Category Archives: Houses

Spider Web Windows

Sitting on the huge back porch of my parents’ house in York Harbor the other day, I became fixated on the spider web design of the windows of the house next door. This house (unfortunately) blocks quite a bit of our view of the ocean, but is (fortunately) a magnificent creation: large and white and gleaming, with lots of architectural details. It has the appearance of a Colonial Revival house and I know it was built after our Shingle “cottage”, so the dates fit–but the spider web windows do not: they look a little whimsical for this classically-constrained house. I’ve been looking at these web windows my whole life but never really considered them before. Years ago my mother transformed a small window in the front of our house into a stained-glass mosaic in the design of a web; I doubt she was inspired by the web windows in front as a veritable forest existed between that house and ours at that time.

Spider Web Windows 4

Spider Web Windows York

Spider Web Windows 3

Apparently the spider web was a prominent design motif of the Arts and Crafts movement, along with the dragonfly, the firefly and the crane, all indicating the influence of Japanese visual culture in the later Victorian era on both sides of the Atlantic. Just a few minutes of web research brought me to the spider web windows in the famous Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California, and more interestingly (to me) to the work of Chicago-era architect R. Harold Zook (1889-1949), who incorporated spider webs motifs in all of his houses and even as his trademark. I had never heard of Zook before: wow!  And just to illustrate how ageless and universal the spider web window can be I’ve included a charming little pane from the Zouche Chapel at York Minster, dating from the late medieval era and encased in a chapel panel in the sixteenth century.

Spider Web Windows Winchester Mystery House

Spider Web Window Zook House

Spider Web Window

Spider Web Zouche Chapel York Minster 16th century

A great site for R. Harold Zooks Houses, both lost and surviving.


The Razing of the Ruck House

Years ago central Salem was oriented both towards its harbor as well as around an adjacent pond formed by the South River: Mill Pond, which was filled in to accommodate the growing city in the later nineteenth century. The beautiful map of Salem in 1851 by Henry MacIntyre shows the centrality of Mill Pond, and a neighborhood between Margin Street, the Broad Street Cemetery, and the Pond which is dotted with homes–some large and some small. In the midst of this neighborhood was Mill Street, where a very old and storied house was situated: the Thomas Ruck House, built around 1650 and razed, by my best estimation, around 1902. The Ruck House was not a victim of the larger forces that decimated this neighborhood—the Great Salem Fire of 1914 which singed its western boundary, and the construction of the U.S. Post Office which leveled its eastern part in the 1930s. It was (apparently) gone before both of these events. Given its notability–Salem guidebooks were directing visitors to it because of its importance just before it was destroyed (and in some cases, after)– why was it razed?

railway-map-015

Salem 1871 Atlas

Thomas Ruck House Mill Street Cousins

Ruck House Essex Antiquarian Perley 1900

Ruck House Salem Map

Detail of Henry MacIntyre map of Salem, 1851, Salem Athenaeum; Salem Atlas, 1871 by Walling & Gray; Frank Cousins photograph of the Ruck House from his Colonial Architecture of Salem, 1919; Illustration of the House in Sidney Perley’s Essex Antiquarian, Volume IV (1900);  map of central Salem with the Ruck House marked, from Edwin M. Bacon’s Boston: a Guide Book (1903).

At this point, I really can’t answer that question, as discreet factors (condition, the will of the property owner) are more difficult to discern than global forces. However, I can offer some historical facts and opinions about the importance of the Ruck House. Edwin Bacon informs his readers that “South of the railroad station is a nest of old buildings in old streets, among them the Ruck house, 8 Mill Street, dating from before 1651, interesting as the sometime hope of Richard Cranch, where John Adams frequently visited (Adams and Cranch married sisters), and at a later time occupied by John Singleton Copley, the Boston painter, when here painting the portraits of Salem worthies”. Adams and Copley, quite a pedigree right there, and the house was also owned by Samuel McIntire’s father. Adams writes about the house in a journal entry from 1766: “Cranch is now in a good situation for business, near the Court House….his house, fronting on the wharves, the harbor, and the shipping, has a fine prospect before it.” Obviously that prospect changed dramatically with the filling in of Mill Pond, but the house retained its stature. The influential Salem architectural historian, photographer, and entrepreneur Frank Cousins asserts that: “In its U-shaped arrangement with wings of unequal length and virtually three gambrel-roof dwellings in one the Ruck House, number 8 Mill Street, has few if any parallels in American architecture”. Now here is where I am confused: Cousins is writing (in 1919) as if the house was still standing, but an article in the Boston Evening Transcript dated October 30, 1902 clearly states that it had been demolished, along with another notable Salem landmark, the Shattuck House on Essex Street. In addition to the great reference about baked beans, this article is just what I’m looking for–early expressions of a preservationist consciousness in Salem–but obviously I still need more information about the razing of the Ruck House.

