Derby Waterfront District

Derby Waterfront District
Photo from NPS Digital Image Archive
The Derby Waterfront District, located along the waterfront in Salem, was an active area from around the time of the Revolution to the 1820s, when Salem's foreign commerce was at its height. It includes the buildings of Salem Maritime National Historic Site, as well as houses and commercial buildings of the surrounding area. Houses of the local merchants and gentry were located on the north side of Derby Street, facing the counting rooms, warehouses, ship chandlers' stores, pump-makers' shops, sail-makers' lofts and the wharves themselves. Noted Federal period merchants' houses include the Miles Ward House, the Simon Forrester House and the Benjamin Crowninshield House.

Historic view of Derby Waterfront District and current views of E.H. Derby House
Photos from NPS Maritime Heritage Program collection and courtesy of Essex National Heritage Area

The Miles Ward House at the corner of Herbert and Derby Streets was built in the 1730s for Richard Derby. Elias Hasket Derby, a prosperous merchant of the 18th century, grew up in the house and would settle in a brick Georgian-style house just a few doors away after his marriage to Elizabeth Crowninshield. In the Custom House chapter of the Scarlet Letter, Nathanial Hawthorne refers to E.H. Derby as "King Derby." Further down Derby at 180 is the Benjamin W. Crowninshield House, a large Federal brick mansion built from 1810 to 1812. Crowinshield, a member of an important Massachusetts merchant family served as a U.S. Congressman and as the Secretary of the Navy under Presidents James Madison and James Monroe. The house was later occupied by General James Miller while serving as collector of the Port of Salem from 1825 to 1829. In 1861, the house became a home for aged women, a purpose it still serves today. It was expanded considerably in 1906 and 1916 to accommodate its new purpose. At 188 Derby is the house of Simon Forrester, a prosperous merchant and former ship captain. Forrester, of Scotch-Irish descent, came to America after signing on to the Salem schooner Salisbury captained by Daniel Hawthorne—grandfather to the author Nathanial Hawthorne—in the late 1760s. The design of the substantial wooden house is credited to Samuel McIntire though it has been altered over time with many of its distinguishing architectural elements removed.

[photo] House of Seven Gables and Hawthorne's birthplace
Photos courtesy of the House of Seven Gables
The district also includes the House of Seven Gables Complex. The centerpiece is the House of Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathanial Hawthorne's novel and a rare surviving large 17th-century, wooden house. The complex includes several other important buildings related to the maritime history of Salem, some of which were moved to the site to ensure their preservation, including the Nathanial Hawthorne birthplace, the Retire Beckett House, the Counting House, the Hathaway House, Emmerton Hall, the Phippen House and the Doret House.

The Derby Waterfront District is located in the waterfront area of Salem. It includes both sides of Derby St. between Herbert St. and Block House Square and the streets to the south of Derby St. from the Salem Maritime National Historic Site to Blaney St. Many of the houses and buildings within the district are privately owned and used for residential and commercial purposes. Guided tours of the House of Seven Gables Complex are offered mid-January through December, from 10:00am to 5:00pm, with later hours until 7:00pm from July-October, and until 11:00pm on October weekends only; closed major holidays. There is a fee for admission. Please call 978-744-0991 or visit the House of Seven Gables website for further information.

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