The Ropes Mansion in Salem was constructed in 1727 for merchant Samuel Barnard, a native of Deerfield who moved to Salem and made a fortune in trade. Samuel died in 1762, and the property was willed to his nephew and brother. The property was sold in 1768 to Judge Nathaniel Ropes II. Ropes’s short tenure as an associate justice on the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony, was marked by a significant controversy over how judges were paid. Because these royal judges were effectively at the mercy of the colonists, the British proposed paying them directly, through the already-unpopular colonial taxes. This action further outraged Massachusetts patriots, who feared that the judges would become partial to the Crown over colonial interests. Due to this significant backlash from colonists and Patriots, there was significant pressure on these judges to not accept their royal salaries, including Judge Ropes, who promised that he would not accept the royal salary. Although he had refused his royal salary, he nonetheless held Loyalist views, and his position as a high-ranking judge made him a symbol of British power in the colony. According to tradition, in March 1774 an angry mob attacked the house, throwing mud, sticks, and rocks at the windows and calling for Ropes to renounce his allegiance to the Crown. However, at the time Nathaniel was in his bed, gravely ill with smallpox, and he died the following day, with the stress from the mob supposedly being a contributing factor in his death at just 47 years old. With the death of the last two unmarried Ropes sisters, Mary and Eliza, the house and grounds were bequeathed to the Essex Institute (now the PEM) by 1907 for the purpose of establishing a school of botany, as a perpetual memorial to the Ropes family. The stunning public gardens there were laid out in 1912 John Robinson.
The iconic Witch House in Salem was the home of Judge Jonathan Corwin (1640–1718) and is the only structure you can visit in Salem with direct ties to the Salem witch trials of 1692. The Post Medieval English house was constructed by Nathaniel Davenport, commander of the fort on Castle Island in Boston from 1645-1665. After he left that post, he moved to Salem and began construction on his house. Jonathan Corwin, a merchant and judge, purchased the unfinished home from Davenport in 1675, he soon after finished construction of the large home. When reports of witchcraft began circulating in Essex County, Corwin was one of the magistrates called on to make preliminary inquiries into the reports. He and John Hathorne, another local magistrate, held hearings in early March 1692 in which testimony was gathered from Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne, the first three women accused of being witches. Corwin presided over all the other cases, which ended after thirty individuals were found guilty, nineteen of whom were executed by hanging (fourteen women and five men). One other man, Giles Corey, was pressed to death for refusing to plead, and at least five people died in jail. The lasting legacy of the Salem Witch Trials still draws thousands every year to Salem to learn more as to how such a terrible set of circumstances could happen. Jonathan Corwin’s grandson George, lived in the house until his death in 1746. His widow, Sarah Corwin “modernized” the old house by replacing the iconic pitched roof with a gambrel roof, more in line with Georgian design, popular at the time. The building underwent more changes when George P. Farrington, a druggist, owned altered the home and added an apothecary shop to the east side front in 1856. The Corwin House was moved back 35 feet in 1945 to allow for the widening of North Street, and at that time, a new pitched roof (a recreation of the original) was put on, restoring the building to its former glory. It has since been owned by the City of Salem, who maintain the property and open the doors as a museum.
One of the most substantial homes in Salem, Massachusetts has to be the Bertram Mansion, built in 1855 for Captain John Bertram (1796-1882). The high-style Italianate dwelling was erected on a parcel formed from four house lots upon which several buildings
had stood (they were all either moved or demolished). Captain Bertram, who became Salem’s most wealthy citizens, was born
into a family of moderate means on the Isle of Jersey off the coast of France. He and his family came to the United States in 1807, but their language barrier and the economic fallout in Salem from the embargo of goods from the War of 1812, left the family impoverished. At the age of 16, he had begun work as a sailor aboard merchant vessels and by 28, he had become a shipmaster. His desire to be successful led him to invest his earnings on very risky investments and deals, almost all were successful. Due to this, he was able to retire from the sea in 1832, at the age of 36. Growing up in poverty, Bertram in his adulthood used his wealth to help the less fortunate. An early gift of $25,000 and a brick mansion in Salem led to the creation of the Salem Hospital in 1873. After his death, in keeping with his tradition of philanthropy, his heirs donated the family home to the City of Salem for use as a public library in 1887. The brick mansion with brownstone trim and quoins has been used as a library ever since, and is thus, one of the nicest libraries in the state!
One of the most stunning homes in Salem (and obviously has the best Halloween decorations every year) is the James Braden House on Federal Street. This Italianate style home was built in 1867 for James Braden, a tanner who made his fortune in manufacturing leather which coincided with Salem’s shifting from maritime trade hub to industrial center. The home he built packs a lot of architectural detail and intrigue into a typical box form. The faux ashlar wood facade and corner quoins make the house appear like stone giving it weight and a strong presence on the street, while the recessed entry with a large, highly-ornamented door hood on scroll bracket give the home the traditional Victorian flair. James Braden died in 1895, and his mansion was willed to his widow Margaret, who rented the home until her death in 1907.
