John C. Lee House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 14 Chestnut Street in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the house at 14 Chestnut Street in Salem, which was built in 1834-1835 as the home of John Clarke Lee. It is one of the newer houses on Chestnut Street, as most of the other homes were built in the first few decades of the 19th century. As a result, it is architecturally different from most of the other homes. While the rest of the street consists primarily of symmetrical, three-story Federal-style homes with hipped roofs, this house is an early example of Greek Revival architecture. It features a gabled roof, and the front façade is decorated with four pilasters that give the house something of the appearance of an ancient Greek temple.

John Clarke Lee was a prominent merchant and banker who later became a partner in the Boston-based investment banking firm of Lee, Higginson & Co. He was about 30 years old when he moved into this house, and by this point he and his wife Harriet already had a large and growing family, with five young children. They subsequently had five more children, and in total all but one of their children lived to adulthood. Among their children was George Cabot Lee, whose daughter Alice Hathaway Lee became the first wife of Theodore Roosevelt.

The house remained in the Lee family for nearly a century. John died in 1877 and Harriet in 1885, but their son Francis inherited the house. He was living here when the top photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and he was responsible for adding the porch at the front door, as shown in the two photos. He died in 1913, and his widow Sophia subsequently sold the house in 1924.

The next owner of the house was Frank W. Benson, a prominent Impressionist painter from Salem. He was in his early 60s when he purchased the house, and by this point he had established himself as one of the leading American painters of the early 20th century. Benson was known for his portraits, along with en plein air landscapes of the seacoasts and mountains of New England. He lived here in this house until his death in 1951, at the age of 89.

Today, the house is still standing, with few exterior changes since the top photo was taken more than a century ago. Even the tree on the far left side of the scene appears to be the same one in both photos. Along with the rest of the street, the house is now part of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

James B. Bott House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 18 Chestnut Street, at the corner of Bott Street in Salem, probably around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show the house at 18 Chestnut Street, which was built around 1800 or possibly earlier. It was originally owned by saddler James B. Bott, and according to the building’s Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System (MACRIS) form, it was likely used as a multi-family residence. It had a number of occupants throughout the first half of the 19th century, but the most famous was author Nathaniel Hawthorne, who lived here with his family in 1846 and 1847 while serving as Surveyor of the the Port of Salem at the Custom House on Derby Street. This house was too small for the Hawthornes, though, and in 1847 they moved to a house on Mall Street, where Nathaniel would later write The Scarlet Letter.

The house was eventually converted into a single-family residence in the late 19th century, and the top photo was taken sometime around the turn of the 20th century. It was taken by photographer Frank Cousins, who extensively documented the historic houses of Salem and other towns in the region. As the bottom photo shows, very little has changed about this scene since then. The house is still standing, as are the other surrounding homes, and Chestnut Street as a whole survives as one of the best-preserved historic streets in New England. The Bott House, along with the other homes on Chestnut Street, is part of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Chestnut Street, Salem, Massachusetts (2)

The view looking east on Chestnut Street from near Pickering Street in Salem, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos were taken from near the same spot as the ones in the previous post, but facing the opposite direction. This view of Chestnut Street, looking east toward Cambridge Street, features a number of early 19th century homes. Starting in the foreground on the right side is a double house at 21-23 Chestnut Street, which was built in 1814-15 for John and Henry Pickering. They were the sons of Timothy Pickering, a prominent politician who served in several different Cabinet positions, including as Secretary of State under George Washington and John Adams.

Although built for the Pickering brothers, they evidently did not own these houses for long, because each properly changed hands several times over the next few decades. By the 1830s, the house closest to the foreground, at 23 Chestnut, was owned by Robert Stone, while the adjoining house at 21 Chestnut was owned by Elisha Mack. In 1833, during President Andrew Jackson’s visit to Salem, Robert Stone hosted a reception here at his house, which Jackson attended along with Vice President Martin Van Buren, several Cabinet secretaries, and other dignitaries.

Further in the distance on the right side of the street is 19 Chestnut, which is visible in the center of both photos. This three-story, wood-frame house was built around 1805, and it was originally the home of merchant Israel Williams. Later in the 19th century it was owned by another merchant, Henry W. Peabody, and then in the early 20th century it was owned by architect William G. Rantoul.

Today, more than a century after the top photo was taken, these houses are still standing, as are the other ones further in the distance on both sides of the street. Chestnut Street survives as a well-preserved example of Federal-style architecture, and it is the centerpiece of the Chestnut Street District on the National Register of Historic Places. However, this scene is also notable because of the elm tree that still stands in the foreground. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the street was lined with elms. Most of these were subsequently lost, likely due to hurricanes and Dutch Elm Disease, but this tree has survived, and it is still easily recognizable from its appearance in the top photo.

