Tag Archives: Historic Houses

September, September

I love September: the cooler days and nights, the colors of late-summer flowers, the light, which can be both hazy and very, very clear. And then there’s that back-to-school feeling which I have experienced every year of my life with the exception of a few years ago, when I took a fall sabbatical. It’s a bit different this year, of course, with all of my classes online, but I still got that anxious/excited feeling on the first day of classes this week. Online teaching cannot compete with face-to-face instruction in my opinion, but it can “personal”, in the sense that you are staring right into the close faces (and homes) of your students; pre-packaged presentations can be more thematic and thoughtful than those which are delivered in person, especially with my conversational style. I put a lot of effort into structuring my online courses this summer to compensate for the slapdash efforts of last semester when we had to make rather quick transitions, so I think that my students will be getting a good mix of lecture, discussion, and writing. Still, with all of that said, I miss going back to school in person. But our home is a lot calmer now with the big kitchen renovation completed (big reveal next week: it’s still a bit of a mess), and it’s a good place to teach and write: I am very fortunate. I worked pretty steadily all summer, so I treated myself to a FOUR-day Labor Day Weekend, and the weather was GLORIOUS, as you can really see (I think) in these photos of New Hampshire, Maine, and Salem.

My long Labor Day Weekend: at the Wentworth Coolidge Mansion in Portsmouth on Saturday;  York’s McIntire Garrison (+my Dad) and Jefferds Tavern and some Cape Neddick and Ogunquit Houses on Sunday, on the When and If, the 1939 yacht of General Patton, on Tuesday night: it sails out of Salem in the summer and Key West in the winter.


Delaware River Towns

With the new book contract, I won’t be traveling anywhere for quite a while so I guess our trip down to New Jersey last week was my last road trip! My husband is from the Jersey shore, and so we go down once or twice a year. I’m not really a beach person, so in the summers, I generally take the days that we are there to explore and come home for dinner with everyone: I think my husband’s family thought this was odd at first but now they seem quite adjusted to my behavior. I’m just very curious about Jersey: it’s one of those states I have always driven through and seldom explored thoroughly, and there’s a lot to see. This time I was set on visiting Lambertville on the Delaware River, just about due west from where we were on the Shore, and I also wanted to go south (and west) to the other Salem, New Jersey, to see the Nicholson House: I made it to the former but not the latter, so next time. But I thoroughly enjoyed Lambertville, a really cool historic city which is also the antiques hub of New Jersey, as well as its adjacent towns on both sides of the Delaware River. This is a perfect road trip if you are not too far from the region: just drive up NJ Route 29 from Trenton to through Lambertville to Frenchtown, then cross over to Pennsylvania, and travel south along Route 32 through New Hope to the Washington Crossing Historic Park. Here’s my trip.

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20200628_104548How perfect is Lambertville? Clean, every storefront filled, an interesting array of houses, perfect SIGNAGE, and city-council candidates who run on a platform of stopping overdevelopment!

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20200628_120911Still in New Jersey, heading north on 29 past the John Prall House and Mill, now a wonderful public park, into Frenchtown.

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20200628_143358Route 32 in Pennsylvania, past the Thompson-Neely House, where Washington’s troops waited to cross over the river prior to the Battle of Trenton, into Upper Makefield, site of the Washington Crossing Historic Park, ending up back in Jersey at the Johnson Ferry House. Obviously there was a lot more to see in Buck’s County, but I had to make it back to the Shore for dinner!


Lupines & Lindsay Road

What a bright and glorious June: quite the contrast to the dark and challenging time we find ourselves in. I’m in York Harbor for most of it, gardening, reading, taking long walks: it feels far from the maddening crowd. I feel very fortunate: my only concerns are whether or not the gardens are getting enough water, both in Salem and York, and what’s happening in our evolving kitchen renovation in the former—thankfully my working husband is managing that, and he’s probably seeing to the garden as well. That’s just a small pocket garden so not too much time or effort: here we have gardens spread out over a much larger area so it’s a bigger task, but still a pleasurable one. This is context for my post today, which is not going to be the product of rather of deep thought or research, but rather simply existing in a beautiful place: flowers and houses shot while gardening (indirectly) and walking. My father and I were driving to the dump with all of our lawn and garden refuse last when we came upon a field of lupines, the perfect (with roses) June flower. What a gift: so I thought I would share it here. This is the way lupines are supposed to look, not one or two or three or even fifteen in a cultivated garden, but a field:

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20200610_122508Lupines in a field on Route 91 in York, Maine.

More eye candy: some of my favorite houses on my favorite street in York, Lindsay Road. This is a way that runs from the center of York Village to the river, and though it’s not going to be apparent from my pictures, there is in fact some architectural diversity on this old street: there are “colonials”, old and new, a perfect Federal, a Greek Revival or two, some modern “country club” houses (as the golf club of the York Golf and Tennis club is adjacent, and even a bungalow. It’s a great street, ending up (if you’re coming from the Village), at John Hancock’s Wharf and Marshall’s Store.

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20200613_125723Lindsay Road, York, Maine.


Mr. Berry’s Portfolio

The pen-in-hand sketching architect is one of my favorite perspectives of Salem’s material landscape, and there were quite a few, from the 1870s on. Salem was an important design source, from the Centennial through the height of the Colonial Revival in the 1920s. I recently discovered a slim volume of hand-drawn houses by a young architect from southern Maine, William E. Berry, which does not contain any Salem houses but is nonetheless so completely charming that I wanted to feature it: I love his drawings, which are much more impressionistic than measured, as well as his captions—even his chosen fonts! I was not surprised to learn that he was a friend and colleague of Arthur Little, another architect who sketched old buildings along the New England coast for inspiration: if you spend an hour or so looking at Little’s sketches in Early New England Interiors (1878) and Berry’s Pen Sketches of Old Houses (1874) you will be plunged into the world of the young New England architect of the era, engaging with the design details all around him (unfortunately I don’t think there are any similar volumes by her, although it would be interesting to compare if there were).

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Barry 3The “OLD Mansion” above is the Sewall House or Coventry Hall in York, Maine, my hometown: growing up in a large shingle house in the Harbor, this was always my touchstone for what a “proper” house should look like.

Barry 4 (2)Can anyone tell me about this house in Saco, Maine?

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Grove HallWOW. This is (was) the “Dearborn House” in Grove Hall, in Boston. You can read more about this amazing house here, or at least the search for more information about this amazing house. The photograph is by A.H. Folsom, c. 1868, Boston Public Library via Digital Commonwealth.

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Barry 6 (2) The Tufts House in Medford, an unknown (???) Boston house, and some exterior and interior details, including amazing “portable paneling”. Mr. Berry also went down south, but I am not going with him.


Sisters in Service: Salem 1918

When your focus is on historical women, as mine has been for these 2020 #salemsuffragesaturday posts, sometimes you find their stories are somewhat segregated from what is going on at a particular time, and sometimes it is clear that their stories are absolutely integral and central to what is going on at the time. Salem’s experience of the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 is illustrative of the latter case: nurses were not only on the front lines of this strike; they constituted primary care. And there were simply not enough professional nurses to go around in the context of both war and contagion, particularly in the panic months of September and October. Salem was actually well-positioned to meet the challenges of a contagious epidemic: it had a brand new, state-of-the-art hospital with its own nursing program and several charities which focused on “public health nursing”: the Woman’s Friend Society (still thriving today) operated a “District Nurse” (later Visiting Nurse) program under the direction of Superintendant Miss Pauline Smith, and the Committee on Prevention of Tuberculosis had an “Instructive Nurse”, Miss Teresa Trapeney, on staff. The City had been battling the “Great White Plague” for quite some time, but it had to supplement its forces to deal with the “Spanish Flu”.

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20200326_114532The 1910 Associated Charities of Salem Annual Report in 1910 features a rendering of the new Salem Hospital on Highland Avenue, which was opened in 1917; Boston Daily Globe advertisement, October 2, 1918; the Woman’s Friend Society on Hawthorne Boulevard.

