reflected in the built environment along East Broadway. The scattering of houses dating to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was joined by a steady stream of newly-constructed dwellings throughout the nineteenth century. Sprinkled among the residences were small grocery stores, often located in part of the proprietor’s house. By 1900, most lots were developed; only a few residences were constructed in the twentieth century.
Salem is a showcase of eighteenth and nineteenth-century architecture. While wealthy merchants and professionals constructed imposing homes on West Broadway and Market Streets, store owners and retired farmers built smaller and less formal, but still architecturally significant, residences along East Broadway. Structures are primarily Federal-style houses, but also include one early-eighteenth-century brick house, and a smattering of Greek revival, Gothic revival, and Italianate revival buildings.
In the two-thirds of a mile that East Broadway stretches from Market Street on the west to Yorke Street on the east, there are currently over twenty vacant properties, most of them being residences. The occupied buildings range from meticulously-maintained single-family homes to deteriorating residences converted to several apartments. The vacant buildings range from recently-abandoned homes that are in good condition to a Federal-style house with historic integrity that is threatened by a large hole in the roof. The threat varies from building to building. Some buildings are in good condition while most are in stable but deteriorating condition. Two structures, one commercial and one residential, are facing a threat of irreversible damage or even collapse if rehabilitation is not undertaken soon.
The City of Salem needs to pursue property owners who have walked away from over twenty sites on East Broadway under New Jersey’s Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act, and at the same time make efforts to attract more homeowners with sufficient resources to rehabilitate and maintain the properties, as has happened in the past along West Broadway and Market Street. Since the population of Salem has diminished by almost fifty percent over the past half-century, the density of housing along East Broadway needs to be reduced, with owners encouraged to return to single family use residences that were previously turned into multiple apartments.
A Historic Preservation Tax Credit program in the state would be of great benefit in eliminating the threat of neglect by encouraging rehabilitation work. This program would allow property owners to take a tax credit for a portion of funds spent on rehabilitating historic buildings along East Broadway, and would both motivate current owners to rehabilitate their buildings and attract new owners to purchase and restore abandoned structures. Such a bill was passed by both houses of the legislature in the past but was vetoed by the governor. The bill has been reintroduced in the current legislative session. The lack of such a program is reportedly drawing development dollars into the surrounding states, which do have tax credit programs and leaving New Jersey without the benefit of the developers’ funds. The legislature and the governor are strongly encouraged to adopt a Historic Preservation Tax Credit program in New Jersey this year.
Preservation New Jersey