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.

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.

Thames and Mill Streets, Newport, RI

The southeast corner of Pelham and Mill Streets in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

 

The scene in 2017:

 

The first photo shows a mix of old, wood-frame commercial buildings on the east side of Thames Street, just south of Mill Street. The building on the left may have been the oldest in the scene, and probably dated back to the mid or late 18th century, with a large gambrel roof that commonly seen in Newport buildings of this era. It may have originally been built as a house, but by the time the first photo was taken it housed a variety of businesses, including the Newport Daily Observer newspaper, which had its offices in the storefront on the left side, and Edward Otto’s tailor shop, which was located on the right side. At the corner of the building, there is also a large sign for Child & Co. photographers, which had their studios here in the building.

Just to the right is a tall, narrow commercial building with a large clock hanging from the second floor. According to the National Register of Historic Places inventory, it was built sometime between 1741 and 1758, but was renovated in the 1850s. It does not seem clear how much is left from the original 18th century structure, but it was likely a single-family home that, like many other colonial-era Thames Street buildings, was converted into commercial space in the mid-19th century. By the 1860s, the ground floor of the building was the site of H.W. Pray’s watchmaking and jewelry business, and in 1873 the business was acquired by Edwin C. Blaine. He was still running the business here when the first photo was taken, and the watch sign became a longtime feature here on Thames Street.

To the right of Blaine’s store was another old commercial building that probably dated to the 18th or early 19th century. The building is too far from the camera to read any signs, but city directories of the mid-1880s show that it was the home of Richard Swan’s piano and organ business. However, the old building was demolished soon after the first photo was taken, and in 1894 it was replaced by the current three-story brick building. Known as Music Hall, it was owned by liquor dealer Dennis W. Sheehan, and early tenants included James A. Eddy’s grocery store and William H. Hilton’s hairdresser shop.

Of the three buildings in the first photo, only the Blaine building in the middle is still standing. Blaine operated his shop here until his death in 1904, and his son Joseph W. Blaine subsequently took over the jewelry business. He would run it for nearly 50 years, before finally selling it in 1952, a year before his own death. The store would remain here for many more years, still bearing the Blaine name, before finally closing sometime in the 1970s, after more than a century in business. However, the building is still there, with an exterior that is essentially unaltered. Even the storefront is mostly unchanged, and a large clock still hangs from the second floor, as a reminder of the watch and jewelry business that was once here.

Thames and Pelham Streets, Newport, RI (3)

Looking south on Thames Street toward the corner of Pelham Street in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

The scene in the first photo shows a mix of commercial buildings on the east side of Thames Street, from the corner of Pelham Street to Green Street a block away in the distance. Starting on the left side is the United States Hotel, which is explained in further detail in a previous post. Built in 1836 on the site of the earlier Townsend’s Coffee House, it was one of Newport’s leading hotels of the mid-19th century, and in the first photo the building also housed William P. Weeden’s “Ladies & Gent’s Restaurant” on the left and William T. Rutherford’s cigar shop on the right.

In the middle of both photos is the Newton Building, which is also explained in more detail in a previous post. This Romanesque-style commercial block was built a few years before the first photo was taken, and housed several businesses including the Adams Express Company and Frank L. Powell’s pharmacy. Just beyond the Newton Building, in sharp architectural contrast, was an 18th century house that had been converted into commercial use around the mid-19th century. It had been the childhood home of Elizabeth Champlin Mason, and it was where, in 1811, she married Oliver Hazard Perry, the Newport native who would later achieve fame as a naval hero in the War of 1812.

To the right of the former Mason house is the brick, three-story Savings Bank of Newport Building. The bank had been established in 1819, and occupied several different locations before this building was completed in the mid-1870s. When the first photo was taken, the building also housed the Aquidneck National Bank. However, in the early 1890s this bank moved across Green Street to the newly-built Kinsley Building, a two-story, Romanesque-style stone building that can be seen in the distance of the 2017 photo.

In more than 130 years since the first photo was taken, Thames Street has undergone some dramatic changes, most notably in the late 1960s when all of the buildings on the right side of the street were demolished to build America’s Cup Avenue parallel to Thames Street. Some of the older buildings on the left side have also been demolished or altered beyond recognition, including the United States Hotel. It closed in 1918, and sat vacant for the next 15 years until the top three floors were removed in 1933. The current building on the site appears to be the surviving first floor of the United States Hotel, although there are no recognizable details left from the first photo.

Further in the distance, the Mason house was demolished in the late 1950s to build a parking lot, but the two late 19th century buildings on either side of it – the Newton Building and the Savings Bank of Newport Building – are still standing, with few significant exterior alterations. Although built a few years after the first photo was taken, the Kinsley Building is also still there, and all three of these buildings are now part of the Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that was established in 1968, encompassing much of Newport’s historic downtown area.

Benjamin James Building, Newport, RI

The northeast corner of Thames and Franklin Streets in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The building in 2017:

Newport has many fine examples of architecture from a wide variety of styles, ranging from the colonial era to the 20th century. However, there are comparatively few examples of Federal-style architecture, which was common throughout the northeast in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This era coincided with a stagnation in Newport’s economy, which lasted from the American Revolution until the 1830s, when the city started to become a popular resort community. As a result, there was a limited amount of new construction, and none of Newport’s great architectural landmarks date to this period.

