It Takes a Village

The Salem witchcraft hysteria began in the outlying settlements of Salem “town”, or present-day Salem, in Salem Farms and Salem Village (West Peabody and Danvers).  Both areas are quite developed now, given their proximity to Routes 1 and 95, but you can still sense the presence of the past if you look hard enough.  A short walk along Centre Street in that part of Danvers which was once Salem Village is a particularly accessible way to go back in time and place, and see some lovely old houses in the process.

The town of Danvers decided long ago that, unlike Salem, it did not want to be “Witch City”, so many of its witch trial-related sites are literally off the beaten path.  The best example is arguably the most important site related to the witch trials, the excavated foundation of the Reverend Samuel Parris’s parsonage, where the girls began telling their stories.  There is a sign on Centre Street that will lead you to this site, but inevitably it is covered by snow or leaves.  If you can find the sign, you turn off the street onto a little cart path that takes you to the parsonage site.

An 1891 Frank Cousins photograph of un-excavated Parsonage Site

Back on Centre Street, you’re in the midst of several seventeenth-century houses that stood witness to the events of 1692, or, as in the case of the Ingersoll “Ordinary” (Tavern) at the corner of Hobart Street, actually hosted them.  The Ingersoll house was the site of examinations and deliberations, along with the Salem Village Meeting House down the street (no longer standing), before the whole matter was moved to Salem Town.  Now it’s a private house that is for sale—for what strikes me as the rather low price of $366,000.  Exterior and interior views are below.

And here are four more seventeenth-century houses in the vicinity:  a large house with a very impressive wood-shingled roof, just across from the Salem Village Witchcraft Victims’ Memorial on Hobart Street about which I know nothing, several Centre Street houses belonging to the prominent Holten family of Salem Village, and the Thomas Haines House (1681).  In these last two houses lived influential witnesses against  Rebecca Nurse and Elizabeth How, sisters-in-law and two of the victims of 1692.

A Frank Cousins photograph of the Judge Samuel Holten House in 1891

Addendum:  A photograph of the absolutely delightful doubly privy beside the Judge Samuel Holten House, taken by photographer Arthur C. Haskell for the Historic American Buildings Survey in 1936 (Library of Congress).

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