Charles Bulfinch’s Almshouse in Salem MA

The Architect of Washington DC Built this and Boston…

Poor House Salem MA

The City Almshouse (or Poor Farm) which stood on Collins Cove, on present day Memorial Drive, for over 140 years, was built in 1816 from plans by Charles Bulfinch. There had been other almshouses in Salem in earlier times, one at the corner of Summer and Broad Streets, and one at the northeast corner of Salem Common. Bulfinch was notorious for connecting tunnels to his buildings. Did this one have access to the 3 miles of tunnels in town? I wonder if they could of ran a brothel out of the women’s wing?

During its original building there is a story about a mystery. Several foundations were laid, but they all cracked, until…They realized that heat was escaping from the volcano in the cove which was cracking the foundation. Once they put in proper ventilation for the heat vents the problem was solved. The capstone to the volcano stands now on top of Eagle Hill in Salem Woods.

Also the threat of living in this building was enough to end the Witchcraft Hysteria of 1811. When the master of the house visited an indigent woman on Northey Street, who had gathered a thousand people to her door after her complaints of suffering fits from a witch in Boston, and ended the hysteria by offering the woman the chance to work in the poor house or leave town; she left town. This was the same year they closed down the old Witch Gaol from the first hysteria and broke ground for the new jail; I assume they expected a larger turn out this time…

This almshouse was adjacent to the town farms, allowing able-bodied residents to work on the farm to offset their maintenance. The building was a five-story brick residence overlooking Collins Cove and could house 100 residents.The number of residents grew from 70 in the 1870’s to 146 by 1883. In 1884, a second building was built next to the almshouse to serve as a hospital for contagious diseases and for the mentally ill. The hospital was known under many names, such as “contagious hospital”, “insane hospital” and “pesthouse”.  The adjacent almshouse was razed in 1954.

In the early 1980’s, developers of a condominium complex inadvertently reactivated an unsolved mystery when they discovered 5 headstones on the property, probably from early residents of the almshouse or hospital. Who these unfortunates were is still not known.

An article from Lynn Sunday Post quotes Frank Remon, a former harbor master saying that there were a number of persons buried on the old city hospital land and that it was known as “Hospital Burying Ground.”


Poor Farm on Collins Cove Salem MA10202476441884898




~Mr. Zac

Come back every Tuesday at 3PM for new stories about Salem and images from the Salem Trilogy.

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