Category Archives: Architecture

Some Great Early Gloucester Houses

I feel like I should know more about Gloucester, the port city about a half hour to the north of Salem. I have quite a few Salem friends who have summer homes in Gloucester, or have moved to Gloucester, or just go to Gloucester often: it’s like an escape hatch of sorts. 2023 marks Gloucester’s 400th Anniversary, and I have been super impressed with the city’s commemoration efforts: they are creative, comprehensive, and most importantly, expressions of the community rather than of a limited pool of “stakeholders,” as seems to be the case with Salem as it gears up to its 400th in 1626. I’ve been to Gloucester often, but I can’t even begin to characterize it as a place: it doesn’t seem like one city to me, but rather several. It’s certainly big: I decided to drive around in search of some of its earliest houses the other day and it took me all afternoon and I feel like I barely scratched the surface! I’m not even sure that I have the neighborhoods straight, to be honest: I started out in West Gloucester, then drove downtown, then to East Gloucester and Rocky Neck, then through Rockport to the northern side of Gloucester, stopping in Lanesville and Annisquam. Depending on where you are, you can find any style of house you want in Gloucester: big old shingled “cottages,” smaller cottages in a variety of styles, Greek Revivals, vast Victorians, stucco Craftsmans and even a Tudor or two. Not too many three-story Federals so prevalent in Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth: Gloucester was/is a fishing port so not as many wealthy merchants. I was looking for Colonials on this little expedition, the older the better, so that determined my route. Unfortunately, I forgot my sources: Prudence Paine Fish’s excellent books on Gloucester’s old houses (Ms. Fish died recently; a great loss for Gloucester) and Edwin Whitefield’s Homes of our Forefathers. On my own I missed quite a bit of this sprawling old city with its innumerable inlets so expect return trips over the next year or so!

I started out in West Gloucester where I drove way out along Concord Street: in my experience streets named for other Massachusetts towns have the oldest houses. At least part of the first house below, the Ella Proctor Herrick House, was built in the seventeenth century and the last one proudly bears a first-period plaque as well.

Along Concord Street, West Gloucester.

Then I drove miles to downtown Gloucester, overlooking its expansive harbor. This is the most densely-settled area of the city, obviously, and also where you can find the most architectural variety. It’s also where the Cape Ann Museum (CAM) is, a museum of art and history which also owns and operates several house museums. Of course I’m jealous that Gloucester has a professional local museum, but CAM’s existence is just one of several indicators that Gloucester is serious about preserving and interpreting its heritage, material and textual: I also like the way older houses are interwoven with newer, professional and institutional structures in the city center. The first house below, on Middle Street, is wedged between a bank and some other professional office building, and has lots of Georgian neighbors.

Along Middle Street, Gloucester.

On the way to the Green, where CAM owns and operates two historic houses, I passed by this first cute and very characteristic of Gloucester house and one of the city’s oldest houses, the Whittemore House (1700), now a frame shop. The Green, situated right on Gloucester’s traffic rotary on Route 128, features three historic structures (the White Ellery House, 1710 and the Babson-Alling House, 1740 are below) and CAM’s newest exhibition space, the Janet & William Ellery James Center (2020), which has expanded the museum’s exhibition and archival space signficantly.

I hopped right on the rotary and drove to East Gloucester, which was a pass-through for me as I didn’t have my sources! So I did the Cape Ann loop, enjoying the views and driving through Rockport, and ended up in Lanesville and Annisquam on Gloucester’s northern shore. As you can tell from these photographs, it was a cloudy, dreary day (as has been the case for most of January in our parts) and so I had to snap this bright orange cottage in Lanesville and then it was on to Annisquam, which is really almost too precious and perfect (and with too many “private drives”!) but I had to see the Edward Harraden House (c. 1660)—one of several structures built by this family in Gloucester. It’s a storied name in Salem too as Jonathan Harraden was one of our most famous revolutionary privateers. It did not disappoint.

Eighteenth-century houses in the Lanesville (ORANGE!) and Annisquam villages of Gloucester, and the Edward Harraden House, c. 1660.


