John Ward house, Salem MA

First Period houses of Salem MA

Salem, MA has about 18 First Period houses (built during the first century of English settlement, approximately 1620-1720. In his landmark studies, “Massachusetts and its First Period Buildings” (1979) and The Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, 1625-1725 (1979), architectural historian Abbott Lowell Cummings demonstrated that eastern Massachusetts contains the greatest concentration of First Period structures in the nation. By the first quarter of the eighteenth century, house-building transitioned from First Period to Georgian concepts of architecture.

Examples of the most common two-room, central-chimney plan can be found in both early seventeenth century East Anglia and in First Period Massachusetts Bay dwellings, and can be identified for by frame construction, roof design, and the use of materials and decorative features. In wealthier communities such as Salem, many of the early houses were replaced, but in Ipswich, which went through a long period of economic hardship, 59 houses have been identified as First Period. There are believed to be about 350 First Period houses remaining in the country, primarily in Essex County.

Engraving of Salem in 1839 by J. W. Barber

The following houses are identified in the MACRIS site, with descriptions by the Salem Historical Commission in the 1970s.

SAL.3283 4 Becket St. Salem MA 1718. 4 Becket Street appears to have originally had a four or five-bay arrangement with a center entry to which an addition has been made at the western end. The profile of the gable roof has been changed by the construction of a rear lean-to across the eastern half at the rear of the house. 4 Becket Street is probably the earliest house surviving on Becket Street. Late in the 17th century this lot was part of the land of Hubakkuk Turner, whose widow Mary married deacon John Marston, a Salem house carpenter in 1686. The Marstons eventually sold off this land, which had been an orchard, as house lots. One of the lots went to Deacon Marston’s son-in-law, fisherman, Benjamin Phippen, in 1717 and he built this house perhaps with the help of his housewright father-n-law.

SAL.1044 Pickering House, 18 Broad St. Salem MA c 1664.

The Pickering House is unique in the United States as the oldest house to have been continuously occupied by one family; it is also the oldest known house in Salem MA. The house stands on part of the land granted in 1637 to John Pickering. The earliest section of the house is believed to have been built c. 1651 by John Pickering Sr., a carpenter, (d. 1657). His son John is believed to have been responsible for a c. 1671 expansion. Deacon Timothy Pickering was the owner in 1751 when the rear was raised to a second story. Perhaps the best known occupant of the house was Colonel Timothy Pickering, born in the house in 1745. A soldier and a statesman, Pickering served in the Continental army during the Revolution.

The Oxford Tree Ring Laboratory conducted a dendrochronology study with the following findings: “(a) Phase I Felling Date: Winter 1663/4. (b) Phase II: Parlour extension Felling date: Winter 1681/2. The original part of the Pickering House was built John Pickering in 1664 or shortly thereafter on land he acquired in 1659. Previously thought to have been built by his father, John Pickering, Sr. before his death in 1657, the structure was two-and-one-half stories in height and consisted of the present south-east (right-hand front) rooms and chimney bay. The room and chamber were framed with double transverse summer beams and summer tie beams supported by story posts, a framing configuration typical of Salem. A room and chamber were added west of the chimney in 1682, making the statement in the Pickering Family papers that the rooms were added twenty years after the original construction, nearly correct. 

SAL.2454 John Ward House, 7-9 Brown St. Salem MA 1684.

This house is one of the least altered examples of the 17th century construction in the United States. It is an outstanding illustration of the organic building process of the time, still strongly reminiscent of medieval forms.

SAL.2506 Goult – Pickman House, 43 Charter St. Salem MA c 1680.

This restored house is a rare surviving example of 17th century architecture. It is further significant by association with two famous residents: Benjamin Lynde, Jr., Judge and Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and Michele Felice Corne, a prominent marine artist credited with the introduction of the tomato to America.

SAL.2616 Stephen Daniels House, 1 Daniels St. Salem MA c 1667.

This house was built in 1667 for shipwright Stephen Daniels. The oldest parts of this building are the lower- two stories of the southern half. The northern half, the third floor, and the large lean-to ell were added by Samuel Silsbee in 1756. Silsbee was Daniels’s great-grandson and a carpenter by trade. In 1756, the house was expanded to give it its current Georgian configuration.

SAL.3239 William Murray House, 39 Essex St. Salem MA c 1688

The William Murray House is two First Period framed buildings joined together. The three easternmost bays (farthest from Essex St.) enclose the original c. 1688 single cell house. That house originally had overhangs on the south and east facades and a roof pitch comparable to the current roof pitch of the west end of the house. The three bays on the west were added early 18th century. The two halves of the house were owned separately from 1759 until the mid 19th century, so there are two small lobbies with staircases side by side. The southernmost staircase is trimmed with turned balusters of late Second Period profile.

SAL.2669 Christopher Babage House, 46 1/2 Essex St. Salem MA c 1717

This house has been heavily altered over the years. From the exterior it has a Georgian appearance, but the interior is reported to have chamfered oak beams indicating an earlier First Period core. Perley reports that the eastern portion of the structure was cut off in 1859 and moved to Kosciusko Street leaving a three-bay half house. The structure has a gambrel roof with a deep soffit and an integral lean-to at the rear.

