The Salem Athenæum’s current exhibit, Celia’s Salon is about Celia Thaxter’s informal arts colony on Appledore Island, ten miles off the coast of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The exhibit displays books and art, and aims to convey what it was like to be part of Celia’s celebrated circle.
It’s summer in the latter half of the 1800’s and you’re an envied member of Celia Thaxter’s salon on Appledore Island. In Celia’s flower-filled cottage parlor, next to her family’s resort hotel, you mingle with the literary and artistic luminaries of the day, enjoying informal morning concerts, lively discussions and evening readings.
While on Appledore, you might breakfast on fish cakes and baked beans with Nathaniel Hawthorne, or stroll in Celia’s flower garden, pausing to admire a painting-in-progress by Childe Hassam, or visit with Salem’s Derby or Bowditch families who are summering on the island.
In the evening, you and your friends gather in Celia’s parlor where the composer, Edward MacDowell, is playing a Schubert Sonata on the grand piano. Perhaps tonight Celia will read her account of the fearsome murders on Smutty Nose Island. Later, you’ll watch the sun set over the ocean from the hotel veranda.
In the morning, if you have a spare moment, you may leaf through the Appledore Hotel Register to see which of your acquaintances have been visiting the island this season…
Appledore Hotel Registry: Notable Guests
Greatest Shakespearean actor and the greatest Hamlet of the 19th century. Toured through America and the major capitals of Europe.
Henry David Thoreau
Author, poet, philosopher, naturalist, abolitionist, activist. In 1849, Thoreau and James Russell Lowell were the guests of Celia’s husband, Levi Thaxter and occupied North cottage near Appledore House.
Celebrated author of The Scarlet Letter and The House of Seven Gables, among others. Native of Salem. Stayed at Appledore in 1852 and revisited with his daughter, Una, in 1860. He wrote enthusiastically about the island and Celia Thaxter in his journal, and these entries can be read in The American Notebooks.
Writer and journalist. Son of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Visited Appledore several times. Notes of additional charges to Julian Hawthorne, age 20, from hotel register in 1866:
July 27 sailing to Rye – $4.00
2 cigars – $0.30
July 29 rowboat – $0.50
2 extra dinners – $3.00
Board one week – $7.00
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s sister. Perhaps not as reclusive as has been thought, she visited Appledore from Amesbury with a Miss and Mr. Joyce in July of 1852.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Most widely known and best-loved American poet of the 19th century. Harvard professor and linguist. Author of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” “Song of Hiawatha,” and “Evangeline,” among others.
Sarah Orne Jewett
Author and close friend of Celia Thaxter. Wrote “Deephaven,” ”A Country Doctor,” ”The Country of Pointed Firs” among others. Edited Thaxter’s An Island Garden and her posthumously published Celia Thaxter’s Poems.
Educator, editor, eldest of the Peabody sisters, sister-in-law of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Horace Mann. Opened the first English language kindergarten in America and ran a bookstore at her home in Boston where Margaret Fuller led her “Conversations.” Visited Appledore from Boston in 1858.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” the novel that roused the abolition movement nationwide. Visited Appledore from Andover with her three daughters in the summers of 1861 and 1863. In her novel, “The Pearl of Orr’s Island,” she based the character of Mara on Celia Thaxter.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Quaker poet, abolitionist and close friend of Celia Thaxter and her circle. Visited Appledore often.
Henry Ward Beecher
Abolitionist and popular minister of the mega-church, Plymouth Congregational in Brooklyn. Brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson
Civil War Colonel, abolitionist, minister, prolific author. Levi Thaxter’s Harvard roommate. The Athenæum has many of his books.
Richard Henry Dana
Lawyer, politician, and author of the memoir, Two Years Before the Mast.
William Dean Howells
Author, poet, essayist, and editor of Harper’s and of The Atlantic Monthly. Stayed at Appledore in 1871.
Beverly poet and teacher at Wheaton College.
James Whitcomb Riley
Popular poet and writer, particularly of works for children. Author of the poem “Little Orphan Annie.”
14th President of U.S. In 1852, General Pierce and his family visited Appledore to see his friend, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who had been a classmate at Bowdoin. At the time of the visit, Pierce was running for President.
Oliver Wendell Holmes
Physician, professor, lecturer and author of the bestseller, “Autocrat of the Breakfast Table.”
James Russell Lowell
Author and diplomat. Ambassador to England from 1880-85, Smith professor, and the first editor of the Atlantic Monthly. Harvard classmate of Levi Thaxter. Wrote a long poem titled “Pictures from Appledore.”
Author, editor, publisher and literary giant. Influential editor of The Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s. A fellow Portsmouth native, he was Celia Thaxter’s friend and promoted her writing career.
Annie Adams Fields
Author, wife of James Fields, and hostess of a salon in Boston. Dear friend and biographer of Celia Thaxter.
Edward Everett Hale
Orator, statesman, clergyman, author, grand-nephew of Nathan Hale, the Revolutionary War hero. His father, Nathan Hale, Sr., and his children also visited Appledore.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich
Author. His semi-autobiographical “The Story of a Bad Boy,” about his Portsmouth New Hampshire childhood, was a bestseller. Twain said the “bad boy” was the inspiration for Huck Finn.
Founded Statler Hotel chain and revolutionized the hotel business. “It has been said that the success of the great hotel man Statler is due to his close study of the methods of the Laighton family at Appledore.”
Lyman V. Rutledge. The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend. 1965.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Author of A Little Princess and A Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, among others. Modeled her little Lord Cedric Fauntleroy after Celia Thaxter’s little brother, Cedric.
Established The New York Tribune in 1841 and was its editor for life. Nominee for President. Credited with the phrase “Go West Young Man.”
