The wharf in front of you was Salem's longest, and was once one of the busiest in the nation. During the War of Independence, American privateers sailed from here to prey on British ships on the high seas. After the war, fleets of trading vessels based here sailed to the Far East and other exotic ports, bringing wealth to Salem and its shipowners.
Although the wharf faces the U.S. Custom House behind you, it was not owned by the government. The wharf belonged to shipowner Elias Hasket Derby, who, with his father Richard, built the first 800 feet of it about 1770. In 1808 Derby's heirs completed a 1,300-foot extension. Cargoes were stored in spacious three-story warehouses attached to the wharf.
Today Derby Wharf is being preserved within Salem Maritime National Historic Site. The ships and the old warehouses are gone, but portions of the original wharf remain. A walkway beginning here leads ½ mile to the lighthouse at the tip of the wharf.