By Will Broaddus
There's a sense of obligation that comes with living on Chestnut Street in Salem.
"I am a steward of my house," said Patricia Zaido, who lives at 13 Chestnut St., among some of the best examples of Federal Period architecture in the country. "It's my responsibility that nothing terrible happens to this house on my watch."
That sense of obligation is why 10 homeowners on Chestnut Street will open their doors Saturday, May 5, for a house tour to raise money for Hamilton Hall, one of the most renowned buildings in their midst.
Visitors on the tour will be greeted by owners at each address, who will describe the history of their house and share unusual stories from its past.
Zaido's house, for instance, was built for $1,800 in 1833 and is the only one on the street built by a woman.
"I suspect her husband bought the land, and he was a sea captain," Zaido said. "My guess is he was lost at sea and she went on."
After the tour, for an additional fee, visitors can enjoy a traditional tea, complete with pastries and tea sandwiches, served inside Hamilton Hall.
Built in 1805 at 9 Chestnut St. by Samuel McIntire (1757-1811), one of America's first and most renowned architects and woodcarvers, Hamilton Hall was commissioned by Salem's wealthy merchants and sea captains.
Originally designed as a kind of community center, it features a large ballroom and still hosts a variety of functions today.
"We feel a commitment to the city that Hamilton Hall is preserved," said Zaido, who is on the building's board of directors.
Chestnut Street Days have been held to support Hamilton Hall in the past, but the last one was sometime in the 1970s.
Although Chestnut Street is often included on the Christmas house tour hosted by Historic Salem Inc., this spring's event will focus on history.
At 7 Chestnut St., for example, visitors will be greeted by Donna Seger, a history professor at Salem State, who will explain that her house was built in 1827 by a prosperous distiller known as Deacon John Stone.
Deacon got his nickname from serving in that role at First Church, Seger said, and he was proud of his affiliation. But it exposed him to criticism in the 1830s and 1840s, when Salem became a center of the temperance movement.
"His parishioners called on him to stop making rum," she said, "but he wouldn't do it."
Stone actually lived across the street at 8 Chestnut and built 7 Chestnut and its mirror image, 5 Chestnut, as rooming houses.
These were eventually used as a residence by a high sheriff of Essex County named Joseph Sprague, who had a nickname of his own.
"'He was known as Belly Ache Sprague because of his habit of walking about with his hands folded over his stomach,'" Seger said, quoting a book called "The Building of Chestnut Street" by Richard Wiswall.
Previous owners of Chestnut Street homes were not always as scrupulous as present owners about preserving the buildings they inherited.
Seger's house, for instance, was almost doubled in size in the second half of the 19th century by a Salem businessman named Willard Phillips.
"He went around and changed the moldings from Federal to rounded Victorian mouldings, and he expanded it way in back," Seger said. "The front is Federal; the back is Victorian."
At 21 Chestnut St. — a house started in 1813 by the Pickering family, which included George Washington's secretary of state — Joe Pyfrin knows precisely which features have survived from the beginning.
"This house is the only one I know of in Salem that has the original Chippendale splats on the staircase," he said. "All the original lighting fixtures are in the house, including a gryphon chandelier and matching sconces."
All for Hamilton Hall
Pyfrin is equally knowledgeable about those parts of Hamilton Hall that will be funded by proceeds from the house tour, including the unique "spring floor" in the ballroom.
"There's a slight arching to it that allows the floor to have some resilience, a part of the design by McIntire," he said. "The floor needs to be resurfaced on a yearly basis due to the traffic."
Upgrades to the electrical system and windows are also needed, and there are important conservation and restoration projects on the building's exterior in the works, Pyfrin said.
"The McIntire eagle on the exterior of the building, wood carved in 1806, the same date as the building," needs attention, Pyfrin said. "The eagle and shield are synonymous with Federal carving and architecture."
Seger's house is next door to Hamilton Hall, where the street narrows, which allows her to look at the hall's exterior and down the length of Chestnut Street every day.
"I look down the street and see the whole street," she said, "and I never take it for granted. Never."
MAY DAY ON CHESTNUT STREET
What: House tours and tea
To benefit: Hamilton Hall restoration
When: Saturday, May 5, noon to 4 p.m. tour; tea served in Hamilton Hall at 4 p.m.
Where: Chestnut Street, Salem
Tickets: $25 to tour 10 houses; $45 for tour plus tea, available day of tour at Hamilton Hall.
More information and reservations: Reserve online at hamiltonhall.org or call 978-744-0805. To reserve by mail, send check payable to Hamilton Hall Inc. to Hamilton Hall, 9 Chestnut St., Salem, MA 01970.