Category Archives: Houses

Brandywine Weekend

I am just back from a long weekend spent in the Brandywine Valley spanning the border of Pennsylvania and Delaware. A few friends and I drove down principally to visit Winterthur, but I think we were blindsided by all the attractions of this beautiful region: the lush landscape was a welcome escape from still-Spartan New England too! As usual, time was limited, so I felt like I was rushing around trying to see and capture as many houses, gardens, and treasures as possible, but there was simply too much. I’m going to have to go back and spend a week or more. So what you will see in these next two posts are rather impressionistic views of the region in general and Winterthur in particular. When I return, the first thing I’m going to do is drive down every single road slowly (or maybe bicycle) so I can see as many old houses as possible: stone, brick, wood, and combinations thereof, small and large.

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Just a sample of the many beautiful houses in the Brandywine Valley: you can see that I was drawn to the stone as it’s more unusual in New England. We were fortunate to be taken to see Primitive Hall, a 1738 manor house in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with its double (“pent”) roof, a common architectural feature of early houses in the region, including the Gideon Gilpin House at the Brandywine Battlefield site. The Battle of Brandywine was the Marquis de Lafayette’s first American battle, and he was quartered at the Gilpin House.

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Primitive Hall exterior and interior and the Gideon Gilpin House at the Brandywine Battlefield site; outbuildings of both houses—I could write an entire post on historic Brandywine sheds!

The region is beautifully preserved, in large part due to the work of the Brandywine Conservancy, as well as the institutional presence of the Brandywine River Museum, Winterthur, and Longwood Gardens, and the efforts of farm (horses! mushrooms!) owners as well, I am sure. What really stood out for me, besides the abundance of open land, were a number of really stately trees—and I am no tree girl. Looming over the public part of the Brandywine Battlefield site is an American sycamore tree dating to 1787–almost a witness to the Revolution. We saw a seventeenth-century “Penn Oak” on the grounds of the London Grove Friends Meeting House in West Marlborough, Pennsylvania, and many old trees in Longwood Gardens.

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Longwood Gardens, the lifetime passion and achievement of industrialist and philanthropist Pierre S. du Pont (1870-1954) was almost overwhelming in its beauty, scale, organization and administration. What a resource for this community! I would live there if I lived nearby. I think we visited at the perfect time with abundant spring blooms everywhere, but I’m sure it’s beautiful in every season and I intend to visit in every season. There was rather dreary day on the Friday we visited, but the sun miraculously appeared for the afternoon, so no filters were needed for these photos!

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20190426_153431Longwood Gardens + Conservatory and “Green Wall” surrounding restroom doors!

I don’t think that we were completely prepared (yet again) for just how charming the Brandywine River Museum of Art is, with its comprehensive yet intimate focus on multiple generations of the multi-talented Wyeth family. I was pretty familiar with patriarch N.C. Wyeth’s illustration work,, somewhat familiar with that of his son Andrew, and a bit familiar with that of his grandson Jamie, but I had no idea that all of his children were so talented, that he was mentored by my favorite illustrator of all time, Howard Pyle, and that he suffered such a tragic death (crushed by a train, along with his little grandson, in 1945). There was also a poignant tribute to Phyllis Mills Wyeth, the wife and muse of Jamie Wyeth, who died just this past January, in the form of an exhibition of Jamie’s works which depict and were inspired by her—including a series of charming Christmas cards which he made for her every year. A visit to the Wyeth family home and N.C.’s studio nearby enhanced the whole experience, and also highlighted how and why the Brandywine Valley was and is so inspirational.

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20190426_115536Treasures of the Brandywine River Museum of Art, including: Howard Pyle’s influential “historic” illustrations and a N.C. Wyeth cover, Andrew Wyeth’s Snow Hill  and Jamie Wyeth’s Lime Bag, N.C.’s studio exterior and interior and in Andrew’s North Light, N.C. Wyeth, framed by his parents and looking down on his talented family, a Jamie Wyeth Christmas card for his beloved wife Phyllis.


The Snow Castle

We haven’t had many snowstorms this winter, but two nights ago about a foot of snow dropped onto the streets of Salem. My first thoughts when I woke up were: how much snow did we get (and) should I run down the street and take a picture of the snow house? Classes had been cancelled the night before, so that was no concern of mine. I saw that we had quite a bit of snow, so of course I thought of the Wheatland/Pickering/Phillips house, a Classical Revival confection that I always think of as the “snow house” or the “snow castle” as it looks so beautiful when its exuberant trim is frosted with snow. I adore this house in every season, but especially in the winter. It really is my first thought when I wake up on a snowy morning.

