Category Archives: 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.

Orne Square Ruins

orne-square-1916

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.

Bournville Village Trust

Bourneville Model Village

Kilham & Hopkins

Urban village Rantoul Architectural Forum 1917 vol. 26

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.

Urban Village Danielson CT CT Mills Alfred Bossom architect AABN 1919

Urban VillageWestinghouse Village Philadelphia 1919 Clarence Wilson Brazer arch

Urban Village Union Park Gardens Wilmington Nolen Cornell

Urban Village Shakespeare Frank Chouteau Brown Architectural Year Book

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.

walkers-1930s

walker-drawings


The Lollipop Cemetery

Such an undignified name for such a solemn place: the Shaker cemetery in Harvard, Massachusetts, one remnant of the industrious community of Shaker non-genealogical families that resided in this beautiful Massachusetts town from 1769 until the First World War. But that’s what people call it. I had a hankering to see it the other day, and so I drove to Harvard and asked for directions, because it’s a bit off the beaten path (I never use my phone for navigational purposes on a road trip; that would defeat the whole point for me–it’s either wander or inquire): oh, the Lollipop Cemetery? Just drive towards Ayer and take a right on South Shaker Road. And so I did and there it was.

Shaker Cemetery Sign

Shaker Cemetery Stone

Shaker Cemetery markers crop

Shaker Cemetery Markers

The gate was locked, and I didn’t want to trespass on this sacred ground, but I think you can comprehend the lollipop characterization of these cast iron markers, which replaced the original stones from 1879. Here is a close-up of an individual marker from a wonderful site where you can research both the cemetery and its inhabitants, as well as a rather haunting photograph from Clara Endicott Sears’ Gleanings from Old Shaker Journals (1916). The Harvard Shaker community closed down in the following year, and the cemetery was deeded to the town of Harvard in 1945.

Shaker Marker

Shaker Cemetery gleaningsfromold00sear_0375

Boston patrician (with Salem roots) Clara Endicott Sears (1863-1960) became devoted to preserving the memory and material of the Harvard Shakers as their numbers dwindled to single digits. She had already established one of America’s first outdoor museums adjacent to her summer home on Prospect Hill a few miles down the road after she realized that a farmhouse on her property had been the site of Bronson Alcott’s short-lived Transcendentalist experiment when the few remaining Shakers in Harvard began selling their buildings.Clara bought the original 1794 office building and moved it to her hilltop museum, uniting Transcendentalist and Shaker visions (and later those of Native Americans and Hudson River Valley artists). Following this path, I drove over to the Fruitlands Museum, passing a few more Shaker structures along the way.

Shaker Old Stone Barn

Shaker Building Harvard Ruins of the Old Stone Barn and the South Family Building, Harvard Shaker Village.

The interpreters at Fruitlands emphasized “community” as the theme tying Transcendentalists and Shakers together rather than any Utopian dream, which seems appropriate to me, especially as the latter were entrepreneurial workers and the former were idealistic intellectuals. The relocated Shaker office is a testament to the aesthetic and industrious pursuits of the brothers and sisters; I came away overwhelmed by the sheer drive of young seedsman Elisha Myrick, who left the Harvard community, like many of his brethren, around the time of the Civil War. I just felt sorry for the Alcott children, who had to endure a cold and hungry 6 months in the farmhouse just down the road.

Shaker Boxes

Shaker Ads

Shaker Cloak

Shaker Industry

Fruitlands Farmhouse

Fruitlands Fruit

At Fruitlands: Shaker artistry and industry, the Alcott Farmhouse, and artist-in-residence Carolyn Wirth’s 3D take on Shaker gift drawings, installed in a grape arbor.

Driving out past the town common, I was waylaid by some beautiful houses: Harvard is really gorgeous, and calm. I drove back to Salem thinking (not for the first time) that perhaps it was a little too busy (and loud!). I hope I’m not turning into my great-great-great? grandfather, who sold everything (including a beautiful Tudor house), and left his family and friends in England for America, and the Shaker community of New Lebanon, New York.

Harvard Tavern

Harvard Colonial House

Harvard Brick House

Just a few Harvard houses: this first one was once a tavern, I presume.


Random Scenes of Summer

The only unified themes of today’s post are the season and the necessity of cleaning out the photograph folders on my phone, camera, and computer: everything seems very vivid this time of year so I snap, snap, snap away and now I must purge! There’s always something to see in Salem, and then we ran up to my hometown of York Harbor to escape the heat–but the heat was there too. I am not a beachgoer, so I spent the hot days in the “cottage” (which was supposedly built for precisely such weather) indoors and the cool day (we had three successive days of 95 degree-70 degree-95 degree weather) walking around looking at other cottages. Even though I grew up in York,  I still see something new every time I take a walk–as in Salem. I missed the annual vintage car show while up in Maine, but before I left I checked out two of the city’s newest enterprises: Waite and Pierce, the new shop on the grounds of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and Notch Brewery & Taproom, a beautiful space crafting for drinking in good company, with no obtrusive televisions and bad food (just big soft pretzels, for now).

