Salem County Historical Society
83 Market Street
Salem, NJ 08079
Open: Sunday-Monday Closed/Tuesday-Saturday 12:00pm-4:00pm
Admission: Donation Suggestion
I came across this little ‘gem’ when walking around downtown Salem, New Jersey on my Christmas break back in 2019. This historical society put some of the musty ones I have visited to shame. It is so beautifully set up and maintained. It also has some great exhibitions and was so nicely decorated for the Christmas holidays. It is a ‘must-see’ when visiting Southern New Jersey.
The Salem County Historical Society is housed in three interconnected historic houses, the centerpiece of which is the Alexander Grant Mansion (1721).
The Salem County Historical Society at 83 Market Street
In June 2022, I finally got to return to the museum after COVID had closed it for months. The museum had been refreshed with new displays and more interesting artifacts mounted all over the museum.
I was lucky that it was quiet that afternoon and I was able to one of the members take me on a personal tour of the museum. He explained to me that during the pandemic since they were closed they were able to work on the displays and update and refresh the exhibitions. This is the one thing I like about the Salem County Historical Museum is that it is not a musty mish-mosh of displays. Displays are well thought out and explained to the public.
We started in the front room with a display of Revolutionary War memorabilia. Here you will see a ring with a lock of George Washington’s hair, the shoe buckles of General William Hancock, who was a prominent resident of the town who fought in the Revolutionary war.
Various objects from the family and the war years are displayed here.
Off to the main part of the museum and the one section of the museum that stuck out to me when visiting the first time was The Keeping Room, the original part of the house that was built in the early 1700’s. The large hearth was just recently opened from what I learned from the tour and was once the center of the original home due to a place of cooking and heat.
During the Christmas holiday season, this room was decorated with garland and a Christmas tree, which would not have fit the time period but still made a festive environment for the room. Here kitchen and home wares are displayed where the family would have concentrated their domestic chores. Cooking and serving items were displayed along with a spinning wheel to make clothes.
The Keeping Room at the Salem County Historical Society
The main room displayed many more pre and post-Revolutionary War items including home furnishings of desks, wardrobes and grand father clocks. The most interesting item that I saw the Inauguration dress of local prominent resident, Sarah Hancock Sinnickson, who was married to Thomas Sinnickson, whose family helped found Salem, NJ. The dress is prominently displayed and it was interesting to see an actual item that was on display the evening of that ball. If it could talk.
The historic dress of Sarah Hancock Sinnickson that she wore to George Washington’s Inaugural Ball
The Grandfather clocks and Sarah Hancock Sinnickson dress information
The next two rooms have displays of local materials. One room was dedicated to the local Native American population. There was a large display of arrowheads, hunting spears, cooking materials and grinding equipment to break down corn and wheat for baking. Each piece was displayed related to its use and it was fascinating to see how a society showed its sophistication by creating meals from the use of specialty styled sticks and rocks.
In another room was a display of early ice cream manufacturing including the delivery buckets and carts.
Several families were known for the ice cream making including the local Bassett family whose relatives still make ice cream for their store in the Philadelphia Reading Market and packaged for all over the world.
Evolution of Ice Cream
History of the Salem Ice Cream industry
Their first flavor: Tomato. The tour guide explained how companies would color their buckets differently so you knew where the ice cream came from.
Other standouts in the room was an original Edison Phonograph with the original cylinders which were the precursor to records. It was interesting to see how the modern day record player developed. The item had been housed in someone’s barn before it was donated and still had most of the original cylinders.
The early Edison Phonograph
Another object in the other room was the Lafayette Quilt made by local resident Annabelle Chatter. This quilt was so beautifully designed with pieces of cloth from all over the world including the coat that President Lincoln wore that faithful night. I learned from the tour guide that people were taking small pieces of the coat after the President died. This was strange because I saw the same coat at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Exhibition and the coat was on display there and it looked pretty intact.
There was also an extensive display of items from the 1893 Columbian Exposition that showcased all the modern developments coming into society. This included pictures and objects that visitors could buy. Another display was on the Salem Oak Tree that once dominated the cemetery around the corner from the Society that fell in June of 2019. The room was made up of pictures of the tree and items that were made from limbs that had fallen in the past.
The upstairs had rooms full of Samplers, a way for young girls in the 1800’s to practice their sewing skills for use in homemakingfor things like clothes and domestic items like blankets. There was a Blown Glass display on items made in the area. Companies had use of local sand in manufacturing making blown glass items a big industry in the area.
The last display is dedicated to clocks, both grandfather clocks and the development of the pocket watch. The one thing that I learned was on the creation of the face of the grandfather clock was the use of the Roman Numeral IV as IIII. The tour guide explained that makers of the clock did not find it symmetrical with the other numbers in the placement and that’s why they used the incorrect symbol number.
The latest exhibition that I saw in 2022, is the “Step into our Canvas: 200 years of Salem County Art”, a extensive exhibition of local deceased artists from Salem, NJ. This includes artists who are recognized locally, regionally and nationally for their skills. These range from 18 Century artists to present day with the entire exhibition from the Salem Historical Society Collection. It was an interesting mix of portraits, still life’s and landscapes. This exhibition of the Society’s visual art collection aims to perpetuate Salem County’s heritage and enhance awareness of its artistic roots (Museum pamphlets).
The “Step into our Canvas: 200 years of Salem County Art” exhibition
The exhibition timeline
Also in 2022, I visited the courtyard and gardens in the back of the museum which contains several buildings including a barn, a small schoolhouse that was moved here along with the oldest lawyers office in the country, a small octagon structure.
There was a small bathhouse designed in the “Oriental” style of the time.
The barn in the courtyard
The buildings line the courtyard in the back of the historical society and on a nice day is a very pleasant place to stroll around and see the buildings.
The log cabin that was built on this property
The annual “Salem Walking Ghost Tour” event:
In 2022, I attended the ‘Annual Salem Walking Ghost Tour’ which tours the historic homes of the Salem Historic District and the church cemeteries of the downtown. At each stop, we got to hear tales of the haunted houses of the district and the owners in the afterlife still are involved in their current owners lives.
We started the night with a concert at St. John’s Episcopal Church with organist Erik Meyer, who played music that we relate to Halloween.
St. John’s Episcopal Church on Market Street the day of the concert.
The “Tunes from the Crypt” concert was right before the walking tour.
The concert featured five musical numbers that are classic to all horror films. The music being played is what you might hear in a popular horror film or something to do with Halloween. It seemed a little strange to be in a church but the organist told us that a lot of churches are using this for a fundraiser.
Erik Meyer who was the organist at the concert before the walk
He dressed like a vampire which I thought was strange for a church. These concerts have brought people back to these churches and even the priest said that he had not seen crowds like this on Sundays. The church was packed that evening.
The inside of the St. John’s Episcopal Church for the concert
The beautiful stained glass windows the night of the concert
After the concert, we walked down the antique store where the tour started. We stopped at various parts of the historic district to tales of woes, travels and ghosts still haunting the homes they loved so much.
One of the decorated porches on the Haunted Walking Tour
The Historic District of Market Street
A resident of the house talking about his haunted home the night of the walking tour
No walking tour is complete with a trip to the cemetery
The walking tour really was interesting and residents talked about their experiences in their homes that they say are haunted. The tour was about an hour but is really worth the trip. It was interesting to see how Salem, NJ developed over the years. The tour takes place before Halloween every year and tickets do sell out fast.
For a small museum, the Salem County Historical Society Museum offers a view into our past and how New Jersey played a huge role in the development of the United States as a nation. Really take the time to see each room and admire their objects on display. You’ll learn a thing or two on what modern items are based on.
History and information on the Salem County Historical Society:
(from the museum pamphlet)
The Salem County Historical Society was founded in 1884 and has grown over the last century from generous donation from the community. It has over 10,000 objects in the collection that include fine arts, textiles, Native American artifacts and a variety of material culture artifacts.
The Society maintains extensive museum and library collections related to the region’s heritage. Our exceptional collection includes furniture, paintings, textiles, glass, china, silver, documents, tools and other family heirlooms. This collection enables us to graphically convey to visitors an understanding of the work, play, society and lifestyles of local inhabitants from generations past.
The Society’s campus houses three other buildings: the Stone Barn, the John Jones Law Office ( a hexagonal structure housing New Jersey’s first law office) and the Log Cabin Educational Center.
The Society utilizes its rich museum to present engaging and informative exhibits. Our museum features several ongoing exhibits including The Keeping Room, A Legacy fro Salem County and The Stone Barn. These displays showcase some of the Society’s treasures including fine and decorative arts, Wistar glass and signature quilts.
In addition to our semi-permanent exhibits, the Society features large special exhibits that change every two years. These exhibits take a closer look at specific events or aspects of Salem County history. Check the Society website to get information about current exhibits. The Society has also opened more rooms for small exhibits that rotate and change periodically.
Research Library and Special Collections
Thousands of researchers make their own connections to Salem County with the help of the Society’s research library. Historians and family researcher trace their ancestors through time with the help of our library’s comprehensive collection of resources, thus helping to bring people closer to Southern New Jersey’s distinctive heritage.
The library’s holdings of family records, manuscripts, deeds and church histories serve scores of genealogical and historical researchers with primary documents.
Resources & Records:
*Census, Church and Cemetery
*Published family histories and family files
*Rare manuscripts and subject files
*Birth, marriages and death resources
*Newspapers on microfilm
*Online access to Ancestry.com
*Recorded and unrecorded deeds
*Diaries and journals
*Historical publications about county, state, military, ethnic and industrial history, as well as topics of local interest such as glass, brick houses and agriculture
*Unique house and church files
The Society publications an award-winning Quarterly Newsletter featuring Society news, events and scholarly articles. Our bookstore features books and periodicals on Salem County topics from many local authors. Publications are available to purchase on our website and at the Historical Society.
The Society brings history to life for hundreds of children every year, providing hands-on lessons about life in 18th and 19th century Salem County. Utilizing current exhibits and permanent collections, children are introduced to the region’s rich heritage through presentations and hands-on activities.
These programs complement school lessons for traditional and homeschooled groups. All of our education programs meet state curriculum standards for Social Studies, Language Arts, Visual and Performing Arts and Mathematics, grades 4-12.
The Society offers educational programs based on the American Revolution, the Civil War, life in the colonial past, which has students identify objects from the past and modern equivalents. The Society also offers educational programming based on the current exhibits. These programs are available at the Historical Society and the programs on the Revolution, Civil War and “History’s Mysteries” can be presented offsite upon request.
Please check the education section of our website to learn more about these programs. Field trips and group tours can be scheduled by contacting the Society at (856) 935-5004.
Programs and Special Events
The Society has an active calendar with many diverse programs. From our Quarterly Meetings to the popular John S. Rock Memorial Lecture series to genealogical workshops, there is something for everyone.
The Society also sponsors events such as the highly regarded Open House Tour which opens Salem County’s historic homes and churches to the public every spring. In the fall, the Society sponsors the Walking Ghost Tour, an evening of spirits and stories in historic Salem.
The Walking Ghost Tour in 2019 at the Society
Tunes from the Crypt in 2022
The Salem Ghost Tour in 2022 behind the Salem Historical Society
Touring the cemetery during the day is less creepy and very interesting.
Actors telling their tales the night of the Salem Ghost Walk
Visit our website http://www.salemcountyhistoricalsociety.com or our Facebook Page for upcoming events.
Why become a member of the Salem County Historical Society?
The mission of the Salem County Historical Society is to seek, document, preserve, interpret and perpetuate Salem County’s heritage and to enhance the awareness and appreciation of that heritage through research, collections, functions, exhibits, educational programs and publications, for the benefit of future generations and for the betterment of the community.
The Society offers a wide variety of programming and services that are unduplicated regionally. These programs are presented at locations around the county and are designed to reach and serve a wide range of audiences. This includes guided tours, school lessons on site, outreach programs and our Open House in Fenwick’s Colony tour and Quarterly Meetings. Most programs are free and all are open to the public.
Salem County’s history and the evidence of it that is all around us in the origins and architecture of its buildings, is one of its greatest assets and should be a source of pride for all of us. The growing number of visitors using the Society’s research library, museum displays and public programs is testimony to the increasing interest of the general public in enjoying Salem County’s history.
*Receive our award winning quarterly newsletter
*Free admission to our library and museum
*Discounted copies and services in the library
*Discounts on Society events and programs
The funds needed to operate the facility and to maintain and improve the level of services provided by the Society, come in part from annual membership dues. If you are not already a member, please consider a membership. You may join online at http://www.salemcountyhistoricalsociety.com or stop by and visit the Society.
Volunteers play a crucial role in the Society’s operation and overall success. The Society welcomes individuals with varying backgrounds and interests to contribute to our overall mission of preserving and caring for the history of Salem County. Please contact us to learn more about volunteer opportunities.
The Salem County Historical Society strives to make all of our programs accessible to the public. Our library and museum exhibits are wheelchair accessible. Persons requiring special services should contact the Society in advance of your visit. Group visits are welcome and available by reservation.
The Society’s programs are made possible in part by funds from the Salem County Cultural and Heritage Commission, the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution and our generous Corporate Sponsors. If you are interested in corporate sponsorship please call the Society.
Museum & Library Admission: $5.00 per person
From the Delaware Memorial Bridge:
Take the Route 40 exit and immediately bear right onto County Route 540. Follow 540 to Route 45 south, which becomes Market Street in Salem City.
From NJ Turnpike and I-295: Take Route 40 exit, proceed across overpass and go straight onto County Route 540. Follow 540 to Route 45 south, which becomes Market Street in Salem County.
Disclaimer: This information was taken directly from the Salem County Historical Society pamphlet and membership forms. It really is a nice place to visit and take about an hour to visit the galleries. Please call the above numbers for more information.
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