Historic New England Fall 2021

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historic NEw england

Staying STRONG

In Trying Times

FALL 2021
Photojournalist Katherine Taylor Documents Protest and Pandemic

historic NEw england

From the Chair

This issue of Historic New England describes the exciting launch of our Recovering New England’s Voices initiative. For many years after its founding in 1910 much of Historic New England’s research, collecting, and presentations focused on the wealthy families who lived in our properties. Over the past decades, recognizing that the story of New England is much, much broader than that, the organization has expanded its scope. We, for example, researched and are telling the stories of the enslaved people at Sayward-Wheeler House in York Harbor, Maine; the Narragansett people at Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island; the Stekionis family at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts; and Henry Davis Sleeper and his circle at Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann Recovering New England’s Voices, will, however, take our efforts to a whole other level. It is a major, organization-wide initiative emerging from our new strategic plan. In it we are investing our resources in robust research, creative scholarship, and developing stories that will share the experiences and viewpoints of a much broader cross-section of people throughout New England history. It will build on our previous site-specific research to further widen our lens to include the central contributions of women, workers, immigrants, enslaved people, and LBGTQ+ residents. Everyone at Historic New England will be very excited to share the results with you.

This issue also features a wonderful photo essay of the extraordinary work of photojournalist Katherine Taylor, which is now in Historic New England’s photography collection. The essay begins with our cover image and documents the human-level intimacy and responses to a challenging year gripped by a pandemic, unrest, and reckoning. The issue goes on to include stories about two graduate students who are taking a fresh look at artifacts retrieved during a 1978 archaeological dig at Cooper-Frost-Austin House in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the 1796 Otis House and Boston’s changing West End neighborhood; the early-twentieth-century trend of affordable mail-order houses; and Historic New England’s YouTube series on the importance of philanthropy in supporting cultural and preservation efforts that contribute to community

We invite you to enjoy and reflect upon the enlightening and informative articles in this issue that broaden our perspectives on New England

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HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND magazine is a benefit of membership. To become a member, visit HistoricNewEngland.org or call 617-994-5910. Comments? Email Info@HistoricNewEngland.org. Historic New England is funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council.

President and CEO: Vin Cipolla Executive Editor: Diane Viera Editor: Dorothy A. Clark Editorial Review Team: Nancy Carlisle, Senior Curator of Collections; Lorna Condon, Senior Curator of Library and Archives; Leigh Schoberth, Senior Preservation Services Manager Design: Julie Kelly Design

FALL 2021 • Vol. 22 • No. 2
© 2021 Historic New England. Except where noted, all historic photographs and ephemera are from Historic New England’s Library and Archives. Above Middlebury College students at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, during their 2019 resiliency impact study internship. Historic New England 141 Cambridge Street Boston MA 02114-2702 617-227-3956
Voices Shoring Up Resiliency Efforts Confronting the Exoskeletons in Our Closets
New England Gala
Playing on YouTube
Back with 2020 Vision
Save the Date: Historic
Triumphant Careers


This fall Historic New England is launching Recovering New England’s Voices, a multiyear, multiphase project to reimagine our sites by researching new and inclusive histories and sharing them through authentic, innovative storytelling. This project is our

commitment to share all of New England’s stories holistically and grounded in diversity, equity, and accessibility to provide a platform for every perspective.

A sweeping initiative, this work firmly benefits from key building blocks already in place, representing many years of digging deeper at

several of our sites, to share with visitors the most authentic and inclusive stories. Historic New England has long recognized that our historic sites have the power to do more—to elevate the voices of immigrants, enslaved people, Indigenous cultures, and others who deserve a central place in the

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The people in this c. 1878 portrait in Historic New England’s Library and Archives have yet to be identified. Inscribed on the back of the image is “Given Feb. 28, 1927 Wm. S. Appleton,” the founder of Historic New England. The photographer is identified as Lemuel Wallace Cook, who had studios on Tremont and Washington streets in Boston. A photograph dated October 1, 1879, that includes some of the same individuals posed outside a gingerbread cottage near the famed Tabernacle in the Methodist Campground in Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts, is in the collection of the Martha’s Vineyard Museum.

narrative. We have enthusiastically taken on this work to share these stories with the public, such as those of Prince, Cato, and Boneto, people enslaved at Sayward-Wheeler House in York Harbor, Maine; the Narragansett people’s story at Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island; and Henry Davis Sleeper’s experiences as a gay man in the early twentieth century at Beauport, the SleeperMcCann House, in Gloucester, Massachusetts. These are just the beginning.

Recovering New England Voices comprises three phases of work— Research, Reorient, and Retell— which will unfold over four years to create a new foundation for visitors’ experiences at our historic sites that challenge traditional narratives to promote healing, community,

collaboration, and inspiration. We are currently in the Research phase and have hired four scholars who are examining archives, libraries, communities, and other less-familiar sources throughout New England to discover and recover as many stories as possible. The scholars are integrated with staff project teams and use primary and secondary resources to document and share perspectives ignored or suppressed in the past.

Phase two, Reorient, will build upon the results of the phase-one research by identifying four major subject areas for in-depth work. We will hire an expert scholar for each of these subject areas who will spend one year researching with staff to expand our knowledge in each area and to give the recovered stories depth and dimension.

The third phase, Retell, will be transformative as we incorporate the results of phases one and two to recast the visitor experience and make our historic sites destinations of choice for authentic and inclusive storytelling.

This work will take many forms, ranging from complete transformations to redefining programming priorities, acquiring new collections, opening previously unseen rooms and spaces, and installing interactive technologies. In the past, Historic New England used the family name associated with its historic sites to determine their narratives; in the future, these sites will be defined by their most compelling stories, not their wealthiest owners.

Our phase-one research scholars are Hannah Francis, Leo Lovemore,

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The scholars for the Recovering New England’s Voices initiative are (clockwise, from left) Hannah Francis, Tricia Peone, Scot McFarlane, and Leo Lovemore.

Scot McFarlane, and Tricia Peone. Each of these experts has experience conducting challenging archival research that focuses on oppressed, marginalized, and erased groups. Competition for these positions was exceptionally high, with ninety applicants from across the country and around the world.

Hannah is a doctoral candidate in the History Department at Rice University in Houston, Texas. She is an Atlantic historian interested in maritime, migration, and travel history. Her dissertation analyzes a set of passports issued in the nineteenth century to free and enslaved travelers of African descent from New Orleans.

Leo (they/them) is a historical researcher, writer, artist, and educator who was born and raised in the Connecticut River Valley in western Massachusetts. In 2019, they received a doctorate with distinction in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies from Rutgers University. Leo also holds a master’s from New York University and a bachelor’s from Mount Holyoke College. Leo’s work centers on critical approaches to race, gender, and sexuality, especially feminist, queer, and trans histories and histories of medicine, health, and community care. Leo is also working on a historical fiction novel set in Beverly and Salem, Massachusetts, in the 1820s.

Scot received his doctorate from Columbia University’s History Department this past spring. Through his research at nearly fifty archives, Scot’s dissertation brought together the history of slavery and the environment. His writing has appeared in Slavery & Abolition, The Journal of Southern History, Environmental History,

The Dallas Morning News, and The Washington Post. A former high school history teacher, Scot designed and taught his seminar “Rivers, Politics, and Power in the US” at Columbia. His public history work includes the website Confluence: The History of North American Rivers (riverhistories. org), which tells the history of rivers across the continent.

Tricia completed a doctorate in history at the University of New Hampshire in 2015 with a specialization in the early modern Atlantic world and the history of science. She has taught classes on the Salem witch trials, colonial New England, and New Hampshire history, and worked for several years as a historical consultant conducting research for projects related to cultural resources and historic preservation. Tricia previously worked as the public programs director at the New Hampshire Humanities Council. Originally from Rochester, New York, she lives on New Hampshire’s seacoast.

The scholars’ research begins a new era for Historic New England. Our thirty-eight sites offer an unparalleled resource for people to discover and learn about the complex and complicated history of the region. Recovering New England’s Voices enables us to do this by creating and securing the time, space, resources, and experts to research and share histories that have been neglected or suppressed.

Historical narratives have a significant cultural impact—the stories we tell about ourselves speak to people’s deep need to feel a sense of connection, feel welcome, feel seen, and be heard. We are honored to do this work.


Recovering New England’s Voices is one of our most significant projects since the organization’s founding in 1910. Building on forerunner work over many years to expand our sites’ narratives, this initiative is our largest commitment yet to upend traditional approaches to preservation and position our historic sites as catalysts for transformative conversations and experiences. We are reaching higher to be the leading voice for the full New England experience.

Investing in this vital work to connect our past to our present will build a foundation for a more vibrant, inclusive, and equitable future and will impact thousands of communities and millions of lives throughout New England.

