Best history and art museums to visit in Salem, Massachusetts

Salem beckons history and art enthusiasts with its rich tapestry of museums. From the iconic House of the Seven Gables to the immersive Pioneer Village, the city offers a glimpse into its storied past.

The Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace pays homage to the literary genius, while The Friendship of Salem and East India Marine Society delve into maritime history.

Art finds its haven at The Peabody Essex Museum, while The Stephen Phillips House and The Gedney and Cox Houses showcase architectural marvels frozen in time.

Unveil the swashbuckling tales at The New England Pirate Museum or immerse in urban artistry at the Punto Urban Art Museum.

Join us as we embark on a journey through Salem’s captivating museums, where history and creativity intertwine seamlessly. If you want to learn more about the Witch trials tourist attractions, here is another article.

The House of the Seven Gables

The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner House or Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, stands as a remarkable testament to both history and literature in Salem, Massachusetts.

Dating back to 1668, this colonial mansion derives its name from the distinct gables that adorn its facade, a name immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s iconic 1851 novel, aptly titled The House of the Seven Gables.

Initially constructed for Captain John Turner, the house remained within the Turner family for three generations, witnessing evolving architectural trends and familial legacies. The house’s structure underwent expansions, revealing its original two-room, 2½-story layout, while subsequent additions shaped its character.

John Turner II’s 18th-century Georgian-style enhancements brought wood paneling and sash windows, leaving enduring impressions of early Georgian decor. The house, encompassing 17 rooms across its expansive 8,000 square feet, exemplifies one of the oldest surviving timber-framed mansion houses in North America.

Hawthorne’s connection to the house, through his relative Susannah Ingersoll, propelled his imagination to craft a literary masterpiece. The novel portrays the dwelling as a living entity, a “great human heart” steeped in enigmatic history. Hawthorne’s creative process paralleled architectural construction, culminating in the publication of The House of the Seven Gables in 1851.

Under the stewardship of Caroline O. Emmerton, the house underwent a meticulous restoration in 1908, embracing authenticity while catering to visitors’ expectations fueled by Hawthorne’s romantic narrative. The inclusion of a “cent-shop” akin to the fictional Hepzibah Pyncheon’s, and a secret staircase, accentuates the seamless blend of fact and fiction.

Now operating as a non-profit museum, this historic dwelling beckons curious minds to explore its past. Guided tours illuminate the house’s narrative, while the on-site settlement house serves the immigrant community with educational programs.

The house’s legacy, intertwined with Hawthorne’s literary prowess, remains a testament to the intricate interplay between reality and fiction. As a hub of historical significance and artistic inspiration, The House of the Seven Gables continues to draw countless visitors, its corridors echoing with centuries of tales waiting to be discovered.

Salem 1630: Pioneer Village

Salem 1630: Pioneer Village stands as a remarkable living history museum, transporting visitors to the vibrant streets and homes of 17th-century Salem. Established in June 1930, this village holds the distinction of being the United States’ first museum of its kind, offering a captivating journey into the lives of early English settlers.

Designed by architect Joseph Everett Chandler and historian George Francis Dow, the village is a vivid recreation of Salem’s past, painstakingly realized with input from various experts and architects.

The intention was to provide a tangible experience of life in 1630, an endeavor that culminated in one of America’s inaugural living history museums. The village’s authenticity is palpable, featuring diverse structures such as a blacksmith’s shop, sawmill, saltworks, gardens, fireplaces, a Dugout, a Wigwam, and charming thatched roof cottages.

The Governor’s House, a centerpiece of the village, was meticulously reconstructed based on historical research. This house stands as a representation of Governor John Endicott’s residence, offering a glimpse into the architectural style and lifestyle of the era.

The village’s significance transcends mere recreation, as it immerses visitors in the cultural tapestry of early Salem, where settlers from England laid the foundation for the vibrant community that would evolve over centuries.

Over the years, Pioneer Village has become a cherished site for both locals and tourists alike, preserving the essence of Salem’s history and heritage. However, its future has recently become a subject of debate, as plans to relocate some of its structures to another site have sparked controversy and concerns among preservationists and community members.

As of now, the fate of this venerable living history museum remains uncertain, casting a spotlight on the delicate balance between preservation, progress, and the enduring importance of connecting with our past.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace

The Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace stands as a testament to the origins of one of America’s most celebrated literary figures. This historic home, located in Salem, Massachusetts, encapsulates the early life of Nathaniel Hawthorne, offering a window into his formative years and the context that shaped his iconic works.

