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.

12 responses to “Peirce-Nichols without Paint

  • MarkD60

    My Aunts house used to be a farm. Then the city moved in and it was just a house in a neighborhood, with houses all around. They still had their barn, with the stables, the chutes for dropping hay down and everything.
    Everyone probably thought it was a garage, that looked like a barn.
    That’s what this post reminded me of.

  • Thoughts on Design

    I’m always fascinated by what the varying layers of paint reveal about a home – the owners, their peronalities, etc. Here, it’s the red columns and trim. Hard to imagine McIntire specing the red, but who knows… Sally and I are working on a house in Manchester right now that was built in 1804. It’s on the corner of PIne and Central Street and is known as the Forster-Leach House. The exterior details bear a striking resemblence to the Pierce-Nichols House and other McIntire homes in Salem. There is no record of his involvement, but I often wonder if the original owner knew McIntire or members of the Pierce-NIchols family. Maybe he sent his builder to Salem to study McIntires work. Forster was a seafaring merchant and they conducted business with each other? We’ll never know.


    • daseger

      Hi John, I know that house–good for you and Sally! Did you check the McIntire papers in the Phillips Library and/or ask Dean Lahikainen? There might be a connection.

  • Steve

    Is this the house across the street from the funeral home? I recall being blown away just by the fence. It’s great to see an old house stripped down to its raw, pure beauty. Amazing that it’s in such beautiful condition after all this time.

    Just thinking out loud about the above comment, I wonder if McIntyre’s designs were published in pattern books so that others could have duplicated his efforts.

  • daseger

    It is one and the same, Steve. McIntire’s first commission, I believe. It’s a good question about pattern books—I’ll have to check Dean Lahikainen’s definitive McIntire book and see what he says.

  • ceciliag

    how beautiful! c

  • downeastdilettante

    Such wood they used in those days! The finest of the early houses on my street, also richly detailed, was similarly thoroughly scraped a few years ago, and became an instant temporary tourist attraction because of the sheer pure beauty of the naked house.

    Re: McIntire & pattern books, I think it’s the other way around in this case—that he was a prolific user of pattern books himself, though he never published one? Of course, then as now, architects also traveled around and were very aware of what their peers were doing. The travels of design ideas in early America is one of the things that fascinates me most

  • downeastdilettante

    PS. Speaking of design inspiration traveling: In 1926, the excessively wealthy E.T. Stotesburys built a summer house up in Bar Harbor based on some of the ‘greatest hits’ of the Federal era, including McIntyre’s Derby summer house, the Derby Mansion, and with arcades based on the courtyard arcades of the Nichols house, and lots of McIntyre swags everywhere. (Despite this flourish of American spirit outside, Mrs. Stotesbury had the interiors done up in 18th century French, Adam, and Georgian styles). The result was a sort of giddy compendium of Federal New England blown up to 80 rooms. Link here:

    • daseger

      Somehow I missed this particular post of yours,so thanks. As to the issue of pattern books, I know that McIntire was very inspired by British ones, but I do wonder how his own motifs and techniques got out there. Sometimes its all about the more-hidden world of apprentices.

  • Mary Vacon Maher

    So excited to see the photos of this house. It has wonderful memories for me and my husband. We were married there in 1969. Our friends were the caretakers at that time. The following year we lived there for three months in the summer, when our friends went on vacation, and my husband agreed to be the tour guide. Living in this home was thrilling. I still daydream about being so fortunate. All the little nooks and crannies – I remember them all. One time we played hide and seek with friends – scary and so much fun.
    It would be wonderful to see this house restored and tours available once again.

    • daseger

      Thanks so much for your story, Mary. It is all painted now–looks good–they are working on the fence and patio. I was just in the garden looking at all the pink bleeding hearts!

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