In July 1926, the City of Salem celebrated the 300th anniversary of European settlement. Mayor of Salem, George J. Bates oversaw sixteen committees tasked with organizing the week’s events, which took place July 4th – July 10th.
The Salem Tercentenary officially began on Sunday, July 4, 1926, with the ringing of church bells. All of Salem’s churches had agreed to hold special services that morning acknowledging the 300th anniversary. Although this was the beginning of the week’s events, Salemites had kicked off the festivities the previous day with the Now & Then Club’s annual “Night Before Celebration,” which ushered in Independence Day with activities starting at dusk on July 3rd and lasting into the early morning hours of July 4th. Following Sunday morning’s church services, a dory race was held off the coast of Salem Willows Park. Salemites then made their way to Salem Common for live music performed by more than 100 musicians provided by the Musicians’ Union. The evening ended with a dedication ceremony for the bandstand on Salem Common which had been erected in honor of longtime Salem Cadet Band director, Jean Missud. Music continued on the Salem Common until after 10:00 PM, when the Salem Light Infantry Band serenaded crowds on Gallows Hill until the annual bonfire was illuminated at midnight. The Now & Then Club kept the party going at their Washington Square clubhouse into the early hours of the morning.
Day two got an early start at 6:00 AM on Monday with military salutes at Fort Lee and Ledge Hill Park. At 7:00 AM, the Tercentenary’s first parade, the Antiques, Horrible, and Grotesque Parade, began at the Roger Conant statue on Washington Square and made its way around downtown. The parade featured multiple fire departments, bands, and organizations, dressed in costumes, with irreverent floats. Ancient or Antique and Horribles Parades are a New England tradition that dates to the mid-19th century. They’re often held around the 4th of July and include satirical costumes and displays commenting on cultural and political issues. Following Monday’s parade, concerts were held at the Salem Common and Salem Willows.
Tuesday, July 6th began with public tours of Salem’s finest architectural examples. Multiple homes in the McIntire District were open, including the Peirce-Nichols House, and the Loring-Emmerton House. A fee was charged to view an exhibit held at 36 Chestnut Street which contained artwork by famous Salemites, souvenirs from Salem’s "Great Age of Sail," and antique furniture and décor. That afternoon, Louise Gardner, a “woman balloonist” made a balloon ascension and triple parachute jump to the delight of viewers at the Salem Willows prior to an illumination of the harbor with visiting warships.
Salemites slept in on Wednesday with the day’s first event beginning at 3:00 pm. The Military, Society, Trades, and Civic Parade made its way from Lafayette Street to Derby Street then to Broad Street and Dalton Parkway. Here sat the guest of honor, Vice President Charles G. Dawson, who viewed the parade with Salem Mayor George J. Bates and members of the City Council before it made its way to Salem Common, ending at the Roger Conant statue.
Thursday morning was devoted to games and sports. Prizes were awarded on Bertram Field for events like the running high jump, pole vault, and relay race. That afternoon, crowds made their way to Ames Memorial Hall at the Y.M.C.A. on Essex Street for historical exercises. Historian Sidney Perley addressed the group which included representatives of neighboring historical societies. The event ended with a musical program by the Denway Ensemble. Throughout the day, a “street fair” was also taking place on Chestnut Street. Ten homes and multiple gardens were open for public tours. Many Salemites dressed in their ancestors’ clothing and strolled around the neighborhood, posing in the doorways of their historic mansions. Salem souvenirs and food were sold, including Election Cake, gibraltars, and other old-fashioned candies. Tea was served in Hamilton Hall by children in "ancient costumes."
That evening, the Grand Ball was held at the Salem Armory on Essex Street. The room was heavily decorated for the occasion and featured a banquet dinner and an evening of dancing. The Salem Cadet Band serenaded attendees while Henrietta Upton directed “a large class of young people” in a dance performance for the crowd.
Perhaps one of the most beloved events took place on Friday, July 9th. Crowds gathered downtown at 2:00 PM for the Floral and Historical Parade. This parade featured elaborate floral displays on floats created primarily by local schoolchildren. Followed by floats showcasing various events from the area’s history in chronological order beginning with nods to the Naumkeag people and European settlement in the 17th century. The parade ended with floats depicting Parker Brothers’ games, and “children in foreign costume…showing types of Salem’s present population.” The procession looped from Salem Common to Highland Avenue and back. After the parade, the evening continued with live music throughout the city.
The Salem Tercentenary celebration came to a close on Saturday, July 10th. That day, fireman’s associations gathered for a parade, which began at 11:00 AM on Salem Common. The parade showcased multiple fire apparatus and ended with a fireman’s muster and contest. That evening, concerts were held on Gallows Hill and on Salem Common. The Salem Tercentenary celebration concluded the week with a fireworks display that began at 10:00 PM.
The City of Salem is currently preparing for a quadricentenary celebration which will take place in 2026.
Salem Tercentenary Photographs and Ephemera
Salem Tercentenary, July 4th to 10th: Official Program of the Celebration and Episodes in History
Tercentenary Celebration, Salem, Mass. July 4 to 10th, 1926 Booklet