Gedney House (1665)

Seventeenth-century Salem survives

Salem, Massachusetts

Salem shipwright Eleazer Gedney built the earliest portion of Gedney House in 1665. Originally the house was asymmetrical, with two rooms on the first floor, a single chamber above, and an attic with a front-facing gable. Significant renovations in 1712 and 1800 resulted in dramatic changes to the house’s appearance. Gedney House is significant both for its framing and for its evidence of early decorative finishes in the hall chamber and parlor.

Gedney House was a single-family home until the Gedney family sold it in 1773 to Benjamin Cox, who used it for the next twenty-five years as an investment property. Around 1800, Cox added two townhouse-style ells to the west elevation of the house, converting it into a multi-family dwelling. During the years that followed, it served as a boarding house and tenement in what was then Salem’s Italian-American neighborhood. In 1967 Historic New England acquired the house as it was being prepared for demolition.

Plan Your Visit

Location

21 High Street
Salem, Mass. 01970

Days & Hours

First Saturdays
June – October
11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.

Tours on the hour.

Last tour at 3:00 p.m.

Admission

$6 adults

$5 seniors

$3 students

Free for Historic New England members and Salem residents.

Directions

From Route 128, take exit 26 to Lowell Street East. Follow signs into Salem, staying straight to end (street name changes). Turn left into Essex Street. Turn right at Cambridge Street. Turn left at Broad Street. Continue through lights onto Gedney Street. Take a right at the end of the street onto Margin Street. Take first right onto High Street.

Parking

There is limited street parking available for non-residents. Other public parking options are available within walking distance of Gedney House.

Public Transportation

Walking from the Salem MBTA Station (0.6 miles): Head southwest on Bridge Street. Continue onto Washington Street, turn right at Norman Street, turn left at Margin Street, turn right at High Street. MBTA bus service is also available to Salem.

Contact Information

An Architectural Study House

Gedney House is one of the earliest surviving examples of a timber-frame structure from seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts.

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  • An Architectural Study House

    Gedney House is one of the earliest surviving examples of a timber-frame structure from seventeenth-century Salem, Massachusetts.

  • Great Hall

    The great hall was likely used for formal occasions by the Gedney family. It contained the family’s finer furnishings and service ware.

  • Lean-to

    A 1683 inventory reveals that this room contained bedding, everyday pots, and service ware.

  • Hall Chamber

    This bedroom space was likely an area for the lady of the house to entertain. Seventeenth-century decorative paints are evident on beams.

  • Townhouse Fireplace

    After Benjamin Cox acquired the house from the Gedney family c. 1800, he added two “townhouse”-like structures on the west elevation.

  • Attic

    The attic space shows Gedney House changed through the years. On the east roof, the 1665 gable is evident.

Exterior view of Gedney House with children standing on street, Salem, Mass.

Exterior view of Gedney House with children standing on street, Salem, Mass.

Building Gedney House

On April 20, 1664, Eleazer Gedney, a wealthy shipwright, purchased a half-mile tract of land in Salem on the highway from Marblehead, know today as High Street. In anticipation to his marriage to Elizabeth Turner, the sister of the John Turner who would build the House of the Seven Gables in 1668, he began construction on the earliest portion of his home. The house was a typical seventeenth-century timber-frame structure with two main rooms on either side of a central chimney. Atypical features included an attic with a large façade gable and a parlor with a lean-to roof. Other features, mentioned in Gedney’s probate inventory from June 25, 1683, included a hall chamber, garret, kitchen loft, and “seller.” After Gedney’s death, his second wife, Mary Patteshall, resided in the house with the couple’s children. The probate records indicate financial hardship to the family and therefore it is likely that there were no major architectural changes made while Patteshall owned the property.

2-gedneyhouse1968_-_364_x_253Architectural Changes

Gedney’s youngest daughter Martha, born in 1682, married James Ruck in 1712. Ruck, also a well-to-do shipwright, moved to Gedney House at this time. Because of the improved financial status and stability that the marriage brought to the family, it is likely that the first major renovations occurred around this time. The lean-to was raised, a second story, and overhang were added to the north elevation of the property, and the façade gable was removed. The house was left to their only child, Mary, in 1739. Her child, Gedney King, sold the property to Benjamin Cox, a fisherman, in 1773, ending the Gedneys’ ownership of the property.

