Tag Archives: Architecture

The Town Dyer’s House

My interest in Salem’s historic architecture has been narrowed down over the past few years that I’ve been writing this blog: while I still appreciate most of our city’s older (let’s be generous and say pre-World War II) structures, I’ve become increasingly fascinated with its oldest buildings in general and those that were demolished in particular. I’ve developed a somewhat peculiar fascination with “lost” houses, a demolition expert of sorts!  I’m constantly wondering why some houses are deemed too important to be swept away and others were leveled with little comment. My focus in this post is a house that was almost as famous a “Witch House” as the actual “Witch House” that still stands at the turn of the last century, yet it was demolished with little or no opposition that I could detect. The Samuel Shattuck House, built by 1680 just a few steps away from the Jonathan Corwin/”Witch House” on Essex Street, actually had a more direct tie to the Trials that the latter: the accusations and testimony of its occupants, a dyer named Samuel Shattuck and his wife Sarah, led directly to the conviction and execution of the first victim of 1692: Bridget Bishop. This poor widow, not quite as notorious as depicted by a succession of historians who confused her with the tavern-keeping Sarah Bishop, nonetheless had several encounters with the Shattucks, bringing them oddly-sized scraps of lace for dyeing–perhaps for a poppet? The affliction of their son convinced them that she was up to some mischief, and so they testified with considerable detail and vehemence, even though these encounters had occurred twelve years previously. Bridget Bishop was executed on June 10, 1692, despite her consistent affirmations of innocence.

Jump forward two hundred years later, when the Bicentennial of the Trials was stirring up a cauldron of commemorative and commercial products: witch spoons, postcards and plates. Contemporary Salem guidebooks typically featured several Trial-related sites at this time:  the Witch House, supposedly the site of interrogations, Gallows Hill, the site of the executions, and the Shattuck House, a “scene of the crime” as well as the source of allegations. My major window into the world of lost Salem houses, photographer Frank Cousins, marketed his print of the “olde” Shattuck House with the label it was through evidence of the Shattucks that Bridget Bishop was convicted as a witch.

Cousins Shattuck House DUKE

Shattuck House and Gallows Hill

Shattuck House Salem BPL

Frank Cousins photograph of the Shattuck House, 315-317 Essex Street, in the 1890s and the same photograph in The Visitors’ Guide to Salem, Essex Institute, 1895; another late nineteenth-century view, Boston Public Library.

It was so notable in 1895, and 1897, and 1900, but by the end of 1902 it was gone, demolished to expose to view only the two huge chimneys….showing the clam shell clay in which the brick was laid before the days of stone and mortar according to the brief notice in the Boston Evening Transcript on October 30, 1902. No notice at all that I could find in the Salem papers! And so despite its Witch Trial connections, the Shattuck House passed quietly in the night (like the Hunt House, the Parkman House, and the Ruck House before it), only to be replaced by an indistinct Colonial Revival structure that served in a variety of capacities (Gainsborough’s Photography Studio when I came to town) before it succumbed to condo-izaton.

Shattuck House Salem

Boston Evening Transcript clip, October 30, 1902; sketches of the Shattuck House from Nooks and corners of the New England Coast by Samuel Adams Drake (1905) and The Romance of Old York by Herbert Milton Sylvester (1909).

Witch Houses

Central to Salem’s evolution as the Witch City was the Witch House, a first-period structure that was the residence of one of the Trials’ judges, Jonathan Corwin. It was referred to as the Witch House back in the nineteenth century, when it housed a number of businesses–a longstanding drug store, later an antiques shop–and looked quite different than it does today, but it really became the Witch House when its evolving image was published on variant postcards from around 1900 on. The Corwin House acquired its seventeenth-century look in the middle of the twentieth century through a “restoration” under the direction of Boston architect Gordon Robb, and was opened to the public as the official “Witch House” by the city of Salem in 1948. As I’ve written about this House and its history before, I want to widen its context today by featuring some other Witch Houses, near and far, past and present, material and immaterial. There are at least two other houses in Essex County which were identified as such on postcards from a century ago, a time when there was a limited effort to turn the entire region into “Broomstick Country”. This was historically correct–the “Salem Witch Trials” were indeed a regional phenomenon–but commercially tricky, so Salem eventually claimed its exclusive title as the one and only “Witch City” with the Witch House.

The Old Witch House--Scene of Examinations at Salem. Illustration from Columbus and Columbia (Manufacturers' Book Co, c 1893).

Witch House Salem 1905

Witch House Danvers

Witch House Rockport 1910

Salem’s “Witch House” in 1893 (Columbus and Columbia Manufacturers’ Book Co, c 1893) and 1905: the George Jacobs “Witch House” in Danvers in 1907 (located in what was then Salem in the seventeenth century) and Rockport’s “Witch House”, also known as the “Old Garrison House” and still standing, in 1910. Supposedly two brothers from Salem built this house as a refuge for their accused sister or mother (depending on the source).

