It’s spring break week and I’m slowly making my way down to “New Sweden” but as I write this I’m stuck in a snowstorm at my brother’s house in New York! I should be able to get out tomorrow and want to spend three or four days looking at old houses in Delaware, south Jersey, and Pennsylvania. This was supposed to be a Revolutionary tavern tour, but I think it’s going to be a bit more general: we’ll see! But because it was supposed to be a tavern tour, I did visit a tavern back in Massachusetts on Sunday: a sunny day which seems like it was weeks away rather than days away. I’ve driven by the Golden Ball Tavern Museum on the old Boston Post Road in Weston for years but never ventured inside before, and decided to take advanage of its monthly second Sunday open houses to take a tour. It was very interesting: a spacious eighteenth-century building left quite deliberately in a lived-in, layered condition. Weston is a very wealthy town, and I expected the house to be in mint restored condition but that is not the approach here: the ceilings were sloping in places, patchy plaster was everywhere, and I read a cautionary note on the central stairway: “original avocado paint—do not paint.” This house museum is an independent, self-sustaining operation which is staffed by enthusiastic docents who appeared to be discovering the house right alongside its visitors: it all felt very personal, like we were all just dropping in, or into a house built by tavern-keeper Isaac Jones in 1768 which sheltered six successive generations of his family. In the heated environment of the early 1770s, Jones gave shelter and sustenance (in the form of tea!) to British soldiers, prompting his neighbors to attack the tavern on March 28, 1774 in what later became known as the “Weston Tea Party.” He later came around to the right side, but the interpretive identity of the Tavern as museum seems to be focused on family history and Loyalist history. And layers, literally. If you’re into material textures, this tavern is the place for you: the historic paint, paper, and hardware was on full revelatory display.
The first floor of the Golden Ball Tavern: proceeding from the rear old kitchen, with many layers exposed, towards the tavern room in the front. LOVED this little Sheraton settee! Original paint and plaster in the central hallway and the right-side parlor and bedroom have been refinished.
Upstairs there are bedrooms, of course, but also a room which was used for more public purposes: and consequently it has one of the most interesting and practical architectural details I have ever seen. Doors that open up to the ceiling and are affixed to hooks! Hooks which are still there! And right across from this room is that in which poor Mrs. Jones was lying in bed with her newborn infant when her neighbors broke in in search of her Tory husband (these little notes are everwhere in the tavern, another aspect of its very personal presentation). I really loved all the colors and textures in this room, including the adjacent “office” and stairways upstairs and downstairs. So many details in this one space, just a corner of this one house.
Details, details, details! The door on the ceiling, hooks, paint, stairs, and a colonial filing system.
This past Sunday, the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, I went into Boston to take the “Massacre and Memory” tour offered by RevolutionarySpaces, the newish organization that maintains and interprets both the Old State House and Old South Meeting House. I always enjoyed going to Massacre reenactments at the former on March 5, but this tour was a whole other dimension of historic interpretation. I was rather amazed at the guide’s ability to present: a) the events of that day in 1770; b) deep background and wide context for the events of the day; c) the divergent sources which presented the events of the day afterwards; d) the day’s immediate and long-term “remembrance”; e) the use of the remembrance of the day by abolition activists in the mid-19th century and anti-busing activists in the twentieth century; f) a very strong sense of both the geography of Revolutionary-era Boston as well as the purposes and perceptions of the revolutionary spaces which we visited; and g) a consideration of how we might tell interpret historic events in the future as we proceed through our digital age. All that in about 2 hours! This was the first tour of the season for our young guide, and she was on fire. No Salem simplistic storyteller was she (what I hear out my front windows when it’s warm: and then Giles Corey was pressed to death (MORE WEIGHT), and then this happened, and then this happened): instead she offered us layers and layers of history: its creation, dissemination, legacy and utility.
Revolutionary spaces indeed: The Old State House, Faneuil Hall (where the first post-massacre meetings were held), and the Old South Meeting House, with George Washington and Andrew Oliver standing by. So many markers in Boston! All in copper and bronze: in the street, on buildings, everywhere.
