Seaman’s Orphan and Children’s Friend Society // 1878

I loooooove history! I am sure you all realize that by now, but it amazes me to stumble upon a building and find such rich history behind it. When I saw this building on Carpenter Street, nextdoor to the Edwards-Machado house, I assumed it was a former apartment or tenement building, but after closer inspection of the house marker, I found that it was built as the Seaman’s Orphanage. According to the 1861 Salem Directory, the Seaman’s Orphan & Children’s Friend Society was founded “to ameliorate the condition of the fatherless and the widow”. It formed from two predecessor organizations. One was The Seamen’s Widow and Orphan Association, formed in 1833. The other was the Salem Children’s Friend Society, organized in 1839 “for the purpose of rescuing from evil and improving the condition of such children as are in indigent and suffering circumstances and not otherwise provided for”. The Seaman’s Orphan Society itself was made up of well-to-do merchants and their wives, who shared their wealth with the families of mariners who had died ashore or been lost at sea, leaving widows, fatherless children, and sometimes, orphans. These seafaring men, employed by the merchants to sail their vessels, faced dangers from storms, disease, and enemies at sea and on land. Often the sailors died in the service of the merchant, leaving little for the subsistence of their families. This is where the ship-owning merchant families stepped in, to be sure that no family in Salem would suffer from hunger or want. The new building was largely funded from families and companies and opened in 1878. The upstairs rooms were used as dormitories. The upper floors also featured a play-room, hospital, nursery, bathrooms, and rooms for matron and assistants. Downstairs were the administrative offices and a dining room. The orphanage closed here in 1949, and two years later, became the Newhall Nursing Home.

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