Monthly Archives: July 2013

Gone Camping

I’m off camping in the Maine woods for the next week, so no posts for a while. IF I survive, I should have some nice pictures next weekend………..

Camping 1909


Georgian Houses in Salem

“Georgian” can be a deceptive architectural designation, especially here in Salem: there are Georgian colonial houses built before the Revolution, and Georgian colonial revival houses which date from the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They might share the distinctive gambrel roof and other architectural details, but the proportions are often very different. Within the colonial category, it is readily apparent that “Georgian” is both a style and a period, and not all houses built in the period conform to the styleThere is also the issue of construction conservatism:  walking through my neighborhood I easily spotted many houses that looked “Georgian” to me, but they date from the 1780s and 1790s and even after 1800: now you can’t have a Georgian house after the end of King George’s rule, can you?

On this same walk, I did find several Georgian houses that conformed to both the style and the period, at a few more that left me confused (see below). This is just a sampling from the McIntire Historic District; I am omitting several of the iconic Georgian houses of Salem, including the Derby House, the CrowninshieldBentley House, and the Miles Ward House. No one could mistake these houses for anything but Georgian, but I have written about them before in various posts and doubtless will again. The houses below are hardly off the beaten track, but I haven’t featured (most of) them before.

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Georgian corner: at the intersection of Essex and Cambridge Streets, the Ropes Mansion (later 1720s) faces the Capt. Thomas Mason House (1750).

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Walking down Essex Street, there are smaller Georgian houses on either side of the street, and the amazing Cabot-Endicott-Low House, built in the 1740s for Salem merchant Joseph Cabot. The house remained in the Cabot family for more than a century, and was then purchased by William Endicott, Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland. The house is spectacular in terms of both scale and detail, and it has great outbuildings too. Unfortunately the other really stately, and unabashedly Georgian, house on Essex Street, the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews House (c. 1740, below) is not as well-preserved as its neighbors: the present owner maintains it as a commercial establishment, complete with vinyl siding and hot top parking lot on what was once fenced-in garden. I’ve never been inside, but its interior has been preserved in photographs, at least, and wallpaper taken from its walls is now in the collection of Winterthur. The beautiful fence that you see in the c. 1910 Detroit Publishing Company photograph below (Library of Congress) is long gone.

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Georgian Houses 2 008Georgian Houses Lindall Barnard Andrews LOC

Over on Federal Street, there are houses that are both Georgian in period and style, and a few that require a bit more interpretation and expertise–a bit more than I have! I’m curious about the three houses below: they have Georgian elements, but as you can see, alterations have been made over time.

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A narrow–and charmingly crooked!–house with a modified gambrel roof and a gambrel-roofed addition:  is it Georgian in style and period? I’m not sure.  And look at the brown house below: it has two roof styles in one!  I wonder which one came first? I assume the gambrel. Apart from the roof, it looks like a mirror image of its neighbor, and that house’s plaque indicates that it is solidly Georgian, at least in period.

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Back to where I began, the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street, where the gardens are in perfect high summer bloom.

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Imperial Ermine

In the midst of a royal-birth-dominated media week I found myself in my graduate class, interpreting two iconic Renaissance portraits with ermines in them. And thus a post was provoked. How did this little weasel get associated with royalty, pretentious nobility, and the academic and clerical hierarchy? The answer lies in the (rare) white fur of this beast (more scientifically know as the stoat, or short-tailed weasel) as well as the emblems incorporated into what became a distinct ermine design: for no animal has the “ermine” black and white coat, it is a heraldic invention.

Ermine Leonardo

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Leonardo da Vinci, Lady with an Ermine (Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan), 1489-90, The Czartoryski Museum and Library, Krakow; Nicholas Hilliard, The Ermine Portrait of Queen Elizabeth, 1585, Hatfield House.

Leonardo has a real ermine in his portrait of a woman who is presumed to be Cecilia Gallerani, the mistress of his powerful patron Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan–whose heraldic emblem was an ermine. But the little creature on Elizabeth’s arm, wearing a crown collar, is an artistic creation based on the ermine pattern, in which the distinctive black tips of the animal’s (several animals actually) tail is stitched onto the fur, sometimes cut into distinct heraldic shapes. I think you can see this most clearly in the portrait below, in which a sixteen-century German merchant’s wife is wearing very distinct ermine sleeves (and a lot of jewelry) with her family crest in the corner.

ermine Cologne portrait

Bathel Bruyn the Younger, Portrait of Woman of the Slosgin Family of Cologne, 1557, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

As eminent (and wealthy) as she might have been, this woman is not a Queen–or even the mistress of a Duke: it seems like anyone can wear ermine in the sixteenth century, at least outside of England. The black-and-white (or white-and-black) patterned “fur” had become a device of conspicuous consumption and social mobility, because of its long-held associations with majesty, wealth, and a Christ-like “purity bought with his own death”, in which it was said that the ermine would give himself up to the approaching hunter, so not to sully his pure white winter coat (not quite sure why this was royal). The sheer expense of  ermine is most likely the ultimate source of its desire and association with the wealthy and privileged: the stoat’s coat is pure white only in winter, and then there are all those little black tails. I do think ermine maintains its exclusive association with royalty longer in England than on the Continent, but I could be wrong.

