Wenham History

Wenham was officially set off from the Town of Salem on May 10, 1643, but was not incorporated by the legislature until September 7, 1643.  Wenham was the first village to be set off as a definite township from Salem, as it was the first laid out. The territory appears to have belonged to the Agawam Indians from whom the land was purchased for a nominal sum.  In approximately 1639, the earliest settlements were made by the lake and later that year the Legislature passed an act giving the land, not belonging to any other town or person, to the village.  The first settlers called their village "Enon."  However, when it was incorporated in 1643, the Legislature ordered that "Enon shall be called Wenham and be granted to be a Town and hath liberty to send a deputy."

The name Wenham is from a parish in Suffolk County, England, from which early settlers supposedly came. The first Meeting House was built and was located to encourage settlement in the middle of the Town.
Town history is vague for many years and inhabitants were careless about attending town meetings to the point where fines were assessed for such laxness.  Early perambulation of the bounds, still done today, was necessary, as there arose many boundary disputes with neighboring villages.
The setting aside of the Charter of the Massachusetts Colony in 1684 brought a period of great unrest and the establishment of "Committees of Safety."  The year 1692 saw the witchcraft hysteria in which Sara Good, raised in Wenham, was hanged as a witch.  King Phillip's War and the French and Indian Wars had Wenham men serving in order to protect their homes and land.  John Fiske, wounded and incapacitated in these conflicts, was granted a license to keep a public house of entertainment by the General Court.
The following fifty year were relatively calm and peaceful until the passage of the Stamp Act of 1765.  Although it was soon repealed, the tax remained on tea.  So great was the unrest that "Committees of Correspondence" were formed, and Wenham citizens checked to see that their ammunition was safe under the pulpit of the Meeting House.  A call to arms came in 1774 and fifteen Minute Men were requested of Wenham.  Although Wenham was too far removed from the battles at Concord and Lexington to participate, they took part in the Battle at Bunker Hill.  Wenham sent men to join Washington's army, some serving as long as two years.      
In 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read and approved in Wenham by the voters.  The year 1776 was also the year that there was a terrible epidemic of small pox, and many people died.  In order to control the spread of the disease, primitive inoculations were given, and a special house was set aside to house those with the disease.

Although it was noted in 1642 that all children should be educated, nothing was really done, and children were taught at home.  The first formal school was finally established in 1700, but the students had to pay for their education.  It wasn't until 1739 that the Town finally appropriated the funds.

A period of peace and prosperity again followed the Revolution and the opening of the land beyond the Alleghenies.  Some Wenhamites joined Hamilton's Dr. Cutler on his trek to Marietta, Ohio.  Wenham men were also instrumental in petitioning for the building of a bridge between Beverly and Salem to replace the ferry which was the only way to reach Salem.
The war of 1812 had some effect on Wenham, and it is noted that the Town hired men to enlist.  In 1854, it was voted to build a Town Hall since the Meeting House was no longer adequate.  In 1821, the Town voted to procure fire fighting   equipment, ladders and fire hooks, but no fire company was organized until 1835.
The middle of the 1800's saw Wenham as primarily an agricultural society, but there were many shoe shops in Town that did piece work for shoe factories in Danvers and Lynn.  The harvesting of ice was also a very important industry lasting into the early 20th century.  Wenham Lake ice was prized around the world.
Life remained rather quite as the years progressed.  Wenham sent many men to the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, as well as Korea and Vietnam.  Their names are suitably recorded in the Town Hall and on the War  Memorial outside on the Town Hall lawn.  Wenham continued to be a small town up until the end of World War II when the population increased dramatically to over 4,000 by the time of the 1990 census. There is still very little industry and business in Town; Wenham remains predominantly residential, a bedroom community for the many adjacent towns.

Town Hall Hours

Monday 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

Tuesday 8:00 am - 7:00 pm

Wednesday & Thursday 8:00 am - 4:30 pm

Friday Closed

Contact Town Hall

Phone: 978-468-5520

Fax: 978-468-8014

138 Main Street

Wenham, MA 01984


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