The Tour began at the Old State House, before which the Massacre took place, and ended at the Old South Meeting House, where the first memorial massacre orations were held. I had a lot to think about after this layered presentation, so I wanted to go back to Old State House and consider the exhibitions there: the tour ticket included admission to both Revolutionary Spaces buildings. But when I got back to the Old State House, there wasn’t really open admission: there were other scheduled tours which I didn’t want to take so I stomped off in my fashion. I was in a very bitchy mood for about ten minutes as I strode down Tremont Street, because I wanted to process the Boston Massacre on my own terms, this very day, and somehow I felt I was prevented from doing that. But then I came to the Old Granary Burying Ground, and the marker to the five victims of the Massacre therein, which led me to their monument on the Boston Common, and as I was gazing at Crispus Attucks’ prone figure on its plaque, I saw the new memorial to Martin Luther King, The Embrace, in the corner of my eye. So off I went to the presence of The Embrace, which has received rather mixed reviews in our area since its debut in January. I wasn’t sure how I would respond to it—it looks rather intimidating in media images—but I really liked it: it’s smaller in scale and more detailed in reality. And it was fun to see people reacting to it: touching it, walking under it, taking selfies all around it. The engagement with and around this installation reminded me of the very active engagement of Bostonians with the living memory of the Massacre: weeks later and centuries later. And then I walked up the hill to another engaging memorial: Augustus Saint-Gaudens’ masterful monument to Robert Gould Shaw and the Massachusetts 54th right across from the Massachusetts State House. What a memorial trifecta! The thread between these three memorials was African-American history of course, but I didn’t really think about it that was as I was making connections in my mind on my walk. I just felt grounded in Boston history, Massachusetts history, American history.
Memorials: a circle of remembrance from Old Granary to the (new) State House.
[N.B. When I was all worked up I noted my frustration with my exclusion from the Old State House on Facebook: Revolution Spaces staff almost immediately reached out and offered me free admission at my convenience. So now I’m a bit embarassed but impressed with their professionalism!]
I know: why am I writing about a man on this first day of Women’s History Month? Arthur Howard was the short-termed 35th mayor of Salem, elected in late 1909 and serving through 1910. Despite the briefness of his term, he made a lot of news, before, during and after, and on more than one occasion the ladies of Salem came to his rescue and defense, excercising a form of political power (or political expression?) even before they were enfranchised a decade later. Howard himself is a captivating character, but his brief moment in Salem’s history also gives us an opportunity to see how women used their influence beyond/before the ballot box. I’ve had Salem mayors on my mind anyway: we’re presently in the midst of a special mayoral election here in Salem—something that hasn’t happened for quite some time—as our previous mayor has ascended to the office of Lieutenant Governor. Arthur Howard did not leave his mark on Salem in the same way that Mayor Driscoll did, but his story is interesting nonetheless.
Howard was born in New York City in 1870, the son of a prosperous jeweler and grandson of a Salem physician, whom he later described as a “classmate of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s.” He was based in New York for much of his early life, and he seems to have been a bit of a wastrel: spending his father’s money on lavish living and gambling, and writing the occasional little book (on cooking, Wall Street, and Shakespeare “for the unsophisticated”). He was married in 1893 but separated from his wife (and their child) a decade later. Somehow he ended up in Boston, and after reading about the closure of the venerable Salem Gazette in the summer of 1908, decided to make his way up to his ancestral city to save it from becoming a one-newspaper town. He had very little money, but he was undaunted: he operated the new Salem Despatch with the press of the old Gazette, and hired a reporter who told him all about the political “gangs” of Salem. To make a name for himself and his paper, Howard became a “reformer,” attacking the powers that were, the Salem police, the “liquor licensors,” and his competitor, the Salem Evening News. With about a year’s residence behind him, he decided to run for Mayor: a bit of a lark that became increasingly serious. Despite two libel suits brought by a Salem alderman and the editor of the News and a brief stint in jail, Howard was elected and installed as Mayor in January of 1910: he attributed his victory to his ability to speak French to the residents of Ward Five. He vowed to clean up the city of “graft,” to dedicate his mayoral salary of $1500 to its playgrounds, to reform the Police Department (even to the extent of appointing himself Chief of Police), and to identify and close down all the locations where liquor was sold illegally (referred to as either “speak-easies” or “kitchen barrooms”). Howard’s “meteoric” rise, ambitious reform agenda, and “straight talk” attracted considerable press coverage in the first few months of his administration, and he was often referred to as the “boy mayor” even though he was 40 years old. Among his most notable early acts was the transformation of Salem Common into a skating rink at his own expense and the appointment of two of Salem’s most prominent society women, the active social reformers Aroline Gove and Caroline Emmerton, to the Board of the Plummer Farm School of Reform for Boys. And then the honeymoon was over.
Boston Globe stories about Arthur Howard, December 1909-January 1910. I’ll have to do a follow-up on the coverage of Howard by the(non-digitized) Salem Evening News: after all, its editor was suing him for libel!
In March of 1910, the man who had furnished Howard with funds for his bond while awaiting his second libel trial withdrew said funds (he was a liquor broker, and not happy with Howard’s crackdown on the 18 speakeasies he had identified in Salem) and the penniless Mayor was faced with jail: the ladies of Salem came to his rescue with a three-day campaign that raised the required $800 in $1 increments. Some individuals, both male and female, offered to donate the entire amount, but a certain circle of ladies (led by Charlotte Fairfield, who was taking on Salem’s coal cartel at about the same time) pushed for an expression of wide, feminine support. This effort captured national headlines: a United Press story appeared in nearly every newspaper in the country on March 31 and April 1. A week later in the New York Times, Mayor Howard admitted that he “owed a great deal to the women of Salem” who were “helping the cause of pure city government.” He was acquitted of the libel charges later in the spring: good fortune that was countered by his declaration of bankruptcy at around the same time. By the summer, he was publishing “woe is me” (very bad) poetry in his paper, which also attracted headlines. I had no idea what to make of another Howard headline from the summer of 1910, referencing his proclamation for the compulsory attendance of all Salem children at a circus parade through downtown, until I read his obituary: apparently it was an attempt at sarcasm by a man who was tired of the disdain directed at his other edicts.
It was all bad news after that. Howard did not serve out the entirety of his two-year term: he 1911 he stepped down, ostensibly to run for Congress but that campaign seems to have gone nowhere. He decided to run for mayor again the next year, but was not elected. His newspaper office sustained two serious fires in 1912; he was assaulted on the street in 1913. There are references to campaigns for both lieutenant-governor and governor (on the Temperance ticket) which were not sustained. He was divorced in 1916, after which he ended up in Vermont and then New Haven, where his ex-wife happened to live. He died there in January of 1920, aged 51 and handsome as ever, from complications following an intestinal operation.
I’ve got castles on my mind: all my courses this semester have an architectural theme and I’m in the midst of long survey of encastellation in my medieval course, using castle-building to explain virtually everything and anything. I often strive to connect teaching and living, to look around my own environment for connections to the past. For my Americanist colleagues, Salem and its region can serve as a classroom, but I’ve got to be a bit more creative. Sometimes it is easy: just last week we were discussing the Roman Republic in my world history class and we arrived at the Cleopatra representation issue, and there was Salem sculptor William Wetmore Story’s very influential statue/case in point. When I’m teaching the Reformation and the early modern era, it’s easy to bring in Salem from time to time, but this semester I have only world and medieval/Renaissance courses so there are not many opportunities for place-based history. But castles can be American in their decorative reincarnations, and we have several examples in our own region: Hammond Castle in Gloucester, Herreshoff Castle in Marblehead, and Winnekenni Castle up in Haverhill. The busy city of Salem was never a summer residential destination for Gilded Age millionaires, so no large castle-esque “cottages” were ever built along its shores, but there was a strong Gothic Revival influence at work in the mid-nineteenth century, very evident primarily in civic and ecclesiastical architecture from that era. These buildings are as close as Salem gets to castles and while some survive, most do not. My list starts with the most castle-like structures, long gone, proceeds through the nearly Norman, and ends with the “castle” with the most potential.
The Salem Armory and the Eastern Railroad Depot WERE castles right in the midst of downtown Salem, and their loss is still being felt, I think: you can see how integral they were to Salem’s evolving streetscape in every photograph. The Armory was nearly restored by fire in 1982, its surviving drill shed was converted into the Salem Armory Visitor Center in1994, and its Head House facade demolished by the Peabody Essex Museum in 2000. The Depot was built in 1847 and demolished in 1954. Certain views of the pre-fire Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company mills, otherwise known as Pequot Mills, make the buildings look castle-eque, especially the view from Derby Wharf below, which shows the facility’s crenellated towers. No castle features were incorporated in the post-fire buildings.
Kernwood, the North Salem estate of Francis Peabody, was Salem’s only palatial summer residence and so I am including it here: it is less fortified Normanesque and more Gothic Revival confection, though it does have a stone “rustic arch” surviving as the entrance to Kernwood Country Club. Kernwood was built in 1840, after Peabody had advocated for a number of Gothic constructions throughout Salem, including the First Church on Essex Street and Harmony Grove Cemetery. The photos below are from a series of Essex County views published in 1884 and Frank Cousins in the 1890s: I’m not sure exactly when the mansion came down, but the Country Club was established in 1914 and Walker Evans captured the converted clubhouse still looking very Gothic in the early 1930s.
The other castle-esque constructions in Salem were churches, all of which survive: St. Peter’s Episcopal, the First Church on Essex, and the East Church on the Common. St. Peter’s was designed by Boston architect Isaiah Rogers and constructed in 1833; the First Church was built three years later with Francis Peabody overseeing the construction. I’m curious if Salem residents in that decade noted the similarity and wondered: wow, is our city going to be taken over with these medieval structures the same way we wonder about the plastic boxes which define our era? I want to believe that the integrity of craftsmanship and materials would have reassured them, but who knows? In the next decade, the most castle-like church was constructed: the East Church on Salem Common. Designed by New York City architect Minard Lefever, the East Church had soaring towers that were truncated later, just as its function was reduced to the present-day Witch “Museum”.
