If you live in or around Salem, or visited as a tourist, you’re likely familiar with Samuel McIntire, even if you’ve never heard of him.
The architect and master woodcarver, who lived in Salem around the turn of the 19th century, designed homes for some of the city’s most wealthy and influential residents.
This weekend, you’ll have a chance to learn about those houses from an expert: Emily Murphy, a ranger at the National Park Service’s Salem Maritime National Historic Site who is also working on her doctorate in American Studies at Boston University.
Murphy will lead walking tours on Saturday and Sunday of the McIntire Historic District, named for the architect and artist who created what are now important symbols of Salem’s past.
“McIntire is the iconic designer for the mercantile community” that lived in Salem during the 18th and 19th centuries, making their fortunes along the city’s waterfront, Murphy said. “He’s responsible for the look of Salem.”
In particular, McIntire was known for interpreting European style in an American way.
“McIntire was possibly the best architect in New England who worked in the federal style,” explained Murphy. “This is a time when America is trying to reinvent itself. He’s drawing from European tradition and he’s trying to reconnect us with the neoclassical period, and with what America wants to see.”
Among the things that distinguished McIntire from his peers, according to Murphy, was his ability to get the proportions of his houses just right, from the size of the windows to the placement of the columns. That “harmonious look” was just what the gentlemen homeowners of McIntire’s time were looking for, she said.
Many of McIntire’s houses were built in the federal style. “He’s really responsible for that big, boxy, generally three-story-high house,” Murphy said. “Two floors that are high-ceilinged and a third floor with a smaller ceiling (and) usually a really nice portico around the front door ... he was really just the master of that.”
Many of the city’s most prominent residents lived along Chestnut and Federal streets, part of the route of this weekend’s tours. The lower end of Federal Street, with its large and tightly packed buildings, Murphy said, “really gives you an idea of what Salem would have looked like in the 18th and early 19th centuries, and what McIntire would have started with.”
The walking tours coincide with Saturday’s opening of the Peabody Essex Museum’s “Samuel McIntire: Carving an American Style” exhibit, which looks at his architectural work, as well as the furniture and other objects he created for Salem’s most prominent residents.
“My goals for the tour are to give people an idea of the range of the architecture you can see in Salem,” Murphy said, “to get them familiar with who are the big players in terms of the community out there.”
Self-guided tour of McIntire’s Salem
If you can’t make it on this weekend’s tours through Samuel McIntire’s Salem, you can take one on your own: The park service worked with The Salem Partnership on the details for a self-guided tour highlighting the artist and architect.
It’s all laid out in a free brochure called “The McIntire Historic District: Architectural Walking Trail.” Published in conjunction with the museum, the Essex National Heritage Area and Historic New England, the brochure is available at the Salem Visitors’ Center, 2 New Liberty St.
The self-guided tour highlights approximately 20 buildings in the McIntire district, as well as notable locations like Driver Park (named for Capt. William Driver, the Salem resident who coined the nickname “Old Glory” for the American flag in 1831) and Chestnut Street Park, where the McIntire-designed South Congregational Church once stood.
The tour takes about 45 minutes to complete. Here are a few stops you shouldn’t miss:
r The Jonathan Corwin House, aka “The Witch House” (1642-1675): Located at 310 Essex St., this First Period home belonged to one of Salem’s most successful merchants of the time — and one of the judges at the Salem Witch Trials. This house is owned by the city of Salem and visitors can tour the interior from May through October.
r Hamilton Hall (1805): This building at 9 Chestnut St. was built for Salem’s Federalist party and named for Alexander Hamilton. It’s considered McIntire’s finest public building, complete with a dance floor and finely detailed carved woodwork.
r The Williams-Rantoul House (1805-1806): Located at 19 Chestnut St., this was home to Capt. Israel Williams, the first captain of the tall ship Friendship.
r The Jonathan Hodges House (1805): The house, located at 12 Chestnut St., is the only documented McIntire-designed house on the street.
r The Phillips House (1821): This house at 34 Chestnut St. was home to the Phillips family, who hired architect William Rantoul to renovate it in the colonial revival style. Owned by Historic New England, the house is open to the public from June through October.
r The Peirce-Nichols House (1782): Designed by McIntire for Jerathamiel Peirce, the wealthy co-owner of the Friendship, which was a merchant ship. In 1801, McIntire remodeled the interior. The house is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum.
Here are some of the styles of architecture you can expect to see along a walking tour of Salem’s McIntire Historic District.
r First Period: Indicating the time from 1630 to 1730, a typical home of this style is one room deep with a central chimney, a front overhang (known as a “jetty”) and a lean-to in the rear of the structure. The exterior has unpainted clapboards, a steeply pitched roof and numerous gables with diamond-shaped window panes.
r Georgian: Dating to 1725 to 1780, this style was once the most popular in the nation, and has characteristics including two-and-a-half stories and gambrel roofs with dormers.
r Federal: From the period 1780 to 1825, this style of building is typically three stories, square, with large windows and roofs with railings around the top.
Source: “The McIntire Historic District:
Architectural Walking Trail”