We can’t make this exciting and progressive move toward a better future without you. Your support is vital to our ability to deliver on our mission to serve the public and benefit New England communities, and this moment presents a powerful opportunity for your generosity to have an extraordinary impact. Recovering New England’s Voices is a multimillion-dollar investment in our future. You can make a tremendous difference through your philanthropy.

If you are excited about this work or know someone who would like to join us on this journey, we would love to hear from you. To learn more about Recovering New England’s Voices and how you can make an impact, please contact Vice President for Advancement Jennifer Kent at 617-994-5965 or JKent@HistoricNewEngland.org.

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Powerful, disturbing, and yet beautiful,

the images in this article and on the cover are the work of photojournalist Katherine Taylor. Taylor, whose work often appears in The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Reuters, and many other news outlets, captured New Englanders as they struggled to cope with and respond to the extraordinary social and political upheaval that recently has impacted all of our daily lives. She did this through two series: Masks of Boston, which records the COVID-19 pandemic, and another documenting the protests against systemic racism and racial inequality.

For the Masks of Boston series, Taylor “created a uniform style” for each portrait, using an outdoor studio with a black background and emphasizing the emotional state of each subject. She also developed a set of questions for her subjects, which included asking about the impact of the pandemic on them, what challenges they faced, any unexpected positive experiences and outcomes, and for whom did they wear masks. For Taylor, the consistent stylistic approach, the capturing of emotional content, and the questions provide a sense of unity and community among the subjects while at the same time recognizing each one’s individuality.

Taylor chose not to add commentary to her images documenting protests against systemic racism because she feels that “the emotions of the subjects are theirs to voice.”

Historic New England recently acquired several of Taylor’s photographs for the collection. They help us to better tell the stories of all New Englanders during this unprecedented time.

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ON THE COVER Nerlande (Nellie)

Sanon Tavares is a dispatcher for Transdev, a transportation provider. She and her husband are essential workers and were on the frontline during the pandemic as well as the heightened racial tensions and protests. They decided to get married during this “crazy time” and “stayed strong for one another.” Nerlande wore a mask for “my husband, who’s asthmatic, and everyone else I come in close contact with.”

PAGE 4 Taken on June 2, 2020, following a peaceful rally at Franklin Park.

PAGE 5 AND PAGE 6 TOP Taken May 31, 2020, during march in Boston from Nubian Square to the State House.


Kunga Choyang wore his mask for those most vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus. He was challenged by the widespread closures but was pleased that stores were not checking IDs.

For student Daniela Minidis, the most challenging part of the pandemic was “not being able to hug my dear friends.” Also, her cousins, friends, and family in Italy were in isolation for months and it was hard not being able to see them. An unexpected positive result of the pandemic for Daniela was that she was able to spend more time on her art and writing. She wore a mask to “protect myself and all of the world.”

ABOVE Taken June 2, 2020, following a peaceful rally at Franklin Park in Boston. LEFT A member of Laborers, Local 223, Jose M. Duran is an asbestos/lead removal supervisor at Select Demo. He said that what has been most challenging about the pandemic is arriving home and his fiancée “has me feeling like I’m a child again: take shoes off and clothes, put them in a bag, jump in the shower, and nothing changes till I comply with all. Once the mission’s accomplished and I’m out the shower I get a hug and kiss.” Jose said he wears a mask “for everyone not just for me, for family members, my stepson has asthma, I want to be clear of catching it. I believe everyone should wear it so that we can avoid the spread.”

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Sarah Mitchell is director of supporter engagement at AllOut. org and a person in recovery. It was difficult for her “to see so many people in our community struggling. A lot of our usual resources revolve around coming together in community. For many of us, our addictions thrive in isolation.” Sarah is a Buddhist and a meditator. The pandemic helped “to wack our priorities into place.” She compares it to going on retreat, “where you’re cut off from all communication and everyone you know, you start to see a little more clearly what really matters and what really doesn’t.” Also, having her dog Frankie by her side was an absolute lifesaver. Sarah wore a mask for her very dear friend Lia, who has a chronic lung disease.

Entrepreneur/credit consultant Steeve Cantave was challenged most by not being able to see friends and family. For him, the unexpected positive outcomes of the pandemic included “exploring more, appreciation for the little things, falling in love with nature,” and having “more time to focus on [his] business and create.” Steeve wore his mask for the world.

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A Well-Grounded Education

Dirt Detectives school program gets kids to dig history

Historic New England’s school programs are designed to be hands-on, interactive, and immersive, as well as grounded in history and tied to the curriculum. Dirt Detectives at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, one of our longest running programs, is a perfect example of these principles in action.

Students learn about archaeology through doing archaeology. The program moves them through four stations, each dedicated to one aspect of archaeological work. Students dig for artifacts, crossmend pottery shards, use contextual clues to identify unfamiliar objects, and make inferences about the lifestyles of people at the farm from the types of things they owned, ate, and disposed. Throughout the twoand-a-half-hour field trip students are asked to consider topics related to geography, ecology, and environmental conditions and how these factored into life on the farm.

Dirt Detectives was created following a 1989 archaeological dig at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm led by the late Boston University archaeologist Mary Beaudry. After the dig was over, she left us a test pit, which is the centerpiece of Dirt Detectives. We seed the pit

with artifacts from our teaching collection. Just as in a real dig, the pit is divided into quadrants. Students work in teams of three, one team per quadrant; each team has an excavator, a recorder, and a collector. The excavator uses a trowel to gently scrape layers of dirt away until they reveal an object. The recorder notes the location of the object on a recording sheet; the position of the object gives researchers clues about the time period in which it was used and its relationship to other objects. Finally, the collector removes the object. The students then switch jobs so that everyone has a chance doing each task.

Digging is what people tend to think of first when they think about archaeology, but much of the work happens in the lab. For example, at the cross-mending station, students are faced with tables full of broken pottery pieces. They must match the pieces and use painter’s tape to temporarily put them back together as best they can; this activity helps them to better identify the number

and type of objects represented.

When the pandemic shutdown began in March 2020, all in-person school programs were canceled. Although we recognize that nothing can truly replace the experience of students’ getting their hands dirty by scraping in the pit, Historic New England wanted to offer an online version of Dirt Detectives We created two twenty-minute filmed segments that take students through the dig, cross-mending, and exploring the house, along with a packet of review questions and primary source materials that we now offer with a live forty-fiveminute online class. We will continue to make this version of the program available for schools that can’t visit the farm because of distance or cost.

This past spring we welcomed our first school groups back to the farm. It was wonderful to reconnect in person with students. Even though we were all wearing masks, their excitement was evident as they uncovered bits of history for themselves.

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Fourth-graders from the Glen Urquhart School in Beverly, Massachusetts, working in the archaeology pit (left) and at the cross-mending station in the Dirt Detectives program at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts.

Finding Treasure Amid Yesteryear’s Trash

Two grad students bring new enthusiasm to studying artifacts

University of Massachusetts Boston

Editor’s note: In 1978, Historic New England commissioned an archaeological team to conduct a dig at CooperFrost-Austin House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The dig uncovered a number of artifacts at the 1681 property, which recent dendrochronology testing has documented as the oldest dwelling standing in Cambridge. More than four decades after the dig, two archaeology master’s degree students from UMass Boston are taking a fresh look at the artifacts using updated methodologies to reassess the finds.


It was a crisp early-November day, annus Coronaviri. Masked, hands sanitized, armed with a piqued curiosity and a duty to protect and discover, I walked into the lab— large, iced Americano with a double shot of espresso in hand. I greeted the twenty-six bankers boxes in the darkness of the “Classroom” before I flipped the lights on, “Bonjour mes amis, j’espère que vous-avez passés un bon weekend” (I always speak to them in French). I set about my work, picking out individual bags, themselves forty-two years old, containing treasures of a longforgotten corner of the nineteenth century. As I worked through the glass assemblage, I lifted out the most beautiful cranberry glass pedestalled dish, gold leaf filigree wrapping delicately around its curvatures. “Mikayla!” I shouted to my friend as she walked in the door. “You have to see this!”


I, however, had arrived late to the party. Having heard Emily speak to the beauty that the collection held,

I was more than intrigued. I heard shouting down the hallway and burst into the room looking to throw hands. To my surprise, everything was fine; just Emily dancing about with an artifact sitting on the table before her.


“Mikayla! Mikayla! Look at this! I’ve never seen anything like this before. This is a ring dish. This has to be a ring dish. It’s beautiful! And look! Look! Lenses!” I picked up another bag that held seven separated lenses from what I could swear were pince-nez glasses and put them right under Mikayla’s nose, glee bursting from the upper half of my masked face.


“You know where we have to go? To the site report!” Grabbing the old and beaten-up report of the “Seventeenth Century Historical Archaeology in Cambridge, Medford, and Dorchester” by David Starbuck, I began flipping through it. We set forth on our journey back in time.


