Historic New England Summer 2009

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Historic NEW ENGLAND Summer 2009 Vol. 9, No.1

“A Few Desirable Boarders Solicited” 2

David Carmack

In times of uncertainty, we turn to history. Whether to understand the economy, legal precedents, or international crises, when confronting the issues of the day we automatically look to the past for perspective. Where do we find the information needed to guide our decisions today? In documents, artifacts, images, and recorded evidence that is preserved in museums and archives such as those at Historic New England. In this issue we recognize how constant history is as an influence in our lives. From summer tourists traveling to Wiscasset to modern houses being erected in Lincoln, the distant past and recent past are present to us. History is as near as our own kitchens, which have evolved from the early hearth kitchens used in New England three hundred years ago. In times of uncertainty, the consistent presence of the past is a reminder of challenges faced before, and of the ingenuity and flexibility of New Englanders. We recognize how important it is to preserve our heritage and ensure that the traditions, practices, challenges, and accomplishments on which our society is based are available as historic resources for us and future generations. In difficult times, we turn to history. Our thanks go to all members and friends of Historic New England for their dedication to preserving New England heritage through support of our mission and programs.

Modern Neighbors 14



A Festive Evening 8


Preservation Pendulum M A K I N G F U N O F H I S TO RY


Postcards 13


—Carl R. Nold

Preserving the Harvest L A N D S C A P E 18

Garden Planning for a Country Estate Historic New England 141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702 (617) 227-3956 HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND magazine is a benefit of membership. To join Historic New England, please visit our website, HistoricNew England.org or call (617) 227-3956. Comments? Please call Nancy Curtis, editor. Historic New England is presented by the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. It is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Executive Editor Diane Viera

Editor Nancy Curtis

Design DeFrancis Carbone

The upper level of the piazza at Castle Tucker, Wiscasset, Maine, overlooks the Sheepscot River. Photo by Aaron Usher. COVER



Old House Myths AC Q U I S I T I O N S


28 Flavors

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

The award-winning Historic New England magazine is a benefit of membership.To join, please visit www.HistoricNewEngland.org


A Festive Evening

Chairman of the Board, William C.S. Hicks. MIDDLE, LEFT Guest auctioneer Karen Keane of Skinner, Inc., responds to lively bidding on Red Sox box seats. MIDDLE RIGHT Susan Sloan, Kem Widmer, Betsy Garrett Widmer, and Julie Cox. BELOW LEFT Lead Corporate Sponsor William Vareika with Gala CoTOP

Photographs by Michael Dwyer


early three hundred guests gathered at the Four Seasons Hotel in Boston on January 9 for the fourth Historic New England Gala, which raised $201,000 to support our education and public outreach programs.

Chairs Kristin Servison and Anne Kilguss, and President and CEO Carl R. Nold. BELOW CENTER Honorary Chairs Leigh Keno, and Emily and Leslie Keno. BELOW RIGHT Honorary Chairs Peter and Carolyn Lynch.

Summer 2009 Historic New England


A Few Desirable

Boarders Solicited

“Several summers ago we were sitting at an open window, looking out upon one of the pleasant parks of New York, vainly endeavoring to detect some perceptible motion among the tall maples whose leaves had hung ever since morning as immovable as foliage cut in cold stone…we fell into a serious discussion of the merits of ocean and shore, and resolved to get out of the suffocating city without delay. But where should we go? … And so… Maine was talked of.” —B. F. DeCosta, Rambles in Mount Desert: With Sketches of Travel on the New-England Coast, from the Isles


Historic New England Summer 2009

Aaron Usher

of Shoals to the Grand Menan, 1871

Aaron Usher

The allure of coastal Maine

for summers at the Castle


n the days before air conditioning, those who could afford to fled the cities during the summer, many of them

seeking respite amid the cool ocean breezes of coastal New England. Vacationers had several options when selecting a home away from home. Many chose to stay at the growing number of inns, hotels, and resorts that dotted the coast. Travelers with smaller budgets or those who sought out “authentic” rural experiences with access to fresh food often boarded with farm families who opened their homes to tourists. Taking in summer boarders was seen as a respectable way for families, particularly women, to earn extra money. The need for additional income motivated the Tuckers of Wiscasset, Maine, to open their home, Castle Tucker, to summer boarders. By the mid-1880s, the family finances were strained, partly because of the region’s sluggish economy and partly because of Captain Tucker’s unprofitable investments

and experiments with steam-propelled watercraft. In 1885, Tucker wrote to his oldest daughter, Mame, “Times are hard with me, everything going out and nothing coming in. I have lost a good deal the past year and my expenses have been heavy. I have no care for my future for myself but I should feel happy if I knew my family were self sustaining.” Three years later, he reassured her not to worry about family affairs and that “we are not going to open a Boarding House.” His wife, Mollie, however, recognized that the house itself had the potential to bring in money. In February 1890, she wrote to Mame, “I have already written to Foster about Artist boarders for the Summer & shall follow it up with advertisements in the papers to the same end & purpose. I shall try FACING PAGE The east façade of Castle Tucker, Wiscasset, Maine. Captain Tucker added the dramatic two-story piazza to the 1807 house after he bought the property in 1858. ABOVE LEFT Mollie Tucker, with Patty, Will, and Mame. ABOVE RIGHT The Italianate entry with exuberant console brackets (also added by Captain Tucker) opens out to greet the visitor.

