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In 1935, the founder of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association, Caroline O. Emmerton, published a small hardcover book about the historic site. Titled The Chronicles of Three Old Houses this book details her lifelong familiarity with the house and its association with famed Salem author Nathaniel Hawthorne.
First opened in 1910, growing visitation to the house and interest in its storied past made a detailed account of its restoration a frequent request. The book is her account of how she began a neighborhood settlement house, and soon afterwards was able to purchase the Turner-Ingersoll House as a home base and as a source of income to support her programming. The process of returning the house to its earlier appearance, adding the cent shop and secret staircase, and furnishing it to the time period of Hawthorne’s visits took nearly two years.
Important architectural features of the house, long covered by later changes were rediscovered, such as the framed overhang of the south wing, and finding a portion of an original 17th century exterior batten door. After a careful study of the roofline, she and her architect, Joseph Everett Chandler, found the original mortice holes where the removed façade gables had once been. A reconstruction was made of the 1668 chimney, with the addition of a secret staircase in its core. In 1911, Emmerton was able to purchase the 1682 Hooper-Hathaway House, and move it from Washington Street, to sit near The House of the Seven Gables where it served as additional classroom space for the settlement. In 1916 she also purchased the 1655 Retire Beckett House from nearby Becket Street, and in 1924 she moved it to the site to generate income as both an antique shop and elegant tea room.
As one of the early founders of what is today called “Historic New England,” Caroline Emmerton’s efforts to preserve some of Salem’s most important early buildings was later awarded with the titled distinction of a National Historic Landmark District. In 1958, the Nathaniel Hawthorne Birthplace was acquired by the association and added to the campus. Caroline Emmerton passed away in 1942, we can be sure that she would have whole heartedly approved of the efforts to continue her legacy. In 2018 we look forward to commemorating the 350th anniversary of the construction of The House of the Seven Gables. Let us also recognize the woman whose generous spirit and belief in fellowship set the cornerstone for what is today one of the most beloved landmarks in Salem. The book that she wrote is still in print and available for purchase in our Museum Store, and just as she intended, the sales of her book supports her mission of historic preservation and social services in Salem.
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This post was written by Everett Philbrook