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.