When we were first in talks to purchase the Graveyard House (colloquially referred to as such on account of the graveyard in the backyard), we were told that it was built in ~1890 and had (potentially!) been moved to its current location from Federal St. (which is just around the block [through an alley] from us) in the 1940s. Interesting story, and one which would make sense in a few regards. For one thing, the house’s street number is “0” (“zero”), so maybe the street had run out of numbers, thus leaving “0” for a recently-moved home on an otherwise full street of no remaining street numbers from which to choose. The house also has no basement: it’s just plopped onto a concrete slab. Concrete slabs wouldn’t have been extant (or if extant, not common) in 1890, so again, the fact of it being moved made some sense: maybe a concrete slab was put down and then the house was dropped onto it.
Then we started looking at some old atlases and went down the research rabbit hole, eventually learning that the house was not moved to where it is. It was definitely built where it stands in ~1890. It originally served as the carriage house and/or “outbuilding” of 398 Essex, which I say more about at the end of this post.
The 1874 atlas below features Jonathan S. Saul as the owner of the property we’re on as well as the adjacent property at the corner of Essex and Pine St. Right up against Friends Buriel[sic] Ground, there is a footprint (see the square too small to be a house with an “X” on it [which I believe signifies structures not meant for housing humans; aka stables, “outbuildings”[?]) right around where our house is standing now. Definitely too small to be the carriage house as it currently exists. For that matter, 1874 is well before this house was pegged to have been constructed (in ~1890, as we were told). But OK, we knew something was here before us. Let’s keep looking at atlases.
Here’s the atlas for 1890. (Not the greatest quality print, but love the yellows and pinks!) The footprint is bigger and still has an “X” over it, so now we know where we are and approximately when we were built. (Fun[?] fact: Pine St. also became N. Pine and S. Pine at some point between the 1874 and 1890 atlases.) What’s the next atlas look like…?
Saul is no longer associated with the property by 1911. Now the name attached appears to be “E. D. Lowney.” What happened between 1890 and 1911? Let’s check with the Registry of Deeds for Essex County.
I’ve transcribed this bill of sale elsewhere, suffice to point out here that John F. Saul and his wife Sarah Saul of Salem in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, in consideration of One dollar paid by Ellen D. Looney (wife of John Looney), granted the lot of land in said Salem which was bounded Southerly by Essex Street 29 feet and 6 inches, Westerly of North Pine St 100 ft and 6 inches, Northerly by land late of Richardson 37 ft and Easterly by the Friends Burying Ground 95 feet and 5 inches, together with the buildings thereon. (Maybe one of these days me and Jamie will take some tape measurers outside and see what’s doing with these measurements.) Interesting that North Pine is referred to as North Pine here rather than plain-old “Pine” as the atlas would attest. The sale was made in Providence, RI on June 22, 1887. Did the carriage house actually exist when the sale occurred? Not sure. I suppose that’s why we have the word “circa.” The sale did note “buildings thereon” plural, so maybe the structure was already extant. Would absolutely love to know exactly when the carriage house was built and how it originally looked. Unfortunately we’re finding that no one really took the time to photograph an unassuming barn from 1890-1994.
The Registry of Deeds shows a pretty small number of transactions on the property afterwards. Ellen Looney sold the property to a family member (Josephine Looney) in 1902, and an updated atlas (below: ~1906-1938) doesn’t feature an “X” on the property anymore. I suppose this means that, at the very least, at some point between 1902 and 1936, the house was no longer recognized as deserving of an “X.”
A couple more property shifts occurred in 1958-9 and 1979, and then not much activity until 1994, when the bulk of interior renovations happened that we’re aware of. We’ll be undoing and redoing all of those renovations beginning May 20, 2019.
The only actual photos we have of the property are from the 1967-1996 timeframe. The photo below is from 1980 and was featured in the home’s MACRIS report (Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System). In 1980 it was deemed a “garage.” This photo is kind of cut off, but looks like the owners would have had to inconveniently hop a curb to park in their “garage.” Cool doors, anyways, though they don’t appear to be automatic. People used to have to manually open doors to get in and out of their garages??
This next photo was taken in November 1967 and was found in the MACRIS report for 400 Essex. (When you live in a former-barn-turned-residence that has been historically neglected because humans didn’t live in it, you have to look at other people’s house histories to find photos, I have found.) Our carriage house is off to the right, seems to have been painted a color darker than its current yellow, and has a pretty big growth sticking out from under the second-floor window.
This next photo (from our MACRIS report and no one else’s) is dated February 1996. Apparently between 1980 and 1996, the front carriage doors were changed. The 1996 photo’s “doors” are still extant, and aren’t actually functional. They’re essentially fastened to the front of the house. The style of window above the doors was also altered to a half-moon. From the view below, there’s also no fence as of yet. I wonder if the 1994 occupant(s) was able to park next to the house! (I do believe in one record or another I have seen that the previous Graveyard House owner sold off what was left of their driveway to 398 Essex.)
There’s now a fence along the side of the house, and a thriving garden out front (weather permitting). If we ever had a driveway, we certainly no longer have one.
At some point in throughout this research, I reached out to Historic Salem Inc. which does great work in its capacity as an architectural/historical preservation organization. Indeed I wouldn’t have known what a MACRIS report was/is without their guidance. For a nominal fee, Historic Salem also fashions out plaques to display on persons’ homes featuring the year in which they were built and for whom (and their profession, if known).
The MACRIS reports feature “Architectural Descriptions” and “Historical Narratives” of properties, the latter of which essentially give away the ending in sleuthing out the how, what, and why of the Graveyard House. For instance, see below:
Not much else stands out from the reports, other than Frothingham and Stimpson having allegedly moved properties to N Pine St. Interesting that even when we bought the house in 2018, we were told that the home was potentially moved here (though that didn’t turn out to be true). Lore is nothing if not persistent. Also, “Ellen D. Cooney” is likely a typo: every other document I’ve seen says “Looney,” though it’s possible that Looney changed her name. In a cosmic coincidence, I often call one of our cats (Luna) Looney. This is her right after we moved in. She was very “on alert.”