Monthly Archives: January 2012

Steam Power

I’ve been doing some research on Salem manufacturers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries for an upcoming fundraising event at the Salem Athenaeum with a steampunk theme (lots more on this later) and am a bit overwhelmed:  there were so many.  America was certainly a country of makers a century ago; now it seems like we’re mostly sellers. Anyway, since I’m taking the steam in steampunk literally I have found myself focusing on all sort of machinery makers in general and the Locke Regulator Company of Salem in particular.  This company, founded by two New Hampshire brothers, Nathaniel and Alpheus Locke, who came down to Salem to make their fortune, grew from a back-of-the-barn operation in the 1870s and 80s to big business after its incorporation in 1902.  The large Locke factory, pictured on the first piece of “industrial ephemera” below (from 1910), was located on the banks of the North River in Salem, now the site of a junkyard and a car wash.  According to the claims of the last advertisement below, by 1913 the Company was the largest Manufacturers of Steam Vehicle Parts & Fittings in America.

The Company experimented with automobile manufacture in the first decade of the twentieth century (that’s another dynamic industry at this time; it seems like every town or city of a certain size had several small automobile makers within its midst), building a little “runabout” called the Puritan, but I think they must have soon realized that their future was in parts.

a 1902 Puritan steamer from the Early American Automobiles website; Locke shears from the same year.

The Locke Regulator Company appears to have been a family business, both before and after its incorporation and period of dynamic growth.  Alpheus retired from the business  in the 1890s, but Nathaniel continued on, with his brother-in-law, son, and son-in-law all working for the company at one time or anotherTheir factory was in North Salem, as were their residences, primarily on or in the vicinity of Dearborn Street, very close to the threatened homestead of another prominent family that I wrote about in my previous post.  The Ropes family and the various Lockes were neighbors, and perhaps friends.  At the turn of the last century, Nathaniel and his wife Sophronia were living on one side of Dearborn Street, in a “new” house built for them in 1874, while their son Albert was living almost just across the street, in an even newer (and bigger) house built for his family in 1896.

Dearborn Street just before World War One; the Albert N. Locke House yesterday.

The other Ropes House

In my last post I showed pictures of the barren and brown (white this morning!) garden of the perfectly-preserved and well-protected Ropes Mansion in downtown Salem, but yesterday also brought sad news of another Ropes Mansion in Salem, presently in imminent danger of demolition.  This is the Ropes house in North Salem, which has belonged to another branch of that eminent Salem family (original seventeenth-century land grantees) since its construction in the later nineteenth century.

Here is the house and its outbuildings yesterday afternoon, before the dusting of snow that arrived last night.  The cupola-topped carriage house–also threatened–is particularly charming, so I took another photograph from the vantage point of a neighbor’s well-manicured lawn.

As many of the older houses in North Salem (Northfields) once were, the Ropes house is situated on a large lot with mature trees, including the magnificent copper beech you see above.  The wrap-around porch on the house evokes the earlier era of the “garden estate”, when prosperous Salem families established “rural” residences (both year-round and seasonal) across the North River from the busy city center.  The 1820 map below, drawn by Jonathan Saunders based on late eighteenth-century census materials, illustrates the relationship between North Salem and Salem proper in the nineteenth century–I placed a big star on the present location of the Ropes house.

Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.

For as long as I’ve lived in Salem, everyone has had their eye on this house, coveting its graceful presence and large lot.  It remained in the Ropes family until this past fall, when it suddenly appeared on the market and sold relatively quickly despite the fact that the city of Salem had revoked an occupancy permit a while ago.  Now the present owners have put forward plans to demolish the buildings and build three houses on the lot, but perhaps save some of the trees.  These plans are now before the Historic Commission, so we’ll see what happens.


In Winter Gardens

Winters are great for assessing the “bones” of a garden, especially when you have no snow.  That’s certainly the case this year for New England:  lots of bones, no winter wonderland.  When I compare the glistening photographs from last year with those below, there’s obviously a stark difference, but there is also a certain kind of beauty in the stark brown landscape.

My garden looks pretty dreary except for a few bright spots captured on a 60-degree January day and the boxwood “balls” and germander border, which looks like it’s still alive (but is certainly not).  The brightest spot by far is the scarlet cardinal who spends a lot time back there, but I’ve given up trying to capture him on film.  The minute I pick up my camera, he flies away.

