Benjamin Daland House, Salem, Mass

The house at 23 Summer Street in Salem, around 1891. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives.

The house in 2019:

This house was built sometime between 1756 and 1760 by Benjamin Daland. He does not appear to have lived here for very long, though, because in 1760 he sold the property to Samuel Calley, who in turn sold it in 1762 to Captain George Dodge, a mariner from nearby Beverly. He was 35 years old at the time, and he and his wife Lydia and their seven children. They subsequently had two more children over the next new years, and Dodge owned the house until 1782. By this point Dodge was referred to in historical records as a merchant rather than a mariner, suggesting that he took the career path of many retired sea captains in Salem and went into business for himself as a merchant. Like many other Salem merchants, he was also involved in privateering during the American Revolution, owning several privateer ships that preyed on British shipping.

The next owner of the house was William Orne, who purchased it from Dodge in 1782 for 1,100 pounds. The historical records indicate that he was also a ship captain and later a merchant, but there appears to have been several William Ornes living in Salem during this period, so it seems difficult to determine which one owned this house. However, it may have been the same William Orne who was captured by the British during the War of 1812 and was being held prisoner aboard the HMS Guerriere during its famous battle with the USS Constitution.

Another area of uncertainty in tracing the history of this house is that, while Orne owned the house, it does not necessarily mean that he—or the other early owners of the house—personally lived here. In any case, though, Orne owned the house until 1807, when he sold it for $4,600 to Thorndike Deland, who then sold it for $4,500 in 1812 to his sister Eliza Osborn. Eliza was a wealthy widow whose husband, Captain George Osborn, had been swept overboard at sea in 1800. A year after acquiring this house she remarried to Abner Kneeland, a Unitarian theologian who would become a notable and controversial religious figure over the next few decades.

As with the previous owners, it does not seem clear how long Eliza actually lived here, because she and Abner only lived in Salem for a couple years after their marriage. However, the house would remain in her family for many years. It was owned jointly by George Osborn and Eliza Archer, her children from her first marriage, until 1863, when George became the sole owner. Neither sibling appears to have lived in the house, though, because city directories of the period list several other residents here, including grocer John Chamberlain, who was living in the house as early as 1846.

After George Osborn’s death in 1882, his daughter Eliza D. Shepard inherited the property. The first photo was taken about a decade later by Frank Cousins, a prominent photographer who documented historic buildings in Salem and other places in the northeast around the turn of the 20th century. Cousin’s caption identifies it as the “Doctor T.O. Shepard house,” indicating that Eliza Shepard’s son Thomas was living here at the time.

Thomas and his sister Sarah eventually acquired the house, and unlike some of the previous generations they definitely lived here on Summer Street. The 1910 census shows them living here together, unmarried and in their 40s. Thomas, who was an 1892 graduate of Harvard Medical School, was an oculist, and he had his practice here in the house. The Shepards also employed two live-in servants at the time, one of whom was listed as a cook in the census.

Thomas continued to live here until his death in 1935, and Sarah remained here for at least a few more years, but by the 1940 census she was living elsewhere. Then, in 1941 she sold this house on Summer Street to Marie Anne Cadorette. This marked the end of 135 years of ownership by the same family, which had spanned four different generations of Osborns and Shepards.

Today, well over a century after the first photo was taken, the house is still standing. It has seen some changes, including the loss of the shutters and the front entryway, and the outbuilding in the back of the lot is gone, but overall it survives as one of the many well-preserved historic 18th century homes in Salem. The neighboring John P. Peabody House, built in 1868 on the far left side of the scene, is also still standing, although the house on the far right side of the first photo has since been demolished.

Derby House, Salem, Mass

The Derby House on Derby Street in Salem, around 1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:

Salem was at the peak of its prosperity as a seaport during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, and perhaps no family better exemplified this golden age than the Derby family. The family patriarch was Richard Derby, a ship captain who lived most of his adult life in a house nearby at the corner of Derby and Herbert Streets. Derby eventually retired from sailing in 1757, and he spent the next few decades as a merchant here in Salem. He owned a fleet of ships, and in 1762 he began construction of Derby Wharf, which would eventually become the largest wharf in the port.

Richard and his wife Mary had three sons and three daughters. Two of their sons became ship captains, and the other son, Elias, joined his father in the merchant business. In 1761, at the age of 21, Elias married Elizabeth Crowninshield, and that same year his father began constructing this house for the newlyweds. The house was completed a year later, and it features a brick exterior with Georgian-style details, including a gambrel roof, which was typical for homes of this era. The architect and builder is unknown, although Joseph McIntire—father of the famous Salem architect Samuel McIntire—was apparently involved in the construction, because in 1762 Richard Derby paid him 40 shillings for unspecified work.

The house is situated on the north side of Derby Street, opposite Derby Wharf, where it overlooks the harbor. From here, Elias could keep a close eye on the activity at the wharf, which included the arrival of merchant ships and, during the American Revolution, privateers. He owned or held shares in about half of all the Salem privateers that preyed on British shipping during the war, and he made a significant profit from their success, while simultaneously benefitting the American war effort. Then, at the end of the war, these privateering ships were well-suited for conversion to merchant ships. This put Elias in a good position to expand foreign trade networks, and he became one of the first Americans to trade with China and other ports in southeast Asia.

