Posted on January 13, 2020
What started out as a local jailing facility, the Salem Jail has served as a multitude of differing functions, from condominiums to restaurants. After going through many renovations and remakes throughout its 200-plus years of operation, the Salem Jail was finally closed as a jailhouse in 1990 after the construction of the Middleton Jail was completed.
The Middleton House of Correction was built in 1990 and is located in Middleton, Massachusetts, roughly eight miles from Salem. It was not only built to accommodate more prisoners and prevent overcrowding, but also to prevent the continual money-drain that the Salem Jail posed on the city.
The Salem Jail was constantly plagued with issues and the need for repairs during its years in operation. It simply could not adequately care and provide for its inmates. It had become so dilapidated that the city was in fear for what may happen to those inside Salem’s cells.
A Time for Change
Eager to find a solution, the state of Massachusetts not only needed a bigger facility, but also a safer one. Unheard of during the time of Salem Jail’s days, the new Middleton jail actually has drug treatment programs readily available for its prisoners.
This clearly shows the difference in the level of care for those locked up today when compared to imprisonment of yesteryear. It’s a stark contrast when you consider inmates were left to die due to poor housing conditions alone.
When the Middleton House of Correction was finally completed, it provided inmates with a modern, cleaner, and safer environment. This finally allowed the closing of the Salem Jail, which would later afford the opportunity to house residents of a different type, as well as some enterprising possibilities for others.
After long-serving its purpose as a jailhouse, the Salem Jail closed up. Years later in 2009, it was converted into condominiums, with 24 residential units available for housing. Its remaining empty section was made into a prison-themed eatery in 2010 called the Great Escape Restaurant. This venture was unfortunately short-lived and closed in 2013.
Not long after, another franchise tried their hand at a restaurant within the walls of the old Salem Jail. Operating as A&B Burgers, this diner found success and eventually moved to a bigger location in Beverly, Massachusetts in 2015 to accommodate for its growing customer base. It remains in business to this day.
Left partially vacant once again, a new restaurant named Bit Bar took residence here the following year in 2016. Still in operation, the highly-rated Bit Bar has found great success as an arcade-themed restaurant. Its retro-style look is truly something to behold, with unique lighting and conversation pieces peppered throughout.
With an additional 60-seat patio, you’d be hard-pressed to identify remnants of what was once a horrific, decaying jailhouse.
What is the Salem Jail?
Initially built in 1684 and called the Old Witch Jail, many additions and upgrades were made before being turned into a home. This was done in order to allow for a newer facility, known as the Salem Jail, to be built next to the Witch Jail’s grounds.
This new jail was built in 1813 and featured woodwork by Samuel McIntire, who also worked extensively on the Joshua Ward House. By 1885, the jail had been through a complete remodel in order to enlarge its capacity.
In the proceeding years, conditions worsened so badly that inmates sued, resulting in yet another renovation, taking nearly a year-and-a-half to complete. Nevertheless, the entire jail later fell victim to a massive fire 19 years later – thought to be the result of arson – requiring even more renovations to the facility.
A three-story brick structure sits adjacent to the Salem Jail, known as the “jailer’s house” or the “sheriff’s house.” This building was at one time used by the jail’s sheriff during its years in operation, but since closing down it has most recently been converted to function as office space.
Reported Paranormal Activity
Although the Salem Jail was built many years after the events of the Salem Witch Trials, it is said that the jailhouse was built upon an old, 17th century dungeon that once imprisoned witches. This would certainly attribute to the many sightings within the building, as it’s believed that the dungeon was never destroyed.
Thrill-seekers and ghost-hunters alike have claimed to have seen apparitions of many, as well as cold spots in certain parts of the facility. Items have been known to move on their own, lights turning on and off, and shadows appearing and disappearing. The spirit of an old prison guard has been seen by residents and modern employees, still carrying his clipboard.
Previous owners who have since tried their hand at opening businesses within the Salem Jail have reported numerous spots throughout the building that have freezing cold air; a sure sign of a paranormal entity at play.
The Salem Jail was in operation for over 200 years, with conditions often so dreadful that many prisoners regularly died as a result. This certainly contributes to the belief that spirits roam the premises to this day, with negative energy felt throughout its halls.
Furthermore, many have claimed to have heard women weeping, which would validate the dungeon’s location below. Combine that with other audible sounds, like chains rattling and ghostly screams, and you’ve got the perfect recipe for yet another spooky location in haunted Salem.
Salem is well-known for its haunted past. The Salem Witch Trials alone are enough to make one’s skin crawl, and knowing that alleged witches wrongly sentenced to death during that time period were once held below Salem Jail’s structure only serves to increase the fright.
It’s hard to say just what kind of prisoners were held in Salem Jail during its time in operation, but since it was built well after the Witch Trials it’s safe to assume witches and warlocks did not make up its constitution.
What began as a simple jailhouse, the Salem Jail grew over the years with additions and upgrades, serving to imprison convicted criminals for over two centuries. With its substandard conditions, it sadly saw the death of many of the imprisoned.
With all of the tragedies that the structure saw, one has to wonder as to whether or not the place was cursed. Multiple fires regularly destroyed the jail over the years, requiring the constant need for new construction.
With Salem Jail’s grim history, it is nice to see a positive outcome for this once-abysmal place. You don’t often see such great things come from places that were at one time so despicable. To go from a dungeon holding witches to both a residence and well-loved family eatery is quite the contrasting story of success.
With A&B Burgers and later Bit Bar, both have found their investments to be positive. So much so that A&B Burgers was forced to move to a larger facility, while Bit Bar continues to rate highly with its regular customer base and visitors alike.
The newly-renovated condominiums are stunning to say the least, turning deadly living conditions into a place for families to live and grow.
Each of the old cells have been converted into beautiful living spaces, with its old stone walls serving to give the entire facility a rustic, yet modern look and feel. Stairwells have been refreshed, and large, open windows allow the inside to become bleached with sunlight; a staggering difference when compared to its former depressing interior.
The work put into these projects deserves applause and is a great lesson in how to turn a negative into a positive. This old historical landmark could have easily been demolished, but with some ingenuity and progressive-thinking it was transformed into shelter and enterprise. And nothing is quite so American as that.