The Ropes Garden looks very bare, but if you’re not distracted by the flowers and colors you notice other things, like this amazing tree close to the house. I included a postcard from 1910 taken from the same vantage point, so you see the dramatic change, as well as a close-up of the texture of the tree.

A few more images of January gardens around Salem: on Warren, Beckford and Pickering Streets, in my general neighborhood, and across town at the historic herb garden behind the Derby House on Derby Street, on the grounds of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site.

Vincent van Gogh found beauty not only in sunflowers and blooming gardens but also in barren ones, as illustrated by his drawing from March, 1884:  Winter Garden (Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam), one of several pen (black iron gall ink, now decayed–and decaying–into a sepia tone) drawings of the bleak landscape of Nuenen he made at that time.

For beautiful photographs of winter gardens–and gardens all year long and in many places–visit one of my favorite landscape (and travel!) blogs from across the Atlantic:  terrain.

Bonfire at the Beach

Last night my Christmas tree and those of many other Salem residents were engulfed in flames at the annual bonfire at Dead Horse Beach.  This is a relatively recent, increasingly-popular tradition; I have friends from towns all around Salem who want to bring their Christmas trees over for our bonfire, to which I say, make your own!  I had a dinner engagement last night during the bonfire, so I went over earlier in the day to take some pictures of the beach and the trees (and shells).  These are from the morning; I assume the pile of trees got bigger during the day.

Dead Horse Beach is one of the beaches at Salem Willows.  It is a relatively sheltered beach facing north, towards Beverly and its harbor.  I had always heard the (apparent) urban legend that it became a graveyard for the many horses that died during the Great Salem Fire (of 1914), accounting for its name, but Salem native and local historian Jerome Curley explains that it was known as “Horse Beach” well before the fire.

As I wasn’t able to make it for the conflagration last night, here’s a picture of a previous bonfire from the Salem News (credit to photographer Mark Teiwes).

Calendar Girls

I’m a bit late for a calendar post, but then again I always buy my calendars after January 1st–sometimes well after January 1st.  While I’m not likely to engage in consistent sale-shopping or coupon-clipping, for some reason I get great pleasure from buying my annual calendars after they have gone on sale.  We usually purchase a “North Shore Folk Art” calendar from J & J Graphics at the Peabody Essex Museum shop for our refrigerator, and sometimes I even wait until they have their big January sale (this year it’s on the weekend of the 20th-22nd, definitely worth a visit if you’re in our area).  I’ll post January right here so I know what the date is until I get my own.

Upstairs in my office I generally pick something a bit more girly, whimsical, botanical, historical..whatever catches my eye.  Right now I’m liking this ethereal calendar from Irena Sophia, already on sale on Etsy!  I like the September and October girls–and Miss foxy February.

Calendars are an important form of ephemera that I haven’t featured on the blog yet, so why not now?  At the same time, they are among the timeliest and most artistic of genres.  And like all the pieces of paper we’ve examined over the last year–postcards, trade cards, book plates–they emerged as a mass-produced product in the later nineteenth century, coincidentally with the development of chromolithography.  I love the calendars from the “Penfield era”, from about 1890 to 1920, when the distinctive designs of illustrator Edward Penfield (1866-1925) graced the covers of magazines and the pages of the new poster calendars much more than those that came later with their Vargas-inspired pin-ups.  My “calendar girls” kept their clothes on!

Penfield calendars for 1897 and 1906 from the Library of Congress, above, and the work of some of his predecessors below (so you can see what an impression he made on turn-of-the-century graphic design):  an 1876 advertisement calendar for cigars and champagne, and two calendars by Boston-era publishers, also from the Library of Congress.

Calendars from Penfield’s fellow art nouveau illustrators  Louis Rhead (for Prang) and A.B. Wenzell for 1897 and 1899 are below, along with another rather less-artistic 1907 Boston calendar, for the beloved Necco wafers, all from the New York Public Library.