Beverly Jogs

I was following the discussion on a facebook group dedicated to the restoration of Colonial homes the other day, very deliberately avoiding preparing my syllabi for the new semester, when the term “Beverly jog” came up, and it was clear that a lot of people on the thread did not recognize it. That surprised me, but it might just be an eastern Massachusetts phrase. There might be other terms: I was reading Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture of Salem last week and he used the phrase “jut-by” to refer to such additions, as in: occasionally the rear half of a gambrel-roof house was extended several feet beyond the front half, as had often been the earlier lean-to, forming a “jut-by” to provide a side door facing front. All old houses have all sorts of additions and protuberances of course, and I think “lean-to” and simply “addition” can cover all the bases, but I learned the phrase “Beverly jog” when I was taking a tour of the Peabody Essex Museum’s Crowninshield-Bentley House long ago. It remains a perfect example of a very specific type of addition.

So here’s a good definition, from the Dictionary of Building Preservationa narrow addition on the end of a house with the back slope of its roof in the same plane as the back slope of the main roof; originally found on late 18c houses in the Boston, Massachusetts, area; now found in other areas. I had thought it was an Essex County building practice—hence the reference to Beverly, Salem’s neighboring city to the north—but over the past few years I’ve seen such additions in southern New Hampshire and on the Cape. The addition of a staircase was likely the primary reason for a Beverly jog: I remember from my historic plaque researching days how many people lived in these old houses: you don’t want them all coming in the front door, especially in the middle of the winter! And then you get the added benefit of the mudroom: another New England necessity. I don’t think a Beverly jog can be on any house other than a Georgian, or at least that’s where you’ll see them in Salem. Some of my favorites are below (these photos were taken two days ago, when the sky was white with our first snow, as opposed to the Crowninshield-Bentley photos from yesterday when the sun finally came out after several dreary weeks!)

The first house above is on Federal Street and its Beverly jog is perfect! My neighbor’s house on Broad Street; the green house on Andover Street, which belonged to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s aunt, has TWO Beverly jogs—one on each side. Does the orange house on River Street have a jog or merely an addition? I’m not sure about the plane……and the last house is no longer with us, a victim of urban renewal.


Secret Staircases

Every old house has secrets, but every old house does not have deliberately-constructed secretive places for hiding or hidden means of conveyence: such spaces are special. Novelists love secret staircases, and historians do too: they are evidence of intent. Well, I think everyone is fascinated by secret spaces in general: I have been since I was a child and my mother told me all about priest holes in England and that was that. When I was older and in England I was determined to find as many as I could, armed with the books below. When I was older still, and looking at the house I now live in, its owners (who were also realtors) showed me its two secret spaces: a door hidden in the master bedroom closet that opens up into the in-law apartment next door and a tunnel in the basement that opens up under the street. There’s a big door, with a big lock, leading to some underground space! I always call it a tunnel but I’m not sure how far it goes under Chestnut Street: as soon as the previous owners opened up the door and I saw black I ran upstairs! Twenty years later, I still haven’t been in that space: it’s too scary. I can assure you, however, that my husband and every single contractor who has worked in this house has been in there—they all seem to think it’s some sort of large coal bin but of course the previous owners told me it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I have a theory that it might have been a space to store rum, as the man who built my house was Salem’s biggest distiller and he lived right across the street, but I’ve yet to find proof. So all of this is just an introduction to say: I’m interested in secret spaces! (And I was a Nancy Drew fan too and the Hidden Staircase is my favorite.)

I think that the American equivalent of priest holes are secret staircases and one of the most important secret staircases in America is right here in Salem, at the House of the Seven Gables. For generations of children in our region and beyond, myself included, the first impression or memory of the Gables is undoubtedly of the secret staircase: every child (and many adults) that I have taken to the Gables has been struck by both the idea and the experience of the secret staircase. Its aura is very interesting because it is a twentieth-century installation rather than an original feature of this seventeenth-century house. The House of Gables Settlement Association’s founder, Caroline Osgood Emmerton, and her architect James Everett Chandler, were “inspired” by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel in their restoration of the house: and so it acquired four more gables, a rebuilt central chimney, a second-story overhang, and a cent shop as well as additional room for the companion settlement mission. I love the headline for this Boston Sunday Globe article from January 1910:  all is revealed!

The house also acquired a secret staircase, right alongside the new chimney, even though there is no secret staircase in The House of the Seven Gables. So why? There are several reasons. The house’s previous owner, Henry Upton, maintained that there had been a secret staircase and so Emmerton believed that she was putting something back that had been there before. She also believed, apparently, that the novel needed a secret staircase and so she was giving the house one: “For it seems to be that we feel the absence of the secret staircase in the story just as we feel the absence of a bit of a picture-puzzle that has been lost and has left an unfiled place in the picture.” [The Chronicles of Three Old Houses,1935]. This seems like a bit of a rationalization to me, so I’m wondering if she merely wanted a secret staircase in the house to increase its allure: such discoveries made headlines in those days and they still do.

