Salem Common - Salem, Massachusetts

Images: Salem State University Archives and Special Collections
Salem Common has served as public land since the 17th century. Originally comprised of a swampy area with hills and small ponds, the Common was used for grazing by the townspeople’s goats and cows. In 1635, the first muster took place on the Common, establishing a militia for the defense of the community. Regular drills were held on this location and in 1714, it was voted that the land should be "forever kept as a training field for the use of Salem." Due to this first muster, Salem was designated the home of the National Guard in 2010, which still gathers on the Common annually.
In 1801, Elias Hasket Derby Jr., raised $2,500 for the expansion of the Common. This included filling in the swamp area, leveling the hills and lining the park with poplar trees, which would later be replaced with elm trees following a storm in 1815.

The newly beautified open space became an ideal location to hold parades and social gatherings. George Ropes Jr. depicts this in his 1808 painting “Salem Common on Training Day.” The painting shows local militias gathering in Salem in full dress uniform, a sign of strength and a great source of pride for the town. Training days featured a series of events including puppet shows and athletic competitions.
In 1850, the cast iron fence was added to the previously unenclosed land. In 1976 the Salem Common Fence was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 2002 the designation was expanded to include many of the Federal style buildings overlooking the park, creating the Salem Common Historic District.
In the weeks following the Salem Fire of 1914, many displaced Salemites found refuge on the Common, creating temporary camps with tents and salvaged household goods.
In 1926, a bandstand was built on the Common to commemorate the town’s tercentennial. Designed by Philip Horton Smith, the bandstand is indicative of the Colonial Revival style. In 1976 the bandstand was dedicated to Jean Missud, a beloved director of the Salem Cadet Band.

Salem Common’s nine acres still serve as a civic space, used for weddings, community events and October’s Haunted Happenings. The Common is the focus of multiple revitalization campaigns that aim to restore and preserve the park for future enjoyment.

*This article was written by Jen Ratliff for use by Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

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