Hamilton Hall was built as an assembly house in 1805 by Samuel McIntire and it retains this essential function over 200 years later. It has been the setting for festive fetes for important people (the Marquis de Lafayette, Nathaniel Bowditch, Andrew Jackson), debutante assemblies, lectures, forums and exhibitions, and the annual Christmas Dance. I believe that the Christmas Dance began just after World War II, along with another annual event, the Hamilton Hall Lecture Series, but it retains traditions that herald back to earlier assemblies: patronesses, ushers, curtseys, a lethal bourbon punch, and a “Grand March” at the end of the evening. I never miss it.
Mary Harrod Northend (1850-1926), author, photographer, and descendant of several old Massachusetts families, recounts many Hamilton Hall traditions in her book Memories of Old Salem (1917) and Colonial Homes and their Furnishings (1912). Like her contemporaries Wallace Nutting and Alice Morse Earle, Northend had a rather sentimental view of the “ye olde” colonial past, Salem’s past, and her past, but her books and photographs are still charming.
I went over and took some pictures of the empty Hamilton Hall, well before the caterers and dancers arrived. There’s something about an empty “party” hall, especially this particular one with its interesting acoustics and spring dance floor, that is compelling, even romantic. As you can see, the Hall has an elegant but somewhat spare interior, which was disdained by the Victorian ladies of Northend’s Memories, who were always embellishing it with flowers and oak leaf garlands and swags. The gilt mirrors, which are always referred to as the Russian mirrors, were an addition of that time, along with the lighting.
The second-floor ballroom.
The Lafayette Room, with the Marquis over the mantle.
More mirrors in the Supper Room on the third floor.
Hours later, the food and attendees were assembled in the Hall, the latter not quite as orderly as in one of Northend’s photographs, despite their participation in the Grand March.