In 1626 Roger Conant led a group of fishermen down from Cape Ann and settled along the Naumkeag River beside a naturally protected harbor. Two years later a land grant and fresh financial support from England put the entire area under the control of the Massachusetts Company. Company man John Endecott became the governor of the fledgling settlement, renamed the village Salem and Roger Conant received 200 acres of land for holding “Naumkeag” together in its first months and stepping aside gracefully as it expanded.

At first Salem was a farming and cod-fishing community but by the early 1700s Salem-built ships helmed by shrewd Yankee captains were plying waters far from home. In 1785 the Grand Turk left the protected harbor bound for the new trade in China. The spices, silks and teas in their cargo holds fetched great wealth and at the time of America’s first census in 1790 Salem, population 10,000, was the sixth largest city in the United States.

Salem’s “Golden Age” of the early 1800s showed itself on the city streets. Native son Samuel McIntire was busy crafting one superb Federal-style mansion after another on Essex Street and Chestnut Street and Federal Street. But just as Salem was incorporating as a city in 1836, the port and its gradually silting harbor were being eclipsed by Boston and New York City. Light manufacturing took up the economic slack by the early 1900s until June 25, 1914 when a series of explosions in the Korn Leather Factory at 57 Boston Street ignited what came to be known as The Great Salem Fire. More than 1,300 buildings burned across 253 acres. In a city of 48,000 people, some 20,000 lost their homes.

Spared however, were much of those esteemed early houses and Salem began to draw on its historic past to lure tourists to town. What turned out to be the main attraction for outsiders, however, was not the wealth of fabulous architecture in the city but a fascination with a dark seven-month period in 1692 when hysteria over witchcraft led to a series of trial that caused 19 people to be hanged and another “pressed to death” by gradually loading stones one after another onto his chest. 


Our walking tour will pass several witch-related sites although only one structure remains in Salem that had any direct connection to the trials and we will begin in the center of town in a large municipal parking lot on Church Street... 





St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

24 St. Peter Street

It was not until the 1730s that the open practice of any religion other than Congregationalism was permitted in Salem. St. Peter’s was founded in 1733 and the land for the original wooden church was donated by a wealthy merchant named Phillip English who had run afoul of the Congregational Church in the past for not paying support tribute. After 100 years the current stone church, derived from a design in Derby, England, was constructed. In 1845, architect Richard Upjohn, one of the leading cheerleaders for the Gothic Revival style, designed a chancel for St. Peter’s. The triplet window he installed is one of the nation’s oldest stained glass windows. 





Salem Armory/The Regional Visitor Center

2 New Liberty Street at Brown Street 

The Salem Cadets formed in 1785 as an officer’s training corps. The unit continues today as the Second Corps of Cadets is Battery B of the 101st Field Artillery of the Massachusetts National Guard. This building was constructed in 1895 as the company drill shed; it is all that stands today of the Salem Armory. 



Roger Conant Statue

Brown Street at northwest end of Salem Common  

Roger Conant came to Plymouth Colony in 1623 at the age of 31. He did not fit in with strict Pilgrim society, however, and he migrated north, eventually bringing his family and a group of settlers to Naumkeag, now Salem, in 1626. Conant served as governor of the new village. But in 1628 John Endicott arrived with an ownership claim and Conant was pushed aside as head of Salem. Nonetheless, he remained active in the town he founded until his death in 1679 at the age of 87. Henry Hudson Kitson, whose works include statues of Robert Burns and Admiral David G. Farragut in Boston and the Lexington Minuteman, designed this cloaked depiction of Conant. The bronze statue was perched on a huge boulder brought from the woods near the floating bridge at Lynn and dedicated on June 17, 1913. 



Salem Witch Museum/East Church

19 1/2 Washington Square North

East Church had nothing to do with the Salem Witch Trials - but the Gothic Revival building provided an appropriately eerie setting for the Salem Witch Museum when it was founded in 1972. The meetinghouse constructed of brownstone blocks with its windows now darkened, was built between 1844 and 1846. 





