Benjamin Hawkes House, Salem, Mass

The house at 4 Custom House Court, just off Derby Street in Salem, on June 27, 1940. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house was originally intended as the home of Elias Hasket Derby, a prominent merchant who was among the wealthiest men in the country during the late 18th century. He had previously lived in the brick house on the right side of the photo, which his father Richard Derby had built for him in the early 1760s, but he had moved out of the house by the late 1770s. In 1780, he began construction on this large, wood-frame house, hiring noted Salem architect Samuel McIntire to design it.

However, the house was only partially completed by 1782, when Derby changed his plans and purchased the former home of merchant Benjamin Pickman on Washington Street. Derby hired Mcintire again, this time to make alterations to the Pickman House, and this half-finished house sat vacant for nearly two decades. In 1800, a year after Derby’s death, local pastor and diarist William Bentley described the house in his September 23 diary entry, noting that,

On this Land in 1780 Mr. Derby raised a Great House which he never finished. The third story was as high as the first & higher than the second. The pediment was lost in the roof & the Cupola which was finished was without any good effect. The back part was finished but the front only covered with boards & was very rotten. It was sold this day to the Carpenters for 600 Dollars. A more uncomely mass was never piled up for a building. The Lot under it sold for above 2,000 D. It has now stood 20 years as a monument of folly.

The “monument of folly” was ultimately sold to shipbuilder Benjamin Hawkes in 1801, who had the house completed later that year. The original design was altered somewhat, including the removal of the cupola that Reverend Bentley had described, and the interior of the massive house was converted into a two-family home. It seems unclear exactly how much of McIntire’s original design was retained for the completed house, and whether the architect was involved in its completion, but either way the house became a good example of the Federal style that was common in Salem around the turn of the 19th century.

The house is located directly across the street from Derby Wharf, the longest wharf in the city. Because of this, it was right at the center of Salem’s busy port, where fleets of early 19th century sailing vessels arrived with valuable cargoes from around the world. Benjamin Hawkes’s shipyard was just a short walk from his house, at the site of present-day Kosciusko Street, and in 1819 the Salem Custom House was built directly adjacent to the house, just out of view on the left side of this scene.

Benjamin Hawkes lived here during the peak of Salem’s prosperity as a seaport, but by the middle of the 19th century the city’s shipping industry was in decline. However, many of the elegant mansions from this golden age are still standing today, including the Benjamin Hawkes House. After years of being used as a duplex, it was acquired by the National Park Service in the late 1930s, becoming part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. Established in 1938, this was the first National Historic Site in the country, and the first photo shows the house as it appeared just two years later. Very little has changed in this scene since then, and the house is now used as administrative offices for the park.

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.

Francis Boardman House, Salem, Mass

The house at 82 Washington Square East in Salem, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

This elegant Federal-style house was built over the course of seven years, between 1782 and 1789. It was the first of many mansions that were built along what would later become the Salem Common, and it is said to have been designed by noted Salem architect Samuel McIntire and his brother Joseph. The large, ornate house reflected the wealth of its owner, Francis Boardman, a ship captain who was in his early 40s when the house was completed. He lived here with his wife Mary and their children, which included daughters Elizabeth, Mary, and Sarah, along with sons Francis and John. John died in 1791, at the age of five, and Captain Boardman died a year later while at Port-au-Prince in Haiti.

Although he died only three years after the house was completed, the house would remain in Francis Boardman’s family for many years. In 1798, his daughter Elizabeth married Nathaniel Bowditch, the famous mathematician who, a few years later, published The American Practical Navigator. They lived here in this house for a short time after their marriage, but Elizabeth died just seven months later, while Bowditch was away at sea. Elizabeth’s sister Mary would also marry a into a prominent Salem family when, in 1804, she married Benjamin W. Crowninshield. He would go on to have a successful career in politics, including serving as Secretary of the Navy from 1815 to 1818, and in the U. S. House of Representatives from 1823 to 1831.

