Samuel McIntire

Samuel McIntire (1757-1811), American builder and furniture maker, was the most representative craftsman in New England in the late 18th century.

Samuel McIntire was born in Salem, Mass., and his career was summarized in his obituary in the Salem Gazette on Feb. 12, 1811: "Mr. McIntire was originally bred to the occupation of a house wright (his father's trade), but his vigorous mind soon passed the ordinary limits of his profession, and aspired to the highest departments of the interesting and admirable science of architecture…. To a delicate native taste in this art, he had united a high degree of that polish which can only be acquired by an assiduous study of the great classical masters; with whose works, notwithstanding their rarity in this country, Mr. M. had a very intimate acquaintance."

McIntire's evolution from artisan-carpenter through master craftsman and professional sculptor to the position of head architect of an "office" (consisting in this case mainly of his son and his brothers) can be traced by stylistic analysis of works attributable to him. The earlier (1782) parts of the Pierce-Nichols House in Salem, which McIntire designed from the half-century-old Builder's Treasury of Batty Langley, are relatively naive in conception. However, growing refinement is visible in the later (1801) woodwork in the hall, east parlor, and chamber of the house. The Pingree House (1804) in Salem reveals decorative and spatial subtleties suggesting the influence of Charles Bulfinch.

McIntire stamped Salem with his personality; the stylistic standards and character of the town's architecture were established in his shop. In Sidney Fiske Kimball's words (1940): "Salem at the end of his life presented a very different aspect from its appearance when he began his work. The churches and public buildings had been rebuilt or remodelled from his design…. rows of tall stately mansions, a great number from McIntire's hand, lined Essex Street, Federal Street, and Washington Square. That was no idle phrase when the town clerk called Samuel McIntir…. 'the architect of Salem."'

In 1792 McIntire, who had never left his native town, submitted a design for the national capitol. Though unsuccessful, it was an indication of how times were changing, so that a man thoroughly in the tradition of anonymous artisanship could now assert individuality and make his art a means of personal expression, fame, and fortune as never before.

McIntire's achievement was recognized by his contemporaries. "This day," wrote Salem diarist William Bentley on hearing of McIntire's death, "Salem is deprived of one of the most ingenious men it had in it." And on his tombstone McIntire was recorded as "distinguished for Genius in Architecture, Sculpture and Musick."


Further Reading on Samuel McIntire

Sidney Fiske Kimball rediscovered McIntire in his American Architecture (1928) and later devoted a special monograph to him, Samuel McIntire, Carver: The Architect of Salem (1940). Decades of research were summarized in Benjamin W. Labaree, ed., Samuel McIntire: A Bicentennial Symposium 1757-1957 (1957).