Tag Archives: great houses

The First Preservationist

It’s time to return to the life and work of the Salem photographer Frank W. Cousins (1851-1925), whose camera created a reverence for colonial architecture in his native city and elsewhere at a crucial time. He has popped up here in many a post, including one devoted exclusively to his work and business, but I’m still assessing the reach of his influence: in the years between then and now I have seen his photographs in countless books on Colonial and Colonial Revival architecture, architectural libraries and archives, contemporary periodicals about architecture and photography, and newspaper articles. He was clearly identified as Salem’s “First Preservationist” a century ago and he should be acknowledged as such now:  before Rantoul and Northend and Historic Salem, Inc. and Ada Louise Huxtable, there was Frank Cousins. As May is Preservation Month, this seems like a good time to bring him back into the spotlight–though I’m still in the early stages of assessing his impact. Clearly there needs to be a proper inventory taken of his printed photographs, both in collections and in publications, and a serious assessment of his life’s work; last summer I was contacted by a young woman in Germany working on a dissertation focused on Cousins so I have hope. And I did find a (little) photograph of the man himself!

Cousins Collage and Picture

Cousins Birthplace

Cousins Salem Cemetery

Cousins 1893 Door

Features on Frank Cousins from Country Life in America (1913) and some of my favorite Cousins photographs of Salem: his own birthplace on English Street, previously part of the Old Sun Tavern, the Charter Street cemetery, a Derby Street house with a “double door”, one of several plates he exhibited at the Columbian Exposition in 1893.

The little biographical blurb in Country Life in America is charming and revealing: “That old scrub, Cousins of Salem,” is the genial way her announces  his arrival to his many friends in the architectural fraternity. They  welcome his coming, for few men know and appreciate Colonial architecture as he does, and none can talk more interestingly and enthusiastically about it. A native of Salem, Mass., Mr. Cousins has studied her notable early architecture all his life, and during the past thirty years he has made thousands of architectural photographs in Salem and the neighboring towns, and in Portsmouth, Boston, Philadelphia, Germantown, and Baltimore.  Mr. Cousins in the author of “Fifty Salem Doorways”, the first of a notable series of books on “Colonial Architecture” and is much sought after by art societies and other bodies for the lecture on “Old Architectural Salem” which he has delivered many times. Of late Mr. Cousins has been extending his efforts to the furniture and garden features of Colonial houses, and we expect occasionally to publish the cream of his labors.”  Old Scrub! This narrative does seem to confirm what I had gleaned elsewhere: that it was the appreciation of Salem’s architecture that came first, and that inspired him to pick up the camera, around 1888. His membership in the “architectural fraternity” of the era is a testament to the detailed examination (and preservation) of architectural details captured by his camera, rendering him not only a preservation pioneer but also one in the fledgling field of architectural photography.

Cousins Well-Meek House 1918 BAC

Cousins Peirce Nichols Mantle

Doorway of Well-Meeks House in Salem, 1918 and Mantle of Peirce-Nichols House, “the best Adams mantle in the U.S.A, 1913.

Cousins disseminated his thousands of prints in a variety of ways, transcending artistic and editorial photography into the commercial realm. He sold them in his own Salem shop on Essex Street, the Bee-Hive, and through his own publishing company, the Frank Cousins Art Co., he published them in his aforementioned “Colonial Architecture” series and later in several books (Wood Carver of Salem: Samuel McIntire, His Life and Work, 1916 and The Colonial Architecture of Salem, 1919, both co-authored with Phil Riley), he formed partnerships with regional and national photographic publishers, and he donated them to scores of cultural institutions and publications. Given the size of his market share and his focus on Salem, you can imagine just how influential the “Cousins Colonial Salem House” would become in shaping the national image of colonial architecture in the early part of the twentieth century. Yet even though he identified himself as “Cousins of Salem”, he also transcended his native city and was recognized for his preservation and photographic expertise up and down the Eastern seaboard. In 1913 he was commissioned by the Art Commission of New York City to document buildings that were in danger of imminent demolition in the rapidly-expanding city, and effort that was recognized by a prominently-placed article in the New York Times in May 2014:  “The Camera to Preserve New York’s Old Buildings”. Cousins’ New York photographs are stunning:  equally as reverential as his Salem shots but somehow more poignant because of their context, the city that never sleeps, and ascends ever upwards. But surprise: the 61st Street building below, known in the nineteenth-century as “Smith’s Folly”, survives to this day as the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden, owned and operated by the Colonial Dames of America (and I’m sure it’s all due to Frank Cousins)!

