Friday, May 27, 2016

The Merchant - A Marvelous New Boutique Hotel with Awesome Old History in Salem, Massachusetts


This past winter I had the pleasure of wandering up to Salem, Massachusetts to check out a new exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum and the timing was such that during my trip, I was also able to take advantage of a Travelzoo offer and spend a night at one of Salem's newest lodging offerings - The Merchant. An upscale boutique hotel located in one of Salem's historic grand former homes, the mansion has had prior incarnations as a tavern, the upscale Washington Hotel in the early 19th century, the home of the Higginson Book Company and offices of the Carlson Realty Company in the 21st century, and a stop on a few of the very popular Salem Ghost Walks - one of which I was on myself back in October of 2008 and the closest I had ever gotten to the house prior to my stay. 

In a city that never seems to have enough accommodations come October when everyone hops on their broomsticks to fly up to Witch City for a month full of Haunted Happenings. I've got no doubt that this very swank, very cozy, very historic venue is going to be a real addition to the list of choices that visitors have when it comes to choosing a place to stay though I wouldn't wait until October to book a visit if I were you as Salem is a great place to visit anytime of the year with some fantastic non-witch-related offerings like the Salem National Maritime Historic Site which features 12 historic structures including the U.S. Customs House that disgruntled hometown boy and popular American author Nathaniel Hawthorne worked at while penning "The Scarlet Letter"  as well as the replica of the three-masted East Indiaman trading ship The Friendship docked at Derby Wharf. There's also The House of the Seven Gables which is one of my personal favorites, Ye Old Pepper Candy Companie which is America's oldest candy company and well worth a visit from anywhere, and  of course the world-class Peabody-Essex Museum which alone is worth a trip to the North Shore.  The PEM got its start in 1824 when wealthy ship captains built the East India Marine Hall where they exhibited some of the curiosities and treasures that they had brought back from their trade travels. Today, though greatly expanded, the museum still exhibits some of those items in their permanent collections as well as offering terrific new exhibits that are constantly changing to offer visitors a wide variety of art, history, and more. The Philips Library with its collection of rare books and special collections is part of the museum and the PEM also has a collection of historic houses throughout the city - several that are open to the public. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA

Now then, speaking of historic houses - back to The Merchant! 

Constructed in 1784, the three-story Federal style house set on high ground overlooking Washington Street was one of the first brick residences to be built in Salem. At the time of its construction, the house overlooked the South River leading to Salem Harbor as well as a dock that was named for the man who had the house constructed - retired sea captain and privateer-turned-merchant Joshua Ward who acquired his fortunes through the import of tea, spices, silks, curiosities, molasses for rum, and Sumatran pepper which was considered to be the "black gold" of the Old China Trade. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA

The Joshua Ward House's design and interior woodwork was created by Salem's own Samuel McIntire, a woodcarver by trade who grew into the field of architecture and became one of the earliest and most influential architects in the United States. Very popular among the elite citizens of Salem who had money to spend (in the early 1800s Salem was the wealthiest city per capita in the United States), McIntire is best known for his classic examples of Federal style architecture located on Salem's Chestnut Street and throughout the McIntire Historic District which contains one of the greatest concentrations of notable pre-1900 domestic structures still in existence in the United States. Totaling 407 homes and buildings. the District includes Hamilton Hall constructed as a meeting place for Salem's Federalists in 1805 which is still in use well over 200 years later as an assembly hall for cultural and social events.

A perfect example of McIntire's craftsmanship is on view as soon as one passes through the front door of The Merchant where you come face-to-face with a stunning "floating" staircase which is the oldest surviving staircase in existence created by McIntire. It, along with the other beautiful woodwork throughout the house including wainscoting and paneling, has been beautifully restored in colors that are in keeping with the property's former status as the home of a very wealthy sea merchant who imported goods from exotic locales and was exposed to a lot more than New England's staid Colonial colors. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

I'm thinking that the straw boater on the bust of George Washington above doesn't have anything to do with the Old China Trade but it certainly adds a nice bit of whimsy to the space and as you'll read further on, there's a good reason that Washington's bust is hanging around the house. 

Standing at the bottom of the floating staircase, guests can get a glimpse at the guest lounge where there's lot of comfy seating, a bar area, and two full-size fireplaces including the one that a painting of a grand looking lady hangs above. In asking about her, I was told that she's a relative of Todd Waller who owns The Merchant along with his wife Kimberly; that would definitely account for the proprietary air the portrait exudes.  Whoever she may be, she's the perfect addition to the room and the house! 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

At the other end of the guest lounge is the second fireplace complete with a plate at the back of the firebox crafted by Paul Revere of "one if by night, two if by sea" fame. Unfortunately there's a large crack in the plate which might indicate that Paul was a better midnight rider than he was craftsman but it's still a pretty neat piece of history!  