Before I delve into that response, a few words about the nature and mortality of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, in general and in Salem. There have been quite a few references to it over the past few weeks, as people naturally want a historical precedent for any crisis, but many of these references have been incorrect, even wildly incorrect. For example, President Trump’s March 24 assertion thatYou can’t compare this [COVID-19] to 1918 where close to 100 million people died. That was a flu, which — a little different. But that was a flu where if you got it you had a 50/50 chance, or very close, of dying. Maybe the 100 million estimate can be overlooked as global mortality estimations are all over the place—everywhere from 20 million to 100 million—but that mortality rate assertion is ridiculous: the real number is in the neighborhood of 2.5%. The president’s sloppy statement misrepresents both the nature of the threat and the heroic efforts that were made to combat it: it is dehumanizing. I’ve NEVER understood the vagueness of the general mortality numbers until I delved into the research for this post: it is very clear from the Massachusetts records that there was both epidemic influenza as well as influenza-triggered respiratory diseases, predominately pneumonia, in 1918. Some accounts and estimates only include the primary category; others include both: these figures from 1917-1918 illustrate the connection between the two diseases and their notable increase over the year.

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This same source, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ annual reporting of the state’s vital statistics for 1918, lists 151 deaths from influenza and 102 for pneumonia in Salem for 1918, but this is an under-representation of the threat: the daily papers report as many as 1500 cases during some days in late September. Another factor which likely bears on all of the Massachusetts statistics is the fact that the Board of Health did not rule influenza a “reportable disease” until October 2, well into the epidemic. The Annual Report of the Salem Hospital for 1918 notes the 40% increase in patients over the year, and offers the assertions that a larger increase might have been made if during the Influenza epidemic in September and October, it had been possible to secure additional nurses to replace those who were ill. This increase affords conclusive proof of the claim of the hospital authorities that it was not meeting the needs of the community. Salem Hospital could not meet the needs of its community in the fall of 1918 not only because it had insufficient nurses: many of the nurses who were on staff, in addition to physicians, came down with influenza themselves, and so the decision was made to establish a separate, emergency hospital to limit the spread of the contagion. Tent cities sprung up all over eastern Massachusetts in the fall of 1918, but in Salem one gets the impression that that was never a consideration: this was only four years after the Great Salem Fire—which prompted the establishment of several tent cities—after all. I can’t determine whether they were asked or they volunteered, but the Sisters of St. Chretienne, recently established in the former Loring Villa in South Salem, offered up their newly-expanded building as the emergency influenza hospital, and themselves as nurses. Consider their situation: they themselves had been displaced from their Convent-Noviate on Harbor Street by the Fire in 1914, had purchased and overseen the expansion and transformation of the residential Loring Villa into a school, and had just opened that school when the epidemic hit! Only their fellow St. Chretienne sisters across the Atlantic found themselves in a more challenging situation, in the midst of the major war zone of World War I.

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20200327_145600Influenza tent hospitals in Lawrence (top two–including the “mask room”: they had MASKS then!) and Brookline (more masks on display), September 1918, Lawrence History Center Digital Collections and Brookline Historical Society; The St. Chretienne Academy in South Salem, now part of the South Campus of Salem State University, served as Salem’s emergency influenza hospital in the fall of 1918, Salem State University Archives and Special Collections.

Both education and health care were encompassed within the mission of the Sisters of St. Chretienne, and their fellow sisters from Salem’s other Catholic orders, the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception and the Sisters of Notre Dame, also served as nursing aides during that fevered fall of 1918. The situation called for a sacred-secular collaboration, as the Sisters were joined by the Woman’s Friend Society and its District Nurses as well as individual Salem women answering Governor Samuel McCall’s call that able-bodied people with any medical training volunteer their services. After several intense weeks in late September and early October, the influenza “crest” (rather than curve) appeared to be subsiding—or at least that was the story in the press—but by years’ end, it appeared to be on the rise yet again: in Salem, Miss Julia E. Pratt, the matron of The Seamen’s Widow and Orphan Association on Carpenter Street, found that the majority of her charges were infected with the persistent influenza, and across Massachusetts, the call went out once again: to women. 

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Orphans CollageBoston Daily Globe: September 30, October 9, December 20 & 23, 1918.


