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.
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.
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