Does this look familiar? Which house is it?
A string of stores — Upton’s Pharmacy, King’s Laundry and Benny
Raffenello’s Quality Shoe Repair — along with several alterations to the
building, have hidden one of Salem’s most well-known treasures.
It might help if you knew that this photograph was taken in 1940. A
few years later, in 1944, these buildings were slated for destruction so
the street could be widened.
This house was built in the mid 1670s and is considered one of the
oldest dwellings in Salem. Construction was started for Captain
Davenport who then moved to Boston and sold the unfinished house to the
merchant Jonathan Corwin in 1675. It was here in 1692 that the
preliminary examinations of those accused of witchcraft took place. At
the time, Corwin served as a magistrate and justice. This association
has resulted in the name “the Witch House."
There was, however, a time when the house was called both the Witch
House and the Roger Williams House. The faded sign in the photo read,
“Roger Williams House" or “'Witch House' Ye Oldest House in Salem
erected before 1635.”
Some scholars believed the house was built in the late 1620s and that
Roger Williams lived here while preaching in Salem. Due to his
‘heretical’ views, he was banished from the colony, but escaped before
he could be returned to England. He, with a few Salem followers, went on
to establish the city of Providence and the colony of Rhode Island. Most
current scholars believe this house dates closer to 1675.
The house remained unchanged in the Corwin family for many years
until Corwin’s grandson, George, died in 1746, and his widow enlarged
the house by removing the façade gables, adding rooms and replacing the
peaked roof with a gambrel that covered the entire frame.
When the house was later sold to George
Farrington in the 1850s, he attached the pharmacy to the building,
giving it the look we see in the photograph.
For a number of years, the entrance to the
“Witch House” was through the pharmacy while the house itself also
housed an antique store as shown in the second vintage photo.
In 1944, the City planned to widen the narrow street around this and
the adjacent Bowditch-Osgood House where Nathaniel Bowditch lived with
his family from 1811 to 1823. Bowditch became world famous as the
founder of modern maritime navigation. His book, Bowditch’s American
Practical Navigator, published in 1802, quickly became the standard
for maritime navigation and, in updated versions, continues today.
With the destruction of these historic buildings looming, a group of
citizens formed the organization, Historic Salem Inc., which was able to
raise the funds to move both houses and have them restored. The Witch
House was moved back about 35 feet while the Bowditch-Osgood House that
was adjacent at 312 Essex St. was moved around the corner to 9 North St.
as pictured in the modern photo.
After restoration by the Boston Architect Gordon Robb with assistance
from Frank C. Brown, noted architect and author, the buildings were
turned over to the City of Salem in 1948. Since then, the Witch House
has been a museum and tourist attraction offering views of Salem in its