Boston Evening Transcript 8.5.1911 (not the word “museumized”!); the era of secret staircases: that found in Governor Tilden’s Gramercy Park mansion made national headlines in 1905.

And once the secret staircase was there, it took on a life of its own. I’m working on an article on the Colonial Revival in Salem, and just read a wonderful study on interpretation at the House of the Seven Gables over the last century, based on a succession of scripts [Tami Christopher, “The House of the Seven Gables. A House Museum’s Adaptation to Changing Societal Expectations since 1910,” in Amy K. Levin, ed., Defining Memory: Local Museums and the Construction of History in America’s Changing Communities (2007); the chapter on the Gables in Colin Dickey’s Ghostland is great too.]. In the beginning, the staircase was explained in terms of smuggling/tax evasion or “a means of escape in witchcraft times.” Then there was a shift to the Underground Railroad, and finally an admission of its 20th century origins. The staircase has reflected historical interests, and historical inquiry over time, but it has also been a means to express simple (childhood) curiosity, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Early twentieth-century postcard and the secret staircase in 1950 (National Geographic) and today (or recently).


Christmas Trim

It’s going to be a super busy December, so I got a jump start on decorating my own house: we have eight fireplaces with mantles plus several other surfaces which “require” adornment so there’s a lot of sorting out and arranging to do. I have two rules, or should I say practices, which I observe for holiday decorating: I don’t bring greenery in until just before Christmas and I always choose a creature theme. Down in my basement, there’s a little room with shelves full of creatures of Christmases past: swans from last year, and then bears, foxes, sheep, hedgehogs, rabbits, mice, cats and lots of deer, of course. This year is all about pheasants, as I found some Royal Copley ones that I really liked this fall and wanted to keep them out: I’ve glitzed them up a bit and added some gilded companions. I love natural greenery but I can’t stand to see it fade, so usually I wait until the last possible moment to mix it in with my other decorations. This year I hedged on the rule, and added a few greens because I wanted some warmth and contrast, but more is coming! Someday I might go for simpler decorations but my holiday aesthetic is still pretty much all about abundance. The exception to the greenery rule has always been the Christmas Tree, but over the last few years we’ve had trees die on us before Christmas, so now we’re going to wait for that too. There’s nothing more depressing than a crispy Christmas tree, in my opinion.

Downstairs mantles, the “mantle” in the kitchen, measuring-cup creatures from Anthropologie and my pantry. The glittery squirrels always come out: they’re in the library. By the time I got to the second floor, I was running out of pheasants, so substituted a lowly duck. (There’s a few peacocks mixed in with the pheasants downstairs too, because peacocks). Last year’s swans on the shelf in the basement.

This past weekend was the Christmas in Salem tour, the major fundraiser for Salem’s historic preservation organization, Historic Salem Inc. It’s in a different neighborhood every year, and this year was all about North Salem, encompassing Buffum and Dearborn Streets, on either side of North Street, and a few homes off Dearborn. It was not at all a “colonial” tour, rather it had a bit of a retro feel to me despite the presence of many later nineteenth-century homes, including the gorgeous Queen Anne Ropes House. There was also a stunning 1915 bungalow on the tour, an unusual style for Salem. Gratitude and congratulations to all the homeowners: it’s quite an effort to open your home to 1000 people (believe me, I’ve done it twice). Christmas in Salem always puts me in the holiday mood: it’s such a lavish display of generosity and creativity and cheer: hopefully I’ve captures some semblance of these things in the pictures!

At the Ropes House: love, love, love the button garlands!!! Below: my friend Bradley guiding us through the kitchen in his Princess Diana black sheep sweater and everyone’s favorite “simple” decoration: red branches and floating candles.

Below: lots of textures and nooks and crannies on this tour! These are the details that gave me the retro feel.

What we want to see: table settings, a wreath, and a Christmas tree.

I hope all these homeowners are having a drink just about now (Sunday @5pm)!


Open House in Essex County

It occurred to me the other day that during the long life of this blog I have never spotlighted Trails and Sails, a calendar of dedicated events and openings throughout Essex County in September organized by the Essex National Heritage Area. I feel remiss; I have friends and former students who work for Essex Heritage, and I myself am a commissioner! These folks know what heritage is and are able to discern it from tourism, and so they connect and cast light on institutions and areas which represent this region’s cultural and material legacy in meaningful ways. Trails and Sails is a 10-day extravaganza of free events throughout our region, beginning next weekend. I’ve picked my events, and my participation will pretty much revolve around visiting old buildings, but don’t let my game plan (mis-) inform yours: there are plenty of events that involve much more outside action like walking, paddling, biking, apple-picking, cider-making, birding, and even “forest bathing” (whatever that is) right here in Salem. So go to the website, or download the digital guide, and chart your course. Note that many (but not all) events and openings are recurring and some require reservations.