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It was quite warm yesterday morning, and so the snow had already started to melt by the time I made it down the street (as a snow day meant an extra cup of coffee) so here are some “freshly frosted” views from a few years back, when the blue sky afforded more contrast and shadow.

Snow Castle 2011

WHite Castle 2014

My Snow Castle, which I guess we should call the Wheatland-Phillips House after its original and present owners, was designed by Salem native John Prentiss Benson (1865-1947), a brother of the well-known American Impressionist Frank Benson who became an esteemed artist himself after his retirement from architecture. I don’t possess the architectural vocabulary to describe this house so I’ll use the words of Bryant Tolles from Architecture in Salem: “a spectacular, flamboyant example of the Colonial Revival style……[in which] the architect employed a variety of Colonial Revival idioms, including the ornate cornice (with dentils and pendants in relief), the wide fluted Corinthian pilasters (reminiscent of the work of McIntire, the flat window caps, the second-story Palladian window with miniature pilasters, the broad doorway with semi-elliptical fanlight, and the overly large flat-roofed porch with Corinthian columns” in a “innovative, almost whimsical manner”. Tolles concludes that “the house gives the impression of being an original late 18th century building” even though it is in fact one of the newest houses on Chestnut Street, constructed in 1896 for Ann Maria Wheatland, the widow of Stephen Wheatland, who served as the Mayor of Salem during the Civil War. I’m not sure why Mrs. Wheatland desired such a large house, but she lived in it until her death in 1927. Despite its mass, the house has always seemed whimsical to me, and also timeless, and its allure is no doubt enhanced by its stillness as I don’t think anyone has lived there during the whole time I’ve lived on Chestnut Street. I have to resist trespassing every time I walk by this house, in every season: in summer I see myself having a gin & tonic on its left-side (deck? seems to mundane a word) and I would love to see if there is a veranda out back. I do resist, so I don’t know.

Snow Castle 1940 HABSThe House in 1940; HABS, Library of Congress.

By many accounts, John Prentiss Benson wanted to be an artist from early on, but as that trail was blazed by his brother Frank, he settled for architecture. Nevertheless, he seems to have had a successful career, with a New York City practice and several partnerships. He lived for several years in Plainfield, New Jersey where there are several John P. Benson houses: there was a tour devoted to them in 1997 titled the “Mansions of May”. None of these houses—or that designed for his other brother Henry on Hamilton Street in Salem—seems to bear any resemblance to the Wheatland-Phillips House: it’s as if he just let loose with wild abandon. Perhaps Mrs. Wheatland gave him carte blanche, or very strict instructions. Or maybe he was influenced by memories of the Benson family home on Salem Common: an exuberant Second Empire structure that was situated on what is now the parking lot of the Hawthorne Hotel.

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Snow Castle Portsmouth Benson Family Home

Snow House WillowbankOther Benson houses, including his own, top right; the Benson family home on Salem Common and Willowbank in Kittery Point, Portsmouth Athenaeum.

After his retirement from architecture in the 1920s, Benson moved to a waterside estate in Kittery Point, Maine named Willowbank and began painting full-time until his death in 1947: he was prolific, and consequently his identity is more that of a maritime artist than an architect at present. The Portsmouth Athenaeum has his papers, and has digitized many photographs of his life and work at Willowbank, which also happens to be the birthplace of the 6th Countess of Carnarvon, Ann Catherine Tredick Wendell, who became mistress of Highclere Castle in 1922. And thus we have a very distant and indirect connection, through John Prentiss Benson, between the Snow Castle and Downton Abbey!

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Benson Galleon Vose Galleries

Galleon, 1923 by John Prentiss Benson @Vose Galleries: I love galleons, and I’m using this one to sign off for a while as I’m off to Portugal on spring break! I’ll be back with many pictures of azulejos, no doubt.


I Miss the Assembly House

I miss the Assembly House, a Georgian structure on Federal Street built as an assembly house in 1782 and transformed by Samuel McIntire into a more elaborate residence in the next decade: its proper name is the Cotting-Smith Assembly House (although it was charmingly called the “old Assembly House” after Hamilton Hall was built in 1805) and it was donated to the Essex Institute in 1965, the last building to be added to the Institute’s collection of historic houses, I believe. Of course the house still exists–I can see it at any time–but it has changed from when I first knew it: it has lost all of its trees–and its life. It is still, dark, and stark. It’s a shadow of its former self, or a ghost.

