Salem Maritime National Historic Site | PARK AT A GLANCE

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Salem Maritime National Historic Site

PARK OVERVIEW

Salem Maritime National Historic Site, the first National Historic Site created by the National Park Service, is located in Salem, Massachusetts. It was established in 1938 to preserve three historical wharves and a collection of buildings associated with the city’s maritime industry. At its peak between 1776 and 1812, Salem was the busiest trading port in the United States and the sixth largest city. In the days when taxes on imported goods accounted for 97 percent of federal revenue, taxes collected in Salem in the early 1800s made up as much as 7 percent of the total. However, when the War of 1812 started, foreign trade was seriously impaired, and afterwards Salem never recovered. To make matters worse, ships were being built larger and larger, and Salem Harbor was not deep enough to accommodate them. Trade gradually moved to bigger and deeper ports of cities like New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. As the maritime industry declined, Salem became an industrial city full of textile mills.

Begin your visit to the park at the Salem Armory Visitor Center. Here you can get a park brochure, speak with a Ranger about what there is to see and do, and sign up for a tour of the Derby and Narbonne houses, two of the historical buildings within the park that can only be seen on a guided tour. In addition to the Derby and Narbonne houses, there are six other historical buildings within the park. You can tour the Custom House, the Public Stores, and the Scale House on your own, while the rest of the buildings are closed to the public and can only be viewed from the outside.

There are also exhibits on Derby Wharf, the longest of the three existing wharves. A lighthouse sits at the end, and when in port, visitors will find the Friendship of Salem docked along the wharf. The Friendship is a late-1990s replica of an East Indiaman cargo ship built in Salem in 1797. The public is welcome to come aboard and tour the top and middle decks of the ship.


PARKING

There is no designated visitor parking lot at Salem Maritime National Historic Site, so guests must either park in metered spots along the street or in a public parking garage. Street parking at the wharf is easy to find if you arrive first thing in the morning, but later in the day you’ll end up playing an extended game of musical chairs as you drive endlessly in circles waiting for somebody to leave. There is also a four-hour time limit, and when this expires you must move to another spot. If, like most people, you came to Salem for the witch history as well, you can easily spend much longer than four hours.

The parking garage option is ultimately the best way to go. There is a garage across the street from the Salem Armory Visitor Center at the corner of New Liberty and Church streets, and while convenient for stopping at the Visitor Center, it is a half-mile walk to Derby Street where all of the attractions at the park are located. There is another parking garage at the corner of Congress and Derby streets that is more centrally located—.2 mile to the wharf and .3 mile to the visitor center.


OPERATING HOURS

The grounds and any outdoor exhibits at Salem Maritime National Historic Site are open 24 hours a day, year-round. The visitor centers and historical buildings are open as follows:

Salem Armory Visitor Center

  • June through September
    • Daily from 10 AM to 5 PM
  • Octomber through May
    • Wednesdays through Sundays from 10 AM to 4 PM

Waite and Peirce Information Center and Museum Store

  • Open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM

Narbonne House and Derby House

  • By guided tour only (1-hour tour covers both houses)
  • Mid-May until October 31st
  • Wednesdays through Sundays at 3 PM

Custom House, Public Stores, and Scale House

  • Mid-May until October 31st
  • Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 AM to 4 PM
  • Mondays from 1 PM to 4 PM

Friendship of Salem

  • When in port the ship is open the same hours as the Custom House

All facilities are closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.

Times can always change, so before making travel plans be sure to get the latest schedule on the National Park Service’s official Basic Information web page for Salem Maritime National Historic Site.


FEES

There are no fees to visit the grounds of Salem Maritime National Historic Site or to tour the historical buildings. The only fee associated with a visit is for watching the film Salem Witch Hunt, which is shown multiple times each day at the Salem Armory Visitor Center.


SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

While the park is a collection of three wharves and nine historical buildings, everything is packed closely together on Derby Street along Salem Harbor (the entire park is only nine acres). If you schedule it right, you can see everything in three to four hours. However, if you throw in some of the witch-related tourist attractions that Salem is known for—and most visitors come for the witches, not Salem Maritime National Historic Site—you can spend a full day in Salem and not run out of things to do.

If you are coming to Salem only for Salem Maritime National Historic Site and plan to attend the tour of the Derby and Narbonne houses, you need to schedule everything around the tour since it is only held once a day in the late afternoon. Based on a 3 PM tour time, I suggest arriving no earlier than noon and no later than 1 PM. If you show up first thing in the morning, you’ll have to visit witch museums to fill the time. I suggest that you first head to the Salem Armory Visitor Center, which is in downtown, then walk to Derby Street where all of the attractions are located. Stop in the Waite and Peirce Information Center and Park Store, then catch the attractions that are open only during specific hours—Custom House, Friendship of Salem, Public Stores, Scale House—because these may be closed by the time the house tour ends. If there is still time before your tour, walk around to see the rest of the historical buildings and the wharves. These places are always “open,” so you can visit them after the tour.

Salem Visitor Center
allow 30 to 90 minutes

Waite and Peirce Information Center and Park Store
allow 15 minutes

Custom House, Scale House, and Public Stores
allow 30 minutes

Derby and Narbonne House Tour
allow 1 hour

Friendship of Salem
allow 30 minutes

Derby Wharf
allow 30 minutes

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Last updated on September 29, 2021
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