Salem is the county seat of Essex, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1626 by Roger Conant and incorporated three years later. In 1692, it was known as Salem Town (as opposed to Salem Village, the modern-day town of Danvers). While the initial accusations began and grew in Salem Village, the actual court proceedings took place in Salem Town. Between June and September of 1692 nineteen people were condemned at the courthouse that was located on present-day Washington Street. These individuals were ultimately hanged on Proctor’s Ledge at Gallows Hill, while a twentieth victim, Giles Corey, was pressed to death in a Salem field for refusing to stand trial. In addition, five others died in jail.
Salem was built by its prosperous maritime trade. A leader in trade spanning across the world from 1700 to 1825, it was the sixth largest seaport in America by 1790 and the nation’s wealthiest city by per capita income. Though extremely prosperous, the maritime trade ultimately came to an end due to a variety of factors including the War of 1812, increasing competition, and tariffs. The city’s industry then turned to leather factories and textile mills, which was an extremely prosperous industry for a time. This was an age when manufactured goods brought in the majority of Salem’s income. In 1883, the Parker Brothers game company was incorporated and became a major commercial industry in the city. The ultimate decline in Salem’s industrial production was in part the result of the devastating fire of 1914, which destroyed 1,376 buildings and left 3,500 residents homeless. Combined with the dwindling demand for leather goods and the Great Depression the industrial market in Salem rapidly decreased. It was not until the early twentieth-century when Salem began attempts to increase tourism. Though there were certain tourist destinations, such as The House of the Seven Gables and Pioneer Village, the tourist industry became a significant economic industry in the 1970s when Bewitched filmed several episodes on location in Salem. Tourism has now become the main industry of Salem, particularly following the creation of Haunted Happenings, the month long celebration of Halloween in October. Salem’s current population of approximately 43,000 triples at Halloween each year.
The Salem fire of 1914 broke out in the Korn Leather Company, located on Boston Street. The location of the fire is particularly interesting, as it was just down the hill from Proctor’s Ledge, the site of the hangings during the 1692 witch trials.
Special thanks to Marilynne K. Roach, whose A Map of Salem Village & Vicinity in 1692 was of enormous help in researching Salem sites.