On this day in 1757 Samuel McIntire, the architect and woodcarver who laid and built upon the foundation of Federal Salem in its golden age, was born–or at least baptized. Upon this anniversary last year, I featured some of McIntire’s commissions in and around my neighborhood, the McIntire Historic District. This year, I want to focus on an orphaned McIntire mansion on the other side of town (and the tracks, really) in the emerging Bridge Street Neck Historic District. The Thomas March Woodbridge House is the most remote of all the McIntire houses in Salem, built around 1809 or 1810 on the main northern thoroughfare leading in and out of the city, Bridge Street. The house served as a single-family residence for more than a century, and in 1939 it came under the stewardship of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), primarily to protect the impressive interior woodwork of McIntire, which remains intact even after the long institutional occupancy of the venerable Salem charity, the Children’s Friend and Family Services, from 1955 until about 5 years ago. The Woodbridge House went on the market at that time, and it is still for sale today.
Woodbridge House exteriors from yesterday and a century ago; the Frank Cousins photograph is from the Peabody Essex Museum’s microsite, Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style.
Despite its obvious magnificence (and really low price), the house is a difficult sell for a couple of reasons, first of which is location, location, location. Bridge Street is a tough street, and probably a tough sell. As a principal entrance corridor for several centuries it developed commercially rather than residentially, creating a streetscape of lots of ugly buildings (but there are some great houses located on the side streets that form the adjacent neighborhoods). With the construction of the new Beverly bridge and bypass road in the past decade, plans and possibilities for a more aesthetic environment have been explored, but it’s going to take a while. The house is large and institutional, and those developers that have been interested in condominium conversion have been put off by the preservation easement overseen by Historic New England. This house needs a really special buyer, one that is primarily motivated by the interior McIntire woodwork.
The “incomparable interior woodwork” of McIntire is certainly recognized by this 1919 advertisement for silk upholstery and drapery fabric. Here the very spirit of this Salem “super-carpenter”seems to be for sale.