Salem Maritime National Historic Site | SALEM ARMORY VISITOR CENTER

Salem Visitor Center

Salem Visitor Center

GENERAL INFORMATION

The Salem Armory Visitor Center is located at 2 New Liberty Street in the old Salem Armory Drill Shed. This was used by the Second Corps of Cadets as its training area from 1890 until the early 1980s, as well as for large social events. Another part of the armory, the Gothic Rival-style head house, was destroyed in a fire in 1982, leaving only the drill shed (the head house was half of the original structure). The National Park Service partnered with the Peabody Essex Museum to acquire the drill shed in 1992 and converted it into the Salem Armory Visitor Center, which opened in 1994.

Model of the original Salem Armory featuring the now destroyed Head House

Model of the original Salem Armory featuring the now destroyed Head House

The Visitor Center actually covers two National Park Service attractions: Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Essex National Heritage Area, plus it acts as a stand-in for a City of Salem visitor center. Thus, you can not only get information on the National Park-related attractions, but also on the tourist attractions in Salem, most of which deal with the witch trials of 1692-93. The park Rangers won’t recommend any non-National Park attractions over another, but they will tell you about the different options.

There is a parking garage across the street, and while convenient for stopping at the Salem Visitor Center, it is a half-mile walk to the historical buildings on Derby Street that make up Salem Maritime National Historic Site. 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.

If you just want information on Salem Maritime National Historic Site, not the National Heritage Area or the other Salem attractions, you can also use the Waite and Peirce Information Center and Park Store on Central Wharf along Derby Street. This is right where the park attractions are located, and you can pick up a park map and shop for gifts and souvenirs.

OPERATING HOURS

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

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

AMENITIES

  • Information desks where you can get brochures on Salem Maritime National Historic Site, Essex National Heritage Area, and tourist attractions in Salem
  • Sign up for a tour of the Derby House and Narboone House
  • Large book and souvenir store
  • Two park films
  • Museum
  • Restrooms
Book and gift store at the Salem Armory Visitor Center

Book and gift store at the Salem Armory Visitor Center

PARK FILMS

The Salem Armory Visitor Center has an actual movie theater, not just an auditorium where you watch a video on a big-screen TV. Two films are shown multiple times each day at the top of every hour on a rotating basis. While you can catch them back-to-back, there is a 20 to 30 minute break between films.

Where Past is Present is a 27-minute documentary about Essex County (where Salem is located). Of course the Salem Witch Trials are discussed, but the bulk of the film covers how Essex County was founded, the fishing, maritime trade, and ship building industries, and the switch over to textile manufacturing once the maritime industries went into decline. The film is not specifically for or about the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. There is no objectionable material, so the film is suitable for all ages.

The second film, Salem Witch Hunt, is 38 minutes long and there is an admission fee ($5/adult, $3/seniors and kids at the time of this writing). Because it has nothing to do with Salem Maritime National Historic Site and costs money, I did not watch it.

EXHIBITS

The Salem Visitor Center is a large building, but there is a lot of empty space and the exhibits are not packed together. I was expecting the museum to be like the Where Past is Present film and cover more of the history of Essex County and the Salem Witch Trails than the maritime history of Salem, but I was surprised to see many exhibits featuring maritime themes.

Exhibit area at the Salem Armory Visitor Center

Exhibit area at the Salem Armory Visitor Center

Model of a ship docked at a wharf in Salem

Model of a ship docked at a wharf in Salem

SCHEDULING YOUR TIME

You can browse through all of the museum exhibits in fifteen minutes, so it is the park films that will take up most of your time. If you want to see both, catch the first one available and check out the museum during the break between films. Plan to spend 1.5 hours at the Salem Armory Visitor Center to see both films and the museum.

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Last updated on September 29, 2021
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