Gothic Visions, Realized

I have posted on Salem’s Gothic Revival structures before, but I didn’t really delve into the sources or inspiration for this mid-19th century romantic style, other than to reference Andrew Jackson Downing. While Downing and other outside influences were no doubt important, it is now clear to me (thanks to two scholarly papers* by Arthur Krim) that Salem had its own Gothic promoter, Colonel Francis Peabody (1801-1867). The second son of Salem’s most illustrious merchant prince at the time, the Colonel’s life and work mark Salem’s transition from Federal city built on maritime trade to “Victorian” city sustained by industry: he even had a statue of Queen Victoria installed in the truly Gothic “Banqueting Room” of the family’s Essex Street mansion. But it is important to note that Peabody was an energetic entrepreneur and philanthropist, not just a dilettante dabbling in design. He was colonel of the 1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, 2nd Division of Massachusetts Militia, the founder of the Forest River Lead Company (the subject of my last post), and the first president of the Essex Institute. He clearly had two passions, which seem very different but perhaps are related: technology including all of its potential applications and the public awareness thereof, and the Gothic style, interpreted quite conservatively–and widely. The colonel seems to have craved a Gothic environment not only for himself (encompassing the interior of the family home on Essex Street and Kernwood, his “country” estate in North Salem) but for much of Salem: he was the driving force behind the design of the First Unitarian (North) Church on Essex Street in the Gothic style by Boston architect Gridley J.F. Bryant as well as the foundation structures of Salem’s picturesquely-planned cemetery, Harmony Grove, for which he designed the “rustic arch” himself in 1839. Certainly it was not an impartial publication, but the successive editions of the Essex Institute’s Visitor’s Guide to Salem in the later nineteenth century proclaim that Peabody’s love of the beautiful in architecture has left a good influence in Salem in many way. His two pursuits, technological innovation focusing on the future and a design aesthetic focused on the “medieval” past are not incompatible: in moments of dynamic change like mid-19th century Salem (or Britain), reverence for the past, especially the rural past, seems perfectly understandable to me.

Colonel Francis Peabody’s Gothic Salem:

Peabody House Cousins-001

Gothic Banqueting Hall Francis Peabody House 134 Essex 1850-1908

2004-21.17 001

PicMonkey Collage

Gothic 013

Gothic 011

Gothic funeral 1870

The Peabody House, 134-36 Essex Street Salem, c. 1890, and its “Banqueting Hall”: photographs by Frank Cousins, Duke University Urban Landscape digital collection (the house was taken down in 1908 and replaced by the Salem Armory headhouse); Photograph of Kernwood, Peabody’s North Salem estate built on 66 acres, by Walker Evans, c. 1931, Metropolitan Museum of Art; Harmony Grove Arch, designed by Peabody in 1839 and taken down in 1960, quatrefoil, and Kernwood Gate and Gatehouse, Frank Cousins photographs, c. 1890, via Krim (1992); Harmony Grove chapel door and Peabody Family Funeral Monument; The gathering for the Colonel’s funeral, Harper’s Weekly, February 1870.

 

* Arthur J. Krim, “An Early Rustic Arch in Salem”, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 51, No. 3 ( 1992), pp. 315-317, and “Francis Peabody and Gothic Salem”, Peabody Museum Historical Collections, Volume 130, no. 1 (1994), 18-35.


4 responses to “Gothic Visions, Realized

  • Michelle

    Because the advent of the Gothic style coincided with the initiation of a real-estate development market in the US, particularly in tourist areas, the spread of the style is often dependent on local promoters who did a lot of building. Most of the East Coast’s Gothic strongholds can trace the concentration of the style to a few land developers and builders. The Cottage City community in Oak Bluffs is a great example – started by the Oak Bluffs Land and Wharf Company in the 1860s and built out in hundreds of lots at once. This was truly one of the first mass-marketed, and mass-produced, housing styles.

    • daseger

      That’s really interesting, Michelle, thanks. At least developers at that time had good taste and an appreciation for craftsmanship (but I suppose it’s all relative).

  • Andre Mayer

    Peabody seems to have embraced gothic in two different senses – pure Victorian Gothic with its points and ornaments, and an eclectic style of “ancient” forms, including the romanesque, breaking away from the balance and proportion of the prior generation.

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