Category Archives: Houses

Christmas on the Common

I am very excited about the 37th annual Christmas in Salem tour, which returns to the Salem Common neighborhood this year. The major fundraiser for Salem’s venerable preservation organization, Historic Salem, Incorporated, the walking tour of decorated homes and buildings rotates from the McIntire Historic District to the Common quite regularly and has also been centered on both North and South Salem, Derby Street, and the Willows. Each and every tour is great, but I’ve always liked the Common tours particularly for a variety of reasons: the mix of very stately and smaller, cozier homes, the focal point of the Common (no s!), and the ability to pop easily into the Hawthorne Hotel’s Tavern for a drink (you can also get your tickets at the Hotel on Saturday and Sunday). In any case, the Common deserves to be showcased this particular year: much restoration work has been done on its cast iron fence, its reproduction McIntire Washington Arch is looking good, and there have been several notable restorations in the neighborhood. Having gone through this myself several times, I am so very grateful to all the homeowners who are opening their doors: it is a generous gesture worthy of all of our support and praise.With the spotlight on the Common, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of my recent stereoview discoveries as well, so we can have a past-and-present perspective on a great public space: scene of militia drills and musters, hot-air balloon demonstrations, circuses, athletic competitions, concerts, rallies, demonstrations, bike races, Sunday strolls and Christmas walking tours.

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Salem Common yesterday, in a 1920s (doctored) Maynard Workshop postcard, and in two later-nineteenth-century stereocards showcasing the cast iron fence, built in 1850, from two directions. The bottom card, showing the Andrew Safford House at right, is by G.M. Whipple & A.A. Smith, and courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Fence details today below, and the newly-restored Washington Arch.

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Overlooking the Common, one of my very favorite doorways in all of Salem, belonging to the White-Lord House at the corner of Washington Square and Oliver Streets. Frank Cousins loved to photograph it, and I do too (not to raise myself to his photographic level, but just so we can appreciate its constant ability to captivate!)

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Look at this new-to-me stereoview! (No, I do not think that is President Lincoln on the Common). It was published by Charles G. Fogg and I do not have a date.

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Returning to the present, just some of the decorations from yesterday; no doubt more will be on display this weekend, both outdoors and behind doors.

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Christmas in Salem: Carol on the Common, a Christmas walking tour to benefit Historic Salem, Inc., Dec. 2-4: more information here


House Cards

I’m in the midst of cleaning, painting, and rearranging in advance of the Holidays, and yesterday I took a dusty and hastily-constructed collage of cards off the wall: the thank-you notes and invitations that I have received from my friends and neighbors over the years, delivered in the form of ivory cards with their houses emblazoned on the front. I’ve kept them, ostensibly “collecting” them, but they definitely deserve a more curatorial presentation–I really regret all those thumbtack holes. Many people in Salem are house-proud, and justifiably so: the stewardship of old houses is an engaging and continual preoccupation. When I look at my collection of houses cards–now reduced to an undignified stack–I don’t just think about architecture, I think about people: the people that gave me the card, the various artists who rendered these houses so distinctly, including a lovely gentleman, now deceased, who was often seen with his easel on the sidewalks of Salem. These cards also remind me of the illustrations in several of the Salem guidebooks published in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries–most particularly my favorite, Streets & Homes in Old Salem, which I think was last issues in 1953: time for a new edition?

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houses-4 Some illustrations from Streets & Homes in Old Salem (1953) and a selection of my house cards, featuring homes on Chestnut, Summer, Flint, Essex, Federal, North and Broad Streets in the McIntire Historic District.


Boston Halloween

Besides living in the self-proclaimed Witch City, yet another aspect of my tortured relationship with Halloween is my birthday, which falls a few days before and inevitably gets colored (darkened) by the proximity. It’s not quite as bad as having a Christmas birthday, but close, especially for me. There’s generally a big storm on my big day too–but not this year, thank goodness. This year we have family in town to celebrate their first Salem Halloween, but there was no way I was going to be their guide, so I left them to my husband and fled to Boston for the day. I went to the Museum of Fine Arts for the William Merritt Chase and Della Robbia exhibitions (the women!), then to the Antiquarian Book Show  (the prices!) at the Hynes Convention Center, and then I just walked around the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, as the weather got progressively warmer over the day. Oddly enough, I found myself enjoying the Halloween decorations on the stately brownstones and townhouses: very creative and such a contrast to the architecture! Maybe I like Halloween after all (just not in Salem).

Back Bay:

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Just one book from the show at the Hynes in keeping with the theme: next post I’m going to write about a beautiful ($45,000) incunabulum I had never heard of before (if I can find out enough about it).

