The Philips House Museum: The Best Historic House in Salem
The Philips House Museum in Salem, Massachusetts, is my pick for the best historic house in Salem. Since I was young, I’ve been on countless tours of historic homes, but much to my surprise, I found the Philips House to be something truly special. Even my husband, who is far from the history buff that I am, said that he was fascinated by the tour. You might be asking yourself why. Well, the house was donated intact to Historic New England which means that it contains five generations of the family’s furnishings, antiques, art, and everyday items. I was told by the tour guide that the family never threw anything away (think historic hoarding, haha) but rather put it all into storage. Their accumulation of belongings makes the house very unique in that everything that visitors see actually belonged to the Philips family. In addition, there are no ropes to separate you from what’s on view, so you can get up close and personal to everything inside this phenomenal house museum.
We started with a tour of the Philip House’s carriage house which contains three grand antique carriages, three magnificent vintage cars, an adorable child’s pony cart, and a dreamy one-horse open sleigh. I’m sure you’re singing that last part in your head now . . . sorry! When I first viewed them, I thought they must have been restored because each vehicle is in such extraordinary condition. However, the tour guide informed me that the exteriors and interiors of all of the vehicles have been preserved simply due to the hard work of the family’s former chauffeur and coachman. Now that’s what I call dedication to the job! The three vintage cars include a gorgeous 1929 teal-colored Ford A (my favorite), a 1924 Pierce Arrow Touring Car, and an incredible 1936 Pierce Arrow Limousine.
Inside the Philips House, the tour begins in the impressive wood-paneled library and the lovely drawing-room. These two rooms contain some of the family’s extraordinary collection of souvenirs from their travels around the world and a small part of their antique and rare book collection. Next, you’ll proceed into the dining room where you’ll see how the Philips family dined in intimate opulence and made use of “modern” conveniences such as button under the table to signal to the staff that they were ready for the next course. I’d love that in my house! But that would require me to have staff . . . oh well. In the pantry and kitchen, you’ll see many curious gadgets and culinary items, a Victorian-era coal range assembled just for the house, menus of what the family ate, and even invoices from grocers about what the family purchased. My favorite part was when the tour guide opened up the ice chest so that we could see the slot into which a delivery man slid the purchased ice. How cool!
Upstairs in the Philips House, you’ll wander through a series of the family’s bedrooms, dressing rooms, and turn-of-the-century bathrooms, the latter, in my opinion, being the most intriguing. In one of the bedchambers, I was excited to be allowed to ring one of the bedside call buttons to alert the servants that I needed something. Unfortunately, no one came to bring me breakfast in bed! Of all the upstairs rooms, my favorite was the one that once belonged to Stevie Philips when he was a boy. It contains a series of whimsical antique games. The tour guide allowed us to play one of them by releasing two marbles into the chute at the top of the multi-tiered levels and watching them criss-cross down to the bottom where they came out to ring a bell. Very charming! The tour continued on the third floor where we visited a recreated servant’s room and saw the system of bells (think back to Downton Abbey) that alerted the staff to the needs of the family. I hope that didn’t give my husband any ideas!
Being able to experience a historic home left intact as if the family was still living there truly brings the past to life. Although our technology has changed, we have so much in common with the people of the past, including entertaining our friends, impressing others with what we can afford, desiring the most up-to-date technologies, playing amusing games, and collecting souvenirs of our travels. I strongly encourage you to . . . I would normally say visit, but instead, for this home, I will say experience (because it truly is one) . . . the Philips House Museum and make a treasured travel memory that you’ll remember for years to come.
The Philips House Museum is located at 34 Chestnut St. in Salem, Massachusetts. Click on the image of the map below to be taken to specific directions.