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LASER TECHNOLOGY ADDS A NEW DIMENSION TO DOCUMENTATION


Historic N E W E NG L A N D

Summer 2015 Vol. 16, No. 1

A Witness to Four Centuries in Salem

A Documentary Legacy:

Lasers Technology Adds a New Dimension to Documentation

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The Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic New England

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Memories of World War I at Beauport

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History Feels Real at Roseland Cottage

Archaeology at Otis House

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Documenting a Vanishing Landscape

A Rare Mural on the Move

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Protecting Tobacco Sheds

Preservation Carpenters Q&A Planned Giving

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Half a Dime a Day

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Remembering the Great September Gale of 1815

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Please Don’t Feed the Wood

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An Innovator in American Artisan Jewelry

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FROM THE PRESIDENT

With this issue of Historic New England, we celebrate the 105th year since our founding, the 30th year since we offered our first school program, and the 15th year since the launch of this magazine. Its contents reflect progress toward our vision of being the best heritage organization in the nation. You will find images and stories from every New England state as we fulfill our mission as a regional organization. We invite you to join in celebrating the rich and diverse history of the region, from a rediscovered mural in a former Lithuanian synagogue in Burlington, Vermont, to wallpaper collage banners from a church in Canterbury, New Hampshire. Our preservation carpenters use traditional methods to repair the historic buildings entrusted to us, but at the same time laser technology brings cutting-edge methods into the realm of preserving the places and stories that we seek to pass

on to future generations. It is not only professionals whose contributions are valuable to our efforts, as you’ll see in stories about the fortuitous discovery and rescue of Gedney House in Salem, Massachusetts, and a “citizen preservationist” effort to document the Connecticut River Valley’s disappearing tobacco sheds. For 105 years your organization has been a leader in preservation and interpretation. In this year of milestones, we look forward to continued progress with thanks for your membership, help, and support.

—Carl R. Nold, President and CEO

HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND magazine is a benefit of membership. To become a member, visit HistoricNewEngland.org or call 617-994-5910. Comments? Email Kris Bierfelt, editor, at kbierfelt@HistoricNewEngland.org. ­­­Historic New England is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Executive Editor: Diane Viera Editor: Kris Bierfelt 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

Digital scanning data provided by Feldman Land Surveyors showing the Eustis Mansion in Milton, Massachusetts, from above, complete with surrounding vegetation. COVER

Historic New England 141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702 617-227-3956 © 2015 Historic New England. Except where noted, all historic photographs and ephemera are from Historic New England’s Library and Archives.


Memories of World War I at Beauport

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he circular Book Tower at Beauport, the SleeperMcCann House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, holds the private library of Henry Davis Sleeper. Among the many mementos collected during his lifetime, the library includes the edition of Personal Letters of an Ambulance Driver at the Front shown above. At the outset of World War I, Sleeper helped his Eastern Point neighbor A. Piatt Andrew found the American Field Service, an all-volunteer ambulance service working on the battlefields of France. While Piatt Andrew oversaw field operations in France, Sleeper managed fund-raising and recruitment efforts from the Boston office. One of the first volunteer ambulance drivers was their friend Leslie Buswell, a dashing and charismatic British actor. In 1915 Buswell was stationed in Pont-à-Mousson on the French front. His letters to friends share the daily life of an ambulance driver caught in the midst of heavy fighting. “The horror of the whole war is growing on me day by day…. But all that is soon forgotten when a call comes, and you see those bandaged soldiers waiting to be taken to a hospital.” Sleeper quickly realized the inspirational value of his friend’s letters. Without waiting for Buswell’s return or his consent, he anonymously published Personal Letters of an Ambulance Driver at the Front for private distribution to friends and supporters of the American Field Service. When Buswell returned to America and visited Beauport in November 1915, he would have been greeted with the first bound copies of the book. A month later French war artist

Charles Huard joined Buswell at Beauport. Together they added the inscription and sketch found here. Dear Harry: When I wrote those long letters to you last summer I wanted to help you to understand & follow our life ‘out there’ & I hoped you would learn to love France as I loved her. I little thought I was kindling the flame that would result in the wonderful effort you have made for France, & that ‘off your own bat’ you would be stirred to collect enough to support the whole of the American Ambulances at the front in France. You have been to France as you have ever been to me a true friend. Leslie Buswell Dec 1915

Sleeper reprinted the book in January 1916 and later that year Houghton Mifflin Company published it as Ambulance No. 10 with Leslie Buswell attributed as the author. Sleeper added a copy of each edition to the Book Tower, but this volume is by far the most treasured because it reveals the personal story behind the public record of World War I. —Martha Van Koevering Site Manager, Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House

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T I T L E

CLOCKWISE FROM UPPER LEFT

A Witness to Four Centuries in Salem

Photography by Olivia Gatti

Summer beam embellished with a decorative chamfer; “marriage marks� identifying roof timbers for seventeenthcentury builders; playing cards left as they were found in the 1960s; Georgian era paneling; cut nails in an eighteenthcentury addition of lath and plaster.

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Gedney House in 1912 and 2014

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rom the Salem Witch Trials to the Age of Sail to the rise of industry, Historic New England’s Gedney House (built in 1665) has witnessed four centuries of life in Salem, Massachusetts. Roger Conant and his followers founded Salem in 1626. The climate there was slightly less severe than their original landing place on Cape Ann twenty miles to the north. The peninsula of Salem was ideal for early shipbuilding and the docks that would give rise to the seventeenth-century codfish aristocracy of Boston’s North Shore. John Gedney arrived in Salem in May 1637 with his wife, Mary, and their English-born children. In Salem, Mary gave birth to two sons, Bartholomew in 1640 and Eleazer in 1642, both of whom would go on to build impressive résumés. Bartholomew was a shipwright, commander in chief of the military forces in Essex County, and a judge in the infamous Witch Trials of 1692. Eleazer was a juryman, constable, and clerk of the market, but his work as a shipwright is what inspired the location and construction of the house at 19 High Street. Eleazer’s successful shipyard was located on Salem’s South River. This tidal body reached into what is today’s downtown area. In April 1664 he purchased a tract of land that gave him convenient access to his business in an area known as Knocker’s Hollow—named because of the sound of waterproofing caulk being hammered into the sides of boats on the docks. After marrying Elizabeth Turner (the sister of wealthy merchant John Turner, builder of the House of the Seven Gables), Eleazer began construction of a oneover-one home with two lean-tos, one for family living space and the other for a kitchen.

