When most people think of Salem, Massachusetts, they think of witches, spooky graveyards, and foreboding looking mansions. But Salem Maritime National Historic Site offers a much more positive look at Salem’s rich history. The site consists of 12 historic structures, including the replica of a 1797 trade ship, and the half mile long Derby Wharf, which hosted hundreds of ships during the height of the East India trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The site also brings to life the early colonial trade and the time of the American Revolution, when American privateers would dock their ships in this bustling port.
Salem was also the birthplace of author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was inspired to write his famous novel The Scarlet Letter while he was employed at the Custom House. The building, once a busy center of shipping commerce, is now part of the national historic site. Hawthorne describes it in his introduction to the novel:
On some such morning, when three or four vessels happen to have arrived at once—usually from Africa or South America—or to be on the verge of their departure thitherward, there is a sound of frequent feet, passing briskly up and down the granite steps. Here, before his own wife has greeted him, you may greet the sea-flushed ship-master, just in port, with his vessel’s papers under his arm in a tarnished tin box. Here, likewise, the germ of the wrinkle-browed, grizzly-bearded, careworn merchant...Another figure in the scene is the outward-bound sailor, in quest of a protection...Nor must we forget the captains of the rusty little schooners that bring firewood from the British provinces...Cluster all these individuals together, as they sometimes were, with other miscellaneous ones to diversify the group, and, for the time being, it made the Custom-House a stirring scene.
Salem was also the home of famous architect and woodcarver Samuel McIntire, and the city is celebrating his 250th birthday this year with special exhibits and lectures. McIntire is credited with founding the Federalist style of architecture and in 1981 the city named its largest historic district after him. As well as designing buildings, he also created woodcarvings for home interiors, furniture, and ships. Many of his designs can be seen throughout the historic site today.
So the next time you hear about Salem, Massachusetts, remember—there is more to the city than just witches!