Tag Archives: Georgian

A Hidden House with quite a History

Hidden behind a four-story brick apartment block built in the early twentieth century on lower Essex Street is a much older, much-altered house which has the appearance of a Georgian cottage. It’s not quite that, but close. The Christopher Babbidge House has been through quite a……..metamorphosis; I’m not sure if I have it completely straight or correct but here goes. According to Frank Cousins’ Colonial Architecture in Salem, the house is first period, built by tailor Babbidge as early as the 1660s on Derby Street. It descended in the Babbidge family until the mid-eighteenth century, at which time is was acquired by Richard Derby, patriarch of the famous Salem merchant family. Cousins is the only source of the original Derby Street location and seventeenth-century origins, but all the other sources (Sidney Perley, Historic Salem Inc., plaque research, and MACRIS seem to agree that it acquired its Georgian appearance and was considerably enlarged (and presumably moved to Essex Street if you follow Cousins) at this time or shortly thereafter, as Mr. Derby transferred it to his daughter Mary and her new husband George Crowninshield as a wedding gift. So by the 1760s we have a large (five-bay) Georgian house with a gambrel roof located directly on Essex Street. This was the house in which several of the famous Crowninshield sons (George Jr., Jacob, and Benjamin) were born.The wealthy Crowninshields had many Salem houses, so this one was eventually sold to a succession of owners, and in 1859 it was cut in half by current owner Phineas Weston, who wanted to build a new (Italianate) structure on the eastern end of the lot. The eastern half of the house was removed to Kosciusko Street while the western half remained on Essex, presumably shored up. The house seems to have flourished under the ownership of the Bowker family in the later nineteenth century, when Cousins took some lovely pictures, but in 1914 it was moved (again, according to Cousins) to the rear of its lot to make way for the brick buildings in front. So there we have it: a house that was moved, remodeled, expanded, cut in half, remodeled, and moved again. A true survivor on (or just slightly off) the streets of Salem!

Babbidge House Essex Street Cousins

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The Babbidge-Crowninshield-Bowker House on Essex Street by Frank Cousins, 1890s, and today; drawing by Sidney Perley from the Essex Antiquarianits celebrated stairway by Cousins and Perley, and detail of the newel post at the Richard Derby House on Derby Street (HABS, Library of Congress, 1958)–so you can see the Derby connection.


Tricorner Houses

There’s a particular type of New England colonial house that I’ve always admired: Georgian, with a hipped roof and two entrances, almost as if two houses had been joined together at a right angle. The profile is square but you generally see just three corners–which is why I refer to these houses as “tricorner” houses. I think I’m the only person that uses this term. My two favorite examples of this type of house are the Jeremiah Moulton house in my hometown of York, Maine, and the Thomas Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and I happened to be driving by both of these houses yesterday so I took some pictures. I would have had to infringe of the privacy of the Moulton House’s owners to show you the perfect illustrative angle, but the Ayres house represents a tricorner house perfectly even though it has two additional entrances on the side rather than one. My rule (and again, it’s just mine) about these houses is that the length of the side structure has to be roughly equal to the front, and it cannot appear to be just a mere addition, but an integral part of the entire house.

Moulton House York

Tricorner House Thomas Ayres Homestead Greenland NH

Tricorner Ayres Greenland

Like tricorner hats, tricorner houses are eighteenth-century creations: most of the ones I have seen date from the 1730s through the 1760s. They all have two stories, and seem to be more characteristic of rural environments rather than urban ones–or maybe they have just survived in less-developed areas. There are quite a few in central Massachusets: if you browse through the digitized photographs of colonial houses taken by Harriette Merrifield Forbes at the American Antiquarian society you will come across several, especially taverns. Case in point: the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts, which acquired its tricorner shape between 1732 and 1750. I think tricornered houses (at least by my own conception) have to evolve rather than be built as such: high style examples like the Willard House at Old Deerfield and the Salem Towne House at Old Sturbridge Village have the requisite two sides/entrances but are not quite right–the corners are too sharp!

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My favorite “tricornered” houses: the Moulton House in York, Maine, the Ayres Homestead in Greenland, New Hampshire, and the Jones Tavern in Acton, Massachusetts. Please forward more examples!

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Georgian Houses in Salem

“Georgian” can be a deceptive architectural designation, especially here in Salem: there are Georgian colonial houses built before the Revolution, and Georgian colonial revival houses which date from the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. They might share the distinctive gambrel roof and other architectural details, but the proportions are often very different. Within the colonial category, it is readily apparent that “Georgian” is both a style and a period, and not all houses built in the period conform to the styleThere is also the issue of construction conservatism:  walking through my neighborhood I easily spotted many houses that looked “Georgian” to me, but they date from the 1780s and 1790s and even after 1800: now you can’t have a Georgian house after the end of King George’s rule, can you?

On this same walk, I did find several Georgian houses that conformed to both the style and the period, at a few more that left me confused (see below). This is just a sampling from the McIntire Historic District; I am omitting several of the iconic Georgian houses of Salem, including the Derby House, the CrowninshieldBentley House, and the Miles Ward House. No one could mistake these houses for anything but Georgian, but I have written about them before in various posts and doubtless will again. The houses below are hardly off the beaten track, but I haven’t featured (most of) them before.

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Georgian corner: at the intersection of Essex and Cambridge Streets, the Ropes Mansion (later 1720s) faces the Capt. Thomas Mason House (1750).

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Walking down Essex Street, there are smaller Georgian houses on either side of the street, and the amazing Cabot-Endicott-Low House, built in the 1740s for Salem merchant Joseph Cabot. The house remained in the Cabot family for more than a century, and was then purchased by William Endicott, Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland. The house is spectacular in terms of both scale and detail, and it has great outbuildings too. Unfortunately the other really stately, and unabashedly Georgian, house on Essex Street, the Lindall-Barnard-Andrews House (c. 1740, below) is not as well-preserved as its neighbors: the present owner maintains it as a commercial establishment, complete with vinyl siding and hot top parking lot on what was once fenced-in garden. I’ve never been inside, but its interior has been preserved in photographs, at least, and wallpaper taken from its walls is now in the collection of Winterthur. The beautiful fence that you see in the c. 1910 Detroit Publishing Company photograph below (Library of Congress) is long gone.

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Over on Federal Street, there are houses that are both Georgian in period and style, and a few that require a bit more interpretation and expertise–a bit more than I have! I’m curious about the three houses below: they have Georgian elements, but as you can see, alterations have been made over time.

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A narrow–and charmingly crooked!–house with a modified gambrel roof and a gambrel-roofed addition:  is it Georgian in style and period? I’m not sure.  And look at the brown house below: it has two roof styles in one!  I wonder which one came first? I assume the gambrel. Apart from the roof, it looks like a mirror image of its neighbor, and that house’s plaque indicates that it is solidly Georgian, at least in period.

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Back to where I began, the Ropes Mansion on Essex Street, where the gardens are in perfect high summer bloom.

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