One of several historic districts in Salem is named for Samuel McIntire- architect/ woodcarver/ furniture-maker/ sculptor- who was born here in 1757 and lived to 1811. In 1792, he completed the design of the United States Capitol; however, most of his work was done in and for New England, especially Salem. He designed buildings with balanced and symmetrical exteriors in the Neo-Classical style (commonly referred to in America as "Federal") of Robert Adam; many adourned with elaborate carved or molded trim inside and out. The McIntire Historic District, adjacent to downtown, encompasses Federal, Essex, Chestnut, and Broad Streets (plus a number of short and/ or cross streets) from North/ Summer (the name changes at Essex) to beyond Flint Street. For accuracy's sake, it should be noted that whilst the district bears his name, Mr. McIntire did not design or build all of the structures therein.

McIntire's Hamilton Hall, at the corner of Cambridge and Chestnut Streets, is where Lafayette was feted after the Revolution and is still used for weddings and community functions. Chestnut, certainly the jewel of the district, is lined with stately homes from primarily the 19th century. After acquiring their fortunes, a number of the city's wealthiest merchants, sea captains and aristocrats moved "up" to this broad, tree-lined street where some of Salem's oldest families still reside. Many of the other buildings in the McIntire District date from the 18th century and a few remain from the 17th, including the Corwin House ("the Witch House") at Essex and North where some of the infamous trials of 1692 took place. A few of the district's mansions, several owned and maintained by the Peabody Essex Museum and one by Historic New England, are open to the public. A commission overseeing the district enforces guidelines for building exteriors so that their appearances remain as true as possible to the periods in which they were built.

On 25 June 1914, following an extended period of drought, a massive fire razed some 1,400 buildings and left 20,000 Salem residents homeless. The conflagration is believed to have begun in a leather factory at "Blubber Hollow" and destroyed a large portion of the City. It has been said that had the wind been out of the more usual Summer direction of West or Southwest; the McIntire District, a large portion of downtown and the area around the Common would not have been spared. Mostly due to this "Great Fire", the majority of Salem's remaining present-day structures were built in the 20th century. 

For those interested in modern architecture, the Peabody Essex Museum features elements designed by I. M. Pei.  This classic museum recently underwent a multimillion dollar renovation and expansion which has allowed more of its art treasures from around the world, especially China, and antiques to be displayed. Part of the expansion even included the addition of a 200 year-old Chinese house which was disassembeled there and rebuilt on-site utilising traditional building methods.