SAL.2593 Narbonne House, 71 Essex St. Salem MA c 1674

The Narbonne House is an important First Period survivor. The structure consists of a two-story, three-bay gable-roofed half-house to which has been added a lh story gambrel-roofed section at the south end. These two parts share a large chimney. According to architectural historian Abbott Lowell-Cummings, the oldest portion of this house was built for Thomas Ives, a slaughterer, who was in possession of it by January 1676 and perhaps at the time of his marriage on April 1, 1672. Cummings believes that the original structure “consisted of a room with chamber and garrett and chimney bay (left hand portion) and an original lean-to with a fireplace of unusual size and character.” (Tolles, p. 42) The gambrel-roofed ell and the central portion of the lean-to are thought to have been added when Capt. John Hodges owned the property between 1750 and 1780. Subsequently, the lean-to was enlarged a third time.

The Oxford Tree Ring Laboratory conducted a dendrochronology study with the following findings:

Primary Phase Felling dates: Summer 1674, Winter 1674/5, and Spring 1675. The earliest portion of the Narbonne House, which faces west, consisted of the left-hand rooms, chimney bay and attic, together with a lean-to (now replaced) and perhaps additional original construction south of the chimney. In the mid eighteenth century a separate story-and-one-half building with gambrel roof, built with reused timbers and consistent in style with construction between 1725 and 1750, was drawn up and attached south of the chimney bay, replacing earlier south rooms that, if not original, were present by 1695. Paul Mansfield acquired the unimproved lot on which the house was built in 1669. By January 6, 1676, Thomas Ives was the owner, and it was presumably Ives who began to build the house the previous year. 

SAL.1510 Judge Jonathan Corwin House, 310 Essex St. Salem MA 1675

The original owner of 310 Essex Street was Nathaniel Davenport, commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston Harbor from 1645 until 1665. Subsequent to that post, he began construction of this dwelling which has become known as the Salem Witch House. Jonathan Corwin, a merchant, bought the unfinished house from Davenport in 1675. He immediately contracted for its completion with the mason, Daniel Andrews. At that time, the dwelling had steep gables, a large, central chimney and a projecting, two-story entry porch at the center of the facade. During the witchcraft delusion of 1692, those suspected of practicing witchcraft were brought to the house for pretrial examinations, during which Corwin acted as judge. Jonathan Corwin’s grandson, Captain George Corwin, lived in the house until his death in 1746. His widow, Sarah Corwin, replaced the cross-gable roof with a gambrel roof, removed the facade gables and enlarged the building. The present state of the building is the result of a restoration to its presumed original state, carried out c. 1945.

Eleazer Gedney House, 19-21 High St. Salem MA c 1664

The earliest part of the Gedney House was constructed circa 1665 and changes were made to it circa 1700, and again circa 1800. It was, however, the final alteration to the house, made in the early 1960s, which determined the major importance of the house today. At that time, the property was purchased for investment purposes, and the builder began the demolition, tearing out most of the original and later trim. On behalf of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), Abbot Lowell Cummings acquired the house in 1967 as a study house, with the intention to leave the house unrestored as an object of study. The house is owned by Historic New England. View the Oxford Tree Ring Laboratory Dendrochronology Report for this house.

SAL.3425 House of Seven Gables, 54 Turner St. Salem MA 1668

The Turner house was erected in 1668 for Captain John Turner, a merchant. The property remained in his family for three generations, first inherited by his son, John Turner, Jr., and including the Ingersoll’s, relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne. In 1908, the property was purchased by Caroline O. Emmerton, founder of the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association. The Association restored the house and interior to the 1840s, the time of Hawthorne’s association with the property. This 2 1/2-story, gable-end house is irregular in plan and has a rambling, asymmetrical appearance punctuated by a many-gabled roof line. The east gable end of the original, 2 1/2-story section of the house fronts on Turner Street. Built on the hall and parlor plan with an off-center chimney, its facade faces south, toward the water. That facade consists of an eastern facade gable, the remainder of likely two, previous Gothic, cross-gables in the original facade.

The Oxford Tree Ring Laboratory conducted a study of this house with the following findings: “Primary Phase Felling dates: Summer 1666, Summer 1667, Winter 1666/7, and Winter 1667/8 Summer 1675, Winter 1675/6, Summer 1676, and Winter 1676/7. The Turner House was built by wealthy merchant John Turner in 1668 as a central chimney, two room plan, two-and-one-half storey house facing southeast toward the water. The plan was asymmetrical with a smaller parlor on the northeast end and a larger hall on the southwest end. There were two facade gables. Within eight years, John Turner added an ambitious parlor wing southeast of the original hall.”

SAL.3426 Hathaway House, – Old Bakery 54 Turner St. Salem MA c 1682

According to Abbot Lowell Cummings’ Framed Houses of Massachusetts Bay, the earliest part of this house is the southernmost end, including the chimney, main entrance, facade gable, and overhang. The dwelling was built on the single-room plan. Sometime after 1784, the house was doubled in size when the present two-bay northern section was added and a one-story lean-to was attached to the rear. The lean-to was later increased to two stories in height. The Beverly jog was also added later. This house was moved to this site from 23 Washington Street around 1911 and restored by architect, Joseph E. Chandler.

SAL.3427 Retire Beckett House, 54 Turner St. Salem MA c 1655

According to Perley, this pre-1655 house, formerly located on Becket Avenue, was originally the home of John Jackson (d. 1655). The property passed to Jonathan Porter who sold it to John Becket (b. c. 1626; d. 1683) on May 26, 1656. John Becket, shipwright was the first of a line of noted Salem shipbuilders and the great, great grandfather of Retire Becket (b. c. 1754; d. May 29, 1831), the most famous family member for whom the house is named. The house remained in the family for more than two hundred years.

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