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CityPASS Home  »  City Traveler Blog  »  The Great Age of Sail Lives on in Salem

The Great Age of Sail Lives on in Salem

Hawkes House, one of the historic buildings on the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, was designed by famous Salem architect Samuel McIntire. Building began in 1780, and the unfinished building was purchased and completed around 1800 by Benjamin Hawkes.

Visiting Boston and seeing the wonderful attractions there? If you have a spare afternoon—and an interest in any or all things maritime—consider an excursion to nearby Salem, Massachusetts where you can discover nearly four centuries of sailing history.

Less than 20 miles northwest of Boston (it takes about 40 minutes to make the drive), Salem is probably Boston's most famous neighboring city. Best known for the famous Salem Witch Trials, and its modern-day celebration of Halloween, the city was founded in 1626 with an emphasis on shipbuilding.

For decades, Salem's most profitable industry centered on coastal shipping and trading across the Atlantic with England. Eventually over-restricted by British regulations, however, the town's merchants embraced the American Revolutionary Spirit of the 1770s and outfitted many of its trading ships into privateers to fight for independence.

Once the new nation was established, Salem's ships roamed far and wide, traveling famously “to the farthest ports of the rich East.” For the next 30 years or so, Salem became well-known for its role in the overseas luxury trade, importing items previously unknown in the Colonies.

Derby Wharf Light Station, located within the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Derby Wharf (built in 1762, extended in 1806) is Salem's longest wharf (nearly 1/2 mile). When in active use, it was lined with warehouses of goods from around the world. The Derby Wharf Light (built in 1871) remains at the end of the wharf.

Today, the nine-acre Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the first American National Historic Site, brings this rich history to life, in a series of historic buildings, wharves, and reconstructed tall ships. Guided tours, exhibits, wayside signs, junior-ranger programs, and orientation films are just a few of the park's offerings.

Salem proper is itself a treasure trove of museums, maritime displays, and walking tours, including one that follows in the footsteps of one of Salem’s most distinguished citizens, author and navigator Nathaniel Bowditch. In fact, something like ten “heritage sites” are within a 15-minute walk of the Park's Visitor Center, part of the nearly 200 such cultural and natural resources that make up the Essex County National Heritage Area.

If you're in Salem this weekend, be sure and catch the 30th Annual Antique and Classic Boat Festival; the action takes place August 25-26 at the public docks a few blocks from the Derby Wharf area (site of the National Maritime Historic Park.)

The Schooner Fame is a full-scale replica of a privateer from the War of 1812. Photo credit FAME Schoooner on Facebook.

Or if your plans take you there in about a month, “Trails and Sails with Essex National Heritage,” two weekends of walks and water, take place September 21-23, and September 28-30.

And if you're really planning ahead, Salem's largest maritime festival (at the National Historic Park) is traditionally held the first week of August, 2013! It's all about “Ships, Sawdust, Sailors, and Song.”

If you visit Salem anytime between Memorial Day and Halloween, you can sail the historic waters of Salem Sound on an authentic wooden schooner, the Fame. You'll spend a couple hours out on the water learning about the fishermen, pirates, privateers, traders and men of war who shaped the North Shore.

Whether you choose to ride a replica schooner, browse the straight-out-of-Melville maritime-themed shops, or simply wander its many wharves, Salem has more to offer than witches!

 

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