Fabulous Freelancer Foray: The Old Salem Jail in Salem, Massachusetts

The Old Salem Jail is located at 50 St. Peter Street in Salem, Massachusetts. It served as a jail from 1813 until its closing (along with the jail in Lawrence, Massachusetts) in 1991. Essex County opened a new jail shortly thereafter in Middleton, Massachusetts. In 1999, the State of Massachusetts took ownership of the Old Salem jail property, but sold it to the City of Salem later that same year for $1.00.

Salem_Jail_StPeterSt_ca1908_Salem_Massachusetts

THE OLD SALEM JAIL, CIRCA 1908

Despite changing owners and its status as a private property, the Old Salem Jail remained undeveloped for 18 years, its appearance becoming more and more dilapidated. That, and its location next to the Howard Street Cemetery, made it a favorite spot urban explorers and those with an interest in the paranormal.

Then, in 2009, the Old Salem Jail was purchased by a development firm named New Boston Ventures, LLC. The firm renovated the property and converted it into apartments which were opened in June of 2010. Check out Chris Berger’s Curbed article, “Old Salem Jail Turned Into Betwitching Luxury Apartments” to see some photos of the property’s evolution (alas, though, the additional reference links at the end of the article no longer work).

There were three parts to the original property: the Gothic-style jail itself (which was enlarged in 1884), the three-story brick jailkeeper’s house (built by famous local architect, Samuel McIntire), and a wooden carriage house.

The renovated jail building includes updates, yet preserves some of the history and structure of the building. For example, the top floor of the Old Salem Jail, which was once an attic, contains two penthouse apartments – their kitchens have been built under the two cupolas that are a prominent feature of the jail’s outer appearance.

Additionally, an old cell now houses a mailroom. Outdoor walkways are paved with some of the granite that was originally inside the jail.

The jailkeeper’s house had to be completely rebuilt on the inside because of fire damage. The wooden carriage house, which was  built later in the 1800s, was torn down during the renovations because of its poor condition. A new carriage house stands in its place.

Those who are interested in learning more about what went on at the Old Salem Jail when it was still a correctional facility are encouraged to read The Wayward Sheriffs of Witch County: True Misadventures of Operating America’s Oldest Jail and Courthouse, by the late Robert Ellis Cahill. Mr. Cahill was almost the former High Sheriff of Essex County. Those in the North of Boston area can find the book in various local libraries. For those not in the area, the book can be purchased online here.

In addition to the apartments, the Old Salem Jail has also been home to several restaurants since its renovation. The business presently operating out of the property is Bit Bar, which is actually more than just a restaurant. As its name implies, it’s also a bar, and, uniquely, an arcade with a number of classic games.

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