Hawthorne Hotel

18 Washington Square West 

In 1923 a group of 230 businessmen set out to build a “modern Hotel for Salem” through public subscription. Within a week more than a thousand area residents purchased more than $500,000 for its construction. Daily sales totals were posted on a billboard in Town House Square and published in Ho, Tell!, a newsletter that was published throughout the course of the drive. The resulting six-story Colonial Revival hotel was named for home-grown author Nathaniel Hawthorne and opened in 1925. In the 1960s when the popular television show Bewitched filmed two episodes on location in Salem, the cast and crew stayed at the Hawthorne. The façade of the hotel, however, was built on a studio lot in Hollywood and the interiors that appeared on the show bore no resemblance to the real Hawthorne. 





Narbonne House

71 Essex Street 

This is an example of a tradesmen’s house surviving from the 17th century. When butcher Thomas Ives first constructed it in 1675 there was little more than a single room on the first and second floor, with an attic under the tall peaked roof and a small root cellar.





House of the Seven Gables

115 Derby Street

This is one of New England’s oldest surviving structures and The House of the Seven Gables is often recognized as the oldest surviving mansion house in continental North America, with 17 rooms and over 8,000 square feet including its large cellars. John Turner, one of Salem’s earliest merchant princes, built it in 1668. It hasn’t gone nearly 350 years without additions, subtractions and alterations to the styles of the day. Along the way it also became one of the most famous residences in America after Nathaniel Hawthorne - whose cousins lived here - published his 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables. When Caroline Emmerton bought the house in the early 20th century she restored it to its original seven gables. In building a museum to provide education and fund planned settlements for the poor, Emmerton also acquired and moved to the site five additional historical structures, including the 1804 birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne. The frame house was probably constructed in the 1730s. 





Derby House

168 Derby Street 

The oldest surviving brick house in Salem was constructed as a wedding present. Captain Richard Derby, a fisherman and trader, built it in 1762 for his son Elias Hasket Derby and his bride Elizabeth Crowninshield. When America went to war with Great Britain seeking independence much of the Derby fleet turned to privateering against English ships. Elias Derby then parlayed his hijacked goods into a profitable East India trade that made him one of America’s richest men. Housewright Joseph McIntire is believed to have been involved in the building of the fine Georgian home with a gambrel roof and elegant entranceway that announced the status of the occupants. The Derbys sold the house in 1796 to another merchant king, Captain Henry Prince, Sr.. He would shortly build the West India Goods Store next door where spices, teas and porcelain could be bought from across the globe. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities rescued the house in 1937 and passed it along to the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. 



Hawkes House

174 Derby Street

This was one of the first commissions for Samuel McIntire, one of America’s first architects. McIntyre taught himself the Palladian style of architecture from books, and soon had a reputation among the city’s elite for designing elegant homes. This one was intended for Elias Hasket Derby and Elizabeth Crowninshield in 1780 after they were ready to move out of the Derby House next door. The Derbys did not, however, move into the elegant three-story house and relocated in the center of town instead. McIntire’s creation was left unfinished until 1801 when shipwright Benjamin Hawkes purchased the house and downsized it to accommodate two families. 



Custom House

178 Derby Street at waterfront

This handsome government building was constructed in 1819 to conduct business on the wharves and collect taxes. During the early 19th century, between 8 and 12 percent of the nation’s revenues were collected in this building; it served in that capacity until 1937. An imposing flight of granite steps leads to a Federal-style brick office with a Palladian window above an ionic balustraded portico and a parade of round-headed first floor windows. The rooftop is distinguished by a cupola and large eagle, first carved in 1826 and replaced by a fiberglass replica in 2004. Architectural splendors aside, the Custom House is most famous for one of its Customs Surveyors. Between 1847 and 1849, when Nathaniel Hawthorne wasn’t making entries in his ledger books he was writing his novel, The Scarlet Letter. In a light-hearted introduction to book that Hawthorne hoped would be a counterpoint to the darkish storyline, he wrote knowingly about the Custom House. At Central Wharf, across from the Custome House, is a replica of the tall ship Friendship, a 171-foot three-masted Salem East Indiaman trading ship, originally built in 1797, which traveled the world over a dozen times from its base in Salem. The original was taken by the British during the War of 1812, then stripped and sold in pieces.





