A Gracious Host Visiting The Gables Through The Years

Historic house museums can be found in most communities across America. They are among the most common and most visited types of museums in the country. They provide snapshots of periods in history and are often furnished with period items to give visitors a look into the past. It then falls on historic house museums to be responsible for telling a community’s story through the lives of those who lived there. Historic house museums began to appear in the mid-19th century and interest in visiting them has been ingrained in the culture ever since.

What qualifies a house for preservation or memorialization? It could have a connection to an important historical figure or have been the site of a pivotal moment in history. It could be a rare or unique example of an architectural style. It can also be that the house is deeply embedded in the cultural fabric of a community and retains a revered place in the public’s imagination.

The House of the Seven Gables, also known as the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion, has a vibrant and rich past, connections to one of America’s most famous authors, and a unique history as a center for community service. This exhibition will highlight some key moments in the history of The House of the Seven Gables and more specifically, visitation at the House through the years.

“HALFWAY down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst…the aspect of the venerable mansion has always affected me like a human countenance, bearing the traces not merely of outward storm and sunshine, but expressive also, of the long lapse of mortal life, and accompanying vicissitudes that have passed within.”

--Nathaniel Hawthorne, The House of the Seven Gables (1851)


The house at the end of Turner Street would play a prime role in inspiring Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804-1864) novel, The House of the Seven Gables (1851). Hawthorne, portrayed here, visited the house as a young man. (Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1840. Charles Osgood, oil on canvas)

Prime among Hawthorne’s inspirations for The House of the Seven Gables was the old colonial mansion at the end of Turner Street on Salem harbor. He was often a visitor at this house, just as you are today, however, The House of the Seven Gables did not begin as a tourist destination. Built in 1668, 42 years after the original settlement of Salem was established, wealthy merchant John Turner would eventually expand his home into a 14 room, seven-gabled mansion. Over the next 114 years the house would be lived in by successive generations of the Turner family. The Ingersolls, relatives of Nathaniel Hawthorne, purchased the home in 1782. It was Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Ingersoll, who would ultimately inspire the young author.

The House of the Seven Gables would, over the next two centuries, become a cultural icon and would draw visitors from all over the world. The connection to Nathaniel Hawthorne is one that will always be part of the legacy of the house. The stories of those who inhabited and those who visit the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion are part of that legacy as well.

Susanna Ingersoll and Horace Connolly

Left: Susanna Ingersoll (1783/4-1858) was second cousin to Nathaniel Hawthorne and would invite the young author to occasionally visit at the house. These visits were particularly influential for the development of Hawthorne’s creativity and literary vision. (Portrait of Susanna Ingersoll, c. 1804. Artist unknown, oil on canvas. Property of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association). Right: Horace Lorenzo Connolly Ingersoll (1808-1894) was of unknown birth and adopted by Susanna Ingersoll, who saw potential in the young man and paid for his education. When Susanna died in 1858, Horace inherited her estate. A one-time friend of Hawthorne’s, Horace was one of the earliest to recognize the house as the setting for the novel. (Supposed portrait of Horace Connolly, date unknown. Artist unknown, oil on canvas. Property of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

Susanna Hathorne Ingersoll, widow of ship-master Samuel Ingersoll, died in 1811, leaving the house at the end of Turner Street to her only remaining child, 27-year-old Susanna, namesake of her mother and second cousin to Nathaniel Hawthorne. Susanna would come to be the house’s longest resident, living unmarried and without biological children within the home for another 47 years. During her tenure as owner of the house, she was one of Salem’s wealthiest women, and would entertain her young cousin, Nathaniel Hawthorne, during his visits.

Upon her death in 1858, Susanna left her estate to an adopted son, Horace Connolly. Horace was of unknown birth, yet Susanna saw potential in the young man and paid for his education. In 1858, Horace would change his name from Connolly to Ingersoll, a choice most likely made to solidify his connection to the house’s legacy. In 1879, the house was sold at auction to pay debtors, and over the course of the following four years, it would be owned by a series of absentee landlords, before life would once again appear in its halls.

