Daily Archives: October 13, 2011

Peirce-Nichols without Paint

Last weekend the absolutely beautiful weather and the Halloween season combined to make Salem a very busy place.  There were crowds of people on the streets and sidewalks, even in the McIntire Historic District, away from the tacky witchcraft sites.  In the midst of it all was an oasis of peace and tranquility:  the Peirce-Nichols House on Federal Street.  To my untrained eye, this early McIntire house looks similar to the house I referenced in my last post; like the former Derby Mansion on Washington Street, it is a transitional Georgian/early Federal house (built in 1782) that received a high Federal makeover (1801) by the iconic Salem architect.  But fortunately for all, this house is still standing, owned and maintained by the Peabody Essex Museum since 1917.

The first thing you notice about the Peirce-Nichols house is not the house itself but its fence, topped with hand-carved wooden urns carved by McIntire and restored by Colonial Revival architect William G. Rantoul in the 1920s.  As I was walking by, dazed as usual by the urns, I noticed the gate was open and walked around back to take a few pictures of the terraced garden, which used to extend all the way to the North River, but shrank considerably (like the river) over the nineteenth century due to the infrastructure needs of the city.

The garden, though peaceful, really is a shadow of its former self so I spent more time in the courtyard between the house and the stables.  Outbuildings are interesting anyway, but as the house is being painted it was also a place and a time to examine the unveiled, unpainted work of McIntire.  Unlike the fence urns, the master architect probably didn’t carve the wide pilasters himself, but looking at their scraped surfaces was an engaging way to take in a rather imposing house.

The photographs: a stable door, looking back at the house through the garden and stables, the back of the house, and unpainted details.

Front facade:  the  Peirce-Nichols House in  a 1920s “City” Maynard Workshop postcard.

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