The Salem Athenaeum began as part of the Social Library on Market Street, now known as Central Street, in Salem. It opened on July 11, 1810, but moved three times to various sites in Salem over the next forty years. In 1845, however, a bequest from Caroline Plummer enabled the Athenaeum to erect a building, the original Plummer Hall, at 134 Essex Street. The Athenaeum shared this building with the Essex Institute until 1905, when Plummer Hall was sold to the Essex Institute (now the Peabody Essex Museum), and with the proceeds constructed the building it currently occupies at 337 Essex St.
By 1837 the Salem Athenaeum housed 8,000 volumes. According to Hawthorne scholar Margaret Moore in her book The Salem World of Nathaniel Hawthorne, it was the "pooled holdings of the Philosophical and Social Libraries, which merged in 1810," six years after Hawthorne's birth (158). The Athenaeum supplied Hawthorne with a tremendous amount of reading material during his Salem years.
William Manning (1779-1864), Hawthorne's maternal uncle, owned a share in the Salem Athenaeum from 1820-1827. Mary Manning (1777-1841) also was a member from 1826; she later gave this share to Hawthorne. Today this same share is owned by David Gavenda of the National Park Service.