Tag Archives: Architecture

Skirting Witches and Pirates in Salem

Walking is my preferred form of transportation in Salem, but I tread carefully: I want my path to be lined with beautiful old houses, colorful shops and lovely green (or white) spaces. Attractions exploiting the terrible tragedy of 1692 and out-of-town-yet-territorial pirates cloud my view and dampen my day. I’m happy to meet real witches and pirates on my walkabouts, but kitschy parodies annoy me. If you are of like mind, there are many routes you can take in Salem on which you will not cross paths with anything remotely touristy, but if you are venturing downtown you must tread carefully too. Avoid the red line at all costs and follow my route below, which I have superimposed on an old map of the so-called “Heritage Trail”: I’m starting at my house on lower Chestnut Street and making a witch-less circle.

Across from my house is Chestnut Street Park: this is not a public park but a private space, owned by all the homeowners of Chestnut Street. It was once the site of two churches in succession: a majestic Samuel McIntire creation which lasted for almost exactly a century and was destroyed by fire in 1903 and a stone replacement which was rather less majestic and lasted about half as long. The gate is usually open to everyone, but not for reseeding time as you can see by the sign. I walk down Cambridge Street by the park and across Essex into the Ropes Mansion Garden, not looking great now but an amazing high summer garden. Then I walk down Federal Court and across Federal Street to the Peirce-Nichols House which is owned, like the Ropes Mansion, by the Peabody Essex Museum. Unlike the Ropes, I can’t remember when the Peirce-Nichols was last opened to the public: it’s been decades. It has a lovely garden in back which was always open, and my favorite place to go at this time of year because of its preponderance of Bleeding Hearts. The gate to the back of the house has been closed for a couple of years now, but it is latched and not locked, so I entered and went into the rear courtyard, passing the memorial stone dedicated to the memory of Anne Farnam, the last director of the Essex Institute before it was absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum on my right. I never knew Anne but I’ve learned a lot from her articles in the Essex Institute Historical Collections so I always pay tribute. The gate to the garden in back was latched and locked, so I presume the museum does not want us to venture in there. I hope it was ok to go that far! While I am grateful for these pem.org/walks recordings I’m always wondering why these houses are never open.

Continue down Federal Street past the courthouses: you must avoid Lynde Street and Essex Street where witch “attractions” abound. I take a left after Washington street onto a street that no longer exists: Rust Street. I like the juxtaposition of the newish condominiums and the old Church and Bessie Monroe’s brick house on Ash Street on the right: a symbol of the opposition to urban renewal in Salem. Then it’s on to St. Peter Street, past the Old Jail and the Jailkeepers’s House (below), right on Bridge, and then right again, onto Winter Street.

Winter Street

As you approach Salem Common, you must bear left and head for the east side, as the west side is the territory of the Salem Witch “Museum.” There are some side streets with wonderful houses between the Common and Bridge Street which might be a bit more pleasant to traverse than the latter but you will be cutting close to the “Museum”: that’s why I always go with Winter. Once there, go straight by the Common on Washington Square East : you will pass the newly-renovated Silsbee Mansion, which long served as the party palace Knights of Columbus and has been converted into residential units with a substantive addtion and exterior restoration, and one of my favorite houses on the Common, the Baldwin Lyman House.

On Washington Square East.

Washington Square East will take you right to Essex Street: cross and go down the walkway adjacent to the first-period Narbonne House into the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. No witches or pirates here: you’re safe! I love the garden behind the Derby House: I think it is probably at its best in June when the peonies are popping but it’s a great place to go all spring and summer and even in the fall. On Derby Street, you can turn left and go down to the House of the Seven Gables or go straight down Derby Wharf: I went to the end of the wharf on this particular walk. The Salem Arts Association is right here too, but beware: there is a particularly ugly witch on its right so shade your view lest your zen walk be disturbed.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Salem Arts Association.

