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The Essex National Heritage Area

Essex National Heritage Area

Essex National Heritage Area - Crane's Beach

Yankee Fleet Touch and Sea Tank

Wild Edibles

Almost since the founding of the Salem Partnership, there has been a very strong link with the National Park Service and the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Early on, the Partnership saw the potential of this important historical park and determined that the Park Service should play a much larger role in the culture and economy of the city.

Between 1990-2000, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site underwent an amazing transformation, and the Partnership was involved at every stage. The Partnership assisted in the expansion of the park boundaries, development of the Salem Regional Visitor Center, restoration of the historic Derby and Central Wharves, and building the replica of the tall ship, The Friendship. Today, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site provides the best Colonial Era maritime experience in the park system.

One of the most remarkable on-going projects to emerge from this relationship was the Essex National Heritage Area. Conceived as a park-beyond-park-boundaries, the Essex National Heritage Area covers 500 square miles, 34 communities and thousands of heritage resources. It is a ‘partnership park’ – an alliance between local organizations, business leaders, residents and the National Park Service. Its purpose is to preserve and enhance the historic, natural and cultural resources of Essex County (est. 1634) for the benefit of all who live, work and visit the area. Started under the auspices of the Salem Partnership and with the leadership of Thomas M. Leonard and Annie C. Harris, the Essex National Heritage Area was officially designated a National Heritage Area by U.S. Congress in 1996, formed its own management corporation in 1997, and became a fully independent operation by 2000.

Today, the Essex National Heritage Area and the affiliated Essex National Heritage Commission oversee projects that improve the region’s historic structures, scenic roadways, maritime resources, and archival materials. From the historic seaport of Salem to the Merrimack River Valley and stretching along the Massachusetts coast to New Hampshire, the Essex National Heritage Area highlights the nationally significant sites and diverse cultures of its residents, past and present.

The stories of the first European immigrants in the 17th century, the rise of the international maritime trade in the 18th century, and the leather and textile shoe entrepreneurs who started the industrial revolution of the 19th century can all be discovered within the region. The Essex National Heritage Area preserves and illuminates more than 400 years of our Nation’s history.

The Essex National Heritage Area is one of the most noteworthy regional initiatives to emerge from efforts of the Salem Partnership. In 1989, the Partnership and the National Park Service at Salem Maritime NHS collaborated on a regional plan called The Salem Project: A Study of Alternatives. The plan looked at the ways in which the impact of the National Park Service could be expanded within the City of Salem and the surrounding region. Although the plan initially focused on the City of Salem, the cooperative effort soon came to encompass the greater North Shore and lower Merrimack Valley regions. The alternatives developed in the plan led to the designation of Essex County as a National Heritage Area in 1996 by the United States Congress. Senator Edward M. Kennedy took a leading role in securing this designation, due in large measure to his love of Essex County history and his respect for the work of the Salem Partnership. Subsequent to the legislation that created the National Heritage Area, the Partnership formed a new non-profit organization to manage the initiative – the Essex National Heritage Commission – and it became fully independent of the Partnership in 2000 although informal ties still continue to the present day.

Essex Heritage is modeled on the same principles of public-private partnerships as the Salem Partnership. Working through public-private coalitions, Essex Heritage seeks to use the heritage area’s assets to improve the quality of life and economic vitality of the region. Focusing on the three nationally significant heritage “themes” recognized by the National Park Service in the Salem Project plan – Early Settlement, Maritime Era and Industrial Revolution – Essex Heritage is successfully advancing the recognition of the value of the historic, cultural, and natural resources in the region by building unique cooperative programs that positively impact the 500 square mile National Heritage Area.

Here are some examples of the work of Essex Heritage:

  • Essex Coastal Scenic Byway – promotes economic growth along the North Shore by highlighting the significant historic sites, recreational opportunities, and maritime assets that exist along this 85 mile roadway;
  • Border to Boston Trail – supports community-based development of new, non-motorized trails - providing recreational opportunities and healthy access to schools, town centers, parks, and heritage sites;
  • Coastal Trail Coalition – creates recreational opportunities for walking, hiking, and biking by connecting local trails and greenways;
  • Youth Job Corps – in partnership with Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works NHS - provides summer jobs for underserved, urban youth at heritage resources where they develop work skills and a new appreciation for the region in which they live;
  • Friendship Sails! – in partnership with NPS Salem Maritime and Saugus Iron Works NHS – brings maritime history alive with unique experiences for students, families, and visitors aboard the tall ship Friendship, a replica East Indiaman that sailed the oceans of the world from 1797 until her capture in the War of 1812;
  • Essex LINCs (Local History in a National Context) – trains teachers to use primary resources and heritage sites, enabling them to infuse their lessons with stories, places, and artifacts from the Area’s rich heritage;
  • Partnership Grants Program – invests funds in the conservation of nationally significant resources and educational programs and uses these investments to leverage additional funding at rates of $1:$2 or more;
  • Trails & Sails; Weekends of Walks and Water - with 200 events at 125 sites – celebrates the Area’s significant heritage resources and stories for the purposes of public enjoyment and long-term conservation;
  • Essex Heritage Area Visitor Centers – cooperatively promotes a network of visitor centers which support regional tourism and provide local jobs and service opportunities.

Today, the National Heritage Areas are considered to be on the leading edge of conservation and sustainability strategies in the National Park Service, and Essex Heritage is recognized as one of the most successful areas in the country.

To see all that the Essex National Heritage Area has to offer, go to www.essexheritage.org.