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H.H. Richardson's Ames Gate Lodge
In 1773, Captain John Ames began producing shovels in West Bridgewater, Massachusetts, and by 1803, his son, Oliver Ames, established a company town at North Easton to support the shovel manufactory. The business continued to grow with the following two generations of Ames sons and became particularly profitable during the Civil War as a result of defense contracts with the Union Army. Sixty percent of worldwide shovel manufacturing was happening at the Ames Shovel Works by 1870. As their wealth and status grew, the Ames family became major investors in mining, the railroad, and western expansion. Between 1877 and 1890, the Oliver Ames Free Library, Oakes Ames Memorial Hall, Old Colony Railroad Station, and the Gate Lodge, all designed by renowned American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, were commissioned by third generation Ames businessman, Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893), and his cousins.
During the nineteenth century, as the country was being rapidly transformed through advances in science and technology, the contrast between industry and nature was becoming a subject of much consideration among artists and philosophers. No doubt influenced by the existing rock outcroppings at the site, as well as by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr.’s vision for the surrounding picturesque landscape, Richardson designed the c.1880-81 Gate Lodge, which marks the entrance to F.L. Ames’ Langwater estate, as a celebration of nature shaped by man’s industrial capabilities. The horizontality of the building, as well as its materials, imply that only a small amount of human intervention was required to transform the site’s raw natural resources into a finished building. The walls of the structure comprise uncut glacial boulders and the trim is rusticated Longmeadow brownstone. The large archway over the entrance drive to the estate is made of split stone voussoirs, which frame views of the surrounding pastoral landscape. Along with its primordial materials, the Gate Lodge conveys strength and stability through its weighty massing and distinctive red-orange tiled roof, providing a dramatic point of transition from the public road to the Ames’ private estate.
The interior of the Gate Lodge was designed to serve three distinct functions: on one side of the archway was space to store overwintering plants and on the other side of the archway was living space for a gardener and housekeeper, and a bachelor’s retreat. As with the exterior, the intent of the interior spaces went beyond pure functionality and the Ames family’s devout Unitarianism played an important role in the motifs Richardson employed. The influence of Unitarian principles is most apparent at the bachelor’s area on the second story, which was intended as a retreat for F.L. Ames, his sons, and their guests, in which they could engage in intellectual fellowship and explore enlightenment philosophy. To accommodate this purpose, the architect designed a symbolic tripartite space made up of a projecting well house, an open porch, and a bachelor’s hall, together representing the basic elements water, air, and earth. A carving in the sandstone at the juncture of the well-house and porch helps to clarify the metaphor of the three surrounding rooms. Here, Richardson incorporated two Doric columns supporting a roughly cut slab lintel. Together, these three elements form an ancient symbol of Earth – derived from a palafitte, or lake-dwelling – in which the lintel represents the base on which to build a house (earth), elevated by the columns (air), which are immersed in water, below.
Additional symbolic imagery was incorporated throughout the three rooms in the form of carvings by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Positioned in the doorway between the well house and the porch is a Saint-Gaudens carving of three frogs – one large and two small – traditionally symbolizing rebirth and the transition of water into earth, and acting as a guardian of fresh water in some mythology. A carving at the doorway between the porch and well house depicted three turtles supporting a small stone slab. Because they occupy shorelines – spaces of transition between land and water – turtles act as doorway guardians in some mythology, as well as symbolizing immortality.
In the bachelor’s hall, Saint-Gaudens designed an ornate mantelpiece, carved with signs of the zodiac and names of the twelve calendar months. At both ends, Saint-Gaudens incorporated snakes swallowing their tails, a mythological symbol of rebirth known called an Ouroborus. Inside either snake is written “Alpha” and “Omega," the beginning and the end of the Greek alphabet, and another symbol of rebirth or immortality. Above the mantel is a wall of blue-glass tile crafted by Louis Comfort Tiffany. A set of four carved blocks were incorporated into the porch design, bearing the initials of F.L. Ames, Richardson, Olmsted, artist John Lafarge, and Tiffany, as well as the Gate Lodge’s dates of construction. In the center of the blocks was a large, purple crystal, which may have symbolized contemplation and rational thought, royalty and religious associations, or perhaps was simply the signature of Saint-Gaudens (whose initials are conspicuously missing from the carved blocks).
