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.

North Bridge, Salem, Mass

Looking north across the bridge over the North River in Salem, around 1895-1905. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

More than a century before the first photo was taken, this scene on North Street in Salem was the site of Leslie’s Retreat, a confrontation that is said to have been the first armed resistance to British rule in the American colonies. The event occurred on February 26, 1775, less than two months before the more famous battles at Lexington and Concord, and was the result of a British effort to seize cannons that were stored in a blacksmith’s shop on the north side of the river.

On that day, some 240 British soldiers, under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Leslie, landed in Marblehead and subsequently marched through Salem on their way to the North Bridge. However, by the time they arrived at the south side of the river, the town’s militia had already assembled here, and the drawbridge span had been raised to obstruct their path. Colonel Leslie demanded that it be lowered, and even threatened to open fire if it was not, but the militia stood their ground, their ranks swelled by a growing crowd that shouted insults at the British soldiers.

At one point during the long standoff, the British made an attempt to seize several boats in the river. However, the locals noticed this, and began smashing the bottoms of the boats before the British could reach them. During the ensuing struggle, the soldiers threatened the men with bayonets, but one Salem man, Joseph Whicher, opened his shirt and dared them to stab him. One soldier obliged, lightly pricking him in the chest with his bayonet. It was enough to draw blood, making it arguably the first American blood spilled during the Revolution.

As dusk approached, Leslie realized that the situation was hopeless. He finally reached a compromise with the militia, and was allowed to cross the bridge if he agreed to proceed no further than the blacksmith shop. Everyone on both sides knew that the cannons were long gone by this point, having been removed to a more secure location, but the deal allowed Leslie to save face by technically carrying out his orders. He duly performed a cursory search of the blacksmith shop, found no cannons, and then he and his men marched back to their ship in Marblehead, escorted by local militiamen from all of the surrounding towns.

Although little-known today, this confrontation was an important test of American resolve, and also demonstrated the colonists’ ability to summon large numbers of militiamen at short notice. These same factors were present, on a much larger and bloodier scale, less than two months later, when the British made a similar move to seize military supplies in Concord. Coincidentally, the subsequent battle in Concord also occurred at a bridge known as the North Bridge, and it is that one, as opposed to the North Bridge here in Salem, that has been immortalized as “the rude bridge that arched the flood” where the embattled farmer “fired the shot heard round the world.”

By the time the first photo was taken, the scene had changed significantly from its 18th century appearance. Salem was no longer the prosperous seaport that it had been in the years immediately after the American Revolution, and much of this area along the North River had been developed for industrial use. A few of these industries are visible on the right side of the photo, including the Locke Brothers company, which produced steam fittings in the large three-story building near the foreground. In front of this building is a one-story building that housed the offices of the Collins Brothers coal company, and the coal shed is partially visible on the far right side of the photo.

Today, this scene is essentially unrecognizable from the first photo. Not only are most of the 19th century buildings gone, but the road itself has been completely rebuilt. The river, once been an impassable barrier for the British soldiers, is now hardly even noticeable for modern drivers. However, there are several buildings that appear to survive from the first photo, including one that was likely standing during the events of February 26, 1775. Located at 98 North Street, directly opposite Mason Street, this three-story gambrel-roofed house is barely visible in the distance of both photos, at the point where the road curves out of view. It is now heavily modified from its original appearance, with a storefront occupying part of the ground floor, but it was probably built between 1750 and 1770, making it old enough to have been here when the Leslie’s Retreat occurred.

Washington Street, Salem, Mass

Looking north on Washington Street from the corner of Essex Street in the center of Salem, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

One of the great features of Salem is its remarkably well-preserved downtown area, with hundreds of historic buildings that date as far back as the 17th century. Here in the center of the city, both Washington Street and Essex Street are lined with historic commercial blocks, although this particular view of Washington Street does not have very many buildings that survive from the first photo. In fact, the only building that is easily identifiable in both photos is the Neal and Newhall Building on the far right. This was built in 1892 at the northeast corner of the intersection, and is still standing with few significant changes except for the ground floor storefront and the balustrade atop the roof.

