Tag Archives: great houses

Snowy Salem Saturday

A welcome snow day today, imposing calm on everyone–or at least me! I’ve always enjoyed winter, but the SuperWinter of two years ago, in which something like 11 feet of snow was dumped on us in February, tempered my appreciation for this particular season considerably. The snow was all around the house, the snow was in the house, and I plodded to work every day in tunnels of yellow snow. I felt a little vulnerable, especially when I woke up in the morning to see the latest damage inflicted on my plaster ceilings by ice dams. But all of that is fixed now, and we spent last year, with its relatively light winter, rebuilding our chimneys, sealing our windows, and putting on a new roof. Now I feel impenetrable, at least for this first snow storm. I’m sure hardly anyone agrees with me, but I think winter is Salem’s best season actually–I like to see the city return to a car-less state: it’s as close as you can come to seeing it in its glorious past. There’s a timeless quality to a snowy day, and the contrast of nature and structure is never more apparent. Here’s a few photographs I took as I walked around a very calm city this afternoon.

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Chestnut Street, Essex Street, and the Common.

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Two notable Salem houses in varying stages of restoration.

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Gambrel roofs embellished by snow.

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Some contrast; Trinity does not really care for snow.


Christmas Covers

I really like the visual aesthetic of early twentieth-century Christmases, as represented by shelter magazines from that era: cozy, warm and stylish–not so commercial. Colorful, but not glittery. People (or their servants) are making Christmas rather than buying it. House & Garden is probably the most stylish, but it was an evolution, as you will see below. I looked through 10+ years of Christmas covers from 1912 through the 1920s and saw the transformation of the Christmas home from somewhat-realistic refuge to a more idealistic showplace, a transition that seems to coincide with the coming of the First World War and is exemplified in the illustrations of Ethel Franklin Betts. The post-war Christmas spirit is a little bit more romantic and curatorial: the house is presented to us through a series of vignettes. It’s all a bit less accessible, except through all those beautifully-draped windows that allow us to peep inside, drawn by the light.

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House & Garden Christmas covers from 1912-1922 (except the canopy bed, which is a November 1921 issue–I just loved it) accessed via the Online Books page at the University of Pennsylvania. Below is my very favorite cover, from 1925, and the inspiration for this post–a special “storybook” house in Salem, all lit up for Christmas.

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Christmas on the Common

I am very excited about the 37th annual Christmas in Salem tour, which returns to the Salem Common neighborhood this year. The major fundraiser for Salem’s venerable preservation organization, Historic Salem, Incorporated, the walking tour of decorated homes and buildings rotates from the McIntire Historic District to the Common quite regularly and has also been centered on both North and South Salem, Derby Street, and the Willows. Each and every tour is great, but I’ve always liked the Common tours particularly for a variety of reasons: the mix of very stately and smaller, cozier homes, the focal point of the Common (no s!), and the ability to pop easily into the Hawthorne Hotel’s Tavern for a drink (you can also get your tickets at the Hotel on Saturday and Sunday). In any case, the Common deserves to be showcased this particular year: much restoration work has been done on its cast iron fence, its reproduction McIntire Washington Arch is looking good, and there have been several notable restorations in the neighborhood. Having gone through this myself several times, I am so very grateful to all the homeowners who are opening their doors: it is a generous gesture worthy of all of our support and praise.With the spotlight on the Common, I thought I’d take this opportunity to showcase some of my recent stereoview discoveries as well, so we can have a past-and-present perspective on a great public space: scene of militia drills and musters, hot-air balloon demonstrations, circuses, athletic competitions, concerts, rallies, demonstrations, bike races, Sunday strolls and Christmas walking tours.

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Salem Common yesterday, in a 1920s (doctored) Maynard Workshop postcard, and in two later-nineteenth-century stereocards showcasing the cast iron fence, built in 1850, from two directions. The bottom card, showing the Andrew Safford House at right, is by G.M. Whipple & A.A. Smith, and courtesy of the American Antiquarian Society. Fence details today below, and the newly-restored Washington Arch.