Saturday, September 17I’ve got to get into the glorious Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Lynn, so that will be my first stop. I’ve wanted to see this hall for about five years. From Lynn, I’ll drive over to Danvers to tour the 1670 Judge Samuel Holten House, another building which I’ve long admired and never been inside. Same with the Platts-Bradstreet House in Rowley, so that’s next, then back to Salem for a walking tour of Charlotte’s (Forten) Salem by History Alive, Inc.

Lynn’s GAR Hall, two seventeenth-century houses, and Charlotte Forten about to lead us around Salem!

Sunday, September 18: I know that I will have to do some lecture and presentation prep on this day but I am still going to the Open House at the Rocks Village Handtub Building and Toll House Museum on the Merrimack as I love that building and (again) have never been inside. I might as well go to the Brocklebank Museum on Georgetown as it’s on the way home.

Rocks Village,Georgetown, and the Jackman-Willet House in Newbury.

The following week, unfortunately, is super busy and I have my own presentation on Saturday the 24th, so that leaves Sunday the 25th, when I’ll go up to Newbury and see the seventeenth-century Jackman-Willet House and anything else that is happening in that part of the county. I feel like I’m missing out on some great events, particularly Fletcher Steele and Frederick Law Olmsted tours and a view of Gloucester from its grandiose city hall. But there’s always next year: Trails and Sails is an established tradition. As I was looking at the schedule, thinking about where I would like to go, and reflecting upon my past summer, it was just houses, houses, houses! I love visiting old open houses, but I think I must be an outlier among heritage tourists today. I’ve been talking to a few museum professionals over the summer, and they all tell me that house museums just aren’t as popular as they used to be. This might explain why so many in Salem are closed, including all of the Peabody Essex Museum’s houses save the Ropes Mansion and Salem Maritime’s Derby House (well, save the ell). But everywhere I have gone this summer—in New York, and all the New England states—there have been good-sized parties touring houses with me so it makes me feel like there are still some old-house afficionados out there! An anecdotal view, I know, but a hopeful one. Perhaps I should finally admit, however, that my essential childhood bedside book, Samuel Chamberlain’s Open House in New England, might have been a bit odd.


The Wentworth-Gardner House

We were in York Harbor all last week with family and friends, several of whom had never been to this region of New England before. So I was a bit of a tour guide, in my fashion. On a morning tour of Portsmouth, we passed by my favorite house in town, the Tobias Lear House, as well as its more famous neighbor, the Wentworth-Gardner House, one of the most famous Georgian structures in the country. I’m very familiar with this house, but for some reason I’ve never been inside, and the door was open with a flag out front, so in I went, forgetting all about my companions. They followed me, but I really gave them no choice in the matter! We had a lovely tour with a very knowledgeable guide, and the house was ever more stunning than I imagined. I’m kind of glad that I had never been in before, as this house is probably the best example of the entrepreneurial antiquarian Wallace Nutting’s material and cultural impact in New England and I’ve come to appreciate him only recently. Nutting purchased the house in 1915 and added it to his collection of “Colonial Pictorial Houses” after his restoration, and thus it became one of the more influential representatives of the “olden time” in his time and the Colonial Revival in ours. Images of Nutting’s wispy colonial ladies in its midst are scattered throughout and a room is devoted entirely to his work.

The Wentworth-Gardner House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire: present and before Wallace Nutting’s purchase in 1915; the amazing center hall with a stairway re-installed by Nutting, and one of his colonial ladies descending (from a large collection of Nutting images at Historic New England).

The houses was built by Mark Hunking and Elizabeth Rindge Wentworth in 1760 as a wedding gift for their son Thomas, who lived in it until his death in 1768. It was owned and occupied by Major William Gardner from 1793 to 1833, and thereafter by his widow. In the later nineteenth century the grand mansion became a rooming house as its South End neighborhood declined, and then Nutting came to its rescue! As you can see, his most extensive restoration was to its exterior, but the reinstallation of the stairway was a major undertaking as well. I know that the pineapple was a customary colonial symbol of hospitality, but I can’t help but wonder if Nutting was inspired by Salem’s “Pineapple House.”