Farther afield, Witch Houses don’t have anything to do with witch trials: they just look like the sort of gothic structure that a romanticized witch might inhabit, like the Spadena “Witch’s” House in Beverly Hills, California, a storybook-style house built in 1921, or the famous Carl Van Vechten photograph of a long-lost “Witch House” in rural Maine during the Depression. The fairy-tale witches of the nineteenth century had created a more whimsical images of their houses in the twentieth, and clearly gables were seen as integral architectural details, so it is quite suitable that Salem’s Witch House would soon be enhanced with several.


Witch House Van Vechten

Witch House Pyle 1887

Witch House Key Nielsen 1921

The California “Witch’s House’ in its original Culver City location, courtesy Beverly Hills Heritage; Carl Van Vechten, “Witch House”, 1936, Library of Congress; the Prince visits the Witch’s House in Howard and Katharine Pyle’s The Wonder Clock: or, Four & Twenty Marvelous Tales, Beind One for Each Hour of the Day (1887); The Witch’s confectionary cottage from Hansel and Gretel, by Kay Nielsen (1921).

Even farther afield in terms of both space and time is the woodcut print of a Witch House from the later sixteenth century by an anonymous English artist. This image, quite unusual as witches were generally depicted outside, in the wild, at this time, is often cited as appearing in the Swiss theologian Thomas Lieber (Erastus)’s Two Dialogues Concerning the Power of Witches (1579), but as Charles Zika points out in The Appearance of Witchcraft. Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe, the image appears to have been simply inserted into a 1579 English edition. Another fantasy house, although in this case it’s more about the exit than the architecture!

Witch House 1590

What would Ada think?

In honor of tomorrow’s symposium, Mightier than a Wrecking Ball: How Ada Louise Huxtable Saved Salem, jointly sponsored by Historic Salem, Inc., the Peabody Essex Museum, and Historic New England, I thought I would ask and consider what Ms. Huxtable (1921-2013) might have thought about the emerging streetscape of Salem in 2015, fifty years after her influential New York Times article “saved” Salem from the destruction of 100+ historic buildings and a four-lane highway running down its center in the guise of “urban renewal” in the fall of 1965. I think she would have abhorred the big glass-and-faux-brick boxes looming on our horizon both literally (now) and digitally (proposals for the future), but I don’t really know. She was certainly not an exclusive preservationist: such a stance would have been impossible in her capacity as the architectural critic for the Times. She seems to have detested “Williamsburging” nearly as much as the emergence of “slab cities” and heralded preservation as a bulwark against thoughtless development with little historical or architectural integrity. In an effort to answer my own question, I browsed through many of her articles in the archives of the Times: this took some time, primarily because she is such an amazing writer. I wanted to restrict myself to skimming, but her sharp observations and critiques (Albert Speer would love the Kennedy Center) kept me reading. Certain words and phrases kept popping up as architectural attributes: art, identity, variety, and the integration of new construction and preservation, and others as outcomes to be avoided at all costs. In this category, I would place the phrase sterilized non-place, which appears in her 1974 follow-up article “How Salem Saved Itself from Urban Renewal”.

Ada 1974 NYT

That phrase just says it all for me: sterilized non-place. And it makes me think that Ada Louise Huxtable, who summered right next door in Marblehead and would have taken a personal interest in all these new buildings going up in Salem, would not have viewed or reviewed them favorably. Lined up all together, as they are below, you can see an apparent generic uniformity on the one hand and a thoughtless, careless nod to Salem’s historic structures on another—just slap on some brick! So since we can never really know Ms. Huxtable’s opinion on these buildings, perhaps it is better to ask is Salem becoming a sterilized non-place?


Washington at Derby RCG

Big Box Hotel

Big Box District Courthouse

Two existing developments (the J. Michael Ruane Judicial Center-and RCG Corporation’s Washington at Derby building) and two proposals (the winning design to replace the existing District Courthouse and RCG’s proposed Mill Hill development further down Washington Street).

Baker’s Island, Now and Then

If you look at a Google map of Salem you will see that its borders extend out into the Sound, to encompass several islands miles off the coast. These islands have been legally part of Salem from the seventeenth century, guarding the long entrance into Salem Harbor. The Reverend Francis Higginson commented on his entrance into Salem in 1629: we passed the curious and difficult entrance into the large and spacious harbour of Naimkecke [“Naumkeag” i.e. Salem]….it was wonderful to behould so many islands replenished with thicke woods and high trees and many fayre green pastures….