Back on Derby. Adjacent to the Custom House is a wonderful institution: the Brookhouse Home for Women, established in 1861! The Home is located in the former Benjamin Crowninshield Mansion, and it is very generous with its lovely grounds, which provide my favorite view of Derby Wharf. I always stop in here, and then I work my way back up to Essex Street on one side street or another. Essex Street east and west are wonderful places to walk, but the pedestrian-mall center is witch-central: a particularly dangerous corner is Essex and Hawthorne Boulevard, where the Peabody Essex’s historic houses face some of the ugliest signs in town. It’s a real aesthetic clash: gaze at the beautiful Gardner-Pingree House, but don’t turn around! If you want to go to the main PEM buildings or the Visitors’ Center further down Essex, approach from Charter Street north on another “street” that no longer exists: Liberty Street.

From the Brookhouse Home to the PEM’s row of historic houses on Essex Street. Memorial stone in the Brookwood garden: Miss Amy Nurse, RN, an Army Nurse (1916-2013).

Charter Street is the location of Salem’s oldest cemetery, the Old Burying Point, recently restored and equipped with an orientation center located in the first-period Pickman House, which overlooks the Witch Trials Memorial. So this is a wonderful, meaningful place to visit, but beware: just beyond is the “Haunted Neighborhood” or “Haunted Witch Village” (whatever it is called)  situated on the southern end of the former Liberty Street, abutting the cemetery. This is a cruel juxtaposition during Haunted Happenings, when you literally have a party right next to sacred places, but not too noticeable during the rest of the year, because for the most part witchcraft “attractions” create dead zones. But the tacky signage can still spoil your walk so avert your gaze as much as possible. Charter Street feeds into Front Street, Salem’s main shopping street, and from there you can find the path of least (traffic) resistance back to the McIntire Historic District, which is very safe territory. Broad, Chestnut, upper Essex and Federal Streets are lined with beautiful buildings, as are their connecting side streets, so take your pick. I usually just walk around until I get in my 10,000 steps: on this particular walk I ended up on Essex.

Charter, Front & upper Essex Streets.


Domed Doors

Salem is a great city for doors. There are so many exemplary doors in a succession of architectural styles: First Period, Georgian, Federal, Greek and Gothic Revival, all the Victorian varieties. There are simple plank doors, multi-paned doors, louvred doors, double doors, carved doors, doors with elaborate surrounds and vestibules, and doors of many colors (these have really multiplied over the last decade or so). There are Instagram accounts and hashtags for Salem doors. But one type of door is not very common in Salem: the rounded or arched door. I was looking through the remarkable memory album of G. Albert Lewis at The Library Company of Philadelphia, a volume with incredible illustrations of interiors and exteriors, when I became fixated on the arched entryways of his Philadelphia townhouses. I wondered if Salem had any rounded doors, did a quick Google image search (it was about 11:00 at night, otherwise I would have ran around town), and came up with multiple images of the doors of my own house! I never realized they were so conspicuous; rather I found them incongruous with the attached house next door, with its straightforward Federal entryway. See what I mean?

The second photo above is from the Instagram Account @doorsofsalem where you can see lots more Salem doors.

The double doors, and the entire entrance with bay window above, along with considerable interior alterations and a major addition, are the very tangible results of a considerable investment in the property made by its owner from c. 1860-1890, Willard Peele Phillips. Mr. Phillips was a lawyer, a state representative, and an aficionado of curves: he didn’t just bend the entrance of my house to his will: the parlor pocket doors, the china cabinets in his brand new dining-room, and all the first-floor entryways were rounded as well. He ripped out the elegant slim banister that ascended three stories and replaced it with a mahogany one that is much more bulky but also curvy. The second and third floors were left alone; I guess it was about keeping up appearances. It’s really interesting to compare the pristine house next door to my palimpsest one: 1827 versus 1877. Yesterday I went out in search of more rounded doors and did not find many, but it was fun to snap some beautiful square ones along the way. I’ve been taking photographs of Salem houses for over a decade just for this blog, but there is always a new door to discover.

