About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Friday, February 14, 2014

THE WARNER FAMILY HOUSES, GLOUCESTER, c.1700-2013, PART II

PLEASANT STREET, GLOUCESTER, MA
Philemon Warner, Jr

The post is a continuation of the previous story of the ancient Warner house on Mineral Street in Ipswich.  This second post tells the remarkable story of the Warner houses occupied by this family in Gloucester.

Meanwhile, back to the Warner family and Philomon Warner, the blacksmith, who left Ipswich for Gloucester. The Warner family settled right in the center of what is now the modern business district on the corner of Main and Pleasant Streets,  the location of the new Bank Gloucester.  His blacksmith shop was just down the street from his house.

I am presuming that his house probably burned in one of the several devastating fires that occurred here during the 19th century when the business section of Gloucester was devastated by at least two terrible fires when Main Street was pretty much obliterated.

Elder Philomon Warner died in 1778.  He is buried in the ancient First Parish Burial Ground, one of the oldest buriel grounds in the country, with this long epitaph. The title "Elder" meant that he was an elder of the church.
The grave stone of Elder Philomon Warner
Elder Philemon Warner's stone reads: "Here rest in hope of a glorious Resurrection the Remains of Elder Philemon Warner who for many years discharged with Fidelity to the Public & Reputation to himself several important Offices both in Church & State. Industry & Fidelity in his calling, Honesty & Integrity in his dealings, Sincerity in his Profession & Humility in his Deportment were the ornaments of his life & the Doctrines of the Gospel which he firmly believed & on which alone his Hope was founded were his support in Death. He was born Jan 7, 1698 & died April 14th, 1778. AE 81. In faith he died, in dust he lies. But faith foresees that Dust shall... When Jesus with..." 

 Philemon Warner, the son, built his Gloucester house in the mid 18th century right behind his father's house, a short distance back from Main Street on a side lane now know as Pleasant Street. There is some record that even this house received damage during one of the fires so it's easy to believe that this is when the father's house disappeared, being right in the path of the fire.

Elder Warner's house had a gambrel roof as did most of the houses built in the Harbor Village in the mid 18th century.  And like most of the houses in this part of town and frequently throughout New England, it faced south.  In this case it faced the water of the inner harbor on the south, not because of the view but because of the southerly exposure.

Here is the Warner house in Gloucester when it was intact and looking like many other fine houses in the
neighborhood dating to the mid 18th century.  This photo is from the Cape Ann Museum collection.
Over time the house became a back to back duplex.  Since the gable end of the house faced Pleasant Street, the new division led to two deeds with the property line running with the ridgepole of the house.  A new front door and yard were created on the north side for the second household.  This arrangement prevailed until just after the turn of the 20th century.

At this time the left or south side of the house was sold. What happened next must have stunned the residents on the north side of the house and probably the entire community.  The new owner, a printer, tore down his half of the old house!  The north side of the house stood there with it other half  missing.  In its place the printer built a brick commercial building and attached it to the side of the more than one hundred and fifty years old Warner house.  Now the old half of the Warner house bulged out of the side of the new brick building like a strange wart.

Here is what is left of the Warner house after half of it was removed and left it attached to
a new commercial building.  This photo is also from the collection of the Cape Ann Museum.

That was not the end of the dismembering of the old Warner house.  The first floor eventually became a commercial space.  Its strange appearance was further exacerbated when it became a Christian Science Reading Room with huge plate glass windows located on a 20th century angled, somewhat modernist  facade. Part of the old fencing seems to have become a balustrade on the new flat roof.


At this time there is a mostly new first floor with a slanted facade
beneath the overhang,  The roof balustrade seems to be the
original fencing from the former front yard.
Now all that was left of the old Warner house was one quarter of a gambrel roofed house sitting atop  the modern addition below and looking as though it was clinging for life to the side of the brick building next door.

It became a curiosity.  It was even written up in Preservation Magazine, the publication of the National Trust on Historic Preservation.  Each issue of this magazine contained  an example of outrageous alteration in a monthly column called "Yikes!"  So what was left of the Warner house became nationally publicized on the Yikes page of Preservation Magazine . We now sometimes refer to the house as the "Yikes house" and friends always know just what house we're referring to

After the Christian Science people closed their doors the house was sold for private residential ownership. The new owners turned the space, including the intact rooms on the second floor into an  unbelievably stunning  home with a tiny, secluded garden in the rear; all right in the heart of the city. There are even two remaining working fireplaces left from the old house to give the space a period charm.  It is a magical space.
To the throngs of shoppers that pass the front of this building daily there is no hint of the serene, secluded and gracious living space that lies beyond the threshold of that recessed front door.  Once inside the hustle and bustle of the city is left behind in the peace and quiet of this special dwelling.

The old house clings to its brick neighbor.
Even a small storefront filled in the small yard that had existed on the northerly half of the  house so that this inner city block consisted of an unbroken line of contiguous buildings

These buildings are now in the very heart of the central city.  Passersby don't always look up but when they do this fragment of an 18th century house surprises them.  What they see is truly one of the curiosities of Gloucester, America's oldest seaport.
Every inch of space has been developed.  This samll store front occupies what
was once what was left of the tiny front yard of the right hand side of the duplex.
Once again, the old Warner house was threatened when a fire devastated the newer brick commercial building that is attached to the old house.  The Deacon Warner house had a very close call but was saved while only the shell remained of the brick building.  Valuables, particularly art work, in the Warner house along with the cat, were rescued as helping hands from the Cape Ann Museum located diagonally across the street hurried to carry possessions to the nearby museum where they were out of harm's way.
Attached brick building burns
The brick building has been rebuilt and the Deacon Philemon Warner house is intact, (if you can call 1/4 of a house intact) and the drama swirling around this house for two hundred  plus years has abated. Stability has been restored on Pleasant Street.
Commercial building now rebuilt after a devastating fire.

In spite of so much turbulence, two out of the three early Warner houses are miraculously still standing and providing extremely attractive and comfortable shelter to their occupants.  They are the ultimate survivors!

Thanks for reading.

Pru

3 comments:

  1. I love this story! It really is so incredible how this house survived. I still remember the day you and I and a couple of other people went into the basement of this house and looked up between the two sides. We could see old wallpaper still hanging on what was left of the original parlor wall!

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  2. You're right! There was a little sliver of space between the old house and the newer building. With a light we could see what must have been the parlor wall of the long gone house with the wallpaper sill on one wall of a room that is no more. How could I forget!

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