Speaking of history and the Joshua Ward House, I should probably take a moment to mention that these two photos of the fireplace show the only place in the entire house where I had any sort of orbs or other objects show up in the large number of photos I took in spite of the highly reported hauntings at The Merchant.  Like many other places in Salem, the Joshua Ward House has long had a haunted history stemming from the fact that when the retired sea captain built his house back in 1784, he had it constructed on the site of the former home and jail of George "The Strangler" Corwin, the High Sheriff of Essex County under whose watch many men and women were persecuted and 19 executed as witches during Salem's infamous Witch Trials of 1692-93.

The Merchant, Salem, MA

On April 12, 1696 the reportedly overzealous and sadistic sheriff died of a sudden heart attack - at the even-then young age of 31 - but his burial was delayed when Phillip English, one of those who had been accused of witchcraft and whose property valued at approximately 1500 pounds was confiscated by the sheriff even though he and his wife weren't executed, put a lien against Corwin's corpse. The body was deposited on Corwin's front lawn until his executors paid Phillip English 60 pounds and 3 shillings - almost all that was left of Corwin's estate at the time of his death - but even then his remains still weren't buried in the family plot at the Broad Street Cemetery but were instead interned in a grave in the cellar as he was reviled that his family feared his body might be seized by others seeking revenge or reimbursement. 

Corwin's corpse remained in the cellar of his house for many years before it was properly buried with other family members and though his is not one of the spirits reported to roam the halls of The Merchant, local legend has it that a few of his innocent victims may have been hard-pressed to leave or are still hanging around the site of the former jail. For more on the reported haunted happenings at the Joshua Ward House, I'm going to refer you over to a 2013 post at Theresa's Haunted History of the Tri-State blog as she can tell the story much better than I can especially as I have nothing to report from our peacefully uneventful stay other than the orbs above.

The Merchant, Salem, MAThe Merchant, Salem, MA

All ghostly guests aside and continuing around The Merchant, in the back of the house where the reception desk is located there's a nice little hospitality area where guests can brew themselves a hot cup of coffee or tea (for there or even to go!), grab a cold beverage from the well-stocked refrigerator, or maybe even snag a snack to tide you over until you can get to one of Salem's many wonderful restaurants. 

Back towards the front of the house, time to take a climb up that gorgeous McIntire staircase which is actually a very nice staircase to ascend as it's not too steep and the stair steps are a nice width that your feet fit quite nicely on (even if you have slightly larger feet like my daughter does!)  Rather than head directly up to the third floor where our room was located, I'm first going to take a slight detour to a room with a very awesome history on the second floor - sorry, no ghost stories here either!

The Merchant, Salem, MAThe Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

At the top of the first set of stairs, a left takes you up another small flight of stairs then turn left where you'll find the door to Room #5. By the by, if you stand in front of the door and turn to look back the way you came, the photo on the right above is what it looks like heading back down the stairs and through the doorway to with its wonderful pediment that leads to the rest of the second floor. 

So what's so special about this particular room you may ask? Well, if you're a history buff like myself it's special because George Washington honestly-and-truly slept there when he was visiting Salem on October 29th, 1789. However, if you don't care about that sort of thing (shame on you!) then it's just a very nice room with some awesome window seats.

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

While on a fall tour of New England (leaf peeping perhaps?) our #1 President stopped by Salem after spending four days in Boston before taking a day trip to visit the North Shore. While in Salem he was lavishly honored and entertained at Salem's Cotting-Smith Assembly House that was commissioned to be built in 1782 by Salem's Federalist-leaning merchants and shipbuilders to house social gatherings and artistic performances. Certainly having the newly-reelected and highly popular President visit was a social gathering of major proportions!  FYI - the Assembly House is one of the many historic properties owned by the Peabody-Essex Museum and can be rented out for small gatherings or intimate wedding ceremonies should you be looking for a lovely historic venue.

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

Following his evening of dining and dancing at the Assembly House, President Washington spent the night at the home of Joshua Ward in the second-floor northeast bedchamber - the same room that these photos are from though I suspect the decor was nowhere near as nice! It's been reported that Washington specifically requested that he stay at the Ward House which is most likely due to the fact that at the time of his visit, the mansion was undoubtedly the finest residence in town. Though he does mention his stay in his diary, Washington refers to the house merely as his "lodgings" but well ... he was a farmer, not an architect and probably not the type to gush about a building (no doubt Jefferson would have had a lot more to say had he stayed there!) but regardless, it's pretty cool to be able to stay in a place where Washington once did. Even though we didn't stay in this particular suite, my not-a-history-buff daughter still thought it was a pretty cool thing while I thought it was pretty darned sweet that I was even still standing in the same room where Washington once did also.