Summer 2009 Historic New England


Aaron Usher

The house did not have running water, but each chamber had a handsome toilet service and a washstand. ABOVE RIGHT A piazza was high on the list of amenities desired by city dwellers


to fill the house, & work every moment myself to tide over another year, taxes are due, also, things are in a mess indeed, & yet there is property enough to keep us in prudence without hard work if well managed.” During the next ten years, she and two of the adult children, Jane and Will, endeavored to wrest a living from their “old-fashioned country mansion.” The Tuckers believed that Castle Tucker with its dramatic piazza would appeal to vacationers. Will thought, “The rooms and other surroundings are far better than an ordinary place we all know.” The Tuckers sought boarders by placing advertisements in Boston, New York, and New Haven newspapers. Jane and Will worked hard to drum up business and interviewed prospective boarders. Room prices ranged from $7 to $30 per week. The most desirable and expensive rooms were the two large chambers above the billiard room and the parlor. It is unclear where the family stayed in the summer, since they appear to have been willing to rent any and every room they could. Mollie wrote to Mame that they were “getting things up into the attic where Jane proposes to sleep in a hammock this Summer if things are so favorable for us as to insure a full house. I shall sleep in the Bath room on an Iron bedstead taking out the stove 4

Historic New England Summer 2009

seeking a summer refuge. Castle Tucker’s piazza has two levels (formerly shaded by a large elm tree) with windows to admit cool breezes. The lower level was a welcoming room, filled with

there, it will make a very comfortable room for me I think.” Once the family decided to open the house to tourists, they worked in earnest to prepare. Family letters suggest a flurry of activity as Mollie, Will, and Jane cleaned out closets and bureaus, moved furniture, and spruced up rooms with paint and paper. Mollie described the preparations to Mame in June 1890: “We have been painting the Billiard room floor & that of the Dining Room & up in the 3rd story & Jane did it all her own self…now we have been papering the Studio & the Dirty-clothes Closet has all the shelves out of it & makes a cute little room for a single bed room, nicely papered & painted they will make good rooms enough, ways & means are keeping us so busy that we bear our suspense quite well.” Captain Tucker cleaned up his pilot boat in hopes of renting it to visitors. The Tuckers sought boarders of a “better” class, but their guests also had to be open to more rustic conditions than they may have been used to. Mollie received the following inquiry from a prospective boarder in 1894: “Have you piazza or grounds, bath room, with hot & cold water, & water closet? Is the plumbing modern & good?” Although Mollie’s response is lost, it clearly did not meet her daughter Jane’s approval: “Next time any one writes about the place

don’t do such a fool thing as to tell them you have no plumbing, you lead them to think there is no decent water closet and that they must probably go out doors for a miserable place such as you generally find in the country. Just tell them you have no bath room when they have to know about it but the least said on that subject the better.” Family correspondence refers to a water closet, and they likely were able to pump water from the cistern for use in the kitchen and laundry, but bathroom facilities were limited in size and sophistication. While farms and other rural homes that would be their competition likely had no better amenities, by the 1890s, the city dwellers that were the Tuckers’ preferred clientele were used to higher levels of comfort. Most boarders anticipated some sacrifices, as suggested by an 1893 article in Harper’s Bazaar, “Many a woman, looking at her comfortable city home, with its high ceilings, pleasant situation, and ample facilities for bathing, sighs at the thought of living in a trunk in tiny cramped chambers, with scant appliances for the toilet and greatly restricted conveniences, during the heated term.” Despite their less-than-modern facilities, the Tuckers believed their home had other advantages, as Jane reminded her mother in the rest of her letter, “as for a piazza you

Aaron Usher

Aaron Usher

couches, rocking chairs, and other comfortable seating, where the Tuckers and their guests could gather and relax. ABOVE The spacious north chamber includes a seating area. An adjoining smaller

bedroom made it suitable as a suite for a family. Some guests preferred rooms on the south side of the house because they offered views of the water.

should have told her this was better than any piazza she ever saw for it could be all thrown open like a piazza on pleasant days and when it was stormy made the most delightful sitting room imaginable. Don’t tell them too plain facts, dress them up or you will never get any one down there. What they do have about the house more than makes up for the lack of the modern conveniences that they would not find.” Indeed, the Tuckers’ hospitality may have made up for rustic amenities. Photographs from the era capture a game of lawn tennis and groups of people relaxing in the piazza. One family letter mentions an entertainment that ended in a dance. Running a boarding house required a tremendous amount of work for the Tuckers and any help they were able to hire. Mollie appears to have shouldered the majority of the burden, but Jane worked during most of the boarding house summers. Even before making the decision to take in boarders, Mollie was aware that domestic help would be required and wrote to Mame in December 1889, “I keep Maggie which is an extravagance I admit all around but if I take boarders or lodgers next summer she is the best girl possible for me & to keep her for this purpose I must make this sacrifice not only of her wages, which I can ill afford, but the firewood & kerosene is a big item with the food also.” Summer 2009 Historic New England


Aaron Usher

Photographs taken in 1894 show guests with Captain Tucker in the lower piazza and a game of billiards.


Maggie stayed until just before the start of the first boarding season and was followed by a series of girls and women who worked behind the scenes to cook, feed, serve, and clean up after a houseful of guests. Running a summer boarding house created a delicate social situation for the lady of the house. As a woman whose social standing, regardless of any diminished economic position, made her mistress of servants, she now found herself playing the blurred role of a hostess who was obliged to cater to the boarders’ demands. Like most families who opened their homes to summer people, the Tuckers encountered a range of personalities, some of whom they enjoyed and who returned for multiple summers, and others whom they considered quite difficult. The Tuckers initially wished to attract artists, but it is unclear exactly who ultimately took advantage of their home and hospitality. Two other Tucker children, Richard and Patty, advised against taking friends and relations because they often demanded more but expected to pay less. Mollie took them in anyway, most likely to fill the house. Boarders could also be particular about meals and other creature comforts. Mr. Woodman, of Portland, Maine, who spent two summers at Castle Tucker, described his family’s preferences, “As to diet, our tastes are extremely simple, pas6

Historic New England Summer 2009

Parlor games and music likely provided entertainment during rainy days and evenings. The lower piazza may be glimpsed through the doorway.