Mid-August, Salem: the scuttelaria are out in my garden (along with the phlox), Java Head window exhibition at Salem Maritime’s West India Goods Store (curated by an SSU History student who did much more research than I did for my post), goods at Waite and Pierce, and the Notch experience.

Summer 4

Summer 5

Summer 1

Summer 2

Summer 3

In York and York Harbor: gardens at the Stonewall Kitchen company store; antiquing (the watercolor below, which was quite expensive, is supposedly a Salem street scene–not sure where–maybe Sewall Street before it became a parking lot for the YMCA?), York Harbor map (1910) and cottages present and past (on this particular stroll I was taken by the older, smaller, mostly-white cottages on the Harbor side), our family house (brown) and the Elizabeth Perkins House (red) and garden on the York River.

Summer 6

Summer 7

Summer 8 Sewall Street

Summer 13

Summer 14

Summer 17 the Samuel Donnell Garrison today and on the left in the older photograph–across from the entrance to the Harbor beach

Summer 10

Summer 12

Summer 11

Summer 9 an ongoing–and ambitious– restoration by a family: it was fun to see them working together……..

Summer 15

Summer 19

Summer 18.jpg goldenrod time at the Elizabeth Perkins House garden

An appendix:  While hiding from the heat indoors, I browsed through several old photographic books of York, and became intrigued (for the fourth or fifth time) with “The Comet”, an odd contraption featured at Short Sands Beach in York Beach a century ago, in which tourists were carried out onto the sea on a track: has anyone seen such a thing anywhere else? Was this a contemporary seaside fad or a unique York Beach attraction?

Comet Collage The Comet in action


A Hidden House with quite a History

Hidden behind a four-story brick apartment block built in the early twentieth century on lower Essex Street is a much older, much-altered house which has the appearance of a Georgian cottage. It’s not quite that, but close. The Christopher Babbidge House has been through quite a……..metamorphosis; I’m not sure if I have it completely straight or correct but here goes. According to Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture in Salem, the house is first period, built by tailor Babbidge as early as the 1660s on Derby Street. It descended in the Babbidge family until the mid-eighteenth century, at which time is was acquired by Richard Derby, patriarch of the famous Salem merchant family. Cousins is the only source of the original Derby Street location and seventeenth-century origins, but all the other sources (Sidney Perley, Historic Salem Inc., plaque research, and MACRIS seem to agree that it acquired its Georgian appearance and was considerably enlarged (and presumably moved to Essex Street if you follow Cousins) at this time or shortly thereafter, as Mr. Derby transferred it to his daughter Mary and her new husband George Crowninshield as a wedding gift. So by the 1760s we have a large (five-bay) Georgian house with a gambrel roof located directly on Essex Street. This was the house in which several of the famous Crowninshield sons (George Jr., Jacob, and Benjamin) were born.The wealthy Crowninshields had many Salem houses, so this one was eventually sold to a succession of owners, and in 1859 it was cut in half by current owner Phineas Weston, who wanted to build a new (Italianate) structure on the eastern end of the lot. The eastern half of the house was removed to Kosciusko Street while the western half remained on Essex, presumably shored up. The house seems to have flourished under the ownership of the Bowker family in the later nineteenth century, when Cousins took some lovely pictures, but in 1914 it was moved (again, according to Cousins) to the rear of its lot to make way for the brick buildings in front. So there we have it: a house that was moved, remodeled, expanded, cut in half, remodeled, and moved again. A true survivor on (or just slightly off) the streets of Salem!

Babbidge House Essex Street Cousins

Hidden House 2

Hidden House Babbidge

Babbidge House Stairways

Derby House Stairway HABS

The Babbidge-Crowninshield-Bowker House on Essex Street by Frank Cousins, 1890s, and today; drawing by Sidney Perley from the Essex Antiquarianits celebrated stairway by Cousins and Perley, and detail of the newel post at the Richard Derby House on Derby Street (HABS, Library of Congress, 1958)–so you can see the Derby connection.


Yellow Houses of Nahant

When I met my husband he was living in Nahant, a “land-tied island” (two actually) to the south, between Salem and Boston. It’s one of the smallest towns (if not the smallest) in Massachusetts, a single square mile in size with less than 4000 inhabitants. I spent quite a bit of time there while we were dating, and when we decided to get married there was a bit of a tussle which Salem (and I) won. I think this was the right decision for us as a couple, and certainly for his architectural practice, but I do wonder occasionally what our lives would be like if we decided to live in Nahant rather than Salem. And of course, I picked out all of my (our) potential residences during the time I spent there–something I do in pretty much every town in which I spend more than a few hours. The other day while I was driving by the causeway that leads out to “the island” I decided to revisit these houses. Nahant has some amazing coastal properties, but only one is on my list–all the others are on or just off the main road that runs through the center of the town. It was only when I returned home and looked at all the pictures that I realized all of my favorite Nahant houses are yellow.

