Salem is home to a rich, colorful heritage and a confident future.
As one of the most widely known cities in Massachusetts, Salem is hardly a hidden gem of the North Shore. But between the city’s historical (and notorious) importance and flourishing modern-day community—not to mention an arts, dining, and shopping scene on par with a major metropolis—there’s no question that Salem has plenty of secrets yet to be discovered that make it a perfect locale to feature in this issue.
Without a doubt, nowhere else on the North Shore does a city’s appeal far outshine such an infamous reputation. “The Salem Witch Trials give Salem an international notoriety. A very important, albeit brief, piece of American history happened right here,” says Kate Fox, executive director of Destination Salem, the city’s Office of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. “But Salem has so much more depth to it.”
In early colonial times, Salem comprised much of the North Shore, though the geography was divided over the years into parts of Lynn, Marblehead, Beverly, Danvers, and Middleton. When English settlers descended on the area in 1626, they found fertile farmland at the mouth of the Naumkeaug River, where they used to fish, so the settlement became known as “Fishing Place.” In 1629, it was renamed Salem for Shalom, the Hebrew word for peace, and became the second incorporated city in Massachusetts.
While the witch trials of 1692 might be its best-known aspect, Salem’s culture is varied and diverse in ways that the city actively celebrates today. The story of Salem’s rich maritime heritage, for example, is showcased at Salem Maritime National Historic Site, a national park that pays homage to the city’s origins as a sea and trading capital through guided tours, exhibits, historic buildings, wharfs, and The Friendship, a full-size reconstructed Tall Ship. A plaque at Salem’s Lyceum Hall on Church Street commemorates the first long-distance phone call in history, made here by Alexander Graham Bell in 1877. And then there is the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum, not only one of the oldest continuously operating museums but also a central player in the national art scene; it is currently undergoing a $650 million renovation scheduled for completion in 2017.
Not to be outdone by this cultural abundance, the city’s fantastic dining and shopping scene also helps reel in the crowds who flock here; in fall months, Salem attracts more than 20,000 visitors every weekend. Naturally, residents welcome these endearing features, as well as Salem’s accessibility to Boston, the convenience of a walking-friendly city, and ample recreational offerings, like the Salem Spins free bike program and hiking trails, as well as the gorgeous green spaces like Salem Common. Annual arts, food, and wine festivals help reinforce the area’s sense of community, as does the widespread commitment by residents and business owners to protect and enhance Salem’s most desirable elements.
“Salem has an active and engaged citizenry that’s pretty special,” says Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who has been in office since 2006. “We have a very large number of people here who are eager and willing to help make Salem a great place to live, work, or visit.”
Clearly, that devotion is paying off. Salem was honored as Boston’s “Best Place to Live” by Boston magazine this year and “Best Shopping District” by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts in 2012. Both new inhabitants and tourists continue to be lured in at a rapid pace.
“People who come in for something very specific—an exhibition at the Peabody Essex Museum, a wedding at one of the hotels—may have a preconceived notion that Salem is a dark and tacky place,” says Fox. “Then they get here and see the stunning architecture, the museums, the restaurants, the boutique shops, the waterfront—the ambiance of Salem is at once quaint New England and hip, eclectic small city.”
Heading to Salem soon? See our list of things to do for places to visit while you’re there.
Dates of Settlement 1626
Date of Incorporation: 1629
Area: 18.1 square miles, of which 9.9 square miles is water
Zip Code: 01970, 01971
Median Household Income: $55,639
Schools: Bates Elementary, Bentley Elementary, Carlton Elementary, Horace Mann Laboratory School, Nathaniel Bowditch School, Saltonstall School, Witchcraft Heights Elementary School, Collins Middle School, Salem High School
Notable residents: Alexander Graham Bell, inventor; Anne Bradstreet, writer; Nathaniel Bowditch, navigator; Nathaniel Hawthorne, writer; Roger Williams, theologian; George Parker, co-founder of Parker Brothers games; William Filene and sons, American department store entrepreneurs; Samuel McIntire, architect and carver; William H. Prescott, historian; John Rogers, artist; John P. Jewett, publisher; Benjamin Lang, musician and conductor; Dick Elliott, actor; Bob Vila, craftsman; Steve Thomas, host of “This Old House”; Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric.