I get fixated on houses which once occupied a prominent place in Salem but no longer exist: there are so many, unfortunately. It seems like much of last year was devoted to commemorating the Great Salem Fire of 1914 which swept away so many houses in one night, but individual demolitions have been a continuous factor in this ever-changing, ever-developing little “historic” city. I took advantage of my snow days to look into the history of a first-period house that occupied a very prominent place, on one of Salem’s main streets, for over 150 years, only to be demolished during the Civil War. It lasted long enough to be photographed, however, and perhaps to provide additional inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne in the form of yet another mossy, many-gabled house. The Lewis Hunt house was built between 1698 and 1700 by a first-generation Salem sea-captain, and descended in his family almost up to the time it was taken down in 1863.
Frank Cousins’ photograph of the Lewis Hunt house shortly before its demolition; illustration from Sidney Perley’s History of Salem, Volume III (1928).
I first “saw” this house when I found a charming painting of an adjacent mansion, the Pickman-Derby-Brookhouse-Rogers house, by one of its inhabitants, Mary Jane Derby. The image was painted in 1825, so the Hunt House probably looked far more dilapidated than portrayed by Miss Derby in her rather romantic picture, but it still provided a sharp contrast to her strident Federal mansion. Both buildings were threatened by their situation on busy Washington Street (Mary Jane’s house was taken down in 1915), but this same location would ensure that they were “captured” again and again by a succession of Salem views. The view of Salem in the 1760s by Joseph Orne–when Washington Street was School Street–somewhat obscures the Hunt House, but once the new McIntire Court House was built everything around it comes more sharply into view. I’m assuming the bright red color of the house in the last image below, a fireboard painted by George Washington Felt about 1820, is an example of artistic license, but maybe not.
Mary Jane Derby, The Pickman Derby House, 1825, Detroit Institute of Arts; Two views of School Street/ Washington Street based on a painting by Dr. Joseph Orne, 1765: Holyoke Diaries and Historic New England Collections; George Washington Felt, Fireboard View of Court House Square, 1820, Peabody Essex Museum.
As its days were numbered, depictions of the Hunt House increase, and continue even after it is gone: my favorite is a sketch from the later nineteenth century in the vast collections of Historic New England: it seems wistful in its simplicity. The artist (or perhaps someone later–it looks like a different hand) has added additional location information–on Lynde Street–in the right-hand corner just so we know where the house once was. In this time, the commercial “Odell Block” filled out the corner of Lynde and Washington Streets in Salem, as it does today.
The Lewis Hunt House in an 1890s (?) sketch, collections of Historic New England; the Odell Block on the same site today (or a few days ago, before our big snowstorm).
January 29th, 2015 at 6:17 pm
Another great story, Donna–thank you!
January 30th, 2015 at 9:36 am
I love studying the pictures, the architecture, and trying to figure out all the angles, aspects and mental chartography. Comparing the buildings’ architecture, from one picture to the next, and then voila!–it all finally sinks in and my mind’s eye’s geographic placement finally comes into view! Thanks so much, these stories bring Old Salem back to us, and brings it back to life.
February 1st, 2015 at 4:31 pm
Fascinating. an images to die for
February 1st, 2015 at 4:32 pm
Fascinating. And images to die for. I want to crawl into those pictures and live in them (with our third foot of snow in a week predicted up here, I’m more than half serious)
February 1st, 2015 at 4:37 pm
We’re in the same boat! The streets of Salem are growing narrower and narrower and the sidewalks are like tunnels in some places! Drink up!
November 21st, 2019 at 8:06 am
Thank you so much for this. Lewis Hunt was a grandfather of mine and it’s so cool to see something that he built.
November 21st, 2019 at 8:12 am
Reblogged this on A Place of My Own and commented:
I found this gem while researching some family history. Lewis Hunt was one of my grandfathers from Salem, Massachusetts.