Glen Magna Mansion // c.1793

Garden facade.

The Glen Magna Mansion in Danvers, MA exhibits the grandeur and elegance of the Gilded Age on the North Shore of Massachusetts. What is now a mansion, began as a modest Federal farmhouse built around 1790 by Jonathan Ingersoll, a sea captain who formerly resided in Salem Town. Ingersoll later sold the property and land in 1814 to Joseph Peabody, before moving to Windsor, Vermont, where he lived out the remainder of his days. Joseph Peabody apparently purchased the large farm estate to hide his cargo from the British, who blockaded trade with a young America’s allies. He later would expand the property, hiring a landscape architect to effectively transition the farmhouse into a summer estate.

By 1892, the property belonged to Ellen Peabody Endicott, Joseph Peabody’s granddaughter, who further enlarged and embellished the house and grounds, hiring the Boston firm of Little and Browne to update the estate in the Colonial Revival style. Her son, William Crowninshield Endicott, Jr., continued to improve the grounds, most notably in 1901 by moving the Derby Summer House to the property. In 1963, The Danvers Historical Society purchased the central eleven acres of the property and has worked to restore the gardens and grounds to its early 20th century appearance. Glen Magna is available for tours and events such as weddings.

Formal facade.

Danvers Lunatic Asylum // 1874

One of my favorite buildings in Massachusetts has to be the Kirkbride Building at the former Danvers Lunatic Asylum. After the American Civil War, the need for an additional psychiatric hospital for the Boston area was critical, as others in the state and region were already at capacity. A site called Hawthorne Hill in Danvers was chosen for the new hospital; the scenic vistas, fresh air, and acres of farm land to work were part of the therapeutic treatments thought to have cured insanity. Stakeholders of the new hospital hired Nathaniel Bradlee, a Boston architect to design the Victorian Gothic main building and some later outbuildings. Bradlee employed the Kirkbride Plan, a system of mental asylum design advocated by Philadelphia psychiatrist Thomas Story Kirkbride (1809–1883) in the mid-19th century, which advocated for air circulation and natural light, through the use of elongated buildings.

Opened in 1878, the extravagant asylum drew some criticism from the working class residents of Danvers living in its shadow during the first years of operation, wondering why the “insane” were given such grand treatment. Patients were given ample space and could even farm on the grounds. As the asylum grew, the importance for new buildings were paramount. A series of underground tunnels connected many structures to allow the facility to fully function during the cold winter months.

Asylum formal garden, maintained by patients ca. 1880. Courtesy of Frank Cousins Collection.

The downfall of the Hospital began in the 20th century when the crowded hospital paired with lack of funding. By the 1930s, the number of patients grew to over 2,000 while the size of the staff remained relatively the same.As a result, the quality of care began to deteriorate as the overwhelmed staff struggled to control the massive number of patients. Patients were soon subjected to “special garments,” presumably straitjackets, as a means of control. In 1948, the first lobotomy was performed at the hospital and in the 1950s electric shock therapy was introduced. By the 1960s, state hospitals had become outdated and unnecessary due to better psychiatric medications, a more enlightened approach to treating mental illness and the establishment of a statewide system of community health centers.

The main tower was removed from the Kirkbride Building in the 1970s due to lack of funding. The hospital eventually closed in 1989 after a series of security concerns and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts decided to entirely cut funding to the “outdated” facility. The former asylum sat shuttered high on the hill for decades until it was converted to apartments, with most outbuildings being demolished as part of the redevelopment. Now you can (willingly) live at a former insane asylum. Any takers?

2006 Image of Kirkbride Building during controlled demolition. Photo courtesy of Maurice Ribble (Flickr).

Sally F. Jones House // 1856

Sally Francis Jones, born in Danvers in 1812, married George Nourse in November of 1832, at the age of 20. The couple had two children before 1838, when George was lost at sea and never returned home. Sally lived in the family home for some time until she sold the estate and purchased land from a family friend in town. With both of her children out of the home, she decided to build a distinct Octagon house. Influenced by Joshua Silvester, who built a cement barn in the octagon shape attached to his cement house at 11 Peabody Avenue, today across from the Peabody Institute Library, her home was constructed of a brown concrete and painted a brown color, giving the house the nickname “the mud house”. Ms. Jones resided in the home for ten years, before selling the home. The house remains as one of a few extant Octagon homes in Massachusetts, and a rare example of a concrete Octagon home.

Porphyry Hall // 1880

One of the best examples of Victorian Gothic residential architecture in Massachusetts has to be Porphyry Hall (aka the Jacob E. Spring House) in Danvers. Jacob E. Spring was born in Maine in 1825. At the age of just twenty years old, he went to Argentina and amassed a fortune in the sheep and wool business in Buenos Aires between 1845 and 1865. He would ship hides back to the United States, and in exchange, relatives would ship lumber down to Argentina for sale. Spring and his wife moved back to America before purchasing a 150-acre farm in Danvers.

