Perry Mill, Newport, RI (2)

The Perry Mill, looking north along Thames Street from the corner of Fair Street in Newport, around 1902. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

As discussed in the previous post, the Perry Mill was built in 1835, on Thames Street in the southern part of downtown Newport. It was originally a textile mill, and was one of several such mills built during this period, in an effort to revive the city’s struggling economy. Newport’s shipping business had fallen on hard times since the American Revolution, and the Perry Mill was an attempt to compete with New England’s rapidly-growing industrial cities. However, Newport’s location on an island in the middle of Narragansett Bay proved a barrier to railroad transportation, and its fledgling manufacturing base never achieved the prominence of nearby mainland cities such as Providence and Fall River.

Despite this, Newport’s economy did ultimately recover, largely through becoming a Gilded Age summer resort community. By the time the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, some of the wealthiest families in the country had summer homes here in Newport, although most of these were to the south of the downtown area. This section of Thames Street remained decidedly working-class, as shown by the businesses here, which included a coal dealer on the left, a flour and grain dealer on the ground floor of the Perry Mill, and a grocer in the building just beyond the mill.

Today, much of this scene has changed, particularly the buildings just beyond the Perry Mill, which were demolished in the mid-20th century to build America’s Cup Avenue. The mill building itself also underwent some changes, with the removal of the gabled roof and fourth floor. For many years, the property was owned by General Electric, but it was subsequently converted into retail use, and the upper part of the building was reconstructed. The brick section on the left side is also a 20th century addition, but otherwise the only noticeable sign of change is the slightly different shade of stone between the three lower floors and the fourth floor.

Hadley Falls Dam, Holyoke, Mass

The Hadley Falls Dam on the Connecticut River, on the border of Holyoke and South Hadley, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, Holyoke is the site of the largest waterfall on the Connecticut River, with a drop of 58 feet. This made the location ideal for large-scale industrial development, and during the mid-19th century Holyoke was transformed into a prosperous manufacturing center. The first dam was built here in 1848, but it was poorly constructed, and it failed just hours after the gates were closed. However, a new dam was constructed the following year. It was built of wood, extending 1,017 feet across the river, and was 30 feet tall, with timbers that were firmly anchored four feet deep into the bedrock beneath the river.

This second dam proved far more durable than its short-lived predecessor, and it remained in use for the rest of the 19th century. However, by the early 1890s there was a need for a new dam, this time built of stone. Construction began in 1892, with the new dam being located 150 feet downstream of the old one. It took three years just to excavate the bottom of the river, and the work involved the removal of some 13,000 cubic yards of bedrock. Construction of the dam itself began around 1896, and it was comprised of a combination of rubble stone taken from the riverbed downstream of the dam, along with quarried granite blocks from Vinalhaven, Maine. The work was done in several different stages, as described in a 1900 article in the Journal of the Association of Engineering Societies:

The dam was constructed in four sections, the south end and a center section just north of the drain channel being built up for a considerable height first. Then a coffer dam was built on the first level of the north channel, thus turning the water through the center channel, while a section of dam 5 feet high was constructed behind it. The coffer was then transferred to the center channel, and a section 10 feet high built in that opening. In this way the alternate sections were built in until the structure was complete. The cost of the entire work is said to have been between $600,000 and $700,000.

Upon completion in 1900, the dam measured 1,020 feet across the river, and is said to have been the longest dam in the world at the time. The first photo was taken sometime soon after its completion, and shows water pouring over the top of the dam. On the far right is part of the Carew Manufacturing Company, a paper mill that was located on the South Hadley side of the dam, and in the distance on the right side is Mount Tom, with the Summit House prominently visible atop the 1,202-foot traprock mountain.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, both the Carew factory and the Summit House are gone. However, the dam itself is still here, after having survived a number of major floods during the 20th century. Holyoke is no longer the major industrial city that it once was, but the dam and the canal system are still used to generate power. Both are now operated by the city-owned Holyoke Gas & Electric, with the hydroelectric generators here at the dam provide a significant portion of Holyoke’s electricity.

Post Office, Holyoke, Mass

The former post office on Main Street, between Dwight and Race Streets in Holyoke, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

For many years, the Holyoke post office was located in the ground floor of the Holyoke House, a hotel at the corner of Main and Dwight Streets. However, in 1905 the post office moved into a space of its own, when this elegant Beaux-Art style building was completed. It was located directly behind the Holyoke House, which had by this point been renamed the Hotel Hamilton, and it sat in the middle of a triangular block bounded by Main, Race, and Dwight Streets. The first photo was taken only a few years after it was completed, and it shows the Main Street facade of the building.