The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

As for the decor of the room, I must say that I quite like the star-spangled ceiling and the large eagle above the fireplace and I bet if George ever came back he would too - though I guess that would really amp up the reported historic hauntings at the house! By the by, if you're interested in reading a bit more about Washington's visit to the Joshua Ward House, I highly recommend you pop over to Streets of Salem and read this post from 2012 - George Washington Slept Here - which has some great photos of Salem from days gone by and additional history on the house.

The Merchant, Salem, MA

Now then, continuing upstairs to the third floor, Amanda and I were quite delighted to find another guest hospitality area that was just as well-stocked as the one on the first floor and conveniently located right outside our door to boot. Morning coffee doesn't get much better than that - nor does late-night snacking! 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

There were lots of neat merchant ship prints on the walls (what else would one expect at a place called The Merchant?) as well as a nice little bench in front of  a window with a view up Front Street that once upon a time in Salem actually was in front of the water and docks. Today - not so much. 

All that aside - let me show you our Suite which is located directly above the George Washington Suite and decorated in beautifully deep, warm colors and fabrics that hearken back to the history of Joshua Ward's days as a merchant of fine goods from the Orient. Washington may have slept in the room below ours at one point in history, and no doubt it was lovely during his stay as I'm sure Joshua Ward pulled out all the stops, but I doubt it was any nicer than the one we were going to be sleeping in. If I kept a diary like George Washington did, I reckon I'd have a lot more to jot down than simply "lodgings" when it came to describing our room! 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

As it was a somewhat dreary, rainy February day during our visit, the view from our windows wasn't exactly the best by Salem standards but it was still pretty neat to see just how far up above Washington Street (yes, named for that famous guy who slept here) we were. When the Joshua Ward House was built, it was constructed on top of a bluff (as well as on top of Sheriff Corwin's former house) so that the merchant who resided here could see his ships without leaving the comfort of his home. The position still allows for some nice views of the surrounding area from the beautiful double-hung six-over-six sash windows that also let in lots of nice light to the room even on an overcast day.  

The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

As seems to happen so often when I stay at someplace nice - and The Merchant was really, really nice! - I found myself wishing that I could fit the bathroom into my suitcase to sneak home with me at the end of my stay.  I especially wanted to take this particular bathroom home because it had a real treat that I've only had the joy of experiencing in one place before - radiant heat floors!  If you've never experienced this particular pleasure, it's an amenity that I think every bathroom in New England should be required to have as it's just that nice - especially on cold New England mornings!  Honestly, f I could figure out how to have them in my own home, they'd be there. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

In addition to top-notch Lather toiletries pictured above (the Bamboo Lemongrass body wash was scrumptious!) and plenty of plush towels, the bathroom also had this very cool built-in shower mat that left no room for slipping at all; it was so cool I just had to take a photo of it! While we're still  in the bathroom, I should also mention that the water pressure in the shower was most excellent which is a definite plus - especially when you're staying in a place that has been around for a few years. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

Stepping out of the bathroom and back into our comfortably luxurious room itself, Amanda totally loved the Tivoli Audio Bluetooth radio on the nightstand while I thought the Chinese Foo Dog lamps added the perfect Oriental touch to the beside tables. To be honest, we didn't even think to turn on the 40" flat-screen TV on the wall but I bet it would have had an awesome picture if we had. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

My second favorite part of the room aside from the radiant-heated bathroom floors was the gas fireplace which was simply perfect - simply perfect indeed! 

After I was done toasting my tootsies and put my boots back - aw nuts! - I took a tour around the rest of the house to see what a few of the other rooms looked like - or at least the ones that were vacant of course!  The Merchant has a total of 11 rooms that are all individually decorated and outfitted with luxurious linens, flat-screen TVs with Apple TV, gas fireplaces, Waffle Kimono bathrobes, hair dryers, irons and ironing boards, wine glasses, iPod docking stations, individual a/c and heating controls, comfy seating areas, and pretty much anything that you could possible want to make your stay one of the most comfortable ever. Some rooms have queen beds while others have kings (one king suite even has a sleep sofa) but regardless of size, if the beds in the other rooms are like the bed in our room was, they're all very, very comfortable!

Starting out, the room across the hall from our room was a bit on the blue side but in a very good way! The color scheme was quite soothing and made me think of the ocean while the mirror above the fireplace was awesomely cool. The bed was pretty cool with its Colonial style frame too!