try and cake Mrs. Woodman does not care for herself and does not permit the children to eat. Good bread (without shortening of any kind) milk, butter, oat meal, cracked wheat, etc. are the important things, and the main staples of the children’s diet for all three meals, though at dinner time they eat a small amount of such meat as may be served and vegetables.” The Tuckers’ experiences with boarders seem fairly typical. The summer boarding situation served as a popular topic for humor in the 1890s. Stereotypical boarders such as the elderly lady traveling with her unmarried daughter, the bachelor who believes that “‘All children ought to be kept in barrels until they are twelve years old,’” and the “boss of the boarding house,” who functions as the conduit for complaints to the landlady, were described in the popular press. Mollie described her feelings about her summer residents to Mame in August 1890: “You ask if I like or dislike boarders… I assure you, I much prefer strangers to acquaintances but the Babsons have been very nice boarders. Mrs. Grant is still here, her oldest son Thomas came yesterday for a week’s stay, & Mrs. Babson & daughter left us yesterday. Last Sunday the house was full. Today we have only four people.” Although family correspondence suggests that the Tuckers managed to draw a number of guests to room and

David Bohl

Castle Tucker’s grounds and location near the water allowed summer boarders to partake in the healthy outdoor activities that were an important part of summer vacationing. ABOVE LEFT

board in their home, they were not able to earn a significant profit. In July 1891, Will wrote to Mollie that “you are overcrowded and rooming people outside. Well that looks like a good season I should think.” However, when all was said and done, success did not translate into financial stability. In November of the same year, Will wrote to his mother, “Do you really come out so little ahead as you say? Jane said she thought you would be at least $250 or $300 ahead and I felt you had done well anyway.” The family continued to let rooms to boarders through the 1890s, although as the decade wore on, the venture seemed to run its course. Ultimately, running Castle Tucker as a boarding house was too much work for too little income. After Captain Tucker’s death in 1895, Richard served as executor of his father’s estate. In 1898, he expressed frustration with the boarding scheme and forbade family members from taking in boarders without his consent. Although there is evidence that a few lodgers stayed at the house in the years immediately following, by 1900 it appears that “spacious rooms” were no longer let in this particular country mansion. The end of the boarding house era did not end Castle Tucker’s relationship with Maine’s tourist industry. Between 1924 and 1950, Jane Tucker opened the home to vacationers

The Tuckers advertised the billiard room as one of the amusements available to guests. ABOVE RIGHT

once again, this time as a lodging house, where visitors could get a room for the night but no meals. An advertisement for a local tea room printed in the State of Maine Cook Book, edited by Jane Tucker for the state’s Democratic Party, recommended to patrons, “After a Delicious Dinner At Montsweag Farm Tea Room, ride on for about 10 minutes, to—castle tucker For a cool, comfortable lodging in this quaint old house.” Starting in the 1970s, her niece, Jane Standen Tucker, also welcomed visitors to her family home, not for an overnight stay but for an hour’s guided tour and a glimpse of a world gone by. For the better part of a century, welcoming guests to Castle Tucker allowed the Tucker family and later, Historic New England, to preserve a building and memories of a lifestyle. —Jennifer Pustz Museum Historian

Castle Tucker is open Wednesday through Sunday from June 3 through October 15, 11 am to 5 pm, tours on the hour, last tour at 4 pm.

Summer 2009 Historic New England



Preservation Pendulum ver since its founding in 1910, Historic New England’s work has been guided by a philosophy of preservation. Our goal has always been to keep for future generations the significant features at any site. Yet, defining what is significant is subjective. One person may think that a window installed in the 1870s is significant, while someone else might value more the window that preceded it. Looking back over the years, we can see that our approach has fluctuated with the prevailing wisdom of the time, swinging like a pendulum between restoration and strict conservation. The preservation pendulum’s position begins to the right of center with our founder, William Sumner Appleton, during the early decades of the



Historic New England Summer 2009

twentieth century. The common preservation methodology of his day was to restore historic houses—to take them back to their “original” appearance by removing features added after the house was first constructed. Appleton’s approach, more conservative than that of his peers in the field, tried to respect later alterations. Indeed, he was criticized for his conservative philosophy. Regarding his decision to preserve later additions to the 1664 Jackson House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, he responded, “even were this new wall built of old stock, it would still remain mine, and I much prefer the interesting old alterations made by some long dead generation of Jacksons.” On occasion, however, Appleton did remove later modifica-

tions to restore older features if he felt the evidence was sufficiently compelling. The evidence for the original seventeenth-century window at the Jackson House was so clear that he decided to replicate it in order to restore the principal façade. After Appleton’s death, the preservation pendulum in the 1940s and 1950s swung dramatically toward restoration. This was inspired in part by the popularity of Colonial Williamsburg’s reconstructed Colonial capitol as well as by a widespread preference ABOVE In the mid-nineteenth century, the Caseys added a Greek Revival veranda as a place to relax. In this c. 1875 view, the original columns have been replaced by rustic peeledlog posts. INSET The farmhouse today.

the 1796 Otis House, was refurbished to reflect the appearance of a mansion belonging to a prominent family during the Federal era. Thirty years later, as a result of changing visitor interests, we reinstalled two rooms to allow us to represent the lives of a female physician and a middle-class boarder who lived there in the 1830s and 1850s. Preservation and reversibility are the keys to Historic New England’s philosophy today. It is likely that our approach will always remain faithful to the available historical evidence— conservative in protecting historic features and flexible in interpreting houses to the public. As Appleton said, “What is left today can be changed tomorrow whereas what is removed today can perhaps never be put back.” —Ben Haavik Team Leader, Property Care

The ell chamber during the 1970s at the Otis House, furnished to reflect the Federal era. BOTTOM The same room today reinterpreted as a boarding house bedroom in the 1850s.


David Carmack

they came to us. For example, the elevator that the family had installed at the back of the house in the 1950s was left in place despite the fact that it compromised the exterior and darkened the hall. Our guiding philosophy dictates that regardless of how we interpret the house to the public, we must leave all the evidence intact. At present, the tour narrative focuses on the early twentieth century, when the last two generations of the family were using the estate as a country house, but if in future staff chooses to portray life at the house in the 1960s, the evidence of that era survives. While Historic New England’s preservation philosophy toward architectural fabric is conservative, it is flexible toward the interior, so long as any changes are reversible. A committee of curatorial, research, interpretative, and preservation staff analyzes preservation and presentation issues and carefully considers the best approach. We would never remove a later mantelpiece from a room, but might change the wall treatment, carpet, and furnishings to suit the interpretive concept. In the early 1970s, our flagship museum,

David Bohl

for eighteenth-century architecture and design. Thus, in keeping with current practices, Historic New England undertook to restore the house at the c.1750 Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, removing the nineteenth-century dormer windows and porch so as to return the building to its original appearance. Today, Historic New England staff look back at this restoration with some regret over the loss of details that show alterations over time as the Casey family modified the house to suit their changing needs and taste. In the 1960s, the pendulum at Historic New England swung back, past Appleton, to a very conservative philosophy, influenced by the latest thinking at the National Park Service, which advocated leaving properties exactly as they were when acquired. The only way to prevent the loss of fabric, such as had occurred at Casey Farm, was to preserve, not restore. When Historic New England acquired the c. 1740 Codman Estate in Lincoln, Massachusetts, in 1969, conservative philosophy dictated that the architectural details be preserved exactly as

Summer 2009 Historic New England






Let’s look at examples from Historic New England’s large collection of postcards. Collecting postcards used to be a popular hobby for both children and adults. Do you like to collect things? What can these postcards tell us about life nearly a century ago?

Let’s have fun with postcards.

Postcards 1860s



Late nineteenth century

Postcards first produced in Europe.

First blank postcards distributed by the U.S. Postal Service.

First picture postcards in America distributed at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

Queen Victoria has her own postcard collection.

do you know Can you guess what this is?

Postcards can depict all sorts of subjects, from landmarks to famous people to comic pictures. Some postcards show recent events. Can you identify the events pictured here, each of which had a major impact on life in New England?


Answers appear on the facing page.

2 10

Historic New England Summer 2009

puzzle D

Here are some postcards from the early twentieth century. Unscramble the words below, then match them to the subjects of the postcards.

1. R DA L E S E


2. E N W N V T N I I N O E 3. TA E G O C T 4. O N K G N I S O M 5. RY R F U D R I E F N


1. 2.


3. 4.

Answers can be found on page 17.







Kodak introduces a camera with which you can make your own postcards.

More than one million postcards pass through the Baltimore Post Office during the Christmas season.

The Post Card Union of America, one of several popular collectors’ clubs, has 10,000 members.

The telephone begins to compete with postcards as a means of communication.

1. This postcard shows American soldiers training for

combat in World War I. In 1918, a soldier stationed in Baltimore sent this card to Mrs. E. L. Sharpe on Tremont Street in Boston. On the back he wrote, “This is the same drill we get [every] day for 2 hours. Best regards to all from Wm. Ford.” 2. This postcard shows the devastation caused by the Great Hurricane of 1938. On September 21, this violent storm took New England by surprise, killing several hundred people and causing extensive damage throughout the region. Flood waters rose to thirteen feet in downtown Providence, and wind destroyed countless homes in Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts. Summer 2009 Historic New England






Design your own


Famous landmarks and beautiful landscapes, whether vacation destinations or hometowns, have always been popular subjects for postcards. Create a set of postcards of your own favorite places, and send them to your friends or keep them in an album. Materials Several sheets of 8 1/2" x 11" heavy cardstock Ruler Pencil Scissors Scrap paper Felt-tipped markers, crayons, or colored pencils Instructions 1. Using a pencil and ruler, divide the cardstock sheets in half and then in quarters so that each section measures 5 1/4” x 4 1/4”. Cut along the lines to make your postcards. 2. Make a list of your favorite places in your community. These could include buildings like your house, school, town hall, church, or post office. You can also include landscapes like parks, beaches, athletic fields, even your own yard or garden. Make practice sketches of these places on scrap paper. 3. When you are satisfied with your sketch, draw it on the postcard and color it. Write the title of your subject on the face of the card, just like a real postcard. Color the picture with markers, crayons, or colored pencils. 4. You can display your postcard collection on a shelf, or in an album, as people often did one hundred years ago. To send a postcard in the mail, turn it over and draw a vertical line down the center. Write a message on the left-hand side and the mailing address on the right. Put a postcard stamp on the upper right-hand corner before mailing it. —Amy Peters Clark, Education Program Manager


Historic New England Summer 2009

Casey the Clock would love to receive one of your postcards! Send it to Casey the Clock, c/o Historic New England, 141 Cambridge Street, Boston, MA 02114. Be sure to put your name and return address on the card so we can enter your card into a drawing to receive your own Historic New England coloring book.




the Harvest oday, most Americans cannot imagine life before the widespread availability of well-stocked grocery shelves, plentiful canned and frozen foods, and home refrigerators and freezers. Before the advent of these conveniences, women not only cooked daily meals but also had the responsibility for preserving fresh food for later use. At harvest time, women devoted long hours to canning and pickling; they stored foods like carrots and potatoes in cool root cellars, and sold those things that would not keep. Many of the cellars and attics at Historic New England’s house museums are filled with canning jars and oversized kettles. At the Codman Estate in Lincoln, Massachusetts, jars of tomatoes and pears preserved by the family’s cook are still stored in the basement. At the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, Amelia Little, a trained home economist, took a class at Simmons College


in 1913 on “Properly Prepared Food,” and learned the chemistry of food preservation. Her copy of Canned Fruit, Preserves, and Jellies: Household Methods of Preparation, a Farmer’s Bulletin written by Maria Parloa for the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 1904, was clearly well used. She knew how important it was to follow canning procedures precisely to prevent spoilage or the growth of dangerous bacteria. In the late 1890s, Jane Tucker and her mother, Mollie, at Castle Tucker in Wiscasset, Maine (see pages 2–7), planned to sell their preserves. The apple market was flooded, but they hoped for success with preserved apple pie filling. In early 1897, Mollie and Jane had finished forty-two dozen quarts of “canned apple pie” with two dozen more on the way. “If we only succeed…we shall have a business for the winters to come and a chance live,” Mollie wrote to another daughter. A year later Mollie reported, “I have not sold a jar of apples in Wiscasset…

David Bohl

RIGHT Canned goods stored in the basement of the Codman Estate, Lincoln, Massachusetts.

Everybody is hard up like ourselves.” Jane sold a few bottles in Boston, but gave more away than she could sell. As Mollie observed, it takes time and experience to work the market. —Nancy Carlisle Curator

Year of the Kitchen programs The exhibition America’s Kitchens is on view at the New Hampshire Historical Society, Concord, New Hampshire, from June 11 through January 17, 2010. Three workshops on canning techniques will be offered at Cogswell’s Grant in Essex, Massachusetts, by Caroline Craig, who cooked for the owners, Mr. and Mrs. Bertram K. Little, for more than thirty years. For information on these and other Year of the Kitchen programs and to order the book America’s Kitchens, a profusely illustrated survey of kitchens across the country, visit www.AmericasKitchens.org.

Summer 2009 Historic New England



“Your type of architecture is somewhat startling but I shall look forward with great interest to having you build a house on this place…” —Helen Storrow, writing to Walter Gropius, 1937

Modern Neighbors n the spring of 1938, celebrated German architect Walter Gropius began construction on his family home overlooking the apple orchard belonging to wealthy philanthropist Helen Storrow. Gropius had recently been brought over from Europe to reinvigorate Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and was living in a small rented house in Lincoln, Massachusetts, around the corner from the Storrow mansion. At the suggestion of Boston architect Henry Shepley, a mutual acquaintance, Mrs. Storrow offered Gropius an opportunity to build a house of his own design on a piece of her land. According to Gropius’s wife, Ise, “Mrs. Storrow agreed because one of her principles was that a newly arrived immigrant should always be given a chance to show what he could do best. If it was good it would take root, if it wasn’t it would disappear. But it had to be tried out.” Mrs. Storrow allowed Gropius to carve out a site on her estate and build a house that he would rent from her annually at ten percent of the building cost, with an option to buy at a later date. Gropius was grateful for the offer, fearing that it would be nearly impossible to get a bank loan for the flat-



Historic New England Summer 2009

roofed house he wanted to build. After reviewing their finances, the Gropiuses decided to spend no more than $20,000 on their new home. Before the Gropiuses’ house was even completed, Mrs. Storrow permitted three other forward-thinking Harvard professors to build houses on her property with the same arrangement. In January of 1939, Woods End Road was laid out on paper, and soon after, construction began on the three additional houses, all of which were of modern design. All four families were firm believers in the principles of modern design and saw their houses as a means of demonstrating the strengths of a modern approach to architecture. Yet, as each family had its own ideas about the best way to go about this, each house had a personality of its own.

A gathering at the Breuer House in 1940. Ise Gropius is seated in front of the fireplace, with Walter Gropius at lower left. ABOVE

Gropius House “When I built my first house in the U.S.A.— which was my own—I made it a point to absorb into my own conception those features of the New England architectural tradition that I found still alive and adequate. —Walter Gropius, Scope of Total Architecture, 1955

Gropius House in 1939. Its shape recalls the rectangular New England farmhouse, but its orientation, like all the modern houses on Woods End Road, was away from the road to take advantage of sweeping views to the south and west. BELOW Breuer designed a house for himself of just over one thousand square feet with one bedroom and a small maid’s quarters. It was enlarged substantially by later owners. ABOVE

Breuer house “Many try to explain the new architecture as a result of new techniques, new materials. I believe they are wrong. Stone and wood are as stimulating to the new architectural vision as concrete and glass.” —Marcel Breuer in House and Garden, April 1940

David Carmack

In designing his home, Gropius studied the Colonial houses of the region and borrowed features like the white wood exterior, fieldstone foundation, and passive solar orientation. To these traditional New England features he introduced “new” materials like steel, glass block, and chrome, which up until that point had been used mostly in industrial applications. Gropius hoped this house would serve as a calling card for his private architectural practice, showing how the New England house could adapt to the exciting technology that the twentieth century had to offer. The house was completed just before the Great Hurricane of 1938, after which many in Lincoln were surprised to see Gropius’s “startling” house still standing.

The architect Marcel Breuer arrived in Boston a few months after Gropius in 1937. He had been Gropius’s student and, later, a colleague at the Bauhaus, the design school in Germany founded and led by Gropius. After accepting an academic appointment at Harvard, he designed for himself a bachelor’s home on Woods End Road. Where Gropius used industrial materials, Breuer celebrated the colors and textures of materials found in nature. The two-story living room is dominated by a fieldstone fireplace wall, which has a gentle curve that softens the room’s interior. Originally, the rear wall and staircase were of natural unpainted wood in a warm honey color. Summer 2009 Historic New England


Bogner house “I considered it essential to demonstrate that modern architecture is not a luxury, but a means of giving more to the owner for the same amount than would have been expended on the traditional house.” —Walter Bogner, in House Beautiful, April 1941 Walter Bogner, a professor of architecture at Harvard, was determined to build his family home at the lowest cost possible. All rooms were designed for standard-sized lumber and used only wallboard, eliminating the expense of plaster walls. Bogner wanted to prove that it was possible to build a custom home that served the needs of a modern family at a modest price. The total construction cost for the Bogner house was under $10,000, less than half of what the Gropiuses spent. Mrs. Bogner was a vocal supporter of her husband’s experimental house. “Housework in a modern or old fashioned house?” she wrote in a 1941 article in a local newspaper. “I’ve lived in both and there is no comparison. The truly modern one is planned with the minimizing of fatigue as the prime consideration—both physical and mental fatigue.” Bogner felt that the modern house should provide uninterrupted views of the gardens and allow ample light for growing plants indoors. The partially enclosed upstairs “terrace garden” provided another space to grow plants and was used for sunbathing. FACING PAGE, BOTTOM Bogner entrance façade. RIGHT

