Italianate Influences in Salem

Here’s another entry in my intermittent, impressionistic, and amateurish survey of architectural styles in Salem:  Italianate, yet another Victorian revival style. As Salem is a city that is more Federal (classical) than Victorian, I think the Italianate influences are limited and a bit restrained, but they are still there. There is a beautiful early Italianate house right next door to us on Chestnut Street, and it happens that one of my favorite houses in Salem (actually it’s everybody’s favorite house) is both Italianate and for sale:  the Samuel P. Andrews house on Flint Street.

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A beautiful house in a beautiful setting, as you can see. This house shares one distinct Italianate feature with the Maria Ropes house, right around the corner on Chestnut Street:  third-floor “Siamese-twin” windows with semi-circular headings. Both houses were built in the 1850s, which seems to be the decade for Italianate construction in America. Bryant Tolles refers to the Ropes house as “Italian Revival” in his definitive guide to Salem architecture (Architecture in Salem. An Illustrated Guide):  I’m not precisely sure what the distinction is between this and “Italianate”, and then there is also Renaissance Revival to consider!  Tolles’ Guide is widely-available; unfortunately another essential, more practical, guide to Salem architecture is not:  The Salem Handbook: a Renovation Guide for Homeowners, which was published by Historic Salem, Inc. in 1977–though you can find detail drawings of the major architectural styles in Salem here.

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Salem Handbook

With my untrained eye, I cannot find a house with all of the decorative elements featured in the Salem Handbook’s “Italianate” illustration: no cupolas and very few arches appear on Salem houses of this era. Tolles identifies the William Ives House on Essex Street (built in 1850-51) as “one of the best examples of the Italian Revival style surviving locally” and this immense house (difficult to photograph as it has two huge trees in front of it–just the entrance is below) certainly casts an Italianesque image for me. But so too do several other houses which are more difficult to stereotype:  For Tolles, the gabled and balconied (if that is a word)  Richardson House on Broad Street “defies normal stylistic classification”, but I see Italian influences.

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And then there is this last house in North Salem, of which I have become quite enamored. The James Dugan house on Dearborn Street was built a little later (1872) than the rest of Salem’s Italianate houses, but its dramatic facade and slim, hooded windows really conjure of the Renaissance for me. It was built by a prosperous leather manufacturer (who unfortunately killed himself in 1893 after experiencing some “reverses” and  purchasing multiple life insurance policies valued at $410,000) in the midst of a once-vast estate; its lot is much smaller today but still beautifully-designed, like the house.

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4 responses to “Italianate Influences in Salem

  • markd60

    It is a beautiful house. Probably cost about a thousand dollars back then too.

  • jane

    Per usual, thanks for the great pictures.

    New Englanders, more than those in other parts of the country, were much slower to let go of our Georgian roots.

    We added the Italianate pieces: the arched and paired windows, the brackets to what we were used to. We tended to see Italianate as taller – more decked out – Georgian, not Victorian.

    Technically we were able to mill wide flat boards, turn brackets and corbels by machines. All of them, 30 years earlier, could only be made by hand – so we loved using them. We also had cast iron stoves which meant we could expand our rooms, have bigger windows, and still keep warm.

    The towers were for ‘observing’, like widows’ walks, but also for drafts. When opened in the summer, they caused a cooling breeze through the house ( heat rises!) which took the mosquitoes up and away as well – no screens until the late 1880’s.

    • daseger

      Thanks, Jane–a nice professional addendum to my post. I did forget to add an example of brackets added to earlier houses–this appears to have happened to several Greek Revivals and Federals in Salem.

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