No, not me: the Crowninshield-Bentley House! Visiting Louise DuPont Crowninshield’s former garden in Marblehead last week prompted me to reconsider her impact on Salem as a preservation advocate and philanthropist as it is considerable. At least two institutions in Salem, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the Peabody Essex Museum, reflect her commitment to the preservation of Salem’s material heritage which was manifested both by her direct involvement and her inspiration. The best example of the latter is one of the Peabody Essex Museum’s historic houses, the Crowninshield-Bentley House, which was moved by the Essex Institute from a rather precarious position on Essex Street to its current location in 1959. This early Georgian house, home to generations of the Crowninshield family as well as Salem’s pre-eminent diarist the Reverend William Bentley, was originally located at 108 Essex Street. In 1958 the Hawthorne Hotel donated the house to the Essex Institute with the condition that it be removed to make way for a parking lot. The move to its new site adjacent to the Gardner-Pingree House and across the street from the Hotel, was preceded by the demolition of a venerable commercial building and succeeded by a comprehensive restoration to its 18th century form under the direction of Abbot Lowell Cummings as a tribute to the “work and memory of preservationist Louise DuPont Crowninshield.” The Crowninshield-Bentley House became the cornerstone of the Essex Institute (now Peabody Essex Museum)’s main “campus” of historic structures, and to complete the vision, gardens also dedicated to the legacy of Mrs. Crowninshield were installed in its midst. Another reason I wanted to post on this big move today is the great visual documentation by Essex Institute President Albert Goodhue, Jr., who snapped photographs of the the entire process over what must have been several days (weeks???) in 1965. These are among some great sources at the Phillips Library in Rowley documenting Salem’s ever-evolving streetscape, one of the major topics we’ll be covering in our upcoming book Salem’s Centuries.
Washington Square West and Essex Street, Salem (Mass.) Photographs, MSS 0.1619. Courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Rowley, MA.
Amazing!!! I love the nonchalance of the pedestrians, and not a police detail in sight. Everyone is just going about their business while the walls are tumbling down! The building being demolished was quite a storied commercial building, also an 18th century structure (I think) but altered and extended considerably. There were some very notable apothecary and stationary shops located within, and Salem architect/artist William Henry Emmerton made an iconic image of it in 1850 when it was his cousin’s apothecary shop (Emmerton was a great draftsman, and the Phillips Library has digitized the records of his architectural firm, Emmerton, Foster & Putnam, so you can see more of his work here). Those big storefront windows were apparently the second of their kind installed in Salem, and the Paracelsus bust trade sign was pretty conspicuous too. After the move and restoration was completed, the Crowninshield-Bentley House received a lot of attention in both academic and popular publications: there are both feature articles and cover stories throughout the 1960s into the 1970s and even the 1980s. The more scholarly pieces tend to focus on the detailed 1761 probate inventory of Capt. John Crowninshield as a primary source for the restoration (which includes references to “a Negro man” valued at £66.13.4 and a “Negro woman” valued at £40 about whom I’d like to know more)§ while trade periodicals seem to focus overwhelmingly on the kitchen. There’s a big spread on the interior of the house in the July 1987 Colonial Homes, part of feature on Salem as the “showcase of early America,” which it was, then.
William Henry Emmerton, Apothecary shop of James Emerton in Salem, c.1850 (pen & ink and sepia wash on paper), Peabody Essex Museum; the Crowninshield-Bentley House on the cover of Americana, September 1973; the kitchen as photographed by Samuel Chamberlain (1970, Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth) and in House and Garden, January 1974; Frank Cousins photograph of the house in its original Essex Street location, 1890s, Phillips Library via Digital Commonwealth. The House today.
§ The Phillips Library has also digitized all of the booklets in the Essex Institute Historic House Booklet Series, including The Crowninshield–Bentley House, Essex Institute historic house booklet series, no. 2, by Abbot Lowell Cummings, Dean A. Fales, Jr., & Gerald W.R. Ward, which you can access here. “An Inventory of the Estate of Capt. John Crowninshield Late of Salem and Apprized by Us the Subscribers at Salem November 10th 1761” is included as an Appendix.