Crowninshield-Bentley House

126 Essex Street

Four generations of Crowninshields lived in this house that was built for sea captain John Crowninshield around 1727. But the house is remembered today not for the family but for the Reverend William Bentley, who boarded here from 1791 until his death in 1819. Bentley was a popular teacher and scholar who spoke 21 languages, seven fluently. He wrote columns for the local papers and kept an exhaustive diary that filled 32 volumes; an abridged 11-volume version was published in 1905.



Gardner-Pingree House

128 Essex Street

This is one of Samuel McIntire’s most esteemed buildings with its elegant proportions. He created the showcase mansion in the Federal style in 1805 for John Gardner, another merchant hanging on the Derby family tree who could afford the price tag for one of Salem’s most expensive early 19th century houses. Now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, the well-preserved period furnishings can be viewed by the public.



Plummer Hall

132 Essex Street 

In 1760 a group of Salem’s cultural elite formed one of the earliest private library organizations in the United States. The new Social Library was stocked both by donations from members’ own libraries and by new purchases from London booksellers. Dues were 11 pounds per year - more than $1000 today. The Revolutionary War scrambled the Social Library and also spawned a second library in town - when the British frigate the Duke of Gloucester was captured it contained the 116-volume library of Richard Kirwan. The lot was auctioned in Salem and became the Philosophical Library. The two organizations merged into the Salem Athenaeum in 1810. The Athenaeum’s first permanent building was constructed here in exuberant Italianate style on designs by Enoch Fuller in 1856 with a large bequest from Caroline Plummer. In 1905 the Athenaeum sold the building to the Peabody Essex Museum, which connected it to another outstanding Italianate villa wrapped in rusticated quoins and sporting heavy cornice brackets, the Daland House next door. Boston architect Gridley J. F. Bryant did the work for John Tucker Daland, another prosperous trader. 



John Ward House

132 Essex Street

John Ward built the beginning of this house in 1684. It has been enlarged through the years but its historic 17th century features such a steep gables and a second-story overhang are still evident. The house was moved to its present site in 1910 as part of the Peabody Essex Museum. It was one of the earliest American buildings to be restored and opened for historical interpretation. 



East India Marine Hall

161 Essex Street

The East India Marine Society was formed in 1799 by Salem sea captains who had sailed beyond the Atlantic Ocean to collect “natural and artificial curiosities” in distant lands. In 1825 the “museum” moved into its own building, constructed in the Greek Revival style by architect Thomas Waldron Summer. The organization expanded its scope under the benefactions of philanthropist George Peabody in the mid-1800s. In 1992 the “Peabody’ merged with the Essex Institute to create the Peabody Essex Museum with more than two million works in its collection.





The Burying Point

Charter Street 

This is the oldest burying ground in Salem, established in 1637. Interred here are sea captains and governors, Mayflower passengers and, most notoriously, participants in witch trials.





Salem Police Department

17 Central Street

Records indicate that funds for the purpose of law enforcement were appropriated in Salem as early as 1676 but the police department traces its formal roots to the establishment of a police station, located around the corner on Front Street, in approximately 1865. The force moved into this Colonial Revival headquarters, designed by local architect John M. Gray, in 1914. 



Essex Bank

11 Central Street

Charles Bulfinch, designer of the Massachusetts State House and America’s leading architect, provided the plans for the Essex Bank in 1811. The Essex Bank commenced business on July 2, 1792 as the first bank in Salem. It did not, however, enjoy a long residency in its handsome new “Central Building.” The bank was insolvent by 1822. The Salem Fraternity, America’s first boy’s club when it was established in 1864, moved into the building in 1899 and outfitted the former bank with classrooms, community rooms and a gymnasium. 





Salem Five Cents Savings Bank

210 Essex Street 

Salem Five Cents Savings Bank was founded in 1855, accepting deposits as small as a nickel. More than 150 years later, assets are approaching $3 billion. This building dates to 1892 with a remodeling after the Great Fire of 1914.



