Salem's Historical Homes Walking Tour, Salem

Salem's Historical Homes Walking Tour (Self Guided), Salem

There’s no shortage of historic homes in Salem, considering that it’s one of the oldest cities in the United States. Even if you’re not really into history, you can appreciate the architectural style of the times. Some of these historic houses are open to the public as museums while others are privately owned. ***PH***
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Salem's Historical Homes Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Salem's Historical Homes Walking Tour
Guide Location: USA » Salem (See other walking tours in Salem)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 11
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.8 Km or 1.1 Miles
Author: nataly
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Joseph Story House
  • John Ward House
  • Joshua Ward House
  • Derby-Beebe Summer House
  • Andrew–Safford House
  • Gardner–Pingree House
  • Bessie Monroe House
  • Rufus Choate House
  • Peirce–Nichols House
  • Nathaniel Bowditch House
  • The Witch House
Joseph Story House

1) Joseph Story House

The Joseph Story House, a stately Federal-style residence constructed in 1811, was the cherished abode of Joseph Story, a luminary in the realm of United States Supreme Court justices. His influential tenure at Harvard Law School further cemented his legacy. Today, the Joseph Story House is not merely a historic edifice but a National Historic Landmark, a monument to legal prowess, and a well-preserved testament to the Federal architectural tradition.

The Joseph Story House is a three-story brick dwelling featuring an elegant hip roof and twin interior chimneys. Its walls, laid in impeccable Flemish bond, are adorned with granite trim above and below the windows. Six-over-six sash windows grace its façade, with those on the uppermost floor lending unique character to the structure. A graceful three-story addition, set back and narrower in depth, extends harmoniously to the left. Anchoring the main block is a portico, likely added in the early 20th century, sheltering the central entrance. The ell's front showcases a bay window, sharing the same vintage and styling.

The interior of Joseph Story House is a testament to meticulous preservation. Original woodwork, plasterwork, and various decorative elements have been lovingly maintained. Each corner of the house whispers tales of its distinguished occupants and illustrious guests. It was within these walls that James Madison, the fourth President of the United States, crossed paths with Joseph Story in 1817. The Marquis de Lafayette, a hero of the American Revolution, also graced the house with his presence.
John Ward House

2) John Ward House

With its roots dating back to the late 17th century, the John Ward House is a pristine example of First Period architecture and an embodiment of meticulous restoration techniques. Owned by the esteemed Peabody Essex Museum, the John Ward House is a living monument to America's colonial heritage and a designated National Historic Landmark since 1968.

Constructed between 1684 and 1723, the John Ward House is characterized by its two-and-a-half-story wooden frame structure, five-bay façade, and a commanding central chimney. The steep side-gable roof, punctuated by two large cross gable sections, showcases the architectural prowess of its era.

What sets the John Ward House apart is not just its age but its remarkable 20th-century restoration, orchestrated by the distinguished antiquarian George Francis Dow. This restoration effort serves as a textbook example of preserving history with utmost precision. Notably, the house was one of the pioneering colonial-era residences in the United States to be transformed into a museum.

The house's exterior is adorned with diamond-paned casement windows, a hallmark of its timeless charm. The clapboard finish, understated cornerboards, and minimalistic trim contribute to the house's elegant simplicity. The second floor gracefully extends over the first, adding a touch of grandeur to this historical gem.

Stepping inside, visitors encounter a classic center-chimney plan with chambers flanking either side and a narrow stairway leading to the second floor. The left chamber on the second floor, framed in oak, exudes an air of sophistication. On the right, an unrestored chamber offers a glimpse into the past with its faded wallpaper and original plastered ceiling.

The roof, while preserving traditional numbering of its framing elements, bears marks of extensive restoration work undertaken during the meticulous 20th-century renovation.
Joshua Ward House

3) Joshua Ward House

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978 and included in the Downtown Salem District in 1983, the Joshua Ward House stands as an architectural masterpiece, bearing witness to centuries of American history. Built in 1784, this three-story Federal-style brick house boasts not only an alluring exterior but also interiors adorned with the craftsmanship of Salem's famed builder and woodworker, Samuel McIntire.

