"Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm." - Chapter One, The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1851
|House of the Seven Gables, circa 1915|
Whether he meant it to or not, the dwelling that took on the life of the "rusty wooden house" in Hawthorne's second novel, and which became popularly known as The House of the Seven Gables, began its story in 1668 as the house of a prominent Salem resident before almost 240 years later taking on the role of a social reform-based settlement house and museum.
John Turner, the son of an English-born shoemaker and hat merchant of Boston who died when Turner was seven, moved to the North Shore and Salem when his widowed mother married a wealthy Salem merchant. His new family connections allowed Turner to become a trader and very prosperous merchant himself as he amassed a fairly sizable fortune at a young age. When he was only 24 years old, Turner made use of some of that wealth when he built a rather ambitious home for he and his new wife on land located next to Salem Harbor; the home faced south and looked out over the very water that helped him to make a very comfortable living and was one of the most prominent houses in Salem at that time.
When Captain Turner passed away in 1680, Elizabeth Roberts, his widow, took charge of the household before eventually remarrying Charles Redford in 1684. When Redford died in 1691, John Turner II took charge of the estate and inherited it himself in 1697. Like his father before him, John II became very successful as a merchant trading with Europe. Adding substantially to the family's coffers, John II became even wealthier than his father and soon he too made additions and changes to the house that would help to display his wealth and standing in the community. Around 1725 he remodeled the house in the Georgian architecture style of the day with changes which included boxing in the overhang of the parlor wing, adding double sash windows as well as more stairs, and installing Georgian-style wooden interior paneling. As an elected member of the Governor’s Council, the highest elective office in the Commonwealth whose members advised the royally-appointed Governor on matters of policy and politics, the remodeling that John Turner II undertook would have provided a very elegant setting for the many guests that he was known to entertain.
When John Turner II passed away, the stock in his warehouse was appraised at approximately 1,000 pounds sterling which would be roughly $3.2 million in today's money - the third largest fortune in Salem! Upon his death in 1742, the house and the massive family fortune passed on to his son, John III, who lived about a-half mile away from the family home. Having his own lavish primary residence elsewhere, John III made few alterations to the house but he definitely altered the family's fortune by managing to lose the entirety of it over a period of 40 years . Having been appointed to the post of Naval Officer of Salem by the Crown, there was some speculation that he was a Loyalist and his allegiance to England and the King had cost his pocketbook heavily during the American Revolution but its more likely that as a serious gambler, he lost everything due to his bad luck with cards and horses.
In 1782 John Turner III was forced to sell the mansion to pay his debts and the house left the possession of the Turner family forever when it was acquired at auction by Samuel Ingersoll, a former farmer from Danvers who had moved to Salem and managed to become a successful sea captain and West Indies trader. Samuel was also quite successful in marriage having won the hand of Susannah Hathorne, the daughter of Susannah Touzel and John Hathorne, John being brother to Daniel Hathorne who was the grandfather of Nathaniel Hawthorne (the writer). Susannah reportedly had the second biggest dowry in Salem which was a major incentive for suitors to perhaps look past her lack of great beauty. It was said that when Samuel married Susannah that "he married up while she married down" as he acquired both a fortune and a name as Susannah came from the wealthy merchant side of the Hathorne family but up or down, marry they did with the union producing four children - one son and three daughters.
When the mansion became the property of the Ingersoll family, the house was once again remodeled as Captain Ingersoll brought the dwelling in line with the tastes of the Federal Period by changing the architecture of the dwelling in order to keep up with the newer houses that were being built in Salem. Ingersoll added trim, replaced the porches, and even removed some of the gables so that the mansion would like more "modern".
In July 1804, while returning from the West Indies, Captain Ingersoll contracted typhoid and died while at sea; shortly after the ship arrived in Salem Harbor where it was immediately quarantined, his only son also became a victim of the disease. This left his daughter Susannah as the sole surviving child of the marriage as her two sisters had both died before the age of twelve. Following her father's death, Susannah and her mother continued to reside at the mansion until upon her mother's death on December 6th, 1811, Susannah inherited both the family fortune as well as the mansion house. As strange as it was for a woman to have property at that time, her father's property wasn't the first that Susannah had inherited as in 1805 she had become a land owner when her cousins died and left her their property. To say that this was unusual would probably be an understatement but Susannah was a woman years ahead of her time, a successful businesswoman who was active in real estate as well as being independent and probably pretty headstrong; a truly independent woman and a force to be reckoned with!
It was through Susannah that Nathaniel Hawthorne came to know the house that would one day very closely resemble that of the one in his Gothic Romance novel. Following his return to Salem after graduating from Bowdoin College in Maine, Nathaniel and Susannah became good friends in spite of their age difference. Living just a few blocks away, Nathaniel would often visit his second-cousin - whom he nicknamed "The Duchess" - at her home where she told him stories of how the house used to look before her father remodeled it when she was ten years old. Susannah encouraged Nathaniel in his writings so it's naturally been thought that when Nathaniel wrote The House of the Seven Gables that he did so with his cousin's house in mind.
Though Susannah Ingersoll never married, she did have several foster children, the last of whom was Horace Conolly, her unofficial adopted son whom she took in when he was between 8 and 12 years old. When Susannah died she was the second wealthiest woman in Salem and Horace inherited the house and the fortune. In keeping with the tradition of the owners before him, he also made several changes to the architecture of the original house before, in keeping with the tradition of John Turner III, he managed to lose all of his inheritance. At that time - 1883 - the house went on to its next owners - the Uptons.
In 1888 the most recent owners continued the tradition of change and remodeling by replacing the chimney in the 1668 part of the house along with additional changes being made to the home in the 1890's. At that time the Uptons had taken to offering public showings of the house to visitors who felt that the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion was the very dwelling that Hawthorne had housed his fictitious Pyncheon family in. For twenty-five cents per person, family members would give visitors a tour of the house pointing out rooms named in Hawthorne’s story as they went. Henry Upton, the head of the family, was a teacher of music and dancing and he composed dance music in 1892 which he called the “House of the Seven Gables Series" and gave dance lessons in the parlor while his daughter Ida designed and painted a line of souvenir china that was displayed in a small shop window that was added to the Turner Street side of the house to attract patrons to their version of Hepzibah’s cent shop.
Whether or not the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion was the inspiration for Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables, I suspect we'll never know for sure but when the house was bought for the final time in 1908 by Caroline Osgood Emmerton, she undertook the task of turning it into as close a version of Hawthorne's Pyncheon Mansion as possible with the help of Boston architect Joseph E. Chandler, an early expert in historic preservation with a well-known national reputation for his restorations. With a fortune inherited from her grandfather, maritime trader John Bertram, Miss Emmerton - who has been described as "a philanthropist descended from a long line of philanthropists, "New Woman," and historic preservationist" - strived to carry on her family’s tradition of endowing and supporting charitable good works by establishing a settlement house at the 17th century mansion with the focus on improving the welfare of foreign-born workers who had moved to Salem and helping them to transition into their new lives by teaching them American ways with programs including classes in English, woodworking, sewing, and childcare.
It was Miss Emmerton's hope that by restoring the mansion and then furnishing it to reflect an earlier time, that people would come to visit and pay an admission fee that would then go towards the settlement work. Her thought was that people were already paying money (roughly $200 a year) to tour the house while the Uptons lived there so certainly they would continue to come and the money that people paid to tour what they believed to be "the" House of the Seven Gables would go towards social reform in Salem. To that end, The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association was formed in 1910 - an association that continues to carry on the spirit and objectives of the original organization over 100 years later as they establish strategic partnerships with various community organizations whose programs align with the spirit and intent of The Settlement’s mission.
|Caroline O. Emmerton and some of her students at The House of the Seven Gables Association settlement house.|
Photo Credit: Boston.com, courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables
Visitors to the house of The House of the Seven Gables today pay more ($12.50 for adults as of this writing) than those who who handed twenty-five cents over to the Uptons back in the late 1800's but the cost of admission goes towards many good causes in Salem plus - whether the Ingersoll-Mansion really was Hawthorne's literary inspiration or not - it's a chance to walk through the oldest and largest remaining wooden mansion in New England. History has lived and breathed and dined and played cards and probably even danced through the house by the harbor and some of that history was in the form of Hawthorne himself. If you love American literature at all, you've got to love that!
