The House of the Seven Gables once a "show place" in a small New England town, now presents little evidence of its former grandeur. Wind, sun, storm, and neglect left its sides, shingles, and chimney crumbling. Its gray look is mottled here and there with moss. The lattice fence surrounding it is in ruin. The lawn in front, and what must have been a spacious garden at the rear, long since have missed the care of the cultivator's hand. There in front, to the right of the imposing entrance, is a small door adjacent to a window of what obviously was once a shop.
The house reflects the unfortunate circumstances under which it was built some 160 years before by Colonel Pyncheon, one of the early Puritan settlers on the bleak New England coast.
The site upon which the house stood originally belonged to a man of poor circumstances named Matthew Maule. In the center of the site was a wonderful spring of sweet flowing water. Colonel Pyncheon would build his mansion on no other site. To obtain it he was instrumental in Matthew Maule's being charged with witchcraft, for which Maule was hanged. On the gallows, Maule cried out that the Pyncheons would forever be cursed.
No sooner had the cruel and grasping Colonel Pyncheon completed his beautiful and imposing House of the Seven Gables than he died of a strange death on the very day the townspeople had been invited to its opening.
The curse of Matthew Maule, some said, persists in plaguing the old house and its inhabitants. Now over a century and a half later, the sole family member inhabiting the old place is Hepzibah Pyncheon, an aging old maid. There is also a Mr. Holgrave, a daguerreotypist and artist, who rents upstairs apartments.
One day a pretty young girl arrives at the old house; she is Phoebe Pyncheon. Hepzibah is impressed with her niece's cheerful, wholesome, and helpful disposition and permits her to stay for a week or two.
Somehow, despite the cavernous darkness of the old mansion, Phoebe manages to lighten the gloom. Before Phoebe's arrival, Hepzibah had set aside what pride was left to the family and opened up a "one cent" shop.
At about this time, Hepzibah's brother Clifford arrives to make his home there. This poor, aging man seems to have the intellect of a child. Hepzibah's loving effort to restore her brother's health is futile. Phoebe then takes over, and Clifford seems to respond to the young girl's care. The old mansion reverts to its gloom, however, when Phoebe ends her visit and returns to her farm home.
At about this time, Judge Jaffrey Pyncheon, a wealthy man of the town who lives in a palatial country place, visits Hepzibah and demands to see Clifford. Hepzibah steadfastly refuses, but one day the Judge says that he must see Clifford or institute proceedings to have him committed to an insane asylum.
Clifford, says the Judge, knows of the whereabouts of documents which will give the Judge possession of a vast tract of land to the east in Maine. Hepzibah finally relents and ushers the Judge into the parlor where he sits down, with watch in hand, to impatiently await the arrival of Clifford from his upstairs chamber.
Hepzibah finds Clifford's chamber empty and frantically races downstairs to beg the Judge to help find him. But there, in the parlor, stands Clifford in a wild state of excitement pointing at the Judge's dead figure sitting in the chair.
Hepzibah and Clifford flee to the railroad station and board a train just ready to leave. Impulsively, Clifford and Hepzibah later leave the train at a deserted railway station many miles from the House of the Seven Gables.
Phoebe returns to the old mansion, now strangely silent, and locked shut. Holgrave admits her and informs her of the Judge's strange death. He begs Phoebe to give him a moment more before she calls the sheriff. He recalls the many pleasant hours they spent in the garden on her first visit, when he confessed his love for her. She confesses she is in love with him. At that moment, Clifford and Hepzibah return.
Subsequently the Judge's wealth is inherited by Phoebe, Clifford, and Hepzibah. Examination of the Judge's past suggests that he knew the circumstances of his rich uncle's death, and that he was responsible for Clifford's being imprisoned for the uncle's murder. Phoebe and Holgrave, who now confesses he was the last descendant of Matthew Maule, are pledged to be wed. With some regret, but with greater joy, they pack their belongings and go to the Judge's country place. The old house is left to its sad and tragic memories.