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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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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8 responses to “Georgian Houses in Salem

  • jane


    First of all, I love to walk through Salem with you via your photographs! You have shown me fine buildings – I really enjoy your posts.

    Georgian residential construction in New England usually refers to the whole period of the English kings named George.
    First Period is before 1715. Our early houses begin as medieval and evolve to become part of the Renaissance.
    Georgian Colonial is before the Revolution.
    Then, after about 1780 came Federal. The square 3 story houses with smaller windows on the 3rd floor are classic Federal. Adam(esque) is part of Federal and refers to the influence of Robert Adam, a Scots relocated to London who was THE residential architect, c. 1780 . Much lighter and strongly influenced by his travel to The Continent.
    Georgian slides into Greek Revival as the Industrial Revolution c. 1820 gathers steam, and technology makes new ways of consruction possible.

    The houses you photographed have gambrel roofs – a style within the style, certainly not the only way to build a roof before the Revolution. There is some thought that because gambrel roofs give an attic more space they were especially used in towns where people wanted to live close together. Another theory is that the beams, purlins, and rafters were shorter, therefore easier for carpenters to assemble with a small number of workers.

    • daseger

      Happy to be corrected/enhanced, Jane. I am no architectural historian (obviously) just a buff. I do see Georgian and Georgian Colonial used interchangeably, so your definition is a clarification for me. And I know 17th century houses are called “medieval” over here, but that seems very odd to me, as the seventeenth century was certainly not medieval!

      • particle_p

        I’ve seen “post-medieval” in a bunch of books, and the author comments pointed out that most of the colonists were taking their architectural cues from houses in the English countryside, which lagged behind the newer, trendier architecture in town. So what we have here in the earliest houses is more like 16th century English architecture. (This tendency to lag behind England seems to have been general. Forks didn’t make it to the colonies till after they were in use in England by a bunch of years.)

      • particle_p

        You might like James Deetz’s “In Small Things Forgotten” and also his book with his wife on the Plymouth excavations that led to Plimoth Plantation, “The Times of Their Lives.”

  • particle_p

    I don’t think Georgian style houses NEED to have gambrel roofs? My copy of Hugh Morrison’s book says Georgians had a variety of roof styles including hipped roofs, gambrel, and the older pitched roofs but with smaller pitches (30 degrees rather than the steep sides of something like Peak House in Medfield from the first period).

  • markd60

    I like the tall green skinny house best

  • John Matthew Barlow

    Funny, you essentially took the route that the mutt and I take occasionally on our walks, though we end up on Cambridge across from the Ropes Mansion at the end of it all. I am reminded of a walking tour our colleague, Prof. Baker, took with his students last fall that he invited me along on, through the McIntire District. I wish more of it stuck in my head, however.

  • Bernadette

    So many gorgeous houses in Salem!

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