The First Church, St. Peter’s (2) and the First Church today; Frank Cousins photograph of the East Church, Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth.
Last, but certainly not least, the “castle” with potential: the old superior court building on Federal Street. Behind it (to the north) will rise a dreadful new building shoe-horned into a sliver-shaped lot, but that will be the price we pay for restoration of this amazing courthouse. Its turret and tower (best viewed from the rear) are so soaring and its interiors so baronial: I’m really glad that this building (which has been empty for decades now) is going to be preserved with a new purpose. I have no idea what that purpose will be, but I vote for a new Salem museum/visitor center with authentic exhibits and professional interpretation of all of Salem’s history: an installation which will defend our city from encroaching tourist trapdom.
Front of the former Superior Court at Salem, 1954, Brearley Collection, Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth; back–a bit foggy view taken yesterday at twilight: it’s difficult to capture the entirety of this building!
Something light and bright, fluffy and joyful and merely decorative for Valentine’s Day: I wanted to use the occasion to reaquaint myself with some decorative arts databases. Between my last book project and the two that I’m working on now, and teaching, and being frequently frustrated with Salem heritage and preservation issues (as you know all too well here) I don’t have much time for wandering about in digital image archives. But I gave myself permission to do so this weekend, and here are the results! If you have a universal symbol like ♥♥♥ as your keyword, you’re going to get thousands of results: I limited mine to textiles, and then just chose my favorites by purely aesthetic standards. Whether these fabrics were created for the table, or the wall, or a person, they are more about adornement than adoration.
Above: Furnishing Fabrics from Alsace, c. 1840, Metropolitan Museum of Art, A.C. Pugin, 1851, Victoria & Albert Museum, France, later 19th century, The Design Library, C.F.A. Voysey (who clearly loved hearts!), 1900-1929, Victoria & Albert Museum, and a heart handkerchief by Sylvia Chambers, 1940s, Glasgow School of Art Archives. Below: “Hearts & Flowers” from Folly Cove designer Peggy Hamilton, 1955, Cape Ann Museum.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Great sites for exploring decorative motifs (not just HEARTS) here.
There are more and more and more witch shops in Salem, or perhaps I better loosen up that description to goth shops or macabre markets? In any case, our local chronicler had to reassure his readers that there were, in fact, places downtown where socks could be purchased. But sneakers? I think not. It is concerning as many of these shops are only open “in season,” producing a deadening effect downtown in the “off-season.” [Somewhat off-topic tangent: I often think that Salem’s planners are going for a “15–minutecity” but I don’t understand how that goal is compatible with Witch City—I’ll follow up in a later post] In the downtown, there is oversight for these shops’ signs and exteriors, and Salem is a constantly-evolving city, so I’m not inclined to get too perturbed about this darkening trend, unless said shops alter an historic interior radically, perhaps permanently: and that’s the case with the former Merchants National Bank, a much-heralded 1908 Little & Browne Colonial Revival structure on Essex Street now transformed into a local outlet of Blackcraft Cult, a Goth fast-fashion retailer based in California. The creative vision of this store is simple: paint it black, all black, walls and trim, ceiling and much of the floor. All is black except for a red witch descending from the center dome, replacing the gilded eagle that overlooked everything previously. Witch kitsch displaces classicism: I don’t think you can find a better visual metaphor for what’s happened to Salem over the last decade or so.
Once an Eagle……now the former Merchants National Bank building on Essex Street is home to Salem’s largest witch! In the vicinity are more seasonal shops, closed on this beautiful & sunny February afternoon.
This building was the fourth headquarters of the Merchants National Bank in Salem, founded in 1811. It received quite a bit of attention after it opened for business in 1908: in national architectural publications and local periodicals, as well as the Bank’s own centennial anniversary publication which tied its history and success to Salem’s history and success. There’s so much craftsmanship and detail and sheer abundance in Salem’s traditional architecture that we take it for granted: I wish I had spent more time in this building considering its now-darkened detail, and I wonder if Salem’s preservationist organization, Historic Salem, Inc., is considering a more agressive policy of seeking interior preservation restrictions and covenants. Perhaps it is time, before everything goes black.
Images of the Bank from 1911: in the Brickbuilder, its centennial anniversary booklet “In the Year 1811,” and an unsigned watercolor, Bull Run Auctions.
