DANVERS (WBSM) — A grassroots effort is underway to save a 354-year-old tavern in Danvers that played a significant role in the Salem Witch Trials and is currently in a state of severe disrepair and in danger of being demolished.

Dani October is one of those giving a voice to Nathaniel Ingersoll’s Tavern, which was built in 1670 and became a tavern in 1677. She joined WBSM this morning to discuss its role in the Witch Trials and why it needs to be preserved and restored.

“It’s such an important building pertaining to the Witch Trials of 1692, it is just paramount that this building be saved,” October said.

Ingersoll’s Tavern During the Salem Witch Trials

October said that in 1692, Ingersoll’s Tavern – or “Ordinary,” as taverns were called in those days – was the center of Salem Village, where everyone would go to eat and drink, where village business was conducted, and where people would stay in the rooms above the tavern.

It was those rooms where the first three accused of witchcraft in 1692 were held as prisoners: Tituba, Sarah Osborne and Sarah Good.

“It went on to hold about 30 more people accused of witchcraft,” October said.

“Not only did it hold the people, but downstairs, so much happened. There are so many incredible stories from the Witch Trials that happened downstairs as well," she said.

The Everett Collection via Canva
The Everett Collection via Canva

The tavern was located right in the same vicinity as the parsonage, where the ministers lived, as well as the meetinghouse where the Witch Trials took place.

“So this was holy ground zero trinity of very important sites for the Salem Witch Trials,” October said. “Now the parsonage is gone, the meetinghouse is gone, (and) the tavern is all that remains.”

In between meetings regarding the accusations of witchcraft, the magistrate, the townsfolk and even the girls allegedly afflicted by the witchcraft would all come to the tavern to discuss what was happening.

“It was a very exciting place, almost to the point of theatrical, because the girls would perform their afflictions right in the tavern, they would be falling to the floor, they would be accusing people, they would say they saw specters flying around the tavern,” October said.

The Everett Collection via Canva
The Everett Collection via Canva

In fact, during one of these episodes, Nathaniel Ingersoll’s wife Hannah called the girls out on their dramatics, according to the Salem Witch Museum.

“On March 28, William Rayment and Daniel Elliot were at Ingersoll’s tavern with some of the afflicted girls. The two men, along with Nathaniel Ingersoll’s wife Hannah, heard the girls claim to see the specter of Goody Proctor. Oddly, the accusers were almost casual about it and did not act in their usual dramatic fashion. One said of Proctor, ‘Goody Proctor, old witch, I’ll have her hang,’” the Witch Museum reports. “When scolded by Hannah Ingersoll for these words, one of the girls admitted to acting out ‘for sport, they must have some sport.’”

Essentially, the girls admitted to just making up these accusations of witchcraft for fun.

Accused of witchcraft
Getty Images

Ingersoll’s Tavern After the Salem Witch Trials

October said that after Ingersoll’s Ordinary continued on as a tavern throughout the 1700s and 1800s, it was owned by the church and turned into a parsonage. In the 1900s, it went into private ownership.

“Which is where it is today, and where the problem is,” she said. “Because it is privately owned, even though it’s on the historic register list, it’s strangely not protected.”

October said that in the town of Danvers, there are laws that protect historic structures, saying they just can’t be knocked down, but there are unfortunately no laws that prevent someone from buying a historic property and “just letting it rot into the ground.”

“So it’s privately owned, but for whatever reason, the owner right now is not restoring it, not doing anything with it, so it’s literally rotting into the ground,” she said. “That’s what the Historic District Commission is trying to do, they’re trying to pass a law called the Demolition by Neglect Law, saying you cannot let this structure just be neglected this way.”

READ MORE: Danvers' Historic Preservation Study Committee Report

There is a red “X” placed on the outside of the building to indicate to first responders that should they have an emergency situation at the property, the building is unsafe for them to enter. A tarp is visible on the roof on the front portion of the home, covering up a hole in the roof that is said to have been there for years.

Courtesy Town of Danvers
Courtesy Town of Danvers

“That’s the problem with these laws, it’s almost like the owner found this loophole that he doesn’t have to restore it, he doesn’t have to sell it, if he lets it sit there to the point of it being actually condemned, there could be an emergency demolition that would have to occur in case of a fire or something like that,” October said. “We’re all questioning why was this allowed to happen, why was this allowed to go this far, and what can we do now to stop it?”

The owner, reportedly a 77-year-old man who lives in New Hampshire, has been in contact with the Historic District Commission and there will be a meeting on May 23 in Danvers to discuss the future of the property.

“We know he doesn’t want to sell it to private ownership. What he wants is a historic society to take it on and turn it into a museum, which is an incredible idea,” October said. “I would love to see that happen, the only problem with that is historic districts don’t always have millions of dollars sitting around that it would take.”

“There’s no heat, no electricity, the core structure is damaged, there’s the hole in the roof,” she said.

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The Hopeful Future of Ingersoll’s Tavern

If an agreement can be reached between the property owner and the Town of Danvers to take over the tavern, October said she and some friends hope to have a plan in place to help raise funds for its rehabilitation.

“Lori and Jeff from the 1692 Before and After tour started the Save Ingersoll’s Tavern Facebook group, so this is our goal, to bring attention to what’s going on,” October said. “You have the Historic District Commission working on their end legally, but on our end publicly we can just bring awareness and hopefully turn this building into something that can go on for many, many years on Danvers soil.”

Photo Courtesy of The Witchographer
Photo Courtesy of The Witchtographer

As the “Queen of Halloween,” October uses her social media following to bring awareness to the true history of Salem and the Witch Trials. Not only does she use her Queen of Halloween Facebook and Instagram pages, she also has Life Death Salem, both on Facebook and Instagram, which documents the happenings in Salem in 1692.

“The important persons, the important structures,” she said. “It goes way beyond Salem, it goes to all of Essex County and the buildings and the people and the lives. It’s just my way of honoring their memory and keeping the story alive, because I think that it’s important that we remember it.”

That’s why she’s so passionate about preserving Ingersoll’s Tavern.

“(Salem) kind of turns into Halloween Disneyland, so to speak, which is a lot of fun and everybody has a great time in October, but we have to remember why we’re here, it has to be because of the history, it has to be because of these innocent lives lost,” she said.

“You can’t have Salem today with everyone whooping it up and having a great time in October and then in the next town over, this house that was so important to what happened here is just sitting and rotting into the ground,” she said. “It’s just wrong.”

However, October does think that with all the good people coming together to try to save the tavern, the future should be bright – even if it looks a bit cloudy right now.

“I’m very concerned about the house, but I also have absolute faith that it’s not only going to be saved but also restored,” she said. “So I’m really looking forward to that day.”

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