Tag Archives: Lost Houses

Is Purity Possible?

Architectural purity, I mean: there’s no philosophical, spiritual or political rumination going on here. My house is such an assemblage of Federal, Greek Revival and eclectic Victorian styles that I often find myself craving architectural purity: it was “transitional” when it was built in 1827 and it became even more so as it was expanded and remodeled over the next century. A whole rear elbow ell of outbuildings was attached and then shorn off. Inside straightforward Federal mouldings were replaced with rounded Italianate ones; a simple staircase was replaced with one much more detailed and made of mahogany, and 1920s etched glass was inserted into the original doors. Even its “classic” exterior with flushboard facade was altered: with the customary bay window that pops out nearly everywhere in the later nineteenth century and an elaborate doorway below, and some curvy trim attached to the first-floor windows, now long disappeared. I like my house, but occasionally I think I might want to live in the perfect First Period house, the perfect Georgian house, or the perfect Greek Revival house. However, I’m just not sure any of these houses exist, and if they do, whether they are the products of recreation or preservation. More likely than either is the organic and utilitarian evolution that most houses experience which robs them of their untouched purity but enhances both their livability and their accessibility (and occasionally their charm).Arch Purity 1

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My house features a “progression” of nineteenth-century interior mouldings, but even the all-First Period William Murray House on Essex Street in Salem experienced some evolution. 

Two cases in point are some houses I am currently “realestalking”: another 1827 house which just came on the market in Salem, and a First Period house in Ipswich which I’ve had my eye on for a while. I’ve always admired the Samuel Roberts House on Winter Street, but it’s hardly “pure” with its modified entry, addition (s), and twentieth-century garage. Yet somehow it all works (I would probably sacrifice the garage for more garden, but I think those mid-century garages are protected). The Ipswich house was built in 1696 and expanded considerably in 1803; I imagine the window came a bit later.

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I am always thinking about the evolution of houses, but this particular thread started when I was researching yet another lost seventeenth-century Salem structure: the Benjamin Marston House, which was built in the later seventeenth century and demolished around 1870. Unfortunately it was not photographed before its demolition (to my knowledge, and I looked everywhere) but the ever-dependable Sidney Perley made a drawing for one of his Essex Antiquarian articles. Through his deed research, he was also able to trace the ownership of the house as well as its increasing size, and what emerges is an image of a true hybrid house, with a First-period back and a Federal front! I wish I could see this house, even in photographic form, and I imagine the streets of Salem were full of these composite structures in the nineteenth century. The Marston house was replaced with a more imposing structure that remains pretty “pure” today: the imposing Second Empire Balch-Putnam House, sometimes known as “Greymoor”.

Benjamin Marston House, Salem, Massachusetts

Salem Map 1851

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Sidney Perley’s c. 1900 illustration of the Benjamin Marston House; the location of the house (*) on Henry McIntire’s 1851 map of Salem, and the house on that site today.


What became of the Pineapple House?

There was a large Georgian house in Salem referred to by all as the “Pineapple House” for its prominent door decoration. It was built by Captain Thomas Poynton at some point between 1740 and 1750 on Brown Street near Salem Common, and later moved to an adjacent court off the main street. Today neither the house or the court exist: I’ve been trying to determine what happened to both with little success! According to the Genealogical Memoir of the Driver Family (1889), the frame of the house was brought from England by Captain Thomas Poynton, husband of Mrs. Hannah Poynton (Bray), in one of his own ships as early as 1740. This house still stands in 1887, in a most excellent condition, but not on its original site, having been moved some hundred feet to make room for a house built for Mr. Stephen Ives (no. 40 Brown Street) whose heirs are the present owners of the Pine Apple House. My hero, the photographer-preservationist Frank Cousins, took several photographs of the house and its famous doorframe in the 1890s and 1910s, and I can find references to its existence as late as 1923. It came down sometime after that, and after the door frame (with pineapple) was donated to the Essex Institute, where it was installed in the Phillips Library.

pineapple-house-cousins-duke-ulThe Captain Thomas Poynton House, 7 Brown Street Court, Salem. Photograph by Frank Cousins, Urban Landscape Digital Collection, Duke University Library.

Captain Poynton was a Loyalist, proudly whitewashing his chimneys and incurring the wrath of an angry mob which attacked his house in 1775, breaking many windows and inspiring him to depart for England. He left his wife behind (this happened so many times in Salem! What a great dissertation topic), and never returned to America. Mrs. Poynton seems to have been everyone’s favorite aunt, and she was devoted to the upkeep of the pineapple atop her front door, which apparently also came from England, painting and regilding it annually and ensuring that the curtains of her second-floor window never obscured its profile.

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Two views of the Pineapple/Poynton House doorway by Cousins; as illustrated in the Essex Institute’s Visitors’ Guide to Salem, 1895;  the door frame and pineapple in the Phillips Library of the Essex Institute, Detroit Publishing Company postcard, after 1912.

The pineapple continued to be well maintained until its detachment and donation, but the rest of the house was expanded considerably in the rear (see above), enabling its transition into “tenement” status in the later nineteenth century. As indicated above, it was moved, and then sometime (1920s or 1930s?) it disappeared, leaving only its famous pedimented doorway and Cousins’ photographs behind.

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Brown Street Court (just below #49) on a map in an undated Essex Institute brochure titled “A Tour of Salem”; Brown Street  Court today (I think!)–looking towards the Church of St. John the Baptist on St. Peter Street.


One Photograph and Three (?) Mantels

Today I am featuring another lost Salem house that we can only “see” in the form of its surviving pieces and photographs–only one photograph, really, which I presume was taken just before it was demolished in 1856 to make way for the Salem Athenaeum’s new Plummer Hall (now part of the Peabody Essex Museum). This is the Nathan Read House (1793), designed by Samuel McIntire for a man who was not a Salem merchant and/or shipowner but distinguished himself nonetheless, as an entrepreneur and the inventor of such diverse machines as a steamboat with paddles, a nail-cutter, a self-winding clock, and a coffee-huller, as well as a congressman and judge. Read’s house was McIntire-made but Bulfinch-inspired and it is reminiscent of another Essex Street house that is no longer with us: the Ezekiel Hersey Derby House further along Essex Street–Salem’s commercial “high” street was too dynamic and valuable for residences, even ones as lovely as these. It’s a miracle that the Gardner-Pingree House survived. The Read House was short-lived but pretty imposing while it lasted.

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The Nathan Read House (1793-1856).

In 1799, Read sold the house to Captain Joseph Peabody, a very wealthy Salem shipowner, and eventually decamped for Maine. For the rest of its existence, the Read House remained in the Peabody family, who eventually sold it to the shareholders of the Salem Athenaeum. Joseph’s son Francis dismantled several McIntire mantels from the house before its demolition, and installed them at his summer house in nearby Danvers, the eighteenth-century “King” Hooper mansion, better known as “The Lindens”. There they remained until the 1930s, when the Lindens itself was dismantled, shipped to Washington, D.C. in pieces, and reassembled in the Kalorama neighborhood of the District. The intermediary (and short-term owner of the Lindens) in this transaction was up-and-coming antiques dealer Israel Sack, who arranged for the house to be measured and photographed by HABS architects and also sold some parlor paneling to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Kansas City: the mantels appear in the HABS photographs (but looking quite different from previous photographs!) but not in the collections of the Nelson-Atkins museum, and they certainly don’t seem to be down in Washington (where the house is now for sale), so I’m not really sure where they are. The whole is demolished, but the parts are scattered: a not-uncommon Salem story!

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McIntire Mantels HABS

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Above: McIntire Mantels at the Peabody Essex Museum (upper right) and installed at the Lindens, Danvers, from Cousins’ and Riley’s Woodcarver of  Salem (1916) and Arthur Haskell photographs, 1934, Library of Congress. Below: the Lindens in its current Washington, DC location from its current listing, and its living room from January 2014 Architectural Digest. No McIntire mantel here!

See a related house story at the great blog Stories from Ipswich.


De Facto Demolition

One year ago contractors working for a developer/convenience and liquor store owner named Jewel Saeed tore the roof off a Federal house on Carlton Street here in Salem and exposed it to the deluge of an approaching tropical storm: in the following weeks they ripped out all of the original (soaked) fabric, including its massive center chimney, and rebuilt it as petrochemical-clad condominiums, surrounded by blacktop. I may rant against the huge generic buildings which are gradually transforming the Salem streetscape, but no Salem development has ever troubled me more than the mutilation of 25 Carlton Street. The act was so brazen, and the response so tepid. Carlton Street is not located in one of Salem’s four historic districts, so it is not subject to overview by the Historic Commission, but all Salem structures are subject to the city-wide Demolition Delay Ordinance and Mr. Saeed did not apply for a demolition permit or a waiver. He didn’t have to bother. But make no mistake: the structure that now occupies the lot designated 25 Carlton Street is not the same building that existed a year ago.

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Carlton Street 2014

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25 Carlton Street in 1985, 2014, and this (very foggy) morning. The fine grain of vinyl siding.


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