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First Period Saltbox in Massachusetts

Hardly changed and gently restored, a 1684 Saltbox tucked in a coastal town. Story and photos by Franklin & Esther Schmidt

    The Saltbox in winter. Photo by Johanne Cassia.

    There are more First Period houses—dating from about 1650 to 1725—in New England than anywhere else in the U.S. That doesn’t mean finding the right one is easy, particularly if one’s standards are high, and if the house must be in a town on the coast. It took Peter Scala and George Irving seven years of hunting to find this one.

    “At the time, we lived out of the area . . . whenever our agent told us a house with good potential was on the market, by the time we got there, it was sold,” Peter recalls. “One morning in 1997, I got a call: Our agent had found exactly what we were looking for in Essex, Massachusetts.” She suggested Peter take a look at the exterior. “When I saw it and the lake behind it, I knew—without having been inside—that this was the one.”

    It was George and Peter’s lucky day, as the 1684 Saltbox on nine-plus acres remained unsold, and it was in move-in condition. Former owners had almost completed its restoration and maintained the house well, leaving mostly cosmetic tasks. “The first thing I did,” Peter says, “was pull up the wall-to-wall and install wide-plank pine flooring.”

    Peter already had been a long-time collector of early English furnishings and art, which would be appropriate and beautifully displayed in this house. Acting as the primary interior designer, Peter placed his antique collections throughout the Saltbox and its extensions. He chose richly textured, warm-colored fabrics for upholstered pieces, warming the English colonial house with a touch of Colonial Revival comfort.

    Amidst mostly English furniture, two American chairs flank the corner cupboard. The rocker dates to ca. 1820. At right is a Gothic chair from New England.

    Much of the elegant wall paneling is original to the earliest part of the Saltbox. Peter added what appear to be built-in cabinets, all made of reclaimed wood and pieces of early furniture. For example, in the main hall (or great room), he’d coveted a corner cabinet that came up at auction—a perfect fit size-wise, historically, and aesthetically. But the bidding started at $32,000, well above his budget. Peter came home thinking, “If I can’t buy it, I’ll make it.” Using wood found in the attic, he made an almost identical cupboard to the one lost. He’d never been much of a carpenter before, but, Peter says, “I was furious that I couldn’t get the piece I wanted, so I was determined to have one just like it.”

    An antique cupboard that Peter already owned was right for the living room, but it was too tall for the low-ceilinged old room. Peter carefully removed and stored the feet to make the piece fit.

    On a cold and blustery evening in December, with two feet of snow forecast, the historic house glows from within as candles are lit and fires laid. Rooms appear unchanged over the centuries. Peter and George have no need to be anywhere else.

    Published in: Early Homes Fall/Winter 2010


    Paul F. Sanders September 25, 2011 at 12:34 am

    I own the 1639 John Sanders House at No. 1 Mudnock Rd. Salisbury, Mass. It is now a saltbox, when I do not know. The original version, probably a one room over one room, was built by John Sa(u)nders my 11th gen. ancestor who was bp in Downton Parish in 1613, Wiltshire, England. He m. Hester Rolfe, also of Wiltshire, in 1638. They had several children before moving to Newbury on the south side of the Merrimack River where they had several more children. Later another one over one was added to the original house placing the large chimney with 3 fireplaces in the center. The saltbox was added later. Please feel free to email me if u want to see photos of the inside, possibly a walk through, or have Qs about the original family and the history of the house they lived in. The house has gunstock corner posts, 20 inch pine board flooring, open beam ceiling, a small cellar with 9 inch floor beams, and a rock wall foundation.

    Paul F. Sanders September 25, 2011 at 1:07 am

    I believe my 1639 John Sanders House saltbox in Salisbury, Mass., is the oldest, privately owned, wood house in the USA. The oldest wood house I know of is publicly owned and is located in Dedham, Mass. The original version was built in 1634. Paul Sanders

    Lori Viator September 26, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Hello Paul,
    Thank you for your post. Yes, please do send us photos of your Salisbury saltbox. The editors are always on the lookout for great homes to feature in our magazines, and it sounds like you sure know the history of yours as well. You can e-mail them to me, or send them to our editorial offices at 10 Harbor Road, Gloucester, MA 01930. I look forward to seeing them. And thank you for your interest in Early Homes.

