Salem Maritime National Historic Site | HISTORICAL WHARVES

View of Salem from Derby Wharf

View of Salem from Derby Wharf

When Salem was a thriving seaport in the late 1700s and early 1800s, dozens of wharves jutted out into the harbor. These are where ships would dock to load and unload cargo, and the wharves themselves were lined with warehouses and other workshops that catered to the needs of the ships and crews. Very few of these wharves remain today. Three of them are preserved within Salem Maritime National Historic Site: Central Wharf, Hatch’s Wharf, and Derby Wharf. All are open year-round, 24 hours a day.

DERBY WHARF

Derby Wharf at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Derby Wharf at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Derby Wharf is the longest of the wharves in the park. Construction began in 1762 by Richard Derby Sr. and his son Elias Hasket Derby, two of Salem’s wealthiest merchants, and by 1770 they had completed the first 800 feet. Elias Derby’s heirs extended the wharf to its present length of .4 mile by 1806. Today, if you can’t identify the wharf by its length, just look for the Friendship of Salem, a late-1990s replica of a merchant ship that was built in Salem in 1797. Visitors are welcome aboard and can tour the top weather deck and the tween deck where the crew lived.

Friendship of Salem docked at Derby Wharf

Friendship of Salem docked at Derby Wharf

Feel free to take a stroll to the end of the wharf, which is most likely the longest walk you will make at Salem Maritime National Historic Site. 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. In addition, Salem had the second largest shipbuilding industry after Boston. 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.

Visitors relax at the end of Derby Wharf

Visitors relax at the end of Derby Wharf

Derby Wharf was once lined with as many as twenty-two warehouses. Today, only one stands, and while it is an authentic warehouse from around 1770, it was never on Derby Wharf until the 21st century. Known as the Pedrick Store House, it was built by Thomas Pedrick at Marblehead Harbor, which is located southeast of Salem. Though heavily modified, it remained in use of some type—ferry office, sail loft—all the way into the 1990s. The National Park Service acquired it in 2003, then dismantled and reassembled it on Derby Wharf. When work was completed in 2008, it had been restored back to its original appearance. Today it is used as a maintenance shop for the Friendship of Salem, and the public is welcome to take a look inside.

Pedrick Store House and the Friendship of Salem

Pedrick Store House and the Friendship of Salem

Pedrick Store House on Derby Wharf at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Pedrick Store House on Derby Wharf at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

At the end of the wharf is the 20-foot tall Derby Wharf Light that was built in 1871, long after Salem was a thriving seaport. It still functions today, operating on solar power. It is not open to the public.

Derby Wharf Light

Derby Wharf Light

Derby Wharf Light

Derby Wharf Light

CENTRAL WHARF

Central Wharf was built in 1784, but didn’t reach its current length of 795 feet until it was purchased and extended by Simon Forrester between 1791 and his death in 1817. Once completed it was the fourth largest wharf in Salem. Forrester also built a large, brick warehouse on the wharf. This no longer stands, having been destroyed in a fire in 1914, but its foundation is outlined in stone.

From 1947 until 1973, the United States Navy operated a Naval Reserve Training Center on the wharf. All buildings were removed when it closed.

Located on Derby Street is a warehouse built around 1805 that originally sat on Front Street. The National Park Service moved it here in 1976. Today it is the Waite and Peirce Information Center and Park Store. Aaron Waite and Jerathmiel Peirce had a warehouse on or near this location, which is why the National Park Service named the store after them. They were also the owners of the Friendship of Salem.

Waite and Peirce Park Store at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Waite and Peirce Park Store at Salem Maritime National Historic Site

Next to the Waite and Peirce warehouse is a restroom building, and next to that a picnic area.

Picnic area on Central Wharf in Salem, Massachusetts

Picnic area on Central Wharf in Salem, Massachusetts

HATCH’S WHARF

Situated between Central and Derby wharves, Hatch’s Wharf is the shortest of the three, and unless you are paying attention you probably won’t even notice it. There is nothing on it other than a stone outline that indicates where warehouses used to stand.

A wharf was first built on this site in the early 1790s by Elias Hasket Derby. In 1853 it was purchased by lumber merchants Lemuel Hatch and Daniel Fitz and was rebuilt into its present shape and size. Hatch eventually built a coal shed on the wharf and an office next to it along Derby Street.

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Last updated on September 29, 2021
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