The master architect, builder, and woodcarver Samuel McIntire (1757-1811) created the city (as opposed to the town) of Salem. His career both coincides with and reflects Salem’s golden age; from 1780 until his death he designed more than 50 public buildings, churches, and houses, many of them still standing but unfortunately not all. This weekend marks the anniversary of his birth; this year marks the bicentennial of his death. In 2007, the Peabody Essex Museum marked the 250th anniversary of McIntire’s birth with an impressive and comprehensive exhibition, Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style, and a companion volume of the same name by PEM Curator Dean Lahikainen which must be the definitive study of McIntire’s architecture and craftsmanship. Obviously there is little that I could possibly add to these scholarly testaments to McIntire other than my own personal view. I live in the McIntire Historic District (the largest of Salem’s four districts), and I’m surrounded by surviving McIntire buildings, but the McIntire structure in which I’m the most interested is no longer here: the South Church, missing from Chestnut Street.
All of McIntire’s Salem churches have been lost, but I’m particularly fascinated by the South Church, which the PEM exhibition calls a “masterpiece in religious architecture”: perhaps because of its (former) proximity to my own house, perhaps because of its (former) Cathedralesque stature and its (lost) 150-foot steeple, certainly because of the almost-haunting images below.
Photograph credits: NYPL Digital Gallery (2); Edwin Monroe Bacon, Boston; A Guide Book (1903); Peabody Essex Museum Phillips Library; Harvard Schlesinger Library. (Ironically, just across from the house depicted in this last 1882 photograph, the Eden-Browne House on the corner of Broad and Summer Streets, was Samuel McIntire’s own house and workshop at 31 Summer Street, taken down to make room for the headquarters of the Holyoke Mutual Insurance Company after 1936.)