I’ve got a lot of gardening and exterior house projects to do, but we’re in the midst of a stretch of rainy, foggy and soggy weather, so I can’t trim my hedges or paint my scraped and sanded deck (especially the latter). After last year’s summer of writing, I am more focused on activity this year, but we’ve had too few days of that perfect dry and sunny New England weather: it’s either wet or hot! I know I shouldn’t complain, as many parts of our country have it far worse, but I seem to be doing it anyway. Tuesday seemed particularly gray, so I threw Edwin Whitefield in the car and drove off in search of greener pastures: to the Merrimack River Valley. It was lush, lush, lush, a benefit of this icky weather for sure, and I really didn’t get very far: I went for more byways than highways and consequently just covered a southeastern corner of a much larger area. Whitefield was not a great guide, frankly: he missed a lot of Homes of our Forefathers in Amesbury, and West Newbury, and even the major metropolis of the region, Haverhill (I didn’t make it as far west as Lawrence or Lowell). Here’s my route (well, sort of):
Obviously I did not follow a thought-out or straightforward path, which explains why I didn’t cover much ground: one place led to another and these are large towns with lots of great houses to be found on nearly every road, requiring many stops. I don’t know Haverhill as well as some of the other towns in the valley, and it is large and diverse with lots to see: I really could have spent the entire day there. I drove up to the river on route 97 through Beverly, Topsfield, Boxford, Georgetown and Groveland, and searched for the one little house Whitefield sketched in the last town: not sure I found it but below are my top candidates. The bottom house is the wonderful George Hopkinson House on the National Register: unfortunately it faces the river rather than backing up to it, as in Whitefield’s sketch. Then it was across the river into Saltonstall country: like Salem and several other Massachusetts towns, the storied Saltonstall family looms large in Haverhill. But there is no Saltonstall house standing: the first one, the so-called “Saltonstall Seat” overlooking the river, burned down in the early 18th century, and a Georgian house later relocated to the shores of Lake Saltonstall was taken down in 1920. The Buttonwoods Museum (which really should update its hours) is home to the Haverhill Historical Society and the Duncan and Ward Houses, situated on the site of the Saltonstall Seat. Behind the Museum are historic cemeteries and the Highlands neighborhood, full of amazing houses in every conceivable architectural style. And then lakes! Haverhill really has a lot going for it, including a pretty vibrant downtown.
Groveland houses; Haverhill and the Merrimack in the 1880s; Whitefield’s Haverhill houses; the Duncan and Ward Houses of the Buttonwoods Museum.
After exploring the Highlands for a while I wanted to see if I could find a vista similar to the one in the print above, so I crossed the river over into Bradford, which is actually part of Haverhill. It is home to the charming campus of the now defunct Bradford College which originated as an academy at the seventeenth-century Kimball Tavern, now for sale. As I looked at this building, built in 1692, I began thinking about Haverhill’s famous captive, Hannah Dustin, who has been in the news recently as there is discussion about the appropriateness of her statue, given that she killed and scalped ten members of the Abenaki family holding her hostage after the raid on Haverhill in 1697. Her statue is scary, so I decided to cross the river again and go in search of the garrison house which her husband Thomas was building at the time of the raid. It now sits rather oddly next to a modern house and across from a golf course, but still intact. Then I got back on Whitefield track and went in search of the birthplace of another famous Haverhillian, John Greenleaf Whittier. From Whittier’s birthplace, now open, I naturally wanted to visit the house in which he resided later in life, in nearby Amesbury.
The Kimball Tavern, Dustin Garrison House and Whittier’s birthplace in Haverhill, and Whitter Homestead, Macy-Colby House, and a private 17th century house in Amesbury.
I took a very indirect route to Amesbury via Rocks Village, yet another village of sprawling Haverhill! Its bridge brings you across the river into West Newbury, which is full of eighteenth-century houses, and then I drove east into Newburyport and across the old chain bridge into Amesbury, also home to many early houses and ignored by Whitefield. As the day progressed towards the golden hour, things got a bit brighter, but it was also time to drive south towards home along route 1A. As is the case with Salem, the two houses which Whitefield chose to sketch in Newburyport are no longer standing: the Toppan and Pillsbury-Rawson Houses, which were both on High Street, I believe. But all of the first period houses he sketched in “Old” Newbury have survived, including the Noyes and Coffin Houses. The former is one of my very favorite old houses in Essex County, if only for its situation: it takes you right back to the seventeenth century. The latter is a Historic New England house, and open on Saturdays over the summer. Newbury and Rowley to the south are North Shore towns that link the Merrimack River Valley to Cape Ann, which Whitefield sketched a bit more actively, but I’ll have to leave that for another day trip.
The Noyes and Coffin Houses in Newbury.
July 15th, 2021 at 10:46 am
As someone who grew up in Salem, I enjoyed your tour of historic homes through Essex County. Our current home in Northborough has just been nominated for listing in the National Register of Historic Places. It was originally built circa 1755 with a georgian addition added about 1795. We just love old homes.
July 15th, 2021 at 1:18 pm
That’s so great! Northborough has the historic mile markers, I believe?
July 15th, 2021 at 5:02 pm
This is extremely enjoyable. Whitefield would be deliriously happy.
July 18th, 2021 at 9:33 am
High praise from YOU, Bettina Norton!
July 17th, 2021 at 5:41 am
I enjoyed this so much, thank you! If we were retired we’d take your map and go for a day trip.
July 17th, 2021 at 8:41 am
Thank you. I read and love every one of your posts.
July 17th, 2021 at 9:59 am
Well thank YOU!
July 17th, 2021 at 4:14 pm
I am glad to see that that the dismal weather did not deter you from pursuing your Whitefield project through the towns on the Merrimack. These towns deserve meandering. Happy to see that you made it to the birthplace of John Greenleaf Whittier (these New England poets are given a bad rap these days), the setting for his lengthy poem “Snow Bound.”
Another lovely town that I had occasion to revisit lately is North Andover – charming, hilly, and full of interesting houses. Including an abandoned school house that sits on the corner of Route 114 and Johnson Street leading into the town center. Remember “In School Days” by Whittier also?
A few years back I read THE MERRIMACK by Raymond P. Holden (1958), part of Rivers of America, “a landmark series of books on American rivers, for the most part written by literary figures rather than historians.” Highly recommended. Then, of course, we have those later, grand homes in the Merrimack Valley built by the mill owners and their executives throughout the region.
Donna, I look forward to your visit to Lynnfield. Shall I contact you at your SSU email? Mine is firstname.lastname@example.org
July 18th, 2021 at 9:35 am
Yes, I certainly could have included North Andover here as Whitefield goes there and its village is so charming, but it has its own post a couple of years ago. That area around the Common is so great! Yes, SSU is best: whenever you’re ready!