Today we devoted a whole day to visiting Salem, Massachusetts There is a lot of history there beyond just the famous witch trials the town is remembered for. Much like it’s neighbor, Boston, Salem has a red line running around throughout the town. Unlike Boston, there is no indicator of where you should stop and look at things, so be prepared ahead of time and know what you want to see. We managed just fine with the research I did prior to our trip. You can also take a trolley tour, but we planned to keep this trip simple and keep our costs low whenever possible. Salem isn’t all that big and it’s easy to walk around if you have the energy and a full day.
SALEM MARITIME NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE: THE FRIENDSHIP, CUSTOM HOUSE AND PUBLIC STORES
The first thing we did in Salem was visit the National Park office at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. We purchased a National Parks passport book before our trip and we were really excited to get our first stamp in it. Turns out the office has stamps for many of the sites we were planning to see in Salem.
With the stamping done, we boarded The Friendship, a replica ship modeled after a 1797 East Indiaman. At the time of our visit, they were doing some work and none of the masts were on the ship, so it lacked some of it’s charm. However, it was still interesting to walk through. The boat it is modelled after would make voyages all over the world. It’s hard to imagine being in that small, confined space for months on end. The replica ship is not just a tourist attraction; it is also a sea-worthy coast guard vessel.
The Custom House is celebrating it’s 200-year anniversary this year. It did exactly what you might assume from the name… housed the US customs offices for the port of Salem. It was designed to look impressive and imposing and everything from windows to doors are oversized to accomplish this feat. There was a fireplace in every room… an unnecessary extravagance in that time, but again done to show off the country’s extraordinary wealth. The similarly detailed Public Stores building next door was simply a place for the customs office to store goods until people were able to pay their customs bill. It’s significantly more aesthetically pleasing than our modern storage facilities. It is normally open to the public, but was not at the time of our visit.
There is no admission fee to either board The Friendship or to tour the Custom House and Public Stores. Our National Parks make sure everyone is able to experience these wonderfully upkept historic places without hardship.
THE HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
We left the National Park Site and followed the red line through the historic Derby Wharf neighborhood until we came to The House of the Seven Gables, built in 1668 by ship owner, John Turner and later cemented in history in a novel of the same name. I have always been an active reader, but have to confess I’ve never read Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel about a cursed family living here. I now have it on my list of things to read. The dark, foreboding look of the house would lend well to such a suspenseful story. You can pay a fee to go inside, but with neither of us knowing the story, we were content just to observe the exterior.
SALEM MARITIME NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE: WEST INDIA GOODS STORE, DERBY HOUSE, AND NARBONNE HOUSE
We didn’t follow the red line all the way down to the ferry docks after the House of the Seven Gables. Instead we retraced our steps back to check out the other buildings included in the National Parks Historic Site. The West India Goods Store, Derby House and Narbonne House are all very cool, historic buildings that you can walk up to and around, but cannot venture inside. The grounds behind the Derby House contain a lovely garden that invites visitors to detour from their path and enjoy a moment with nature.
The West India Goods Store was build shortly after 1800 by Captain Henry Prince and likely began it’s history as a warehouse for goods from his overseas travels. The Derby House, next door, was built in 1762 as a wedding present for Elias Hasket and Elizabeth Crowninshield Derby and later belonged to Capt. Henry Prince. The Narbonne House was built in 1675 and is a good example of middle class architecture from that time period. Subsequent additions to the property included conveniences like a kitchen and bathroom.
We continued to follow the red line and it brought us alongside the Hawthorne Hotel. It is a beautiful Historic Hotel built in the 1920s. Much as I would have loved to poke around inside, I’d planned for us to spend a good chunk of the afternoon wandering around the McIntire Architectural District and my fiancé has a limit to his tolerance for looking at buildings. I figured an interior tour of the hotel might just send him over the edge.
CROW HAVEN CORNER
You may have noticed we’ve made it through most of the morning touring this historic town without even a mention of all things witchy. That is at an end. Our first witchy stop in Salem was the Crow Haven Corner, known for being the oldest witch shop in Salem. They have a small shop and lots of potential activities to participate in, from readings to a witch walk through town. We were content to just browse the shop and leave with a few select crystals to add to our collection.
OLD TOWN HALL
Next we made our way to the Old Town Hall, a federalist-style building dating back to 1816. They have converted the inside of the historic building into an informative exhibit showcasing the history of Salem, it’s more notable events, and it’s prominent citizens; all displayed on lovely fabric panels. It allows you to walk through and learn as much, or as little, about the town as you wish. Admission was only $3/person and the information inside was well worth the cost.
THE BEWITCHED STATUE
The red line will take you past the Bewitched Statue of tv character Samantha Stevens, played by Elizabeth Montgomery. Apparently the 1960s show filmed quite a bit in Salem during their 1970 season and in the early 2000s, TV Land donated the statue to the town. It’s small, displayed in a cute little park, and has apparently become one of the most photographed sites in Salem. I don’t really think it looks much like her, but the red line we’re following goes right past it, so why not stop and rub her nose (apparently common practice) for good luck and snap a quick photo?
THE WITCH HOUSE
After only a couple blocks, we came to the Witch House. This house is the only building still standing in Salem that has any connection to the 1692 Salem Witch Trials. One of the judges , Jonathan Corwin, from the trials lived here. Corwin was a wealthy man and the home was considered quite extravagant for it’s time. Of course, you can tour the inside for a reasonable fee if you so desire… they do need to pay for upkeep. We weren’t particularly interested in the interior and just took a look at the exterior before moving on.
ROPES MANSION AND GARDEN
At this point, we left the red line and continued on Essex Street for the architecture portion of our day. The first house we came to (just a few steps beyond the Witch House) was the well-known Ropes Mansion, built in 1768. It is instantly recognizable, as Allison’s home, to fans of the Disney movie Hocus Pocus. While the house itself is fun for movie fans to see, and a beautiful example of Georgian Colonial architecture, the true magic lies behind the house in the garden, which is open to the public. The house was not open during our visit, but the gardens are not to be missed; tranquil and filled with color, providing lots of spots for photography or relaxation.
MCINTIRE HISTORIC ARCHITECTURAL DISTRICT
The Ropes Mansion is just the beginning of the beautiful McIntire Historic Architectural District. We spent some time wandering through many blocks of this area. Each historic home has a plaque with information about when it was built, for whom, when it was renovated, and other pertinent details. The future architect in me loved the architectural history of the place, but beyond that it was just a lovely neighborhood for a stroll. The buildings are mostly privately owned and lived in, so don’t expect to go inside them, but they have managed to preserve the historical character of the neighborhood extremely well, right down to the brick sidewalks that feel authentic. There is a brochure available to download for more information about some of the more important buildings in the area if you want a more official tour, but we were content just to wander through time and enjoy ourselves.
THE SALEM WITCH TRIAL MEMORIAL & OLD BURYING POINT CEMETERY
After a very late lunch, we continued on to the visitors center, located back in the shopping area of town. Our goal was to regroup, watch a film on the history of Salem (free, runs on the hour on even hours throughout the day) and check my list to see if there were any sights on it we might have overlooked. Turns our we had overlooked quite an important site in the history of the city, the Salem Witch Trial Memorial adjacent to the Old Burying Point Cemetery. The memorial contains 20 stone benches containing the names, dates and methods of execution for those put to death during the infamous witch trials of 1692. The memorial itself is not that old, dating back to only 1992. It has found an appropriate location next to the Old Burying Point Cemetery, since no one knows where the bodies of most of the victims actually lie.
SALEM WITCHCRAFT VICTIMS MEMORIAL
We were on our way back to the hotel when we passed a park with a large memorial in it. We decided to double back and found the Salem Witchcraft Victims Memorial. This memorial was also dedicated in 1992, but includes the information about 5 additional victims who perished in jail awaiting trial. I found it interesting that many of my Facebook friends thought the accused in Salem were burned at the stake. That was not the case, they were mostly hanged or died in jail awaiting trial, with the notable exception of 80+ year-old Mr. Giles Corey, who was “pressed to death”. When he refused to participate in the trials, they put a board on his chest and placed heavy rocks on it. He survived this way for 2 days before becoming a victim to the torture. It’s important to also note here that not all the victims were women either, another common misconception.
We really enjoyed our day in Salem. Overall, there is a distinct touristy vibe to the place if you prefer that route and there are many ways you can spend your time and especially your money. There are witch museums, witch dungeons and even pirate museums (Salem is a port after all), but we managed to get a broad feel and understanding of the place, the history, and the people of Salem with only time, prior research, and very little expense. The type of journey you choose to take is entirely up to you.
We walked just over 5-1/2 miles total, about 14,000 steps for me, so if walking that much is difficult, you might want to at least consider the trolley as a justifiable expense. The trolley allows you to get on and off at locations throughout town to explore a little more on your own and does provide you with a knowledgeable tour guide. For most people, 5+ miles is a typical day of walking at a casual pace and shouldn’t be too strenuous.