Salem Walking Map

Salem Walking Map

The Salem Setting

Founded in 1626, Salem, MA has a rich history based on rivers giving access to the sea, which led to maritime activities, business and manufacturing, and the settlement of immigrants. Salem’s waterfront was the focus of the City dating back to the early 1600s. For nearly 200 years, the waterfront was occupied by ships importing and exporting material and goods throughout the world – particularly Asia.

Salem’s maritime activities became focused on the South River shortly after settlement. At the time, the river stretched east and south from the present day Post Office and connected to Mill Pond, which covered present day Canal Street. The South River became the focus of commercial development and housing. Downtown Salem grew and prospered on the north riverfront and dock workers lived on the south riverfront.

Following the War of 1812, Salem was no longer able to compete with ports that could accommodate larger ships. Manufacturing became the key industry in Salem by the mid 1800s. In order to have space for new buildings for industry, such as the huge Naumkeag Steam Cotton Mill, portions of the South River were filled in. In the Great Salem Fire of 1914, the river formed a barrier between the center of the city and the vast residential and industrial area, now called the Point Neighborhood, which was destroyed by the fire.

The Point Neighborhood was rebuilt after the fire and still contains housing. Across the South River, Salem’s waterfront became the first National Historic Site in 1938 because of its history as one of the most important ports in the nation – the base for Atlantic triangular trade in the colonial period, privateers in the Revolutionary War, and merchants who brought the riches of the Far East to America after the Revolution. Its wharves and buildings are among the rarest remaining intact from America’s age of sails almost 200 years ago.

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