"Because of its association with Salem's famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne
and his celebrated novel The House of the Seven Gables (1851), this much-remodeled,
rambling old mansion has become one of America's most cherished historic sites
and hence one of the city's most popular visitor attractions. It is also an
important example of 17th-century New England domestic architecture, and as
such has received notice in the literature of American architectural history.
The House of the Seven Gables was erected in 1668 for Capt. John Turner,
a successful merchant, and remained in his family for three generations. Facing
south toward the harbor, it was at first a two-room, two-and-one-half story,
central-chimney plan with two "Gothic" cross-gables in front … and probably
looked very much like the John
Ward house at the Essex Institute. A few years later Turner added a kitchen
leanto. As his personal fortunes improved, he built (c. 1680) the south wing
(single-room plan) with a separate brick chimney, as well as the two-story
porch. Hiding most of the former weathered-clapboard façade, this new wind
contained a second parlor, a chamber, and a garret with three gables, and
displayed double casement windows and an overhang with carved pendants.
Alterations continued when John Turner, Jr. inherited the house and in 1692
added a new north kitchen ell (subsequently removed and then replaced in 1908-1910)
and installed the renowned "secret staircase" in the rebuilt main chimney.
In c. 1725 he introduced more new stairs, Georgian-style interior paneling,
double sash windows, and boxed in the overhang of the parlor wing. During
the late 18th and 19th centuries the building underwent further modifications
by several owners, including the Ingersolls, Hawthorne's relatives-the front
porch was rebuilt, gables were removed and Victorian trim was added. Finally
in 1908 the house was purchased by the House of the Seven Gables Settlement
Association's founder, Caroline O. Emmerton, who entrusted its restoration
(particularly the steep-pitched gables, of which there are actually eight)
to Boston architect Joseph E. Chandler (1864-1945), an early expert in historic
preservation. It is open (furnished to 1840 when Hawthorne knew it) to the
public, whose admission fees help support the Association's nearby settlement
house (Caroline Emmerton Hall, formerly the Captain
Joseph Waters house, 1806-1807, at 114 Derby Street).
Hawthorne always professed that any similarities between the picturesque
dwelling at 54 Turner Street and the dwelling featured in The House of
the Seven Gables were coincidental. The book commences, however, with
a passage that unmistakenly connects the two: Half-way 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…."