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January 10, 2013

Essex seeks home for relic of town's rail history

Freight shed landmark could be dismantled or relocated

ESSEX — Many people associate Cape Ann with its maritime heritage, and are quick to point out Gloucester as Americas first seaport, but may overlook the history of railroads in Essex.

Now, a remaining historic artifact from that heyday — a 384-square-foot freight shed used near old train tracks — may soon be torn down or relocated.

Kurt Wilhelm, former member of the Historical Commission and curator at the Essex Ship Building Museum, said the freight shed is one of the last remaining historical proof of railroads in Essex.

Robert Coviello, member of the Historical Commission and head of the Essex Merchants Group, said the only other railroad structure is a train depot on Southern Avenue, but it has since become a private home.

Wilhelm estimates the shed was built in the late 1800s, originally behind Town Hall, where railroad tracks ran along the baseball diamond behind Town Hall.

Coviello said the shed saw great use in the heydays of the railroad industry in Essex. He said the shed was near an end-of-the-line turnaround point, where freight was stored, imported and exported.

When the railroad was abandoned in the 1940s, an Island Road resident acquired it and used it for decades as a storage shed. And in 2009, Attorney John Guerin began managing the property and initially thought keeping and preserving the shed was a good idea.

Now, however, Guerin said, the issue has been forced forward by the costs of repairs, waiting at least three years for preservationists, as well as patient neighbors with a deteriorating shed nearby.

During a site review by the Essex Shipbuilding Museum in 2009, numerous problems were cited and the shed was deemed too unstable to transport.

The same year, the Historical Commission voted 3-1 to deem the shed as not preferably preserved, which OK’d the demolition permits, Guerin said.

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