Tag Archives: great houses

Hallowed House

There have been several Salem houses—houses that are no longer standing—that have haunted me; I get almost desperate to find out as much as I possibly can about them and if and when I do I’m done. If they remain inscrutable, they remain with me. There is one house that I’ve been thinking about for years: I’ve learned quite a bit about it but not enough: I’m not sure I’ll ever learn everything I want to know (at least not now, while I can’t get into the Phillips Library!). I’m posting on this house today just so I can stop thinking about it for a while.

The house in question is (was) the Colonel Benjamin Pickman house, built in either 1740 or 1750 or sometime in the decade between depending on the source, right on Essex Street, adjacent to where the Peabody Essex Museum’s East India Marine Hall now stands. Its former site was the Museum’s Japanese garden, recently transformed into a construction site–which is why I’ve been thinking about the Pickman House: have the workers found any material remains? Or does it just survive on paper–and in pieces? This is a house that was famous in its day, and well after. It was designed by an English architect–previously unknown but possibly identified as Peter Harrison, who also possibly designed the Cabot-Low-Endicott House further along Essex Street and the “King” Hooper Mansion in Marblehead. Whoever the architect or builder was, all agree that it was the client, the Colonel himself, who had carved and gilded codfish affixed to every riser of the house’s central stairway in acknowledgement of the source of his wealth and position, thus inspiring that perfect phrase, “Codfish Aristocracy”. Its elegant furnishing were much commented upon by contemporary observers and diarists, as was its rusticated wooden siding, meant to mimic stone. There’s a long list of prominent diners at the house, including Alexander Hamilton: on June 20, 1800. The house was successively celebrated, lithographed, photographed, obscured, picked-apart, measured and drawn, and ultimately demolished in 1940 or 1941.

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All representations of the Pickman House are based on the c. 1830 lithograph published by Pendleton’s Lithography which shows the house in its pristine eighteenth-century state (courtesy Boston Athenaeum); an amped-up Pickman codfish from Mark Kurlansky’s Cod: a Biography of the Fish that Changed the World; A Frank Cousins photograph of the enclosed doorway which Samuel McIntire added to the house c. 1800. 

We can’t see this famous house for most of its life, which only adds to its air of mystery (and vulnerability). Charles Webber and Winfield Nevins, the authors of Old Naumkeag: An Historical Sketch of the City of Salem and the Towns of  Marblehead, Peabody, Beverly, Danvers, Wenham, Manchester, Topsfield and Middleton (1877) inform us that a certain “Mrs. LeMasters” constructed several low shop buildings in front of the house in the 1870s, and so we only see dormer windows peaking out from above in all the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century views of Essex Street and the East India Marine Hall.  The Pickman family had moved west–into the residential McIntire District–away from the increasingly-busy downtown. A correspondent from the Philadelphia Inquirer who visited Salem in September of 1918 to see all the old storied mansions noted that the charming old house next to to the Peabody Museum has been all but obliterated by the shop front built out over its first and second stories…the gambrel roof, with its picturesque dormer windows, may still be seen overlooking the horrid shops, but all the inside fixtures have been destroyed. Progress is painful!

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You can see the Pickman House dormer windows peaking out from above the storefront on the right of the two postcards and just above the P&Q shop, c. 1920s. These images were sourced for me from the Salem State Archives and Special Collections by Jen Ratliff–thanks! The house is completely invisible in the street- view photograph above from the late 1800s and the Phillips Library–it’s just behind the shops on the left, beginning with the “Importers of Crockery” storefront.

We do get to see the the unobstructed house (or what’s left of it), as a team of architects and photographers from the Historic American Building Survey went in to document it on the eve of its demolition–no doubt inspired by a succession of architects who had made the pilgrimage to Salem to measure and sketch this house, beginning with Arthur Little in 1877. As you can see, the storefronts didn’t just obstruct the house, they cut into it on the first and second stories. From that point on it must have been open season for house parts: an archway and a golden cod went to the Essex Institute, and all the other codfish went to a Pickman descendant’s Newport mansion: I think this one (where there is also a reproduction McIntire summer house) but I’m not certain.

