Category Archives: Houses

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!



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!


What She Left Behind

It’s an intriguing challenge to characterize people by what they left behind, and potentially a foolhardy one.Yet sometimes (actually often) I can’t help myself. While cleaning out my study just yesterday I came across one of my favorite little books, Old Salem Gardens, an illustrated historical and horticultural tour of Salem published by the Salem Garden Club in 1946. At its end is a poem: “Invitation to a Certain Garden at 43 Chestnut Street, Salem, For B.H.”: Enter here slowly. Haste has no part or lot/In this so lovely spot, Peace and tranquility/Possess it wholly. Here sunlight falls/ Gently, where branches lean/Over cool walls. Light touches lucent green/ Pure red and mystic blue, Pearl-pink and azure, old/Lavender,—fold on fold, Curve on curve, line on line/Making a pattern of Perfect design……. The poem goes on, and the “B.H.” to whom it is dedicated is the owner and gardener of this “lovely spot”: Bessie Cushman Ingalls Hussey, the “tall and willowy” lady who contributed the Chestnut Street garden history to Old Salem Gardens. More than a decade ago, I wrote an article about the garden at 43 Chestnut Street for the Journal of the New England Garden History Society, but its focus was more on the garden’s designer, the prominent, Olmstead-trained landscape architect Herbert J. Kellaway, than Mrs. Hussey. Yesterday I was looking at my files from this research and found myself a bit more curious about the client. Mrs. Hussey’s biographical facts were relatively easy to find: though born in Canada, she grew up in New Bedford, with many ties to Martha’s Vineyard through her mother’s family. She married into a prominent North Shore family in 1897, and spent the first half of her married life at the ancestral home of her husband, John Frederick Hussey, in Danversport. In 1925 the Husseys sold this large brick mansion, called Riverbank, to the New England School for the Deaf, apparently well below its appraised value, and also established an endowment for the school. They left Riverbank (now condos, of course) behind and moved just down the road to Salem, immediately commissioning Kellaway to design a walled garden behind their new/old house at 43 Chestnut Street.

Hussey House Riverbank

Hussey House 43 Chestnut

Hussey Garden Plan

Hussey Garden 1925-26

Hussey garden rear view 1930s

Hussey Garden 43 Chestnut Street

Riverbank in the 1890s and the House and Garden at 43 Chestnut Street in the 1920s and 1930s from the collection of the present owner and the Trustees of Reservations.

Her contributions to the Salem Garden Club and other local organizations (the D.A.R. and Temperance society among them) testify to Mrs. Hussey’s assimilation into Salem society, and we can get a glimpse inside the house as well as out through some of the items that she purchased from her Edgartown relatives, the Morse family, and others that derived from the North Shore. Several of her possessions appeared as lots in a Northeast auction a couple of years ago, including a Morse highboy and weathervane, and some wonderful etchings by her Chestnut Street neighbor Frank Benson. I love the bookplate! These material mementos of Bessie Ingalls Hussey show that at the very, very least, she had great taste.

Hussey Morse Chest

Hussey Morse Sign

Hussey painting Lester

Hussey Eagle Benson

Hussey bookplate Benson

Northeast Auction lots from the estate of Bessie Ingalls Hussey, 2013, including a Massachusetts highboy c. 1750 from her Morse relatives, a Gabriel weathervane from the Stephen Morse boatyard in Edgartown, a painting of Gloucester Harbor by William Lester Stevens, c. 1921, and two etchings by Frank Benson inscribed to Bessie Ingalls Hussey, 1933.




