Maclean House, Princeton, New Jersey

Maclean House on the campus of Princeton University, around 1894. Image from Views of Princeton University (1894).

The house in 2019:

As discussed in the previous post on Nassau Hall, Princeton University was established in 1746 in Elizabeth, New Jersey, as the College of New Jersey. The school moved to Newark a year later, and then to Princeton in 1756, upon completion of Nassau Hall. At the time, Nassau Hall encompassed all of the school’s amenities under one roof, including classrooms, dormitory rooms, offices, a dining room, and a meeting hall. However, the school did have a separate building for the college president, who lived here in this brick two-story house, located immediately to the northwest of Nassau Hall, fronting Nassau Street. Like its neighbor, the house was completed in 1756, and it was likewise designed by Philadelphia architect Robert Smith. Its first occupant was Aaron Burr Sr., who had served as Princeton’s president since 1748.

Burr died only a year after moving into this house, in the fall of 1757, leaving his widow Esther with two young children, including future vice president Aaron Burr, who was just a year and a half old at the time. Burr’s replacement as president was Esther’s father, Jonathan Edwards, the famous pastor and theologian. Edwards had begun his ministry career in Northampton, Massachusetts, where his preaching had helped to spark the Great Awakening. However, after many years in Northampton he was dismissed by the congregation in 1750, and he subsequently moved to the remote western Massachusetts town of Stockbridge. There, he served as a missionary to Native Americans until the College of New Jersey invited him to be its next president.

Edwards arrived here in Princeton in the midst of a smallpox epidemic, and one of his first priorities was to encourage students to receive a smallpox inoculation. Leading by example, he was inoculated on February 23, 1758. However, what was supposed to be just a mild case of smallpox progressively worsened over the next few weeks, and he died here at this house in Princeton on March 22, barely a month after becoming president of the college. He was buried in nearby Princeton Cemetery, alongside his predecessor and son-in-law, in a plot that later became known as Presidents’ Row because of the many college presidents interred there.

After Edwards’s death, this house was subsequently occupied by the next eight college presidents: Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, John Witherspoon, Samuel Stanhope Smith, Ashbel Green, James Carnahan, John Maclean, and James McCosh. Of these, Witherspoon was probably the most notable. In addition to serving as president for more than 25 years, Witherspoon was also involved in politics during the Revolutionary War era. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress, and in that capacity he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, becoming the only active clergyman to sign the document.

Aside from being the residence of many Princeton presidents, this house was also home to a number of slaves over the years. Most of the early presidents were slaveowners, and New Jersey was among the last of the northern states to abolish slavery. The state enacted a gradual emancipation plan starting in 1804, but slavery in New Jersey was not fully eliminated until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865. The last Princeton president to have slaves here in the house was Ashbel Green, who was president from 1812 to 1822. He had at least three slaves here during this time, including Betsey Stockton, whom he freed in 1817 when she was about 19 years old. She remained here as a paid servant for the next five years, and during this time she also received an education. Then, in 1822 she traveled to Hawaii as a Christian missionary, and upon returning to America she became an educator, eventually teaching for many years at an African-American school here in Princeton.

The last college president to occupy this house was James McCosh, who moved into the newly-acquired Prospect House in 1878. The house was then used as the residence of the dean of faculty, and seven different deans lived here between 1883 and 1967. The first photo was taken during this period, no later than 1894, and it shows the northern side of the house, from Nassau Street. This photo also shows two large sycamore trees standing in front of the house. These trees had been planted in 1765, less than a decade after the house was built, and by the time the photo was taken they were already nearly 130 years old.

Today, more than 125 years after the first photo was taken, very little has changed here in this scene. The house is now occupied by the Alumni Association of Princeton University, and it is named the Maclean House in honor of John Maclean, who lived here during his presidency and served as honorary president of the Alumni Association. Despite these changes in use, though, its exterior has remained well-preserved, and along with Nassau Hall it stands as the oldest building on the Princeton campus. Perhaps even more remarkable, though, is that the two sycamore trees are also still standing. Now more than 250 years old, they are nearly twice as old as they were in the first photo, and in the summer their leaves partially hide the view of the house from the street, as shown in the present-day photo.