Cousins NYT Article May 1914

House on 86th Street Between Park and Madison Avenues. Red brick house on north side of street.

photographic print (7.5 x 9.5 in.), mount (9.5 x 11.5 in.)

Mount Vernon Hotel Museum

Houses at 86th Street and 421 East 61st Street (“Smith’s Folly”) in New York City, photographed by Frank Cousins in 1913, and the Mount Vernon Hotel Museum & Garden today.

Repositories of Frank Cousins’ photographs: the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum; Duke University Library; the New York Public Library Digital Collections; Archives of the Art Commission of the City of New York.


A Storied Salem House

Over the several years that I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve been trying to ascertain both the history and the imagery of as many seventeenth-century Salem houses as possible in a rather sporadic manner. All the famous houses (the House of the Seven Gables, the Jonathan Corwin “Witch” House, the Pickering House) are easy: well-documented in terms of both literary and photographic evidence. Other houses–both those that still stand and those that are long-lost–are more elusive, so when I run into obstacles I leave them alone for a while. I’m interested in these houses for several reasons beyond basic appreciation: as an early modern English historian walking around this New English city the seventeenth-century structures are an accessible window into the past that I study, I’ve been rereading (and reading for the first time in many cases) Hawthorne over the past few years, and I like to imagine the Salem of his time, when there were far more standing first-period buildings, and lastly, I like photographs that show architectural and urban transition, and those that show leaning wooden multi-gabled buildings adjacent to stalwart stone multi-storied structures are particularly striking.

One very elusive house that I’ve been chasing for some time is (or was) the Deliverance Parkman House, which was built near what is now the corner of North and Essex Streets (right across from the Witch House) around 1673 and taken down by 1835, according to Cousins’ and Riley’s Colonial Architecture of Salem: long enough for Hawthorne to see it, but not quite long enough for it to be photographed, so no striking contrast picture. Nevertheless, or perhaps because of this lack of realistic imagery, the house–or any remaining perception of it–is cast in a rather romantic light: Hawthorne refers to it twice (in his “Notes” and the short story “Peter Goldthwaite’s Treasure”) in relation to the practice of alchemy and buried treasure within: what could be more alluring than that? The only image that I can find of the Parkman House was made by Salem illustrator J.L. Bridgman about 1900–and clearly based on Hawthorne’s characterization. As in the case of the House of the Seven Gables, the Deliverance Parkman house seems to have inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne to “create” a storied house.

Deliverance Parkman House Bridgman

Deliverance Parkman House stereoview

Essex Street Salem c 1915

L.J. Bridgman sketch of the Deliverance Parkman House, individually and in stereo (NYPL Digital Collections); one block of Essex Street in 1915, long after the Parkman House was razed, to be replaced by the brick Greek Revival Shepard block, rear right.


The Carriage Houses of Oliver Street

Salem is rich in historic carriage houses and I’ve posted on them before, but this Oliver Street cluster definitely deserves a spotlight. This short street runs from the Common to Bridge Street, and is named after the diversely prolific Henry Kemble Oliver (1800-1885), who served as mayor of both Salem and Lawrence as well as in various prominent state positions, during which he managed to publish both mathematical and musical compositions. His namesake street features a variety of predominately nineteenth-century buildings, and obviously served as the “back” of larger estates on Washington Square and Winter Street, consequently the carriage houses. The first one below belongs to the impressive White-Lord estate, built on the Common in 1811–as does this beautiful side door (I just love this door–I go out of my way to see it as often as possible). The White-Lord carriage house has recently been converted to a residence while its neighboring structures remain utility outbuildings, but now housing cars rather than carriages, of course.

