Then & Now: Five Score of Fore at Kernwood
One of the old estates of North Salem remains intact but has been transformed into a world class golf course.
As Salem expanded during the 19th century, most of the farms and estates of the Northfields or North Salem were either subdivided or incorporated into the two large cemeteries.
One large estate did, however, remain separate. The estate of Col. Francis Peabody of some 166 acres has remained intact from the time it was laid out in the 1840s.
Col. Francis Peabody, the son of one of the wealthiest merchants in America, was a powerful force in Salem and left a lasting legacy. As a young man, he passed on a college education in order to concentrate on his interest in chemistry and mechanical engineering.
In his home laboratory, he commenced studies on the chemical and mechanical processes for the production of lead. At the same time, he was an artillery commander for the Massachusetts Militia.
In 1825, he was promoted and received a commission as a colonial in the Massachusetts Militia. While there, he helped organize the largest and last muster and sham fight exercises ever held in this area in 1826. This was the last exercise under the old militia rules that required all males within military age be enrolled and mustered. This took place along the fields bordering the old road to Lynn near Tapley’s Brook in what was then Danvers.
Shortly after this, Peabody resigned and dedicated himself to laboratory work in refining the processes and equipment used in lead manufacturing. He put his expertise into practice in his Forest River Lead Company that became very successful producing white lead for a variety of uses.
Not content to just stay with a successful company, he continued to learn and experiment in a variety of fields. A byproduct of this restless pursuit of
education was his willingness to encourage and provide lectures to the people of Salem and Essex County.
In 1827, he lectured on steam locomotion, demonstrating it with his own personally built models. In 1828, he was instrumental in the formation and subsequent development of the Salem Lyceum where he acted as an officer as well as lecturer on numerous occasions.
In 1833, Peabody built a paper mill in Middleton that produced high quality book papers. At the same time, he pursued the refining of sperm and whale oil, the manufacturing of candles as well as the construction of a linseed oil mill in Middleton.
As he pursued these various successful businesses he also imported all the resources necessary on his ships and, in turn, transported his products to customers in Europe. In all these pursuits Peabody invariably came up with improvements in the development or production. He rarely pursued patents, being content to just develop the best product.
Throughout this period, Col. Peabody and his wife and growing family first lived at 380 Essex St. in a brick mansion designed by McIntire. From there, they moved to 136 Essex St. the latter site of the Cadet Armory. The growing Peabody family lived here for a number of years.
Peabody developed an interest and expertise in architecture. His views and suggestions are still seen today in Salem. He is credited with the design and interior of the First Church on Essex Street as well as the layout and
buildings of the Harmony Grove Cemetery that he was instrumental in establishing in 1837.
In 1844 he purchased a ‘country’ estate of 166 acres in the area previously called Horse Pasture Point in North Salem on the banks of the Danvers River. He called his estate, Kernwood. In the middle of the land he had constructed a Gothic Revival Mansion of his design. He also designed a masonry archway leading up to it as well as barns and cottages for caretakers. His mastery of the decorative arts led him to design and build furniture for the mansion as well as musical instruments.
The Peabody family lived here for many years. Francis Peabody continued his work from here, always experimenting and learning. He built two windmills on the property; one for flour and the other to pump water for the entire estate. While pursuing his interest in linseed, he studied flax and learned of a high quality shrub in India, part of which was treated as a refuse. He bought a quantity and constructed a building on the Kernwood grounds to experiment with this shrub. From his experiments and development of machinery, he was able to produce jute fiber used in ropes, bags and rugs as well as other products. He soon had another thriving factory making jute.
In addition to his businesses and inventions, Peabody also maintained an active involvement in the intellectual life of Salem and was elected to the post of President of the Essex Institute in 1865. Through his efforts, he was able to save the First Meeting House in Salem from destruction. At his own expense he had the building disassembled and moved to the grounds of the Essex Institute where it remains today. On a trip to England he met with his cousin, the philanthropist George Peabody, where he lamented the fading of the Marine Society due to the lack of members and money and was given a gift of $150,000 to preserve their collections in what would become the Peabody Museum.
Col. Peabody died in 1867, and his five surviving children remained at Kernwood for a number of years. His son Samuel was the last of his children to live in the mansion. In 1911, he sold the estate to General Horace Sargent of Boston. In 1913, Sargent sold the estate to three Boston businessmen led by Louis Kirstein, one of the original investors in Filene’s Dept. Store. Kirstein, along with his partners, Joe Liebman and Al Kaffenburg, moved to convert the property into the first greater Boston golf club organized by golfers of the Jewish faith.
They hired Donald Ross to design the course. Ross later became famous in golf circles as a golf course designer of some 400 courses across the country laying the groundwork for today’s golf industry. He is considered by golfers to have been the Michelangelo of golf. He is most associated with Pinehurst Resort in North Carolina where he worked for most of his career.
The Peabody mansion was adapted for use as the clubhouse. The barns and cottages were adapted for golf equipment and staff housing. The arch designed and built by Francis Peabody remains at the entrance and has become a symbol of the club.
The course layout called for a large amount of landscaping and tree removal in laying out a nine-hole course which was completed and opened in 1914. Very soon after opening, as membership grew, the club decided to add another nine holes to make for an 18-hole course that spread on both sides of Kernwood Street. The second nine holes were completed in 1918. Even though Donald Ross had already moved on to Pinehurst, he completed the design of the 18 holes. According to Jack Nicklaus as quoted in the World Golf Hall of Fame website, "His stamp as an architect was naturalness." Ross created very challenging courses using the natural contours of the land and kept major earth moving to a minimum.
In the 1930s, there was a major fire in the clubhouse/Peabody Mansion that destroyed much of the upper floors. The remaining first floor portion of the house was saved and incorporated into a new single-floor clubhouse. This clubhouse was later remodeled in 1998 into today’s clubhouse that still includes parts of the first floor of the Peabody Mansion. Over the years, the other buildings on the northeast corner of the grounds have seen some additions and alterations for use by the club but still give us a view of the 1844 buildings.
Kernwood, with few alterations, remains essentially as it was laid out a 100 years ago. It has remained a private member owned club that, on occasion, has hosted state level tournaments as well as numerous charitable events over the years. It is considered one of the great courses in Massachusetts.
During the winter months, when the snows lay claim to the grounds, it is a popular spot for snow sledding and boarding.