John Hodges House, Salem, Mass

The house at 81 Essex Street, at the corner of Orange Street in Salem, around 1890-1914. Image courtesy of the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum, Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives.

The house in 2019:

The second half of the 18th century was a time of great prosperity for Salem because of its thriving maritime trade, and many of the town’s wealthy captains and merchants built fine houses such as this one. This house was built around 1750 by John Hodges, a ship captain who was about 26 years old at the time. Hodges had purchased this property a year earlier, the same year that he married Mary Manning. The couple subsequently raised eleven children here, four of whom died young. Of the surviving sons, five went on to become captains themselves, although two of them died at sea.

Their third child, Benjamin, became one of Salem’s leading captains in the late 18th century. He was a cousin of Elias Hasket Derby, one of the richest merchants in New England, and he frequently commanded Derby’s ships, including the Grand Turk and the Astrea, which were among the first American ships to trade with the far east. Later in his career, Benjamin Hodges was involved in the construction of the frigate USS Essex, the largest ship—and only warship—ever built in Salem. It was funded by subscription from residents of Salem, including Hodges, who also served on the building committee, and it was presented to the United States Navy in 1799. Also in 1799, Hodges was one of the founders of the East India Marine Society, which has since become the Peabody Essex Museum. He then became the organization’s first president, serving until his death in 1806.

Benjamin Hodges acquired this house from his father in 1788, and he lived here with his wife Hannah and their large family. Tragically, though, most of their children died young from tuberculosis, starting with an infant daughter in 1783. Their oldest child, Hannah, died of it in 1792 at the age of 13, followed by ten-year-old John in 1797, 12-year-old Margaret in 1803, 19-year-old Benjamin in 1804, and 14-year-old Sarah in 1812. Both parents also succumbed to the disease, with Benjamin dying in 1806 at the age of 52, and Hannah in 1814 at the age of 59. Only three of their children lived relatively long lives, and only one, Mary, married and had children.

Mary Hodges married William Silsbee in 1808, and the couple lived here in this house, possibly with Mary’s unmarried sisters Hannah and Elizabeth. Like Mary, William was also from a prominent Salem family. His older brother Nathaniel was a ship captain and merchant who later went on to have a successful political career, serving four years in the U. S. House of Representatives and nine years in the Senate. William was likewise a merchant, with ownership interests in a number of vessels. He and Mary had seven children, and he lived in Salem until his death in 1833 at the age of 53. Four years later, Mary and her sisters sold this house, and she died in 1851 at the age of 62.

The house was subsequently owned by Stephen Webb, the cashier of the Mercantile Bank in Salem. He is not to be confused with his contemporary, Stephen Palfrey Webb, whose unusual political career involved serving as mayor of Salem from 1842 to 1845, mayor of San Francisco from 1854 to 1855, and then mayor of Salem again from 1860 to 1862. The Stephen Webb who lived here was about 34 years old when he purchased the house in 1837, and he was still living here during the 1850 census, along with his wife Martha, their five children, and two Irish-born servants. The same census valued his real estate—which may have included more than just this house—at $8,100, equivalent to about $250,000 today.

Stephen Webb had apparently died by 1870, because that year Martha—who was identified on the deed as a widow—sold the house for $3,750 to Sarah Maria Benson, the widow of Captain Samuel Benson. She died two years later, and the 1872 city directory shows her son, George Wiggin Benson, living here. At the time, his household included his ten-year-old son Frank Weston Benson, who later went on to become a prominent Impressionist painter. The future artist would live in Salem for much of his life, but was apparently only in this house for a short time, because by the 1874 city directory his father had moved to a house on Forrester Street.

During the late 19th century the house was owned by Henry Meek, who served as city clerk and later owned a publishing company. He was 54 years old in the 1900 census, and he lived here with his wife Annie, his daughter Alice, and a servant. This was apparently Henry’s second marriage, since Annie was only five years older than his 24-year-old daughter. He died later in 1900, and in 1906 Annie and Alice sold this house to Emma J. Brady.

The first photo was likely taken at some point during or shortly after the Meek family’s ownership. It was taken by Frank Cousins, a Salem native and noted photographer who used his camera to document hundreds of historic buildings in Salem and elsewhere in the northeast. The exterior of the house appears to have been well-preserved at the time, and it would have provided Cousins with a good example of colonial-era Georgian architecture.