Oliver Street 1898 Salem Atlas

Oliver Street White Lord House

Oliver Street White Lord Carriage House

Oliver Street on the 1898 Salem Atlas (digitized here); Side Door and carriage house of the Washington-Lord House at 31 Washington Square, Salem, above; Carriage Houses of the Joseph Story House on Winter Street and the White-Silsbee House at 33 Washington Square, both also built in 1811, along (the other side of) Oliver Street, below. As you can see, the Story Carriage House even has its own plaque!

Oliver Street Carriage Houses Salem

Oliver Street Story Carriage House

Oliver Street Carriage House 2

All of these late-Federal brick structures–carriage houses and main houses, were built in the same year: 1811. This happens to be the very same year that the man who crafted material Salem, Samuel McIntire, died. So this year must be the absolute pinnacle of golden-age ascendant Salem, especially as the War of 1812 and its attendant consequences effectively ended Salem’s commercial heyday as a maritime port. A new era began, but these structures seem to have made that transition, and several more, quite smoothly. And here’s one more transitional Oliver Street outbuilding: not a fancy carriage house, but a good old barn, I think, converted into an equally utilitarian garage.

Oliver Street Barn


My Favorite Portsmouth House

I was running early for Easter dinner in York Harbor, and by myself because of a sick husband, so I decided to take a detour off 95 into Portsmouth to take a look at my very favorite house. As I grew up just over the bridge and down the road apiece in southern Maine, Portsmouth was our go-to town for pretty much everything, and its downtown became my ideal setting: small New England seaport with plenty of historic housing. There’s no question I settled in Salem in large part because Portsmouth was just too far away from Boston. There are several Portsmouth streets to which I return to time and time again, but only one favorite house:  the Tobias Lear House on Hunking Street, which to my untrained eye looks like the purest of Georgian structures. I think I first saw it when I was maybe 16, and it’s been part of my life ever since.

Lear House 004

Lear House 015

Lear House 008

The Lear House, built in 1740, was home to several generations of a Portsmouth family including Tobias Lear, one of George Washington’s personal secretaries. After it passed out of the family in the later nineteenth century it descended into multi-family tenement status (along with much of Portsmouth’s South End), only to be rescued by Wallace Nutting, who purchased the Lear and neighboring Wentworth-Gardner House in 1917. Both properties were eventually transferred to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA–the forerunner of Historic New England) and then to the newly-formed Wentworth-Gardner and Tobias Lear Houses Association in 1940, in whose possession they remain. It seems to me that the Lear House has always been overshadowed by the High-Georgian Wentworth-Gardner, which Nutting restored in the Colonial Revival style he preferred for his ghostly photographs. Here is the sentiment of the SPNEA directors in 1919 that captures this “underappreciation” perfectly: the Society was urged to buy this house, which came on the market in 1917 for $1500, a price considerably higher for which it eventually sold. While considerably out of repair, it was a house but little altered since the days when Tobias Lear, private secretary to Washington, was its owner. Although a house we would have gladly preserved, it lacked the distinction worthy of a campaign for its purchase. It was bought by Mr. Wallace Nutting, whose famous Wentworth-Gardner house adjoins it. [Old-Time New England, 1919] It appears that the present-day restoration of the Lear House will have to wait, once again, until the Wentworth-Gardner houses is put to rights; nevertheless, when President Washington visited Portsmouth in 1789 (just a few days after he left Salem and this house), it was the “best parlor” of the Tobias Lear House to which he came.

Lear House 1917 SPNEA Old-Time New England

Lear House 009

Lear House 021

Lear House 022

The Tobias Lear House on Hunking Street in 1917 and today, and adjacent Wentworth-Gardner House on Mechanic Street.


