Category Archives: Houses

Christmas in Salem 2015

The venerable Christmas in Salem house tour, the major fundraiser of Historic Salem, Inc., returned to the McIntire District this year and featured homes and public buildings decorated around the theme of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”. There were some absolutely amazing houses open this year, and a huge turnout, due both to the perennial appeal of Chestnut and Federal Streets as well as the unseasonably warm weather–people didn’t seem to mind waiting in line. Unlike past years, I don’t have a lot of interior shots for you this year, as I was scolded very nearly every time I took my camera out: photographs are not allowed in the houses!  Having had several houses on this tour over the years, I can certainly understand the homeowners’ desire for privacy and security, but as official photographers and magazines and Salem Access Television were allowed to shoot, it does seem like a somewhat contradictory policy. In any case, I think you’ll get some sense of the spirit of the event from the exterior views, and I’ll tell you what you missed, in no particular order: 1) a dining room dressed up like a Tiffany box, complete with a Tiffany-ornamented tree; 2) TWO amazing conservatories, one which featured camellias, the particular favorite of Yankee bluebloods in the nineteenth century; 3) THREE period dollhouses: small, medium and large; 4) FOUR public buildings (the Phillips House, Hamilton Hall, the “Witch House”, and the Ropes Mansion–I was scolded here too, but there are plenty of pictures of these exteriors both here and elsewhere on the web; 5) I can’t make the numbers work anymore so I will simply say–a Rumford Roaster which I had never seen before! 6) the most beautiful study I have ever seen, with wooden swags adorning the windows; 7) a particularly clever, and aesthetically pleasing, device for hiding the television; 8) all different kinds of pantries; 9) lots of beautiful china patterns, including a nice collection of pink lustre which seemed to be the inspiration for an entire room; 10) many beautiful decorations tied to the theme of the tour–I especially liked the pears.

Christmas in Salem 2015 156

Christmas in Salem 2015 109

Nichols House Collage

Christmas in Salem 2015 099

Christmas in Salem 2015 118

Christmas in Salem 2015 142

Christmas in Salem 2 Chestnut

Christmas in Salem 2015 162

Our greeter at the Ropes Mansion and lots of decorated doors on Chestnut and Federal streets—sorry I can’t show you inside!  The doorway of #37 Chestnut, the Nichols-Shattuck House, was included in Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture, Volume I: Fifty Salem Doorways in 1912 and is often referred to as a “Coffin door”, because it has an extra panel that (supposedly) can be opened to accommodate coffins. All the architectural historians whom I consulted, however, say this is mythology. The rear of #37 shows the evolution of the house and the conservatory addition on the right. Exceptional “China coin” cast iron railing added to #2 Chestnut in the 1880s; lines and crowds on a 6o-degree day yesterday.

This has nothing to do with the tour, but I was out and about so much this past weekend that I also really noticed something that everyone in Salem has been talking about for the past month or so: the inescapable sight of our new HUGE trash and recycling barrels. A new trash pick-up regimen went into effect just after Halloween, and we were all given these large toters which are hefty and awkward–we’re all struggling with a place to put them–I know I am! So a lot of people are just leaving them on the street–or near it. Unfortunately, many of the streets of Salem are black and blue (plastic).

Christmas in Salem Trashcan Collage

I’ll link to interior shots as soon as they are up! 12/11/12 postcript: here’s the link to the official photographer’s interior images, which you can buy, of course: http://photo.vistaphotography.com/p384049441.


A Closer Look: Salem 1854

I’m following up on a post from a couple of years ago on urban “bird’s eye” maps from the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, which included a lithograph map of Salem from 1854 published by Endicott & Company and the Smith Brothers and based on an original aquatint by British born American artist John William Hill (1812-1879). I was impressed by this map at the time, but I didn’t really do it justice. Here’s what I said:  Here is a map that defies categorization:  it’s part panorama, part rendering.  The detail, perhaps a bit idealized, is amazing, especially if you view it with a zoom feature.  Yet the people are stick figures; it’s all about buildings and streets. Thanks to some close cropping by the folks at Princeton University’s Graphic Arts Collection blog, I now want to revise that view: Hill’s view of Salem in 1854 is far more humanistic than I thought. Now I’m more impressed than ever by this amazing artist, whose skills are on flagrant display in this map, and others. It’s that combination of aerial perspective and architectural detail that draws me in, very evident in the close-ups provided by Princeton.

salem-mass

salem-mass3

salem-mass4

Lithograph map of Salem, Mass., 1854 by J. H. Colen after John William Hill (1812-1879). Published by the Smith Brothers, 59 Beekman Street, New York. Graphic Arts Collection, Firestone Library, Princeton University.

