Sometimes, they left behind a toxic mess.

This month at Connect Shore, we’ve been talking about archaeology and the fragments and artifacts left behind by our predecessors on the planet. For me, that brings to mind clay sculptures, iron tools, roman columns, and beautiful bits of porcelain. But on an evening run the other day on the Marblehead Rail Trail, I was reminded that previous generations didn’t always leave us a trove of treasures buried in the soil. Sometimes, they left behind a toxic mess.

Those of you living in the area surely remember this charming welcome sign at the trail’s entrance:

From about 1840-1906, this site off Lafayette Street was home to the Forest River Lead company, sometimes called Chadwick Leadmills after one of its former owners. Here, workers produced 6,000 tons per year of white lead (a base ingredient for paint) and sheet lead in one of the largest facilities of its day.

F. F. Oakley, lithograph, “Forest River White and Sheet lead Works Salem Massachusetts”

The last building still standing burned down in the late 1960’s, and the toxic woodlands and beach lay empty and undeveloped for decades while clean-up talks and proposals went nowhere. A fence was installed to restrict access to the land and waterfront and limit possible exposure to lead, but bikers and runners like me still frequented the open path that connects Salem State to downtown Marblehead.

So, naturally I was thrilled to read a few years back that a deal had finally been brokered to launch a million dollar clean-up project. In January of 2011, the trucks rolled in. Soil and sediment were excavated and removed (to where? I can’t help but wonder) and fresh, uncontaminated sand and dirt were brought in. By April 2012, the digging and filling was complete, and workers were ready to plant new trees and shrubs.

Now, when I am out on an evening run, I see this:

And this:

It makes me so happy!

After too many years of waiting, Salem and Marblehead residents can put this particular patch of industrial waste in the past, where it belongs.



6 responses to “Sometimes, they left behind a toxic mess.

  1. Ah, I love serendipity in research ! Just the other night, I downloaded a history of manufacturing white lead for paint, as well as a Mass Supreme Court Salem – Salem boundry Lead Mills decision from 1896.

    The lead link is

    The boundary case

    Enjoy history from the primary sources. I have many, many pages of information about the mills, inc. stereo-view photos of the original railroad trestle, Forest River railroad station photos, clippings on the final fire when it was in use by Associated Grocers, etc. As usual, a small area has much history behind it.

  2. As usual, some of my best photos show whatis now a parking lot. I must have an inch just on the Lead Mills, and I really haven;’t tried to research it. All available to writers, local historians, etc.

  3. A short and informative article, also nice to hear good news! I wasn’t sure what the last picture was showing. Was it wildlife?

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