PEABODY, Mass. — A centuries-old house named for a victim of the Salem Witch Trials recently sold to a California family with a passion for history, even amid doubts its namesake ever actually lived there.
The historic home at 348 Lowell St., in this city adjacent to Salem, sold to Barbara Bridgewater and her husband, Christopher Mendez, of Huntington Beach, California, last month for $600,000.
Bridgewater said she and her family enjoy visiting historic sites and bought the house, called the “John Proctor” house, with the hope of someday opening it to the public.
Proctor was accused of witchcraft and hanged in 1692. However, a September 2017 report by William "Bill" Flynt, architectural conservator, estimates the house with his name on it was likely built some 35 years later.
The report was based on tests conducted on a sampling of timbers in the house.
Kelly Daniell, curator for the Peabody Historical Society and Museum, later discovered records of the purchase of building materials such as nails, shingles and wood, by Thorndike Proctor, John Proctor's son, around the same time.
"We'll never know 100 percent what the construction materials were for, but based on the dendrochronology report and other site history ... we think we nailed it down," she said. "The house appears to have been constructed over many years, potentially beginning in the 1720s.
Joe Cipoletta, a real estate agent who sold the six-bedroom house, questions that account. He said the report was based on insufficient wood samples, and a record of deeds clearly traces the house’s history to the Proctor family.
“You're never going to find a deed for John Proctor actually owning it because, as history tells us, Proctor leased it,” he said.
Yet, local experts seem fairly certain that while John Proctor did lease the land later purchased by his descendants, the house itself was built later. In recent weeks, local historians have expressed concern that its new owners weren’t aware of that.
“I am really happy to see it with new owners who are going to treat it with the same love and care. … I was just concerned that they fully understood what they were buying, that's all," said Emerson "Tad" Baker, a Salem State University professor and historian.
“It's an amazing house, no matter when it was built,” he said. “Really it's in quite good shape.”
The home was previously owned by Marion Raponi, who died Oct. 8 at the age of 90. She and her family had lived there since 1968.
Daniell said she sat down with the new owners this week to talk about the house’s history, as well as a possible partnership with the historical society. Daniell said she was happy to find the new owners aware of the report, which their agent had shared.
Part of the confusion regarding John Proctor's actual ties to the house, she said, lay in "perpetuated misinformation" and "excitement.”
Daniell described the house as “a record of the lives of the Proctor family after the Witch Trials."
Proctor wasn’t the only member of his family accused in the witchcraft hysteria -- so were his wife and children. However, he was the only one among them to be executed.
"The Proctor family didn't run away" after the Witch Trials, Daniell said. "There were four to five Proctor homes, all in that area that is called Proctors Crossing. You can absolutely call that the Proctor house because generations of Proctors lived and died in that house."
The story of their lives, she added, is “a tale we're still working out, and we are excited to have the family on board with us to tell that tale.”
Kelsey Bode writes for The Salem News. She can be reached at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @Kelsey_Bode