This building served as Holyoke’s post office for the first few decades of the 20th century, but it soon became too small for the volume of mail and packages that passed through here. As a result, construction began on a new post office in 1933. It was located further up the hill from here, on Dwight Street between Chestnut and Elm Streets, and was completed in 1935. The older building here on Main Street closed that same year, and it was subsequently demolished in the 1940s. Today, the site is a parking lot, and the present-day scene is dominated by the former Lyman Mills buildings, which stand in the distance on the other side of the Second Level Canal.

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.

Gardner-Pingree House, Salem, Mass

The house at 128 Essex Street in Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

The peak of Salem’s prosperity as a seaport came at the turn of the 19th century, a period that coincided with the height of Federal-style architecture. As a result, the town saw the construction of a number of elegant Federal homes and public buildings, many of which still stand today. Among the finest of these is Gardner-Pingree House, which was built in 1804-1805 at 128 Essex Street. It is believed to have been the work of prolific Salem architect Samuel McIntire, and today it is widely regarded as an architectural masterpiece of this era. Like many of McIntire’s other homes, it has three stories, with a rectangular front facade, a hip roof with balustrade, and a small portico at the front door. The house is built of brick, but it also includes marble lintels above the windows and marble trim above the first and second floors.

The original owner of this house was John Gardner (1771-1847), a merchant who owned a number of ships and operated a wholesale business on Union Wharf. According to a 1907 Gardner family genealogy, his business included importing commodities such as “sugar, coffee, cocoa, dyewood, mahogany, broadcloth, Peruvian bark, indigo, spices, etc., etc.” He purchased this land from his father, and moved into this house upon its completion in 1805, along with his wife Sarah and their young children. However, he would go on to suffer significant financial losses in the years before and during the War of 1812, when the British preyed on American shipping. As a result, in 1811 he sold the house to Sarah’s brother, Nathaniel West, for $13,333.33, although the Gardners continued to live here until 1814, when West sold it to wealthy ship captain and merchant Joseph White.

White was in his late 60s and retired when he purchased the house, and he lived here for the next 16 years. His wife Elizabeth died in 1822, and the couple had no children, although he did live here with his niece, Mary Beckford, and her daughter, who was also named Mary. This younger Mary was 17 when she became engaged to Joseph Knapp, Jr., a young mariner who had been captain of one of White’s ships. White was opposed to the match, viewing Knapp as a gold digger, and had threatened to disinherit her if she married him. She married Knapp anyway, in the fall of 1827, and the newlyweds then moved to the nearby town of Wenham.

Less than three years later, on April 7, 1830, Joseph White was brutally murdered here in this house. He was struck in the head with a club while he slept in his bed, and was then stabbed 13 times. By the time his body was discovered three or four hours later, the killer was long gone, but the murder quickly became a major news story. A committee was formed to investigate it, and in a little over a week the evidence pointed to two brothers, Richard and George Crowninshield. It was later discovered that the pair had been hired by Joseph Knapp, who paid them $1,000 to carry out the murder.

According to Knapp’s subsequent confession, he had entered White’s room a few days before the murder, and had stolen what he believed was White’s will. He also left a window unlocked, enabling Richard Crowninshield to access the house while White slept. His reasoning behind the crime was that, with the will missing, the courts would divide White’s large estate equally among all heirs, including Knapp’s disinherited wife. However, as it turned out, Knapp had stolen the wrong will. The actual will had been stored in the office of White’s lawyer, and after his murder the bulk of his estate went to his nephew, the prominent merchant Stephen White.

The resulting trial became a legal spectacle on a scale not seen in Salem since the witch trials of 1692. Determined to avenge the death of his uncle, Stephen White hired his close friend, Senator Daniel Webster, to lead the prosecution, with a symbolic fee of $1,000 – the same amount that Knapp had paid for the murder. Richard Crowninshield committed suicide while in prison awaiting trial, but the other three defendants included George Crowninshield, Joseph Knapp, and Joseph’s brother Frank.

Both of the Knapp brothers were subsequently found guilty, and were hanged in the fall and winter of 1830-1831. Mary also attempted suicide twice during the trials, although she survived and was never charged in the murder. Of the conspirators, only George Crowninshield managed to avoid the hangman’s noose. He had evidently been visiting a local brothel on the night of the murder, and the madam provided an alibi during his trial.