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Pickman House

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Arthur Little sketch of the Pickman House parlor, Early New England Interiors (1878); William Martin Aiken sketch of Pickman architectural elements, 1883, Lowcountry Digital Archive; HABS MA-332 photographs and drawing, Library of Congress.

I’m not just interested in wood or architecture; I’m also interested in Colonel Pickman–but he remains pretty inscrutable too. Ultimately the only way to get to know him is through material remnants (like the silver he left to the First Church) or his family: his son Benjamin Pickman Jr. (whom I’ve written about here and here), was a Loyalist who left Salem during the Revolution but managed to easily assimilate into its social and political society upon his return–hence the dinner with Hamilton at the house! The more patriotic Colonel had died in 1773, so he doesn’t figure very prominently in the edited volume of his son’s diary and letters published in 1928. There is a beautiful portrait of the elder Benjamin by John Greenwood in the collection of the Peabody Essex Museum, but I’ve never seen it on display–nor the fluted archway and golden cod that is all that is left in Salem of the beautiful house that was once next door.

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Colonel Benjamin Pickman of Salem, 1708-73.


White Album NH

While the storm was churning down south, and politicking-before-the-primary was happening in Salem, we escaped north to New Hampshire for the weekend, where I “shopped” for a vacation house and my husband decidedly did not. He humored me, however, and let me stop at every single house that caught my eye to take a photograph, probably because none of these houses was actually for sale. When I scrolled through these photographs last night I realized that each and every one of these houses was white, including the Quaker meetinghouse we found after crossing a covered bridge (about the only image that’s going to break up the non-palette below) and the Shaker meetinghouse we stopped at on our way home. We spent Saturday night at the Highland House in Tamworth, which was built in the 1790s by a Salem mariner, merchant and tanner named George Dodge (1750-1821), who was clearly trying to escape busy Salem too! He was lured back to the city by his father’s will in 1808: the elder Captain George Dodge left his son a considerable fortune of $282,000 plus the responsibility of running his various businesses in Salem. I’m not sure George Jr. made it back to New Hampshire for any extended length of time, and when he died in 1821 he left his “considerable” Tamworth properties to the First Congregational Society.

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Highland House on a misty (frosty?) Sunday morning, and a few interior details…..below: its neighbors, and a bit further afield in the foothills of the White Mountains.

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Charming Wonalancet Union Chapel below…Friends’ Meeting House in Sandwich and Shaker Meeting House at Canterbury Shaker Village, where we stopped on the way home. I do believe that I’ll be dreaming of this last hilltop house, with its eyebrow windows, until my dying day!

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A Perfect Fourth

I had a wonderful Fourth of July yesterday: pretty much perfect in every way. The weather was wonderful (not-too-hot, sunny, low humidity), the company charming, the events engaging, the food was great, the fireworks AMAZING, and I got to take an afternoon nap in the midst of it all. Just a perfect day. It started out with the traditional reading of the Declaration of Independence on Salem Common, then it was off to the Willows for the (again, traditional) Horribles Parade (rather tame this year in terms of political satire but I appreciated the historical perspective), then back home for lunch, and an hour or so of one of my favorite classic Revolutionary War-era films, The Devil’s Disciple (1959), followed by the aforementioned blissful nap, during which my husband and stepson were out checking our traps for a bounty of HUGE lobsters. Drinks in the garden, then off to Salem’s newest restaurant, Ledger, for the best burger I’ve ever had. We then made our way along Derby Street through huge crowds assembling for the fireworks to a friends’ harborside house, where we watched the most amazing fireworks display I’ve ever seen. Really. Across the harbor, Marblehead and more distant Nahant were setting off their tiny little displays and the BOOM, Salem blew them out of the water! I’m just exhausted in the best way possible (despite the nap) so the photographs will have to tell the story, although they can’t capture the full-blown experience of the fireworks, of course.

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July 4th: our house festooned, the reading of the Declaration of Independence, Willows cottages ready for the parade and the Horribles Parade, The Devil’s Disciple (very clever script by George Bernard Shaw and wonderful performance by Laurence Olivier), just one day’s lobster harvest, Ledger, so-named because it is situated in the former Salem Savings Bank, the Custom House morning and night. Below: FIREWORKS.

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A Tudor House in Salem

How did I miss it? Here I am, a sixteenth-century English historian living in Salem, and I never knew about a reproduction sixteenth-century house built right here in 1927 by a mason named James H. Boulger. I’ve posted on “English” houses in Salem before, and often lamented the lack of Tudors in town, all the while blind to the existence of this interesting little house in South Salem. While I was researching the “Electrical Home” in this same neighborhood (with streets named for U.S. Presidents), I came across a story entitled “Salem Home and Garage Built in 16th Century English Style” in the November 21, 1927 edition of the Boston Globe. Yesterday I walked down from my office at Salem State to see this very house, hoping that it was still standing and bore some semblance of its sixteenth-century self and had not been turned into a ranch, or even worse, a “Colonial”. But as I walked down Cleveland Road and saw its pitched roof approaching, I got more excited, and there it was: an adorable, obviously well-maintained and well-loved, Tudor cottage.

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My only basis of comparison is the grainy newspaper photograph, but it looks like the major alteration to Boulger’s original house is the integration of the originally-freestanding garage. I’m not sure my photographs capture the scale of the house and the interesting pitch of its roof: to me, (and again, for the thousandth time, I’m just an architecture buff) the house looks more Tudor than Tudor Revival. According to the article, all plans were by Mr. Boulger, who is a native of Manchester Eng, and a mason by trade. In designing the building, he was aided by a picture printed in a magazine showing a farmhouse in England during the 16th century. Like many English architects of centuries back, the designer has secured the typical English charm that marked the early, simple, unpretentious homes in England. 

Tudor in Salem

I made a limited search for the precise photograph that might have been Mr. Boulger’s inspiration, but contemporary periodicals in America are full of Tudor Revivals and those in Britain tend to feature either “great” Tudor structures or townhouses, like the famous Seven Stars pub in Mr. Boulger’s native Manchester, now sadly long gone. He seems to have invested as much effort into the interior as the exterior, as the Globe article goes into considerable detail about the “outstanding features” of the new/old house: an ‘English box seat’ window, a combination dining room and parlor, natural finished woods, low, wide arches leading to the various rooms, low situated windows and the ‘cold box’, so-called, where vegetables and wines were kept by the English farmer….. Mr. Boulger plans to install old-fashioned furniture in keeping with the exterior of the building. And no doubt he did.

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I’m sure that the Seven Stars, widely heralded as one of England’s oldest pubs in its day, was not Mr. Boulger’s inspiration, but wanted to inject a bit of old Manchester here!


Puritan Princess

Today I have the story of the Salem girl who probably came closest to the Gilded Age “dollar princess” stereotype and scenario, whereby American money was wedded to English aristocracy. Yet Mary Crowninshield Endicott (1864-1957) did not really come that close at all: she was in fact quite wealthy but did not need to bail out either of her English non-aristocratic English husbands. Nonetheless, there was definitely something regal, if not royal, about her: of ancestry, of marriage, and definitely of bearing. I must admit that I’ve developed quite a girl-crush on her, and she obviously had scores of admirers in her own time, among them John Everett Millais, John Singer Sargent, and even Queen Victoria. I think she might be the ultimate Anglo-American, or at least Salem Anglo-American.

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NPG Ax36327; Mary Chamberlain (nÈe Endicott) by Eveleen Myers (nÈe Tennant)

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The Millais portrait (1890-91,© Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery); photograph by Eveleen Myers (née Tennant, 1890s, © National Portrait Gallery); and Sargent portrait (1902, National Gallery of Art) of Salem-born and -bred Mary Crowninshield Endicott Chamberlain.

Mary was born in the Tontine block on Warren Street in Salem to William Crowninshield Endicott, a direct descendant of John Endecott, the first governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Ellen Peabody Endicott, granddaughter of one of the richest men in the United States, Captain Joseph Peabody. She was as close to “American aristocracy” as you could get at the time; in fact when she married the prominent British politician and statesman Joseph Chamberlain in 1888, her brother remarked that he was a bit too middle class. She was raised in Salem and Danvers: living in the Georgian Cabot-Endicott-Low house on Essex Street “in town” during most of the year and at the Peabody family’s Danvers estate, Glen Magna, during the summers.While her father served as Secretary of War during Grover Cleveland’s first administration in the later 1880s, the entire family moved to Washington, D.C., where she met Chamberlain, who was twice-widowed, more than twice her age and in the midst of a spectacular political career exemplified by parliamentary leadership and intense advocacy for progressive reform of both British social welfare policy and the British Empire. Clearly they were in the midst of an intense courtship over most of 1888, but come summer their engagement was vehemently denied in the press by “Miss Endicott’s family”: apparently her political father thought Mr. Chamberlain’s opposition to Irish Home Rule would be unpopular in America, but later, once the engagement was confirmed, the reasons for the denials were attributed to Miss Endicott’s “tact”, “reserve”, and desire for a quiet wedding. She would not get her wish: that fall, with the nuptials approaching in November, there was feverish anticipation on both sides of the Atlantic and a succession of newspaper articles offering up every little detail. My favorite piece is from the Boston Weekly Globe, dated November 14, 1888: it emphasizes the bride’s pedigree, the bridegoom’s wealth (an annual income of £150,000! Lavish estates in Birmingham and London!), her trousseau (7 “very costly” Worth dresses!), their wedding gifts (including a very big check from her maternal grandparents), and the fact that President and Mrs. Cleveland will be attending the wedding, to be held at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Lafayette Square, across from the White House.

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In this article, and all the others, there is as much fascination with Miss Endicott’s “lineage” as with the material details of the upcoming wedding. A characteristic observation: Miss Endicott is truly of a sufficiently high lineage for peerage [insert catty remark that her future husband is not, in fact, a peer]. She comes of Puritan stock that cannot be excelled. Her father, Hon. William E. Endicott, the present Secretary of War, is a lineal descendant of John Endicott, the first colonial governor of Massachusetts, and he has in his possession the famous sword with which Governor Endicott cut the cross from the king’s colors on March 4, 1635. Her great-grandfather, Jacob Crowninshield, was Secretary of the Navy during President Jefferson’s administration. Her mother is the daughter of George Peabody, the well-known merchant, philanthropist and poet. Through both her paternal and maternal ancestry Miss Endicott is descended from the same Puritan families from which came the illustrious hero of the Revolution, General Israel Putnam…….and on and on her ancestry goes. Another theme is Miss Endicott’s (again, “Puritan”–“Yankee” is never used; it’s too early for “Brahmin” and far too early for  “WASP”) reserve and discretion: after the wedding it is pointed out by EVERYONE that she wore a simple gray silk “traveling” dress for the ceremony rather than an elaborate gown. Still, there were all those Worth dresses: I could not any from the 1888 trousseau, but I did find the gray dress Mrs. Chamberlain wore in her Millais portrait a few years later, as well as a 1902 afternoon dress from her wardrobe, which was featured in the National Gallery of Australia’s 2004 exhibitionThe Edwardians: Secrets and Desires.

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Mrs. Endicott’s Worth gowns from 1890 and 1902, Fashion Museum, Bath and National Gallery of Australia.

