Tag Archives: House of the Seven Gables

The House with Nine Lives

One of the projects that my husband’s architectural firm has been working on is coming to a close, so I took advantage of a holiday open house to go in and see how the much-altered former Home for Aged Men/Sons of Poland/ Emmerton Hall of the House of the Seven Gables was being transformed into six condominiums. I like my title, so I’m keeping it–but it is incorrect: 114 Derby Street is actually a building on the cusp of leading ten lives (if you count all the new units individually). It was built in 1806 for Salem sea Captain Joseph Waters, and remained a single-family residence until 1877 when the great philanthropist John Bertram purchased it for his newly-established Home for Aged Men. After the Bertram Home moved to the Common (where it remains), the Sons of Poland transformed 114 Derby Street into a fraternal headquarters and social club, and it continued to serve in the latter function, essentially, when the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association purchased it in 1966 and renamed it after its founder, Caroline O. Emmerton. As envisioned by Emmerton, the Gables was an institution that was founded to realize the joint goals of preservation and settlement, and its social activities had outgrown the constraints main campus across the street. Everyone in Salem consequently refers to this building as the “Settlement House”, though that identity was relatively short-lived in the context of its entire history. The Frank Cousins photograph below, taken in the early twentieth century when the house was the Bertram Home for Aged Men, shows some semblance of its original Federal appearance.

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The Waters House c. 1912 (Urban Landscape Collection, Duke University Library) and today. Third-floor ghost windows on both the main house and the 1983 addition of 114 Derby Street are reminiscent of the house’s Federal past.

Every “life” brought major architectural changes to the old Waters House, but it appears that the twentieth-century alterations were particularly extensive: the building’s exterior and interior were completely transformed by the Sons of Poland in the 1930s, and the Gables added the present addition to the back and side in 1983 (which everyone I know disdains but now looks pretty cool). The mission of the Gables has evolved over the last decade or so, and consequently its trustees made the decision to sell the building last year.This last (maybe!) evolution of 114 Derby Street has been pretty speedy, and the six (sold-out) residences should be ready for occupancy this spring.

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The addition s) and all those institutional uses mean that the new condominiums all (I think all!) have their own entrances.

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Old stairwells and New spaces being carved out of the Waters/Settlement House: as you can see, the units are quite large (1-3 bedrooms with expansive living/dining spaces) and include parking out back. 


Two Nights in Salem

As you might imagine, my teenage stepson is not at all sympathetic to my I don’t want to see tacky & exploitative witchcraft “attractions” attitude in October so we have ventured downtown for the last couple of nights.The weather has been warm but rainy so there weren’t that many people milling about but we did avoid the more commercial sites. I think I first took him to the Salem Witch “Museum” when he was six or seven and he thought it was ridiculous then; so he has no desire to return now, thankfully. On Thursday night we went to a few shops on the way to one of the Peabody Essex Museum’s monthly themed PEM/PM evenings, which are always great.This month’s theme was “Moon Landing”, in reference to their brand new exhibition “Lunar Attraction”, which is just the kind of multi-media, multi-genre, multi-era, and multi-perspective presentation that I always enjoy. We spent a lot of time watching the colorized version of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902) that was playing continuously, but I found many of the exhibit items almost as captivating.

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The Peabody Essex Museum on Thursday evening past: atrium and “Lunar Attraction” exhibits, including screen shots from A Trip to the Moon; Beth Hoeckel’s “Campground” collage from her ongoing series “Point of View”; Scott Listfield’s “To the Moon”, 2004, a Japanese moon rabit, and Edward Holyoke’s ink illustration of a solar eclipse, 1713.

On our way over to the Museum we stopped in at the Salem Arts Association, where there were works both timeless and ephemeral and seasonal-macabre, some more witty than others. I liked these little coffins in the window and a “Vampire Test”mirror; my stepson liked a map of the United States divided into regions which have Waffle Houses and regions which do not.That came home with us.

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On Friday night, before the deluge we had later and the PBS documentary on the making of Hamilton, we went to the House of the Seven Gables for one of their seasonal experiences, “Legend of the Hanging Judge”, in which actors play out different roles relating to the witch trials in the rooms of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthplace: the author himself was in residence, consumed with guilt, as his ancestor is the title character. The one good thing about Salem’s crass commercial Halloween tourism is that it gets tourists through the doors of real museums like the Gables, although I fear out-of-town sausage sellers make more money.

