Pickering House, Salem, Mass

The Pickering House, at 18 Broad Street in Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

Although it is hard to tell from its current appearance, the Pickering House is one of the oldest existing buildings in Massachusetts, and possibly the oldest in Salem. According to tradition, it was built around 1651 by John Pickering, Sr., who died in 1657. However, recent dendrochronological dating suggests that the house was actually built around 1664, presumably by Pickering’s son, who was also named John. Originally, the house consisted of just the eastern portion on the right side of the house, with one room on each of the two stories, but it was expanded and altered many times over the years. The first probably came around the 1680s, when John Pickering, Jr. added the western part of the house on the left side.

Pickering was a farmer, as were most of the other residents of Salem during this period, but he also held several town offices, including serving as a selectman, constable, and militia officer. He held the rank of lieutenant during King Philip’s War, and fought with distinction at the Battle of Bloody Brook in Deerfield in 1675. He lived in this house until his death in 1694, at the age of 57, and he left the property to his oldest son, John. The house itself would continue to be altered and expanded over the years, but it would remain in the Pickering family for more than three centuries.

Probably the most notable of John Pickering’s ancestors was his great-grandson, Timothy Pickering, who was born here in this house in 1745. He was the son of Deacon Timothy Pickering, who had inherited the property after the death of his father, the third John Pickering, in 1722. The younger Timothy was a 1763 graduate of Harvard, and subsequently became a lawyer and a militia officer. He was involved in the February 26, 1775 confrontation in Salem, later known as Leslie’s Retreat, which marked the first armed resistance to British rule in the colonies, and he later participated in the Siege of Boston from 1775 to 1776.

By this point, Pickering held the rank of colonel, and  in 1777 he was appointed adjutant general of the Continental Army. From 1780 to 1784, he served as quartermaster general of the army, and after the war he moved to Pennsylvania, where he served as a delegate to the state convention that ratified the United States Constitution in 1787. Under President George Washington, Pickering negotiated several treaties with Native American tribes during the early 1790s, and in 1791 Washington appointed him to his cabinet as Postmaster General. He held this position until 1795, when he was appointed Secretary of War, and later in that same year he became Secretary of State.

Pickering remained Secretary of State throughout the rest of Washington’s second term, and for most of John Adams’s presidency. However, he and Adams disagreed on foreign policy, particularly on how to address growing tensions with France. Pickering favored war with France and an alliance with Britain, while Adams preferred negotiation with France, and Pickering became increasingly vocal in his opposition to the president’s policies. Adams finally demanded his resignation, but Pickering refused, so Adams dismissed him in May 1800.

After nearly a decade in the cabinet, Pickering was elected as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts in 1802. By this point, Thomas Jefferson had been elected president, and Pickering became an outspoken critic of both Jefferson and the south as a whole. He lost his re-election bid in 1810, but two years later was elected to the House of Representatives, serving two terms from 1813 to 1817. His first term coincided with the War of 1812, which he and many other New Englanders were strongly opposed to. Believing that the war would hurt the region’s trade-based economy, Pickering was among those who advocated for northern secession from the union, although no serious movement ever came of this. After his second term, Pickering retired to Salem, where he died in 1829 at the age of 83.

In the meantime, this house continued to undergo changes by successive generations of the Pickering family. At some point around the 1720s, a lean-to had been added to the rear, and in 1751 Deacon Timothy Pickering raised this to two stories. However, the single most dramatic change to the house’s exterior appearance came in 1841, during the ownership of Colonel Timothy Pickering’s son, John Pickering VI. He transformed it into a Gothic Revival-style house, adding most of the decorative elements that now appear on the front facade, including the cornice, brackets, roof finials, and round windows in the gables. He also added the barn on the right side of the photo, as well as the fence in front of the house.

Over the next 150 years, the house remained in the Pickering family. Most of these descendants were also named John, and they made their own alterations to the house. Much of the interior was remodeled in the mid-1880s, and the central chimney was also rebuilt during this period. Then, in 1904, the enclosed front porch was added to the front of the house, as shown in the first photo only a few years later. Since then, the front facade has not seen any significant changes, although the interior underwent restoration in 1948.