Both the murder and the trials were extensively reported by journalists, and may have even had an influence on some of the most famous works of 19th century American literature. Daniel Webster’s speech to the jury provided a detailed account of how the murder would have taken place, with descriptions such as:

The deed was executed with a degree of self-possession and steadiness equal to the wickedness with which it was planned. The circumstances now clearly in evidence spread out the whole scene before us. Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim, and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep was sweet, the first sound slumbers of the night held him in their soft but strong embrace. The assassin enters, through the window already prepared, into an unoccupied apartment. With noiseless foot he paces the lonely hall, half lighted by the moon; he winds up the ascent of the stairs, and reaches the door of the chamber. Of this, he moves the lock, by soft and continued pressure, till it turns on its hinges without noise; and he enters, and beholds his victim before him. 

Webster went on to describe mindset of the murderer after committing the crime, beginning with the initial satisfaction of getting away with it, before the consuming feelings of guilt that inevitably follow.

The secret which the murderer possesses soon comes to possess him; and, like the evil spirits of which we read, it overcomes him, and leads him whithersoever it will. He feels it beating at his heart, rising to his throat, and demanding disclosure. He thinks the whole world sees it in his face, reads it in his eyes, and almost hears its workings in the very silence of his thoughts. It has become his master. It betrays his discretion, it breaks down his courage, it conquers his prudence. When suspicions from without begin to embarrass him, and the net of circumstances to entangle him, the fatal secret struggles with still greater violence to burst forth. It must be confessed, it will be confessed; there is no refuge from confession but suicide, and suicide is confession.

Based on this, many have surmised that the murder – and particularly Webster’s speech – provided inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe’s famous 1843 short story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” In this story, the narrator murders an old man while he sleeps, and then carefully dismembers the body and hides it under the floorboards. At first, he feels pride in having committed such a perfectly-planned crime, but is ultimately driven to confess his guilt after hearing what he believes to be the incessant beating of the dead man’s heart. Many of the detailed descriptions in the story closely echo Webster’s speech, including the end of the story, where the narrator’s guilt steadily consumes him until he finally tells the police “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! –tear up the planks! here, here! –It is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Along with Poe, the murder likely had an effect on Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was living in Salem at the time. Although they would not be written for another two decades, both The House of the Seven Gables and The Scarlet Letter appear to incorporate elements of the crime and the trial. In the former, the elderly and wealthy Jaffrey Pyncheon is apparently murdered by a relative for his money. In the latter, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale experiences intense guilt regarding his secret affair with Hester Prynne, and the novel traces his mental and physical decline until, after many years, he finally makes a public confession and then dies in the arms of Hester.

In the meantime, Stephen White inherited this house after his uncle’s murder, and in 1834 he sold it to David Pingree (1795-1863), who was yet another prominent Salem merchant. Pingree was born in 1795 in Georgetown, Massachusetts, but spent much of his childhood in Bridgton, Maine. When he turned 18, he returned to Essex County, and began working for his uncle, Thomas Perkins, who owned a merchant business here in Salem. He inherited a substantial fortune after his uncle’s death in 1830, and continued to prosper as a merchant over the next few decades, with a fleet of ships that imported goods from ports throughout Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and the East Indies.

Pingree became known as the “Merchant Prince of Salem,” but by this point the city’s once-prosperous shipping industry was in decline. He evidently saw this coming, and began diversifying his investments before ultimately retiring from the mercantile business altogether in 1848. He was a founder and president of the Naumkeag Bank, as well as the president of the Naumkeag Cotton Company, but much of his wealth ended up in the wilderness of Maine, where he purchased vast tracts of timberland as an investment. During this time, he also played a role in local politics, serving as a presidential elector for Zachary Taylor in 1848 and as mayor of Salem for a single one-year term from March 1851 to March 1852.

Pingree died in 1863, but his widow Ann continued to live here for another 30 years until her death in 1893. Their son David (1841-1932) inherited the house, and also carried on his father’s business interests. Like his father, he served as president of both the bank and the cotton company, and also continued to expand the family’s land holdings in northern Maine. He was a lifelong bachelor, and he evidently resided here alone after the death of his mother, although census records from the early 20th century show that he regularly employed two to three live-in servants.

In 1933, a year after Pingree’s death at the age of 91, his family donated the house to the nearby Essex Institute. It was opened to the public as a museum, and it is now one of the many historic homes that are owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, which was formed in 1992 when the Essex merged with the Peabody Museum of Salem. Today, the front facade of the house is mostly hidden by two trees, but its exterior has not seen any notable changes since the first photo was taken, and it still stands as one of the finest examples of Federal-style architecture in the country.

Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace, Salem, Mass

The house at 27 Union Street in Salem, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This house is known today as the birthplace of Nathaniel Hawthorne, but the house itself is actually significantly older than that. It was built sometime around the 1730s, and was originally the home of Joshua Pickman, a ship captain from Boston. He commanded a variety of merchant ships throughout the first few decades of the 18th century, and as late as 1737 he was the captain of a ship owned by Peter Faneuil, the namesake of Boston’s Faneuil Hall. However, he evidently moved to Salem soon after, and lived in this house until 1745, when he sold the property to blacksmith Jonathan Phelps.

In 1756, Phelps’s daughter Rachel married Daniel Hathorne, a mariner who would later serve as a privateer during the American Revolution. They would have eight children, including Nathaniel Hathorne, who was the father of the famous author. Daniel purchased this house from his father-in-law in 1772, and owned it until his death in 1796. His son Nathaniel was married a few years later, to Elizabeth Clarke Manning, and the couple lived here in this house along with Rachel. Like so many of the other members of his family, Nathaniel was also a mariner, and he was at sea on July 4, 1804, when his second child and oldest son, Nathaniel Hathorne, Jr., was born in the second floor of the house.

The Hathornes ultimately had three children, although the elder Nathaniel never saw his youngest, Maria Louisa, who was born on January 9, 1808. He had left Salem a few weeks earlier, on December 28, 1807, as captain of the Nabby, but he died of yellow fever while at Suriname in early 1808. Soon after, his widow Elizabeth and the three young children moved out of this house and into her parents’ house, located on the next street over at 10 1/2 Herbert Street. It was practically in the backyard of their old home, and is still standing in the present-day scene – it is the three-story house on the left that is partially hidden behind a tree.

The Hathornes lived with the Manning family in the Herbert Street house, on and off, for many years. Young Nathaniel, who would later change the spelling of his last name to Hawthorne, spent much of his boyhood there, aside from a few years living in Maine with his uncles. It was a modest house, crowded with many of his relatives, and Nathaniel had a room on the third floor, with a window that overlooked his birthplace. He would later refer to the Herbert Street house as “Castle Dismal,” although it was also the place where he wrote many of his early works. Writing in 1840, when he was still in the midst of establishing himself as an author, he described his room in the house with his characteristic dark and gloomy tone:

Here I have written many tales—many that have been burned to ashes, many that have doubtless deserved the same fate. This claims to be called a haunted chamber, for thousands upon thousands of visions have appeared to me in it; and some few of them have become visible to the world. If ever I should have a biographer, he ought to make great mention of this chamber in my memoirs, because so much of my lonely youth was wasted here, and here my mind and character were formed; and here I have been glad and hopeful, and here I have been despondent. And here I sat a long, long time, waiting patiently for the world to know me, and sometimes wondering why it did not know me sooner, or whether it would ever know me at all—at least till I were in my grave.

In the meantime, while Hawthorne was in the process of becoming one of the greatest American writers of the 19th century, his birthplace here on Union Street had a variety of residents. By the time the first photo was taken around 1900, it had been nearly a century since four-year-old Nathaniel and his family had moved out of the house. It was owned by William White, a 60-year-old Irish immigrant who worked as a day laborer. He had owned the house since at least 1897, and the 1900 census shows him living here with his wife Margaret, their adult children Robert, William, and Mary, and his sister, Ellen Grady. They also rented a portion of the house to shoe repairer David Pierce and his wife Elizabeth.

The house would remain in the White family throughout the first half of the 20th century. By 1940, it was the home of William’s younger son, William, Jr., and his wife Catherine. William died later that year, but Catherine continued to live here until her death in 1957. The house was subsequently purchased by The House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, and in 1958 it was moved about a quarter mile east of here to Hardy Street. There, it joined several other historic houses, including the House of Seven Gables, which had been made famous by Hawthorne’s 1851 novel of the same name.

More than 60 years later, Hawthorne’s birthplace is still open to the public as a museum, at its new location on Hardy Street. Its exterior has been well-preserved, and it does not look significantly different from its appearance when the first photo was taken, although the rear ell – partially visible on the right side in the first photo – was not moved with the rest of the house. During this time, though, the former site of the house here on Union Street has remained vacant, and it is now part of the backyard of a house on Herbert Street.