Rust Store

216 Essex Street

When Jacob Rust built this brick emporium in 1801 it no doubt slid unnoticed into the existing Salem streetscape. Two centuries later it stands as a lonely survivor to what Essex Street looked like in the heyday of the great sailing merchant ships. 



Salem Bank Building

217 Essex Street 

The Salem Bank was incorporated on March 8, 1803, operating on Essex Street. In 1911 the bank purchased this one-time retail store and hired bank architects Franklin H. Hutchins and Arthur W. Rice to make it over without sacrificing the Colonial Revival detailing that covers nearly every inch of the decorative exterior. The bank also owned the five-story Hale Building next door; it features the only cast-iron facade in Salem. In the 1870s cast iron became an inexpensive way to add Victorian elegance to downtown commercial structures.



First Church (Daniel Low & Company)

231 Essex Street/121 Washington Street

First Church was a presence at this historic center of Salem since the beginning in 1629. This building was the fourth on the site, constructed in 1826. The congregation met upstairs while income was generated by renting out the first floor to shopkeepers. Parishioners from that day would never recognize their church today after it received a sprucing up in the High Victorian Gothic style in 1874. In 1922, the First Church merged with North Church and moved away. The building was then purchased by Daniel Low & Company, a local jewelry and silversmithing company established in 1867. 




284-296 Essex Street

Alexander Graham Bell was lodging in the house of Thomas Saunders and teaching at a deaf school in Boston when he invented the telephone - and this is where that house stood until it was wiped away in 1898 for this YMCA. Beverly architect Walter J. Paine added splashes of Beaux-Arts decoration to his Colonial Revival orange brick recreation palace. The upper floors are wrapped in flush stone corner quoins and inset stone lintels crown the windows.



Witch House

310 Essex Street 

This house was built sometime before Judge Jonathan Corwin purchased it in 1675. It stands as a representative 17th century manor house with steep gables and a sloping salt-box roof but its lasting notoriety resides in its survival as the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. Corwin was a respected merchant who served as a judge on the communal charged with hearing some of the cases. Judge Corwin, who was appointed to the Superior Court of Massachusetts, lived in the house for more than 40 years and it remained in the family almost 200. Creaking on into the 1900s, it was slated to be razed when townsfolk rallied to its rescue to raise $42,500 to move and restore the “Witch House.” Now owned by the City of Salem, the Corwin House has been open to the public since 1948. 



First Church

316 Essex Street 

The congregation was more than 200 years old when this Gothic Revival church was constructed of Quincy granite in 1836. Begun in 1629 as the second oldest Protestant congregation in America, the church’s theology had shifted to Unitarianism by that time. The English Gothic design of the meetinghouse, acclaimed as one of the best of the form in New England, represented a break with the Puritan past.



Ropes Mansion

318 Essex Street

Samuel Barnard, a merchant, built this Georgian mansion in 1727 but takes it enduring name from the Judge Nathaniel Ropes, Jr., who plucked it from the Barnard family in 1768. The Ropes’ stayed in the house until l1907 and in 1894 the house was renovated and pushed back from the street to make room for a small yard and garden. Today the house much resembles its original form on the outside with its symmetry, trio of small pedimented gables and wooden fence-like roof balustrade.



Salem Athenaeum

337 Essex Street

When the venerable learning institution moved up the street from 132 Essex Street in 1905 architect William G. Rantoul drew his inspiration for the new library from the first family of the State of Maryland, the Carrolls, and their Palladian-inspired Homewood mansion in Baltimore. Now two hundred years old, the Athenæum is home to over 50,000 volumes.





Hamilton Hall

9 Chestnut Street

In 1805 a group of Salem stockholders organized the South Buildings Association for the purpose of creating an assembly hall for the local Federalist political party. Go-to architect Samuel McIntire delivered the group a landmark example of the Federal style with a parade of Palladian windows that illuminated an inner ballroom. The brick exterior is decorated with carved swags. The Hall, which was was named for Federalist hero Alexander Hamilton who had been killed in a duel with Aaron Burr just a year earlier, has been in use for over 200 years.





United States Post Office

2 Margin Street

When it came time for a new postal facility in the 1930s, designer Philip Horton Smith cast an eye to the surrounding neighborhoods for the Colonial Revival brick building. In evidence are decorative swags, recessed fan-light window and a classical pedimented front studded with a modillioned cornice.





Peabody Building

120 Washington Street

Salem’s 21st century hometown paper, the Salem News, was the 54th newspaper to publish in the city’s history. The first edition was put out as a penny paper from a small office on Central Street on October 16, 1880. By 1890 the paper was successful enough to move into the Colonial Revival building named for banker S. Endicott Peabody. The street level has been severely adapted for commercial use but by looking up you can still see classical detailing. The fourth floor with a deeper colored brick and differing fenestration is a later addition. 



City Hall

93 Washington Street

Here’s a story you don’t hear much anymore. In 1837 the United States Treasury had a surplus of some 40 million dollars. So President Andrew Jackson gave the extra money to the various states who dispersed it among their cities and towns. Salem got $34,000 and used it to build a City Hall - and even then used only $22,000 of the free money. The City got a municipal building it has used for 175 years without using a single tax dollar. Boston architect Richard Bond designed the two-story building in the Greek Revival style with a granite street facade of four giant pilasters and brick walls on the other three sides. The eagle perched above City Hall is a gilded exact replica of one carved by Samuel McIntire that was damaged in a hurricane. 



Salem Masonic Temple

70 Washington Street  

In the middle of the street opposite the Masonic Temple once stood the building where nineteen accused witches were tried and sentenced to the gallows in 1692. That courthouse was torn down in 1760. This beefy five-story brick-and-stone edifice from 1915 is of interest itself with an impressive Corinthian portico supported by a rusticated first floor. Peek around the corner to grasp the immense proportions of this fraternal lodge.    



Tabernacle Congregational Church, UCC

50 Washington Street

This congregation is a spawn of First Church that took the name Third Church of Christ in Salem in 1762. Their meetinghouse burned along with much of the town in 1774. The replacement was a copy of London’s Tabernacle, made famous by preacher George Whitefield, a frequent visitor to the North Shore. It picked up a distinguished three-stage steeple from Samuel McIntire in 1805. That church was sacrificed for a wooden Italianate sanctuary in step with the style of the 1850s but by the 1920s the congregation decided to bring back the original design in the current stone church. 





Essex County Courthouses

32-34-42 Federal Street  

Under the new Charter for the Province of Massachusetts with a Special Court of Oyer and Terminer in 1692 for the Salem witch trials, the town gained the distinction of holding the nation’s first court. Essex County began constructing courthouses on Federal Street in 1839 and, rather than replacing outdated buildings they were left standing as newer replacements marched down the street. The result is an impressive wall of seven decades of architectural history. First up, on the corner, Richard Bond continued his Greek Revival work he began with City Hall. Glorious Corinthian columns provide the entrance to the granite temple that was completed in 1841. Twenty years later architect Enoch Fuller delivered a brick building, now used as Superior court, in the popular Italianate style of the day. The building received a brawny arched Richardsonian Romanesque entrance in 1891. By the early 1900s, America was enamored with the Neoclassical style for its important government buildings and Clarence Blackall gave Salem one of the finest in Massachusetts for its Deeds and Probate Court in 1908. 





Lyceum Hall

43 Church Street  

Lyceums became instantly popular in the United States after being introduced by Joshua Holbrook in Milbury, Massachusetts in 1828. Modeled after the concept of the “Mechanics Institutes” in England, lyceums presented lectures and readings to provide “mutual education and rational entertainment.” The Salem Lyceum Society was organized in 1830 and over the next 60 years America’s most famous thinkers graced its stage - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Quincy Adams. Daniel Webster was said to receive the largest fee ever paid to a guest lecturer - $100 for a presentation on “The History of the Constitution of the United States.” On February 12, 1877 Alexander Graham Bell made the first public demonstration of the telephone in Lyceum Hall. The building see today is a replica of the historic society headquarters.