As you can see, there is a rounded element in several of these Salem doorways in the form of the archways and fanlights, but the actual doors are still standard square (or rather rectangular). Besides my doors, I found arched doors on a famous McIntire summer house on the grounds of the Peabody Essex Museum’s Essex Street campus and its twin across town, constructed by a friend of mine just a few years ago, on Winter and Lafayette Street buildings, and what’s left of the Salem Armory. There are a few Salem churches which also have domed doors, but that’s about it.

But the Federal style which so defines Salem (for now, but maybe not much longer) emphasized light and decoration for its entryways, and so often there is an impression of roundness even if the door is more straightforward. A great example is the doorway of arguably the most beautiful house in Salem, the PEM’s Gardner-Pingree House: its portico and fanlight state (shout) round quite emphatically albeit elegantly. And look at the entrance to my neighbor’s beautiful Italianate house: all you see is curves but the door inside that fabulous vestibule is harmoniously straight.

So then I went back to my inspiration, the Lewis Memory Album at the Library Company, and looked at his doors, and was surprised to find they were not rounded at all—only their surrounds, and dormers! And therein is the magic of architectural texture, evident even on paper.

Illustrations from The old houses and stores with memorabilia relating to them and my father and grandfather / By G. Albert Lewis. The Library Company of Philadelphia.


The South Coast of Massachusetts

One thing that I’ve always loved about Massachusetts is its regional topographical diversity. I’m not sure that this is the correct phrase: topographical generally refers to the natural landscape but I’m referring to the built environment. In nearly every region of Massachusetts, you can explore urban and rural environments adjacent to each other, within the time span of an hour or so. It’s a bit more difficult to get the urban/rural contrast within the general vicinity of Boston, where suburban streetscapes reign, but elsewhere you can explore the architecture of a densely-settled old city by foot in one hour and then find yourself driving amidst farmland in the next. This was my experience over the past few days as I explored the South Coast of Massachusetts, which extends from Cape Cod to Rhode Island along Buzzards Bay. It was my Spring Break breakaway, as I decided to stay relatively close to home rather than taking a big trip. This is beautiful coastline, but if you’re familiar with this blog you know that I’m more interested in human history than the natural world so I tend to explore territory through buildings and this region contains quite an array of architecture. It’s an easy day trip, basically just following Route 6 from Fall River to Wareham or the other way around, but I spent a lot more time in rural New Bedford and rural Dartmouth than I expected to, so I stretched it out to two days. You could do a wonderful Industrial Revolution tour of these region, starting with the Old Slater Mill National Historical Park in nearby Pawtucket, Rhode Island and then proceeding to the powerhouse cities of Fall River and New Bedford where factories remain in various states of redevelopment or decline, but I was a bit more interested in domestic architecture on this trip.

Beginning with the cities, where you can see the impact of all that wealth from whaling (New Bedford) and manufacturing (Fall River AND New Bedford) very clearly, as well as the impact of the DECLINE of these industries. But I was focused on the former! Very impressive mid-nineteenth century houses in both cities: Fall River experienced a fire in 1843 which was followed apparently by a building boom, but both cities have impressive revival buildings: Greek, Gothic, even Renaissance. I stayed away from everything relating to the notorious Lizzie Borden in Fall River for the same reason I don’t dwell on anything related to 1692 here: I’m not interested in the commercial exploitation of tragedy. In New Bedford, I breezed through the Whaling Museum too quickly: that definitely deserves its own post and both cities (of course) have active historical societies that document and exhibit their economic and social histories.

Great Gothic Revivals! This regional ramble was prompted by my desire to see just one house, the William J. Rotch cottage in New Bedford (first up below), and it has some impressive neighbors.

This last red house is in Fall River; all the rest are in New Bedford, in the immediate vicinity of the Rotch Cottage.

 

Great Greek Revivals!

In both cities—-more institutional than residential I think, although some larger buildings began as residences and then became offices or institutions. The first house below is another Rotch house in New Bedford with a lovely adjacent garden, now a museum, and the following houses are also in New Bedford except for the last two, which are in nearby Mattapoisett: rural variations on a theme.