I’ve learned a lot about Salem’s African-American history while writing this blog; I don’t think I would look at the city the same way otherwise. I associate Chestnut Street, where I live, much more with the Remond family and their myriad activities centered on Hamilton Hall than with any particular Salem merchant or sea captain. When I walk to work down Lafayette Street, I pass a neighborhood of parallel streets on my right, beginning with Pond and ending with Cedar, on which numerous African-American families lived in the mid- and late nineteenth century: John Remond had a house on Pond, and his eldest daughter Nancy Shearman lived in the neighborhood with her family, along with his successor as caterer to Hamilton Hall, Edward Cassell. I don’t have the same place-association as I do with the Hall on Chestnut Street, as all the structures on these streets burned to the ground during the Great Salem Fire of 1914, but I think about the neighborhood that was there before. The city directories make it clear that this wasn’t an African-American neighborhood; it was rather an integrated neighborhood, just like the Salem public schools from 1844. This neighborhood was so diverse that it was even home to a notorious Virginian slave trader, who resided at 29 Cedar Street intermittently for a decade or so, from 1851 to the beginning of the Civil War, along with his common-law African-American wife and their four children. As they say, you can’t make it up.
Part of Salem’s Ward Five: Henry McIntyre / H. E. B. Taylor / Friend & Aub’s Lith., MAP OF THE CITY OF SALEM MASS. From an actual Survey By H. McINTYRE. Cl. Engr. H. E. B. TAYLOR, ASSISTANT. Philadelphia: Henry McIntyre, 1851.
The slave trader in question was named Bacon Tait and his common-law wife was named Courtney Fountain. Both came from interesting Virginia families. I certainly did not discover their stories: as much as the limited sources allow, Hank Trent pieced together what can be known about their lives in a slim well-sourced volume entitled The Secret Life of Bacon Tait. A White Slave Trader Married to a Free Woman of Color (LSU Press, 2017) and you can also read an excellent summary at the Encyclopedia Virginia. But I think we need more Salem context, and I have questions; actually, just one: how did a notorious domestic slave trader maintain a residence in which was supposedly such an abolitionist stronghold as Salem? Obviously there are two assumptions in that particular question: that Tait was notorious (or at the very least conspicuous) and that Salem was abolitionist. To support the first assumption, we’ve got to start in Richmond, the second-largest slave-trading market of the antebellum domestic slave trade (after New Orleans). When he traveled to the United States as secretary to the popular novelist William Makepeace Thackeray in 1852-1853, the artist Eyre Crowe took advantage of downtime in Richmond to walk several blocks from his fashionable hotel to the slave market to sketch the scenes he saw there (before he was asked to leave), publishing them in the Illustrated London News upon his return to Britain. These sketches were studies for two paintings which illustrated and publicized the process of slave-trading on both sides of the Atlantic: Slaves Waiting for Sale, Richmond, Virginia and After the Sale: Slaves Going South from Richmond.
Eyre Crowe, Slaves Waiting for Salem, Richmond, Virginia (1861), Heinz Collection, Washington D.C.; After the Sale: Slaves Going South from RIchmond (1853), Chicago History Museum.
Bacon Tait was a major player in this Richmond trade and in Richmond itself: the pages of the Richmond Enquirer, the Richmond Dispatch, the Richmond Daily Times and the Richmond Whig record his real estate transactions, his political successes, and his slave-trading activities from the 1820s to the Civil War, even after he had moved to Salem in 1851: he traveled back to conduct business and also employed surrogates. His trade is also documented in the Slave Ship Manifests at the National Archives (a chilling source that I had never consulted before: not my period, thank goodness!) Notices of his “holding” facilities are particularly lengthy, and the Visitor’s Guide to Richmond (1871) records that Tait was the original builder of the infamous “Lumpkin’s Jail” (otherwise known as the “Devil’s half-acre”) in 1825. An “under new management’ advertisement from several years later reveals the inhuman dimensions of this particular side of the business.
In Massachusetts, William Lloyd Garrison’s weekly abolitionist newspaper, The Liberator, printed excerpts from the Richmond papers frequently, with lengthy commentary and annotations. When Tait announced the opening of his new “private jail” in 1834, The Liberator reprinted the copy and commented upon it, and a certain “P.H.” took the liberty of rewriting it for its readers: the entire piece was featured prominently on the front page of the December 27, 1834 edition of the paper. Charles Lenox Remond was the agent of The Liberator in Salem at the time: it’s unlikely that this item escaped his notice.
Tait’s relationship with Courtney Fountain began in the early 1840s, while she might have been in his employ as a housekeeper. She was originally from Winchester, Virginia and part of a minority (10%) of free blacks in Richmond at the time, but members of her family resided in the North and were active in abolitionist circles in both New York State and Massachusetts. It’s not entirely clear from Trent’s book how they ended up here, but Courtney’s sister Ann and brother John resided in Salem, as well as several cousins. Tait and Courtney had four children in the 1840s: Celine, Constance, Bacon Jr. and Josephine, each two years apart. Salem’s schools were desegregated in 1844 (thanks to the efforts of the Remonds) and Massachusetts abolished its anti-miscegenation law the year before. You can certainly understand the lure of Salem for Courtney, but it’s hard to picture Tait as a doting family man, which seems to be the only incentive for his departure from Richmond in 1852. In any case, he purchased the Leach House at 29 Cedar Street in July of that year: it looks like it was a lovely property, located on a bluff at the end of the street overlooking Mill Pond.