We poured over the pages, eager to find any and all leads on what

this all was, and more importantly, whose it was. I looked back and forth between my cranberry ring dish, the site report, and Mikayla. “This doesn’t look like it’s from the seventeenth century. I mean. . . . Maybe the lenses if they were monocles? But? I just... they don’t feel seventeenth century to me.”


“Oh look! Right here, in the Excavation section [of the site report] they talk about how back in 1978 the crew was tasked with looking for material from the seventeenth century, but at Cooper-Frost-Austin they barely found any, it was mostly nineteenth century.” Flipping through the report again, I said, “But they don’t really talk about it, at least not in detail. How strange!”


“I guess they focused on what they could from the seventeenth century; the stuff here wouldn’t fit with their research goals or interpretations. Wasn’t this group of excavations done as part of a larger project to map seventeenth-century sites around Boston? It feels like

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they set the nineteenth-century assemblages aside and never came back to them. If I could I’d send Starbuck some flowers with a card that says, ‘Thank you sir, we’ll take it from here.’ Here, let’s look at the family history Starbuck et al., set out for Cooper-Frost-Austin and see who was in the house at the time.”

I scanned through the section in question, muttering about 250 years of family continuity, Cooper to Cooper, then Cooper to Frost, within the Frosts, and then from the Frosts to the Austins, a closely knit kinship web, marriage and death as the knots (quite impressed), and then paused. Hunched together, Mikayla and I read that for nearly the entirety of the 1800s, the house was owned by one Susan Screech Austin—a woman in her own right rather than by marriage. I looked up at Mikayla and chuckled; we love a unique, strong woman.

Susan had married the Reverend Reuben Seiders, a minister in the Unitarian Protestant Church of Cambridge, who changed his name and took hers to become Richard Thomas Austin. “I bet all of this was theirs. Susan was born in 1808, the house went to her after her father died, and when Richard Thomas died in 1849, Susan lived on in the house until her death in 1885. Yeah ... the nineteenth-century artifacts would make sense as belonging to them. The only other person who lived with them at Cooper-FrostAustin during this time was Susan’s mother. Also, have you noticed that all of these incredible, nearly intact artifacts have come from maybe one or two units?”


“Okay, where is the section that talks about these units?” After some searching, we came across a very

specific event that seemed to be one whole house cleaning deposited in a small space within the garage, fondly known as the “garage test pit.” This pit was filled to the brim with an assortment of ceramics, glass, metal, and just about anything else you could think of. Taking a step back, we gently riffled through the boxes once more, pulling semi-intact Gothic teacups and plates made of porcelain, glittering bottles of amethyst and olive green, myriad glass goblets and fine tableware, an adorable dog figurine, and a Parisian ceramic toothpaste box.


We sat down to get back to work. Archaeology is very much a physical job. The field demands endurance, dexterity, commitment, an apathy for sweating, and teamwork. As exciting and wondrous as it is to shave centimeters away from artifacts seeing the light of day for the first time in decades/ centuries/millennia, the majority of archaeology is not done in field; it is done in the laboratory (our “Classroom” at the University of Massachusetts Boston in this instance). The lab is where the magic happens—and boy, did it! Our job currently is to take an inventory of the contents of the twenty-six bankers boxes that contain the thousands of artifacts recovered from the Cooper-Frost-Austin House. These boxes contain artifacts spanning the seventeenth through twentieth centuries. As we inventory the artifacts, we also take careful notes of the condition of each piece, repackaging them in more protective and appropriate artifact bags, always making sure to write the contextspecific information of each item on each bag and identification tag.

At times it is slow work, but those times are some of the most exciting;

holding 200-year-old things in your hands, time travel... suddenly the mind gets lost in all the possibilities associated with this one object— the uses, meanings, the everyday seemingly inconsequential decisions that went into this one piece finding its way into the Austin household, into the ground, and now in our hands.


As much as the care and curation of these artifacts are taken into consideration, so too are the deeper meanings that are placed on them. As we go about this extensive cataloguing project, we are jotting down what these things could have meant for those who once used them every day. The items are an ephemeral bridge to the past, connecting material culture to the nonmaterial. Nonmaterial culture is what we know as aspects of identity, such as gender, sexuality, race, and class and where they fuse together, where they ebb and flow. The way one carries one’s self in the world is shaped by the intersections of identity; a Black, heterosexual, cisgender tradesman in the nineteenth century would have lived quite a different life from an upper-middleclass white English Protestant cisgender woman of the same time period. It is also very important to always be aware that the artifacts you handle are representations of their time, and as such, are representations of the cultural norms of their time.

Consider the Parisian toothpaste box, for instance. Not only does it speak to health and hygiene of the time, it also articulates the levels of cross-cultural connections. Being an imported good, the implications of finding its way from the creation of French craftspeople to the producers of the toothpaste within it, across the sea to the shores of Massachusetts,

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where it would later be purchased and used daily. In essence, this item does more than what is intended of it; because it was imported, it is expected that it was a more expensive item and therefore available for those who could afford it. This factors in the economic and class status of those who used it.

Mikayla and I still have quite a bit of work to do with the collection: cataloguing, cleaning, sorting, and then analysis. The Cooper-Frost-Austin House collection is so extensive and rich that upwards of twelve possible master’s theses can be written using it alone. Mikayla and I represent two of those thesis writers. This autumn we will begin analyzing the assemblages specific to our individual research. Part of the analysis phase is identifying what the objects are, when they are from, and to whom they belonged. We have a general idea of when most of the collection was made, when it was deposited (thrown out), and who owned or used the items; but we want as much accuracy as possible.

To make identifications, archaeologists can draw on several different kinds of sources. Primary sources are ideal when they are available and legible. Among these are personal correspondence, newspapers, tombstones,

books, pamphlets, diaries, maps, probate records, and art. Primary sources are also artifacts themselves, and as such, archaeologists must analyze them critically, as everything that is created is a product of its time and its culture and therefore has its own meanings and biases. Secondary sources also help archaeologists; these include journal articles, studies, books, site reports, and research that has been conducted on the same or similar/intersecting topics and time periods, which can be used to inform archaeological interpretations. They may come from fellow archaeologists or scholars in other disciplines, such as art historians, ecologists, or theologists.

There are also reference collections for ceramics that are often a huge help in identifying and discovering the monetary associations of the goods. Ideally, archaeologists use multiple lines of evidence that they tack between, tying primary sources to reference collections to secondary sources back to primary sources back to the artifact itself (or any combination of tacking). The goal is to build a substantial foundation of evidence from these different lines of information to correctly identify the artifact and its owner. Then, one is able to explore its complexity in depth.

Since that November day in 2020, the CooperFrost-Austin House collection has been a never-ending adventure. Anyone who might have walked past the door to the Classroom would have seen the two of us running laps around the tables, screaming with excitement, hands flailing above our heads. Each day is new, each bag is a mystery, and each box brings us closer to knowing Susan Austin and her husband — their lives, their beliefs, their joys and sorrows. One woman’s trash is at least two women’s treasure.

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PAGE 10 Emily Willis peers at the cranberry glass pedestalled dish she found among the artifacts stored from a 1978 archaeological dig at Cooper-Frost-Austin House in Cambridge, Massachusetts. LEFT This Parisian toothpaste case was among the discarded items found during the dig. BELOW Emily Willis (left) and Mikayla Broderick show their excitement in the UMass Boston “Classroom” where they are cataloguing and researching the artifacts.

In the first half of the twentieth century kit house companies offered a path to attaining the dream of prosperity and social mobility through homeownership. These companies sold precut kits of house parts, ordered by catalogue, which were shipped by rail and then trucked to the construction sites. There, a local builder or the owner assembled the house, using the instructions provided. The kits included millwork, lumber, lath, roof shingles, flooring, hardware, paint, and more. Customers could tailor



Mail-order kit houses built an affordable modern living trend

We call it the “Dream House” and believe it the goal for real home lovers to try and achieve.

-The Book of Modern Homes, Sears, Roebuck & Co., 1940

architectural details as well as order appliances and light fixtures.

Kit houses—also called precut, ready-cut, catalogue, or mailorder houses—are part of the history of residential architecture and suburban development. They lie along a historical continuum that began with pattern books in the early nineteenth century and continues today with modular housing. Their affordability made them an important chapter in the story of worker housing, much as three-deckers served this role in

more densely populated cities.

The Midwest was headquarters to many of the best-known kit house manufacturers: Aladdin Readi-Cut Homes, Liberty Homes, and Sterling Homes in Bay City, Michigan; Gordon-Van Tine Homes in Davenport, Iowa; and Sears Modern Homes, Harris Homes, and Wardway Homes (Montgomery Ward) in Chicago. While Aladdin is credited with launching the kit house craze in 1906, other companies quickly followed. Perhaps best known are the kit houses of Sears,

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Roebuck & Co. Its thick catalogues, selling everything from household items and clothing to farm equipment and building materials, were already a familiar and trusted resource for many Americans.

