Tag Archives: great houses

My Dear Girl

I am absolutely charmed by the physical appearance of a recently-preserved “lost” letter from Paul Revere to his wife Rachel dated a few weeks after his famous April 1775 ride. Its existence has been known for some time, and it was published as a transcription in Elbridge Henry Goss’s Life of Colonial Paul Revere (1891), but the actual document had been presumed lost until very recently, when a box was donated to the Paul Revere House in Boston which included the letter, in a long-folded condition that showed its age. Now digitized and preserved by the Northeast Document Conservation Center and returned to the house to which it was first delivered, the letter is a visible symbol of the power of primary sources: it is one thing to know what a document says, it’s quite another to see the author’s handwriting. It’s much more intimate (and powerful), especially if the expression includes an endearment like “My Dear Girl” and proceeds to details like a request for linens and stockings. At the end of the letter Revere includes a note to his son, informing him that “It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother, and your self” and signing off  “Your loving Father, PR.”

Revere Letter

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Revere House 1930s

The Letter at the Northeast Document Conservation Center website, where you can see a sequence of images illustrating the preservation process; Paul and Rachel Revere and two 1930s images of their house: an etching by W. Harry Smith, Smithsonian Institution, and a linoleum engraving by Stanley Scott for the Federal Art Project, Boston Public Library.


The Last Days of the Loring House?

Perhaps because I grew up in a Shingle-Style cottage on the southern coast of Maine, I have always taken the style for granted, even now and here, living on the North Shore of Boston, where it also reigned in the last decades of the nineteenth century. The strident Federal architecture of Salem appealed to me much more when it came time to buy a house–not quite at war with nature but not really melding with it either. But now, just across the water in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, one of the most iconic Shingle cottages is apparently nearing its end: a house so harmonious with its surroundings yet so exacting in its details that even I can appreciate it. The Charles G. Loring house was built between 1881 and 1884 as a mid-career commission of the architect William Ralph Emerson (1833-1917), who is widely credited with originating what came to be known as the Shingle Style. The man who coined that term, Yale architectural historian Vincent Scully, calls the Loring House the very best of all the houses along this coast and considers that it may well be the finest surviving example of the Shingle Style, yet despite these and other weighty judgments, it may soon be taken down by its present owner, one of the co-founders of iRobot.

Loring house by Steve Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

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© Steve Rosenthal

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© Steve Rosenthal

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© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House 1969

Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

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Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

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Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: William Ralph Emerson’s “Plan of Principal Floor” of the Loring House, 1881

The house was built as a summer cottage by Charles G. Loring (1828-1902) on family land. Loring (like his father) has an amazing biography: he was a thrice-breveted Major-General of the Union army, the second time “for gallant and meritorious services at the battles of the Wildneress, Spottsylvania, and Bethesda Church and during the operation before Petersburg, Virginia” (Loring Genealogy). A passionate Egyptologist, he became one of the first trustees and curators at the newly-founded Museum of Fine Arts, Boston after the war, and then its first director. After his death in 1902 the estate was transferred to another old Boston family though its acquisition by Quincy Adams Shaw, one of the Museum’s major benefactors. It remained in the Shaw-Codman family for over a century, until the death of Mr. Shaw’s grandson, Samuel Codman, in 2008 (at age 100). After he inherited the house in the 1960s, Mr. Codman worked tirelessly to maintain it, apparently single-handedly, and I think you can see the impact of his care when you compare the photographs above. Even before Mr. Codman’s death, a group of “Friends” organized to raise funds in order to endow and preserve the house as a study property of Historic New England; very sadly, their fundraising goals fell short and consequently the house went on the market and was purchased first by several Loring descendants and then by Ms. iRobot. Her proposed “alterations” were deemed destructive by the Beverly Historic Commission, which imposed a one-year demolition delay that has now expired. An application sent to the Beverly Conservation Commission last week indicates the Loring House will be replaced by a larger structure (surprise).

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Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Art Institute of Chicago: Myron Miller photograph, 1969

Loring House Detail Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

All of my preservationist friends are desolate: their only consolation is that this house is very well-documented, inside and out. There are the Myron Miller photographs that I have showcased here, along with the beautiful images of the renown architectural photographer Steve Rosenthal, who provided his services pro bono to the Friends of the General George G. Loring House. Another reason why I never really appreciated the Shingle Style is its characteristic interiors, which always seemed a bit drab to me, but obviously I’ve been looking at the wrong Shingle Style houses. As Mr. Rosenthal’s photographs illustrate so well, the Loring House glows with light and features details that are most likely irreplaceable, but apparently also ephemeral.