When Caroline Emmerton and Joseph Chandler first set out to preserve the house it was Miss Emmerton's wish that the exterior of the house retain its Post-Medieval circa 1720 appearance while the interior of the house reflect the circa 1840 look that Hawthorne's novel was set in. Her intent was to make the book come to life as much as possible in the rooms of the house which wasn't too difficult to do considering that Hawthorne writes extremely detailed and descriptive passages ... extremely detailed and descriptive passages!
So now that I've given you almost the full history of the house, how about we step through the door and take a look around at those rooms that Hawthorne wrote of? I'll begin where the tour of the house normally starts and walk you through the way I went on my first visit back to the house in 1975 and where I began my second tour of the house this year. Again I should point out that photography is not allowed on the tours - even non-flash photography - but I was invited to return to the house the following day by Anita Blackaby, Executive Director of The House of the Seven Gables, and was given a wonderful private tour of the property by Alan Collachicco, the Deputy Director and Curator of the Museum. I was able to ask questions and take pictures to my heart's content so that I could share them with you here and give you a glimpse inside one of Salem's most historic and important treasures.
Oh, and one more piece of business to take care of before we start our tour ... just in case you're not reading this anywhere near December, I should probably point out that when I visited the house it was during a time when special tours that blended the history of the mansion with the history of Christmas in colonial Massachusetts were offered. Actually, for a very long time, there were no Christmas celebrations in colonial Massachusetts as in 1659 a law was passed by the General Court of Massachusetts Bay Colony banning Christmas celebrations and requiring a five-shilling fine from anyone caught "observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way." The Puritans deemed Christmas Day to be a time of seasonal excess; a time of feasting, excessive alcohol consumption, general merry-making, and "misrule" with no Biblical authority. There was no fooling them that Jesus Christ had been born on that day as there was no exact date given anywhere in the Bible to indicate when Jesus was born and they knew it had more to do with the Pagan festival of Saturnalia than anything so they were having none of it! Under pressure from the government in London, the law was repealed in 1681 but it wasn't until 1856 that Christmas Day became a state holiday in Massachusetts which just goes to prove that yes, we New Englanders can most definitely be ridiculously stubborn cusses from time to time!
Alright then, shall we go in the house?
Visitors begin their tour in the kitchen area of the mansion which has been restored to represent the 17th century. The room has a very low ceiling and its prominent feature is a massive brick fireplace that has a rear oven and sports several firearms above the mantle.
From the kitchen, we next passed through the door into the dining room which is part of the original 1668 dwelling built by John Turner I. As a side note, I took all of the pictures without the use of flash so they may be a bit shadowy in places - especially considering that a nice bright sun was streaming through the windows - but I'm sure you'll still get a pretty good idea of the room and its period furnishings. The paint on the wall dates circa 1825-1827 and is called "verdigris" which, until the 19th century, was the most vibrant green pigment available and was frequently used in painting. Speaking of painting(s), the portrait over the dresser is that of a younger Susannah Ingersoll, Nathaniel Hawthorne's second cousin and fourth owner of the house.
To the left of the fireplace in the dining room is a narrow arched doorway that when first opened looks to be a sort of storage area but when visitors look closer they can see that at the very back of the closet-type area is what almost looks like a door. By golly it is a door and when you open it up you'll find a very narrow and very steep staircase that leads to the attic up past the back of the chimney. No one knows what the purpose of the original doorway was but in 1909 Joseph Chandler restored the "secret staircase" based on the tradition that there had been one there previously.
The story of the hidden staircase is the one thing that had changed at the house since I had visited as a junior in high school as back then, we were told that it was a hidden passage that was used as a place for the residents to hide during an Indian attack or possibly used again as a hiding place for runaway slaves who were traveling on the Underground Railroad. Since that visit back in 1975, the Association has learned that neither of those things were factual and that the staircase was built during Caroline Emmerton's restoration of the house.
Oh, one other thing that had changed since 1975 and my first visit to the mansion ... when I was there as a teenager, we didn't get to climb up that steep and narrow stairway (or if we did, I don't remember it!) but this time we were offered the chance to do just that.