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assembly house drawing hne bestThe Cotting-Smith Assembly House yesterday afternoon and in 1926, 1920 (in a painting by Felicie Ward Howell, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), c. 1910 (Cornell) and an undated drawing (Historic New England).

I know, houses are not sentient beings as friends and family often tell me. But the Assembly House looks sad and it makes me sad to look at it, as I remember many happy times there in the 1990s, both before and after the Essex Institute and its houses were absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum. I remember: teas, two baby showers, several anniversary dinners, a graduation party, a cooking class (???), coffees for candidates for local office—it seemed as if we were in there quite a lot! I remember feeling that the house was rather homey, despite its elegant interior details. I remember sitting on the back stairs talking to two friends who are no longer alive. I remember being wowed by the front staircase—with its second-floor landing and pedimented door—every time I saw it. But all these memories are from a long time ago, at least 20 years. I miss all of the Essex Institute/PEM houses, with the exception of the Ropes Mansion which was restored and reopened a few years ago. (Actually what I really miss is the Essex Institute, but that statement will always produce eye-rolls among those who believe that the Peabody Essex Museum rescued both the Institute and the Peabody Museum. This may be true–but it’s hard not to notice those dark stretches of Essex—and Federal—Streets).

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assembly house bg 1985Photographs of the Cotting-Smith Assembly House interior, Historic New England; Los Angeles Time, 1926; Boston Globe, 1963 and 1985.

The house where Lafayette danced in 1784 and Washington dined in 1789 and Susan Coolidge (above) came out and many other people celebrated weddings, anniversaries, and simply lived their lives was “restored, refurbished, and remembered” according to the 1985 story in the Boston Globe above but seems largely forgotten these days. It was celebrated across the country in 1926 as Salem marked its 300th anniversary, but seems likely to be overlooked as the city marks its 400th.


Let There be Light

Maybe it was just me, but it seemed as if Halloween was spilling over into Christmas this year in Salem, with “Haunt the Halls” and “Grave Tidings” markets offering up dark wares and bats popping up in nearly every shop I entered: adorning jewelry, candles, and walls. Now I really do like bats, but they are not my creature of choice for this particular season; I would rather see deer, rabbits and sheep, squirrels and foxes—and fluffy fake stuffed versions of the latter rather than the taxidermy example I encountered at one downtown shop, right alongside a box of bones and more bats (real stuffed). Thankfully I was able to find light in several other shops with more cheery merchandise, the city’s bustling restaurants, and all along the streets, with so many houses lit up for the season: because we have quite enough darkness at this time of year, thank you very much. I have wanted to do more posts featuring Salem at night for quite some time, but my photographs never turn out very well. I took all the advice that was offered on the web, and began my photo safari at dusk as recommended, and I think I came up with some pretty good shots, but for every image you see below there are about six or seven blurrier examples. I felt a bit voyeurish sneaking up on all these Christmas trees but that’s why they are in the window, right? And all those lights are why Christmas is so great in the city–much more so than silver bells these days.

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And a blur of red: Lunch for Santas and Paxton’s penguins at dusk and later.Santa Lunch

Light RedMerry Christmas!


Joy and Remembrance

My husband was down south in the snow this past weekend while I was home alone for the bright and chilly December weekend. It was quite festive: with a dinner, drinks, an open house and an estate sale, although I missed one event due to an extended nap! When I wasn’t out I watched my favorite holiday movies on TCM, so Barbara Stanwyck was much in view as she is in most of them. I finished decorating all of my mantels, although we still don’t have our Christmas tree up yet: several years ago we had a dried-out tree well before the holiday, a traumatic experience which has led me to push it later and later ever since. I’m worried that I’ve pushed it too late this year as my favorite Christmas tree lot just sold out! For those of you who might be surprised that I have included an estate sale among these festivities, let me elaborate: I have found that local estate sales are often community events which not only provide people (Yankees, of course) to obtain a bargain but also an opportunity to remember–and celebrate–the deceased through admiration and remembrance of his or her items. They really are quite poignant occasions. As I walked through the adorable house of a recently-deceased lady among her cherished collections, I kept hearing the phrases I remember when and she loved that. This particular lady was obviously an enthusiastic keeper of Christmas, so the sale was even more festive—and she had great taste (I hope people will say that same about me as they sift through my things—I better purge a bit). The weekend ended on a high note when I was invited to attend an open house in the home of my “daguerreotype crush” from last week’s tour: his name is Benjamin Kendall, by the way.