Loring House Interior Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring by Steve Rosenthal interior

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring House Rosenthal Stair

© Steve Rosenthal

Loring Upstairs Rosenthal

© Steve Rosenthal

 


In Newport, Briefly

We are recently returned from a quick visit to Newport, Rhode Island, somehow refreshed and fatigued at the same time. My husband and I are both so busy at this time of the year that we don’t have much time to get away, so we could only steal a day and a night for this particular trip, which was not enough to do Newport justice. But it’s not far from Salem and we’ve both been there many times, so we just wandered about in the glorious weather. I always think there are at least three Newports– sailing Newport, Gilded Age Newport, and Colonial Newport—but I’m sure locals will tell you there are even more. With our limited time and my inclinations–we really focused on the latter, with a lot of eating and drinking thrown in—though we did start and end our day at the expansive, busy harbor.

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There are streets and streets of colonial clapboarded houses surrounding Trinity Church in Newport’s equally expansive historic district: I’m always struck by just how many structures have survived and their amazing condition. To me, the nouveau riche mansions on Bellevue Avenue pale in comparison: Newport’s wealth was well-established before the New York millionaires came to town.

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Despite its impressive historic infrastructure, Newport is not a museum fixed in time but rather a place where the physical past and the present are intermingled rather creatively. We were inspired by our inn, The Francis Malbone House (very highly recommended), which consists of a well-preserved 1760 house with a 1996 annex out back joined together by a mutable, lovely courtyard, to look for other examples of adaptive reuse and historically-sensitive additions. And we found many: I particularly liked the parking courtyard of the 1748 Billings Coggeshall House with its adjacent annex of offices. And even when the historic structure was not adapted, its foundation was preserved–as in the case of this hearth and chimneys nestled in the rear of a twentieth-century school.

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The Francis Malbone House: exteriors, interior public room and courtyard; the Billings Coggeshall House and courtyard; just one Newport foundation.

I think I should include one “cottage” in here, but it is a subtle one, which reads (at least to me) more New England than New York even though it was designed by the ultimate New York firm of McKim, Mead and White: the shingle-style Isaac Bell House, built in 1883 and pictured here at twilight. Love these chimneys!

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A Lost Lafayette Mansion

A few years ago I published the first of what could be many posts on the prolific Salem publisher Samuel E. Cassino, whose diverse publications encompassed several popular periodicals and more technical reference works (including 30 editions of the Naturalists’ Directory published between 1877 and 1936). In that post I included a cropped postcard of what I thought was his grand residence on lower Lafayette Street, but it turns out I was incorrect, as his great-grandaughter has sent along a family picture of this very impressive house, which was completely destroyed in the Great Salem Fire of 1914. I think the real Cassino house is the house next door to the Greek Revival structure I featured in my earlier post: both were located in the vicinity of 190-194 Lafayette Street and both were completely destroyed by the Fire. I am so grateful to have received this photograph as we don’t have many of the pre-Fire streetscape of Lafayette, which was turned into a pile of ash (and a “forest” of chimneys) on June 25, 1914. Literary references to the Cassino house always use the words “stately” and/or elegant, and as you can see, these were understatements!

Cassino house burned 1914 Salem Fire

Cassino Home in Salem-before and after

Cassino Estimate

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Photographs of 194 Lafayette Street before and after the Great Salem Fire of June 25, 1914, Blackburn Archive; Valuations of loss from the F.W. Dodge Company’s Report “Data on Burned District at Salem, Mass.”, Digital Commons, Salem State University; 194 (blue house) and 192 (white house) Lafayette Street today.

It was a beautiful house to be sure, but let’s not dwell too much on material loss. Mr. Cassino was a survivor: he was born in 1861 and was still living in Salem (on Savoy Road–much further down Lafayette Street) according to the 1940 Federal Census. His great-grandaughter recalls that he was greatly loved, especially by his grandchildren with whom he spent much time.

 


Sanctuary from Salem,1693

On Monday, yet another sparkling summer day, I drove over to Framingham to look at an old house which has a direct connection to Salem, having been built by refugees from the Witch Trials of 1692. The Peter and Sarah Clayes House, appropriately situated on Salem End Road, has been in a state of decline for quite some time, and there is an ongoing and apparently intensifying effort to save it and attain placement on the National Register of Historic Places. Both of my parents grew up in Framingham, my father very close to the Clayes house, but I don’t remember ever visiting it or even hearing about it when I went to visit my grandparents: it was only later–after I moved to Salem and became curious about all things Salem–that I first became aware of it. And when I first saw it a few decades ago it looked a lot better than it does now.

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Even in its present dilapidated state, the house doesn’t look very First Period: it has been extensively remodeled in several phases over its 300 year history (oddly there is no HABS report at the Library of Congress, but there is an inventory at MACRIS). As originally built by the Clayes after they fled Salem, it was a much smaller saltbox–and the center of a community of Salem exiles that came to include some 15 families in what was first known as “Salem Plain” and later as “Salem End”. For reasons that are a bit murky, Sarah Towne Bridges Clayes (or Cloyce, as she was known in Salem) managed to escape the fates of her sisters Rebecca Nurse and Mary Easty, who were among the 19 “witches” hanged on Gallows Hill in 1692. She too was arrested and imprisoned (in Ipswich, rather than Salem) but ultimately liberated through the combined efforts of her husband Peter and Deputy Governor Thomas Danforth, who had served as a magistrate in the early phase of the trials but apparently had serious regrets afterwards. Danforth had acquired large grants of land in the region west of Boston over the years, comprising what came to be known first as “Danforth’s  Farm” and later as Framingham, and presumably he offered the Clayes and their fellow refugees sanctuary from Salem. So even before the official pardons, public apologies, and the legislative restitution that were decreed in the aftermath of 1692, the Clayes House stands as physical symbol of all of the above–and hopefully will for quite some time.

