The John Ward house in Salem MAFirst Period

First Period houses of Salem, Massachusetts

Characteristics of First Period houses

Characteristics of First Period houses

Salem, MA has about 18 First Period houses (built during the first century of English settlement, approximately 116-20-1720). 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.


Engraving of Salem in 1839 by J. W. Barber

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

SAL.3283, 4 Becket St, 1718. Although altered by the application of aluminum siding, 4 Becket Street is significant as one of about twenty surviving first period houses in Salem. An interior examination would be necessary to fully document the house, but it 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. 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. In his house report or this dwelling, Robert Booth states Benjamin Phippen (1688-1725?) was the son of a pump-maker and fisherman, Joseph Phippen, who fled to Salem during an Indian uprising at his home in Maine. Benjamin was always referred to as a fisherman in the old records: he was undoubtedly master of a fishing vessel, and was referred to as skipper” Phippen.(only masters of merchant vessels were called “captain”). He was evidently quite, successful, at his calling, for he made a good marriage, and this double house was very fine and large for its time.

SAL.341, Bell, Samuel – Reith, Capt. John House, 152 Boston St, c 1721. This house was constructed for bricklayer Samuel Bell in the early 18th century. In 1720 the town of Salem granted Bell a 1/4 acre house lot (known as lot #3), containing 52 square poles on Trask’s Plain. Bell subsequently constructed a house on the lot and upon his death in 1759 the homestead was willed to his wife, Elizabeth. At the time of Elizabeth’s death in 1773 the property was valued at 110 pounds. In 1774 the property was sold to Mary Bell, the widow of the Bells’ son, Joseph. In 1782 Mary Bell married Enoch Goodale and soon thereafter they sold the (empty) western half of the house lot. In 1800 Mr. & Mrs. Goodale sold the old Bell House to shopkeeper William Wilson for $800. It was sold in 1802 to Capt. John Reith, a shipmaster who distinguished himself as the commander of a privateer during the American Revolution. It appears that Reith enlarged the old house, doubling its original size. Capt. Reith continued to live here until 1817 when he sold the property to Archelaus Putnam.

SAL.1044, Pickering House, 18 Broad St, c 1664. 18 Broad Street is an extraordinary house of national significance, illustrating the evolution of a first period dwelling through periods of alteration in the 17th through 20th centuries. The evolution of the house has been a gradual process, and fortunately many of the alterations have been well documented. According to Abbott Lowell Cummings the east section of the house was built first (c. 1651), followed twenty years later by an expansion to the west. A lean-to was added, and in 1751 the rear was raised to a full two stories. The Gothic Revival style alterations were made in 1841, when changes to the house included the front gables, finials, round windows, modillions, cornice brackets, clustered chimney, and extended entry porch. 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. 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.


SAL.2454, Ward, John House, 7-9 Brown St, 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. The Ward House was built in three distinct phases. John Ward, a currier by profession, built the first portion of the house in 1684. This consisted of a two story structure with one room on each floor, and a large chimney at one end. This portion was extended by Ward to the right-side of the chimney, giving the house a typical colonial five-bay facade, with center entry and chimney. The last addition to the house was the lean-to at the rear, which gave the house a saltbox appearance, and was apparently added not long before Ward’s death in 1734.

SAL.2506, Goult – Pickman House, 43 Charter St, c 1680. This house, new restored, 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, Daniels, Stephen House, 1 Daniels St, c 1667. According to Bryant Tolles, this house was built in 1667 for shipwright Stephen Daniels. Shipbuilding was one of Salem’s first industries. Early on, shallops were built for fishing and by 1640 several vessels of five tons burden or more had been launched. Some of the early shipyards were located on the North River, at Salem Neck, and at Knocker’s Hole, at the head of the South River behind the present-day pest office at Riley Plaza. Perhaps the closest shipyard to Daniels’s house was the one established by John Becket in 1655′ at the foot of Becket Street. The oldest parts of this building are the lower two stories of the southern half. The norther 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.

159 Derby St., circa 1700

SAL.3239, Murray, William House, 39 Essex St, c 1688. The William Murray house is six bays long, 2 1/2 stories in height and one room deep. The three easternmost bays (farthest from Essex St.) enclose the original c. 1688 single cell house. That house 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. In the late 18th or early 19th century the roof was raised to a shallower pitch on the original part of the house and the overhangs concealed behind a flush wall.

