Timeless Building in Salem, Mass

Timeless Building in Salem, Mass

I was invited to speak at the Danver’s Historical Society last weekend and was fortunate to have time to explore a few historic streets in Salem, Mass. If you have read my book, you’ll know that Salem, in the early 1800’s, was one of the richest cities in America. My building hero, Samuel McIntire, lived and worked in Salem. His most famous client was a wealthy merchant named Derby. Salem for a brief time was a bustling harbor and many fine Federal style homes were built here. If you have a chance to visit Salem, skip the witch tours and walk down Charleston and Essex streets and enjoy these amazing homes.

The Federal style is most popular in America from 1790-1820. Charles Bullfinch, Asher Benjamin and others were inspired by the English architect Robert Adam. The Federal style is different from the Georgian style before it. Moldings are light and dainty and you’ll see in these pictures a great deal of fine and wonderful detail.

This is the George Nichols House, built in 1816. This typifies the centrally focused simple and clean lined Federal style.


Here is the Front door. I love the proportions of the door. This wide 3 panel configuration is common on Chestnut street. This is a detail I will definitely have to steal for future project.


When these homes were not clad in brick they were clad with wood. Typically wood lap siding but also wood that was made to look like stone. This is the Phillips house, note the quoining on the corners. This is made from wood and meant to mimic stone quoins. This was a fairly common technique, they did the same thing at Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home. At Mount Vernon, they painted the wood and then threw sand on the wet paint so that it would have texture like stone.


On these high style wood homes, you’ll find great detail and fine enrichment. The windows on the Phillips home have a full entablature with a decorated frieze and cornice. Wow, great stuff!



Not all the houses are Federal on Chestnut street. This is a Greek Revival home that looks stately and rich. Note, on the entry porch, the fluted columns have no base, a common feature on Greek Revival homes. The lines of this house are much more plain and stark compared to the ornate Phillips house above. Inspired by the Greek temples, the effort was to make the home appear to be made from stone.

On the next street over, Essex St, you will find earlier Georgian homes and even rich Victorian homes like this one. There is easily 200 years of building styles all in a small 3 block area.


Of course no trip to Salem is complete without going to the Peabody Essex museum and seeing McIntire’s great work. Note the beauty of this entrance. It is elegant and formal with impeccable proportions.


A closer look shows the painted door with faux mahogany graining and then the decorative lead caming that is apparently gilded. As with the Federal style the detail is restrained. You can’t really see the detail until you get up close.


Traveling should be inspirational. Hopefully you will see and find great new details and ideas for building. This trip was no different for me. On the house below I found a fun ball or bead detail at the cornice that I had never seen before. It is a string of balls/beads that replace the bed mold. I saw this detail on at least 10 houses.



I especially love the wood fences. This is very refined exterior millwork, it is furniture quality millwork! Amazing. It is beautiful and ornate and yet needs to last for generations. That is quite the task to aspire to. Enjoy.






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