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The Clarence S. Clark House in Historic Salem, Massachusetts - A House Santa Would Be Proud to Call "Home"

I suspect that by now, if you've had the chance to read Part One and Part Two of my posts on the 32nd Annual Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour that is presented on the first weekend of December each year by Historic Salem, Inc., by now you are either heartily sick of hearing about the Clarence S. Clark House or you’re very curious and can’t wait to read this post. I've got my fingers crossed that it’s the latter but even if it’s the former, at least you’re here reading and that works for me!  I hope that by the end of this post you'll be able to see just why I was so enthusiastic about this house.

As previously mentioned (several times!), myself and my friend Juli had the great pleasure of receiving a private tour of the Clark House on Friday afternoon even though it wasn’t one of the four houses that were featured in the Friday evening preview. When I was told that we had been given the opportunity to see the house, I was also told that the homeowner collected Santas and that she had over 500 but I must have heard wrong as that number was a just a teensy-tiny bit off. As it turned out there was probably triple that number if not more! That’s a lot of Santas in one house but with over 5,000 square feet and 13 rooms, the Clark House has more than enough space for lots and lots of Santas!

Now before I get into the rest of the post, just to try to set the tone and get you into a little of the holiday spirit how about a few ornaments?

All set? Good, now ... how about a little history?

The Colonial Revival style house that currently stands on Essex Street across from Grace Episcopal Church and several doors down from the 1887 Salem Public Library is actually the second house to be located on the grounds. The original residence that stood on the property, the Sprague-Waite House, was a two-and-a-half story Federal style home with a hipped roof and widow’s walk that was built circa 1796 and which may have been a Samuel McIntire design. The original house was demolished in 1893 though the Federal style barn located behind the house remains.

The current house was built circa 1895 for Clarence S. Clark and his wife, the former Annie Treadwell who, if I did my research correctly, were married on October 10th, 1881. Clarence and Annie moved into their new home when it was completed with their five children and two servants. Beyond that, the research trail runs cold but Juli and I were told by Darcy, the current lady of the house, that as a Moroccan merchant, Clarence was gone quite frequently so he gave Annie free reign to design and decorate the house. All of the beautiful woodwork throughout the home - from the grand oak-paneled entry foyer to the beautiful mahogany fireplace in the living room to the many period details like the window casements and other fireplace surrounds - was planned out by Annie as she created a stunningly beautiful home for her family.

Since its construction over 115 years ago, the home has undergone revitalization and renewal with an updated kitchen and the addition of all of the modern conveniences and amenities that any homeowner could want. It was quite easy to see that the pride of ownership that the first owners possessed in their home is also possessed by the current owners in a house that could only be described as magnificent. From the time I walked up the front steps and past the Ionic columns to stand under the semi-circular portico while I waited to enter the house through the wreath-adorned front door to the time I went back out the front door and down those same steps, I was totally enchanted and – to borrow Walt’s word – smitten!

Juli and I were warmly welcomed into the home of Stephen and Darcy and I can only hope that as we stood just inside the entry foyer and exchanged introductions that my jaw wasn’t hanging open too much as I took in the sights around me. With any luck, Darcy is used to that and gets it a lot when visitors first walk into her home; I couldn’t possibly be the only one to stand there and gape … or at least I sure hope not!

From the entry foyer with its beautiful Christmas tree and the Santas lining the sweeping stairway, we turned left and entered the living room where three handsome Wise Men adorned the mantle of the stately fireplace and a collection of Santas filled the second and third shelves of the built-in bookcase; a lovely Nativity scene occupied the top shelf.

Nativity and Santa Figurines on the built-in shelves

Tucked inside the large bay window of the living room with its lovely window treatments was a comfortable couch complete with a Santa pillow and two more wooden Santas (handmade by Darcy’s mother) who stood watch near the poinsettias. In front of the couch on the coffee table was a Christmas tree made from assorted Christmas ball ornaments that reminded me of the ones that we had when I was a kid.

Exiting the living room we walked back across the foyer to the formal dining room where the large table was set for a festive holiday feast with Wedgewood china in a beautiful Christmas pattern of holly and Christmas balls. The fireplace screen was decorated with a winter scene while poinsettias and angels that were handmade by Darcy watched over the room from the mantle. If you look closely at the little angel furthest to the left you’ll see that she’s got a bit of a burn near her hands. Darcy told Juli and I that when she had cleaned the angels once that she had put them in the microwave to dry but that one stayed in a little too long and received the burns; from that time forward her children referred to her as Joan of Arc!

The Main Dining Room
Dining Room Fireplace

As I stood looking past the dining room table with its beautiful holiday centerpiece, brightly decorated Christmas crackers, and gleaming crystal glasses sitting below an elegant chandelier, I found myself gazing towards the living room with its baby grand piano and thinking that I would have loved to have been a guest at a party in the Clark House as they certainly had to be fun!

Walking through the connecting door from the dining room we found ourselves in the large open kitchen with its 6-burner range, oversized wall oven, solid oak cabinets, granite counters, and large center island where I spotted another table set for a holiday meal that was more casual but no less festive than the dining room table. It looked to me like the perfect place to have Christmas breakfast before passing out the presents from beneath the tree.

An overhead shelf sported a nice little Christmas tree farm with eight colorful trees and on the counter in front of the big window overlooking the backyard was a Christmas tree of a different type which held all of the stanzas from “The Twelve Days of Christmas” on its dowel branches. Darcy told us that she had made everything from the partridge on the top branch all the way down to the twelve drummers drumming on the bottom branch when she was younger.

On our way to the family room we passed through the first floor bathroom/laundry room that sported a cute little Christmas tree of its own on the mahogany vanity top with a Christmas tea set on the counter behind it. Turning the corner and walking to the back of the house we then walked into a room that had to have held the Mother Lode of Santas!

