Monthly Archives: July 2011

Late July, Downtown Salem

For the last weekend in July, a few photographs taken during a leisurely stroll downtown on an absolutely beautiful day; the heat had broken and everyone was out and about, thankful to be out of their air-conditioner-enforced seclusion.  I started on Front Street, where there are so many great shops, and then made my way towards the House of the Seven Gables off Derby Street and then back to the McIntire Historic District along Essex Street.  It was not supposed to be an architectural excursion, it was supposed to be a day for flower boxes and streets scenes, but (as usual, in Salem) I couldn’t help myself.

Front Street window boxes, and fabric topiaries in the window of MarketPlace Quilts.

Work on one of the gables at the House of the Seven Gables, a much-photographed entrance with its summer louvered door, two window boxes on Turner Street (I like the nautical ropes supporting the second one), and one of my favorite houses, a Greek Revival cottage across from the Gables which looks like it has its own adjacent summer house.

Speaking of summer houses, the ultimate:  the Samuel McIntire-designed Derby-Beebe summer house in the center of the Peabody Essex Museum campus.  Amazing McIntire detail lavished on single-room seasonal  structure!  I was trying to be creative with the last shot and capture three windows, but I got a car and the house across the street as well.  The other McIntire/Derby summer house, larger and even more ornate, was originally situated at Elias Hasket Derby’s farm on Lafayette Street and moved to Glen Magna Farm in nearby Danvers in 1901.

Random scenes on and around Essex Street:  a very patriotic window and a very classical border, a Salem pedicab(by) takes a break, lunch in the Japanese garden of the Peabody Essex Museum. 

Favorite Garden Books

While rearranging my bookcases the other day, it became increasingly clear that I have too many books on gardens and gardening.  They’re all lovely and probably useful too, but I consult very few of them.  There are maybe 20 books on herbs, testaments to the time when I was trying desperately to cultivate a garden of medieval herbs (primarily plague cures) in a plot that wasn’t particularly suitable.  I made a pile of garden design books, whose advice I have completely ignored.  And then there are the lavish “gardens of the rich and famous” books, most of which I received as gifts.  These are beautiful but not really inspirational (rather the reverse).  My favorite garden books were not even in a bookcase; they were piled by (or under) my bed, or on my desk, places where I can frequently access them.  And here they are, in no particular order, with brief descriptions of why I like them so much.  Please send recommendations!  It looks like I’m going to purge my bookcases so I’ll have more space.

Penelope Hobhouse, Plants in Garden History.  I have several of Penelope Hobhouse’s books but I like this one the best.  The operative words in the title are “plants” and “history”, two things I like very much.  As you can see from the subtitle, the thesis of the book is the influence of plants on garden design through the ages, and the illustrations are really amazing.  A perfect book to leaf through casually, or with purpose.

Betsy G. Fryberger, The Changing Garden.  Four Centuries of European and American Art.  This book is more art history than garden history, but it’s still really beautiful, and instructive in its own (not practical) way.

Charles Quest-Ritson, The English Garden.  A Social History. Like Fryberger’s book, this book uses plants and gardens as means to engage in a broader cultural history.  This is an illustrated social history of English gardeners from 1500 to the present.

  Alice Morse Earle, Old Time Gardens, Newly Set Forth.  A big leap from the academic to the romantic. Massachusetts-born Alice Morse Earle was one of the major purveyors of “colonial” culture at the turn of the last century.  She published books on ye olde everything:  houses, clothing, pastimes, punishments, and gardens.  First published in 1901, Old Time Gardens seems to have been continually in print in the first half of the twentieth century.  My copy is a first edition, with a beautiful Arts & Crafts cover and several illustrations of “old Salem” gardens.  I read it more for its charm than its accuracy.

Karan Davis Cutler, The New England Gardener’s Book of Lists.  Another big leap, towards the purely practical.  As the title informs, this book is nothing but lists, of plants for shade, sun, different soil conditions, etc…made by professional and amateur gardeners and nursery people.  This book is New England-focused, but I’m sure there must be equivalents for other regions. I find this book so useful that, rather than leaving it by my bed or on my desk, I leave it in my car.

The Salem Garden Club, Old Salem Gardens, first published in 1946.  This pamphlet was written by Mrs. Mable C.H. Pollack, who was no dilettante.  She did a lot of research (more than Earle, I think) and the end result is a pretty substantive little book, better than your standard-issue garden club guide (although I have to admit that I’m a bit biased). Sometimes I carry it with me on walks around town, looking for forgotten gardens.

Salem Etsy Picks for Summer

I haven’t done an Etsy post for a while, so I thought I would showcase some recent finds that are Salem-related or offered by Salem sellers. I was intrigued by my first item even before I realized it was set at the Salem train station (for lack of a better term); I have no idea what kind of search I was running, but it suddenly appeared!   The second item, an architectural print of the Colonial Revival “fireplace nook” in the dining room of the Caroline Emmerton House on Essex Street in Salem from the American Architect and Building News,  was featured in an earlier post entitled “Hand-drawn Houses” so it’s neat to see the Etsy listing. To fill my Salem basket I have added a Salem-made clock pendant, a pair of Daniel Low & Company vintage art nouveau butter knives, and a great old Essex Institute book on Salem ships.

11×14 Photographic print of Alternate Reality Train Station (8×10 also available) by Etsy seller remyphotographic.

Dining Room of Mrs. Emmerton, Salem, MA 1890 from Etsy seller stcroixarchitecture.

Antique Gold Steampunk Pendant by Etsy seller HeatherReidStudios.

Two Antique Sterling Butter SpreadersDaniel Low & Co. from Etsy seller RobertaGrove

1925 Old Time Ships of Salem from Etsy seller Frothingham Street

The Beginning of Branding

About two-thirds of the way through my summer graduate course on the Expansion of Europe in the early modern era we have already identified three examples of early branding, at least a century before this modern form of advertising is supposed to have been invented.  First, we have the logo of the Dutch East India Company, very visible on all Company ships from the early seventeenth century, then we have the brand of piracy, the immediately-recognizable skull-and-crossbones, and last but not least, Josiah Wedgwood’s abolitionist medallion, first appearing in the later eighteenth century in Britain and then crossing the Atlantic to appear in American anti-slavery materials.

One of the world’s first multinational corporations, organized for long-distance trade to the Indian Ocean and beyond, the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC) became the chief importer of Asian goods and wares into Europe in the seventeenth century, opening the doors that Salem ships would sail through two centuries later.  The Dutch were the only Europeans that the Japanese would trade with, and their close commercial connection is evidenced by these two items:  an eighteenth-century hand-colored woodblock print (with the VOC logo clearly visible on the pale flag in the center) and a late seventeenth-century Arita charger made for the European market (from Christies):

Everyone is familiar with the pirate flag, and I wrote an earlier post on its early history.  The flag below, dating from the later eighteenth century, is from the Museum of London’s ongoing exhibition Piratesthe Captain Kidd Story.  This logo’s evolution from piracy to poison is another story altogether.

And here is another famous eighteenth-century logo,one of the first political brands and a transatlantic one at that:  the pioneering industrialist Josiah Wedgwood’s Am I Not A Man And A Brother medallion, made for the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the 1780s.  It became very fashionable and effective in Britain, and crossed the Atlantic after 1800.  Below is an original Wedgwood slave medallion from the Victoria & Albert Museum, and a woodcut illustration from John Greenleaf Whittier’s 1837 abolitionist poem Our Countrymen in Chains (Library of Congress).

These examples certainly predate modern advertising, but I think we can go even further back to see the origins of branding, at least to the emergence of printing and printers’ trademarks, or devices, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.  Unique devices were fashioned by printers as marketing tools in this competitive new industry, and discerning buyers/readers would look for established marks.  The dolphin and anchor device of the famous Venetian printer-publisher Aldus Manutius certainly helped to establish his “brand”, but my favorite device is the cat and mouse (rat?) mark of his fellow Italian printer Melchoirre Sessa (fl. 1510-35).

Sources of Devices:  “First Impressions” Digital Exhibition at the John Rylands Library of the University of Manchester (Manutius–you can also make your own mark there) and the University of Florida’s Printers’ Devices Database (Sessa).

The Friendship of Salem

It looks like our little heat wave will be over by tomorrow; in any case it is generally cool and breezy aboard the Friendship of Salem on Derby Wharf in Salem Harbor, which is where I’ll be for Summer Sipping aboard the Friendship, the occasionally/annual fundraiser for Salem’s venerable preservation organization, Historic Salem, Incorporated.  Few things are more pleasurable than drinking on deck with friends.

The twentieth-century Friendship  is a reconstruction of the three-masted, 342-ton East Indiaman bearing the same name built in 1797.  The original Friendship completed 15 voyages, to ports all over the world, before her capture by the British in the War of 1812 on the return voyage from Russia.  The new Friendship sailed into Salem Harbor in 1998, as part of  the Salem Maritime National Historic Site’s general policy to make Derby Wharf  look (and feel) more historically accurate and active.  A replica rigging shed and the Pedrick Store House have since followed.  Here are two views of the ship, the first taken from the shade and shelter of the rigging shed on a blistering 100-degree Friday:

The builders of the new Friendship had lots of visual evidence to guide them:  an 1804 model made by a member of the original ship’s crew and several contemporary paintings, all in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum.

The Friendship Homeward Bound, George Ropes, Jr., 1805. Peabody Essex Museum

The Friendship of Salem, Guiseppe Fedi. Peabody Essex Museum

Once the new Friendship arrived in Salem, it was as if it had always been there; everyone really misses it when it is not docked at the wharf.  It just seems to belong in Salem, which is one reason I find the images below both compelling and rather jolting. The first photographs show the Friendship in full sail just outside Newport, leading the 2007  Tall Ships Rhode Island Parade of Sail, while the last two views place the ship in waters familiar to me:  the Seacoast area of southern Maine/New Hampshire near where I grew up.  The first is by Kittery Point photographer Barbara Ingersoll and the last shot shows the Friendship sailing under the 1914 Memorial Bridge that links Maine and New Hampshire, which (since it’s all about preservation) was placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s 11 Most Endangered Places List in 2009.

Early Evening in the Ropes Garden

I was reserving a post on the garden of the Ropes Mansion, built in 1727, considerably altered (especially the interior) in the nineteenth century, and under the stewardship of the Peabody Essex Museum since the late 1970s, for a bit later in the summer, but when I walked through it the other night I felt that it should be captured NOW.  The house and the garden are on upper Essex Street, just a few doors down from the misnamed “Witch House”, and the garden gate is almost always open to the public.  The garden was laid out in 1912 by the prominent Salem horticulturalist John Robinson, whose own house and garden were only steps away on Summer Street (now sadly subdivided and hardtop).  It is always referred to as a Colonial Revival garden, meaning that it is characterized by the use of “old-fashioned” flowers from the Colonial era (hollyhocks!) bursting forth from defined beds, accessed by axial paths, and all enclosed by at least one (hopefully brick) wall.  Indeed, the Ropes Garden has all that and more:  22 garden beds, a nice mix of traditional annuals (for color) and perennials, a wisteria arbor-bench, a pond, lots of gravel paths, and older shrubs and trees, adorned with helpful zinc labels.

A few photographs of the house, today and in the early and mid-twentieth century, to set the scene.  I really do think that the Ropes Mansion is one of the most beloved of all the older Salem house museums, because of its accessible Essex Street location, its “haunted” reputation, and the fact that it narrowly escaped serious damage only a couple of years ago when a malfunctioning heat gun started a fire during  a paint-removal process.  The quick and effective response of the Salem Fire Department earned them a historic preservation award from Historic Salem, Inc. last year.

HABS, Library of Congress

And now for the garden.  It was quite renown in the first half of the twentieth century, owing to the popularity of the Colonial Revival and “Grandmothers’ Gardens”, so I’ve included a few hyper-colorful postcards as well as contemporary shots, taken in the early evening.  The backdrop of the garden when looking north is a wonderful Federal brick house that has been virtually abandoned for 20 years or so, but is showing signs of life lately.

Diverse Door Knockers

We’re doing some work on our front entrance, or I should say Dennis (the man who seems to be able to do anything) is doing some work on our front entrance.  Living in a double house means that if your neighbors paint anything that is immediately adjacent to your house, you must paint or be shabby by comparison!  As you can see, our entry differs from theirs anyway, as the guy who bought our half of the house in the 1860s was determined to “update” it in as many ways as possible, and so we have a much more Victorian entrance.  I like the window and portico feature, but as it juts out a bit there are always some weathering issues, which Dennis is addressing.

Looking at the front door focused my attention on its hardware.  We really need a new doorknob and I’ve never been happy with the door knocker, although it seems to be a match to the one next door.

Any opportunity to ditch daily responsibilities and dash up to Old House Parts in Kennebunk, Maine to look at bins of door knobs and knockers is welcome, but first I thought I’d look around for some inspiration.  So here’s my door knocker tour of Salem, beginning with the more whimsical door knocker creatures, familiar and a bit more exotic.

Some Arts-and-Crafts-looking ladies.  The red door opens the Chestnut Street house which formally belonged to the Salem artist Philip Little.  The same door knocker is clearly present (especially if you use the zoom feature) in a 1910 Frank Cousins photograph that I found in the great digital archive at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Some inanimate door knockers around town, including the more conventional (pineapple) and some unique (a harp?) examples.  I like the “knocking hand”, though the Old House Parts website informs me that this is a Colonial Revival knocker, not quite right for our house.

Cars at the Codman Estate

I went out to Historic New England’s Codman Estate in Lincoln, Massachusetts this weekend to view what must have been hundreds of antique automobiles parked in its surrounding fields.  As all of you in this area know, Sunday was a hot and bright day, and all that chrome seemed to make it hotter and brighter!  I liked the juxtaposition of the twentieth-century cars with the eighteenth-century house; the Codman house, alternatively known as “The Grange”, was built around 1740 but considerably altered in the 1790s, so that it looks like a proper (though a bit boxy) Salem Federal house to an amateur architectural historian such as myself.

I am sorry to disappoint antique automobile aficionados, but I arrived a bit late and wanted to take as many photographs as possible so I didn’t gather that much information about the cars.  This is really a shame, as their owners (all men, as far as I could tell) were extremely eager to tell onlookers all about them—both the history of the car and their history with the car.  I wish I had had more time to hear every car tale.  For the most part, except for a few Jaguars and MGs, this was an American car meet-up:  all models of Fords, Studebakers, Hudsons, Packards, Cadillacs. Lots of trucks!  I did see a few original Beetles, but the only older BMW was decidedly late for the party and turned away.

Not a great picture, but very representative of the day:  great variety and gleaming chrome.

I kept checking back, but I never saw this guy, only his legs.

  For some reason, I was particularly taken with all the trucks on display. Vintage trucks are so much more attractive than the behemoths on the road today! This early REO truck got a lot of attention (I liked its wheels).

Lots of big, LONG mid-century American cars, both convertibles and hard-tops.  The Thunderbirds seemed particularly numerous and beautiful, both inside and out.

My very favorite (despite Mr. Nader), the Corvair, and a perfect Packard.

A Turned Out Tavern

This major fundraising event for the Museums of Old York, the annual Decorator Show House, opened this weekend and runs through August 13.  This is the 22nd Show House, and it’s a bit different from previous ones in that it is not a Shingle cottage on the coast but rather a former colonial tavern turned homestead in York Village. Very appropriate both  for York and for Old York (as we used to call this 100+ year-old museum/preservation organization), which stewards 9 colonial structures.

The house that has been referred to as the Emerson House since its acquisition by a family of that name after the American Revolution began its life as the Woodbridge Tavern around 1719.  It has been adapted and expanded in quite a dramatic fashion over the centuries, but you can still see the tavern origins in the house’s front rooms.  I went to the preview party the other night and particularly liked the front paneled parlor, decked out in black-and-tan.  Above that room is a “bedchamber” with an eighteenth (or early nineteenth-?) century stenciled floor which you can see peeking out from under its protective floor-covering.

A few pictures of the exterior:  one from circa 1880, when the house was situated (like all old houses) right on the main road; it was moved back after the turn of the century and also considerably expanded, so much so that it almost resembles a Colonial Revival house rather than a Colonial one.  The others I took last week.  The doorknocker decorates a particularly beautiful tavern door with original hinges, which you can only see from the interior (and I wasn’t allowed to photograph!)

A Grand Garden Estate in North Salem

A century ago, North Salem (still sometimes referred to by its colonial name:  Northfields) was a horticultural hotspot, with several large private gardens, the “garden cemetery” Greenlawn, and the remnants of the Manning Orchard in its midst.  On Dearborn Street, where Nathaniel Hawthorne’s uncle Robert Manning had established his nursery earlier in the previous century (and where Hawthorne himself briefly lived) there was a grand garden estate that was connected to some of Salem’s most prominent mercantile families:  the Dodges, the Bertrams, and the Emmertons.

The house around which this garden estate was created still stands on Dearborn Street but its garden is gone, divided up into house lots in the 1950s and 1960s.  A circular street now exists where once paths lead from the house to the North River through a meticulously landscaped garden.  According to Bryant Tolles, author of Architecture in Salem, the house’s origins are somewhat shrouded in mystery.  Its columns give it a Greek Revival appearance but apparently the date 1790 is scratched on an interior plaster wall. The documented history of the house begins with Pickering Dodge, Jr. in the 1830s:  the son of  wealthy Salem merchant with a Federal seat on Chestnut Street, he apparently wanted a “country house” (a mile or so down the road) where he could engage in horticultural pursuits.  He purchased the pre-existing Dearborn Street house, probably added the columns, and began laying out the garden.  Over the next century, the garden was expanded and embellished, probably most dramatically when the estate was in the possession of Jennie Bertram Emmerton, the fabulously wealthy daughter of Salem’s great merchant philanthropist Captain John Bertram and mother of House of Seven Gables Settlement Association Caroline Emmerton, in the 1880s.

In back and on both sides of the house was the lush garden, revealed by the photographs and plans produced for the Works Progress Administration’s Historic American Building Survey around 1940. From what we can see of it, the garden still looks pretty good, but there is an evident sense of neglect about the place, probably best represented by the “leaning” octagonal summerhouse.

All historic photographs from the Library of Congress’s Built in America collection.

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