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.

Derby-Ward House, Salem, Mass

The house at 27 Herbert Street, at the corner of Derby Street in Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built around 1735-36, and was originally the home of Richard Derby, Sr., a mariner who would go on to become a prosperous merchant and the patriarch of one of Salem’s leading families. He moved into this house when he was in his early 20s, around the same time as his marriage to Mary Hodges in 1735. The following year he made his first voyage as captain, commanding the sloop Ranger, which he sailed to Spain with a cargo of fish and returned with oil, fruit, and handkerchiefs. He would spend the next two decades as a captain, taking many voyages to Europe, the West Indies, and other destinations, before retiring from the sea in 1757.

By this point, Derby had become a wealthy man, with ownership interests in a number of ships, and he began operating as a merchant here in Salem. Then, in 1762, he began construction of Derby Wharf, which would eventually become the largest wharf in the harbor. He did lose a few ships during the French and Indian War, and his business was further affected by the Sugar Act of 1764, which placed a tax on the molasses trade. However, Derby still continued to prosper, and was actively involved in the merchant business until the early 1770s.

Richard and Mary Derby raised six children here in this house: Richard, Jr., Mary, Elias, John, Martha, and Sarah. Both the younger Richard and John became ship captains, with John achieving some fame for the role he played at the start of the American Revolution. The war started on April 19, 1775, with the battles of Lexington and Concord. However, in the days when transatlantic news traveled only as quickly as the ship that carried it, the accounts of the battles would take time to reach England. The Patriot leaders recognized the value of being first to bring the news to the British people, since it would allow their version of events to influence public opinion, so John Derby was given the responsibility of carrying these reports. He departed Salem on April 29 aboard the Quero, and arrived in London on May 28, nearly two weeks ahead of the ship that brought the official British account of the battles.

However, the most prominent of Richard Derby’s children was his son Elias Hasket Derby, who took over control of the family merchant business after Richard’s retirement.  Like the rest of his family, he was a staunch Patriot during the war, and owned a number of privateers that preyed on British shipping. He profited from these successful privateers, and his fortune continued to grow after the war, as Salem ships began trading with the East Indies, China, India, and other distant ports. By the 1790s, he was among the wealthiest men in the country, and lived in an elegant mansion on Washington Street, near the center of Salem. This period coincided with Salem’s height of prosperity as a seaport, when it ranked as the seventh-largest city or town in the country, and the wealthiest on a per-capita basis. Derby had much to do with this, and some 50 years after his death he was referred to as “King Derby” by Nathaniel Hawthorne, in his introduction to The Scarlet Letter.

Richard Derby died in 1783, leaving this house to Elias, who rented it out to several different tenants between 1785 and 1795. Then, in 1795, he sold the house to lumber merchant Miles Ward, who subdivided the property and lived in this house with his wife Hannah. Ward died just a year later, but the house would remain in his family for many years. His son, Joseph Chipman Ward, later inherited the property, followed by his son Miles Ward. As late as 1897, the house was owned by Frances L. Ward, who was the widow of Chipman Ward, another of Joseph’s children.

The first photo was taken a few years later, around 1906. By this point, the house was being rented by Thomas and Anna Rock, two Irish immigrants who were in their 60s at the time. They lived here with two of their adult children, Mary and Thomas, both of whom were employed as clerks. This was a significant difference from a century and a half earlier, when it had been the home of one of Salem’s wealthiest merchants, but this reflected the changes that the city had undergone in the 19th century, as its once-prosperous shipping industry steadily declined. However, the house is still standing today, more than 280 years after the newlywed Richard and Mary Hodges first moved in, and its exterior has seen few changes since the first photo was taken.

Custom House, Salem, Mass

The Custom House at the corner of Orange and Derby Streets in Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

In a city with countless historic buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, one of the landmarks is the Salem Custom House, which was built in 1819 at the corner of Orange and Derby Streets. At the time, Salem was one of the busiest seaports in the country, with ships arriving with a wide range of cargoes from around the world, and the Custom House was located directly across the street from Derby Wharf, the largest of the many wharves in the harbor. It was also situated in the midst of many fine mansions, including the home of shipbuilder Benjamin Hawkes, which can be seen on the right side of both photos.

The imposing design of brick Custom House represented the presence of the United States government here in the port. Long before income tax and other direct taxes, the vast majority of the federal revenue came from duties on imported goods, so this building had an important role in the nation’s finances. For example, in 1819, the year that this building was completed, the customs duties across the country amounted to over $20 million, which comprised more than 80 percent of the total federal revenue of $24.6 million. By 1832, this had risen to nearly 90 percent, and included some $543,000 in revenue that was collected here in Salem. Although only a tenth of the revenue that was collected in Boston during that year, it was enough to rank Salem sixth among all customs districts in the country.

Today, despite its architectural value and its importance to Salem’s maritime history, the Custom House is probably best known for its association with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who immortalized the building in the introduction to his 1850 novel The Scarlet Letter. A native of Salem, Hawthorne returned to his hometown in 1846 when he was appointed Surveyor of the Port of Salem, with an office here in the Custom House and a salary of $1,200 per year. By this point, the 41-year-old Hawthorne had achieved only moderate success as a writer, and this job provided some much-needed financial stability for him and his growing family.

Hawthorne had managed to obtain the position thanks to his close friendships with leading members of the Democratic Party, including future president Franklin Pierce. However, the job – which involved weighing and measuring incoming cargoes – interfered with his literary career, and he did very little writing during his time as surveyor. The position proved short-lived, though, thanks to the Democratic loss in the 1848 presidential election. The victorious Whig candidate, Zachary Taylor, took office on March 4, 1849, and just three months later Hawthorne was dismissed from the Custom House.

Embittered by this dismissal, and with plenty of spare time on his hands, Hawthorne poured his emotions into his writing. From the late summer of 1849, until February 1850, he wrote The Scarlet Letter in the third-floor study of his home on Mall Street. This novel proved to be his literary breakthrough, and helped to establish him as one of the leading American authors of the era. The dark themes and bleak ending of the novel likely reflected his mood during this period of his life, but he was also more explicit in showing his anger. The novel begins with a lengthy introduction, titled “The Custom-House.” It takes up nearly 20 percent of the entire novel, and yet has very little to do with the actual plot of the story, aside from explaining how the present-day narrator discovered the 17th century story of Hester Prynne and the scarlet letter here in the Custom House.

However, this explanation comes as almost an afterthought at the end of the introduction, which is otherwise a long, semi-autobiographical polemic against both the Custom House and the city of Salem as a whole. By the time Hawthorne had taken his position here at the Custom House, Salem had seen a significant decline in its shipping industry. It had peaked in prosperity during the first few decades of the 19th century, around the time that this building was opened, but by mid-century the waterfront area featured rotting wharves and a Custom House building that was far too large for the modest amount of commerce in the city. In his introduction, Hawthorne described the area surrounding the Custom House, writing:

In my native town of Salem, at the head of what, half a century ago, in the days of old King Derby, was a bustling wharf—but which is now burdened with decayed wooden warehouses, and exhibits few or no symptoms of commercial life; except, perhaps, a bark or brig, half-way down its melancholy length, discharging hides; or, nearer at hand, a Nova Scotia schooner, pitching out her cargo of firewood—at the head, I say, of this dilapidated wharf, which the tide often overflows, and along which, at the base and in the rear of the row of buildings, the track of many languid years is seen in a border of unthrifty grass—here, with a view from its front windows adown this not very enlivening prospect, and thence across the harbour, stands a spacious edifice of brick.

He went on to describe the exterior appearance of the building, giving particular attention to the carved eagle above the main entrance:

Its front is ornamented with a portico of half-a-dozen wooden pillars, supporting a balcony, beneath which a flight of wide granite steps descends towards the street. Over the entrance hovers an enormous specimen of the American eagle, with outspread wings, a shield before her breast, and, if I recollect aright, a bunch of intermingled thunderbolts and barbed arrows in each claw. With the customary infirmity of temper that characterizes this unhappy fowl, she appears by the fierceness of her beak and eye, and the general truculency of her attitude, to threaten mischief to the inoffensive community; and especially to warn all citizens careful of their safety against intruding on the premises which she overshadows with her wings.

Later in the introduction, he described the interior, noting that “The edifice—originally projected on a scale adapted to the old commercial enterprise of the port, and with an idea of subsequent prosperity destined never to be realized—contains far more space than its occupants know what to do with.” It is in one such space – a large, unfinished room on the second floor – that the narrator of The Scarlet Letter discovers the story of Hester, along with the old scarlet letter that she once wore. These had once belonged to the fictional Surveyor Pue, who had preceded the narrator in his position at the Custom House, and were said to have provided the inspiration for the novel.

Neither Surveyor Pue, nor Hester or her scarlet letter, actually existed, but otherwise the introduction provides a fairly accurate – if rather jaded – view of Salem and the Custom House in the middle of the 19th century. The building did see some renovations only a few years later, from 1853 to 1854, and included finishing the rooms on the second floor that Hawthorne had described, along with adding a cupola to the roof. However, the decline of the city’s shipping industry continued over the next few decades, until overseas trade had effectively ceased by the 1870s.

When the first photo was taken around 1906, the building was still in use as a custom house. It had been painted yellow a few years earlier in 1901, but otherwise looked much the same as it had in Hawthorne’s day, aside from the cupola. Even the carved eagle, which had been installed in 1826, was still perched atop the building, and would remain there until it was removed in 2004 and replaced with a fiberglass replica. However, by this point the number appointed officials here in Salem had steadily dwindled. The position of naval officer was abolished here in 1865, followed by that of the surveyor a decade later. Finally, in 1913, Salem’s customs district was absorbed into Boston’s district.

Although no longer in a separate district, the old Custom House continued to be used by the Customs Service until 1936. It was then transferred to the National Park Service, becoming the centerpiece of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. This park, which was formally established in 1938, was the first National Historic Site in the country, and today includes a number of historic structures along the Salem waterfront. The old Custom House has seen few changes during this time, and still looks essentially the same as it did when the first photo was taken, aside from the removal of the yellow exterior paint. The building is now open to the public, featuring a restored interior along with exhibits on the Customs Service, including the original eagle from the roof.

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.