Probably the first man who would be president to visit Salem was John Adams who as a young attorney often rode the eastern circuit through the North Shore. He would stay at the home of Richard and Mary Cranch, on Mill Street, Salem. Mary was the older sister of John’s wife, Abigail. On a number of occasions, both John and Abigail visited. During one of these extended visits, they both had portraits painted by Benjamin Blyth. John would later become the first Vice President for Washington’s two terms, and then second President of the United States, from 1797 to 1801.
On Oct. 29, 1789, George Washington, the First President (1789-1797), came to Salem to a huge celebration where he reviewed the troops, was feted with speeches downtown and a Ball at the Assembly House as well as a fireworks display. He stayed the night at the Joshua Ward Mansion on what was renamed Washington Street in honor of the man. There is also evidence that Washington had visited the Clark family when he was a young man. It is also believed that he visited Salem during the Siege of Boston during the Revolutionary War.
James Monroe, Fifth President (1817-1825), came to Salem July 8, 1817 and stayed at Hon. Benjamin Crowinshield’s home on Derby Street. Monroe had appointed Crowninshield Secretary of the Navy. He was hosted at the new Town Hall, (Derby Square) that evening. The following day he lunched at Senator Silsbee’s home at 94 Washington Square with the Senator, Commodores Perry and Bainbridge, General Miller, William Gray and other notable Salemites. That evening he was entertained at Judge Story’s home on Winter Street.
John Quincy Adams, Sixth President (1825-1829), son of John Adams, no doubt visited Salem when he was very young, but also visited on several other occasions. A notable visit during his presidency was his attendance at the dinner and dedication of East India Marine Hall, (Peabody Essex Museum) on Oct. 14, 1825. On that occasion he made the keynote address.
Andrew Jackson, the Seventh president (1829-1837), visited Salem on June 26, 1833 staying at Nathaniel West’s Mansion House on Central and Essex Street. The following day he toured points of interest, visited the East India Marine Society Museum, (Peabody Essex Museum) before going on to Lowell.
James Polk, the 11th president (1845-1849), passed through Salem on July 5, 1847 but did not stop due to a heavy rainstorm.
Ulysses S. Grant, the 18th president (1869-1877). stopped in Salem on Oct. 17, 1871 where he was welcomed by the city government on a temporary platform erected on Washington Street. President Grant addressed a short speech to those assembled before his motorcade moved on.
President Chester Arthur, 21st President (1881-1885), while cruising the eastern waters aboard the ‘Despatch’ a U.S. steamer docked at Marblehead, came to Salem on Sept. 8, 1882 to visit the Museum of the Peabody Academy and the Essex Institute, (Peabody Essex Museum) before returning to Marblehead and the Neck where he was entertained.
Benjamin Harrison, the 23rd President (1889-1893), after leaving office, visited his daughter living in Beverly in August of 1893. While there, he went to Salem on Aug. 12, and visited both the Peabody Museum and the Essex Institute. (Peabody Essex Museum).
In 1912, former president Theodore Roosevelt (1901-1909), came to Salem as he sought the presidency in 1912 on the Progressive Party that he started after breaking with President Taft and the Republican Party over policies. Teddy Roosevelt came to Salem by train and gave a campaign speech at Town House Square, then continued an intense campaign swing.
William Howard Taft, 27th president (1909-1913), after serving as Vice President under Theodore Roosevelt, was elected president. He maintained a summer house in Beverly where he spent summers while president. He visited Salem on a number of occasions. A notable visit was Oct. 4, 1912 when he spoke to a large audience at the Salem Armory during the dedication of a plaque honoring the 1st Heavy Artillery, Mass Volunteers.
Calvin Coolidge, 30th president (1923-1929), was a former governor of Massachusetts, so probably campaigned in Salem. In 1925, for three months while the White House was being rennovated, his ‘Summer White House’ was in Swampscott at what is now Marian Court College. He also came to Salem in 1930 to visit the newly built Pioneer Village. Pioneer village was built as a replica of Salem village in 1630. This first open air museum in the U.S. built for Salem’s Tercentenary celebration proved so popular that it was kept on a permanent basis.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 33rd president (1933-1945), visited Salem on a number of occasions during his terms of office. On Nov. 1, 1931 a large campaign rally planned for Gallows Hill, that had attracted well over 5,000 supporters, had to be moved to the Armory because of terrible weather.
John F. Kennedy when a congressman from Boston gave a speech on the failure of US Diplomacy in China at the YMCA on Jan. 30, 1949 at a testimonial dinner for Rep. Philip Durkin. Kennedy returned to Salem on other occasions when campaigning for the Senate.
As far as can be ascertained no current or future presidents visited Salem from 1960 to 1982. This changed in 1982 when Salem State College began hosting the first high profile Speakers Series in the United States where notable people are invited to speak to large audiences from Salem and the surrounding areas.The first speaker for this series was Gerald R Ford, 38th president (1974-1977).
Since 1982 the Salem State University Speakers Series has hosted Jimmy Carter, 39th president (1977-1981), in 1984; George H Bush, 41st president (1989-1993), in 1994 and Bill Clinton, 42nd President (1993-2001), in his first speech after leaving office in 2001.
All told, 18 of the 43 presidents have visited Salem over the years. Hopefully Salem will remain a destination for leaders in the future.