The Retire Beckett House
Year built: c.1655
Style: Jacobean/Post Medieval
Built for: John Beckett
Moved to current site: 1924
The Retire Beckett house is the oldest building on the site. It was built c.1655 by John Beckett, the first in a long line of famed Salem shipbuilders. The most well-known of these shipbuilders was Retire Beckett, for who the home is named. The home was originally located on Beckett Street (less than a ½ mile from the museum campus). It was moved here in 1924 by Caroline Emmerton to save the structure from demolition.
While less prolific than his forefathers, Retire Beckett’s ships were masterpieces and usually attributed with being the “first” to accomplish great feats. He built his first ship, Recovery, to visit Arabia. Cleopatra’s Barge was considered the first American yacht. The Margaret was one of the first ships to visit Japan. His ship, Mount Vernon, is best known for brazenly outrunning a French fleet and was depicted in many portraits by Salem Maritime painter, Michele Felicé Corné.
Today, our Museum Store occupies the first floor. While inside the building, look for “checking” or splitting in the oldest beams and note that at some point these were filled with plaster. There are two beams introduced in the modern era, probably after moving the house to this site in 1924. In the back room there are still some remnants of 18th century paneling and a cupboard around a restored fireplace.