 

I didn’t expect Fall River to remind me of…….San Francisco? The Highlands Historic District looks WAY down on the Taunton River and Mount Hope Bay. I couldn’t really capture this in pictures, but here are a few houses in the district.

 

Idiosyncratic Buildings: The former Durfee High School/current Probate Court building in Fall River & the Seamen’s Bethel in New Bedford.

 

Cape-Townsthe South Coast is very close to Cape Cod and thus very Cape-like, although less commercial. And all manner of Capes can be found all along Buzzards Bay, particularly east of New Bedford. I think this first one is in Westport (although I can’t quite remember, was in a bit of a daze at the time), and the following photographs are of Mattapoisett (2) and Marion (2).

 

Shingles: South of Boston you tend to see more shingles than clapboards on older houses, but there were some interesting shingle-clapboard combinations on the South Coast as well. Below: Westport (2), the lovely Dartmouth village of Padanaram (2), Marion (2), and the sign on the Rochester Women’s Club.

 

A working Coast, past and present: Outside of the cities, you can see evidence of work past and present: in the harbors, of course, but also on the land. The Russells Mills section of Dartmouth (which is one of the largest Massachusetts towns in terms of acreage) is preserved as an early center of rural industry, as is the Tremont Nail Factory District in Wareham, and there are “Right to Farm” signs in nearly all the towns I visited, and of course, cranberry bogs! Below: Russells Mills (2), Padanaram Harbor, and Wareham (2).

 

Some Orientation: Crop of the South Coast from Ernest Dudley Chase’s 1964 tourism map of Massachusetts, Boston Public Library; an old sign in Rochester.

 


Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem

The Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, steward of so much of Salem’s printed, written and visual history amongst its many collections, has recently digitized over 5000 images from the “Samuel V. Chamberlain Collection of Photographic Negatives, 1928-1971″ and they are available and searchable at the Digital Commonwealth. Combined with the Frank Cousins images which the Phillips made available several years ago, there is now a very strong visual record of Salem’s architecture and streetscapes in the first half of the twentieth century, or at least some of Salem’s buildings and streets as neither Cousins or Chamberlain were particularly interested in “working Salem”. Cousins was a bit more of a documentarian than Chamberlain, especially as his era (roughly 1890-1920) encompassed the Great Salem Fire of 1914. Chamberlain was a man of the world, a gourmand, and an artist: his Salem photographs encompass only one part of his work, but an important part as he lived in nearby Marblehead for many years so developed quite an intimate knowledge of the city. I’ve always been struck by his perspectives, but I thought that I’d seen most of his Salem shots as he published so many books of photography of New England scenes in general and of Salem structures in particular, including Historic Salem in Four Seasons (1938), Salem Interiors (1950), and A Stroll through Historic Salem (1969). But I was wrong: there are discoveries to be made among the 1600+ Salem images included in the Phillips Library’s Chamberlain negative collection at Digital Commonwealth. The vast majority of these photographs are of the McIntire Historic District in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, but I can see different details and angles in Chamberlain’s images of these perennially-showcased streets and structures—and lots of wonderful TREES.

New perspectives of old streets: and the interior of the depot!

These are images which struck me as “new” for one reason or another, although the first photograph is just the view of Chestnut Street from my window, over a half-century ago, and everything looks pretty much the same! Look at all the amazing elms: on the other end of Chestnut, on Essex, at the intersection of Federal and Washington Streets. A great photograph of the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews house (c. 1740; 3rd from top) and its amazing fence before some serious mistreatment in the later 20th century. Interesting views of Lynn Street, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site with trees, St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church and the Post Office and Washington Street before it became Riley Plaza (What is the white house on Norman?) One of my favorite little buildings on upper Essex Street was a bookstore! The Thomas Sanders house on Summer Street (2nd from bottom) looks much the same, but I want Mr. Chamberlain to turn around: what is behind him? And finally, a rare shot of the interior of the Boston & Maine train depot—rare in general but also for Chamberlain who preferred more timeless and aesthetic perspectives.