Among the first brick houses in Salem, the Joshua Ward House's construction marked a shift in architectural style. The austere exterior, with bricks meticulously laid in Flemish bond, exemplifies the Federal style that was gaining popularity during its era. Despite enduring the trials of time and weather, it has remained a prime example of the enduring beauty of early American brickwork.

Stepping inside the Joshua Ward House is like entering a portal to the past, as the interiors bear the unmistakable mark of Samuel McIntire's artistry. Of particular note is the original staircase, which stands as the oldest surviving example of McIntire's staircase designs.

History whispers that George Washington himself made a specific request to stay at the Joshua Ward House during his visit to Salem in 1789. The fact that the first President of the United States chose this house for his accommodation adds a layer of prestige and significance to this already illustrious dwelling.

During the 19th century, the Joshua Ward House took on a different role, serving as a tavern, providing a space for social gatherings and community events. The echoes of those lively evenings still resonate within its walls. In a move that ensures its continued relevance and accessibility, the house was transformed into a hotel in 2015, allowing visitors to immerse themselves in its rich history while enjoying modern comforts.
Derby-Beebe Summer House

4) Derby-Beebe Summer House

The Derby-Beebe Summer House stands as a charming testament to New England's extraordinary architectural legacy. This one-room structure, built in the elegant Federal style, was designed to provide an idyllic setting for light afternoon meals in the heart of a splendid garden.

Originally gracing the garden overlooking the river behind the mansion of Elias Hasket Derby, also known as King Derby, the Derby-Beebe Summer House was part of a grand estate designed by Samuel McIntire. Derby, one of Salem's wealthiest merchants, entrusted McIntire with creating not only a magnificent mansion but also enchanting gardens that would rival the beauty of the English estates that inspired them.

Garden houses like the Derby-Beebe Summer House were inspired by their English counterparts and gained popularity in the late 18th century. These structures were strategically tucked away in secluded corners of estates, providing a private sanctuary for relaxation and quiet contemplation.
An Architectural Jewel:

Substantially restored to its original glory in the late 1980s, the Derby-Beebe Summer House stands as one of only three surviving Samuel McIntire summer houses, each a rare and cherished piece of architectural history. The meticulous restoration effort ensured the preservation of the house's important McIntire carvings, and it retains nearly complete historic integrity.
Andrew–Safford House

5) Andrew–Safford House

The Andrew–Safford House is an iconic jewel within the city's rich historical tapestry. Owned and preserved by the Peabody Essex Museum, this Federal-style masterpiece, constructed in 1819, carries an aura of grandeur that befits its historical significance.

Designed by an anonymous architect, the Andrew–Safford House bears all the hallmarks of the Federal style that was in vogue during its construction. Its façade is marked by a towering vertical presence, exuding an air of grandiosity. Four colossal columns grace the southern side of the house, extending from the ground all the way up to the third story. This architectural detail elevates the house to one of the most impressive and stately residences in all of Salem.

The house was erected for a prosperous Russian fur merchant, and its construction costs reputedly made it the most expensive house in all of New England during its time.

The Andrew–Safford House is not only a historical marvel but also a cherished contributor to the Essex Institute Historic District, a testament to its enduring importance. This district finds its place in the prestigious National Register of Historic Places, recognizing the significance of Salem's architectural heritage.
Gardner–Pingree House

6) Gardner–Pingree House

The Gardner–Pingree House stands as a resplendent gem of Federal architecture. Crafted by the skilled hands of Salem's renowned builder, Samuel McIntire, this historic house museum is not only a testament to architectural excellence but also a witness to some of the most intriguing events in Salem's history. Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1972, the Gardner–Pingree House is a cherished part of the Peabody Essex Museum's architectural collection and offers captivating guided tours to the public.

The Gardner–Pingree House is a three-story brick structure, characterized by its graceful rectangular shape and a rear ell extending its architectural splendor. The exterior is a testament to craftsmanship, with red brick meticulously laid in Flemish bond, elegantly contrasting with white marble trim. A modillioned cornice crowns the building, adorned with a low balustrade, while two brick chimneys grace the roof's presence. Lintels with keystones crown the windows, and their appearance is accentuated by classic black shutters. At the entrance, an elliptical portico supported by four Corinthian columns welcomes visitors with timeless grace. Above the entrance, sidelight windows and an elliptical fanlight frame the doorway, flanked by pilasters that gracefully ascend to the portico's summit.

