Pioneer Village

From Salem Links and Lore

Located at Forest River Park, near the south part of Salem, Pioneer Village the oldest living history museum in America, was constructed by the city as an accurate reconstruction of a primitive community in the New England wilderness, as the puritans would have found the land in 1626. Helping to design the site was George Francis Dow, the noted antiquarian-architect. He made sure 17th century methods and materials were used in construction. Harlan Kelsey, landscape architect, drew up plans for Pioneer Village. It was completed in 1930 to commemorate the 300th anniversary (the Salem Tercentenary) of Governor Winthrop's arrival in Salem on the ship the Arbella This three-acre attraction even boasted a replica of Winthrop's ship, the Arbella.

Pioneer Village includes various types of colonial dwellings such as thatched-roof cottages, bark-covered wigwams, sod-roofed dugouts. One of the buildings was a recreation of Gov. John Endecott's house, built after his arrival in 1628. There was also a pillory and stocks to punish people found to have committed crimes. The Village opened in 1930 and was a popular tourist destination through the 1950's. Over the years, the site gradually deteriorated in condition and the City of Salem Park Commission considered razing the village in 1985.

The site was saved by a partnership between the Salem Maritime National Historic Site led by Peter LaChapelle and Davis Goss of the House of the Seven Gables called Pioneer Village Management Associates. They vowed to restore and manage the once-popular site. In the next few years, museum workers and volunteers worked many hours to restore the property. The village opened on a full time basis by the 1988 season. Goats were brought in from Plimouth Plantation to lend authenticity to the site. A grand reopening of the site was held in June, 1990. The two-day 17th century "Salem Town Faire" had militia reenactments, demonstrations of 17th century cooking, wool carding, weaving and more. A Puritan church service was held and a final grand muster. Goss and LaChappelle were honored for their work by the Society of American Travel Writers as 1991 Phoenix Award winners.

Salem Preservation Inc., under the leadership of John Goff, restored and ran Pioneer Village from 2003- 2008. SPI partnered with Salem and Peabody Boy Scouts, Salem Harbor Alliance for Reliable Energy, City of Salem, Mass. Ponkapoag Tribal Council and others. Projects included thatched-roof repair, bridges and fence repair, and fish rack and dugout house reconstructions.

In 2008, Gordon College's Institute for Public History, a non-profit, signed a five-year lease to use both Old Town Hall and Pioneer Village to host their interactive theater program. History Alive runs the shows: "Cry Innocent", "Folkways; a day in the life of Early Colonists", "Spiritways" and "Pirate Day."

In 2009, Pioneer Village was the location for filming a documentary for the "American Experience" television series. WGBH Boston produced the show called "We Shall Remain", which focuses on five pivotal moments in Native American History. The Salem portion includes the "First" Thanksgiving and then again 50 years later when the relations between the Native Americans and the colonists had deteriorated. The Director on location was Chris Eyre.

In the spring of 2013, Gordon College decided not to renew their lease to manage Pioneer Village. The city decided to take over the operations of Pioneer Village. Weekend tours were conducted starting in the summer of 2013. The city has decided to keep it the same way in 2014, continuing weekend hours. The person who runs the Witch House is also running the Pioneer Village site.

The library received a donation of a Pioneer Village Scrap Book containing articles from approximately 1986 on from Peter LaChappelle. It chronicles the revival of the site. It can be found in the Salem Reference Room.






See Also

  • Vertical File in Salem Collection - Pioneer Village
  • Vertical File in Salem Collection - Kelsey, Harlan P.
  • Pioneer Village Scrap Book - kept in the Ref. Room
  • Pioneer Village Kitchen:Governor's House - Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library
  • Pioneer Village Thatched Houses: Pillories and Stocks - Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library
  • "Pioneer Village to open 60th season on Saturday" Salem Evening News, Mar. 25, 1990, p. 11
  • "Conant, Edicott, spirit of cooperation inspired city name" Salem Evening News, Oct. 25, 2000, p. A3
  • "Gordon to invest in Old Town Hall, Pioneer Village; College will create Salem history museum, hire Pioneer Village caretaker" Salem Gazette, Jul 25, 2008.
  • "Good first year for group running historic attractions" Salem News, Dec. 9, 2009, p. 1
  • "Pioneer Village again buzzes with activity" Salem News, July 1, 2009, p. 1
  • "We Shall Remain; PBS films part of TV series at Pioneer Village" Salem News, July 18, 2008, p. 1
  • "Neither nobles or savages; five-part series We Shall Remain" Boston Sunday Globe, Mar. 29, 2009, p. N1
  • "Pioneer Village buildings torched" Salem Evening News, April 1, 1976, p.1
  • "City keeps Pioneer Village open: weekend tours began this month" Salem News, July 20, 2013, p. 1
  • "Pioneer Village restoration scrapbook at Salem library" Salem News, May 9, 2024, p. A7