Change: Chamberlain was more interested in timelessness and continuity than change, but he couldn’t help but document some changes in Salem over the span of his work, from the 1930s through the 1960s. He was far more interested in urban survival than urban renewal, however: this was a man that sketched French chateaux amidst the destruction of World War I.

Two views of the London Coffeehouse or Red’s Sandwich Shop on Central Street; Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace in its original location and from Hardy Street; The Curwen House rounds the corner from Essex to North Streets; 8 Chestnut Street very hemmed in by the second Second Church; which burned down in 1950, The Richard Derby House also very hemmed in; Charter Street before urban renewal; the cupola from the Pickman-Derby-Rogers House on Washington Street on the grounds of Essex Institute, now gone; the entrance to what Chamberlain called “the Italian Church,” St. Mary’s, built in 1925 and closed by the Archdiocese of Boston in 2003.

A few interiors: Chamberlain’s interior images are lavish and full of architectural and decorative detail; I’ve only included a few shots here but what a resource! All the PEM houses are here, and many Chestnut Street interiors, as well as views of interiors of both public and private homes which are seldom seen. His Salem Interiors has been a favorite book of mine since I was a teenage, and this Phillips/Digital Commonwealth collection includes many shots which are not included in that publication so I’ll going back quite a bit.

Pictorial paper in the Sanders house on Summer Street (see exterior above); much to see in the Northey house parlors, but ships on mouldings—how Salem can you get? Amazing fireplace in the East India House on Essex Street.

Chestnut Street Days! Who knew Chamberlain was such a great photographer of people? Certainly not me. Probably the most charming Salem photos in the Phillips Chamberlain collection are his portraits of Salem residents in colonial dress for the Chestnut Street Days which were held on at least 5 occasions from 1926 to 1976. I think that the photos below are from the 1947 and 1952 Chestnut Street Days, but I’m not entirely sure about the former date. These are wonderful photos of happy people, men, women and lots of children, smiling at the man behind the camera, Samuel Chamberlain. Just delightful. I’m going to post more on these in the future, but I’ve really got to do some oral histories first.

Chestnut Street Day, c. 1947-52. Not a great photograph to close out this wonderful collection, but is this the great man himself? Plus, the dog.


In the Thick of It

This weekend is the annual commemoration/celebration of Leslie’s Retreat, a pre-Revolutionary event which could have marked the beginning of the American Revolution, if not for the patience, restraint, and diplomacy of participants on both sides, and one man in particular. On February 26, 1775, British Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie and 240 soldiers of the 64th Regiment, acting upon the orders of General Thomas Gage, landed in Marblehead and began marching to Salem in pursuit of a rumored store of cannon. This was a Sunday, and thus “the Sabbath was disturbed” in both Marblehead and Salem, as patriots from the former town rode ahead and warned residents of the latter. When the British arrived, a stand-off ensued between the assembled crowd and the soldiers, during which the drawbridge across the North River was raised, enabling the not-so-secret cannon on the other side to be carried on field carriages out of town. A frustrated Colonel Leslie was allowed to march his troops across the bridge after the cannon had left the scene, therefore fulfilling his orders from General Gage. Then he and his troops retreated back to Marblehead and their ship, and sailed back to Boston. Things were a little hotter than I am depicting in this brief summary, but fortunately cooler heads prevailed, among them that of the Reverend Thomas Barnard Jr., the minister of Salem’s North Church, which was very much in the thick of things. I’m going to let Edwin Monroe Bacon, author of Historic Pilgrimages in New England (1898) set the scene.

A profile portrait of the Reverend Thomas Barnard Jr. (1748-1814) which looks quite similar to that of his father, the Reverend Thomas Barnard Sr. (1716-1776), above, Skinner Auctions.