Nutting’s restored doorway (Historic New England) and Salem doorheads from the 1895 Visitors’ Guide.

Nutting sold the house to the Metropolitan Museum of Art just after the close of World War I, initiating the threat of removal to New York City that was itself removed by the onset of the Depression. After a brief stint of stewardship by the Preservation of New England Antiquities, the Wentworth-Gardner (and adjoining Lear house) House was acquired by a group of local preservationists who eventually became known as the Wentworth-Gardner Historic House Associates in 1940. It’s just a great place to visit: so many wonderful structural and decorative details, including the wonderfully carved mantel in the front left parlor (another one of Nutting’s reinstallations), the newly-installed reproduction eighteenth-century flocked wallpaper, the very Colonial Revival kitchen with its steep steps leading to upstairs, several great bedchambers (I couldn’t call them simply bedrooms), the Wallace Nutting room, and a very nice exhibition on historic preservation in Portsmouth. I remain so impressed by this small city with all of its historic houses, in wonderful condition and all open to the public. It’s a great example of community commitment to material heritage and the importance of having several institutional stewards thereof, rather than just one or two.

Georgian and Colonial Revival styles/worlds merge in the Wentworth-Gardner House, Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


The Justin Morrill Homestead

Another week: another pink Gothic Revival house! If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been on a Gothic Revival kick for a while. It’s a style you can’t help but notice, and Salem is fortunate to have some notable examples, but I think it was spending a couple of weeks last summer in the Hudson River Valley, a crucible of Gothic creation, which rejuvenated my interest. I saw Lyndhurst and Sunnyside there, along with many other romantic structures and motifs. There are wonderful Gothic Revival buildings in New England as well, and after I saw the Rotch house in New Bedford on my spring break I knew I wanted to see more, so it was off to see Kingscote in Newport, and Roseland Cottage just a few weeks ago. Now I have a long list of houses that I want to visit or revisit, including one with which I thought I was familiar: the Justin Morrill Homestead in Strafford, Vermont. I lived in this village as a child while my father was beginning his academic caeer at Dartmouth, and I remember running all around the estate in the summers: it was irresistable because it was pink, and the site of multiple outbuildings (also pink) which were the source of countless made-up stories and scenarios as well as a mystical, seemingly bottomless, pond. My childhood focus was much more on the grounds than the house, though I have been in the house a couple of times since then, but not with my current Gothic Revival gaze. So this past GLORIOUS weekend, my husband and I drove up to Stafford, where a pink quatrefoiled fence marks the entrance to the Morrill house and grounds.

This was the home of Justin Morrill (1810-1898), or I should say the summer home, as after he made his fortune he began a life of public service which placed him in Washington from 1855 until his death. He served as a US Representative from 1855-1867, and then Senator from 1867 until 1898. Unlike so many of today’s Washington politicians, Morrill was an actual lawmaker, distinguished first and foremost as the crafter of the 1862 Morrill Land Grant College Act which provided federal funding to establish public universities in every state, but he was also (again, notably different than today’s “public” servants) a remarkably effective committee chair, serving in that capacity for the House Ways and Means Committee during the Civil War and for the Joint Committee on Public Buildings thereafter, as well as on the Senate Finance Committee. He financed the Civil War and the completion of the US Capitol! This pastoral pink cottage must have been a welcome sanctuary for the very busy Morrill, and it was very much his house, completed just before his marriage to Ruth Barrell Swan of Easton, Massachusetts in 1851. Just as I had never really considered his house, I had not thought much about Morrill himself until my re-visit this weekend, but both of our guides, John for the exterior and grounds and Eli for the interior, were clearly both very much fans as well as purveyors of lots of detailed information about the Senator and his family. The house is also rather intimate, much more of a cottage rather than a mansion, and it is furnished with items taken from the Morrill home in Washington, so it feels as if you are visiting a home rather than a museum, albeit a home fixed in a particular place and time.

Interiors of the Morrill Homestead: some Gothic Revival orientation, including the Brooks House in Salem; the family (+dog) on the porch, pantry, downstairs hallway, Gothic door details, monogrammed china, the parlor, a downstairs bedroom, stained glass in the Senator’s study, second-floor landing, hallway, and back bedroom, attic details.

And now for some magic! The house has these amazing painted window screens clearly visible from the outside as European-esque landscapes in shades of grey and black, but inside you see only the mesh screen! I have seen painted window screens in Baltimore before, but never in New England. They seemed magical to me, as magical as the ice pond on the estate USED to seem to me as a child: surrounded by trees, you came upon it as a secret, dark place, and again, it was seemingly bottomless. But this weekend, cleared of about half of its guardian trees, it seemed very much like just a pond. In fact, that’s what my husband said to me: “it’s just a pond, Donna.” I couldn’t even take a good photo of it as it was so sunny, sorry. An older photograph conveying the dark and magical qualities it possessed in my childhood mind is also elusive: just imagine a black hole!

The Justin Morrill Historic Site is one of ten historic sites and National Historic Landmarks owned and maintained by the state of Vermont through its Division for Historic Preservation with the active support of the Friends of the Morrill Homestead. All the essential information about visiting the Morrill Homestead is at the Friends’ website, as well as evidence of their very active interpretation of the site:  https://www.morrillhomestead.org/. Special thanks to John Freitag who gave us such a great tour, but also gave me a very substantive historical answer to a question I’ve long wondered about the Strafford Town House (below): why such a large structure for such a small village? Of course it’s all about the local politics of the American Revolution—and after.


Roseland Cottage

In the last week of June I drove down to the “quiet” northeastern corner of Connecticut to see a house that was a major presidential July 4th destination in the later nineteenth century, Roseland Cottage, Historic New England’s sole property in the Nutmeg State. Home to several generations of the prosperous Bowen family from its construction in 1846 until its acquisition, fully furnished, by Historic New England in 1970, Roseland Cottage is a perfect Gothic Revival summer cottage located on one of the most picturesque roads in New England, Route 169 (the old Norwich-Worcester Turnpike), across from the Woodstock common which could accomodate the crowds that accompanied the first presidential visit of Ulysses S. Grant in 1870. Successive July 4 celebrations grew in size mandating their relocation to nearby Roseland Park, but three more presidents, Rutherford B. Hayes, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley, still stayed at the “cottage” and its outbuildings include both a presidential “two-seater” outhouse and a bowling alley built for Grant. When you read the accounts of these post-1870 Independence Day celebations you kind of get the feeling that this was a “July 4th is back” moment after the turmoil and division of the Civil War and its aftermath. I’d like to think that we are in a similar moment now, post-Covid, but I don’t think we are quite there (though it was nice to see the Pops last night). Roseland, however, is much more than a presidential pink palace: it feels very much like a family home, centered, but at the same time, out of time, as if it sprung from a fairy tale.

Roseland Cottage, built in 1846 for Mr. and Mrs. Henry C. Bowen: downstairs parlor, presidential bedroom, and outbuildings (including a carriage house bowling alley built for President Grant’s visit).

Because of its distinct style (even the furniture was custom-built for the house in Carpenter Gothic style, which foreshadowed Frank Lloyd Wright according to our guide), the house feels like a stage set in some ways, but also like we’ve just stepped in to a family home moments after its inhabitants have left as there are so many personal items remaining: Mr. Bowen’s commendations and commissions (he was a stalwart progressive Rebublican, which meant pro-abolition and suffrage in addition to pro-temperance, and also the founder and publisher of The Independent newspaper), Mrs. Bowen’s wedding dress and the Gothic Revival crib in which she rocked nine of their children (she died giving birth to their tenth and Mr. Bowen remarried a local girl), family photographs, books, prints, games, and decorative objects. I like to think that the pink china below was her preferred shade of her favorite color: Roseland has apparently been 13 shades of pink over its history and is now quite salmony-pink.

The other contradictory feeling is formality and SUMMER: Roseland Cottage is bordered by lush box-bordered gardens (which used to enclose roses but now mostly annuals, I believe), lawn, and Woodstock green so vivid green surrounds you inside, along with the bright colors of the stained-glass diamond-paned windows and the flowers outside. There are some fancy woolen carpets, but also thin matting under foot, and all of the soft furnishings are cotton florals and lace. Such a contradition, this house: dark and light, formal and fairytale-ish, solid and airy, sunshine and shadow.

My “HNE booties” and the grounds, displaying another contradiction: I wonder why there is a Greek Revival folly among all this GOTHIC Revival?


The Jeremiah Lee Mansion

There are two structures which made an impression on me early in my childhood and sort of set the standard for historic grandeur in my mind: Dartmouth Hall at Dartmouth College, where my father began his career, and The Lady Pepperrell House in Kittery, Maine, close to my hometown of York where we moved when he moved on to the University of New Hampshire. Of course, Dartmouth Hall is a Colonial Revival reproduction of an earlier building, though apparently a very faithful one. I didn’t know that when I stared up at it when I was five or so, and a decade later when I first became concious of the Lady Pepperrell House it evoked that memory. To me, both were New England Georgian exemplars. And yesterday I visited another Georgian exemplar, the Jeremiah Lee Mansion in nearby Marblehead. It was the opening day of its season, and I knew that the charming Rick, one of the most knowledgeable people around about all aspects of local architectural history (just follow his instagram account and you will learn something every day, sometimes every hour) was on docent duty, so I made my reservation and ran over there. It was a cold and gloomy June 1 (especially after a warm Memorial Day weekend), but the house seemed warm and cheerful to me despite its size: this is a grand mansion in every sense of both words.

The Mansion is made entirely of wood, but designed to give the appearance of an ashlar stone facade.

A bit of history and then I’ll show you some of my interior shots—the gloom outside really highlighted the color inside and I got some great views, if I do say so myself! The mansion was built by 1768 by Colonel Jeremiah Lee (1721-1775), a wealthy “merchant prince” of Marblehead, who was just as engaged in the civic and political life of this bustling maritime community as he was in his brilliant shipping career. Lee was the wealthiest merchant in Massachusetts acccording to tax records from 1771, and he might have been America’s largest pre-revolutionary shipowner with full shares in over twenty vessels. For someone who clearly had so much at stake within the commercial context of the Atlantic world and the British Empire, it’s quite remarkable to see how Lee risked all by becoming a committed Patriot, and even though he did not die in battle, he contracted pneumonia by sleeping in a chilly and wet cornfield on the outskirts of Lexington and Concord on the eve of those battles in April of 1775, certainly a martyr to the cause. So Lee only lived in his trophy house for seven years, and his widow Martha Swett Lee for another decade. We have to dwell in the past a bit longer to understand the sheer scale of this mansion: it seems almost oversized for Old Town Marblehead now, but Marblehead in 1770 was the second largest settlement in Massachusetts, while Salem was the fourth! After the Revolution, Salem commenced its economic and demographic boom, but while the first US census of 1790 reported Salem as the 7th largest city in the new nation (with a population of nearly 8000), Marblehead was still in the pack in 10th place (with a population of 5661). So this mansion represents not only the wealth and cosmopolitan taste of Jeremiah Lee, but also of pre-revolutionary Marblehead. That said, this structure is so very conspicuous and grand, that I understand the words of Miss Hannah Tutt, historian of the Marblead Historical Society, which acquired and restored it after 1909:  Fashioned as it was, after the homes of his ancestors, it needed but the hawthorne and the hedgerows to transport one to old England, and indeed the very timbers, of which it was framed, were grown in the mother country. Built at a cost of over ten thousand pounds, it could hardly be rivaled throughout the whole province of Massachusetts Bay—and overshadowing, with its grandeur, the humble home of the fisher folk, no wonder it became to them the “Mansion,” and the “Lee Mansion” it has always been, the pride of the whole town (The Lee Mansion. What it Was and What it is, 1911). Ok, context completed, let’s go inside: first floor first.

Through the front door, you step into this amazing 16-foot-wide entrance hall which extends to the back of house, and it’s all about the central staircase and the handpainted English wallpaper panels, which extend up to the second floor. The house served as the Marblehead Bank for about a century after it left the possession of the Lee family and before it came under the stewardship of the Marblehead Historical Society, so the back and upper stories were closed off. According to Rick, visitors could strip of pieces of this wallpaper as souvenirs in the front part of the first-floor hall, so reproduction paper replaced those parts, but the most of the wallpaper is original and glorious. There is a grain-painted “banquet hall” to the left, and a parlor/drawing room to the right.

There are actually very few items related to Jeremiah Lee in the house; most of the decorative accessories derive from the period but not the family. One feels the presence of Jeremiah and Martha (especially as you pass the copies of their full-length portraits painted by John Singleton Copley on the way to the second floor; the originals are in the Wadsworth Athenaeum), but you feel like you are visiting an eighteenth-century house rather than their house. A very grand eighteenth-century American house. I really appreciated the curation: the Marblehead Historical Society/Museum has been the recipient of a steady succession of decorative donations over the century since it has acquired the Lee Mansion, but the decorative accessories on display were chosen clearly to highlight and complement rather than overwhelm. Nothing competes with the architecture (well, I don’t think anything really could.) On to the second floor.