Salem on Canvas: the 1920s

Exactly 90 and 91 years ago today the American artist Felicie Waldo Howell (1897-1968) opened successive exhibitions at the Macbeth Gallery in New York City, where all the best “modern” American artists showed.  Both exhibitions featured Salem scenes prominently, indeed, very prominently.  The first, Old Salem Doorways (January 3-17, 1921), was exclusively devoted to the architecture of Salem, while the second, New England Streets (January 3-23,1922), featured the streets of Salem alongside those of other New England towns and cities.  Here are two reproduction images of paintings in the first show, depicting the entrances to the Assembly House and the Ropes Mansion.

I don’t know a great deal about Howell but from what I could ascertain she had a rich and interesting life, occupied by her art throughout. She was born in Hawaii, but spent most of her life on the east coast.  Her first marriage, to the wealthy yachtsman (and navigator) George Mixter, enabled her to travel widely (and in very advantageous circles) and paint many maritime scenes.  She seems to have had a penchant for coastlines (Maine and Atlantic islands, the White Cliffs of Dover), bridges (the Golden Gate, Brooklyn) and street scenes (New York, Gloucester, Salem).  A few years after her seemingly-successful exhibitions at the Macbeth Gallery, she returned to Salem to paint several views of the city’s Tercentennial celebrations, including the celebratory scene on Chestnut Street below (from the digital archives of Christies, where it sold in 2006 for $7200).  Seldom do you see such a colorful, impressionistic view of The Street.

Felicie Waldo Howell (1897-1968), Salem’s 300th Anniversary, Chestnut Street, June 1926.

Wrapped in Wool

Getting all the Christmas stuff out of the house (which you should never do on New Year’s Day according to custom but always want to) leaves mantles and bookcases and other household surfaces looking bare.  I like the look of austerity after so much abundance in December, but still need to inject some warmth into my big old house.  I think I can get both with a few pieces of “cable knit ceramics”: pottery that looks like a sweater!  I’m late to this design trend (as usual) but it really appeals to me right now, in my post-Christmas, January mood. I can wrap myself in wool and my house too.

Here are some examples of what I’m looking at/for:

Cable-knit sweater bowls from Etsy seller reshapestudio.

“Knitware” collection tumblers and vases from Brooklyn potter Alyssa Ettinger.

“Knit Vases” from British artist Annette Bugansky.

“Wave” sweater vases from Illu-Stration.

If you want a soft sweater texture for your accessories rather than a faux surface one, you can buy wool-wrapped vases like the ones from Ferm Living pictured below, or easily make your own by wrapping, gluing, and/or sewing an old sweater sleeve around a cylindrical glass vase.  Pinterest can direct you to many sites with examples and instructions; I liked the ones below.

“Sweater vases” by Ferm Living at Velocity Art & Design; upcycled sweater-covered mason jars from DIY Crafts.

Now that we’re in the realm of textile arts, let’s move on from pedestrian vases into more exotic fare:  look at these amazing sweater-wrapped “domestic trophies” by Rachel Denny:

Red cable-knit deer head and blue cashmere “Clover” bunny at

And finally, if you just want to sink into a cozy sweater yourself , how about this custom-made cable-knit slipcover?

Hand-knitted armchair slipcover by Etsy seller BiscuitScout.

First Footing

I have many plans for this year, and in order to give myself as much support as possible, I adhered–as best as I could–to the Scottish New Year’s tradition of “first footing”.  According to this custom, whoever enters a house first upon the New Year determines its fortune in the coming months, and the preferable “first footer” is a tall dark man. All women are (of course) unlucky, and fair-haired men equally so, perhaps out of a long-held fear of Viking invaders.  Unfortunately for my household, only two people were in a position of entry after midnight last night:  myself (a woman) and my husband (a fair-haired man, of Swedish descent, even more problematic).  My stepson is not with us for this weekend, and as he’s equally fair-haired he would not be much help.  I thought of pushing some dark-haired neighbor over the doorstep at midnight (this is no doubt what the Scots do), but instead decided to over-compensate with the lucky gifts that the first-footer should bring into the house:  bread (or the alternative shortbread or fruitcake), whiskey, coal, salt, and coins.  Just one of these gifts should suffice, but I fixed up a basket with all of them for extra luck, and we carried it over the doorstep when we came back from our New Year’s Eve party.

Hope it works!  Good luck to everyone in the New Year.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,079 other followers

%d bloggers like this: