Tag Archives: First Period

Merrimack Meandering: the Whitefield Project, part II

I’ve got a lot of gardening and exterior house projects to do, but we’re in the midst of a stretch of rainy, foggy and soggy weather, so I can’t trim my hedges or paint my scraped and sanded deck (especially the latter). After last year’s summer of writing, I am more focused on activity this year, but we’ve had too few days of that perfect dry and sunny New England weather: it’s either wet or hot! I know I shouldn’t complain, as many parts of our country have it far worse, but I seem to be doing it anyway. Tuesday seemed particularly gray, so I threw Edwin Whitefield in the car and drove off in search of greener pastures: to the Merrimack River Valley. It was lush, lush, lush, a benefit of this icky weather for sure, and I really didn’t get very far: I went for more byways than highways and consequently just covered a southeastern corner of a much larger area. Whitefield was not a great guide, frankly: he missed a lot of Homes of our Forefathers in Amesbury, and West Newbury, and even the major metropolis of the region, Haverhill (I didn’t make it as far west as Lawrence or Lowell). Here’s my route (well, sort of):

Obviously I did not follow a thought-out or straightforward path, which explains why I didn’t cover much ground: one place led to another and these are large towns with lots of great houses to be found on nearly every road, requiring many stops. I don’t know Haverhill as well as some of the other towns in the valley, and it is large and diverse with lots to see: I really could have spent the entire day there. I drove up to the river on route 97 through Beverly, Topsfield, Boxford, Georgetown and Groveland, and searched for the one little house Whitefield sketched in the last town: not sure I found it but below are my top candidates. The bottom house is the wonderful George Hopkinson House on the National Register: unfortunately it faces the river rather than backing up to it, as in Whitefield’s sketch. Then it was across the river into Saltonstall country: like Salem and several other Massachusetts towns, the storied Saltonstall family looms large in Haverhill. But there is no Saltonstall house standing: the first one, the so-called “Saltonstall Seat” overlooking the river, burned down in the early 18th century, and a Georgian house later relocated to the shores of Lake Saltonstall was taken down in 1920. The Buttonwoods Museum (which really should update its hours) is home to the Haverhill Historical Society and the Duncan and Ward Houses, situated on the site of the Saltonstall Seat. Behind the Museum are historic cemeteries and the Highlands neighborhood, full of amazing houses in every conceivable architectural style. And then lakes! Haverhill really has a lot going for it, including a pretty vibrant downtown.

Groveland houses; Haverhill and the Merrimack in the 1880s; Whitefield’s Haverhill houses; the Duncan and Ward Houses of the Buttonwoods Museum.

After exploring the Highlands for a while I wanted to see if I could find a vista similar to the one in the print above, so I crossed the river over into Bradford, which is actually part of Haverhill. It is home to the charming campus of the now defunct Bradford College which originated as an academy at the seventeenth-century Kimball Tavern, now for sale. As I looked at this building, built in 1692, I began thinking about Haverhill’s famous captive, Hannah Dustin, who has been in the news recently as there is discussion about the appropriateness of her statue, given that she killed and scalped ten members of the Abenaki family holding her hostage after the raid on Haverhill in 1697. Her statue is scary, so I decided to cross the river again and go in search of the garrison house which her husband Thomas was building at the time of the raid. It now sits rather oddly next to a modern house and across from a golf course, but still intact. Then I got back on Whitefield track and went in search of the birthplace of another famous Haverhillian, John Greenleaf Whittier. From Whittier’s birthplace, now open, I naturally wanted to visit the house in which he resided later in life, in nearby Amesbury.

The Kimball Tavern, Dustin Garrison House and Whittier’s birthplace in Haverhill, and Whitter Homestead, Macy-Colby House, and a private 17th century house in Amesbury.

I took a very indirect route to Amesbury via Rocks Village, yet another village of sprawling Haverhill! Its bridge brings you across the river into West Newbury, which is full of eighteenth-century houses, and then I drove east into Newburyport and across the old chain bridge into Amesbury, also home to many early houses and ignored by Whitefield. As the day progressed towards the golden hour, things got a bit brighter, but it was also time to drive south towards home along route 1A. As is the case with Salem, the two houses which Whitefield chose to sketch in Newburyport are no longer standing: the Toppan and Pillsbury-Rawson Houses, which were both on High Street, I believe. But all of the first period houses he sketched in “Old” Newbury have survived, including the Noyes and Coffin Houses. The former is one of my very favorite old houses in Essex County, if only for its situation: it takes you right back to the seventeenth century. The latter is a Historic New England house, and open on Saturdays over the summer. Newbury and Rowley to the south are North Shore towns that link the Merrimack River Valley to Cape Ann, which Whitefield sketched a bit more actively, but I’ll have to leave that for another day trip.

