Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour, Part One

In Salem, Massachusetts the first weekend of December is a special one as it's the weekend when Historic Salem, Inc., one of America’s oldest civic architectural preservation groups, holds their annual Historic House Tour as part of Christmas in Salem.

Founded by a group of concerned citizens in 1944 to save the Corwin House, aka the Witch House, when it was threatened with destruction, Historic Salem Inc. (HSI) has served for more than six decades as one of Salem’s key architectural and historical resources and advocates.

The Corwin House, pictured to the left, was purchased by Jonathan Corwin in 1675 at the age of 24 and served as his home for over forty years with the house remaining in the Corwin family until the mid-1800's. Corwin was a wealthy merchant, local magistrate, and civic leader who was called upon to investigate the widespread accusations of witchcraft in Salem and the surrounding communities in 1692 and was appointed to be a judge on the Court of Oyer and Terminer after another judge (Nathaniel Saltonstall) had resigned in protest over the first hanging. The Court of Oyer and Terminer ultimately convicted nineteen people of witchcraft and, in spite of their cries of innocence right up to the very end, sent the accused to the gallows where they met their untimely deaths.

As the only building left in Salem with a direct connection to the Witch Trials of 1692 and an excellent example of seventeenth century architecture, when talk of demolition of the house began in 1944 it became the catalyst for the formation of the preservation group that was to become HSI. After raising $42,500, the amount that was needed to move and restore the building, and officially opening the house in 1948 as a museum focusing on seventeenth-century furnishings, architecture, and lifestyle, the Corwin House became the first success story for Historic Salem, Inc. but certainly not the last.

Since that time, Historic Salem, Inc. has been instrumental in establishing official historic districts within the city as well as nominating several landmarks to the National Register of Historic Landmarks. Today they continue to operate as a non-profit advocacy group dedicated to preserving Salem’s rich legacy of historic houses, buildings and other properties with their mission being "to ensure that the historic resources of Salem, Massachusetts, which are the key to its identity, its quality of life, and its economic vitality, are preserved for future generations and that new development complements the historic character of the city."

Christmas in Salem, HSI's major fundraising effort, has been held the first weekend of December every year since 1979 when it was sponsored under the combined patronage of Historic Salem, Inc. and the Visiting Nurses Association of the North Shore. Historic Salem now holds full responsibility for the annual tour which highlights homes and buildings in a different neighborhood each year as it brings thousands of visitors to Salem to view homes that have been decorated for the holidays with the help of some of Salem's best professional decorators, florists, garden clubs, talented individuals and, of course, the homeowners themselves.

This year's 32nd Annual Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour, titled Rediscover the McIntire District, showcased homes in the area of the city named for master craftsman and one of the earliest architects in the United States, Salem's own Samuel McIntire. The neighborhood has the greatest concentration of 17th and 18th century domestic structures in the United States with over 300 residences ranging from magnificent mansions once belonging to sea captains and merchants to humble cottages belonging to those who worked for them as well as a number of public buildings and churches.  In other words it's a stunning neighborhood with fabulous homes - eleven of which were going to open their doors to visitors during the weekend with a special preview on Friday evening.

Unfortunately I hadn't planned very well for the Historic House Tour this year and had signed up to work overtime on Saturday so I was going to be limited to attending just the Friday evening preview that contained four houses which I figured was definitely better than not going at all!  However, even though I wasn't going to be able to tour all of the houses, my friend and Salem resident extraordinaire Juli would be able to so it was decided that she would take photos on Saturday and Sunday and forward them to me so that this post would be complete.  Brilliant, right?!

As it turned out, myself and Juli were also given the chance to tour another of the houses on the tour that wasn't going to be open to the public until the weekend when we were extended an invitation for a private showing on Friday afternoon.  And what a showing it was!  Based on the number of pictures that I took, I will be doing a separate post on the Clarence S. Clark House - an absolutely gorgeous Colonial Revival Mansion that was built circa 1894 by a Moroccan merchant who gave his wife free reign with the design. Trust me, I'm sure you'll be as enchanted with the house as I was along with the stunning decorating that was done by the current homeowner.  However, you're going to have wait just a bit longer for that post because I can only write so fast!

With my camera and special dispensation to take pictures in hand (photographs of the homes are not allowed on the tour but I'm a very lucky woman sometimes), Juli and I set out Friday evening around 6:30 to the first house on our stop which had a line extending out the door.  Obviously the Friday night preview is a very popular event as we waited in lines at all four of the houses that we toured but it was worth the wait once we were inside the houses and as a lover of all things historic, I was pleased to see that there was such a good turnout for the event.  It's nice to know that there are quite a few people who share the same passions that I have when it comes to history which means that more people will want to see more of it preserved and not just bulldozed over.

