Hamilton Hall, Salem, Mass

Hamilton Hall, at the corner of Chestnut and Cambridge Streets in Salem, on December 24, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The building in 2017:

More than two centuries before he became the subject of a popular Broadway musical, Alexander Hamilton was an icon of the Federalist Party, a short-lived but highly influential political party in the formative years of the country. The Federalists were well on their way to political irrelevance at the national level by the start of the 19th century, but they would remain dominant here in New England for a couple more decades, including here in Salem.

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, and many of its most important homes and public buildings date to this period, including Hamilton Hall, which was constructed between 1805 and 1807. It was built as an assembly hall for the town’s wealthy Federalist families, and was named for Alexander Hamilton, who had been killed in a duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. The building was designed by the prolific Salem architect Samuel McIntire, who also built mansions for many of the towns’s leading merchants, and it is regarded as one of the finest Federal-style public buildings in the country.

It was constructed at a cost of $22,000, and it originally housed two stores on the ground floor, with a ballroom on the second floor. The exterior incorporates many elements of Federal-style architecture, including symmetrical facades, Palladian windows, and a pediment on the gable end of the building. The Chestnut Street side of the building, on the left side of the photo, also features rectangular panels above the windows, with an eagle carved into the central panel.

Early tenants of the ground-floor storefronts included grocer John Gray on the left side, and caterer John Remond on the right. A free black immigrant from Curacao, Remond lived in an apartment here in the building, and worked as a caretaker while also providing the refreshments for events that were held here. He was regarded as Salem’s premier restauranteur throughout the first half of the 19th century, and he catered many events here, including receptions for visiting dignitaries such as the Marquis de Lafayette, who attended a dinner here during his 1824 tour of America.

Over the years, Hamilton Hall was used for a wide variety of social events, including lectures, dances, and dinners. It saw some changes during this time, including the addition of the portico on the Cambridge Street side in 1845, but overall the exterior has retained its original early 19th century appearance. By the time the first photo was taken on Christmas Eve in 1940, it was recognized as historically significant, and was documented as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey. Then, in 1970, it was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and three years later it also became a contributing property in the Chestnut Street Historic District.

Today, Hamilton Hall has hardly seen any changes since the first photo was taken almost 80 years ago. The eagle panel on the left side was removed for preservation in 2014, and was replaced by a replica that is seen in the second photo. Otherwise, the exterior appearance is the same, and the interior is also largely unchanged. More than two centuries after its completion, it continues to be used as a public hall for lectures, weddings, and other events. The surrounding neighborhood has also been well-preserved, and it is one of many early 19th century buildings that are still standing in this part of Salem.

Assembly House, Salem, Mass

The Assembly House at 138 Federal Street in Salem, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This building was constructed in 1782, and was originally a public hall and “Federalist Clubhouse” known as the Assembly House. The original exterior of the building is unknown, but it was significantly different from its later appearance, and reportedly had a very plain design. The interior evidently included an entry hall and drawing rooms at the front of the building, with a large two-story ballroom in the rear section. A variety of events were held here throughout the first decade of its existence, including balls, concerts, and lectures, and it was also the site of receptions for the Marquis de Lafayette in 1784 and George Washington in 1789.

Washington’s visit was part of his trip through New England in the fall of 1789, during his first year as president. He arrived in Salem on October 29, having been escorted into town by the local militia, and was greeted with an ode and a speech before being brought to the Joshua Ward House on modern-day Washington Street. He received visitors at the house, and in the evening he came here to the Assembly House, where he spent several hours before returning to the Ward House for the night there. Writing in his diary, Washington described the events of the day in Salem:

At the Bridge, 2 Miles from this Town, we were also met by a Committee—who conducted us by a Brigade of the Militia, & one or two handsome Corps in Uniform, through several of the Streets to the Town or Court House—where an Ode in honor of the President was sung—an address presented to him amidst the acclamations of the People—after which he was conducted to his Lodgings—recd. the compliments of many differt. Classes of People —and in the evening between 7 and 8 Oclock went to an assembly, where there was at least an hundred handsome and well dressed Ladies. Abt. Nine I returned to my Lodgings.

The prominent Salem pastor William Bentley also described the day in his diary, including a similar description of the reception here at the Assembly House:

After Seven the General attended the Assembly, & tarried till after nine. The ladies were numerous & brilliant. The Gentlemen were also numerous.

The building continued to be used as a public hall until the early 1790s, and it was subsequently sold to a private owner who, in turn, sold the property to Samuel Putnam (1768-1853) in 1798 for $2,656. Putnam soon converted the building into a mansion, hiring prominent architect Samuel McIntire to design the renovations. This included an elegant front facade, with Federal-style features such as pilasters between the second floor windows, along with a pediment above them. As was typical for Salem homes of this era, the front was symmetrical, with five window bays in width, and was topped by a hip roof with balustrade.