Second-floor Chambers: the two front rooms are still of considerable size, but things get a bit cozier in the back. The blue-trimmed chamber is a suite of connected small rooms including one with odd proportions and amazing wallpaper! The room with all the yellow damask—a guest room according to Rick—is simply stunning. And you can see that the furniture is top-notch and very complementary.

Beautiful rooms on the second floor, as you can see, but what I am not really showing you is the view. Remember, Marblehead was a busy seaport when this mansion was built: it was not, and is not, a rural estate. Now its grounds are a bit deceptive: there’s a nice side garden but the original lot was quite shallow and a large parcel of land in the back was a later acquisition by the Museum (there is a very interesting article by Narcissa Chamberlain, the wife of photographer Samuel Chamberlain who lived just one street over, about its original boundaries in the April 1969 issue of the Essex Institute Historical Collections). The large windows of the mansion frame the street views out front and the very green views out back, but all I could see was yellow inside, because there is a lot of yellow, but also because I’m working on my new book, a study of saffron, and so I see it everywhere. On to the third floor.

More saffron and more chambers on the third floor: I need these “bed chairs” or whatever you call them! Writing in bed is one of my favorite activities but it takes a toll on one’s back. These third-floor bedchambers were precious. I love this portrait of Miss Selman, the hatboxes, these curvy fancy chairs and settee. Two other rooms on the third floor were a catch-all room with a random collection of museum items (including sea chests with their charts still inside!) and a parlor/playroom/servant’s room in the rear, also filled with wonderful items. I’m not really focusing on the portraits in this post, but there are many interesting ones to see.

And down another side staircase (I seem to remember that there are four staircases in the house) to the first-floor kitchen and a small dining/breakfast room where one of Colonel Lee’s logbooks rests on a table and his contemporary Elbridge Gerry looks on. I starting writing as soon as I got home so I wouldn’t forget all the detailed information which Rick imparted to me, but of course everything was just too much to take in so I’m going to have to go back again. I can think of so many sub-stories: the people in the portraits, a Dartmoor Massacre drawing, the wallpapers and printed tiles, those bedchairs, the contributions of my favorite preservationist, Louise du Pont Crowninshield, a summer Marblehead resident. The Marblehead Museum purchased the adjacent property, the site of the Mansion’s brick kitchen and slave quarters, just last year and archeological investigations into the histories of slavery and service in this corner of Marblehead are commencing this very summer. So while there is a lot to see in this majestic mansion, it is not a static site but rather a dynamic one, engaged in an evolving process of discovery and reinterpretation.

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion & Garden: more information and reservations here.


Domed Doors

Salem is a great city for doors. There are so many exemplary doors in a succession of architectural styles: First Period, Georgian, Federal, Greek and Gothic Revival, all the Victorian varieties. There are simple plank doors, multi-paned doors, louvred doors, double doors, carved doors, doors with elaborate surrounds and vestibules, and doors of many colors (these have really multiplied over the last decade or so). There are Instagram accounts and hashtags for Salem doors. But one type of door is not very common in Salem: the rounded or arched door. I was looking through the remarkable memory album of G. Albert Lewis at The Library Company of Philadelphia, a volume with incredible illustrations of interiors and exteriors, when I became fixated on the arched entryways of his Philadelphia townhouses. I wondered if Salem had any rounded doors, did a quick Google image search (it was about 11:00 at night, otherwise I would have ran around town), and came up with multiple images of the doors of my own house! I never realized they were so conspicuous; rather I found them incongruous with the attached house next door, with its straightforward Federal entryway. See what I mean?

The second photo above is from the Instagram Account @doorsofsalem where you can see lots more Salem doors.

The double doors, and the entire entrance with bay window above, along with considerable interior alterations and a major addition, are the very tangible results of a considerable investment in the property made by its owner from c. 1860-1890, Willard Peele Phillips. Mr. Phillips was a lawyer, a state representative, and an aficionado of curves: he didn’t just bend the entrance of my house to his will: the parlor pocket doors, the china cabinets in his brand new dining-room, and all the first-floor entryways were rounded as well. He ripped out the elegant slim banister that ascended three stories and replaced it with a mahogany one that is much more bulky but also curvy. The second and third floors were left alone; I guess it was about keeping up appearances. It’s really interesting to compare the pristine house next door to my palimpsest one: 1827 versus 1877. Yesterday I went out in search of more rounded doors and did not find many, but it was fun to snap some beautiful square ones along the way. I’ve been taking photographs of Salem houses for over a decade just for this blog, but there is always a new door to discover.