The Noyes and Coffin Houses in Newbury.

Pickering House Perspectives

A well-interpreted house museum can offer up multiple perspectives, encouraging visitors to explore what interests them. I’ve been on some less-inspired tours of historic houses, believe me: too many family stories without any context whatsoever and too much plastic fruit are my own particular aversions. But a good house tour is a veritable–and personal–window into the past, and if it’s a particularly old house, many windows. One of Salem’s oldest houses, the Pickering House (c. 1664), been part of my life for a long time, but the other day I realized I had never taken a formal tour of it, or written a post! So I decided to rectify both slights this past weekend. I should lay all my cards on the table: the Pickering House was notable for having Pickering family inhabitants for decades but now is home to two good friends of mine, both energetic stewards who have hired in succession two stellar graduates of the History Department at Salem State as research docents: so I am a bit biased for sure. However, it seems objectively true that graduate #1, Jeff Swartz, really expanded the interpretation of the Pickering House during his tenure, and graduate #2, Amanda Eddy, is clearly following his example.

As Amanda told me, the Pickering House was always owned by John Pickerings, from the 17th century to the 20th, but the most conspicuous Pickering was Colonel Timothy Pickering, Adjutant-General and Quartermaster General of the Continental Army, Washington-appointed Postmaster General, Secretary of War, and Secretary of State, U.S. Senator and Representative, negotiator of Indian treaties, including one (miraculously) still standing, farmer. He himself was a multi-dimensional man, so if you’re going to tell the story around him, you’re going to have many stories. But the other Pickerings are interesting too: I could tell that Amanda was particularly fascinated with the John Pickering VI, who oversaw the trim transformation of the house’s front façade in1841, in the midst of a Gothic Revival craze in Salem driven largely by Colonel Francis Peabody of Kernwood and Harmony Grove fame. Mary Harrod Northend believed that Mr. Pickering was inspired by famous Peacock Inn in Rowsley, Derbyshire, but I’m not so sure.

Colonel Tim presiding over the Dining Room, Amanda Eddy showing us the evolution of the house; the Peacock Inn, UK National Archives.

So if it’s architectural history you’re after you have a wealth of styles to explore in the Pickering House: First Period craftsmanship of the seventeenth century, Gothic Revival style of the nineteenth, Colonial Revival elements added in the twentieth. If you’re more focused on material or visual culture, there are wonderful examples of needlework, portraits of Pickerings by Joseph Badger, and lots of little things to see. I love curio cabinets, and Amanda opened up the Pickering cabinet for us and took out: a piece of Old Ironsides, a pair of old eyeglasses, and the skeleton key to the front door. If your interest is more textual, there is a fabulous family library in the east room, a fragment of Timothy Pickering’s and Rebecca White’s wedding banns in the west, and a manuscript cookbook in the dining room. As Amanda is working with the family archives in the attic, she brought down several of John VI’s handwritten topical pieces for us to see, touch, and read.

Western parlor with portrait of Mary Pickering Leavitt (1733-1805) and her daughter Sarah by Joseph Badger; Hessians!; wonderful portrait by Mary, restored by textile conservator Elizabeth Lahikainen in 2017; the Pickering family arms; from the curio cabinet; LOVE this china pattern but forgot to ask what it is—please inform, someone; family books and one of John VI’s essays.

These are the kind of fabled places which should thrive during this pandemic as we all strive for connections: personal, cultural, social, historical. No crowds: just careful and curious people. There were just five of us, inside yes, but keeping our social distance with masks in place. We signed the register: proper procedure but also contract tracing. And yes, there were even a few witches.

Photograph by Salem photographer and artist James Bostick.


The Older Andover

About forty minutes inland from Salem to the northwest are the towns of Andover and North Andover, both early settlements and bustling towns today. Due to the anniversary of the last executions of the Salem Witch Trials on Friday, I had Samuel Wardwell—who hailed from Andover, along with several other victims—on my mind, so I decided to drive there and see if I could find the location of his farm, which is always referred to as lying in the “southern” part of what was then one big Andover. That was my goal, but I got waylaid and distracted by the other Andover, the North Parish, which became North Andover in 1855. I hadn’t realized that North Andover was actually the first settlement: whenever I see North or South or East or West I assume that that designated location was settled after the adjoining town without the geographical adjective (is there are word for that?) But in the case of the Andovers, this assumption is incorrect. And because I assumed North Andover was later, I had always given it short shrift and driven through or around or by it—but this Saturday, the weather was fine and I had time so I drove into it, and spent a considerable amount of time in the vicinity of its perfectly pristine center village, in which a striking Gothic Revival Church overlooks one of the prettiest commons I have ever seen. It was the first day of Fall, and the North Andover Fall Festival was in full swing, so I parked the car and walked all around the old town center.

