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From the Chair

Historic N E W E NG L A N D Fall 2013 Vol. 14, No. 2

Andrew Davis

Historic New England’s work is never complete. Our property care team is always identifying preservation needs at our sites, whether large projects like new roofs or smaller carpentry tasks, and using innovative techniques to build knowledge to be shared at conferences and through workshops and white papers. Support from donors and grantors for the Preservation Maintenance Fund enables us to carry out these projects crucial to the long-term sustainability of our sites. By disseminating what we learn to peer institutions, preservation students, and private historic homeowners, we ensure that repair work at Marrett House in Standish, Maine, or a new roof at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, truly has longterm impact on preserving New England’s architectural history. With the generosity of friends, Historic New England is always acquiring and conserving new artifacts and documents, enriching our knowledge and sparking new ways to share our resources. I am continually amazed by the breadth of our collections, and the fascinating stories they tell. Through partnerships such as the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture collaborative project, ever-increasing access to our collections via our website, and exhibitions and object loans, Historic New England is committed to broadly sharing our special resources with a national audience.

Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture 2

Three-Deckers 16 A Day in the li f e

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Family T r easur e

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Preservation Manager

A Piece of New England History Pr eservation

Filling the Gaps

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Obje ct Lesson

In Search of Classical Style 13

M aking Lear ning Fun

Experiencing the Past

—Roger T. Servison Chair

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house Story

Preserving a Country Way of Life Pr eservation then an d now

Rediscovering a Very Old House

Historic New England 141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702 617-227-3956

M o del Proje ct

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Everyone’s History historic new England magazine is a benefit of membership. To become a member, visit our website, HistoricNewEngland.org, or call 617-994-5910. Comments? Please call Nancy Curtis, editor. ­­­Historic New England is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Executive Editor: Diane Viera Editor: Nancy Curtis Editorial Review Team: Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections; Lorna Condon, Senior Curator of Library and Archives; Jennifer Pustz, Museum Historian; Sally Zimmerman, Senior Preservation Services Manager Design: DeFrancis Carbone

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An Educational Odyssey p ortr ait

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Louis Prang, printer and democrat acquisitions

Must-See Event

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More than 125 years after their first appearance in the region’s urban neighborhoods, three-deckers still fill an important housing need.

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Except where noted, all historic photographs and ephemera are from Historic New England’s Library and Archives.

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Supervising stabilization of the eighteenth-century retaining wall at Harrison Gray Otis House, Boston. below Inspecting chimney repair work at Merwin House, Stockbridge, Massachusetts. above

s Preservation Manager for the property care team, I am responsible for the preservation and maintenance of nine Historic New England properties in Massachusetts. I am constantly evaluating building conditions in order to prioritize and plan preservation projects performed either by our own preservation staff or by contractors who specialize in the requirements of detailed preservation work. I move from preventing floods and repairing roofs to conserving energy and upgrading mechanical systems. I usually have a schedule planned for each day, but I’m used to adjusting it, because buildings have their own agendas that dictate where I have to go. Today, I drive to Cape Cod to test the heating system at Winslow Crocker House in Yarmouth Port. The chimney liner there has been replaced, and I need to check it to be sure there is no risk of carbon monoxide. That settled, I head to my office at the Lyman Estate in Waltham, stopping along the way at Quincy House in Quincy, where heavy winds have damaged the electrical service. Fortunately, National Grid was able to deal with the issue, but within an hour, I get a call that diverts me to Phillips House in Salem, which is having problems with a leak near a new water meter. A plumber is available to come over later in the day to replace the leaking fitting, but it’s now so late I give up on going to Waltham and settle down in an empty office at Phillips House for some administrative catchup. I schedule a meeting with a contractor at Quincy House the following week, working around the school programs there. I’ll need to take documentary photographs of the interior restoration project, and if interesting architectural details are uncovered, may have to produce architectural drawings and 3-D modeling. Before heading home, a quick spin through my email box reveals the inevitable—there’s another emergency at a site. The flapping shutter can probably wait, but I have to find someone capable of extracting a weasel from a building…. —Colleen Chapin Preservation Manager Fall 2013 Historic New England

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C o lla b o r a t i o n

Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture A celebration of craft and industry, tradition and innovation

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David Bohl

At Historic New England properties like Cogswell’s Grant in Essex (facing page) and Winslow Crocker in Yarmouth Port (right), visitors can see extraordinary examples of Massachusettsmade furniture.

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erhaps no state holds a more prominent place in the history of furniture-making than Massachusetts. Beginning with pieces made by the earliest English settlers and progressing to the studio furniture of today, the Bay State has achieved a remarkable record with production exceeding one hundred million pieces, from tall clocks and chests of mahogany or walnut to seating of painted wood or wicker.

Massachusetts is recognized as the largest furniture producing region in colonial North America in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, among the most productive chair-manufacturing states of the nineteenth century, a hub of Colonial Revival design in the twentieth century, and a leading furniture-making educational center today. Throughout this year and next, Historic New England is proud to be a partner in Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture, an exceptional collaboration among eleven institutions that celebrates the craft and industry, tradition and innovation of the state’s furniture-making legacy through a series of exhibitions, symposia, public programs, publica-

tions, and a dedicated website, FourCenturies.org. As a partner, Historic New England offers lectures and workshops, as well as tours of our historic sites that showcase superb examples of Massachusetts furniture. In addition, a new category in our online Collections Access database at HistoricNewEngland.org will feature an array of Bay State furniture styles, from a rare ornate seventeenthcentury Cape Cod cradle to a 1960s aluminum porch settee with plastic webbing made in Amherst. —Diane Viera Executive Vice President and COO

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Most surviving seventeenthcentury furniture has endured many changes over time. Even if a piece has been restored, it may be hard to determine its original state. This chest from Cogswell’s Grant in Essex (page 2) has had very little work done to return it to its original condition. When new, it likely had at least two drawers, side by side below the chest, and possibly four drawers, two over two. Because the piece has had so little work, it is a wonderful resource for scholars and collectors studying seventeenth-century furniture.

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above This dressing table, made between 1735 and 1745 in Boston or Essex County, stands between two windows in the sitting room at Winslow Crocker House in Yarmouth Port. It is a particularly gutsy example of a once-common furniture form. Dressing tables, or “chamber tables” as they were more frequently called in their day, were first produced late in the seventeenth century and remained popular throughout the eighteenth. The flamboyance of this dressing table is evident in the bold sweeping curve of its skirt, the vibrancy of its veneers, and the playfulness of the painting on the sides and legs, in an effort one furniture historian has called “a wonderful cheat” to mimic veneer without incurring the expense.

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above This chair is one of eight given to Abigail Phillips and Josiah Quincy, Jr., upon their marriage in 1769. The young couple used the set of chairs in the dining room of their Boston home, until Josiah’s death in 1775. The chairs remained in Boston until 1806, when they were brought to the family’s country home in Quincy. Made in Boston, the chairs feature elaborately pierced splats of a kind rarely seen in American chairs and rope carving on the stiles and front legs, all following the patterns of fine English furniture. This chair is the only one of the original eight that remains at the house. Others from the set are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Winterthur Museum, and Tryon Palace in North Carolina.

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Sideboards first appeared in America in the eighteenth century and gained popularity as increasing numbers of people lived in homes with rooms set aside for dining. Used primarily for display, sideboards were meant to impress. In The House Servant’s Directory, published in 1827, the distinguished butler Robert Roberts described the best way to set up sideboards for dinner parties, suggesting they could be laid “with such a degree of taste and neatness, that they will strike the eyes of every person who enters the room, with a pleasing sensation of elegance.” This example, likely made in the first decade of the nineteenth century by Boston cabinetmakers John and Thomas Seymour, is based on Scottish design and was probably adapted from an imported piece. It belonged to Charles Barrett, a well-to-do merchant and industrialist, and can be seen in his home, Barrett House in New Ipswich, New Hampshire.

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According to some theorists, the growing use of clocks in private households in the eighteenth century was the physical embodiment of Enlightenment ideas entering the home. People with means could now own a scientific instrument that divided the day into precise measurements, accurate from day to day and from season to season. This clock stands on the landing of the staircase at Codman House in Lincoln, and is considered one of the grandest surviving examples by Roxbury clockmaker Aaron Willard, of the famous clockmaking Willard family. Clockmaking required the cooperation of numerous craftsmen. Willard made the clockworks. He sometimes hired a local artist to decorate the clock dial and sometimes imported the decorative clockface from England. And he hired a local cabinetmaker to make the ornate case, a type that has come to be known as a “Roxbury” case for the location of Willard’s manufactory. When this one was made, between 1795 and 1810, tall case clocks were still rare and owned only by the wealthiest families. This example belonged to Sarah Bradlee Codman’s grandfather, Perrin May, of Boston. May achieved prominence as a merchant in the China Trade, and in his later years rose to local fame as a horticulturist celebrated for his pears. Over nine feet in height, May’s clock fits his societal stature and remains as impressive in the twenty-first century as May intended it to be in the eighteenth.

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In November 1858, ship captain Richard Tucker journeyed to Boston to purchase furnishings for Castle Tucker, in Wiscasset, Maine, the home into which he was settling with his new bride. In December, Tucker received a bill for carting fourteen loads of furniture from the docks on the river up the hill to the house. Included in the shipment from Boston was this walnut rococo revival parlor set with its printed wool upholstery “made in good taste…plain, neat, and by no means gaudy and extravagant,” as described by Tucker’s father in a letter to his brother. In the 1850s, Boston was still a thriving furniture center, so it is no surprise that Richard Tucker traveled there to make his purchases. The parlor set, with its original upholstery, is still on view at Castle Tucker.

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This chair was made around 1907 for Woodbury and Elizabeth Langdon by the A. H. Davenport Company of Boston. In 1905, the Langdons hired the New York architectural firm McKim, Mead, and White to update the 1784 Governor John Langdon House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The architects razed the nineteenth-century back buildings, adding a large rear ell with bedrooms, a dining room, and kitchen and pantry. They recommended the furniture of the A. H. Davenport Company, with whom they had worked on numerous commissions. This chair, which was used to furnish the updated library, is a reproduction of an eighteenth-century chair in the collection of what is now known as the Victoria and Albert Museum. Davenport’s chief designer, an MITtrained architect named Francis Bacon, made frequent trips to Europe, where he studied historic furniture and brought back design drawings for use by the firm.

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From its inception in 1880 until the founder’s death in 1906, the A. H. Davenport Company was one of the nation’s premiere furniture making firms. The company worked with architectural firms—H. H. Richardson, McKim, Mead and White, and Peabody and Stearns, among others. After Davenport’s death, the company was run by his executors, but in 1914 it merged with another Boston furniture company, Irving and Casson. A. H. Davenport, which later became Irving and Casson-A. H. Davenport, furnished public and private buildings across the country, including the White House, the Biltmore Estate, and the United Nations Headquarters building in New York City. Historic New England recently acquired a large cache of the firm’s drawings, photographs, and scrapbooks, becoming the largest repository of materials related to this important Boston furniture company. Once these papers are catalogued, they will be available online for research and through appointment at the Historic New England Library and Archives.

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—Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections, and Emily Morris, Americana Foundation Curatorial Fellow

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F a m i ly

T r ea s u r e

This 1857 children’s rocking horse was the only three-dimensional object in an exhibition of nine portraits of children called Deacon Peckham’s Hobby Horse at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

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Rob Shelley, National Gallery of Art

A Piece of New England History

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t’s hard to foresee how our possessions might be viewed by people in the future. One example is this rocking horse from the 1789 Marrett House in Standish, Maine, a beloved plaything that became a family heirloom after its owners grew up. Who could have guessed that one day it would form the centerpiece of a painting exhibition at the National Gallery of Art in Washington? Probably not Caroline Marrett, who in the 1940s decided along with her sisters to give Marrett House and its contents to Historic New England (pages 14–15). The rocking horse is one of hundreds of household furnishings in the house that collectively tell the stories of generations of family life in rural Maine from the late eighteenth through the mid-twentieth century. A curator at the National Gallery saw the object in our publication Cherished

Possessions and noted its resemblance to a rocking horse in a painting by Deacon Peckham. She asked to borrow it for an exhibition devoted to works by that artist, and before long, the cherished toy was in the nation’s capital, where it was seen by more than 77,000 visitors. Since our founding in 1910, friends and supporters have made gifts of furniture, paintings, clothing, jewelry, textiles, decorative arts, and ephemeral objects of everyday life. These donations form the nucleus of Historic New England’s renowned, comprehensive, and well-documented collection of artifacts and archival material reflecting the region’s rich history. The collec-

tion is carefully stored, studied by researchers, and shared with the public through exhibitions, loans to other museums, and our online Collections Access Project. If you have a special piece of New England history, I hope you will consider donating it to Historic New England through an outright gift or bequest. For more information or to discuss a potential gift, please contact the development team at 617-9945951 or developmentHistoricNewEngland.org. —Kimberlea Tracey Vice President for Advancement

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P r e s e r v at i o n

Historic New England seeks to expand its Stewardship Easement Program, including protecting vernacular resources like this Vermont Cape. facing page Architectural styles currently not represented in the program, clockwise from left: a three-decker; an early twentieth-century Tudor Revival house; a mid-twentieth-century ranch home. left

Filling the Gaps

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mong Historic New England’s many approaches to protecting the region’s historic architecture and landscapes, one of the most creative and dynamic is its Stewardship Easement Program. Established in the 1980s, the program currently holds eighty-seven easements protecting privately owned historic properties, which encompass more than 150 buildings and 750 acres of open land. The mechanism used by this program is a legal tool called a preservation easement, through which an owner gives Historic New England an interest in a property to ensure that its historic features will remain intact and preserved. The easement program now has four full-time staff members and has grown into a successful national model for protecting properties from demolition and insensitive

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alteration. The program is flexible to allow owners to make adaptations to meet contemporary living standards. Staff members visit enrolled properties annually to monitor conditions and provide advice. The Stewardship Easement Program enables Historic New England to expand its protective reach beyond its museum properties and preserve a broader sampling of the region’s built heritage. One of our goals is to protect a comprehensive assortment of historic properties, particularly by enrolling historic building types not currently represented within the collection of thirty-six house museums and the eighty-plus easement properties. To achieve this goal, Historic New England’s stewardship committee has identified strategic gaps, both architectural and regional, that we would like to fill. We are actively seeking owners

of the following types of properties who would be interested in enrolling their homes in the Stewardship Easement Program. The State of Vermont Vermont has been an area of focus for several years, and we hope soon to announce our first easement in the state. We would be very interested in working with additional owners in Vermont to ensure that their properties remain permanently protected through this program. Three-Deckers Three-deckers (also known as triple deckers), a largely regional housing type popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (see pages 16–20), are of particular interest. Historic New England’s collecting goes beyond preserving high-style houses

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to focus on vernacular examples of more modest multifamily housing and to represent different aspects of New England’s social, cultural, and built heritage. Additionally, three-deckers have been particularly vulnerable to change. Historic New England would be especially interested in securing an intact representative example. Late Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century Styles The early twentieth century witnessed an expansion of architectural eclecticism and revivalism of surprising diversity. Representative examples of these styles, from Tudor Revival to bungalows, would be welcome additions to

the Stewardship Easement Program. Ranch and Cape Cod Houses As mid-twentieth-century ranch and Cape Cod housing forms begin to gain appreciation, Historic New England is increasingly interested in adding intact representatives of these styles to its easement program. We have already been involved in protecting several Modern houses and now would like to provide similar assistance in promoting the preservation of all housing types from this era. In the end, Historic New England is firmly committed to expanding the scope of properties within its preservation easement program with an eye to

ensuring that all of New England’s stories are preserved and represented by our efforts. This is only an abbreviated list of our current targets as we continue to expand our thinking about what styles to protect. If you are interested in learning more about our program or own a historic house you want to preserve, please contact Joseph Cornish, supervising preservation services manager, at jcornish@historicnewengland. org or 617-994-6643. —Jess Phelps Team Leader, Preservation Services

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Classical Style In Search of

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very museum’s storage vault contains important objects that have languished for decades with their identities hiding in plain sight. So it is with Historic New England. A recent survey of the collection focused on Empire furniture, a style once sneered at by collectors as hopeless and degraded. From this survey, an unusual sideboard was identified with an important but unrecognized story to tell. Forty years of scholarship have finally acknowledged the best Empire furniture as brilliant—witness the recent exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on the work of New York cabinetmakers Honoré Lannuier and Duncan Phyfe, immigrants from France and Scotland. The term “Empire” has now been replaced by “Classical” to reference the style’s true origins in ancient Etruscan, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian architecture. A similar study is now underway by scholars focusing on the best work of Boston’s finest cabinetmakers working in Classical styles in the period 1815–30. It took some time for Boston cabinetmakers to absorb and understand the new styles that drew anew from clas-

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le s s o n

Photography by Andrew Davis

O b j ec t

sical sources. Not every early experimental interpretation was fully successful—witness the sideboard shown here. Connoisseurs tend to disparage this piece for its small, awkward, carved paw feet that seem too small to support its large superstructure. Labels pasted inside include inscriptions by presumed former owners. Research suggests the first owners may have been the grandparents of the donor, Miss Frances R. Morse—either Dr. Eliakim Morse, or Henry Lee and Mary (Jackson) Lee, all prominent Bostonians. A recent study has revealed the sideboard’s true identity– it was made in Boston between 1815 and 1817 with American secondary woods by Boston’s greatest cabinetmaker of the preceding fifteen years, Thomas Seymour (1772–1848). The work is constructed using Seymour’s idiosyncratic methods of workmanship, which reflect his training under his father, John, and the origins of both men in Devonshire, England. These methods, which differ in important details from those of Massachusetts-born cabinetmakers, make much of Seymour’s work recognizable.

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Thomas Seymour was an incessant experimenter with and adopter of new styles and forms throughout his career. Beginning with the Federal neoclassical style in which he was trained, and then with later English Regency fashions, which he probably was the first to introduce into Boston, he produced endless variations. It is not surprising that he was the first cabinetmaker in Boston to make furniture that is explicitly described as “Grecian” in a period document. It is ironic that during this post-Revolutionary period, when a new American identity was being formed, both cabinetmakers and patrons returned repeatedly and primarily to England to define the new styles appropriate for that emerging identity. Seymour consistently led these repeated introductions of British styles in Boston. The sideboard draws heavily on British architectural sources for its overall design. The bowed fronts of the three drawers correspond to similar rounded architectural friezes in classical Greek architecture. A cellarette compartment with hinged lid at the left is paired with a tin-lined wine cooler with similar lid at the right, also reflecting published British designs of the period. The dramatic and

masterful leafage carving on the legs and the half-round panels over the legs is instantly recognizable as the work of Thomas Wightman, Sr., who had trained in London in the late 1770s and apparently worked there until immigrating to Boston in 1797. Wightman’s crisp, deeply incised and precise foliate carvings on the upper legs of the sideboard, even in 1815 Boston, continue to reflect his London training and work. His style is tightly controlled, often with two layers of leaves of differing designs on top of each other and sharply defined vertical ridges separating some elements.

Sideboard, 1815–17, attributed to Thomas Seymour with Thomas Wightman, Sr., carver. below Design source for the carving. FACING PAGE AND RIGHT

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The large half-round panels above these traditional carvings employ spectacular carved leafage, with a repeating series of asymmetrical leaves with dramatically flipped lower tips. This design, unique in Wightman’s known oeuvre, is based on a leaf pattern appearing in Plate 26 in local architect Asher Benjamin’s 1806 publication, The American Builder's Companion, Or, A New System of Architecture. Benjamin’s designs have British origins—his principal illustrator and co-author was Daniel Reynard, Boston’s premier decorative plaster worker and a British immigrant. The actual engraver of the book’s plates was Thomas Wightman, Jr., the carver’s son and one of Boston’s finest engravers of the period. The question arises—who copied whom? Did father copy son, or did the son learn the design from his father? Wightman, Sr., struggled to create more avant-garde Classical carved feet for the sideboard, as both he and Seymour were unfamiliar with the emerging newly fashionable style. Their unnaturally small proportions and anthropomorphic heel fail to capture the essence of animal feet as interpreted by ancient Greek and Roman artisans. Although the Seymour-Wightman sideboard will never be seen as an artistic triumph, its experimental nature clearly 12

identifies it as an early harbinger of more successful designs to come. Its importance lies precisely in marking the exact moment of the emergence of a new Classicism in Boston. This unusual piece has assumed new meaning for a new generation of decorative arts aficionados and can safely emerge from the shadows of museum storage. —Robert D. Mussey, Jr. Mr. Mussey is author of The Furniture Masterworks of John and Thomas Seymour

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fronts.

A side view reveals the curved form of the drawer The feet are variants of a paw foot.

Above right

As part of the Four Centuries of Massachusetts Furniture collaboration, for the next year, the sideboard will be on view at the Otis House Museum in Boston, where you can see it along with other important furniture made by John and Thomas Seymour.

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Ma k i ng

L ea r n i ng

F u n

Experiencing the Past “Our visit to Arnold House was like having our own private Sturbridge Village inside a single house. The children enjoyed the amazing hands-on activities that resulted in souvenirs to take home.” —Donald Poli, teacher, Woonsocket, Rhode Island

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eather pens, candlewax, knee britches, and buzz saws are some of the materials that intrigued these first graders when Donald Poli brought their class to Historic New England’s 1693 Arnold House in Lincoln, Rhode Island, for our Colonial Times program. The visit was funded by the Rhode Island Center for the Humanities. Thanks to this generous support, we are able to expand the program this year from about four hundred to fifteen hundred students in schools located in districts that could not afford the fee and the cost of a bus. Colonial Times offers children in grades one through eight a chance to make candles, write with a quill pen, try on old-fashioned clothing, and play games common in the colonial era. The immersive experience is transformative, because the students learn by doing things themselves. They dip candles and find out that tallow candles, which are made of animal fat, have to be kept in metal cases to keep rats from eating them. They see that feathers can be useful as pens (and require a lot of skill to use). They learn that boys wore dresses as toddlers and that the game of cup-and-ball, which looks easy, takes patience and practice to master.

The program allows students to experience eighteenthcentury life by performing common tasks. Each child goes home with a pair of dipped candles, a sample of writing with a quill pen, and sharper hand-eye coordination, honed by playing cup-and-ball instead of a video game. Colonial Times is available in several different versions (there are eleven modules in all) so that teachers with older classes may select ones that are age appropriate. Regardless of age, each student will travel back in time and go home with something he or she made as a souvenir of life in the past. —Carolin Collins Education Program Manager

Writing with quill pens. above Making candles to take home. TOp

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H o u s e

S t o r y

Preserving a Country Way of Life

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ucked away in the small town of Standish, near Portland, Maine, the 1789 Marrett House stands as a testament to preservation. Three sisters from the last generation to live there respected their family’s history and kept the furnishings largely unchanged as relics of the past. In 1944, the house and all its contents were bequeathed to Historic New England, which continues the sisters’ commitment to preserving this example of life in rural New England. In 1796, Reverend Daniel and Mary Marrett moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to this Federal-style house. They had six children together,

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and after Mary’s death, Daniel and his second wife, Dorcas, produced eight more. To supplement his income, Daniel began cultivating and selling apples. He learned how to graft, with the result that the Marrett orchard began producing different varieties of apples in large quantities. Avery Marrett, who inherited the estate at his father’s death in 1836, expanded the farming operation into a successful business. He updated the house and barns, and in 1847, married Elizabeth Weston in the newly redecorated parlor. Their three daughters, Helen, Caroline, and Frances, preserved the parlor much as it was at the time of their parents’ wedding.

Helen, the eldest, graduated from Tilden Ladies’ Seminary in New Hampshire, embarked upon a teaching career and was ultimately appointed headmistress of a secondary school in nearby Gorham, Maine. Frances, the youngest, graduated from Abbot Academy and became a teacher at the Perkins School for the Blind. There she met Sarah Lilley, a fellow teacher, who became her lifelong companion. The pair resided in Boston during the school year and spent their summers at the Standish homestead. Frances’s above The Marrett family, with the rocking horse (see page 7) brought out for the occasion, pose in front of the house, c. 1890.

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most famous pupil was Helen Keller, to whom she taught French. They became good friends, and Helen included Frances in her 1903 book, The Story of My Life. Caroline, who lived at Marrett House her entire life, was in charge. She helped her aging parents and gradually assumed responsibility for managing the family home, farm, and orchards. An avid reader and gardener, she planted a large garden next to the house, which she designed with the formal beds and flowers popular in the Colonial Revival era. When the sisters’ peripatetic brother, Walter, returned home with thoughts of staying awhile, he assumed that his sisters would defer to him as the man of the house. A short time later, he told a friend that he was leaving Maine again, refusing to submit to the petticoat dictatorship that reigned over the family homestead. Recognizing that their home represented a country way of life that was fast disappearing, the sisters contacted

William Sumner Appleton as early as 1933, stating that Historic New England would be the best steward for the “Old Homestead.” On Appleton’s advice, Frances brought out family antiques and arranged them throughout the house. On the evening of April 4, 2012, the Marretts’ preservation efforts were almost obliterated when a drunk driver drove a stolen car across two lanes of rush hour traffic, shattered the exterior wall, and crashed right into the Marrett House parlor. Interior plaster, wallpaper, and wainscoting were pushed forward, and a few objects and pieces of furniture were damaged. Amazingly, Avery and Elizabeth’s Victorian furniture on casters pushed the remaining furniture across the room and away from harm. Perhaps it was the spirit of the Marrett sisters, or just solid eighteenthcentury construction, aided by the extraordinary care taken by Standish first responders, that

prevented more serious destruction or even fire. By 4 a.m., Historic New England’s property care team and site staff had secured the house, saving and numbering damaged fragments of siding and plaster for future reassembly. In the winter of 2012–13, preservation contractors and staff repaired the damage, fully restoring the parlor, complete with 1847 wallpaper, carpet, and furnishings—just the way Caroline, Helen, and Frances Marrett wanted you to see it. — Peggy Konitzky Wiscasset Site Manager

The parlor, with furnishings dating from c. 1847. above Historic New England staff worked into the early morning hours to secure the site after the accident. left

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This 1897 design by Samuel Rantin and Son for a threedecker in the Colonial Revival style in Roxbury, Massachusetts, features all the standard decorative elements found on more upscale single-family houses, including varied siding, window, and trim details.

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Three-Deckers

New England’s iconic multifamily housing

F Long rows of three-deckers adjacent to the railroad tracks in Boston reflect the dependence of this form of housing on public transit. above A well-preserved group of three-deckers.

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ew building types are more evocative of working-class life than the three-deckers (or triple deckers) that march along the streets of Boston, Worcester, New Bedford, Providence, and many of the region’s smaller manufacturing cities. These tall sentries of three-family housing represent a time when a steady factory job held the prospect of a road to home ownership; nonetheless, their story reflects a complex and sometimes conflicted past. This emblematic house form emerged from a narrow time frame about 1880, when the manufacturing economy concentrated immigrant labor into increasingly dense industrial centers, and lasted until roughly 1930, when building codes and municipal zoning regulations effectively snuffed them out. Throughout the nineteenth century, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, the most densely settled states in the country, were chronically short of housing. By the 1860s, the paternalistic ideal of planned factory towns with standardized company housing rented to workers was beginning to give way to the reality of tenement housing. Within the old pedestrian cities, existing housing in all neighborhoods was being converted to ever-denser concentrations of dwelling units for Fall 2013 Historic New England

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incoming Irish, French Canadian, and other immigrant groups. Middle-class, native-born residents moved ever outward into peripheral areas that offered suburban amenities of fresh air, open space, and new housing. Not quite urban, but not yet suburban, the threedecker’s emergence paralleled the development of urban mass transit. As streetcar lines extended and gave access to the suburb, workplace and residence became increasingly separate, and mass housing outgrew the old walking city. Real estate speculators followed transit lines into outlying locations, and the purpose-built three-decker represented a distinct improvement over earlier tenements or converted housing. One study has noted that approximately 15,000 three-deckers were constructed between 1880 and 1930 in Boston, 5,000 of them in Dorchester. While a small number were developed by individual builders, the majority were built on speculation.

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Classically, the three-decker is a flat-roofed, three-story, wood-frame box with an offset entrance leading to an interior common front stairway accessing one dwelling unit per floor. Stacked porches at the front provided a locus for architectural ornament and social gathering, in the back, a utility space where laundry could be hung out to dry. Lots were narrow and deep, and buildings were set close to one another. Variants on the roof form—from the well-known flat, to gable, hip, or gambrel roofs—created types particular to individual location. Gambrel roofs clustered around Springfield, Massachusetts, for example, and flat roofs predominated in northern Rhode Island. There is little agreement on the three-decker’s origins as a house form, where it first appeared, or how it might have This three-decker in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, designed by German-American architect Jacob Luippold, exemplifies the “Progressive Era Plan,” with generous spaces and facilities.

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evolved from earlier multiple family housing. Investigating the three-decker’s origins, historical geographer Arthur Krim searched locations for potential prototypes where nascent three-deckers existed in a variety of forms and identified Boston and Cambridge as possible sources. Three major theories of three-decker evolution have been suggested. The first sees the three-decker metamorphosing out of the “French Flat,” an early and upper-class version of the apartment, with all the rooms of a standard residence arranged on one floor. A second theory posits that the three-decker appeared first in Quebec as a maison étagée, a stacked three-story dwelling with a common exterior staircase. Finally, the three-decker might simply be one of many variants of the side-hall-plan house, a building form typically arranged with an offset side entrance leading to a hall and stairwell along one side of the house and a row of rooms running down the other. The side-hall-plan can be found in single-family houses as well as in rowhouses, double houses, and in tenements and certainly fits the typical arrangement of rooms in a three-decker. Scholars of vernacular architecture have studied this form from its social and cultural perspectives. Thomas Hubka and Judith Kenny see the three-decker’s arrangement of “five-to-six rooms with bath” and their specialization of purpose (parlor, dining room, kitchen, bedchambers and a three-fixture bath) as an example of what they call the “Progressive Era Plan.” This plan reflected improvements in working-class housing around the turn of the twentieth century, which narrowed the functional and technological distinctions between lower- and middle-class housing. Architectural historian Kingston Heath looks at three-deckers in New Bedford and notes how the architecture shaped the social and spatial dynamics of those living in them, based in part on the experiences of his own family growing up in one. The place of the three-decker in its community and its ambiguous place in twentieth-century social and architectural history were chronicled in a 2001 article by Dorchester native Chris Lovett on the “beauty and the blight” of his neighborhood’s three-deckers—the “beauty” of their relative affordability and the potential they held (and still hold) as a gateway for new immigrant families (such as Lovett’s Irish immigrant grandfather) and the “blight” of their uniformity and the fire hazard posed by their density. This duality can be seen in the response to the house form, which by the early twentieth century was sweeping across New England neighborhoods. As the designs of architects like Samuel Rantin and Son and Jacob Luippold show, the three-decker of the 1890s and early 1900s provided many amenities: well-detailed, architecturally up-to-date exterior presentation and interiors fitted with built-in cupboards suited to middle-class domesticity. And yet, by the early 1900s, as the pace of three-decker construction picked

up, their ubiquity became cause for alarm. Lovett quoted a 1907 Dorchester Day speech by the priest at St. Peter’s parish, Father Peter Ronan, protesting construction of “threeapartment houses” on Savin Hill, one of Dorchester’s last remaining large open spaces. In March 1913, the National Housing Association stated that “the tenement house or multiple dwelling is fundamentally inferior to the single family house, that it can never be in the same sense a home.” In July 1913, they applauded “Housing Progress in Massachusetts,” where the legislature had passed a “Tenement House Law for Towns” and a similar measure for all cities except Boston to “discourage the erection of ‘three deckers,’ the Massachusetts form of tenement house, and to encourage the building of single-family and two-family houses.” Newly-professionalized city planners acknowledged that land costs drove more intensive housing development, stating Later siding, in this case asbestos shingle, does not detract from the character of this three-decker, which retains its distinctive Colonial Revival details, including a bold dentilated cornice and porches with tapered granite piers. below

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“a building for three or more families affords more space and more comforts and conveniences per dollar of investment than a smaller house.” While agreeing that the “three-family wooden frame house has come to be recognized as the most practical unit for low rentals,” it also “has come to be considered a detrimental factor…because of its flimsy character and rapid deterioration.” After 1917, the City of Cambridge began legislating against the construction of three-deckers without reasonable provisions for safety and fire protection, a concern justifiably held against the close-set wooden three-decker. Walter Kilham, of Boston architects Kilham and Hopkins, in 1918 lobbied for two-family houses as an alternative to the “‘triple-decker’ evil” and a way “to make it possible for a tenant of ordinary industry to easily acquire the ownership of a house.” By 1918, critics of the three-decker had made significant inroads toward banning the three-decker, even in Boston, where in The American Contractor, a member of the Boston planning board, William C. Ewing, wrote on the “Merits and Demerits of the Three-Decker.” Ewing weighed the advantages of the three-decker—sun and air on all four sides, cheapness, economy of heat, sociability, play space for children in side and back yards—against their faults, chiefly their fire hazards and depressing impacts on property values when allowed to deteriorate, and concluded that standards for fireproof construction could be required, even if “our Constitution does not permit of legislation on an esthetic basis.” Ewing questioned whether “stopping the building of three-deckers will not drive people into still worse living conditions.” In 1928, the last building permit for a three-decker in Boston was issued, and the three-decker ceased to be built. In the years since then, the three-decker has encompassed both beauty and blight, buffed up to condominium use in areas of strong property values and shorn of trim and vinyl-sided in economically challenged locations. Despite its shortcomings in the eyes of early city planners, however, the three-decker endures. Its utility as a housing form has rarely been equaled and its place in the New England townscape assured.

Three-deckers’ tall height, tight spacing, and wood trim create maintenance challenges, and many have been significantly altered. This well-maintained property reflects pride of ownership and reveals the ongoing value of this form of housing to gateway communities across New England. above

Over the last years of economic downturn, with foreclosures hitting older city neighborhoods particularly hard, threedeckers have been at the center of the losses. In 2012, preservationists in Worcester, once home to about 6,000 threedeckers (about 200 of which were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1990s) declared them endangered due to the threat of demolition. In other cities, reinvestment to preserve the three-decker is encouraged. The city of Providence recently stepped up property tax enforcement against absentee landlords to incentivize owner occupancy of multi-family houses, and in 2013, the city of Boston launched the 3D Campaign with loans and grants to assist triple-decker owners with maintaining their homes.

—Sally Zimmerman Senior Manager, Historic Preservation Services

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P r e s e r v at i o n

T h en

and

N o w

Clemence-Irons House before restoration right A new generation of history buffs visits the house today. left

Rediscovering a Very Old House

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he 1691 Clemence-Irons House in Johnston, Rhode Island, a classic example of the Rhode Island “stoneender,” is also a classic example of early twentieth-century preservation methods. The house first came to the attention of architectural scholars in the 1890s as one of the oldest in the state. By that time, it had undergone numerous alterations, resulting in a quaint, Queen Anne-style exterior with a warren of thirteen rooms inside. In 1938–39, the eminent preservation authority Norman Morrison Isham and a colleague, historical architect John Hutchins Cady, undertook its restoration, funded by industrialist Henry D. Sharpe and his sisters Ellen Sharpe and Louisa Sharpe Metcalf. As Isham and Cady began their work, they found evidence of four original rooms on the ground floor—a

great room, a kitchen alongside it with a separate hearth in the massive stone chimney, and two smaller unheated chambers. To reclaim the early structure, they stripped away everything that was not original to the 1691 house. Their restoration, carried out by carpenters guided by the vast expertise about historic structures Isham had honed over a forty-year career, revealed original paneling, massive oak timber framing with decorative chamfering, and the enormous stone end chimney. Missing elements, recreated using seventeenth-century techniques almost indistinguishable from the originals, included hand-hewn clapboards, leaded casement sash, and planked doors. This approach to preservation, which yielded a pristine-looking original but introduced more than 50 percent new material, is no longer advocated, no matter the skill or expertise

of the restorer. Today, the house stands as a testament to the skill and vision of a pioneering preservationist and a case study of early preservation philosophy. Historic New England’s partnerships with local groups like the Woonasquatucket River Watershed Council and the Johnston Historical Society are making Clemence-Irons House a welcoming site for heritage experiences of all kinds. In addition to individual visitors, recent groups exploring the old house include cyclists on a tour of area historic sites and competitors in the Great Johnston Scavenger Hunt who took time to play cup-and-ball on the lawn. We look forward to seeing you here, too. —Sally Zimmerman, Senior Preservation Services Manager, and Dan Santos, Regional Site Manager, Southern New England Fall 2013 Historic New England

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M o d e l

P r o j e c t

Interior storm windows, barely perceptible, are energy efficient. below The Lyman mansion was repainted to match its color scheme during the 1920s. left

Proof

Achieving Energy Efficiency in a Historic House

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he results are in—Historic New England’s efforts to weatherize the mansion at the 1793 Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts, have reduced energy consumption by 66 percent! In 2010, together with the Architectural Heritage Foundation and the Trustees of Reservations, we secured weatherization funding through the Department of Energy Resources. Our project was an ambitious one­ —to prove that we could achieve a reduction of energy usage of over 50 percent without sacrificing the structure’s historic integrity or compromising our core preservation philosophy. The funding, matched with a grant through the Community Preservation Commission of Waltham and generous donations

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to the Preservation Maintenance Fund, allowed us in 2011 to carry out a major preservation project at the property totaling $850,000. The project also included exterior and interior painting, repairs to the porch and roof, garden restoration, electrical rehabilitation, and chandelier and sconce conservation, but this article will focus exclusively on weatherization. We began by repairing all 120 windows, which are at least one hundred years old, and adding weather stripping where it wouldn’t be noticed. Throughout the main portion of the house, we installed interior storm windows and replaced some existing exterior storms on the servants’ wing. We replaced the cooling and heating system, tuned up and insulated exist-

ing ductwork, changed the fuel source from oil to natural gas, and replaced thermostats. Finally, we closed air leaks with traditional plastering techniques and reversible blocking material and insulated across the third floor ceiling to prevent heat from rising into the attic. Throughout the process, we learned many lessons that are applicable to owners of historic houses no matter what the scale. As air infiltration leads to increased energy consumption, a key goal of most efficiency projects is to reduce air leaks. As we worked, we measured the rate of air infiltration before, during, and after each phase. Repairing the existing windows reduced air infiltration by about 10 percent; adding exterior storm windows saved an additional 10

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percent, while installing interior storms produced an additional 20 percent for a total of 30 percent reduction of air filtration. The drafty walls themselves provide air channels into the house; interior storms cut off these channels and separate them from the interior. Furthermore, Historic New England, like many historic districts, favors the aesthetics of interior storms, which cannot be seen from outside and do not interfere with the play of light across the panes of glass. For us, the ability to pair aesthetics with great savings was a win-win. We learned that insulation companies have their own ways of approaching projects and tend to resist trying a reversible method instead of spray foam. Ultimately, however, we found a contractor who worked on the problem with us, and we ended with a successful product that can be removed in the future. While it is difficult to assess the value of every measure we took, like the air-sealing qualities of historic

plastering or the benefits of insulation, anecdotally, the house is less drafty and easier to heat and cool. But our most significant gain in efficiency really came from investing in our heating and cooling systems. Just changing the fuel source from heating oil to natural gas was extremely beneficial. And don’t underestimate the power of well-secured and wellinsulated ductwork. Finally, we set up a system of zones to maximize efficiency depending on how we use the site, which allows us to shut down unused rooms and heat or cool only those spaces in active use. We are proud to announce that this project won a Preservation Award from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Your own efforts at energy efficiency don’t have to be this complicated—you can start with just one small element and build from there. Common sense will dictate which issues to address first—leaky windows, inefficient heating plant, leaking ductwork. Start with

one project, see the results, and move on to the next! — Ben Haavik Team Leader, Property Care

Please visit www.historicnewengland. org/preservation/energy-efficiency-andsustainability for information on energy efficiency that could be useful to homeowners. After being closed for a year so the restoration could be carried out, the mansion at the Lyman Estate is now open again with a full schedule of functions and public programs. Tours of the mansion are offered on the third Saturday of the month; please check our website for greenhouse hours, special events, and information on function rentals.

far left

Ballroom

windows were removed for conservation. left A blower door test measured air infiltration in the parlor.

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As a nine-year-old, I found the rigid teaching style at my German school oppressive.

An Educational Odyssey

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E v e r y o ne ’ s

H i s t o ry

Students at the progressive Beacon Hill School in Sussex, England, put on a freestyle performance.

right

Navigating Cultures from the Old World to the New

“O

h, look, look, look! There she is—the Statue of Liberty!” Wild shouts on all sides. Pushing and shoving as passengers rushed to the rails. We’ve arrived in America at last and are entering the harbor. Screams of joy and excitement all round. Except from me. Among all the emigrants from Europe that hot July day in 1937, I was the sullen little girl who did not cheer and retreated to the lowest bowels of the ocean liner Berengaria, hoping that, undiscovered, I would be conveyed back to England on the ship’s return trip. It was the second time in my eleven years that I had abruptly bid farewell to all that was familiar, friendly, and loved. Leaving Nazi Germany in 1935 had been a blessed release, but it had cost me language, playmates, and all the associations of childhood. Only the Nazi schools, which were a form of juvenile internment, had no claim on my heart. This was not because of their political indoctrination, which rolled off my back like water, but because of the utter grimness and lack of joy in learning. Moving to England with my parents had offered a breath of freedom, but when we toured country boarding schools, and I saw uniforms, which all boarding school students had to wear, I balked. My sympathetic parents finally brought me to a wildly progressive school founded by Bertrand Russell, called Beacon Hill. There were about twelve children and an equal number of grownups. It

y

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Courtesy Concord Museum

The classical architecture of Concord Academy, in Concord, Massachusetts, provided a setting for a traditional New England education. right Cross-country skiing outside Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts. above

boasted no uniforms (sometimes no clothes at all, weather permitting), demanded no obligatory attention to the three R’s, and had no set classes. Instead, a rambunctious spirit of free investigation was encouraged. Russell believed that “education must be subversive if it is to be meaningful…It must challenge all the things we take for granted, examine all accepted assumptions, tamper with every sacred cow, and instill a desire to questions and doubt.” I was utterly enchanted by this sequel to my Nazi education, and for the next year and a half I was allowed to sport and play in the Garden of Eden. Had it not been for incessant pangs of hunger (the school was too poor to feed us much besides boiled bread and treacle), I would have been totally happy. I neither missed my parents, who had departed for America, nor the enchanted pre-Alpine German landscape of my childhood. I had already acquired a small measure of independence and a sense of directing my own life. I think Russell would have been pleased to see how quickly a Hitler child could become a free thinker. All too soon, I was uprooted again to come to the United States, where my father had been invited to teach at Harvard University. I was enrolled in the venerable Concord Academy for Girls, which appeared to be a bastion of New England 26

ethics and virtues. The very air seemed to me pale with decorum and British good manners. What mattered was “team spirit,” not only on the soccer field but also in the school at large. My grasp of this was even less than I had understood the communist leanings of the staff at Beacon Hill, but at least the student body wasn’t in uniform or standing at attention. The Russell education, as well as Nazism, had distanced me from any impulse to join in and had taught me instead to value individual exploration. I liked the American students far better than any others I had known before. They were warm and outgoing and eager to include me. They enjoyed the fact that I was different and admired my British accent. In class we studied English history but not much about America. Asia, the Middle East, the Continent, American Indians, and South America were barely mentioned. I emerged after three years of history studies with a passion for the ancient Greeks and Romans and not a clue about the meaning of my adopted country. Meanwhile, my parents at home were entranced by their new “American” lifestyle. They had built a Modern house for themselves and owned American cars, a dishwasher, and a lawnmower and adopted every new technology with glee. They embraced the cultural climate and found the open-

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Courtesy, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina

As part of the work program at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, one of my jobs was processing milk. right Bauhaus painter Josef Albers, who came to America in 1933 to teach at Black Mountain College, revolutionized art education. Here, he critiques student artwork on the floor.

above

hearted adventurous spirit of their new friends a relief from their memories of chilly England. In this they were of like mind with all the other immigrants escaping from embattled Europe. They accepted every aspect of the American way of life with enthusiasm, something that I, by now a truculent teenager, did not. They loved the landscape, bluebirds, and fields of corn; I found the woods scruffy, overgrown with prickly bushes and poison ivy. I missed Germany’s majestic forests free from undergrowth and England’s green velvet pastures and lovely footpaths. My parents’ house was filled with visitors from all parts of the Old World, many of them distinguished figures in architecture, visual arts, design, and music, who saw in the little house in Lincoln, Massachusetts, a continuity of Modern thought in a new setting. While there were plenty of American friends as well, I grew up in a climate more European than American. I knew that I lived in a house and manner that were markedly different from those of my schoolmates. I did not find their lifestyles more appealing than mine, just different. Perhaps I did not wish to make them my own? I remained a foreign body, but the feeling of not really belonging was so familiar to me that I hardly noticed it.

It was not until I was sixteen that I arrived at a place where I knew I belonged, which was for me a new and marvelous sensation. I had come to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to Black Mountain College, a legendary little educational community. As this was during World War II, half the male faculty and students had been drafted, so I joined what seemed at first like a girls’ school. The faculty was largely made up of European immigrants, professors of outstanding achievement in their fields, who had fled Germany for political reasons. What I found at Black Mountain was a grown-up version of what I had loved at Beacon Hill—a tiny Europeanflavored school where the ratio of teacher to student was almost one to three. It was as intimate as a family. This highly experimental liberal arts and art college had been founded on the principles of John Dewey and created itself anew in the daily life of a little farm community, which helped support the college through the efforts of faculty and students alike. Treated as grownups, we students became grownups. We were given responsibilities for the college, which made it seem ours, not an institution. We felt in charge of our own education as if we were graduate students. This push towards adulthood was enormously exciting and challenging. Fall 2013 Historic New England

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Courtesy, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina

Once I arrived there I never wanted to leave again. Every other place seemed dull and lifeless. Notably absent at Black Mountain were patriotism, religiosity, standard measures of success, and traditional roles for men and women—in fact, all the assumptions of conventional society. I had found my true home, where suddenly I was no longer a stranger but a native. This was a side of America I had not been able to discern before. But the values were not only American. Black Mountain College, with its preponderance of European teachers, offered me a continuation of a familiar culture. In all my years in America, I was never without allegiance to Europe. Though I could not explain the qualities that so deeply bonded me to the Old World, they never lost their magnetism. In the years since, I have led a happy and fulfilling life in America, often shuttling back and forth between two conti-

nents. But I have never been entirely free from a covert feeling of longing. Longing to “come home.” Home to where? In what mysterious terrain could I put down my deepest roots? Perhaps I belong with those migratory birds who have two homes, continents apart, and a lifetime of seeking the other. Forever homeless? Or twice blessed? — Ati Gropius Johansen Mrs. Johansen, daughter of Walter and Ise Gropius, is an artist and teacher.

In 1946, the distinguished summer faculty at Black Mountain College included Leo Lionni, third from left, Beaumont Newhall, sixth from left, and Josef and Anni Albers, far right. Walter and Ise Gropius stand on either side of the tree.

above

Visit Historic New England’s 1938 Gropius House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where the author lived after the family settled in America. For information, go to HistoricNewEngland.org.

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Private Lives Own these insightful narratives of Walter and Ise Gropius, mid-twentieth century power couple, written by their daughter, Ati Gropius Johansen.

Two memoirs offer intimate views of the famous architect and his glamorous wife. Walter, the great thinker and teacher, inspired respect and awe in generations of colleagues and students. Ise, whom he adored, used her beauty and skill as a hostess to sustain a charmed circle around them, which included many of the leading artists of the day. The Gropiuses’ 1938 home in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is now a National Historic Landmark and an artistic mecca for visitors from around the world. Each book is 24 pages, softcover, illustrated with family photographs in black and white, many of them never previously published. $9.95. Buy the pair for $17.95. Order online at HistoricNewEngland.org.

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P o r t r a i t

Louis Prang printer and democrat

L

ouis Prang died in 1909 at the age of eighty-five. His obituary in the June 16 issue of the Boston Daily Globe noted: “…Prang did more to revolutionize American art and to promote the esthetic development of this country than any other person who lived during the last half century.” Speaking at his memorial service, held at Jordan Hall in Boston in October 1909 and attended by five hundred people, Louis D. Brandeis described Prang this way: “…for half a century [he] did more than any other man to democratize art. He brought to millions of people the joy and refinement which art affords; and through his efforts in art education in our

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schools millions of boys and girls have become learned in art. He loved art, but I fancy he loved even more democracy.” Who was this man who received such praise from the press and the future associate justice of the United States Supreme Court? Born in Breslau in Prussia in 1824, Prang followed his father into the calico-printing trade and spent time mastering both his technical and business skills. However, his involvement in the revolutionary uprisings that swept Europe in 1848 put an end to his hopes for a successful career printing on textiles, and he was forced to emigrate to the United States in 1850. By 1856, having learned wood

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engraving and lithography, Prang was in Boston in partnership with Julius Mayer, producing views of Cambridge and Boston, among other subjects. In 1860, the Prang-Mayer relationship dissolved, and Prang reconstituted the business as L. Prang & Co., Lithographers. He was able to put his business on a secure financial footing by correctly anticipating the public’s strong interest in the conflict that erupted between the North and the South. By offering maps of battlefields, portraits of generals, and views of camp life, Prang met the demands of a citizenry clamoring for information about the war. He also responded to the needs of consumers and businesses by printing trade cards, labels, album cards, rewards of merit, marriage certificates, children’s books, games, calendars, and mourning cards. Prang’s ability to foresee or even create a taste for his products was a key factor in his long-term success. In 1864, Prang returned to Europe to learn about recent advances in color printing and to recruit skilled workers for his establishment. Back in America, he began to work on a project dear to his heart: the production of high-quality facsimiles of oil and watercolor paintings by American and European artists, which he called Prang’s American Chromos, and which were affordable enough to be acquired and appreciated by the average person. A. T. Bricher, A. F. Tait, Eastman Johnson, Albert Bierstadt, Benjamin Champney, Thomas Hill, Thomas Moran, and Winslow Homer were only some of the artists whose works Prang collected and copied. Subjects ranged from the mundane—a group of chickens—to the sublime—views of Yosemite. The chromolithographs were so skillfully produced that Prang was able to elicit testimonials from well-known authors, artists, and public figures. For example, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote that “when in the frame [the chromolithographs] cannot be told from oils.” Over the years, Prang selected and reproduced more than eight hundred works of art, of which countless copies were sold to hang in homes across the country. The Watchman and the Reflector, a Baptist newspaper, in a piece entitled “Democracy of Art,” describes the pieces in the following manner: “What revelers of beauty, what creators of joy, what apostles of art, are Prang’s chromos!…One must not forget, in

The Domes of the Yosemite. Chromolithograph after John Ross Key, 1873. FACING PAGE BELOW Louis Prang. left One example from a series of “doll shaped” books, c. 1863. above Original design for a Christmas card by Rosina Emmet. Awarded fourth prize of $200 in Prang’s 1881 design competition, it was reproduced as a chromolithographed card with silk fringe. FACING PAGE TOP

his personal admiration of these chromos, that they are the democrats of art, going everywhere with their blessed influence, and entering as courteously the cottages of the poor as the palaces of the rich.” Prang, however, was not without detractors. Clarence Cook, art critic and arbiter of good taste, and E. L. Godkin, editor of the Nation, among others, accused Prang of deceiving the public with his chromolithographic reproductions and degrading public taste. Prang countered his critics by asserting his absolute commitment to the highest quality and describing his mastery of complex printing technology. Fall 2013 Historic New England

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Another highly successful venture earned Prang the sobriquet, “Father of the American Christmas Card.” In 1875, he began producing beautifully designed Christmas cards for the American market. They were enormously popular, and by the 1880s, he was printing more than five million of them per year. Between 1880 and 1884, Prang sponsored four competitions, inviting artists to submit designs for the Christmas cards and offering substantial cash prizes to the winners. In the late 1890s, in the face of mounting competition from cheap imports, Prang ceased printing greeting cards. This left him free to devote more attention to art education, with which he had been involved since the 1870s. He was a leading producer of art textbooks and training manuals for art teachers and also developed non-toxic watercolors for children. Here, as in his other ventures, Prang combined technical expertise, commercial acumen, and an immigrant’s zeal to build a successful business by using art to enrich the lives of ordinary people. —Lorna Condon Senior Curator of Library and Archives

above Old Warehouse—Dock Square, Boston, c. 1861. The image depicts the Old Feather Store, which stood not far from Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market and was demolished in 1860. Below Calendars were a staple of L. Prang & Company from the 1880s to 1900. Aesthetic in style, this one from 1882 bears an unattributed partial quotation from a poem by Alfred Tennyson on the front and four verses about the seasons by John Greenleaf Whittier on the back, along with the calendar.

Visit HistoricNewEngland.org/Prang to see more works by Louis Prang.

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In 1867, Louis and Rosa Prang purchased this house on Centre Street in Roxbury. Prang’s printing factory is visible to the left. below Soon, the Prangs rebuilt the house into a much grander showplace. Note that the tree in the front yard and the fence survived the upgrade. left

Domestic/Industrial Complex

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n May 1867, Louis and Rosa Prang purchased a property in Roxbury, Massachusetts, bordered by Centre, Garden, and Washington (later Roxbury) streets. The house on the site, probably dating from the eighteenth century, had two stories, with a center entrance and hipped roof. The couple spent $9,000 on the purchase and soon after erected a factory to accommodate Prang’s growing business just behind and below the house. In his autobiography, Prang wrote that he made the plan for the factory building, but the structure was, in fact, designed by a fellow German emigrant and friend, Louis Weissbein. Weissbein had studied at the Royal College of Architects in Berlin before emigrating in 1853 to Boston, where he went on to have a successful career. Soon after the factory was completed, the Prangs engaged Weissbein

to design a more imposing mansion on the same site as the earlier house. The result was an impressive two-anda-half-story structure in the Italianate style. With grand house and large factory in close proximity, Prang had created an empire inside the confines of a city block. Historic New England’s Library and Archives holds at least seven photographs of the house taken over time. Five of the images were made by

Augustine H. Folsom, a well-known and prolific photographer, who lived most of his life in Roxbury not far from the Prangs. Both the Prang house and factory survive today. At one point, the house served as the Centre Manor Nursing Home, with a brick addition in front. That addition has since been removed, and the house is now part of a residential complex. —Lorna Condon

Prang’s factory opened in October 1868 and employed one hundred people. According to Prang, it was “the first building ever erected for the sole purpose of issuing art publications for the millions.” Prang was especially supportive of the women who worked in his factory and the women artists who created designs for his products. right

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141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702

Non-Profit Organization U.S. Postage PAID Boston, Massachusetts Permit No. 58621

a C q u i s i t i o n s

Must-See Event

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lthough the Boston Globe described the weather on opening day as “wetter than duck shooting in a leaky ‘sneak,’ [boat]” the Twentieth Annual New England Kennel Club Show was nonetheless a rousing success, featuring close to 1,200 dogs. “People began to arrive soon after the doors were opened, and by mid-afternoon the hall held one of the largest attendances ever seen.” The show’s poster, with its colorful depiction of human and canine personalities and stylish typography, doubtless helped attract large crowds to the event. The show was held in Boston’s Mechanics Hall, a building commissioned by the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association as exhibition space to promote the mechanical and scientific arts. The organization’s members were noted manufacturers and architects as well as hatters, housewrights, bookbinders, bakers, and cabinetmakers. The wedge-shaped brick building, designed by architect William Gibbons Preston, opened in 1881 and housed exhibition halls, dining rooms, offices, and a grand hall that could seat 8,000. Along with trade shows showcasing the latest innovations in sewing machines and paper collars, the hall hosted flower shows, musical performances, lectures, and charity bazaars. Dog shows continued to be popular right up until the hall was razed in 1959 to make way for the Prudential Center. —Jeanne Gamble Library and Archives Specialist

above New England Kennel Club poster, 1904. Gift of Henry N. and Mary R. McCarl. right Mechanics Hall, Boston.

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Historic New England Fall 2013  

Celebrate four centuries of Massachusetts furniture, explore the iconic multifamily housing three-decker, and hear from Ati Gropius Johansen...

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