I’m constantly researching the history of our historic, Federal Street home - aka, the “Yellow Elephant”. In doing so, I'm always trying to think of new ways or different approaches I can take that might help me uncover more information. This week, I decided I’d research architects. In 1866, when our house was built, there were 2 architectural firms listed in the City Directory: Emmerton & Foster, and Lord & Fuller.
Since Lord & Fuller had a bigger advertisement, I thought I’d start there! So scientific of me, right??
So in researching them, I came upon this article from the Salem Register:
Salem Register, December 12, 1870 - Pg 2
How amazing, right? The spectacular house described here was at 206 Lafayette Street, and was an unfortunate victim of the Great Salem Fire of 1914. But, it got me thinking – did they do write ups like this of all new houses in Salem? Could there be one about the Yellow Elephant? Wouldn’t that be amazing?? So I kept digging…. Unfortunately, I still haven’t found one about the Yellow Elephant, but I did come across another article, which is what prompted me to write this post.
Here is what I found:
Salem Register, August 6, 1866 - Pg 2
I know it’s hard to read, so I’ve transcribed:
A Fine Residence. The house of Mr. John P. Peabody, just completed on Summer street, is constructed in a tasteful and substantial manner, and is finished in beautiful style. In its conception and execution, everything about the house reflects credit on the architects and mechanics engaged in the work. It is about thirty-eight feet square with an 18-feet L in the rear, and with its attractive exterior is an ornament to the street and to the city. The interior is admirably adapted for comfort, convenience and elegance. They front rooms, stairs, staircases, doors, windows, etc. are all finished in black walnut with Robinson’s silver tipped trimmings and the rear rooms, in chestnut: giving it an air of chaste beauty not attainable with paint on other materials. The marble fire places, open grates, gas fixtures, plumbing work, and papering are handsome, and one feels a home sensation seldom acquired by external circumstances. The lower rooms are 10 feet 6 inches stud, and the second and third stories 10 feet. The rooms are all light and cheerful, and are furnished with a profusion of closet room, a quality so fully appreciated by all housekeepers. Each room is lighted with gas, and heated from a furnace. Hot water is supplied where it is desirable.
The following were the contractors, and each appears to have performed his part faithfully and in a workmanlike manner: Messrs. Lord & Fuller, architects; Capt. B. R. White, mason; Messrs. Goldthwait & Day, carpenters; Messrs. Mark Lowd & Son, painters; Mr. William H. Hart, plumber, and Messrs. W. Phelps, Jr., & Co., sash and blind manufacturers.
The ornamental gas fixtures are from the establishment of Mr. R. Hollings of Boston.
The lot is enclosed with a handsome iron fence, put up by Mr. Daniel P. Weir, and the walks and embankments are tastefully arranged by Mr. Hezekiah Sleeper.
The proprietor of this elegant residence is one of our most energetic and successful businessmen, and he may be congratulated on securing so attractive a home.
Of course the Proprietor they speak of is John P. Peabody, who sold Ladies’ Furnishings. Here is one of his advertisements from 1866 – the year his home was built.
My next stop was Google Maps – do I know 15 Summer Street? Is it still there?
Why yes, I do!! But wait – does that blurry sign say 1874??
This article is from 1866! Did they really tear down the “Fine Residence” described in the article, and replace it just 8 years later?? That doesn’t make much sense! To confirm, I checked the dimensions provided in the article...
“It is about thirty-eight feet square with an 18-feet L in the rear, and with its attractive exterior is an ornament to the street and to the city.”
This seems to very closely match the footprint of the house there today – with a few later additions made in the rear.
So, I checked the HSI Database, and found this:
Whatever house or houses had been located at 15 Summer Street had been
removed by December of 1873 when Mr. John P. Peabody purchased "a certain parcel of
land" from Andrew Fitz. 14
14 Tuid, Book 892, leaf 219 (December 29, 1873)
It looks like there is an error in the reference, because book 892 page 219 is unrelated to 15 Summer St, however Book 895, leaf 219 seems to be the page they were referencing….it is dated December 24th, but recorded on December 29th 1873, matching the date above. But the transaction on that page is Mr. Peabody SELLING (not buying) the property to Fitz for $100 – and the very next transaction on page 220 is Fitz SELLING the property back to MRS. Peabody…..maybe a tax arrangement? Did we have property tax yet in 1873? Or a Christmas gift perhaps? Based on entries in the city directories I have access to (1878, 1882, 1895, 1897, 1898, 1899, and 1901- which confirms John's death) John continues to live at this address until his death in October of 1899.
So I did some more digging, and it looks like the original transaction dated August 10th, 1865 was on Book 687, Page 235 where Joseph and Caroline Dane sell the property to Peabody for $3,750.
There are also several other times the construction of this home appears in newspapers between 1865 and 1866 presumably during the construction:
So hopefully you detectives out there can check my work, and make sure I’m not missing something. Today’s digital records are much more easily searched than they were back in 1996 when this house history was first put together, so the author of this history likely wouldn’t have had access to all the information I do today. I also checked the MACRIS database, they seem to be the closest in having the correct date – they list it as built in 1867 (although in another section, they say 1869).
In continuing to research this house, I also found mention of it in Salem: Place, Myth, and Memory by Dane Anthony Morrison and Nancy Lusignan Schultz. Below is an excerpt from their book:
If I'm right, this article seems to uncover a lot of great new information about the Peabody House, including the designers and craftsmen involved in building it! Maybe I've solved the mystery of the unknown designer? Let me know your thoughts!! Meanwhile, here is a great shot of the house by @purelysalem on Instagram.