As you step inside the Gardner–Pingree House, you are enveloped by an interior that mirrors the grandeur of its exterior. Lavishly carved woodwork adorns the public spaces on the first floor, a testament to the artistic mastery of Samuel McIntire. From fireplace mantels to cornices, from internal window shutters to the stairway balustrades, every detail has been painstakingly crafted to create an ambiance of timeless elegance.

The Gardner–Pingree House has borne witness to some of Salem's most captivating stories, perhaps most notably the notorious 1830 murder of Captain Joseph White. This crime led to a high-profile trial, prosecuted by none other than the renowned Daniel Webster. The trial itself became a source of inspiration for literary greats like Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Beyond its historical significance, the Gardner–Pingree House has graced the silver screen. In 1979, it served as one of the filming locations for the Merchant Ivory adaptation of Henry James' novel "The Europeans," adding another layer of cultural significance to this architectural masterpiece.
Bessie Monroe House

7) Bessie Monroe House

The William Murray House is a living testament to the architectural evolution of the 17th and 18th centuries. This historic First Period house, comprised of two distinct sections, reveals the changing building methods and styles that shaped the region's heritage.

The William Murray House is not a singular entity but a harmonious marriage of two architectural periods. The westernmost section, dating back to around 1688, stands as the elder statesman of the house. It spans three window bays wide and a single room in depth, bearing the hallmark features of a bygone era.

In contrast, the eastern section arrived on the scene in the late 17th or early 18th century. Also boasting three bays in width and one room in depth, it represents a transition into a more modern architectural style.

Over the centuries, the house underwent a series of transformative changes. The western portion initially featured an overhanging section on the second floor. However, in the early 18th century, a more contemporary roof with a flatter pitch was installed, concealing the overhang by constructing a flush wall. This alteration reflects the evolving tastes and building techniques of the time.

For nearly a century, the two sections of the house remained under separate ownership, resulting in distinct staircases. One of these staircases boasts Second Period (mid-18th century) turned woodwork, reflecting the transition from one architectural era to another.

In 1780, the William Murray House underwent a meticulous restoration, masterminded by a skilled local woodworker. This restoration documented many of its First Period features while preserving original decorations, thus ensuring the house's continued legacy.
Rufus Choate House

8) Rufus Choate House

The Rufus Choate House, steeped in Federal style elegance, is primarily celebrated for its association with the illustrious lawyer and Federalist Party statesman, Rufus Choate (1799-1859).

This distinguished house is a three-story wood-frame structure, exemplifying the Federal style of architecture. Constructed in 1805, it owes its creation to the craftsmanship of Ebenezer Beckford, a prominent Salem merchant and real estate developer. Beckford's vision gave rise to a dwelling that would eventually house one of America's legal luminaries.

From about 1825 to 1834, the Rufus Choate House became the cherished abode of Rufus Choate himself. Rufus Choate, a towering figure in the Federalist Party, made significant contributions to the legal and political landscape of the United States during this era. His residency in this house, during the zenith of his career, adds depth and historical significance to the property.

In recognition of its historical and architectural significance, the Rufus Choate House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. This official acknowledgment underscores its importance as a cherished piece of Salem's heritage.
Peirce–Nichols House

9) Peirce–Nichols House

Tucked away in the historic city of Salem the Peirce-Nichols House stands as a testament to the genius of Samuel McIntire, one of the nation's first recognized master builders. This architectural gem, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1973, not only reflects the craftsmanship of its time but also serves as a window into the evolution of architectural styles in early America. As a house museum now owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, it welcomes visitors to explore its rich history and timeless design.

The story of the Peirce-Nichols House begins with Jerathmiel Peirce, who, in the late 18th century, transitioned from a leather dresser to a successful businessman. During the Revolutionary War, he and his partner, Aaron Waite, ventured into privateering with the schooner Greyhound, capturing British merchant vessels. Their partnership thrived, allowing them to acquire and build numerous ships that traversed global ports. In 1782, Peirce enlisted the services of Samuel McIntire to design and construct his dream home on a spacious lot in Salem. The house, completed around 1784, would become an enduring legacy.

