The Salem Insider

Insiders guide to food, entertainment & living in Salem Massachusetts for tourists and residents.

Salem Christmas house tour review

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Categories: christmas, events, history, photos, seasonal, tourism, travel

The houses on this year’s tour consisted of condos in historic buildings, charitable organizations, museum collections, and private mansions; all of the homes were amazing. Below I have noted some standout features. Honestly, I could write a book about the beautiful and historically relevant homes, architectural features and furnishings I saw this weekend (and perhaps I might), although there are already a few out there. I can’t possibly remember everything I saw but I did take some photos and some notes.

Gideon Tucker House
Once a single family home this was converted in the 1900′s to condos. I was pleased to see that much of the original feel of a McIntire home was still in this now modern condo. The beautiful fireplaces and great use of space made this an outstanding home. Turning what was probably an unused or underused area (walkway) into a dining nook added much charm to this elegant condo.

Gardner-Pingree House
Owned by the PEM, this house was a treat to tour because it has been restored to its original 1805 grandeur. With no lighting and no heat you were able to better understand how life may have been two hundred years ago. Too many hand carved items to list.

Gardner Pingree Interior
photographer and date unknown

The Emmerton House
Known as the Woman’s Friend Society, formed in 1876 to help girls and women in need, is a charitable organization still helping people (and still accepting donations and volunteers). When I walked in I instantly recognized the home, it is discussed at length in a few books I own. One of it’s most notable features are the two McIntire stair cases.

McIntire Staircase in The Emmerton House

John Hodges House
There was just too much to take in at this home. One of the stand out features was the staircase with it’s hand carved spindles from the workshop of Mcintire. Three different spindles per step with the base being made of two spindles one set inside the center of the other each carved as opposing spirals.

John Hodges House Front Elevation

White-Silsbee House
Once again I walked into a house I have never been in but knew like the back of my hand. Most of the photos I have seen of this home were taken in 1930 but all of the relevant features have been preserved. The parlor and sitting room oppose each other with fireplaces at either end, the rooms being sectioned by a three panel foldout door. Also of note the original stove. The dining room however was magnificent. With the original wood mantle being discarded in the Victorian era, a black marble mantle was put in it’s place. Vastly surpassing the fireplace was the original 18th century French wall paper depicting the four climate regions of the earth. Having been in many of the great homes in this country I can tell you this is a rare treasure, one which needs to be preserved. It simply is breathtaking.

White Silsbee house wallpaper

Forrester-Peabody House/Bertram House
Known as the Home for Aged Men, this is another example of a historically relevant home being used for charitable purposes and keeping much of it’s architectural value. I was impressed with how warm and inviting the large rooms were. It gave you a sense of how the architect envisioned the usage of space. The most impressive feature of this home had to be the massive dining room. I wonder if it originally was used as a dining room or perhaps a ballroom. The dining room ceilings had to be at least 18 feet high (the guide did not know the height) with over 1 foot high crown moldings surrounding the room. Once again I was simply awestruck. It reminded me of the Red Room in the White House which has a ceiling height of 20 to 22 feet (depending on who you believe).

Pierce-Nichols House
McIntire’s first commission at the ripe old age of 24. There is a wealth of information about this home available. It is a must see for any student of the Federal period.

McIntire Fireplace in the Pierce Nichols house

Benjamin Carpenter House
Unfortunately this is the only house on the tour where I felt someone dropped the ball. While the home was beautiful, the volunteers knew nothing about any of the rooms or the pieces in those rooms. Not to dwell on the negative, the library was both comfortable and livable while also being a fine showpiece.

Cottington-Smith Assembly House
Did I happen to mention it was bitterly cold this weekend? Thankfully this house which is used as a lecture hall and meeting place was set up to serve hot tea and coffee. George Washington once danced and dined here.

Coddington Smith Assembly House

Cook-Oliver House
Some wonderful examples of McIntire’s woodcarvings, both on the exterior and interior of this home. The parlor features hand-cut chair rail and the quintessential McIntire wheat sheath mantle. The original crown molding was removed in 1902 (I believe) and sold to the Metropolitan Museum in New York. If you pay attention in this home you will notice quite a few examples of modern art, an interesting juxtaposition. This home was last opened 50 years ago for the 200th anniversary of McIntire.

Dodge-Shreve House
Again we find a strong oriental influence in this home. The dining room in addition to beautiful origami swans on the dinner settings was papered with Chinese tea paper, original to the home.

Johnathan Hodges House
The only house on Chestnut Street to be built by McIntire. The volunteers in this home did a great job of explaining many of the details of this home. I was amused by the story of Capt. Hodges near demise. The use of large antique mirrors made the already spacious rooms look even bigger.

Johnathan Hodges original sketch
sketch of floor plan by McIntire

Robinson-Little House
Standing out from other homes on the tour the first floor of this house was remodeled in the early 19oo’s. It features a rich mahogany interior, unique as it is not wood paneling but wood veneer laid out over stretched fabric with the cross molding pieces set atop the veneer. Also standing out from other homes on the tour, the McIntire fireplaces were not monochrome but had the relief painted “Wedgwood” blue on two of the fireplaces. A bonus feature for people on the tour, the owners had a few printed out sheets and old photos describing the history of the home and a few of the relevant pieces inside.

Hamilton Hall
This year the great space of Hamilton Hall was consumed by a Christmas fair. Luckily this building is open much of the year and available for private functions.

Hamilton Hall interior
photo from this past summer’s walking tours

Loring-Emerton House
Another condo that just changes how you think about condos. The McIntire influence on this home is evident. Walking through the portico into the foyer you are greeted by a staircase featuring the same spindle work as the John Hodges house. Once in the home I was blown away by the domed bedroom ceiling, not to mention the seamless integration of a modern bathroom and kitchen into a classical interior. One of the best features had to be the one person seating/reading nook tucked in one of the rear rooms.

Final Thoughts

As is the case each year, I had a great time. I learned so much an was inspired by what I saw. A big thank you goes out to Historic Salem Inc., all the home owners who graciously opened their homes and all the volunteers that made the event a success.

I would love to know what you thought about this years house tour.

3 Responses

  1. Claire Bonney says:

    Dear Salem Insider,
    I found your picture of the Gardner-Pingree House parlor on the internet and wonder if I may reproduce it in a scholarly publication. Do you know where it came from originally?

    With many thanks for your attention,

    Claire Bonney

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