There were only three of us on the tour that afternoon - myself and two other ladies - and we all agreed to give it a go. After all, I don't get the chance to climb up too many secret staircases and I sure wasn't going to pass up this one! By the way, did I mention that it was steep? And that it was narrow? And that I'm occasionally a little claustrophobic? And that it was steep??
All that notwithstanding, if I had the chance to do it over again and climb back up that way or take the easy way out and go up the main staircase, I'd have to take the secret passageway again as it was just really, really cool no matter what year it was put into the house! And may I also say that it was quite nice to be faced with something that had changed over the years and I wasn't the least bit disappointed even if a hidden staircase for runaway slaves does sound much cooler than a stairway that may or may not have been written into the first draft of Hawthorne's book depending on which resources you read!
At the top of the stairs we found ourselves in what would have been the attic room of Clifford Pyncheon, Hepzibah's elderly, nearly bed-ridden brother who comes to live in the house after being released from prison where he was serving a sentence for the alleged murder of his uncle. I've got to say that I was quite enamored with the little window that had a rather nice view out to Salem Harbor and small though the room may have been, I think it would have been quite a comfortable little room and very pleasant place to reside.
Leaving Clifford's room and the hidden staircase behind, we then entered the attic which retains portions of the framing for the westernmost facade gable of 1668 and early plaster on the remains of the gable as well as on the west end wall. It's believed that the attic was used by the servants of the house as sleeping quarters though there is additional speculation that runaway slaves may have slept there at one time. Salem was a stop on the Underground Railroad so it's quite possible that may have happened but the Association has no documentation that it definitely occurred.
One of the really interesting things in the attic is a framed indenture paper that I wouldn't have been able to read even if I'd had my glasses with me! I never realized that indenture papers were quite so detailed but they most definitely are! Another thing I didn't know was pointed out to me by Alan who told me that if you look across the top of the paper you can see that it's a bit wavy; the reason for that is because the top section of the paper was cut off and given to the indentured servant as a receipt of sorts. When the designated period of time for their indenture had been served, the "receipt" needed to be produced to match up with the rest of the document. Neat, huh?
Descending from the attic down to the second floor, our next stop was a room designed to look like Colonel Pyncheon's office complete with a detailed map on the wall that matches up quite nicely to that which Hawthorne describes in Chapter Two of his novel: " ... a map of the Pyncheon territory at the eastward, not engraved, but the handiwork of some skilful old draughtsman, and grotesquely illuminated with pictures of Indians and wild beasts, among which was seen a lion; the natural history of the region being as little known as its geography, which was put down most fantastically awry."
Leaving the ladies to their holiday preparations, we then entered the Parlor Chamber which was a most beautiful room - large and bright and full of beautiful furnishings including a very large bed that looked quite posh and comfortable.
Unlike the rope bed in the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace House, were the bed in the Great Parlor an original it would have been based on English specifications that used two pieces of canvas that were rolled onto poles that fit into slats on the bed frame and were suspended rather like a hammock. On top of the canvas would be placed two mattresses - one of raw wool that weighed 15 pounds and then a second mattress on top of that made of down and feathers that weighed 25 pounds. On top of that would be placed a bolster pillow that weighed 15 pounds. Sounds luxurious, doesn't it? Well, with a value of 42 pounds sterling (about $110,000) it should be! Obviously the current bed is a reproduction as are the bed hangings which are an exact down-to-the-last-stitch reproduction of original bed hangings made from cotton and linen trimmed with Italian bouillion (silk) which date from 1730 to 1750 that are located at Salem's Peabody Essex Museum.
The Parlor Chamber was part of the 1677 expansion that the first John Turner made to his original house but at some point in time it was remodeled in a Georgian style, most likely during John Turner II's remodeling period. During the remodeling the east, south, and west walls were brought forward from their original 1677 locations so that window seats and paneled shutters that fold back into the window reveals could be installed. As you can see above, there was quite the nice view of Salem Harbor from the windows, a view that I certainly wouldn't have minded taking in while lounging on one of the very comfortable-looking window seats.