As Juli is fortunate enough to live in the historic McIntire District, we were able to easily walk to the houses that we were going to be visiting that evening so our first stop was the home that was closest to hers which is actually two homes in one as the original house has been divided into two.  The Beckford-Whipple House, circa 1739, contains a townhouse with access from Andover Street as well as another home that fronts Beckwith Street - the latter of which was our first stop.

As was customary during that time, the original 1739 house was adapted and modified to meet ever-evolving architectural tastes but some of the original 1739 framing was still evident. The house maintains the original fireplace surround in the living room and has a beautiful Palladian window on the second floor overlooking the Dutch-door entry.

It should be noted here that as we were viewing the houses at night it would have been difficult to get a good picture so Juli was kind enough to go back and photograph them during the day.  Thanks, Juli!

The Beckford-Whipple House

Exiting via the back door, we waited in the house's secret garden near the lovely display of Christmas lights for our chance to enter the second part of the Beckford-Whipple House which is a separate three-story townhouse that again has Federal and Colonial Revival details layered over the house's original 1739 architecture.

The Beckford-Whipple House

Several of the highlights in this home included the new wallpaper in the dining room that was designed to match the homeowner's Royal Doulton china that she had inherited from her mother as well as an original Picaso print hanging over the fireplace on the second floor and the cutest little partridge-in-a-pear-tree salt and pepper shaker set!

Continuing on our tour ... 

From the Beckford-Whipple House we then took a short walk down Federal Street to the Alfred Goodhue House, a circa 1893 Colonial Revival style home, where we joined another line of folks (some of whom are blurrily pictured above!) waiting their turn to tour the house. Fortunately it was a beautiful night and the wait gave us plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of the entryway of the home which boasted an extra-wide front door that was adorned with a lovely wreath.

The Albert Goodhue House

Once we made our way through the beautiful front door and were inside, we were treated to a home that had been designed with Ionic columns in the very large foyer and a large bay window in the living room where we found a beautiful fireplace and even a baby grand piano! In the dining room a full suit of armor watched over the oak-paneled dining room and Italian marble-topped dining table that had been set for a festive holiday feast!

Again exiting the home via the back door as we did at the Beckford-Whipple House, this time we were greeted by the cute little Christmas tree above.  From the Albert Goodhue House we walked mere steps to the next and final house of our Friday night preview ...

... but not before passing a few holiday carolers who were merrily entertaining the line of people waiting to enter the home.  Allow me to apologize for the not-very-good photo (similar to the one further up), I'm not very good at handheld night exposures but I didn't want these melodious misses or the lines of people patiently waiting their turn to tour the houses to go unrecognized!

At the George Shreve House, circa 1872, the part that we would be touring was the first floor which had been converted into a stunning condominium and was now the home of a filmmaker who even had an impressive display of Emmys and Tellys in his Media Room - something you'll have to take my word for as it didn't seem proper to take a picture of them! However, they were right there in the same room as a pair of red Grandstand seats from Boston's Fenway Park. It was easy to tell that we were in the home of a man!

The house of Italianate design has retained the original 1872 fireplace in the sitting room - an ornately carved and beautiful piece. The homeowner also had a very nice collection of antique cameras and movie memorabilia on display in various areas throughout the house along with numerous other antiques. I absolutely loved the display area above the cabinets in the kitchen as well as the stained glass in the Media Room that one of the House Captains told us had been found in the basement and restored by the owner.

This time when we finished our tour of the interior of the house and left via the back deck, we were treated to an absolutely beautiful landscape of holiday lights designed by Susie Weldon. Susie just happened to be there at the same time that we were and I believe I overheard her saying something to a friend about a couple of squirrels that had been around during the decorating and how she hoped that the pair didn't come back to wreak some mischief on her display! I hope that if they did come back, it was merely to enjoy the pretty lights!

In addition to the photos that are pictured here, I have a gallery of more photos on my SmugMug page - many of which will be used for Part Two in this series. All photo credit in that post will go to Juli - I merely did some editing - so I'd like to thank her once again for taking over the photography duties and have all of the House Captains tell her she couldn't take pictures in the house just as they told me on Friday evening! I must say that the staff for Historic Salem, Inc. did a marvelous job in carrying out their duties at their assigned homes.

I hope you'll be back for Part Two of the Christmas in Salem Historic House Tour and more than that, I hope you'll have the chance to attend Christmas in Salem yourself next year. I certainly intend on planning my first weekend in December better than I did this year so that I can be there for the whole event; seeing Juli's pictures has been nice but being there in person would have been better!


  1. What gorgeous houses! I couldn't pick a favorite.

    I'd love to get to Salem someday.

  2. I love the first and noticed immediately that there was still some fall color! Although I'm a plain Jane and don't go in much for the ornate, I do LOVE the wide door and stained glass.... and the Partridge and Pear shakers are awesome!

    I do love that there were carolers, blurry or not!


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