Eleazer and Elizabeth raised five children in this home. Though modest in size, the house’s construction shows the Gedneys’ financial investment in the property. The facade was constructed with a large, primarily decorative front gable that made the house appear larger than it was. The hall—the house’s main living space—featured a pair of summer beams, which was unusual as the typical seventeenth-century room would have had only one. Intersecting in the middle of the ceiling and decorated with an intricate quarter round molding at each edge, this conspicuous display must have been quite impressive and would have announced to visitors that the owners of the house were people of some means. Centuries of change After Elizabeth’s death in 1677, Eleazer married Mary Patteshall. Following Eleazer’s death five years later, the house and its contents were left to Mary, and, upon Mary’s death, to their daughter, Martha. In 1712 Martha married James Ruck, also a shipwright, who made dramatic modifications to the house. The gable was removed from the front of the house and the parlor lean-to referenced in Eleazer’s 1683 estate inventory was raised in height, giving the house a more symmetrical and stylish appearance. Changes to the property continued through the eighteenth century, including the installation of lath and plaster ceilings, beam casings, and elaborate Georgian-style wall paneling that had the unintentional benefit of protecting the earliest layers of decorative finishes in the house. In the chamber above the hall we find a record of three very early and quite sophisticated paint treatments: a combination of green paint and unstained wood dating from around the

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time of construction; a summer beam and its support posts picked out with carbon black against white washed walls; and a brick red and yellow ochre paint scheme used to create a dramatic two-tone effect on the ceiling and room framing. This hall chamber also provides architectural evidence of where diamond-paned casement windows may have been located in the house. In 1773 the house passed from the Gedney family to fisherman Benjamin Cox. After building a small cottage at the rear of the property, Cox changed the seventeenth-century Gedney House into a rooming house. The property was used as such until the early 1960s, let out to tenants ranging from nineteenth-century businessmen to early twentieth-century Italian immigrants. Saving Gedney House When a local builder purchased it in 1962 with the intention of turning the building into apartments, the house was hardly recognizable as the seventeenth-century architectural gem it is today. Lath, plaster, nogging, and even three of the four walls of the original central chimney had been removed in preparation for this renovation. Work continued until Elizabeth Reardon walked home from the train one night in 1967. Reardon, a resident of Chestnut Street in Salem, was a student of Abbott Lowell Cummings, then assistant director of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) and a founding faculty member of the American and New England Studies Program at Boston University. On her way home Reardon found piles of Georgian paneling set out for trash pickup. Concerned that a little-known, early eighteenth-century house was in the process of demolition, she explored further. Her family recalls that she went back to the property 4

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with flashlight in hand to peek in the windows. Recognizing the massive oak beams and recalling Cummings’s description of their use in seventeenth-century buildings, she realized that it was actually a much older house about to be lost. Cummings often shares the anecdote that he was skeptical that there was a so-called First Period house that he was not aware of. Years later while giving a tour of the house, Cummings explained that he told Reardon, “If there is a seventeenth-century house in Salem that I don’t know about, I’ll eat my hat,” followed with, “after that day I grew rather fond of the taste of hat.” After confirming that the house was indeed built in the mid-seventeenth century, Cummings worked quickly to acquire the property for Historic New England. Since its acquisition by Historic New England, Cummings has referred to Gedney House as an “architectural vocabulary” building, a must-see for anyone interested in seventeenth-century architecture. Because the aggressive 1960s renovation was halted mid-way, much of the original framing is now exposed for visitors to see. Today, Gedney House provides a rare opportunity to trace the architectural evolution of a house across four centuries—an opportunity that would have been lost if not for the sharp eye of Elizabeth Reardon and the tireless preservation work of Abbott Lowell Cummings and Historic New England. —Julie Arrison Site Manager

Worn paint on a fireplace in the c. 1800 addition shows changing tastes over time. ABOVE RIGHT Brick nogging, likely for insulation, lines the wall of a second-floor room. ABOVE LEFT


Modern conservation measures are painted “Gedney Green� in keeping with our preservation philosophy of clearly distinguishing our own repairs from earlier construction. The color is a nod to the original green paint treatment found in the second-floor chamber.

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The archaeology zone at Otis House. Small artifacts dating to the late eighteenth century uncovered during archaeology. TOP

BOTTOM

Archaeology at Otis House

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ast year, in preparation for repairs to the stone retaining wall at Otis House, we initiated an archaeological assessment of the anticipated excavation area. Archaeological resources and features can contain significant information about the evolution of an area’s cultural landscape and the history of people and populations for whom no written record may exist. Artifacts can inform us about how the land might have been used and how that use might have evolved over time, providing valuable information about historic properties and their context. Boston has a long history of land reclamation to fill out the awkwardly shaped Shawmut Peninsula, but the 1796 Harrison Gray Otis House in the city’s West End sits on a part of the peninsula that existed when the Puritans arrived in 1630. Historical

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accounts note grazing pastures and a windmill among the land’s uses prior to its acquisition by Otis in the late eighteenth century. Today’s Otis House actually comprises three buildings. Between 1822 and 1833 four brick row houses were built along Lynde Street, just north of the 1796 Federal-style mansion. In 1925 the City of Boston made plans to widen Cambridge Street, which would have brought the road directly through the front rooms of Otis House. The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England) acted quickly to acquire the four Lynde Street buildings, demolishing two of them and moving Otis House almost forty-three feet back, connecting it to the remaining two row houses and saving the house. Although it was believed that the 1976 construction of a five-story stair

tower in what would have been the row houses’ backyards would have destroyed any remaining archaeological evidence, as a matter of good preservation practice we commissioned a study before beginning work on the wall. The results were surprising, opening up speculation about the nineteenthcentury usage of these urban spaces. We uncovered a host of brick structures in the narrow, 300-squarefoot area. Analysis is still underway, but an early theory suggests that they are part of Boston’s mid- to late-nineteenth-century water and sewer systems. We also found smaller artifacts of the late eighteenth century such as china shards and clay pipes, possibly indicating use of the space during the Otises’ occupancy. But just below these finds lay another interesting discovery: dirt. In fact, this dirt shows no evidence of disturbance since at least 1630, making it one of the only examples in Boston of what archaeologists call sterile soil. In an urban area that has experienced land reclamation, generations of settlement and development, and twentiethcentury urban renewal efforts, it is remarkable to find such undisturbed soil less than three feet below the surface. What was life like in this area of the peninsula after 1630 and in the European occupancy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries? Further analysis of these newly uncovered features may yield some answers. —Colleen Chapin Preservation Manager


Photography courtesy of the authors

A Rare Mural on the Move Ben Zion Black’s 1910 mural for Chai Adam Synagogue in Burlington, Vermont, may be the only one of its kind in America. Hidden behind a wall for years, it is again seeing the light of day thanks to the decades-long perseverance and planning of a dedicated group of local preservationists.

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ehind an apartment wall erected in 1986 is a portal to the nineteenthcentury Jewish immigrant community in Burlington and the Lithuanian villages they left behind. For almost thirty years the wall covered a brightly colored mural that once adorned the Chai Adam (“Life of Man”) Synagogue, now an apartment building. The mural is not only an important part of the city’s history, it is also a link to an artistic genre that was all but lost in Europe during the Holocaust. The synagogue was constructed by Jewish peddlers who came to Burlington from the area of Kaunas, Lithuania, in the 1880s. In 1889 they built the woodframed and sided Chai Adam Synagogue in a traditional Eastern European rural style. By the early twentieth century Burlington’s “Little Jerusalem” numbered upward of eight hundred residents and recalled the organization of a classic Eastern European village. There were multiple stores selling kosher food, three synagogues, and a Hebrew Free School all within a six-block area.

Ben Zion Black was paid $200 and took six months to complete the work of decorating the Chai Adam Synagogue in 1910, pictured here shortly after completion. ABOVE

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Cleaning in 2014 revealed that the Ten Commandments were originally a rich red (below), not brown as they had appeared when the mural was last seen in 1986 (left).

In 1910 the Chai Adam congregation commissioned a newly arrived immigrant, Ben Zion Black, to decorate its synagogue. His work included an 11-by-21-foot mural in the apse. Black’s mural incorporates traditional imagery, such as the Ten Commandments resting on a throne protected by the guardian Lions of Judah, with the glimmering Crown of Torah and the divine light shining down. His style reflected traditions of rural Eastern European synagogues as well as modern theatrical painting. When Chai Adam Synagogue closed in 1939, the building was sold and used for commercial purposes. When it was sold again in 1986 for conversion into apartments, members of the nearby Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, along with a local architect and staff from the Shelburne Museum, arranged for thorough photographic documentation of the mural. They persuaded the building owner not to destroy it, but to instead construct a protective 8

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wall in front of it in the hope that someday the mural could be preserved. During a 2007 trip to Lithuania that included a visit to the village outside Kaunas from where his ancestors had emigrated more than a century earlier, Aaron J. Goldberg, a sixthgeneration descendant of Burlington’s original Jewish settlers and an archivist at Ohavi Zedek, learned more about the lost artistic genre of painted wooden synagogues across rural Eastern Europe. Recognizing the Burlington mural’s significance not just to the local community but also to art historians internationally, Goldberg again solicited the help of the 1986 architectural and curatorial team and others to reopen the apartment wall. In 2010 a small group gathered as the wall was removed and the mural was viewed in the full light of day for the first time in decades. News of the mural’s reemergence circulated across the Internet and was greeted with surprise and excitement throughout the international Jewish

art and historic preservation community. Joshua Perelman, director of the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, reported he knew of no other “folk art murals in this style adorning an American synagogue sanctuary.” Dr. Samuel D. Gruber, an international scholar known for documenting Jewish art and architectural monuments across Eastern Europe, traveled to Burlington in October 2013. “The Lost Shul Mural is an accidental survivor of an otherwise vanished past…a rare painting,” Gruber says, “one of only a small number of extant ‘East European’ synagogue murals…it is a gift that adds color, vitality, and the immediacy of piety.” Gruber’s lectures about the mural helped launch a fund-raising campaign and, in 2014, work to clean and conserve the mural began. Over several months, conservators consolidated


and stabilized flaking paint and began cleaning the mural, confirming that coal dust and cigarette smoke had darkened the painted surface. Coats of varnish had yellowed over time. The colors visible in the 1986 photographs were not, in fact, the original bright paint colors of 1910. Dark green drapes had been electric blue, a reference to the Tent of the Tabernacles described in the Book of Numbers. The newly revealed colors underscore the vibrancy of the original mural, an exuberant expression of art and liturgy. By the summer of 2014, with the help of foundation grants and private support, and the approval of the building owner, plans were finalized for relocating the mural to the public lobby at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, just three-tenths of a mile away. Engineers constructed a temporary, enclosed structure around the mural, with a removable top. At the same time, additional protection was applied to the front of the mural. A first step involved

adhering silk fabric using an acrylic resin to secure the paint in place during the mural move. A final and more substantive fronting constructed using Tyvek and specially made foam cushions was braced against the front of the mural to secure the plaster in place during the move. This spring, the slate and wooden roof was removed, exposing the entire mural within the temporary enclosed structure. Steel was passed through the top of the temporary structure, in pieces, to create a frame that is twenty-one feet wide, nine feet deep, and almost eleven feet high. After the mural was carefully cut away from the integrated roof structure and the building sidewalls, a crane lifted it out of its former home and it was carried to Ohavi Zedek, where it will be on public display in the lobby by this summer. Work over the rest of the year will involve plaster infill and careful touchup painting to return the mural to its original 1910 condition. In addition,

computer kiosks will offer oral histories recorded decades earlier with former Chai Adam congregants, stories of “Little Jerusalem,” and cultural histories of the larger Burlington immigrant experience, together with materials recalling the cultural, artistic, and religious traditions of Eastern European painted wooden synagogues. Visit lostshulmural.org for project updates and information about visiting Ohavi Zedek to view the restored mural. —Aaron Goldberg and Jeff Potash, Co-directors of the Lost Shul Mural preservation and conservation project and co-archivists at Ohavi Zedek Synagogue in Burlington, Vermont

Painting in a trompe l’oeil style, Black added clouds and birds, perhaps representing a heavenly paradise. He carried the outdoor theme onto the ceiling (which no longer survives), which he painted sky blue with clouds, cherubs, and musical instruments. ABOVE A temporary structure fully insulated the mural from extreme winds and winter cold that could cause further cracking. LEFT

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Laser technology adds a new dimension to documentation

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loor plans and elevation drawings are an important tool to aid Historic New England’s preservation planning efforts. Historic New England founder William Sumner Appleton used drawings and photographs to document his work on our buildings before and during a repair and the Historic American Buildings Survey (page 26) began documenting buildings in the 1930s. We still reference these and many other drawings and photos during project planning to review the past appearance of a feature and to help document areas of change, deterioration, or potential repair. And when new buildings enter the collection today, we strive to document them in a number of ways so that we can create a complete snapshot in time; a reference point marking the condition of the building when we acquired it.

The scan data results in a realistic image of the front facade of the Eustis Mansion with stone-by-stone detail. ABOVE

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At the Eustis Estate in Milton, Massachusetts, the need for documentation—both for our current work and for that of future scholars and project managers—is ever present. For this monumental task, Historic New England contracted with a survey company that uses laser scanning technologies to create incredibly accurate renderings of the estate’s structures. This process involves a portable scanner that emits a stream of laser beams and, over the course of a survey, takes millions of individual measurements based on the time it takes for the laser beams to reflect back to the scanner. The data gathered through this process can be so dense that the results look like a photograph. For the Eustis Estate project, our primary goal was to create two-dimensional drawings of exterior elevations and the interior floor plans. The scan data, however, has even more uses. For example, in addition to creating the elevation drawings, the scan’s photographic quality provides us with accurate renditions of the facades with all the stones clearly delineated. The data, it should be noted, is threedimensional by nature, so we have also modeled the data to


create a fly-through animation of the main house, viewable at HistoricNewEngland.org/InsideEustis. One feature that we would not have been able to document without this technology is the estate’s illuminating gas manufacturing vault, a common feature of nineteenthcentury country houses. At the Eustis Estate, the machinery in the vault processed the gas needed to operate the extensive lighting fixtures throughout the house. A small trapdoor in the landscape opens into the brick vault, but visibility is low and access is dangerous. Rather than send staff underground, the surveyors lowered the scanner into the vault. The results provide us with incredible detail. In fact, there is so much detail that we were able to identify the equipment as one in which gasoline vapor was extracted and then mixed with oxygen to use as the illuminating gas for the house. Our work at the Eustis Estate progresses every day. We are incorporating the newest technologies as we document and learn about the property, and we look forward to sharing the results when the Eustis Estate opens to the public. —Benjamin Haavik Team Leader, Property Care

Surveyors were able to lower a scanner into the vault (top right), gathering data that allowed us to generate images of the gas vault and main house positioned in the landscape (above left) and even to identify the type of equipment that is still located within the vault (bottom left). Visit HistoricNewEngland.org/InsideEustis to get a sneak peek of the Eustis Estate and its underground features in a 3-D fly-through animation produced using high-resolution scan data (screen shot above).

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Bruce Blanchard

Preservation Carpentry Foreman. Team member since 1993.

Eric Peterson

Preservation Carpenter. Team member since 2010.

Q Preservation Carpenter. Team member since 2006.

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PRESERVATION CARPENTERS

At Historic New England, the most complex and sensitive repair projects are undertaken by our in-house preservation carpentry team. Dave Maloney, Eric Peterson, and Bruce Blanchard took a break from repair work to answer some of our visitors’ most frequently asked questions.

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Photography by Olivia Gatti

David Maloney


How did you get started in preservation carpentry? DM: I started as a hobbyist making some furniture in a friend’s home shop. Later, when I was looking for a career change, a friend suggested I look into North Bennet Street School, the oldest trade school in the country, in Boston’s North End. I enrolled in the Preservation Carpentry program, which included an internship at Historic New England that led to a full-time position here. EP: I had the good fortune to work with Denis Semprebon, one of the original teachers in the Preservation Carpentry program at North Bennet Street School. BB: I majored in Historic Preservation at the Savannah [Georgia] College of Art and Design. I had worked in the building trades prior to school and discovered that I could marry those skills with those of preservation carpentry. I began working for Historic New England in 1986 as a subcontractor at the Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm and have been here ever since.

