October 31, 2019

Almshouse and Hospital for Contagious Diseases Cemetery - Salem, Massachusetts


 Frank Cousins, Almshouse on Salem Neck, c. 1890. Digital Commonwealth, Phillips Library.

The last almshouse to be built in Salem, opened in 1816 on Collins Cove. It was large — five stories — and was designed by Charles Bulfinch of Boston. To this day one of the most famous architects in American history, Bulfinch designed Faneuil Hall, the State House, the “ether dome” building of Mass General Hospital, University Hall in Harvard Yard, and the layout of Boston Common. As U.S. Commissioner of Public Buildings, Bulfinch designed important features of the Capitol Building in Washington and oversaw the final 10 years of that building’s construction.


Excerpt from 1815 report requesting a new Almshouse
City of Salem Archives
Bulfinch’s almshouse was intended to house 100 residents, many of whom were expected to work the adjacent farm to offset the cost of their stay. In 1884, after years of overcrowding, an additional building, designed by W.D. Dennis, was built on the property to serve as a hospital for contagious diseases. In all, the site was active for over a century and burials are often referenced in city documents. This cemetery would have served as the only option for patients who were unable to afford a funeral or that had no family to claim their remains. 


Hospital for Contagious Diseases, c. 1980
Unknown source

The almshouse building was razed in 1954, and the adjacent hospital in the 1980s to make way for the Collins Cove Condominium Complex. Many locals recall playing among the headstones as children while the site sat unused. During construction of the condo complex, at least five headstones were reported to have been uncovered, yet their whereabouts are unknown. The burial site remains unmarked and is only identifiable by the remnant of a single slate headstone. The names of those who rest here have yet to be discovered, though with additional research their identities may be revealed.

Approximate location of cemetery, 2019

UPDATE: Jen Ratliff, with the assistance of Historic Salem, Inc. has reached out to the City of Salem and Collins Cove Condo Association to request the burial ground be properly marked and honored. This request received the support of the Historical Commission on 11/6/2019 and will be reviewed by the Cemetery Commission on 11/13/2019 (Postponed.)

*Please respect this site and do not trespass on private property.