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The Gables at Night. I can never get a good night shot–was trying for the contrast of garden and house and this is the best I could do!


Genealogical Houses

The practice and study of genealogy is supposed to be about people of course, but some of the genealogical tomes that I have consulted over the years seem to be almost as interested in houses, both family homesteads and the impressive residences of offspring. I’m not over-familiar with genealogical literature (I like a bit more context in my history), so I’m not sure whether this is a unique feature of Salem genealogies or not but many of the nineteenth-century histories of Salem’s venerable families feature plates of houses as well as portraits of the family members who lived in them. The best example, by far, is the weighty genealogy of the Pickering family and its many branches: The Pickering genealogy : being an account of the first three generations of the Pickering family of Salem, Mass., and of the descendants of John and Sarah (Burrill) Pickering, of the third generation by Harrison Ellery and Charles Pickering Bowditch, published in three volumes in 1897. The first volume is a veritable treasure trove of Pickering houses, most of which are still with us, others long gone. The second and third volumes follow the family through the nineteenth century and include lots of photographic portraits but few houses, as if to say we’ve built our houses for generations in true Yankee fashion–or perhaps we don’t like Victorian architecture. It seems to me as if the houses are presented as part of the foundation of the family, its very rootedness, as well as its thrift.

Pickering Houses no longer standing:

Diman House Pickering Genealogy

Haraden House Charter Street

Goodhue House

The James Diman House on Hardy Street, the Jonathan Haraden House on Charter Street, and the Benjamin Goodhue House at 403 Essex Street (I’m not sure of the dates of demolition of any of these houses, but I assume the Goodhue house was consumed by the Great Salem Fire of 1914).

Pickering Houses still standing, with the exception of the Phippen House, all in the vicinity of upper Essex and Chestnut Streets:

Clarke House Pickering Genealogy

Clarke House

Silsbee House Pickering Genealogy

Silsbee House

Cabot House Pickering Genealogy

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Barnard House

Pickering Houses

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The Clarke, Silsbee, and Barnard Houses on Essex Street, the Pickering double house on Chestnut, and the Phippen House on Hardy and the grounds of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association.


The Gables Garden

I was fortunate to be at the House of the Seven Gables on this past Thursday, which really felt the first day of Spring in Salem: sunny, breezy, glorious. The Gables garden is always lovely, but on this day it looked stunning, and Mrs. Emmerton’s favorite lilacs and the wisteria arbor hadn’t even popped yet! The setting helps–the stark buildings of the Gables campus and Salem Harbor make perfect backdrops–but I think the structure makes this garden: I’m a sucker for raised beds and diagonal paths. This was the essential design that architect Joseph Everett Chandler laid out during the Gables’ restoration/recreation at the beginning of the twentieth century, although this structure seems overwhelmed by vibrant plantings in the many “garden view” postcards of the House published in the first half of the twentieth century. In any case, the garden is much more the creation of noted landscape architect and Salem native (and lifelong resident) Daniel J. Foley, a 1935 graduate of the University of Massachusetts who went on to become the editor of Horticulture magazine, the author of scores of books and articles on various aspect of gardening, a broadcaster, and long-time steward of the Gables garden, which is a living memorial to his life and work. From the 1960s, Foley enhanced the structure of the garden with mature boxwoods, and reinforced its colonial ambiance with period plants. In several of his writings, Foley reveals the inspiration that “old Salem gardens” had on his craft and his career: when I first began to explore the plant realm, I remember a visit I made one warm afternoon in June was to an old Salem garden where sweet William and foxgloves, delphiniums and Canterbury bells, ferns and sweet rocket and a host of other plants flourished in a series of meandering borders (1933). This is exactly the sense of time and place that pervades the Gables garden today.

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The Gables Garden c. 1900, before Chandler’s raised beds, and in the 1950s, before Mr. Foley’s stewardship; Mr. Foley in a 1955 photograph and the first of  his bestselling garden books–this one seems to have been constantly in print for over 20 years!

And the garden on this past Thursday:  tulips just going out, lilacs just coming in, wisteria arbor, amazing Solomon’s Seal which the camera can’t quite capture……

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The house and the view of the garden from the house, resident cat, on the way out…

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Considering Caroline

The House of the Seven Gables is featuring a new exhibit on its founder, Caroline O. Emmerton (1866-1942) in commemoration of the sesquicentennial of her birth and as the rather mysterious Caroline has long intrigued me I took advantage of a preview invitation to check it out even before the official opening. Despite her fortunate birth into one of Salem’s wealthiest and most philanthropic families, her connections, and her achievements, Caroline is a bit enigmatic, and I was hoping that Caroline Emmerton. An Unbounded Vision would shed new light on her for me. It did, but my suspicion that Caroline can only really be known in context rather than strictly on her own was confirmed. The exhibit actually presents Caroline in several contexts and it is through these perspectives that we come to know her: the wealth, privileges, and sense of civic duty that came to her through her family, her interest in the emerging Settlement Movement, with its aims of aiding and assimilating (or “Americanizing”) the country’s expanding immigrant communities, and the corresponding Preservation Movement, which aimed to preserve the pre-industrial past in an era of dynamic change. You can definitely perceive how Salem shaped her. The exhibit appropriately emphasizes Caroline’s settlement activities over her preservation goals but you certainly get the sense that they are going to merge with the formation of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association in 1910.

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Caroline Emmerton: an Unbounded Vision, at the House of the Seven Gables through August 31: A young Caroline and a very famous photograph of her with children at the Settlement House c. 1920; Exhibition panels, which were also produced in Spanish (a 21st-century update on Caroline’s settlement goals).

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Context, context: the Gables in the Community. Great photograph of a Derby Street factory and worker, instructing neighborhood girls in the Settlement House kitchen; newspaper clippings from a Gables scrapbook.

So the context was definitely there but what about the personal Caroline? There was a sense of her in the exhibit, actually: a photograph of her home on Essex Street (with a wallpaper sample and a few household possessions), a range of photographs of her at different stages in her life, an original notepaper version of her (very ye Olde) tour for the Gables, and my favorite, the hand-written manuscript of her book Chronicle of Three Old Houses, which she published in 1935 for the 25th anniversary of the Gables. It was lovely to see these things, and also to talk with Irene Axelrod, the former Research Librarian of the Phillips Library of the Peabody Essex Museum, who knows more about Caroline than anyone else. I asked Irene where Caroline went to school, because in my experience institutions often offer up lots of evidence, and she said that Caroline was tutored at home and then probably went on the Grand Tour. So there goes that source. Irene told me that her research forayed into oral history, and she was able to interview some (quite old) people that actually knew Caroline. So that’s about as close as I’m going to get, I think: four degrees of separation?

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LOVE this handwritten manuscript of Caroline’s Chronicles of Three Old Houses complete with little intextual illustrations! The companion book to the exhibition by David Moffat features a full-page view, along with lots of other illustrations from the Gables archives, sources, and more context.


Hawthorne’s Homes and Haunts

In the later nineteenth century there emerged a particular genre of topical nonfiction writing which focused on literary “shrines”, and Nathaniel Hawthorne received lots of attention from its practitioners. There were several periodical articles and books published with variant titles in the “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” realm, exploring the role of environment on his works with varying degrees of depth. As he was a native son, obviously Salem plays a central role in these analyses, generally as an urban and conversely puritanical place from which he wanted to escape to Concord and pastoral points west. No doubt all these authors were inspired by Hawthorne himself, not just his works but also his (quite self-conscious) words, written in 1840 about a garret room in his uncle’s house on Herbert Street where he spent quite a bit of time: Here I sit in my old accustomed chamber, where I used to sit in days gone by….Here I have written many tales–many that have been burned to ashes, many, doubtless, that deserved the same fate….If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed.  All of the Hawthorne biographers did indeed make their way to the stark Herbert Street house (which Hawthorne later described as “Castle Dismal”) and it is interesting to see its comparative depictions. Winfield S. Nevins calls it a “severely plain”, common, though tidy, tenement house in his 1894 article in The New England Magazine, while Helen Archibald Clarke goes much more negative in her 1926 book, Hawthorne’s Country: It is now a tenement house, into which one does not care to intrude farther than the yard, so untidy that no amount of enthusiasm for shrines can blind one to it. When asking the way to the house, one is apt to be met by the reply: ‘I cannot speak English’. It is a comfort to remember that in Hawthorne’s day the district was not so closely built up [YES IT WAS],and was at least quiet and clean, and that however unlovely the lines of the house, the beach and boundless ocean were not far off.  Well, you can tell that she is going to prefer Concord to Salem!

Hawthorne Collage

Sepia drawings of Hawthorne’s birthplace, then on Union Street, now on the campus of the House of the Seven Gables, and the adjacent rear window of 10 Herbert Street from  W.B. Closson’s Homes and Haunts of the Poets, a series of etchings issued by Prang in 1886, and a photograph of the same buildings from Winfield S. Nevins’ “Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne” from New England Magazine (15) 1894.

Both authors include lots of illustrations in their works, including drawings, prints and photographs, but Nevins wants to portray a past Salem for the most part, devoid of people, while Clarke lets us see some 1926 inhabitants in the Witch City: children are prominently placed on Gallows Hill, even though it is not exactly clear what this site has to do with Hawthorne. The time span between the two texts affords us to see the restoration (or creation) of the House of the Seven Gables, never the home of Hawthorne but perpetually his most conspicuous Salem “haunt”.

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Photographs of Hawthorne’s Dearborn and Chestnut Street residences, along with the Turner-Ingersoll House before its transformation into the House of the Seven Gables (on the left above) from Winfield S. Nevins’ 1894 article, “The Homes and Haunts of Hawthorne”; photographs of the Mall Street house, the Customs House, a view towards Washington Square, the “Sockets” of Gallows Hill, and the House of the Seven Gables from Helen Archibald Clarke’s Hawthorne’s Country (1926).


The Wayfaring Chapel

To stick with cinema for just a bit, I’ve always believed that those in Salem who favor the maritime over the witchcraft in terms of tourism focus are handicapped a bit because Salem was not a whaling port like New Bedford. Merchants are simply not as dashing and courageous as whalers; there is no Hawthornian equivalent of Moby Dick. When I think of the latter, I must admit that images from the 1956 film come to mind much more quickly and vividly than detailed passages from the 1851 book, and the very first image that comes to mind is the passionate preaching of Father Mapple (Orson Welles) from that amazing pulpit shaped like the bow of a ship in a seamen’s chapel, or Bethel, packed with mariners. Both the preacher and the place were based on reality; in the case of the former, the “Mariner’s Preacher” of the Boston Bethel, Edward Thompson Taylor, and the Bethel was based on that of New Bedford, which is still standing (its original pulpit was not the elaborate one depicted in the film, but a similar one constructed to satisfy the tourists who made their way to New Bedford in increasing numbers due to the popularity of the film–a version of Salem’s Samantha statue).

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Orson Welles in John Huston’s Moby Dick (1956); The New Bedford Bethel or “Whaleman’s Chapel”, exterior and interior.

Like nearly every seaport of a certain size, Salem had a Seamen’s Bethel too, but it was a wandering one. It clearly existed in the early part of the nineteenth century (there is an extant sign, and several references to a chapel at the head of Phillips Wharf), but was reincarnated later on. The French Catholic parish, St. Joseph’s, purchased an old Bethel on Herbert Street in 1873, and then it turns up in two locations on Turner Street: first right on the water in the House of the Seven Gables’ front yard, and then alongside it on the street. A large bequest by Captain Henry Barr funded the construction of this later building in 1890-91, but a decade later newspapers across the country were commenting on Salem’s fading maritime glory, testified to by the fact there were simply not enough sailors in Salem to attend services in this new Bethel; consequently the YMCA took over the building in 1911. By the 1920s it was moved to another location on Turner Street to accommodate the expanding House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, and by the 1930s it was gone. The last picture of the Bethel below, taken by the Boston-based architectural photographer Leon Abdalian in 1929, was probably more notable for the blimp than the Bethel at the time!

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The Salem Seamen’s Bethel, 1914 and 1929, Boston Public Library.


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