Where do you source periodappropriate materials? DM: The preservation philosophy at Historic New England calls for using in-kind materials when executing any repair. BB: Basically our repairs retain as much historic fabric as possible and attempt to blend in with the adjacent surfaces and finishes. DM: But as a rule, we don’t use reclaimed timbers or salvaged wood because of the risk that future generations might interpret it as original material or an old repair that could be inaccurately woven into the narrative of the building’s evolution. We mark our repairs as new wood with copper tags stamped with the year of the repair. EP: Most of what we need is available locally or regionally. We’re able to purchase materials from beams and clapboards to ironwork from small businesses in New England. We still have a network of traditional craftspeople here, but it’s a delicate network that’s easily diminished by the loss of even a single sawmill or blacksmith.

Do you adopt traditional tools and techniques to match old details and finishes? EP: Generally that part of the work is handled on a case-by-case basis by the carpenters on the ground, whether that is our crew or one of the contractors we work with. Our buildings cover such a wide span of time, almost every type of building material is represented somewhere. DM: We do use modern tools, especially power tools. However, many of the hand tools that we use tend to be older, vintage tools that we’ve acquired over the years. They often have a better feel and are of higher quality than those that are being manufactured today. How much truth is there to the idea that “they don't make stuff like they used to”? Do you find threehundred-year-old houses that are still in better shape than modern houses? BB: Absolutely! Our ancestors built houses using large, slow-growth oak and eastern white pine, even a few chestnut summer beams thrown in for Summer 2015 Historic New England

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good measure. They used joints like tusk tenons, mortise and tenons, and dovetails, which, three hundred years later, are still as strong as the day they were fastened together with an oak pin. Though they pose their own repair challenges, I feel they are substantially stronger nonetheless. EP: Changes in building technology and technique aren’t always for the worse, though. We have materials and tools that would have been simply unimaginable to the builders of three hundred years ago and we’ve become accustomed to a level of comfort far beyond what was available to most people of the period. Do you have a favorite property? BB: That’s a tough question to answer. The summer fields at the farms or the tranquility of Hamilton House in midwinter—it’s a hard call. Each of our properties has its own character and charm, and, depending on what time of the day or year it is, reflects its architecture in a totally different way. DM: I really enjoy going to and working at Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine. It’s an amazing country estate built on a hill overlooking the Salmon Falls River. I’ve worked there when no one else was around, and it’s just so serene and peaceful. EP: I love Hamilton House. The setting of the house and formal gardens against 14

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the fields, forest, and river is incredibly beautiful. What is the strangest thing you’ve found inside of a wall or crawl space? EP: Personally, I’ve found lost tools and once, a builder’s signature. There are stories of much stranger things, though. BB: Aside from a very well-preserved rat frozen in a kung fu pose, while exposing the top plate on the porch of the stone and brick house at SpencerPeirce-Little Farm, we discovered a set of bone-handled eating utensils. DM: About five or six years ago we were in Exeter, New Hampshire, working on the carriage barn of Gilman Garrison House. The project was to replace sills and repair the floor on the barn leanto. As we pulled up the floorboards to expose the floor joists, we noticed six or seven clear glass bottles nestled into the soft soil, side by side in a neat row. The bottles were labeled Vegetine, which turned out to be a cure-all herbal elixir. We imagined the farmer “tending to his duties” in the barn and hiding the bottles under the floorboards, then heading back in feeling “refreshed.” The carpentry shop’s many period tools include a vast library of antique planes. ABOVE The two-foot-long chisel in the center of this collection of hand tools is called a slick, used primarily in timber framing and shipbuilding. PREVIOUS PAGE


John Sears in his Beacon Hill study, photographed by Peter Vanderwarker in 2008. RIGHT

PL ANNED GIVING

“I have intended to do something for years.”

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ohn Winthrop Sears traced his roots to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and his seventeenth-century namesake, Governor John Winthrop. Knowledgeable and passionate about history, Sears was a great storyteller who could make a legendary figure like Harrison Gray Otis seem like a contemporary. Sears, a Harvard graduate and Rhodes Scholar, continued his family tradition of public service in countless ways including as a member of the Boston City Council and the Massachusetts House of Representatives and as a candidate for Mayor of Boston and Governor of the Commonwealth. He was a member of Historic New England for decades and cared greatly about New England and its citizens. John Winthrop Sears passed away at the age of eighty-three in November 2014. During his lifetime he showed his commitment to New England in yet another way by creating a Historic New England charitable gift annuity.

When he created the gift annuity, Sears said, “I have always believed in [Historic New England] and have intended to do something for years.” This gift benefited him through a charitable deduction based on the value of the initial gift and through the stream of annuity payments he received for his lifetime. It benefits Historic New England after his death as, in line with his wishes, the remaining assets have been added to the Preservation Maintenance Fund in support of our ongoing work to preserve and present our historic properties. Charitable gift annuities provide payments to those sixty or older, and can last for the lives of one or two individuals. At the time of this writing, a sixty-year-old who creates a single-life annuity would receive a 4.4% annual payment; individuals who are older when creating the annuity or who choose to defer the start of the annuity stream receive higher percentages. A charitable gift annuity can be a great

choice for someone who wants to provide both income for life and long-term support for Historic New England. The decision to create a charitable gift annuity depends on individual circumstances, but it may be particularly attractive as a way to lock in stock market appreciation on a tax-deferred basis and to produce an income stream that is much greater than that now available from bonds, CDs, or other traditional fixed-income offerings. —Clo Tepper Clo Tepper is an estate planning lawyer and former Historic New England Trustee who assists with Development.

For more information about Historic New England charitable gift annuities and other planned giving options, please email development@HistoricNewEngland.org or call 617-994-5951.

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Remembering the

Great September Gale of 1815

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wo hundred years ago this September a gale of unprecedented strength devastated southern New England. Coming ashore at Saybrook, Connecticut, it lashed the coast from New Haven to New Bedford. At sea, ships were lost with all hands. Ashore, entire families were drowned in the unexpected flooding. Inland, sea spray was found on windows from Worcester to Amherst, Massachusetts, and towns in southern New Hampshire reported wind damage from the storm. Rhode Island got the worst of the damage. As the gale joined with a flood tide it drove a storm surge up Narragansett Bay, engulfing the waterfront towns in its path. In Providence, at the headwaters of the bay, the flood demolished stores and wharves lining the harbor while the wind toppled chimneys and ripped the roofs off buildings standing on higher ground. A year later in 1816 James Kidder and Daniel Bowen

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produced an aquatint engraving of a wild scene Kidder had witnessed in Providence, where he had taken shelter in the 1773 brick Market House. In 1925 Historic New England acquired an oil painting, unsigned but attributed to Kidder, picturing the same view. Kidder’s dramatic scene illustrates the stories that the people who lived through that day recited to one another for years—of entire houses afloat in a sea of flotsam, of hapless sailors clinging to the bare poles of their ships as they were blown upstream into the cove, of the ship Ganges being driven up Exchange Street until its bowsprit smashed through the third-story facade of the new, brick Washington Insurance Company building. This unsigned painting in Historic New England’s collection may be the one mentioned by James Kidder in the caption to his 1816 print, pictured opposite. ABOVE


in the new look of their landscape. In 1917, following the centennial observance of the Great Gale of 1815, the town fathers of the City of Providence commemorated Rhode Island’s first hurricane by placing a bronze plaque on the brick Market House where James Kidder had ridden out the storm. In the intervening century, no other September storm had ever hit southern New England with such severity, and those town fathers might be forgiven for thinking that the Great Gale of 1815 was unique. Not until 1938 did a storm of comparable strength hit again, and this time they knew to call it a hurricane. — Robert P. Emlen Senior Lecturer in American Studies, Brown University, and Historic New England Council co-chair A previous version of this article appeared in Rhode Island History (Vol. 48, May 1990).

A 1917 plaque commemorating the 1815 Great Gale and a 1938 plaque commemorating the devastating hurricane of that year illustrate the adoption of the word hurricane into New Englanders’ vocabularies. LEFT The title of this print, A ABOVE

Courtesy of John Hay Library, Brown University

In the early nineteenth century New England mariners who sailed to the Caribbean knew to watch for the quick and violent storms that develop there in late summer. There was no reason, however, for them to believe that these great gales could happen at home. In the first two centuries of European settlement no one had ever seen storms like these in New England. Two hundred years later, experience has taught us that during the month of September we must keep a weather eye on storms brewing in the Caribbean and be prepared to batten down the hatches should one head for the Atlantic coast. We have learned to call these equinoctial storms “hurricanes.” In 1815, however, that word was not part of the local vocabulary. Lacking a word for the tempest that had been unleashed on them, New Englanders came to call it the “Great Storm” or the “Great Gale.” Armed with a terrible new knowledge of what a September storm could bring to their shores, Rhode Islanders rebuilt in ways that transformed their communities. In Providence, after they dragged the smaller ships off the mudflats of the cove and down into the river, they replaced the old drawbridge with a new, fixed span. They raised and fortified the riverbanks and constructed bigger wharves and stores on higher ground. They replaced the last of the seventeenth-century dwellings that the settlers had erected along the harbor with modern houses set above the new flood line. On the hillsides surrounding the waterfront, they introduced more durable building practices. The effects of the Great Storm of 1815 on the people of Rhode Island could be seen

Representation of the Great Storm at Providence, Sept 23rd, 1815, names Kidder as the artist of a companion painting of the scene. Summer 2015 Historic New England

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Photographs by Beth Oram

Compare your food to their food—would you like to eat their food? “ Would you like to live in their house instead of your house? ”

History Feels Real

at Roseland Cottage

If you want your slaves to tell you “ how they feel, you need to treat them the way you want to be treated. ” Mara (black jacket) and friends choose hats for The Anti-Slavery Debate. ABOVE RIGHT Darryl (center), Kyle (right), and friends tour Roseland Cottage. OPPOSITE Museum Teacher Frank Perrin in character. ABOVE LEFT

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I

t took the Connecticut fifth grade students—one class from the Moriarty School in Norwich and one from the Jennings School in New London—some time to warm up and find their voices on a chilly November morning at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, but once they did they were unstoppable. After the students donned nineteenth-century style hats and shawls to help set the mood, The Anti-Slavery Debate began. Students were told that they were attending a meeting of abolitionists, led by Education Program Coordinator Gail White Usher in character as a local woman working to end slavery. Infiltrating the meeting that night was Waylon Jacobs, played by Museum Teacher Frank Perrin, a plantation owner from North Carolina with 175 slaves, who was up north on business and decided to stop by. Throughout the debate, Mr. Jacobs tried to convince the students that slavery was necessary and justified. The students fought back, tearing down every one of his arguments. The students had come to Roseland Cottage as part of a year-long program sponsored by the Amistad Friendship Society through learn, a Regional Educational Service Center focused on southeastern Connecticut. Each year,


students from two different schools are paired up as their classes go on a variety of field trips around the state. The learn program is just one of many community organizations, schools, and libraries throughout New England that partner with Historic New England to bring history to life for students of all ages. learn builds connections among culturally diverse groups of students from ten southeastern Connecticut middle schools. Parents, teachers, and community members also get involved as all participants learn lifelong skills to help combat prejudice and increase cooperation. Students visit Roseland Cottage to learn about its owner, businessman and prominent abolitionist Henry Bowen, tour the house, and participate in The Anti-Slavery Debate program. After the debate, Mara, Kyle, Darryl, and Ariana spoke about their experiences in the learn program: Mara: This is our third trip. Before the first one, we wrote letters to the

other class to introduce ourselves. Since we have met, it is going really great—we all like to have some fun and to laugh. During the year, we learn about civil rights, the three branches of government, and slavery. Kyle: This trip has been the most interesting so far because of the part where there was a slave owner and we had to debate with him. Mara: That was so interesting because we got to talk about what we think should have been done to stop slavery. Darryl: We needed to talk about why people needed to stop slavery and let the slaves be free. Ariana: The debate made me feel confident because we could say anything and stand up for ourselves. Mara: Going on field trips makes the past more interesting to learn about…it’s not any fun if we just read about it. When we go on field trips and do things that are fun while we are learning about it, it makes history

more interesting. Like when we first came in today and we put the hats on and acted everything out, it felt real. Kyle: If we did fifth grade the regular way, it would be boring because you wouldn’t get to meet new people and have fun on field trips. When we get to high school we will remember all the things we’ve learned this year better than if we had just stayed in our classrooms. And this way we get to make new friends, too. They all agreed that fifth grade is more fun, and the content they learned more memorable, through participating in this program. —Carolin Collins Education Program Manager, School and Youth Programs

“Why can’t you do your work yourself? You could sell your house and get a smaller one.” Historic New England offered its first school program at Otis House in Boston in 1985 serving 300 students. Celebrating thirty years of uninterrupted growth in 2015, we now offer more than sixty-five programs at thirteen sites to 50,000 young people each year. Our programs, both at Historic New England properties and in schools, libraries, and community centers, are designed in cooperation with local educators and engage young people in a variety of ways, including hands-on activities, role-playing, and cooperative learning. Please consider supporting our school and youth programs with a gift of $30 in honor of thirty years of innovative, nationally recognized initiatives that bring history to life for young people across the region. Give online at HistoricNewEngland. org or use the enclosed reply envelope.

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Documenting a

Photographs courtesy of the authors

Vanishing Landscape

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Historic New England Summer 2015


This longabandoned, ivy-covered tobacco shed at the Windsor/Bloomfield (Connecticut) Transfer Station is one of several on the property. RIGHT A shed in Montague, Massachusetts, is now used for storage. OPPOSITE PAGE

Thorough documentation of landscapes and the built environment is a central part of Historic New England’s preservation philosophy. More and more, curious and inspired laypeople are contributing to this important work, aided by digital technologies that make it easier than ever to collect and share data. Vermont-based writers Dale and Darcy Cahill were intrigued by the distinctive tobacco sheds they saw along the Connecticut River National Scenic Byway and set out as “citizen preservationists” to photograph and learn about a disappearing part of New England’s architectural and agricultural heritage.

B

oth Native American and early North American settlers grew tobacco on a small scale, but General Israel Putnam is credited with introducing to New England in the eighteenth century a wrapping cigar leaf from the Caribbean, setting the stage for an international industry that continues to this day. Tradition holds that in 1801 Mrs. Prout of South Windsor, Connecticut, rolled the first cigar as we know it. Unlike the Native Americans who considered tobacco too sacred for women to handle, this farmer’s wife not only rolled the first cigar, but also enlisted her peers to peddle their bundles of cigars to neighboring towns. In 1810 the first cigar factory in the United States was built in nearby Suffield, Connecticut, but the crop was still grown on a relatively small scale. It wasn’t until the 1830s that Connecticut farmers discovered the unique combination of soil, climate, and natural fertilizers that create just the right conditions for large-scale, commercial tobacco farming. Connecticut River Valley farmers commanded the cigar market for the next sixty years. At the end of the nineteenth century, competition arrived in the form of smooth wrapping leaves from the Indonesian island of Sumatra. The valley’s thick-veined tobacco leaves lost favor in the cigar market.

