The Crowninshield-Bentley House, which is owned by the Peabody Essex Museum, can be found at 126 Essex Street in Salem, Massachusetts – though this was not always the case, as its interesting history indicates.
In 1727, the house was built at 108 Essex Street by John Crowninshield, a ship captain and fish merchant. In 1761, John Crowninshield died, and the house was literally divided between his widow, Hannah, and his oldest son, Benjamin. The eastern half of the house belonged to Hannah; she generated an income by renting rooms in that area of the house to boarders.
The western half of the house belonged to Benjamin, a merchant, who lived there with his wife and children. He had an addition built onto his part of the property, and furnished his surroundings with some of the things he acquired in his travels.
Reverend William Bentley lived in the house from 1791 until his death in 1819. Bentley was a Unitarian minister, antiquarian, dentist, and linguist who knew 22 languages. He corresponded with Founding Fathers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and was the pastor of the East Church that used to be on Essex Street. Bentley was also an avid reader; he had more than 4,000 books in his private library.
In the later part of the 1940s, the Crowninshield-Bentley House was sold to the Hawthorne Hotel. In 1959, the hotel gave the house as a donation to the Essex Institute (the Peabody Museum later merged with it to become the Peabody Essex Museum). The house was then moved to where it is today, with the old location now being the Hawthorne Hotel’s parking lot.
The house has been restored to how it would have looked between 1794 and 1810. A scientific paint analysis provided the information needed to paint all of the rooms in the house with the colors that they originally had. The rooms also have decorations and furniture from that period, many of which are from the Peabody Essex Museum’s collection. The house also features some carvings by Samuel McIntire.
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