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Overlooking the Common, one of my very favorite doorways in all of Salem, belonging to the White-Lord House at the corner of Washington Square and Oliver Streets. Frank Cousins loved to photograph it, and I do too (not to raise myself to his photographic level, but just so we can appreciate its constant ability to captivate!)

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Look at this new-to-me stereoview! (No, I do not think that is President Lincoln on the Common). It was published by Charles G. Fogg and I do not have a date.

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Returning to the present, just some of the decorations from yesterday; no doubt more will be on display this weekend, both outdoors and behind doors.

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Christmas in Salem: Carol on the Common, a Christmas walking tour to benefit Historic Salem, Inc., Dec. 2-4: more information here


House Cards

I’m in the midst of cleaning, painting, and rearranging in advance of the Holidays, and yesterday I took a dusty and hastily-constructed collage of cards off the wall: the thank-you notes and invitations that I have received from my friends and neighbors over the years, delivered in the form of ivory cards with their houses emblazoned on the front. I’ve kept them, ostensibly “collecting” them, but they definitely deserve a more curatorial presentation–I really regret all those thumbtack holes. Many people in Salem are house-proud, and justifiably so: the stewardship of old houses is an engaging and continual preoccupation. When I look at my collection of houses cards–now reduced to an undignified stack–I don’t just think about architecture, I think about people: the people that gave me the card, the various artists who rendered these houses so distinctly, including a lovely gentleman, now deceased, who was often seen with his easel on the sidewalks of Salem. These cards also remind me of the illustrations in several of the Salem guidebooks published in the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries–most particularly my favorite, Streets & Homes in Old Salem, which I think was last issues in 1953: time for a new edition?

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houses-4 Some illustrations from Streets & Homes in Old Salem (1953) and a selection of my house cards, featuring homes on Chestnut, Summer, Flint, Essex, Federal, North and Broad Streets in the McIntire Historic District.


Escape from Salem, part I: South Shore Ramble

After last year’s full immersion into Haunted Happenings, Salem’s month-long celebration of its apparently fortunate association with the tragic Witch Trials of 1692, I’ve decided that a better course of action for me this year is to get out of town. I try to engage in the festivities every three years or so, but last year was just too much:  too much craven exploitation, too much tackiness, too much trash. Last year nearly broke me: if my husband had had a similar reaction and intent, we would have sold the house and moved to Ipswich. I don’t want to move, so this October I will simply escape Salem whenever I can–or hunker down in the house (I’ve brought in supplies). I’m sure my family, friends and students will appreciate this decision, as I’ll be a much nicer person to be around, but this is a declaration for my faithful readers: my blog’s title will be a misnomer for most of this month, although I might be able to sneak in a few midweek walks.

October is also a busy academic month, so I’ll have to take quick regional road trips whenever I can. The other day, I meandered around the South Shore, a world apart from the North as any greater Bostonian knows. I got off the highway in Dedham, which has a wonderful historic downtown, drove on small roads all the way down to Plymouth, and then back up north via Route 3A on the coast. I took tons of photographs, but it was a rainy, cloudy day so most of them didn’t really “pop” (especially as I seem to have a predilection for two-story square white colonial houses–you don’t need to see a multitude of those!) Now, before I get multiple protests from local readers, let me say that in the greater Boston area, many people do not consider Dedham to be part of the South Shore, as it is decidedly not on the coast and too far west: as you can see, it is not on this “North Shore vs. South Shore” map from Boston MagazineBut I’ve never known how to classify Dedham geographically so I am including it here—northwestern towns like Burlington (??????) are regularly included in the North Shore, so it seems only fair to include southwestern towns like Dedham in the South.

north-shore-vs-south-shore-map Map by John S. Dykes, Boston Magazine

Downtown Dedham: even though it’s about half the size and much less urban, Dedham is kind of like Salem in that it’s a county seat and a “mother of towns”—an early settlement from which all the surrounding towns later separated. Dedham is also difficult to get into because of traffic and a confusing intersection of major arteries–but well worth the effort.

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……all in the immediate downtown with the exception of the amazing first-period Fairbanks House. Then it was down to Plymouth via routes 138 and 106 with a pitstop in Plympton.

