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Salem Marine Railway Records

Salem Marine Railway Records

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Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Salem Marine Railway (Salem, Mass.)
Title:Salem Marine Railway Records
Quantity:1.5 linear feet (3 boxes)
Abstract:The Salem Marine Railway records document the activities of this Salem, Massachusetts, railway.
Collection Number:MSS 214

Series List

SERIES I. Administration Records
SERIES II. Business Records

Scope and Content Note

The Salem Marine Railway records document the activities of this Salem, Massachusetts, railway. The collection includes correspondence, administrative, and financial records for the daily operation of the railway and technical research and estimates for building the ways. It is divided into two series.

Series I. Administration Records includes meeting minutes for the committee involved in the organization of and preparation for building the railway and for the corporation, records of stock and subscribers, legal documents and claim papers, financial reports which include amounts of earnings and expenses, fire insurance and boiler inspection papers, and papers covering the technical research and estimates for building the railway.

Of special note in the legal documents are the claim papers of John L. Ellery for the loss of the Ship Panther. Ellery contended that the vessel was thrown over the ways due to the fault of the Marine Railway. Receipts for damages to other vessels are also filed here. The file of technical research and estimates contains letters between William Denny of Dunbar, Scotland, D.M. Nicol of Liverpool, and Captain John Gardner of Salem regarding the technical aspects of building the railway, information about the pine timber, oak, cast iron, and chains and rods needed for construction, and estimates of its cost.

The papers in Series II. Business Records relate to the day-to-day operations of the railway. The correspondence, account books, and financial papers document the railway's income, expenses, and ordered supplies. Of special note in the series are the returns. They record the amount to be billed to each customer and cover such items as the type of vessel, the tonnage (displacement), day on and day off the ways, owner, and amount due the railway. Included in this series is the account book of Samuel Lewis. In addition to accounts of vessels on the railway from 1851 to 1853 there are notes Lewis made as a deputy surveyor from 1854 to 1856.

Historical Sketch

A group of subscribers interested in developing the marine railway company met on August 31, 1822. A committee of five (William P. Richardson, Pickering Dodge, James Cook, Joseph A. Peabody, and Stephen Phillips) was selected and charged with the purchase of a piece of land and the erection of a set of ways for hauling up vessels presumably for cleaning and repair. In 1823, Captain Stephen Phillips, acting for the company, bought land from Benjamin West and Pickering Dodge on Harbor Street in the South Fields, Salem, Massachusetts. A model railway was constructed by William Denny of Scotland and shipped through D.M. Nicol in Liverpool to John Gardner in Salem for design and construction of the railway.

In September 1823 the first vessel, the brig Washington, was hauled up on the railway. By September 1824, the Salem Marine Railway had been incorporated. Superintendents for the business were Samuel Briggs, 1823-1851, Samuel Lewis, 1851-1854, and Daniel Briggs, 1854-1875. Over the years there was considerable activity on the railway. From 1827 to 1864, over 1200 vessels made their "voyages". The corporation probably dissolved around 1875.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Marine railways
Ships--Maintenance and repair
Salem (Mass.)
Account books


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Salem Marine Railway Records, MSS 214, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


This collection is a reorganization of five boxes and five volumes from an unknown source.

Processing Information

Collection processed by Don Gleason, November 1986. Updated by Lee Jacoby, December 2015.

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