Chestnut Street, Salem, Massachusetts

The view looking west on Chestnut Street from the corner of Pickering Street, around 1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2023:

During the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Salem was one of the most prosperous seaports in the United States. This was reflected in its architecture, which included many large, fashionable Federal-style homes that were built for merchants and other wealthy Salem residents. Many of these homes are located on the streets immediately to the west of downtown Salem, including Chestnut Street, as shown in these two photos.

Chestnut Street was laid out in 1796, and over the next few decades it was developed with stately homes. Only one house on the street is known to have been the work of prominent Salem architect Samuel McIntire, but his influence is clearly evident in the designs of the other houses here. Many of the houses are brick, although some are wood, and they are generally three stories high, have a hipped roof, and have a roughly square footprint. Most were designed as standalone single-family homes, but there are a few that were built as adjoining two-family homes.

By the time the top photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century, the street was already recognized as an important Salem landmark. Not only were the houses themselves significant, but the streetscape itself was also notable for the many elms that lined the street, creating a tunnel-like effect, as shown in the top photo.

Sadly, nearly all of the elms are gone now, likely as a result of Dutch Elm Disease. Today, the street is still lined by trees, but their lower canopies do not have the same effect that the elms once had. Despite the loss of the elms, though, not much else has changed in this scene. The tree cover makes it hard to tell, but all of the homes in the top photo are still standing. The street is one of the finest collections of Federal-style architecture anywhere in New England, and it forms the centerpiece of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.


Devereux-Hoffman House, Salem, Massachusetts

The house at 26 Chestnut Street in Salem, probably around 1906-1910. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Glass Plate Negatives Collection.

The house in 2023:

These two photos show one of the many historic early 19th century homes that line Chestnut Street in Salem. The street was laid out in 1796, and over the next few decades it was developed with large Federal-style homes for the merchants and other wealthy Salem residents. This particular house was built around 1826-1827 as the home of Humphrey and Eliza Devereux. The architect of the house is unknown, but its design is consistent with the other homes of this period on Chestnut Street, which were heavily influenced by the designs of Samuel McIntire.

Humphrey Devereux was a merchant and ship owner, and early in his career he spent time at sea, including making voyages to Europe and the East Indies. During the War of 1812, his ship was captured by the British, and he spent time as a prisoner in Bermuda. He later retired from life at sea, and instead focused on running his mercantile business from Salem.

He married his wife Eliza Dodge in 1809, and they had two children. Their son, George Humphrey Devereux, was born in 1809, and their daughter Mary Ann Cabot Devereux was born in 1812. They moved into this house around 1827, but Eliza died soon after, in 1828. Humphrey continued to live here for at least another decade, but by the 1840s he was living a few houses down the street from here, at 34 Chestnut Street.

This house was subsequently owned by another merchant, Charles Hoffman. Originally from Hamburg, Germany, he later immigrated to America, where he became one of Salem’s leading merchants in the West African trade during the mid-19th century, and he imported goods such as hides, palm oil, and nuts. He moved into this house a few years after his 1840 marriage to his second wife, Eliza King.

Charles and Eliza did not have any children, and the census records from the late 19th century show that they lived here alone except for two live-in servants. Aside from his business interests, Charles was also an amateur horticulturalist, and his house was well known for its well-maintained gardens and its greenhouses in the back of the house. He lived here until his death in 1878, but Eliza continued to live here into the early 20th century. The 1900 census shows here living here with her sister Harriet and three servants.

Eliza died in 1905, and the house was subsequently sold to Dr. James E. Simpson. He made some alterations to the house, and converted part of it into offices for his medical practice. This included adding a second entryway on the right side of the house, which served as the entrance to his offices. The top photo was taken within a few years after this work was completed.

The 1910 census shows James Simpson living here with his wife Gertrude, her mother Mary Ropes, and two servants. By 1920, the Simpsons had three servants, and the household also included James’s aunt Fannie. James lived here until his death in 1935, and Gertrude died five years later.

Overall, the house has seen few exterior changes since the top photo was taken. Its ivy-covered brick walls are still easily recognizable from the top photo, and the house stands as one of the many well-preserved Federal-style homes in this part of Salem. Along with the other houses in this area, it is now part of the Chestnut Street District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.

Ebenezer Grant House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The Ebenezer Grant House on Main Street in South Windsor, Connecticut, around 1934-1937. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2022:

The East Windsor Hill neighborhood of South Windsor has many well-preserved 18th and early 19th century homes along Main Street, but perhaps the most celebrated of these is the Ebenezer Grant House, shown here in these two photos. Long recognized as an architectural masterpiece, the house exemplifies the type of homes that were built for the upper class families of the Connecticut River Valley during the mid-18th century.

