For architectural photographers of the early and mid-twentieth century, the doorway shot was a stock image. Frank Cousins issued many doorway postcards and compiled a portfolio of images in 1912. A decade later, his fellow Salem photographer Mary Harrod Northend issued Historic Doorways of Old Salem and Samuel Chamberlain included many Salem doorways in his popular New England Doorways in 1939. As a frame itself, the doorway is an easily framed image, and can serve as the epitome of the architectural style of the entire house. In the forward to New England Doorways, Chamberlain identifies the doorway (and the fireplace) as “focal points of interest in the early houses, where the builder might forget stern necessity for a moment and indulge in his distinctive desire for ornament.”
Two of Chamberlain’s photographs are below: the Phillips House doorway on Chestnut Street and the pedimented “shutter door” of the Clark-Morgan House on Essex Street (a great Georgian colonial house which is currently for sale). The caption below the Phillips House reads: “Salem is the supreme New England setting for doorways of this formal pattern, which seem to reflect the opulence of Salem’s 19th century clipper ship owners and merchants.” So here the doorway is not just representing the entire house, but also its location and era.
Indeed, these classic collections of Salem doorways generally include the more opulent mansions of the city, along with older houses and those with literary connections. My own “harvest of a good many doorway hunting expeditions” (to quote Chamberlain again) therefore includes images of the doorways of smaller, lesser-known, but equally beautiful houses around town. I was also looking for color and contrast on my expeditions, which are provided by both paint and the springtime wreaths on many Salem doors.
First, two eighteenth-century doorways on either end of Essex Street, with an updated version of the Clark-Morgan house (above) sans its shutter door.
Next, a sampling of doorways (and wreaths) in the vicinity of the House of the Seven Gables and Derby Street.
From the other end of town, a rather random sampling of doorways in the McIntire Historic District. I’ve always been partial to the brick house in the middle photograph, and its entrance its particularly beautiful. Lots of external embellishment today, including a traditional Massachusetts golden cod.
I can’t resist throwing in a few Chestnut Street doorways: the dual threshold of a Greek Revival double house, and the elaborate entrance of one of many brick Federal mansions on the street. I wanted to showcase another shutter door, because there are many in the city, serving as excellent examples of how our predecessors created environmental air conditioning.