Near the big picture window in the family room with its view to the terrace and the original house’s barn out back was another beautifully decorated Christmas tree whose every branch seemed to be covered in homemade decorations. Nearby there were stars decorating a wooden card catalog as pictures of Darcy’s children when they were young, painted by Darcy’s mother, watched over another Nativity scene. Next to the couch was a floral display of red Christmas carnations nestled inside a very large Santa mug.

On the wall opposite the window were built-in shelves that held the TV and that’s where they were - more Santas of every variety and size then I have ever seen anywhere! There were short Santas, tall Santas, roly-poly Santas, skinny Santas, stuffed Santas, ceramic Santas, wooden Santas, Santas on skis and Santas on surfboards, foreign Santas, American Santas, Santa mugs, Santa ringing in the New Year, a Pez Santa, a sailor Santa, a wizard Santa, Santa getting ready to play lacrosse, Santa on a train, and more!

Out of all of those Santas – the big, the small, the short, the tall – I bet there was not a single one that Darcy could not have told us the story of. It was a veritable festival of jolly old elves, each single one having a special meaning to their owner as it brought the joy and magic of Christmas into the room.

Leaving the Santa-fest in the family room we then made our way up to the second floor where more Santas could be found in the bedrooms and the office alcove. In the alcove, the Christmas tree on display was what Darcy called their Adirondack tree which was festooned with lots of pinecone ornaments. There were more Santas on the desk including the tall one with the wild beard that was made by Darcy’s mom (such talent!) and on the bookshelves amongst the other decorations there was a canoe on wheels being paddled by a snowman, a bear, and of course Santa! When they got to where they were going, there was a cozy Adirondack chair or two available for some lounging!

Next up was the Master Bedroom with a beautiful white tree glowing brightly and decorated with ornaments that reflected the room’s colors perfectly. Darcy said that Stephen called it her “Mall Tree” as he thought it looked a bit like a tree that you might find at a shopping mall. She said that she’d always wanted one and was finally able to have it. Personally I thought it looked fabulous and like it had been custom-made for the room; it went perfectly with the painting on the wall and the soft green colors. Of course the room wouldn’t have been complete without a Santa and sure enough, there was one on the dresser!

A quick walk-through of the beautiful Master Bath - which was HUGE - revealed a silver robed Santa standing on the vanity between the double sinks and mirrors along with some pretty holiday towels. In retrospect I probably should have taken a picture or two of the bathroom itself as it had the most amazing soaking tub and walk-in shower but alas, I didn’t. There was also another beautiful fireplace in the Master Bath as well as the Master Bedroom but somehow I overlooked taking pictures of them. Bad blogger!

Back in the hallway we passed by a display of poinsettias and wooden statues of Santa as he has appeared throughout the ages that were handmade by Darcy’s mother who as you may have gathered by now is obviously a very talented and artistic woman.

In the back bedroom there was another small Christmas tree next to a Santa that was lounging in the room’s comfortable chair and over the dresser was a painting of a winter scene that was … wait for it … painted by Darcy’s mother when Darcy was just a kid herself. The quintessential New England winter scene I thought it would make the perfect Christmas card and the candles that spelled out “Peace” in front of it were quite appropriate as it truly was a peaceful looking painting. Add the people in the sled in to the setting and it couldn’t have been more perfect if Darcy had tried!

The other bedroom in the front of the house had a quilted Santa relaxing on a chaise lounge next to a partridge in a pear tree as wreaths adorned the bay windows. Even though he was made of quilts, this Santa wasn’t from the north but was from New Orleans where Darcy had picked him up when she’d gone to an engagement party for a friend. I had no problems picturing her carrying him under her arm through the airport on his way to his new home; I’m just surprised he wasn’t wearing any Mardi Gras beads!

Heading back downstairs and past that big beautiful Christmas tree in the entry foyer, Darcy and Juli spent some time chatting while I walked around and continued to take pictures feeling like I stepped into the pages of an issue of House Beautiful. As I walked around and took pictures I also looked at a lot of the lovely artwork on the walls, some of which is from students and faculty at the Montserrat College of Art where Stephen is President. I’m sure he doesn’t remember as I’m sure he meets an awful lot of people in his line of work but I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with him during the college’s Open House after Amanda had decided that Montserrat was her college of choice for that one brief and glorious year. He was a very personable gentleman during that brief meeting and after meeting his wife I can say that she’s one downright amazing woman as in addition to being a terrific homemaker, Darcy works in renewable energy and apparently is also quite the dynamo there from what I could gather from the conversation she and Juli were having.

When I asked her how long it had taken her to decorate the house with the hundreds and hundreds of Santas and all of the Christmas trees and other lovely things - a lot of which were made by either herself or her mother - Darcy said that it had taken her two full weekends which I had no problem believing at all! I suspect that when the holidays are over and the last piece of fruitcake has been washed down with the last cup of eggnog, it’s going to take her a good chunk of time to un-decorate as she lovingly puts away each and every Santa that holds a special place in her heart until next year when no doubt they’ll be joined by a few new additions to the collection – additions that will each have a story of their own.

I would like to extend a very big thank you to Darcy for taking the time to show her beautiful home with its wonderful collection of Christmas decorations – trees and Santas and Wise Men and poinsettias and all – to myself and Juli. I’m sure that everyone else who toured the house during the Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour felt the same way about all of the time and care and love that went into turning the Clarence S. Clark House into the Christmas House.

Wonderful, wonderful job Darcy!

If you’d like to see more pictures of the Clarence S. Clark House, be sure to visit the photo gallery at my SmugMug page – maybe you’ll even be able to find some holiday decorating ideas of your own!

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