Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

Crafting a Colonial Salem

There are many people who have contributed to the creation and projection of Salem’s image over the last century and more, beginning with the rather solemn portrayals of Nathaniel Hawthorne and proceeding through the material-based photographs and writings of Frank Cousins and Mary Harrod Northend towards the Witch City profiteers of our own time. But perhaps no one was more avid and energetic in these efforts than George Francis Dow (1868-1936), a prolific author and editor, secretary of the Essex Institute (now absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum), director of the museum of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), and the principal force behind Salem’s recreated colonial settlement, Pioneer Village. It’s difficult to categorize Dow: he was not a trained historian but this was no obstacle to his efforts and achievements. Generally he is referred to as an antiquarian, which is a rather antiquated word now. He certainly possessed the technical expertise of a preservationist. Above all, I think, he was an interpreter and an admirer of the colonial past. When he was 30 years old, he simply quit his job at a wholesale metal company in Boston and began to indulge his passion for the colonial history of Essex County full-time, with rather impressive results: a succession of books (The Sailing Ships of New England,  Whale Ships and Whaling, The Arts and Crafts of New England,  Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, just to name a few titles), the installation of pioneering period rooms at the Essex Institute, the relocation and restoration of the seventeenth-century John Ward House, and “Salem in 163o: Pioneer Village”, erected for the 300th anniversary of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1920 (at the age of 52) he married Alice G. Waters, one of the co-editors of his four-volume edition of The Diary of William Bentley and a long-time librarian at the Essex Institute (so romantic!).

I often think about Dow when I come across one of his books, but most especially whenever I go to Pioneer Village, which still survives as America’s first living history museum, predating Colonial Williamsburg by several years. The village was meant to be a temporary installation for the Tercentenary celebration but Dow and his associates (principally architect Joseph Everett Chandler) put so much effort and thought into its design and construction that it remained a tourist attraction well into the 1950s. Shuttered for several decades thereafter, it deteriorated precipitously, but was restored in several sequences by devoted Salem museum professionals in the later 1980s and after 2007. This past weekend, I went to the village for the first-ever “Salem Spice Festival” and began thinking about Dow’s work–and vision–again. The village is much changed from its original appearance, as will be immediately obvious by the contrasting photographs below. But it’s all in the details: in several structures the colonial craftsmanship which Dow so admired and strove to recreate is still in evidence, almost 85 years later.

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Pioneer Village, Forest River Park, Salem in the 1930s and today, including the Governor’s “Fayre” House interiors: period photographs from the Ryerson & Burnham Archives Archival Image Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago (several of which were used in Dow’s Every Day Life in the Massachusetts Bay Colony). Dow’s narrative of Pioneer Village can be found in the journal he edited for the Society of New England Antiquities: “Old-Time New England”,”A QUARTERLY MAGAZINE DEVOTED TO THE ANCIENT BUILDINGS, HOUSEHOLD FURNISHINGS, DOMESTIC ARTS, MANNERS AND CUSTOMS, AND MINOR ANTIQUITIES OF THE NEW ENGLAND PEOPLE”; Volume XXII; JULY, 1931; Number I. Sadly, the reproduction Arbella, which carried John Winthrop’s expedition to “Salem 1630″, has not survived, but Leslie Jones captured it in all its glory for the Boston Globe in 1930.

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Blending Past and Present

Thought the first examples of the technique date back to the nineteenth century, composite photographs of past and present have become quite the thing in this internet age. For at least the last decade photographers have been blending vintage images with contemporary views to create captivating–and attention-grabbing– results. I think modern “rephotography” can be dated to the 2004 History Channel “Know Where you Stand” campaign based on the photographs of Seth Taras, but recent composite creations have focused more on locations than events, bringing historic preservation (or the lack thereof) into focus. Just this past weekend in Newport, I saw Past Meets Present: an Exhibit of Composite Photographs at the Newport Historical Society, an exhibit timed to coincide with the city’s 375th anniversary. Photographer (and preservationist) Lew Keen believes that his images “promote appreciation of Newport’s historic streetscapes” and “suggests that our role as caretakers of these remarkable treasures has not been without some losses—and encourages us to do better for the future.”

