Category Archives: Houses

Christmas in Salem 2013

The Christmas in Salem house tour, Historic Salem, Inc.’s major fundraiser, has been an annual tradition in Salem for over 30 years. It alternates between neighborhoods from year to year, and this year’s tour–Ports of Call–is centered on Derby and Essex Streets in the eastern end of the city. I’m always impressed with the effort that goes into this tour, as well as the generosity of the owners (and I speak from experience here–it’s quite a commitment), but of course it’s all about the architecture. Ports of Call suggests a maritime theme, but for me, this year’s tour was all about architectural diversity–as I walked through a succession of houses that included McIntire’s perfect Gardner-Pingree House and a stunning modernized house on Salem Harbor filled with the “souvenirs” of a global life well-lived with a bunch of super-insightful friends, I was, once again, blown away by Salem’s architecture. The tour is on today, so if you’re in our area you should go.

Starting out at Gardner-Pingree (1805):

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Some amazing floors at 91 Essex Street (1868):

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The very creative owners of Two Curtis Street (c. 1731), short on space but quite attached to their piano, turned their dining room into a “lounge” situated in its quadrilateral addition!:

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Various vignettes and views of the Captain John Hodges House (c. 1750):

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Captain Hodges himself, and exterior decorations of the house:

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26 Hardy Street (built 1851): a Christmas display with Lenin bust, and the dining room overlooking Salem Harbor. So much to see I was overwhelmed!

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Purple glass doorknob leading into the Sarah Silsbee House (c. 1807); “Three lobstermen” in a Derby Street shop window).

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Rhinebeck & Red Hook

Just back from a long celebratory Thanksgiving weekend in the Hudson River Valley, stuffed and tired. In between the festivities, I indulged in my usual activities:  looking around for interesting houses, and things. Almost as soon as you cross over the line from Massachusetts into New York the traditional domestic architecture is different, which never ceases to amaze me. You enter into a world of board and batten, center gable roofs, and little square second-story windows. Lots more pillars. I believe that the Dutch influence is much less evident on the eastern side of the Hudson River where my brother lives than the western, but I could be wrong: my favorite house of the weekend, which I’ll start with below, has a Dutch look to it along with lots of interesting outbuildings, all of which possess an irresistible air of abandonment–love the Gothic Revival windows casually propped up against the side of its barn.

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Some more Rhinebeck houses that caught my eye, beginning with the center-gabled ones that are everywhere in this area, and ending with a house that is in Red Hook, just to the north along route 9G: Rhinebeck was a bit crowded on Black Friday so I ventured up there.

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I have pledged to do all my Christmas shopping in downtown Salem, but I can look elsewhere, so I popped in all the shops of Rhinebeck and then drove up to less-precious Red Hook. Just a few things that caught my eye–still-trendy mismatched pattern plates from Spruce Design & Decor, embroidered pictures and cardboard “busts” (dressed for the holidays) from Paper Trail, and an assortment of creatures from Tivoli Mercantile.

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Late November in Salem

November is the month where you notice things that go unnoticed in other months: leaves hide and distract, and snow covers. This has been such a busy semester that I feel like I’ve been walking around with blinders on, but this past weekend I took them off and took a long walk around Salem and saw new (to me), developing, and seasonal things: roses that bloomed and then froze, building projects everywhere, details of houses and landscapes that I had never noticed before. The light is so clear at this time of year as well, so there is color popping out of the starkness, unlike March, the other stark (though muddy) month. I snapped a few pumpkin-colored houses to get me in the mood for Thanksgiving.

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They’re still here (in the Charter Street Burying Ground), even after October; the 17th-century Pickman house (I’m still obsessed with this family–more next week).

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The trees next to the Peabody Essex Museum are truly more beautiful without their leaves, and I wonder who tagged the Marine Arts Gallery next door? Frozen red roses in front of the PEM’s 17th-century John Ward house.

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So happy that the Washington Arch on the Common is being repaired, along with the Common fence; two brick houses on Pickman Street: the first is completely covered by ivy in the summer, the second (“The Mack”) I never noticed before–great entrance.

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Great house off Bridge Street; more frozen roses.

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Three very different pumpkin-colored houses, on Derby Street, in the Willows, and on Lafayette Street–I was losing the light with the last one.