Bakers Island Map 17th C BPL

Bakers Island Map 1897

Given its importance as a port, every map of Salem from the seventeenth century on indicates the islands in Salem Sound: a detail from a map of the coastline of New Netherlands in 1656 from Arnold Colom’s “Zee Atlas” shows the unnamed islands (Leventhal Center, Boston Public Library), and I’ve highlighted Baker’s on an 1897 navigational map.

After several centuries of use, these islands are not quite so fertile but they remain “fair”. Among the largest is Bakers or Baker’s (both forms are used interchangeably; I have no idea which is correct) Island: around 60 acres of residential land, except for the easternmost 1o-acre section which has been owned by the Federal Government from the 1790s and remains the site of a lighthouse (there were previously two). The rest of the island became a summer colony from the late nineteenth century, after Salem physician Dr. Nathan R. Morse built a large cottage for his family as well as a 75-room hotel, called The Weene-egan, for those who sought the ocean air as well as his homeopathic regimen. Around 60 summer cottages were built on the island, and after the Weene-egan burned down in 1906 the island became increasingly “private”, as the owners of these cottages passed them down and restricted access via their exclusive dock. So for most of the twentieth century, Baker’s Island remained a Salem island on which few, if any, Salem residents could step foot. That changed a year ago, when (despite appeals by the cottage owners) the Federal Government (via the U.S. Coast Guard) transferred ownership of the eleven-acre Baker’s Island Light Station to a regional heritage organization, the Essex Heritage Conservation Commission. In the past year, Essex Heritage began a campaign to restore the lighthouse and enabled access to the station (NOT the rest of the island) through daily tours aboard the Naumkeag, which lands on the beach, not the dock. These tours ended yesterday, and we just squeezed ours in the day before.

Baker's Island Steamer 2

Winne-egan Ad.

Baker's Island Launch

Baker's Approach

Baker's Approach 2

Baker's Approach 3

Lining up for the steamer to Baker’s Island and the Winne-egan, 1903; an ad for the hotel in The Outlook, 5 June 1896; our “steamer”, the Naumkeag, approach and landing.

It was a beautiful day and I took lots of pictures, and when I returned home and looked at them they seemed very familiar–even though I had never been to Baker’s Island before. I realized that I had just been checking out some photographs in a collection that local author Nelson Dionne has donated to the Salem State University Archives and Special Collections which included several similar scenes of the island a century ago. I guess tourist shots are timeless! So now we have a perfect opportunity to see some “now and then” perspectives of this newly-revealed island. The images don’t match up perfectly, but close enough, I think.

Baker's Island Light 3

Baker's Island Light from Beach SSU

Baker's Island Light SSU

Baker's Island Lighthouses SSU Archives

Bakers Island Lights PC

Baker's Island Light Interior

Baker's Island Light 5

Baker's Island Light 6 SSU

Above, one light now, one light before…but there were actually TWO lighthouses on Baker’s Island: the second was taken down in 1926. Early twentieth-century views of both, interspersed with my photographs, including one of the interior of the surviving lighthouse, now undergoing restoration.

Below: the former site of the Winne-egan Hotel (I think–or close by), the Hotel, and several Baker’s Island cottages, now and then. Not sure when “then” is for the cottage photographs–they look a bit more mid-centuryish (the flag and power line are clues) than those of the Hotel,  which burned down in 1906 due to the presence of “gasoline stored in the basement in large quantities”!

Baker's Island Hotel Site

Baker's Island Hotel Wineegan 2

Baker's Island Hotel Wineegan

Baker's Island Houses

Baker's Island Houses 3

Baker's Island Houses 2

Baker's Island Houses SSU Archives 2

Baker's Island Houses SSU Archives 3

Baker's Island House SSU Archives

Distinct “old man on the mountain-ish” rock formation photographed by me and some anonymous tourist years ago. Some things never change! For a more comprehensive history of the Baker’s Island Lighthouse(s), see here; to buy a piece of Baker’s Island, see here.

Bakers Island Old Man on the Mountain

Baker's Island Rock Formation SSU Archives


For every sleazy developer who destroys an old house, there are many, many more Salem homeowners who take great care to restore and preserve their old houses, showering them with effort, energy, and money. I’ve been dwelling on the former too much lately, and not enough on the latter, even though I am literally surrounded by ladders in my own neighborhood. This summer I believe that I have heard the sound of saws every day, often all day, and I don’t mind a bit! I think there is a cyclical pattern to home improvement in neighborhoods, although to tell you the truth “housework” is intermittently never-ending for an old house. We’ve done a lot of interior work this summer to repair the damage from February’s ice dams, and in the fall roofing and chimney work will begin. At some point we need to take on our 1960s kitchen (the original one is in the basement and is now my “potting shed”): some people actually think it’s deliberately retro! Clapboard repair on the back next year, and then…….something else. Still, our challenges are nothing compared to what some of our neighbors have been through, and I truly appreciate their efforts, each and every day.

Housework 010

Housework 013

Housework 018

Housework 021

Housework 023

Housework 026

Housework 031

Just one walk’s worth of housework: houses in varying stages of renovation and painting projects in the McIntire Historic District.

Old Homes Made New 1879

After I came across a little book named Old Homes made New. Being a Collection of Plans, Exterior and Interior Views, Illustrating the Alteration and Remodeling of Several Suburban Residences, published in 1879 by architect William M. Woollett, I really understand the “alterations” made to my 1827 house by its owners in the later nineteenth century. Like the simple colonial and Greek Revival houses used as Woollett’s “befores”, my own house must have been far too spare for the exuberant sensibilities of my Victorian predecessors, and so they added bay windows, French doors, arches, etched glass, a curved mahogany banister, and lots more space–up and out they went, into the attic and out back: I guess I should be thankful I don’t have a tower or a turret! The 1920s owners of the house attempted to restrain the house’s exuberance under their stewardship, but I bet they liked the light provided by the bay windows and I know they needed the space: they had 12 children!  And so what remains is an amalgamation, just like Stonehurst, and most houses, I suppose.

oldhomesmadenew cover


Old Homes made New 1812

oldhomesmadenew 1812 remodeled


oldhomesmadenew 4

oldhomesmadenew 5

oldhomesmadenew modernized hallway

“Modern” houses, a modernized hallway, and a modern man from William Woollett’s Old Homes Made New (1879).


Waltham, Massachusetts is a bustling little city just west of Boston that manages to be urban, suburban, and rural all at the same time, depending on what sector you find yourself in. There’s a lot there: an impressive industrial heritage, two universities, Bentley and Brandeis (where I got my Ph.D.), a pretty vibrant downtown, lots of corporations along the Route 128 beltway, and three historic “country” estates preserved as house museums: the Lyman Estate (also known as “The Vale”, built in 1793 and owned and operated by Historic New England), Gore Place (built in 1806 and saved in the 1930s by the Gore Place Society), and Stonehurst (completed by 1886 and owned and operated by the City of Waltham since 1974). Because of my predilection for early American architecture, I have visited the older houses many times: Samuel McIntire designed the foundation structure of The Vale and Gore Place is just about the most elegant Federal house anywhere (outside of Salem, of course). But despite the fact that it is the product of a collaboration between two giants of late nineteeth-century design, architect Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886) and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted (1822-1903), I have to admit I have dissed Stonehurst: I saw it long ago and never returned. The other day I was driving home along Route 128 at just the wrong time on a beautiful day: it was rush hour(s) and the northern lanes were jam-packed. I just had to get out of the car, and as I happened to be in Waltham, I thought I’d go look at the Lyman Estate for a bit and wait out the traffic. After I turned off the highway, however, I saw the sign for Stonehurst and remembered that it is situated on far more land: 109 acres of Olmsted-designed walking trails, to be precise–and I needed some exercise. So there I went, but got slightly distracted by the house, which is a bit……………intimidating? perplexing? provocative?

Stonehurst 002

Stonehurst 005

Stonehurst 018

Stonehurst 023

Stonehurst 010

Stonehurst 060

Stonehurst is really a combination of two houses built for Robert Treat Paine, a Boston lawyer, philanthropist, and advocate for workers’ housing (scion of a real Brahmin family: his namesake grandfather was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and Massachusetts’ first Attorney General) and his wife Lydia Lyman Paine: her father had financed the Second Empire house that constitutes the western end of the structure, which was later deemed too small for their large family. So Paine (who served on the building committee which oversaw Richardson’s masterpiece, Trinity Church in Boston) commissioned the architect to relocate the house and integrate it with a structure of his own design. The exterior (again, to my untrained eye!) is therefore quite an amalgamation: of the pre-existing Second Empire house, combined with Richardson’s more organic “Richardsonian Romanesque” and Shingle styles. I found the interior far more integrated, with large rooms that related to one another (and the outdoors) in a very pleasing way, and lots of crafted built-in features: window seats, benches, bookcases, mantles, staircases, mouldings: a warm and inviting Arts and Crafts house encased in a somewhat more imposing envelope.

Stonehurst 026

Stonehurst 032

Stonehurst 029

Stonehurst 036

Stonehurst 038

Stonehurst 056

Stonehurst 039

Stonehurst 050

Stonehurst 051

Stonehurst 046

Stonehurst 061

Interior of Stonehurst and a trail not taken; the line inscribed on the second-floor landing mantle, “Build Thee More Stately Mansions, O My Soul” is from the Oliver Wendell Holmes poem, The Chambered Nautilus.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,303 other followers

%d bloggers like this: