Requiem for a Carriage House

There is nothing, nothing, that is worse than neglect, of anything that is in your care. I am always material-minded so I’m going straight to architecture: demolition by neglect infuriates me. It’s expensive to own an old house: I have a long list of tasks that my house needs and I wish I could spend the money that I’m going to spend on the house on travel, or a Sheraton sofa, or lustreware from the 1820s, but I can’t: I bought this house and I therefore I must be a responsible steward of it. I work hard to maintain it in the condition that it demands, as does my husband. The down payment for this house came from money I inherited from my grandfather, who also worked long hours to provide for his extended family; his father came over on a boat from southern Italy all alone at age 10 and worked as a tailor to send all four of his American-born children to college (even the girls) and leave them legacies which they passed down to their children. My legacy is my house, and I would never neglect it: it would be an insult to my family as well as my community. So when I see families of much more ancient American lineage, with the possessions to prove it, exhibiting carelessness at best, and neglect at worst, towards their properties, I get mad. Such is the case with a beautiful brick Federal house overlooking the Ropes Garden, left to rot for years by a family that first arrived in Salem in the seventeenth century, and only recently undergoing renovation. This house will be saved, at long last, but its owner has applied for permission to demolish the mansard-roofed carriage house in the rear of the property. The Historical Commission rules through the granting of certificates: non-applicability, appropriateness, hardship. The owner of this carriage houses seeks the latter, but this is clearly a case of willful neglect over many, many years, initiated by a man who is called, incomprehensibly, “an outspoken champion of historic preservation” in his obituary and carried on by his heirs.




Felt House and Carriage House 2


As you can see from the photographs (the black-and- white is a Frank Cousins view from the 1890s and the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum), the Victorian carriage-house doesn’t exactly go with the Federal house adjoining it: it was built as an outbuilding of the Italianate George. C. Shreve house fronting Federal Street and only purchased by our “outspoken champion of historic preservation” in the late 1960s, I believe. The Shreve House was converted to condominiums a while ago, and its residents are probably very tired of having this derelict building looming over their parking lot. But what a loss: of a once-elegant structure, of historical texture and fabric, of opportunity. It’s not difficult to find examples of Victorian carriage houses transformed into residences of all kinds, and just when the City of Salem is seeking to expand its inventory of “accessory dwelling units” (ADUs) in response to an intensifying housing shortage in our region, the impending demolition of this likely candidate seems even more tragic.

Carriage House Kauffman CMA

CARRIAGE-HOUSE-2Larry Kupferman, Victorian Carriage House, Carnegie Museum of Art; the converted carriage house at A Cambridge House Inn, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

19 responses to “Requiem for a Carriage House

  • Matt

    You are too kind. This tragedy rooted in spite and avoidable.

  • Pam McKee

    Agree! Unconscionable!!

  • Sandy Steele DeFord

    For a family rooted in early New England and having the means, this is so complete disrespectful to the art and architecture that the man professed to support. So very tragic and maddening.

  • wendyjoseph2013

    Is this a ‘done deal?’ what can concerned citizens do to help?

    • daseger

      The Historic Commission meeting is tonight! You can go, and speak against the application, or send an statement to the city’s Preservation Planner, Patti Kelleher.

  • Jan

    Well said.

  • gallowshillsite

    No naming names? And how about the full story in an upcoming post? Story I hear is that the neglect was a middle finger to Salem for a now forgotten slight. Much like the dumping of rusted equipment by Burnham Maritime on the pedestrian path to Salem Station. Lovely site to behold coming off the train every day.

  • Jenni Haas

    As a modern day carriage driver it delight in your disgust!

  • Mary Jane Kelley

    I thoroughly agree with you.
    This is a tragic loss.

  • Helen Breen

    Hi Donna,

    I hear you! Thanks so much for sharing the story of your inheritance with your readers. None of us doubts the care that you and your husband take of your extraordinary property. I believe that you mentioned once that your home is in the vicinity of Hamilton Hall. Lovely area.

    Unfortunately, we in Lynnfield have a sad tale of two historic homes side by side on Main Street, totally neglected, obscured by overgrowth, and now uninhabitable. The oldest one, a darling Cape (circa 1745) has broken windows with decayed lace curtains hanging out. A tarp floats over the roof. These properties are total eyesores when one enters town. Somehow, the taxes must be paid, but who knows?

    Demolition in this case would be welcomed. Sorry for the rant – I could say more, but will desist.

  • Pearl

    Praying their request gets rejected. This darling carriage house needs saved!

  • Lillian Hsu

    I didn’t know anything about the history of the owner, especially how long they’ve had the property, so thanks for providing a bit of background. It sinks the heart when I see the property on my walk to the train station through the Ropes garden – not only the property but its relationship to the garden wall, the garden, the rest of its surroundings. I could not attend last night’s meeting but wrote a letter on Monday to Patti Kelleher. I hope public comment had some effect.

  • Guy Shipton

    Dear daseger, thank you so much for posting your comment. I was mindlessly trawling GoogleEarth and ended up in Salem, looking at all the old houses. Somehow I found Federal Court and this beautiful but dilapidated house at the very end of it. Its condition is, indeed, shameful. And the story of the carriagehouse is very sad. But, above all, the main building must be preserved. It is a complete gem, the classic fanlight above the front door, and the fact that it’s a brick building. It is a complete rarity and exceptional that it has survived at all. I do wish everyone concerned all the luck in the world in managing to preserve it – leaving all antagonisms aside.

  • BORAH!

    I meant to add to my previous comment that in addition to my general love for Salem and it’s history I also moved here for it’s old homes, buildings and architecture. Again, I wish the carriage house could be saved.

  • BORAH!

    This is so, so, so sad. I wish it could be saved. I am heartbroken.

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