The House of Seven Gables

Updated on November 3, 2017
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New World history is a rich field that is constantly being analyzed for new material. The complexity of these tales never fails to amaze me.

The House of Seven Gables Today

Today, the House of Seven Gables is administered by the U.S. National District of Historic Places
Today, the House of Seven Gables is administered by the U.S. National District of Historic Places | Source

The House of Seven Gables Today

The House of Seven Gables is located in the National Landmark District of Salem, Massachusetts. This includes several other buildings that date back to the sailing age, when Salem was an important shipping center on the East Coast. The Salem Witch Trials also occurred here, but that morbid story is only a small part of Salem's colorful history.

This angle of the multi-gabled structure has a slightly ominous air about it, but viewers should not read too much into the image because the gables were added long after the Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote his famous novel, The House of the Seven Gables. In fact, the gables were added in the early twentieth century, so that the real house more closely resembled the one depicted in the 19th century story. And they are not the only changes that were added to make the actual building resemble the fictional one.

Cover Art for The House of Seven Gables

This Frances Mosley wrap-around rendition is just one of many imaginative covers for the Hawthorne story
This Frances Mosley wrap-around rendition is just one of many imaginative covers for the Hawthorne story

Nathaniel Hawthorne Writes a Novel

For its day and age,The House of Seven Gables, (published in 1851) was a wild romp, through the supernatural and morbid affairs of Salem, Massachusetts. In Hawthorne's day, Salem was a prosperous New England port-of-call, so much that Nathaniel worked for a while at the local U.S. Customs House as an inspector.

When Hawthorne first published "Seven Gables", the novel wielded a heavy impact. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, a good friend of the young writer, called the New England tale, "a weird, wild book, like all he writes." Another of Hawthorne's literary buddies, Herman Melville, stated that the book had a "certain tragic phase of humanity which..... was never more powerfully embodied than by Hawthorne."

And finally, many years later. H.P. Lovecraft would define the "house of gables", as "New England's greatest contribution to weird literature". Despite all the dark themes in The House of the Seven Gables, the ending is uplifting, as it depicts several of the characters gaining a new look at life with renewed hopes and expectations.

Photographic Portrait of Nathaniel Hawthorne

Nathaniel Hawthorne was a young man, when the age of photography arrived
Nathaniel Hawthorne was a young man, when the age of photography arrived | Source

Who was Nathaniel Hawthorne?

Actually, Nathaniel Hawthorne came into this world on July 4th, 1804 as Nathaniel Hathorne, grandson of the infamous Salem Witch Trial Judge, John Hathorne. Much of Hawthorne's early life revolved around a resounding effort to rid himself of the notoriety brought on by being a direct descendant of one of the more fearsome and cruel judges of the infamous 1692 trials. In fact, John Hathorne was the only judicial figure from the Witch Trials, who never apologized or showed any regrets for his actions. To combat this legacy, Nathaniel changed his family name, and then embarked on a literary foray into the darker side of 18th and 19th century life in early America.

Salem Town and Salem Village

Salem Town and Salem Village are two portions of larger outlying area that we know today as Salem. Salem Village, a small farming community located a few miles from the town center, was the place, where the accusations of Witchcraft occurred back in the late 1600s.

In Hawthorne's Day, as well as during the Witch Trials, Salem Town was the business center, busy port and locale for the city courts, where the Witch Trials took place. Nathaniel Hawthorne was born and raised in the town center, just a few blocks from where the House of Seven Gables stands today.

The Old House of Seven Gables

The House of Seven Gables in 1908 as it appeared before restoration
The House of Seven Gables in 1908 as it appeared before restoration | Source

The Original House

In Hawthorne's time, the real house of Hawthorne's novel was owned by Nathaniel's cousin, Susanna Ingersoll. The Colonial mansion was originally built in 1667 by Capt. John Turner, a prosperous sea trader, who worked out of Salem. In the next 50 years the house was added on to several times. Eventually, the house would hold 17 rooms with over 8,000 square feet. The estate would stand two and a half stories tall and is today considered one of the oldest surviving examples of Colonial timber-framing construction.

Unfortunately, sometime in the 18th century, the Turner family fell on hard times and sold the place to the Ingersolls. After Hawthorne penned his popular novel, the house took on a new persona that no one had ever envisioned.

The House of Seven Gables Tour

Gables Added

The gables that you see in the opening photograph were not added until the early years of the twentieth century, when the house was purchased by Caroline O. Emmerton and converted to a museum. It was at this point in time that several other changes were made, so that the real house,more closely resembled the fictional one.

Besides putting in more gables, a candy parlor on the first floor was added as well as hidden staircases that connected the first and second floors. Still, much of the original structure remains, with the most notable being the large chimney and cooking hearth, situated at ground level. In Colonial times, this fireplace and cooking space would have been one of the most important parts of a house.

Movie Trailer for The House of Seven Gables

© 2017 Harry Nielsen


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