History is indebted to Caroline Osgood Emmerton (1866-1942) who is responsible for preserving what we now call The House of the Seven Gables for future generations. Born in the building that now houses the Salem Inn, Caroline's grandfather was the wealthy philanthropist Captain John Bertram, and Caroline followed the family tradition of public service. By the age of twenty-eight, she was serving on the Charter Street Home board of directors (now, the Salem Hospital).
In 1907, as Salem welcomed a growing number of immigrants, Caroline spearheaded the drive to open a settlement house in the city to provide much-needed community services. The following year, she purchased the John Turner House with the idea of turning it into a museum. She would use the proceeds from tours to fund her settlement house, and to provide employment for young female college graduates.
In 1911, Caroline purchased the Hooper-Hathaway House and moved it to The Gables property. In 1924, she did the same with the Retire Beckett House—singlehandedly preserving three significant historic properties in Salem. In 1958, following Caroline's example, the managers of The Gables moved the birthplace of the author Nathaniel Hawthorne to the property.
Caroline was a pacifist and opposed the United States' involvement in World War I, serving as chairman of the Public Welfare Society. In the 1920s and 1930s, Caroline's attention turned to the Salem Fraternity (now, the Boys & Girls Club) and she became the first woman to serve on its board. She remembered each one of her charities in her will, and in December of 1999 the Salem Evening News named Caroline Emmerton its "Person of the Century."
Thanks to "Miss Emmerton," as Caroline Emmerton was known, visitors can see a reproduction of a typical Salem "Cent Shop" at The Gables. One of the few occupations open to women in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Cent Shop owners stocked everything from sewing supplies and sheet music to candy and snuff, usually working out of an "ell" attached to the family home.