The Good: Friendly tour guides, It looks nice
The Bad: Not brimming with the greatest historical importance, Not entirely authentic, Overpriced.
The Basics: Interesting to look at and for those who like old houses, the House Of The Seven Gables is overpriced for the tour and not earthshattering for its content.
There is some irony to the fact that one of my favorite places on Earth is Salem, Massachusetts (reviewed here!) and yet it took me until my last of seven trips there to go to the famed architectural wonder The House Of The Seven Gables. Truth be told, I had frequently parked in the parking lot for The House Of The Seven Gables in order to sneak over to the candy shop across from it, but I had never actually gone through the museum. After all, whenever I had tried, the place was either abandoned or overflowing with schoolchildren (a traveling pet peeve of mine) and it seemed the most I knew about it was that the place had an atrocious footprint; just down the street from this attraction is a garbage can and streetlamp that annually gets coated with tour stickers from people who have been through the tour at The House Of The Seven Gables and then stuck them there.
As well, despite my fairly extensive literary education, I do seem to have avoided the works of Nathanial Hawthorne for one reason or another. This is relevant because The House Of The Seven Gables trades on being the inspiration for Hawthorne's novel by the same name. Having not read that particular novel, it is somewhat hard to care about the inspiration that went into writing it. I am sure those who love the novel might love every nook, cranny and gable on and in the house, but for one who recalls the nightmarish experience of being dragged through innumerable Home-a-rama displays as a child, it takes a lot to get me excited about a house, especially when the house is not the actual house.
It is worth noting that the precise name of this location is actually The House Of The Seven Gables Historic Site. The reason for this is simple and without ruining anything from the tour, the house is not the original House Of The Seven Gables; that one has been lost to history and architectural drawings. As it is, this is the actual house, however, over the years - mostly prior to 1900 - the house changed hands several times and was updated and altered by its new occupants. Gables, over the years, have been torn off and put back in to suit the times and residents.
That said, The House Of The Seven Gables is located at 54 Turner Street in Salem, Massachusetts. This is in the eastern portion of Salem, beside Salem Harbor. It is most commonly and easily accessed via Derby Street and for those who are taking major arterials near Salem, there are signs from 107, 114 and 1A to help travelers locate the site. Using the 54 Turner St. address, it is easy to find The House Of The Seven Gables using MapQuest.com.
Ease Of Local Transport/Parking
In Salem, the streets are a bit thinner and down by The House Of The Seven Gables the Derby street is barely wide enough for one car and in this section of the village, it is one way. Fortunately, that one way brings visitors right to the parking lot of The House Of The Seven Gables.
The House Of The Seven Gables has free parking for those coming to take the tour, but there is only parking for about thirty cars. In the summer when tourism is high, this site does have parking lot "security" which is mostly keeping out people not going to the House and as a result it is not just a free place to park in an area where it is difficult to find parking spots.
The House Of The Seven Gables is its own purpose. For those who have read the book, the House has been made into a museum and for $10 (probably closer to $15 now) visitors may go through the House as part of a guided tour. There is no self-guided tour and, in fact, outside the lobby where one purchases tickets, there is nowhere on the grounds visitors are allowed. In other words, to even walk around and attempt to count the gables, one needs to shell out the money for the tour. Perhaps that is why it took me so long to getting around to visiting this attraction in Salem, despite my many trips there.
Truth be told, it is a lot of money for very limited appeal. The House Of The Seven Gables - the gable being the place where two slanted roofs come together - is an old house and it inspired Nathanial Hawthorne's novel The House Of The Seven Gables. But for the price, the forty minute tour is hardly indispensable. Visitors walk through the main level, take twisted staircases upstairs where they have to hunch over and come back downstairs. The tour then proceeds outside so visitors can see the view and the gardens out back, as well as look at all of the gables on the house.
The House Of The Seven Gables certainly meets the criteria of "charming old New England house," but one needs to consider that Salem is packed with such things. This is a village trading on its historical significance and the preservation of much of the location's architecture and charm. In other words, when in Salem, one is surrounded by beautiful old houses, many of which have a similar amount of history or style to this House. Save for enthusiasts of the book, Hawthorne or real old houses, it is hard to get excited about this one. Here is a room with old, warping glass and creaky wood floors . . . please follow me into the next room with old, warping glass and creaky wood floors.
To be fair to the historical society purveyors of The House Of The Seven Gables, the tour guides are quite friendly - the guides were dressed in garb from the late 17th Century - and they did not practice the annoying habit of sticking a tip jar out at the end of the tour and shaking it. Our guide was friendly, knowledgeable about the House and its history and (impressive considering that we visited in late summer after a pretty full season of her giving the tours) she did not present the information in a bored, rote tone.
For those who might not have grown up in New England or gone to other historic houses where more actual history has happened, The House Of The Seven Gables might actually be exciting, but given the sheer number of places in the United States where actual history took place and that one might get into for free or less, it is hard to get excited about shelling out money to see a writer's inspiration in this fashion.
The tour describes the entire history of The House Of The Seven Gables and it is educational.
There is a cafe on the grounds, the Rose Trellis Cafe and it had sandwiches and beverages when I visited, but as we were headed elsewhere for lunch, we did not purchase any food here.
There is a gift shop at The House Of The Seven Gables where one might purchase Cat's Meow replicas of the House and adjacent buildings, magnets of The House Of The Seven Gables and other swag pertaining to Salem and the House. There are books and a few treats like stick candy. Shopping is not the primary purpose for visiting The House Of The Seven Gables.
While one wants to promote historical places and enjoy traveling, The House Of The Seven Gables is hardly packed with historical importance other than being a very old and nice building. Salem is charming enough without spending a lot of money on tourist traps like this one; save your dough for somewhere with more than just an impressive roof.
For other Massachusetts and destination reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Comfort Inn North Shore - Danvers, MA
Quality Inn - Brockton, MA
Mohegan Sun Casino
For other travel reviews, please visit my Travel Index Page!
© 2012, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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