Beacon Hill: who knew that Louisburg Square was Halloween central? This first house was amazing.

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October Orchids

This past Saturday I took a brief respite from the rain to go to Historic New England’s Lyman Estate in Waltham for their annual orchid sale. After spending some time in the historic greenhouses built originally to house the camellias that nineteenth-century Yankees craved (which are still there, along with orchids, ferns, and a variety of venerable houseplant varieties), I walked around the grounds a bit before the rain starting falling again. The Vale, as the estate is sometimes called, is one of Samuel McIntire’s few non-Salem commissions, although it has gone through several architectural “transitions” (Victorian and Colonial Revival) since its construction in 1793. I actually prefer the architecture of the other HNE Waltham property, Gore Place, although I love the Vale’s greenhouses and carriage house.There are several special plant sales during the year: begonias and camellias in the winter, herbs in the late spring and early summer, and orchids in October, but you don’t have to wait for these occasions to visit the greenhouses in particular, or the estate in general.

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Orchids and other plants at the Lyman House greenhouses; the main house and carriage house.


Of Pumpkins and Politics

I’ve spent the last few days up in York, far away from the maddening crowds in Salem. This strategy of exiling myself from Witch City in October as much as possible is working well so far. Do not be fearful of my title: I’m certainly not going to weigh in on this terrible election. But I do like to discuss politics as a historical and social phenomenon occasionally, and this weekend the consequences of our long national nightmare weighed heavily on me. It was a beautiful, golden weekend, with harvest festivals everywhere I went in southern Maine. In York, the entire spectrum of the community was assembled with tents and tables on the green before the First Church and Town Hall: representatives of local businesses, nonprofits and civic groups mingled with with colonial reenactors and festival attendees. The happy Democrats were there, but the Republicans, either due to embarrassment or division, were nowhere to be found. Their absence made me very sad, not for the sake of partisanship but for community: I grew up in a world where the important standards and goals were engagement and civility and discourse, and I fear that world is no more. I remember the Democrats’ table and the Republicans’ table being side by side, prompting a healthy, happy exchange; I remember holding a sign for my candidate and that of his opponent, while my neighboring, “opposing” signholder went for coffee for both of us.

Of course these sentimental/sad thoughts did not stop me from taking in the local color, which was very autumn-hued, and it’s always comforting to look at beautiful old houses, which have seen worse than this (maybe?)

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York Village Pumpkin Patch and Marketfest this weekend, and some of the open houses of Museums of Old York:  Jefferds’ Tavern (c. 1750), the Emerson-Wilcox House (exterior and interior, c. 1742) and some militiamen in front of the Old Gaol (c. 1720). Below:  a bit further out: Hancock’s Warehouse on the River, a favorite house on Pine Hill Road heading towards Ogunquit, the McIntire Garrison (c. 1707) on Route 91, and two Historic New England properties, the beautiful Hamilton House (c. 1785)  and Sarah Orne Jewett  (c. 1774) House, both in South Berwick.

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Escape from Salem, part I: South Shore Ramble

After last year’s full immersion into Haunted Happenings, Salem’s month-long celebration of its apparently fortunate association with the tragic Witch Trials of 1692, I’ve decided that a better course of action for me this year is to get out of town. I try to engage in the festivities every three years or so, but last year was just too much:  too much craven exploitation, too much tackiness, too much trash. Last year nearly broke me: if my husband had had a similar reaction and intent, we would have sold the house and moved to Ipswich. I don’t want to move, so this October I will simply escape Salem whenever I can–or hunker down in the house (I’ve brought in supplies). I’m sure my family, friends and students will appreciate this decision, as I’ll be a much nicer person to be around, but this is a declaration for my faithful readers: my blog’s title will be a misnomer for most of this month, although I might be able to sneak in a few midweek walks.

October is also a busy academic month, so I’ll have to take quick regional road trips whenever I can. The other day, I meandered around the South Shore, a world apart from the North as any greater Bostonian knows. I got off the highway in Dedham, which has a wonderful historic downtown, drove on small roads all the way down to Plymouth, and then back up north via Route 3A on the coast. I took tons of photographs, but it was a rainy, cloudy day so most of them didn’t really “pop” (especially as I seem to have a predilection for two-story square white colonial houses–you don’t need to see a multitude of those!) Now, before I get multiple protests from local readers, let me say that in the greater Boston area, many people do not consider Dedham to be part of the South Shore, as it is decidedly not on the coast and too far west: as you can see, it is not on this “North Shore vs. South Shore” map from Boston MagazineBut I’ve never known how to classify Dedham geographically so I am including it here—northwestern towns like Burlington (??????) are regularly included in the North Shore, so it seems only fair to include southwestern towns like Dedham in the South.

north-shore-vs-south-shore-map Map by John S. Dykes, Boston Magazine

Downtown Dedham: even though it’s about half the size and much less urban, Dedham is kind of like Salem in that it’s a county seat and a “mother of towns”—an early settlement from which all the surrounding towns later separated. Dedham is also difficult to get into because of traffic and a confusing intersection of major arteries–but well worth the effort.

