Estate Sale

In the midst of all the festive houses decorated for the Christmas in Salem tour stood one cold and dark house, its contents spilled out and “displayed” for all to see and buy: this is the Captain John Collins house, beautifully situated on Turner Street with the House of the Seven Gables in front and a boatyard in back. All of the architectural authorities date this house to circa 1785, but it has that boxy (rather than rectangular) shape that gives me pause, or testifies to later additions. It has been in need of paint for quite some time, but inside it was relatively pristine–in need of work certainly, but possessing great bones. I could never be a good antiques picker because estate sales are a bit intimate for me (and here the sheets were still on the bed, literally), but this particular one offered me an opportunity to get into a house I’ve often wondered about, so I could not resist. My friend Carol and I wandered all through the house, focusing more on the architectural details (great paneling,distinct mantels, beautiful doors and floors, finely-plastered ceilings still in quite good shape, old wooden storm windows) than the stuff (although we did admire a 1950s roaster), and from a third-floor bedroom I gazed out at Salem Harbor (looking over the House of the Seven Gables), a view that Captain Collins must have taken in (without all those wires) many times. The word on the street is that the house has already sold, and I suppose condominiums are on its horizon.

The Captain John Collins House this weekend and in the mid-20th century, MACRIS (Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System).

Estate Salem

Estate Salem Capt John Collins House 1785

Interior views, and looking outside:

Estate Sale 2

Estate Sale Door

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16 responses to “Estate Sale

  • Steven McCabe

    All those windows! Was that a sign of wealth when the house was built?

    • daseger

      Well, Steve, I’ll leave it to real architectural historians to answer that question, but it seems to me that Federal-era Salem (and I suppose this house would best be described as a late Georgian/early Federal house–like the Peirce-Nichols house–was a society characterized by conspicuous consumption.

      • dccarletonjr

        Donna, while the big, hipped-roof three story house (RI architectural historian Mack Woodward memorably dubbed it the “almighty” cube) is certainly a form characteristic of the “federal” period, examples predating the Revolution can be found, so 1780s is I think quite believable for this house.

        The late-17th century Foster Hutchinson House in Boston rose to three stories in height; for a late-colonial but pre-Revolutionary example, check out the c1772 Russell House in Providence (raised up in order to insert a retail level in the early 20th century, unfortunately):

  • Dorothy Malcolm

    This is fascinating, Donna, and have always admired this house and its great “bones,” as so many houses in this historic section of Salem has. Despite the exterior’s need of TLC, it still stands like a “Grand Dame” in this worthy and much loved neighborhood. Thank you for featuring this story today, it is one that has been waiting (even eager) to be told.

    Happy Holidays,


  • Steve

    I’ve been to Salem only a few times and in that neighborhood of The House of Seven Gables only once but I knew where that house was the second I saw it. Amazingly great shape on the inside!

    Went to see the Japanese fashion exhibit at the PEM last week. It was great.

  • michellenmoon

    That house exterior is pure Federal – the boxiness is characteristic – but the panelling in the pictures looks like a Georgian holdover, and it could could be original – which is a rare survival. And it’s really likely the window surrounds are also original, because nobody bothers to build those as reproduction. I wish I could see the moldings better – in general the house detail looks simpler than the high-style versions of the same architecture, but it was definitely a showplace when built and will be again, I have no doubt. Amazing intact condition to come across unrestored at this late date; a great early Adam-style/Federal house. This is a treasure waiting for someone.

    • Dorothy Malcolm

      Yes, Michelle, your insights are much appreciated. What a wonderful gem this house is and so pleased it stands so near my own Georgian/Federal house (albeit, mine isn’t quite so grand). It’s another jewel in Salem’s crown. 😉


  • jane

    I agree with Michelle, including the Georgian interiors – but if the date is right, 1785, that is very early for Federal. The exterior of the house has simple corner boards and window casings which get wider more elaborate as we edge through Federal to Greek Revival. The post and beam frame visible in the bedroom would be hidden in the wall by 1800.

    In my experience, growing up in a Federal house and visiting many, the third floor was for servants. often very plain with low ceilings and the frame exposed.
    The foundation seems all to be faced with granite – very Federal. The rear wing may date to when upgrades were made: central heat and plumbing, a cast iron cooking stove, etc – Victorian.

    I hope it finds a new loving owner!

    • daseger

      I should have put a 3rd-floor bedroom picture in there–the front-facing room was surprisingly roomy, and no exposed frame. A lovely room really–with the view that I did put in here.

    • Dorothy Malcolm

      Hi Jane,
      Your knowledge of the style of this house is commendable. A good friend of mine here in Salem (you might know him), John Goff is an architect and historical preservationist. I think that he would concur with what you wrote. Gotta love all the historic architecture and decorative arts we have here in Salem. 🙂

  • Dee Cote

    I’m no expert, but I have worked on, and owned, a few of these sea captains homes, and this one is almost exactly like the Hawkes House on Derby St. They were both built 1790, same dimensions. Interestingly, the hawkes house 3rd floor was called the “Ball Room” and had sliding partitions! Also, are you sure the Captains name was Collins, I thought it was Whipple. Great post Donna!

  • thegreenockian

    It is a beautiful house but I felt a sense of melancholy when looking at the photographs.

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