Monday, June 30, 2008

17th Century Saturdays

17th Century Saturdays is (are!) one of my favorite events in the region. Salem and the entire Essex National Heritage Area, or north of Boston region, is incredibly rich in architectural treasures. There are dozens upon dozens of historic properties that are, on occasion, open to the public. The challenge for you, the patient visitor, has always been knowing just when such a historic site is open for visitation and exploration.

Many of the properties are staffed by volunteers who graciously give their time to sharing the sites they love with the public. There are a couple of cases where there is a paid staff, but a single person is responsible for staffing two, three, or five houses. (These are talented site managers, each and every one!)

Well, 17th Century Saturdays takes the guesswork out of the exploration of architectural treasures north of Boston. The program coordinates the first-period properties throughout the region so they are all (or most) open on the first Saturday of the month, June through October. This weekend, on July 5th, the following houses in Salem will be open to the public:
  • The Gedney House, 21 High Street. Built in 1665, the well-crafted and sophisticated timber framed house attests to the wealth and social standing of the home's builder and first owner, Eleazor Gedney. Gedney was a successful shipwright related by marriage to John Turner, builder of The House of the Seven Gables.
  • The House of the Seven Gables, 115 Derby Street. The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, built in 1668, is the oldest surviving 17th century wooden mansion in New England. The House of the Seven Gables inspired author Nathaniel Hawthorne to write his legendary novel of the same name.
  • The Narbonne House, 71 Essex Street. The house is named after Sarah Narbonne, whose grandfather Jonathan Andrews purchased the house in 1780. Sarah was born in the Narbonne house, and lived there for her entire life, which stretched nearly the length of the 19th century.
  • The John Ward House at The Peabody Essex Museum (10:30 tour only). Begun about 1684 and added to on several occasions by John Ward, this frame house is an excellent example of the organic, additive process by which most such dwellings developed, growing and changing as family needs and finances dictated.
  • Salem in 1630 (Pioneer Village), Forest River Park. Salem's oldest living history museum is a recreation of the English colony established by Roger Conant and his intrepid band of settlers. From these humble beginnings, the seeds of Revolution were planted.
  • The Witch House (Jonathan Corwin House), 310 Essex Street. The Witch House is the only surviving building in Salem with ties to the Salem Witch Trials,
If you can't make it this Saturday, many of the sites are open again on Aug. 2, Sept. 6, and Oct. 4. For more information, visit

Photos: Gedney House, 1665; Kitchen hearth in The Corwin House, ca. 1642.

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