Kit house companies marketed their structures as modern and affordable, with the latest in technological advances to facilitate the efficient running of a home. Some offered financing with favorable rates to attract customers who earned enough to own rather than rent. The companies produced annual catalogues with a dizzying array of house models reflecting popular styles of the time, from modest bungalows and Capes to

grand Colonial Revivals and Queen Anne Victorians.

These catalogues appealed to idealized notions of domestic life with florid language and renderings of houses in picturesque settings reminiscent of those in Andrew Jackson Downing’s mid-nineteenthcentury books on cottage residences and country homes. Many had exotic names, evoking romantic images of a life of financial security and leisure. There was the tenroom “Magnolia,” the most costly model in the 1919 Sears Modern Homes catalogue at $5,140, and “The Villa,” an Aladdin Readi-Cut home that sold for $3,420 in 1916. Less expensive models like

15 With the most magnificent residence it offered, “The Magnolia,” Sears, Roebuck & Co. boasted that this Colonial’s “imposing appearance, graceful lines and other attractive features” resembled the Cambridge, Massachusetts, home of nineteenth-century poet Henry W. Longfellow.

Aladdin’s four-room “The Ruby,” sold for as little as $400 in 1916. Other models had place names, like Aladdin’s “The Virginia,” and the Sears “Lucerne,” for customers who fantasized about living in another region of the country, or the world.

Burlington, Vermont, which boasts a notable concentration of kit houses, offers a fascinating case study of the socioeconomic changes that fueled the popularity of this building type across the country. Burlington’s location at the junction of two railroad lines, the subdivision of large estates and farms for housing, and the extension of the streetcar to city limits combined to create the ideal environment for this housing trend. In the late 1800s, a lumber- and textilesbased industrial economy yielded to service and professional sectors that supported a growing middle class. Families that had once rented in the dense city center acquired the financial means to purchase a home in a suburban environment, where they could be closer to nature and still enjoy an easy commute to work by automobile or public transportation. Census records reveal that sales clerks, teachers, accountants, business owners, gardeners, construction managers, and lawyers, among others, owned kit houses in the city.

Burlington’s kit houses, many

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Aladdin Readi-Cut Houses issued this sales catalogue in 1929. Featured on the cover is “The Glendale,” which was available in four sizes ranging from $920 to $1,168. PAGE

with a one-car garage or auto shed, are concentrated in some neighborhoods and scattered through others. Houses produced by companies including Sears, Roebuck & Co., Aladdin, Montgomery Ward, and Gordon-Van Tine are represented in its housing stock. The Five Sisters neighborhood in the south end of the city contains one of the most intact collections of kit houses. Developed from the subdivision of two large estates in the early 1900s, it is one of the most popular neighborhoods in the city. This forty-acre neighborhood enjoys a strong sense of community, encouraged by its modest-size homes on small lots and cohesive visual identity.

The Great Depression dealt a blow to the kit house business, and with the demand for quickly assembled and economical housing after World War II, the newer building technology of prefabricated housing took hold. Human ingenuity continues to address the need for affordable, easily assembled, and sustainable housing. Modular houses, tiny houses, and shipping container houses are the next generation of kit houses, responding with designs from the simple to the extravagant to meet the financial means and tastes of a diverse America.

Last year, Historic New England launched a kit house initiative in Burlington as a focus area within a larger effort to work with partners around the region on preservation projects that reflect diverse stories and include a wide representation of geographic areas, architectural styles, time periods, and building types. As twentieth-century kit house marketers wisely ascertained and used to their advantage, owning

a home was central to the notion of the so-called American Dream. Today, the modest size of kit houses, and their small lots, make them particularly vulnerable to insensitive additions and alterations or demolition to make way for larger houses.

You can learn more about kit houses at our virtual program Bungalow in a Box: Kit Houses of the Early Twentieth Century on November 3 at 5 PM. Register online at my.historicnewengland.


Historic New England is working with homeowners, local organizations, and state and local government to share the story of this important and overlooked building type and to explore ways to ensure its preservation. For more information contact Charlotte Barrett at cbarrett@ HistoricNewEngland.org or 802989-4723.

HistoricNewEngland.org 15

Echoes of the Past

RainKeep sculpture dedicated at Casey Farm

Wanda Hopkins has been offering her Native voice in classrooms, churches, and cultural events throughout Rhode Island for more than thirty years. She has served as a Narragansett tribal councilwoman and chair of the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island. She is currently a member of the Native American Advisory Council at the University of Rhode Island, where she is working on a master’s degree in English.

Historic Casey Farm in Saunderstown, Rhode Island, is a place where the past and present merge on a continuum of ecological and cultural preservation. Ancient stone walls enclose vibrant flower, herb, and vegetable gardens. The farm is a charming reminder of how generous Mother Earth is with her bounty of life-sustaining gifts. She offers her bounty to sustain generations and uses the process of planting to teach humankind life lessons in harmonious productivity. This past June, echoes of gratitude from the past mingled with the present as the “Three Sisters” RainKeep was dedicated at Casey

Farm. If there’s one place water is held sacred, it is on a farm.

“Water is Sacred” is a mantra made famous by several thousand water protectors in 2016 at Standing Rock, North Dakota (#NODAPL). This sentiment is also held by two Rhode Island artists, Deborah Spears Moorehead and Allison Newsome, who share a passion for water preservation and conservation. The two created “Three Sisters” RainKeep, an industrious work of art installed at Casey Farm to collect water for its Three Sisters Garden.

“Deborah is from the Eastern Woodlands and I from the Redwoods. We share a concern for water in our art,” Newsome

explained. “When we collaborate, our ideas flow harmoniously.”

Moorehead and Newsome created the sculpture for the 2020 PVDFest, an annual arts festival sponsored by the municipal Arts, Culture and Tourism Department of Providence, Rhode Island; and FirstWorks, a Providence-based arts and cultural organization.

The Casey Farm dedication ceremony began with a land acknowledgment offered by Lorén Spears, director of the Tomaquag Museum in Essex, Rhode Island. Spears is a member of the Narragansett Tribe, the people indigenous to Rhode Island. She presented her introduction

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in the Narragansett language and acknowledged the continued effort of cultural endurance and sustainability made by the Narragansett. Spears blessed the past, present, and future generations of Narragansett, welcomed all to the land, and in closing blessed the dedication ceremony.

Jane Hennedy, Historic New England’s site manager for southern Rhode Island, spoke about the organization’s collaborative efforts with Spears, which include an exhibit they developed for Casey Farm that displays Narragansett farming tools. Hennedy and Spears’s work representing the Native American presence was key to Historic New England’s acquisition of “Three Sisters” RainKeep. The sculpture is a reminder that Indigenous people still inhabit the land and helps to highlight their contributions. Hennedy and Spears have produced a wave of influence that offers the public a means to study a more accurate historical account of early America. During the dedication ceremony, Vin Cipolla, Historic New England’s president and CEO, shared words of admiration for the work done at Casey Farm.

Newsome and Moorehead talked of how their friendship blossomed during the construction of “Three Sisters” RainKeep. The women took inspiration from a Native American story about the Three Sisters: Corn, Bean, and Squash. The following is a version of the story based on its telling by Narragansett Elder Paulla Dove Jennings, a professional storyteller, educator, and children’s book author:

Mother Earth’s three daughters, Corn, Bean, and Squash, were not getting along with each other. They each had very distinct personalities and this made getting along quite difficult. Corn was tall and thin with long yellow hair, and she wore a green shawl. She loved reaching for the sky and playing in the sun, but her feet would get scorched when exposed too long. Bean enjoyed winding around exploring everything but sometimes she would get lost. Squash was plump and round and preferred remaining close to her mother. She wore a wide, green skirt that covered every place she sat.

Each daughter thought her way of being in the world was best. This resulted in constant bickering. One day Mother Earth brought them together and explained that each one was special and unique. She told them that sharing their gifts would bring health and wellness to them all. The daughters decided to give it a try.

Mother Earth created a mound about the size of a pregnant woman in her ninth month. She planted her daughter Corn in the mound. Corn began to grow straight with her green shawl tightly wrapped around her. She began reaching for the sun. Then Bean was added to the mound, and she began to grow, winding up around her sister. Then Squash was planted in the mound and her wide, green dress kept it moist and shaded from the sun. The three sisters—Corn, Bean, and Squash—began to appreciate each other’s gifts. Corn enjoyed the way she could be in the sun without her feet getting burned, Bean was happy that she could wind around and not get lost, and Squash liked that she could be close to both her mother and sisters.

The Three Sisters learned to value one another for their unique gifts and became inseparable. The Narragansett people plant the sisters together to ensure a healthy harvest. This life lesson in appreciating differences is especially helpful in teaching the benefits of diversity.

The Three Sisters crops could be seen planted in their mound looking over the dedication celebration, their story translated into repoussé (a hammered metalworking technique) aluminum imagery throughout the eight-foot vertical columns of rain chains close to the top of the sculpture. The images will remind visitors of Indigenous ecological and cultural sustainability.

The Nettukkusqk Singers, an intertribal female vocal group founded by Moorehead, performed celebration songs that honored women, ecological sustainability, and Native American culture.

“Nettukkusqk” means “my sister” in the Algonquian Natick dialect. The Native American voice echoed throughout the dedication ceremony, saying we are still here. The ceremony ended with children being invited to gather water from the “Three Sisters” RainKeep to water the garden.

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PAGE 16 Artist Allison Newsome speaks to the crowd gathered for the dedication ceremony. RIGHT Newsome (left) and “Three Sisters” RainKeep collaborator Deborah Spears Moorehead share a moment at the dedication. Photographs by Nicolas Hyacinthe.

A Preservation PRIMER

Strategies and policies anyone can use to save historic buildings

Anyone can do preservation in their community, but how do you know where to begin? With so many different terms to grapple with—National Register, National Historic Landmark, Local Historic District, Preservation Restriction—it can sometimes feel like you need a master’s degree in historic preservation to decipher the terminology.

These terms are tools that can help accomplish specific preservation goals. Let’s demystify some of them to understand their benefits and limits so you can start preserving buildings in your community, perhaps even your own house.

National Register of Historic Places

Also simply known as the National Register, this is the term you are most likely to come across

with approximately 1.8 million listings throughout the country. This is the nation’s official list of cultural resources that have been deemed significant in some way— be it historical, architectural, or archaeological.

Some historic properties are significant enough to be listed on their own, while others are listed collectively as part of a Historic District; they derive their significance as part of the collective of historic resources. Roughly 3 percent of National Register listings are considered to have such outstanding national significance that they have been separately designated as National Historic Landmarks.

Anyone can nominate a property to the National Register, but there is often confusion about what that means for making changes to a property in the future. Will you be

in trouble if you pick the wrong shade of white for your Greek Revival house? Unless there is some other local regulation in place, the answer is no. Despite popular misconceptions, the National Register listing is voluntary and honorary. Listing does not result in regulation of changes made by private owners, though it can offer some limited protection from public projects with government funding and licensing. Also, National Register listing opens potential funding opportunities in some cases, such as federal historic preservation tax credits.

If the National Register is not a local regulatory tool, what does it do? The National Register is foremost a great planning tool, forming part of a nationwide effort to coordinate the identification and evaluation of historic resources to aid in their protection. This helps

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communities manage development and change in ways that reduce adverse impacts to historic resources. For instance, it may factor into decisions to demolish a historic school building or a decision to demolish historic structures to build a highway on-ramp. Reading a National Register nomination form can also help homeowners figure out what is significant about their property before making changes that might impact important character-defining features.

Local Historic Districts

This is a local planning tool that regulates changes to the built environment in areas of a community that retain a high degree of historic fabric. Wait, didn’t I just say that the National Register doesn’t regulate changes to private property?

Local Historic Districts (LHD) are often confused with National Register Historic Districts (NRHD) but the two are not the same. While both districts can exist in the same place with overlapping boundaries, they can also exist completely independent of one another. An LHD is a local zoning overlay, legally unrelated to the federally administered National Register.

However, if your house is in a LHD, you probably won’t have to face having your paint colors regulated. While some districts do regulate paint color as an important part of the district’s character, the overwhelming majority do not. Since

the regulations for each LHD are locally established, they can vary from community to community, though most districts have adopted design guidelines based on the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties.

With the caveat that each LHD is unique, they can accomplish a range of things including denying demolition, sometimes regulating changes to exteriors, and ensuring that additions and new construction are compatible with the size and scale of surrounding buildings. Protection is usually limited to what is visible from the public right-of-way, so it usually does not include the rear of a property and almost never includes interiors. Additionally, establishing a historic district follows a public process and can take a significant amount of time, advocacy, and determination to create.

Preservation Easements

What if you want to protect more than just what is visible from the public right-of-way? What if, despite the odds, your house has remarkably intact historic interiors? In some of the hottest property markets in New England, it is not unusual to see dumpsters filled with historic doors, floorboards, and fireplace surrounds—even in historic districts—as gut renovations erase any trace of the past.

Historic New England holds more than 100 preservation easements in the region through our Preservation Easement Program from Stamford, Connecticut, to Caribou, Maine. These are private legal agreements granting the easement holder—a qualified nonprofit organization or governmental entity—the right to regulate certain changes to historic properties. These agreements are recorded with the land records

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PAGE 18 The mid-eighteenth-century plaster, woodwork, and hardware at this Connecticut house is protected by an easement. RIGHT Boston’s Beacon Hill Architectural District was established in 1955 and expanded in 1958 and 1963. It is one of the oldest local historic districts in the country.

and are binding on future owners, donating certain rights to the easement holder in order to protect the property’s historic character in perpetuity. In Massachusetts, where preservation easements are officially known as “preservation restrictions,” there is the added requirement of obtaining local- and state-level approval for the protection to be perpetual.

Easements can accomplish a wide range of preservation goals and can be tailored specifically to the needs of the historic property. At their most basic, they can prohibit demolition and demolitionby-neglect and require changes

and repairs to exterior features to be reviewed by the easement holder. More broadly, they can also protect outbuildings, landscape features (such as historic fences and stone walls), and a variety of interior features—paneling, floors, plaster, moldings, framing, decorative murals, historic door hardware, and a host of others. Remember though, it is important to retain enough flexibility for future owners so that the building remains adaptable to changing living needs and owners can make reasonable aesthetic alterations that don’t irreversibly harm protected features. Painting

wallpaper won’t necessarily harm historic fabric, but they will allow future owners to customize their residences.

A preservation easement must be well crafted with clear language defining the scope of protections, legal procedures, and documentation of existing conditions. It also needs to have teeth—a restriction isn’t much use if it can’t be enforced. When a violation occurs, the easement empowers the holder to take legal action to enforce compliance. However, with regular monitoring and good communication, preservation easements can help

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woodwork or hanging new The owners of this easement property opted for a more sedate color scheme in the stairhall. Changing paint and wallpaper can radically transform a space without removing or altering historic fabric.

partner a property owner with experienced preservation staff to provide technical guidance and information. Ultimately, both have a mutual interest in ensuring that the property remains in good repair and that the unique features that give the property its historic character are preserved. Well executed and effectively managed, a preservation easement can be one of the most comprehensive and powerful tools to protect a historic property.

What You Can Do

What are the preservation needs in your community?

Does your town need widespread identification of historic resources to help with advocacy and planning?

Is there a specific historic neighborhood that has faced insensitive development pressure? Are you a homeowner

concerned about whether future owners will retain the unique character of your old home?

The key takeaway here is that anyone can do preservation in their community. Preservation includes identifying historic resources that need to be saved, organizing and building support, and connecting with local officials and decision makers to enhance regulations and advocate for funding.

Once you’ve identified what needs saving, you can go on to define your goals. Understanding what success looks like will help you choose which tools will best achieve your preservation goals. If you feel passionate about a place, you can start building the momentum to save it.

A Preservation Resources Toolkit

National Park Service

z nps.gov/index.htm

z National Register of Historic Places (NRHP): nps.gov/subjects/nationalregister/what-is-the-national-register.htm

z National Historic Landmark (NHL): nps.gov/subjects/nationalhistoriclandmarks/index.htm

z Technical Preservation Services: nps.gov/tps/index.htm, nps.gov/tps/education/workingonthepast/guardian.htm

National Trust for Historic Preservation

z savingplaces.org/

Preservation Easements

z Historic New England’s Preservation Easements: historicnewengland.org/preservation/for-homeownerscommunities/preservation-easement-program/

New England Preservation


z State Historic Preservation Office: portal.ct.gov/DECD/Services/Historic-Preservation

z Preservation Connecticut: preservationct.org/ Maine

z Historic Preservation Commission: maine.gov/mhpc/home

z Maine Preservation: mainepreservation.org/ Massachusetts

z Massachusetts Historical Commission: sec.state.ma.us/mhc/

z Preservation Mass: preservationmass.org/ New Hampshire

z New Hampshire Division of Historical Resources: nh.gov/nhdhr/

z New Hampshire Preservation Alliance: nhpreservation.org/ Rhode Island

z Rhode Island Historic Preservation & Heritage Commission: preservation.ri.gov/

z Preserve Rhode Island: preserveri.org/ Vermont

z Vermont State Historic Preservation Office: accd.vermont.gov/historic-preservation

z Preservation Trust of Vermont: ptvermont.org/

HistoricNewEngland.org 21


ultural ornerstone: Otis House and Boston’s West End

DRIVING INTO BOSTON FROM ANY direction, one of the first things you notice is the cranes. In the past decade, Boston has experienced a frenzy of major construction projects that keeps developers, architects, regulatory agencies, community advocates, and cultural and civic organizations in protracted negotiations to secure the city’s future. Ultimately, these projects represent unparalleled investment in the neighborhoods where they are built, but it can be challenging to ensure that the investment is beneficial to the local community.

Historic New England’s Otis House (shown above) sits in one of these communities,

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between Boston’s West End and Beacon Hill at a rapidly changing section of Cambridge Street, quietly reflecting more than two centuries of urban evolution.

The West End has undergone transformational redevelopment many times in its history, including when Otis House was constructed in 1796 as one of many new, refined houses near Bowdoin Square. The neighborhood continued to change as Boston expanded and the governing elite moved to the south slope of

Beacon Hill, then into the Back Bay neighborhood. It is even possible to trace this migration through Harrison Gray Otis’s construction of three successive houses, the first on Cambridge Street, the second on Mount Vernon Street at the top of Beacon Hill, and the third at the base of the south slope of Beacon Hill, facing the Boston Common.

By the nineteenth century, the West End and the north slope of Beacon Hill were home to many in Boston’s Black community, such as

Eliza Ann Gardner, who lived with her family at 20 North Anderson Street. Gardner’s childhood home was a stop on the Underground Railroad. As an adult, Gardner became an important abolitionist and advocate for women’s equality. She was a founding member of the Woman’s Era Club, established in the late nineteenth century during the nationwide Black women’s club movement. The first civic organization of its kind in Boston, the Woman’s Era Club gained national prominence for its advocacy work. Gardner’s home has since been demolished and that section of North Anderson Street is once again the subject of redevelopment interests.

Waves of immigration starting in the mid-nineteenth century resulted in increasing numbers of eastern and southern European immigrants taking up residence in the West End,

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LEFT By the 1820s storefronts had been built in front of Otis House. When Historic New England acquired it in 1916, the property had been substantially altered. BELOW A 1960 view of the demolition of the West End, looking northwesterly from the roof of Otis House.

encouraging the development of new tenement buildings and commercial shops. As the religious makeup of the neighborhood changed, the 1806 Old West Church was converted in the 1890s to serve a new role as a branch of the Boston Public Library.

At the center of the neighborhood, Otis House adapted repeatedly to accommodate new residents and uses. By the time Historic New England acquired it in 1916, the building had been used as a single-family house, a two-family house, and a boarding house. Commercial storefronts filled the area between the house and the street. In 1925, Cambridge Street was widened and Otis House was moved back and connected to two tenement buildings on Lynde Street, creating the museum and side-entry courtyard that Historic New England’s museum visitors are familiar with today.

In the mid-twentieth century the West End was occupied primarily by immigrant families with strong social networks, living in an eclectic mix of buildings similar to those that still exist in Boston’s historic North End. Fueled by economic challenges, white flight to the suburbs, and systemic racism, Boston targeted the

neighborhood for a new approach to expand private investment in the city and improve community services. Relying on the Housing Act of 1949 and the Federal Highway Act of 1956, the Boston Redevelopment Authority declared the West End neighborhood a slum and demolished the majority of its buildings to make way for high-rise apartments with convenient access to Government Center, the Financial District, and other parts of the downtown. Rather than improving the neighborhood for existing residents, that plan disrupted and displaced the West End community. Otis House and Old West Church were included in the Beacon Hill Historic District, dissociating them from the new development and further distancing the West End from its historical roots.

At the time, little was commonly understood about the negative impacts urban renewal would have on cities and few options were available to preservationists. Lacking the tools and the capacity to launch an effective advocacy campaign, and largely supported by those who were unconcerned about the demolition,

Undated image of two people walking amid a demolition site in the West End. Between 1950 and 1974 urban renewal displaced approximately 3,000 families, demolished forty-six acres of older buildings, and received more than $28 million in federal funding.

Historic New England struggled to respond to the West End urban renewal program, aiding in the documentation of some buildings by the Historic American Buildings Survey (commonly known as HABS) while also quietly postponing or relocating events and activities until the dust settled.

Ultimately, urban renewal in the West End would serve as a kind of warning for other communities, attracting advocates such as Jane Jacobs, who later contrasted the liveliness of Boston’s North End with the sterility of the West End in her famous 1961 book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities This period of sweeping demolition and community displacement helped galvanize a national historic preservation movement and the development of policy and regulatory tools to protect historic places and community character. Today, as the neighborhood faces another generational wave of investment and redevelopment, Historic New England is in a much better position to advocate for outcomes that improve the vitality of our West End community.

Historic New England is deeply engaged in advocacy efforts along Cambridge Street, related to the expansion of the Massachusetts General Hospital campus between Grove and Blossom streets, the redevelopment of the Hurley Building at Staniford Street, and the reconsideration of the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library adjacent to Otis House. Together, these redevelopment schemes

24 Historic New England Fall 2021

represent some of the most significant investment in the West End since the middle of the twentieth century. They also bring increased interest in the neighborhood and revive discussions about other projects, such as the Red/Blue Connector of the MBTA, which would link the Red and Blue public transit lines. Historic New England has an important responsibility in the community relative to these projects—as the owner of the oldest building in the West End, as one of the oldest cultural institutions in the neighborhood, and as an organization that is uniquely positioned to convene design, planning, cultural, and civic partners on issues of neighborhood livability and historic preservation.

As Historic New England undertakes this work, Otis House presents itself as a vehicle to inform these conversations and inspire better redevelopment beyond our boundaries. In addition to engaging with community stakeholders in advocacy related to other redevelopment projects, we have already begun a careful assessment and process of reimagining Otis House as an even stronger neighborhood anchor and a gateway to all that Historic New England has to offer. We are excited to think creatively about enhanced uses for the building— expanding on what people already love about the site and exploring opportunities for innovation and collaboration.

Boston’s skyline may be defined by cranes and new glass high rises, but the city is best recognized by its history, its neighborhood character, and the energy of its diverse communities. Historic preservation plays a key role in ensuring that Boston retains its unique sense of place and nowhere is that clearer than when you look at Otis House in the West End. We look forward to sharing our thinking as redevelopment and reimagining continue. Most importantly, we look forward to listening to you, our community, about what role Historic New England should play at the heart of a twentyfirst-century West End neighborhood transformation.

An Urban Renewal Do-Over

Having used the West End urban renewal project to gauge the effort needed to accomplish the city’s goals, Boston embarked on a second phase of redevelopment in the 1960s and early 1970s to create Government Center. Today, the success of the Government Center master plan of architectural giant I. M. Pei and the significance of Paul Rudoph’s Brutalist-style State Services Buildings complex are the subject of regular public debate; most recently, the redevelopment of the Charles F. Hurley Building on Staniford Street proposes to address certain shortfalls of the existing structure.

Over the next few years, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts plans to redevelop this 3.35-acre site through a public-private partnership. The transformation aims to accomplish three main goals:

1. To address, cost effectively, the capital renewal needs of an outdated state asset, including enhancing the energy efficiency of the building.

2. To consolidate state employees who are working in various leased downtown spaces into state-owned property in Government Center.

3. To restructure the site from an imposing super-block into a pedestrian-friendly part of a vibrant neighborhood.

Representing controversial policy decisions, thought-provoking architectural innovation, and vast amounts of embodied carbon from their production and maintenance over time, the preservation and adaptive use of aging urban renewal projects raise complex and important questions for their communities and historic preservationists.

HistoricNewEngland.org 25
Photograph taken from inside the Hurley Building looking across the courtyard of the State Services Buildings complex.

Leading Voices Opens Conversations about the Importance of Philanthropy

Livable communities don’t maintain their strong cultural and historic fabric by accident. It takes committed individuals and institutions to invest in an area’s public spaces, landscapes, architecture, cultural organizations, and creative and historic resources. At a time when charitable giving is especially strained because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Historic New England invited philanthropic leaders from the United States and beyond to discuss why cultural and preservation philanthropy is essential in building strong communities.

These conversations resulted in the five-part web series Leading Voices: Conversations on Preservation, Resilience, and Cultural Philanthropy. Each episode features individuals who have been involved in making or securing funding for preservation and culture.

“Typically in recessions, what we see is that giving overall tends to go down and also distribution of giving tends to change a little bit: giving to basic needs and human services tends to go up and giving to arts and cultural organizations tends to go down,” said Amir Pasic, the Eugene R. Tempel Dean of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University. Pasic spoke with Linda Johnson, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Public Library in New York City, about how the pandemic expedited the library’s digital transformation— and cemented its status as both a cultural and a social services organization.

