Year built: 1655
Style: Jacobean/Post Medieval
Built for: John Beckett
Moved to current site: 1924
The Retire Beckett house is the oldest building on the site. It was built in 1655 by John Beckett, who established the famous family of shipbuilders here in Salem. It is called the Retire Beckett House in memory of the most famous of the Beckett ship builders. It was originally located close to the water on Beckett Street less than a half a mile from here. To preserve the house from demolition, Caroline Emmerton had the house moved to its current location in 1924.
Today, our Museum Store occupies the first floor. While inside the building, look for “checking” or splitting in the oldest beams and note that at some point these were filled with plaster. There are two beams introduced in the modern era, probably after moving the house to this site in 1924. In the back room there are still some remnants of 18th century paneling and a cupboard around a restored fireplace.
While less prolific than his forefathers, Retire Beckett’s ships were masterpieces and usually attributed with being the “first” to accomplish great feats. He built the first ship to visit Arabia (Recovery), the first American yacht (Cleopatra’s Barge), and the Margaret was one of the first ships to visit Japan. His ship, Mount Vernon, is best known for brazenly outrunning a French fleet and was depicted in many portraits by Salem Maritime painter, Michele Felicé Corné. Due to these noteworthy achievements, his family’s homestead bears his name.