Diminutive Dwellings

Salem is primarily known for its grand Federal mansions, but there are lots of amazing smaller houses in the city as well.  I’m fortunate to live in quite a big house, but it has a small apartment attached to it, and at various times in my life when things were chaotic or complex or troubling I just wanted to shut the big house up and seek sanctuary in the tiny flat, where everything is small-scaled, compartmentalized, and manageable. There’s a whimsical, dollhouse-like, Alice-in-wonderland quality to the apartment, but of course I’ve never lived there, and as we have a very nice tenant I can’t just take up residence on a whim.

There are several small houses in Salem  that evoke similar feelings of simplicity through scale, and they have lots of charming (primarily Dutch) details to boot.  The first house below, built around the time of the American Revolution, is located just off Federal Street in the McIntire Historic District, and the other two nineteenth-century houses are located off Derby Street.

These are pretty tiny houses, with a very small footprint and perhaps one or two rooms on each floor (I cheated a bit with the last one, which has an addition).  In some future post I’ll showcase small old houses (which Salem has in abundance, particularly Georgian “urban cottages”), but these are really small old houses.  Lots of older cities in America and Europe have tiny, narrow rowhouses, often called “spite” houses, built to fill gaps in the existing streetscape, like these two Virginia houses:  the Spite House of Alexandria and the adorable little (again, Dutch) cottage built adjacent to the Old Stone House at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond.

But there’s just something about a tiny freestanding house, like the Salem houses above and Mark Twain’s boyhood home in Hannibal, Missouri below, that is particularly appealing.  These houses are so self-contained and self-sufficient, but on such a small scale.  Of course the small house movement, and its even more environmentally correct tiny house movement, have been gathering steam for some time now.  An exemplar of the latter is below, from the Tumblewood Tiny House Company.

Mark Twain House in Hannibal, Missouri, 1933. HABS, Library of Congress

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