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Roseland Cottage History

1846-1863:  Henry and Lucy Bowen: A Summer Country Retreat 

1863-1903:  Henry and Ellen Bowen: Growing Family and Influence

1903-1968:  Continuing Family Traditions

1968-1970:  Becoming a Museum  

1970-Present: Experience Victorian Exuberance

1846-1863: Henry and Lucy Bowen:  A Summer Country Retreat

Henry Chandler Bowen (1813-1896) was born and raised in Woodstock, Connecticut. As a young man in the 1830s Bowen left his hometown for New York to pursue his interests in business. After serving as a clerk for several years with the successful Arthur and Lewis Tappan silk merchants, Bowen, along with another former Tappan clerk, set up their own dry goods business, specializing in silks. Bowen’s strong work ethic and sharp business acumen helped to make the new venture a success. 

After establishing himself financially, Bowen married Lucy Maria Tappan, daughter of Lewis and Susanna Tappan, in 1844.  Henry and Lucy welcomed their first child, Henry Elliot Bowen, in 1845. Their family continued to grow over the next two decades. Ultimately, Henry and Lucy had ten children: seven boys and three girls. 

As their family grew, the Bowens wanted to establish a summer country retreat so that the family could escape the stifling heat and congestion of New York. Woodstock, Connecticut, with its rural rolling hills, cool ponds, and deep family history, was an ideal location. In 1845 Bowen commissioned Joseph C. Wells, the English-born architect who designed Bowen’s Plymouth Church in Brooklyn Heights, to design a summer home for the family. Joseph C. Wells designed a fantastic five-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot Gothic Revival cottage. The architectural style and plans of the house, as well as the grounds depicted in Wells’ original drawings, were in line with the theories and writings of Andrew Jackson Downing, a popular nineteenth-century American landscape architect. The Gothic Revival summer house, called Roseland Cottage by the family, was completed in the fall of 1846. At the time of construction, an adjacent carriage barn, complete with a private indoor bowling alley, and a detached woodshed were also built in the Gothic Revival style. 

In 1850, shortly after the family started summering in Woodstock, the Bowens planted a colorful and nearly 3,000-square-foot boxwood parterre garden. The garden, as depicted in Joseph C. Wells’ drawings, sits prominently in front of the cottage and can be appreciated from the parlors, dining room, and second floor bedrooms. According to Henry Bowen’s detailed orders the garden comprised 600 yards of boxwood hedge which surrounded twenty-one beds of more than thirty-five varieties of perennials and thousands of annuals. Roseland Cottage’s formal parterre has been an important feature of the house and landscape ever since.

The growing Bowen family returned to Woodstock and Roseland Cottage every summer in the mid-nineteenth century.  In line with the Bowens' Congregationalist values, their time at Roseland Cottage offered fresh air, wide open spaces, and the opportunity for clean and moral activities. The Bowen boys were deeply interested in sports and other energetic activities that reinforced ideas of masculinity and class in the late nineteenth century. They participated in newly popular sports such as polo, croquet, bowling, golf, and badminton, as well as more conventional outdoor pursuits like hunting and fishing. 

While the Bowen boys were generally ambitious and progressive, the Bowen girls were determined to be as “ladylike” as their beloved mother, and their activities at Roseland Cottage reflected that difference. Lucy Bowen and her three daughters engaged in quieter outdoor activities and other domestic and social pastimes. In a letter sent to a friend in June 1854, Lucy Bowen recounts her summers at Roseland Cottage: “Just one week since we arrived here and found every thing looking beautifully indeed – Now, we are all settled for the summer, and how rapidly it will pass...After breakfast, each day, sisters & myself read French for an hour & then in the afternoon, read History or something of that nature...The remainder of the day is spent in riding, eating, sleeping, sewing & thinking.” 

In 1863 Lucy Bowen died due to complications related to the birth of her tenth child, Winthrop Earl Bowen. 