SAL.2669, Babage, Christopher House, 46 1/2 Essex St, c 1717. From the exterior it has a Georgian appearance, but the interior is reported to have chamfered oak beams indicating an earlier First Period core. Robert Booth, who researched the history of 46% Essex Street, reports that Christopher Babbidge, a tailor, acquired the lot on which this house stands in 1662 and built a dwelling here by 1664. When Mr. Babbidge died in 1711, he left the house to his son, also Christopher, a cordwainer (shoemaker). It is unclear whether the core of this house is the one built by 1664 or a second dwelling built by the son Christopher when he inherited the property. When the younger Babbidge died in 1755, merchant Richard Derby (father of Elias Hasket) acquired the Babbidge homestead. He evidently presented this house to his daughter Mary in 1764 when she married George Crowninshield. Either Mr. Derby or the Crowninshields remodeled the dwelling to its Georgian appearance. The house was larger at one time, probably five bays, and was located directly on Essex Street. Historian Sidney Perley reports that owner Phineas Weston divided the structure in 1859 (see 44 Essex Street). When Azma Abdo acquired the remaining portion of the house in 1914, he moved it to the rear of the lot and built a brick apartment block on Essex Street

SAL.2591, Robinson, Samuel – Chapleman, Michael House, 69 Essex St, r 1650. The heart of this much-altered building is a 17th century house, known as the Samuel Robinson House, which originally had a shop in its gable end (v. 2, p. 75). It is believed that the southern half of the house was built by Samuel Robinson, a baker, who sold it to Michael Chapleman, seaman, in 1669. Nathaniel Silsbee, Jr., a house carpenter, purchased the property in 1700 and it remained in the family for almost one hundred years. Nathaniel Silsbee, who served as U.S. Senator from 1826 until 1835 was supposedly born here in 1773. In 1790 Rev. Bentley reported that “Silsbee near the meeting house raised a frame adjoining to his store and dwelling house”, suggesting that the northern half of the building may have been built then.

SAL.2593, Ives, Thomas – Narbonne House, 71 Essex St, c 1672. 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, 16 72. 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.” 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.  In addition to fishermen, mariners and shipwrights, other occupants over the years included Samuel Willard (c. 1700), weaver and captain of a foot company protecting the town from Indians, and John Andrew (after 1800), a goldsmith. Andrew’s niece, Sarah Narbonne later inherited the property, giving it its name.

SAL.1510, Corwin, Judge Jonathan House, 310 Essex St, 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.

88 Federal Street, circa 1720.

5 Hardy St., circa 1720.

SAL.1156, Gedney, Eleazer House, 19-21 High St, 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 1960’s, which determined the major importance of the house today. At that time, the property was purchased for investment purposes, and the builder tore out most of the original and later trim. Only the frame of the house remains and, according to Dr. Abbott Lowell Cummings, this fact has made the Gedney House the most important study house of seventeenth century Massachusetts, rivaled only by SPNEA*s William Boardman House in Saugus. Eleazer Gedney (1612-1683) was a prominent figure in late seventeenth Century Salem. He was the sixth child of John Gedney who had immigrated to Salem from Norwich County, England in 1637. The younger Gedney became a shipwright and he purchased his house lot near the South River in Salem. There he constructed Gedney’s Wharf and built the original part of the Gedney House structure. He served as Salem juryman in 1670 and as grand juryman in 1675 and in 1676. He was Clerk of the Market in 1667/68 and a Fence Surveyor for the North Field in 1678/79. He acted as Salem Constable in 1671» the same year he became a freeman. Upon his death in 1683, Gedney’s widow conveyed the house to Gedney’s eldest son, Eleazer,Jr., who occupied it with his wife until around 1690.

SAL.3425, House of Seven Gables, 54 Turner St, 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 1840’s, the time of Hawthorne’s association with the property. Several other properties have also been moved to the complex which now functions as a museum. These buildings, the Hooper-Hathaway House (moved to Hardy Street in 1911); Retire Becket House, moved from Becket Avenue (1924); Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Birthplace moved to Hardy Street from 27 Union Street (1957).

SAL.3426, Hathaway House – Old Bakery, 54 Turner St, c 1682. Formerly located at 23 Washington Street, this house was built c. 1682 as a one-room and loft for Benjamin Hooper, cordwainer. The house was expanded and remained in the Hooper family until 1795 when it was sold to Henry Rust. After a period of ownership by the Gardner Family, it was purchased c. 1864 by the Hathaway’s who were bakers. Under their control, the house became a local landmark, known as “The Old Bakery.” When threatened with demolition in 1911, it was acquired by Caroline 0. Emmerton, founder of the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, who moved it to this location near the “House of Seven Gables” where it was restored as were other buildings in the complex by architect, Joseph E. Chandler.

SAL.3427, Beckett, Retire House, 54 Turner St, 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. Perley claims the house remained in the family for more than two hundred years. He traces it through Retire Becket (baptised August 23, 1704; d. June 17, 1734), also a shipwright and grandfather of the famous Retire Becket then through other members of the family.  The Tolles’s ascribe the property to Retire Becket. He is noted for having built the ships Mount Vernon, Margaret, the privateer, America, and George Crowninshield’s yacht, Cleopatra’s Barge. More detailed research is required to establish a clear chain of title. The more important of Salem’s shipyards were on lower Derby Street and in South Salem at the present site of the Naumkeag Mills. The Becket’s were the most noted shipbuilders in the region. Some member of the family was continuously in the business from 1655 to 1887 at the ship yard near Phillips wharf.

Categories: First Period, Houses

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