Ermine Bedford Hours

Ermine George I

Ermine sign for Crown Inn 1750 V and A

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Ermine in various incarnations, through the ages: The Duke of Bedford prays before St. George in his ermine-lined robe, c 1423, the Bedford Hours, 1423  (Additional Ms. 18850 ), British Library, Mezzotint of King George I by John Smith, 1715, British Museum; Drawing for a sign for the Crown Inn, c. 1750, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Stout wearing his summer and winter coats, Prang & Co., 1878, New York Public Library Digital Gallery.  

Appendix:  as a stark contrast to Leonardo’s portrait, I could not resist adding this Ermine with a Lady portrait” by Ellen Paquette!

Ermine with a Lady


Witch Hazel

Well, I’m a bit disappointed (but not surprised) that the new British prince has not been named Alfred, but I must return to my more mundane life. The heat wave is over, thank goodness, but I am remain aggrieved: bruised and beaten from gardening and various athletic activities, bitten by a variety of bugs, burned by the sun. Consequently I have become completely dependent on, and enraptured with, witch hazel. I can’t get enough. I love its simplicity, its cheapness, its effectiveness, its old-fashionedness. Yet I know little about it–there are so many bottles around the house my stepson asked me what it was, and I had to admit complete ignorance. So I looked it up.

V0043169 Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginica): fruiting stem with flower

Witch Hazel Redoute 18p

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginica): fruiting stem with flowers and seed. Colored engraving, c. 1792, after F. J. Schultz; Pierre Redouté, Hamamelis Virginica = Hamamélide de Virginie, c. 1801-19, New York Public Library.

I do know quite a bit about European medicinal plants and their history, but witch hazel is a North American native (actually there are Asian varieties too) so it doesn’t turn up in any of the medieval or Renaissance herbals with which I am familiar. The Native Americans used its bark medicinally, but Europeans (in typical European adaptive fashion) amplified its potency by mixing it with distilled alcohol–and consequently it became a stillrooom/medicine cabinet staple. The standard recipe seems to be 84% witch hazel extract and 16% alcohol today; I’m not sure what is was several centuries ago, but certainly not standard. From past to present, it has been prepared in a variety of forms–poultices, lotions, potions, tinctures and salves–as well as the common “tonic”.

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L0032213 Hazeline bottles, advertisement, 1903-04

John White’s depiction of a Virginian chief with witch-hazel bow, c. 1585-93, British Museum; an advertisement for Hazeline Witch Hazel, c. 1903, Wellcome Library, London. This latter image reminded me of John Derian‘s apothecary series of decoupage trays, so I clicked over, and there was witch hazel, of course.

Witch Hazel Derian

Apparently the witch hazel shrub is also beautiful, and a very early bloomer: I might have to get one of my own. Or I could just by a print. And lots and lots of more bottles of this panacea.

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Witch hazel print Etsy

Witch Hazel at the New York Botanical Garden this early spring, photograph by Ivo M. Vermeulen; “Witch Hazels on Salmon Wood” by Kate Halpin, Etsy.


Why not Alfred?

Very soon we will have a name for the new royal prince and it will probably not be Alfred (all the odds seem to be on boring George or James), but I say: why not?  The  Anglo-Saxon kings are the most English of all English monarchs, and Alfred was, of course, the Great. His lifetime (849-899) was contentious and “dark”, but he shed light whenever he could. Though officially King of the West Saxons, he styled himself King of the Anglo-Saxons, and most historians think of him as the first King of England–at least that part not occupied by the Vikings. Alfred contained these same Vikings, by building a strong fortification system and a navy (again–what could be more English than this?) He was also that very rare early medieval king–a scholar–and as such translated classical and religious works into the language (Anglo-Saxon, Old English) of his countrymen, promoting knowledge and his native language at the same time. Alfred was truly a keeper of the peace and a unifier of England–both in terms of his military and administrative systems and his codified laws–and the only English king to be titled “the Great”: what better namesake?