“It’s as essential to have Internet access when you’re trying to educate your children via Zoom as it is to have water and electricity,” said Johnson. “We outfitted our traditional bookmobiles. We call them tech mobiles now and we drove them into neighborhoods and we were able to raise a lot of money to do that pretty quickly. We were able to drive vehicles into neighborhoods that had low penetration and get [WiFi] signals there.”

In another episode, Carol Coletta, president and CEO of the Memphis River Parks Partnership, spoke with Candelaria Silva-Collins, chair of the Designators of the George B. Henderson Foundation and a longtime leader in cultural economic development in Boston, about transforming public spaces to be more equitable. “You’re creating opportunities for joy,” Silva-Collins

said. “Being out in open space and being on the grounds and seeing beauty, even if that beauty came from exploitation, it does something to your spirit. It does something to your soul, and so [we are] making sure that urban residents have opportunities to go to places that have sprawling grounds.”

Susan Whiting, chair of the National Women’s History Museum, explored the challenges of creating a new museum with Elizabeth Diller, partner at Diller Scofidio + Renfro, who is well known for designing groundbreaking cultural spaces in New York City such as the High Line, and the latest MoMA expansion. Pamela Fiori, former editor in chief of Town & Country, talked with fragrance packaging designer and educator Marc Rosen about the beauty industry’s longtime commitment to philanthropy. A lively conversation in France found Margery Arent Safir, founder and artistic director of Arts Arena Paris, and Alexandre de Vogüé, co-owner of the Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte heritage site, paying tribute to their friend and benefactor, Dena Kaye of the Danny and Sylvia Fine Kaye Foundation.

Leading Voices provides glimpses into what motivates today’s philanthropists as well as insights about how organizations are navigating in a complex philanthropic climate. The episodes are available at YouTube.com/ HistoricNewEngland.

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A section of the High Line in Manhattan, New York City’s nearly one-and-a-half-mile elevated linear park created on a former railroad line and designed by James Corner Field Operations, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and Piet Oudolf. Photograph by Matthew Monteith.

STAFF TASK FORCE Shores Up Resiliency Efforts


New England, tons of building waste—old-growth timber, windows, masonry—wends its way to landfills. This cyclic process often represents not only a loss to the historic built environment, but also diminishes the vibrancy of our landscapes and the sustainability of our natural resources. Historic New England works to be a vital resource in the realm of resiliency—not only at our properties, but also in the ways we can share what we learn with others and help form more sustainable communities.

For many years, Historic New England has factored the emerging challenges of climate change into the plans for the preservation of our properties. In 2020 we formed a staff resiliency task force to create a framework for our organizationwide resiliency strategies. Our objective is to consider the effects of recently completed projects and assess new areas of research and implementation that we can share with our preservation peers and the public.

Through the task force discussions, the inherent resiliency

of our buildings and landscapes became readily apparent; they have survived storms, disasters, and other natural phenomena over decades and in some cases, hundreds of years. The concept of repairing and retaining original materials has underpinned Historic New England’s preservation philosophy since its founding in the early twentieth century and dovetails with presentday efforts to promote sustainability through the reuse of building material and support of historic building trades. We also have begun to consider the ways in which some

HistoricNewEngland.org 27
Because increasingly intense rains were overwhelming the gutters on Coffin House in Newbury, Massachusetts, Historic New England upgraded them (shown at right) using the guidelines developed with a 2018 efficiency study.

historical design features can inform today’s approaches to sustainability, such as cross-ventilation at our eighteenth-century properties and shading features that Walter Gropius included at his twentiethcentury house in Lincoln, Massachusetts.

The work at our museum sites can inform adaptive strategies for homeowners as well. For example, in recent years we’ve determined that many of our historic gutters and downspouts were being overwhelmed by increasingly intense rain events brought on by climate change. A 2018 study funded by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission’s Federal Historic Preservation Fund allowed us to develop new guidelines for efficient gutter upgrades, which are available online at historicnewengland. org/preservation/property-carewhite-papers/. Implementing the study results has improved gutter performance at several of our properties, including recent upgrades at three Massachusetts properties: the Eustis Estate in

Milton and Coffin House and Swett-Ilsley House in Newbury.

Drainage around our buildings significantly impacts their longterm preservation and represents one of the climate change-related conditions where we can make a vital impact. There are several assessments underway and a fullscale drainage project began during the summer at Watson Farm in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Also, we are continually reassessing the effectiveness of previous drainage projects. For instance, a rain garden near the Eustis Estate gatehouse, installed in 2017 to help dissipate and absorb storm water before it creates flood conditions through the planting of native vegetation, is undergoing a water flow engineering review.

From a regional perspective, we are looking for ways to increase the energy efficiency of our buildings without sacrificing historic character. In 2010, we conducted a landmark energy efficiency study at the Lyman Estate in Waltham, Massachusetts, which has

guided our approaches to energy conservation. Now, where stateled policies have begun to set new standards for carbon emissions and energy use, our preservation services team is working to provide guidance on efficiency solutions that promote energy savings and are mindful of the character-defining features of historic buildings.

These steps are part of ongoing efforts to understand our dynamic landscapes and the risks to their resiliency. In 2019 interns from Middlebury College in Vermont studied resiliency impacts at our properties in Newbury, a community that is facing many of the challenges affecting the region’s coastal landscapes. With the interns’ case studies we gained a greater understanding of potential impacts of sea level rise to the fragile ecosystems at Spencer-PeirceLittle Farm, which includes a part of the Great Marsh, New England’s largest salt marsh.

Resiliency will continue to be a foundational component that informs decision-making at all levels of Historic New England’s work. We will develop new case studies and share research that will guide best practices for preservation professionals as well as the public. We will also be looking for ways to have a regional influence through partnerships that speak to broader resiliency initiatives and help to further the allied goals of preservation, conservation, and healthy communities.

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Students from Middlebury College in Vermont explore the landscape at Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts, as part of their 2019 resiliency impact study internship.

Confronting the Exoskeletons in Our Closets Observations and Innovations in Integrated Pest Management

At Historic New England, we face a very specialized threat from insect pests. Our decorative arts collections and house museum furnishings are always at great risk and are currently under attack. Because of Historic New England’s commitment to authentic historical interpretation, a modern, conventional approach to climate control and thus pest control is often not possible. Woolen textiles and other animal proteins such as fur, feather, and silk rank high in vulnerability followed by furniture and works on paper.

Whether it be the common

furniture beetle wreaking havoc on our wooden artifacts and building structures, the silverfish damaging our book collections and historic wallpaper, or the carpet beetle—a danger to just about any proteinaceous material—we face existential challenges to our vulnerable collections. Though at first glance, the webbing clothes moth seems innocuous enough with its delicate appearance and clumsy, drunk-like flying style, it is by far the most destructive insect pest known to Historic New England, preferring wool, fur, and feather. Like the furniture and carpet beetles, it causes damage in the larval life

stage where it remains hidden and hard to detect beyond the signature webbing left behind. The species pupates to adult and reproduces at impressive rates as temperatures rise.

There is some thought that climate change is exacerbating our challenges. An increase in temperature and humidity trends may be contributing to an uptick in the pest populations we’ve observed at our sites and regionally. In the case of the webbing clothes moth, we know that egg production can increase as much as 30 percent when temperatures are warmer.

Necessity being the mother of invention, this serious and persistent threat to our collections over decades has prompted Historic New England to become an international innovator in Integrated Pest Management (IPM). Although the term IPM represents an integration of strategies including prevention, monitoring, identification, and remediation, it is often used more loosely to describe modern trends that promote any measures other than the use of pesticides and toxic fumigant gases.

In the early 1990s we were confronted with a severe infestation affecting a significant range and volume of our collections. At the time, Historic New England staff

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Adam Osgood shows examples of silverfish damage to collection care professionals at an Integrated Pest Management workshop held at Historic New England’s Haverhill Regional Office in Haverhill, Massachusetts.

knew that traditional pesticide fumigation methods could be toxic to humans and probably leave a harmful residue on objects. In her role then as associate curator and collections manager, Nancy Carlisle researched a pest remediation system for installation at our Haverhill Regional Office. It uses the inert gas CO₂ to displace the oxygen in a tent-like structure or “bubble” in a process called controlled atmosphere treatment. This museum-safe treatment became a published case study and transformed the trajectory for Historic New England as a leader in the IPM field.

In the decades that followed we used our 1,000-cubic-foot bubble continuously for our own purposes and as a service to dozens of other cultural heritage institutions, auction houses, art dealers, and private collectors. We expanded our knowledge in IPM by testing experimental materials for pest control and developed an IPM Champion program where we train emerging professionals in collection care and pest identification to perform informed and targeted cleaning to disrupt pest habitats. We’ve shared our knowledge with other institutions through workshops and consultations, as an active participant in the internationally recognized MuseumPests.net Working Group, and through published presentations at conferences at the Louvre in Paris (2016) and Stockholm (2019).

