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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 on Essex Street as well as the layout and
buildings of the 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 .

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.

, 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.



SalemEats February 05, 2012 at 02:18 PM
What a beautiful building it was.
William Legault February 05, 2012 at 03:56 PM
Many of my friends from youth did some caddy time there. I recall watching Jim Rice of the Red Sox play a few holes on that course before we were chased off. Rice hit the golf ball with just as much authority as he hit a baseball.
Jack Carver February 05, 2012 at 06:38 PM
I too caddied at Kernwood back when it was a donald Ross course. I believe the 3 business man tried to acquire the property first but the Peabody children or the City of Salem was against it, The 3 business man used Horace Sargent to purchase the property for them and transfer it over to them, It was quite the scandal back then. Mr Peabody also had green houses located where the 7th hole is now. The original pro shop did burn down that was located at the original first tee. There was a fire in the kitchen in the 1970's that started in the dumpster after a New years eve party. If it wasn't for the Carmalite nuns the entire building would have been burned to the ground, The fire in the dumpster burned the phone lines first severing the fire alarm. The Nuns up early saw the fire from the Convent and called the Fire department. the The Original mansion was torn down in the late 50's do to the rooms being to small to be practical. There was a gate keepers cottage attached to the Arch where the gate keeper, his wife and their little girl lived , The house was also torn down. I do have many photos of the Estate but not on my computer sorry.
Jerome Curley February 06, 2012 at 04:48 AM
Interesting info, I hadn't read about the contentious sale. Do you recall where you read it? I had the pleasure of getting a tour from the very gracious General Manager, Tim Lynch, who pointed out various places where additions were made to the original mansion which was incorporated into the new building and not torn down. The number of additions and expansions have certainly changed the original building footprint though. The photo above shows one of the exterior doors of the original house now being used within the building. I'd love to see the photos you have. It's actually pretty easy to digitize them if you have a scanner. Thanks for sharing your memories.
Jack Carver February 08, 2012 at 12:11 AM
I didn't read it in a book, Just stories past down through generations in my family, Didn't know for sure till you posted about the details on the sale. But now it seems to fit. I will look for the photos, I do know there was a Gate house for the salt water pond on what is now the 6th hole, I laundry Cottage on the Ladies 9th hole, A black smiths shop by the barn. I believe the stone flour wheel is still on the grounds covered by weeds.
Jerome Curley February 08, 2012 at 12:42 AM
Great photo of booklet you added. Thanks for sharing such rich oral history information. Any info on where the Jute factory was?
Jack Carver February 15, 2012 at 07:09 PM
If I had to guess I would say it was located in the biggest barn, at the end facing the Kernwood marina.

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