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Thames Street [Newport], Now and Then, Lew Keen

I’m inspired and wish I could create similar images for Salem, but neither my photography or photo-shopping skills are up to the challenge. I did play around with some of my favorite photos of Norman Street in the 1890s and today (you can see the original, individual images here and here), but they’re not quite right: I’m more of a contraster than a blender, so hopefully someone more skillful will create some better composite creations of Salem scenes past and present.

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Norman Street composite

Until that happens, we have lots of composite photographs of other urban streetscapes to amaze and inspire, including Marc Herman‘s New York images (The Daily News On-Scene, Then and Now), Shawn Clover‘s amazing images of San Francisco in the wake of its 1906 earthquake and today, Paris in 1900 fused with contemporary images by Golem13, Harry Enchin‘s Toronto “timescapes”, and the haunting images of old and new London generated by the Museum of London’s Streetmuseum app. Perfect matter for social media, these images have given natives, visitors, and distant admirers of these cities a lot to think about:  in a word, change.

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A Brooklyn Gas Explosion in 1961 and today, Marc Herman/ San Francisco 1906 and today, Shawn Clover/Place de la Bourse, Paris, 1910 and today, Golem13/Queen Street, Toronto, past and present, Harry Enchin/Bow Lane, London, Museum of London

 

 

 

 


In Newport, Briefly

We are recently returned from a quick visit to Newport, Rhode Island, somehow refreshed and fatigued at the same time. My husband and I are both so busy at this time of the year that we don’t have much time to get away, so we could only steal a day and a night for this particular trip, which was not enough to do Newport justice. But it’s not far from Salem and we’ve both been there many times, so we just wandered about in the glorious weather. I always think there are at least three Newports– sailing Newport, Gilded Age Newport, and Colonial Newport—but I’m sure locals will tell you there are even more. With our limited time and my inclinations–we really focused on the latter, with a lot of eating and drinking thrown in—though we did start and end our day at the expansive, busy harbor.

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There are streets and streets of colonial clapboarded houses surrounding Trinity Church in Newport’s equally expansive historic district: I’m always struck by just how many structures have survived and their amazing condition. To me, the nouveau riche mansions on Bellevue Avenue pale in comparison: Newport’s wealth was well-established before the New York millionaires came to town.

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Despite its impressive historic infrastructure, Newport is not a museum fixed in time but rather a place where the physical past and the present are intermingled rather creatively. We were inspired by our inn, The Francis Malbone House (very highly recommended), which consists of a well-preserved 1760 house with a 1996 annex out back joined together by a mutable, lovely courtyard, to look for other examples of adaptive reuse and historically-sensitive additions. And we found many: I particularly liked the parking courtyard of the 1748 Billings Coggeshall House with its adjacent annex of offices. And even when the historic structure was not adapted, its foundation was preserved–as in the case of this hearth and chimneys nestled in the rear of a twentieth-century school.

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The Francis Malbone House: exteriors, interior public room and courtyard; the Billings Coggeshall House and courtyard; just one Newport foundation.

I think I should include one “cottage” in here, but it is a subtle one, which reads (at least to me) more New England than New York even though it was designed by the ultimate New York firm of McKim, Mead and White: the shingle-style Isaac Bell House, built in 1883 and pictured here at twilight. Love these chimneys!

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Return to Carlton Street

I am returning to the ruin on Carlton Street, what remains of a circa 1803 structure decapitated by a “developer” a few weeks ago, even though I don’t have much of an update. Work was stopped on the day after, and the shell of no. 25 is still standing—in a very vulnerable state that must be incredibly distressing for its neighbors to gaze upon. We are waiting for either the judgement of the city engineer or the city solicitor, maybe both, and then the developer will be brought before the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals). There are two preservation agencies in Salem: the Historic Commission (which has jurisdiction over the city’s four local historic districts–see below) and Historic Salem, Incorporated (HSI), a nonprofit preservation advocacy organization. Both have been rendered relatively powerless by the demolition of 25 Carlton: the Historic Commission because the house is not located within its jurisdiction, and HSI because it has chosen not to even issue a statement to the effect of: We are sorry to see such an insensitive renovation of a historic structure. I have received hundreds of emails from all around the country in the past few weeks, expressing rage and disgust, but also amazement that this could happen in Salem. So that’s why I wanted to return to this house, to show that this could easily happen in Salem.

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The three local historic districts in downtown Salem (there is a fourth on Lafayette Street)–just click to enlarge; 25 Carlton Street this past weekend; the plans posted in the window (which were produced by a structural engineer rather than an architect) show a gabled roof quite similar to that which was lopped off, but completely different fenestration in the front of the house, and and whole new rear addition.


