Nestled between busy Boston, Quincy, and Route 128, the town of Milton, Massachusetts still wears signs of its pastoral past. It’s an original streetcar suburb, but the Blue Hills drew prosperous Brahmins south to build country estates, and several are still standing, even thriving. Everywhere I go in the vicinity of Boston: north, west, south: I continue to be amazed at the legacy of nineteenth-century fortunes—and taste. Now it seems as if we still live amidst great wealth, but not so much taste. I drove down to Milton last week to see Historic New England’s latest acquisition, the Eustis Estate, where I spent all of my allotted time, but I could have also visited the Forbes House Museum or the Wakefield Estate. I did drive down Adams Street for a fleeting sight of the birthplace of President George H.W. Bush, but I was pretty focused on my singular destination: an amazing 1878 structure designed by the “Father of the Shingle Style”, William Ralph Emerson, set amidst subtly-shaped grounds designed by Ernest W. Bowditch.
Historic New England has spared no expense or consideration in its restoration and interpretation of the Eustis Estate, which it acquired in 2012, after three generations of the family owned and inhabited the house. You can access their tour here–and you should if you really want a curatorial interpretation of the house because I’m just going to give you an impression: never have I been more conscious of my architectural naiveté as when I stepped foot into this house! My first–and strongest—impression is oddly one of contradiction: of the solidness of the exterior masonry and interior woodwork with the overall airiness of the house, accentuated by the three-story Grand Hall and all those windows framing outside views. You can see the frame of the house, and the house also serves as a frame for the landscape in which it sits. Inside, everything is a juxtaposition of dark and light, the light coming from outside but also from the burnished details within.
As an Aesthetic structure, no surface is unembellished, and the architectural detail is almost overwhelming: I’m sure I overlooked many things and will have to return many times! The house’s many mantels are obvious focal points: the grand fireplace in the first-floor “living hall”, terra cotta masquerading as wood, is a symbolic tour-stopper. But everywhere there is detail to be considered: floor to ceiling and everywhere in between. I loved the coffered ceiling, the interior window shutters, the little “telephone cabinet”, the inter-connected pantries, the inter-connected bathroom, and the nursery rhyme tiles surrounding the nursery mantle. Just to mention a few details.
Wherever and whenever a considerable amount of money is spent in nineteenth-century Massachusetts, there is always a Salem connection, and that is the case with the Eustis Estate, which was built for young marrieds W.E.C. Eustis and Edith Hemenway Eustis on land given to them by Edith’s mother, Mary Tiletson Hemenway. Mrs. Hemenway was an energetic philanthropist whose activities were financed in great part by the wealth of her husband and Edith’s father, Salem-born Edward Augustus Holyoke Hemenway (1805-76). Mary herself had Salem roots, and the Hemenway Family Papers were deposited in the Phillips Library in Salem, which is of course now displaced to Rowley. The Hemenways’ stories are other stories, but also in part Salem stories. The estate’s landscape architect, Ernest Bowditch, represents another Salem connection as he was the grandson of the great Salem navigator Nathaniel Bowditch: and yes, the Bowditch Family Papers are also in the Phillips Library.
For another Emerson house: see this post. These photographs by Steve Rosenthal are all we have left of the Loring House, which was demolished in 2015.
July 28th, 2018 at 11:34 am
Fabulous! This house reminds me of a few of the earlier summer “cottages” in Newport, RI. When you consider the fact that all this was created without the help of power tools and machinery, I’m always in awe of the talent of the various craftsmen.
July 28th, 2018 at 11:37 am
Oh I know. Awe is the right word. This is truly a place to visit again and again.
July 28th, 2018 at 12:48 pm
The Eustis House is a monument to Victorian craftsmanship for sure, but its a pretty good bet that most of the interior millwork (certainly all the run moldings) was produced with steam-powered machinery.
July 28th, 2018 at 2:13 pm
Thanks Don—well this is why I suggest that everyone go to Historic New England’s Eustis site–they have all the craftsmen’s invoices and everything.
July 28th, 2018 at 12:42 pm
Thanks so much! It feels like we’ve been taken along on a little trip. You will be sorely missed next year. Is it possible you will send us a “Streets of London” blog? That would be a treat. Bon Voyage!
July 28th, 2018 at 2:12 pm
Thank you, Nanette–no worries; I’m not going for the whole year or semester–I’ll be popping back and forth.
July 28th, 2018 at 8:07 pm
Thanks for the interesting excursion to the Eustis House in Milton. What a magnificent property, still set amidst substantial acreage to provide the best views.
The interior woodworking is truly amazing. That first mantle reminds me of the one at the main reading room of the Massachusetts Historical Society in their present abode built in 1899 on Boylston Street, Boston. Remarkable workmanship…
July 28th, 2018 at 8:11 pm
I just caught Nanette’s comment about your going to London next year. How wonderful. I love London. Please keep up your blog from there. So many interesting houses (I particularly enjoy the smaller museums) and gardens.
God save the queen.
July 29th, 2018 at 4:38 pm
Wow, this house is stunning! Great photos.
July 31st, 2018 at 2:21 pm
Donna, you’ve made me cry all over again about the lose of the Loring house. What a heartbreak to willfully eradicate such a fine example of this style.
July 31st, 2018 at 3:40 pm
I know; I simply can’t imagine buying something only to destroy it; it’s absolutely inconceivable (and monstrous) to me!