This house was built around 1757-1758 by Ebenezer Grant (1706-1797), a prosperous merchant who lived in what was, at the time, the eastern part of the town of Windsor. Although located many miles from the ocean, this area is near the head of navigation for oceangoing vessels on the Connecticut River, and Grant was heavily involved in the West Indies trade. He exported commodities such as horses, lumber, tobacco, staves, bricks, and barrel hoops to Barbados and other West Indies ports, and in return imported rum, molasses, sugar, and indigo.

Grant also built several merchant ships here in modern-day South Windsor, near the mouth of the Scantic River, and he was a part owner in many other ships. It does not seem clear as to whether Grant was directly involved in the slave trade, but most of the goods that he imported and exported were closely tied to the plantation economies of the Caribbean colonies.

Aside from trading bulk commodities and other raw materials, Grant also purchased wholesale consumer goods, which he then sold here in his hometown. He had accounts with many of the leading colonial-era merchants in Boston and New York, including John Hancock. Around 1767 he built a store just to the south of his house, and there he sold “dry goods, rum, groceries, hardware, and fancy articles,” according to Henry Reed Stiles in his book History and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut.

Ebenezer Grant’s wealth and social standing were reflected in his house, which was built when he was in his early 50s. Its overall form, with four windows and a door on the ground floor and five windows above them, was typical for houses of the period in this region. But, unlike many of the other mid-18th century houses, it has two chimneys in the main part of the house, rather than a single large chimney in the center. This design choice enabled the house to have a large front entrance hall and staircase, rather than a small entryway with a winding staircase that was typical for the center-chimney homes.

This house is also different from most of its contemporaries in its exterior detail. Most homes of this period were relatively plain on the exterior, but the Grant house included details such as pediments over the first floor windows on the front of the house, and similar pediments over the side doors, which are not visible in these photos. Overall, though, its most famous feature is the highly elaborate front doorway, as shown in these two photos. Often referred to as a “Connecticut Valley doorway,” this style of doorway was perhaps the single most important architectural innovation to be developed in western New England. There were many variations on the design, some with or without the scroll pediment above the door, but the one on the Grant house is among the finest in the region. It is also one of only a handful of scroll pediment doorways that are still on their original houses; many homes were demolished or altered over the years, and several similar doorways are now on display in museums.

As was often the case for 18th century New England homes, the Grant house also included a wing, or an “ell” on the back of the house. These were often added years or decades after the house was built, to accommodate growing families. However, the ell on the Grant house might be even older than the house itself. Some sources, including Stiles’s book, cite a tradition that say the ell was built by Ebenezer Grant’s father Samuel Grant in the late 17th century as a house, and was later moved and incorporated into the new house when it was built in the 1750s. Other sources, though, including the 1900 book Early Connecticut Houses: An Historical and Architectural Study, are skeptical of this theory. It seems more likely that the ell was built at the same time as the main house, perhaps using old timbers that had been repurposed from the previous house.

Ebenezer Grant and his first wife Ann (1712-1783) had six children, although four died young, including three who died within a month and a half of each other in the fall of 1747. By the time they moved into this house in the late 1750s they had two surviving children: a son Roswell (1745-1834) and a daughter Ann (1748-1838). As the only surviving son, Roswell would go on to become a partner in his father’s merchant firm, following his graduation from Yale in 1767. He went on to serve as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and after the war he married Flavia Wolcott, whose uncle Oliver Wolcott Sr. had been one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In the meantime, Ebenezer Grant’s wife Ann died in 1783, and a year later he remarried to Jemima Ellsworth. She was the widow of David Ellsworth, and she was also the mother of Oliver Ellsworth, a lawyer who later went on to become a U.S. Senator and Chief Justice of the United States. Jemima died in 1790 at the age of 67, and Ebenezer continued to live here in this house until hos own death in 1797 at the age of 91.

After his death, the house would remain in the Grant family for many years. His grandson Frederick W. Grant later inherited the house, and he lived here throughout most of the 19th century. In his book, Stiles credited Frederick with restoring and preserving the house, which was recognized as an important landmark even as early as the late 19th century. By this point the Grant family had also become famous, due to Ebenezer’s great-great-great nephew Ulysses S. Grant, who was descended from Ebenezer’s older brother Noah.

The top photo was taken sometime around the late 1930s, as part of an effort to document historic homes across Connecticut. By this point the house had seen some alterations, including the addition of an enclosed porch on the left side and the installation of shutters on the windows. Both the porch and shutters were apparently installed around the late 19th or early 20th centuries, since they were not present in a c.1890 photo of the house.

Those changes were later reversed, and today the exterior of the house better reflects its original 18th century design. It stands as an important architectural landmark in the Connecticut River Valley, and it is a contributing property in the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.