Bacon Tait is listed in the Salem Directories of the 1850s as a “merchant” living at 29 Cedar Street and in the 1855 state and 1860 federal censuses as well: there are no indications that Salem residents were outraged by his residence in their town or even aware of his existence. Charles Lenox Remond was living on Pond Street during the 1850s, just three streets over, and just a few doors down Cedar Street lived Adeline Roberts, a Salem schoolteacher and long-time corresponding secretary of the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society. Miss Roberts corresponded regularly with William Lloyd Garrison, Lucretia Mott, and other abolitionist leaders, and in the very year that Tait moved to Salem, she was organizing a series of seven lectures on the abolition movement to be held at the Salem Lyceum in the fall. Tait never appears in her letters, but she must have been aware of his residency. Were there whispers at the Lyceum before every lecture? Was Salem society gossiping behind closed doors? I just don’t know. Tait seems like a ghost in Salem, but he was still conducting his business in Richmond: I suspect a lot of family letter-burning later on. That’s the problem: we can’t see (or hear) whispers from the past or letters that have been destroyed, we can only speculate. I’m assuming that Courtney’s family was protecting her and her children (and by extension, him), and I’m also assuming he kept his head down and conducted his trade via post and travel. All census documents from Salem indicate that Courtney and Tait were married, but there is a difference between state and federal censuses in designation of race: the federal census indicates that the entire family was white while the Massachusetts censuses indicate that Courtney and her children were of mixed race. I’m not sure what this means in terms of their presentation or perception.
What happened when the war broke out? Tait seems to have returned to Richmond permanently, leaving his family in Salem. He instructed one of his daughters to sell the house on Cedar Street in 1864, yet they all appear on the Massachusetts census as living there in 1865. Both Courtney and Tait died in 1871: she in Salem, he in Richmond: their four children remained in Salem, residing at various addresses. Tait left several wills, and the most recent one, leaving his fortune “to his illegitimate children by a mulatto woman, who held to him the relation of housekeeper, he having no lawful wife” was contested by various partners and employees in Richmond. Many transactions dissolving his real estate ensued, but I have no idea where the money went. Courney’s death notice was printed in the SalemRegister (as “Mrs. Courtney Tait, Richmond papers please copy,”) as was Tait’s, with no further identification or detail. She is buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery with a lovely epitaph from her children; he is buried at another Gothic Revival cemetery, Hollywood in Richmond, with no epitaph at all. As for his reception, or lack thereof, in Salem, I haven’t found the answer to my question, but maybe my presumption is wrong. Maybe Salem wasn’t an “abolitionist stronghold;” maybe it was home to only a small minority of very vocal abolitionists in the 1850s who invited William Lloyd Garrison to speak every other month, protested the Dredd Scott decision vehemently, organized August 1st Emancipation Day celebrations, and pushed for Charlotte Forten’s appointment as the first African-American teacher in the Salem public schools. We always want righteous causes to be more popular than they generally were. Or maybe Tait just maintained his privacy: this seems more possible at that time than today. As I think about the past and the present I am struck by how wide the gap was between Bacon Tait and many of his Salem neighbors: we tend to think of our own time as divisive, but our divisions seem relatively insignificant compared to theirs.
No stigma in Salem: Celine Tait Burding, Courtney and Tate’s eldest child, commissioned a Tait family plot in Harmony Grove Cemetery for her mother as well as her own family: she married Willard Burding in 1873, had four children, and died in Salem in 1886. Courtney’s gravestone in the center reads simply “Our Mother” and bears an inscription derived from Shall we Gather at the River, published only six years before: “on the March of the Beautiful River that flows by the Throne of God she waits for us.” In Virginia, Tait’s family is described in less reverential terms: Petersburg Progress-Index, June 21, 1871.
