In my last post I showed pictures of the barren and brown (white this morning!) garden of the perfectly-preserved and well-protected Ropes Mansion in downtown Salem, but yesterday also brought sad news of another Ropes Mansion in Salem, presently in imminent danger of demolition. This is the Ropes house in North Salem, which has belonged to another branch of that eminent Salem family (original seventeenth-century land grantees) since its construction in the later nineteenth century.
Here is the house and its outbuildings yesterday afternoon, before the dusting of snow that arrived last night. The cupola-topped carriage house–also threatened–is particularly charming, so I took another photograph from the vantage point of a neighbor’s well-manicured lawn.
As many of the older houses in North Salem (Northfields) once were, the Ropes house is situated on a large lot with mature trees, including the magnificent copper beech you see above. The wrap-around porch on the house evokes the earlier era of the “garden estate”, when prosperous Salem families established “rural” residences (both year-round and seasonal) across the North River from the busy city center. The 1820 map below, drawn by Jonathan Saunders based on late eighteenth-century census materials, illustrates the relationship between North Salem and Salem proper in the nineteenth century–I placed a big star on the present location of the Ropes house.
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library.
For as long as I’ve lived in Salem, everyone has had their eye on this house, coveting its graceful presence and large lot. It remained in the Ropes family until this past fall, when it suddenly appeared on the market and sold relatively quickly despite the fact that the city of Salem had revoked an occupancy permit a while ago. Now the present owners have put forward plans to demolish the buildings and build three houses on the lot, but perhaps save some of the trees. These plans are now before the Historic Commission, so we’ll see what happens.
January 10th, 2012 at 9:29 am
Wow, what a historical catastrophe it would be to lose such a beautiful home. I know it costs a lot of money to restore these types of homes, but you can’t tell me there isn’t someone out there who wouldn’t be willing to do so.
Has anyone been able to discover the name of the purchaser? Perhaps some negative publicity might force them to reconsider their apparent intention to demolish this historical treasure.
January 10th, 2012 at 11:50 am
It’s been deteriorating for quite some time, but I think John’s comments below are very accurate.
January 10th, 2012 at 9:33 am
I have heard that the barn on he rear of the property may actually be one of Salem’s early volunteer fire stations. When the switch was made to horse drawn fire apparatus, there were several old small fire stations that housed hand drawn fire pumps scattered throughout the city. Many of these buildings were sold & moved off site,. One, the predecessor to Engine 2’s current quarters on North St is a now home on Buffum St.
While, it would be a loss to loose a Queen Anne style Victorian home, it would be more of a loss to loose the last of Salem’s volunteer fire stations !
January 10th, 2012 at 11:46 am
Thanks for this interesting information, Nelson! I can see a future post on former firehouses.
January 10th, 2012 at 9:46 am
Sally and I live in the neighborhood. This has always been our greatest fear – seeing the house purchased by a speculative developer. Our understanding is that over the years, offers were made by people who wanted to purchase and restore the house and they were always turned down. (I think there is/was trust involved some how…) I have a hard time believing that that no such individual(s) made an offer this time.
January 10th, 2012 at 11:47 am
Thanks for the local (very local) response, John. That’s my take too.
January 10th, 2012 at 11:26 am
I’m quite surprised that Salem hasn’t protected structures built before a certain year. Even if the parcel is to be split, which is certainly understandable based on today’s land values, it’s hard to believe that the current house and carraige house (and MAGNIFICENT copper beech!) couldn’t be incorporated into a split plan.
January 10th, 2012 at 11:49 am
Salem has very strong historic districts in the central city, less protection in outlying areas.
January 10th, 2012 at 5:28 pm
This house is not in an historic district, so the most the SHC can do is deny demolition, I think for one year. The neighborhood should start right now to establish a district on and around Dearborn St to protect all the other beautiful houses of this neighborhood. This is the only clout the city can have over decisions made by owners. The developer is fully within his rights to demolish except they will need a variance for proposed frontage. All who care should contact Jim Treadwelll, an abutter and a Salem activist.
January 10th, 2012 at 6:38 pm
I always wondered about this wonderful property. I am horrified to hear that it is to be torn down and replaced with 3 houses! Thanks for the info I am only sad to hear about the status.
January 11th, 2012 at 7:37 am
Thanks Hobby and Carol for more local perspectives; ok, John, you have your charge!
January 10th, 2012 at 7:54 pm
A sad story, repeated too often in too many places. I do not remember a time in my suddenly long life that older houses have been less appreciated.
January 11th, 2012 at 6:24 am
It may be worse than we can imagine. A friend in the heavy construction business says that there are “schools of thought” who believe that ALL buildings over 25 years old should be torn down. The “Big Thinkers’ believe that all wiring should be replaced after a certain number of years, that no existing structure will be able to met the energy saving regulations that will be required for all buildings. On & on. If you carry all this out to it’s logical extreme, we’d end up in energy efficient high rises surrounded by park lands hat formerly were our cities. Efficient but very 1984 !
As it is now, current building codes for storm resistance over rule historic district requirements. ( Think hurricane resistant windows in old town Marblehead )
January 11th, 2012 at 7:59 am
THis reminds me of a house from the little town I grew up in Missouri!
January 16th, 2012 at 8:13 am
You seem to have hit a raw nerve with this one. Definite sign that there is still some hope for this beautiful old house and its surroundings.
It’s bad enough for developers to build cheap, cookie-cutter houses on farmland. It’s another thing to destroy historical buildings for profit. Shameful, but a too familiar story.
Best of luck,
January 16th, 2012 at 9:33 am
I wonder if the 1715 house, now to be moved off site in Beverly would be a candidate for resurrecting on this site as one of the 3 homes ? Dismantling an historic structure is not the easiest thing to do but it can be far simpler to save he main structure of a building this way than to move it intact over the road. Just a thought.
May 25th, 2012 at 8:44 am
[…] in Salem over the past few months; no controversies here, just some nice restorations. I wrote a post just a couple of months ago about a dilapidated and condemned Victorian house in North Salem that […]
April 26th, 2016 at 10:50 am
I believe that this was the location of the North Shore Children’s Hospital before the new building was built on Highland Avenue. I was a patient on Dearborn Street, for 6 weeks, in 1934, after being born in Lynn, and nearly dying at childbirth. Somebody at this fine hospital saved my life. I am now 82 years old and very grateful indeed….Leo Martin
April 26th, 2016 at 10:52 am
Hello Leo, thank you for your story! Cheers to the North Shore Babies Hospital! This home is beautifully restored now.