Today, Historic New England stands again at a point of transformation. After nearly thirty years of using our CO₂ bubble system, an opportunity to further improve our facility presented itself. We made the decision to

switch our operation to a nitrogenbased system. This new, innovative system has a number of advantages, including improvements in personnel safety, cost efficiency, and the elimination of the use of CO₂, a greenhouse gas. A nitrogen generator eliminates the need to purchase gas and provides an environmentally friendly and safer alternative to CO₂. A new, custommade bubble membrane, fabricated by Heritage Packaging’s president and CEO Bill Smith, allows for effective low-oxygen treatment, providing an impermeable and reusable chamber. Along with critical consultation, this article’s co-writer, Pat Kelley, a boardcertified entomologist, has created a humidified gas introduction system that guards against low relative humidity, which could damage objects. Advanced technology allows for remote monitoring and operation from a smart phone, saving countless staff hours. These features, along with others, allow for improved treatment capabilities for internal needs as well as our

expanding client list.

“Insect pests cause irreparable damage to our cherished cultural history every day by literally eating it away,” Kelley said. “I applaud progressive institutions like Historic New England for realizing this fact and devoting their time and resources to find innovative solutions to age-old pest issues. The novel nitrogen treatment design that they are using eliminates damaging pests from treasured museum collections while defending the environment from harmful emissions and maintaining a safe work environment for their staff. I wish that more institutions would take this cutting-edge approach.”

With innovation as one of our institutional mandates and climate resiliency as an operational priority at Historic New England, we continue to make important strides as leaders in the field of IPM, protecting our own collections, serving the public in a sustainable way, and planning for the needs of decades to come.

30 Historic New England Fall 2021
Historic New England’s new nitrogen-based controlled atmosphere treatment bubble at the Haverhill Regional Office. The bubble occupies a space of about eleven-by-eleven feet and stands eight feet high.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

6:00 PM

Four Seasons Hotel Boston, Massachusetts

As our major fundraising event of the year, we hope you will consider sponsoring, placing an ad in the tribute book, or attending the Historic New England Gala.

For information about the benefits of being a sponsor and for additional information, please go to HistoricNewEngland.org/Gala, call 617-994-5934, or email Events@HistoricNewEngland.org.

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Save the Date!
Historic New England Benefit Gala A Dinner in Support of the Historic New England Fund Inaugural Presentation of The Historic New England Medal

Open any social media app or news site and you’ll notice an almost singularly dominant trend—video, video, and more video.

Although the shift to audiovisual content is not a new phenomenon, video continues to become increasingly prioritized and integrated even across platforms that once deemed it second-string. While new video apps and formats have recently emerged, many organizations, including Historic New England, have turned back to YouTube to engage with audiences.

As with most trends we’ve watched arise since March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic fast-tracked the social media world’s focus on digital content. The advent of virtual events superseding in-person experiences meant that more people from more places could attend more diverse programs; naturally, YouTube became the platform of choice to disseminate that material. After a year and a half of these virtual events and with many more on the calendar, YouTube is a vital artery through which we connect with you.

If you missed a virtual program or want to revisit one you attended, check out our Virtual Events playlist on the Historic New England YouTube channel, where you’ll find recordings of past events. We’re always adding new videos to this playlist, so even if you don’t see what you’re looking for initially, it may be there when you check back later. Through the Virtual Events playlist, we delve into the lesser-known aspects of our community’s history—from “Early Turkish Immigrants to New England” to “Driving While Black: African American Travel and the Road to Civil Rights”—and stories of modern New England—like “Triple Decker: A New England Love Story” and “Energy Efficiency and Your Old Home.” These virtual lectures feature speakers from all over the world who are

Sharing New England History ON YOUTUBE PLAY Press

leaders in their fields, and we’ve made them available to you for free on our channel.

While the Virtual Events playlist is a newer addition to our channel, it is not the first time we’ve posted long form videos. For our Everyone’s History projects, we partner with communities and organizations throughout the region to collect and share stories of life in New England from the twentieth century and beyond. Many of these projects, including “Woolworth’s: Remembering Haverhill’s Shopping District” and “Back to School: Lessons from Norwich’s One-Room Schoolhouses,” yield half-hour or longer interview-based documentaries that illustrate New England’s changing landscape and are accessible indefinitely on our channel. There’s something for everyone on Historic New England’s YouTube channel, which is updated weekly. Apart from virtual event recordings and documentaries, our channel is home to videos of conservators restoring and cleaning objects from our collections, demos by our preservation services team, in-depth discussions about the artistic process and using different mediums, visual historic house and garden tours, archival footage, and much more. Among the recent additions are interviews with preservation philanthropy experts as part of our Leading Voices series and there are clips from our Make History streaming special about different topics in New England history.

The scope of Historic New England’s mission goes far beyond our thirty-eight historic homes, farms, and landscapes and our YouTube videos are an audiovisual entrée into our broader research and work. Subscribe to YouTube.com/HistoricNewEngland and discover what makes this region and the people in it so special.

32 Historic New England Fall 2021


For many it was a year of pain, struggle, and heartache. There was the isolation, uncertainty, and fear of the COVID-19 pandemic, which continues to affect daily life more than a year later. Global climate change, increasingly severe and inevitable, turned the skies red, flooded towns and cities, and added yet another horrific layer of meaning to the phrase “I can’t breathe.” And the police murder of George Floyd, hauntingly recorded for the world to see, renewed calls for action in the perennial struggle for justice in the face of the inequity and oppression that have pervaded this nation for centuries— and still do.

In the face of all this, how do you feel?

This question is the unifying theme of the latest exhibition populating the bucolic landscape of the Eustis Estate in Milton, Massachusetts, the fifth collaboration between Historic New England and the New England Sculptors Association. Titled Looking Back with 2020 Vision, it features twenty-eight sculptures by artists responding to the past year through their artwork. The sculptors invite you, the visitor, to engage in your own way—with their work, with the feelings it conjures in you, with the issues that characterize this chaotic time, and with your place in all of it. The pandemic, climate change, protests for social and racial justice—these are all represented, along with privilege and disadvantage, life and death, immigration, divisiveness, and reflections on self and identity.

These subjects might not seem particularly historical, at least not in the same way as a house from the 1700s, but they are most certainly historic—they have defined

Looking Back with


the shape of modern life—and there is a strong case to be made that they are, indeed, historical. Not only do the events of the past year constitute “living history,” but they also bring to the fore issues that have affected people in the past, in New England and around the world, and that will almost certainly continue to do so for years to come.

The sculptures of Looking Back with 2020 Vision serve as a bridge: between past, present, and future; between the personal and the universal; between the harsh pains of reality and the beauty of art. The coexistence of beauty and meaning stands in contrast to the Eustis Estate’s interiors, designed in the spirit of the Aesthetic Movement, the credo of which—“art for art’s sake”— contends that art should exist for its beauty alone, rather than to convey a moral or philosophical message. Yet the exhibition bridges even this divide, activating the historic landscape of the Eustis Estate which, in turn, offers visitors space and quiet to take in the sculptures, to grapple with life’s challenges, and to reflect on their own experiences.

Visit Looking Back with 2020 Vision at the Eustis Estate through October 31. The exhibition and the grounds are free and open to the public seven days a week from dawn to dusk. As part of the exhibition’s closing weekend, the Boston-based Continuum Dance Project will perform vignette’s that engage with the sculptures. Further details about the exhibition, the sculptures, and the artists are available online at HistoricNewEngland.org/sculpture.

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The Missing Year by Chris Plaisted is an abstract representation of COVID-19.

Triumphant Careers

Two recent acquisitions reflect Historic New England’s commitment to expanding the story of women’s lives in the region. Both also complement the paintings in the exhibition Artful Stories at the Eustis Estate in Milton, Massachusetts, which ends October 31 (visit the exhibition online at eustis. estate/location/artful-stories/).

The stories these two pieces tell, as well as those of several paintings in the exhibition, are about talented, determined, and fortunate women who created successful careers as artists.

Sarah Goodridge (1788-1853)

painted the first work shown here, an 1833 miniature of Mary Quincy Donnison, a member of a wellconnected Boston family. Goodridge was one of nine children born into a farming family in Templeton, Massachusetts. According to her sister, Goodridge initially learned to

paint from a book. After moving to Boston, she gained the attention of the notoriously irascible Gilbert Stuart, who is believed to have painted one of his few miniatures to demonstrate the technique for Goodridge. By 1830 she was one of Boston’s most successful miniaturists, able to support herself and her family.

Gertrude Fiske (1879-1961)

painted the second piece, an unfinished portrait c. 1930. Her career, nearly a century after Goodridge’s, was quite different. Born into a prosperous Boston family, Fiske spent the first few years of her adulthood pursuing various sports before enrolling in the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Her career quickly took off and her paintings were shown in exhibitions around the country. By 1930 she was a full member of the National Academy of Design.

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