This modest commercial block, located at the corner of Thames and Franklin Streets, was built toward the end of this period, with the National Register of Historic Places inventory listing it as having been built in 1827 by Benjamin James. The early history of the building seems unclear, but by 1860 the ground floor was the home of William Alderson & Co., a wholesale tobacco and alcohol store. An 1860 advertisement in the Newport Daily News listed a wide variety of tobacco, pipes, cigar cases, snuff boxes, and related merchandise. In addition, the advertisement listed “Fine old Wines, Champagnes, Syrups, Cordials, Bitters, &c., fine old Brandies, Hollands, Gin, Wolfe’s Genuine Aromatic Schiedam Schnapps, and Liquors generally.” They were also “Agents for the Columbian Brewery Co.’s Pale and Amber Ale and Porter,” and offered “Goods delivered to any part of the city free of expense.”

By the end of the 1860s, the tobacco shop here was owned by John D. Richardson, “dealer in Havana and domestic cigars, fine meerschaum and briar pipes, tobacco, snuff, and smokers’ articles of all descriptions,” as listed in the 1869 city directory. Richardson was in his late 30s at the time, and during the 1870 census he and his wife Abby were living in an apartment above the store, along with their 12-year-old son John, Jr. According to that same census, Richardson did not own any real estate, but he had a personal estate valued at $2,000, equal to nearly $40,000 today.

The Richardson’s later moved into their own house at some point in the 1870s, but John was still running his business here in this building on Thames Street when the first photo was taken around 1885. The photo also shows a drugstore here in this building, in the storefront on the left side. Opened in 1885 by Charles M. Cole, the store sold “Drugs and medicines, a complete assortment of hair, tooth and nail brushes, perfumes, soaps, etc.,” as indicated in that year’s city directory. Like Richardson had previously done, Cole also lived in an apartment above the store, although by 1890 he and his wife Ella were living in a house elsewhere in Newport, along with their young son Norman.

John D. Richardson died in 1891, but his family remained in the cigar business for many years. The firm later became Richardson & Tilley, and operated out of this building until at least 1929, the last year that the company appears in the city directory. Cole, however, remained in business in this building for nearly 50 years, running his drugstore in the storefront on the left side until his retirement in 1933, two years before his death at the age of 77. In an article about his retirement, the Newport Mercury and Weekly News noted that “In all the years the structure has remained with no alteration, except a front installed by Mr. Cole some years ago, the old paneling and ornamentation remaining in its original form.”

Today, more than 130 years after the first photo was taken, the building’s exterior still has not significantly changed. There have been some minor changes, such as a large window on the right side, and the some of the old details, such as the window lintels, have been removed. The drugstore and the cigar shop are long gone, but the building itself still stands well-preserved, and it is now part of Newport Historic District, a National Historic Landmark district that was established in 1968 in downtown Newport.

Thames and Green Streets, Newport, RI

Looking north on Thames Street from Green Street in Newport, around 1885. Image courtesy of the Providence Public Library.

The scene in 2017:

These photos were taken a block south of the ones in the previous post, and some of those buildings can be seen in the distance on the left side. Closer in the foreground, in the block between Green and Pelham Streets, the first photo shows three commercial buildings. The one at the corner of Pelham Street, known as the Newton Building, was also featured in a previous post, and was built shortly before the first photo was taken. Just to the right of it was a smaller wood-frame building that dated back to the late 18th century and was likely the oldest building in the first photo. Finally, in the immediate foreground of both photos, is the Savings Bank of Newport, which was built in the mid-1870s.

The wood-framed building in the center of the first photo was built sometime prior to the 1790s, and was owned first by Philip Robinson, then by Robert and William Stoddard, and in 1791 it was sold to Christopher Champlin, a prominent merchant. His daughter Margaret and her husband, Dr. Benjamin Mason, lived here in this house, where they raised four children, including their daughter Elizabeth. In 1811, Elizabeth married naval officer and Newport native Oliver Hazard Perry, in a ceremony that was held here in this house. Perry would subsequently achieve fame as a hero in the War of 1812, and upon returning to Newport he was reunited with Elizabeth here at her parents’ house. Perry died relatively young in 1819, but this house remained in Elizabeth’s family for many years, with her mother Margaret living here until her death in 1841.

By the time the first photo was taken, this section of Thames Street has become predominantly commercial, and the former Mason house had been altered with a storefront on the first floor. It was flanked on both sides by modern commercial blocks, including the Savings Bank of Newport, which appears prominently in the foreground of this scene. Established in 1819, the bank had several different locations in the city before building this brick, three-story Italianate building at the corner of Thames and Green Streets in the mid-1870s. As seen in lettering on the windows in the first photo, the bank shared it with the Aquidneck National Bank, which later moved into its own building on the other side of Green Street in the early 1890s.

More than 130 years after the first photo was taken, there have not been many significant changes in this scene. Several of the buildings in the distance have either been demolished or drastically altered, and the historic Mason House was demolished in the late 1950s and replaced with a parking lot. However, both the Newton Building and the Savings Bank of Newport Building are still standing, with few significant changes aside from the altered first-floor storefront on the bank building. Both of these buildings, along with the rest of the downtown area, are now part of the Newport Historic District, which was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1968.