Salem Needs a Concord Museum

This past Sunday was a sparkling sunny day with newly-fallen snow, and as I was in a Little Women frame of mind, I decided to drive over to Concord to see all of its historic sites, starting with the Orchard House, of course. I’ve seen everything before but I go back again and again, seeing new things every time I return, and then there is also shopping and major architectural envy-touring in this old town, which is rich in more ways than one! Everyone seemed to be out walking or cross-country skiing, so I had the sites to myself, but for some reason I spent the most time in the one that actually had the least to offer: the Concord Museum. Don’t get me wrong: the Concord Museum is a great institution (see glowing commentary below) but it is in transition right now, and has very few rooms open. It’s a museum that has always been dedicated to the interpretation of all of Concord’s history in a professional and educational manner, and as such they are in the midst of restructuring their exhibitions—new/old spaces will open up over this year and next month they will have the new Paul Revere exhibition on view: Paul Revere: Beyond Midnight.

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20200119_132630Just some of the charms of Concord, Massachusetts: the Alcott Orchard House, the Old Manse, Hawthorne’s Wayside, the Emerson House, and the Concord Museum. (Every time I see Hawthorne’s Concord House, it reinforces how much he disliked his native city, as it is the most un-Salem house I’ve ever seen!)

Despite the obvious differences between the suburban, wealthy enclave of Concord, and the more densely-settled and diverse city of Salem, the two old settlements are similar in terms of their heritage resources: both played important roles in the American Revolution, both had very vibrant reform movements and intellectual milieus in the nineteenth century, both claim Hawthorne, both were key influences in the Colonial Revival movement of the twentieth century. Because of their perceived importance in American history, both have a landscape of heritage sites and important collections, and a federal acknowledgement of such in the form of a National Historic Site/Park. But two developments shaped Salem’s role as a “historical” city that differentiated it from that of Concord: 1) the comprehensive commodification of the Witch Trials and their tenuous connection to Halloween; and 2) the demise of the Essex Institute, which was Salem’s “Concord Museum”.

Historic massachusetts (3)The emphasis is on HOMES and MANSIONS for Concord and Salem on Ernest Chase Dudley’s 1964 map of Historic Massachusetts, Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library. No Witches (but Witch City of course).

I’ve written about Salem’s embrace of the profit potential of the Witch Trials time and time again so I’m not going to repeat myself: it remains an absolute mystery to me why everyone involved in this industry does not realize—much less acknowledge—that they are trading in tragedy and how a horrible statue of television witch situated in our major major historical and political square mocks the victims of 1692 in perpetuity. But that’s just me, apparently. So let’s move on. At some point, the heritage-focused citizens of Concord realized that they had too many institutions, too many attractions, too many stories: there was a need for a gateway to their town’s history. Salem had always had its gateway: the Essex Institute, which had collected, interpreted, and disseminated its history—all of its history—for more than a century. Concord did not have an Essex Institute, so it needed to develop the Concord Museum, which has served, and flourished, as the gateway to the Concord of the Revolution, Thoreau, Hawthorne, and more. When the Peabody Essex Museum absorbed the Essex Institute in the early 1990s, Salem ceased to have an institution which introduced and interpreted its cumulative history—and oriented its many visitors—in a comprehensive and professional manner. Salem is a historic “Gateway City”, but it has no historic Gateway. This has been clear to me for a while, but it became crystal clear when I was in the midst of the few new galleries that Concord Museum did have open the other day, most especially its introductory exhibition entitled Concord: at the Center of Revolution. “Revolution” is used in a broader sense here, not simply as a reference to the American Revolution but also to the “social and intellectual revolution of the mid-1800s” of which Concord was a center, thus leading it to “symbolize devotion to liberty, individualism, equality and democracy.” And because the emphasis here is on interpretation and representation, only a few objects from the Museum’s collections were chosen to introduce visitors to Concord’s history: an ancient spearhead, a revolutionary powder horn, a looking glass that belonged to an enslaved man who fought in the Revolution, the copper tea kettle that Louisa May Alcott used when she nursed the Civil War wounded, and more. These objects were carefully chosen—curated—and I immediately thought who does that in Salem? Where does that happen in Salem? What 7 or 8 or 9 objects could represent all of Salem’s history, and where would we find them?

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The Museum’s gateway role extends beyond its walls: it features Concord itineraries and self-guided tours and has a formal educational partnership with the Lowell and Lawrence school systems, bringing students to its galleries and new Rasmussen Education Center through the “Paul Revere’s Ride” fund. With its recent expansion, it has expanded its interpretation to include Native American history, women’s history, and African-American history. The mission, the mandate, and the message seem to be very clear: Concord’s history is more than that of Minutemen. Certainly Salem’s history is more, much more, than that of “witches”, but the many voices repeating that message are drowned out by crowd.

20200119_121235And yes, Concord has maintained its Tercentenary markers.


An Almost-Golden Hour in Newburyport

Last week was a very busy time of transition. I have completed my six-year chair term and am going back to full-time teaching, which means four classes, four totally-overhauled syllabi and four first classes–for which I am always a tiny bit anxious, even after twenty+ years of teaching. But in the middle of the week I found myself up in Newburyport, an hour early for an appointment. This free hour was late in the afternoon, not quite the golden hour, on a bright and sunny early September day, so I took a short walk on several streets of Newburyport, where the inventory of seemingly perfectly-restored historic houses of every style seems endless, with more in transition. We’re always in transition in September, it seems, so you’ve got to grab a moment, or an hour, whenever it comes along.

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Early September in Newburyport.


On the Tavern Trail

I remain obsessed with colonial taverns, an obsession that stems from 1) the fact that Salem has several establishments called “taverns” which are not really taverns; 2) the loss of one spectacular tavern and “denaturing” of another on one of Salem’s most venerable and now saddest streets, and 3) my desire to learn how to create digital historical maps. I searched through this unwieldy blog of mine (which needs an index) and see that I’ve posted on taverns several times before, but here I go again. This particular post was prompted by a walk down Boston Street, once and still a major entryway into Salem, with many historic structures still standing—though much altered as “spotty” zoning has long been the rule. I don’t think that this street has been paved for decades, so it’s sort of a minefield if you’re in a car, so walking is preferable. Last week’s obsession was cemeteries, and so I wanted to see an old cemetery that is situated on the Salem-Peabody line on Boston Street: the Old South Cemetery, in which many members of the Trask family of Salem are buried as they owned considerable land in this area. As soon as I saw them all lined up in the cemetery, I thought of the “ancient” Trask family homestead which was once nearby, which for many years operated as the Black Horse Tavern, and on my walk back I passed by a much altered building which once served as the tavern of Daniel Frye: its McIntire interior woodwork and Zuber wallpaper was stripped out in the 1920s and sold to the Saint Louis Museum of Art, and now it is tattoo parlor with a fake palm in front, right next to a new housing development distinguished by a mishmash of architectural styles and liberal use of plastic.

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Tavern Black Horse

Tavern Trask Interior

Tavern Trask Chest

20190819_104539Boston Street in the 1890s from the Frank Cousins Collection of Glass Plate Negatives as the Phillips Library, via Digital Commonwealth; the Trask Homestead/Black Horse Tavern on Boston Street—exterior and interior—in 1901, New England Historical and Genealogical Register Volume 55; the Symonds Chest which was once in the front parlor of the Trask homestead/Black Horse Tavern, Yale Digital Collections; 94-95 Boston Street, once Frye’s Tavern, now partly a tattoo parlor.

I’ve been working intermittently on a series of digital maps which can present Salem’s colonial history in a visual format and contain a lot of information in this blog: the end goal would be one map with many layers like this great prototype here. The work is slow as I’m on a steep learning curve with the software, and there is also a lot of content to uncover: so far I have working maps on Salem churches, houses where enslaved people resided, and taverns. The first topic is easy enough to research, but I need a lot more information to present the extent of slavery and hospitality in a substantive manner. There were a lot of taverns in colonial and early-19th century Salem, both licensed and unlicensed—and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to locate all of the latter! Despite the warning of the pastor of the First Church that “drunkards are excluded from the kingdom of heaven”, the number of taverns in Salem appears to have increased steadily over the century from 1670 to 1775, with many anecdotal complaints against their “excessive number” in the town records. According to Sharon Salinger’s Taverns and Drinking in Early America, “as a whole, Essex County averaged one tavern for every 219 people….[but] Salem town averaged one tavern for every 80 persons, a slightly higher proportion of drinking houses than the larger ports.” I’ve still got quite a bit of work to do to find all those taverns, but this is my working map:

Tavern Map

Tavern Key

It took me quite a while to figure out all the various “Ship” taverns and the myriad tavern names attached to the buildings I have labeled “Essex Place” in my key; I’ve got a lot of tavern-owner names, but not all the locations. Some of the descriptions fuel my obsession: the famous Sun Tavern is described as “rough cast”, or covered in rough plaster in which pebbles and glass shards were embedded in ornamental patterns, and I would love to find an image of the “Great Tavern with many peaks” which was said to resemble the Bradstreet House on Essex Street, itself transformed briefly into the Globe Tavern. Because I can’t find my perfectly-preserved tavern in Salem, I often look for them on road trips. Yesterday I drove west along part of the closest approximation of the old upper “Boston Post Road” between New York and Boston: routes 20, 9, 67, and 20 again from Waltham to Springfield. Along certain stretches of this route–the non-urban and suburban ones—you really feel as if you are on the old Post Road, a feeling that is intensified by the eighteenth-century mile markers along the way. I was looking for taverns but got a bit distracted by the markers: you would expect both to be in clear view but I was looking with 21st century eyes and often they were a bit “hidden” or off the beaten path. But that just makes the journey more alluring.

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Tavern Pease Forbes AAS

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Taverns and markers along the old Boston Post Road in central Massachusetts: the Golden Ball in Weston, Wayside Inn in Sudbury (easy to find!), Pease Tavern in Shrewsbury (and in a c. 1900 photograph by Harriette Merrifield Forbes at the American Antiquarian Society), where the markers were very easy to find, markers in Leicester, East Brookfield and West Brookfield, where “Ye Olde Tavern” is still very much alive and open. There was also a beautiful house for sale right at the head of West Brookfield common, which fulfills all my tavern fantasies–there’s even a ready-made post for the sign.


A Statesman’s Summer House

I was up in New Hampshire this past weekend for a spectacular summer wedding on Dublin Lake, and of course I made time for side trips; the Granite State continues to be a place of perpetual discovery for me after a lifetime of merely driving around or through it, to and from a succession of homes in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts. On the day before the wedding, some friends and I drove north to see The Fells, the Lake Sunapee home of John Milton Hay (1838-1905), who served in the administrations of Presidents Lincoln, McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. Hay is the perfect example of a dedicated public servant and statesman, attending to President Lincoln as his private secretary until the very end, at his deathbed, and dying in office (at The Fells) while serving as President Roosevelt’s Secretary of State. He was also a distinguished diplomat, poet, and a key biographer of Lincoln. Fulfilling the conservation mission that was a key part of his purchase and development of the lakeside property, Hay’s descendants donated the extended acreage surrounding the house to the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and the US Fish and Wildlife Service in the 1960s, and it eventually became the John Hay National Wildlife Refuge. Hay’s daughter-in-law Alice Hay maintained the house as her summer residence until her death in 1987, after which it was established as a non-profit organization, open for visitors from Memorial Day through Columbus Day weekends.

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When it comes to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century country or summer residences in New England which are now open to the public, it seems to me there are three essential types: those of very rich people (think Newport), those of statesmen (The Fells; Hildene in Manchester, Vermont; Naumkeag in Stockbridge), and those of creative people (The Mount in Lenox;  Beauport; Aspet, Augustus Saint-Gauden’s summer home and studio in Cornish, New Hampshire). The last category is my favorite by far, but there’s always lots to learn by visiting the houses of the rich and the connected, and John Milton Hay was as connected as they come. I was a bit underwhelmed by the house, which is a Colonial Revival amalgamation of two earlier structures, until I got to its second floor, which has lovely views of the lake and surrounding acreage plus a distinct family feel created by smaller interconnected bedrooms opening up into a long central hall. The airiness of the first floor felt a bit institutional, but this was an estate built for a very public man, after all. For the Hays, I think it was all about the relation of the house to its setting, rather than the house itself.

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The gardens surrounding the house also seemed a bit sparse although it was a hot day in late July and we might be between blooms; certainly the foundations and structures are there, especially in the rock garden that leads down to the lake. This was the passion of Hay’s youngest son, Clarence, who established the garden in 1920 and worked on it throughout his life. After his death in 1969, the garden was lost to forest, but it was reestablished by the efforts of the Friends of the Hay Wildlife Refuge and the Garden Conservancy. When you’re standing in the rock garden looking up at the house, or in the second floor of the house looking down at the rock garden and the lake beyond, you can understand why the well-connected and well-traveled John Milton Hay proclaimed that “nowhere have I found a more beautiful spot” in 1890.