The second week of December in Salem: at home

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Around the McIntire District:

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At the estate sale & a drink with Mr. Benjamin Kendall

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A Very Merry House Tour

I felt a lovely spirit among the volunteers and tour-goers at this year’s Christmas in Salem tour yesterday: a clear and sunny 40ish day which made every open house shine. There were proud owners, dedicated stewards, enthusiastic guides and curious visitors everywhere in attendance. As I emphasized in my preview, it was particularly impressive to see such strong collaboration between Salem’s heritage and civic groups, not only between the tour sponsor, Historic Salem, Inc., and this year’s focus and host, the House of the Seven Gables, but also the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, two churches—Salem’s first Catholic Church, Immaculate Conception, which is now part of the amalgamated Mary, Queen of the Apostles parish, and the amazing Russian Orthodox church, St. Nicholas—-as well as the beautiful Brookhouse Home, a residence for senior women since 1861. There was of course the conspicuous absence of that elephant on Essex Street, the Peabody Essex Museum, but special compensatory recognition should be given to the relatively new Salem Historical Society, a group of young historians who formed during the prolonged closure—now apparently permanent—of the PEM’s Phillips Library. The SHS has no archives, of course, because the bulk of Salem’s archival history belongs to the PEM and is now housed in the relocated Phillips Library 40 minutes north on Route One, but they have goals: and chief among them is to get more recognition for Nathaniel Hawthorne. This tour was a means to that end, and a very material measure of their success is a brand new sign marking the sight of Hawthorne’s birthplace on Union Street, installed just in time for this “Vey Hawthorne Holiday” tour. The actual house, which was moved to the House of the Seven Gables campus in 1958, was on the tour as well, along with the storied mansion itself, the Custom House where Hawthorne (reluctantly) worked, and his least-favorite residence in Salem, his very own “Castle Dismal” (which is neither a castle or dismal).

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CIS collageFrom the brand new Hawthorne’s birthplace sign to the House of the Seven Gables, and then back to Herbert Street and “the house that Hawthorne hated” via Derby Street and the Custom House.

There were so many lovely houses on the tour interspersed among these Hawthorne sites: mostly early nineteenth-century, some eighteenth, with different degrees of detail and scale. There is a great range of houses along Derby Street, encompassing everything from the stately mansions alongside the Custom House and facing Derby Wharf, to simple Georgian cottages further along the street. I appreciated the diversity of structures, their number (this tour is an obvious bargain when compared to all the house tours I have attended this year!), and the mix between public and private buildings. It’s always a very personal commitment for a homeowner to open their doors for a house tour—and consequently it is an intimate experience for those that step within, and a privilege. But the public buildings have an intimate feel too, because the people that care for the House of the Seven Gables, the Brookhouse Home, the Custom House, and the churches, are so very committed to their preservation and interpretation. I ran out of time (because of a long lunch, another holiday tradition) and couldn’t quite make the Immaculate Conception by the end of the day, but several members of the congregation as well as the pastor of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church were on hand to share their beautiful parish church, which was established in 1901. Beautiful day, great tour: if you couldn’t make it yesterday, it’s also on today: the weather may be a bit frightful but I assure you the interiors will be all that more delightful!

Just a sampling here: there was so much to see.

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CIS StairwayThe Captain William Lane House (with such a cheery laundry/mudroom! and decorated by Mr. Frank Bergmann who trims (other meaning) all my shrubs and trees; the Josiah Getchell House and the Thomas Magoun House along Derby Street–all absolutely charming.

 

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CIS CHAMBERLAINI’m just obsessed with the staircases now–two very different ones, from the Brookhouse Home (1810-11) and the Ives-Webb-Whipple House (by 1760). More from the latter–one of my favorite houses in Salem which is now for sale. The Captain John Hodges House on Essex (c. 1750), whose owners have some very compelling ancestors! I never take pictures of recent family photographs, but ancestors from 100+ years ago are fair game: I could not resist this remarkably handsome man, plus I am a Maine girl so must show you Joshua Chamberlain (center, dark suit, hat in hand), the hero of Gettysburg, at his 1912 family reunion.

 

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CIS Church interiorThe very festive Brookhouse Home and very serene St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, on Forrester Street.