Gedney House 2014An Investment Property on High Street

Benjamin Cox likely built the small cottage behind Gedney House c. 1775. From 1773 on, the property was used as an investment property for a chain of absentee owners. Around this time, the central chimney was decreased in size and an addition was added to the west elevation of the house, likely to add rentable space. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the interior went through numerous changes. The property was used through 1962 as rental property in what would become Salem’s Italian-American immigrant neighborhood.

Becoming a Museum

Fred Winter of Marblehead purchased the High Street properties in 1962 for conversion into apartments. Elizabeth Butler Frothingham, a student of Abbott Lowell Cummings at Boston University, is credited with the rediscovery of Gedney House in 1967. While walking home from the train station, which was located in today’s Riley Plaza, she noticed piles of eighteenth-century paneling on the curb for trash pick-up. As Frothingham investigated what she believed was a poor preservation practice in an eighteenth-century property, she quickly learned that the historic fabric of a seventeenth-century house was what was actually being demolished. After the acquisition of the house from Winter by Historic New England, the house was left in the condition it was found and is considered “an unparalleled opportunity for making available to all students all the many structural secrets normally concealed in a finished house.”

Through the years, Historic New England completed dendrochronology on the house, framed drawings that detail the elaborate joinery, added lighting that highlights the early paint treatments and important architectural details, and executed supportive structural repairs.

Property FAQs

Find out about parking, accessibility, photography policy, and more.

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  • Are there restrooms at Gedney House?

    Visitors are welcome to use the restrooms at Phillips House, located nearby.

  • Is the museum accessible to people with disabilities?

    A tour of any Historic New England property requires a considerable amount of standing and some walking. Gedney House has not been equipped with accessible ramps, elevators, or chair lifts. Folding chairs can be provided for visitors who would like to use them during a tour. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house. Service animals are welcome. We encourage visitors with concerns to call ahead. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one.

  • When can I visit the Gedney House grounds?

    The museum grounds are open daily from dawn to dusk.

  • Can I take photographs at the museum?

    Interior and exterior photography for personal use is allowed at Historic New England properties. For the safety and comfort of our visitors and the protection of our collections and house museums, we ask that you be aware of your surroundings and stay with your guide. Video, camera bags, tripods, and selfie sticks are not permitted. Professional/commercial photographers and members of the media should visit the press room for more information.

  • Do I need to take a tour or can I just look around?

    All visitors to the house receive a guided tour.

  • How do I become a Historic New England member and get more involved?

    Join Historic New England now and help preserve the region’s heritage. Call 617-994-5910 or join online.

  • When was Gedney House built?

    Gedney House was originally built in 1665 by Eleazer Gedney and his new wife, Elizabeth Turner.

  • Why doesn't Gedney House look like a typical seventeenth-century dwelling?

    There were three major renovations that took place in the first 135 years that the house existed. The house was first built in an oblong shape with an attached lean-to and central chimney. In 1712, likely after Gedney’s daughter Martha and her husband James Ruck inherited the property, they renovated the lean-to into a second parlor and added a second floor above it. In 1800, two townhouse-style units were added onto the west elevation of the house.

  • Why is Gedney House yellow?

    The original color of the Gedney House exterior is unknown, as is the color choice in 1712 or 1800. Yellow was likely chosen as a fashionable color for the 1800 renovation, so that is what visitors see on the exterior of the property today.

  • Did Gedney House always have this many windows?

    It is difficult to say how many windows the original structure had. Windows were an expensive, often imported addition to a home and owners were taxed based upon the amount of windows they had. Therefore it is unlikely the original structure had this many windows. Today the original 1665 walls are located on the east and south elevations of the house. There is one area in the chamber where there is a difference in width between the two-story studs that is unlike the difference between other stud work. Historians agree this could be a location for an original window in the home.

  • What kind of wood was the house framed in?

    According to 2002 dendrochronology, the home was framed in oak, felled circa 1665.

  • When is the attic wallpaper from?

    The origin of the wallpaper in the southeast attic room is unknown. Historians who have looked at the details of the paper have guessed that it is machine-printed and possibly c. 1850 or later.

  • Why is the foundation part fieldstone, part brick?

    The brick portion of the foundation is part of Historic New England’s preservation efforts that took place at Gedney House following the 1967 acquisition. In the seventeenth century, it was customary to build foundation walls inside the sills and supports on the exterior of the sills. These supports gave way over time. The resulting repair work in 1968 consisted of poured concrete below grade and brickwork above grade.

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