BOSTON (CBS) – A Salem mansion immortalized by author Nathaniel Hawthorne has more secrets to tell.
“There are so many stories to tell,” Kara McLaughlin, Executive Director of The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association, told WBZ-TV during a tour of the property’s latest project.
The house, originally built in 1668, was once owned by Hawthorne’s relatives and served as inspiration for his 1851 novel. Now the home on Derby Street is one of Salem’s most popular museums. Yet two spaces have remained unseen by the visiting public.
A dining room chamber on the second floor is thought to have hosted music and dancing in prior centuries, but the supporting beam is compromised and in need of reinforcement.
“We’re not in danger of collapse,” laughed Kevin White, the Director of Maintenance and Restoration. “But it’s [the beam] is only capable of carrying a minimum of weight upstairs.”
Currently the dining room chamber sits empty with a closed door that denies tour groups a glimpse of its 17th century flooring, tattered bits of antique wallpaper and tears in plaster walls where the room was previously divided.
The home underwent several changes in ownership over the years before being established as a non-profit by the late Caroline Emmerton in 1910. Each family adjusted the floor plan to suit their needs- adding partitions or bathrooms as they went. Consequently, the “Accounting Room” on the second floor was also divided up from the grand sitting room famously described as the place two of Hawthorne’s fictional characters died.
“During our busiest time of year, we actually have to close the accounting room because not all of the people in a tour can fit,” said McLaughlin. The $200,000 renovation project will also provide a better foot-traffic pattern for the museum that appears on the National Historic Landmark registry.
“We’re doing as much work as we can from the upstairs to minimize the impact on this historical fabric,” White said as he pointed to the ceiling of a room below the larger chamber.
The Settlement Association is hoping to have the spaces restored and interpreted (or staged with museum exhibits) before the house’s 350th Anniversary in 2018. To do that, the group still needs to raise about $80,000 in funds. They’re turning to the public via a crowdfunding page not only for the money, but also for input on what they’d like to see displayed in the new space.
For more information on the project, the museum and its history, visit their website: http://www.7gables.org/secret-rooms-project/