So Many Gables

It would be fine with me if the House of the Seven Gables was the iconic symbol of Salem rather than the witch: it seems to me that these two images were competing for that role in the earlier part of the twentieth century, but the witch definitely won out in the second half. I can’t tell you how many House of the Seven Gables postcards I have–maybe 50 different images, some only slightly different–and I have seen Gables puzzles, plates, patches, pens, pillows and all sorts of other items that don’t begin with the letter P.  Such souvenirs are pretty common, so I’m a bit more interested in artistic representations of the house and the book. There are many of these as well: illustrations from the multiple editions of the latter (which never seems to go out of print) and drawings, prints, etchings, and paintings of the former. I’m always looking for works by some of Salem’s renown early twentieth-century artists–Frank Benson, Philip Little, Ross Turner–but they don’t seem to have been inspired by the house (although there is a nice etching by Little’s friend and studio-mate Philip Kappel), which is understandable, given the fact that our Gables is not their Gables. What we call the House of the Seven Gables was known as the old Turner Mansion (or more formally the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion) in their time, and before preservationist/philanthropist Caroline Emmerton transformed it and adjoining buildings (some of which she made adjoining buildings) into the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association after 1908, the old house really didn’t look that inspirational. This was a pretty run-down neighborhood, and part of Emmerton’s mission was to change all that, with a rather romantically “restored” mansion at its center. And so the old Turner mansion acquired several more gables and became the House of the Seven Gables.

The Making of the House of the Seven Gables, 1908-1915

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Gables and Seamen's Bethel

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The Turner-Ingersoll House in the 1890s and 1910s, after Mrs. Emmerton bought the house and established the Settlement Association. The middle picture, dating from around 1914, shows the house from the other side and the developing museum “neighborhood” and its vicinity, including the Seaman’s Bethel on the water, which Mrs. Emmerton later removed to Turner Street. Photographs from the Library of Congress and National Park Service.

With time–and long after Mrs. Emmerton’s death–the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association not only cleaned up, but cleared out, its previously “derelict” neighborhood, and now there is a large parking lot to the left of those hanging sheets below. But that’s another story. A succession of artists from the 1920s on did indeed find the revitalized mansion inspirational, beginning with two female artists who occasionally came down from their Cape Ann summer homes to capture old Salem on canvas:  Felicie Waldo Howell (1897-1968) and Theresa Bernstein (1890-2002). Two very different visions, as you can see, followed by the equally variant views of Dorothy Lake Gregory, Frederic Coulton Waugh, and the contemporary artists Jim Leggitt, Philip Eames, and Matthew Benedict. Just a few images that appealed to me, among many, many Gables out there.

Portraying the House of the Seven Gables, 1921-2010

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Gables Benedict 1998


Ceramic City

My material side–always simmering under the surface–almost takes over during the holidays: I have no doubt that I would be consumed by it if I didn’t also have lots of academic responsibilities at the same time. It’s not just shopping, it’s really more about decorating–I have to have a theme, and the theme must layered all over the house–which means I have to get ready now. This year, I’ve decided to go with little clay villages, a ceramic city of sorts, interwoven with the usual holiday stuff (but not a kitschy enchanted village). I was inspired by the “Town Square Sculptures” of ceramicist Molly Hatch, but as soon as I started looking, I’ve been finding little clay houses everywhere. Here are a few of my favorites on the web, and next weekend I’m off to check out a potential treasure trove in New Hampshire. Please forward any additional sources, as right after Thanksgiving, I’ll have to be ready to assemble my ceramic city.

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I adore these little houses by Rowena Brown, modeled after the cottages of St. Kilda, the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides off Scotland, but they might be a bit too rustic for my little city, and definitely too precious to display for only one month a year:

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The houses which I am eying on Etsy:

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Lots of tea light holders–lighthouses–out there (these are my favorite), but most are a bit too cute for my taste, and I think I’m going to refrain from all of the collectible series of miniature houses, from Europe and America and the past and the present, as well. So it’s going to take a while to build my city, but in the meantime the many deer I’ve collected over the years can dominate the landscape.


Mansion of the Moment

The Derby Family were Salem’s golden-age “royalty”, bequeathing their name to a major street, a long wharf, and many, many houses–some which have survived, and others long lost. Of all the Derby houses, the most legendary is the most fleeting: the Derby Mansion designed successively (and somewhat collaboratively, I think) by the new nation’s most prominent architects Charles Bulfinch and Samuel McIntire for “King” Elias Hasket Derby and his wife Elizabeth Crowninshield Derby. Elias and Elizabeth both died within a year of its completion in 1799, and given its prime location between Salem’s main street and the waterfront, it was torn down less than two decades later, to be replaced by the new (now old) Town Hall in the midst of what came to be known (and still is) as Derby Square. The Derby Mansion lives on in legend (and in the form of the furnishings that were made for it) but survives only on paper: narrative descriptions, book illustrations, and most importantly, architectural drawings.

The most influential image of the idealized house in the nineteenth century seems to have been based on a 1795 Bulfinch perspective drawing produced for the Derbys before they handed the commission over to McIntire. This is preserved in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, and it was reproduced in two popular histories of Salem’s commercial heyday as well as Fiske Kimball’s Domestic Architecture of the American Colonies and of the Early Republic (1922).

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Charles Bulfinch’s perspective drawing of the Derby Mansion, 1795, via Hugh Howard’s Dr. Kimball and Mr. Jefferson: Rediscovering the Founding Fathers of American Architecture  (2006) and the Peabody Essex Museum; illustrations from C.H. Webber and W.S. Nevins, Old Naumkeag. A Historical Sketch of the City of Salem, etc.. (1877) and Charles E. Trow, Old Shipmasters of Salem (1905).

But the Bulfinch drawing does not represent the completed McIntire structure: for that we have to turn to archival evidence. Fortunately, the Essex Institute (now incorporated into the international art and culture museum that is the Peabody Essex Museum, but previously the zealous historical society for Essex County in general and Salem in particular) acquired a portfolio of Samuel McIntire’s plans and papers in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, including drawings of the Derby Mansion. Even more fortunately, the PEM is digitizing some of the McIntire materials:  what a pleasure and a privilege to see these annotated elevations of the mansion and its outbuildings–I especially love the drawings for a wrought iron fence, even though I have no idea if it ended up encircling this momentary mansion.

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Lost Mansion Derby Outbuildings

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PEM Phillips Library MSS 264: Samuel McIntire Papers 1749-1822; below, Derby Square today.

Lost Derby Square sketch


Lynde Street Variety

Walking to and from my polling place on a bright November election day, I was struck, not for the first time, by the architectural diversity that is Lynde (rhymes with blind) Street, a downtown cross street between Salem’s major commercial thoroughfare, Washington Street, and one of it major entrance corridors, North Street. Lynde Street is one of those old-city streets that had no preservation protections until relatively late in its development, so it features structures that date from the 1750s to the 1950s, and everything in between. The 1750s house is the Georgian Colonial James Barr House, with expansive additions in back, and across the street is the 1950s house, which is one of the more unprepossessing structures in Salem, in my opinion, though now that I’m looking at pictures of it and the Barr house side by side, I’m wondering if its builders were going for a 1950s version of a gambrel roof?

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In the middle of Lynde Street are three structures that further testify to its architectural diversity: adjacent to each other on one side of the street are the former East Church Chapel and Christian Scientist Church (1897), now the Witch Dungeon Museum, and the Rufus Choate House (1787), while on the other side is Temple Court, a brick apartment complex built in 1910. The red line that runs along Lynde Street’s brick sidewalk was no doubt bought and paid for by the owners of the Witch Dungeon Museum, who also purchased the sign that was affixed to a structure situated on the site of the original jail building over on Federal Street in the early 1980s—not until a decade or so later were they called to task for this and compelled to put up a second plaque informing tourists that their Victorian structure was not in fact Salem’s seventeenth-century “gaol”.

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Lynde Steet Church

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The red line, bringing tourists to “heritage” sites, the Witch Dungeon Museum and Rufus Choate House, the former in the early 1980s, Massachusetts Historical Commission, the two plaques.

The Rufus Choate house is named after the famous congressman, senator, and lawyer who resided on Lynde Street from 1828-1834. Choate (1799-1859) spend considerable time in Washington after his elections, but he is more famous for his Salem and Boston displays of courtroom tactics, including the origination of a successful “sleepwalking defense” for one of his clients. The Lynde Street house in which he lived experienced considerable deterioration in the twentieth century, and at one point was apparently condemned by the city of Salem before it was purchased and restored in the 1980s.

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The Choate House in photographs from 1891 (Frank Cousins), 1981 (Massachusetts Historical Commission), and yesterday.

And finally we come to the comparatively massive Temple Court, an apartment complex built in 1910 almost opposite the Choate House. I wonder what was here before! This seems like an unusual structure for Salem:  you see these turn-of-the century courtyard complexes on Commonwealth Avenue as it extends westward out of Boston into Brookline, but they are more rare in the outer suburbs. Perhaps its existence indicates that Salem did not think of itself as a “suburb” in 1910.

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Stripped Bare of Artifice

While taking a twilight stroll around Salem the other day, I was struck by the stature of a large house on Hardy Street, almost as if I was seeing it for the first time. That isn’t true; I’ve seen it many times, but there was something about the light and the stillness of its street (not far from busy downtown Salem) that made it a very compelling sight. It seemed so vulnerable, standing there without paint, stripped bare of artifice, until I looked a little closer. This is not an abandoned house, people are living here, and the first-floor resident has placed a wreath on the front door and pumpkins at the side (originally front) entrance. An engraved granite marker stands by, giving passersby the impression that this is someplace notable. I don’t know much about this house; it doesn’t appear in any of the standard sources of Salem architecture. I could probably find out a lot more if I researched it through probate and city records, but I don’t have the time to do that now–so I’ll just put it out there and see if anybody knows anything about it. It’s a curious, boxy, size: at first appearances it looks Federal, but I think it was built a bit later in the nineteenth century– though I could be wrong. It might have been transformed into a box through expansion–clearly at some point it was turned into flats, with the rather awkward exterior staircases in the rear. The main entrance, which is on the side, is beautiful, even (especially?) in its unpainted state.

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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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Olde Salem on Silk

I never tire of expressions of “olde Salem”: books about colonial furniture, furnishings and architecture, old-fashioned gardens, and photographs and drawings of Salem buildings and scenes, real or imagined, from the first few decades of the twentieth century. There appears to have been an entire generation of authors, photographers, architects, and preservationists who either emerged from or descended upon Salem to capture its fiber before it was lost to modernity:  Frank Cousins, Mary Northend, Arthur Little, William Rantoul. I’m sure the Great Fire of 1914 intensified their pursuit, and they are also representatives of a national Colonial Revival, of which Salem was a singular inspiration. I’ve covered a lot of Salem stuff in this blog, but I don’t think I’ve focused on fabric before, so I thought I’d take a first stab.

I’m inspired by some drawings I found in the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston by Walter Mitschke, a German-born textile designer for H.R. Mallinson & Company, which specialized in the production of silk fabrics in the early twentieth century. Their most productive and profitable period was in the 1920s, when they offered a series of American prints, many designed by Mitschke:  American National Parks, Wonder Caves of America, American Indians, and Early America.  His preparatory drawings for the latter series include several “Olde Salem” vignettes.

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Walter Mitschke, Drawings for the”Early American” Series of Designs by H. R. Mallinson & Co., 1927, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Gift of Robert and Joan Brancale.

As you can see, the House of the Seven Gables, perhaps Salem’s most iconic “olde” building and image, is front and center in Mitschke’s emerging design. And Olde Salem is most definitely maritime Salem, not industrial Salem or witchy Salem. A large collection of his drawings and fabric samples was donated to the MFA, and you can see several portfolios of his work via the museum’s Interactive Tours. The Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design has some of Mitschke’s finished fabrics, including the very patriotic (and dynamic) Betsy Ross-Liberty Bell print.

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Walter Mitschke, Drawing for the “Early American” Mallinson Series, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Fabric Samples, 1927-28, Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design.

I wish I could find the finished product for the Salem drawings; I’m struck by Mitschke’s modernization of “ye olde” images and would love to see the old Gables in such a striking setting. In any case, comparing drawings to finished fabrics is a lesson in how textile designers plotted out the repeat–no small consideration for them. I tried my hand at an old Salem silk print on Spoonflower, and as you can see, I’m no Walter Mitschke!

Salem Spoonflower Fabric

Two more sources for information on Mitschke and Mallinson:  this post on the blog On Pins and Needles, and the current exhibition at the Bard Graduate Center: An American Style: Global Sources for New York Textile and Fashion Design, 1915–1928.


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