BY Angeljean Chiaramida
SALISBURY — They’ve been missing so long that few even knew they were gone, but yesterday, replacement historical markers proudly stood once again along town roadways.
In 1930, the signs were erected at the town’s borders, as well as at three other historical sites in town, commemorating Salisbury, known first as Colchester, during the 300th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. But over the past 82 years, the signs suffered due to weather, and four of the five disappeared.
But thanks to the good memory, historical knowledge and civic pride of former Salisbury fire Chief Joe Callahan, their loss was brought to the attention of Town Manager Neil Harrington, state Rep. Michael Costlello and the state Department of Transportation. The signs are back.
Yesterday, restored signs were rededicated where the only original marker remains, at Pot Lid Square, at the corner of Elm Street and Mudnock Road. That sign commemorates the site of the first meetinghouse built there in 1640. According to Costello, the original metal sign, restored by state DOT sign shop worker and Salisbury resident John McCarthy, is nothing less than “a work of art.
“It was in pretty bad shape,” McCarthy said. “We had to use a wire brush on a drill bit to get the rust off it.”
But McCarthy’s handiwork resulted in a sign in pristine condition, with silver, rust-retardant paint and black lettering, delivering some of Salisbury’s early history.
The other four signs were made to order by the DOT’s sign shop, according to its supervisor Patrick Ryan and Andrea Lomas.
“We’re doing all the (historical markers) for all over the state,” Lomas said. “Salisbury’s are the first to be completed. It was a very interesting project. We found the paperwork for each sign, on hand-written cards with the drawings. We found them in a file cabinet with about an inch of dust on it.”
According to Harrington, Salisbury was fortunate; it was favored with five signs because it’s one of the Massachusetts Bay Colony’s first settlements. So important was the 300th, or tercentenary, occasion, famed historian and Harvard professor Samuel Eliot Morrison handled the text for each marker.
“The travellers who shall pass by the many storied ways through the lands of the Puritan occupation in the ancient days of the Massachusetts By Colony, may now read on tablets set by roadsides or in city streets the tales which the ocean shores, the hills, the fields, the churches, the garrison houses and the old hearthstones, have to tell of the heroism, of the romance and of the tragedies, and the unfaltering faith, of the ancestors of our Commonwealth,” wrote Herbert Parker, chairman of the tercentenary commission.
The markers, made from cast iron with raised lettering, were built to last. In Salisbury, the markers slipped away one by one until only the meetinghouse marker remained.
DOT’s Division 4 Operation’s Manager Paul Stedman said the project was important to the agency because it keeps state residents in touch with their past, “preserving a rich history.”
The four signs DOT remade are destined for their original sites. Two announcing Colchester’s settlement in 1638 and name change in 1640 will greet travelers at the town’s entrances on Route 1 at the Salisbury-Seabrook line, and at the Salisbury-Newburyport line.
Another announces the Robert Pike Homestead built in 1639 at Route 1 and Elm Street. Pike was a leader in both civic and military affairs and represented Salisbury in the General Court (legislative body) for 37 years.
Also to be located on Elm Street (Route 110), the final marker commemorates the location of Garrison House and Court House, both built in 1640. “Christopher Barrt, who named this town for Salisbury, England, whence he came, trained soldiers in this field,” it reads.
Realizing how close the town and state came to losing these treasures, MassDOT made small replicas of each sign for the town to place in Town Hall, so never again will they or what they represent be forgotten.
For Costello, the project was a delight, but it could also be the beginning of things to come. For in only 18 more years, he said, the state will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, in 2030.