Anatomy of a Restoration

The new owners of a beautiful Chestnut Street townhouse, part of the street’s only triple house which also happens to be its tallest structure, very kindly allowed me to come in and take some pictures of their restoration process, which has begun in earnest. I’m so grateful, because this was the perfect time: the bones of the house were exposed in all of their beauty–and strength. Even with ceilings torn out and dust everywhere, the building still looked elegant–and solid–from top to bottom (well maybe the basement isn’t beautiful, but it sure is interesting, as you can see below). This is a very notable house not only because it is a “triplet”, but also because it was home to three Salem mayors, including the Reverend Charles Wentworth Upham, who was also President of the Massachusetts Senate, a U.S. representative, and author of Salem Witchcraft; with an account of Salem Village, a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects (1867). The entire house was commissioned by Salem shipowner Pickering Dodge, who lived next door, in 1828, ostensibly for several of his five daughters. A son-in-law, John Fiske Allen, oversaw the completion of the project after Dodge’s death in 1833 and his widow lived in the westernmost townhouse—our townhouse–until her death in 1851, followed by all those mayors in the nineteenth century and one of Salem’s most prominent preservationists in the twentieth. The restoration philosophy is conservative: reveal and burnish what is already there, and alter the systems and utilitarian rooms of the house (kitchen and bathrooms) so that they can “be useful to the daily lives of today” in the words of project architect Helen Sides: “Kitchens are no longer for servants and it’s nice not to share the bathroom if there are spaces to put new ones!  It is the responsible thing to update these houses so that they can stand for another 200 years”.

Restoration Cousins 1916

Chestnut Street Salem 2016

Looking up Chestnut Street towards the triple house, 1916 (Frank Cousins) and 2016.

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Entrance hall and front and back stairs. This house has a lovely scale and great light (even though it has a firewall on one side) because it is two rooms deep–so you have windows both in the front and the back. Because it also has both front and back stairs I imagine it has great flow too…and the basement is a virtual museum.

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Restoration Collage Slatted Cupboards

Original basement kitchen, coal bin, and pantry with “slatted cupboards”—I’m not sure that’s what they are called, but I have the EXACT same ones in my house, built roughly at the same time (on the left with reindeer, swan, and pinecones: this is my seasonal decoration room). Back upstairs…..

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Restoration 3rd floor

Restoration 4th floor

Bedrooms on the second, third, and fourth floors. The windows have their own dedicated restorer, Window Woman of New England, who have developed quite a reputation here in Salem. A very conspicuous aspect of this house is its built-in cupboards, cases, cabinets and closets–very evident in the second-floor study but also all throughout the house.

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Restoration Collage Cupboards

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A collage of cupboards between the bookcases of the second floor study and the first floor butler’s pantry (?) cabinets, which are PERFECT. I always notice COLOR in older houses—tones you don’t normally see–but in this house (in this state) it was really more about the color of wood, briefly exposed before new ceilings are installed.

Restoration Collage

Restoration Ceiling

Restoration boards

Restoration boards 2

Restoration Tim

Love the red stairway (down to the basement) and green doors…various exposed ceilings…Tim of Peter Strout Construction building a new bathroom in this old house……out back: another house!

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Restoration Sink.jpg

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Set in the midst of the long garden out back is a carriage house  (according to Bryant Tolles’ Architecture in Salem) which was converted to a residence c. 1912 utilizing materials from the demolished Chase house at 21 Federal Street. Obviously there was a deep appreciation for Salem craftsmanship then, which is very much in evidence here and now.

Restoration Team Collage


18 responses to “Anatomy of a Restoration

  • Ellen Cyr

    Thank you. That was very interesting. I had been to an estate sale there and had found the house fascinating, especially the basement.

    I stumbled upon your blog when I was looking up the Salem Fire. My father-in-law had been born at a camp after the fire and I remember him saying it was at the high school but my daughter remembers him saying it was on the Common, so I was trying to find which was right, just for posterity. There was a boy born at Bertram Field but I couldn’t find the names. I forgot he has a sister living and could have just called her It was a nice way to spend the afternoon anyway.

    Thanks for having a blog. I look forward to future articles.

    • daseger

      Thanks Ellen–I think we should be able to find out where your father was born; there were certainly camps at both the Common, Bertram Field, and Forest River Park–although the later was in place the longest.

  • Cotton Boll Conspiracy

    What a great view of the inside of fascinating house. I always like to think about what old homes under restoration look like inside. Thanks for posting the photos.

  • Matt M

    Helen Sides rocks!

  • Ed Parran

    Strongly recommend contractor wrap and protect mahogany banister before it gets even more damaged (should have happened Day 1).

  • Susan

    The ceiling was torn down in the library but all the books left in the shelves? That seems odd.

    • daseger

      Well again, I’m sure they had that case wrapped while the ceiling was coming down, Susan. Many books have been sold or donated to local institutions actually.

  • Helen

    I believe what was left on the shelves were the unwanted, unclaimed books. The owners have tried hard to find new owners for all that was left behind.

  • Jane Griswold Radocchia

    thanks for the pictures and for Helen Sides’ and her contractors’ good work. Very pleased the windows are being repaired. I enjoyed being able to see the parts, the frame, comparing them to what was going on here in Vermont at the same time.

  • Kate

    Murray Masonry and More is doing a great job on the exterior restoration also!

  • az1407t

    Great article! Plumbing and electrical are so important in these old buildings to give them a new lease on life. I hope to see photos of the finished project. It was very gracious of the residents to allow you to take pictures. Much appreciated.

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