By the late 18th century, Salem was the seventh-largest city or town in the country, along with being the richest on a per-capita basis. Elias Hasket Derby played a significant role in this prosperity, and he was regarded as one of the wealthiest merchants in New England at the time. Many years later, Nathaniel Hawthorne would famously give him the moniker “King Derby” in his prologue to The Scarlet Letter, in which Hawthorne recounted the glory days of Salem and contrasted them with the mid-19th century decline of the port city.

However, Elias and his wife Elizabeth did not live here in this house for his entire merchant career. They lived here through at least the early years of the Revolution, and raised their seven children here, but they appear to have moved elsewhere by around 1778. They were definitely gone by 1782, when they moved into a house closer to the center of Salem, at what is now the corner of Washington and Lynde Streets. Then, in 1799 they moved again, this time to a newly-built house designed by Charles Bulfinch. However, both Elias and Elizabeth died that same year, and that house was ultimately demolished in 1815 to build a new town hall.

In the meantime, the Derby family continued to own this house here on Derby Street for most of the late 18th century, before ultimately selling it to Henry Prince in 1796. Price, who apparently had begun renting the house from the Derbys as early as 1784, was a successful sea captain who sailed for some of Salem’s leading merchants, including Derby. He also played a role in the career of famed navigator and mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch; Prince was the captain on Bowditch’s first voyage, departing Salem in 1795 aboard the Derby-owned Henry.

Like many prosperous captains, Prince subsequently became a merchant, and by the early 19th century he had ownership interests in a number of vessels, including the appropriately-named 219-ton ship Golden Age. However, by this point the golden age of Salem was already nearing its end. Thomas Jefferson’s Embargo Act of 1807 severely damaged the American economy in general, but it was particularly devastating for Salem, which was dependent upon foreign trade. The War of 1812 caused further disruption to trade, and these financial hardships eventually forced Prince to sell both this house and his warehouse.

Various sources give somewhat different information as to when Prince lost his house, but in any case it was ultimately acquired by Henry Ropes, who married Henry Prince’s daughter Mary in 1821. Born in Salem in 1791, Ropes was the son of Captain George Ropes, who died at sea in 1807, and the brother of George Ropes Jr., a noted artist who specialized in maritime themes. Henry Ropes likewise became a ship captain, and made a number of voyages to India before retiring from the sea. He subsequently became involved in banking here in Salem, including serving for many years as the treasurer of the Salem Savings Bank.

Henry and Mary had nine children, three of whom died in infancy. Of their six children who survived to adulthood, most of them still died relatively young, with only two living past the age of 43. Henry died in 1861, but Mary continued to live her in her father’s old house until her own death in 1873. The 1870 census shows here with several generations of her family, including her only two living children, Joseph and Benjamin, who were both in their 30s and unmarried. She also shared the house with Priscilla, the widow of her oldest son George. Priscilla was 44 years old at the time, and she lived here with her daughters Priscilla and Mary, who appear to have been the only grandchildren of Henry and Mary Ropes who survived infancy.

Mary Ropes died in February 1873, and by late May the property, which was described in the Salem Register as consisting of a “two-story brick dwelling and other buildings and 22,000 square feet of land,” had been sold to Daniel Leahy for $6,700, or about $145,000 today. Leahy was an Irish immigrant who was about 26 years old at the time, and he moved in here with his wife Mary and their infant daughter Johanna. Just a few years earlier, during the 1870 census, the couple had been living in Peabody. According to the census, he worked as a laborer, had a personal estate of $150, and was unable to read or write.

The historical record does not seem to indicate how an illiterate immigrant laborer with $150 to his name in 1870 was able to, within three years, purchase a house that had once belonged to one of the wealthiest merchants in New England. However, this example serves to illustrate just how far Salem had fallen in prosperity since the days of “King Derby.” Nathaniel Hawthorne was no longer alive at this point, but if he had been he likely would have seen this as further proof of what he discussed in the prologue to The Scarlet Letter.

In any case, by the 1880 census Daniel and Mary were living here with a number of other family members. In addition to eight-year-old Johanna, they had a four-year-old son Thomas, and they also lived here with Daniel’s mother Johanna, his siblings Bartholomew, Michael, Mary, Catherine, and Margaret, and Bartholomew’s wife Catherine and infant son Patrick. Daniel and his two brothers all worked as stevedores, perhaps on the same wharves that Elias Hasket Derby had once built, and the three sisters worked in cotton mills. The family also had three young Irish women living here as boarders, all of whom also worked in cotton mills.

The Leahy family lived in this house until around the turn of the 20th century, but they continued to own the property for many years. The first photo was taken sometime around 1910, and that year’s census indicates that it was rented by two different families. In one unit was William and Annie Doyle, middle-aged Irish immigrants who lived here with their 11-year-old adopted daughter Agnes. In the other unit was John and Julia Szezechowicz, their four children, and John’s brother Bradislaw. They were all immigrants from Poland, arriving in the United States only three years earlier.

Over the years, the condition of the house steadily deteriorated, but it was ultimately acquired by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1927. Now known as Historic New England, this organization restored the house to its original appearance, and then in 1937 transferred it to the National Park Service. A year later, the house became part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site, which was established that year as the first national historic site in the country.

Today, the Derby House is still part of the Salem Maritime National Historic Site. It is partially hidden behind the trees in the present-day view, but it stands as one of the many well-preserved historic 18th and early 19th century homes in Salem. In the rear of the house, the property also includes a formal garden, which is a recreation of the gardens that were typical for Salem merchants of this period. Just to the left of the house, outside of view in this scene, is the Benjamin Hawkes House, and beyond it is the Salem Custom House, both of which have likewise been restored as part of the national historic site.