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The House of the Seven Gables

by Jen Ratliff on 2023-05-09T09:28:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

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The Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, better known as The House of the Seven Gables was constructed in 1668 by sea Captain John Turner I and his wife, Elizabeth Robinson. The Turners were well-known as successful merchants in fishing and trading. They are credited with establishing many of the maritime traditions which New England is now known for. The mansion began more modestly as a post-medieval structure with a central chimney. The original floor plan was a typical two-over-two-room design for the time. Due to the Turner family’s growing wealth, they were able to regularly build additions to the home and remodel to reflect modern architectural styles. The first addition introduced high ceilings, large windows, and large rooms to the home. Turner’s son, John Turner II, and his family later remodeled in the Georgian style. The home now exhibits some of the finest examples of high-style Georgian paneling.

The mansion stayed in the Turner family for three generations until it was sold in 1782 to sea Captain Samuel Ingersoll. It was Ingersoll who is said to have removed four of the home’s early gables to better mimic the Federal-style architecture of the time. In 1804, Ingersoll and his son Ebenezer both died of yellow fever after returning from voyages to the West Indies. The property then passed to Samuel’s wife, Susanna Hathorne Ingersoll, who remained in the home with her daughter, also named Susanna, until her death in 1811. Despite opposition from her uncle, John Hathorne, the home was inherited by daughter Susanna Ingersoll. Salem's Reverend William Bentley noted in his diary that the ordeal had greatly divided the family.

When the War of 1812 broke out, Susanna found herself living alone in a waterfront home that likely had views of British Naval Ships patrolling and blockading the coast near her busy seaport town. Many families fled inland for safety. Despite the danger, Susanna stayed but even more impressively, she assisted people who had decided to leave. Susanna began carrying on a tradition started by her mother shortly before her death of buying real estate. Susanna Ingersoll purchased at least 17 properties during the war, many in her surrounding neighborhood. Additionally, she offered mortgages to people who needed money but did not want to lose their homes in Salem. Ultimately, Susanna purchased more than 60 properties in her lifetime, making her one of the wealthiest women in New England when the business of real estate was largely dominated by men.

Despite the earlier divide in the family, Susanna was frequently visited by her second cousin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, when he began working as a surveyor in at the nearby Custom House in 1846. Hawthorne and his wife Sophia were living on Carver Street in Boston while expecting the birth of their second child, son, Julian. Hawthorne commuted to Salem and with his immediate family away in Boston, he began spending time with Susanna in her home. Following the birth of his son, Hawthorne and his family moved back to Salem, his former hometown, to be closer to his work. This time was particularly productive for Hawthorne, who penned the Scarlet Letter while working at the Custom House. The novel was released in 1850 and was a reckoning of his family’s deep ties to the city. The following year, Hawthorne released The House of the Seven Gables, said to be inspired by visits to his cousin’s home and the stories she told of its rich history.

Although other homes were speculated as the novel’s inspiration, the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion became closely associated with The House of the Seven Gables. The home began appearing on Salem souvenirs labeled with variations of the book’s title and images of the author.

Susanna passed away in 1858 and the home was inherited by her adopted son, Horace Connolly. Conolly, unfortunately, lost the home to creditors in 1879. For the next few years, it cycled through a series of landlords before being purchased by esteemed musician and dance instructor, Henry O. Upton and his family in 1883. The Uptons were instrumental (pun intended) in transforming the seaside mansion into a beloved public landmark. They embraced the interest in the home and its connection to the novel and began offering tours to the public. Ida Upton, Henry’s daughter, was an accomplished artist and sold hand-painted souvenirs of the home to visiting tourists.

When the Uptons sold the mansion and relocated to the Salem Willows neighborhood, local philanthropist and preservationist Caroline Emmerton saw an opportunity to use the interest in the Turner-Ingersoll mansion to fund a Settlement House. The Settlement House Movement was born in the late 19th century to help immigrant communities “settle” in their new American cities. Settlement Houses provided educational opportunities for children and adults, daycare, cooking classes, sewing classes, assistance applying for citizenship, and a variety of other activities and programs. By 1910, there were more than 400 settlement houses in the United States.

Emmerton purchased the home in 1908 and hired architect Joseph Everett Chandler to restore it based on the descriptions provided in Hawthorne’s novel. Emmerton used proceeds from tours of the property to fund her settlement programs. As the maritime trade waned, industry prevailed; multiple factories were built throughout Salem and surrounding towns, attracting an influx of immigrants. Between 1890 and 1910, Salem’s population increased by 42%, and many single-family homes throughout the city were divided into apartments or replaced with tenements to accommodate this population surge. The largest immigrant population to settle in the Historic Derby Street Neighborhood was Polish, accounting for 8% of Salem’s overall population in 1911. The Gables, as it was nicknamed, became a neighborhood social center and fostered interactions between Salem’s upper-class and newly arrived immigrants, a relationship unseen in most communities.

Throughout the next few decades, Caroline Emmerton saved multiple first-period structures from demolition around Salem and had them moved to the waterfront property. The buildings were used to house Settlement programs, sell antiques, host tea service, and even provide overnight lodging for guests. The House of the Seven Gables continues to honor Caroline Emmerton’s founding mission of preserving the legacy of their historic site to sustain their support programs for local immigrants.

Digitized Archives
The House of the Seven Gables Photographs and Ephemera
Fifth Annual Report of the House of Seven Gables Settlement Association
Seventh Annual Report: of the House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association

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