I feel like I should know more about Gloucester, the port city about a half hour to the north of Salem. I have quite a few Salem friends who have summer homes in Gloucester, or have moved to Gloucester, or just go to Gloucester often: it’s like an escape hatch of sorts. 2023 marks Gloucester’s 400th Anniversary, and I have been super impressed with the city’s commemoration efforts: they are creative, comprehensive, and most importantly, expressions of the community rather than of a limited pool of “stakeholders,” as seems to be the case with Salem as it gears up to its 400th in 1626. I’ve been to Gloucester often, but I can’t even begin to characterize it as a place: it doesn’t seem like one city to me, but rather several. It’s certainly big: I decided to drive around in search of some of its earliest houses the other day and it took me all afternoon and I feel like I barely scratched the surface! I’m not even sure that I have the neighborhoods straight, to be honest: I started out in West Gloucester, then drove downtown, then to East Gloucester and Rocky Neck, then through Rockport to the northern side of Gloucester, stopping in Lanesville and Annisquam. Depending on where you are, you can find any style of house you want in Gloucester: big old shingled “cottages,” smaller cottages in a variety of styles, Greek Revivals, vast Victorians, stucco Craftsmans and even a Tudor or two. Not too many three-story Federals so prevalent in Salem, Newburyport, and Portsmouth: Gloucester was/is a fishing port so not as many wealthy merchants. I was looking for Colonials on this little expedition, the older the better, so that determined my route. Unfortunately, I forgot my sources: Prudence Paine Fish’s excellent books on Gloucester’s old houses (Ms. Fish died recently; a great loss for Gloucester) and Edwin Whitefield’s Homes of our Forefathers. On my own I missed quite a bit of this sprawling old city with its innumerable inlets so expect return trips over the next year or so!
I started out in West Gloucester where I drove way out along Concord Street: in my experience streets named for other Massachusetts towns have the oldest houses. At least part of the first house below, the Ella Proctor Herrick House, was built in the seventeenth century and the last one proudly bears a first-period plaque as well.
Along Concord Street, West Gloucester.
Then I drove miles to downtown Gloucester, overlooking its expansive harbor. This is the most densely-settled area of the city, obviously, and also where you can find the most architectural variety. It’s also where the Cape Ann Museum (CAM) is, a museum of art and history which also owns and operates several house museums. Of course I’m jealous that Gloucester has a professional local museum, but CAM’s existence is just one of several indicators that Gloucester is serious about preserving and interpreting its heritage, material and textual: I also like the way older houses are interwoven with newer, professional and institutional structures in the city center. The first house below, on Middle Street, is wedged between a bank and some other professional office building, and has lots of Georgian neighbors.
Along Middle Street, Gloucester.
On the way to the Green, where CAM owns and operates two historic houses, I passed by this first cute and very characteristic of Gloucester house and one of the city’s oldest houses, the Whittemore House (1700), now a frame shop. The Green, situated right on Gloucester’s traffic rotary on Route 128, features three historic structures (the White Ellery House, 1710 and the Babson-Alling House, 1740 are below) and CAM’s newest exhibition space, the Janet & William Ellery James Center (2020), which has expanded the museum’s exhibition and archival space signficantly.
I hopped right on the rotary and drove to East Gloucester, which was a pass-through for me as I didn’t have my sources! So I did the Cape Ann loop, enjoying the views and driving through Rockport, and ended up in Lanesville and Annisquam on Gloucester’s northern shore. As you can tell from these photographs, it was a cloudy, dreary day (as has been the case for most of January in our parts) and so I had to snap this bright orange cottage in Lanesville and then it was on to Annisquam, which is really almost too precious and perfect (and with too many “private drives”!) but I had to see the Edward Harraden House (c. 1660)—one of several structures built by this family in Gloucester. It’s a storied name in Salem too as Jonathan Harraden was one of our most famous revolutionary privateers. It did not disappoint.
Eighteenth-century houses in the Lanesville (ORANGE!) and Annisquam villages of Gloucester, and the Edward Harraden House, c. 1660.
I was following the discussion on a facebook group dedicated to the restoration of Colonial homes the other day, very deliberately avoiding preparing my syllabi for the new semester, when the term “Beverly jog” came up, and it was clear that a lot of people on the thread did not recognize it. That surprised me, but it might just be an eastern Massachusetts phrase. There might be other terms: I was reading Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture of Salem last week and he used the phrase “jut-by” to refer to such additions, as in: occasionally the rear half of a gambrel-roof house was extended several feet beyond the front half, as had often been the earlier lean-to, forming a “jut-by” to provide a side door facing front. All old houses have all sorts of additions and protuberances of course, and I think “lean-to” and simply “addition” can cover all the bases, but I learned the phrase “Beverly jog” when I was taking a tour of the Peabody Essex Museum’s Crowninshield-Bentley House long ago. It remains a perfect example of a very specific type of addition.
So here’s a good definition, from the Dictionary of Building Preservation: a narrow addition on the end of a house with the back slope of its roof in the same plane as the back slope of the main roof; originally found on late 18c houses in the Boston, Massachusetts, area; now found in other areas. I had thought it was an Essex County building practice—hence the reference to Beverly, Salem’s neighboring city to the north—but over the past few years I’ve seen such additions in southern New Hampshire and on the Cape. The addition of a staircase was likely the primary reason for a Beverly jog: I remember from my historic plaque researching days how many people lived in these old houses: you don’t want them all coming in the front door, especially in the middle of the winter! And then you get the added benefit of the mudroom: another New England necessity. I don’t think a Beverly jog can be on any house other than a Georgian, or at least that’s where you’ll see them in Salem. Some of my favorites are below (these photos were taken two days ago, when the sky was white with our first snow, as opposed to the Crowninshield-Bentley photos from yesterday when the sun finally came out after several dreary weeks!)