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……all in the immediate downtown with the exception of the amazing first-period Fairbanks House. Then it was down to Plymouth via routes 138 and 106 with a pitstop in Plympton.

Plympton and Plymouth:

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SHEEP in relatively rural Plympton and this rather stately old brown house….on to Plymouth which is large geographically and always somewhat less historical than you expect it to be–however there are some great old houses there, and of course the Mayflower II. I don’t think we need a picture of the rock, and I’ll leave Plimoth Plantation for another post.

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Then back up north via Route 3A, through Duxbury, probably the most beautiful town in Massachusetts, which one local radio host used to refer to as “Deluxbury”. Very pristine–and no sidewalks! Then on to Marshfield–where my camera promptly ran out of power. I will return–I have an entire month of daytrips ahead of me!

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There are so many beautiful houses in Duxbury it was difficult to choose , so I just limited myself to one–the very Salem-like Nathaniel Winsor House, headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Shingles everywhere on the South Shore, less common on the North. LOVED Marshfield Hills, especially these last two houses.


An Urban Village in Salem

In preparation for the little talk I’m going to be giving about a post-fire neighborhood in Salem next weekend, I’ve been reading up on turn-of-the-century urban planning, design and construction trends. I’m much more comfortable in the Tudor realm than that of the Tudor Revival, but through my amateurish yet persistent pursuit of information about Salem’s rebuilding after 1914 fire, role in the Colonial Revival movement, and the early preservation movement I have been able to develop a fair amount of familiarity with the primary and secondary sources. Plus, I have several friends who are real architectural historians who are also happy to help–as well as very helpful commentators here.  I’ve written about this particular neighborhood, Orne Square, before, but I approached it again with an open mind, so I could glean a few more details about its origins, and a lot more context.

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Orne Square in the summers of 1914 and 2014.

When I last considered Orne Square, I assumed that it was a very scaled-down, Americanized, and urban (or suburban) example of the Garden City Movement initiated by Ebenezer Howard’s To-morrow: a Peaceful Path to Real Reform (1898) and Garden Cities of To-morrow (1902) and conceived and implemented by the Boston architectural firm of Kilham & Hopkins, who were very connected and very involved in Salem’s rebuilding according to progressive principles that were both aesthetic and economic. By 1914, Kilham & Hopkins had completed the majority of their work on the new Boston neighborhood of Woodbourne in Jamaica Plain, clearly inspired by one of the most conspicuous English Garden City “company towns”, Bournville in Birmingham, which Walter Kilham had visited himself, finding it “architecturally charming, but fearfully paternalistic as only the English can be”. They would go on to build the Atlantic Heights neighborhood in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and workers’ housing in Lowell for the Massachusetts Homestead Commission. In between, they designed and constructed a variety of buildings for the devastated Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company in Salem, including housing for its workers, and a neighborhood of affordable single-family and duplex brick cottages in North Salem. They were the likely architects of Orne Square, so everyone said, but I could never find confirming evidence, and somehow the style, the material, the client, and the overall commission just didn’t seem to point to the extremely busy Kilham & Hopkins firm. Salem was awash with architects in 1914-1918 (I have a working list of 63, and I’m sure there were more), many equipped with the MIT-credentials and social connections of Walter Kilham and James Hopkins. The owner of the Orne Square property, the private Phillips Trust, didn’t seem quite as taken with the Kilham & Hopkins as the public Salem Rebuilding Trust: the former had already hired the renown local architect William G. Rantoul to rebuild a three-family structure on the site of its Warren Street “tontine” block. The Orne Square commission went to an architect who was not local (yet), but who had several strong Salem ties: Ambrose Walker, then of Brookline, who had previously shared a Boston office and practice with his MIT classmate Ernest Machado (who died tragically young in 1907) and presently did so with A.G. Richardson, another Salem architect who was then occupied with rebuilding wasted Fairfield Street with brick Colonial Revival structures.