Captain Boardman’s youngest daughter, Sarah, married Zachariah F. Silsbee in 1810. He also came from a notable family, and was the younger brother of Nathaniel Silsbee, a merchant who served in both the U. S. House of Representatives and the U. S. Senate. Zachariah was also a merchant, working with his brother in the firm of Stone, Silsbee, & Pickman. Along with this, he was involved in other business ventures in Salem, including serving as a director for the Merchants Bank and the Newmarket Manufacturing Company, and as the president of the Salem Savings Bank.

Both Zachariah and Sarah lived here in this house after their marriage, and would remain here for the rest of their lives. Sarah died in 1852 at the age of 64, but Zachariah outlived here by more than two decades, before his death in 1873 at the age of 89. The last census before his death, taken in 1870, lists him as a retired merchant, with real estate valued at $10,000 and a personal estate of $17,000. At the time, he was living here with 41-year-old Mary Silsbee, who was presumably his daughter, and they employed three Irish-born servants who lived here in the house.

By the early 1880s, this house was owned by Lucy Bowdoin, the widow of dentist Willard L. Bowdoin. They had been married in 1867, when he was 46 and she was 30. It was the second marriage for both of them, but they were only married for a few years before Willard’s death in 1870. Within a decade, Lucy had moved into this house, along with her mother, Mary Harwood, and her son from her first marriage, Abel Proctor. Lucy was still living here when the first photo was taken during the 1910s, and she would remain here until her death in 1920.

The house was over 120 years old when the first photo was taken, and the exterior was still largely in its original condition at the time. The small porch at the front entrance had been added in the late 19th century, along with the bay window above it, but overall it retained most of its Federal-style decorative elements, such as the quoins on the corners and the balustrade on the roof. These have since been removed, and there is now a rooftop deck on the rear of the house, so it has lost some of its original architecture. However, it still stands as one of the many large mansions that encircle the Salem Common, and it is a contributing property in the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Peter Edgerly House, Salem, Mass

The house at 14 Mall Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2017:

This house is best known as the place where Nathaniel Hawthorne lived from 1847 to 1850, and where he wrote The Scarlet Letter. However, the house predates Hawthorne’s time here by several decades. It was built in 1824, and was originally the home of Peter Edgerly, a teamster who had moved to Salem from his hometown of Gilmanton, New Hampshire. He purchased this house about two years after his marriage to his wife Vesta, and at the time he was involved in running a baggage wagon line in Salem. He and Vesta lived here for a decade, before selling the property in 1834, but he continued to live in Salem until his death in 1848.

Thirteen years after the Edgerlys sold this house, it became the home of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family. A Salem native, Hawthorne was born in 1804 in a house on Union Street, just a little south of here. He spent much of his childhood in Salem, aside from a few years living with his uncles in Raymond, Maine, and subsequently attended Bowdoin College, where he graduated in 1825. His first novel, Fanshawe, was published anonymously three years later, and over the next decade his literary efforts consisted primarily of short stories that were published in magazines. These stories, which included the future classic “Young Goodman Brown,” gained little recognition at the time, although Hawthorne did enjoy some moderate success when these were republished in book form in 1837 as Twice-Told Tales.

In 1842, Hawthorne married Sophia Peabody, a member of the prominent Peabody family in Salem. After their marriage, they lived in the Old Manse in Concord, and they did not return to Salem until 1846, when Hawthorne was appointed Surveyor of the Port of Salem. This federal appointment earned him a salary of $1,200 per year, equivalent to about $33,000 today, and he found little enjoyment in the job, which distracted him from his writing. At first, he and Sophia rented a small house at 18 Chestnut Street, where they lived with their two young children. However, the house proved too small, and in 1847 they moved into this house at 14 Mall Street, along with Hawthorne’s mother and two sisters.

The cash-strapped Hawthorne had received his appointment to the Custom House thanks to his friendships with politically-prominent Democrats, including college classmate and future U.S. President Franklin Pierce. However, the same spoils system that had secured this position for Hawthorne would later cost him the job, after the Democrats lost the 1848 presidential election to Whig candidate Zachary Taylor. Hawthorne was dismissed from his position on June 8, 1849, just three months after Taylor’s inauguration, although in the long run this ultimately helped to advance his literary career, which had stagnated during his time at the Custom House.