Ruck House Razed 1902 Boston Evening Transcript

Post Office Construction c. 1933

Boston Evening Transcript, October 20, 1902. What came after: the construction of the Salem Post Office, c. 1933, Dionne Collection at Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.


Greek Revival Salem

I think I’ve covered just about every architectural style represented in Salem over the past few years: lots of variant Colonial houses, the very dominant Federal style, and many of the nineteenth-century styles, including Gothic Revival, Italianate, Queen Anne and Second Empire. But I haven’t featured many houses built in the so-called “National Style”:  Greek Revival, which dominated public and domestic architecture across the United States in the mid-nineteenth century. The very first house I lived in in Salem was assertively Greek Revival (built in the 1840s, the peak of the style) and my present house (built in 1827) should probably be classified as such too but it’s such a miss-mash it doesn’t really feel classical.  That’s a bit early for the Greek Revival in Salem, which held onto its Colonial and Federal styles longer, I think. For that reason, as well as the Great Salem Fire of 1914, it always seems like Salem has fewer Greek Revival structures than it should have: many of the public buildings, including the “new” City Hall, are Greek Revival, but you don’t find too many domestic structures as they would have been built in the “newer” neighborhoods along Lafayette Street, the center of the conflagration. Some of the most poignant “postcards from the Fire” show Greek Revival houses being devoured. Yet there are Greek Revival houses on nearly every street in the older sections of Salem too, signs of success in the mid-19th century city, no long a center of a global commerce, but still bustling. Two such houses, located on Winter Street, are now for sale, which prompted my long-overdue Greek Revival post.

walker-evans-city-hall

Greek Revivals 055

Walker Evans’ photograph of Salem City Hall, taken in the early 1930s when he visited Salem and shot only Greek and Gothic Revival structures–no Federal! (Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, more here) These were clearly his architectural preferences, and he captured similar structures wherever he went. Quite contrarily, Salem’s own Frank Cousins was quite condescending about the Greek Revival, probably because such structures replaced his beloved Colonial houses in downtown Salem. The now-mothballed Greek Revival courthouse on Federal Street.

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Bertram House Salem

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Greek Revivals 023

Winter Street Greek Revivals presently for sale:  The Captain John Bertram House at number 24, built in 1842-43 by Salem’s greatest philanthropist. The black & white MACRIS photo is from 1998 (An absolutely stunning house: check it out), and the Payson-Fettyplace House at number 16, built in 1845, which has been operating as an inn for some time. Below: more Salem Greek Revivals, by no means an exhaustive collection! A Greek Revival “cottage” on Northey Street, a recently-revived Greek Revival on Bridge, a row of Greek Revivals on Federal, a Greek Revival with many additions on Essex, and the stately Lee-Benson Mansion on Chestnut, all built in the 1840s.

Greek Revivals 046

Greek Revivals 026

Greek Revivals 058

Greek Revivals 063

Greek Revivals 071

Greek Revivals 074


Flat Roofs

There is obviously continuity in the physical landscape as you leave New England (in either Vermont, Massachusetts or Connecticut) and enter New York but almost immediate contrast in the built environment. The older houses look different, and this difference becomes more pronounced as soon as you get into some towns. There are some universal styles (Greek Revival, High Victorian, all those post 1945 “capes”), but the New England colonial and federal styles do not seem to have penetrated New York, where you see far more center gables, little second-floor windows, board and batten, and most especially flat roofs. New York State really embraced the Italianate in the mid-nineteenth century, in a variety of forms: from the whimsical gothic and picturesque to the more straightforward and streamlined flat-roofed buildings–built of both brick and wood–that have always represented “New York” to me, because you just don’t see them in New England. Inspired by the rural villas of Renaissance Italy, these houses represent a more democratic diffusion of a style that seems to have spread everywhere in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This past weekend in Saratoga, when I was walking up Broadway (renown for its High Victorian mansions but obviously experiencing some McMansionization) it was these houses that captured my attention, and then I ran around the city looking for more.

Renaissance Villa

Flat Roofed Italianate House Saratoga

Flat Roof 13

Flat Roof 9

Flat Roof 3

Flat Roof 11

Flat roof6

Flat Roof 5

Flat Roof 4

Flat roof

Flat Roof 12

The Inspiration: View of the Villa La Petraia: From Vedute delle ville, e d’altri luoghi della Toscana (plate 33), 1744, Filippo Morghen (Italian, 1730–after 1807), after a drawing by Giuseppe Zocchi (Italian, 1711/17–1767), Metropolitan Museum of Art, and flat-roofed houses in Saratoga Springs.


Lost Houses of Salem

Part six or seven or eight or more: I’ve certainly featured a fair amount of Salem houses lost to the Great Fire of 1914, casual neglect, deliberate demolition, or structural “redevelopment”. But today’s houses have something in common: they are all featured in John Mead Howells’ Lost Examples of Colonial Architecture. Buildings that Have Disappeared or Been so Altered as to be Denatured (1931–love the word denatured!).  For some reason, I have only recently discovered this book; in fact it was recommended to me by a reader of this blog to whom I will be forever grateful. I say for some reason because I was quite familiar with Howells’ other books: I remember leafing through his Architectural Heritage of the Piscataqua time and time again in my childhood home in York, Maine and I think he was probably my first guide to Portsmouth. But now I have this book, which includes all sorts of pictures of buildings and details of buildings from up and down the East Coast, and it has seldom left my side for the past month or so. Howells was an architect, an architect of skyscrapers, so it seems somewhat curious that he should be so focused on these much earlier, much lower structures, but he certainly was. As Fisk Kimball, the Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and author of Mr. Samuel McIntire, Carver: The Architect of Salem (1940, among several other architectural histories), points out in his introduction: “the assembling of these views has been no light task nor one likely to be duplicated; some seven years of loving labor has been necessary to track down the buildings shown and the old photographs here brought together for the first time”. But Mr. Howells was determined to (again, in Kimball’s words) “preserve for architects and all lovers of early America the aspect of buildings which have disappeared or which have been so altered as to lose their character and quality.” “Preservation” through photography–this was an undertaking that had begun in earnest decades before by Frank Cousins and others, and Howells relies on Cousins’ photographs quite a bit, as well as the ongoing HABS surveys and other sources, but he also took his own photographs. His primary role in this sideline pursuit was that of an assembler, compiler, recorder, and visual historian: he wasn’t perfect (see Simon Forrester House below) but he was passionate.

Houses lost to the fire:

Howells 422 Essex

Howells Chipman

Howells Tontine

Howells Downing Street Door

Howells Margin Street door

Howell's Houses Felt House

Howells Houses West

Howells West

That Chipman House at 442 Essex is a revelation to me–what a contrast to today’s parking lot! How majestic Lafayette Street must have been before the fire…….I featured the West House in a previous post.

Houses just lost, or “taken down”:

Howell's Houses Dow House

Howells Hubon House

Hubon Staircase

Howells Hubon

Howells Peabody House

Howells Peabody House

Howells Waite House

Howells Mansfield Mantel

Howells Mantels Putnam Hanson House

Howells Pickman House

The Hubon House on Charter Street is long gone, but at least its beautiful staircase is preserved in the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum (New York Public Library Digital Gallery); The Peabody House–wow! I’m going to explore that particular house a bit more in a future post. I’ve featured the Benjamin Pickman House on Essex many times in this blog, but never fully appreciated this door.

Houses “denatured”, moved, saved:

Howells Gideon Tucker House

Gideon Tucker House with commercial storefront

Howells Knapp House

Howells Curtis

Howells Forrester House

Howells Simon Forrester

Howells doesn’t show us too many “denatured” buildings: this is a category I intend to explore much further in future posts. He doesn’t show us the full extent of the “denaturement” of the Gideon Tucker House, like this later photograph does (MACRIS). I had no idea the Knapp House still survived on Curtis Street, and contrary to Howells’ assertion, the Simon Forrester House on Derby Street is still very much still standing.


