Cultural Landscape Fellow reflects on summer at Historic New England
Historic New England's Cultural Landscape Fellowships offer valuable hands-on experience to students and recent graduates interested in landscape preservation. Roger Williams University graduate Carolyn Reid describes her summer 2012 fellowship.
This summer I had the great opportunity to work for Historic New England as a Cultural Landscape Fellow. I was interested in working for Historic New England because I believe that the landscape is a key element to understanding the context and sense of place for all historic houses. Before I attended Roger Williams University for historic preservation, I had considered studying to be a landscape architect. This fellowship was an ideal opportunity to combine my love of being outside with my interests in gardening, landscaping, and preservation.
Everything I learned during my four years of college about the preservation of historic houses can be applied to the preservation of historic landscapes. Most people understand the need to preserve the historic elements of buildings, and while it may be slighter harder to comprehend, the same goes for landscapes. Each flower, tree, and landscape feature is an essential part of the interpretation of a historic property.
I spent twelve weeks at Gropius House, Lyman Estate, and Codman Estate. For four days of each week, I worked outside in the gardens and landscapes. I watered plants, flowers, and pots, and made sure that newly planted trees got enough water to survive and become as large as the trees they replaced. I made sure the pool in the Codman Estate's Italian Garden never overflowed, and spent a lot of time weeding garden beds, paths, and terraces. These tasks considerably improved the experience for visitors as they explored these landscapes. I also hand-cut the grass around the houses and carriage barns, which not only improved the appearance of the landscapes, but protected the historic houses from being damaged by weed whackers. Other tasks included pruning and deadheading plants and shrubs, and clearing vines off shrubs and trees.
I spent the fifth day of each week researching a cultural landscape inventory of Spencer-Peirce-Little Farm in Newbury, Massachusetts. Historic New England is working on a project to improve drainage at the farm. Finding out what landscape features were in place during the period of interpretation, 1885 to 1935, allows Historic New England to almost completely restore to the landscape to its appearance during this period. This research project also helps protect the historic landscape elements that are still in existence today. Tasks such as reconstructing historic fences and removing non-historic trees allow visitors to experience the landscape as it existed centuries ago. This project specifically focused on the allée, farm yard/museum core, and fences. I reviewed historic and current photographs, documentation of past projects at the site, archeological reports, and other various documents. I also spent time at Historic New England’s Library and Archives in Boston, researching archival photographs of the property and the Little family papers.
Working with Historic New England's property care team gave me an inside look at the workings of a non-profit preservation organization, and how it takes many different professionals to come together and achieve an organization's mission. It was rewarding to be a part of the staff for a summer and to see firsthand how landscape maintenance enriches the experience of the visitors who enjoy these historic properties.
2012 Cultural Landscape Fellow