Tag Archives: Historic Preservation

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).

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.

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



Carlton Street 003p

Carlton Two 007

Carlton Street 010

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.

Corner Store 002

Corner Store 005

Corner Store AP SSU

Corner Store Lafayette Place

Lafayette Place 2

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……

Abandoned House Essex 5

Abandoned House Essex 4

Abandoned House Essex last


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