Peter Edgerly House, Salem, Mass

The house at 14 Mall Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house is best known as the place where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived from 1847 to 1850, and where he wrote The Scarlet Letter. However, the house predates Hawthorne’s time here by several decades. It was built in 1824, and was originally the home of Peter Edgerly, a teamster who had moved to Salem from his hometown of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. He purchased this house about two years after his marriage to his wife Vesta, and at the time he was involved in running a baggage wagon line in Salem. He and Vesta lived here for a decade, before selling the property in 1834, but he continued to live in Salem until his death in 1848.

Thirteen years after the Edgerlys sold this house, it became the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family. A Salem native, Hawthorne was born in 1804 in a house on Union Street, just a little south of here. He spent much of his childhood in Salem, aside from a few years living with his uncles in Raymond, Maine, and subsequently attended Bowdoin College, where he graduated in 1825. His first novel, Fanshawe, was published anonymously three years later, and over the next decade his literary efforts consisted primarily of short stories that were published in magazines. These stories, which included the future classic “Young Goodman Brown,” gained little recognition at the time, although Hawthorne did enjoy some moderate success when these were republished in book form in 1837 as Twice-Told Tales.

In 1842, Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody, a member of the prominent Peabody family in Salem. After their marriage, they lived in the Old Manse in Concord, and they did not return to Salem until 1846, when Hawthorne was appointed Surveyor of the Port of Salem. This federal appointment earned him a salary of $1,200 per year, equivalent to about $33,000 today, and he found little enjoyment in the job, which distracted him from his writing. At first, he and Sophia rented a small house at 18 Chestnut Street, where they lived with their two young children. However, the house proved too small, and in 1847 they moved into this house at 14 Mall Street, along with Hawthorne’s mother and two sisters.

The cash-strapped Hawthorne had received his appointment to the Custom House thanks to his friendships with politically-prominent Democrats, including college classmate and future U.S. President Franklin Pierce. However, the same spoils system that had secured this position for Hawthorne would later cost him the job, after the Democrats lost the 1848 presidential election to Whig candidate Zachary Taylor. Hawthorne was dismissed from his position on June 8, 1849, just three months after Taylor’s inauguration, although in the long run this ultimately helped to advance his literary career, which had stagnated during his time at the Custom House.

Bitter over losing his job, and mourning the death of his mother in July, Hawthorne channeled his anger into his writing. From late summer of 1849 until February 1850, he wrote The Scarlet Letter here in this house, and it was published later that spring. The dark, bleak novel reflected his mood during this period, and Hawthorne evidently recognized as much. As he described in a February 1850 letter to his friend, Horatio Bridge, the novel “lacks sunshine. To tell you the truth it is . . . positively a h-ll-fired story, into which I found it almost impossible to throw any cheering light.”

The Scarlet Letter included a lengthy introduction, in which Hawthorne openly criticized both the Custom House and the city of Salem itself. This polemic – which addresses everything from the rotting wharves of a once-prosperous seaport, to the excessive eating habits of the Custom House inspector – has only the slightest connection to the plot of the novel, but it served as Hawthorne’s parting shot at his hometown. He also showed this frustration later in his letter to Bridges, writing:

I should like to give up the house which I now occupy, at the beginning of April; and must soon make a decision as to where I shall go. I long to get into the country; for my health, latterly, is not quite what it has been, for many years past. . . . I detest this town so much that I hate to go into the streets, or to have the people see me. Anywhere else, I shall at once be entirely another man.

Hawthorne soon followed through with this plan, and within a few months he and his family had moved across the state to Lenox in the Berkshires. The 1850 census shows him and Sophia living there with their daughter Una and son Julian, and the following year their family grew again with the birth of their youngest child, Rose. Hawthorne wrote two novels, The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, while in Lenox, but the family moved again in the fall of 1851, returning to Concord. Neither he nor Sophia would ever again live in their hometown of Salem, and Hawthorne died in 1864 while on vacation with Franklin Pierce in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

In the meantime, Hawthorne’s former house here on Mall Street has remained standing, nearly 170 years after he and his family moved out. Its historic and literary significance was already recognized by the time the first photo was taken around 1910, when it was photographed by the Detroit Publishing Company as part of their series of postcards showing notable Salem landmarks. Today, the house has seen few changes from this angle, although there are now skylights in the roof and the wing on the right side has been expanded. It is one of many historic homes that still stand on Mall Street and the other surrounding streets, and it is now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Washington Square North and Mall Street, Salem, Mass

The northeast corner of Washington Square North and Mall Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows a row of three elegant Federal-style brick homes that were built along the north side of the Salem Common in the early 19th century. The houses were originally owned by three wealthy merchants, each of whom married a daughter from the prominent Story family. Starting in the foreground, at the corner of Mall Street, 29 Washington Square North was built in 1818-19 as the home of John Forrester and his wife, Charlotte Story. Beyond it, house number 31 was built in 1811 for Stephen White and his wife Harriet Story, and furthest in the distance is house number 33, which was also built around 1811 and was the home of Joseph White, Jr. and his wife Eliza Story.

Charlotte, Harriet, and Eliza were all daughters of Dr. Elisha Story, a noted physician who had been a member of the Sons of Liberty and had participated in the Boston Tea Party. He became an army surgeon after the start of the American Revolution, including seeing combat at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and after his service in the Continental Army he practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He had eight children – one of whom died soon after birth – with his first wife Ruth, and eleven with his second wife Mehitable, including the three sisters who lived in these houses. Another child from this second marriage was Joseph Story, a lawyer who went on to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court from 1812 to 1845.

In 1810, Charlotte Story married John Forrester, who was the son of prominent merchant Simon Forrester and the first cousin of author Nathaniel Hawthorne. John received a substantial inheritance after his father’s death in 1817, and he soon began building the house in the foreground of the scene. The old house on this site – itself a fine mansion – was relocated to 91 Federal Street, where it still stands today, and construction of the new house was underway by June 1818. It was nearly finished by September of the following year, when prominent local pastor William Bentley described it in his diary, writing:

Capt. John Forrester is now preparing the front of his house on the north side of the Common, with a southern front. He has the best situation. Everything is well done about this house which will soon be ready for him. It comes nigher in its appearance to our usual style of building in brick, but probably is not behind in any of the materials or workmanship upon the plan he has adopted.

John and Charlotte Forrester moved into the house in December 1819, along with their five children. They would go on to have five more children, and they lived here in this house until 1834. By this point, John had suffered a significant reversal of his fortune, with business failures that forced the family to sell the house and move into decidedly more humble quarters around the corner at 9 Oliver Street. John died three years later, but Charlotte outlived him by 30 years, living in Salem until her death in 1867.

In the meantime, the house just beyond the Forrester house was, for many years, the home of Charlotte’s sister Harriet and her husband Stephen White. They were married in 1808, and moved into this house upon its completion three years later, where they raised their four children. Stephen White was a prominent merchant who was also involved in politics. He held a number of elected offices throughout the 1820s, including serving in the state House of Representatives in 1821 and 1828; the state Senate in 1825, 1826, and 1830; the Governor’s Council in 1824; and as a presidential electors in 1828. He was also a personal friend of Daniel Webster, and his daughter Caroline later married Webster’s son Fletcher. Aside from Webster’s other prominent visitors to this house included President James Monroe, who attended a reception here on July 11, 1817. Reverend Bentley also described this event in his diary, writing:

[I]n the evening [Monroe] was at Capt. Stephen White’s & there was received by a very brilliant assembly of Ladies, who were attended by The gentlemen of the Town. As this would probably be the last interview, it collected more than any former one but with less comfort from over stowing. The President however may have done too much as he hardly had time to breathe. But the question was everywhere, have you seen him? And this eager curiosity it would have been cruel to indulge & even gratify. I presented him the Gold headed walking Cane of the late Gen. Knox, Sec. of War, & the very elegant Tobacco box of Silver, with a wrought China top, received from China.

Stephen White lived in this house on Washington Square North throughout the 1820s. His wife Harriet died in 1827 at the age of 40, and around 1831 he moved to Boston. By this point Salem had already peaked in its prosperity as a major port, and it would continue to decline throughout the 19th century, while Boston enjoyed steadily growing wealth and population. White sold his Salem mansion in 1831 for $7,000 – only about $160,000 in today’s dollars – and lived in Boston until his death a decade later in 1841, at the age of 54.

The house furthest in the distance of both photos, at 33 Washington Square North, was built around 1811, the same year as Stephen White’s house, and was even constructed by the same builder, Joshua Upham. It was originally the home of Stephen White’s older brother, Joseph White Jr., and his wife Eliza Story, who was the older sister of Stephen’s wife Harriet. Joseph was a merchant, and he was named after his uncle, Joseph White, Sr., a wealthy merchant who was the victim of an infamous 1830 murder in Salem. However, the younger Joseph did not live long enough to see this happen; he died in 1816, only a few years after his house was completed, leaving his widow Eliza and three young daughters. She lived here in this house until 1831, when she sold the property and joined her brother-in-law Stephen in moving to Boston.

Overall, despite their wealth and prominence, the Forrester and White families’ ownership of these houses was marked by catastrophic business failure and untimely deaths. However, the houses would continue to be home to some notable Salem residents of the mid and late 19th century, including Colonel George Peabody, who purchased John Forrester’s house in the foreground in 1834. He was about 30 years old at the time, and was the son of wealthy Salem merchant Joseph Peabody. He would go on to have a successful business career as well, including serving as president of the Salem Bank and the Eastern Railroad. Along with this, he was a colonel in the militia, and served several terms as a city alderman. Peabody lived here until his death in 1892, and during this time he had several prominent visitors to the house, including poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell, biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, and Civil War General George McClellan.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1910, the Forrester-Peabody House was used as the home of the Salem Club, a private men’s club. Around the 1920s, it became the Bertram Home for Aged Men, as indicated by the panel that is now located above the second floor window in the present-day scene. The house was renovated in 1990, becoming an assisted living facility, and it is still in use today as the John Bertram House. However, despite these many changes in use, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved in more than a century since the first photo was taken, and the only notable change is the panel on the front facade.

Just beyond this house, Stephen White’s former house changed hands several times in the mid-19 century. Merchant John W. Rogers lived here from 1831 to 1844, followed by another merchant, Thomas P. Pingree, who lived here from 1844 to 1858 before selling it to attorney Nathaniel Lord. It would remain in his family for the next 90 years, until it was finally sold in 1948. However, like its neighbors, this house is also well-preserved today, with no significant differences between the two photos.

The house of Joseph White, Jr., on the far right of both photos, was owned by the prominent Silsbee family from 1831 until the early 1880s, and its residents included merchant and banker Benjamin H. Silsbee, who was the president of the Merchants’ National Bank in Salem. Later in the 1880s, the house became the parsonage for the Tabernacle Congregational Church. Its pastor at the time was DeWitt S. Clark, a native of Chicopee, Massachusetts who began his ministry at the Salem church in 1878. His father had been the longtime pastor of the First Congregational Church in Chicopee, and DeWitt Clark had a similar tenure here in Salem. He was still serving as pastor when the first photo was taken around 1910, and that year’s census shows him living here with his wife Emma and their four children. Reverend Clark died in 1916, but his family later purchased the house and continued living here for many years, eventually selling the property in 1969.

Today, almost two centuries after William Bentley described the finishing touches on the Forrester House in his diary, this scene has hardly changed. Although no longer inhabited by prosperous merchant families, these three houses are among the many fine early 19th century homes that still stand in Salem,and serve as reminders of the city’s golden age as one of the wealthiest communities in the country. All three houses, along with the rest of the surrounding neighborhood, are now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

East Church, Salem, Mass

East Church on Washington Square North in Salem, seen from the Salem Common around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Salem’s East Church was established in 1718, when residents in the eastern part of the town left the First Church. They constructed a church building at the present-day corner of Essex and Hardy Streets, and worshiped there for more than 125 years. During this time, the church transitioned from traditional Puritan theology to, by the late 18th century, liberal Unitarian beliefs. This was largely because of William Bentley, who served as pastor from 1783 to 1819. He gained prominence as a pastor and as a journalist, regularly writing for the Salem Gazette, and Thomas Jefferson offered him a position as the first president of the University of Virginia. However, Bentley did not want to leave the East Church, and he remained there until his death in 1819.

The congregation left its old building in 1846, upon the completion of this Gothic Revival-style brownstone church at the corner of Washington Square North and Brown Street, across from the Salem Common. It was designed by noted architect Minard Lafever, and originally featured two tall towers at the front of the building, as shown in the first photo. Along with this, the building’s design included other distinctive Gothic elements, such as the tall, narrow windows, the pointed arches over the doorways and windows, and the crenelation along the roofline and atop the towers.

In 1897, the East Church merged with the Barton Square Church and was renamed the Second Unitarian Church. The building was damaged by a fire in 1902, but it was repaired and the church continued to worship here throughout the first half of the 20th century. The first photo was taken around 1910, showing the church as it appeared after the fire, but before the towers were reduced to their present height around 1925.

The church closed in 1956, following a merger with the First Church, and the two congregations were reunited nearly 250 years after their separation. No longer needed as a church, this building became the Salem Auto Museum and Americana Shops. However, another major fire in 1969 caused significant damage to the interior of the building, and destroyed much of the museum’s collections. The building was restored, though, and the interior was rebuilt to house the Salem Witch Museum, which opened here in 1972.

Today, the Salem Witch Museum is still located here in the building. Very little is left of the original interior, but the exterior has remained well preserved over the years, aside from the shortened towers. The houses on both sides of the first photo are also still standing, with the Abraham True House (1846) on the left, and the Captain Nathaniel Weston House (1837) on the right. These houses, along with the church and a number of other historic buildings in the area, are now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Andrew-Safford House, Salem, Mass

The house at 13 Washington Square West in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This house is one of many elegant Federal-style mansions that were built in Salem in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The period coincided with Salem’s peak of prosperity as a seaport, and many of these homes were built for wealthy merchants. One of these merchants, John Andrew, built this house here at the southwest corner of the Salem Common in 1819. It was among the finest houses built during this period, and was reportedly the most expensive private home in New England at the time.

Like most other houses of the era, it has a square design, with three stories, a symmetrical front facade, and a hip roof that is partially hidden by a balustrade. However, it also has other decorative features that make it stand out from similar homes, including the decorative front porch, the Palladian window above it, and the four large columns on the left side. The house is also situated on a relatively large lot for downtown Salem, and the property includes a garden on the left side and a stable on the right.

John Andrew’s wealth had come through the Russian fur trade, but he subsequently fell on hard times after building this house. By the time he died a decade later, in 1829, he was in considerable debt. However, the house would remain in his family for many years, and his extended family continued to be prominent. His nephew, John A. Andrew, who often visited this house, went on to become governor of Massachusetts from 1861 to 1866, and Governor Andrew’s son, John F. Andrew, served two terms in Congress from 1889 to 1893.

The Andrew family sold this house in 1860, and it went through several ownership changes before being purchased by James O. Safford in 1871. Safford was a leather merchant, and his business interests also included serving as a director of the North Bank of Boston and the Naumkeag Steam Cotton Company. Along with this, he was elected to the city council for four consecutive years, serving from 1865 to 1868. During the 1870 census, which was taken shortly before he purchased this house, he had real estate valued at $10,000, with a personal estate of $8,000.

By the 1880 census, Safford was living here in this house with his wife Nancy, their teenaged children William and Elizabeth, and three servants. He died three years later, at the age of 63, followed by Nancy a decade later in 1893. Their children inherited the property, though, and the 1900 census shows both William and Elizabeth at the house. Elizabeth was married by this point, and lived here with her husband, McDonald White, and their two young children, Elizabeth and Osborne. The family also employed four most of them Irish immigrants, who lived here in the house.

The family was still living here when the first photo was taken around 1910. At the time, William Safford was a real estate broker, while McDonald White was a manager for the Houghton Mifflin Company. However, White was killed in a car accident in 1916, and Elizabeth’s two children moved out of the house sometime during the 1920s. Both the 1930 and 1940 censuses show Elizabeth and William living alone in the mansion except for a single servant, and they died a year apart in 1946 and 1947, after having lived in this house for nearly their entire lives.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1947, the house was acquired by the Essex Institute. For many years, the house served as the home of the museum director, and today it is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which was formed after the 1992 merger between the Essex Institute and the Peabody Museum of Salem. The Andrew-Safford House is one of many historic houses owned by the museum, and it is also a part of the Essex Institute Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Mass

The House of the Seven Gables, seen from Turner Street in Salem, around 1890-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house is best known for being the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel The House of the Seven Gables, but it is also one of the oldest houses in the state, as well as one of the finest surviving 17th century homes in New England. The house has seen considerable changes over the past 350 years, and today the exterior bears little resemblance to the house that Hawthorne would have known, but it was originally built in 1668 as the home of John Turner. At first, the house consisted of just the central portion of the present-day structure. However, like many other colonial-era houses, it steadily expanded over the years, giving the house its distinctive appearance.

Born in Boston in 1644, John Turner moved to Salem as a child, after his father died and his mother remarried to a wealthy Salem merchant. Turner likewise became a merchant as well as a mariner, with a career that coincided with Salem’s rise to prominence as a major seaport. He built the first section of this house around the same time as his marriage to Elizabeth Roberts, but over the years the house was expanded as both the family and Turner’s fortune grew.

The southern part of the house, seen on the left side of the photos, was added in 1677. This wing included a parlor, and increased the size of the house by nearly two thirds. By this point, Turner was among the wealthiest men in Essex County. He owned five ships, with ownership interests in eight others, and had a net worth of nearly 7,000 pounds. However, he died in 1680, when he was only about 36 years old.

Turner’s son, John Turner II, was only about nine years old at the time of his father’s death, but he later inherited the house. He was also a merchant, and eventually accumulated an even larger fortune than his father, with an estate of over 10,000  pounds when he died in 1742. Along with this, he held the rank of colonel in the militia, and served on the Governor’s Council from 1720 to 1740. He made his own changes to the house, including remodeling the interior to reflect the Georgian style of the early 18th century. The house had 14 rooms at the time, and the highly complex roofline featured eight gables, as opposed to the seven that the house is best known for.

As a young man, Turner also played a role in the Salem Witch Trials, which occurred in 1692. He did not make any accusations himself, but one of the accusers, John Proctor’s servant Mary Warren, claimed that the elderly widow Ann Pudeator had bewitched Turner, causing him to fall from a cherry tree. This was one of several accusations made against Pudeator – including a claim that she had turned herself into a bird and flew around her house – and she was subsequently convicted of witchcraft and hanged.

After John Turner’s death in 1742, the house was inherited by his son, John Turner III. However, he evidently did not inherit the business acumen of his father and grandfather, and over the years he squandered the family fortune. Believing the family home was too old-fashioned, he built a modern house near the center of Salem. However, he eventually fell into debt, and in 1782 was forced to sell all of his property, including the House of the Seven Gables, in order to pay off his creditors. He died four years later, leaving an estate of just 59 pounds.

Turner sold this house to Samuel Ingersoll, a ship captain who lived here with his wife Susanna and their children. One of the eight gables had already been removed at this point, and Captain Ingersoll proceeded to remove four more, leaving the house with just the three gables that are shown in the first photo. He lived here for the rest of his life, although he was frequently away on long sea voyages. In 1804, during one of these voyages, both he and his oldest son died of a fever aboard ship. Susanna died seven years later, and the house was inherited by their only surviving child, a daughter who was also named Susanna.

Susanna never married, and went on to live in this house for the rest of her life. She was a second cousin of fellow Salem native Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had been born a short walk from here on Union Street in 1804. The extent to which she and the house served to inspire Hawthorne is still debated, but he did occasionally visit Susanna here, where she told him stories about the house’s history. She also showed him the attic, where there was still visible evidence of the long-removed gables.

Hawthorne never explicitly stated that this house was the basis for The House of the Seven Gables, but it seems likely that he drew inspiration from its history and from Susanna herself. The novel traces the history of the fictitious Pyncheon family, whose founder, Colonel Pyncheon, had acquired the land after the previous owner, Matthew Maule, had been executed for practicing witchcraft. Before his death, though, Maule had placed a curse on the Pyncheon family, and the Colonel died suddenly on the day that the house was completed. In the present day of the novel, the house was owned by one of his descendants, the impoverished Hepzibah Pyncheon. She was an older unmarried woman, likely based on Susanna Ingersoll, and she opened a shop on the ground floor of the old house in order to supplement her income.

The novel was published in 1851, and Susanna continued to live here in the real-life house until her death in 1858. She had no biological heirs, but she left the house to her adopted son, Horace Connolly. He sold it in 1879, and the house changed hands several different times before being purchased by Henry Orlando Upton in 1883. He and his family were living here when the first photo was taken around the end of the 19th century, and by this point the house had become a popular tourist attraction, even though its exterior bore little resemblance to the house described in Hawthorne’s novel.

In 1908, Upton sold the house to Caroline O. Emmerton, a philanthropist who wanted the house returned to its original appearance and preserved as a museum. She hired noted architect Joseph Everett Chandler for the restoration, which lasted from 1909 to 1910. The second photo shows the completed work, which included the reconstruction of the missing gables, as well as a new chimney on the right side that was based on the original 1668 chimney. The exterior was restored to what the house supposedly looked like during the ownership of John Turner II in the 1720s, although some of the changes were made to match Hawthorne’s novel, rather than its actual historic appearance.

Today, the exterior of the house looks essentially the same as it did when Chandler finished his restoration over a century ago. It remains in use as a museum, and has since been joined by several other historic buildings that were moved to the property, including Hawthorne’s birthplace. These buildings now comprise the House of the Seven Gables Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark district in 2007.

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.