After a brief honeymoon on the French Riviera, Mr.and Mrs. Chamberlain took up residence in England, both in London and at Highbury Hall, his stately home in Birmingham. Mary assumed social duties but seems also to have shared her new husband’s political ones, especially after he became Colonial Secretary in 1895. Secretary Chamberlain’s desire to reform the commercial structure of the British Empire has revived his reputation recently, as the free-trading block he envisioned seems to provide somewhat of a model for post-Brexit Britain. Mary traveled with him extensively over much of the next decade, and was often referred to as the Chamberlain’s “best and truest counsellor”. At home in England, Mary seems also to have become a favorite of the Queen. The American papers attest her royal approval to be tied, once again, to her “discretion”, of both dress and decorum: she disavowed the low-cut “decollete” gowns in favor of more modest apparel and stayed away from the Prince of Wales’s racy set. The British papers are not as forthcoming, but she did receive a rare gold (not silver) Diamond Jubilee medal from the Queen in 1897. Contrary to the 1904 Washington Times article below, however, Mary did not become the Countess of Highbury and the “first American peeress”: I’m not sure where this story came from, but it does illustrate the continuing interest in Mary Endicott Chamberlain. In the articles about Joseph Chamberlain’s death in 1914 (he had suffered a debilitating stroke in 1906), Mary, the “Puritan Aristocrat” remained the main focus of the American newspapers.

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The bride and bridegroom with Mr. Chamberlain’s children at Highbury in 1889: Back row, left to right: Neville Chamberlain (1869-1940), Austen Chamberlain (1863-1937) and Joseph Chamberlain (1836-1914). Front row, left to right: Miss H. Chamberlain and Mrs Mary Chamberlain (nee Endicott); “The Reception of the Right Honourable Joseph Chamberlain, MP, and his American Bride, at the Town Hall, Birmingham”, The Graphic, January, 1989; The dashing Colonial Secretary in 1895; Mr. and Mrs. Chamberlain in 1903; the Washington Times, 1904, and Boston Globe, 1914.

In late spring of 1916, Mrs. Chamberlain became engaged to another older, widowed, English gentleman: the Reverend William Hartley Carnegie, a Canon and Sub-Dean of Westminster Cathedral. They were married in August in the Henry VII Chapel at the Cathedral, with her stepsons Austen, future Cabinet Minister and Nobel Laureate, walking her down the aisle and Neville, future Prime Minister, in attendance. The announcements in the Boston papers read: Salem Woman, Widow of Chamberlain, marries Canon of Westminster Abbey. This was the beginning of a much more private life for Mary Endicott, and after the Reverend Canon’s death in 1936, it became even more “quiet”, at least from the perspective of newspaper coverage. She would live for another twenty years, during which she did not make much news. There is extensive documentary evidence of her correspondence and close relationships with her two Chamberlain stepsons, but she survived them both. She is interred alongside her second husband in Westminster Abbey, with a simple inscription of “Mary Endicott” and a memorial bust of her first husband nearby.

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John Singer Sargent’s pencil study of Mrs. Joseph Chamberlain, 1902, Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum.


Ice Melt

Yesterday was one of those wonderful winter days when it wasn’t too cold, all of the old dirty snow was coated with a fresh dusting of new, and the sun occasionally peeked out of the light gray sky to transform the trees into glistening statues. Against the light-gray and white backdrop, contrasts were everywhere: I love the contrast of warm brick and cool snow/ice especially, and that can be found anywhere and everywhere in Salem. That dark, gothic, “colonial brown/black” and white looks pretty cool too. The light was so changeable: a bright vignette one moment could be a stark one in the next.

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In the middle of the afternoon, you could see and hear ice melting everywhere, including the ice sculptures assembled for the annual “Salem’s So Sweet ” chocolate and ice sculpture festival last weekend–a record 25 this year. Winnie the Pooh looked so woeful, melted and forlorn in front of the Museum Place Mall, that I couldn’t even take his photograph (you can see a portfolio of all the ice sculptures, in the day and night, here). Some of the hardier statues were still holding their shape, but alas, not poor Pooh.

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A February Day in Salem, 2017.


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.


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