Nahant PO

I always loved the Nahant Post Office…..below, “my” houses: the first one overlooks Egg Rock (which never seems to stay in the same place!) and is very difficult to photograph so you’re not really seeing its entirety or its details. The rest are easier to capture…even the long double Whitney house, once an inn and tavern, which is the oldest structure in Nahant. The last house–a Gothic Revival cottage near the library–is my very favorite: if my future husband had owned it we probably have wound up in Nahant!

Nahant 3

Nahant 5

Nahant Egg Rock

Nahant 7

Nahant 9

Nahant 11

Nahant 10

Nahant 1

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Salem in the 1770s

For this year’s July Fourth commemoration, I have gathered some Salem structures built in the 1770s so we can see some semblance of the city during that revolutionary decade. Salem has quite a few extant colonial structures, but not as many as you would imagine: it has long been a city, and also a relatively prosperous place, and economic development is a major impediment to historic preservation. I try to qualify every statement that I make about Salem’s history with the caveat I am not an American historian, but my constant consideration of the city’s built landscape has convinced me that the narrative that Salem entered a prolonged period of economic decline following the War of 1812 is mythology: many, many structures were built after 1820, after 1850, after 1870. Salem is more of a later nineteenth-century city than a Federal one, though its Federal architecture remains conspicuous. As for its colonial architecture, it seems to me that there are more structures from the mid-eighteenth century rather than the later part of the century, though there was definitely a mini-boom in the 1790s. Colonial houses are found on Salem’s side streets rather than its main thoroughfares, though Essex Street, Salem’s original “highway”, features several: it is definitely the most historically diverse street in the city. There are many colonial houses in the streets around Derby Street, a neighborhood that does not have the status or the protection of an historic district, consequently debacles like this can and will happen. I found quite a few houses from the decade of the 1770s thought nothing that was built in 1773 or 1778, and no structure survives from that very busy year of 1776 either, though there was definitely one big construction project that year: Fort Lee.

1770: Federal and Turner Streets.

1770 River Street

1770 Hardy Street

1771: Federal, Summer & Turner Streets.

1771 Federal Street

1771 Summer

Turner Street

1771 Turner Street

1772: Derby Street

1772 Derby Street

1772 Derby Street 2

1774: Broad Street

1774 Broad Street

1775: Cambridge Street

1775 Cambridge

1776: Fort Lee on Salem Neck

Fort Lee

1777: Essex and River Streets

1777 Essex

1777 River

1779: Turner and Beckford Streets

1779 Turner Street

1779 Beckford

By no means an exhaustive list!


Tricorner Houses

There’s a particular type of New England colonial house that I’ve always admired: Georgian, with a hipped roof and two entrances, almost as if two houses had been joined together at a right angle. The profile is square but you generally see just three corners–which is why I refer to these houses as “tricorner” houses. I think I’m the only person that uses this term. My two favorite examples of this type of house are the Jeremiah Moulton house in my hometown of York, Maine, and the Thomas Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and I happened to be driving by both of these houses yesterday so I took some pictures. I would have had to infringe of the privacy of the Moulton House’s owners to show you the perfect illustrative angle, but the Ayres house represents a tricorner house perfectly even though it has two additional entrances on the side rather than one. My rule (and again, it’s just mine) about these houses is that the length of the side structure has to be roughly equal to the front, and it cannot appear to be just a mere addition, but an integral part of the entire house.

Moulton House York

Tricorner House Thomas Ayres Homestead Greenland NH

Tricorner Ayres Greenland

Like tricorner hats, tricorner houses are eighteenth-century creations: most of the ones I have seen date from the 1730s through the 1760s. They all have two stories, and seem to be more characteristic of rural environments rather than urban ones–or maybe they have just survived in less-developed areas. There are quite a few in central Massachusets: if you browse through the digitized photographs of colonial houses taken by Harriette Merrifield Forbes at the American Antiquarian society you will come across several, especially taverns. Case in point: the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts, which acquired its tricorner shape between 1732 and 1750. I think tricornered houses (at least by my own conception) have to evolve rather than be built as such: high style examples like the Willard House at Old Deerfield and the Salem Towne House at Old Sturbridge Village have the requisite two sides/entrances but are not quite right–the corners are too sharp!

Jones-Tavern_early-20th-century

jones_montage_v4

My favorite “tricornered” houses: the Moulton House in York, Maine, the Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts. Please forward more examples!

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