    Marge Reinke January 23, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Hello, Is a saltbox with a front kitchen historically correct? I guess my question in more plainer English would be, was there any old period saltbox homes with a front kitchen.
    Thank you,
    Marge Reinke

    Shawn Maloney August 1, 2012 at 2:57 pm

    I love the pictures that have been posted, but I would love to see additional pictures of the inside if at all possible. My wife and I recently purchased a 1770 colonial in northwestern CT and I am trying to slowly restore it to be both period accurate and up to code. I am a structural engineer and avid DIYer so restoring these old homes is a passion of mine. Thanks.

    Pam Grote November 24, 2012 at 2:24 pm

    Hello. Your home is lovely. In April, we purchased the William Haskell House, a first period house, in Gloucester, MA, as our second home. Like you, we looked for years to find the right house. (Or should I say, it found us.) Currently, we live in Illinios, but hope to retire in MA in a few years. Until then, we will go east as often as we can. Right now there is much construction going on the outside of the house. (The inside is virtually untouched.) We plan to go, when it is finished . . . . if it ever is! It would be nice to meet you and share “old house” stories.


    Monica Scala December 11, 2012 at 11:34 pm

    I am so proud of Peter and George for the fine work they have done to this stunning house. My husband John and I have magical memories of our visits there. It’s a place that evokes nostalgia and a feeling of serenity and besuty.

    Dona Carey March 9, 2013 at 8:10 pm

    My husband and I bought a first period house (circa 1685) in Sandwich, Ma, and moved in Jan. 2009. That year, health issues emerged that I was unaware of at the time, necessitating surgery and a long recovery. Since my husband and I are in our mid sixties, and he also has health issues, we decided a couple of years later to put the house on the market. Although the house is fantastic, has original paneling, 5 working fireplaces, gun stock beams, etc., is situated on 1.7 acres with a pond and is being offered at $399000., it has not sold. Realtors say that the clients they are showing the house to, do not like the low ceilings, the early windows, etc. One realtor actually told me that until we put in a granite kitchen, ripped out the plaster and put in wall board, it would not sell! I was beginning to think that we were the only people who liked first period homes until reading this blog. Thank you.

    Tammy Lynn July 14, 2013 at 10:09 pm

    If you could please send me copies of this home I would appreciate it. I too am a descendent of John Sa(u)nders. I am very interested in any stories or articles you would like to share also. I realize the first post was 2 years but, I am taking the chance that you are still there. Thank you.

    Paul Sanders June 17, 2014 at 1:58 am

    I am the owner of the John Sanders House, originally in 1639 a one over one room house, but now a saltbox . I will b at the house during July 2014 if anyone would like to see the inside. Please email me at

    Paul Sanders June 17, 2014 at 2:16 am

    The John Sanders saltbox is located at No. 1 Mudnock Rd. Salisbury, Mass.

    Paul Sanders February 13, 2016 at 6:05 pm

    To those interested, I just rcvd some of your comments & interest in getting inside & outside photos of my John Sanders saltbox in Salisbury, Mass. I will try to respond to each of those requests, especially the one from Tammy Lynn who wrote she also was a descendant of John2 Sa(u)nders, bp 1613, St. Laurence Church, Downton, Wilts, 40 mis. SW of London, England.

    Paul Sanders February 13, 2016 at 6:07 pm

    Tammy, what is your relationship to John2 Sanders? I am a 11th gen dirct descendant.

    margot de rochefort March 20, 2016 at 5:08 am

    hello I would like to know if you have 2 rooms available, august the 10 and 11,
    we are a couple and 3 children of 10,9 and 5 years old ? thank you very much . margot

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