Constructed between 1730 and 1745, the house originally belonged to Boston mariner Joshua Pickman. Its architecture, reflective of the period, features a central chimney, gambrel roof, and a distinct post-and-lintel doorway.

Notably, the birthplace retains its original layout, with a kitchen on the right and a main room on the left of the ground floor, and front and back rooms on the second floor.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s connection to this house is deeply ingrained. Born here on July 4, 1804, he spent his early years within these walls until his father’s untimely death at sea when he was just four years old.

Subsequently, the family moved to another property owned by the Mannings, Hawthorne’s maternal relatives. Throughout his life, Hawthorne’s ties to Salem remained strong, and it was here that he embarked on his literary journey.

In 1958, recognizing its historical significance, the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace was carefully relocated to its present address at 27 Hardy Street, situated within the grounds of the Turner-Ingersoll mansion, the setting that he immortalized in his novel “The House of the Seven Gables.”

Today, visitors to the birthplace have the opportunity to step back in time and gain insights into Hawthorne’s early environment. The interior has been thoughtfully preserved, allowing guests to experience the ambiance of the period and imagine the young author’s upbringing.

The Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, now under the stewardship of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association, stands as a testament to the enduring legacy of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his profound impact on American literature.

It offers a tangible connection to the man behind the words, inviting visitors to delve into the roots of his creativity and gain a deeper appreciation for his literary contributions.

The Friendship of Salem

The Friendship of Salem stands as a remarkable tribute to maritime history, embodying the legacy of the original 18th-century ship, Friendship. A faithful replica of the 1797 East Indiaman, this 171-foot vessel was meticulously crafted in 2000 at the Scarano Brothers Shipyard in Albany, New York.

Maintaining the allure of its historical predecessor, The Friendship of Salem operates as both a stationary museum ship and a functional United States Coast Guard-certified vessel.

The ship’s stunning presence is docked at the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, established in 1938 by the National Park Service, which offers a tangible link to America’s maritime heritage.

The replica’s construction seamlessly melds modern materials and techniques with the charm of 18th-century design. Cold molded with laminated wood and epoxy, the hull captures the essence of the original vessel.

The ship’s appearance draws inspiration from a model curated by Thomas Russell and Mr. Odell, crafted during a voyage in the early 19th century. This model, a gift for Captain William Story’s son, found its muse in a George Ropes, Jr. painting from 1805, now part of the Peabody Essex Museum’s collection.

Operated by a dedicated volunteer crew overseen by the National Park Service, The Friendship of Salem serves as an ambassador ship for the Essex National Heritage Area. Its towering masts, 21 sails, and twin diesel engines allow for both educational stationary exhibits and captivating sea voyages.

This maritime marvel not only honors the history of its namesake but also provides a living testament to America’s seafaring heritage. As visitors step aboard, they are transported to an era of exploration and trade, where the seas were pathways to the world’s riches and mysteries.

East India Marine Society

The East India Marine Society, founded in 1799 in Salem, Massachusetts, stands as a testament to the intrepid spirit of exploration and trade that characterized the early days of the United States.

Comprising individuals who had traversed the treacherous waters beyond the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Horn, the society was more than just a collective of mariners; it was a charitable and educational institution that left an indelible mark on the cultural landscape of its time.

At the heart of the society’s activities was its diverse collection of artifacts, which spanned the spectrum of human creativity and ingenuity. From exotic natural curiosities like ostrich eggs and elephant tusks to cultural artifacts like ivory pagodas and paintings from far-off lands, the collection represented a window into the fascinating tapestry of global cultures.

The society’s unique requirement for its members to contribute items from their voyages resulted in a wide-ranging assortment that included everything from maritime tools to intricate sculptures.

The East India Marine Society’s dedication to preserving these treasures led to the establishment of a museum, where visitors could embark on a journey of discovery. The museum’s strategic arrangement of objects, often displayed in tall cases lining the walls, allowed visitors to immerse themselves in the splendors of the wider world.

Life-size sculptures of merchants from China and India not only added to the museum’s aesthetic appeal but also served as contextual aids for understanding other objects.

A visit to the East India Marine Society’s museum is an awe-inspiring experience, leaving visitors with a sense of wonder and a feeling of traversing the globe. It is a portal to distant lands, offering insights into foreign cultures and customs, while also highlighting the achievements of Salem’s mariners on the international stage.

As a vital attraction in Salem, the society’s museum not only educated and entertained but also played a significant role in fostering trade relations and a global outlook among the younger generations.

The Peabody Essex Museum

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) stands as a remarkable testament to the rich tapestry of human culture and creativity. A product of the merger between the Peabody Museum of Salem and the Essex Institute in 1992, PEM’s roots trace back to the establishment of the East India Marine Society in 1799.

This institution, now one of the oldest continuously operating museums in the United States, is an embodiment of history’s diverse threads woven together.

With an extensive collection comprising over 1.3 million pieces and twenty-two historic structures, PEM is a treasure trove that spans continents and eras. Its galleries house an array of treasures, from maritime artifacts that echo Salem’s seafaring legacy to a captivating array of American, Asian, Oceanic, African, and Indian art.

Among its prized possessions are over 840,000 works of historical and cultural significance, alongside a vast library holding over 400,000 books and manuscripts.

The museum’s global reach is exemplified by its impressive collections of Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian art, spanning ancient traditions and contemporary expressions.

The African art collection resonates with ceremonial masks, pottery, and a remarkable assortment of Ethiopian Christian icons and metalwork. Meanwhile, Native American, Oceanic, and Oceanic art bring forth a fascinating array of cultural artifacts, each with its own unique story to tell.

The Peabody Essex Museum’s dedication to preserving and presenting cultural heritage extends to its meticulous preservation of historic buildings, creating an immersive experience that transports visitors through time.

One can explore structures such as the East India Marine Hall, Gardner-Pingree House, and more, each contributing to the understanding of the rich layers of human history.

From pioneering photographers’ early works to maritime treasures, the museum’s vast photography collection and maritime artifacts deepen its narrative. This expansive cultural institution resonates with the voices of centuries past, echoing in galleries, exhibitions, and meticulously preserved structures.

The Peabody Essex Museum is not just a repository of art and artifacts; it is a living embodiment of the human experience, a testament to the intersections of cultures and the power of creativity to bridge time and space.

The Stephen Phillips House

Nestled within Salem’s McIntire Historic District, the Stephen Phillips House is a captivating testament to history and artistry. Designed by Samuel McIntyre, this house carries the legacy of American maritime success, exemplifying the marriage of architecture and heritage.

Rooted in the ambition of Elias Hasket Derby, a pioneering maritime magnate, the house’s narrative unfolds through generations. Inheriting the property from her father’s fortune, Elizabeth and Captain Nathaniel West crafted an opulent country house in Danvers, Massachusetts.

Fate intervened, leading to Nathaniel’s departure in 1806 due to divorce. Following Elizabeth’s passing in 1814, the house transitioned through her daughters, and eventually, Nathaniel moved four rooms to its present Salem location, imbuing it with a new hallway, third floor, and back ell section.

In 1911, Stephen W. Phillips infused the house with five generations’ worth of family artifacts, creating an eclectic collection mirroring the family’s extensive travels.

Today, the Stephen Phillips House, under the stewardship of Historic New England, stands as a living museum. Architecturally, it presents a façade evoking Federal-style elegance, complemented by Georgian-era quoins. Inside, Federal and Colonial Revival styles harmoniously intertwine, a result of the Phillips family’s remodeling efforts in the early twentieth century.

Anna Phillips, heir to a rich collection from her aunt Anna Peabody, adorned the house with jewelry, art, and furnishings, including works by local luminary Herman Dudley Murphy. The house not only offers a glimpse into art and design but also a rare insight into the functioning of grand estates, with spaces like the kitchen showcasing technological evolution.

The Stephen Phillips House’s allure transcends architecture and art. A treasure trove of Hawaiian and Polynesian artifacts, early American furniture, Persian carpets, and export porcelain reflects the family’s global travels and interests. The carriage house is a time capsule of transportation history, housing a century-spanning collection of carriages and automobiles.

Notably, the “garage” steals the spotlight, housing original carriages and antique cars that evoke the essence of a bygone era. As the Stephen Phillips House opens its doors, it beckons visitors to journey through time, exploring a unique blend of history, culture, and innovation.

The Gedney and Cox Houses

Nestled at 21 High Street in Salem, the Gedney and Cox Houses embody a living testament to America’s architectural heritage. The Gedney House, with its origins tracing back to approximately 1665, holds the charm of Colonial American architecture. Operated by Historic New England, this house offer limited tours, providing an opportunity to delve into their rich history.

Constructed for Eleazor Gedney, a prominent shipwright of the Gedney family, the house reflects the intriguing story of its builder. It’s a place where time has left its marks, evident in the structural changes and decorative finishes that have evolved over centuries. Notably, the Gedney House is associated with the Salem Witch Trials, connecting it to a pivotal chapter in history.

Initially a single-family residence, the Gedney House later transitioned into a tavern during its tenure under the Gedney family until 1773 when it found a new proprietor in Benjamin Cox. Over the next quarter-century, Cox transformed it into an investment property.

By approximately 1800, significant modifications emerged as two townhouse-style extensions were seamlessly integrated into the house’s western facade, ushering in a new chapter as a multi-family dwelling. Subsequently, it evolved into a boarding house and tenement, becoming an integral part of Salem’s Italian-American community.

In 1967, the house was acquired by Historic New England just as it was poised for demolition. Today, this house, stewarded by Historic New England, beckon visitors to explore their captivating narratives. From the early colonial period to the present, the Gedney and Cox Houses provide a remarkable window into the past, a must-visit destination for architecture enthusiasts and history lovers alike.

The New England Pirate Museum

The New England Pirate Museum offers a captivating voyage into the swashbuckling era of seafaring marauders. Located at 274 Derby St in Salem, this unique museum isn’t just an exhibit; it’s an immersive guided tour through a world teeming with pirate lore and legends.

Step inside this unassuming building and embark on a journey that spans centuries. Life-size figures of infamous pirates, including the likes of Captains Kidd, Blackbeard, Bellamy, and Quelch, beckon you into a meticulously recreated colonial seaport.

Led by knowledgeable guides, you’ll traverse through various captivating scenes, each unfolding the gripping history of piracy along New England’s shores.

The adventure begins in the artifacts room, where genuine pirate treasures transport you back to the age of buccaneers. From there, you’ll meander through a dockside village frozen in time, board an authentic pirate ship, and venture into an eighty-foot batcave, shrouded in mystery and hidden booty.

The tales of these seafaring outlaws come to life as you navigate the museum’s engaging displays. Unlike the accused witches of Salem, it was these very pirates who ruled the waves during the tumultuous days of 1692. The museum sets the record straight, shedding light on the lives, exploits, and treasures of these daring adventurers.

But this experience isn’t just about storytelling. It’s about immersing yourself in history. Feel the thrill of uncovering hidden riches as you touch authentic pirate treasure, a rare opportunity that awaits at the tour’s conclusion.

Beyond being an enthralling history lesson, the New England Pirate Museum promises an adventure for all ages. With seasonal availability from May through November, this museum isn’t merely a collection of artifacts; it’s an interactive encounter with the past, a chance to walk in the footsteps of those who sailed the high seas and left their mark on history.

Punto Urban Art Museum

Nestled within Salem, Massachusetts, the Punto Urban Art Museum is a vibrant testament to the fusion of creativity and community. Situated in the heart of the “El Punto” Neighborhood, this open-air museum unfolds over a three-block radius, boasting a captivating tapestry of street art that beckons exploration.

As you stroll through this dynamic outdoor gallery, you’ll encounter over 75 large-scale murals, a collaborative masterpiece crafted by 30 world-renowned and 25 local artists. Each stroke of paint, every vibrant hue, weaves together to not only decorate the streets but also to nurture a profound sense of neighborhood pride.

Initiated by the non-profit North Shore Community Development Coalition in 2017, the art program springs from a mission to uplift lives, debunk negative stereotypes, and cultivate meaningful connections.

The neighborhood, a tapestry of working-class traditions, is now a diverse haven primarily embraced by Latinx and immigrant residents. Amidst the brick buildings that survived the 1914 Salem fire, the Point Neighborhood Historic District stands as a testament to time. It is here that the Punto Urban Art Museum finds its canvas, breathing new life into old walls.

In collaboration with the City of Salem, the Point Neighborhood Association, and the Metropolitan Area Planning Council, a year-long community planning process birthed this living, breathing gallery.

The Punto Urban Art Museum isn’t just about murals; it’s about shared stories and aspirations. It began with 50 murals in 2017, a testament to the dedication of both local residents and business owners who sit on the coalition’s board of directors.

The essence of the museum transcends borders, with international artists from across South America, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Spain, Italy, and beyond leaving their mark on Salem’s streets. Beyond their breathtaking creations, these artists also serve as mentors to local talents, bridging gaps and fostering growth.

More than an art destination, the Punto Urban Art Museum breathes life into the streets, creating a symphony of colors and cultures. It is a celebration of heritage, a beacon of unity, and a canvas upon which dreams are painted, one stroke at a time.

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