Collections on Display
Photographs by Elise Tyson Vaughan
Elise Tyson (later Elise Tyson Vaughan) was an amateur photographer who made Hamilton House, the summer home she shared with her stepmother, a frequent subject of her work. Historic New England possesses four photo albums made by Elise spanning 1901-1904. In these years, Elise and her stepmother were still new owners of Hamilton House, which they purchased in 1898. Elise's photographs capture very active years at the property including the building of new wings on the house, the moving of the barn, and the development of the formal garden and grounds. Elise also photographed visitors to the house, such as friend and neighbor Sarah Orne Jewett and, occasionally, the hired help. Elise’s photographs are an invaluable record of the Tysons' transformation of Hamilton House from a nineteenth-century rural farm to an early twentieth-century Colonial Revival summer home. A selection of Elise Tyson’s photos are on display in the Hamilton House garden cottage.
The Garden Fountain
In 1904, Emily and Elise Tyson installed a beautiful Carrera marble fountain in their garden at Hamilton House. Elise Tyson photographed Mrs. Tyson and her friend Mrs. Clark examining the fountain soon after the installation. In July of that same summer, Elise took several whimsical photographs of Bob, the family dog, and ducks, also obviously family pets, posing together by the fountain. If you look closely, you can see a small ramp constructed for the ducks to give them easy access to the basin of the fountain.
The fountain was damaged and removed from the garden in the late 1980s. Historic New England restored and reinstalled the fountain in the garden in 2008 as part of the ongoing garden restoration at the property.
Dining and Drawing Room Murals and Painted Valances
Soon after returning from a tour of Italy in 1905, Elise and Emily Tyson commissioned artist George Porter Fernald to paint an Italian garden-themed mural on the dining room walls of their summer home. The Tyson women looked to Italy as a source of ideas on the ideal country house and how to integrate it with the landscape, an idea no doubt influenced by the popular book Italian Villas and Their Gardens by Edith Wharton, published in 1904. The mural, which Fernald painted right over the existing wallpaper, depicts scenes of ancient Roman ruins, Renaissance villas, gardens, grottoes, and waterfalls. The predominantly blue and green colors of the mural and the water and gardens it depicts merge with the views from the windows of the Tysons' garden, the woods, and the river – the fantasy landscape blends with the actual. This merging of indoor and outdoor spaces is a continuing theme at Hamilton House.
In 1907, Emily and Elise Tyson invited George Porter Fernald to return to Hamilton House. On this visit Fernald was asked to paint a mural in the house's drawing room in imitation of the French scenic wallpaper Les Monuments de Paris. In place of Parisian landmarks, however, Fernald painted the landmarks of the Piscataqua region – Fort McKleary and the Lady Pepperell House in Kittery; the mills of Dover; the Langdon House, John Paul Jones House, and Governor Wentworth Mansion of Portsmouth; and the Sarah Orne Jewett and Hamilton Houses of South Berwick among them. As before, he painted over the existing wallpaper in the room but this time left sections of the wallpaper unpainted, cleverly incorporating the leafy design of the paper into the mural as foliage on the trees.
Fernald also painted wooden window valances for the dining room, drawing room, and back parlor. The valances in each room have a different theme. The valances in the back parlor depict silhouettes thought to be characters from Sarah Orne Jewett's Revolutionary War era novel The Tory Lover, set at Hamilton House.
Emily and Elise Tyson enjoyed collecting a variety of objects such as antique furniture, dolls, and glass. Folk art, particularly decorative items and textiles worked by women, was a favorite collectible of the women. Examples of this interest are the many hooked rugs that can be seen throughout the house. The rugs vary from patterned imitations of floral and Oriental-style rugs to whimsical depictions of animals and sailing ships. Little is known about who made the rugs or where the women acquired them but, no doubt, they came from a variety of sources and were acquired during the years Emily and Elise summered at the house.
Another of the Tysons' favorite items to collect was early American colored glass. Many of the pieces they collected were made by the Sandwich Glass Company on Cape Cod. The ladies enjoyed displaying their collections in color-coordinated groupings, especially in the bedrooms. For example, the glass in the guest bedroom is predominantly blue and white and the glass in the drawing room bed chamber is predominantly green. Visitors will notice the Sandwich Glass Company's signature dolphin candlesticks and soda glass carpet balls throughout the house.