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Lyceum Hall

by Jen Ratliff on 2022-11-22T08:48:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

The term lyceum means “an association providing public lectures, concerts, and entertainments” and Salem’s Lyceum did just that. 

The Lyceum was formed in January 1830 “for the purpose of mutual instruction and rational entertainment by means of lectures, debates, etc.” The new organization held its first lecture on February 24th, at the Methodist Meeting House on Sewell Street with featured guest Judge Daniel A. White who spoke on “Advantages of Knowledge.” White soon became the organization’s President and served with Stephen C. Phillips, Charles W. Upham, Stephen P. Webb, Francis Peabody, and a board of ten overseers which included Rufus Choate, Caleb Foote, and Leverette Saltonstall. The group continued to host lectures around Salem, mostly in churches before purchasing a plot of land on Church Street for $750. Over the next year, the Lyceum spent more than $3,000 on the construction of a two-story building with gable roof. The work was overseen by William Lummus of Ipswich. 

Lyceum Hall opened on January 19, 1831, with a prayer by Rev. Brown Emerson and an address by the organization’s vice president Stephen C. Phillips. The building contained a semi-circular amphitheater with approximately 600 seats. Lyceum Hall also contained a library with an extensive collection of natural history books and samples. By 1831, the Salem Lyceum was the largest Lyceum in the state with 1,200 members which were offered courses in history, science, and art. Membership was predominantly male, but women were “admitted on special terms, and each required the guaranty of a male sponsor for her good behavior.” The Lyceum later stated, ”… for many years ladies have not only attended the lectures upon equal terms with gentlemen, but have assisted to deliver them, until it has come to be thought that a course is incomplete without a lady lecturer or reader.” 

By the Lyceum’s 50th anniversary in 1879, the building had hosted most than 850 lectures, many given by key figures of the 19th century including: Charles Sumner, Frederick Douglas, Daniel Webster, John Quincy Adams, Henry Ward Beecher, Horace Mann, Henry David Thoreau, Clara Barton, and the most frequent guest, Ralph Waldo Emerson, who lectured here on 32 occasions. Most notably, Lyceum Hall is credited as the location of the first long distance telephone call which was made here in February 1877 by Alexander Graham Bell to his assistant Thomas Watson in Boston. 

The Salem Lyceum disbanded in 1898 and transferred $3,000 to the Essex Institute (now Peabody Essex Museum) to fund future lectures. The building was renovated around this time and later housed offices, including the Salem Mutual Fire Insurance Company which resided here until about 1932. In 1935, the building’s first restaurant, the Colonial Café opened. The café remained until the Salem Redevelopment Authority (SRA) acquired the property in 1969 as part of their Urban Renewal plan “Heritage Plaza East.” The building was sold to Joan and Joe Boudreau in 1971, who funded the building’s restoration by local architect John Emerson. Emerson is credited with restoring multiple historic buildings in Salem’s downtown during this period. The Lyceum Hall was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

After the restoration, the Boudreau’s opened The Lyceum Restaurant (Lyceum Bar and Grille) which quickly became a favorite spot among locals for European style cuisine. Restaurateur George Harrington acquired the business in 1989 and undertook a considerable renovation in 2009. Harrington’s son, George Jr. took over ownership in 2011 and opened a new restaurant at the location, 43 Church, named for the building’s address. Finally, the building became home to Turner’s Seafood in 2013, which it remains. 

The property on Church Street is also regularly featured in documentaries and on local walking tours as the site of Bridget Bishop’s apple orchard. Bishop was the first person executed as a result of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692. 

Digitized Archives
Historical Sketch of the Salem Lyceum, 1879
The Lyceum Restaurant Menu
Lyceum Hall Photographs and Ephemera

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