The other buildings beyond the Neal and Newhall Building on the right side of the street are still standing from the first photo, although it is hard to tell from this angle. These include, starting in the foreground, the Newhall Annex (c.1902), City Hall (1837), and the Kinsman Block (c.1882). However, on the more visible left side of the street, not much remains from the first photo. In the distance, near the center of the photo, is the Tabernacle Congregational Church, which was built in 1854 and demolished in 1922 to build the current church building on the site. Next to the church, barely visible at the base of the steeple, is the Odell Block, which was built in 1890. This three-story brick commercial block is the only building on the left side of the first photo that has survived largely unaltered.

The only other building on the left side of the street that apparently still stands today is the one on the left side, with the American flag flying above it in the first photo. This was the home of the William G. Webber dry goods business, and the signs on the building advertise for other tenants such as the New York Life Insurance Company and the Merchants National Bank. It was known as the Endicott Building, and its National Register of Historic Places listing indicates that it was built in 1885 and remodeled in 1911. However, the first photo shows a date of 1872, which suggests that it was actually a little older. The 1911 renovations apparently altered most of the original exterior, though, and the building went through even more dramatic changes in recent years, adding several stories to the top of the original building, and today there are no visible remnants from its original turn-of-the-century appearance.

Skinner Gymnasium, Northfield, Mass

The Skinner Gymnasium, on the former Northfield campus of the Northfield Mount Hermon School, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2017:

The present-day Northfield Mount Hermon School dates back to 1879, when it was established as the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. Its founder was the noted evangelist Dwight Lyman Moody, who opened the school near his birthplace in the northern part of Northfield, just a little south of the New Hampshire border. Two years later, Moody established the Mount Hermon School for Boys on a separate campus in nearby Gill, Massachusetts, and the two schools would remain separate institutions for nearly a century.

By the early 1890s, the Northfield school was in need of a gymnasium, in order to promote health and physical fitness among the girls. The result was this building, which was completed in 1895 and named the Skinner Gymnasium in honor of its benefactor, Holyoke textile manufacturer William Skinner. The building had a variety of amenities, including a bowling alley, a swimming tank, and the gymnasium itself, which included an elevated running track. At the time, basketball was just beginning to gain popularity after having been invented a few years earlier, and by the turn of the century the girls were playing here in the gym on intramural teams.

The first photo was taken within about a decade of the building’s completion, and shows its Queen Anne-style architecture, which was common for public and institutional buildings of the era. It also shows some elements of the popular Romanesque Revival style, including the asymmetrical design, the rounded arch over the door, and the use of towers and turrets. However, over time the building would be expanded and altered with several 20th century additions, although this portion was not significantly changed. The first of these additions came in 1930, when a pool was added to the rear of the building. Then, after the completion of a new gymnasium in 1971, this building was converted into a student center, and in 1987 a large library wing was added to the left side, just out of view in the 2017 scene.

The Northfield School formally merged with Mount Hermon in 1972, but continued to use both campuses for many years. This building was used as the student center and, after 1987, the library for the Northfield campus up until 2005, when the school consolidated its operations at the Mount Hermon campus. The Northfield property was subsequently sold to Hobby Lobby, which, in turn, donated it to the National Christian Foundation. Then, in 2017, it was given to Thomas Aquinas College, a Catholic college that is based in California. The school is currently in the process of converting the property into a branch campus, and hopes to open by the fall of 2019.

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Brattleboro, Vermont

St. Michael’s Episcopal Church on Main Street in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Throughout New England’s early history, Episcopalians were a religious minority, particularly in small, rural towns, where the Congregational church was the predominant religious organization. However, there were Episcopalians in the Brattleboro area as early as 1817, when a church was built in neighboring Guilford. Episcopalian services were apparently held here in Brattleboro on occasion, and the first regular church was established in 1836, although this only lasted for a few years. By the early 1850s, though, the town’s population increase, combined with an influx of affluent summer visitors, led to the establishment of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in 1853.

The parish’s first, permanent church building was completed in 1858, on a lot immediately to the north of the recently-constructed town hall. It is set back from the street, and the ivy and trees hide much of the building’s design in the first photo, but its appearance resembled a medieval English country church. It featured a blend of Gothic and Tudor elements, including a steep roof, a quatrefoil window below the main gable, and a half-timbered exterior with brick infill. Local tradition holds that it was the work of prominent architect and Brattleboro native Richard Morris Hunt, but there does not appear to be any documentation to support this. Instead, it was evidently based on the designs of Joseph Coleman Hart, a New York architect who was responsible for a number of Gothic-style churches during this period.

The church stood here for nearly a century, but by the early 1950s this Main Street site had become valuable commercial real estate. The mid-20th century saw a number of downtown redevelopment projects across the country, most of which involved the demolition of significant numbers of historic buildings. Here in Brattleboro, this included the 1953 demolition of the old town hall, which was located just to the right of St. Michael’s Church. The site of the church was also slated for redevelopment, but unlike the town hall, the old church was moved to a new location about a half mile north of here, at the corner of Putney Road and Bradley Avenue. A bank building now stands on the lot that the church once occupied, but the historic church is still standing at its new location, and remains in use as an active Episcopalian parish.

Soldiers’ Monument, Brattleboro, Vermont

The Civil War monument and bandstand on the town common in Brattleboro, around 1905. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Civil War monuments are a near-ubiquitous feature of almost every town common across the country, and Brattleboro is no exception. Dedicated in 1887, the Brattleboro Soldiers’ Monument has a granite base, with bronze plaques on all four sides and an eight-foot-tall bronze infantryman on top. As indicated on one of the plaques, the monument was to commemorate “the loyalty and patriotism of the men of Brattleboro, who fought for liberty and the union in the great rebellion of 1861-1865.” According to the plaque, the town had a total of 381 residents who served in the war, 31 of whom died.

The monument was built at a cost of $6,000, and the June 17, 1887 dedication ceremony drew a number of dignitaries here to the common. It was presided over by Frederick Holbrook, a Brattleboro native who served as governor for the first two years of the war, and whose father once lived in a house across the street from the common. The dedication speech was given by James R. Tanner, a Civil War veteran who had lost both of his legs at the Second Battle of Bull Run. Tanner was the stenographer who had been summoned to Abraham Lincoln’s deathbed in order to record eyewitness testimonies from the assassination, and he later went on to become Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic, serving from 1905 to 1906. Aside from Holbrook and Tanner, other dignitaries included Governor Ebenezer J. Ormsbee, and Brattleboro resident Colonel George W. Hooker, who was later awarded the Medal of Honor for single-handedly capturing 116 Confederate soldiers during the Battle of Crampton’s Gap in 1862.

The dedication ceremony drew about 5,000 people to the common, but an even larger crowd – estimated at 8,000 – gathered here on September 1, 1902, when Theodore Roosevelt gave a speech during a presidential tour of Vermont. This took place only a few years before the first photo was taken, and Roosevelt spoke from the bandstand in the center of the photo, just to the right of the monument. The president was accompanied by a number of notable Vermonters, including Frederick Holbrook, then-Governor William W. Stickney, federal judge Hoyt H. Wheeler, and U.S. Attorney James L. Martin, whom Roosevelt would later appoint as Wheeler’s successor on the bench. Roosevelt was escorted here from the train station, spoke from the bandstand for about 15 minutes, and was presented with a bouquet of roses. He was then escorted back to the station, and from there he traveled south across the border to Northfield, Massachusetts, where he spent the night at the Northfield Hotel.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, this scene has not significantly changed. The old bandstand was evidently replaced at some point, and a different gazebo now stands on the site. Along with this, the cannon and shot are now gone, and its approximate location is now a picnic table. Otherwise, though, this site continues to be used as the town common, and the Soldiers’ Monument still stands here, now accompanied by a second memorial to the Brattleboro residents who were killed in World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.