NPG 4269; King Alfred ('The Great') by Unknown artist

NPG D9257; King Alfred ('The Great') by John Faber Sr

Alfred Counties

NT; (c) Stourhead; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Alfred 1912 BM

The only way to see Alfred as his contemporaries did is on the many coins from his realm, another sign of his effective kingship. Much later, his image becomes much more legendary: Ninth-century coin, and 1712 print by John Faber Sr., both National Portrait Gallery, London; “King Alfred the Great forming a Code of Laws and Dividing the Kingdom into Counties, Tythings, Hundreds, &”, Charles Grignion illustration from Raymond’s History of England, British Museum, King Alfred the Great attributed to Samuel Woodforde, c. 1810-15, The National Trust @ Stourhead; Print of Frank O. Salisbury’s King Alfred the Great Rebuilding the Walls of the City of London, 1912, British Museum.


Surviving Summer

Like much of the country, last week was hot and humid, with nearly every day in the 90s: it was hazy, still, and repressive. On Friday it reached 100 degrees. By Saturday I had almost lost the will to live, but on Sunday we woke up to a “cool” and clear morning in the 70s, and this week is forecast with more typical New England summer weather. I’m not really a summer person anyway and triple H weather generally drives me inside, but as it was an event-filled week and I was determined to save my garden (every single day the weather report indicated “chance of thunderstorms” but there was not a single drop of rain all week) I spent considerable time outside. What got me through the week: a bedroom air conditioner, garden hoses, sunscreen, bug spray, soft Splendid tee shirts, Witch Hazel, gin & tonics, tents (see below), movie theaters, the Accuweather extended forecast which gave me hope for the future.

With daily watering, the garden survived, despite this bug, which is eating a lot of the larger-leaved plants. Fewer slugs, though, and my lacecap hydrangea has bloomed for the first time in years.

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Our summer camp at Winter Island, a very packed harbor, and the reenacting Redcoats’ camp at Derby Wharf early Sunday morning.

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A Victorian Firehouse

With all the new development going on in Salem there is, happily, also news of an upcoming preservation project: the city just received a matching grant from the Massachusetts Historical Commission to restore the masonry and windows of its oldest firehouse, an 1881 structure very much in service. All the newspaper stories reporting the grant referred to Station #2 as the third oldest continually operating firehouse in the United States, but I found a few more that were older:  it is the fifth or sixth by my count. Everyone seems to agree that the oldest operating station is a charming Greek Revival structure in Madison, Indiana, built in 1850.

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Fire Station 2

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Salem’s Station no. 2 (1881) and Washington Fire Company no. 2 (1850), Madison, Indiana.

There are many people who know much, much, much more about the history of firefighting in Salem than I do, so I’m not going to provide too much historical context here, but a few interesting facts did surface in my very brief foray into this field. From almost the date of its founding, Salem’s government seems to have been focused on fire prevention, indicated by some rather notable initiatives: in the 1640s Salem’s residents were compelled to have ladders in their homes (presumably to stop chimney and roof fires before they got out of control), and a century later, Salem was one of the first American colonial towns to import a Newsham hand-pump fire engine, the cutting-edge firefighting technology of the eighteenth century, from Britain. At the same time, and  into the next century, Salem’s firefighting clubs or companies were established, leaving their material legacy of decorated–and much sought-after– leather fire buckets. There were certainly firehouses in Salem before Station no. 2, built both before and after the acquisition of  steam engines by the city, as there are several references in the municipal records to the “accommodations” made to transform them into “steam houses”.

Fire Engine Newshams NYPL

Fire Buckets Northeast Auctions

Fire Engine 1880-90 NYPL

Player’s Cigarettes Fire Engine Series cards, New York Public Library Digital Gallery, and a pair of McIntire family fire buckets from 1833, which sold at a Northeast auction for $52,000 in 2007!

I do wonder if any accommodations were made to Station #2, particularly its entrance bay, for modern fire trucks. It was built to house steam engines–both horse-drawn and self-propelled–that were much smaller than the big red engine that is in there now. Again, Salem seems to have been an early adopter of fire engine technology in the second half of the nineteenth century, and owned several Amoskeag engines, which were manufactured in Manchester, New Hampshire from 1859 to 1913 and shipped worldwide. These replaced the  earlier “handtubs” in service, but the latter did not go away: they became the vehicles of intensely competitive fireman’s musters, at which crews would compete to see who could pump out the longest stream of water. In Salem and other New England towns (and elsewhere???), this tradition continues, creating events which mix athleticism and engineering, civic pride and historic preservation.

Firehouse Interior 1887

PicMonkey CollageThe interior of a New York City engine house, c. 1887, New York Public Library Digital Gallery, and Salem’s victorious White Angel handtub, c. 1894.


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