Unlike the previous owners, Emma Brady does not appear to have lived here in this house, and instead used it as a rental property. The 1910 census shows that, at the time, it was being rented by Charles M. Proctor, a 44-year-old meat salesman who lived here with his wife Mary, their children Harrison, Charles, Arthur, Clifford, Mildred, and Gladys, and Harrison’s wife Nina. Like his father, Harrison worked as a meat salesman, while Charles was a winder at an electric works and Arthur was a farm laborer.

By the 1920 census the house had changed hands again, and at this point it was being used as a four-family home. There were a total of 11 people listed here that year, four of whom were immigrants, with three from Quebec and one from Greece. Aside from two children, all of the residents were employed, including three leather workers, two cotton mill workers, two machinists, a cook, and a rooming house keeper.

Overall, this house saw a steady decline in the prosperity of its residents, as shown by the fact that the former home of one of Salem’s most prominent captains had become a four-family apartment building. This was a common occurrence throughout Salem during this period; it had peaked in its importance as a seaport at the turn of the 19th century, when it ranked among the top ten most populous cities and towns in the country. However, Salem’s shipping industry was badly hurt by both the Embargo Act of 1807 and the War of 1812, and its merchants never fully recovered. This led to a long period of economic stagnation, and the city saw only moderate population growth during the second half of the 19th century.

From a historic preservation standpoint, though, this was not entirely a bad thing. The lack of economic or population growth led to little demand for new construction, resulting in the survival of many historic buildings. Today, one of Salem’s most visible assets is its large number of well-preserved late 18th and early 19th century homes, including the John Hodges House here on Essex Street. Although it has undergone many changes in ownership and use over the past quarter of a millennium, it stands as a reminder of the city’s historic maritime past, with few significant differences from its appearance more than a century ago when the first photo was taken. It is now one of the contributing properties in the Salem Common Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

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.

Austin Hall, Cambridge, Mass

Austin Hall at Harvard Law School in Cambridge, around 1890-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The building in 2019:

Austin Hall was completed in 1884 as the home of the Harvard Law School, and it was built thanks to a gift from Edward Austin, a Boston businessman who donated $135,000 in memory of his late brother Samuel. The building was designed by Henry H. Richardson, one of the most influential American architects in history, and it features his distinctive Romanesque Revival style. Richardson had previously designed Sever Hall on the Harvard campus, and his other commissions in the area included Boston’s Trinity Church.

As was typical for Richardson’s works, it has a polychromatic exterior, with the dark Longmeadow brownstone contrasting with the lighter-colored Ohio sandstone. The main entrance is marked by three rounded arches, and to the right of them is a short turret with an interior staircase. Just below the roofline is an inscription from Exodus 18:20, which reads “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk and the work that they must do.”

Upon completion, the interior of the building consisted of two smaller lecture rooms on the first floor, with one in each of the two wings to the left and right, along with a large lecture room in the rear of the building. The rest of the first floor consisted of a central hall, several offices for professors, and a room that was designated as the students’ room. Most of the second floor was occupied by the library, but there was also a dean’s room and a professors’ room.

The first photo was taken about a decade or two after the building opened, and not much has changed in its exterior appearance since then, although the foreground is very different, with a parking lot in place of the trees and dirt walkways. Harvard Law School has since expanded far beyond just this one building, but Austin Hall remains in use by the school today. On the interior, it has been renovated over the years, and it now houses classrooms, offices, and the Ames Courtroom, where law students hold moot courts. This courtroom is on the second floor, where the library reading room was originally located. Overall, though, the building retains much of its historic appearance, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.

Longfellow House, Cambridge, Mass (2)

The Longfellow House on Brattle Street in Cambridge, around 1890-1899. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2019:


As discussed in more detail in the previous post, this house was built in 1759 as the home of John Vassall, a 21-year-old sugar plantation heir. He lived here until 1774 when, as a loyalist, he and his family moved to the safety of British-occupied Boston shortly before the start of the American Revolution.

