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Selected Interiors of Old Houses in Salem and Vicinity (Classic Reprint)

Selected Interiors of Old Houses in Salem and Vicinity (Classic Reprint)

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Excerpt from Selected Interiors of Old Houses in Salem and Vicinity

The only style of architecture to which we as Americans can refer in order to find established national precedent is the so-termed colonial, or, to be more accurate, the architecture which was developed during the time of the colonies and the early years of the republic and of which there are several variations, due to the particular locality in which the work was done - New England, Pennsylvania or Virginia, as the case may be. The early architecture in the colonies was, of course, primitive, expressing simply the demands of protection from the elements and providing a few conveniences. It is in the later work, that which was executed after the middle of the eighteenth century and during the early years of the nineteenth, that there is to be found architecture which is expressive of a life becoming cultured and comfortable, and to which we may refer with real pride.

The houses of New England built at this time reflected the precedent to be found in the contemporaneous Georgian period of English architecture. The owners and builders were almost all from England and it was, therefore, but natural that when building their houses they should turn to their mother country for their inspiration.

Undoubtedly the most interesting development is that which took place in Salem and the surrounding towns. As Hallam once stated: "No chapter in the history of national manners would illustrate so well, if duly executed, the progress of social life, as that dedicated to domestic architecture." It is interesting to see how clearly this relation between social and architectural life is shown by the early mansions of New England.

During the eighteenth century, Salem was one of the most prosperous towns in the colonies. It was the home of many sea captains at a time when shipping was the principal business. Its wharves were usually crowded with ships and its streets were traveled by foreign sailors and townsmen alike. The people lived in a cosmopolitan atmosphere and their life was influenced accordingly. As usual, in the course of events, certain members of the community gradually acquired a social position somewhat above that of the average townsmen and, in a human way, desired to express this difference, at the same time affording themselves some of the more unusual comforts of life. The expression of this wealth and dignity is to be seen in the stately houses which they built, where the excellent workmanship and well considered design produced comfortable mansions of real distinction.

The interiors of these old houses are particularly fine, expressing the same dignity and refinement that is to be seen on the exterior. The typical plan is quite axial; a large stairhall extends from the entrance through to the rear of the house and is flanked on either side by an almost symmetrical arrangement of rooms, the whole house being square.

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