Category Archives: Houses

Sanctuary from Salem,1693

On Monday, yet another sparkling summer day, I drove over to Framingham to look at an old house which has a direct connection to Salem, having been built by refugees from the Witch Trials of 1692. The Peter and Sarah Clayes House, appropriately situated on Salem End Road, has been in a state of decline for quite some time, and there is an ongoing and apparently intensifying effort to save it and attain placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Both of my parents grew up in Framingham, my father very close to the Clayes house, but I don’t remember ever visiting it or even hearing about it when I went to visit my grandparents: it was only later–after I moved to Salem and became curious about all things Salem–that I first became aware of it. And when I first saw it a few decades ago it looked a lot better than it does now.

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Even in its present dilapidated state, the house doesn’t look very First Period: it has been extensively remodeled in several phases over its 300 year history (oddly there is no HABS report at the Library of Congress, but there is an inventory at MACRIS). As originally built by the Clayes after they fled Salem, it was a much smaller saltbox–and the center of a community of Salem exiles that came to include some 15 families in what was first known as “Salem Plain” and later as “Salem End”. For reasons that are a bit murky, Sarah Towne Bridges Clayes (or Cloyce, as she was known in Salem) managed to escape the fates of her sisters Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, who were among the 19 “witches” hanged on Gallows Hill in 1692. She too was arrested and imprisoned (in Ipswich, rather than Salem) but ultimately liberated through the combined efforts of her husband Peter and Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, who had served as a magistrate in the early phase of the trials but apparently had serious regrets afterwards. Danforth had acquired large grants of land in the region west of Boston over the years, comprising what came to be known first as “Danforth’s  Farm” and later as Framingham, and presumably he offered the Clayes and their fellow refugees sanctuary from Salem. So even before the official pardons, public apologies, and the legislative restitution that were decreed in the aftermath of 1692, the Clayes House stands as physical symbol of all of the above–and hopefully will for quite some time.

The Sarah and Peter Clayes House Preservation Project

 


Georgians for Sale

I suppose it is time to stop obsessing about a now-roofless historic Salem house and redirect my attention to those with lovingly preserved roofs, in these cases, gambrel: all around me it seems as if Georgians are for sale. Here are three, two just around the corner from our house and one two streets over. The Salem real estate market seems very hot; I don’t expect them to last long. 40 Summer Street, which abuts our property in the back, was built in 1762 for one proverbial Salem ship captain, Thomas Eden. There are lots of great photographs of its interior in the listing, but if you want to see more, it is very prominently featured in one of my very favorite books, Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem Interiors (1950). When searching for photographs of the long-lost McIntire South Church which was situated across the street from my house, I found one which also included the Captain Eden House (then owned and occupied by the Browne family) in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard: this black and white photograph of Summer Street dates from the 1890s.

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Just a few doors down is 12 Broad Street, one of my very favorite houses in Salem. If I didn’t have a husband who wanted to go newer rather than older (why do architects always like boring bungalows?) then I would snap this house up myself. Its official plaque date is 1767 but I think that reflects a significant addition built on to a much older 17th century structure. The Neal House has seen a lot: World Wars, Civil War, Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, maybe even Witch Trials.

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105 Federal Street, on the other side of the McIntire Historic District, was built a bit after the Georgian colonial era but it certainly looks the part with its gambrel roof. It’s a charming little house, situated with its side to the street and with a sheltered courtyard garden out back. This house is now painted a very nice gray-green color, but for much of the nineteenth century it was known as the “red house”.

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The Day After: Teardown?

As many of you predicted, the same “contractors” who tore the roof off a circa 1803 house on Carlton Street in Salem and exposed its interior to yesterday’s driving rains returned early this morning to complete their work. Their employer, the developer Jewel Saeed, is apparently out of the country. Much of two walls came down before several Salem building inspectors ordered them to focus solely on cleaning up the sodden boards that lay around the house rather than continuing to strip it bare. I really, really didn’t want to go see this crime scene again but I trudged over there: to document, I suppose. Once there, I started snapping away, and the contractor came over and asked me where I was from: to which I replied “Salem”. He then said they were not tearing the house down, but were preserving 50% of it, while his workers continued to throw its (former) frame into a huge dumpster. Plans for the new two-family house were posted in the front facade of the old. I find this deliberate destruction of a historic house so upsetting that it’s a bit difficult for me to focus, so I think I’ll just get a few facts out for now. While it was painful to look at 25 Carlton Street this morning, I am glad that I went over there, as there were several neighbors and city councilors on site and I was able to learn some interesting things, including the fact that Mr. Saeed has never even applied for a demolition permit. All of the neighbors seemed to agree that Mr. Saeed’s contractors were working very quickly to rid the house of its roof on the day before the storm, and that the house was in fairly good shape when he purchased it a year or so ago, from a woman who had lived there for fifty-eight years. That’s really all I can say/write right now; I think I’ll let the photographs speak say the rest.

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25 Carlton Street on August 14, 2014: front and side views and a close-up of its exposed center chimney.

 


A Drowned House in Salem

I seldom publish two posts in one dayand especially on such divergent topics–but a photograph of an old house on Carlton Street in Salem popped up on Facebook this morning, and I can think of little else. The simple colonial house had been shorn of its roof and top story, by all accounts in the past few days, and left completely open to the elements: just in time for the driving rainstorm we are experiencing today. I ran over to look at 25 Carlton Street in the early afternoon, and it was indeed drenched, inside and out, even more forlorn in appearance now that the floodgates have opened. This was deliberate and brutal decimation: the house looks like its top was sliced off with a chainsaw. The interior has been gutted as well, and what is referred to as a “massive center chimney” in its MACRIS inventory removed. No tarp in sight. I have never seen a worse case of demolition-by-developer, whose name was still conveniently legible on the building permit: Jewel Saeed, of Swampscott, Massachusetts, who appears to own several convenience and liquor stores in the Boston area. Let us hope and pray that he sticks to his day job and stops preying on historic houses in the future.

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25 Carlton Street on August 13, 2014. The house was built by or for Salem shipwright Thomas Magoun c. 1803. Below: contrasting views of the house on a better day and today.

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Hudson Picturesque

I drove into one of the most distressed small cities in America this past Monday, and was both assaulted and astonished by: rows and rows of brick townhouses from the nineteenth century and before, many gone to rot, manifest poverty, amazing elevated Hudson River views, a historic district of restored Gilded Age mansions saved from a sweeping program of urban renewal and by their courageous owners, and a fisher cat. Perhaps I would not have ventured into Newburgh if I had known that it was “The Murder Capital of New York“, but then I would not have seen the deterioration or the restoration (or the fisher cat, which is not a cat at all but a rare weasel-like creature–it fled into an abandoned wooded lot before I could turn on my camera, but I knew immediately that that’s what it was). I went to Newburgh to see Washington’s Headquarters, but came away seeing a whole lot more. I’m going to refrain from including images of Newburgh’s distress–but let me assure you that its surviving restored structures are all the more picturesque because of the contrast.

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Along Montgomery Street in Newburgh, New York; villas and a foundation garden. The influence of Calvert Vaux (1824-95) and Andrew Jackson Downing is very apparent. There is a park named after Downing in Newburgh, and this last house is clearly based on “Design no. 14″ in Vaux’s Villas and cottages. A series of designs prepared for execution in the United States.

The Hudson River Valley is, of course, picturesque in both natural and man-made ways: and when they come together they really grab hold of you! The whole region is dotted with romantic structures, large and small, alone and in assemblages like Montgomery Street. On the other side of the river, I captured a few more romantic structures, and, for contrast, the USS Slater (the last World War II destroyer afloat) on its way up the river to Albany.

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On the other side of the river: houses (actually I don’t think this first structure is a house–some sort of chapel?) in Cold Spring and Rhinecliff; the USS Slater on the Hudson.

 

 


Anniversaries All Around

I’m on a road trip but still can’t shake historical anniversaries: they are following me! Traveling down to visit my husband’s family on the Jersey shore on Friday, I made several Connecticut stops (I was on my own, so I could stop), including one in the coastal town of Guilford, which was in the midst of celebrating its 375th anniversary: banners flew all around Guilford Green, and the stores were stocked with calendars and other commemorative wares. I arrived just in time to view the original Guilford Covenant and Land Agreement, on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society and on its last day of display at the Town Hall. It was a perfectly beautiful day, and after lunch I strolled around taking pictures of Guilford’s historic houses, each and every one in seemingly perfect pristine condition. Sometimes certain Connecticut villages strike me as too pristine, but Guilford’s perfection seemed appropriate on this glorious day! Back in the car–stuck in traffic almost all the way to Jersey, I heard multiple retellings of another big historical anniversary story on the radio: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his Duchess by Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, the event that triggered World War One. And when I woke up yesterday, the first local story I heard was about the anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778: not an American victory, but certainly a draw which demonstrated that the colonial forces could hold their own against the British. Of course I had to run over to the battlefield site in Freehold: it is beautifully preserved but was quite devoid of Colonials or Redcoats, as the battle re-enactment had been staged last weekend. There were, however, a few “Molly Pitchers” walking around.

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Guilford, Connecticut, June 27, 2014: the Griswold and Hyland houses, Guilford Green, and private residences around town.

 

 


The Great Salem Fire: 1914 & 2014

I promise: this is my last post on the Great Salem Fire! The big anniversary is now past, and the big event thoroughly commemorated. I thought I’d finish up with some before and after and now and then photographs, as contrasts often tell the story better than anything else. I was going to take you through the whole rebuilding process, but enough is enough: I can summarize the characteristics and goals of the rebuilding effort quite succinctly: it was relatively rapid, and emphasized structures built of fire-retardant materials in rather traditional styles. The post-fire Salem was made largely of brick, with slate roofs wherever possible, and lots of Colonial Revival details to tie the new in with the old. Here are two images that just SCREAM post-fire to me: a Federal house on High Street with a stucco side, and a “Forget 1914″ advertising postcard: the Ropes Drug Company was already marketing the Great Fire even before its ashes cooled! But that was also the can-do attitude of 1914:  let’s rebuild, and be quick about it.

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Below are past and present contrasting views of the place where the fire began (Boston and Procter Streets–now a Walgreen’s parking lot just below a wooded, forlorn lot where it is believed that the victims of the Witch Trials of 1692 were buried in unmarked graves–this has been pointed out 64,000 times), where it ended (New Derby and Herbert Streets, where the notably-named Bunghole liquor store now stands), and a few other street scenes from 1914 and 2014. A few more contrasting shots, and some small but very specific physical legacies of the Fire, and then I’m done.

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The 1914 picture is taken from a bit further back and to the right; one of the few buildings in the midst of the conflagration which still stands is in the middle of both pictures.

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The end point of the fire–again, not a perfectly-matched perspective, but close.

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Broad and Hathorne in 1914 & 2014.

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39 Chestnut Street in 1914 and 2014: the fire did not touch the street, but blazed all around it.

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An officer guarding a leveled Roslyn Street in 1914, and the rebuilt street in 2014.

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Two very physical remnants of 1914 in 2014.

 

 

 

 


Capturing the Great Salem Fire: June 25, 1914

So finally we arrive at this day, the centennial anniversary of the Great Salem Fire of 1914, one of the last of the great urban fires which devastated downtowns in the second half of the nineteenth century and first few decades of the twentieth: Portland, Maine (1866), Chicago (1871), Boston (1872), Baltimore (1904), San Francisco (1906), Chelsea, MA (1908), Atlanta (1917). I could go on. This was a fire that destroyed about a third of Salem, causing damages estimated at 15 million dollars, the equivalent of over 350 million today. I’ve been through quite a few commemorative events this year, read quite a bit about the fire and its impact, and perused hundred of photographs, and I think the best way to mark this anniversary is to simply showcase some of my “favorite” (seems like a strange word to use in this context) images, those which come closest to capturing the conflagration and its aftermath. Obviously I’m working in a very visual medium here, and I generally rely on images more than words to make my points (or at least drive them home), but still, I think there was something quite special, dare I say even unprecedented, about how the Great Salem Fire was photographed: it was one of the first disasters to be shot from airplanes, there are several amazing panoramic views, “hustlers” were employed by Boston publishers to hurry up to Salem, cameras in hand, and Salem residents whose homes were actually burning took to the streets armed with cameras in the midst of the fire. This fire was marked by a great deal of civic engagement: “civilians” fought the fire, witnessed the fire, and descended upon Salem in droves after the fire was over to view, and capture, the devastation.

Just after the fire began (at about 1:30 pm on a hot breezy June 25) and the morning after: amazing photographs which focus on the people in relation to the fire, rather than just the fire (SSU Archives and Special Collections Digital Commons). The first photo shows men watching the fire taking the first of many tanneries in “Blubber Hollow”, Salem’s leather district, and the second shoes employees (? I’m assuming) at the burned-out P.A. Field Shoe Company across town on Canal Street.

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Before and After on upper Broad Street: the Fire skirted Salem’s main historic district for the most part, but it did take out upper Broad Street–so all the buildings that you see in the first photograph below were gone in a matter of hours. Both photographs from the collection of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

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The first photograph below is by the great photographer/entrepreneur/historic preservationist/author Frank Cousins, who estimated that about 10% of Salem’s historic structures were lost to the Fire (out of  1376 buildings). Cousins based his estimation partly on surviving chimneys, and this photograph below is labelled “Sentinel Chimneys”. The second photograph, also from the collection of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, is titled “Capricious Damage on Walnut Street”. This photograph is mysterious to me as there is I’m not sure of the location–there is no Walnut Street in Salem–I’ve been searching for that surviving Greek Revival for some time!

