Statement regarding the Phillips Library

To the Salem Historical Commission,

Thank you for giving us a voice during the December 6, 2017 meeting in regard to the Peabody Essex Museum Phillips Library renovations and collections removal to Rowley.

First, the proposed renovation to the building is concerning. Removing the entry stairway and replacing the 110-year-old connector with a glass enclosure will do a great disservice to the beauty and style of these buildings. Our members have expressed a preference for the front of the two buildings to remain as is. We recommend that the PEM design an accessible entrance at either the back of the building or on the side of the Plummer Hall building adjacent to Armory Park. Both areas already have access to entrance and egress. Moreover, either location is both more logical and visually more pleasing. 

Most importantly, the Salem Historical Society is strongly opposed to the removal of the Phillips Library collections to Rowley. The Phillips Library was born in Salem by an endowment from James Duncan Phillips, a Salem historian to whom many of us are deeply grateful for his extensive research and writing on our city and its maritime history. Because the port of Salem was a gateway to the world, the institution holds documents and artifacts representing a wide geographical area. Many Salem families with trust in the institution’s local mission deposited their maritime spoils, family papers, and treasures here to make them accessible for the city’s future generations. Between the late-nineteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, almost every other city and town in Essex County, including Rowley, established its own historical society. Salem did not, because the Essex Institute was Salem’s historical society. We formed in 2015 to fill the void in a small way, but our young organization does not possess an archive. 

Without question the Phillips Library is a world renowned research library that attracts scholars and researchers from around the world. The current plan to move and keep the collections of this archive at a remote location outside of Salem is a loss to the citizens and students of Salem, as well as to the city itself. As stated by Bob Monk, Facilities Manager for the PEM and their representative at the December 6, 2017 Salem Historical Commission meeting, nearly thirty percent of the Phillips Library collections pertains directly to the history of Salem. Allowing this material to be housed in a location outside of Salem’s city limits effectively eliminates the possibility of Salem Public Schools and Salem State University students using these collections unless they have private transportation, an unlikely scenario. We would also like to state that due to remoteness of this area, which is inaccessible by foot traffic or public transportation, there is a loss of revenue to the City of Salem as researchers will likely find hotel accommodations, restaurants, and retailers closer to the facility. Salem should be the beneficiary of Salem’s history.

The Trustees and members of the Salem Historical Society appeal to the Salem Historical Commission to use the extent of their authority to ensure that the original buildings of the Essex Institute maintain their historical significance and magnificent visual appearance, and implore the Peabody Essex Museum to keep Salem’s history in Salem.


The Trustees of the
Salem Historical Society