By James Niedzinski
---- — 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.
One of the main issues is the roof of the structure, which measuring 27 feet by 19 feet, would be unable to fit through the 18 foot gap between two telephone poles on Island Road.
”It’s a bit of a mystery how it got here,” Guerin said.
Coviello said the roof can be removed and the building can be transported; the idea is not unheard of. According to reports completed by Town Administrator Brendhan Zubricki, the Board of Public Works decided not to return the shed to its previous Memorial Park location.
Earlier this week, the Board of Selectmen voted in favor of preserving the shed and the Department of Public Works agreed that, if a permanent location could be found, the shed could be dismantled and stored temporarily at a Department of Public Works site.
Guerin said he would dismantle and repurpose the shed — unless town officials or residents want to preserve it and can find a permanent public location. If a spot is found, Guerin expects the issue will make it onto the warrant for the annual town meeting in May.
“For all intents and purposes, the shed was gone, lost to history,” Coviello wrote in an email to the Times. “Why not put it back in its original spot and fix it up? Why not rewrite a little history?”
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.