Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

Housework

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.

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


De Facto Demolition

One year ago contractors working for a developer/convenience and liquor store owner named Jewel Saeed tore the roof off a Federal house on Carlton Street here in Salem and exposed it to the deluge of an approaching tropical storm: in the following weeks they ripped out all of the original (soaked) fabric, including its massive center chimney, and rebuilt it as petrochemical-clad condominiums, surrounded by blacktop. I may rant against the huge generic buildings which are gradually transforming the Salem streetscape, but no Salem development has ever troubled me more than the mutilation of 25 Carlton Street. The act was so brazen, and the response so tepid. Carlton Street is not located in one of Salem’s four historic districts, so it is not subject to overview by the Historic Commission, but all Salem structures are subject to the city-wide Demolition Delay Ordinance and Mr. Saeed did not apply for a demolition permit or a waiver. He didn’t have to bother. But make no mistake: the structure that now occupies the lot designated 25 Carlton Street is not the same building that existed a year ago.

Carlton Street 1985

Carlton Street 2014

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25 Carlton Street in 1985, 2014, and this (very foggy) morning. The fine grain of vinyl siding.


From Corner Store to Colossus

There are no pretty pictures in today’s post (well, as usual, the historic one is relatively pleasing) but I feel the need to weigh in on yet another inappropriate development looming over Salem–in this case, threatening the view and the neighborhood I see from my office window at Salem State University. An assortment of tired twentieth-century shops grafted onto an older building in a rather awkward–but certainly not imposing–manner might possibly be replaced by a behemoth commercial structure more appropriate for a Route 128 office park, and if the developer doesn’t get this way, an apparently even larger building comprising 34 residential units. The developer in question is of course from nearby Marblehead, a town which has produced a long line of investors in Salem, hoping to either reap returns or assuage their suburban guilt over residing in a town that “celebrates diversity” but has none. He unabashedly proclaims his project “Lafayette Place” even though there is a lovely little street bearing the same name (for over a century) a few blocks down the road. Because he is also a former overseer of SSU, there are also concerns that this is another encroachment by the university into a residential neighborhood. I really hope that’s not the case and I tend to think it is not: the university is building big–very big–on its own campus but it is also the new tenant of an ambitious adaptive reuse project just down the road from the proposed “Lafayette Place” (and up the road from the real Lafayette Place) in which a Salem developer has transformed the former Temple Shalom into an academic building within its existing footprint.

Now brace yourself for the pictures: the corner of Lafayette and West Streets, present, past, future (?). The cute little A&P store that once occupied the site (you can still see its Colonial Revival “frame”) makes me very sentimental for corner grocery stores in general and A&Ps in particular, although I’m not sure I’ve even been in one! The scale of this building is still appropriate for its surrounding neighborhood.

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Corner Store AP SSU

Corner Store Lafayette Place

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The corner of Lafayette and West Streets present & past (Dionne Collection, SSU Archives and Special Collections), and renderings of the proposed “Lafayette Place”.  Jerome Curley, a great source for Salem’s visual history and history in general, has offered the picture below so you can appreciate the scale issue. On the immediate right is the Lafeyette/West corner, and all of those residential buildings on both sides of the street remain. (From his Salem through Time, co-edited with Nelson Dionne).

Lafayette West Corner


An Abandoned House in Essex

Brakes literally screeched, disturbing a quiet neighborhood, as I spotted a beautiful abandoned house in Essex yesterday. I was on my way from Ipswich to Beverly to home on a rather circuitous route, and then I spotted this stately house on Western Avenue: striking in both its elegance and abandonment. Neighbors looked warily on as I took some pictures, and then I hopped back in the car and drove home so I could research the house, forgetting all about my Beverly errand. Here it is.

Abandoned House Essex

Abandoned House Essex 2

Abandoned House Essex 3

Barr Farm Essex 1979

The Col. Andrews House (Barr Farm) yesterday and in 1979.

We are fortunate in Massachusetts to have MACRIS, a digital database of inventories of historical properties undertaken for the Massachusetts Historical Commission, and I quickly found the Essex house, which was identified as the Colonel Andrews House, built in 1806 and better known as the “Barr Farm”. Besides the decaying elegance, that’s what caught my attention: this is no country Colonial but a pristine Federal farmhouse. The inventory, which dates from 1979, is largely based on an interview with the 99-year-old Mrs. John Barr, who had lived in the house nearly her entire life and still lived there at that time. She notes that it had always been a farm (I didn’t even notice outbuildings–I only had eyes for the house) up until the death of her husband 40 years previously, and then it became “inactive”. And so it remains–or does it? That chimney looks rather rebuilt to me, and the surrounding lawn is mowed……

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Abandoned House Essex last


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?

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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.


The Eagle has Landed

Last October, the wooden eagle carved by Samuel McIntire over two centuries ago for the north facade of Hamilton Hall was removed for restoration and preservation purposes and two days ago a resin replica was (re-)installed in its place, and once again I had a bird’s-eye view from my third floor window. The cherry picker, contractors, replica and a little crowd arrived first thing in the morning and by 10:00 the new eagle was firmly in place, looking (from relatively far away) like it had always been there. The original eagle had been painted in the later nineteenth century and gilded in the 1920s, but apparently it was white in the first half-century of its existence, and so white it will remain, blending in nicely with the adjacent–and original–McIntire swags. Kudos to the Board of Trustees of Hamilton Hall for making this happen–as this was the last in situ McIntire eagle in Salem it has been a topic of conversation for decades. Now the old wooden eagle–its rot removed (or at least stabilized)–will endure in interior perpetuity (one hopes!) while its better-equipped copy braves the elements outside.

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Eagle at Hamilton Hall


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.


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