A Daring Woman

I’ve been working on a longer project on Lady Deborah Moody (1586-1659?), another one of the transatlantic travelers of the seventeenth century who fascinate me perpetually. She was in Salem for only a few years but made her mark, characterized as a “dangerous woman” by John Endecott but looking decidedly more daring to me. Lady Deborah was born Deborah Dunch in 1586, to Walter Dunch of Avebury, Wiltshire (1552-1594) and Deborah Pilkington (1564-1594+), the daughter of James Pilkington, the Bishop of Durham and perhaps the most Puritan-leaning member of the Elizabethan episcopal hierarchy (who was himself exiled during the Marian regime). In 1606 Deborah married Henry Moody of Garsdon Manor, Wilthire, with whom she had two children and acquired her “Lady” status after her husband was granted a knighthood and a Baronet title by King James I. She remained in London for a decade after his death in 1629, and then left for the New World: acquiring a small house near that of Reverend Hugh Peters in Salem and then working farms in nearby Lynn and Swampscott. But her time in the Massachusetts Bay Colony was to be short-lived because of her avowed religious beliefs, particularly her public disavowal of infant baptism. Anabaptists were definitely not welcome in Puritan New England, and Lady Moody was fined, excommunicated from the First Church of Salem and eventually evicted from the colony altogether. Dutch New Netherland, famously tolerant in matters of religion, beckoned, and in 1645 she became the first female founder of a settlement in the Americas, receiving over 7000 acres encompassing present-day Gravesend in Brooklyn and Coney Island.

I haven’t been able to find an image of Lady Deborah, but here are several associated with her life:  I’m all about visual context! The first is one of the marble memorials to her parents, Walter and Deborah, in Little Wittenham Church near Dorchester (courtesy The Early Modern Whale); the second has nothing at all to do with her, but is a stunning (probably memorial as well) double portrait of near contemporaries, one of whom was possibly named Dunch (e): Anonymous English Artist, A Child and his Nurse (possible John Dunch), c. 1589, Private Collection (part of last year’s exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, Elizabeth I and her People); Anti-Anabaptist (and-Presbyterian) Broadside back in old England, 1647; J & J Graphics notecard of the Lilac Garden in Swampscott, the present-day location of Lady Deborah’s “Swampscott” Farm, 1640-42; The Moody Coat of Arms, utilized by Lady Deborah’s son Henry, an American Baronet; Still-standing Gravesend house at 27 Gravesend Neck Road long-associated with Lady Moody, although it doesn’t appear that she ever lived there (courtesy Ephemeral New York and Brooklyn Historical Society; you can read more about the house here).

Dunche Memorial Little Wittenham

achildandhisnurse

Anti Anabaptist Propaganda 1647

Lilac Garden Swampscott J and J Graphics

Moody Coat of Arms Collage

ladymoodyhouse Gravesend

lady-moodys-house-BHS


Southern Exposure, Part Two

Just finishing up with vacation pictures and notes before I move on to other topics this coming week: lots going on in Salem, and I also have a bunch of historical and horticultural things I’m working on. First of all, I must say that Charleston is of course a lovely city, I didn’t mean to cast aspersions on it in my previous post (people keep coming up to me!): I just preferred Savannah slightly more on this particular vacation. This was likely due more to my mood than anything else. Charleston was quite crowded when we were there, with the Spoleto festival just wrapping up, and we never really found quite the right restaurant or bar: the celebrated Husk was right near our inn, so we felt we needed to go farther afield, which was probably a mistake. And while Charleston is full of great art galleries and antique stores, King Street is all chain stores, and I couldn’t find the perfect little local shop that I’m always looking for. But the crowds and the sun drove us into the really interesting Charleston Museum, which is not much to look at on the outside but full of lots of curiosities in the inside (if arranged in rather old-fashioned exhibits): I continue to be saddened by Salem’s lack of a similar venue. And there are few avenues than can compete with the Battery and Tradd Street: very few.

A bit more of Savannah. My favorite house and a really neat shop: Prospector Co.

Savannah Favorite Townhouse

Savannah Prospector Co

Southern Exposure 208

In Charleston. Tradd Street, a “Charleston Door” opening up to the porch, the Battery, King Street, many Massachusetts-made guns in the Charleston Museum!

Charleston windowbox

Charleston Tradd Street

Charleston door

Charleston Battery

Charleston 2

Charleston Museum


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