Valley farmers had to find a way to improve the quality of their tobacco leaf. They would soon discover a technique developed by early tobacco growers, who found that crops at the jungle-shaded edges of the field produced a lightercolored and smoother-veined leaf. In 1896 Marcus Floyd of Quincy, Florida, visited Sumatra and noticed farmers there covered their growing plants with slats to protect them from the sun. He returned to the States curious about the positive effect of shade on tobacco leaves and, after four years of experimenting, he erected the first tobacco tent in Poquonock, Connecticut, for raising what is now known as Connecticut shade-grown tobacco. To successfully bring this crop to market, farmers developed a specialized barn called a tobacco shed, designed specifically to dry or “cure” this lucrative leaf. What made the barns unique was the design and construction of the drying racks and vents that allow warm, dry air to enter while keeping out New England’s unpredictable wet weather. Even today the design of a tobacco shed remains unchanged and the sheds are essential in bringing to market what is still one of America’s most lucrative crops. It is during the fall harvest that these sheds reveal themselves to the layperson as different from a dairy barn, storage Summer 2015 Historic New England

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shed, or any other barn. During this season, the sheds’ vents are open to cure tobacco. There are a variety of ways to construct vents: vertical slats, horizontal slats, side vents, end vents, bottom vents, roof vents, trapdoor vents, and small and large door openings. There are as many venting methods as there are opinions about which one is superior. Each farmer has a favorite. Driving up and down both sides of the Connecticut River fueled our desire to cover every square mile of the Connecticut River Valley looking for tobacco sheds. We found two sheds in Vermont that gave us a starting point for our second book about them, Vanishing Treasures. Unfortunately, we did not find a single tobacco shed remaining in New Hampshire. The telltale hardware for different venting configurations is how we differentiated tobacco sheds from other old sheds and barns. The first few towns across the Massachusetts border—Northfield, Greenfield, and Deerfield—yielded a few sheds, but these were mostly used for storage. As we traveled farther south, we found the number of sheds and the amount of tobacco being cultivated are at their greatest in Amherst and Hadley, Massachusetts, where tobacco farmer David Mokrezki has counted at least ninety-two sheds in the small triangle between Cumins Road, Stockbridge Road, and Meadow Street. In northwestern Connecticut on both the east and west sides of the river, tobacco sheds are in abundance even This Suffield, Connecticut, shed is filled to the rafters with drying broadleaf tobacco. BELOW LEFT Once used by the Thrall Farm in Windsor, Connecticut, these five sheds on Day Hill Road now stand abandoned. BELOW RIGHT The broadleaf tobacco in this Enfield, Connecticut, shed is in the process of being unloaded. ABOVE

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within ten miles of the capital city of Hartford. While no sheds remain in the city, just south of Hartford they return to the landscape in Glastonbury and Portland, the southern tip of the Tobacco Valley. Although not every town along the river has a large number of standing tobacco sheds, we were usually able to find a few. We are often asked what can be done to raise awareness and appreciation of these and other historic agricultural buildings. Thomas Visser, professor and director of the University of Vermont’s Historic Preservation Program, said it best in the foreword of Vanishing Treasures: Certainly one of the most effective first steps to accomplish this task is to document representa-


tive examples of historically important buildings within an area and to share the results with the public. Sometimes this work is done by non-profit organizations, government agencies, or academic scholars, but such preservation research efforts may also be accomplished by concerned citizens. It is this spirit that inspires our desire to hop in the car, camera in hand, looking for evidence of tobacco sheds and meeting the many people who work to preserve them. Although now under threat from developers and increased housing demands, these distinctive barns live on, sandwiched between malls and sitting on busy roadsides. We have found many town historical societies, community groups, and concerned farmers who are trying to preserve these old tobacco sheds. These dedicated people raise both money and awareness to see that no matter what adverse weather conditions occur or how social and economic factors may change, these sheds remain a part of the Connecticut River Valley’s landscape and history. —Dale and Darcy Cahill Dale and Darcy Cahill have written two books about tobacco sheds. They recently received the prestigious Archie Green Fellowship Grant from the Library of Congress to collect oral histories of tobacco workers in the Connecticut River Valley. Learn more at tobaccosheds.com.

Protecting

Tobacco Sheds

S

ince the mid-nineteenth century one of the Connecticut River Valley’s most lucrative crops has been a specialized tobacco leaf used for the outer wrapping of luxury cigars. Maintaining a high quality crop takes exacting attention to its growth and harvesting, and particularly to its curing, accomplished by hanging the harvested leaf in specially ventilated sheds or “hanging houses” built near the fields and capable of storing the yield from five to ten acres. Many of these sheds retain a recognizable long, low form with vertical hinged openings along the sides, a design first adopted in the mid-nineteenth century. Because of its long-lived form, determining the age of a particular shed can be challenging. Many blew down in the infamous 1938 hurricane and were rebuilt; new sheds are still being constructed today. But efforts are being made regionally to preserve these characteristic structures. The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation in 2011 completed an exhaustive catalogue of barns—available at connecticutbarns.org— that includes more than three hundred tobacco sheds. In Massachusetts, the town of Hadley, working with the University of Massachusetts Public History Program and the Hadley Historical Commission, recorded data on 120 of the town’s barns, including a dozen tobacco sheds, and published an online interactive map of “The Barns of Hadley, Massachusetts.” Protection through registration has not been as exhaustive in Massachusetts as in Connecticut but the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s online database MACRIS includes nearly one hundred tobacco barns and sheds in its local building inventories. While distinctive, the tobacco shed is just one of many working building types from our agrarian past threatened by the loss of the economic function it once fulfilled. Documentation of these elements of the cultural landscape is a critical step in ensuring that their roles in New England history are not forgotten. —Sally Zimmerman Senior Preservation Services Manager

Wedgwood’s 1952 “New England Industries” plate series by Claire Leighton includes this depiction of Connecticut tobacco farming. ABOVE

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Half a Dime

a Day

S

arah Elizabeth Harper Monmouth, better known as Lizzie, was born to a well-established, locally connected New Hampshire family. Her parents, Dr. Joseph Harper and Elizabeth “Betsy” Clough, were married in Canterbury in 1816. Two sons were born in 1817 and 1818, followed by Lizzie in October 1829. In the years between 1826 and 1835, Dr. Harper held several public offices, including acting governor, before focusing on medicine. As she grew up, Lizzie’s parents instilled in her a love for art, music, and literature. As early as 1854, Monmouth was writing and publishing poetry. Eventide: A Series of Tales and Poems was published that year under the pseudonym Effie Afton, whose stories and poetry were already familiar to Canterbury newspaper readers. While her writing as Effie Afton was light and idealistic, Lizzie used the pseudonym Kate Caper to publish more dramatized and sensational stories. As Sophia Homespun, she wrote moralistic tales for Sunday school readers. Monmouth was a great traveler and visited her brother Charles Augustus Harper in Texas several times. On one visit shortly before the outbreak of the American Civil War, she met and married Colonel Jacques Eugene Monmouth, who was killed soon after while fighting for the Confederacy with a Louisiana regiment of Zouaves. Lizzie Monmouth returned to New Hampshire and likely did not talk much about her Confederate husband with her New England neighbors, who quietly spread rumors questioning his existence. After her parents’ deaths in 1862 and 1865, she was left with a comfortable inheritance to sustain her lifestyle as a grieving widow. The 1871 Great Chicago Fire sparked a nationwide movement to Lizzie Monmouth’s wall hangings are made with carefully cut out pieces of wallraise money for its victims. The tragedy paper adhered to a paper backing. Delicate tissue paper fringe is applied to the motivated Monmouth to approach the edges and sections of verse are pieced out in colored paper. Both works pictured Hill’s Corner Church in Canterbury here are part of our recently digitized collection of more than 6,000 wallpaper and ask if she could decorate the samples and related objects, searchable online at wallpaperhistory.org. church and give tours as a means to