The Sarah and Peter Clayes House Preservation Project

 


Georgians for Sale

I suppose it is time to stop obsessing about a now-roofless historic Salem house and redirect my attention to those with lovingly preserved roofs, in these cases, gambrel: all around me it seems as if Georgians are for sale. Here are three, two just around the corner from our house and one two streets over. The Salem real estate market seems very hot; I don’t expect them to last long. 40 Summer Street, which abuts our property in the back, was built in 1762 for one proverbial Salem ship captain, Thomas Eden. There are lots of great photographs of its interior in the listing, but if you want to see more, it is very prominently featured in one of my very favorite books, Samuel Chamberlain’s Salem Interiors (1950). When searching for photographs of the long-lost McIntire South Church which was situated across the street from my house, I found one which also included the Captain Eden House (then owned and occupied by the Browne family) in the Schlesinger Library at Harvard: this black and white photograph of Summer Street dates from the 1890s.

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Just a few doors down is 12 Broad Street, one of my very favorite houses in Salem. If I didn’t have a husband who wanted to go newer rather than older (why do architects always like boring bungalows?) then I would snap this house up myself. Its official plaque date is 1767 but I think that reflects a significant addition built on to a much older 17th century structure. The Neal House has seen a lot: World Wars, Civil War, Revolutionary War, French and Indian War, maybe even Witch Trials.

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105 Federal Street, on the other side of the McIntire Historic District, was built a bit after the Georgian colonial era but it certainly looks the part with its gambrel roof. It’s a charming little house, situated with its side to the street and with a sheltered courtyard garden out back. This house is now painted a very nice gray-green color, but for much of the nineteenth century it was known as the “red house”.

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Boscobel (American)

A few more road-trip posts—then it’s back to Salem and work: I’m prepping for two summer courses and have several scholarly projects on the back burner. Every time I am in the Hudson River Valley visiting my brother, I go to see one or more of the grand estates in the region. On this particular trip, I was looking forward to seeing two Gothic Revival houses in the southern part of the Valley: Washington Irving’s Sunnyside, and nearby Lyndhurst. However, I presumed too much; I happened to be passing through on a dreaded Monday when most museums are closed, these two house museums included. Next time. Proceeding north toward my brother’s house in Rhinebeck I passed by the grounds of another estate which I had not seen–and the gate was open, so to Boscobel I went. I have to admit to a certain snobbiness on my part regarding Boscobel; it’s never been high–or even on–my “must visit” list for several reasons. First of all, it’s a Federal house, built between 1804 and 1808 by Loyalist  States Dyckman (actually he died just after the foundation–his wife Elizabeth oversaw its completion). Now of course I love Federal architecture, but being from Salem I always assume that we have the best Federal houses right here: it’s Samuel McIntire or nothing for me! And as an English historian, the word “Boscobel” means only one thing to me: the English house where Prince Charles/Charles II hid out from Cromwell’s troops following the Battle of Worcester in 1851. So this Boscobel could only be a pale imitation–of either McIntire or the original. I also have a slight prejudice against historic houses that are transplanted, as this American Boscobel was:  it was originally built in the slightly-more southern Hudson hamlet of Montrose, but moved to its present location in Garrison in 1961 (in pieces!) after it was threatened by demolition by a Federal construction project. But all of these “reasons” were stupid: Boscobel is well worth seeing: it has been meticulously reconstituted and its present site is simply stunning, with beautiful grounds and one of the most striking Hudson views I have seen–just across from West Point.

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Boscobel: front, back (entrance from street), views from the house and river’s edge; herb garden and orangerie.

The interpretation of the house was also interesting–how it came to be and how it was reconstituted–particularly in regard to its furnishings. As a Loyalist, Mr. Dyckman had spent the Revolution in England and had bought lots of pieces while there, but Mrs. Dyckman seems to be have been more devoted to American furniture makers–including Duncan Phyfe. As all the furnishings were dispersed when the house went into decline from the late nineteenth-century on, its recreators had to either find original pieces or choose appropriate substitutes. It has been an ongoing process, but the house’s interior certainly gleams in perfect Federal fashion. I couldn’t take any pictures but the website seems to feature all of the rooms. The grounds were adorned with sculptures, the herb garden (though decidedly not in the right place) was in full bloom, and I got some more clues for my evolving research into in the relationship between English Royalists of the seventeenth century and American Loyalists of the eighteenth: altogether a very enlightening visit.

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Boscobel in pieces, c. 1960; the grounds today.


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