The iconic Witch House in Salem was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (1640–1718) and is the only structure you can visit in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. The Post Medieval English house was constructed by Nathaniel Davenport, commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston from 1645-1665. After he left that post, he moved to Salem and began construction on his house. Jonathan Corwin, a merchant and judge, purchased the unfinished home from Davenport in 1675, he soon after finished construction of the large home. When reports of witchcraft began circulating in Essex County, Corwin was one of the magistrates called on to make preliminary inquiries into the reports. He and John Hathorne, another local magistrate, held hearings in early March 1692 in which testimony was gathered from Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne, the first three women accused of being witches. Corwin presided over all the other cases, which ended after thirty individuals were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. The lasting legacy of the Salem Witch Trials still draws thousands every year to Salem to learn more as to how such a terrible set of circumstances could happen. Jonathan Corwin’s grandson George, lived in the house until his death in 1746. His widow, Sarah Corwin “modernized” the old house by replacing the iconic pitched roof with a gambrel roof, more in line with Georgian design, popular at the time. The building underwent more changes when George P. Farrington, a druggist, owned altered the home and added an apothecary shop to the east side front in 1856. The Corwin House was moved back 35 feet in 1945 to allow for the widening of North Street, and at that time, a new pitched roof (a recreation of the original) was put on, restoring the building to its former glory. It has since been owned by the City of Salem, who maintain the property and open the doors as a museum.
Salem Witch Trials
East Church – Salem Witch Museum // 1844
One of the most recognizable buildings in Salem (especially in the month of October) is the former East Church, now occupied by the Salem Witch Museum. The former East Church was constructed between 1844 and 1846 for the oldest branch of the First Church of Salem, which originally organized in 1718. The stunning Gothic Revival church has been credited to architect Minard Lafever (1798-1854), a prominent New York architect known for his Gothic, Greek and other Exotic Revival style buildings, including the First Unitarian Congregational Society in Brooklyn designed at the same time as the East Church in Salem and strikingly similar in design. The church suffered from a massive fire in the early 20th century and the church eventually moved out in the 1950s. Before this, the church truncated the two castellated towers likely as a cost-saving measure as opposed to restoring them. The building was occupied by the Salem Auto Museum until another fire in 1969. In 1972, the Salem Witch Museum moved in and completely updated the interior (not much was original after the two fires). The museum is a huge draw in the month of October, for obvious reasons!
Rev. John Hale House // 1694
This stunning house was built in 1694, possibly with structural members from an earlier parsonage, by Beverly’s first minister, Rev. John Hale (1636–1700). Hale is now best remembered for playing a significant part in the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692. Hale’s theory was that demons impersonated the accused and appeared in their forms to the afflicted. He probably most likely changed his views about those executed for “being witches” due to the fact that his own wife (the second one) was accused as being a witch, though never prosecuted. Hale served as the minister of the First Parish Church of Beverly (last post) until his death. This home, just a short walk to his church, was the finest in town at the time. The house featured numerous additions and alterations over its time including the gambrel section added in 1745. The Hale House remained in the family for 12 generations, and was eventually gifted to the local historical society, now known as Historic Beverly in 1935. It now operates as a house museum.
First Parish Church, Beverly // 1770
In the 17th century, present-day Beverly was still a part of Salem and those who lived on the “Bass River side” of town found it difficult to attend church in Salem proper. As crossing by boat or of travel by land was tough on the residents here, paired with the fact the increase of population in this part of town, it was justified that a new church should be erected here. The first church in Beverly was erected in 1656, likely with mud and log walls with a thatch roof. The building was replaced with a more suitable place of worship in 1672, after the church was formerly recognized and headed by minister John Hale. Hale was born in Charlestown and attended Harvard College as a young man. He was ordained as the minister of the first parish church here and oversaw the churches separation from Salem Parish. Interestingly, John Hale was one of the most prominent and influential ministers associated with the Salem Witch Trials, being noted as having initially supported the trials and then changing his mind and publishing a critique of them. The church grew with the population of town and a new building was constructed in 1770, just before the Revolution. The church was renovated in 1835 to give it the Greek Revival appearance we see today.
Wadsworth House // 1784
This beautiful hipped-roof Georgian house was built in 1784 for Reverend Benjamin Wadsworth (1750-1826), the Pastor of the First Congretional Church, on land donated to him by the parish for a parsonage. Originally living in the old parsonage at one time, occupied by Rev. Parris, Wadsworth had the original parsonage torn down and replaced by this one. The original parsonage was home to the beginnings of the Salem Witch Trials. In that home, Tituba, Parris’ slave, told the Parris children of witchcraft, which lead to the hysteria and Tituba’s death. The former parsonage site was uncovered by archaeologists in the 1970s and is set back off Centre Street with informative markers depicting the rich history of the site. Who knew so much history occurred in present-day Danvers!?
