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Even the House of the Seven Gables isn’t safe from climate change

The House of Seven Gables sits on the water’s edge in Salem and is threatened by rising sea level.
The House of Seven Gables sits on the water’s edge in Salem and is threatened by rising sea level.Tony Healy

Climate change is impacting the present, the future, and the past. Confronting that reality, the city of Salem and the Salem Preservation Partners will host a two-day virtual workshop, “Keeping History Above Water,” on Sept. 13 and 14.

The free event will begin serious discussions about adaptation strategies to address the consequences of climate change on the region’s cultural and historic sites and neighborhoods. The speakers and discussions will be available online. Some limited in-person attendance will be available for those who have signed up for two live walking tours, and all registrants will be able to view prerecorded tours.

“We cannot put our heads in the sand any longer,” said Susan Baker, collections manager at The House of the Seven Gables. “We are already seeing the impact of rising seas. We have to develop adaptive strategies now before we are underwater.”

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Keeping History Above Water is a national initiative of the Newport Restoration Foundation, working with communities from Nantucket to Palo Alto, Calif., to address climate change impacts on historic resources.

The release of the Massachusetts Coast Flood Risk Model inundation maps for Salem for 2030, 2050, and 2070 emphasized that flooding of historic neighborhoods and properties, already a serious concern, will increase. A National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration interactive map of coastal flooding shows locations across the North Shore — including Salem’s historic Derby Wharf — will be dramatically affected by rising seas.

Working together, environmental, civic, and cultural leaders will be able to develop a scientific and cohesive approach to short-term and long-term adaptations.

“Climate change is here. Much of our cultural heritage in Salem is in danger. The House of the Seven Gables sits on the harbor and the seawall is going be inadequate in the near future,” said Baker. “Areas of the city that were built on mudflats are now impacted by the rising water table. Whole neighborhoods are impacted and what one property owner does is going to impact others.”

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The two-day workshop will include a keynote address by Erin Minnigan of the Preservation Society of Charleston, S.C., who will discuss adaptation strategies employed there to protect that community’s history and culture. There also will be discussions by historic property experts about their efforts to increase the resiliency of historic buildings in a changing climate.

A presentation by Salem Sound Coastwatch, a nonprofit coastal watershed protection organization, will help the historic preservation and cultural leaders understand the results of rising sea levels. A key feature of the two-day event — live-streamed walking tours by Barbara Warren, executive director of Salem Sound Coastwatch — will examine “Salem’s Industrial Heritage Along a Changing Shoreline” and “Colonial Maritime Sites and Rising Tides.”

“We are already seeing more intense storms and more rain,” said Warren. “Our environmental group will be helping historic preservation professionals understand the climate impacts here now and in the future.”

“There are positive things happening,” said Baker. “Bringing the city of Salem and the regional cultural institutions together is an important step.”

The program is free. Preregistration and program details are available at historyabovewater.org/2021-salem/.

Linda Greenstein can be reached at greensteinlm@gmail.com.

The program is free. Preregistration and program details are available at historyabovewater.org/2021-salem/

Linda Greenstein can be reached at greensteinlm@gmail.com.