Fire Alarm

I was moving very slowly on Wednesday morning and so was still at home in the late morning when all sorts of sirens went off on Chestnut Street and three firetrucks charged in, accompanied by several police cars.The entire street was blocked off, and then a huge ladder truck arrived from Lynn (apparently there was a simultaneous fire in Salem so we needed aid).  The object of everyone’s attention was a roof fire at #12, the Jonathan Hodges house. I saw no fire (or even smoke) myself but apparently the contractors who were working on the roof–welding, I suppose–saw or smelled something, and so they called the Fire Department, which of course was absolutely the right thing to do. Once the ladder was extended to the top of this very large house, one firemen ascended to its end and started pounding away on the roof, which caused me to gasp, because after all this particular house is a Samuel McIntire house, in fact the only one so-documented on the street, and no one likes to see such a treasure attacked. But an attack by fireman is much, much better than an attack by fire, certainly. After a few minutes (maybe 15) everyone seemed satisfied that there was either no fire or it was out, and all the firemen and policemen left and the contractors went back to their work. A calm descended on the street almost as quickly as the alarm.

Fire Alarm 008

Fire Alarm 014

Fire Alarm 021

The Jonathan Hodges house is three doors down from mine across the street; diagonally across is the Chestnut Street park, which used to be the site of another magnificent Samuel McIntire building: the South Church, built around the same time (1805). This towering building, with its 150-foot steeple, was completely consumed by fire one night in 1903: I can’t help wondering what would have happened if that huge ladder truck had been available then. But that’s a pointless exercise. On a much happier note, in 2009 (on a hot, muggy day I remember well) a fire broke out in the historic Ropes Mansion on Essex Street when contractors were on the job: another rapid response by the Salem Fire Department saved the house from any serious structural or water damage, though the attic floor was charred, and a single crystal water pitcher broken.

McIntire South Church PEM

Ropes Mansion Fire August 2009

The South Church on Chestnut Street in Salem, before 1903, from the McIntire microsite at the Peabody Essex Museum’s website; the Ropes Mansion fire of 20009, photograph courtesy of Frank Cutietta.


Bowditch’s Birthday

I hope that mariners all over the world are celebrating the birthday of one of Salem’s most eminent native sons, the nautical scientist Nathaniel Bowditch, who was born on this day in 1773. The author of the encyclopedic, and still authoritative, New American Practical Navigator, I like to think of Bowditch as one of the last self-taught, “practical” scientists: he was forced by family necessity to abandon his academic studies at a young age and taught himself classical and modern languages, algebra, calculus and astronomy while working as an apprentice at a ship chandlery in his teens. Here we have a perfect example of the determinative role of birthplace: Bowditch is clearly a product of worldly Salem in its golden age, when opportunities were many and limitations few, for men that applied themselves–and had connections and resources, of course. Even an apprentice ship’s chandler accountant, Bowditch had access to the 116-volume library of Irish scientist Richard Kirwan (1733-1812). Acquired by a Beverly privateer during the Revolutionary War and auctioned off in Salem in 1781, it is one of the foundational collections of the Salem Athenaeum. Armed with his self-education from books, Bowditch went to sea following the completion of his apprenticeship and in the course of seven voyages gained the empirical experience and data that enabled him to correct some 8000 errors in the then-authoritative navigational manual, John Hamilton Moore’s Practical Navigator and eventually issue his own American Practical Navigator in 1802. Thereafter his life was one of choices (except, of course, for his unfortunate death from cancer in 1838) and he chose the more practical role of insurance-company financial statistician rather than the academic offers that came his way, first in Salem and after 1823 in Boston: the laudatory speeches given at his farewell dinner at Hamilton Hall are still ringing in the eaves!

