Learning About Life in the 17th Century, The Witch House, Salem Massachusetts

by Cie McCullough Buschle on July 12, 2012

in Arts and Culture

What’s the best way to teach your kids history? Start with what they find interesting!

Family Life, Witch House, Salem MassachusettsThe home of Judge John Corwin is a perfect example of 17th Century architecture and one of the few remaining high-end homes from the architectural style known as First Period. It was built right in the middle of the 1600’s; most historians say between 1660 and 1680.

Inside are many examples of everyday life for the wealthy Corwin Family: furniture, clothing, kitchen items, and artifacts from both work and play. Main rooms include Kitchen, Dining Room, and two Bedrooms, with a massive central chimney serving them all. Each interior room holds unique displays, but the house as a whole shows the steep gables and clapboard exterior walls indicative of most 17th Century buildings in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

But that’s not what made the building known as the Witch House interesting to my two teenagers. The former home of Judge Corwin is also the only remaining structure in Salem, Massachusetts, that has direct ties to the Salem Witch Trials. This is the Real Deal – everything else is a reproduction.

The Witch House, Salem Massachusetts

John Corwin was a wealthy merchant who later served in the Massachusetts Legislature as a representative of Salem. During the later decades of the 17th century he was also Salem’s magistrate, usually dealing with petty crimes such as drunkenness and burglary. Until of course 1692 came along, and people starting crying “Witch!”. Corwin was appointed to preside over the infamous Court of Oyer and Terminer after the first judge resigned.

Transcripts of the Witch Trials, Witch House, Salem Massachusetts

Although Judge Corwin most certainly conducted much of his magistrate business in his dining room, none of the Witch Trials or interrogations associated with them occurred within his home. This building lays claim to the name Witch House merely because Corwin lived there, which is sometimes all that is needed to make history more interesting.

Inside the Kitchen, Witch House, Salem Massachusetts

Just like cooks today have more than one burner, the cooks of the 17th Century had two or three fires burning under different pots. Women hiked up their skirts, or learned to keep the bottoms drenched in water when working among the hot cinders.

Trundle bed in the Master Bedroom, Witch House, Salem Massachusetts

The Master Bedroom often had a trundle bed for the younger children, easily slipped under the main bed during the day for more room. Judge John Corwin’s was put to good use – he had ten kids!

Work desk, Witch House, Salem Massachusetts

Compact flip top desks were used for work, prayer, and lessons. This one can be found in the upstairs bedroom of the Witch House.

Salem, Massachusetts, is a wonderful place to spend a day or two pretending to not learn about history. Check back soon for a story on the Witch Dungeon Museum!

Learn More About It

Young travelers might enjoy a story or two about the Salem Witch Trials. For ages 6 and up, the Witch House recommends The Salem Witch Trials: An Unsolved Mystery from History . Told from the point of view of a young girl whose father is a detective, the events of the hysteria are outlined by acclaimed author Jane Yolen and her daughter Heidi E. Y. Stemple, a former PI herself! Illustrations by Roger Roth are done in somber tones to reflect the mood of the times.

Go See It!

The Witch House is currently open 10-5, April through early November, with extended hours in October.  Tickets are sold in the gift shop, the only way to enter or exit the Witch House. Guided tours are $10.25 for Adults, $8.25 for Seniors, and $6.25 for Children 7-14. Non guided tours are $8.25 for Adults, $6.25 for Seniors, and $4.25 for Children 7-14. Children 6 and under are always free. Guided tours aren’t always available, so call ahead at 978-744-8815.

The Witch House is located at 310 1/2 Essex Street, Salem, the corner of Route 114 and Essex. Only 16 miles north of Boston.

More on Boston and Enriching Travel:

Enrich Family Vacations For All The Right Reasons
Enrichment Classes in the Capital Region for Kids
Museum Membership Has Its (Reciprocal) Privileges
Fun and Learning at Boston’s Museum of Science
Up Close and Personal with the Fish at New England Aquarium

| Cie McCullough Buschle lives with her dog Einstein and a cat named Burton Guster. She is a lifelong traveler and enjoys researching history through holidays, toys, and everyday objects. Cie is a sculptor and co-owns The Creative Chameleon, a place where kids and adults can create, paint, celebrate, and just have a lot of fun. Sometimes you can find her time traveling back to the Middle Ages as part of the Society for Creative Anachronism.

Francesca July 12, 2012 at 10:35 am

I’ve wanted to go to Salem since I was a little girl! Maybe I’ll make it there with my daughter once she’s a little older. But I agree that the best way for kids to learn about history is to start with what they find interesting. Adults, too 🙂
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Cie McCullough Buschle July 12, 2012 at 11:07 am

Thanks Fran! I hadn’t been to Salem in over 25 years, so I learned a lot I had forgotten. My daughter, though, who is 13 and not all that big on history, was really taken with the place. She wants to go back again and again!

There is also the New England Pirate Museum in Salem (http://www.piratemuseum.com/pirate.html), and I am hoping to catch next time 😉

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