Making our way down from the second floor to the main floor of the house, our tour found itself directly below the Parlor Chamber in the Parlor or - as it was called during the early period of the house - the Hall. The most elaborate room in the house, the Hall has a fireplace wall that is a distinguished example of the early Georgian style in New England. The wood paneling and decorative touches are products created during the house's updating in the early eighteenth century - most likely at a time when John Turner II was doing the extensive entertaining that his position on the Governor's Council called for.
On either side of the fireplace are identical doors with the one on the left being a false door simply there to provide symmetry while the door on the right opens up to reveal an elegant built-in cabinet with a shell motif that has retained the original Prussian blue (lapis) paint with gold trim with the exception of a few minor touch-ups. Though it has darkened and yellowed over the ensuing years since it was first applied, a 2002 study by the Association revealed that the paint was, in fact, the original paint used on the cabinet. Functioning as a "drinks cabinet" rather than a "china cabinet", the built-in was most definitely a status symbol for the owner of the house and most useful - and impressive - during entertaining!
Finishing up our tour of the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, our guide Jeff led us through a Post-Medieval door that was made from vertical boards on the exterior that were scored and studded with nails in a diamond pattern, typical to the style of the late 17th century. It is believed that this door is original to the dwelling and dates back to 1668 though it was added as part of the restoration by Chandler in 1909 when it was found elsewhere on the property being used as exterior sheathing.
Our tour with Jeff continued with a walk across the grounds to the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace House which I wrote about in a previous post that can be found here if you've not had the chance to read it yet. Once visitors have taken the guided tours, they are free to walk around the grounds of The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site and enjoy the Colonial Seaside Gardens which were designed in a Jacobean style as an "oasis of beauty" for Caroline Emmerton in 1909 and which are meticulously maintained today as one of the most historically significant features of the grounds. Obviously there wasn't too much to see on a cold day in December but it was very easy to imagine how beautiful the gardens would be in full bloom on a summer day. Hmm ... I think I smell a return trip in the making ... !
In addition to the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion and the birthplace home of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Caroline Emmerton and the organization’s trustees acquired and moved to the site several more additional 17th, 18th, and 19th century structures including The Retire Becket House (1655) which now houses the Museum Store offering a nice selection of gifts; The Hooper Hathaway House (1682); The Phippen House (c 1782); and The Counting House (c 1830) which in 2007 was opened to children as a maritime discovery zone called Kids’ Cove at The Gables. See? There's something for all ages!
Whether or not the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion really became the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne's classic 1851 Gothic Romance novel as he visited his cousin Susannah there or whether there were other houses in Salem that inspired him to write The House of the Seven Gables, it's really a moot point at this juncture in time as for those who visit Salem and tour the property that has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places with its beautifully restored homes and gardens - be that visit as part of a high school field trip or simply as a lover of history - the visit is more than worth the time and cost as it gives you a chance to take a step back into America's history to experience life from another perspective. Salem touts itself as "Still Making History" and The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site is definitely a very large part of that having been making history ever since John Turner began building his mansion on the banks of Salem Harbor in 1668 little knowing that it would someday host a memorable experience for thousands of visitors every year from both America and abroad.
No matter when you find yourself on the North Shore, a visit to The House of the Seven Gables Historic Site should be on your list of "Must Do" items. To plan your visit and get information on rates and hours as well as special events that are held at the mansion, please click here and then on the appropriate tab for whatever your visiting needs may be. Parking on the grounds is free with paid admission and please remember that the cost of your ticket not only gives you a chance to tour a fantastic part of history, but it also gives you the chance to continue the work of Caroline Emmerton and assist The Gables Association in helping the needs of Salem's underserved communities.
In closing I would like to extend a very big thank you to both Anita Blackaby, Executive Director of The House of the Seven Gables, and Alan Collachicco, Deputy Director and Curator of the Museum, for not only allowing me to extensively tour and photograph the interior of the houses but for enriching my life with the amazing history that The House of the Seven Gables possesses. Trust me, I will be back! As a matter of fact, I think I may just become a supporting member of The House of the Seven Gables which will give me unlimited visits throughout the year and yet another reason to continue returning to Salem!
Should you wish to see more photos of The House of the Seven Gables, please visit my SmugMug photo gallery.
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