Salem's Almshouses

Unheralded and Unknown, They Sleep (2021)

Salem's Forgotten Almshouse Burial Ground

Salem is often celebrated for its history of millionaire merchants and their mansions, but there is another side to the city’s past, that of Salem’s poorest residents: the aged, disabled, ill, or transient, who were relegated to a harsh life at the City Almshouse.

The last almshouse built in Salem, opened in 1816 on Collins Cove to provide housing and support for the city’s impoverished, many of whom were expected to work the adjacent City Farm to offset the cost of their stay. This site was active for over a century and included a small burial ground which would have served as the only option for those who were unable to afford a funeral or who had no family to claim their remains.

Unfortunately, few know of this land’s former purpose and significance, as there is very little evidence of the Almshouse or its burial ground. Watch the video to learn more about the important history of this site and how we can preserve its memory.

Salem's Almshouses and Contagious Disease Hospitals:

1719-1772  Almshouse at Broad Street
1772-1816  Almshouse at Salem Common
1747-1779  Pest House at Collins Cove
1779-1846  Small Pox Hospital at Salem Willows
1816-1954  Almshouse at Collins Cove
1884-1975  Contagious Disease Hospital at Collins Cove

In the News:


Collins Cove - Salem, Massachusetts

In 2020, Salem finally brought honor and dignity to the hundreds of souls that were laid to rest along Collins Cove, once residents of the Almshouse and Hospital for Contagious Diseases.

I want to express my deep gratitude to those who supported this memorial and believed in the importance of recognizing those buried here.


This stone represents years of research and advocacy. I've wondered what I would say if this moment arrived and like so many things about this project, the words found me.

 “The optimist in me always thought that the ultimate purpose of memorials was that they were dress rehearsals for our collective memory, that in the course of building a shrine to the fallen, we remind ourselves of our broader obligations to the vulnerable. You give the benefit of your empathy and generosity to the memory of someone… and then it becomes easier to extend that empathy and generosity to the lonely and the suffering who are still among us. You get good at meaningful adjacency for the dead, and that makes you better at practicing it on the living.

But that's not what happens, is it? We go to any length, any length to commemorate one person's death, deploy armies of architects and engineers, then in the same breath look the other way as we step over someone lying on the street.” 
– Malcolm Gladwell

Our work is not done. May this memorial serve as a reminder to extend our empathy and generosity to the lonely and the suffering among us.


Jen Ratliff (Archivist and Historian) has dedicated herself to uncovering and sharing the forgotten stories of our collective past. While earning a B.A. from Salem State University in Public History, she created multiple exhibits and digital projects for both Salem Maritime National Historic Site and Salem State University, spotlighting items from their archives and the unique stories behind them. In 2020, she was appointed to the Salem Cemetery Commission, following exhaustive research and advocacy for the memorialization of Salem's unmarked Almshouse Burial Ground. She was recognized for these efforts by Historic Salem, Inc. with their Preservation Award in 2021 and was presented with the City of Salem Seal by the City Council in 2022. Jen received an MLIS in Archives Management from Simmons University in 2022 and returned to her hometown, where she launched Historic Cape Cod, which promotes local history and cultural heritage as a form of preservation advocacy.

© Jen Ratliff. Design by Eve.