The History of Hamilton Hall

 

A mcintire masterpiece

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 been a vibrant part of the community for over two hundred years, with a long held tradition as a venue for weddings, lectures, meetings, and social events.

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.

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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.”

Hamilton hall through the ages

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, 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, requireing 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 to restore 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. In 2016, The American Carved Eagle by Samuel McIntire was recognized by the Historic Salem, Inc. with a Preservation Award.

About the Salem area

A picturesque seaside community, Salem has much to offer you and your guests. Located just 17 miles north of Boston, the city is accessible by car, train, and, from late May-late October, by ferry departing from Boston’s Long Wharf. Salem has accommodations sure to please every guest. We have boutique hotels, bed and breakfasts, a “Historic Hotel of America” and a large modern downtown hotel with suites.

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The city is home to the Peabody Essex Museum, ranked in the top twenty US Art museums and one of the oldest museums in the country. Our Maritime National Historic Park showcases the city’s historic wharves. In the early 1800’s Salem was the gateway to international trade. Ship captains filled the wharves with goods and the museum with artifacts from around the world. Stately historic homes, important in our country’s history and literature, are found throughout the city.

And that’s not all: there are attractions, activities, festivals, and theater for every age and interest. Salem offers restaurants for every palate and shops featuring women’s apparel, accessories, jewelry, wine, souvenirs and gifts for everyone on your list.

All of this is within walking distance of the Hall. The Salem Trolley runs past the hall regularly during season, and is available for private rental for wedding parties and other functions. For complete lists of activities, accommodations, attractions, restaurants, retail, transportation, and festivals, visit www.salem.org or www.salem-chamber.org.