From the 17th centuries through the early 19th centuries, Salem was one of the most important ports in North America, and the Salem waterfront was lined with wharves that were owned and managed by wealthy merchant families like the Derbys, Crowninshields, and Turners. Salem captains sailed their ships to exotic ports in the Far East, Caribbean, Africa, and Europe and returned home with china, rum, silk, and other treasures that filled Salem’s warehouses, stores, and mansions. This rich maritime heritage is preserved and told at Salem Maritime National Historic Site– the National Park in Salem.
At Salem Maritime, visitors can stroll down Derby Wharf and envision dozens of similar wharves that held warehouses, ships, and workers. Imagine the hustle of sailors headed to sea for a year or more. Tour the Custom House and see the office where novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne worked as a surveyor of the port. Visit the Bonded Warehouse and Scale House exhibits to get a sense of what cargo was brought back to Salem from ports a world away and how the Custom Service measured goods coming off the ships. Experience the lifestyle of merchant Elias Hasket Derby and his wife Elizabeth Derby in the brick mansion they called home for 20 years. Climb aboard the replica tall ship Friendship on Derby Wharf and explore the lower deck, visit the Captain’s cabin, and learn about this cargo vessel that was the tractor-trailer of her day.
Salem Maritime National Historic Site brings maritime heritage to life through ranger-guided and self-guided tours year-round. The free film, To the Farthest Points of the Rich East at the Orientation Center on Derby Street will take you on a voyage across the seas. At the Visitor Center at 2 New Liberty Street, another free film, Where Past is Present, will introduce you to the history of the region. Whether you have traveled from afar or live locally, you will be fascinated by the stories of Essex County’s early settlement, maritime, and industrial heritage.
Throughout the year there are programs for all ages at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Younger children will enjoy coloring “Fish & Ships” at the Visitor Center. Older children can earn their Junior Ranger Badge during their visit. Free lectures, exhibits, and demonstrations at the Visitor Center are scheduled year-round. On Derby Wharf, there are new exhibits, installed in 2010 that interpret the wharf and Salem’s international trade.
Salem Maritime is your National Park in Salem. Come, explore, and enjoy all that it has to offer!
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