Ford house “The new residential architecture…bases its plans upon the organic life of the family to be housed…Thus human needs come first, which lets the house grow from the inside outwardly to express the life within.” —James and Katherine Ford, The Modern House in America, 1940 James Ford, a Harvard sociologist, had been engaged in the field of housing for years. He and his wife, Katherine, had written books recommending modern house design for its quality, econ-

The Fords set their house on a small hill overlooking a spring-fed pond. A sun screen made of redwood boards on specially designed brackets runs the entire length of the second story.



Historic New England Summer 2009

Loud house

David Carmack


John Loud and his family had no interest in modern architecture. Nonetheless, they approached Mrs. Storrow, who allowed them to build another house on Woods End Road with the same terms she had given to the Harvard professors. The Louds engaged a local architect Loud house to design their home based on an eighteenth-century house on Cape Cod. As the Louds’ son later recalled, “Such a home made one feel rightly situated…The privacy of solid walls was such a fundamental, nay, unquestioned good, that to confuse the outdoors with the indoors through picture windows as in modern houses was at the very least bewildering and, if we stopped to think about it, wrongheaded.” Gropius’s daughter recalled that the occupants of the other houses were somewhat displeased by the appearance of the Louds’ house, pointing out that its design was better suited to someone living a century and a half earlier who didn’t have the benefit of modern technology like central heating and large panes of glass. The Louds, on the other hand, saw themselves as being “beset by chicken coops” and never appreciated what their modern neighbors were attempting to create. When Helen Storrow died in 1944, the Woods End Road residents purchased their houses from her estate. Although only the Bogner house is still owned by descendants of the original family, each of the current modern neighbors takes the role of steward quite seriously, preserving their own home’s important features and the remarkable neighborhood that was built seventy years ago as a way to revolutionize New England domestic architecture.

omy, and efficiency, stating that it brought a “sociological concern to the field of architecture.” Their house, which was designed by Gropius and Breuer, conformed to the Fords’ ideas about how a modern house, through precise planning, should accommodate the family’s personal needs and individual modes of living. Built around the specific requirements and living patterns of the Fords and their twelve-year-old daughter, the house included an isolated upstairs study with three walls of bookshelves, a large living room with a fireplace for large-scale entertaining, and a floor plan designed to provide direct sunlight to every room.

—Peter Gittleman Team Leader, Visitor Experience

Answers to puzzle on page 11. A./2. new invention B./1. leaders C./3. cottage D./5. furry friend E./4. no smoking

Summer 2009 Historic New England



Garden Planning for a Country Estate


Historic New England Summer 2009

Private Collection


oston businessman Alexander Cochrane and his family emigrated from Barr Head, Scotland, in 1849 when he was eight years old. At a youthful age he inherited the presidency of the chemical company A. Cochrane & Son (which became Cochrane Chemical Company), a position he retained until two years before his death. It was, however, his early business association with Alexander Graham Bell that ultimately made him one of the wealthiest men in New England, his stock shares eventually affording him a seat as a director of American Telephone and Telegraph. He married Mary Lynde Sullivan in 1869, and between 1870 and 1882 they produced eight children, five of them daughters, “red-haired beauties� well-known on the Boston social scene. Cochrane was a prominent Boston figure, serving on corporate boards as well as those of charitable organizations. He was also a significant collector of fine arts, making annual visits to the British Isles and the Continent that included shipping back paintings and decorative arts to embellish the homes the Cochranes created. At his death, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where Cochrane served as a trustee between 1913 and 1919, received from his col-

Private Collection

Proposed rose garden for Alexander Cochrane, Hamilton, Massachusetts. THIS PAGE, RIGHT Arthur Shurcliff, c.1926.

Courtesy Massachusetts Historical Society


lection a Corot landscape, Grand Canal, Venice, (the museum’s first work by Renoir), and two Monet paintings, Les Nymphias and Paysage d’eau. First among their residences was a townhouse at 257 Commonwealth Avenue, commissioned from the New York firm, McKim, Mead and White, and completed in 1887. Three years earlier, local architect William Ralph Emerson had designed a large, handsome, shingle-style summer home for them at Pride’s Crossing on the Massachusetts North Shore, where they spent their summer months overlooking the sea. This they alternated with spending summers abroad, including in Scotland, twice leasing a castle outside of Aberdeen, where they entertained family and friends. It was not until 1905 that Cochrane purchased the Marla-Whipple house and fourteen acres in Hamilton, Massachusetts, called by the Cochranes The Farm, or The Hague. It does not appear that the family ever took up residence there for any significant period of time. Cochrane’s granddaughter, Mary Margaret (Loring) Cushing, remembered that its greenhouse supplied figs and grapes for the Commonwealth Avenue household. Cochrane owned the property for eight years before he called in Boston landscape architect Arthur Asahel Shurtleff (known today as Shurcliff, after he changed his last name in 1930). Shurcliff trained as a mechanical engineer

Alexander Cochrane. THIS PAGE, LEFT The Cochranes’ Boston home. ABOVE The Cochrane family. FACING PAGE, BOTOM