Bitter over losing his job, and mourning the death of his mother in July, Hawthorne channeled his anger into his writing. From late summer of 1849 until February 1850, he wrote The Scarlet Letter here in this house, and it was published later that spring. The dark, bleak novel reflected his mood during this period, and Hawthorne evidently recognized as much. As he described in a February 1850 letter to his friend, Horatio Bridge, the novel “lacks sunshine. To tell you the truth it is . . . positively a h-ll-fired story, into which I found it almost impossible to throw any cheering light.”

The Scarlet Letter included a lengthy introduction, in which Hawthorne openly criticized both the Custom House and the city of Salem itself. This polemic – which addresses everything from the rotting wharves of a once-prosperous seaport, to the excessive eating habits of the Custom House inspector – has only the slightest connection to the plot of the novel, but it served as Hawthorne’s parting shot at his hometown. He also showed this frustration later in his letter to Bridges, writing:

I should like to give up the house which I now occupy, at the beginning of April; and must soon make a decision as to where I shall go. I long to get into the country; for my health, latterly, is not quite what it has been, for many years past. . . . I detest this town so much that I hate to go into the streets, or to have the people see me. Anywhere else, I shall at once be entirely another man.

Hawthorne soon followed through with this plan, and within a few months he and his family had moved across the state to Lenox in the Berkshires. The 1850 census shows him and Sophia living there with their daughter Una and son Julian, and the following year their family grew again with the birth of their youngest child, Rose. Hawthorne wrote two novels, The House of the Seven Gables and The Blithedale Romance, while in Lenox, but the family moved again in the fall of 1851, returning to Concord. Neither he nor Sophia would ever again live in their hometown of Salem, and Hawthorne died in 1864 while on vacation with Franklin Pierce in Plymouth, New Hampshire.

In the meantime, Hawthorne’s former house here on Mall Street has remained standing, nearly 170 years after he and his family moved out. Its historic and literary significance was already recognized by the time the first photo was taken around 1910, when it was photographed by the Detroit Publishing Company as part of their series of postcards showing notable Salem landmarks. Today, the house has seen few changes from this angle, although there are now skylights in the roof and the wing on the right side has been expanded. It is one of many historic homes that still stand on Mall Street and the other surrounding streets, and it is now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

Washington Square North and Mall Street, Salem, Mass

The northeast corner of Washington Square North and Mall Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

This scene shows a row of three elegant Federal-style brick homes that were built along the north side of the Salem Common in the early 19th century. The houses were originally owned by three wealthy merchants, each of whom married a daughter from the prominent Story family. Starting in the foreground, at the corner of Mall Street, 29 Washington Square North was built in 1818-19 as the home of John Forrester and his wife, Charlotte Story. Beyond it, house number 31 was built in 1811 for Stephen White and his wife Harriet Story, and furthest in the distance is house number 33, which was also built around 1811 and was the home of Joseph White, Jr. and his wife Eliza Story.

Charlotte, Harriet, and Eliza were all daughters of Dr. Elisha Story, a noted physician who had been a member of the Sons of Liberty and had participated in the Boston Tea Party. He became an army surgeon after the start of the American Revolution, including seeing combat at the Battle of Bunker Hill, and after his service in the Continental Army he practiced medicine for the rest of his life. He had eight children – one of whom died soon after birth – with his first wife Ruth, and eleven with his second wife Mehitable, including the three sisters who lived in these houses. Another child from this second marriage was Joseph Story, a lawyer who went on to serve on the U. S. Supreme Court from 1812 to 1845.

In 1810, Charlotte Story married John Forrester, who was the son of prominent merchant Simon Forrester and the first cousin of author Nathaniel Hawthorne. John received a substantial inheritance after his father’s death in 1817, and he soon began building the house in the foreground of the scene. The old house on this site – itself a fine mansion – was relocated to 91 Federal Street, where it still stands today, and construction of the new house was underway by June 1818. It was nearly finished by September of the following year, when prominent local pastor William Bentley described it in his diary, writing:

Capt. John Forrester is now preparing the front of his house on the north side of the Common, with a southern front. He has the best situation. Everything is well done about this house which will soon be ready for him. It comes nigher in its appearance to our usual style of building in brick, but probably is not behind in any of the materials or workmanship upon the plan he has adopted.

