My first visit of 2021 was to The House of Seven Gables in Salem, MA. Salem is obviously well-known as the home of the Salem Witch trials, but I’ve learned so much since starting this project about the importance of the Salem Harbor and just how much wealth came to the state of Massachusetts because of it. There is so much more to Salem than the witches!
The House of Seven Gables site is actually a historic compound of sorts, made up of multiple historic homes, including a few that were actually relocated to the current site in the early to mid 1900’s. For this post, I will focus on the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion (aka The House of Seven Gables) and do a separate post on the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace!
It feels so good to be back – enjoy!
- Almost 200 years before the home would inspire Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel, the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion was built in 1668 by Captain John Turner I, and the home stayed within the Turner family for three generations. In 1668 the two-room, two and a half story home had a front porch directly facing the Salem Harbor. Due to his success in sailing, John Turner I was able to add a parlor with a much higher ceiling, a large bed chamber, fancy carved pendants and a three-gabled garret (or living space in the attic).
- After his fathers death in 1680, John Turner II decided to modernize the space by adding more Georgian style features. He added intricate wood paneling, encased the 17th century beams in a finished wood, and had the rooms painted and decorated in the high fashion of the times. These alterations are still on display today, and are considered some of the best remaining examples of the Georgian style.
- John Turner III was a bit of a gambler with his family fortune, and sadly lost it all. Captain Samuel Ingersoll, purchased the home in 1872 removing four of the seven gables to create a boxy Federal style home (is your head spinning yet with all the renovations? Just wait!). Captain Ingersoll died in 1804, and his daughter Susanna inherited the property who was a second cousin to Nathaniel Hawthorne.
- Susanna was a successful business woman of her day in Salem, and enjoyed spending time with her cousin Nathaniel especially when he was working at the Custom House just down the street from 1845 to 1849. It is said that he did not enjoy spending a lot of time in Salem, due to his family ties to the witch trials (which may or may not have lead to the sudden appearance of a “w” in his last name?). However, one day Susanna brought him up to attic, and showed him beams and construction in the attic which gave light to the fact that there were seven gables at one point, of which he wrote in a letter soon after “the expression was new and struck me forcibly….I think I shall make something of it.” And so he did. The House of Seven Gables was published in 1851, and sold more copies than his first novel The Scarlet Letter.
- Fast forward to 1908, when Caroline Emmerton founded the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association, where she purchased and restored the home back to the seven gables, did more renovations, added in some “perceived” details from Hawthorne’s novel and charged admission for tours. The association would take tour revenues and assist immigrant families in need, and even provided housing for families on house on the second floor of the home. Caroline Emmerton is considered a major influence on historic restorations and how we experience historic home tours to this day.
While it certainly isn’t the prettiest of spaces in the home, it is the oldest and holds true, authentic history in it. If these beams could talk! This would have been the area where Susanna brought her cousin Nathaniel Hawthorne to show him the structural elements of the seven gables, inspiring the novel.
Plus – you have the option to take the secret staircase from the dining room on the first level to visit this room, and who doesn’t love that?!
The green hue, the panel work, the bold wallpaper, the view AND a hidden bar? Yes to everything in this parlor!
Built the same time as the downstairs parlor circa 1676, this room is a breath of fresh air with it’s high ceilings and light, bright colors. The bed would have been the most expensive item in the whole home, due to the expensive tapestry surrounds.
I visited in early April, and there were (perceived) hundreds of tulips that were just about to burst open. I can’t imagine how beautiful they must be now! The Salem Harbor is just a gorgeous backdrop for anything, and these gardens (which were installed in 1909) are icing on the cake.
- Don’t miss the table of tools & other items that were found in the walls of the attic – likely used during construction!
- What would a Federal style home be without a fake door? Look closely in the parlor or you may miss it! (This reminded me of my visit to the Otis House in Boston, which had multiple fake doors, for symmetry of course!)
- The front door is gorgeous and features over 500 nails. Why, you ask? It was a “subtle” way of showing off wealth – nails (aka iron) was expensive, and not only proved you could afford them but that you could also afford the labor that went into nailing 500 nails into the door. The oxidization and coloring of them now is so pretty! (The Clemens-Irons House in Rhode Island is another one of my favorite “rich” doors!)
- Salem is a place to spend the whole day (and not only because for most it’s a pain to get to, the whole one way in one way out thing is always astonishing to me!). But, there is so much to do and see – yes, the witches – but also other historical homes such as The Phillips House. Even just wandering around there are so, so many gorgeous homes to ogle at.
- There is a dedicated parking lot for The House of Seven Gables, which I wish I knew about before I visited as I parked in a paid garage quite a bit away. But, it was a gorgeous day, and I needed the extra steps!