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by Jen Ratliff on 2024-01-23T08:29:00-05:00 | 0 Comments

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"FOR SALE - The beautiful place known as "Kernwood," situated upon an arm of the sea, called Bass River, 1 1/2 miles from Salem, and 14 miles from Boston. It consists of 160 acres of excellent land, laid out in the English style, with park, containing fine large oaks, more than a century old, elm and other trees. Two mansion houses, one on high land overlooking a beautiful lawn, which stretches down to the river. It contains a hall in the medieval style, with large stained glass windows, antique chests, lofty open roof, and decorations in keeping with the period, it is 30 by 20 feet, and 20 feet high, two drawing-rooms, library, and sitting-room. dining-room. butler's pantry and large kitchen, a chamber with dressing-room and conveniences attached, on the second floor there are six large chambers and three small chambers. This house has a fine cellar; milk cellar and two furnaces. The other house is of stone and wood, it has & hall about 25 feet square with large fire place, and an elaborate and very ample staircase, large drawing-room, dining-room, pantry and kitchen, four large sleeping rooms, [etc.] linen closet, four attic rooms, cellar, with laundry, furnace, &c.

At the entrance of the place is a porter's lodge. Built of stone. There is also a farmhouse, dairy greenhouse with plants, grapery and laundry, over which are two servants' rooms, very near the bouse. All of the buildings are of excellent finish ana in perfect order. Near the farmhouse there is a large barn with basement, fitted for six or eight cows and root cellar: sheds for farm utensils and cattle. Near the barn there is a stone stable with nine stalls, two carriage rooms and two harness rooms, over which are four rooms for coachman and grooms.

There are four never failing wells of excellent water upon the place, a kitchen garden with fruit trees strawberry and raspberry beds, also an ice house for 40 tons of ice. The flower garden is surrounded by a hedge, with grapery, and is generally laid out in the Italian style. By the river side is a large bathing house with dressing rooms.

This is one of the most elegant residences in New England, combining both seashore and country.”
- Boston Evening Transcript (May 1869)

In 1844, Colonel Francis Peabody and his wife Martha (Endicott) purchased more than 100 acres of land in North Salem along the Danvers River. They named the estate Kernwood. Prior to development, this area had been known as Horse Pasture Point.

A Gothic-style house at Kernwood, known as the Peabody mansion, was soon built as the family’s summer home. Another house on the property followed in 1858 as the summer home of their son, Samuel, and his family. The extensive property featured a prominent stone arch entrance over the winding driveway, multiple cottages for caretakers, homes for family, barns, carriage houses, and outbuildings.

Francis Peabody was a successful Salem merchant, inventor, and military leader. The vast estate at Kernwood allowed him to experiment with machinery and manufacturing, growing his fortune.

The family’s main residence was located just two miles away, at 136 Essex Street, which later became home to Salem’s Cadet Armory. Francis Peabody was active in the community and was elected president of the Essex Institute (Peabody Essex Museum) in 1865, which he served until he died in 1867.

Kernwood was purchased in 1872 by Civil War Army General, Horace Binney Sargent. Sargent spent more than $70,000 on improvements to the property during his brief ownership. This included connecting the estate to the public water main, which required more than a mile of infrastructure. Additionally, a street was laid out from Orne Street to the property, named Sargent Street. Sargent also encouraged widening Liberty Hill Avenue which connected North Street to Kernwood and created a main thoroughfare from North Salem to Beverly. Nearby, the Kernwood Bridge was completed in 1908. The bridge spans 1,100 feet and originally cost $150,000 to construct. (Approximately $5 million in 2024)

Samuel E. Peabody purchased the estate back from Sargent in 1878. He was one of three bidders and was intent to regain ownership of Kernwood. Peabody had been living in London, where he made the majority of his “historic fortune” at the Morgan & Co banking house, founded by his distant cousin, George Peabody. The Boston Evening Transcript wrote upon Samuel’s death in 1909: “The life of cities and the life of the sea were alike familiar to him. He was at home in the world of business and in the world of books, a master of ‘movements’ that engaged vast interests and great nations, and a hearty upholder of wholesome pastimes.” 

In July 1901, a fire broke out at Kernwood which engulfed the laundry building and carriage house. Firefighters effectively protected the main house as the flames illuminated the sky overnight. The flames were visible for miles.

Samuel E. Peabody died in 1909, leaving a nearly $2,000,000 estate. (almost $70 million in 2024) At the time, Kernwood was valued at $40,000. ($1.4 million in 2024)

In June 1913, philanthropist, Caroline Emmerton hosted a multi-day fundraiser for The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association at the Kernwood estate. The event, known as the “Pageant of Salem” featured more than 1,000 participants recreating events from three centuries of Salem’s history. Local organizations sponsored the individual vignettes. Many of the participants were descendants of those who took part in the original events. During the reenactment of Leslie’s Retreat, the band played drum and fife music which had been played by Colonel Pickering’s regiment and preserved by the Pickering family. The pageant performance was given on June 13th, 14th, 16th, and 17th. Admission began at 50¢ with fees up to $5.00 for automobile parking.

Kernwood was sold to Abraham C. Ratchesky of Boston in July 1914. Ratchesky was president and co-founder of the United States Trust Company. He served as Massachusetts State Senator from 1892-1895. Faced with antisemitism at local golf clubs, Ratchesky and a group of Boston businessmen resolved to establish a country club on the Kernwood property, with Louis E. Kirstein serving as the club’s first president.

At the time of the purchase, the property consisted of five houses, barns, sheds, greenhouses, and more than 100 acres of land. The buildings were retained for the clubhouse and remodeled sympathetically regarding their original architecture. An addition was made to create a dining room and 200 lockers and showers were installed. A nine-hole golf course designed by Donald Ross, known for Pinehurst, opened at the Kernwood Country Club in June 1915. Ross eliminated much of the land’s tree cover, removing over 300 trees for the fourth hole alone. An additional nine holes also thought to have been designed by Ross, were completed in 1918. The stone archway near the entrance to the property was retained and became the logo of the new country club.

The Peabody mansion was destroyed by a fire in the 1930s. Only the first floor of the building survived, and barely, as much of it was damaged by water. The remaining portion of the house was incorporated into a new, one-story clubhouse building soon after. That clubhouse was remodeled in 1998 and still includes nods to the original estate house.

The Kernwood Country Club prides itself in a history of philanthropy. 2024 marks their 110th anniversary.
Digitized Archives
Kernwood Photographs and Ephemera
Kernwood Lithograph

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