I loooooove history! I am sure you all realize that by now, but it amazes me to stumble upon a building and find such rich history behind it. When I saw this building on Carpenter Street, nextdoor to the Edwards-Machado house, I assumed it was a former apartment or tenement building, but after closer inspection of the house marker, I found that it was built as the Seaman’s Orphanage. According to the 1861 Salem Directory, the Seaman’s Orphan & Children’s Friend Society was founded “to ameliorate the condition of the fatherless and the widow”. It formed from two predecessor organizations. One was The Seamen’s Widow and Orphan Association, formed in 1833. The other was the Salem Children’s Friend Society, organized in 1839 “for the purpose of rescuing from evil and improving the condition of such children as are in indigent and suffering circumstances and not otherwise provided for”. The Seaman’s Orphan Society itself was made up of well-to-do merchants and their wives, who shared their wealth with the families of mariners who had died ashore or been lost at sea, leaving widows, fatherless children, and sometimes, orphans. These seafaring men, employed by the merchants to sail their vessels, faced dangers from storms, disease, and enemies at sea and on land. Often the sailors died in the service of the merchant, leaving little for the subsistence of their families. This is where the ship-owning merchant families stepped in, to be sure that no family in Salem would suffer from hunger or want. The new building was largely funded from families and companies and opened in 1878. The upstairs rooms were used as dormitories. The upper floors also featured a play-room, hospital, nursery, bathrooms, and rooms for matron and assistants. Downstairs were the administrative offices and a dining room. The orphanage closed here in 1949, and two years later, became the Newhall Nursing Home.
Tucked away on Carpenter Street, one of my favorite Salem houses, the Edwards-Machado House stands out as the only brick house on the street, for good reason! In 1803, Joseph Edwards, a carpenter, purchased this piece of land and built a three-story wooden house for his family. Just three years later, a large fire destroyed the home, the family’s belongings, and at least two neighboring homes. Undeterred, Edwards built the present house to replace the one lost in the fire in 1807, once he received his insurance, but this time, he constructed the home of fireproof brick! He sold the house not long after, and the property went through many hands in the 19th century, many owners renting the property to families. In 1877, the property was sold to John Bertram, one of Salem’s greatest benefactors who lived at 370 Essex Street which he later gave his mansion to the city for use as a public library. Bertram rented out the former Edwards home to the Machado family.
Immigrants from Cuba, the patriarch, Juan (John) was a cattle rancher in Cuba. He came to the United States in the early 1850s to escape having to take the loyalty oath to Spain, as he believed in Cuban independence. In the U.S. he entered school in Manchester-By-the Sea in order to learn English. In Massachusetts, he met his future wife, Elizabeth, and took her back to Cuba where they remained for over ten years. In 1868, just before the beginning of the Ten Years War in Cuba, Juan, his wife and their children left for the final time after he had freed his slaves and distributed his cattle to various relatives. In Salem, he worked as a spanish teacher and translator. His son, Ernest, became famous as a prominent Cuban-American architect. Ernest attended MIT and studied architecture before entering the office of Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, the successors of the great architect H. H. Richardson. In the late 1890’s Machado opened his own architectural firm, with offices in Salem and Boston, and designed many large Colonial Revival estates for wealthy New England families. Tragically, Ernest died in New Hampshire, when his canoe capsized, drowning at 39 years old.
It’s rare to find a house with so much potential in Salem, a town where seemingly every old house has been purchased and lovingly maintained or restored. This home on Federal Street could use some TLC to restore her to her former glory. In 1808, William Orne Jr., a housewright and his wife Polly acquired a mortgage for the lot here and he built a large, Federal style home with gambrel roof, showcasing his building skills. The property was a little more than the couple could handle financially, which was compounded by the War of 1812, and the Royal British Navy blockading maritime trade, which especially hurt Salem’s port. The Orne House was sold in 1817 to Captain John Derby III, who died just a year later, leaving his widow Sarah (Felton)
Derby all his estate. Sarah rented the home to family, but was allowed to live there until her own death in 1857. The stunning home with fanlight at the front door, historic wood windows, and pair of large brick end chimneys all could be saved with a good restoration of the home. Fingers crossed!
Here is a preservation success story for you all! The Daniel Bray House in Salem, MA was built around 1766 as a two-and-a-half story wood-frame vernacular house with side-gable roof. Captain Daniel Bray, a master mariner, was born in 1735 in Salem, eventually marrying Mary Ingalls in 1760, and six years later the couple built this house for their growing family, on his family’s land, which he later purchased in 1770. Bray’s work as a master mariner gained him connections in town, especially since he sailed as captain on several vessels owned by merchant John Derby. After retiring from the sea, Bray managed Derby Wharf in Salem until his death in 1798. The home was willed to Daniel’s son, Daniel Jr., who was also a master mariner. By the early 1900s, the home was converted to commercial use, as a grocery and later as a candy store. The home was given storefront windows to showcase the goods inside. The home was eventually purchased by the Peabody Essex Museum in the 1980s. They undertook a massive restoration of the home using forensic study and research and skilled restoration carpenters and masons.
Henry Russell Jr. (1811-1857) was a prominent mason in Salem and after receiving the commission to complete the masonry on the East Church (last post), purchased a site nearby for the erection of his own stately mansion. Henry and his wife Maria lived here together until he died unexpectedly at just 46 years old from an internal abscess and infection, his widow died just two years later. The home was constructed in the Greek Revival style and of course, features amazing brick and stone construction. The interior’s wood paneling and fireplaces are in a great state of preservation as well, visible from a real estate listing. Swoon!