I like this description because it conveys a sense of place. Just three years earlier, the North Church had separated from Salem’s First Church and constructed its first meeting house on the corner of Lynde and North Streets, not far from the river and the bridge (and the cannon). Reverend Barnard Jr., the peacemaker of “Leslie’s Retreat,” was actually the cause of the schism: his appointment following his father’s illness divided the congregation. As we can read above, the British soldiers marched past the “old First Church” in Town House Square towards the North Church, where a large crowd had assembled along with their young pastor, whose “counsel prevailed” that late afternoon. This North Church was ephemeral, only in service until 1835 when the congregation built a new and fashionable Gothic Revival meeting house on Essex Street, which became the present First Church after the schism was ended in 1923. The annual commemorations of Leslie’s Retreat take place in and around this church, with good reason, but I wish the old North Church was still standing: its clearly Colonial stature could lend some contemporary ambiance to the proceedings. But it is long gone, replaced first by a grand Victorian house, and then by the parking lot of the adjacent Methodist Church. But what happened to its clock?

“First Meeting House of North Church” by Thomas Davidson (not sure of source, likely the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I found it in the November 23, 1942 issue of Life Magazine); George Francis Dow, Old Wood Engravings, Views and Buildings of Essex County (1908): with caption: “The North Meeting House, Salem, Built in 1772 at what is now the Corner of North and Lynde Streets, Abandoned for Religious Purposes in 1835 and taken down about 1860. Engraved in 1873 after a Drawing made by Dr. George A. Perkins.” Frank Cousins photograph of Lynde and North Streets, 1890s, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum via Digital Commonwealth.

BELOW: Before Salem became Witch-central, Leslie’s Retreat was THE big historic story, especially for children, so there’s several YA books which feature it. I was trying to get that sense of place, running-through-the-snow-on-a- cold-winter-afternoon-through-close-Colonial-streets perspective in this post, and these illustrations by Lynn Ward from Jean Fritz’s Early Thunder (1967) come close. My favorite contemporary account of Leslie’s Retreat is actually from a boy, Samuel Gray, which is recounted in this post from J.L. Bell’s wonderful blog, Boston 1775. While you’re there, you should read all of Bell’s posts on Leslie’s Retreat as he is the absolute authority (and he doesn’t quite trust all of Gray’s details).

Illustrations by Lynn Ward from Jean Fritz’s Early Thunder (1967), set in Salem in 1774-1775.


Winter Salem, Day and Night

This is a rather lazy picture post: I’m basking in the glow of the publication of my book and rather drained from teaching AND I have some nice pictures of Salem on my camera roll so I thought I would just share them. Salem is really lovely after snowfalls: the architecture pops as the automobiles disappear. It’s rather brown out there now: these photographs were taken after a big snowstorm several weeks ago and a much smaller one a week ago. There are some truly dreadful structures that have risen in Salem over the past few years downtown and around, but if you stick to the neighborhoods you can avoid them for the most part. I observe a strict don’t look up (or over) rule as I walk to work past the Frankenstein-esque Hampton Inn, but once I make it home to the McIntire District I’m happy.

After the first big snowstorm:

 

The park, our house and garden, and a few other snowy structures on Super Bowl evening, and earlier in the day:

 

And here’s my hot-off-the-press book!


Gilded Age Salem

Let me be very clear: Salem is NOT a Gilded Age town. In reference to the new series from Julian Fellowes, Salem is the two Old Money sisters in the stuffy house, not the nouveau riche couple across the street in the bright and shiny Beaux-Arts building. In fact, there are no Beaux-Arts buildings in Salem, which was so Old Money that its dominant Gilded Age style was Colonial Revival, expressed characteristically through renovation rather than new construction. But I wanted to produce a Gilded Age post for Salem for two reasons: 1) despite the mixed reviews, I really like the new HBO series (though I think it should have a more nuanced title than The Gilded Age) and; 2) this time period (I’m going with 1870-1900, though I made one exception) provides me with an opportunity to address a big myth about Salem history, chiefly that it was all over for the city’s economy by 1820 or so. That’s just not true: I see a lot of prosperity and vitality in Salem’s economy in the later nineteenth century, and I think the buildings I have chosen to illustrate its own spin on the Gilded Age prove it. My choices were inspired by shots from the series premiere, although I must say that some of the cgi exterior views (in which everything is so CLEAN) contrasted sharply with those of more textured interiors). But before I get to the new, let me reassert and illustrate my claim that (re-) gilding the lily that was the Federal style was the Salem Gilded style, as we can see so clearly in architect Arthur Little’s 1885 plans for the George Emmerton House on Essex Street.

 Arthur Little and Herbert W.C. Browne architectural collection, Historic New England

Along Essex Street, which is undoubtedly Salem’s most dynamic street, there are also several prominent later-nineteenth-buildings that testify to the vibrancy of that age, but I want to start with a very showy building on parallel Chestnut Street which I think might be Salem’s ultimate Gilded Age construction: the Wheatland-Phillips House, built in 1896 for Mrs. Stephen G. Wheatland following the design of architect John B. Benson. At a glance, this imposing house fits right in with its Federal neighbors, but there is no restraint of scale or detail: it seems very “gilded” to me! Now on to Essex: even though it was built prior to the Civil War and Gilded Age, I’m still including the Bertram Mansion, built in 1855 for philanthropist John Bertram and donated by his family to the City for use as the Salem Public Library in 1887. This building really impressed contemporaries when it was built: I am always looking for signs of a nascent historical preservationist consciousness in the nineteenth century, and I found absolutely no trace of that sentiment in contemporary newspaper accounts of its construction, despite that fact that several “ancient” houses were swept away to make way for this “ornament” to the City of Salem. There are other candidates for such novel ornamentation on Essex Street, but none more than the Putnam-Balch House built in 1872, which once served as the headquarters for the American Legion in Salem.

I have no doubt that Salem had some really grand Gilded Age mansions on Lafayette Street, which was very much the new street of that era. But these structures were swept away by the Great Salem Fire of 1914. I don’t have photographs of all of them, but the Cassino Mansion at 192-194 Lafayette had to be among the most impressive, and it was gone in a day, an afternoon (A Cassino descendant gave me the photograph below, which I cherish!) Probably the grandest survivor on Lafayette is the Gove House built in 1888, the home of patent-medicine millionairess Lydia Pinkham’s very philanthropic daughter, Aroline Gove. The Pinkham story/connection is perfectly gilded.

Back in the center of town and heading north, I think I’m going to add the George C. Shreve House at 95 Federal Street and the James Dugan House on Dearborn Street, both built in 1872, to my list, as Italianate is as close as we’re going to get to Beaux-Arts in Salem. I love the situation of the Dugan House: it’s very grand.

Salem probably has more commercial or institutional architecture that approaches a Gilded Age style than residential: there are blocks on Essex and Washington streets downtown that evoke that era, still and fortunately, even though uninspired contemporary buildings are encroaching. The Superior Court Building on Federal Street (shown from Bridge, below) is an incredible structure inside and out, positively soaring and charming at the same time. It represents an era of unlimited opportunity and decoration quite well, but in typical Salem style, is an extensive 1887-91 renovation of an earlier Renaissance Revival building.


Sidney Perley’s Houses

Sidney Perley (1858-1928) exemplified that exhausting mix of endeavors—historical, genealogical, archaeological, architectural, legal, literary—which in his time was represented by the occupational identity of an “antiquarian.” It was a title he proudly bore, and one which had primarily positive associations a century ago. Now it is itself an antiquated term and I don’t know any historian who would refer to themselves as such. I’ve read pretty much everything Perley wrote about Salem, including the multi-volume History of Salem he published just before he died, and while I wish his work had a bit more context and interpretation, I still value it and think of him as a historian, primarily because he was so very focused on making early public documents public. His meticulous research and publication of probate records, deeds, and town documents was service-oriented; he was very much a public historian in his own time. And more than that: there is a famous dual characterization/division of historians by the French historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, who observed that they fell into one of two camps, either that of truffle hunters, “their noses buried in the details,” or of “parachutists, hanging high in the air and looking for general patterns in the countryside far below them.” Perley was the ultimate truffle hunter, and I’m grateful for all of the detailed information he dug out for me. Because he was trained as a lawyer, Perley’s publications on local history are overwhelmingly based on deed research, and this focus made him somewhat of an architectural historian as well: he sought to portray the built environment, not just land grants and transfers. His wonderful little series of “Parts of Salem in 1700” (and other Essex County towns too), first published in the periodical Essex Antiquarian and/or the Historical Collections of the Essex Institute and later incorporated in the the History of Salem, always included charming illustrations of houses, both on his hand-drawn maps and in the text. Now while I trust Sidney Perley completely in his dates for the construction, transfer, and demolition of these houses, sometimes I think he displays a little artistic license in their depiction. But maybe not: I’m just not sure.