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Sweeping through Beauport

Historic New England offers comprehensive “nooks and crannies” tours through several of its properties occasionally, and I was fortunate to go on one of these basement-to-attic-and-all-the-closets-in-between tours of Beauport, the rambling Queen Anne “cottage” on Eastern Point in Gloucester, the beneficiary of a generous friend’s conflict! Beauport was built and decorated in great detail by Henry Davis Sleeper, one of America’s first professional decorators, over several decades beginning in 1907: it is an incremental construction driven by Sleeper’s evolving vision and career. The former was preserved by Helena Woolworth McCann, who purchased Beauport after Sleeper’s death in 1934, following the advice of Henry Francis DuPont: “the minute you take things out of this house, or change them about, the value of the collection does not exist, as really the arrangement is 90%. I have no feeling whatsoever about the Chinese room, as I think it is distinctly bad; but the rest of the house really is a succession of fascinating pictures and color schemes.”  Mrs. McCann had Sleeper’s pagoda removed from the China Trade room and made it her own, and likely packed away some of Sleeper’s stuff while she and her family were inhabiting the house over successive summers, but seems to have understood DuPont’s assertion that the house was the sum of its parts–and her family donated the intact property to Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) in 1942. So when you go to Beauport today, you are stepping into Henry Davis Sleeper’s house, the way he wanted it, and you know that this is a man who admired arrangement above all, incorporating the contrast of light and dark, all color of glass, green, anything and everything that projected the spirit of idealized and romanticized pre-industrial American and English material culture, depictions of great men (George Washington above all, but also Benjamin Franklin, Lafayette, and Lords Nelson and Byron, among others), and a fair amount of whimsy. Beauport is a lot to take in, even on a standard tour much less this exhaustive one, so I’ve divided my photographs into room views and details—but they represent only a small measure of both! You’ve really got to see Beauport for yourself: several times.

The bigger picture: it’s really difficult to photograph the entirety of this house, except from above or the ocean! I focused on inside, but there’s some lovely photographs of both the interior and exterior taken by T.E. Marr & Son c. 1910-1915 here.  

Beauport HNE

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20190628_142353The China Trade Room from Sleeper’s “Minstrel’s Gallery” above, within the Book Tower, the Octagon Room, where it’s all about eight, the Golden Step dining room, the South Gallery,  the Master Mariner’s Room, the “Red Indian” Room with its ships-cabin overlook of Gloucester Harbor, the Strawberry Hill room which became Sleeper’s bedroom, the Belfry Chamber—my favorite room in the house—-the Jacobean Room, the Chapel Chamber Room, and the Franklin Game Room.

Every salvaged discovery provoked an aesthetic reaction from Sleeper, and his design sense was so strong that it lives on well after his death in Beauport. Despite its size (it grew to 56 rooms by Sleeper’s “reactions”) the house remains very personal. It certainly reflects Sleeper’s personality, but as his collection of objects was so vast and varied it is possible to have a personal reaction to what you are seeing. That certainly happened for me, so my more detailed focus below reflects my own taste, in reaction to what I was seeing. And you will notice many other things that I missed.

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20190628_135742Details, Details: marble mantle and 18th century hand-painted wallpaper from China in the China Trade room (it was purchased by Philadelphia financier Robert Morris in 1784 and discovered, still rolled up, in the attic of the Eldridge Gerry House in Marblehead in 1923), wooden “drapes” in the book tower room, a portrait by Matthew Prior (c. 1845) in the Blue Willow room, fishermen’s floats ( I think Sleeper was the original high-low decorator!), beehive pull, memorial to the death of a former slave, majolica hedgehog or porcupine (?) Nathaniel Hawthorne in the Belfry Chamber, Green glass urn in the Chapel Chamber, plate commemorating the visit of Hungarian nationalist Louis Kossuth to Boston in 1852 & window shade commemorating the American victory in the Spanish-American War in the Pine Kitchen or Pembroke Room, my favorite of Sleeper’s many hooked rugs, and the portrait of a dapper anonymous man.

♠ A more comprehensive history of both the house and the man can be found here.


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