Ingersoll’s Ordinary // 1670
Nathaniel Ingersoll (1632-1718) was born in Salem to Richard and Ann Ingersoll, who arrived to Salem in 1629 from Bedfordshire England. Ingersoll and his family ran an “ordinary” – the 17th century term for a local tavern – which was the social center of the community of Salem Village, then an agricultural village of Salem Town. The estate even had a watch tower for citizens to watch for Native American attacks from the forest.
During the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, those accused of witchcraft were brought to the Ordinary before their initial hearings and held in an upstairs room. Originally, the hearings themselves – with accusers throwing themselves on the ground in front of the judges, screaming, and claiming to see the “specters” of the accused torturing them – were to be held in the barroom as county court sessions were. Due to the large crowds that wanted to watch the spectacle, the hearings were moved down the road to the meetinghouse (see past post), but afterwards the judges and spectators returned to the tavern for lunch and drinks. John Indian, Reverend Samuel Parris’ slave and husband of Tituba, the first accused and killed of witchcraft, worked the bar sometimes for Ingersoll, and he would show off scars on his arm to out-of-towners who passed through, bragging that he got them when he was attacked by witches. The barroom at Ingersoll’s is also where one of the accusers admitted that they were accusing and sending innocent people to their deaths for nothing but “sport.”
When Nathaniel Ingersoll died in 1718, the estate was sold and operated as a tavern through the 1700s and into the 1800s under different owners. Due to its proximity to the militia training field, it was frequented by the men who later marched from Danvers to confront the British soldiers on the day of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The home eventually became the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers and remained as such until about 1970, when the home was acquired as a private home.
Rebecca Nurse Homestead // 1678
The Rebecca Nurse Homestead sits on over 25 acres of an original 300 acre estate occupied by Rebecca Nurse and her family from 1678-1798. The property holds the traditional saltbox home lived in by the Nurse family. This is the only home of a person executed during the trials open to the public!
It was on March 19, 1692 that the frail 71-year-old matriarch, Rebecca Nurse, was accused of practicing witchcraft by young girls living in Salem Village, who had been suffering from horrid fits of an unknown cause. On March 23, constables arrested Rebecca and took her away from her beloved homestead. Following a trial, Rebecca was hanged on July 19 under the suspicion of her being a witch. After the execution, Rebecca’s children secretly buried their mother’s body in an unmarked grave on the homestead where is remains to this day.
The house remained a private residence until 1907, when it was acquired and extensively restored by the Rebecca Nurse Memorial Association. In 1926 the Association donated the house to Historic New England. In 1981 it was transferred to the Danvers Alarm List Company, an organization for the reenactment of colonial period history.
Salem Village Meetinghouse // 1673
Salem Village (now known as Danvers) was settled as an agricultural area in the late 1630s as a part of Salem. By the 1660s, the population of the village was large enough that villagers wanted a minister and a meetinghouse of their own, rather than constantly traveling the many miles to the meetinghouse in Salem Town. Salem Town granted the villagers that right, and an acre of land near the corner of Forest and Hobart Streets in present-day Danvers was selected as the location of the new meetinghouse In November 1672, the local clerk wrote on a vote for a new meetinghouse which was erected shortly after. The meetinghouse was built of massive oak timber of post and beam construction and featured small diamond pane windows to allow light into the building.
In 1688, the village hired minister, Reverend Samuel Parris to run the meetinghouse. With Parris, came his family including wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth “Betty”, niece Abigail Williams, two other small children, and two slaves, Tituba and John Indian. The events which led to the Salem witch trials in 1692 began when Parris’ daughter, Betty, and her cousin, Abigail, accused Parris’ slave Tituba of witchcraft. This followed the phenomena of women and girls suffering from “scary fits” believed to have been begun by the Devil. Parris beat Tituba until she confessed herself a witch, and John Indian, her husband, began accusing others (likely for his own safety). The delusion spread, many were apprehended, most of whom were imprisoned. Within 16 months, over 19 people were hanged, and one was pressed to death by stones.
In 1702, the meetinghouse was abandoned and a new structure was built. The former structure eventually collapsed into the ground and Salem Village’s dark past was quickly covered up. In the mid 1980s, a new docu-series on the Witch Trials, “Three Sovereigns for Sarah”, constructed a replica of the old meetinghouse on the grounds of the former Nurse Homestead, which is now a great visual representation to see the kind of structure that the infamous trials began.