Jacob Spring hired architect George M. Harding and mason Peter Henry to design a stone country estate. The Victorian Gothic mansion stands out as being composed of over 40 types of stone of irregular size and varying colors with door and window sills of Nova Scotia freestone. Upon its completion, poet and neighbor John G. Whittier suggested the estate be called “Stonecroft,” but it became known as “Porphyry Hall” after the Greek word for hard stone.

Reported to have entertained lavishly at his house, Spring lived here for only eleven years after the structure was built, removing to Brooklyn, N.Y., having lost most of his fortune. The property was sold in 1891 for $120,000 to the Xavarian Brothers, who opened it as Saint John’s Normal College. By 1899, the College was reorganized as an all-boys Catholic School, St. John’s Preparatory School.

John Darling House // 1680

This First Period home on Hobart Street in Danvers, MA, was built for John Darling (1632-1712). John Darling was the son of a merchant who apparently held plantations and did business in the island of Curacao in the West Indies, likely owning slaves for that trade. Darling Sr. moved to present day New York City in 1644 with his family and ran his business through the ownership of many shipping vessels up the coast of New England from New York to Maine. His son, likely took over a part of the business and settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in Salem with his wife, Mary Bishop. He was either given land and islands by those in power or purchased the land in Maine, which includes many islands near Permaquid. He and his family retained land in Maine and had a home on Monhegan Island and his farm in Salem (now Danvers).

When Darling died, the home was willed to his son, also John. Once he died, the home was purchased by Dr. Johnathan Prince (did they have any other names but Johnathan to choose from back then?), an esteemed doctor in Salem Village. The home was located near the intersection of Ingersoll Street and present day Rt.1, and was moved to its current location in 1845. I would love to find more information on Darling as he lived through the Salem Witch Trials between Salem and Maine. I wonder if he stayed in Maine to avoid the hysteria!

The Lindens // 1754

Arguably, the grandest home ever built in Danvers, The Lindens, is neither located in New England or demolished, its in Washington DC! Originally known as the King Hooper House, this Georgian summer estate was built for Robert “King” Hooper, from Marblehead, Massachusetts, who sided with the Tories before the Revolutionary War. Hooper was a successful merchant, commonly called “King” Hooper because of his great wealth and luxurious style of living (notable from his ornate homes). In the spring of 1774, General Thomas Gage, was appointed Governor of the Province of Massachusetts and as “King” Hooper was a Loyalist sympathizer, Governor Gage made the Lindens his home from June to September of 1774. As the residence of the British Governor, the Lindens became the headquarters of the Loyalist cause in the Bay Colony. After the conclusion of the Revolutionary War and British defeat, Hooper was harassed for his siding with the British cause and his businesses took a massive hit, causing him to lose his summer estate in Danvers, to creditors. He died in Marblehead in 1790.

The Lindens c.1934 before move to Washington D.C.

The Lindens remained in the hands of the Hooper heirs until 1798, when it was purchased by Judge Benjamin Collins until his death in 1820. His body is reported to have lain in state in his front hallway for a month before burial. Eventually, the estate was purchased and restored by Francis Peabody who’s family retained the home until 1914. In 1933, due to immense development pressure of the growing town of Danvers, the house was sold for about $13,000 to George and Miriam Morris of D.C., who were seeking a period house to showcase their collection of early American furniture. The Morrises had the house dismantled and shipped to Washington, with the pieces numbered, in six railroad boxcars. The home was reassembled and occupied by the couple. Subsequent owners sold some of the original interior details at auction, but the home retained a large portion of the original fixtures and wallpaper. The home stands today as the oldest house in Washington D.C., ironically, and is located on Kalorama Road NW (and I was lucky enough to get a picture of it in 2019).

Jeremiah Page House // c.1754

In about 1754, 32-year-old brickmaker, Jeremiah Page built this Georgian style, gambrel roof home on Elm Street. Page was born in Medford, MA in 1722 and came to Danvers (then a part of Salem) in 1743 based on the potential money to be made on clay beds under parts of the town. During the tea embargo of 1770, Jeremiah Page insisted that no tea be drunk inside his house. It is said that his wife secretly invited a few neighbors to have tea with her on the roof, saying, “UPON a house is not WITHIN it. ” This remark is quoted from 19th century poet Lucy Larcom’s poem about the house entitled “A Gambrel Roof.”

Upon the beginning of the Revolutionary War, Thomas Gage, the Commander of North American British forces and Governor of Massachusetts, took over a room of Page’s house for an office while Gage resided when the capital was temporarily shifted from Boston to Salem after the Boston Port Bill was enacted by the British Crown. Page, against British rule, took command of a group of local men as a militia and fought in the Battle of Lexington and Concord. Page died in 1806 and the home was willed to his family until 1914. Later generations of Pages lived in the home until 1914, when it was acquired by the Danvers Historical Society and moved from its original location on Elm Street. In her will, Ann Lemist Page, a descendant of Jeremiah Page, asked for the house to be razed, else it fall into disrepair, but the historical society was able to change her will with a promise to preserve the property. It is still owned by the Historical Society.