Tag Archives: Heritage

Restoration and Renewal

I was going to show you a beautiful Federal house today, with sweeping views and lavish details (and Zuber & Cie wallpaper!), but that will have to wait for the weekend, as I want to acknowledge, and celebrate, the recognition that the #newpem is indeed the new Peabody Essex Museum, an institution which now seems as much grounded in its local heritage as it is focused on its global perspectives. I thought #newpem was just a marketing campaign designed to focus all of our attention on the opening of the new wing, but I was wrong: the “new” in the hashtag is more directly, and substantively, a reference to the venerable museum’s new regime, which began in July when Dr. Brian Kennedy began his tenure as Director and CEO. As all of you know, I’ve been obsessed with the previous director’s decision to remove all of the PEM’s textual collections held in the Phillips Library to a clinical Collection Center in Rowley,  a decision that was not even formally announced to Salem residents, but rather issued in the form of an admission in December of 2017, well after this course of action had been implemented. For me, this was nothing short of the removal of Salem’s primary historical archive. When Dr. Kennedy arrived this summer, I began hoping for some kind of course correction; I perceived his references to Salem’s heritage and the Museum’s founders as hopeful hints and began to hold my breath. Then the Anchor returned to the front of the original Peabody Museum building, East India Hall, and I let it out a little bit. This morning, when I awoke to a summary of his speech before the North Shore Chamber of Commerce in the Salem News I let it out completely, right after I read this particular quote:

“I just have to come out and say that to you,” he said. “It was not done well. It was not done transparently. I don’t know why we thought we couldn’t share it much, much earlier that the buildings we had couldn’t contain this level of material. But they can contain material, and they will. So I pledge that to you, but I just ask you, you have to give me time.”

Yes, the old Plummer and Daland buildings, constituting the former Essex Institute and Phillips Library can contain material, and they will! That’s it: that’s all we need, that’s all Salem needs. What a striking contrast to previous Director Dan Monroe’s assertion, repeated time and time again, that it was IMPOSSIBLE for these buildings to contain anything other than bound volumes of the Essex Institute Historical Collections, which are readily available at the other end of Essex Street in the Salem Public Library. I believe Dr. Kennedy (and will hold him to his pledge, albeit with great liberality).

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20191031_142607N.C. Wyeth’s Peace, Prosperity, and Progress (1923) in one of the atriums of the new Peabody Essex Museum; the anchor returned in September, and in yesterday’s speech Dr. Kennedy also pledged to engage in some Halloween programming—-“Here’s people, Go get them, they are right there”. Now that should be interesting!


I Miss the Assembly House

I miss the Assembly House, a Georgian structure on Federal Street built as an assembly house in 1782 and transformed by Samuel McIntire into a more elaborate residence in the next decade: its proper name is the Cotting-Smith Assembly House (although it was charmingly called the “old Assembly House” after Hamilton Hall was built in 1805) and it was donated to the Essex Institute in 1965, the last building to be added to the Institute’s collection of historic houses, I believe. Of course the house still exists–I can see it at any time–but it has changed from when I first knew it: it has lost all of its trees–and its life. It is still, dark, and stark. It’s a shadow of its former self, or a ghost.

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assembly house drawing hne bestThe Cotting-Smith Assembly House yesterday afternoon and in 1926, 1920 (in a painting by Felicie Ward Howell, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), c. 1910 (Cornell) and an undated drawing (Historic New England).

I know, houses are not sentient beings as friends and family often tell me. But the Assembly House looks sad and it makes me sad to look at it, as I remember many happy times there in the 1990s, both before and after the Essex Institute and its houses were absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum. I remember: teas, two baby showers, several anniversary dinners, a graduation party, a cooking class (???), coffees for candidates for local office—it seemed as if we were in there quite a lot! I remember feeling that the house was rather homey, despite its elegant interior details. I remember sitting on the back stairs talking to two friends who are no longer alive. I remember being wowed by the front staircase—with its second-floor landing and pedimented door—every time I saw it. But all these memories are from a long time ago, at least 20 years. I miss all of the Essex Institute/PEM houses, with the exception of the Ropes Mansion which was restored and reopened a few years ago. (Actually what I really miss is the Essex Institute, but that statement will always produce eye-rolls among those who believe that the Peabody Essex Museum rescued both the Institute and the Peabody Museum. This may be true–but it’s hard not to notice those dark stretches of Essex—and Federal—Streets).

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assembly house bg 1985Photographs of the Cotting-Smith Assembly House interior, Historic New England; Los Angeles Time, 1926; Boston Globe, 1963 and 1985.

The house where Lafayette danced in 1784 and Washington dined in 1789 and Susan Coolidge (above) came out and many other people celebrated weddings, anniversaries, and simply lived their lives was “restored, refurbished, and remembered” according to the 1985 story in the Boston Globe above but seems largely forgotten these days. It was celebrated across the country in 1926 as Salem marked its 300th anniversary, but seems likely to be overlooked as the city marks its 400th.


Destination Tamworth

Even though I previously, and unjustly, relegated New Hampshire to the status of “drive-through” state, it doesn’t mean that I never stopped in its midst. I brake for historical markers, and I’m pretty certain that New Hampshire has more markers than all of the other New England states combined—and not just to dead white men like Mr. Webster below. All sorts of events, institutions and individuals are memorialized by green road-side Bicentennial markers: combined with the historical societies which seem to be located in nearly every New Hampshire town, they are a testament to a state that takes its history seriously. This earnest presentation is refreshing, frankly, especially when contrasted with Salem’s more cynical commercialization of just one aspect of its more varied past: history for history’s sake rather than for profit. Driving northwesterly across the state to the Lakes Region, I wanted to stop at each and every historical society, but I was pressed for time: I did stop at many markers.

NH Marker Webster

Many people are drawn to New Hampshire for its mountains and lakes, but these attractions are secondary to me: if you’ve spent any time at all on this blog you will have noticed my preference for the built landscape! So even though I had a prominent lakes/mountain destination last weekend, I became much more fixated on a town nestled between the two: Tamworth, established in 1766. Tamworth has everything: a picture-perfect town center, a pedigreed summer theater (the Barnstormers), a museum dedicated to life and work of  two country doctors (The Remick Country Doctor Museum & Farm) a presidential (Grover Cleveland) summer house, a babbling brook (the Swift River), a farm-to-table restaurant and grocer (The Lyceum), a general store (the Other Store), an amazing foundational edifice named Ordination Rock, a shiny-new distillery (Tamworth Distilling), and an inn (Highland House) built by a Salem sea captain! I’d love to have a summer house here (if I can convince my husband that it is possible to live more than a half-mile from the ocean and still be happy, a big if).

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Tamworth Remick Museum

Tamworth Remick Barns

Tamworth Remick House

Tamworth Livestock

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Tamworth Brook

Tamworth Lyceum

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Tamworth Concert

Tamworth Distilling

Tamworth Brandy Sights & happenings of Tamworth: the Library, Barnstormers Theater, Remick Museum +Buildings+”Inhabitants”, Tamworth Lyceum, Sunday concert, Tamworth Distilling & Mercantile.

Given its heritage, of course Tamworth also has a historical society, recently re-christened (as you can see below) the Tamworth History Center. We found it open and bustling, with volunteers within eager to tell us about the town and the Center, which features revolving exhibits in its two ground-floor rooms: currently the early history of the Barnstormers is on, along with a very comprehensive genealogical exhibition on one of Tamworth’s prominent families. There is a dual preservation/presentation mission at present: focused continually on the town’s heritage as well as on the ongoing restoration of the Center’s c. 1830 headquarters. I enjoyed the exhibits immensely, but became a bit distracted by the untouched-for-decades attractions of the house’s central hallway! When restoration is complete, the house will not feature the traditional period rooms; instead it will serve as a forum, or center, for “the many stories that have made Tamworth unique, from 1766 onwards”. I want to hear more.

Tamworth History Center

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Tamworth Exhibit

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Tamworth HC2 Inside the evolving Tamworth History Center above; another visual presentation of Tamworth’s past—and present.

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Time Wears Some Down

I tend to spend much of September in Salem’s cemeteries, running around the perimeters of Harmony Grove and Greenlawn in North Salem and walking slowly through the older cemeteries downtown reading the gravestones. The former will retain much of their serenity in October while the latter will be transformed into circuses, clogged with tourists and walking tours and trash. Salem’s oldest cemetery, the Old Burying Point on Charter Street, is particularly vulnerable given its age and proximity to the Janus-faced nexus of Salem Halloween tourism, the Witch Trials Memorial and the Salem Witch Village (or neighborhood or world or whatever it is called–a conglomeration of horrors) on Liberty Street. The city has contracted with a landscape designer who specializes in historic cemeteries to improve security, perimeter fencing, entrance accessibility, and circulation, and while I welcome these improvements, I doubt that they will address what I see as the central problem facing this sacred space: the lack of respect shown by too many of its visitors. Even on the relatively calm mid-week September day on which I took these pictures, I saw a group of people sitting on a cenotaph merrily eating, drinking, texting and smoking, and such scenarios will be the norm a month from now.

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Yet even if we closed the gates of the Old Burying Point to all but the descendants of those within (which would be my preference: I will stay out too!) time would still takes its toll. This point was really driven home for me when I compared the pictures that I took the other day to an assortment taken by photographer/author/preservationist/entrepreneur Frank Cousins between 1890 and 1910, preserved in a sample book for his art company in the collection of Historic New England. I can’t do a precise “past and present” comparison for every marker as I was pressed for time and couldn’t find several of the gravestones that Cousins captured (they might be there, but they’ve lost their inscription) and variant stones seemed to have captured his interest and mine. Yet it is readily apparent that even those gravestones that have stood the test of time are now surrounded by a very different world than the Salem of a century ago.

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The various graves of the Lindall family look pretty good in 2016 (on top, in color–such as it is) compared to Cousins’ photographs from c. 1900; I don’t think we can get wooden buildings back, but I far prefer the wooden fence to the present chain link one.

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John and Mary Crowninshield’s gravestones do look a little worse for wear in 2016 but are still standing. I could not find all of the Crowninshield graves captured by Cousins, but below are those of Captains John and Clifford Crowninshield today and a century or so ago. All of the Crowninshields lie in the shadow of the Witch Village or whatever it is called.

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Besides those of the Lindalls and the Crowninshields, Cousins captured the gravestones of the famous (Samuel McIntire, Nathanael Mather, Mary Corey) and the not-so-famous Shattucks, Marstons, Cromwells, and Hollingsworths. He was clearly drawn to the graves of the very young and the very old, as we all are, and those stones which were the better for wear and still bore detailed artistic flourishes. I was after much of the same, but somehow we only “shared” the Lindalls and the Crowninshields; I think I’ll go back and uncover some more comparisons when I have a bit more time.

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Some of my favorite of Cousins Charter Street photographs: the sad triple grave of the Gat(h)man children and the elusive one of Retire Shattuck–I easily found Mary Higginson but missed John. The rehabilitated gravestone of Elizabeth Millett illustrates the work that is yet to be done on many stones in the Old Burying Point, while Elizabeth Wellcome’s slightly-chipped and -leaning one has always been a particular favorite of mine for some reason.

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