The Day After: Teardown?

As many of you predicted, the same “contractors” who tore the roof off a circa 1803 house on Carlton Street in Salem and exposed its interior to yesterday’s driving rains returned early this morning to complete their work. Their employer, the developer Jewel Saeed, is apparently out of the country. Much of two walls came down before several Salem building inspectors ordered them to focus solely on cleaning up the sodden boards that lay around the house rather than continuing to strip it bare. I really, really didn’t want to go see this crime scene again but I trudged over there: to document, I suppose. Once there, I started snapping away, and the contractor came over and asked me where I was from: to which I replied “Salem”. He then said they were not tearing the house down, but were preserving 50% of it, while his workers continued to throw its (former) frame into a huge dumpster. Plans for the new two-family house were posted in the front facade of the old. I find this deliberate destruction of a historic house so upsetting that it’s a bit difficult for me to focus, so I think I’ll just get a few facts out for now. While it was painful to look at 25 Carlton Street this morning, I am glad that I went over there, as there were several neighbors and city councilors on site and I was able to learn some interesting things, including the fact that Mr. Saeed has never even applied for a demolition permit. All of the neighbors seemed to agree that Mr. Saeed’s contractors were working very quickly to rid the house of its roof on the day before the storm, and that the house was in fairly good shape when he purchased it a year or so ago, from a woman who had lived there for fifty-eight years. That’s really all I can say/write right now; I think I’ll let the photographs speak say the rest.

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25 Carlton Street on August 14, 2014: front and side views and a close-up of its exposed center chimney.

 


A Drowned House in Salem

I seldom publish two posts in one dayand especially on such divergent topics–but a photograph of an old house on Carlton Street in Salem popped up on Facebook this morning, and I can think of little else. The simple colonial house had been shorn of its roof and top story, by all accounts in the past few days, and left completely open to the elements: just in time for the driving rainstorm we are experiencing today. I ran over to look at 25 Carlton Street in the early afternoon, and it was indeed drenched, inside and out, even more forlorn in appearance now that the floodgates have opened. This was deliberate and brutal decimation: the house looks like its top was sliced off with a chainsaw. The interior has been gutted as well, and what is referred to as a “massive center chimney” in its MACRIS inventory removed. No tarp in sight. I have never seen a worse case of demolition-by-developer, whose name was still conveniently legible on the building permit: Jewel Saeed, of Swampscott, Massachusetts, who appears to own several convenience and liquor stores in the Boston area. Let us hope and pray that he sticks to his day job and stops preying on historic houses in the future.

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25 Carlton Street on August 13, 2014. The house was built by or for Salem shipwright Thomas Magoun c. 1803. Below: contrasting views of the house on a better day and today.

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Anniversaries All Around

I’m on a road trip but still can’t shake historical anniversaries: they are following me! Traveling down to visit my husband’s family on the Jersey shore on Friday, I made several Connecticut stops (I was on my own, so I could stop), including one in the coastal town of Guilford, which was in the midst of celebrating its 375th anniversary: banners flew all around Guilford Green, and the stores were stocked with calendars and other commemorative wares. I arrived just in time to view the original Guilford Covenant and Land Agreement, on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society and on its last day of display at the Town Hall. It was a perfectly beautiful day, and after lunch I strolled around taking pictures of Guilford’s historic houses, each and every one in seemingly perfect pristine condition. Sometimes certain Connecticut villages strike me as too pristine, but Guilford’s perfection seemed appropriate on this glorious day! Back in the car–stuck in traffic almost all the way to Jersey, I heard multiple retellings of another big historical anniversary story on the radio: the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary and his Duchess by Bosnian nationalist Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, the event that triggered World War One. And when I woke up yesterday, the first local story I heard was about the anniversary of the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778: not an American victory, but certainly a draw which demonstrated that the colonial forces could hold their own against the British. Of course I had to run over to the battlefield site in Freehold: it is beautifully preserved but was quite devoid of Colonials or Redcoats, as the battle re-enactment had been staged last weekend. There were, however, a few “Molly Pitchers” walking around.

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Guilford, Connecticut, June 27, 2014: the Griswold and Hyland houses, Guilford Green, and private residences around town.

 

 


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