Sepia Streets

The other day I came across a cache of historic photographs of Boston and its surrounding communities at the turn of the last century among the digitized collections of the Boston Public Library. The Salem scenes caught my attention but as I had seen most of them I moved on and examined the rest of the 320+ photographs: sepia scenes of lost Boston, lost Chelsea, lost Arlington, lost Medford….lots has been lost but some of the structures in these photographs still remain. I had to check on each and every one, of course, and so hours passed, maybe even days….I lost track. These photographs remind me of those taken by Frank Cousins in Salem around the same time; he may even be one of the photographers as no credits are given. There is an explicit reverence and respect for the pre-Revolutionary structures and streets captured, and an implicit message that they not be there for long. The collection was commissioned by the Daughters of the American Revolution, then quite a young organization, founded in 1890. Certainly the DAR has not been the most progressive of institutions over its history, but historic preservation was absolutely central to its mission then, and it remains so today. I certainly get that as I gaze at these photographs, and I am reminded of just how many early preservationists were women: Ann Pamela Cunningham and the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, Margot Gayle, the savior of Soho, fierce urban renewal opponents Jane Jacobs and Ada Louise Huxtable. Certainly we have had our share here in Salem: those avid advocates of “Old Salem” culture and architecture, Mary Parker Saltonstall and Mary Harrod Northend, Louise Crowninshield, an influential board member of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) who facilitated the acquisition of the Richard Derby House by the new Salem Maritime National Historic Site in the 1930s, and many of my own contemporaries who have contributed much to the preservation of Salem’s existing fabric in this challenging environment.

But I think I’m digressing a bit, let’s get to the pictures, starting with a few long-long scenes of Boston: Webster Avenue (Alley!), and Hull and Henchman Streets.

Wesbster Avenue BPL

Hull Street Boston PBL

Henchman Street Boston BPL

A bit further out, the Dillaway House in Roxbury, built by the Reverend Oliver Peabody who dies in 1752. The headquarters of General John Thomas at the time of the siege of Boston. The Dillaway House about a century later, and at present, at the center of the Roxbury Heritage State Park.

Dillaway House Roxbury BPL

Dillaway House 2 MIT

Dillaway House 3

Three seventeenth-century houses that survive to this day: the Pierce House in Dorchester, the Cradock House in Medford (more properly known as the Peter Tufts House, one of the oldest, if not the oldest, all-brick structures in the U.S.), and the Deane Winthrop House in Winthrop:

Pierce House Dorchester BPL

Cradock House Medford BPL

Deane Winthrop House Winthrop BPL

As I said above, most of the Salem photographs were familiar to me and I’ve posted them before: with a few exceptions. Clearly the DAR was looking for Revolutionary-related sites, so their photographer captured the much-changed locale of Leslie’s Retreat on North Street, along with a few other predictable sites like the Pickering House. Two houses identified as “Salem” in this collection are unfamiliar to me: the first (in the middle below) is–or was–obviously situated downtown, but I don’t recognize it: maybe someone out there will, or maybe it is gone. The second looks like it was located on a country lane: not very Salem-like, even a century or more ago, but it could be North Salem, or possibly even Salem, New Hampshire?

North Bridge Salem 1890 BPL

Old House in Salem 1890 BPL

Country House Salem BPL

North Bridge, Salem, “Old House” Salem, and a country house in Salem, c. 1890-1905, from the DAR-commissioned Archive of Photographic Documentation of Early Massachusetts Architecture at the Boston Public Library, also available here.

9 responses to “Sepia Streets

  • JCurley

    Great post, as usual. The middle photo above looks like the Stephen Daniel House, corner of Essex & Daniels Streets.

  • Sean

    The middle picture is an image of the old baker, or Hooper Hathaway house, now at Seven Gables. Formerly on Washington st, where the now closed court house is. This is the only time I’ve seen an image with that house that includes the building on the right, which I’ve also never seen. The unknown building is clearly the focus of the photo. Address was 26 church st.

    the last one I want to say it looks a lot like the Felt house, on Felt St, by the Kernwood. I know for a while it was the only house out there, but I’ve never seen the image.


    • daseger

      I don’t know, Sean–the Old Bakery did not front a street like this house–and what about that overhanging second story? But I totally agree with you about the Felt St. house–that’s my guess too.

  • Sean

    The bakery is the one behind the house on the corner. You can catch a comparison here

    I was under the impression that the Daniel Eppes house, c. 1660 ish, was there on the corner of Church and Washington. Perhaps this is the 18th century renovation of that older house? Old Naumkeag Sketches says that the Eppes house was the first American residence of governor Endicott, on that spot, but portions of that old house were moved vaguely east. Impossible to tell if any 17th century house is left from the image. It’s clearly been added on to, but who knows when. The corner house was a series of taverns, including the Ship Tavern, full of revolution era intrigue. Maybe thats why the DAR included it?

    • daseger

      Ok, I see what you’re saying–yes, that makes sense. John Robinson writes about the Eppes house in his Visitors’ Guide to Salem too, but this is the first image of seen of it—if this is it! Thanks.

  • Dr. Rebecca Hains

    These are terrific. I too wonder if the country Salem home could be Salem, NH. The fieldstone walks are very characteristic of that area, though perhaps they were out here, as well–do you know? I’ll post on FB and see if anyone recognizes these mystery houses!

  • Zach

    The last photograph is actually the Barrett Farmhouse in Concord, MA

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