By the late 20th century, the house was believed to have been the oldest house in the country that was continuously occupied by the same family. However, in later years the house was also open to the public as a museum, and the last members of the Pickering family finally moved out in 1998. Today, the house is still a museum, run by the Pickering Foundation, and it is also rented as a venue for a variety of events. Along with the other houses in the neighborhood, it is now part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Pickman-Derby Mansion, Salem, Mass

The mansion at the corner of Washington and Lynde Streets in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The house in the first photo was built in 1764, although it was extensively modified over the years. It was one of Salem’s finest 18th century mansions, and was home to some of the city’s most prominent residents, starting with merchant Benjamin Pickman (1707/8-1773). Originally from Boston, Pickman later came to Salem as a young man, where he became a prosperous merchant, with ships that were involved in trade with the West Indies. He also served as a colonel in the militia, a member of the colonial legislature and governor’s council, and as a judge.

Pickman was about 56 years old when he built this house on Washington Street. He apparently lived here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1773, although historical records do not seem to specify. According to these sources, the house was “left by him to his son, Clarke Gayton Pickman,” leaving some ambiguity as to whether he personally lived in this house upon its completion, or simply had it built and then gave it to his son, a practice that was not uncommon among wealthy families of this period.

Either way, his son Clarke (1746-1781) ultimately acquired the house, where he lived with his wife Sarah and their four children. However, he died young, at the age of 35, and his four children had even shorter lives. Both of his sons, Clark and Carteret, died in childhood, and his two daughters, Sally and Rebecca, only lived to be 20 and 28, respectively. Sarah only lived in this house for about a year after Clarke’s death, and sold the property in 1782.

The next owner of this house was Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799), who was probably the wealthiest of Salem’s many merchants. During the late 18th century, Salem was the seventh-largest city or town in the country, as well as the richest on a per capita basis, and Derby played a large role in this prosperity. The ships of his fleet were among the first American vessels to trade with China, and his shipping empire also included extensive trade with India, Mauritius, Sumatra, Europe, and the West Indies. Some 50 years after his death, he was even referred to as “King Derby” in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s introduction to The Scarlet Letter. In this lengthy polemic against his hometown, Hawthorne laments the decline of the once-prosperous city, equating Derby with the Salem’s golden age.

Upon purchasing this house in 1782, Derby soon set about renovating it. He hired noted local architect Samuel McIntire, who made alterations to the original design. This included the addition of the cupola, which provided Derby with a view of the waterfront and his incoming ships. However, Derby soon began planning for a new house, and in the 1790s he hired Charles Bulfinch to design a mansion a little south of here, on the present-day site of the old town hall. Derby moved into this new house upon its completion in 1799, but he did not get to enjoy it for long, because he died later in the year.

In the meantime, this house on Washington Street was acquired by Derby’s son, John Derby (1767-1831). Like his father, he was also a merchant, but he was involved in other business interests here in Salem, such as the Salem Marine Insurance Company and the Salem Bank. His first wife, Sally, died in 1798, leaving him with three young children. However, in 1801 he remarried to Eleanor Coffin, and the couple had eight children of their own.

Among their children was Sarah Ellen Derby, who married John Rogers and had nine children. Their oldest son, also named John Rogers (1829-1904), was born here in this house, and later went on to become a prominent sculptor. He specialized in small, mass-produced plaster statues, known as Rogers Groups, and these inexpensive pieces of artwork found their way into many homes across the country and overseas.

John Derby died in 1831, and the house was subsequently sold to Robert Brookhouse. It would remain a single-family home throughout the 19th century, although it steadily declined over the years. This reflected the declining prosperity of Salem as a whole, which had peaked in its prominence as a seaport around the turn of the 19th century. It slowly dropped off the list of the ten largest cities in the country, and by the time Hawthorne published The Scarlet Letter in 1850 it had become a shadow of its former glory.

In 1898, the mansion was sold and converted into a commercial property. It became the Colonial House hotel, as shown in the first photo a little over ten years later. The ground floor had two storefronts, with the Colonial House Cafe on the left and a bar on the right. Just to the left of the hotel is a nickelodeon, an early movie theater that, as the signs in front indicate, cost a nickel for admission. These were common during this period, in the early years of film, and the sign above the entrance advertises “Moving Pictures and Illustrated Songs.”

Only a few years after the first photo was taken, the property was sold to the Masonic lodge. The historic 150-year-old mansion was demolished in 1915, and the present-day Masonic Temple was built on the site. This large, Classical Revival-style building was completed in 1916, and featured stores and offices on the lower floors, while the upper floors were used by the Freemasons for office space and meeting rooms. The building was badly damaged by a fire in 1982, which caused over a million dollars in damage to the upper floors, but it was subsequently restored and is still standing. Along with the other nearby buildings, it is now part of the Downtown Salem Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.

