Spotlight on South Salem

This weekend’s (35th) annual Christmas in Salem house tour is centered on South Salem and the neighborhoods along Lafayette Street which were rebuilt after the catastrophic Great Salem Fire of 1914. This seems like a very appropriate architectural focus for this commemorative year, and the tour poster really conjures up the era as well. All the tour information can be found here; it’s too late to buy advance tickets but they will be available on Saturday and Sunday at the tour headquarters, the Saltonstall School on Lafayette Street. Christmas in Salem is the most important annual fundraising event for Historic Salem, Inc., Salem’s venerable preservation organization which was formed in the 1940s to save the 17th century Corwin House (now unfortunately called the “Witch House”) from destruction. Generally the tour focuses on the downtown neighborhoods and Salem’s colonial and federal architecture, but occasionally it ventures out to the more outlying sections of town, including North Salem, the Willows, and now South Salem.

South Salem Tour

I’m looking forward to the tour because it will feature several (predominately Colonial Revival) homes on Fairfield Street, which I’ve featured on this blog several times. Now we get to go inside! Just after the fire, the property owners of this street commissioned the most renown Boston-area architects to rebuild their homes, with pretty impressive results. I have served as a tour guide for Christmas in Salem for many years, and I’m still not sure whether the majority of tour (ists? -goers?) are enchanted more by the architecture or the decorations, but for me it’s definitely the former. I walk to work along Lafayette Street two or three times a week, and there are several houses along my route that I examine in detail as I walk by–one of which is also on the tour. This is the William H. Gove house, an imposing Queen Anne mansion that survived the 1914 conflagration. Built by Salem attorney William H. Gove (who entered his profession through an apprenticeship, then went to Harvard College and Harvard Law School) in 1888, this mansion really dominates the streetscape and has a myriad of details that capture my attention every time I walk by. It was transformed into condominiums several years ago, and a ground-floor unit is on the tour. I know that Gove was a successful and wealthy man, but I can’t help wondering if some of his wife’s family fortune went into the construction of this house, as his mother-in-law was the one and only Lydia Pinkham, whose famous over-the-counter herbal remedy, Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, made her the most successful female entrepreneur of the nineteenth century. Perhaps Mr. Gove would not be pleased with this suggestion.

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South Salem Gove House 1984

South Salem Gove Mansion

South Salem Pinkham Card Harvard

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The William H. Gove House (1888) today, in 1984 & 1918; Trade Card for Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, 1880s, Baker Library, Harvard University; Lafayette Street facades.


7 responses to “Spotlight on South Salem

  • coldhandboyack

    That “Lilly the Pink” song is going to blast through my head all day now. It’s okay, I like it.

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  • mserinlee

    I grew up on Ocean Avenue in one of the large homes that you talk about. I’ve been inside several of the different houses along Lafayette street and in that general neighborhood. I hope that you enjoy the tour, they are lovely!

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  • grammiepoet

    As many times as I’ve admired that house I never knew it was William Gove’s! William Henry Gove was married to Lydia Pinkham’s daughter; their son, William Pinkham Gove, became president of the Lydia Pinkham Company – and their daughter Priscilla attended Horace Mann School. Her birthday is January 4, 1908; mine is January 2, 1943 – I “found” her in the Horace Mann archives at SSU. I haven’t yet worked out the relationship but I grew up knowing that we were connected by marriage to Lydia Pinkham. For a genalogist, the Goves are a bit problematic – there were many of them and they were prolific! Our “illustrious” ancester was Edward, who had something like 7 or 8 sons – each of whom had several sons, and they were clearly proud o their progenitor as there was an Edward Gove in each family, so in each generaltion there were even more of them! And the other names they kept recycling were Ebenezer, William and John. Someday I’m sure I’ll figure out my exact relationship but for the moment I have to go with “we’re kin!”

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    • daseger

      Well I’m sure that you know that William H. Gove compiled a genealogical book about the Gove family which is called The Gove Book–you can find it online at the Internet Archive. And you’re right–there are a lot of them! I glanced at it briefly but am going to go back, as one Gove was convicted of high treason in the 17th century and I want to dig into the details of that story.

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      • grammiepoet

        Yes, I have the Gove book – it’s in 2 volumes.

        That story is the story of Edward Gove who tried to raise a rebellion against the governor who, according to him, was not properly appointed by his majesty. He was tried and convicted of high treason but could not be executed here – that had to be done “at his majesty’s pleasure” in London, so he was shipped back to England where he spent about three years in the Tower. He contacted all his English friends and he was pardoned. I have a copy of a letter from the officials at the Tower of London verifying this – the original is at the Portsmouth Athenaeum.

        It’s a pretty amazing story! His sentence is often quoted in part or whole to show how bloodthirsty the colonists were (to be hanged by the neck, but down before death, drawn and quartered, etc., etc.) – I had read it many times but since they never said who was thus condemned, I never knew it was my 7th great grandfather! When he was convicted of treason, all his property was confiscated. When he was pardon, it was ordered that his property be returned to him. According to the staff at the Athenaeum, this is the only case of such restoration.

        He was born in London in 1630 and died in Hampton NH in 1691. The Gove homestead is gone, but its location is in present-day Seabrook; there is a tiny cemetery along route 1 which was supposedly once part of the Gove property. There are 10 graves, all Goves or Gove connections. In that area is Gove Road.

        Dr. Baker knew a lot about the failed Gove Rebellion and thought it would be a good subject for a paper or even a book. I’ve went off in a whole other direction, but I really think I’ll pull out what I’ve got already and work on it some more. There are LOTS of Goves around (all descendent of course!) and there are many stories – most of which apparently completely or mostly false.

        I’ll be more than happy to share information with you – I’d love to see what you can dig up! He’s interesting because he’s really a part of both English and American history. He was acting, at least in his own mind, to uphold the interests of the Crown, so he clearly considered himself an Englishman – and yet, his peers found him guilty of treason, so his case shows how public opinion was changing and divided in the colony at that time – and this all happened in the decade immediately preceding the Salem hysteria, about 25 miles to the north!

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