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Samuel McIntire Architecture & Interiors

Continued from Part 1, Samuel McIntire biography.

In 1792 Mclntire took part in the first public architectural competition held in America. He submitted plans for the new national capitol at Washington, but apparently they lacked impressiveness, for they were rejected. The original drawings, however, which are preserved by the Maryland Historical Society, exhibit great refinement and dignity.

There were a few public buildings in Massachusetts which were built from his plans. He was the architect for the old South Church in Salem, which was built in 1804 and destroyed by fire in 1903. It was famous for its graceful steeple. The steeple of the Park Street Church, Boston, has been attributed to him but erroneously. The old Salem Court House, completed in 1786, was designed by Mclntire, and also the Registry of Deeds, erected on Broad Street in 1807. A mantel taken from this latter building is now to be seen at the Essex Institute. He also designed the old Assembly Hall, at 138 Federal Street, which was built in 1782 and was converted into a private residence about 1795.

South Church Capital, Salem
South Church Capital, Salem

South Church Doorhead
South Church Doorhead

The greater portion of Mclntire's work, however, is to be found in the mansions of Salem and vicinity, which are unquestionably among the chief architectural treasures of eastern Massachusetts today.

A score or more of them are attributed to him. Among those which bear the marks of authenticity are the Pierce-Johonnot-Nichols house at 80 Federal Street, built in 1782; Hamilton Hall, on Chestnut Street, built in 1808; the Crowninshield mansion on Derby Street, built in 1810; the Derby-Rogers-Maynes house on Essex Street; the White-Pingree house at 128 Essex Street, built in 1810; the Tucker Rice house, 129 Essex Street, built in 1800 and partly dismantled in 1910; the Cook-Oliver house, 142 Federal Street, erected in 1804; the Kimball house at 14 Pickman Street; Oak Hill, the Rogers home at Peabody, built in 1800; and a few others.

Gideon Tucker House Porch
Porch of the Gideon Tucker house, Salem, designed by Samuel McIntire and built in 1806. Now in the garden of the Essex Institute.

Gardner-White-Pingree house, 128 Essex St., Salem, Mass.
Gardner-White-Pingree house, 128 Essex St., Salem, Mass.

One of the most noteworthy of these is the Nichols house, a splendid relic of the day of commercial prosperity. The interior woodwork here has been studied by architects for a generation or more and represents Mclntire's most painstaking craftsmanship. The splendid porches and gateways also bear witness to his skill as a designer.

Perhaps the most famous is the Cook-Oliver house. Its history is linked with that of the old Derby house which was in its day the most sumptuous mansion in this section of the country. In 1799 Ellas Hasket Derby, a successful and wealthy merchant, erected a house on what is now Market Square at a cost of $80,000. Mclntire was the architect and, as expense was not considered, he placed therein some of the finest of all his interior woodwork and carving. The plans of this house are now in the possession of the Essex Institute. Derby did not live long to enjoy this house, and upon his death it was offered for sale, as his heirs found its maintenance beyond their means. No purchaser appeared, and the house was finally torn down in 1814 to make room for a public market.

Pierce-Johonnot-Nichols house, 80 Federal St., Salem, Mass., west side of rear west chamber, second floor
Pierce-Johonnot-Nichols house, 80 Federal St., Salem, Mass., west side of rear west chamber, second floor.

Doorway, Cook-Oliver house, 142 Federal St., Salem, Mass, McIntire, architect, 1799.
Doorway, Cook-Oliver house, 142 Federal St., Salem, Mass, McIntire, architect, 1799.

Meanwhile, Captain Samuel Cook had started building another Mclntire house which was later occupied by his daughter, who, in 1825, married General Henry K. Oliver, mayor of Lawrence and Salem, and a man of progressive activities. This house was enriched with hand carving.

When the Derby house was torn down its timbers and woodwork were purchased by Salem citizens, and Captain Cook secured some of the finest of the Mclntire gate-posts, mantels, etc., for his new home, so that the Oliver house today contains some of the most noteworthy of Mclntire's work. Fortunately for posterity the great Salem fire just missed this house. It was here that General Oliver composed his famous hymn, "Federal Street."

A third house which contains a wealth of Mclntire's work is Oak Hill, at Peabody, near Salem. Its chimney pieces, door frames, cornices, etc., are remarkable for their fine and beautiful detail and exquisite proportions and represent the great carver and designer at his best.

Urn from Waite house, Salem, designed by McIntire; capital form Pickman house, Salem, 1743.
Urn from Waite house, Salem, designed by McIntire; capital form Pickman house, Salem, 1743.

In 1802 the Salem Common was graded and planted with trees and named Washington Square. In 1805, Mclntire designed and executed wooden gateways for the east and west sides of the square elaborate arches embellished with carvings. For the western gateway he carved a medallion likeness of General Washington, thirty-eight by fifty-six inches in size. When the arches were taken down in 1850 this medallion was removed to the Town Hall and is now to be seen at the Essex Institute. It was carved in wood after drawings from life made by Mclntire during Washington's visit to Salem in 1789.

Mclntire undoubtedly attempted sculpture in a modest way, but few authentic examples of his work have been preserved. Perhaps the most interesting of these is a bust of Governor Winthrop, carved in wood in 1789 for William Bentley and now owned by the American Antiquarian Society.

Any attempt to analyze Mclntire's style too closely, and to pick out hallmarks for identification, is likely to lead one into deep water. He had his favorite motifs and design details, but they differ but slightly from those of other American craftsmen of the period who, like Mclntire, felt the Adam influence, and there were some who did not scruple to copy him. But his workmanship so far surpassed that of his rivals that a careful study of contem porary work makes it not difficult to pick out the handicraft of the master. His proportions were always perfect, his details fine, and his balance between plain surfaces and decoration carefully studied. His finely modeled cornices, pilasters, wainscot borders, and lintels are never over-elaborate, never weak, and his applied ornament is always clean-cut, graceful, and chaste. It would be difficult to discover, in the Old World or the New, a more thoroughly satisfying expression of the woodworker's art than the work of this master carpenter of Salem.









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