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All of the houses above surround the large Common, and bordering it is the little building built for the North Andover Hay Scales Company, established in 1819, which Walter Muir Whitehill refers to as “a rustic corporation of twenty-five proprietors who not only missioned a public utility but had a good sociable time doing so”. (Old-Time New England, October 1948). And down the road apiece is the Trustees of Reservations’ Stevens-Coolidge estate, with its extensive gardens, and this intriguing brick double house.

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On the other side of the Common, I walked past the North Andover Historical Society, a rather stately Greek Revival house and two “Salem Federals”, which really do have the air of displaced Salem houses, especially the Kittredge Mansion (1784), which looks just like the Peirce-Nichols House! Apparently its design is attributed to Samuel McIntire, which is complete news to me—must find out much more about this house.


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Kittredge House

Kittredge House 2The Kittredge Mansion & gate in HABS photographs from 1940-41, Library of Congress.

Finally I came to the beautiful Parson Barnard House (1715), which was long believed to be the home of Simon and Anne Bradstreet and has been owned and maintained by the North Andover Historical Society since 1950. It is perfectly situated and colored for early fall reveries, and I could have sat there looking at it for quite some time, but Wardwell business was pressing, so I retrieved my car, drove over the other Andover, and took a really cool virtual tour of its downtown courtesy of the Andover Center for History and Culture.


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Massey’s Cove

Sometimes I feel sorry for the so-called “Old Planters”, the very first European settlers of Salem (which they called Naumkeag), who arrived in 1626 from the failed colony further north on Cape Ann. They are a rather overlooked lot. For two years they maintained their own isolated settlement until John Endecott arrived with more settlers and authority and transformed the rather loose Naumkeag into the rather staunch Salem, under the aegis of the Massachusetts Bay Company. And thus the Old Planters gave way to the New. Salem recognizes the Old Planters with a prominent statue of its leader, Roger Conant (who had made his way from Plymouth to Cape Ann to Salem), which is unfortunately located in close proximity to the Salem Witch Museum, thus he is often misidentified and/or overlooked: I shudder to remember all the ridiculous things I have heard tourists say about Conant as I have passed by. The other site associated with these men (and their families) is unmarked and removed: this is their landing place on the north side of the Salem peninsula and the North River: most often called “Massey’s Cove” in the sources. Salem’s great antiquarian/historian from a century ago, Sidney Perley, places this location at the foot of Skerry Street, but the train tracks and Route 1A bypass road that was built a couple of years ago have rendered it relatively inaccessible. Even though it is a very idealistic perspective, probably the best way to ponder Massey’s Cove is by looking Marblehead folk artist J.O.J. Frost’s naïve painting, The Hardships + Sacrifice Masseys Cove Salem 1626 The First Winter. A mighty nation was born God leading these noble men and women, painted in the 1920s.

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John Orne Johnson Frost, The Hardships and Sacrifice, Massey’s Cove, Salem 1626, Collection of Historic New England.

And then of course we also have Perley’s seventeenth-century maps from the Essex Antiquarian–not very embellished but most likely pretty accurate. Perley believed that the Old Planters erected 19 cottages along the shore, all of which had disappeared by 1661. The oldest house in this first-settled section of Salem to survive well into the twentieth century was the Ephraim Skerry House on Conant Street, a late First Period house built in the early eighteenth century. It was demolished in 1990, to make way for the bypass road. I tried to conjure up some sort of historical feeling for the Old Planters by accessing some photographs (from MACRIS, dated 1985) of the Old Skerry House, but it didn’t work, as it was just too new.

Massey's Cove map Perley

Massey's cove map Perley detail

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The Ephraim Skerry House on Conant Street, built between 1710-1724, demolished 1990.

Past and Future in Ipswich

This past weekend we went up to Ipswich, about 12 miles north of Salem, to take a look at some very old houses and a very new wind turbine.  There is discussion of installing a turbine on Salem’s Winter Island so we wanted to check out the one in Ipswich, and there are lots of other attractions there:  cider doughnuts, beautiful beaches and farms, and the largest collection of First Period houses on the North Shore, perhaps even anywhere in America.  Here are some pictures of the largest and most famous one, the John Whipple House, built by 1677, moved to its present location off Route 1A in 1927, and owned and operated by the Ipswich Museum.

