GABLES. Before I knew anything about historic architecture (and I still really don’t know all that much, to be honest), I always thought the gables (generally one, occasionally two or three) that seem to burst out of the roofs of mid-19th century houses were rather radical departures from the more straightforward colonial and Federal styles. Radical for American architecture, that is: obviously gables are a long-standing feature of European structures. But now I know they are just another revived element, derived not only from much older European elements but also 17th century “medieval” houses built in America (I know that term is widely used by architectural historians, but I find it awkward, as the 17th century is decidedly not medieval). Just the word gables in Salem is a reference to the House of the Seven Gables, which is more early nineteenth-century creation than seventeenth-century survival: when philanthropist Caroline O. Emmerton acquired the fabled mansion it had three gables rather than seven and she hired Boston architect Joseph Everett Chandler in 1909 to “restore” the “missing” gables and transform the house into Hawthorne’s inspiration. Chandler was more of Colonial Revival architect than a restoration architect, and he writes about the “development” of the House of the Seven Gables in his 1916 book The Colonial House, citing other first-period gabled structures in Salem and Boston as his inspiration. Hawthorne scholars believe that the author was also inspired by Boston gabled houses in his conception of the House of the Seven Gables, including Captain John Turner’s mansion on Beacon Street and the famous “Old Feather Store” at Dock Square. Certainly there were gables aplenty to choose from in Hawthorne’s time, both new and old.
Drawing of “Julien’s Restorator” in Boston, taken down in 1824, from James Henry Stark, Antique Views of Ye Towne of Boston, 1901, and center-gabled houses in Danvers and Salem; a two-gabled house in Danvers, and two adjacent three-gabled houses in Salem; The “Old Feather Store” in Boston, c. 1680-1860, shortly before it was taken down, Boston Public Library.
May 24th, 2014 at 10:28 am
I had heard that Hawthorne’s relatives had removed some of the house and its gables to save on heat. By Hawthorne’s time, the house looked very different than it does today. His cousin Suzanne told him about the former fable design, which inspired him. Is this true, or is the 1911 redesign of the house, based only on Hawthorne’s imagination?
May 24th, 2014 at 11:52 am
The earliest picture of the house, in the 1850s, shows only 3 gables, so that would be the house of Hawthorne’s time. I believe that the “restoration” of the House of the Seven Gables is based a bit on Hawthorne’s literary description, a bit on other 17th Century houses in the region, and also on Mrs. Emmerton and her architect’s preferences.
June 24th, 2016 at 8:53 pm
Sidney Perley in his Essex Antiquarian 35 part “Salem in 1700” series article about the House’s neighborhood (I forget which part) tells us that Turner Lane ended where Derby Street is now. and that access to the property was from the west, from a shoreline drive and Hardy Street. That is, its front facade was its west facade and its front door was what is now its Garden Entrance. In the mid 1700s, the property was subdivided, access to Hardy Street blocked, and Turner Street extended to the east side of the House and waterfront. That is, the House’s entrance flip-flopped. The fictitious House does not make sense if we use ONE front door as a reference. It does make sense if we have TWO front doors as references. — Hawthorne saw the House’s three gables and patches where two gables had been on the south addition. Susannah told him that the demolished north addition had had two gables. She was 10 when the north addition was “taken away” See Bentley’s Diary.