This year I have been exploring the recent past in Salem City, NJ, considering how the South Jersey county seat changed in the decades after World War II. Being able to seek out stories that create a distinctive sense of a place and the rich, deep, and varied history of communities is one of the fascinating aspects of my work.
I was examining governmental documents such as Comprehensive Plans and Urban Renewal reports, for most of the day. These sorts of reports became popular after the War, as local jurisdiction assessed conditions and established plans to guide growth, and they are important sources for understanding transformations in a community.
But on this fine autumn day I also took some time to walk around and enjoy the streetscapes, architecture, and history of Salem City’s built and natural environment. The historic district contains a number of notable eighteenth and nineteenth century structures.
The town was incorporated in 1798 as part of an initial group of 104 townships established by the New Jersey Legislature and in 1858 it was reincorporated as a city. In the 19th century it thrived, a place with a significant industrial base providing growth for the town. Today the City is working to revive its downtown and leverage its heritage to promote tourism.