• Salem Maritime National Historic Site

    Salem Maritime

    National Historic Site Massachusetts

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St. Joseph Hall

A parade passes St. Joseph Hall in the 1950s.

Women in traditional Polish dresses march past St. Joseph Hall during a parade in the 1950s

NPS collections

For over 70 years, St. Joseph Hall was an integral part of the Polish community in Salem.

Polish immigrants began arriving in Salem in the late 19th century, drawn by the opportunity for work in the cotton mills and other factories in the area. By the turn of the 20th century, the western end of Derby Street, where Salem Maritime is located, had become the heart of the Polish community in Salem.

The St. Joseph Society was founded in 1897 as a fraternal society that provided aid to its members in the form of assistance in times of illness or financial hardship, as well as funeral benefits. By 1909, the society was strong enough that they were able to build a three story headquarters.

The first floor was retail space that could be rented out to provide an income for the support of the building. The large hall on the second floor was the site of hundreds of weddings, dances, plays, and other social events in the Polish community. On the top floor, several apartments were built to house new immigrants until they could get permanently settled.

As the twentieth century moved on, the St. Joseph Society became more of a social organization, regularly hosting dances and fielding baseball and basketball teams that played other youth teams in the region.

By the 1980s, the Polish community had spread out all over the region as young men and women left Salem to find jobs. St. Joseph Hall was sold to the National Park Service in 1988, and has been renovated to house administrative and maintenance facilities, as well as the Site’s educational center. The front of the building has been restored to its original appearance, and today there is an exhibit on Salem’s Polish community in the front windows of St. Joseph Hall.

 

For More Information:

“Polish-Americans in Salem: A Transition in Photographs,” Volume VI, Number 2 of Salem Maritime’s occasional newsletter, Pickled Fish and Salted Provisions (165K pdf file)

The Polish Community in Salem: A Virtual Exhibit

Did You Know?

A view of the rigging of Friendship, looking up through the spiderweb of lines attached to the horizontal yards and vertical masts.

Over 17 miles of line makes up the rigging of the tall ship Friendship at Salem Maritime. That's about the distance from Salem to Boston! More...