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Michael Reilly’s Bournville Village poster ( MS 1536 Box 59, reproduced with kind permission of the Bournville Village Trust, Library of Birmingham), and the Village itself, built by Cadbury as a model village for its factory and workers in Birmingham; Kilham & Hopkins plans for the Massachusetts Homestead Commission and a “low-rent” brick two-family house commissioned by the Salem Rebuilding Commission, 1915, Architectural Forum, Volume 28 and Phillip Library, Peabody Essex Museum; William G. Rantoul’s newly-completed Warren Street buildings, Architectural Forum, Volume 26.

I was going to save Walker for my talk next week but his identity seems to have leaked out so I might as well make the big reveal here! I have no idea why it was such a big secret for so long anyway: I found the building permit as well as notices in several trade journals pretty easily. I’ve chased down a few of his other commissions as well and while there does seem to be considerable variation in the styles of architects of this era, they do tend to favor certain materials, and Walker nearly always built in the distinctive Portland cement you see so perfectly illustrated by Orne Square. No brick for him, and wood was not a recommended building material in fire-anxious Salem at the time. I’m not entirely sure why Orne Square did not become an acclaimed development at the time of its completion–or after–when the two great propagandists of Salem architecture, Mary Harrod Northend and Frank Cousins, wrote about the resurgence of the Colonial in Salem after the great fire. I suspect it was not Colonial enough for these revivalists! Northend at least references Walker’s work (but does not name him) in her influential article for the September 1920 issue of The House Beautiful, Worthwhile Homes built in Salem since the Conflagration of 1914″: There is a grouping of some twenty stucco houses designed for moderate rentals in Orne Square which should not be omitted. The houses are artistic and comfortable, and the development worthy of being copied in any small city. Indeed, about a decade after the completion of Orne Square we do see the distinct design of one of its “2 1/2 story stucco duplexes” appearing in several (I’ve found seven–from Hamilton, Ohio to Santa Cruz, California) regional newspapers across the country, generally accompanying Walker’s text about the affordability and durability of duplex living and masonry construction. As the Portland Cement Company proclaimed in its contemporary advertising, “This is the age of cement”. There very well may be more Orne Squares out there.

Orne Square 1926

The word that pops out the most for me in Mary Harrod Northend’s description of Orne Square above is “artistic”: I’m very familiar with her work, and she uses that word rarely. I think she recognized the craftsmanship of these houses, but their more streamlined style was a bit beyond her comfort zone. Rantoul’s and Richardson’s brick houses with their colonial trim looked familiar, while Walker’s artistic houses appeared a bit different, even foreign. So that brings me to back to the Garden City movement, and Walker’s inspiration. I’m not going to go into great detail here, because I want to save something for my talk, but he was of a generation of architects that was definitely influenced by the goals of the Garden City, but was also exposed to its limitations, especially in America, which was never going to see wholly-planned cities, only neighborhoods within existing ones: urban villages like Woodbourne in Boston, the Connecticut Mills Village in Danielson, CT designed by Alfred Bossom, the Westinghouse Village in South Philadelphia, and John Nolen’s Urban Park Gardens in Wilmington, Delaware, all constructed contemporaneously with Orne Square.

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Urban VillageWestinghouse Village Philadelphia 1919 Clarence Wilson Brazer arch

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Connecticut Mills Village, Danielson, CT, Westinghouse Village, Philadelphia, The American Architect, 1919; Union Park Gardens, Wilmington, Delaware, John Nolen papers, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library. And one that didn’t get built:  Frank Chouteau Brown’s plans for a “Shakespeare Village in the Fens” of Boston, from the Boston Architectural College’s Current architecture: published in connection with a joint exhibition held in Boston, November 1916.

It is also important to note that Walker did not come from Salem or the North Shore, so he wouldn’t have been so subject to the dictates of its weighty architectural tradition. He became a Salem architect after his marriage to Machado’s younger sister Juanita in 1923, moving into the family home on Carpenter Street, becoming a trustee of the House of the Seven Gables, becoming the fire-proofing expert for several local organizations, and writing a scholarly paper on Samuel McIntire. But before that he was living in Brookline, not far from what I think of as one of the earliest urban villages, the Cottage Farm neighborhood, practicing in Boston, and immersed in a community made up of his very accomplished and worldly family, his fellow MIT graduates, and his colleagues–an artistic village of sorts.(Though no doubt he was also catching the train to Salem regularly, as by several accounts his courtship of Juanita occurred over two decades).

Appendices: Mr. and Mrs. Ambrose Walker in the 1930s; Walker’s drawings from the MIT Summer School, 1895, “The Georgian Period”, ed. William Roch Ware.

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