Undoubtedly one of the oldest houses in Salem, The Daniels House was constructed by Stephen Daniels I or Stephen Daniels II between 1667 and 1693. It is a largely original First Period structure of great historic importance. For the first century and a half of its history, the house was occupied by shipbuilders and carpenters, as is reflected in the fine paneling and interior detail of various generations. Daniels and his son were both shipbuilders and mariners. In the mid-1700s, Stephen Daniels II’s daughter Mary married into the Silsbee family and lived in the house until 1803. Her son, Samuel Silsbee, was a carpenter who remodeled and enlarged the house around the time of his marriage to Martha Prince in 1756.
Silsbee’s heirs divided the house into two properties, listed as numbers 1 and 3 Daniels Street in the mid-1800s. When his daughters died in 1860s, the properties were sold to other families.
For about a century, the house endured what Samuel Chamberlain called in 1950 “many vicissitudes.” It was subdivided into a double house of at least four apartments, served as a “day nursery” and a boarding house, and had an ever rotating group of widows, laborers, railroad andshoe workers living in it for the better part of fifty years. The house was vacant after a foreclosure in the Great Depression for almost 20 years.
Afterwards it was loving cared for and filled with antiques by Theodore Perry and Winifred Haller, who operated the first floor as a historic tea room. In 1962, the Hallers sold the house to Thomas and Catherine Gill. Catherine “Kay” Gill collected a new treasury of antiques and operated the house first as a bed and breakfast and then as an inn for 55 years until her death in 2018.
In 2019, new owners Patrick Bentivegna and Adele Lee Purchased the property and completed a full restoration. They opened their home once again as a bed and breakfast offering unique accommodations and tours to the public.
The long history (at least three centuries, likely three and a half) of the Daniels House has made it home to various elements of the Salem story: the seventeenth and eighteenth century maritime trades, the proliferation of organizations and societies in the nineteenth, the working class and immigrant nature of the city in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the growing pace of antiquarianism and preservation in the early twentieth century, and the growth of tourism in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.
The rotating private ownership and occupancy, coupled with the late appreciation of its antiquarian character allowed the house to experience the twentieth century changes of Salem more richly than other seventeenth-century buildings in the city, such as the John Ward House, the House of the Seven Gables, or the Pickering House. In turn, that makes the survival of its original elements all the more astonishing.
In addition to its exceptional architectural character and irreplaceable ancient details, this house’s history makes it a true American gem. The Daniels House tells us what Salem has been, almost back to the city’s beginning.
Researched and written by David Moffat