The novel begins:
Halfway down a by-street of one of our New England towns stands a rusty wooden house, with seven acutely peaked gables, facing towards various points of the compass, and a huge, clustered chimney in the midst. The street is Pyncheon Street; the house is the old Pyncheon House; and an elm-tree, of wide circumference, rooted before the door, is familiar to every town-born child by the title of the Pyncheon Elm.
The Pyncheon family actually existed and were ancestors of American novelist Thomas Pynchon. Hawthorne, however, did not base the story on a real family and was surprised that several "Pynchon jackasses" claimed a connection. He considered changing the fictional family's name or adding a disclaimer in the preface, though no such edits were made.
The House of the Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts — today a museum accompanying a settlement house — was at one time owned by Hawthorne's cousin, Susanna Ingersoll, and she entertained him there often. Its seven-gabled state was known to Hawthorne only through childhood stories from his cousin; at the time of his visits, he would have seen just three gables due to architectural renovations. Reportedly, Ingersoll inspired Hawthorne to write the novel, though Hawthorne also stated that the book was a work of complete fiction, based on no particular house.