A Very Hawthorne Holiday

This year’s Christmas in Salem house tour, the perennial seasonal fundraiser for Salem’s venerable preservation organization Historic Salem Inc., is Hawthorne-themed in recognition of the 350th anniversary of the House of the Seven Gables and features 15 decorated interiors in the greater Derby Street neighborhood along with a full schedule of associated offerings. The tour is on Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday afternoon, and there are tie-in events (including a food tour, wine-tasting, meet-up of Salem history buffs, lectures on Hawthorne’s Utopian experience and the long history of celebrating Christmas) throughout the weekend. This tour is always a wonderful event for so many reasons: it supports preservation efforts and advocacy, does not exploit the witch trials in any way, and represents true collaboration between Salem’s heritage organizations. It’s a seasonal reminder of just how many beautiful old houses survive in Salem, and a great opportunity for decoration inspiration. I always emerge from the weekend full of empathetic gratitude for those generous homeowners who open their doors to hundreds of people during one of the busiest times of the year: I’ve been there, and done that (twice) and it is always quite the effort!

Hawthorne Poster

I like the theme of this particular tour as it harkens back to a time when Salem’s heritage identity was much more civic and civil, more diffuse, and much less commodified and concentrated on 1692. The neighborhood—and Hawthorne himself—are legacies of all of Salem’s history, dark and bright. Salem’s history and landscape gave Hawthorne his material: he always acknowledged his debt to his native city even as he distanced himself from it with obvious determination. In 1860, the Essex Institute had sustained a significant debt from moving their library (cabinet) into its permanent location (well, until the Peabody Essex Museum relocated it out of Salem) in Plummer Hall on Essex Street, and organized a fair to raise funds to pay off the debt. Hawthorne was asked for a story to contribute to the fair’s newsletter, The WealLeaf, and he acquiesced promptly, offering up an intense topographical memory rather than a story as his narrative inclinations had deserted him for the moment and he did not wish to be “entirely wanting to the occasion”. The relationship between the Essex Institute and Nathaniel Hawthorne was forged through moments like these, along with the deposit of Hawthorne family papers and the acquisition of additional papers and editions of all of Hawthorne’s works by the Institute, including The Spectator, his self-published (as a teenager!) newsletter.

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As Hawthorne evolved into a truly national figure following his death, the Essex Institute enhanced its reputation through its Hawthorne collections, most particularly during the centennial anniversary of his birth in 1904, for which the Institute organized a series of summer events: as this most American of authors was born on the fourth of July. National headlines all summer long focused on the author and Salem, and most particularly on the “ancient” houses associated with Hawthorne, in accordance with the form of heritage tourism that was popular at the time: the literary pilgrimage. Even a century later, the collections of the Essex Institute, now absorbed into the greater Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), were the focus of the bicentennial commemoration of Hawthorne’s birthday: consequently it’s not very difficult to imagine an open Phillips Library in an open Plummer Hall, and an exhibition of Hawthorne texts and papers assembled as a complementary and contextual feature of this weekend’s house tour. But we can only imagine such a scene, as Plummer Hall has been closed since 2011, and the Phillips collections, encompassing nearly all of Salem’s archival history, have been relocated to a vast Collection (not plural–specificity is discouraged) Center in Rowley. Nathaniel Hawthorne is gone.

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Hawthorne at Salem NYPLBoston Herald, May 1904; New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Sorry—–digression into a rant: the anniversary of PEM’s reluctant admission to the permanent relocation (dislocation) of the Phillips collections approaches (December 6) and so this momentous move is on my mind. I fear that each and every historical occasion in Salem will be impacted by the withdrawal of its archives and the historical disengagement of such a large cultural force in the city. I’m trying to focus on what remains, and this tour provides a great opportunity to do that. The Salem houses in which Nathaniel Hawthorne lived, worked, and was inspired by remain, as well as organizations like Historic Salem, Inc., the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, and the House of the Seven Gables, which are devoted to their preservation—and his memory. We also have more than a century of scholarship on Hawthorne in physical context—and his memorial statue of course, a stark contrast to that dreadful marker to Salem’s other claim to “fame” on the other side of town.

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SAAM-S0001933The emphasis on Hawthorne’s “Homes and Haunts” begins with the Prang publication of William Baxter Palmer Closson’s portfolio in 1886 and continues today! Salem: Place, Myth and Memory was edited by my colleagues at Salem State University and includes a great chapter on Hawthorne by Nancy Lusignan Schultz. I haven’t read Milder’s Hawthorne’s Habitations yet, but it sounds like it is more focused on his time in England and Italy. The Smithsonian photograph above, of the newly-installed statue in front of the newly-built Hawthorne Hotel in 1925, was taken by Salem’s great horticulturist and planner Harlan Kelsey.


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