Artists at Appledore
Most famous and prolific American Impressionist. Kept a cottage and studio at Appledore and painted there for 20 years. “Famous for his magnificent pictures of the gorges and rocks at Appledore. His painting of a wave dashing the spray among the rocks was magnificent and matchless for its technique and coloring.” Oscar Laighton. 90 Years on the Isles of Shoals. 1929.
William Morris Hunt
Most esteemed Boston artist of his era. Art teacher and powerful influence on Winslow Homer, Childe Hassam and others. Harvard classmate and friend of Levi Thaxter.
Ross Sterling Turner
Artist, watercolor teacher. Had a studio in Salem as well as in Boston and at Appledore. “Famous for his charming sketches of our boats.” Oscar Laighton. 90 Years on the Isles of Shoals. 1929.
Artist and art teacher. Noted for flower arrangements and still-lifes. Visited from Watertown in 1861 and 1863.
John Appleton Brown
Landscape artist and forerunner of American Impressionism. “Famous for exquisite pictures of moonlight on water.” Oscar Laighton. 90 Years on the Isles of Shoals. 1929.
Ignaz Marcel Gaugangigl
Bavarian-born and one of Childe Hassam’s first teachers. A regular visitor to Appledore. Gaugangigl’s works are in the Metropolitan and the MFA.
Renowned sculptress. Ran a school in Salem when a young woman. Whitney’s statue of Senator Charles Sumner stands outside Harvard Law School, overlooking Harvard Square and her statues of Samuel Adams are in the Capital building in Washington, D.C. and in front of Faneuil Hall in Boston.
William Trost Richards
Landscape artist of the Hudson River School.
Painter, premier stained glass artist. Invented opaline glass and incorporated it into works of dazzling beauty. His windows can be seen at Trinity Church in Boston, among other sites. Like his fellow artists, La Farge found Celia’s garden inspirational.
Musicians at Appledore
Most popular American composer of the late 19th century. Visited Appledore often with his wife, who later founded the MacDowell Colony in his honor.
John Knowles Paine
Professor of Music at Harvard. America’s first symphonic composer.
Acclaimed pianist who had toured Europe as boy prodigy. “If by chance, William Mason was in Celia’s parlor, back of the wisteria vines, the Preludes of Chopin would mingle with the choir of birds, over the garden.” Lyman V. Rutledge. The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend. 1965.
Celebrated violinist and composer of operettas. Founded the Boston Conservatory of Music in 1867.
Famed Norwegian violinist. Gave concerts at Appledore to benefit the Shoals Norwegian fishermen.
Guests from Salem
“A fine gentleman named Richard Wheatland came when I was about 12.” wrote Celia Thaxter’s brother, Oscar Laighton. 90 Years on the Isles of Shoals. 1929.
Member of a distinguished old Salem family.
The three sons of Nathaniel Bowditch, the founder of modern maritime navigation, had a summer cottage on Appledore. The brothers, a physician, a financier and a biographer, were all committed abolitionists.
The Derby Family
“The Derby family, who made Salem famous with their ships on every sea, came often to Appledore” wrote Oscar Laighton in 90 Years on the Isles of Shoals. 1929.
Special Features of Appledore House
- Swimming pool in front of the hotel piazzas. Often 100 people would be in the water at one time. The women used inflatable water wings, a necessity considering their bulky wool swimming outfits.
- Sailing. The harbor was filled each morning with a small fleet of yachts and pleasure boats.
- Ballroom with spring floor like the one at Hamilton Hall.
- Tennis courts and bowling alley.
- Sumptuous dining. At first, Celia’s mother cooked for the guests and was famous for her Apple Pandowdy and fish chowder. Later, there was a fine chef and baker and 50 waitresses in the dining hall with lace caps and full regalia.
Appledore Jigsaw Puzzle Menu
Childe Hassam with a jigsaw puzzle at Appledore
“For strolls along the shore path, among the wild roses, ladies carried fringed parasols… Romantic settings inspired poetry readings and decorous trysts.”
Sandpiper; Rosemary Thaxter.
Appledore luggage label
“Appledore House guests dressed for dinner, which was
announced by the band playing Gilbert & Sullivan. Wine
was enjoyed. After dinner, guests dispersed to the parlors
or the billiard room or sat on the piazza or wandered out
among the rocks to admire the ocean view.”
Sandpiper; The Life and Letters of Celia Thaxter. Rosamond Thaxter. 1967.
Celia’s friends would stroll over to her cottage from the nearby hotel for evenings of music, conversation, storytelling and poetry reading.
The Art of the Salon
“Artists who sang to her, or those who rehearsed their finest music on the piano or violin or flute, or those who brought their pictures and put them before her while she listened, were inspired to do for her what they could seldom do for any other creature.”
Annie Fields, Ed. The Letters of Celia Thaxter. 1896.
The Appledore pictures, advertisement, jigsaw puzzle menu, photographs, and luggage label are courtesy of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.
Editor’s Note: The Salem Athenaeum celebrates Celia’s Salon through September 23. The historic private library shares a common mission with Celia Thaxter: to encourage creativity and share literature, music and art. In the summers, like Celia, the Athenaeum enjoys a lovely garden and Friday Salons. Experience an ambiance of art and literature “in the key of sea;” Find them at 337 Essex Street, Salem, MA. Learn more at salemathenaeum.net.
PEM’s exhibition American Impressionist: Childe Hassam and the Isles of Shoals runs through November 6.
For more than a decade, Elaine von Bruns has curated many of the exhibitions at the Salem Athenaeum. She has been a newspaper columnist and a free-lance writer and illustrator, and has always loved the book arts and old books. Each show gives her the chance to explore the Athenaeum’s wonderful collections, and for each show she finds fascinating volumes, some of which haven’t been enjoyed since the 1700′s.