1863-1903: Henry and Ellen Bowen: Growing Family and Influence

Two years after the death of his first wife and soon after the untimely death of his youngest son, Henry Bowen married Ellen Holt of Pomfret, Connecticut, a neighboring town to Woodstock. Ellen was the daughter of a well-known country doctor and a member of the local gentry. She not only shared Bowen’s conservative moral views, but also embraced his ambitious business and political interests. Ellen Holt Bowen became a loving and proud mother to Henry and Lucy’s nine surviving children and in 1868, she and Henry had a son, Paul Holt Bowen. Ellen happily filled the role of an upper class wife and mother. She served as a gracious hostess and readily traveled with Henry for social engagements, and did not question Henry’s lavish spending or tastes. 

Throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, the Bowen family continued to seek the quiet serenity and comfortable luxury that their summer cottage in Woodstock afforded. The Bowen family continued to grow during these years. Not only did Henry and Ellen have a son, but several of the older Bowen children were married and had children of their own. As the family grew to include ten children and seventeen grandchildren, they could no longer all find comfort at Roseland Cottage alone. Seeking to keep his family together for summer retreats, in 1878 Henry Bowen purchased Plaine Hill, the elegant estate built in 1816 by his grandfather, William Bowen. Plaine Hill, located less than a quarter mile from Roseland Cottage, allowed the entire Bowen family to enjoy summers in Woodstock.

During the 1870s Bowen expanded Roseland Cottage and its outbuildings to accommodate his growing family, the expansion of agricultural pursuits, and frequent social gatherings. In the 1860s and 1870s he purchased lots surrounding the cottage, expanding the property to approximately six acres. In 1870 the service ell of the house was expanded to include a full laundry room, butler’s pantry, scullery, and more bedrooms for paid live-in staff. Around the same time, an additional exterior privy was built and the adjacent barn was significantly expanded to accommodate livestock and additional staff housing. In the 1880s, after summering at Roseland Cottage for nearly forty years, the Bowens undertook a major redecoration of the house. Fireplace tiles were updated with the latest decorative styles, the parlor windows were refurbished with colored etched glass, new and vibrant carpets were laid, and impressive new wall coverings, called Lincrusta Walton after the inventor Fredrick Walton, were hung in all the principal entertaining rooms of the house. 

While Roseland Cottage was primarily a family country retreat, during the second half of the nineteenth century the Bowens more frequently entertained distinguished guests and hosted large festivities at Roseland Cottage. The most notable of these festivities were Henry Bowen’s grand Fourth of July parties. Initiated in 1870 as a way to promote patriotism, Bowen’s Independence Day celebrations continued for twenty-five years. Hundreds were invited, and thousands gathered for the festivities that included food, elegant decorations, festive music, and stirring patriotic orations. Three United States presidents, Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and Rutherford B. Hayes, and three past and future presidential candidates, John C. Fremont, James G. Blaine, and William McKinley, in addition to a long list of senators, congressman, governors, and other political, literary, and social luminaries, made their way to Woodstock to participate in these Fourth of July events. Eventually these events grew so large that Bowen purchased an approximately sixty-acre parcel in Woodstock and developed an elegant public park, replete with gilded fountains, decorative statuary, windmill, boat house, and private bungalows, in which to host his Fourth of July celebrations. The park, named Roseland Park, was first opened in 1876 and in accordance with Bowen’s will is still open to the public today. 

The Bowens' active social calendar was a result of Henry Bowen’s growing wealth and influence as a New York businessman and activist. After his dry goods business failed leading up to the Civil War, in large part due to his anti-slavery views and difficulties with Southern clients, Bowen pursued a number of other successful business ventures. He co-founded and served as a director of a profitable insurance company. He founded and later served as editor of a popular anti-slavery weekly newspaper, The Independent, and for a period of time, he was the appointed tax collector for the Third District of the State of New York. While not a politician himself, Bowen was actively engaged in politics. As an abolitionist and an early supporter of the Republican party, Bowen, and his newspaper, became important players in regional and even national politics as the party gained strength in the mid and late nineteenth century.

