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10 Second St Rings Island MGH painting.jpg

When the Salisbury Historical Society met officially as a board for the first time on October 21, 1978, they weren’t just “fired with enthusiasm”; they nearly burned down the Star of the Sea Church hall when a lit cigarette caught the tablecloth on fire. Not only did it provide an ironic twist to the surgeon general’s warning about the hazards of cigarette smoking, it reminds us of a time not too distant when indoor smoking was permitted in public places. It also should remind us that historical context is a fascinating construct with interpretations that are ever-evolving, often inviting spirited discussion.


At the Society’s first meeting, guest speaker Elizabeth Newton, curator of the Whipple House in Ipswich, spoke about the universal desire to explore and understand one’s “roots”, and the enduring appeal of old houses; “[p]eople like to hear about those who lived in the houses, how they lived and what they did.” (Newburyport Daily News) For sure, the stories that antique homes and farms communicate beguiled the early Society members, who then set about visiting and touring some of them. Their pilgrimages, for example, drew them to the Platt-Bradstreet house in Rowley and the Moody House on Ferry Road, Salisbury. 


The Organization’s first president was Joan Davis. In addition to the expected roster of officers, board of directors and trustees, there were several committees that supported the mission: Auditing, Library and Museum, Publications, Program, Fundraising, Membership, and Historic Sites. There were 96 charter members that first year. It would surprise no one that among the names were several that recall early settlers: Stevens, Pike, Bartlett, Morrill, Dow, and True. Other names reverberate because of more recent connections, and because their families can be confidently called upon to support Salisbury’s every initiative. (To see the complete list, visit the Society during one of our Open Houses.)


From its inception, the Society embraced the goal of finding a permanent home. In January of 1984, long-time Ring’s Island resident (and Society member) Cynthia (Noone) Wildes gifted us her ancestral home at 10 Second Street, a two-story, Greek Revival style residence that had been passed down through her mother’s (Coffin) line for roughly 100 years. (The image at the head of this page is of a painting done by local artist and Society member Mildred G. Hartson; it depicts the Society's first home at 10 Second Street, Ring's Island.)


As much as the Organization loved their first permanent home, some obstacles just couldn’t be overcome. The Ring’s Island setting — as one of Salisbury’s oldest neighborhoods — was a perfect location historically speaking, but its distance from the heart of town activity and its lack of convenient parking proved to be problematic. When the Parsonage at Minister’s Corner became available in 2001, the Society made the decision to buy it from the East Parish.


The Parsonage was built in 1820 as a single-family dwelling, and served continuously to shelter the East Parish’s ministers. One of the first visible actions that the Society took was to have the building returned to the front of the lot, where it had originally been positioned. (With the widening of Elm Street by the State in c.1906, the Town had been compelled to move the building to the rear of the lot.) Ownership changed again when the Town bought the Parsonage in 2011. Their stewardship of the property has allowed the Society to concentrate efforts on translating the meaning of our collections. 


Still considered a house museum, we’re endeavoring to broaden the scope of our collections to better align with our Mission Statement. Salisbury’s history is so much more than 19th century architecture and furnishings! The farming industry and life, the early native American presence, maritime history, small-scale manufacturing, and — of course — the various phases and features of our beach neighborhood have all shaped who we are today as a community. What our future holds may, in no small part, be shaped by the clever and thoughtful musings of our supportive community. 

Our Core Values

  • Respect and honor the uniqueness that each of our historical periods presents.

  • Maintain sensitivity when confronting differing historical interpretations.

  • Demonstrate responsibility for accurately portraying people, events, and customs of the past.

  • Uphold best practices for preservation and conservation.

  • Demonstrate inclusivity.

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