Bowditch Birthplace Kimball Court

Bowditch Apprentice Carry On 1956

Bowditch Navigator

Bowditch Hastings Smithsonian

Bowditch Bust Smithsonian

Nathaniel Bowditch’s birthplace on Kimball Court in Salem; Bowditch as role-model apprentice in Jean Lee Latham’s influential Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1956); The Title Pages of the first edition of The New American Practical Navigator (1802); Artist Pattie Belle Hastings’ take on the Practical Navigator, from the Smithsonian Institution’s 1995 exhibition “Science and the Artist’s Book”; Engraving of Bowditch by J. Gorss from a drawing by J.B. Longacre, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.  


Sepia Streets

The other day I came across a cache of historic photographs of Boston and its surrounding communities at the turn of the last century among the digitized collections of the Boston Public Library. The Salem scenes caught my attention but as I had seen most of them I moved on and examined the rest of the 320+ photographs: sepia scenes of lost Boston, lost Chelsea, lost Arlington, lost Medford….lots has been lost but some of the structures in these photographs still remain. I had to check on each and every one, of course, and so hours passed, maybe even days….I lost track. These photographs remind me of those taken by Frank Cousins in Salem around the same time; he may even be one of the photographers as no credits are given. There is an explicit reverence and respect for the pre-Revolutionary structures and streets captured, and an implicit message that they not be there for long. The collection was commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, then quite a young organization, founded in 1890. Certainly the DAR has not been the most progressive of institutions over its history, but historic preservation was absolutely central to its mission then, and it remains so today. I certainly get that as I gaze at these photographs, and I am reminded of just how many early preservationists were women: Ann Pamela Cunningham and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Margot Gayle, the savior of Soho, fierce urban renewal opponents Jane Jacobs and Ada Louise Huxtable. Certainly we have had our share here in Salem: those avid advocates of “Old Salem” culture and architecture, Mary Parker Saltonstall and Mary Harrod Northend, Louise Crowninshield, an influential board member of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) who facilitated the acquisition of the Richard Derby House by the new Salem Maritime National Historic Site in the 1930s, and many of my own contemporaries who have contributed much to the preservation of Salem’s existing fabric in this challenging environment.

But I think I’m digressing a bit, let’s get to the pictures, starting with a few long-long scenes of Boston: Webster Avenue (Alley!), and Hull and Henchman Streets.

Wesbster Avenue BPL

Hull Street Boston PBL

Henchman Street Boston BPL

A bit further out, the Dillaway House in Roxbury, built by the Reverend Oliver Peabody who dies in 1752. The headquarters of General John Thomas at the time of the siege of Boston. The Dillaway House about a century later, and at present, at the center of the Roxbury Heritage State Park.

Dillaway House Roxbury BPL

Dillaway House 2 MIT

Dillaway House 3

Three seventeenth-century houses that survive to this day: the Pierce House in Dorchester, the Cradock House in Medford (more properly known as the Peter Tufts House, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, all-brick structures in the U.S.), and the Deane Winthrop House in Winthrop:

Pierce House Dorchester BPL

Cradock House Medford BPL

Deane Winthrop House Winthrop BPL

As I said above, most of the Salem photographs were familiar to me and I’ve posted them before: with a few exceptions. Clearly the DAR was looking for Revolutionary-related sites, so their photographer captured the much-changed locale of Leslie’s Retreat on North Street, along with a few other predictable sites like the Pickering House. Two houses identified as “Salem” in this collection are unfamiliar to me: the first (in the middle below) is–or was–obviously situated downtown, but I don’t recognize it: maybe someone out there will, or maybe it is gone. The second looks like it was located on a country lane: not very Salem-like, even a century or more ago, but it could be North Salem, or possibly even Salem, New Hampshire?

North Bridge Salem 1890 BPL

Old House in Salem 1890 BPL

Country House Salem BPL

North Bridge, Salem, “Old House” Salem, and a country house in Salem, c. 1890-1905, from the DAR-commissioned Archive of Photographic Documentation of Early Massachusetts Architecture at the Boston Public Library, also available here.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,364 other followers

%d bloggers like this: