Clifford Crowninshield House, Salem, Mass

The house at 74 Washington Square East, at the corner of Forrester Street in Salem, on May 12, 1941. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was built between 1804 and 1806 for Clifford Crowninshield, a merchant who was a member of one of Salem’s most prominent families. It was the work of noted Salem architect Salem McIntire, and featured a Federal-style design that was typical for mansions of this period, including a symmetrical front facade, three stories, and a hip roof that was originally topped by a balustrade. Crowninshield had the house built around the same time as his marriage to Elizabeth Fisher, the daughter of Nathaniel Fisher, who was the rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. There was a considerable age difference between the two, with Clifford about 44 years old and Elizabeth only about 20 at the time of their marriage in 1805.

Ultimately, though, neither of them lived in this house for very long. Elizabeth died in March 1806, less than a year after their marriage and possibly before the house was even completed, and Clifford died three years later in 1809. However, their short marriage did manage to cause significant controversy within the Crowninshield family, and not necessarily because of their age difference. Writing in his diary on the day after Clifford’s death, local pastor William Bentley explained the circumstances surrounding their marriage:

In this wealth & unmarried he [Crowninshield] attracted the notice of N. Fisher . . . & was persuaded to marry his only daughter, who soon deceased after marriage. This alliance was displeasing to his 6 sisters who had no advantages from education, & many of them scanty means, & an open alienation from their Brother ensued with continued three years till within a few months of his death.

Fisher had evidently hoped that Crowninshield’s estrangement from his sisters would give him access to the family fortune, but Bentley went on to explain that, after he and his sisters reconciled shortly before his death,

This reconcilliation excluded the Rector & disappointed his hopes who had removed into one of the houses of his Son in Law & had indulged great expectations. In the last hours all intercourse ceased & the Rector has been left to lament his numerous indiscretions & ill placed confidence, in the serious evils of his affairs.

In the end, Crowninshield’s mansion was inherited by his sister Sarah and her husband James Devereux. He was, like so many of Salem’s other upper class men of the era, a ship captain and merchant. In 1799, his ship, the Franklin, became the first American ship to sail to Japan, and he subsequently developed a lucrative trading business with Europe, Southeast Asia, the West Indies, and South America. His company specialized in commodities such as coffee, pepper, and sugar, and included one 1808 voyage from which the Franklin returned with a cargo of over half a million pounds of coffee.

Sarah Devereux died in 1815, only a few years after inheriting the house from her brother, but James lived here until his death in 1846. His daughter, Abigail, then inherited the property, and lived here with her husband, William Dean Waters. They were both in their 40s at the time, and had six children, four of whom were at the house by 1850. That year’s census shows their sons William, James, Edward, and Clifford, whose ages ranged from 20 to nine, and they also lived here with Abigail’s sister Elizabeth and a servant.

Abigail died in 1879, followed by her husband a year later, and the house was then inherited by their son, William Crowninshield Waters. He sold the property in 1892, ending almost 90 years of ownership by the same family, and it was purchased by Zina Goodell, who was a machinist and blacksmith. Goodell made some alterations to the house, including moving it closer to Forrester Street. This made room for a second house on the lot, which was built just to the right of the house, at 72 Washington Square East.

Goodell lived here until his death in 1920, but the house would remain in his family for many years. His daughter Mary and her husband, George Patterson, were living here when the first photo was taken in 1941, as part of the New Deal-era Historic American Buildings Survey. Today, more than 75 years later, the house has since been converted into condominiums, but the exterior has not seen any substantial changes from this angle, aside from the loss of the balustrade atop the roof. It is now a contributing property in the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Northfield Chateau, Northfield, Mass (2)

Another view of the Northfield Chateau, at the end of Highland Avenue in Northfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

As mentioned in the previous post, this mansion was built in 1903 as the summer residence of Francis Robert Schell, a wealthy New York businessman. He and his wife Mary had begun visiting Northfield in 1890, and originally came here because of evangelist D. L. Moody, who lived in the town and ran the nearby Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies. After the death of his father in 1900, Francis inherited a considerable fortune, and used it to build this 99-room mansion. He hired noted architect Bruce Price, who designed the house in a Châteauesque style that gave it the appearance of a French castle, complete with plenty of turrets, arches, and other embellishments.

The house was part of a 125-acre estate that Schell owned here in Northfield, and the family regularly visited here for the next 25 summers, until Francis’s death in 1928. Mary outlived him by more than a decade, but she reportedly refused to stay in the house after his death, instead choosing to spend summers at the adjacent Northfield Hotel. The house was eventually acquired by the Northfield School, and was used as an annex for the hotel, as well as a venue for the school’s prom and other events. Along with this, the basement, which had previously been the servants’ quarters, was converted into a youth hostel. It was still owned by the school when the first photo was taken in 1963, but by this point the 60-year-old mansion was in poor condition, and was too costly for the school to maintain. It was demolished later in 1963, and today the site is an open field next to the Northfield Golf Club.

Northfield Chateau, Northfield, Mass

The Northfield Chateau at the end of Highland Avenue in Northfield, in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Unlike many other parts of New England, the Connecticut River Valley in Massachusetts was never a major summer resort destination during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As a result, the area saw few of the grand hotels and Gilded Age “cottages” that were built in places like Bar Harbor, the Berkshires, Newport, the North Shore, and the White Mountains. However, one of the exceptions was this 99-room Châteauesque mansion in Northfield, which was completed in 1903 as the summer residence of Francis Robert Schell, a wealthy New York businessman.

Francis Schell and his wife Mary first came to Northfield in the summer of 1890, and stayed at the nearby Northfield Hotel. They originally came because of prominent evangelist D. L. Moody, who lived in the town and ran the Northfield Seminary for Young Ladies, but the Schells soon fell in love with the town itself. They continued to return each summer, eventually purchasing a summer house. However, Francis’s father, Robert Schell, died in 1900, leaving him with a substantial fortune, and that same year the Schells began planning a massive house here in Northfield.

The house was designed by noted architect Bruce Price, and featured a style similar to his most famous work, the iconic Château Frontenac in Quebec. It would have blended in well in places like Lenox or Newport, but here in Northfield it stood out as garish and ostentatious, in the midst of a small farming community with otherwise modest houses. The house’s size and style did little to endear Schell to the town, nor did the fact that he enclosed his 125-acre estate with a fence to prevent locals from trespassing on the property. Schell did make at least one major contribution to the town, donating the nearby Schell Bridge over the Connecticut River, although even this was rather self-serving, since it gave him direct access from his house to the railroad station across the river.

The Schells spent many summers here in the house, from its completion in 1903 until Francis’s death in 1928. Mary would continue to visit Northfield after his death, although she reportedly stayed at the Northfield Hotel, being unwilling to return to the mansion without Francis. By this point, though, the house had little resale value, despite the extravagance that went in to its design and construction. The grand summer houses of the Gilded Age were falling out of fashion, a trend that was accelerated by the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The house was eventually purchased by the Northfield School, and for many years it was used as the venue for the school’s prom, which became known as “The Chat,” after the chateau. It was also used as an annex for the Northfield Hotel, and at one point the basement was converted into a youth hostel. However, it steadily fell into disrepair, and by the 1960s it was becoming too expensive for the school to maintain. The first photo was taken in 1963, as part of a Historic American Buildings Survey study of the building, and it was demolished later in the year, just 60 years after its completion. Today, the site of the house is an open field adjacent to the Northfield Golf Club, which is located on the former site of the Northfield Hotel.

Hezekiah Chaffee House, Windsor, Connecticut (2)

The Hezekiah Chaffee House at 108 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, on January 21, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:


The front side of this house was featured in a previous post, and this view here shows the back of the house, which has hardly changed in the past 80 years since the first photo was taken. The house is perhaps the finest example of 18th century architecture in Windsor, and it was originally built around 1765 for Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee, a prominent local physician. He lived here until his death in 1819, but the house itself remained in the family for another century.

In 1926, a little over a decade before the first photo was taken, the house became the Chaffee School, the girls-only counterpart to the nearby Loomis Institute. After the schools merged to form the current Loomis Chaffee School in 1970, the house was sold to the town of Windsor. It is now a museum, run by the Windsor Historical Society, and and it is a centerpiece of the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Jonathan Ellsworth House, Windsor, Connecticut

The house at 336 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, in August 1938. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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This house is one of the finest Georgian homes in Windsor, and was built in 1784 for Jonathan Ellsworth. They were a prominent family in 18th century Windsor, and one of his relatives was Oliver Ellsworth, the third Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, who lived a little further north of here on Palisado Avenue. Jonathan Ellsworth’s house would remain in his family for many years, and by the mid-19th century it was owned by William H. Ellsworth, who lived here with his wife Emily and their four children: William, Horace, Elizabeth, and Clara. Horace would later inherit the house, and owned it until his death in 1934, exactly 150 years after the house was built.

The first photo was taken only four years after Horace’s death, and it shows the alterations that had happened to the house over the years. It had lost many of its original Georgian details, and he WPA architectural survey, which was completed around the same time, noted that it was only in “fair” condition. However, in the 1960s it was restored to its former grandeur, with features such as historically appropriate windows, the scroll pediment over the door, the lintels over the first floor windows, and the quoins on the corners of the house. It is an excellent surviving example of an 18th century home in Windsor, and it is a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places.

Hezekiah Chaffee House, Windsor, Connecticut

The Hezekiah Chaffee House at 108 Palisado Avenue in Windsor, on January 21, 1937. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

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The house in 2017:

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Dr. Hezekiah Chaffee was born in 1731 in Rehoboth, Massachusetts, and in the mid-1750s he moved to Windsor. Here, he married Lydia Griswold Phelps, a widow who was nine years older than him. He evidently prospered in his profession, because around 1765 he built this large, elegant home, directly opposite the green at the old town center on Palisado Avenue. Here, the Chaffees raised their five children: Hepsibah, Mary, Hezekiah, Jr., Esther, and John. They also had several slaves, with town records in 1791 indicating that an unnamed slave gave birth to a daughter, Betty Stevenson. At the time, slavery was legal in Connecticut, and would officially remain so until 1848, although gradual emancipation had reduced the number of slaves in the state to just a few dozen by then.

Perhaps the most notable event in the early history of the house came on November 4, 1774, when John Adams spent the night here while on his way back home from Philadelphia after the First Continental Congress. The future president kept a diary during the trip, primarily with brief daily accounts of where he ate and slept, along with occasional remarks about the character of his hosts. In his entry for “Fryday Novr. 4,” he mentioned that he dined in Hartford, and then “Lodged at Dr. Chafy’s in Windsor. Very cordially entertained.”

Dr. Chaffee lived here for the rest of his life, and also had his medical practice here in one of the ells of the home. His wife Lydia died in 1801, and he died in 1819, at the age of 88. The house went to his son, Hezekiah, Jr., who was also a physician. He died just two years later, but the house would remain in the Chaffee family for another century.

In 1926, the house became part of the Loomis Institute, a private school that had been founded 12 years earlier. Located a little north of the Loomis campus, the house became the Chaffee School, the girls-only counterpart to Loomis. It was in use by the school in 1937, when the first photograph was taken as part of Great Depression-era efforts to document historic buildings across the country. The two schools consolidated in 1970, forming the current Loomis Chaffee School.

The house was subsequently sold to the town of Windsor, and it is operated by the Windsor Historical Society as a museum. More than 250 years after its completion, and despite several changes in use, the house remains well-preserved on both the interior and exterior. It is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Windsor, a town that features many historic 18th century homes. Because of this, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, and it was subsequently designated as a contributing property in the Palisado Avenue Historic District, which also encompasses many of the other surrounding historic homes.