The Uptons

Henry and Elizabeth Upton purchased the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion in 1883. The house had not been lived in for four years, and the possibility that it would be torn down to make room for tenement housing was a threat. Henry was known as a musician and dancing master, and held classes in Hamilton Hall located on Chestnut Street in Salem.

Henry and Elizabeth Upton purchased the house in 1883. It had been uninhabited for 4 years, after Horace Connolly sold it in 1879. The Uptons would call this house their home until 1908. They invited guests for a fee to visit the famous mansion, long before it became a museum. (Photo of Henry Upton and photo of Elizabeth Upton courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

The Uptons knew of the Hawthorne connection to the house and invited guests to see their home, charging a small fee. Henry Upton wrote sheet music with the title, The House of Seven Gables Series, the cover illustrated with witches flying on broomsticks around the exterior of the home. Henry and Elizabeth’s daughter Ida, would paint images of witches on porcelain. These items indicate the awareness that people in late 19th-century Salem had of their own history, a history that would eventually become a focus of Salem tourism in the succeeding century.

The interest in the house had risen during the period the Uptons were there, and when they sold the home in 1908, the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion had seen its last residents.

Caroline Emmerton

Caroline Emmerton (1866-1942) was born into an old, reputable Salem family with a philanthropic history. She would grow up in Salem, and would visit the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion as a young girl during the four years that it was uninhabited between 1879 and 1883. (Portrait of Caroline Emmerton courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

Caroline Osgood Emmerton was born in Salem in 1866, to an old Salem family with a history of philanthropy. She was instrumental in the establishment of hospitals, support services, and educational institutions, and she became one of Salem’s most beloved and charitable citizens.

As a young girl, Caroline Emmerton visited the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion during the four year period when it lay vacant between 1879-1883. Caroline, along with her friends, entered the “empty home with its echoing rooms.” Decades later, she remembered “the thrill that the gaunt old house gave [her] when [she] first caught sight of it,” and the adventure of seeing “circular cup board in the parlor with its shell-like top…[and] the sketchy outlines of two vanished gables on the sloping walls.”

In 1908, the opportunity to own the “gaunt old house” appeared and Emmerton jumped at the chance. She was serving on a committee tasked with providing social services for immigrant families in Salem, and thought that the old home would make a perfect headquarters for this Settlement House. Miss Emmerton hired well-known architectural preservationist Joseph Chandler to work on the restoration of the house. By 1910, The House of the Seven Gables was open for tours.

Joseph Chandler

Joseph Everett Chandler (1864-1945) was a preeminent historic preservationist who worked during the American Historic House movement, in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Chandler restored numerous New England houses, one of his most famous commissions being the Paul Revere House (1680) in Boston.

Under the direction of Caroline Emmerton, the house was extensively restored and altered between 1908 and 1910 by the architect Joseph Chandler. Chandler had his hand in the restoration of historic houses across New England. His project immediately preceding the restoration of The Gables was the Paul Revere House in Boston, built in 1680.

Most of the work that Chandler did on The House of the Seven Gables was to remove later intrusions into the home, as he and Emmerton sought to the restore it to its appearance in 1720. He completely reworked the exterior of the house and added a secret staircase through the constructed chimney. Where pieces needed to be replaced, he looked for examples in the home and even repurposed elements to new places.

Caroline Emmerton hired Joseph Chandler to restore The House of the Seven Gables between 1908 and 1910. Chandler’s work extended to the interior and exterior of the house, as seen here in these photos of the south ell. (Photos courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

The restoration cost approximately $13,850 (compared to the $1,000 Emmerton paid for the home) and turned the house into the iconic structure that we know today.

