A Brief History
Hamilton Hall in Salem is widely recognized as one of the most important Federal buildings in America. It was designed in 1805 by the famous architect and master woodcarver, Samuel McIntire, and has been in use as an assembly hall for cultural and social events for over two hundred years. In the 1800’s, Salem was a political hotbed with Federalists and Jeffersonian Republicans constantly pitted against one another. Each party was determined to have a meeting place, which led to the construction of Hamilton Hall by the Federalists. They were also the first Proprietors to oversee the new building.
In its early days, Hamilton Hall hosted elaborate celebrations and banquets, honoring various local and visiting dignitaries, as well as dances. One of the first Assemblies held at Hamilton Hall was the somewhat controversial Christmas Week dance, a tradition that continues today. According to a popular story, Parson Hopkins, minister of the South church across the street from the Hall, could be seen pacing outside his church waving his arms and muttering, “back to back and breast to breast, they are dancing their souls to hell.”
Facing various expenses, in 1826 the Proprietors decided to rent part of the building to a free black man of Caribbean descent. John Remond ran his catering business out of The Hall for many years. Years later, one of Boston’s best-known dance instructors leased space in The Hall. The regular dancing classes, primarily for the children of Salem’s wealthy elite, were a precursor to the Salem Assemblies and ultimately led to the annual presentation of the town’s debutantes to Society. Although dancing was still controversial, it became increasingly accepted and popular. With the help of McIntire’s famous flexible spring ballroom floor, Hamilton Hall became a well-known dance hall.
In the 1840’s various repairs to the building took place, which including repointing, a new front door, a new furnace and an “improved” chandelier. In 1859 the four large mirrors that grace the ballroom today were imported from Russia. In 1890, a furnace fire that shot up through the center of the building to the roof, required interior and roof repairs. Fortunately, the ballroom remained untouched except for water damage. In 1913, a new floor was installed in the ballroom though the famous spring framing is still intact. In 1924 the Hall was repainted, the heat updated, the chandelier rewired, and the front façade and Chestnut Street side of the building were sand-blasted restoring the original red brick.
In 1939 the Chestnut Street Associates were invited to use the lower ballroom in return for taking an active part in the “reconditioning” of that space. Subsequently, this work expanded to include the “supper room” and the third floor. In 1945, a much needed long range plan was put in place, which addressed the future preservation needs of the building. At the same time, it was recognized that the survival of Hamilton Hall depended on the support and interest of the community and in 1946, a special Ladies Committee was convened to raise funds for The Hall. This Committee has played a pivotal role in securing additional income through an on-going annual lecture series devoted to world affairs.
Hamilton Hall was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1970. In 2014 the McIntire eagle that had graced the outside of the hall, was preserved, placed inside the hall, and replaced with an outdoor replica. The Hall has always been a vibrant part of the community with a long held tradition as a venue for weddings, lectures, meetings, and social events.
Hamilton Hall is a Nonprofit organization located in Salem, Massachusetts. Our charity ID is: 22-2624536
Today, this grand and stately assembly hall continues to open its doors to welcome all visitors.
The Hall is open weekdays from 9 – 12 noon for self-guided tours. There is no cost or membership required for access during the tours.
In 2016, The American Carved Eagle by Samuel McIntire was recognized by the Historic Salem, Inc. with a Preservation Award.