I love the very colonial clam-shell paths to the house and around the period “housewife’s garden”, the super-sloping roof and the windows–all of them.

And now for a contrasting view of the future in Ipswich:  the wind turbine, located on a large coastal DPW lot well out of the center of town.  Though both graceful and green, the turbine is indeed huge; it’s really difficult to see how it could possibly fit on the much smaller lot here in Salem.  There are a couple of shots here for perspective, including one across the marsh from the turbine.  I did not find it very noisy, however, which seems to be the other major issue with its potential siting.

On our way home (well sort of) we stopped at our favorite place in nearby Essex for friend clams:  J.T. Farnhams.  You eat your fried clams sitting on picnic tables overlooking the marsh looking back at Ipswich, and the house below, which I always think is going to be claimed by the marsh but never is.

Paper Mansion

Here is a charming image of a Salem house long gone, preserved first in paint by one of its occupants, Mary Jane Derby, and later in print:  the Pickman-Derby-Brookhouse-Waters House, built in 1764, redesigned for Salem’s merchant prince Elias Hasket Derby by Samuel McIntire in the 1790s. and torn down in 1915 to make way for the imposing Masonic Temple.

The original painting, dated 1825 and in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Art, shows not only a lost building but a lost world:  this is Washington Street, one of Salem’s main streets, now lined with multi-storied buildings, shops, City Hall, and cars, cars, cars.  Back in 1825, not only do we see the beautiful Derby Mansion and the adjacent first-period Lewis Hunt House (demolished in 1863), but also trees, gardens, and a cantering horse.  Miss Derby’s view might be a bit romantic, but it is nevertheless engaging, and the architectural detail (McIntire’s pilasters, balustrade and cupola) is there.  Here is a Frank Cousins photograph of the mansion later in the nineteenth century:  still looking good despite its Victorian paint job, entry bay window, and rear addition, but beginning to get crowded out. I’d love to know more about that big white statue in both the painting and the photograph:  couldn’t turn up a thing.

Mary Jane Derby (1807-1892), granddaughter of Elias Hasket Derby, is generally labelled an “amateur” artist, but at the same time as she was assembling an album of Salem images for friends and family she was working with the pioneering Pendleton Lithography firm of Boston to reproduce her paintings as lithographs, including that of the Derby Mansion.  Her artistic career ended with her marriage to the Unitarian pastor Ephraim Peabody, but they seem to have had a happy and productive life together, as recounted in A New England Romance:  the Story of Ephraim and Mary Jane Peabody (1920), the collective memoir written by their sons Robert (founder of the Boston architectural firm Peabody & Stearns) and Francis.

The story of the mansion can be gleaned by its last photograph, published by the Detroit Publishing Company about 5 years before its demolition.  It is no longer the Derby Mansion, but “Colonial House”, having lost its first-floor reception rooms, garden, and stables to urban development.  It’s on a busy block, caught in a web of wires, and on its way out.

Gothic Salem

Salem is quite Gothic in several ways, but this post is specifically about Gothic buildings.  I spent my early childhood in the picturesque village of Strafford, Vermont, the site of the Senator Justin Morrill homestead, a perfect pink Gothic Revival houses that made quite an impression on me as a child.  Surely you can see why. (Sigh)

As an adult, I think I prefer the austerity of colonial and Federal houses, but Gothic buildings have a lot of charm, and Salem has quite a few nice examples.  Even though Salem was decidedly urban by the time that the Gothic Revival style became fashionable in the middle of the nineteenth century, there are still some structures that are clearly based on the “bible” of the style, Andrew Jackson Downing‘s Cottage residences, or, A series of designs for rural cottages and cottage villas, and their gardens and grounds (1842). Several of these urban Gothic Revival cottages are in the previously pastoral North Salem, including these houses on and around Buffum Street, a lovely street that runs parallel to North Street/Route 114, one of the main entrance corridors in and out of town.

  I’m not sure if this adorable cottage is Gothic Revival or a later “storybook” style from the early twentieth century.  The proportions seem a bit different than those of the verified Gothic buildings, but it’s such a great house I wanted to include it anyway.

The cottage near the entrance to Harmony Grove Cemetery, in the later nineteenth century and today. 

Closer to downtown, there are two Gothic Revival houses facing each other on Broad Street:  The Pickering House and the William Brown cottage.  Actually, the Pickering House is only masquerading as a Gothic Revival house; it is really a “First Period” structure, indeed Salem’s oldest house, built in 1651. Successive generations of the Pickering family have lived in the house until just recently, including Timothy Pickering, Secretary of War and of State in the 1790s, and in the 1840s it was updated or “gothicized”.  The very distinctive Gothic Revival fence was added at that time as well.

The Pickering House and fence today and in 1940 (HABS, Library of Congress), followed by the William Brown House, built in 1847.

The gold standard for Gothic Revival houses seems to be the  Timothy Brooks House on Lafayette Street, built in 1851.  It is certainly a stately mansion, not a cottage, and the architectural details are incredible, including the entryway, windows, and trim. It also looks to be quite closely modeled on Downing’s Design no. II:  A Cottage in the English or Rural Gothic Style.  I believe that it was a single-family house until the 1980s, and then it was converted into condominiums, with additional built units in what might have been a carriage house or other outbuildings.

HABS, Library of Congress, 1953

The Gothic Revival style was suitable for both residential and institutional architecture, and ecclesiastical and educational institutions really embraced it in the mid-nineteenth century. Think of the campuses of Princeton, Yale, and Boston College, to name  just a few.  Two of Salem’s most influential churches, the Unitarian First Church and Episcopal St. Peter’s, rebuilt their very old churches in a remarkably similar (Normanesque) Gothic style at the same time:  the 1830s.  Perhaps friendly competition for the newest, latest (most inspirational?) style?  It is certainly ironic that nearly thousand-year old motifs were considered “new”!

  A Frank Cousins’ photograph of the First Church in the 1890s from the NYPL Digital Gallery and the First Church today; St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.

THE KEY DETAIL:  the quatrefoil.  Once you start looking for them, you see them everywhere…..

Quatrefoils from the First Church (above) and St. Peter’s Church (below), a quatrefoil bracket from the Brooks House, and the Pickering House quatrefoil fence.

A White Robe of Roofs

Every time I was in range of a radio yesterday there was a story about collapsing roofs.  Of course, most were flat roofs (I keep wanting to write rooves, but apparently that is not done anymore), covering modern commercial structures.  Our colonial predecessors had other ideas, and their steep, sloping roofs seem to be bearing up pretty well under all the snow—now and for the past 350 years or so.  Here are some pictures I took over the past few snowy days of some of Salem’s first period houses:  the Narbonne House, the so-called “Witch House” (more accurately designated the Jonathan Corwin House), the Peabody Essex Museum’s John Ward House, and the House of the Seven Gables (also known as the Turner-Ingersoll House).

For the sake of comparison (of both season and era), the same houses are featured below in a series of photographs from the Historic American Building Survey, a New Deal project in which photographers, architects, and draftsmen were put  to work documenting historic structures  for the National Park Service.  While the Narbonne house and the Gables look quite similar, the Jonathan Corwin house would be unrecognizable without its Old Witch house sign, as this was more than a decade before Historic Salem, Inc. removed the attached storefront in the process of a comprehensive restoration. In a turn-of-the-century photography by the Detroit Publishing Company, the John Ward house is pictured in its original location (St. Peter’s Street) just before its move to its present site.

Taking Stock

Probate inventories are among the most valuable sources that historians have, offering detailed and even intimate information about the material lives of people in the past.  The inventory of one of Salem’s earliest settlers, the merchant and shopkeeper Captain George Corwin, who was born in 1610, came to Salem in 1638, and died on this day in 1685, is available in a transcribed and accessible form through the Library of Congress‘s digital archive.  Corwin was the father of the more famous (or infamous) George Corwin II, who was the High Sheriff of Essex Country during the Witch Trials, issuing arrest and execution warrants for its victims.  As evidenced by the inventory addendum to his will, Corwin senior was a wealthy man, with considerable property and possessions and a shop and several warehouses  full of stuff (which we would probably classify as “housewares” and  “hardware”) assessed at 5964 pounds, 19 shillings and one penny by his executors.  Through the inventory, one can not only access and assess Corwin’s business life but also gaze into every room in his “dwelling house” and see what clothing, furnishings, and personal possessions were there.  Of particular interest to me is the “red chamber”, furnished with eight “red branched chairs with covers”, a red carpet, and an old “cuperd” covered with red cloth.  The exhibit of a chamber from a 1680 house in nearby Ipswich (where there are more “First Period” houses than anywhere)  in the Metropolitan Museum of Art employs the color and evokes the mood.

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