Main and Old South Streets, Northampton, Mass

The south side of Main Street, just east of the corner of Old South Street in Northampton, probably sometime in the 1860s. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows the scene along the south side of Main Street in Northampton, sometime around the 1860s. The four buildings here represent a variety of uses and architectural styles, with two mid-19th century brick commercial blocks on the left, a Georgian-style house in the center, and a Greek Revival-style Edwards Church on the right. The most notable of these buildings was the church, which was built in 1833 at the corner of Main and Old South Streets. Formed as an offshoot of the First Church, it was named in honor of Jonathan Edwards, who had served as pastor of the First Church from 1729 to 1750. The congregation worshipped here in this modest wood-frame church for the next 37 years, until it was destroyed by a fire in 1870.

This same fire also destroyed the adjacent Hunt Building, which was built in 1770 as the home of Dr. Ebenezer Hunt. A 1764 graduate of Harvard, Hunt studied medicine in Springfield under Dr. Charles Pynchon, before returning to his native Northampton in 1768. This house was built two years later, with Georgian-style architecture that was similar the home of his second cousin, John Hunt, that still stands on Elm Street. In 1772, Dr. Hunt married his wife Sarah, and they had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. He lived here for the rest of his life, and during this time he was, in addition to practicing medicine, also active in politics. He served for eight years in the state legislature, in both the House and the Senate, and he was a presidential elector for John Adams in both the 1796 and 1800 elections.

Upon Ebenezer Hunt’s death in 1820, the house was inherited by his son David, who was also a physician. At the time, the property extended as far as Old South Street, but in 1833 David sold the corner lot to the Edwards Church, and the church building was constructed soon after. The house remained in the Hunt family after David’s death in 1837, but by the time the first photo was taken it had been converted to commercial use. The storefront signs are not legible in the first photo, but around the 1860s the ground floor housed three tenants, with a crockery store on the left side, a confectionery and fruit store in the middle, and the dry goods store of Robert J. Fair on the right side. By 1870, Fair’s store occupied the entire ground floor, but on May 19, 1870 he lost nearly his entire stock when both the Hunt Building and the neighboring Edwards Church burned.

After the fire, the Edwards Church constructed a new building a few blocks away at the corner of Main and State Streets, and this site here at the corner of Old South Street was soon rebuilt with new brick commercial blocks. The Columbian Building, located on the right side where he church once stood, was completed in 1871, and two years later McCallum’s Dry Goods opened in a new building on the site of the Hunt house. Both buildings are still standing today, although the latter has undergone significant changes over the years and is now Thornes Marketplace. As for the other two buildings in the first photo, it appears that at least one of them is still standing. The building just to the left of Thornes might be the same one from the first photo, minus its top floor, but if so it has been altered beyond recognition from the exterior. However, the building on the extreme left of the first photo appears to still be there, just with major late 19th century alterations.

Elm Street, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street near Bedford Terrace in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

The first photo shows three 18th and early 19th century homes that once lined the eastern side of Elm Street, directly opposite the campus of Smith College. Starting on the far right, closest to the camera, was the Stoddard House, which was probably built sometime in the mid to late 18th century. Not to be confused with The Manse, an architecturally-similar home that was owned by Solomon Stoddard (1736-1824) and still stands on Prospect Street, this Elm Street house appears to have been owned by his son, Solomon Stoddard (1771-1860). The latter was the great-grandson of yet another Solomon Stoddard (1643-1729), a prominent theologian who had served as pastor of the Northampton church from 1672 until his death in 1729.

The younger Solomon Stoddard was a 1790 graduate of Yale, and he subsequently studied law under Northampton attorney, U.S. senator, and future Massachusetts governor Caleb Strong. Stoddard went on to have a successful career as a lawyer, and also served in a variety of roles in local government, including register of deeds, town clerk, chief justice of the court of sessions, court clerk, and state representative. He and his wife Sarah had eight children, and they lived here in this house until Sarah’s death in 1852 and Solomon’s death in 1860. The house was later sold to Smith College in 1885, and by the time the first photo was taken it was in use as residential building for students.

Just to the left of the Stoddard House, in the center of the first photo, is another 18th century home that was later converted into a Smith College residence. Supposedly built in 1710 by Isaac Clark, the house remained in his family for several generations, and by the mid-19th century was owned by Clark’s great-grandson, Justin Smith. Upon Smith’s death in 1880 he left half of the property to Smith College, under the condition that his sister, Mary Smith Tenney, would be allowed to live there for the rest of her life. During this time, she ran the house as an off-campus residence for Smith College students, and after her death the school took over the property and continued to operate it as a residential building, named the Tenney House.

The third building in the first photo, on the far left of the scene, was also a private home that later became part of Smith College. Built sometime in the early 19th century, this house was originally the home of Enos Clark, a church deacon who lived here until his death in 1864. The property remained in his family for several more decades, but in 1886 it was sold to Mary L. Southwick, who enlarged the house and converted it into another off-campus residence for Smith College students. Known as the Southwick House, it operated into the 20th century, but it was later purchased by the Burnham School, a college preparatory school for girls. The house remained part of the school campus until 1968, when Burnham merged with the Stoneleigh-Prospect Hill School in Greenfield, and it was then sold to Smith College and converted into the Duckett House.

Today, of the three buildings in the first photo, only the Duckett House remains. It is still in use as a Smith College residential building, housing 37 students, and it is connected to the adjacent Chase House, which is just out of view in the distance to the left. As for the other two historic houses, both the Stoddard House and the Tenney House were demolished in the mid-1930s to build the Alumnae House, which was completed in 1938. This building, with its two wings in the center and right side of the photo, is still standing today, and is still in use by the college.

Nathaniel Parsons House, Northampton, Mass

The Nathaniel Parsons House on Bridge Street in Northampton, around 1914. Image from Early Northampton (1914).

The house in 2017:

Northampton has a remarkable collection of colonial-era homes, but one of the oldest is this house on Bridge Street. It has been significantly expanded over the years, but the original part of the house has, at various times, been estimated to be as old as 1658 and as recent as 1730. However, more recent dendrochronological analysis of the home’s timbers has provided an approximate date of 1719 for the oldest section of the house.

This plot of land was originally owned by Joseph Parsons, one of the founders of both Springfield and Northampton. He and his wife Mary came to Northampton in 1655, just a year after the first European settlers arrived, and they would live here for about 25 years. During this time, however, Mary repeatedly faced accusations of witchcraft, brought by members of the Bridgman family. Joseph won a slander suit against the Bridgmans in 1656, but the accusations continued and in 1675 Mary was put on trial for witchcraft. She was ultimately acquitted, but soon after she and Joseph returned to Springfield, where they lived for the remainder of their lives.

Despite this controversy, other members of the Parsons family remained here in Northampton. Their son Jonathan subsequently owned this lot, and apparently built a house here, but the existing house was built by his son Nathaniel, who was born in 1686. Nathaniel married his first wife, Experience Wright, in 1714, but she and their infant child died the following year. He evidently built this house a few years later, but would not remarry until 1728, when he married Abigail Bunce. They had five children together, although two of them, Abigail and Jerusha, were twins who both died soon after they were born. Their other three children all lived to adulthood, and included a daughter, Experience, and two sons, Elisha and Nathaniel.

When built, this house was much smaller. It was only one room deep, and had two rooms on the first floor and two on the second. It would remain this way for most of the 18th century, even as the family continued to grow in size. The older Nathaniel died in 1738, but Abigail outlived him by 50 years and lived here in this house with her children and grandchildren. Experience lived here until her first marriage in 1754, then returned after her husband’s death two years later and lived here until her second marriage in 1768. Elisha lived here until his marriage in 1770, and he may have continued living here as late as 1779, and the younger Nathaniel lived here for the rest of his life, even after his 1768 marriage to Sarah Hunt. For a far more comprehensive account of the house and the people who lived here, see this website.

At some point in the late 18th century the house was finally expanded, with a lean-to on the back that included a new kitchen. Abigail died in 1789, but Nathaniel and Sarah continued to live here, with Nathaniel having purchased his siblings’ shares of the house. They had nine children, although, as was the case with his parents, two were twins who died in infancy. Their other seven children were Nathaniel, Luther, Sally, Abigail, Mary, Persis, and Eunice, and they all grew up here in this house. The two oldest later owned the house, and sold it upon Nathaniel and Abigail’s deaths in 1806 and 1807.

Around 1808, the house was purchased by the Wright family, and was jointly owned by Chloe Wright and her stepson Ferdinand Hunt Wright. The house was further expanded soon after. An ell was added to the house, and the lean-to roof was removed in order to add a second floor above the late 18th century addition. Hunt, as he was known, married Olive Ames in 1811, and they had three children: Elzabeth, Roxana, and Mary. He died in 1842, and by about 1850 Olive had moved out, although she continued to own her half of the house and rented it to George and Lydia Sergeant. In the meantime, Chloe Wright lived in her half of the house until her death in 1854, and her daughter Fannie appears to have lived here until her death in 1869.

The Wright family retained ownership of the house for many years, living here at various times while also renting part of it to tenants. Olive and her daughter Roxana had returned to this house by the 1880s, and both lived here for the rest of their lives, until Olive’s death in 1889 and Roxana’s in 1909. The first photo was probably taken several years later, by which point the house was owned by three of Mary’s children: Anna, Arthur, and Edgar Bliss. Anna, who was unmarried, lived here from 1910 until her death in 1941, and in her will she left the house to Historic Northampton, which continues to own the property today.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, this view of the house has undergone a few minor changes, including the removal of the shutters and the small front porch. The porch was undoubtedly a 19th century addition, though, so today the house looks more historically accurate than it did when the first photo was taken. The Parsons House is now one of three owned by Historic Northampton, although it is currently closed to the public for renovations.

Elm Street from Henshaw Avenue, Northampton, Mass

Looking northwest on Elm Street from near the corner of Henshaw Avenue in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The scene in 2017:

A lot has changed here on Elm Street in more than 120 years, but one prominent landmark that remains is the Hunt/Henshaw House, seen here on the right side of both photos. Many sources give a construction date of around 1700-1710, with Jonathan Hunt as the original owner. Hunt did indeed live here at the corner of present-day Elm Street and Henshaw Avenue, but more recent research seems to indicate that the current house on the lot was built in 1751 by his son, John Hunt. A wealthy landowner and a militia captain, John Hunt lived here with his wife Esther Wells, and their large, elegant Georgian-style house reflected the family’s economic and social prominence.

After John Hunt’s death in 1785, the house was inherited by his daughter Martha, who lived here with her husband, Samuel Henshaw. Originally from Milton, Massachusetts, Henshaw was a pastor-turned-lawyer who came to Northampton in 1788. He later became a judge of probate, then a judge on the Court of Common Pleas, and also served as a trustee of Williams College from 1802 until his death in 1809. Like the Hunts, the Henshaws were also a prominent family, and their oldest daughter Martha married Isaac Chapman Bates, a lawyer and politician who went on to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1827 to 1835, and in the Senate from 1841 to 1845. Martha and Isaac were married here in this house in 1807, in a double wedding ceremony that also included Martha’s sister Sarah and her husband, Ebenezer Hunt.

The older Martha continued to live here in this house long after Samuel Henshaw’s death, until her own death in 1842. The house was later owned by Sidney E. Bridgman, a local bookseller who lived here in the late 19th century, and by the turn of the 20th century it was owned by Ruth Sessions. The daughter of Episcopalian bishop Frederic Dan Huntington, Ruth was an author who published poems, short stories, and articles, and later in life she published a memoir, Sixty Odd, in 1936. Ruth was also the mother of prominent composer Roger Sessions, and the 1910 census shows him living here in this house as a 13-year-old boy, shortly before he entered Harvard University to study music.

Ruth Sessions converted this house into a boarding house for students at Smith College, which is located right across the street from the house. Sometime before 1916 she added a large wing to the rear of the original 18th century house, which significantly expanded its capacity while preserving the historic appearance of the house. In 1921 she sold the property to Smith College, and it was named Sessions House in her honor. Nearly a century later, it remains in use as student housing, and it is the oldest of the school’s 35 residential buildings.

Aside from the Hunt/Henshaw House, the most prominent feature in the 1894 scene is the large elm tree in the center of the photo. John Hunt had planted elm trees in his front yard in 1753, and this tree could very well have been one of them. It is no longer standing, perhaps a victim of Dutch Elm Disease in the mid-20th century, but there is another elm tree that now towers over the house, on the right side of the present-day scene. Such large elm trees are rare, since most die of Dutch Elm Disease long before reaching this size, but it still stands as one of the few survivors on the eponymous Elm Street, which was once lined with many of these trees.