The Peirce-Nichols House draws inspiration from the Builder's Treasury of Batty Langley, a book published in 1740. McIntire meticulously implemented these designs, resulting in late Georgian styling that defines much of the house. However, in 1801, an architectural transformation took place. In preparation for his daughter Sally's wedding to George Nichols, Peirce commissioned McIntire once again. This time, the east parlor underwent a stylistic makeover, embracing the lighter and more fashionable Federal styling popularized by architect Charles Bulfinch.
Nathaniel Bowditch House

10) Nathaniel Bowditch House

The Nathaniel Bowditch House, also known as the Bowditch-Osgood House and the Curwen-Ward-Bowditch House, stands as a testament to the maritime legacy of this historic city. This charming dwelling was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1965. Its historical significance is attributed to its association with Nathaniel Bowditch (1773–1838), the esteemed founder of modern navigation, who called this house home from 1811 to 1823.

The Nathaniel Bowditch House boasts remarkable Federal-style architecture, characterized by its three-and-a-half stories, clapboard exterior, and a hip roof with a low pitch. Its elegant entrance is a focal point, recessed from the façade in a paneled opening, flanked by sidelight windows and crowned with a transom window. Fluted pilasters with intricately carved capitals support a flat-roofed architrave. A "Chinese balustrade" encircles the roof, contributing to its timeless charm.

This house has a unique history, having been owned by three families pivotal to Salem's maritime history. Although long believed to have been constructed around 1805, research in 2000 unearthed evidence suggesting that it was built between 1759 and 1760. The Curwen (or Corwin) family, known for their roles as shipbuilders, merchants, and businessmen, originally owned the house. Samuel Curwen, the builder of this residence, was a Loyalist who left the country during the American Revolutionary War, leaving his estate vulnerable to plunder.

In 1811, the house changed hands, finding its way into the possession of Nathaniel Bowditch. By this time, Bowditch had already made a profound mark in the world of navigation through his publication, the "New American Practical Navigator." This work, a meticulous revision of a flawed British counterpart, provided essential data on tides, currents, and astronomical tables, serving as the cornerstone of modern navigational guides.

Today, the Nathaniel Bowditch House serves as the headquarters of Historic Salem, Inc., an organization that played a pivotal role in rescuing the house from demolition and ensuring its meticulous restoration. The house's relocation to its present site in the 1940s safeguarded it from potential destruction during a road widening project.
The Witch House

11) The Witch House

The Jonathan Corwin House, known locally as The Witch House, stands as a tangible connection to one of the darkest chapters in American history - the Salem witch trials of 1692. This historic house museum is the sole surviving structure in Salem with direct ties to the witch trials, and it offers visitors a haunting glimpse into a time when superstition and fear gripped the community.

The Witch House was the residence of Judge Jonathan Corwin, who played a pivotal role in the witch trials. In 1675, when Corwin was 35 years old, he acquired the house and made it his home for over four decades. The house remained within the Corwin family until the mid-19th century. Judge Corwin was called upon to investigate claims of diabolical activity when a wave of witchcraft accusations swept through Salem Village (now known as Danvers) and neighboring communities. He took over the duties of Judge Nathaniel Saltonstall, who resigned after the execution of Bridget Bishop. As a member of the Court of Oyer and Terminer, Judge Corwin played a central role in the trials, ultimately sending 19 people to the gallows.

Architecturally, The Witch House serves as an excellent example of 17th-century New England design. Although historians remain uncertain about the precise year of its construction, family lore suggests that it was built in 1642. Some scholars, however, contend that it may date back to the 1620s or 1630s, with the intriguing possibility that Roger Williams, who founded Providence Plantations, once resided within its walls.

In the 1940s, The Witch House underwent a remarkable journey when it was moved about 35 feet to its present location. During this process, the house was meticulously restored to recapture its 17th-century appearance, with the only notable alteration being the gambrel roof.

Today, The Witch House stands as a museum operated by the City of Salem, drawing curious visitors from around the world. It is open seasonally, offering an immersive experience that transports guests back in time to an era of suspicion, hysteria, and the enduring legacy of the Salem witch trials. In 2011, the Ghost Adventures crew featured The Witch House during their investigations, adding an extra layer of mystique to this iconic historical site.

Walking Tours in Salem, Massachusetts

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