Few, if any, tourists have ever laid eyes on the exposed posts and beams, wide pine floors, and hand-forged nails of the room tucked away on the second floor of the storied 17th-century Salem home.
But officials who manage The House of the Seven Gables, which is famous as the setting of a Nathaniel Hawthorne novel, say they’re ready to change that.
They want to finally reveal their “long-held secret,” opening the doors to the chamber to visitors for the first time.
To do it, they are asking for the public’s help and support in a thoroughly 21st-century way.
The House of the Seven Gables Settlement Association on Wednesday launched an online fund-raiser to help offset some of the costs associated with refurbishing the “largely unknown” room.
“It’s a pretty rare opportunity, because there aren’t a lot of houses from this time period that are still standing today and are open to the public,” said Kara McLaughlin, executive director of the association, in a telephone interview. “To find one of those houses that has a space inside that has never really been explored — it’s a very unique opportunity. That’s what makes it exciting.”
The mansion was first built in 1668 by John Turner, a sea captain from Salem.
It remained in the Turner family until 1782, when it was purchased at auction by Samuel Ingersoll, a captain who later died at sea and left the property to his daughter, Susanna Ingersoll.
In 1825, Susanna’s cousin, famed author Nathaniel Hawthorne, began visiting the house, which became the backdrop for his classic novel, “The House of the Seven Gables.”
The Upton family took over the property in 1883. By the early 1900s, the mansion changed hands again. It was purchased by Caroline Emmerton, a philanthropist and preservationist who worked to help the immigrant community settling at the time in Salem, according to the association’s website.
Emmerton restored the house to the way it appeared in the 1720s, tweaked it to reflect aspects of Hawthorne’s novel, and then opened it to the public as a museum. She used money raised from hosting tours of the house to fund her programs for immigrants.
“The House of the Seven Gables has gone through many iterations in its life,” said McLaughlin.
Today the flagship mansion is part of a property featuring several historically significant structures, including the house where Hawthorne was born. The collection of buildings is a national historic landmark.
The room at the mansion that has been hidden from view is called the “Dining Room Chamber,” located directly above the dining room on the floor below.
McLaughlin said the room, over generations and through various owners, had been used as a bedroom, a music and dance studio, and separated into smaller bedrooms and offices.
In recent decades, it has been used as a storage space, because the main beam supporting the room isn’t strong enough to accommodate the visiting public.
Work began this week to reinforce the beam, but more needs to be done to bring the room to life.
A second space, known formally as the Hall Chamber, but referred to by the association as the “Accounting Room,” will also undergo a facelift.
That room, which was divided in the early 20th century, doesn’t hold the same mystique as the Dining Room Chamber. But once restored to an earlier configuration, it will allow a better flow for tours of the property.
The project in its entirety is expected to cost $200,000, according to the association, which is hoping to raise $30,000 through their public online fund-raiser on generosity.com.
McLaughlin hopes to have the restoration work on both of the areas of the house completed by 2018, in time for the building’s 350th anniversary celebration.
McLaughlin said the association hasn’t made any decisions about what stories they want to tell in the two spaces. She said the association wants public input into what century visitors would most like to learn about when the project is complete.
“Maybe how it was a bedroom during the Turner time, or about [Emmerton’s] settlement movement, or do they want to hear about all of it?” she said.
Whatever they decide, McLaughlin expects that by opening up the space it will bring new life — and insight — into the mansion’s storied past.
“This is a very, very special house,” she said.Steve Annear can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.