For many, images of witches and Halloween are the first things to come to mind when Salem, Massachusetts is brought up and I can’t say I’m any different – with the addition of the adorable house from one of my favorite fall movies, Hocus Pocus. And while the history of the Salem Witch trials and overall spookiness of Salem is easy to get sucked into, there are other sides of Salem. I was able to see another side a during my visit to The Phillips House this past weekend, and I’m into it!
I have been to Salem a handful of times, walked around downtown and took a photo with the Bewitched statue, visited the Peabody Essex Museum, enjoyed some delicious food, and walked around the wharf area – and yes, gave a wave to my morning commute buddy as I walked past the hotel that Billy Costa lives in. I had some knowledge of its history as a significant seaport of the past, but thought little of how that may have impacted the town and the lives of those living there outside of witches. I had never visited, or known of Chestnut Street, a gorgeous stretch of mansions that reflects the enormous amount of wealth brought into Salem thru the Chinese Shipping Trade. The Phillips House is one of those mansions, and is the only one that is not a private residence, so you’re able to get a peek into the opulent lifestyle of a shipping captain and his family.
This home was different as it was not built by The Phillips family, but completely renovated by them when they purchased it in 1911. However, they were hoarders of the best kind when it comes to history nerds like myself, storing even mundane items such as bills and menus that give us a real look into their everyday life. Enjoy!
- The story of this home starts off pretty wild; here is the short version: In 1800, Captain Nathaniel West and his wife Elizabeth had a home built for them and their three daughters about four miles from Chestnut Street. Nathaniel & Elizabeth eventually got divorced, and it was ugly – Elizabeth never wanted Nathaniel to have any ties to the home again. However when Elizabeth and the youngest daughter passed away unexpectedly, Nathaniel inherited one third of the estate, which equaled four rooms of the home. So – what’s a man to do other than to take those four rooms and put them elsewhere….right?! He had the four rooms moved via oxen to where they are now, on Chestnut Street, and they make up the four rooms on the bottom of the present house. Not only does this show the character of Captain Nathaniel West, it also shows just how ugly the divorce must have been, and as this was no small or cheap task it was certainly a display of wealth as well. He made small modifications from there and lived in the home until 1836.
- Between 1836 and when the Phillips family purchased it in 1911, the home was turned into a boarding house and school, and essentially doubled its size throughout the years. As one can imagine, the style also changed as trends changed and eventually reflected the Victorian taste when the Phillips came into the picture.
- In 1911, Stephen & Anna Phillips purchased the home and immediately embarked on a major renovation of it – a display of their enormous wealth. They removed any sort of Victorian look the home may have had, and went for a more Federal style. They did a lot of entertaining, and wanted to ensure it was easy and comfortable to do so. They installed central heat, electricity, five bathrooms, and a bell call and intercom system which were of course needed for their five live-in staff. Their son, Stevie, had a wonderful room full of toys and his wish of a pony for Christmas was easily granted (his letter to Santa is framed and on display – cute to see!).
- The Phillips family had a very dedicated staff, some of which who worked in the home for over 50 years, up until 1955 when Stephen passed away. Stevie, the son, passed away in 1971 and requested that his childhood home was turned into a museum, which obviously has happened – and today I thank him for it!
I’ve always loved a good library – they’re usually dark and cozy and a place I’d like to snuggle up in front of the fireplace on a cold day. The Phillips’ library didn’t disappoint. The Gothic style glass bookcases were something I wasn’t expecting to see, and all of the books were original to the collection that Anna & Stephen had amassed. After dinner, the men would retreat here for brandy & cigars and the women would go upstairs to the parlor on the second floor – I would have much rather hung out in this room!
My dad and brother love cars. My husband gets distracted when something vintage drives by. And as we know I love old things, so the garage at the Phillips house was a perfect combination of that! (You guys missed out not visiting this house with me!) From the horse drawn carriages to the two rare Pierce Arrow automobiles from the 1920’s, there was something for everyone to marvel at here. This is just another testament to show just how wealthy they were – along with their on-staff chauffeur which they paid $35/week!
This room just felt homey and warm, plus it had my favorite addition of the huge butler pantry style storage that went right up to the ceiling. Apparently Anna never stepped foot in this kitchen the entire time they lived there (can you imagine how nice that would be?!), but Stephen would come to the threshold and joke with the staff. This room really was known as belonging to the staff, and it was honored just as the remainder of the home was considered the Phillips domain. Many dinner parties started and ended in this very room!
Located on the second floor, this was one of the largest master bedrooms I’ve seen in homes of this time period (The Elms Mansion in Newport, RI aside – those are in a whole other class). While it was larger, it was cozy while remaining light and airy at the same time.
The ultimate entertaining space for the Phillips family would need to be perfect, right? And this room is. While the wallpaper is different than what it would have been in the early 1900’s, all the furniture and even the place settings are original to the Phillips family. The glass built ins on either side of the fire place and the large bay window set the scene for what would surely be a memorable meal.
- Our tour guide was great and gave us a look into something not all tours get – so make sure to ask about the two French books on the side table in the master bedroom!
- Don’t miss the original 1918 Salem, MA phone book found in the second floor parlor room
- The parlor on the first floor would have been used two to four nights a week for guests of the Phillips, and what would a party be without music? The original Victrolla still sits in this room, with boxes and boxes of records that still work!
- When you go out to visit the garage, check out the original dog house for Prince, their black cocker spaniel, which is actually included on the original blue prints of the home!
- Fun fact: the Phillips family acquired the home next door to the house (which is even larger than this house!), where Stevie’s daughter still lives today, which I think is really awesome. While her home is a private residence, it’s amazing to know that direct descendants are still so close!
- Parking is available right on the street, but I can imagine during peak seasons that it may be difficult to find – but it’s worth it!
- There is an annual huge antique car show at this house in August – so fun!
- There is so.much.to.do in Salem (not to mention other Historic New England Homes) – so make a day of it, especially if you haven’t been in a while or ever!