Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Work on 1906 Railing at Jason Lee Cemetery Causes Kerfluffle

The cast iron railing on "diamond square" needs help
(from Staff Report and application materials)
The Historic Landmarks Commission meets on Thursday the 19th, and they'll be deliberating on a proposal to replace and/or restore historic fencing on "Diamond Square" in the heart of Jason Lee Cemetery ("Lee Mission Cemetery" to be exact) on D Street.

Jason Lee, Memorial Day 2014
Diamond Square is a plot in which Jason Lee himself and other important early figures are buried. It really is the core and center.

1852 General Land Office survey map, Salem area.
Parrish home, the cemetery, the Methodist church
and Willamette U sites highlighted
Methodist Missionary Josiah L. Parrish, for whom the school is named, set aside the land from his Donation Land Claim. It predates the asylum by a good bit, and belongs in the orbit of our pre-statehood history. Pioneer Cemetery gets most of the attention in town, and Lee Cemetery deserves more love. (On the map you can also see David Leslie's home site, which Asahel Bush purchased in 1860.)

June 14th, 1906
(More on the 15th and 16th)
Diamond Square is also a product of historical development. The fencing dates from around 1906 when Lee was interred here. (He had been first buried in Canada, where he had died in 1845.) It does not follow the outlines of the the plot and is a bit of an awkward overlay.

Triangles cut off by the fence in the full diamond square plot
(Staff Report, yellow highlight on outline added)
The cemetery association did not follow City procedure and started work before getting official approval:
On Tuesday September 25, 2017 the Mayor’s office received a complaint regarding removal of the subject fencing at the Lee Mission Cemetery. The City of Salem’s Historic Preservation Officer (CHPO) was notified, and went out to the site and asked the fencing contractors to stop work immediately, as the work had not received the required historic design review approval. Unfortunately, by this time, half of the original historic fencing had been removed and replaced with the new fencing, and some of this original fencing had been given away to passersby.
So this constituted something of a minor crisis.

Now there is an after-the-fact process started with formal application and a Public Hearing.

The Staff analysis and Recommendation (an original Report and Revised Staff Report) is for denial and calls for a better plan:
[T]he proposed new fence has already resulted in the removal and destruction of the significant 1906 iron fencing surrounding Diamond Square, and the applicant has not sufficiently demonstrated that their revised proposal would ensure the restoration and now required reconstruction of this character defining fencing. Staff recommends that the HLC find that SRC 230.060 has not been met for this proposal.
This does not seem to be clear-cut. The fencing is not original, and is itself part of a process of change and historical development. Right now the resources that cemetery groups have for maintenance is spread pretty thinly. How important is it to maintain a kind of original "integrity" on the fencing, potentially at the expense of other maintenance or other restoration? Is that some sine qua non? Reasonable people will disagree, probably.

At the same time, restoration rather than replacement may not have been investigated as fully as it should have been. The Staff Report cites a City assessment of similar cast iron fencing on Pioneer Cemetery, and this seems to be an important part of the basis for arguing that a better plan is possible and at a reasonable cost:
I found the remaining Diamond Square cast iron fence to be in equal, or better condition than similar cast iron fences at the City-owned Pioneer Cemetery. As you may know, the City of Salem and the Friends of Pioneer Cemetery are currently working on plan to restore and maintain the fences at Pioneer. While we are still in the early stages of our restoration efforts, we are confident that the cast iron fences at Pioneer are in such condition that they can be, and will be restored. Given that the remaining cast iron fence at the Diamond square is in equal or better condition than the fence at Pioneer, I believe that The Diamond Square Fence can also be restored.
The HLC will get more information, have an opportunity to question things, and will land on what seems to be the best solution. It's hard to have any firm opinion without knowing more. (Update - the application has been withdrawn.)

Those 1906 news stories really dig in on the hagiography of Jason Lee. Especially in light of current news, it is worth considering the stories of the women at the Mission, who had to endure a sometimes brutish patriarchy with harassment and even violence. See "Jason Lee was Fired! Ruth Rover's Alternative to Mission Hagiography" here, and "The Missionary Ladies: Women’s Roles in the Methodist Mission to Oregon" in the Winter 2014 issue of Willamette Valley Voices published by the Mill.

Constrained right-of-way, "goat trail," old gate on D Street
It's also worth a walk to see the constrained right-of-way on D Street here. D Street needs bike lanes and sidewalks, but that needs to happen without widening. We should rethink D Street as a "minor arterial" and consider scaling back our expectations for auto capacity on it. It could be a great low-traffic and scenic boulevard optimized for walking and biking, with local car traffic only. In the cemetery itself you can also see older carriageways - the gate in the photo above and connections now closed on the south side of the cemetery (especially at Jason Street, in line with the center axial road of the cemetery). 


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

The minutes to the January 2nd NEN meeting say the application was withdrawn. "They will remove the fence and reuse it in another application. City staff will work with Cemetery to work on historic fence restoration."

Anonymous said...

Here's an article about a fence project at the IOOF Pioneer Cemetery -