The first house above is on Federal Street and its Beverly jog is perfect! My neighbor’s house on Broad Street; the green house on Andover Street, which belonged to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s aunt, has TWO Beverly jogs—one on each side. Does the orange house on River Street have a jog or merely an addition? I’m not sure about the plane……and the last house is no longer with us, a victim of urban renewal.
Every old house has secrets, but every old house does not have deliberately-constructed secretive places for hiding or hidden means of conveyence: such spaces are special. Novelists love secret staircases, and historians do too: they are evidence of intent. Well, I think everyone is fascinated by secret spaces in general: I have been since I was a child and my mother told me all about priest holes in England and that was that. When I was older and in England I was determined to find as many as I could, armed with the books below. When I was older still, and looking at the house I now live in, its owners (who were also realtors) showed me its two secret spaces: a door hidden in the master bedroom closet that opens up into the in-law apartment next door and a tunnel in the basement that opens up under the street. There’s a big door, with a big lock, leading to some underground space! I always call it a tunnel but I’m not sure how far it goes under Chestnut Street: as soon as the previous owners opened up the door and I saw black I ran upstairs! Twenty years later, I still haven’t been in that space: it’s too scary. I can assure you, however, that my husband and every single contractor who has worked in this house has been in there—they all seem to think it’s some sort of large coal bin but of course the previous owners told me it was a stop on the Underground Railroad. I have a theory that it might have been a space to store rum, as the man who built my house was Salem’s biggest distiller and he lived right across the street, but I’ve yet to find proof. So all of this is just an introduction to say: I’m interested in secret spaces! (And I was a Nancy Drew fan too and the Hidden Staircase is my favorite.)
I think that the American equivalent of priest holes are secret staircases and one of the most important secret staircases in America is right here in Salem, at the House of the Seven Gables. For generations of children in our region and beyond, myself included, the first impression or memory of the Gables is undoubtedly of the secret staircase: every child (and many adults) that I have taken to the Gables has been struck by both the idea and the experience of the secret staircase. Its aura is very interesting because it is a twentieth-century installation rather than an original feature of this seventeenth-century house. The House of Gables Settlement Association’s founder, Caroline Osgood Emmerton, and her architect James Everett Chandler, were “inspired” by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel in their restoration of the house: and so it acquired four more gables, a rebuilt central chimney, a second-story overhang, and a cent shop as well as additional room for the companion settlement mission. I love the headline for this Boston Sunday Globe article from January 1910: all is revealed!
The house also acquired a secret staircase, right alongside the new chimney, even though there is no secret staircase in The House of the Seven Gables. So why? There are several reasons. The house’s previous owner, Henry Upton, maintained that there had been a secret staircase and so Emmerton believed that she was putting something back that had been there before. She also believed, apparently, that the novel needed a secret staircase and so she was giving the house one: “For it seems to be that we feel the absence of the secret staircase in the story just as we feel the absence of a bit of a picture-puzzle that has been lost and has left an unfiled place in the picture.” [The Chronicles of Three Old Houses,1935]. This seems like a bit of a rationalization to me, so I’m wondering if she merely wanted a secret staircase in the house to increase its allure: such discoveries made headlines in those days and they still do.
Boston Evening Transcript 8.5.1911 (not the word “museumized”!); the era of secret staircases: that found in Governor Tilden’s Gramercy Park mansion made national headlines in 1905.
And once the secret staircase was there, it took on a life of its own. I’m working on an article on the Colonial Revival in Salem, and just read a wonderful study on interpretation at the House of the Seven Gables over the last century, based on a succession of scripts [Tami Christopher, “The House of the Seven Gables. A House Museum’s Adaptation to Changing Societal Expectations since 1910,” in Amy K. Levin, ed., Defining Memory: Local Museums and the Construction of History in America’s Changing Communities (2007); the chapter on the Gables in Colin Dickey’s Ghostland is great too.]. In the beginning, the staircase was explained in terms of smuggling/tax evasion or “a means of escape in witchcraft times.” Then there was a shift to the Underground Railroad, and finally an admission of its 20th century origins. The staircase has reflected historical interests, and historical inquiry over time, but it has also been a means to express simple (childhood) curiosity, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Early twentieth-century postcard and the secret staircase in 1950 (National Geographic) and today (or recently).