Tag Archives: House Museums

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.  

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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.


I Miss the Assembly House

I miss the Assembly House, a Georgian structure on Federal Street built as an assembly house in 1782 and transformed by Samuel McIntire into a more elaborate residence in the next decade: its proper name is the Cotting-Smith Assembly House (although it was charmingly called the “old Assembly House” after Hamilton Hall was built in 1805) and it was donated to the Essex Institute in 1965, the last building to be added to the Institute’s collection of historic houses, I believe. Of course the house still exists–I can see it at any time–but it has changed from when I first knew it: it has lost all of its trees–and its life. It is still, dark, and stark. It’s a shadow of its former self, or a ghost.

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assembly house drawing hne bestThe Cotting-Smith Assembly House yesterday afternoon and in 1926, 1920 (in a painting by Felicie Ward Howell, collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston), c. 1910 (Cornell) and an undated drawing (Historic New England).

I know, houses are not sentient beings as friends and family often tell me. But the Assembly House looks sad and it makes me sad to look at it, as I remember many happy times there in the 1990s, both before and after the Essex Institute and its houses were absorbed into the Peabody Essex Museum. I remember: teas, two baby showers, several anniversary dinners, a graduation party, a cooking class (???), coffees for candidates for local office—it seemed as if we were in there quite a lot! I remember feeling that the house was rather homey, despite its elegant interior details. I remember sitting on the back stairs talking to two friends who are no longer alive. I remember being wowed by the front staircase—with its second-floor landing and pedimented door—every time I saw it. But all these memories are from a long time ago, at least 20 years. I miss all of the Essex Institute/PEM houses, with the exception of the Ropes Mansion which was restored and reopened a few years ago. (Actually what I really miss is the Essex Institute, but that statement will always produce eye-rolls among those who believe that the Peabody Essex Museum rescued both the Institute and the Peabody Museum. This may be true–but it’s hard not to notice those dark stretches of Essex—and Federal—Streets).

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assembly house la sunday times aug 8 1926assembly house bg 1963

assembly house bg 1985Photographs of the Cotting-Smith Assembly House interior, Historic New England; Los Angeles Time, 1926; Boston Globe, 1963 and 1985.

The house where Lafayette danced in 1784 and Washington dined in 1789 and Susan Coolidge (above) came out and many other people celebrated weddings, anniversaries, and simply lived their lives was “restored, refurbished, and remembered” according to the 1985 story in the Boston Globe above but seems largely forgotten these days. It was celebrated across the country in 1926 as Salem marked its 300th anniversary, but seems likely to be overlooked as the city marks its 400th.


Land of the Livingstons

This past weekend I toured six “country seats” built by various members of the venerable and prominent Livingston family of the Hudson River Valley in the later eighteenth and nineteenth centuries: most privately-owned, one owned by the state of New York. My brother and brother-in-law live in Rhinebeck, so I have visited this region quite a bit, but I find new old houses every single time I return, and this time was no exception. When we started off, I was thinking only 6 houses? we’ll be done in a flash and $60 for six houses! as our Christmas in Salem tour features more houses and a lower ticket price but it took us most of the day and was well worth it: I had an urban house tour in my mind where you just walk from place to place but these are rural county seats situated on vast acres of land—-mostly waterfront. The scale of both houses and land was much larger than your average house tour, and the tour was a bargain: I’m alway happy to support historic preservation in any case, and in this case it was Hudson River Heritage. I’m going to present the tour in the very order that we saw these houses and give you my impressions of each along the way: no interior photography was allowed except in the state-owned property, Clermont, but as one of the houses is currently for sale and others are included in the amazing (again, expensive but worth it) newly-published book by Pieter Estersohn titled Life Along the Hudson. The Historic Country Estates of the Livingston Family and other publications I can show you some interior views.

You will notice it getting progressively brighter; the day started out pretty dreary and ended with sun. Still all houses shone.

RICHMOND HILL, built in 1808

This federal—-no I think proper Palladian is more accurate–house was simply stunning: beautiful proportions and details. It is the most formal farmhouse I have ever seen as it sits in the midst of 58 acres and many outbuildings, including a period Dutch barn, also unlike anything I have ever seen (I’m such a New Englander!). It has not been lived in for some time and is currently for sale: the photographs on the real estate site (I’m including the west bedroom and basement kitchen below–there’s a modern kitchen too!) are not really doing it justice in terms of the details: one of the mantles had a pinecone design which (again) I have never seen before. 

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CHIDDINGSTONE, Built in 1860

This is a “Bracketed Italianate” house which has recently been restored and redecorated with 15-foot ceilings and a stunning river view. The interior is all about height over width: the rooms were not all that large in terms of size but those high ceilings, along with the floor-to-ceiling windows and furnishings, made them seem positively grand.

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The front parlor photographed by Pieter Estersohn

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CLERMONT, Built from 1779-82

Then it was on to the oldest Livingston house, Clermont, which was built in the 1730s but burned mostly to the ground by the British during the Revolutionary War and rebuilt between 1779 and 1782. Clermont is a state historic site with an informative visitors’ center and extensive grounds along the river. Here we had a proper (essentially genealogical) tour and were able to take photographs: the interiors are furnished in the Colonial Revival style adopted by the last Livingstons to live at Clermont in the 1930s.

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MIDWOOD, built in 1888

Midwood is a sprawling Colonial Revival house situated on 87 acres along the Hudson: it made quite the contrast from Clermont as it is a very much lived-in and lively house, furnished in an eclectic style that must reflect the spirit of its owner and felt very “Bloomsbury” to me: we spent quite some time there just because there was so much to see and we were not alone. You can take your own tour here, and I’m sharing two interior views below.

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Side Parlors photographed by Christopher Baker

 

CLARKSON CHAPEL, built c. 1860

One of many board and batten Carpenter Gothic structures in the region, the Clarkson Chapel was built following a dispute–a schism, I suppose– at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in nearby Tivoli. Here we met a wonderful guide/steward who had made her own chart of the division of the original Livingston Manor. This was very helpful, and another informative source is here.

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EDGEWATER, Built in 1825

Our last stop was at Edgewater, a magnificent Greek Revival mansion perched on the Hudson shore in Barrytown, the long-time home of Richard Jenrette, who died earlier this year. My first house was a Greek Revival, and so I studied and bought everything I could about this iconic architectural style, and Mr. Jenrette’s Adventures with Old Houses (1995) became a bible of sorts: my copy is coffee-cup stained, page-marked, and well-worn. Edgewater is preserved, polished, and furnished to perfection, and signs of Mr. Jenrette were all around within: notes, cards, the lift on the magnificent stairs, the program to his memorial service. Of course the whole house is a memorial to him, as is the foundation which now owns Edgewater and his other homes: the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. I had pored over pictures of Edgewater so many times that when I finally found myself inside, I felt like I was returning to it, which is the first time I’ve had that experience. That said, it’s even more beautiful than its photographs and is a very real, much-loved house indeed.

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Photographs of the Music Room and Dining Room by Dorothy Hong for the Wall Street Journal (above); the Edgewater guesthouse (below) was built in 1996.

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At the Eustis Estate

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.

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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.

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Eustis Hall

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Eustis Window

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.

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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.

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Eustis Garden

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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.


Cole, Catskill and Creative Storytelling

On Saturday morning I drove straight across Massachusetts into New York State to Catskill, home to the Thomas Cole National Historic Site. The artist lived and worked at Cedar Grove, a bright, airy and porch-encircled Federal house overlooking the Hudson River and Catskill mountains, from 1833 until his premature death in 1848. Given the glorious weather we’ve been having this October, it was my intent to explore Cole country via the Hudson River School Art Trail, but I was waylaid by Cedar Grove and the village of Catskill: by the time I was done with both it was twilight. Oh well, next time, but at the very least I should have taken the Skywalk across the Hudson on the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to the majestic Olana, the home of Cole’s protege Frederic Edwin Church. These two men were linked in life and now their houses are linked thereafter. Cedar Grove was purchased by the Greene County Historical Society in 1988 and declared a National Historic Site in the next year: after an extensive renovation it was opened to the public on the 200th birthday of Thomas Cole in 2001.

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As you can see, Cedar Grove is not a large house so how or why did I spend so much time there? It’s all about the interpretation: and the fact that it is such an inviting place to be: the public is invited to come in, wander around, take pictures (with no flash, of course), and even sit down, on blue-cushioned chairs that looks exactly like the period chairs on which Cole himself sat. His cape is draped casually on a bench; reproductions of his letters are scattered on every surface. By the time that this house museum was created, Cole’s works and papers had been long dispersed and ensconced in museum and archive collections: consequently the curators had to be creative in their interpretation. They have used the familiar–or rather the intimate, the aesthetic (striking paint colors throughout and modern art works in rotating exhibitions, plus reproductions of Cole’s works), and technology, in the form of Second Story’s immersive interpretations which plunge the visitor into Cole’s worldview and creative process. It’s very effective.

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And then there was the Old Studio, where Cole worked, and the New Studio, and one of the loveliest outhouses (a three-seater) I have ever seen: a lot to appreciate. Some grounds: not as many as once were as a large parcel was taken for construction of the Rip Van Winkle bridge in 1935.

Cole Outhouse

I misjudged the time because our weather has been so warm: it feels like summer but the days are much shorter. Actually, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked at Cedar Grove because I dawdled in Catskill, which was a happy surprise. It is one of those perfect New York State river towns, with a lovely main street lined with nineteenth-century buildings with more flourish and color than you’ll ever find in New England. Within were antiques, art, and food, and every narrow lot fronting the street that does not have a building on it has been turned into a perfectly-maintained little park. I don’t think I’ve ever been to a cleaner town. There was an old movie theater, of course, and a courthouse, and beyond the main street was the river on one side and neighborhoods of old houses on the other in many different architectural styles: stately Greek Revivals, eclectic Victorians, lots of those New York Italianates with compressed windows on the third floor. Certainly not Cole’s Catskill, likely much better, and I never say that when comparing the present to the past.

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The Beautiful Barrett House

I’ve just returned from a brief getaway to the Granite State during which I drove all over much of its lower half (two-thirds?) but became focused on just two towns: New Ipswich and Tamworth. I don’t think I’ve ever developed a proper appreciation for this neighboring state and so I’m trying to work on that: I’ve lived in Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts, and so New Hampshire was always just a place “in between”, to drive through rather than a destination. Growing up, my father worked at two universities on either side of the state, Dartmouth and UNH, but we lived in Vermont during the earlier period and Maine during the later–and not just over the line of either adjoining state. So I think I always wondered secretly: did my parents DISLIKE New Hampshire? During my teenaged years in southern Maine, Portsmouth, New Hampshire was our go-to town, but somehow I always disassociated it with the rest of the state, as if it was an island. It is not. This particular weekend I was headed up to see a friend in the Lakes Region but decided to take a detour to the southwestern part of the state so I could see a Historic New England house that I’d never visited before: the Barrett House in New Ipswich. Amazing: a high Federal house in a very unlikely place—or is it? New Hampshire is full of perfect white two-story federals, but the Barrett House is something more grand: Portsmouth-like, or even (dare I say it) Salem-like. What’s it doing in sleepy New Ipswich?

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Barrett House exterior

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Well of course New Ipswich was not sleepy when pioneering textile manufacturer Charles Barrett built this grand house as a wedding gift for his son Charles Jr. and daughter-in-law Martha Minot, whose father promised to furnish the house in a manner complementing its (then) cutting-edge style. Across the field in front was the textile mill, down the road was the (Third) New Hampshire Turnpike, connecting Vermont and Massachusetts. After New Ipswich chose not to accept a railroad stop several decades later, its manufacturing era came to an end but an impressive architectural legacy remained, including the 1817 “Appleton Manor” which is now for sale. Successive generations of the Barretts owned and occupied the house into the twentieth century, also their Boston businesses determined that it became more of a country retreat than a primary residence. This evolution echoes that of several houses in central New Ipswich, contributing to the preservation of its architectural landscape. Historic New England’s predecessor, the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), acquired both the Barrett House and its neighboring George Barrett Sr. house in 1948.

Barrett House 1904

BarrettsThe house in 1904, Cambridge Historical Society; Barretts remain on the walls.

Like all of Historic New England’s properties, the house is interpreted in a very personal way, utilizing extensive family furnishings: Barrett Mill-made linens, Barrett-bound books, portraits, furniture, all manner of accessories. All of this creates a feeling of intimacy, as does the smallish scale of the rooms–I found the rather imposing exterior of this house to be somewhat deceptive. It’s perfectly open and light (look at all of those 12 over 12 windows!) and square and Federal: no Victorian additions or “improvements”, and only a bit of stuffy Victorian decor in a back parlor. Even the third-floor ballroom, which extends over the width of the house, retains an aura of intimacy: sparsely furnished with family chairs of different eras, gathered in a circle for conversation and company.

First Floor: front parlor and dining room (with Zuber et Cie wallpaper!). I particularly loved the Chinese Export dishes, which did not belong to the Barretts. The back parlor is a bit more of a mix, befitting a family room.

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Second Floor Bedrooms: back and front.

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LOVE these “peacock” chairs, and below: “furnishing” for an early twentieth-century bathroom, one of the few additions to the house.

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Third-floor ballroom.

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Outbuildings: Like Salem’s Ropes Garden, the Barrett House was the setting for the 1979 Merchant-Ivory film The Europeans. Actually it was used far more extensively than the Ropes, for both interior and exterior scenes, and the Barrett’s Gothic Revival gazebo was a particularly effective backdrop. The Carriage House is full of carriages (of course), including a carriage-hearse!

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Barrett Carriage House

 

Just a few more New Ipswich houses, for context, beginning with Charles Barrett Sr.’s house next door. There seems to be a fondness for those center projected gable entrances, perhaps inspired by the Barrett House?

Barrett House Senior

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Barrett House brick


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