John and Charlotte Forrester moved into the house in December 1819, along with their five children. They would go on to have five more children, and they lived here in this house until 1834. By this point, John had suffered a significant reversal of his fortune, with business failures that forced the family to sell the house and move into decidedly more humble quarters around the corner at 9 Oliver Street. John died three years later, but Charlotte outlived him by 30 years, living in Salem until her death in 1867.

In the meantime, the house just beyond the Forrester house was, for many years, the home of Charlotte’s sister Harriet and her husband Stephen White. They were married in 1808, and moved into this house upon its completion three years later, where they raised their four children. Stephen White was a prominent merchant who was also involved in politics. He held a number of elected offices throughout the 1820s, including serving in the state House of Representatives in 1821 and 1828; the state Senate in 1825, 1826, and 1830; the Governor’s Council in 1824; and as a presidential electors in 1828. He was also a personal friend of Daniel Webster, and his daughter Caroline later married Webster’s son Fletcher. Aside from Webster’s other prominent visitors to this house included President James Monroe, who attended a reception here on July 11, 1817. Reverend Bentley also described this event in his diary, writing:

[I]n the evening [Monroe] was at Capt. Stephen White’s & there was received by a very brilliant assembly of Ladies, who were attended by The gentlemen of the Town. As this would probably be the last interview, it collected more than any former one but with less comfort from over stowing. The President however may have done too much as he hardly had time to breathe. But the question was everywhere, have you seen him? And this eager curiosity it would have been cruel to indulge & even gratify. I presented him the Gold headed walking Cane of the late Gen. Knox, Sec. of War, & the very elegant Tobacco box of Silver, with a wrought China top, received from China.

Stephen White lived in this house on Washington Square North throughout the 1820s. His wife Harriet died in 1827 at the age of 40, and around 1831 he moved to Boston. By this point Salem had already peaked in its prosperity as a major port, and it would continue to decline throughout the 19th century, while Boston enjoyed steadily growing wealth and population. White sold his Salem mansion in 1831 for $7,000 – only about $160,000 in today’s dollars – and lived in Boston until his death a decade later in 1841, at the age of 54.

The house furthest in the distance of both photos, at 33 Washington Square North, was built around 1811, the same year as Stephen White’s house, and was even constructed by the same builder, Joshua Upham. It was originally the home of Stephen White’s older brother, Joseph White Jr., and his wife Eliza Story, who was the older sister of Stephen’s wife Harriet. Joseph was a merchant, and he was named after his uncle, Joseph White, Sr., a wealthy merchant who was the victim of an infamous 1830 murder in Salem. However, the younger Joseph did not live long enough to see this happen; he died in 1816, only a few years after his house was completed, leaving his widow Eliza and three young daughters. She lived here in this house until 1831, when she sold the property and joined her brother-in-law Stephen in moving to Boston.

Overall, despite their wealth and prominence, the Forrester and White families’ ownership of these houses was marked by catastrophic business failure and untimely deaths. However, the houses would continue to be home to some notable Salem residents of the mid and late 19th century, including Colonel George Peabody, who purchased John Forrester’s house in the foreground in 1834. He was about 30 years old at the time, and was the son of wealthy Salem merchant Joseph Peabody. He would go on to have a successful business career as well, including serving as president of the Salem Bank and the Eastern Railroad. Along with this, he was a colonel in the militia, and served several terms as a city alderman. Peabody lived here until his death in 1892, and during this time he had several prominent visitors to the house, including poets Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and James Russell Lowell, biologist and geologist Louis Agassiz, and Civil War General George McClellan.

