The Derby Summer House is a rare and excellent example of a formal eighteenth century garden house designed with, the lightness of detail which, characterized the Federal Style. It was built in 1793-94 by Samuel Mclntire, the noted craftsman-carpenter of Salem. The structure was built in Elias Hasket Derby’s farm garden in present-day Peabody (now the site of a shopping mall) and featured two figures on the roof; a Milkmaid and Reaper, designed by John and Simeon Skillin of Boston (removed at the time of the photos). The Derby Farm eventually purchased by Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, a descendant of the original owner, and she had the summer house transported to Glen Magna Farm 4 miles away. The structure is now a National Historic Landmark.
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.
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.
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?
This beautiful hipped-roof Georgian house was built in 1784 for Reverend Benjamin Wadsworth (1750-1826), the Pastor of the First Congretional Church, on land donated to him by the parish for a parsonage. Originally living in the old parsonage at one time, occupied by Rev. Parris, Wadsworth had the original parsonage torn down and replaced by this one. The original parsonage was home to the beginnings of the Salem Witch Trials. In that home, Tituba, Parris’ slave, told the Parris children of witchcraft, which lead to the hysteria and Tituba’s death. The former parsonage site was uncovered by archaeologists in the 1970s and is set back off Centre Street with informative markers depicting the rich history of the site. Who knew so much history occurred in present-day Danvers!?
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.
Nathaniel Ingersoll (1632-1718) was born in Salem to Richard and Ann Ingersoll, who arrived to Salem in 1629 from Bedfordshire England. Ingersoll and his family ran an “ordinary” – the 17th century term for a local tavern – which was the social center of the community of Salem Village, then an agricultural village of Salem Town. The estate even had a watch tower for citizens to watch for Native American attacks from the forest.
During the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, those accused of witchcraft were brought to the Ordinary before their initial hearings and held in an upstairs room. Originally, the hearings themselves – with accusers throwing themselves on the ground in front of the judges, screaming, and claiming to see the “specters” of the accused torturing them – were to be held in the barroom as county court sessions were. Due to the large crowds that wanted to watch the spectacle, the hearings were moved down the road to the meetinghouse (see past post), but afterwards the judges and spectators returned to the tavern for lunch and drinks. John Indian, Reverend Samuel Parris’ slave and husband of Tituba, the first accused and killed of witchcraft, worked the bar sometimes for Ingersoll, and he would show off scars on his arm to out-of-towners who passed through, bragging that he got them when he was attacked by witches. The barroom at Ingersoll’s is also where one of the accusers admitted that they were accusing and sending innocent people to their deaths for nothing but “sport.”
When Nathaniel Ingersoll died in 1718, the estate was sold and operated as a tavern through the 1700s and into the 1800s under different owners. Due to its proximity to the militia training field, it was frequented by the men who later marched from Danvers to confront the British soldiers on the day of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The home eventually became the parsonage of the First Church of Danvers and remained as such until about 1970, when the home was acquired as a private home.
The Rebecca Nurse Homestead sits on over 25 acres of an original 300 acre estate occupied by Rebecca Nurse and her family from 1678-1798. The property holds the traditional saltbox home lived in by the Nurse family. This is the only home of a person executed during the trials open to the public!
It was on March 19, 1692 that the frail 71-year-old matriarch, Rebecca Nurse, was accused of practicing witchcraft by young girls living in Salem Village, who had been suffering from horrid fits of an unknown cause. On March 23, constables arrested Rebecca and took her away from her beloved homestead. Following a trial, Rebecca was hanged on July 19 under the suspicion of her being a witch. After the execution, Rebecca’s children secretly buried their mother’s body in an unmarked grave on the homestead where is remains to this day.
The house remained a private residence until 1907, when it was acquired and extensively restored by the Rebecca Nurse Memorial Association. In 1926 the Association donated the house to Historic New England. In 1981 it was transferred to the Danvers Alarm List Company, an organization for the reenactment of colonial period history.
Salem Village (now known as Danvers) was settled as an agricultural area in the late 1630s as a part of Salem. By the 1660s, the population of the village was large enough that villagers wanted a minister and a meetinghouse of their own, rather than constantly traveling the many miles to the meetinghouse in Salem Town. Salem Town granted the villagers that right, and an acre of land near the corner of Forest and Hobart Streets in present-day Danvers was selected as the location of the new meetinghouse In November 1672, the local clerk wrote on a vote for a new meetinghouse which was erected shortly after. The meetinghouse was built of massive oak timber of post and beam construction and featured small diamond pane windows to allow light into the building.
In 1688, the village hired minister, Reverend Samuel Parris to run the meetinghouse. With Parris, came his family including wife Elizabeth, daughter Elizabeth “Betty”, niece Abigail Williams, two other small children, and two slaves, Tituba and John Indian. The events which led to the Salem witch trials in 1692 began when Parris’ daughter, Betty, and her cousin, Abigail, accused Parris’ slave Tituba of witchcraft. This followed the phenomena of women and girls suffering from “scary fits” believed to have been begun by the Devil. Parris beat Tituba until she confessed herself a witch, and John Indian, her husband, began accusing others (likely for his own safety). The delusion spread, many were apprehended, most of whom were imprisoned. Within 16 months, over 19 people were hanged, and one was pressed to death by stones.
In 1702, the meetinghouse was abandoned and a new structure was built. The former structure eventually collapsed into the ground and Salem Village’s dark past was quickly covered up. In the mid 1980s, a new docu-series on the Witch Trials, “Three Sovereigns for Sarah”, constructed a replica of the old meetinghouse on the grounds of the former Nurse Homestead, which is now a great visual representation to see the kind of structure that the infamous trials began.
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.
One of the oldest homes in the country, the 1665 Porter House in Danvers, MA is an excellent example of one of many Essex County First Period homes. John Porter (1594-1676) came over from England in 1635, first settling in Hingham, where he was granted over 55 acres of land. Later he moved to Salem (modern day Danvers), purchasing a farm and various other large parcels of land in the growing town. When John Porter’s son Joseph married Anna, the daughter of William Hawthorne, he was granted a large piece of land in Danvers. The new couple had this large farmhouse built in 1665. Joseph Porter was, like his father, a tanner and farmer and ran a farm on the over 185 acres of land bordering Topsfield, MA. Porter died in 1713 and his property was willed to his widow and later to his children. The homestead farm was valued in the inventory at 900 Pounds, and a negro boy named Robin, aged about thirteen, at 40 pounds. The home was later owned by the Bradstreet and Putnam families. The farmhouse and the last three acres of land from the original 500-acre parcel are occupied today by a preschool.