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. It is also one of only two extant buildings with ties to the Salem Witch Trials.

Gedney House was a single-family home and operated as a tavern 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


21 High Street
Salem, Mass. 01970

Days & Hours

First Saturdays
June – September

September 28 – October 26

Tours on the hour
11 AM – 3 PM


$10 adults

$9 seniors and students

$5 children

Free for Historic New England members and Salem residents.


Tour involves standing, walking, and stairs. Visitors with limited mobility may be able to enjoy a first floor tour of the house and grounds. Folding chairs are provided for visitors who would like to use them while on tour. The site is not equipped with ramps, elevators, or lifts. There is no public restroom and the house is not air-conditioned. Service animals are welcome. We are happy to work with you to make your visit an enjoyable one and we encourage visitors with questions or requests to call ahead.


From Route 128, take exit 39 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 on High Street is reserved for residents. Please visit the city’s website or Haunted Happenings for parking information.

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 Early Timber-Frame House

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

  • An Early Timber-Frame 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 chamber was used as a bedroom as well as a space for entertaining. Seventeenth-century decorative paints are evident on beams.

  • Fireplace

    After Benjamin Cox acquired the house from the Gedney family c. 1800, the house became a rental property with at least two additional residences on the west elevation.

  • Attic

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

Rocky outcropping in foreground with Forest River marsh in middle and background.


Prior to the seventeenth-century English colonization, the land now called Salem was and is the ancestral home to the Naumkeag band of the Massachusett tribe. Naumkeag, both the traditional name of the land and the people who lived there, was seasonally rich in resources. By living with the land in this way, the Naumkeag were semi-nomadic and traveled to nearby hunting and fishing grounds with environmental changes.

By the early 1600s, the thriving community dealt with war and disease that severely diminished the Naumkeag population. Continual clashes with the Micmac to the north resulted in many casualties, including that of Nanapeshamet, the Naumkeag sagamore or chief. Simultaneously, the Naumkeag’s numbers were further reduced by an epidemic that spread through coastal New England from 1616 to 1619 due to the introduction of European diseases.  Because the indigenous people had no prior exposure, they had no resistance to fight the contagion, which spread rapidly throughout the community. Historian Emerson Baker concludes that by 1631, there were roughly only three hundred indigenous people between the Mystic River and Naumkeag, whereas before 1616, the population was in the 20,000s. Continued interaction with Europeans led to a smallpox epidemic in 1633, which further decreased the Naumkeag population.

The first European to settle in Naumkeag was Roger Conant, who led a group of men from a failed colony in Cape Ann in 1626. Two years later, John Endicott arrived with a charter from the New England Company (which would become the Massachusetts Bay Company). Conant and Endicott’s groups combined and by 1629, the English called the land “Salem,” an anglicized spelling of shalom, the Hebrew word for peace.

While the English and Naumkeag lived relatively harmoniously, however, the English saw the land as empty and available for the taking. The cleared expanses and lack of permanent structures belied the many years of land use by the Naumkeag. The English imposed their farming practices, replacing the traditional crops, and permanent dwellings were built.

In the second half of the 1600s, the English exerted more control over the land. In 1644, the sachems signed over their lands and people to the governance of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and after that time indigenous people had to appeal to the English court system to retain ownership of their land. Tensions continued to mount by the 1670s, and during King Philip’s War, the English fortified their settlement and in 1679 the town ordered that no indigenous person could spend the night in Salem.

In 1686, Bartholomew Gedney, brother to Eleazer Gedney who built Gedney House, took testimony from James Rumney Marsh, a nephew of Sagamore George, the sachem of the Massachusett, about Salem’s geographic boundaries. Gedney and his fellow Salem selectmen purchased the land that is now Salem, Danvers, and Peabody from Sagamore George’s family on October 11, 1686 for £20. The deed noted that “said land is part of what belonged to the Ancestors of the Grantors and is their proper inheritance.” This deed included the land that Gedney House now sits upon.

Interior room with exposed beams and framing

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 facade 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 Mary Gedney owned the property.

1690 Archival Document, brown ink on paper

Gedney House and the Salem Witch Trials

Mary Gedney did not remarry following Eleazer’s death, but instead requested a license from the county court to sell wine and liquor out of doors in the hopes of independently supporting her family. Her home was in a prime location, by the waterfront and on the highway to Marblehead. The request was granted in 1690.

Mary expanded her business by July of 1692, and received approval from Salem selectmen to be an innholder, allowing her to rent out rooms as well as sell meals and drinks inside her home. This allowance was granted during a crucial time in Salem’s history. Between February 1692 and April 1693, private homes and taverns were being used to conduct official proceedings for the infamous Salem Witch Trials. By the time Mary received her innholder license, six people had already been executed for witchcraft, with many of the proceedings being presided on by her brother-in-law, Witch Trial judge, Bartholomew Gedney. While it is not known how large a role Mary Gedney’s tavern played during the Witch Trials, court documents reveal that the tavern was used “for entertainment of jurors and witnesses.”

Owning and operating a tavern was a way for Mary to keep her societal value and independence as a widow during the seventeenth century. By remaining unmarried, Mary was able to retain Gedney House in her name and was able to support herself and young family. When Mary Gedney died in September 1716, her estate was administered by her daughter, Martha, and son-in-law, James Ruck, who inherited the house.

Mary Gedney’s petition, 1690. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Archives, Massachusetts Archives. Boston, MA.

Changes on High Street

The 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.

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.

Sepia toned photograph iwth Itlian immigrant children in front of Gedney HouseCenter of Two Communities

After 1773, the house was owned by a string of absentee landlords, with an increasing number of families occupying the building. The back portion of Gedney House was built in approximately 1800 as rental space. There were at least two extra living spaces in this back part of the house where you can see an entry door, extra staircases, areas for a stove pipe, and openings for plumbing.

In the 19th century, the area surrounding Gedney House was known as “Roast Meat Hill,” one of Salem’s African American communities. A successful and active Black community grew here in the 19th century, with some people owing businesses, working as laborers and seafarers, and serving as active members in the abolitionist movement.

In June of 1914, a fire swept through Salem, destroying much of the area around Gedney House. The neighborhood rebuilt on and around High Street was home to Italian immigrants coming to Salem at the beginning of the 20th century. In the center of Salem’s “Little Italy,” Gedney House was divided to accommodate multiple families. By the second quarter of the 20th century, the house was considered a tenement, with overcrowding and poor living conditions. In 1940, there were four households living here, which equated to about 25 people.

The neighborhood provided the Italian-American community with a support network and connections to their traditions. The heart of the community was St. Mary’s Church, located on Margin Street. There were Italian bakeries and produce carts, barber shops, and local businesses run by neighbors. It was a thriving area of Salem up through the Second World War.

Color photograph of Gedney House yellow paint with white trimBecoming 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 at the foot High Street, 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. Once valued solely for its architectural significance, the house and its history is being reexamined and placed into a larger context as part of Historic New England’s Recovering New England’s Voices initiative.

Property FAQs

Find out about restrooms, photography policy, and more.

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  • Are there restrooms at Gedney House?

    There is no restroom onsite. Visitors are welcome to use the restrooms at Phillips House, located nearby.

  • 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.

  • Do you provide admission discounts for EBT cardholders?

    EBT cardholders from all fifty states can show their card for $2 admission to house tours for up to four guests per card.

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