By Alyssa Grace AlKhowaiter for the Salem Historical Society
For almost a century (90 years on Thursday) the Hawthorne Hotel has been an institution that encapsulates and honors Salem’s distinctive literary and maritime legacies. It sits directly in the heart of our historic city, bordering our ancient parcel of common land, just across the street from the site of author Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birth in 1804. It also has the distinction of being the meeting place for the city’s oldest charitable organization, The Salem Marine Society, founded by sea captains on the eve of our Great Age of Sail.
The hotel is an architectural treasure. It is the city’s largest Colonial Revival building, characterized by corner quoins, recessed arched windows, and exaggerated, almost 20 feet high Palladian windows. The plans for the Hawthorne (currently in the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society) were drawn up by Salem-born architect Philip Horton Smith (1890-1960), designer of the United States Post Office building on Margin Street and Salem Common’s Neo-classical Revival bandstand (Smith was also responsible for saving Old Town Hall from destruction in the 1930s and for directing its subsequent restoration).
Above all, the Hawthorne Hotel has distinguished itself as an establishment of accommodation for out-of-towners that is as loved by Salem residents as it is by our visitors. It has become a center of the Salem community and a partner in promoting and preserving the historical and cultural identity of the city. It’s a place where locals always feel welcome (my week is certainly never complete without a trip to the Tavern to meet up with friends or colleagues). When I dug into the history, I found it incredibly apropos to learn that the hotel was funded by, essentially, a community crowd-funding campaign.
In 1923, Hygrade/Sylvania Lighting Company founder Frank Poor decided that Salem needed a high-end hotel to accommodate visiting businessmen. With support from the Salem Rotary Club and the Salem Chamber of Commerce, Poor helped create the Salem Hotel Company to sell stock in the creation of a new hotel. 230 volunteers recruited by the Company sold $750,000 in stock to over a thousand area residents and businessmen, while daily sales were posted on a billboard in Town House Square. A celebratory parade was held in Salem on July 21, 1925, and on July 23rd, the Hawthorne Hotel opened for business.
90 years later, Salem is a thriving tourist destination, and the consistent quality of the Hawthorne Hotel has contributed to this. But, to me, it’s the hotel’s position in the Salem community that makes it really special. Back in January, during the Blizzard of the Century, I went out to take pictures of the snow mountains and thought I was the only living soul on the street, when a couple walked toward me on Washington Square. We all laughed at each other for being out in such unbelievably abominable weather. Then the woman smiled and said, “We’re going to the Tavern for a drink!” Even in the midst of Snow-pocalypse 2015, locals were going over to hang out at the Hawthorne Hotel. Because it’s our hotel. And it always has been.
On July 23rd 2015 The Hawthorne Hotel invites you to join us as they celebrate 90 years of service. Enjoy live ragtime music in our Grand Ballroom, professional dancers in period dress, free hors d'oeurves, raffle items, and more. Limited edition commemorative items available for purchase. Cash bar. Event is free and open to the public.
Photos of the Hawthorne Hotel by Creative Salem