Genealogical Houses

The practice and study of genealogy is supposed to be about people of course, but some of the genealogical tomes that I have consulted over the years seem to be almost as interested in houses, both family homesteads and the impressive residences of offspring. I’m not over-familiar with genealogical literature (I like a bit more context in my history), so I’m not sure whether this is a unique feature of Salem genealogies or not but many of the nineteenth-century histories of Salem’s venerable families feature plates of houses as well as portraits of the family members who lived in them. The best example, by far, is the weighty genealogy of the Pickering family and its many branches: The Pickering genealogy : being an account of the first three generations of the Pickering family of Salem, Mass., and of the descendants of John and Sarah (Burrill) Pickering, of the third generation by Harrison Ellery and Charles Pickering Bowditch, published in three volumes in 1897. The first volume is a veritable treasure trove of Pickering houses, most of which are still with us, others long gone. The second and third volumes follow the family through the nineteenth century and include lots of photographic portraits but few houses, as if to say we’ve built our houses for generations in true Yankee fashion–or perhaps we don’t like Victorian architecture. It seems to me as if the houses are presented as part of the foundation of the family, its very rootedness, as well as its thrift.

Pickering Houses no longer standing:

Diman House Pickering Genealogy

Haraden House Charter Street

Goodhue House

The James Diman House on Hardy Street, the Jonathan Haraden House on Charter Street, and the Benjamin Goodhue House at 403 Essex Street (I’m not sure of the dates of demolition of any of these houses, but I assume the Goodhue house was consumed by the Great Salem Fire of 1914).

Pickering Houses still standing, with the exception of the Phippen House, all in the vicinity of upper Essex and Chestnut Streets:

Clarke House Pickering Genealogy

Clarke House

Silsbee House Pickering Genealogy

Silsbee House

Cabot House Pickering Genealogy

Cabot House

Barnard House

Pickering Houses

Phippen House 1782

Phippen House

The Clarke, Silsbee, and Barnard Houses on Essex Street, the Pickering double house on Chestnut, and the Phippen House on Hardy and the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association.

Tudor Texture in London

Besides far superior public transportation systems and many more public smokers, I think the thing that Americans notice the most when they travel to Europe is texture: a built environment that looks comparatively embellished, nuanced with symbolism, and venerable. Despite London’s dynamic growth over the past twenty years or so, there is still a lot of historic fabric in the city–but much of it is deceptively and relatively “modern”, i.e., Victorian. The Houses of Parliament are probably the best example, but scattered around the city are myriad buildings that “look” older than they really are: especially pubs! I was charged with finding Tudor sites in London on this trip: a task that was not as easy as you might think. The successive catastrophes of the Great Fire of London and the Blitz obliterated much of the city’s pre-modern fabric and in between there were those “improving” Victorians! So what remains of Tudor London? Lots of things, primarily to be found in the National Portrait Gallery, Tate Britain, The Victoria & Albert Museum, and the Museum of London. Several places, namely the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey, St. Margaret’s Church nearby, Lambeth Palace just across the river, and the Tower of London and the sister churches of St. Helen’s Bishopsgate and St. Andrew Undershaft in the City. There is also the Staple Inn of my last post, whose very Tudor appearance probably owes much to an early twentieth-century “restoration”, and St. Bartholomew’s Gatehouse and the oldest residence in London, located on the picturesque City street of Cloth Fair. To the west, Hampton Court Palace, and to the east, Sutton House in Hackney, which was one of the highlights of my recent tour. You can’t quite immerse yourself in the Tudor era in modern London–but you can come close, for an hour or two, if you find the right spot.

Tudor Texture windows

Tudor Texture Queen's

Tudor Texture Sutton Windows

Tudor Texture Sutton Window

Hampton Court 4

Windows into the Tudor era: exterior of the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court (where we attended a service!), featuring the Tudor emblems of the portcullis and rose; looking out from the Tower towards the Queen’s apartments, built c. 1530 for Anne Boleyn; windows at the Sutton House, c. 1535; one of many impressive oriel windows at Hampton Court Palace.

Henry VIII at Hampton Court

NPG 4618; Catherine Parr by Unknown artist

Tudor Texture tomb_margaretcountessof lennox

Tudor Texture Holme Family

Tudor People: Henry VIII at Hampton Court; my favorite of his wives, Katherine Parr at the National Portrait Gallery; the tomb of  his niece (and the grandmother of King James VI and I) Margaret, Countess of Lennox, in the Henry VII Chapel at Westminster Abbey; not quite Tudor-era people but I love this triptych portrait of the Holme family in the Victoria & Albert Museum, c. 1628.

