Salem's Historic Wharves
The three wharves that extend into Salem Harbor at Salem Maritime are the best examples of the over fifty wharves that once lined the harbor during the height of Salem’s international trade.
Derby Wharf, the longest of the three wharves, was begun in 1762 by Richard Derby, Sr., one of Salem’s wealthiest merchants. Over the years, as the Derby family’s trade expanded, they extended the wharf, until in 1806 it reached its current half-mile length. Hatch’s Wharf, the shortest wharf, was built in 1819, and Central Wharf was built in 1791 by Simon Forrester. Derby Wharf Light Station was built in 1871.
The wharves of Salem were covered with warehouses, some of which were two to three stories high. Derby Wharf, at one point, had almost twenty structures on it, from three story warehouses to smaller sheds to Elias Hasket Derby's counting house-the headquarters of his international trading empire. Sailing vessels were at times constructed on the wharves, and launched sideways into the harbor.
Visiting the wharves at Salem Maritime
The wharves are open all the time. Waysides along Derby Street and the length of Derby Wharf explain some of the history of the wharves, the harbor, and the international trade of the city.
Visitors should exercise caution while visiting the wharves after dark or during poor weather. The wind can be much stronger at the end of Derby Wharf than it is near the shore.
The Orientation Center at Salem Maritime contains a free orientation film and is where tours of the site begin. Click here for more information about our film and guided tours.
For More Information
On DerbyWharf Light Station
On International Trade in Salem
On Friendship of Salem
Pickled Fish and Salted Provisions
These links will take you to pdf files of our occasional publications associated with Salem Maritime National Historic Site. You will need the free Adobe Reader in order to view these files.
These issues are related to the historic wharves.
Did You Know?
In 1799, Salem native Nathaniel Bowditch revised John H. Moore's New Practical Navigator, the standard navigation manual of the 18th century. Bowditch discovered and corrected over 8,000 errors in Moore's manual! In 1802, Bowditch published the New American Practical Navigator.