Yes, the people are still a bit stickish and it is certainly an idealistic impression, but the material world on display still draws you (at least me) in: 6 over 6 window panes, 8 over 8 window panes, dormers, chimneys, laundry on the line. This is a city that seems to be in transition in its orientation, from water to land, as a lot of effort seems to have been spent on those wide (clean! far more clean than they would have been in actuality) streets, home to a few stray carriages now but later to be clogged with cars. Hill’s depiction of Charleston from a few years earlier displays the alternate water-to-land perspective. Moving out of the realm of street view maps (but still encompassing people) is his beautiful watercolor of Boston Harbor, from the same era and the same collection at Princeton, and the stunning New York from Brooklyn Heights, which was issued in several variant genres in the middle of the nineteenth century.

Hill Charleston 1851

Hill Boston Harbor 1853

Hill NY from Brooklyn Heights 1850s

Bennett Hill Brooklyn Heights

John William Hill’s Charleston, 1851 (hand-colored lithograph, Historic Charleston Collection); Boston, 1853, Graphic Arts Collection, Princeton University, and New York from Brooklyn Heights, Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection on deposit at Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza. Aquatint with engraving and etching of the latter by William James Bennett, 1837, New York Public Library.


Sleeping with George

Even though we live only steps away, we packed up a few things (very few, essentially wine) and headed off to The Merchant to spend Saturday night in the very same room in which George Washington slept when he visited Salem in late October, 1789. The Merchant is the newly-christened Joshua Ward House, built between 1784 and 1788 for one of Salem’s wealthiest merchants; it has a long and interesting history, but is now completely restored, refurbished, and rejuvenated. My husband worked on this project and I’ve always loved this house, so as soon as it opened (November 25) we booked a room: #3, George Washington’s room. It is beautiful, and very tastefully (and patriotically) appointed with a starry ceiling and antique eagle, but we couldn’t possibly limit our presence to just that one room as there was too much else to see: a beautiful central hallway and hotel taproom/lounge adorned in jewel-box colors, amazing woodwork everywhere, details, details and more details. I couldn’t stop touching banisters, doorways and mantels, sanded down to their eighteenth-century origins to reveal very clean lines and then repainted in glorious colors. Once we did retire, I must say we didn’t spend too much time communing with George as the bed (which looked to me like a big Georgian chair covered in blue velvet–it doesn’t show up in the pictures well) was so enveloping: we fell fast asleep and woke up to a sunny Sunday morning which cast the room, and the entire hotel, in an even more illuminating light. But sadly we had to go (trudge) home.

George 209

George 029

George 202

George 028

George 098

Merchant Collage 2

George 059

George 075

George 113

George 127

Above, entry hall and room #3 of The Merchant, night and day, with its starry ceiling. Below, window where Washington waved to the crowd outside in 1789, the taproom/guest lounge (with bottles found during the renovation), and back deck, other guest rooms, and a few more amenities (old architectural details/ new herringbone bathroom tile), back hallway and McIntire mantel.

George 132

George 049

George 027

George 160

George 186

George 181

Merchant Collage

George 167

George 190

The Merchant, 148 Washington Street, Salem; 978.745.8100.


Calm Descends on Salem

It always takes me a few days to recover from Halloween here……two nights ago I had an all-too-vivid nightmare about a bacchanalian orgy in the Charter Street cemetery. But I woke up to a calm and beautiful day: Election Day, always a hopeful day for me. You’ve got to love off-year, local elections when the big issues are new trash barrels and cobblestones! Actually I am trivializing our election quite a bit: the large, looming development projects that I’ve been writing about all year are also big issues (but trash is big too). After I voted, I walked to work and checked the cemetery and Witch Trials Memorial along the way: all was calm and a few respectful people were walking around, really looking at the grave- and memorial stones rather than sitting on them! Salem has been returned to its residents, the dearly departed are not being trespassed, and I slept much better last night.

Calm Descends 519

Calm Descends 514

Feeling fortunate that two great, smart people ran for councilor of the ward that I live in, and that I can walk by the beautiful PEM garden on a 70-degree day in November.

Calm Descends 525

Calm Descends 384

Calm Descends 527

Calm Descends 373

Calm Descends 528

Calm Descends 379

Feeling fortunate that all those disrespectful people are GONE………

Calm Descends 535

Calm Descends 543

and that someone left an appropriate memorial to their ACTUAL ancestor, and that I get to walk by my favorite Salem house, now artfully adorned with pumpkins, several times a week.


Witch Houses

Central to Salem’s evolution as the Witch City was the Witch House, a first-period structure that was the residence of one of the Trials’ judges, Jonathan Corwin. It was referred to as the Witch House back in the nineteenth century, when it housed a number of businesses–a longstanding drug store, later an antiques shop–and looked quite different than it does today, but it really became the Witch House when its evolving image was published on variant postcards from around 1900 on. The Corwin House acquired its seventeenth-century look in the middle of the twentieth century through a “restoration” under the direction of Boston architect Gordon Robb, and was opened to the public as the official “Witch House” by the city of Salem in 1948. As I’ve written about this House and its history before, I want to widen its context today by featuring some other Witch Houses, near and far, past and present, material and immaterial. There are at least two other houses in Essex County which were identified as such on postcards from a century ago, a time when there was a limited effort to turn the entire region into “Broomstick Country”. This was historically correct–the “Salem Witch Trials” were indeed a regional phenomenon–but commercially tricky, so Salem eventually claimed its exclusive title as the one and only “Witch City” with the Witch House.

The Old Witch House--Scene of Examinations at Salem. Illustration from Columbus and Columbia (Manufacturers' Book Co, c 1893).

Witch House Salem 1905

Witch House Danvers

Witch House Rockport 1910

Salem’s “Witch House” in 1893 (Columbus and Columbia Manufacturers’ Book Co, c 1893) and 1905: the George Jacobs “Witch House” in Danvers in 1907 (located in what was then Salem in the seventeenth century) and Rockport’s “Witch House”, also known as the “Old Garrison House” and still standing, in 1910. Supposedly two brothers from Salem built this house as a refuge for their accused sister or mother (depending on the source).

Farther afield, Witch Houses don’t have anything to do with witch trials: they just look like the sort of gothic structure that a romanticized witch might inhabit, like the Spadena “Witch’s” House in Beverly Hills, California, a storybook-style house built in 1921, or the famous Carl Van Vechten photograph of a long-lost “Witch House” in rural Maine during the Depression. The fairy-tale witches of the nineteenth century had created a more whimsical images of their houses in the twentieth, and clearly gables were seen as integral architectural details, so it is quite suitable that Salem’s Witch House would soon be enhanced with several.

witchshouse1

Witch House Van Vechten

Witch House Pyle 1887

Witch House Key Nielsen 1921

The California “Witch’s House’ in its original Culver City location, courtesy Beverly Hills Heritage; Carl Van Vechten, “Witch House”, 1936, Library of Congress; the Prince visits the Witch’s House in Howard and Katharine Pyle’s The Wonder Clock: or, Four & Twenty Marvelous Tales, Beind One for Each Hour of the Day (1887); The Witch’s confectionary cottage from Hansel and Gretel, by Kay Nielsen (1921).

Even farther afield in terms of both space and time is the woodcut print of a Witch House from the later sixteenth century by an anonymous English artist. This image, quite unusual as witches were generally depicted outside, in the wild, at this time, is often cited as appearing in the Swiss theologian Thomas Lieber (Erastus)’s Two Dialogues Concerning the Power of Witches (1579), but as Charles Zika points out in The Appearance of Witchcraft. Print and Visual Culture in Sixteenth-century Europe, the image appears to have been simply inserted into a 1579 English edition. Another fantasy house, although in this case it’s more about the exit than the architecture!

Witch House 1590


The Little Locksmith

Several years ago, one of my favorite readers, and bloggers, told me about a book written by a Salem author called The Little Locksmith, but for some reason I didn’t pick up a copy until just this past week–and I spent the cold and windy weekend reading it. This was quite an experience, as this is a memoir that puts our indulgent modern memoirs to shame in its ability to present an engulfing narrative of suffering (or perhaps I should say not suffering) and survival. The Little Locksmith was published in 1943, several months after the death of its author, Katharine Butler Hathaway, who was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis right here in Salem in 1895, when she was five years old. For the next ten years, she was confined to her bedroom and strapped to a board “like a specimen butterfly” in the hope that her spine would grow straight. She emerged not only hunchbacked, like the little locksmith that used to come to her Salem home (on Lafayette Street, sadly swept away by the Great Salem Fire of 1914), but also severely stunted, a very wise young woman in a child’s body. One would imagine that she would look back on this childhood with horror, regret, and even anger, but she does not, instead we read of “joyous” days:  Though my back was imprisoned, my hands and arms and mind were free. I held my pencil and pad of paper up in the air above my face, and I wrote microscopic letters and poems, and made little books of stories, and very tiny pictures, I sewed the smallest doll clothes anybody had every seen, with the narrowest of hems and most delicious little ruffles. I painted with watercolors and made paper dolls and dollhouse furniture out of paper. Paper was the nearest thing to nothing in the way of material, and yet it was possible to make it into something that people would exclaim over and fall in love with. It was something precious made of nothing.” 


Little Locksmith Katharine Butler Hathaway

Little Locksmith cover

Little Locksmith House Pen

Katharine Butler Hathaway (1900-42): from the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, where her papers are located; a first edition of The Little Locksmith (1943); the Mark Hatch House in Castine, where she lived from 1921-1931, Penobscot Marine Museum.

This ability to discern, appreciate, and make things that are precious stayed with her for the rest of her life. After she emerged from her Salem bedroom at aged 15, her “horizontal life” leaving her misshapen yet somehow also enchanted, she was off to Radcliffe, New York City, Paris, and Castine, Maine, where she found a neglected old house which she crafted into a precious touchstone. The Little Locksmith is really about this house and what it means to her more than anything else, which makes it even more fascinating for materialistic me. Her ability to describe places and what they mean to her is captivating: the chapter where she describes her family’s return to a sultry September Salem from their summer residence in Vermont is probably my favorite, as the sounds of crickets and steps on the brick sidewalks of Salem are the sounds that I always notice when I return home from up north. Upon her marriage to Daniel Hathaway of Marblehead, she is forced to sell her beloved Castine house, but they move on to settle in an old brick house in Blue Hill, Maine, which becomes yet another charmed setting for her, unfortunately her last.


An Endicott House for Sale

There is no more venerable and ubiquitous name on the North Shore of Boston than Endicott, after John Ende(i)cott, the first (also 10th, 13th, 15th & 17th)  governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. There are Endicott streets, parks, schools, and many houses that have some sort of connection to this illustrious family, whose members married into other notable Massachusetts families to produce generations of ship captains, benefactors, and statesmen. A particularly passionate Puritan who famously desecrated the English flag because it bore the cross of St. George and persecuted Quakers and merrymakers with zealous intent, Endicott has been memorialized by Nathaniel Hawthorne as “the severest Puritan who laid the rock foundation of New England”. There are several houses in Salem still standing in which his eighteenth- and nineteenth-century descendants lived, and now one of them is for sale. Formally called the Smith-Crosby-Endicott house as it was built by Benjamin Smith and Captain Nicholas Crosby in 1788-89, 359 Essex Street was the home of Captain Samuel Endicott and his heirs for most of the nineteenth century. It’s a perfect Federal mansion, complete with a large Colonial Revival carriage house out back–way out back. I have long loved this house, and if I hadn’t just had a conversation with my husband about our need for a smaller house I might prod him to make a move. I don’t think we need eight bedrooms! I had always heard that this house had a ballroom but I don’t see one in the listing–well, I suppose we don’t really need one of those either.

Endicott 006

Endicott 002

Endicott 008

359 Essex Street Salem

Endicott House 1902

Endicott_1987-19-1_mstr_2000pxw

359 Essex Street in Salem today and in 1924 , from the Memoir of Samuel Endicott; William Allen Wall (1801-1885), Endicott and the Red Cross, 1851. New Bedford Whaling Museum: Gift of Flora B. Pierce, 1987.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 6,736 other followers

%d bloggers like this: