History of the Joshua Ward House in Salem, Massachusetts

The Joshua Ward House is a historic house on Washington Street in Salem, Mass. Built between 1784 and 1787, the house is a three-story Federal-style brick mansion constructed for local merchant Joshua Ward.

The house is built on the former site of Sheriff George Corwin’s house. Corwin was the high sheriff in Salem during the Salem Witch Trials and was reportedly buried in the basement of his house, after his unexpected death in 1696, due to threats from some of the surviving accused witches that they were going to steal and ransom his body.

Corwin’s body was later reburied in the Corwin family tomb in the nearby Broad Street Cemetery after the threats died down.

Corwin’s descendant Batholomew Corwin sold the property in 1714 and it changed hands a number of times before it was later purchased by Joshua Ward on August 11, 1781.

In 1784, Ward demolished the Corwin house and built a brick mansion in its place. The Joshua Ward House was designed by architect Samuel Luscomb Jr and is a square three-story building, with a hip roof made of slate, and is constructed out of brick laid in a Flemish bond pattern. It features four chimneys, twelve fireplaces and six-over-six double-hung sash windows.

Joshua Ward House, 148 Washington Street, Salem, Mass

The interior woodwork of the house was done by local architect and builder Samuel McIntire and includes an original staircase that is said to be the oldest surviving staircase by McIntire.

On October 29, 1789, newly elected president George Washington visited Salem and is said to have stayed at the Ward house at Washington’s request.

On Washington’s birthday on February 22, 1793, the town gave salutes at the house to commemorate his stay there in 1789.

During the 19th century, Dr. Joseph Emerson Fisk owned the building and, in 1855, built a large brick structure just southeast of the house for use as a storehouse but it was later moved and re-purposed as an addition to the house. Also in 1855, a storefront was added to the southern portion of the house facing Washington Street.

In 1874, a new wing was constructed on the west side of the house.

During the mid 19th century the house served as a tavern known as the Washington Tavern as well as a boarding house. In 1891, it became a hotel named the Washington Hotel which remained in operation until 1937.

In 1938, the house’s four chimneys were damaged during the 1938 New England Hurricane. A few years later, in 1940, the building became home to a store known as Joe the Hatter.

In the 1950s, several others businesses were housed in the building such as the American House & Window Cleaning Company, the Curtis Circulation Company and the Massachusetts Commonwealth Department of Public Safety.

By 1964, the building was known as the Washington Building and it housed several businesses such as Giblee’s Furnishings, the State Department of Public Safety, Pioneer Bookkeeping service, the Naumkeag Amusement Company, the Naumkeag Theatres Company, and the Salem Auto School.

Sometime in the 1970s, a property developer approached the Salem Redevelopment Authority (which has planning jurisdiction over downtown) with a proposal to buy the land that the Joshua Ward House sits on and demolish the Joshua Ward House. The Salem Redevelopment Authority denied the proposal.

In 1978, the Joshua Ward House was added to the National Register of Historic Places. Between 1978 – 1979, the house was renovated under the direction of Salem architect Stanley B. McDermet during which a rooftop deck was added and a curved-pediment Corinthian frontispiece was constructed at the entrance.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the house was home to the Higginson Book Company.

In 2014, the Joshua Ward House was put up for sale at the asking price of $900,000,000 and was purchased by Todd Waller.

Joshua Ward House, rear, 148 Washington Street, Salem, Mass, circa 1933
Joshua Ward House, rear, 148 Washington Street, Salem, Mass, circa 1933

On October 29, 2015, Waller opened the house to the public as a boutique hotel known as The Merchant in honor of its original owner, merchant Joshua Ward.

The Joshua Ward House has long been rumored to be haunted due the property’s connection to Sheriff George Corwin and the accused witches he tortured during the Salem Witch Trials, including Giles Corey who he pressed to death at the nearby Howard Street Cemetery in September of 1692.

CBS News named the Joshua Ward House one of the six most haunted houses in the U.S., the New York Post named it one of the 15 scariest haunted house in the U.S. and International Business Times named it one of the 10 best haunted houses in the U.S.

Roth, Charlotte. “The Merchant in Salem.” North Shore Magazine, 2 May 2016, nshoremag.com/community-news/the-merchant-in-salem/
Luca, Dustin. “Ward House in Salem to Host Chic Hotel.” Salem News, 16 Aug. 2015, salemnews.com/news/local_news/ward-house-in-salem-to-host-chic-hotel/article_69ea5523-63bc-57bd-b1da-4c5ed990ef2c.html
Boss, Owen. “For Sale in Salem: Warning, Possibly Haunted.” Patch, 30 Jan. 2014, patch.com/massachusetts/salem/for-sale-in-salem-warning-possibly-haunted
“About the Merchant.” The Merchant Salem, themerchantsalem.com/about/
“Preserving Historic Buildings.” Salem Massachusetts, salemweb.com/tales/preserving.php
Glink, Ilyce. “Six of the most haunted houses in the U.S.” CBS News, 24 Oct. 2013, cbsnews.com/media/six-of-the-most-haunted-houses-in-the-us/
Fragassi, Selena. “The 15 Scariest Haunted Houses in the U.S.” New York Post, 13 Oct. 2016, nypost.com/2016/10/13/the-15-scariest-haunted-houses-in-the-us/
Seftel, Briana. “Halloween 2016: The 10 Best Haunted Houses in the U.S.” International Business Times, 28 Oct. 2016, ibtimes.com/halloween-2016-10-best-haunted-houses-us-2438313
“SAL.2250. Ward, Joshua House.” MACRIS, Massachusetts Cultural Resources Information System, Massachusetts Historical Commission, mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=SAL.2250

About Rebecca Beatrice Brooks

Rebecca Beatrice Brooks is the author and publisher of the History of Massachusetts Blog. Rebecca is a freelance journalist and history lover who got her start in journalism working for small-town newspapers in Massachusetts and New Hampshire after she graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a B.A. in journalism. Visit this site's About page to find out more about Rebecca.

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