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

Next stop - past the hospitality center and down the wide hallway to the back of the third floor to take a peek at the two rooms at the back of the house. I loved the crane lamps that were in both rooms while the painting over the fireplace in the second room below was a real eye-catcher. 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

There's one more room located above the third floor of the house up another flight of stairs that look steeper when you're standing at the top than from the bottom as evidenced by the second photo down. The Lark Suite is reminiscent of Salem's shipping heritage in that the room does seem somewhat "cabinesque" with shorter ceilings and an exposed beam.  There are no windows due to its location in the house but it has a really awesome bathroom with nice walk-in shower plus a bath tub that looks to be the sort one could spend a lot of time in quite happily - wrinkly fingers be damned! 

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA

Back down to the third floor you can access the second floor via another stairway that leads downstairs towards the back of the house. When you get right down to it there a lot of different stairways in the house but they make for pretty awesome photos and none of them are the type that you'd need to stop for a few minutes to catch your breath after climbing - always a plus especially if you're carrying luggage up and down! 

The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA

This seems like as good a point as any in this narrative to mention that The Merchant is one of the properties of Lark Hotels who specialize in unique boutique hotels that "embrace the locations they are in - in playful, unexpected ways." Lark got its start back in 2012 when Dawn Hagin, the company's Chief Inspiration Officer, awoke with the word 'lark' in her head and thought it sounded like a good brand name as, according to a 2015 Forbes article, "it’s the name of the bird that welcomes each day with a beautiful song, the name of a Studebaker model that was positioned as a weekend getaway car, and a word that encapsulates that enticing idea of doing something just for the sheer joy of it." In other words, it's a great name for a hotel group that specializes in design-driven, historic-yet-contemporary boutique hotels. There are currently 17 Lark Hotels in operation with another 3 on the way as of this writing; most are located in New England though there are two in California and another slated to open in Nashville, Tennessee soon.  I've not had the chance to stay in any of the other Lark properties - yet - but should the opportunity arise, I'd certainly like to amend that oversight as I have to admit that I was really impressed with not just the design of The Merchant but with all of the other little touches that made for a really wonderful stay even though it was only for one short night. Gee, I have been wanting to go to Nantucket for a long time ...!   

Finally, in wrapping this up, I took a few photos after Amanda and I returned from our engagement at the Peabody Essex Museum and a wonderful dinner at The Naumkeag Ordinary which is just down the block from the Merchant and has some very tasty offerings. After a dismalish day, it was a dark and stormy night (though not too stormy) which made the house look a little intimidating sitting there on the bluff overlooking Washington Street but the candles in the windows were welcoming and there didn't appear to be any sort of ghosts or ghouls hanging around the place, peeking out the windows, or chilling in the guest lounge either. As we stayed on a night where there were only a few other guests - that we never even saw come to think of it - it almost felt like we had the whole house to ourselves.

The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA The Merchant, Salem, MA
The Merchant, Salem, MA


One other thing I should point out - there's no parking at The Merchant itself but there is a driveway that you can access to drop off your luggage and pick up your parking pass to the public lot a block away in front of the Salem Post Office. It's an easy walk from the house and is perfectly safe to leave your car in so no worries there! If it's your first visit to Salem you'll find that parking can be a bit tricky at times and if it's not your first visit, you'll already know that so you'll appreciate the parking arrangements! 

In conclusion, I am really, really glad that there was such a terrific opportunity via Travelzoo for me to spend a night in what is a truly awesome new lodging venue in Salem. The Merchant seamlessly combines my love of history with my love modern comfort and amenities just as I'm sure it will for anyone else who has the great fortune to stay there. It's definitely a great addition to my favorite city in Massachusetts and would be even without that whole "George Washington slept here" thing though you gotta admit - that's pretty darned cool! 

For more information on The Merchant, visit their website and while you're at it, be sure sign up for the free On A Lark Club that treats you to exclusive benefits and unique extras like a "Welcome Indulgence" picked out just for you and room upgrades when available. After all, who doesn't like to be treated like a special guest when you're out on a lark?


Copyright © The Distracted Wanderer/Linda Orlomoski. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from The Distracted Wanderer/Linda Orlomoski is strictly prohibited.

 

The Distracted Wanderer!

The Distracted Wanderer!
"Not all those who wander are lost!"

Visit My Other Travel Blog

Visit My Other Travel Blog
Click the image for more wanderings!

Search This Blog

Loading...

Contact Me via Email

Let's Get Social!

Facebook Icon photo facebook.png Twitter Icon photo twitter.png Flickr Icon photo flickr.png  photo youtube.png  photo Icon-smugmug-64px.png Instagram Icon photo instagram.png Pinterest Icon photo pinterest.png
Follow Me on Pinterest