About \\ Historic Houses

Daniel Bray House

Tune into the PEM Walks audio postcard below to listen to a tour of the Daniel Bray House:

The Daniel Bray House is less grand than others in PEM’s architecture collection, but the stories hidden in this modest home are grand in themselves. The Daniel Bray House is from the golden era of Salem’s China Trade. It reflects the working-class Salem residents that supported the global exploits of Salem’s merchant class.

Daniel Bray House sign

Photography by Dinah Cardin

Recently restored on the exterior to its original 1806 appearance, this modest house tells the story of gentrification and the displacement of Salem’s working class in the early 19th century. Surrounded by the homes of merchants and the sea captains, Bray worked in the maritime world, probably as a rigger, as listed on his father’s will. The house was actually built in 1766 by Danial Bray’s father, Nathaniel. In 1806 Daniel Bray inherited the house and renovated it to the latest taste and it became quite elegant on the outside.

Only 13 years later, Bray’s view of the new Salem Common became completely blocked by the massive Andrew-Safford mansion, built only two feet away from his window. In a blatant show of gentrification, John Andrew built his mega mansion, completely blocking eastern light from coming into the original kitchen windows of Bray’s house. Historic photography shows that by 1820, Daniel Bray and his little house was the only working class house left on the streetscape, surrounded on all sides by much larger and more expensive houses.

Andrew Safford House

Andrew Safford House

This close proximity put Daniel Bray smack in the middle of history. He just happened to be looking out of a rear window on this house just before dawn on an early April morning in 1830 and witnessed Richard Crowninshield breaking in through a rear window of PEM’s Gardner-Pingree House. These two houses shared a property line and the rear facades of them faced one another as they do today. When Bray’s neighbor, the slumbering Joseph White, turned up dead later on in the morning, Bray became a material fact witness in the trial of the century, prosecuted by none other than Daniel Webster. Listeners to PEM Walks can learn more about that murder by listening to the Gardener-Pingree House PEM Walks.

Gardner-Pingree House

In recent years, an extensive forensic study of the house turned up an overwhelming amount of evidence for how the building looked during Danial Bray’s occupancy. When 20th century materials were peeled back, they revealed layers of paint that determined the building’s color scheme in 1806.

Daniel Bray House being painted

Consultants extracted more than 100 samples from original clapboards, window sashes and trim, corner boards and cornice moldings. These were examined under a polarized-light microscope. Consultants identified the original 1806 paint colors, including specific pigments, minerals, resins and oils used to make the paints. The result is a deep rich chocolate brown with the window sashes and trim, and cornice elements in the frontice piece painted a medium orange.

Daniel Bray House siding colors

Photography by Steven Mallory

Come see these neighboring houses, which seem to have nothing in common. But share amazing connections in Salem’s storied history.

Wreath on the Daniel Bray front door

Photo by Kathy Tarantola