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raise money for charitable giving. Church administrators agreed and Lizzie promptly moved into a tiny, makeshift apartment in the choir gallery and began her work. The decorations Lizzie created for the interior of the socalled Worsted Church became so popular that they were the subject of an 1879 New York Times article. The writer describes a white steepled church, a few miles from Canterbury center, decorated with “a perfect mosaic of needlework of vines, flowers, and decorations composed of worsted in all colors and designs.” The author entreats the reader to imagine every surface in the sanctuary covered with flowers made of wool yarn that looked so real one wanted to pluck them, paper banners hung on the walls like tapestries, and intricately crocheted lambrequins (ornamentally draped cloth) over each window and door. Monmouth led tours of the church at all hours and often subjected her captive audience to long recitations of Henry Ward Beecher’s sermons. Seven years elapsed before she felt her work to be done and she moved back to her family’s homestead. Sadly, a friend convinced Monmouth to invest her small fortune in government bonds and it was very quickly lost. She found herself with no income, but with no desire to sell her family’s home or to take in boarders, two options her friends often suggested. Instead, she fell back on her creative instincts and fashioned a life for herself on a very strict budget, writing with pride about her resourcefulness in an 1880 memoir, Living on Half a Dime a Day. Her annual budget included $17 for food, $13 for fuel, and $10 for reading. She made clothing and shoes out of materials she found around the farm; ate small amounts of plain food, buying only what she could not raise or gather on her property; and in the cold months crawled into bed in the afternoons and read with mittens on so as to conserve fuel. The only extravagance in her budget was books and magazines. When asked why she spent so much on reading materials, she replied, “To pamper the body and famish the mind I should deem the most ruinous and wicked extravagance.” We are lucky to have three examples of Monmouth’s folk art in Historic New England’s collection. These large banners most likely came from the Worsted Church in the late 1930s, about twenty years before the structure was destroyed by fire. Other examples of her work were acquired by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1930s for its American Folk Art collection, and in 1938 her work was featured in an

exhibition at the Currier Museum of Art in Manchester, New Hampshire. Lizzie Monmouth died in January 1887. Her death certificate lists her profession as author, but she had played many roles throughout her life: poet, minister, artist, dressmaker, traveler, philanthropist, friend, and daughter. Though she died, in her words, “sick, crippled, and with impending blindness,” her work remains as a lasting example of New England frugality and ingenuity. —Nicole Chalfant Collections Manager

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A Documentary Legacy The Historic American Buildings Survey and Historic New England

H

istoric New England’s work to expand digital collections access is one of the latest examples of our commitment to documenting and sharing the stories of New England’s heritage that has been at the heart of Historic New England’s mission since its founding in 1910. Founder William Sumner Appleton photographed our museum properties in various stages of repair, a practice that continues to inform and guide our preservation philosophy to this day. In his travels he photographed houses owned by others just because they were old and interesting, or as they were in the process of deteriorating or being dismantled. He commissioned architects to prepare measured drawings of our houses and others, and collected documentation on all manner of other New England buildings. Today, for example, Historic New England holds some of the preservation movement’s most valued documentary drawings: measured plans and elevations of the John Hancock House in Boston made by architect John Hubbard Sturgis just ahead of the house’s 1863 destruction, a loss Appleton invoked as “a classic in the annals of vandalism.” An equivalent archive is the vast collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) at the Library of Congress. HABS, created as part of the New Deal, employed out-of-work architects, draftsmen, and photographers to measure, illustrate, and document old and threatened buildings across the country. HABS’s creator, National Park Service land-

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Historic New England Summer 2015

scape architect Charles E. Peterson, wrote in 1933, “It is the responsibility of the American people that if the great number of our antique buildings must disappear through economic causes, they should not pass into unrecorded oblivion.” Today HABS, now expanded to include the Historic American Engineering Record (1969) and the Historic American Landscape Survey (2000), contains records on nearly 40,000 sites, with large-format, black-and-white photographs, measured drawings, and written historical reports all in the public domain. Historic New England’s early focus on documentation and its close connections to HABS’s first Massachusetts director, Frank Chouteau Brown (a Boston architect and early editor of our former journal Old-Time New England), meant that many of its properties benefited from HABS documentation. Sixteen of Historic New England’s thirty-six museum properties were recorded by HABS between 1934 and 1970. Many privately owned properties now protected in our Preservation Easement Program also boast HABS records, some as a result of prior Historic New England ownership and others on their own merits. A sampling of HABS-documented Historic New England and easement-protected properties demonstrates the versatility and value of this remarkable archive. —Sally Zimmerman Senior Preservation Services Manager


Sanford-Covell House (1869–70), Newport, Rhode Island The Sanford-Covell House is apparently the first residential design of noted Shingle Style architect William Ralph Emerson, completed when Emerson was still partnered with Boston architect Carl Fehmer. It has some of the country’s most important interior frescoes in its remarkable thirty-five foot tall, three-story stairhall. The late historic paint conservator Morgan Phillips described its decorations as one of the preeminent surviving examples of the Victorian designs championed by architect Owen Jones in his 1856 volume The Grammar of Ornament. HABS documented the SanfordCovell House in 1969 as interest in preserving nineteenth-century architecture gained momentum.

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General George Cowles House (1803), Farmington, Connecticut Typical of the structures originally selected by HABS for recording, the Cowles House is an architecturally grand brick house in the Jeffersonian Classical style with a highstyle Adamesque interior. It was built for the son of one of the town’s most successful merchants on the occasion of the son’s marriage in 1803 and remained in the Cowles family until 1907 when Theodate Pope acquired it. Pope, later Theodate Pope Riddle, was the first female architect licensed in New York and Connecticut. She continued to live nearby in her Stanford White–designed home, which is now the Hill-Stead Museum. By the time of this 1940 HABS photograph of the Cowles House, the interior was in poor condition. Pope sold the house four years later. Now protected within Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program, the house benefits from the meticulous care of its owners and once more conveys its original grandeur.

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Historic New England Summer 2015


Phillips House (1821), Salem, Massachusetts The splendid fence that fronts Historic New England’s Phillips House on Chestnut Street probably reflects updates by architect William G. Rantoul in 1911. HABS documentation in 1938 focused not on the house but on the fence, with photographs taken by architectural photographer Arthur C. Haskell. His collection of approximately 3,000 negatives and original prints is now housed in Historic New England’s Library and Archives. Haskell’s photographs show the fence’s elaborate funerary urns and posts, designed in the style of renowned Federal-era architect Samuel McIntire, whose work defines the character of Chestnut Street. Detailed images such as these assisted in the 2008 restoration of the fence by Historic New England’s preservation carpenters.

