The Museum Store: Retire Beckett House, by Everett Philbrook, Manager of the Museum Store

March 6, 2015 Published by Julie Arrison-Bishop

The Museum Store, located in the Retire Beckett House, is proud to announce a milestone. Built in 1655, the Retire Beckett House will turn 360 years old this year! The house has a unique history, and like The House of the Seven Gables, it has a history of additions and removals.

The house was first built by John Beckett, facing Salem harbor on what is today Beckett Street in 1655. It would remain the home of several generations of the Beckett family, well known for their skill in ship building. Retire Beckett, John’s great-great-grandson and namesake of the house, would become the most famous of the family. One of the greatest commissions of Retire Beckett, was to build a yacht for George Crowninshield. This was the famed, “Cleopatra’s Barge”, thought to be the first yacht built in America. Reverend William Bentley of Salem recorded in his diary, that citizens of Salem would gather at the Beckett ship yard, to witness the launching of the ships he built. On May 29th, 1831, Retire Beckett died at age 77, and each of his sisters took ownership of a portion of the house, which they later sold. The new owners would then remove those parts from the original house. In 1856, the last remaining part of the house was sold, and that portion is the 1655 house that survives today.

The remainder of the house, minus its chimney, was purchased in 1916 by our founder, Caroline Emmerton. It was moved to our site in 1924, from a portion of Beckett street that disappeared many years ago to expand the Salem Power Plant. Although not restored, it has served the Gables well, first as a tea room and antique shop, and then as our Museum Store. Today, our visitors enter it and admire its low ceilings, heavy wood posts and beams, and our selections of books, giftware, and souvenirs. We can all be proud that Miss Emmerton saved it, as it is one of the oldest houses in Salem today. You can read the full account of the Beckett house, in Caroline Emmerton’s own book titled, “The Chronicles of Three Old Houses”, available for purchase in the Museum Store.

Retire Beckett front

This post was written by Julie Arrison-Bishop