Salem Maritime National Historic Site

[photo] Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Photos courtesy of Essex National Heritage Area and from NPS Digital Image Archive
Designated by the Secretary of the Interior on March 17, 1938, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site became the first national historic site in the National Park System. It consists of 9 acres of land, 12 historic buildings, and a visitor center along the Salem waterfront. The park was established to preserve and interpret the maritime history of New England, whose shipping played an important role in the early economic development of the United States. The Salem Maritime National Historic Site documents the development of the Atlantic triangular trade between Europe, the west coast of Africa and the Caribbean during the colonial period; the role of privateering during the Revolutionary War; and international maritime trade, especially with the Far East, which established American economic independence after the Revolution.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Photo by Jeremy D'Entremont,

One of the most prominent buildings at the site is the U.S. Custom House constructed in 1819 on Derby Street overlooking Salem Harbor. The Custom House was the last of 13 customhouses in the city of Salem. The first was established by the British Government in 1649 to collect taxes on imported cargos, and in 1789, the U.S. Congress established a customs district in Salem as one of its first acts under the newly-ratified Constitution. Before the start of the 19th century, customhouses could often be found in the houses of the customs collector or in rented space along the waterfront. Built at the same time and connected to the Custom House, the three-story Public Stores was a bonded warehouse. It was used by the Customs Service to hold cargo for merchants until they were able to pay the duties on their goods. In addition, in 1829, a scale house was constructed behind the Custom House and was used as a storage facility for the equipment required for weighing cargo that was unloaded from a ship.

[photo] Hawkes House
NPS Photo, Salem Maritime National Historic Site
Directly in front of the Custom House are two of Salem's most historically active wharfs—Central Wharf and Derby Wharf. During Salem's heyday both wharfs would have been lined with warehouses of local merchants. Other historic buildings within Salem Maritime National Historic Site include the home of one of Salem's most successful merchants—the Derby House (1762), a ship captain—the Narbonne House (1675/1740), and a ship builder—the Hawkes House (1800), as well as a commercial building, the West India Dry Goods Store, which was built by Captain Henry Prince about 1804 and used as a warehouse and shop.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site is located at 178 Derby St. in Salem. It is managed by the National Park Service and is also part of the Essex National Heritage Area. An In-Depth Virtual Tour is offered on the park's website. Salem Maritime National Historic Site is open daily from 9:00am to 5:00pm; closed major holidays. Ranger-guided tours of the Friendship, a full-size replica of a 1797 Salem merchant vessel, the Custom House, the Derby House and the Narbonne House are available for a small fee. Please call 978-740-1650 or visit the park's website to obtain the most up-to-date tour information.

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