Friday, July 24, 2009

Salem Heritage Trail - Part 1 of 2

Earlier this summer, my eight-year-old son and I set out to walk the Salem Heritage Trail. This is the red line that is painted on the sidewalks of Salem. It extends from the MBTA Commuter Rail station (30 minutes from Boston on the Newburyport/Rockport lines) to the Salem Ferry dock on Blaney Street, and it makes three loops in between.

We started at the Salem Visitor Center at 11:00 AM on a nice Friday, camera in hand. All things in Salem start at the visitor center - located at 2 New Liberty Street, it is across the street from the Museum Place Garage, has (clean!) rest rooms, lots of visitor information on Salem and the entire Essex National Heritage Area, or North of Boston region, informative ranges who can answer just about any question, and a free 27-minute film called "Where Past is Present" that I highly recommend watching for two reasons: 1) it will give you a great overview of Salem and the region's history, 2) it is extremely well done. And it appeals to all ages.

From the Visitor Center, we headed west on Essex Street, passing the Peabody Essex Museum. The PEM is the oldest continually operated museum in the country, and it has exceptional collections that include Asian Export Art, Maritime Art, Native American Art, Yin Yu Tang, a Chinese House, which was moved piece-by-piece from China and rebuilt in Salem (and is today the only example of 18th Century Chinese architecture in America), and incredible changing exhibits and programming.
As the PEM's first building, The East India Museum Hall (pictured) was where Salem sea captains and merchants would display the curiosities they brought back from around the globe. Today it is part gallery and part function hall, and it was used for the opening wedding scene in the 2009 film Bridewars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway.

We continued down Essex Street, past boutiques, shops, cafes and the Witch History Museum. People were dining outside, and a few shops have water bowls for thirsty dogs out. At the corner of Essex and Washington Streets, on the former Daniel Low Building, which today is Rockafellas (restaurant), is a plaque that notes the building as the site of Salem's first Town Hall and the location where, in 1774, delegates for the first Continental Congress were chosen.

Turning from American history to whimsy, across the intersection is the statue of Samantha from the Bewitched series, which filmed the Salem episodes in Salem in the early 1970s. There is a small exhibit about the series' visit to Salem in the lobby of the Hawthorne Hotel. The statue was erected in Salem by TV Land in 2005, and today I suspect Samantha's statue is one of the most photographed objects in Salem!

Continuing down Essex Street we pass more restaurants and shops before reaching the intersection of Essex and Summer Streets, which has a lot going on! On the north side of Essex is the Witch House, or Corwin House. The house is the only building still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. It was the home of Judge Jonathon Corwin, who was one of the magistrates who presided over the trials.

Across the street on the south side of Essex Street is a monument and flag (of course!) remembering Salem Captain William Driver who was the first to name the American flag "Old Glory." That flag, which was given to Driver by his mother as he departed on a trip, is part of the Smithsonian's collection.

Adjacent to the Driver memorial is the entry plaque to the Samuel McIntire District. This is an amazing district of Federal Style Architecture. Salem has the largest collection of Federal era architecture in the world, and it is concentrated on Essex, Chestnut, and Federal Streets - as well as around Salem Common (Heritage Trail, Part 2). There is a self-guided tour brochure of the McIntire District available at the visitor center. You can do it without the brochure though - just follow the plaques with the sheaves of wheat that are installed in the sidewalks, and make sure to read the house plaques so you know when and for whom each house was built.

Back on the North side of Essex Street, we passed the First Church in Salem, which was the parish of many of the accused during the Salem Witch Trials. This church is stunning with Tiffany windows and Gothic architecture, and it made an appearance in the 2008 novel The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry.

Next door to the First Church is the Ropes Mansion, which is part of the collections of the Peabody Essex Museum. The mansion is not open to the public, but its stunning gardens are. We strolled through the gardens and took more pictures than this post will allow, noting the different flowers and plants, and walking along the paths. There are benches in the Ropes Garden, making it a lovely place to relax with a book or the daily paper.

"Hours fly, flowers bloom and die, Old days old ways pass by, Love stays" - wisdom spoken by the sundial in the Ropes Mansion.

We circle back now, and walking north a block, we cross back on Lynde Street, passing the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Witches Cottage at the Griffen Theatre. The Witch Dungeon has the following sign from the original Witch Gaol, which was located just east of where the Witch Dungeon Museum is located.

I was advised by my companion that it was certainly lunch time, so we followed the Heritage Trail around the corner, passing Ben & Jerrie's, to Boston Hot Dog where we indulged in our regular: "Kid's dog with ketchup and California dog."

Boston Hot Dog on Washington Street is just a few steps from the MBTA Station. After lunch, we will head down Washington Street, to the Salem Common and the waterfront.

To be continued...

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