Samuel Putnam was a lawyer, and was about 30 years old when he moved into this house. He and his wife Sarah (1772-1864) had been married three years earlier, and had a young child, who was also named Samuel. They would go on to have seven more children, and lived in this house until 1833, when the moved to Boston. During this time, Putnam had a successful career as a politician and judge. He served four one-year terms the state senate, from 1808 to 1809 and 1813 to 1814, and in 1814 he was appointed as an associate justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, a position that would hold until 1842.

When the Putnam family moved to Boston in 1833, they sold this house to Benjamin P. Chamberlain, a merchant who lived here until 1856. The the next owners of the house were Stephen and Anne Chase, who lived here for the next two decades. The 1860 census shows them here along with Anne’s brother, Sylvester Robinson, plus two servants. Both Stephen and Sylvester had “Gentleman” listed as their occupations, and Stephen’s personal and real estate had a combined value of $105,000, equivalent to nearly $3 million today.

Both Stephen and Anne died in the 1870s, and Sylvester inherited this property. He was living here in 1880 with his niece, Zella Faulkner, along with a a servant, and he remained here until his own death in 1883. The house was then sold to Mary Ann Bertram, the widow of the recently-deceased merchant and philanthropist John Bertram. She was in her early 70s at the time, but she would live here for more than 25 years, until her death in 1909 at the age of 98. She did not have any children of her own, but the house was inherited by Jennie M. Emmerton, who was the daughter of John Bertram by his first wife. However, Jennie outlived her stepmother by just three years, and upon her death in 1912 she left the house to her daughter, Caroline, the philanthropis who is best known for her work in restoring the House of the Seven Gables.

Neither Jennie nor Caroline Emmerton appear to have actually lived in this house, and in 1919 Caroline sold it to Joseph Newton Smith, a businessman who served as president of the Cambridge-based Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company from 1928 to 1951. He had married his wife, Lillie, a few years earlier, and by 1920 they were living here with their daughter Sylvia and three servants. They soon had a second daughter, Mary, who was born the following year, and all four family members were still living here by the 1940 census.

Joseph Newton Smith died in 1951, and Lillie died in 1964, leaving this house to their daughter Mary. In 1965, she donated the house to the Essex Institute, the museum that would later become part of the Peabody Essex Museum following a 1992 merger with the Peabody Museum of Salem. It is one of the many historic properties that the museum owns in Salem, and it is also part of the Chestnut Street Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. The first photo was probably taken sometime during the ownership of Mary Ann Bertram, but it has seen few changes after more than a century, and it stands as one of the many fine examples of Federal-style architecture in Salem.

Essex Institute, Salem, Mass

The Essex Institute buildings at 132 and 134 Essex Street in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

These two historic Italianate-style buildings were built a few years apart, and for different purposes, but later became home of the Essex Institute and were united into a single building. The older of the two sections, on the right side of the scene, was built in 1851-1852 as the home of merchant John Tucker Daland. It was designed by noted Boston architect Gridley J. F. Bryant, who would later go on to design the old Boston City Hall, and was among the finest homes of this period in Salem. Its square, three-story design echoed the style of earlier Salem mansions, such as the Gardner-Pingree House on the far right side of the photo, but featured Italianate details such as quoins on the corners, bracketed eaves, and arched windows on the third floor.

The building on the left side, Plummer Hall, was built only a few years later, in 1856-1857. It was the work of local architect Enoch Fuller, and included many of the same design features as its neighbor to the right. The building was originally owned by the Salem Athenaeum, a private library that was located in the large space on the upper floor. The lower floor was used by the Essex Institute, which had been established less than a decade earlier in 1848 with the merger of Essex Historical Society and the Essex County Natural History Society. The organization later shifted its focus to regional history, and over the years it accumulated a large collection of books, documents, and artwork, while also holding regular events such as lectures, concerts, and art exhibitions here in the building.

John Tucker Daland died in 1858, and two years later his daughter Susan married physician Benjamin Cox, Jr. The couple lived here in this house, and had two children, Benjamin and Sarah. Dr. Cox was evidently a wealthy man, as shown by the family’s 1870 census listing, which values his real estate at $21,000 and his personal estate at $40,000, for a net worth that would be equivalent to about $1.2 million today. However, he died just a year later, at the age of 65, although the family continued to live here until 1885, when the house was transferred to the Essex Institute and converted into library and office space.

The Essex Institute also acquired ownership of Plummer Hall in 1906, when the Athenaeum relocated to a new building. A year later, the two buildings were joined by a small connector section, which can be seen a few years later in the first photo. The facility would be expanded several more times during the 20th century, including the addition of a five-story bookstack in the 1960s, but its exterior appearance from Essex Street has hardly changed since the first photo was taken. The only noticeable differences are the loss of the balustrades on the roof of the Daland House and on the porch of Plummer Hall, and the addition of a third story atop the connecter section.

Today, the property is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which was formed in 1992 by the merger of the Essex Institute with the nearby Peabody Museum of Salem. The museum also owns a number of historic houses in the area, including the adjacent Gardner-Pingree House, the John Ward House on the other side of the building, and the Andrew-Safford House around the corner on Washington Square West. All of these buildings are now part of the Essex Institute Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

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.

House of Providence Hospital, Holyoke, Mass

The House of Providence Hospital, at the corner of Elm and Dwight Streets in Holyoke, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

The origins of the present-day Sisters of Providence Health System date back to 1873, when four women from the Sisters of Providence of St. Vincent de Paul in Kingston, Ontario arrived in the Holyoke area, in order to serve the needs of the largely Catholic, immigrant workforce in Holyoke. Originally, they were located across the river in South Hadley, but in 1874 the Sisters of Providence moved to Holyoke, and built a hospital here at the corner of Dwight and Elm Streets. This became the first public hospital in Holyoke, and served the needs of rapidly-growing city over the next few decades.

The Sisters of Providence remained a mission of the Kingston congregation until 1892, when it became an independent congregation, and two years later a new, larger House of Providence Hospital building was completed here on the site. The first photo shows the building about a decade later, with the Father Harkins’ Home for Aged Women just beyond it on the left. At the time, this area had a number of Catholic institutions, including the Immaculate Conception School, the Convent of Notre Dame, the Convent of St. Vincent de Paul, the St. Jerome Institute, and St. Jerome’s Church, all of which where located within a block of here.

More than a century after the first photo was taken, Holyoke has undergone some significant changes, and today there are no recognizable landmarks from the first photo. In 1958, the hospital moved to its current location in Ingleside, in the southern part of the city, and it is now the Providence Behavioral Health Hospital. The old building was subsequently demolished, and today the site is a vacant lot, although the old Immaculate Conception School – later home of Holyoke Catholic High School – is still standing in the distance on the left.

Smith Charities Building, Northampton, Mass

The Smith Charities Building on Main Street in Northampton, around 1894. Image from Northampton: The Meadow City (1894).

The building in 2018:

Smith Charities is perhaps one of the most unusual charitable organizations in the country, and its origins date back to the death of its benefactor, Oliver Smith, in 1845. Born in nearby Hatfield in 1766, Smith was a farmer who came from modest means, but over time he became one of the wealthiest men in the region. A sort of Scrooge-like figure, Oliver Smith was a lifelong bachelor who had a reputation of being a miser. He made a fortune by investing in land in Ohio, and maintained his wealth through frugal living, rarely spending money on himself or others. He did make several charitable contributions during his lifetime, but his most significant bequest came after his death, when he left his $370,000 estate to establish Smith Charities.

Under Oliver Smith’s will, his estate was to be administered by three trustees, who would be chosen by elected representatives from eight towns in Hampshire and Franklin Counties: Amherst, Deerfield, Greenfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, Whately, and Williamsburg. The will also specified how the money was to be used. Part of it was to be used to help the poor and needy of these eight towns, including paying for apprenticeships, providing marriage portions for young women, and supporting widows. Another portion of his estate was to be set aside to accumulate interest for 60 years and, upon maturity in 1905, was to be used to establish an agricultural school in Northampton. This school, now the Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, is still in existence, and still bears his name today.

Despite the public-mindedness of his bequests, his will did not meet with universal approval. The Springfield Republican questioned, “How much wiser and better could he have disposed of is money in his life time, for the benefit of others, and at the same time added to his own happiness,” while the Hampshire Gazette gave an even more pointed rebuke, arguing that someone cannot be truly benevolent if he waits until after his death to give away money. Others, reflecting the conservative New England work ethic inherited from their Puritan ancestors, were skeptical of such a charitable organization, fearing that it would encourage laziness among the poor.

Smith’s will was even less popular with his relatives, who, being thus disinherited, contested the will, claiming that one of the three required witnesses was not of sound mind. The resulting legal battle became a public spectacle, with each side retaining the services of high-profile attorneys. Former Massachusetts Senator Rufus Choate represented Smith’s relatives, while his successor in the Senate, Daniel Webster, represented the will’s executors, and the two argued the case in the old Hampshire County Courthouse at the corner of Main and King Streets. Webster ultimately prevailed, the will was upheld as valid, and Smith Charities was subsequently established.

In 1865, the organization built this two-story building on Main Street as its headquarters. It was designed by prolific Northampton architect William F. Pratt, and features an elaborate Italianate-style brownstone exterior. The second-story windows have since been replaced, but otherwise the building’s appearance has not changed much, and it still houses Smith Charities, which continues to provide support for people in the eight towns that Smith listed in his will.

Despite criticism from many of his contemporaries, Smith proved far-sighted in his plans, and the charity has given out millions of dollars since his death, far more than his initial bequest. His name lives on in both Smith Charities and Smith Vocational and Agricultural High School, but not, as one may have assumed, in Smith College. The college is instead named for his niece, Sophia Smith,   who was the daughter of his brother Austin. Sophia had inherited a fortune from her father after his death in 1861, and she, perhaps following her uncle’s example, willed the money for charitable purposes, stipulating that it be used to establish a college for women.