The Essex Antiquarian Volume III (1899).

I’m not sure because sometimes he is a bit vague about the sources for his house illustrations. I would say that I have complete confidence in the depictions of about three-quarters of his illustrations: they were still standing in his time, or had been recently demolished, or had been sketched or photographed before demolition. But with some houses, he is relying on the memory of an anonymous elderly gentleman who gazed at the house early in his life, or on an undated sketch by an anonymous artist found in the depths of the Essex Institute. I’m always interested in the early days of historic preservation, or the first stirrings of some kind of preservation consciousness, so the depictions of these first period houses by Perley and his fellow antiquarians are just fascinating to me: their visions created houses that are still showcased in Salem, most notably the House of the Seven Gables and the Witch (Jonathan Corwin) House. Their visions shaped our visions of the seventeenth century. I like to imagine Perley’s houses still standing, and the best way to do that is to map them: my progress in the acquisition of digital mapping skills stopped as soon as I got my book contract in the summer of 2020, and as I am now working on another book it will stay stalled for a while, but I can cut and paste with the best of them! I am using Jonathan Saunder’s 1820 map of Salem from the Boston Public Library as the background for an evolving Perley map here, but later maps, with more crowded streets, really make these structures stand out too: they must have been so very conspicuous in Perley’s time. I find it interesting that in Europe, very old and very modern structures can coexist, side by side, but we seldom see that in America.

Jonathan P[eele?] Saunders / Engraved by Annin & Smith, Plan of the TOWN OF SALEM IN THE Commonwealth of Massachusetts from actual Surveys made in the years 1796 & 1804; with the improvements and alterations since that period as Surveyed by Jonathan P. Saunders. Boston, 1820. Proceeding clockwise rather haphazardly from the Epes House, on the corner of the present-day Church and Washington Streets, to the Lewis Hunt House, which was photographed before its demolition.

 

The MacCarter and Bishop Houses: the latter burned down in the 1860s but was fortunately sketched a few years before.

 

Some survivors in this bunch! The John Day House survived until Frank Cousins could photograph it in the 1890s (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum), I’m not sure if Perley’s “John Beckett” house on Becket Court is the “Retire Becket” House on the House of the Seven Gables’ campus? Half of the Christopher Babbidge house survives to this day, though it moved to the parking lot of the 20th century building which replaced it.


Christmas at Home and Away

Our Christmas was Covid-impacted like everyone else’s, but it ended up being just lovely, with most of our time spent with my brother and brother-in-law in Salem eating, drinking, playing bad board games and watching movies. We went up to York Harbor for Boxing Day with my parents, but we’re not going down to New Jersey to see my husband’s family, so this is a rare holiday season without long-distance travel for me (with the exception of last year, of course), and I’m enjoying lounging around. Because we knew we would be primarily stationary on Christmas weekend, we snuck in a quick trip down to Newport to see the decorated mansions (the Elms, Marble House, and the Breakers) as well as the streets and streets of colonial houses of every color. So all in all, a convivial, colorful, and (so-far) Covid-free holiday! I feel very fortunate.

Christmas at Home (with swans this year—and lots of cats, our Trinity & Tuck, and my brother’s Clementine).

Newport! I really prefer the smaller colonial houses, but when you’re in Newport you’ve got to see some mansions, especially at Christmas time. We had a lovely dinner at the White Horse tavern, and just walked by and through so many houses. Perfect little break. I think I have the many, many Christmas trees and mantles in order of their location—-first The Elms, then Marble House, then the Breakers—but there were just so MANY I might have mixed some up.

The Elms, 1901.