The History of Salem Maritime NHS
In the National Historic Sites Act of 1935, Congress charged the National Park Service with identifying and preserving places of importance to our nation's history. The Act set out three major ways that the National Park Service might achieve this goal:
On March 17, 1938 Salem Maritime National Historic Site was the first national historic site established by the National Park Service. Its purpose is to promote the maritime history of New England and the United States, and preserve part of the historic waterfront in Salem, Massachusetts. Together, this collection of wharves and buildings tell the story of the development of colonial port towns, the importance of international trade to the early economy of the United States, and the connection between maritime trade and growing industrialization.
Initially, the site consisted of the three wharves on the southern side of Derby street, and four buildings on the northern side of the street. Derby Wharf (built 1762, extended to its current half-mile length in 1806), Hatch's Wharf (built 1819), and Central Wharf (built 1791) are the only wharves of the over fifty that lined the waterfront in Salem during the height of the town's international trade in the early 19th century that still retain their 19th century appearance.
When the National Park Service first looked at creating the site in 1935, there were about a dozen buildings on the property. Only five were judged to be important enough to keep; the rest were late 19th or early 20th century buildings that were knocked down to open up the space. The five buildings were: the U.S. Custom House (built 1819), a fine example of Federal-style government architecture; the Hawkes House, (begun c. 1780, finished 1800) another fine example of Federal style domestic architecture; the Derby House (built 1762), a small gem of Georgian architecture, and two warehouses: Forrester's Warehouse, which stood on Central Wharf, and unfortunately later had to be taken down, and a warehouse built by Henry Prince c. 1800 and today known as the West India Goods store.
Over the years, several other resources were added to the original historic buildings that enhanced the purpose of Salem Maritime:
For More Information
For more details about the history of Salem Maritime, and the administrative decisions about the site from 1938 until 1993, download the Administrative History of Salem Maritime.This is a highly readable narrative of the people and events that have shaped this site since its founding.
Administrative History of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Chase-Harrell, Pauline, Carol Ely, and Stanley Moss. 238 p., 1993. Download (PDF)
Did You Know?
Over 20,000 visitors go through the Regional Visitor Center in Salem, MA on an average October weekend.