Doorways to the Past

I remain absolutely enraptured with Frank Cousins (1851-1925), Salem’s great photographer-author-entrepreneur and pioneering preservationist, after countless posts on his life and work. Today I want to feature his debut publication, Colonial Architecture, Volume One: Fifty Salem Doorways (1912). The title indicates that there was going to be a Volume Two, but instead Cousins went on to publish The Woodcarver of Salem: Samuel McIntire, His Life and Work (with Phil Madison Riley, 1916) and The Colonial Architecture of Salem (1919) and through his art company, sell his prints to pretty much every architectural author of his era. Fifty Salem Doorways is a large quarto portfolio of Cousins’ photographs of doors representing all the historic neighborhoods of Salem: Chestnut, Essex and Federal, the Common, and Derby Street.There’s very little text, just doors. I’m not quite sure why I’m so fascinated with this volume, but I am: I pick it up and browse through it quite frequently, discovering some new little detail every time. Details of DOORS. Yesterday I was talking to a few of my students in the research seminar that I’m teaching this semester in an attempt to aid them in narrowing down and focusing their very broad topics (this is always a struggle), and I said you need to find a window–or a doorway–into this topic, a point of entry. I was talking about sources, but also perspectives. So maybe that’s why I like Cousins’ doors so much: they give me a point of entry into that Salem of a century ago. And of course it’s always nice to engage in some past-and-present comparisons, which is what I’ve done below.

















and one that got away: the entrance of the Francis Peabody Mansion formerly at 136 Essex Street (1820-1908).



9 responses to “Doorways to the Past

  • upatthevilla

    Funny, when we are in Italy, I go crazy over doorways (and door knockers, which are fantastic over there!). But unlike these gorgeous Salem doors, I focus on the worn, off-kilter, crazy colored doors of rural Italy. They indeed provide an entryway into the life.

  • Tom P

    Hi Donna – love this post! I’ve been conducting my own series of solo historic Salem walks, using various guides and articles – whatever I can find – can you tell me what streets the Cook-Oliver and Knapp houses are on? Thanks!

  • az1407t

    The doorway of 129 Essex Street has changed significantly. It looks like the columns were previously Ionic vs. the current ones, which are Corinthian and fluted. Also there were double narrow doors in Cousins’ photo (perhaps a Victorian “improvement”?) with very narrow sidelights, vs. the current single door with wide sidelights, which looks more appropriate for the Federal Period style of the house. Great article! One related comment: Every one of Cousins’ photos capture the doorways of the mansions of the wealthy, but none of the simpler doorways of the working class masses, which is unfortunate because so many of these homes were lost in the 1914 Salem Fire, two years after he published his book.

    • daseger

      You’re so right–he wasn’t really interested in chronicling society; he was an architectural buff. Although I haven’t been through the massive archive of his work in the PEM Phillips Library–there are some streetscapes among those photographs which would feature more humble houses. And yes, 129 has been through a lot of changes…..

  • Andre Mayer

    Gee, I hate storm doors.

    • Ralph Trigger

      Of, in days of yore, homes had vestibules.

      Much better than Storm Doors.

      But today, the word “vestibule” would likely result in a blank stare from most.

  • Ralph Trigger

    Frank Cousns wrote several books.

    Are any signed copies known ?

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