Hampton Court

Hampton Court 2

Hampton Court 5

Sutton House

Sutton House 2

Sutton House 4

Gherkin and St. Andrews

Hampton Court courtyards and Sutton House and its central courtyards in Hackney; St. Andrew Undershaft in the City of London dwarfed by the Gherkin (my photograph didn’t turn out so well as the Gherkin wasn’t so textured; this is one credited to Duncan which I found here. It’s a pretty classic composition now, as you can imagine!)

So now finally for some real interior texture: the Tudors could not bear an unembellished surface and were particular fond of tapestries and wood paneling for their interiors. At Hampton Court, the private Tudor apartments were demolished to make way for the Baroque “restoration” of William and Mary’s reign, but the Great Hall of Henry VIII’s time remains, with its decorated hammer-beam roof and walls lined with The Story of Abraham tapestries. On the day that I was there last week, this room was full of English schoolgirls (in the best uniforms ever) drawing details from the tapestries in close consultation with their teachers, so it was hard for me to get a clear shot of the interior details (plus I was very taken with these uniforms–fortunately there are lots of pictures of the Great Hall online). Later in the week, at Sutton House, I walked around the house in complete isolation and marveled at each and every surface: it was like stepping back in time in some rooms, while in others the National Trust’s conservation/interpretation approach enabled one to look beyond the decorative facade into the bones of the house, which is a must-see for any Tudor fan.

Hampton Court Great Hall

Great Ware Bed.jpg

Sutton House Door

Sutton House doorway

Sutton House Linenfold Paneling

Sutton House plain paneling

Sutton House paneling

Sutton House Details

Sutton House upstairs

Schoolgirls in the Great Hall at Hampton Court; The very famous “Great Ware Bed”, c. 1590, at the Victoria & Albert Museum (this item could have a post of its own); The National Trust’s Sutton House in Hackney: front door, doorway, paneling, details from fireplace surround & hops woodcarving; upstairs drawing room.        

High Street

Generally the “High Street” of a city or town is a main street but this is not the case with Salem’s High Street which was named, I think, because it was literally a relatively high street which looked down towards Salem Harbor. It’s a short cut-through street today, and offers an instructive perspective on Salem’s architectural developments as seventeenth, eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth-century structures line its sidewalks. There are several really nice Georgian houses, a few Federal houses, and the first-period Gedney House, which is maintained by Historic New England as a study house. High Street was spared the obliteration by development of its neighboring street to the north, Gedney, and the obliteration by fire of its parallel street to the south, Endicott, though you can definitely see that the Great Salem Fire of 1914 cut a swath through its eastern end. Most of the street is remarkably preserved, even though in some cases it is through the fortification of asbestos siding. Unfortunately I only have a shallow understanding of the social history of High Street, but enough to know that it was the center of Salem’s African-American community in the earlier part of the nineteenth century and part of its Italian-American neighborhood a century later. That chatty diarist of the earlier era, the Reverend William Bentley, recalled an 1816 visit to “the square laying between Mill Street, High St., the Pickering Hill burying ground & the Mill Pond vulg[arly] called Roast Meat Hill. It was a mere pasture when I came to Salem. There is now a Twine factory & about 100 huts and houses for Blacks from the most decent to the most humble appearance.” (Bentley, vol 4, pp. 382-383). Less than a century later Salem’s Italian-American community built their own Catholic Church at the foot of High Street, St. Mary’s, which was closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003 (you can see some of its beautiful interior here).

High Street looking up

High Street 1874 Atlas

High Street 10

Looking “up” High Street, the neighborhood in the 1874 Salem Atlas, #10, one of three Georgian Colonial houses on the street.

