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Caroline Emmerton – Preserving The Gables

This year we are celebrating our founder’s vision of preservation and service. Join us as we explore her life that lead to her legacy here at The Gables.

The Colonial Revival movement emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as a romantic and idealized look back on American colonial forms. It was a movement that influenced many facets of American life including art, literature, architecture, interior decorating, and preservation. It was both a longing for the past and a reaction to industrialization and the rapid changes of the era. There was a concern that the finished products of an industrial society lacked the individualism of hand-made crafts.

The Colonial Revival movement was central to the early preservation movement. Old houses that had long been neglected took on a renewed importance. They were considered places that could teach Americans about their history and help immigrants learn about American culture. Money, time, and work were put into saving these structures that could have been destroyed. The popularity of historic house museums is a result of the preservation movement.

Caroline Emmerton purchased the Turner-Ingersoll mansion in 1908. She hired Joseph Everett Chandler (1864-1942), one of the most prominent Colonial Revival architects in New England, to lead the restoration of the Mansion. His restoration of Boston’s Paul Revere House (1680) proved his abilities, and he and Emmerton worked together on multiple projects over the years. Chandler restored several hundred historic houses over his long and fruitful career, as well as designing many new homes and buildings.

Emmerton and Chandler restored the mansion from its early twentieth-century appearance to its perceived original look at the time it was constructed in 1668. Emmerton and Chandler used every resource available to them in order to make their restoration as accurate as possible. John Turner I built his house in three stages over about 14 years from 1668-1677. Whole sections of the house and multiple Gables were removed by Captian Samuel Ingersoll when he purchased the house in 1782. Emmerton and Chandler went back through as many records of the home as they could find in order to determine what it had looked like before 1782.Photo of The House of the Seven Gables from Turner Street taken in 1910.

The Turner-Ingersoll Mansion in 1910 after Emmerton and Chandler completed the restoration.

Inside the mansion, Emmerton took a more liberal interpretive approach to some of the rooms in order to include aspects of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s literary classic, The House of the Seven Gables. Hawthorne was a visitor to the house in the mid-nineteenth century and Emmerton knew this story would draw visitors. The Gables was unique in this early preservation movement for its combination of both historical and literary significance and paved the way for sites such as Lousia May Allcot’s Orchard House in Concord, MA, and Green Gables Heritage Place on Prince Edward Island, Canada. The House of the Seven Gables opened to the public in April 1910 and has seen millions of visitors since.

Emmerton continued to focus on saving threatened Salem buildings in her lifetime. The Hooper-Hathaway House (1682) was moved to the property in 1911. The Retire Becket House (1655) was purchased and moved to the property in 1924. Today’s museum campus is a reflection of Emmerton’s dedication to preservation.


Learn more about Joseph Chandler and his contributions to the colonial revival movement.

Date: August 31, 2021

Author: Holly Watson

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