An Executive Mansion

For this Washington’s birthday weekend, I am thrilled to be able to feature photographs of the ongoing restoration of the Joshua Ward House, where our first President stayed when he visited Salem in the Fall of 1789. I featured the house in a previous post, where you can see historic photographs and read some of its history, but I was not able to access the interior at that time. Since then, the house has been purchased and is presently being transformed, with great attention to detail, into an inn. I have no name or link yet, but will certainly revisit this project: my strong impression is that the owner wants to pay homage to the house’s namesake builder, the worldly merchant, successful distiller, and every-hospitable Joshua Ward, and dispel its dubious haunted reputation forever. Even though it’s right around the corner from my own house, I am booking a room as soon as it is opened: the very room where President Washington slept, restored to all of its former glory.

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Washington on horseback 19th C

As I had never been in the house and long desired to, my expectations were…great, and I was not disappointed. Even in its present state, a work site, it is beautiful both in its entirety and its details. Seeing it so exposed made it even more beautiful perhaps: layers of paint being sanded off, ceilings opened to the rafters, pocked beams everywhere, doors on the floor. It seemed both vulnerable and stalwart to me, especially as I looked out the windows (of George’s second-floor bedroom, of course) and thought of all the things this house has seen: water and wharves when it was first built in the 1780s, then a filled-in busy downtown, then a huge Gothic fortress-train depot, then nothing because commercial structures blocked its view, then a notorious traffic-clogged “plaza”, now a mixed picture of preservation and poor planning. The Joshua Ward House has weathered all of these developments and is standing by, nearly fully-equipped, for future ones.

First floor: looking out at Salem; famous entrance hall and staircase; soon-to-be inn tavern room; front and back fireplaces.

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Second Floor: more of the famous staircase, Washington’s bedroom, opposite (southeast) bedroom, entrance to the back of the house.

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Through, back, up: stairs, second and third floor bedrooms, the attic.

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Details, details:

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Pieces of the past (even the relatively recent past):

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Some orientation: Jonathan Saunders’ c. 1820 map of Salem (house marked by * ) and Sidney Perley’s 1905 map, both from the Boston Public Library; the Ward House in the mid-20th century, obscured by billboards and facades, and today.

Salem 1820 Saunders

Salem 1905 Perley

Ward House Billboards

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24 responses to “An Executive Mansion

  • Stan

    This is really cool!!! I like your posts, but this one is special. The restoration looks like it’s being done very carefully. I can hardly wait until it’s done. Can you share who the owner is? Stan Franzeen

  • Donna Thorland

    This is one of my favorite houses in Salem. I haven’t been inside in fifteen years but I’m excited that it’s being repurposed. This is a tough location for a private home but an ideal one for an inn!

    • daseger

      Believe me, Donna, it is going to be spectacular! I just hope that the tavern can be open to the public and not just inn guests as Salem would then, finally, have a real tavern!

  • Rebecca

    It’s unfortunate the builder wants to dispel the haunted history. I think it would attract history buffs all over. Why try to hide something like that? If we make it kitchy, it will be . There is a respectable way of displaying haunted history in certain atmospheres such as this. Museums are now learning new ways to open to all communities including the those interested in this type of history. Why not inns?

    • daseger

      I don’t think it’s a question of hiding, Rebecca, but rather focusing on the true, or verifiable, history of the building.

      • Rebecca

        Makes sense for the building. But isn’t there a haunted history to land? Or are the stories historically inaccurate? I was under the assumption that George Corwin was buried on that land at one point. Even local historican Jim McAllister mentions it.

      • daseger

        That’s the story, told again and again; I think the focus in this project is on the glorious standing building and what it represents.

      • Rebecca

        Either way I’m excited it’s finally getting some tlc..look forward to visiting 🙂

  • coldhandboyack

    This is awesome. What a great place to stay.

  • Peg

    Is Joshua Ward a descendant of John Ward (John Ward House)? From what I’ve been reading, John Ward was a currier believed to have fled the plague in England about 1660. Looking over the genealogy of Joshua Ward I can’t find any reference to John Ward.

    • daseger

      Peg: I think so–but I cannot confirm. I get impatient with genealogical work, but I think both men descend from Miles Ward. Would love to confirm this relation.

      • Peg

        Do you mean Miles Ward (born March 11,1672) whose wife was Sarah Massey Ward?

      • Peg

        John Ward ( c.1653 – 1732) predates Miles Ward which is why I thought perhaps John was the patriarch of the Ward clan but I can’t find anything that connects them. Will keep digging but I’m thinking these Wards are completely unrelated to the Wards of the Joshua Ward House. John Ward’s wife Jehoadan bore him seven children and survived his death in October of 1732. His eldest son was Benjamin Ward. Not easily finding the names of the other 6 children.

      • daseger

        Well, I may be confusing my Johns, Peg–keep on the case! The link between John and Joshua does not seem immediately apparent, I agree!

  • Jean B.

    This renovation is truly heartwarming! Thank goodness some people are interested in preservation and not just gutting and modernizing the interiors of very old edifices! And thank YOU for brightening this day as I head out to deal with nature’s latest bounty (Massachusetts winter of 2014-2015 style).

  • jane

    Such a good read! So glad the owners were willing to share the house.Thanks especially for the details of the framing – my favorite part!. Once the house is ready for visitors that part will not be visible.

  • June Sargent

    We used to work in this beautiful building for Robert Murphy, owner of the Higginson Book Company. And we were VERY sad when it was sold. However, we can see the house is being restored lovingly and carefully to its former glory. And that makes us extremely happy. Can’t wait to see it when it’s finished! Keep us posted. June and the Higginson Crew. P.S. My office was in the room where George Washington slept…

    • daseger

      Hi June, thanks for checking in–I heard Mr. Higginson was a lovely man, sorry never to have met him. I will keep everyone posted, believe me & lucky you!

  • Bridget

    Is that the “Eye of Horas” hewn in the rock? Is that in the fireplace?

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