1903-1968: Continuing Family Traditions

After Henry and Ellen Bowen passed away in 1896 and 1903, respectively, Roseland Cottage was passed onto their children. Ultimately, three of their children, Edward (known as Ned), Franklin, and Mary Bowen Holt, would maintain ownership. The three siblings and their families continued to summer at Roseland Cottage and stayed on for longer respites at times. As in the Bowens' time, Roseland Cottage continued to be a location for family gatherings. 

Between 1910 and 1920, the Bowen children updated the outdated utilities at Roseland Cottage to provide a year-round retreat. These updates included bringing in electricity, modern plumbing, and an oil-fired central heating system. Besides the utility updates, the second generation of Bowens made few changes to the interior or exterior of Roseland Cottage. A few minor changes were made to the landscape. The lattice fence that originally surrounded the parterre garden was removed, likely due to rot, and a quaint classical garden was erected at the edge of the parterre. 

After the deaths of Ned, Mary, and Franklin, Roseland Cottage was passed on to the third generation of Bowens in 1940.  Roseland Cottage was deeded to Henry Holt, Mary Bowen Holt’s eldest son and Henry C. Bowen’s grandson. Henry Holt, however, never lived at Roseland Cottage. Rather, as provided in Mary Bowen Holt’s will, his two unmarried sisters, Constance and Sylvia Holt, were the primary residents of the grand pink cottage. Miss Constance and Sylvia lived at Roseland Cottage year-round and they carefully preserved the family home and its contents, making very few changes to the estate. After Sylvia died suddenly in 1945, Constance Holt remained at Roseland Cottage with a few trusted live-in staff. Like her grandfather, Constance was active in the community, most notably as a strong supporter of the Woodstock Academy, the area’s secondary school, and its students. At the age of eighty-nine, Constance passed away in 1968. She was the last Bowen family member to call Roseland Cottage home. 

1968-1970: Becoming a Museum

After the death of Constance Holt in 1968, the family decided to sell the estate. The superior historic integrity of the structure and landscape, coupled with the completeness of the Bowen object and archival collection, offered an exceptional view into a piece of New England’s history and architectural heritage. Historic New England recognized that significance and set out to preserve the property and the Bowen family story so as to share it with generations to come. 

In 1970, the property was purchased by Historic New England with the help of local and state agencies and has been open as a museum since. The Bowen family collection, including original furniture, china, glassware, books, artwork, clothing and archival documents, were donated to Historic New England as part of the sale.  

1970-Present:  Experience Victorian Exuberance

Since 1970 Historic New England has undertaken a number of interior and exterior restoration projects to preserve the structure and collections at Roseland Cottage. Projects in the 1970s and 1980s largely focused on repairing and rehabilitating structural and decorative elements, as well as making improvements to the drainage on the property, in an effort to stem future damage. During this same period, Historic New England with the help of Dr. Rudy Faveretti, Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Connecticut, undertook a significant rehabilitation of the Bowen’s formal parterre garden. With meticulous field work and background research, the garden as seen today very closely reflects the garden laid out by Henry C. Bowen more than 150 years ago. In 1977 Roseland Cottage was nominated to the National Register of Historic Places.  

In the 1990s Historic New England utilized state-of-the-art techniques and equipment to assist in the preservation of the Bowen family collection and enhance the museum experience. A computerized climate control system was installed and an extensive paint analysis was performed. In recent years, Historic New England has focused on telling a more complete story of the Bowen family and their time at Roseland Cottage. Several rooms in the house have been reinterpreted to more fully include the lives of the Bowen women. Portions of the service ell, and the history of the staff that worked for the Bowens, are now incorporated as part of the regular tour.  

Roseland Cottage, designated a National Historic Landmark in 1992, remains one of the nation’s best preserved examples of Gothic Revival architecture. Roseland Cottage provides visitors a glimpse of the lifestyle and tastes of an upwardly mobile, ambitious, and close-knit family during the Victorian era.

Roseland Cottage History