There are several interesting houses on High Street but I suppose the most “notable” are the aforementioned Gedney House (1665), the neighboring Benjamin Cox House (1775), and the William Fabens House (1804). If you check out the Gedney materials at the Historic New England website (which includes the 1912 photograph of the house below) you can see a gallery of wallpaper samples taken from the house, including a fragment of my favorite “tumbling blocks”. The Cox House was acquired at the same time (1967) as the Gedney by Historic New England (then SPNEA) for use as an overseer’s house and extended to the rear for that purpose. The Fabens house is one of the most unusual in Salem: it has brick sides, each with its own entrance, and a stuccoed front facade—I’m assuming the latter is a legacy of the Great Salem Fire, which passed so close to the street.Not so renown, but impressive nonetheless, is the circa 1820 house at #16, which has been stripped of its Victorian embellishments to reveal a more streamlined Federal facade.

High Street Gedney Facade

High Street Pan

Gedney House 1912 Historic New England

High Street Cox House

High Street Cox House Side View

High Street Fabens

High Street plaque

High Street no 16 collage

Historic New England’s Gedney and Cox Houses; one of the side entrances of the William Fabens House; No. 16 High Street in the 1970s and today.

Colonial and Colonial Revival

Over the years I have encountered people who were opposed to historic districts for a variety of reasons, prominently property rights and the sense that such building restrictions created homogeneous “museum neighborhoods”. I appreciate both arguments: I’m a bit of a libertarian myself and I have lived in historic districts since my 20s primarily because I like to look out the window when I get up every morning and look at historic buildings. But when I walk around Salem’s historic districts, I don’t see homogeneity, I see diversity: of building materials, of size, and even of style. Though Salem is renowned for its Federal architecture, there are many buildings in the downtown historic districts that pre-date and post-date this era, and I am always struck by how many houses were built in the later nineteenth century in styles that are far from “Victorian”: these are Colonial Revival structures melding into the streetscape, for the most part. You definitely notice the differences when you view “Colonial” and “Colonial Revival” side by side–and there are many opportunities to do this in Salem. Everything is a little bigger and bolder in the later houses: windows, window panes, dormers, especially entrances. Of course, the Colonial Revival era is long (most authorities seem to date if from 1880 to 1955) and encompasses several sub-styles (Classical Revival, Georgian Revival, Dutch Colonial), but one particular feature I notice in several of Salem’s more prominent houses built in the last decade of the nineteenth century are semi-circular projecting bays on the front facade–these houses are literally bursting out of line–but still complementary to the older structures surrounding them.

Colonial and Colonial Revival 014

Colonial and Colonial Revival 016

Colonial and Colonial Revival 029

Colonial and Colonial Revival 017

ABOVE: On upper Essex Street in Salem, the Clarence Clark House (built 1894) stands side by side the Captain Nehemiah Buffington House (built 1785) and across the street, the David P. Ives House features a very detailed Colonial Revival facade adhered to a much older (c. 1764) building.

BELOW: just a little further down (or up) Essex Street, I think the Emery P. Johnson house was the inspiration for all these bow fronts! It was built slightly earlier (1853) and thus is more Italianate than Colonial Revival, and was raised up on its mound in the early 20th century. It contrasts quite a bit with its colonial neighbors, but in a good way, I think.

Colonial and Colonial Revival 028

Colonial and Colonial Revival 026

Beckford Street below: the section of Beckford Street between Federal and Essex is a real mash-up of Colonial and Colonial Revival! I love the juxtaposition of the very old and charming Joseph Cook House (c. 1700-1733) with the very high-style Georgian Revival William Jelly House (c. 1905) right behind it–and then the George Beckford House (c. 1764) next to the Jelly House. And there was a cat in a window, too.

Colonial and Colonial Revival 031

Colonial and Colonial Revival 035

Colonial and Colonial Revival 040

And at the end of Chestnut Street, my favorite contrast of Colonial and Colonial Revival:  William Rantoul’s Colonial Revival adaptation of the Georgian Richard Derby House on Derby Street and the Kimball-Fogg House on Flint.

Colonial and Colonial Revival 047

What I difference a year makes! It was a warm day yesterday, nearly 60 degrees when I was taking these pictures. By sharp contrast, this is the same Chestnut-Flint Street corner a year ago:




%d bloggers like this: