Tag Archives: great houses

Calm Descends on Salem

It always takes me a few days to recover from Halloween here……two nights ago I had an all-too-vivid nightmare about a bacchanalian orgy in the Charter Street cemetery. But I woke up to a calm and beautiful day: Election Day, always a hopeful day for me. You’ve got to love off-year, local elections when the big issues are new trash barrels and cobblestones! Actually I am trivializing our election quite a bit: the large, looming development projects that I’ve been writing about all year are also big issues (but trash is big too). After I voted, I walked to work and checked the cemetery and Witch Trials Memorial along the way: all was calm and a few respectful people were walking around, really looking at the grave- and memorial stones rather than sitting on them! Salem has been returned to its residents, the dearly departed are not being trespassed, and I slept much better last night.

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Feeling fortunate that two great, smart people ran for councilor of the ward that I live in, and that I can walk by the beautiful PEM garden on a 70-degree day in November.

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Feeling fortunate that all those disrespectful people are GONE………

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and that someone left an appropriate memorial to their ACTUAL ancestor, and that I get to walk by my favorite Salem house, now artfully adorned with pumpkins, several times a week.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.


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Witch House Pyle 1887

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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!

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The Little Locksmith

Several years ago, one of my favorite readers, and bloggers, told me about a book written by a Salem author called The Little Locksmith, but for some reason I didn’t pick up a copy until just this past week–and I spent the cold and windy weekend reading it. This was quite an experience, as this is a memoir that puts our indulgent modern memoirs to shame in its ability to present an engulfing narrative of suffering (or perhaps I should say not suffering) and survival. The Little Locksmith was published in 1943, several months after the death of its author, Katharine Butler Hathaway, who was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis right here in Salem in 1895, when she was five years old. For the next ten years, she was confined to her bedroom and strapped to a board “like a specimen butterfly” in the hope that her spine would grow straight. She emerged not only hunchbacked, like the little locksmith that used to come to her Salem home (on Lafayette Street, sadly swept away by the Great Salem Fire of 1914), but also severely stunted, a very wise young woman in a child’s body. One would imagine that she would look back on this childhood with horror, regret, and even anger, but she does not, instead we read of “joyous” days:  Though my back was imprisoned, my hands and arms and mind were free. I held my pencil and pad of paper up in the air above my face, and I wrote microscopic letters and poems, and made little books of stories, and very tiny pictures, I sewed the smallest doll clothes anybody had every seen, with the narrowest of hems and most delicious little ruffles. I painted with watercolors and made paper dolls and dollhouse furniture out of paper. Paper was the nearest thing to nothing in the way of material, and yet it was possible to make it into something that people would exclaim over and fall in love with. It was something precious made of nothing.” 

Little Locksmith Katharine Butler Hathaway

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Katharine Butler Hathaway (1900-42): from the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, where her papers are located; a first edition of The Little Locksmith (1943); the Mark Hatch House in Castine, where she lived from 1921-1931, Penobscot Marine Museum.

This ability to discern, appreciate, and make things that are precious stayed with her for the rest of her life. After she emerged from her Salem bedroom at aged 15, her “horizontal life” leaving her misshapen yet somehow also enchanted, she was off to Radcliffe, New York City, Paris, and Castine, Maine, where she found a neglected old house which she crafted into a precious touchstone. The Little Locksmith is really about this house and what it means to her more than anything else, which makes it even more fascinating for materialistic me. Her ability to describe places and what they mean to her is captivating: the chapter where she describes her family’s return to a sultry September Salem from their summer residence in Vermont is probably my favorite, as the sounds of crickets and steps on the brick sidewalks of Salem are the sounds that I always notice when I return home from up north. Upon her marriage to Daniel Hathaway of Marblehead, she is forced to sell her beloved Castine house, but they move on to settle in an old brick house in Blue Hill, Maine, which becomes yet another charmed setting for her, unfortunately her last.

An Endicott House for Sale

There is no more venerable and ubiquitous name on the North Shore of Boston than Endicott, after John Ende(i)cott, the first (also 10th, 13th, 15th & 17th)  governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are Endicott streets, parks, schools, and many houses that have some sort of connection to this illustrious family, whose members married into other notable Massachusetts families to produce generations of ship captains, benefactors, and statesmen. A particularly passionate Puritan who famously desecrated the English flag because it bore the cross of St. George and persecuted Quakers and merrymakers with zealous intent, Endicott has been memorialized by Nathaniel Hawthorne as “the severest Puritan who laid the rock foundation of New England”. There are several houses in Salem still standing in which his eighteenth- and nineteenth-century descendants lived, and now one of them is for sale. Formally called the Smith-Crosby-Endicott house as it was built by Benjamin Smith and Captain Nicholas Crosby in 1788-89, 359 Essex Street was the home of Captain Samuel Endicott and his heirs for most of the nineteenth century. It’s a perfect Federal mansion, complete with a large Colonial Revival carriage house out back–way out back. I have long loved this house, and if I hadn’t just had a conversation with my husband about our need for a smaller house I might prod him to make a move. I don’t think we need eight bedrooms! I had always heard that this house had a ballroom but I don’t see one in the listing–well, I suppose we don’t really need one of those either.

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359 Essex Street Salem

Endicott House 1902


359 Essex Street in Salem today and in 1924 , from the Memoir of Samuel Endicott; William Allen Wall (1801-1885), Endicott and the Red Cross, 1851. New Bedford Whaling Museum: Gift of Flora B. Pierce, 1987.


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?

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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.

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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.

Fleeting Phlox

I’m going take a break from berating ugly buildings and stop and smell the….phlox, because it’s that time of year, or maybe even past time. My garden is shaded quite a bit by Hamilton Hall next door so my bright white “David” phlox is in full bloom, but I took a walk around the beautiful gardens of Glen Magna Farms in Danvers yesterday afternoon and saw that their multiple varieties were on their way out. Still lovely, though. I always think of phlox as the ultimate country New England perennial–in Vermont and Maine and western Massachusetts you see it everywhere adjacent to old houses but less so in the old seaports like Salem. It’s a North American native that became so beloved in England in the later nineteenth century that English botanists created unique varieties that they then sold back to American gardeners, who were desirous of colorful versions of “antique” flowers for their Colonial Revival gardens. When I was planting my own garden, I just wanted a mildew-resistant variety, so I went with “David”, but the phlox in all shades of pink at Glen Magna have made me a bit envious. The source for all varieties of phlox is Perennial Pleasures up in northern Vermont, and their annual Phlox Festival is on right now, so if you have the time and the inclination this weekend by all means go—it’s well worth the trip, believe me.

My small patch of phlox, and the more lavish display at Glen Magna Farms, set against the McIntire main and summer houses:

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Phlox in its heyday: adopted by English illustrators, artists, and horticulturists: Frederick William Hulme (1816-1884; Victoria & Albert Museum), Bertha Newcomb (1895, Southwark Art Collection), and a seed packet from the 1930s (Victoria & Albert Museum).

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Phlox Seed Packet V and A 1930s

Can you find the phlox in the pioneering Cubist painting by the French artist Albert Gleizes, La Femme aux Phlox (1910, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston)?



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