We are recently returned from a quick visit to Newport, Rhode Island, somehow refreshed and fatigued at the same time. My husband and I are both so busy at this time of the year that we don’t have much time to get away, so we could only steal a day and a night for this particular trip, which was not enough to do Newport justice. But it’s not far from Salem and we’ve both been there many times, so we just wandered about in the glorious weather. I always think there are at least three Newports– sailing Newport, Gilded Age Newport, and Colonial Newport—but I’m sure locals will tell you there are even more. With our limited time and my inclinations–we really focused on the latter, with a lot of eating and drinking thrown in—though we did start and end our day at the expansive, busy harbor.
There are streets and streets of colonial clapboarded houses surrounding Trinity Church in Newport’s equally expansive historic district: I’m always struck by just how many structures have survived and their amazing condition. To me, the nouveau riche mansions on Bellevue Avenue pale in comparison: Newport’s wealth was well-established before the New York millionaires came to town.
Despite its impressive historic infrastructure, Newport is not a museum fixed in time but rather a place where the physical past and the present are intermingled rather creatively. We were inspired by our inn, The Francis Malbone House (very highly recommended), which consists of a well-preserved 1760 house with a 1996 annex out back joined together by a mutable, lovely courtyard, to look for other examples of adaptive reuse and historically-sensitive additions. And we found many: I particularly liked the parking courtyard of the 1748 Billings Coggeshall House with its adjacent annex of offices. And even when the historic structure was not adapted, its foundation was preserved–as in the case of this hearth and chimneys nestled in the rear of a twentieth-century school.
The Francis Malbone House: exteriors, interior public room and courtyard; the Billings Coggeshall House and courtyard; just one Newport foundation.
I think I should include one “cottage” in here, but it is a subtle one, which reads (at least to me) more New England than New York even though it was designed by the ultimate New York firm of McKim, Mead and White: the shingle-style Isaac Bell House, built in 1883 and pictured here at twilight. Love these chimneys!
I am returning to the ruin on Carlton Street, what remains of a circa 1803 structure decapitated by a “developer” a few weeks ago, even though I don’t have much of an update. Work was stopped on the day after, and the shell of no. 25 is still standing—in a very vulnerable state that must be incredibly distressing for its neighbors to gaze upon. We are waiting for either the judgement of the city engineer or the city solicitor, maybe both, and then the developer will be brought before the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals). There are two preservation agencies in Salem: the Historic Commission (which has jurisdiction over the city’s four local historic districts–see below) and Historic Salem, Incorporated (HSI), a nonprofit preservation advocacy organization. Both have been rendered relatively powerless by the demolition of 25 Carlton: the Historic Commission because the house is not located within its jurisdiction, and HSI because it has chosen not to even issue a statement to the effect of: We are sorry to see such an insensitive renovation of a historic structure. I have received hundreds of emails from all around the country in the past few weeks, expressing rage and disgust, but also amazement that this could happen in Salem. So that’s why I wanted to return to this house, to show that this could easily happen in Salem.
The three local historic districts in downtown Salem (there is a fourth on Lafayette Street)–just click to enlarge; 25 Carlton Street this past weekend; the plans posted in the window (which were produced by a structural engineer rather than an architect) show a gabled roof quite similar to that which was lopped off, but completely different fenestration in the front of the house, and and whole new rear addition.
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.
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
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.
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.
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”.
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.
25 Carlton Street on August 14, 2014: front and side views and a close-up of its exposed center chimney.
I seldom publish two posts in one day–and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.