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Salem leveraging historic districts to fuel future economic growth

North Broad Residential Historical District added to NRHP

SALEM, Va. – Leaders in Salem have been working hard on transforming the city for the next generation to come, but nothing stands tall without a strong foundation to build upon.

The city is leveraging historic districts to make future plans a reality, and while there are many milestones to celebrate, there are even more goals to reach.

Main Street in Salem is an iconic scene in Virginia's Blue Ridge that hasn't lost character as progress has moved in.

"The efforts we're making with the downtown plan are really about giving the buildings a more historic context," Salem City Planner Benjamin Tripp said. "And kind of tying back into the history of hospitality and community that Salem has always had."

People like Tripp are pivotal to the process. As Salem city planner, he uses his keys to unlock the city's potential.

Barbara Bell's heart is on one of Salem's most famous keys, the North Broad Street neighborhood. Bell led the grassroots effort to get the neighborhood on the books and she was successful. Last summer it earned a spot on the Virginia Landmark Register and last month it earned a spot on the National Registry of Historic Places. The neighborhood is Salem's first historic residential district.

"Those houses have soul," Bell said. "You get a house that's built in the 1800s and here it is, 2000 and something, they've withstood a lot and they deserve to be respected."

Monday night, that heart met progress as a crowd gathered at the Salem Museum. They wore name tags, but instead of their names, they wrote the year their homes were built on it. They came to learn about the historic districts in the city, the impacts of the first residential district and what else can come of their hard work in conjunction with the city. The museum played host for the event but also has a vested interest in seeing the city's history flourish.

"They really are so curious about what the history of their home is and so (it's) anything we can do to help build that sense of history on Salem," said Fran Ferguson, Salem Musuem executive director.

Historic districts make tax credits and some grants more accessible, driving economic development and building community pride. It's worked on Main Street and city leaders want to replicate the success.

"Many of the projects that are going on that are part of the downtown plan would not have been possible without the historic designation that leads to tax credits," Tripp said.

Both the Valleydale Building and the Peacock were also awarded spots on the national registry. Both are now owned by local developer Ed Walker. The Peacock is being used again and while Valleydale sits empty, the community eagerly waits an announcement of what it will be. It makes 19 historic listings for the city between the state and national registries and it's a list they want to see grow as the city itself continues to grow too.

Salem community leaders are looking for even more resources to help meet the goal. They want pictures of downtown Salem pre-1950. If you have any, they ask you to bring them by the Department of Community Development for copying so they can use them to have a better understanding of what once was.


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