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Governor John Langdon House (1784), Portsmouth, New Hampshire HABS documented not only buildings, but also historic landscapes and gardens. This site plan of Langdon House’s grounds prepared by Frank Chouteau Brown includes precise details about all aspects of the structures, plantings, dimensions, and functions. The arbor, part of an extensive Colonial Revival garden installed when McKim, Mead, and White designed the dining room wing of the house in 1904, is the focus of a comprehensive, multi-phase restoration by Historic New England begun in 2010. It is now a favored spot for weddings and parties.

Clemence-Irons House (1691), Johnston, Rhode Island By 1941 Historic New England’s Clemence-Irons House had been greatly altered from its seventeenthcentury condition. That year preeminent Rhode Island restoration architect Norman Isham began restoring the house to its original appearance, replicating period materials and referencing 1938 HABS documentation. Isham’s work revealed a number of errors in the HABS record; correspondence from 1941 updates and corrects the record. Historic New England is now planning repairs that will match the materials Isham used.

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Save the Dates

Historic New England’s 2015

Fine Arts and Crafts Festivals Browse handcrafted goods from the region’s most talented artisans on the picturesque grounds of Historic New England properties.

Codman Estate Lincoln, Massachusetts Saturday, September 12, 10 am–4 pm

Hamilton House South Berwick, Maine Saturday and Sunday, September 26 and 27, 10 am–4 pm

Roseland Cottage Woodstock, Connecticut Saturday and Sunday, October 17 and 18, 10 am–4:30 pm Examples of past exhibitors’ work. Please visit HistoricNewEngland.org for more exhibitor galleries.


A light application of wax every few years is enough to keep this early nineteenth-century mahogany table in superb condition.

Please Don’t Feed

the Wood

T

he notion that wood needs to be “fed” when it looks dry has been around for generations. But hold your breath: this advice is wrong. Furniture wood looks dry because it is dry. A live tree is often more than 50 percent water by weight. Drying it to about 6–8 percent moisture content is an essential step to stabilize wood before fabrication. The best woodwork is then enhanced and protected by a hard, clear coating generally referred to as a varnish. When surfaces look dry it’s usually because the varnish has worn away or become damaged, exposing the wood underneath. Technically what happens is this: varnish not only protects the wood underneath from dirt and staining, but also enhances the wood grain. No matter how smoothly sanded a surface is, microscopic irregularities remain.

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Historic New England Summer 2015

Those irregularities diffract or scatter light. A good clear varnish fills them in and creates a flat, polished surface that allows light to reflect cleanly off the wood. The result is a window into the beauty of the wood grain. Because of regular wear and tear on household furniture, there is a long history of wood maintenance products that promise instant gratification. These products work beautifully for a few weeks or months, but need to be reapplied frequently. After all, what good is a product for the manufacturer that you use only once? These products are sold by many names, but belong to three basic categories: drying oils, nondrying oils, and silicone oil products. Drying oils Nineteenth-century household guides abounded with formulas for making

everything from toothpaste to gutter sealant. Along with them came linseed oil formulas for maintaining wood. Linseed oil was the basis for all good paint and without the pigment added it could also be used as a relatively clear finish. Linseed oil is a drying oil, meaning that it will eventually lose its more volatile components, bond to itself, and form a hard surface film. Formulations varied, but essentially drying oils were mixtures of boiled linseed oil and a thinner, usually turpentine. Drying oils could be wiped or brushed on, allowed to soak into the wood, and the excess was wiped off—no specialized skills required. Formerly “dry” surfaces became shiny and saturated. However, as these oils dry, they shrink and merely coat the irregularities rather than fill them, eventually leading to that dry look. In some households repeated


application was part of annual maintenance. When properly applied, linseed oil can make an excellent finish on bare wood. But as a furniture polish it has considerable drawbacks. Linseed oil attracts dust and dirt, which crosslink on a molecular scale and become almost impossible to remove. It also darkens with age and thickness. Ever wonder why grandma’s old dresser was as black as night? Probably a regular application of linseed oil. Many good pieces of furniture and original surface finishes have been ruined this way. Non-drying oils Non-drying oils were just the thing for a quick touch-up. Also known as lemon oil, furniture polish, and dusting oil, these were less labor intensive to apply, smelled daintier, and could be used on a regular basis. Like linseed oil, non-drying oils saturate the surface and make an instant visual improvement. Unlike linseed oil polishes, non-drying oils leave a slightly tacky surface that continues to attract dust, creating a cycle in which another application is needed to restore that freshly polished appearance.

Silicone oil-based polishes A modern replacement for the old-fashioned polishes, silicone oil-based polishes usually come in handy aerosol cans and pledge instant shine. Spray it on, wipe it off, and voila!, a pleasant lemon scent and a smooth, glossy wood surface. But how often do you find yourself reapplying it? For the most part, these products are simply the same old lemon oil polish with one important addition, silicone oil. Silicone oil forms a film and leaves a thin glossy coating on your furniture. That coating builds every time you apply and wipe it off, eventually leaving an irreversible crust of silica on your furniture. In my experience this cannot be removed without completely stripping the coatings down to bare wood. Goodbye original finish, goodbye patina, hello refinishing shop. Wax, a better alternative Waxes get a bad rap. They have an undeserved reputation as being a great deal of hard work, and those of a certain age will remember the welladvertised shame of “waxy yellow

build-up” on your kitchen floors. Waxes occur naturally in plants, animals, minerals, and petroleum. They form a clear, hard film, are insoluble in water, do not attract dust or dirt, and are easily reversible and replaceable. They require slightly more effort than the spray polishes, but one application can last five years or more. This is what museum conservators most often turn to when they need to restore an even sheen to an existing furniture finish. Want to learn how to use paste wax to protect and enhance your furniture? Visit HistoricNewEngland.org/ Conservation for museum conservation–worthy tips that are easy to follow at home. —A. M. Carlisle Supervising Conservator

Silicone oil–based polishes are simple to use, but the irreversible build-up they leave makes them a bad long-term choice for wood care. Paste wax is a better choice. ABOVE A natural soft bristled brush is ideal for buffing wax in carved details. LEFT

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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

An Innovator in American Artisan Jewelry

F

or Frank Gardner Hale (1876– 1945), what elevated handmade products above mass-produced goods was their ability to express an artist’s personality. Born in Norwich, Connecticut, Hale studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Among his earliest works are covers for books and sheet music. He put that graphic training to good use while studying enameling and jewelry design in England with Charles Robert Ashbee, a proponent of the English Arts and Crafts movement. Hale returned to Boston in 1907 to open his own studio down the street from the Society of Arts and Crafts, where he helped train many of the second generation of New England artisan jewelers. A passionate advocate for handcraft, Hale divided his career between the studio and the lecture circuit. Hale’s work embraced American materials such as tourmalines from Maine and sapphires from Montana, often mixing them with multiple metals. A deep green tourmaline nestles like a dewdrop among lyrically draped

leaves in yellow and white gold to form the shield-shaped brooch seen at right. It contrasts dramatically with the frosty luminescence of diamonds and pearls set on the platinum bar brooch, above. Both pieces date from 1907 to the early 1920s. These exciting recent acquisitions are the first pieces by Hale in Historic New England’s collection, where they complement jewelry by his student, Edward Everett Oakes. —Laura Johnson Associate Curator

These brooches by Frank Gardner Hale will be among the jewelry featured in the upcoming exhibition Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from the Collection of Historic New England, opening in 2016.

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

Historic New England Summer 2015  

Laser 3-D scanning at the Eustis Estate in Milton, Mass., seventeenth-century architectural history exposed at Gedney House in Salem, Mass.,...

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