Salem Maritime National Historic Site | DERBY AND NARBONNE HOUSE GUIDED TOUR

Interior of the Derby House

Interior of the Derby House

The Derby House and the Narbonne House are two of the historical buildings within Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The Narbonne House is an example of a working class home and was built around 1672, whereas the Derby House was the home of wealthy merchant Elias Derby and was built in 1762. Both are among the oldest buildings still standing in Salem. Guided tours that cover both houses are held from mid-May until the end of October on select days of the week, and a tour is the only way to see the interiors. Get the current schedule on the National Park Service’s official Ranger Guided Programs web page for Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

There is no fee for the tour, but reservations are required, and you can only sign up the day of the tour. You can register at the Salem Visitor Center or by calling (978) 740-1650. Because there are only eight spots available, the tour usually fills up, and fills up early. I arrived shortly after the Salem Visitor Center opened and there were already six people registered. Therefore, be sure that you arrive at the park or call first thing in the morning—the visitor centers open at 10 AM.

If the tour is booked on the day of your visit and you really want to attend, show up at the Derby House at tour time and see if there are any no-shows. People make reservations in the morning, and by tour time in the late afternoon something else may have come up that prevents them from attending. There is no guarantee, and I don’t suggest traveling out of your way in hopes of getting a spot, but if you are in the area and have the time, stop by and see what happens.

If you are coming to Salem only to visit the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and plan to attend the tour, 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 when I visited, I suggest arriving no earlier than noon and no later than 1 PM. If you arrive first thing in the morning, you’ll have to visit witch museums to fill the time, because other than the tour, there are only two to three hours worth of things to do at the park. Of course, if you show up at noon there probably won’t be any spots left on the tour, so be sure to call first thing in the morning to get your name on the list.

The tour covers both houses and lasts about an hour. Two floors of the Derby House are visited, and there are no elevators. Those in wheelchairs no wider than 26 inches can access the first floor. Only the ground floor of the Narbonne House is part of the tour, and wheelchairs can access it as well.

The Derby House is furnished, but only two items are original to the house: a fan and a sewing table that belonged to Mrs. Elizabeth Derby. The rest of the furniture is either authentic period antiques or high-quality reproductions.

Derby House

Derby House

Other than stabilization-related renovations, the interior of the Narbonne House has been left just as it was in 1964 when the National Park Service purchased it. There is no furniture inside, and only two rooms are visited. However, there is a display of artifacts that were found in the yard during archaeological digs done between 1973 and 1975. Because there was no trash collection service in Salem until the early 1900s, people got rid of their garbage by burning or burying it in their yards. Because of this, over 150,000 artifacts were found, including children’s toys, dishes and other ceramic items, building materials, and the bones of animals that were eaten at the time.

Dishes and pots found in the 1970s excavation of the Narbonne House yard

Dishes and pots found in the 1970s excavation of the Narbonne House yard

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Last updated on June 15, 2020
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