FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
THE WITCH HOUSE BEGINS ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY STUDY
More Facts will Soon Unfold about One of Salem’s Oldest and Most Interesting Houses
SALEM, MA-The City of Salem’s Witch House has recently engaged Bill Finch, of the Beverly-based preservation and design consultant firm Finch & Rose, to conduct an architectural history report on the house, funded in part by a grant from the Essex National Heritage Commission. The Witch House, which was once the home of witchcraft trials judge Jonathan Corwin, is delighted to be working with Mr. Finch to uncover more information about the fascinating past of this historic structure.
Mr. Finch has worked with dozens of historic buildings in Massachusetts, including the House of Seven Gables here in Salem, the Massachusetts State House, the Whipple House in Ipswich, and the Old Manse in Concord, as well as multiple buildings for the National Park Service, Harvard University, the Peabody Essex Museum. For the Witch House, Mr. Finch will be using his expertise to discover answers to questions such as when the house was first built and what changes were made to it in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Historians have been writing about the Witch House since the 1830s and have offered many different guesses about which year the house was first built. Jonathan Corwin purchased the house in 1675, but it would seem that the house had already been built at some time prior to this. Jonathan Corwin’s descendents claimed that the house was built in 1642, but they could not offer any evidence. Some Victorian-era scholars such as W. P. Upham, believed that the house was built even earlier, in the 1620s or 1630s, and was the home of controversial minister Roger Williams, who later founded Providence, Rhode Island. Most historians now think that the house was built in the 1660s or 1670s. Mr. Finch will try to assign a more definite date for the house’s construction.
Mr. Finch will also try to determine when major changes were made to the house. Family tradition holds that the three-gabled roof was altered into a gambrel roof in 1746, but there is no evidence for this theory. Interestingly, historians are not completely sure that the house originally had three gables at all. Gordon Robb, the lead architect of the Witch House’s 1940s restoration, originally planned to restore the house without any front gables. In fact, the non-gabled roof was actually constructed, and at the last minute, the roof seen today was added on top of it. Unfortunately, both Robb’s plans and the plans of Frank Chouteau Brown, a well-known architect who served as a consultant to Robb, have been lost, so we do not know what made Robb change his mind about the roof. Not even the records of the restoration survive. Therefore,
anyone who remembers the restoration is invited to contact the Witch House and share any memories!
In addition to beginning the architectural history project, the Witch House staff has been researching other aspects of the house’s history. The museum now proudly displays portraits of Robert and Margaret Gibbs, Jonathan Corwin’s step-children. Corwin’s wife, Elizabeth, had previously been married to successful Boston merchant Robert Gibbs, with whom she had four children before being widowed. The original portraits of Robert and Margaret hang in the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and an additional portrait of the third child, Henry, is on display at the Avampato Museum in Charleston, WV. These portraits, painted in 1670, before Elizabeth’s fourth child was born, illustrate the typical, colorful and sumptuous costume of wealthy seventeenth-century Puritan children.
The Witch House, which receives around 20,000 visitors each year, has recently begun to offer various educational programs several times each year. These programs, such as last July’s “Hearth and Field Day,” which featured re-enactors in period costume demonstrating period crafts like spinning and woodworking, are usually free to the public. Also, class field trips from Salem schools are always admitted to the Witch House for free, and Salem residents receive a $1 discount on admission.
If you would like more information about what’s new at the Witch House, have questions about the museum’s open hours, or have memories to share about the 1940s restoration, please visit www.witchhouse.info or give the Witch House a call at 978-744-8815 or write to PO Box 465, Salem, MA
The Witch House, home of Judge Jonathan Corwin, is the only structure still standing in Salem with direct ties to the Witchcraft Trials of 1692. As a local magistrate and civic leader, Corwin was called upon to investigate the claims of diabolical activity when a surge of witchcraft accusations arose in Salem and neighboring communities. He served on the Court of Oyer and Terminer, which ultimately sent nineteen to the gallows. All nineteen refused to admit to witchcraft and maintained their innocence. The house is an excellent example of seventeenth-century architecture. Judge Corwin, buried in the nearby Broad Street Cemetery, purchased the structure in 1675 when he was 24 years old and lived there for more than forty years. The house remained in the Corwin family until the mid-1800's.
In 1944, the threatened destruction of The Witch House became the catalyst that launched a new wave of restoration in Salem. A group of concerned citizens raised the $42,500 needed to move and restore the building. The new museum officially opened to the public in 1948.
Today, Witch House tours blend information about seventeenth-century lifestyles, furnishings, and architecture with fascinating insights into the events of 1692. Visitors gain a deeper comprehension of the lives of those involved in the Witchcraft Trials through examination of the material culture of the period.