“Salem” Houses, 20th-century Style

There are two deep rabbit holes around which I must tread very, very carefully, or hours will be lost instantly: the Biodiversity Heritage and Building Technology Heritage digital libraries housed at the Internet Archive. One leads me through a never-ending cascade of flora and fauna; the other through the built environment–or prospective built environment, I should say, as many of its sources are building plans and catalogs. Just yesterday, when it started to snow and afternoon classes were cancelled, I thought to myself, let me just pop in there and see if I can find some inspiration for interior shutter knobs, and hours later I emerged with no knobs but lots of images of “Salem houses” instead. So here they are in chronological order: you will no doubt conclude, as I did, that “Salem” style loses its meaning over the twentieth century: the last house is from 1963, and it is difficult to see how it was inspired by Salem. Well, now that I’m looking at them altogether, it’s difficult to see how Salem was inspirational at all, except perhaps for a brief spell in the 1930s. House parts stick to their Salem inspiration, as there are plenty of mid-century “colonial” mantels, doors, and windows inspired by the craftsmen of “Old Salem”, but houses seem to break free of any connection to classical Salem influences: just look at the 1949 “Sam’l McIntire”! The concept of Salem seems to retain some currency throughout the century, but what it really means in terms of design or construction is anyone’s guess.


Salem Houses Herbert C. Chivers 1903 (2)

Salem Houses Aladdin 1915

Salem Houses 1915 collage

Salem Houses 1929 PicMonkey Image

Salem Houses 1933 PicMonkey Image

Salem Colonial 1933

Salem Houses 1936 Sears

Salem Houses Sears 2

Sam McIntire 1949

Salem Houses 1954

Salem Houses Collier-Barnett Co._0029 1963

“Salem Cottage” from St. Louis architect Herbert Chivers’ Artistic Homes, 1903; Aladdin Houses, 1915; the first “Readi-cut” Salem model, 1915; a “bungalow with the pleasing lines of the Colonial type” in The Book of 100 Homes, 1929; the reproduction “Pequot House” was included in the Ladies Home Journal House Pattern Catalogue of 1933, the same year that “a Salem Colonial” was published in Samuel Glaser’s Designs for 60 small homes from $2,000 to $10,000 : showing how to build, buy and finance a small home; two Sears “Salem” houses from 1936 and 1940; The “Sam’l McIntire” from the Warm Morning Small Homes plan book for 1949; Bennett Homes, 1954; a Salem “rambler” from There’s a Miles Home in your Future” book from the Collier-Barnett Co., 1963.

18 responses to ““Salem” Houses, 20th-century Style

  • Kathleen Kane

    This was fun! Thanks for using your snow day to do this. Maybe the next one, we could go find models of these in Salem!

    • daseger

      Ummm..now you’ve got me thinking. Not sure we have them all, but maybe.

      • Alan Lord

        I know North Salem has quite a few of the different styles. The house where I grew up – on the SE corner of Felt & Claremont (35 Felt Street) – is of the turn-of-the century cottage style (top photo).

      • daseger

        Oh that’s a cute house!

      • Alan Lord

        It was really very nice looking with awnings on all the windows – back in the day.

      • daseger

        So many awnings in the past….what happened to them? Air conditioning I guess.

      • Alan Lord

        Yes, no doubt air conditioning was a factor. They also became fairly expensive. The awning company would come and install ours in the spring and then return and take them down and store them over the winter. As a kid, hearing them putting up the awnings in the spring became one of those seasonal sounds to me. They did – of course – make the house somewhat dark, but that actually lent itself to the “feeling” of coolness in the summer. I have one on my shop office window and it helps with the otherwise bland front of the building. They do/did add a lot of style – especially to a cottage home. I’ll e-mail you a photo, when we had the awnings.

  • FairytaleFeminista

    There’s something to be said for a building that looks of its time and last so people can appreciate it.

  • az1407t

    Nice article! Actually, there are many post Salem fire houses in Salem that look quite similar in design to the 1915 design shown here. Also, the 1933 design looks very similar to the Witch House and John Ward House.

    • daseger

      Thanks–it was fun. I think you’re right–the neighborhoods leveled by the fire are definitely the place to look for that one. Actually the 1933 Pequot House is an actual house–built in the 30s right on Congress Street in front of what is now Shetland Park.

  • Laura

    While I was reading this, I periodically said outloud “The Salem” (we have the right to talk to ourselves in our own homes!), and I also tried out different word associations… Salem does have a ‘pleasing’, perhaps ‘serene’ sound to it. I asked for word associations at work and someone said, “Salem Sale! Sale away! into the Atlantic!” Nope! It’s a house! Well, enough nonsense. Really interesting article.

  • Pearl

    Great article! Even though they all bear the Salem moniker they aren’t all inspired by Salem, Ma. There are 26 towns/cities in 26 states in all parts of the country that are named Salem.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    Very interesting piece. Thanks for the link to Building Technology Heritage. I think I could fall into that rabbit hole myself.

    That misnamed 1949 “Sam’l McIntire” is so cute. Young families who bought houses similar to that model throughout the northeast in the post-war period must have been thrilled with this Cape. Especially after having grown up in city tenements.

    As I drive around my town (Lynnfield) I often notice the street number of a particular house, rush home, and check out the date it was built on Zillow. The population of Lynnfield tripled in the 1950s. For example, 22 new streets were approved in 1954 and 228 new house permits were issued in 1955. The new homes became larger and more elaborate decade by decade.

    Today, new homes are basically McMansions of vast proportions…

  • Nelson Dionne

    My family built a home at 12 Sumner Rd Salem, after the Fire. My father was always mentioning that several Sears houses were built on / around
    Loring Ave near Moffitt Rd. Today, using Google Maps, it may be possible to “drive” though the Pickman Park neighborhood . The area
    saw some really nice houses built from 1920 – 1940. Postwar homes were not as nice.

  • Sartenada

    I do love this post. Thank you.

    Have a nice day!

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