Tag Archives: First Period

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.

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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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