Summer 2009 Historic New England


at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. After two more years at Harvard University, he went on to apprentice and then work at the Olmsted firm in nearby Brookline, the premiere landscape design office in America at the time, before setting up his own practice in 1904. During that time he helped Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., establish the first fouryear program in landscape architecture in America at Harvard, where he served on the faculty until the demands of his own practice forced him to resign. An early town planner, Shurcliff also worked for the Boston Parks Department and the Metropolitan District Commission for decades. In the 1920s, he was hired as Chief Landscape Architect for the Colonial Williamsburg restoration, a position he retained until he retired in 1941 at the age of seventy-one. Throughout his professional life he threaded work on private estates through his burgeoning practice. By the time Cochrane engaged him, Shurcliff possessed a thorough grounding and sophistication in residential landscape design, and his reputation in the Boston area was well established. Historic New England’s archives contain several Shurcliff plans for proposed work on the property, the earliest dated September 1913. In it the house, stables, and greenhouse are depicted as pre-existing, as well as the curving drive along the 20

Historic New England Summer 2009

side of the main structure, terminating in a turnaround in front of the stables. Irregular groupings of beech and oak trees loop about the greenhouse. Shurcliff proposed enclosing the area inside the trees in a rectangular surround of wall and spruce hedge, with a perennial garden rimming its interior. A pergola was to serve as entrance to the greenhouse area. He also suggested a second, square, walled perennial garden at the far end of the house, with a garden shelter incorporated into one of the walls, and a circular water basin at its center, the entire design reflecting the Arts and Crafts elements he favored at that time for small estates. Near the stables appears a cutting garden, designated for roses. The focal point for the newly created landscape, however, was to be the Rose Garden, on the southwest side of the residence, located directly on Main Street. An undated watercolor presents a luxuriant bird’s-eye view of the proposed garden, the work of P. O. Palmstrom, not a delineator employed by Shurcliff on a regular basis, although Shurcliff frequently used elaborate aerial views to aid his clients in conceptualizing plans. The garden would be enclosed on the northwest and southeast by masonry walls and on the southwest and northeast by a wooden picket fence.

By January of 1915, the design had progressed to the stage of a planting plan that included a broad selection of oldfashioned and hybrid rose varieties and “climbing roses to be trained” inside and outside the walls, with clematis and honeysuckle cascading over the terminating wooden fences. The shrubbery interspersed in the garden provided spring-flowering lilacs, and early summer-blooming azaleas and rhododendrons. The planting plan indicates that it was not to be simply a display garden for the height of summer, for each variety of rose was carefully under-planted with springblooming narcissi, crocuses, violets, and tulips; with iris, anemones, lilies, larkspur, hollyhocks, English daisies, and candytuft for midsummer bloom; and phlox, gladioli, chrysanthemums, asters, and fall-blooming crocuses providing autumn color. Low, clipped dwarf boxwood hedges delineated beds, with Japanese yews and dwarf pines anchoring the steps to the house. Four potted standard bay trees were positioned evenly across the veranda leading to the house. While the Palmstrom painting is clearly impressionistic in nature, the basic layout corresponds closely enough to the 1915 planting plan that it seems likely that it was made at the very least in response to the Shurcliff design. Although the plans in the Historic New England collection dated between

1913 and 1915 were delineated in significant detail— a fact that suggests Cochrane maintained interest in pursuing improvements to his Hamilton property—in fact, it is impossible to ascertain whether or not the designs were ever completed on the ground. Although subsequent drawings may have been lost, it is just as likely that the timing of the commission decided its fate. Despite the fact that the United States did not enter World War I until 1917, by 1915 the country was feeling its effects; most households were curtailing unnecessary expenditures, and the Hamilton house was the third and least inhabited among Cochrane’s residential holdings. Completed or not, however, Palmstrom’s lush painting remains an elegant reminder of Cochrane and Shurcliff’s garden scheme. —Elizabeth Hope Cushing Ms. Cushing is a landscape historian writing her dissertation on Arthur A. Shurcliff. Detail of the plan of the Cochrane estate in Hamilton, Massachusetts, showing the rose garden at left. 1913. THIS PAGE Shurcliff’s planting plan for the rose garden. 1915. FACING PAGE

Summer 2009 Historic New England




Preserving an old house with integrity requires us to look beyond the myths to a more realistic

David Carmack

understanding of history.

Old House vocative of long-vanished ways of living, old houses can fire our imaginations with visions of lost ways of life. But it’s easy to misconstrue what we see in the architectural evidence of an old house, and sometimes we confuse, conflate, or embellish what we know. We create “old house myths,” pervasive stories that seem to emerge over and over in newspaper articles on local history, amateur house tours, and real estate ads. Some contain a kernel of truth, others seem pure fabrication, and a few we may never fully comprehend. Preserving an old house with integrity requires us to look beyond the myth to a more realistic understanding of history. Romanticized names for architectural elements in the house abound. Sixpanel doors are renamed “Christian” or “Bible-and-Cross” doors, since the two



Historic New England Summer 2009

Myths short lower panels are thought to resemble an open book (Bible) with a cruciform connection of stiles (uprights) and rails (horizontals) in the long upper panels. There is no religious symbolism to a pattern that is simply a reflection of late eighteenth-century taste and functional operation. Doors were made by joiners—the craftsmen responsible for interior finish carpentry, and in particular, for the smallscale work of uniting two or more pieces of wood in frames and panels for doors, shutters, paneling, and sash windows. The broad center rail of the six-panel form provided structure for the hand-height latch or knob, while the hierarchy of panels, governed by aesthetics and classical proportion, moved from large, broad panels at the bottom to small, narrow panels at the top. The whole had to be mortised and tenoned to allow the panels free move-

ABOVE Six-panel doors in an 1804 house in Duxbury, Massachusetts. RIGHT Black-and-white painted chimneys at the c. 1718 Sayward-Wheeler House, York Harbor, Maine.

