Stripped Bare of Artifice

While taking a twilight stroll around Salem the other day, I was struck by the stature of a large house on Hardy Street, almost as if I was seeing it for the first time. That isn’t true; I’ve seen it many times, but there was something about the light and the stillness of its street (not far from busy downtown Salem) that made it a very compelling sight. It seemed so vulnerable, standing there without paint, stripped bare of artifice, until I looked a little closer. This is not an abandoned house, people are living here, and the first-floor resident has placed a wreath on the front door and pumpkins at the side (originally front) entrance. An engraved granite marker stands by, giving passersby the impression that this is someplace notable. I don’t know much about this house; it doesn’t appear in any of the standard sources of Salem architecture. I could probably find out a lot more if I researched it through probate and city records, but I don’t have the time to do that now–so I’ll just put it out there and see if anybody knows anything about it. It’s a curious, boxy, size: at first appearances it looks Federal, but I think it was built a bit later in the nineteenth century– though I could be wrong. It might have been transformed into a box through expansion–clearly at some point it was turned into flats, with the rather awkward exterior staircases in the rear. The main entrance, which is on the side, is beautiful, even (especially?) in its unpainted state.

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16 responses to “Stripped Bare of Artifice

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    Is this a house that has never been painted, or has the paint been removed or was some sort of varnish applied? Or do you not know enough to determine. It’s rather striking in its current form.

    • daseger

      I don’t really know–it has always looked like this for as long as I’ve lived in Salem. There are no remains of paint, and I don’t see much evidence of varnish either.

  • downeastdilettante

    Federal, with a lot of subsequent history. Early 20th century door inserted in the doorway

    • daseger

      Succinctly stated–that is what I thought too, but the proportions gave me pause. And you never know–it seems to me that there is a conservatism in Salem architecture for much of the first half of the nineteenth century.

  • jane

    from other houses I know on the North Shore:

    c. 1820 Federal. 3 story with the smaller 3rd floor for servants.
    Very little embellishment – simple corner boards, a small frieze ( I think) and a water table. The grace comes from its proportions.
    Stylish for the time cut granite foundation in front of a brick wall sitting on the stone foundation below grade.
    Granite stoop (quite nice!) of the time.

    Where the first owner spent money:
    Fanlight, columns, archtirave at the front entry ala Asher Benjamin – might even be a copy of one of his plates –

    later porches c. 1890 probably – whenever it became apartments. They also needed a place for the ice box, and screen porches are big c.1890..
    c. 1880 corbelled porch roof – very popular at the time, added to everything. But passe by 1900 when updating went to Colonial Revival.

    I can’t quite tell if some of the windows have been changed in some places to 2/2 from 6/6. The simplicity of the house needs the pattern of the 6/6 windows. But the ‘upgrade’ would correspond with the corbelled portico

    Next time you walk past see if the clapboard is feathered or butted. Feathered would be original.
    Paint was readily available in the 1820’s, White was cheapest, but stone colors were very popular. I think this was originally painted. Its bones are too nice not to have been by the early owners. I expect it has just been left to the elements. The wood will wear out with no paint.

    You know I couldn’t resist writing this! Thanks for giving me a great look!

    • daseger

      Thanks Jane–I’ll walk over after classes to check out the clapboards–LOVE to get an assignment. Interesting about iceboxes.

      • Paula

        Looks like they have replacement windows on the Federal style entrance side. Can’t really tell if there are storm windows over them , but looks like there aren’t, and you can’t see a shadow of the mullions . Then on the side that has a Victorian style entrance, with the granite marker, the windows might have been added when the over hang above the door, was added. Maybe late 1800’s, early 1900’s? The width between the clapboards might also be a clue whether these are the original claps or not…less overlap, older clapboard job. I heard someplace that it was common when no paint was applied to claps, they used a combination of linseed oil and turpentine. It just doesn’t seem right that house never had some paint though.

  • daseger

    Linseed Oil and Turpentine! I’ll have to look again, but I do think there was quite a shallow overlaps between the clapboards.

  • jane

    I really doubt the original house was left natural – I’ll check some sources. Late Federal and Greek Revival is inspired by Greece and Rome – all;; that marble!
    The space to measure for old clapboards is called “to the weather’: how much of the clapboard is exposed ‘to the weather’. A smaller dimension – 4 inches or less – usually means earlier construction.

    • daseger

      I did walk over there–between THRONGS of Halloween crowds–and though I did not have a measuring tape, the space was much less than 4 inches. Maybe just shy of 3 inches.

  • jane

    thanks! this has been fun.
    Next time I’m in Salem ( not before Halloween! I agreed with your post on that) I’ll find the house and look.

  • Sean

    I get the impression by looking at it (I’ve stopped to look more than a few times) that it was originally built as a double back-to-back house around 1800-1810, with later modifications to the entry and back. About 2 years ago, it still had 6 over 6 windows. In the 1874 atlas the property is comprised of two lots, divided right down the middle. There are lots of examples of these double houses, which were intended to look like single family homes from the outside. The pink house on the corner of Bridge and Northey, white brick house on the corner of Milk and Pickman, and the large white house on Pleasant are all examples of this.


    • daseger

      Sean, thanks–I didn’t that of that configuration but now that you have pointed it out, it makes perfect sense. And thanks for doing the research I should have done! My favorite back to back house is the yellow one on Federal.

  • Sean

    Just did a little more digging. Capt. William Driver, who brought the Bounty mutineers home, lived here. It appears it was built as a double house in 1807, but the northern part was rebuilt around 1900, in roughly the same footprint. The MACRIS database has a good old picture, though the house isn’t in much better shape.

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