The Vassalls ultimately never returned here, and starting in the summer of 1775 their house was occupied by George Washington, who used it as his residence and headquarters during the siege of Boston. Washington remained here for nearly nine months, until after the British evacuated Boston in March 1776, and he departed on April in order to move the Continental Army to New York.

This house went through several different owners in the late 18th century before being purchased by Andrew Craigie around 1792. Craigie had been the first apothecary general of the Continental Army during the war, and he lived here until his death in 1819. His widow Elizabeth continued to live here until she died in 1841, and during this time she took on boarders, including a young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, who moved into the house in 1837.

The famous poet ultimately became the owner of the house when, in 1843, he married Fanny Appleton and her father Nathan purchased it and gave it to them as a wedding gift. Longfellow went on to write nearly all of his major works here in this house, and he also frequently entertained distinguished visitors here, among them Charles Sumner, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles Dickens, and Oscar Wilde. His wife Fanny died here in 1861 from burns that she suffered after her dress caught fire, but Longfellow continued to live here for the rest of his life, until his death in 1882 at the age of 75.

By the time the first photo was taken around the 1890s, his daughter Alice was still living here. She was a philanthropist and also an advocate of historic preservation, and during her ownership she maintained the house in its historic condition, on both the interior and exterior. The 1900 census, which was probably recorded soon after the photo was taken, shows here living here alone, with the exception of three servants.

Alice lived here until her death in 1928, and for much of the 20th century the house was preserved by the Longfellow House Trust. This organization ultimately donated the property to the National Park Service, and it became the Longfellow National Historic Site. It has since been renamed the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, and it is still open to visitors for guided tours. As these two photos show, the house has seen hardly any exterior change from this angle since the first photo was taken more than 120 years ago.

Quincy City Hall, Quincy, Mass

The Quincy City Hall on Hancock Street in Quincy, around 1890-1910. Image courtesy of the Thomas Crane Public Library.

The building in 2019:

The city of Quincy is probably best known and the birthplace and home of both John Adams and John Quincy Adams. They were born 32 years and 75 feet apart from each other, in adjoining houses less than a mile south of here. As such, Quincy is one of only two cities in the country—along with New York City—to have been the birthplace of two presidents. However, at the time Quincy was neither a city, nor was it even its own municipality. Throughout the colonial era, present-day Quincy was the northern part of the town of Braintree, before being split off as a separate town in 1792. From there, it would be nearly a century before Quincy was incorporated as a city in 1888.

During this time, Quincy saw significant growth. From a population of just over a thousand in 1800, it had grown to nearly 3,500 by 1840, and in 1844 the town began construction on a new town hall, which was completed later in the year. It was designed by prominent architect Solomon Willard, who is best-known for the Bunker Hill Monument in Boston. Like the Bunker Hill Monument, it was constructed out of locally-quarried Quincy granite, and it was built only a year after the monument’s dedication in 1843.

Overall, the exterior of the town hall is a good example of Greek Revival architecture, which was common for public buildings of this era. The front facade, shown here in these two photos, features a triangular pediment above four Ionic pilasters. The main entrance is located between the two central pilasters, with the inscription “Town Hall Erected A.D. 1844” inscribed above it. Originally, the ground floor included two storefronts, although these were altered later in the 19th century.

Quincy became a city in 1888, and the old town hall building here became city hall instead. The changes to the front of the building came afterward, and included the addition of a “City Hall” sign above the entrance. The first photo was also taken sometime after these changes occurred, probably around the turn of the 20th century. In this scene, four men stand outside the entrance, with a uniformed police officer standing to the left at the corner of the building. Aside from the modifications to the building, another sign of progress was the trolley line running in front of the building, with the tracks visible in the street and the electric wires above them.

Today, this building remains in use as Quincy City Hall, although it has been significantly expanded with a modern addition behind and to the right of the original structure. Most recently, the building underwent a major restoration that began in 2013. It was damaged by a fire during the project, but the work was ultimately completed in early 2016. This project also coincided with the closure of the portion of Hancock Street in front of city hall, creating a pedestrian-only plaza between it and the United First Parish Church across the street from here. Today, the exterior of the building is not significantly different from its appearance in the first photo, and it stands as a well-preserved example of a mid-19th century municipal building.