David Bohl

Summer 2009 Historic New England


ment to expand and contract and yet be sturdy and plumb. “Widow’s walk” evokes sorrow and loss; roof balustrade does not. “Borning-room,” a phrase never found in period usage, conveys a primitive self-reliance lacking in period terms such as “little chamber” or “kitchen chamber.” The term “Indian” shutter is another misnomer that shows up frequently; interior shutters in eighteenthcentury houses actually secured a house against burglars, sealed out drafts, and provided privacy. Other old house lore imbues architectural features with false meaning. Architectural historian James Garvin has debunked a popular myth about New England’s painted white chimneys, which held that white chimneys with black caps were a signal, during the War of 1812, to the Royal Navy to spare the houses of supporters of the Federalist party (opponents of the war) from coastal bombardment. Again, the truth lies with style, taste, and function, not romance and intrigue. As the Federal style took hold, houses began to be painted in white or light, delicate shades of gray, tan, or ochre with contrasting black window sashes and exterior blinds. Chimneys, which frequently 24

Historic New England Summer 2009

occupied the end or outside walls, were painted to match, with light or white bases and black caps. Furthermore, paint added a measure of protection from moisture for the tall, narrow chimneys of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century houses. And, Garvin notes, naval bombardment in the

period was so far from accurate that once begun, it generally resulted in burning down the whole town. Some old house legends carry an element of verifiable fact whose significance has been amplified over time. Very wide floorboards or panels, for example, are frequently noted as “King’s wood,” felled surreptitiously despite having been marked by the three broad arrows with which the Royal Navy blazed white pines over twenty-four inches in diameter for use as ship’s masts. “Broad arrow” laws did exist as early as 1654, as there were no European trees to match the dimen-

Photo Credit

David Bohl

THIS PAGE, TOP Paneled shutters at the Sayward-Wheeler House slide into the walls. BOTTOM Edgartown Harbor from the FisherBliss House, 1832, on Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, with the roof balustrade in the foreground. FACING PAGE TOP Wide-board floors at the 1785 Rocky Hill Meeting House, Amesbury, Massachusetts. BOTTOM Concealment shoes, first half of the nineteenth century.

David Bohl

sions of the colonies’ majestically tall and straight white pines. But these laws were not enforced, and the use of the finest available lumber, regardless of the task to which it was to be put, was standard in American lumbering through the end of the nineteenth century. A memoir of 1800, quoted in William Cronon’s prize-winning Changes in the Land, noted that “the richest and straightest trees were reserved for the frames of the new houses; shingles were rived from the clearest pine; all the rest of the timber cleared was piled and burned on the spot … All the pine went first. Nothing else was fit for building purposes in those days.” The accuracy and context of other old house lore might be verified or better understood with further research. The ivory “mortgage button,” for example, is said to be “a long-standing New England tradition” and may have originated early in the nineteenth century on Nantucket. The placement of a button of polished ivory or whalebone atop the newel post of the stairs at the entry, by Nantucket tradition, connoted the paying off of the mortgage on the house. At a time when mortgages were far less common, of much shorter duration, and structured with large lump sum payments of principal at the end of the mortgage term, marking the discharge of a mortgage with an ornament prominently placed in a public part of the house might have been a powerful display of status. Without period documentation tying the buttons to the payment of the debt, though, it is hard to know if the ivory ornament was a proud announcement of freedom from debt or simply a decoration. Newel posts, however, seem to be a common locus of mortgage-related old house stories. As newels ballooned into the imposing walnut and mahogany features of late nineteenthcentury stairhalls, they sometimes incorporated upright gas- or electric-

light fixtures, the necessary plumbing and wiring easily housed in the wooden base. When outmoded lighting was later removed, an intriguing hiding space was left behind in the hollow newel. Tales include stories of mortgages or deeds hidden or stored in newel posts, supposedly for quick retrieval in the event of fire, and of the burnt ashes of discharged mortgages being poured into the newel post in celebration. And finally, old houses can contain some secrets about which we may never know the full history. One of the most mysterious was the practice of concealing shoes or other clothing within the structure of the house. The meaning behind the intentional placement of these items, often a single, well-worn child’s shoe in an inaccessible location such as inside a wall or chimney, is unknown, but the practice was common in England for centuries. “Concealment shoes” are regularly found in Colonial houses in the U.S. as well. Thought to have been placed as an invocation or protection against male-

volent spirits, concealment shoes are eerily evocative of their wearer, bearing all the patterns of individual wear but the meaning of the placement remains unknown. Historians remind us that the past was different and that we should avoid imposing our own assumptions on yesterday’s realities. A few good reference books, some careful study, and a healthy dose of common sense can shed light on what seems mysterious or perplexing about our old houses. Clearing away the myths allows us to see our old houses for what they are, tangible artifacts of the past and a precious resource to be preserved. —Sally Zimmerman Preservation Specialist

Summer 2009 Historic New England


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

141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702


28 Flavors


n the late 1940s, Howard Johnson’s, the highly successful restaurant chain known especially for its ice cream, proposed a new facility at the corner of Tremont and Stuart streets in Boston, as shown in the drawing at right. Founded in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1925, the business was undergoing a rapid post World War II expansion, of which this proposal, by architect Joseph A. Cicco, was probably a part. The use of color in this rendering emphasizes the up-to-date stylish design of the eatery, which was to be incorporated into an existing building. Howard Johnson’s famous logo based on the nursery rhyme “Simple Simon Met a Pie Man” is visible. Charles Goodale, the delineator, provided context by portraying a city where latemodel luxury automobiles cruise the streets, stylish women walk their dogs, and theatrical productions like the musical revue Lend an Ear, abound. It is likely, however, that the company did not build the restaurant at this site but constructed one of a similar design a few blocks away on Tremont Street.

Purchased at auction, this drawing of an iconic twentieth-century ice cream shop now joins Historic New England’s collection of more than 35,000 architectural drawings depicting regional building types including houses, three-deckers, schools, city halls, factories, and even an elevated railway station. —Lorna Condon Curator of Library and Archives

Howard Johnson’s, best known for its colorful highway landmarks, also operated in urban locations. The business grew from a drugstore soda fountain to a nationwide franchise offering twenty-eight flavors of ice cream.


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