The Secret Staircase

Perhaps the most captivating feature of The House of the Seven Gables is the secret staircase. The staircase consists of 20 steps that lead from the dining room to the attic through the middle of the center chimney. Though long thought to be an original part of the house, recent research identifies the staircase as a feature added by Joseph Chandler between 1908 and 1910. He reconstructed the central chimney in a 17th-century style while also adding the secret staircase to increase the tourist attraction of the house.

The origin and purpose of the staircase have been subject to much speculation and mythology over the years. The earliest surviving tour script, from around 1915, is missing the page which would discuss the staircase. Caroline Emmerton claimed that Henry Upton discovered a servant’s staircase while restoring the central chimney of the house which would later become the famous “secret staircase.”

Since the house opened in 1910, the “secret” staircase has been a favorite part of the tour.

Various other explanations were that it was used to hide the sister of John Turner II from the witchcraft trials in 1692, to hide loyalists or patriots in the Revolutionary War (1775-1783), or as a waypoint for slaves on the Underground Railroad. While these explanations have been popular in the past, today the focus is on what is believed to be a more accurate historical interpretation.

The Early Years

The popularity of Hawthorne and his connection to the house was a major motivation for preserving the home. The house had been associated with Hawthorne by previous owners, but it was Caroline Emmerton who made the name, The House of the Seven Gables, official. The goal was to allow visitors to step into the house that once inspired the author and feel as though they were part of the ever-growing story of the Turner-Ingersoll Mansion. The early tours focused almost exclusively on Hawthorne’s novel, aligning the characters and events of the book with the existing rooms of the house.

By the mid-20th century, The House of the Seven Gables site consisted of not only the Turner- Ingersoll Mansion and Settlement house, but other historic buildings and a tea room, seen here with patrons enjoying themselves in the gardens (c. 1910s). (Photo courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Foundation)

Caroline was restoring and preserving a structure for posterity, but her work extended to those living in her contemporary community. The Settlement house was a pinnacle achievement for Emmerton. Not only was the Settlement designed to help Salem’s diverse population towards the goal of social advancement, education and community engagement, but she was providing employment opportunities for young women, who worked for the Settlement as educators or docents, some of whom even lived on the upper floors of the mansion. To create a more extensive visitor experience and continue the preservation of historic architecture, three other houses from Salem were moved to the site by 1958, including the birth house of Nathaniel Hawthorne (c. 1750).

Early visitors to The House of the Seven Gables would begin their tour through the door on Turner Street and into Hepzibah’s Cent Shop, one of the rooms restored to align with the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. Today guests are greeted in the modern Seaman’s Visitor Center, opened in 1994. (Photo courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

The Gables into the Present

In 1973, The House of the Seven Gables was added to the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2007, it was designated a National Historic Landmark District. Recognized for decades as a site of historical and cultural importance, The House of the Seven Gables is visited by close to 100,000 visitors today. (Photo courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

Throughout the 20th century, several factors led to an increase in visitorship for The House of the Seven Gables. For example, a new interstate highway system made road trips and family vacations easier, leading to a resurgence of interest in our national heritage and a growing number of attractions, National Parks and historic sites throughout the country.

In 1973, The House of the Seven Gables was added to the National Register of Historic Places, in recognition of a place of historical significance. Visitation numbers rose throughout the late 20th century, and with the popularity of Haunted Happenings, which had its first year in 1982, the month-long October Halloween celebration in Salem, the nature of tourism would change in the city. In 2007, the House and surrounding campus became a National Historic Landmark District.

Whether it is maritime history, architecture or Nathaniel Hawthorne’s famous novel that attracts visitors to the house, there is something charming and inspirational to be found in every corner of The House of the Seven Gables. (Photo courtesy of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association)

Today, close to 100,000 visitors each year walk the halls of the house made famous by Nathaniel Hawthorne, with almost 1/3 of them visiting in the month of October alone. Whether it is architecture, maritime history, literature, or any other aspect of history or culture that draws guests to visit the famed House of the Seven Gables, every visitor shares in the ever-growing story of one of the most beloved houses in America.

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