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There were hundreds–maybe thousands–of photographs of the ruined yet still magisterial St. Joseph’s Church, which had been completed only three years before the Fire. Many note the survival of the statue of St. Joseph himself. The second photograph below was taken by Costas Roineus, who lost his residence to the fire: here are the “firebugs” arriving on the morning after, with St. Joseph’s in the background. Both photographs from the SSU Archives and Special Collections Digital Commons.

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The National Guard occupied Salem immediately after the Fire was contained to maintain order and manage the onslaught of tourists, the relief effort, and the refugee camps that were established at the Willows, the High School, and Forest River Park. The first photograph (from SSU) shows their “cook house” before the Broad Street cemetery, which is just behind my house. The second (from the Phillips Library) show the largest “tent city” at Forest River Park, where residents were encouraged to resume their “daily lives” as soon as possible. Across town where the fire began, the first business to reopen after the fire was a tent barber shop erected by A. D. Fraser, Emile D. Fraser, or John Frazier (there are alternative spellings) a few yards from his ruined home on Boston Street. Malcolm E. Robb photograph, Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

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One, two, three, four, five……….

GABLES. Before I knew anything about historic architecture (and I still really don’t know all that much, to be honest), I always thought the gables (generally one, occasionally two or three) that seem to burst out of the roofs of mid-19th century houses were rather radical departures from the more straightforward colonial and Federal styles. Radical for American architecture, that is: obviously gables are a long-standing feature of European structures. But now I know they are just another revived element, derived not only from much older European elements but also 17th century “medieval” houses built in America (I know that term is widely used by architectural historians, but I find it awkward, as the 17th century is decidedly not medieval). Just the word gables in Salem is a reference to the House of the Seven Gables, which is more early nineteenth-century creation than seventeenth-century survival: when philanthropist Caroline O. Emmerton acquired the fabled mansion it had three gables rather than seven and she hired Boston architect Joseph Everett Chandler in 1909 to “restore” the “missing” gables and transform the house into Hawthorne’s inspiration. Chandler was more of Colonial Revival architect than a restoration architect, and he writes about the “development” of the House of the Seven Gables in his 1916 book The Colonial House, citing other first-period gabled structures in Salem and Boston as his inspiration. Hawthorne scholars believe that the author was also inspired by Boston gabled houses in his conception of the House of the Seven Gables, including Captain John Turner’s mansion on Beacon Street and the famous  “Old Feather Store” at Dock Square. Certainly there were gables aplenty to choose from in Hawthorne’s time, both new and old.

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Drawing of “Julien’s Restorator” in Boston, taken down in 1824, from James Henry Stark, Antique Views of Ye Towne of Boston, 1901, and center-gabled houses in Danvers and Salem; a two-gabled house in Danvers, and two adjacent three-gabled houses in Salem; The “Old Feather Store” in Boston, c. 1680-1860, shortly before it was taken down, Boston Public Library.


The Death of Nathaniel Hawthorne

150 years ago today Nathaniel Hawthorne died, far from either his native city of Salem or his adopted town of Concord, in the company not of his beloved family but that of his devoted friend, former President Franklin Pierce. Really he died alone (as Pierce reported), very peacefully, in his sleep. I don’t think there are any plans to mark this memorial here in Salem (remember, we are Witch City, not Hawthorne city, and Nathaniel doesn’t seem to have cared much for Salem anyway), but (as usual) there will be events in Concord. It appears that Hawthorne had been unhappy and unsettled for some time before his death (just shy of 60; his birthday is July 4): there were money worries, health issues, the separation from his family, and of course the war–he doesn’t seem to have been enough of an Abolitionist or enough of a Yankee for his friends and neighbors– but at least his passing was peaceful, very peaceful according to President Pierce. I did a quick search of newspaper front pages for the week after May 19–and Hawthorne’s death was on the front page of every single newspaper I scanned, even in the South, although generally it was just a line or two in the midst of all the war news. He was famous in his own time, and has become even more so with time. There are many compelling and contradictory things about the work and the character of Nathaniel Hawthorne–he was both intensely shy and so handsome that people would stop him in the street– but for me, he’s always been the ultimate New Englander, and that is how and why I am thinking about him today.

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Manuscript copy of The Dolliver Romance, which Hawthorne was working on before his death, New York Public Library; Newspaper reports from The (Washington, D.C.) Evening Star and The Daily State Sentinel (Indianapolis), May 20, 1864, Library of Congress Historic Newspapers Collection; Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location on Union Street in Salem and its journey to the House of the Seven Gables campus in 1958; Hawthorne’s Concord milieu, from Samuel Adams Drake, Our World’s Greatest Benefactors (1884); The Pemigewasset House in Plymouth, NH: where Hawthorne died on May 19, 1864, Library of Congress

 


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