Salem Common Historic District
The Salem Common Historic District is the perfect launch pad for any excursion in
Salem, setting residents and visitors off from a central location that is adjacent to many of
the community’s gems, including the Hawthorne Hotel, the Salem Witch Museum, and
the Peabody Essex Museum to name just a few!
The area is composed of the neighborhood between St. Peter's, Bridge, and Derby Streets
as well as Collins Cove, and also serves as an entry point to both Winter Island and the
Salem Willows at its northeastern and southeastern borders respectively.
The country's first militia mustered on Salem Common in 1637, launching what would
eventually become the United States Army National Guard. Livestock was allowed to
roam freely until the park was eventually enclosed with a wrought iron fence built in
1850 that remains today.
The Common has been used through out its history for regular military drills, and is
considered the birthplace of the United States National Guard. In 1802, it was renamed
Washington Square in honor of the nation’s first President. A white archway was erected
at the north entrance, originally designed by the infamous Salem architect and
woodcarver, Samuel McIntire, but was eventually removed because of its deteriorating
condition. The medallion portrait of George Washington and the golden eagle that
adorned the original gate are now part of an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum
The Common was also used during the Great Salem Fire of 1914 to house residents in
tents after losing their homes to the fire’s utter devastation across much of the city.
A replica archway was built on the Common in 1976 when the district was added to
the National Register of Historic Places, and is currently undergoing a refurbishment to
preserve and protect this newer piece of history.
In 2002, the district expanded its boundaries to include the Essex Institute Historic
District comprised of a series of buildings along Essex and Brown Streets owned by the
PEM. Other sites close to the area include the Chestnut Street District with Federal-style
mansions designed by McIntire, Downtown Salem, and the Salem Maritime National
The Salem Common Historic District continues to serve the community today as an area
of respite, recreation, and remembrance in the heart of this hip North Shore community.
Its open green space, gravel track, and playground provide abundant prospects for
resident and visiting families and friends to enjoy a picturesque day in Salem.