Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the Lewis Hunt House, one of Salem’s lost architectural treasures, is that it survived long enough to be photographed. The two-and-a-half story first period house stood on the corners of Washington and Lynde Streets until it was razed in 1863. The house was built on land acquired by Capt. Lewis Hunt in 1698. Hunt was a mariner and surviving records show that he captained the ketch Industry to St. Kitts in 1687 and the brigantine Adventure to Barbados in 1713.
The house remained in the Hunt family for five generations. It passed to William Hunt (1701-1780), a mariner and merchant, then to his oldest son, Deacon Lewis Hunt (1746-1797), a baker. After Deacon Lewis Hunt’s death, his two oldest daughters, Eunice and Sarah, sold the property to their brother, William. William died ten years later, and in 1823, William’s only child, Lewis Hunt III died in an accident at the age of 18. The house was then owned Eunice’s son John Russell, Jr., who sold the property to his sister, Sarah Orne Russell, in 1863. It was Sarah, living in the gambrel-roofed house to the north of the Lewis Hunt House, who had the old structure built by her great-great grandfather torn down.
In 1857, five years before its destruction, the house was photographed, likely by J.W. or J.S. Moulton, architectural photographers active in Salem at the time. The photograph shows a coach and horse in front of the house on Lynde Street, and two street signs affixed to the southeast corner of the house. The eastern side of the first floor, on Washington Street, was run as a shop by Deacon Lewis Hunt, who was a baker.
The old house still has its original overhanging second story and what appears to be the original central chimney. Most remarkable of all are the two surviving façade gables, which were almost all removed from first period houses in the late eighteenth century or the early nineteenth century. These surviving features suggest the house was extremely well preserved. Had the Lewis Hunt House survived, it would have provided priceless evidence to architectural historians and been another tourist icon of Salem’s past.
Today the site where the house once stood is occupied by the Odell Block, built in 1890. The gambrel-roofed house in which Sarah Orne Russell lived has also now been lost, as many historic and picturesque Georgian and Federal houses at the northern end of Washington Street were torn down in the name of progress in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Less than a dozen seventeenth-century houses survive in Salem today. Hopefully the loss of the Lewis Hunt House can be a reminder to preserve our architectural treasures while we can.
Written by David Moffat, Salem Historical Society co-founder & Historic Salem, Inc. Board Member