By the time the first photo was taken around 1910, the Forrester-Peabody House was used as the home of the Salem Club, a private men’s club. Around the 1920s, it became the Bertram Home for Aged Men, as indicated by the panel that is now located above the second floor window in the present-day scene. The house was renovated in 1990, becoming an assisted living facility, and it is still in use today as the John Bertram House. However, despite these many changes in use, the exterior of the house has remained well-preserved in more than a century since the first photo was taken, and the only notable change is the panel on the front facade.

Just beyond this house, Stephen White’s former house changed hands several times in the mid-19 century. Merchant John W. Rogers lived here from 1831 to 1844, followed by another merchant, Thomas P. Pingree, who lived here from 1844 to 1858 before selling it to attorney Nathaniel Lord. It would remain in his family for the next 90 years, until it was finally sold in 1948. However, like its neighbors, this house is also well-preserved today, with no significant differences between the two photos.

The house of Joseph White, Jr., on the far right of both photos, was owned by the prominent Silsbee family from 1831 until the early 1880s, and its residents included merchant and banker Benjamin H. Silsbee, who was the president of the Merchants’ National Bank in Salem. Later in the 1880s, the house became the parsonage for the Tabernacle Congregational Church. Its pastor at the time was DeWitt S. Clark, a native of Chicopee, Massachusetts who began his ministry at the Salem church in 1878. His father had been the longtime pastor of the First Congregational Church in Chicopee, and DeWitt Clark had a similar tenure here in Salem. He was still serving as pastor when the first photo was taken around 1910, and that year’s census shows him living here with his wife Emma and their four children. Reverend Clark died in 1916, but his family later purchased the house and continued living here for many years, eventually selling the property in 1969.

Today, almost two centuries after William Bentley described the finishing touches on the Forrester House in his diary, this scene has hardly changed. Although no longer inhabited by prosperous merchant families, these three houses are among the many fine early 19th century homes that still stand in Salem,and serve as reminders of the city’s golden age as one of the wealthiest communities in the country. All three houses, along with the rest of the surrounding neighborhood, are now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

East Church, Salem, Mass

East Church on Washington Square North in Salem, seen from the Salem Common around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2017:

Salem’s East Church was established in 1718, when residents in the eastern part of the town left the First Church. They constructed a church building at the present-day corner of Essex and Hardy Streets, and worshiped there for more than 125 years. During this time, the church transitioned from traditional Puritan theology to, by the late 18th century, liberal Unitarian beliefs. This was largely because of William Bentley, who served as pastor from 1783 to 1819. He gained prominence as a pastor and as a journalist, regularly writing for the Salem Gazette, and Thomas Jefferson offered him a position as the first president of the University of Virginia. However, Bentley did not want to leave the East Church, and he remained there until his death in 1819.

The congregation left its old building in 1846, upon the completion of this Gothic Revival-style brownstone church at the corner of Washington Square North and Brown Street, across from the Salem Common. It was designed by noted architect Minard Lafever, and originally featured two tall towers at the front of the building, as shown in the first photo. Along with this, the building’s design included other distinctive Gothic elements, such as the tall, narrow windows, the pointed arches over the doorways and windows, and the crenelation along the roofline and atop the towers.

In 1897, the East Church merged with the Barton Square Church and was renamed the Second Unitarian Church. The building was damaged by a fire in 1902, but it was repaired and the church continued to worship here throughout the first half of the 20th century. The first photo was taken around 1910, showing the church as it appeared after the fire, but before the towers were reduced to their present height around 1925.

The church closed in 1956, following a merger with the First Church, and the two congregations were reunited nearly 250 years after their separation. No longer needed as a church, this building became the Salem Auto Museum and Americana Shops. However, another major fire in 1969 caused significant damage to the interior of the building, and destroyed much of the museum’s collections. The building was restored, though, and the interior was rebuilt to house the Salem Witch Museum, which opened here in 1972.

Today, the Salem Witch Museum is still located here in the building. Very little is left of the original interior, but the exterior has remained well preserved over the years, aside from the shortened towers. The houses on both sides of the first photo are also still standing, with the Abraham True House (1846) on the left, and the Captain Nathaniel Weston House (1837) on the right. These houses, along with the church and a number of other historic buildings in the area, are now part of the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.