Plympton and Plymouth:

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SHEEP in relatively rural Plympton and this rather stately old brown house….on to Plymouth which is large geographically and always somewhat less historical than you expect it to be–however there are some great old houses there, and of course the Mayflower II. I don’t think we need a picture of the rock, and I’ll leave Plimoth Plantation for another post.

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Then back up north via Route 3A, through Duxbury, probably the most beautiful town in Massachusetts, which one local radio host used to refer to as “Deluxbury”. Very pristine–and no sidewalks! Then on to Marshfield–where my camera promptly ran out of power. I will return–I have an entire month of daytrips ahead of me!

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There are so many beautiful houses in Duxbury it was difficult to choose , so I just limited myself to one–the very Salem-like Nathaniel Winsor House, headquarters of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society. Shingles everywhere on the South Shore, less common on the North. LOVED Marshfield Hills, especially these last two houses.


Anatomy of a Restoration

The new owners of a beautiful Chestnut Street townhouse, part of the street’s only triple house which also happens to be its tallest structure, very kindly allowed me to come in and take some pictures of their restoration process, which has begun in earnest. I’m so grateful, because this was the perfect time: the bones of the house were exposed in all of their beauty–and strength. Even with ceilings torn out and dust everywhere, the building still looked elegant–and solid–from top to bottom (well maybe the basement isn’t beautiful, but it sure is interesting, as you can see below). This is a very notable house not only because it is a “triplet”, but also because it was home to three Salem mayors, including the Reverend Charles Wentworth Upham, who was also President of the Massachusetts Senate, a U.S. representative, and author of Salem Witchcraft; with an account of Salem Village, a history of opinions on witchcraft and kindred subjects (1867). The entire house was commissioned by Salem shipowner Pickering Dodge, who lived next door, in 1828, ostensibly for several of his five daughters. A son-in-law, John Fiske Allen, oversaw the completion of the project after Dodge’s death in 1833 and his widow lived in the westernmost townhouse—our townhouse–until her death in 1851, followed by all those mayors in the nineteenth century and one of Salem’s most prominent preservationists in the twentieth. The restoration philosophy is conservative: reveal and burnish what is already there, and alter the systems and utilitarian rooms of the house (kitchen and bathrooms) so that they can “be useful to the daily lives of today” in the words of project architect Helen Sides: “Kitchens are no longer for servants and it’s nice not to share the bathroom if there are spaces to put new ones!  It is the responsible thing to update these houses so that they can stand for another 200 years”.

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Looking up Chestnut Street towards the triple house, 1916 (Frank Cousins) and 2016.

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Entrance hall and front and back stairs. This house has a lovely scale and great light (even though it has a firewall on one side) because it is two rooms deep–so you have windows both in the front and the back. Because it also has both front and back stairs I imagine it has great flow too…and the basement is a virtual museum.

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Restoration Collage Slatted Cupboards

Original basement kitchen, coal bin, and pantry with “slatted cupboards”—I’m not sure that’s what they are called, but I have the EXACT same ones in my house, built roughly at the same time (on the left with reindeer, swan, and pinecones: this is my seasonal decoration room). Back upstairs…..

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Bedrooms on the second, third, and fourth floors. The windows have their own dedicated restorer, Window Woman of New England, who have developed quite a reputation here in Salem. A very conspicuous aspect of this house is its built-in cupboards, cases, cabinets and closets–very evident in the second-floor study but also all throughout the house.

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Restoration Collage Cupboards

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A collage of cupboards between the bookcases of the second floor study and the first floor butler’s pantry (?) cabinets, which are PERFECT. I always notice COLOR in older houses—tones you don’t normally see–but in this house (in this state) it was really more about the color of wood, briefly exposed before new ceilings are installed.

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Love the red stairway (down to the basement) and green doors…various exposed ceilings…Tim of Peter Strout Construction building a new bathroom in this old house……out back: another house!

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Set in the midst of the long garden out back is a carriage house  (according to Bryant Tolles’ Architecture in Salem) which was converted to a residence c. 1912 utilizing materials from the demolished Chase house at 21 Federal Street. Obviously there was a deep appreciation for Salem craftsmanship then, which is very much in evidence here and now.

Restoration Team Collage

 


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.

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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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