About \\ Historic Houses

The Essex Block Neighborhood

The Essex Block Neighborhood is the center of the museum’s architectural collection. Three centuries of extraordinary New England architecture, set in Federal-style gardens, may be found within this one city block. As a rule, the buildings whose exteriors are wood-clad have been moved to the site. Those clad in brick or stone are original to the site. Below, we focus on three of the smaller structures located on the block.

Derby-Beebe Summer House


Tune into the PEM Walks audio postcard below to listen to a tour of the Derby-Beebe Summer House:



The Derby-Beebe Summer House is a one-room structure built in the Federal style and intended for serving light afternoon meals in a garden setting. It originally graced the garden overlooking the river behind the mansion of Elias Hasket Derby or King Derby. Salem’s preeminent architect Samuel McIntire designed the entire estate, including the gardens and the summer house for Derby, one of the richest merchants in Salem.

©2008 Peabody Essex Museum. Photograph by Walter Silver


Garden houses such as this one were based on such structures found on the estates of England that became popular in the late 18th century. They were hidden in little nooks and crannies and were a place of private escape and quiet.

Derby-Beebe Summer House

©2021 Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


This example was substantially restored to its original appearance in the late 1980s and retains important McIntire carvings. It is one of only three surviving such McIntire summer houses and retains nearly complete historic integrity. The garden view provides a landscape context for what the elites living here in the 18th century would have been looking out on while having their tea.

The Summer House served as a site for garden weddings and can be rented for small events.


Steven Mallory and Dinah Cardin recording PEM Walks

Steven Mallory and Dinah Cardin recording PEM Walks. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


The Federal Garden


The federal garden nearby is a replication of the original garden that stood behind the Derby Mansion The plantings are similar to the ones in the original garden -- Heirloom roses, fruit trees, rhododendrons, and all sorts of smaller plantings as ground cover. This garden represents a movement away from the geometric and formal gardens of the earlier 18th century, which can be seen in the Colonial Revival garden in our PEM’s Ropes Mansion Garden.

Lye-Tapley Shoe Shop


Tune into the PEM Walks audio postcard below to listen to a tour of the Lye-Tapley Shoe Shop:



The Lye-Tapley Shoe Shop is in a small structure known as a ten-footer. These ten-footers were common on the North Shore, a center for shoemaking in the 19th-century. Here, shoes were made by hand. PEM retains an extensive collection of the building’s original contents, including many shoe-making tools and materials.

The Lye-Tapley Shop Shop interior


Very few ten-footers survive today. These shops provided shoes and other leather goods for the pedestrian, agricultural and maritime trades in the days just before the huge factories came in the Industrial revolution. They were noted as small, local centers for news and gossip. This small structure is the only industry related structure in PEM’s architecture collection. It’s significant for its connection to the industries that supported Salem’s success in the international maritime trade. Recent historical analysis confirms that this is the original shoe shop listed in historical records in 1783. The Shoe Shop was originally located in Lynn, MA. After descending through several generations, it was bequeathed to the Essex Institute in 1911 and moved to its current site.

PEM Walks host Dinah Cardin with Steven Mallory, Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes, in front of the Tapley Shoe Shop. Photo by Kathy Tarantola

PEM Walks host Dinah Cardin with Steven Mallory, Manager of Historic Structures and Landscapes, in front of the Tapley Shoe Shop. Photo by Kathy Tarantola/PEM.


Quaker Meeting House


Tune into the PEM Walks audio postcard below to listen to a tour of the Quaker Meeting House:



The first Quaker Meeting House in Salem was built around 1688. It may be one of the first historic preservation initiatives in America that is centered around a period restoration. The members of the Essex Institute as early as the 1850s recognized this building as potentially the first Quaker Meeting House. Convinced of it’s seventeenth-century Quaker authenticity, antiquarian Sydney Perley orchestrated its preservation. This involved moving it from the western end of Salem to its current location on the former Essex Institute campus around 1860. It was then speculatively restored to its current, imagined 17th-century meeting house configuration.

The first Quaker Meeting House in Salem


The building contains many original timbers and evidence suggests that it may in fact contain some of the bones of the original meeting house. As the first historic property to be annexed and restored by the Essex Institute, this project kicked off a century and a half of acquiring historic buildings and amassing probably the most collection of historic architecture owned by an American art museum.

Instagram photo of the Quaker Meeting House