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Sightseeing in Salem and Essex, Massachusetts - Indian Chief Travel
UNITED STATES  |  The Seacoast, Massachusetts Travel Guide
Sunday, November 17, 2019
3 Of 8

Sightseeing in Salem

Sightseeing in Salem

This city with its fierce history of witch trials can be a lot of fun to visit – for the history, for a glimpse at a modern culture of witches and their shops, and for the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center, loaded with information about the entire Essex National Heritage Area. Salem is located at the junction of Routes 1A and 114, and you can get there easily from Boston on the Salem Ferry. There are five historic districts in Salem, each with its own walking guide.

Stop at the National Park Service Regional Visitor Center first, located at Brown and Liberty Streets. The route to the center is well marked with brown and white signs from the moment you enter town. Here you can enjoy a multimedia presentation on the history of the area, collect information on seacoast wildlife, and pick up brochures on the Park Service “trails” in the area. The Essex Maritime Trail brochure, for instance, will point you to Newburyport, Essex, and Cape Ann, as well as Salem. It’s worth browsing here, to get a feel for the town’s wide historic resources. For instance, this is where the House of the Seven Gables stands, the one made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic story of that name. It is also a region that saw its peak with sea trading, as New England captains connected with merchant princes of China and the East Indies, making their fortunes and investing in their Salem homes. The Salem Custom House on Derby Street, with an impressive flight of steps and balustrades, shows immediately how important this maritime industry was to the economic well-being of the town.

Just down Liberty Street from the visitor center is the Peabody Essex Museum, where there are ships’ figureheads, maritime art, models of the seagoing vessels, and a sampling of the Asia export trade. This is also a research center, with three million books, more than 400,000 objects, manuscripts, and works of art. It spreads over two city blocks and includes actual period houses. There’s a spectacular collection of Asian, Oceanic, and African work too, plus a natural history wing. Two museum shops and a café add to the enjoyment.

Salem also has a Maritime National Historic Site at the waterfront, at 178Derby Street. Included are the Customs House where Nathaniel Hawthorne was employed, a store for trade goods, and a full-sized reproduction of an East Indiaman merchant ship, the Friendship.

Farther down Derby Street is the well-marked turn onto Hardy Street to see the House of the Seven Gables. There are actually four houses in the complex that stands at the waterfront: the house that Hawthorne wrote about, the house where he was born, and two more from the 1600s.

There are still more historic houses to visit, but the scandalous side of Salem is at least as interesting. The Salem Witch Trials of 1692, notorious for putting to death young women accused of witchcraft, are celebrated enthusiastically in town (although the actual trials took place in a related village that is now the town of Danvers, a much tamer place today!). From the moment you enter the town, you’ll see signs for witch-related museums and tours, and Halloween is a grand festival here. For authenticity, head for the Witch House, at 310 Essex Street, where Judge Jonathan Corwin, who resided over many of the pretrial hearings, once lived; the house has 17th-century architecture and period furnishings.

For the story of the witch trials, the Salem Witch Museum on Washington Square, by the witch statue, gives a spooky light and sound display. It introduces the individuals, like the African woman Tituba and the girls who accused her. The Witch Dungeon Museum at 16 Lynde Street uses actresses to re-enact the historical tale and offers a chance to tour a modest dungeon. At 288 Derby Street find the Salem Wax Museum of Witches and Seafarers, a mix of spooky and salty.

Sightseeing in Essex

Essex is a riverfront town with access to a tidal bay full of wildlife, where you can also visit Choate Island, the movie set for the film, The Crucible. Essex has a riverfront shipyard that is well on its way to becoming a fascinating little museum. The Essex Shipbuilding Museum, at 28and 66 Main Street, includes the boatyard, exhibits on boatbuilding with antique tools and plans, genealogical data, shipwrights’ papers, and a 1683 burial ground next door. Drop in at the EssexWaterfowl Museum on the same site. There’s a footpath joining the two locations.

Last updated March 31, 2008
Posted in   United States  |  The Seacoast
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