The Ames family recently donated a preservation easement on the Gate Lodge, assuring that this iconic building will be protected in perpetuity by Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program. At the same time, the family worked closely with The Trustees of Reservations to protect much of the surrounding, Olmsted-designed landscape through a conservation easement. Together, these protections will assure that this distinctive place will be preserved for generations to come.
Easement property featured in publication
The Conant House, located in Townsend, Mass., and one of Historic New England’s easement properties, is featured in a new publication, Homecoming by Jill Peterson. Known locally as the “Old Mansion” and the “Conant Tavern,” the Conant House was constructed c. 1738 by John Conant, who moved from Concord, Massachusetts, to Townsend in 1738. John constructed a two-and-one-half story, wood-framed house with a central chimney flanked by a single room on each side at the first and second stories. A one-story, lean-to addition was added to the rear soon after its construction. The Conant House functioned as a tavern and was frequently cited in town records as the meeting place of various town committees.
After John Conant’s death in 1756 his wife, Sarah, continued to keep the tavern, which was later kept by Nathan Conant, John and Sarah’s second son, and then by John Conant, John and Sarah’s youngest son. A four-room, two-story ell was constructed c. 1770, which is unique for its paneled, swinging partition designed to swing upon hinges and hook to the ceiling to create one single large room. Local tradition asserts that the house was a Tory safe haven or “harbor” during the Revolutionary War. In addition to the swinging partition, other unique interior features include early-nineteenth-century stenciling attributed to Rufus Porter in the second story southwest chamber of the Main House, early decorative painting surrounding a firebox at the second story southeast chamber of the Main House, and early door hardware throughout the house.
Historic New England acquired the property in 1952, and the house and opened to the public. However, in 1976, the decision was made to deaccession the Conant House with a preservation easement that protects all exterior elevations of the house, and interior framing members, woodwork, stenciling, and decorative painting. For information about the new publication Homecoming, featuring the Conant House, contact Jill Peterson, Frontier Homestead, 153 CR 2139, Iredell, Texas 76649.
Historic New England protects historic Fogg-Rollins House in Exeter, N.H.
Historic New England and the Trustees of the Fogg-Rollins Charitable Trust recently finalized a preservation easement on the Fogg-Rollins House in Exeter, New Hampshire, the eighty-first property to enter Historic New England's Preservation Easement Program. Constructed c. 1790 by descendants of Seth Fogg, the Fogg-Rollins House was updated in the Greek Revival style in 1853-54. The property consists of nine acres of land with a mid-nineteenth-century barn and wheelwright shop, and a family cemetery primarily dating to the nineteenth century. It was owned by the late Beatrice Rollins, who inherited the property in 1956 but never used the home as her primary residence.
Upon Beatrice Rollins' death in 1995, the Fogg Rollins Charitable Trust was established to care for and restore the property as a house museum. The creation of a house museum proved to be unfeasible, leading the trustees to explore other options for preserving the property. They ultimately obtained permission from the probate court to sell the Fogg-Rollins House with a preservation easement held by Historic New England. This easement protects the significant architectural and landscape features of the property while providing a realistic alternative to Miss Rollins’s original goal of creating a house museum. The property will be listed for sale in the near future.
Historic New England protects Breuer-Robeck House in New Canaan, Conn.
The 1947 Breuer-Robeck House in New Canaan, Connecticut, is the latest privately owned historic property protected through a preservation easement held by Historic New England in its nationally recognized Preservation Easement Program. In 1946 noted architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer (1902-1981) moved from Lincoln, Massachusetts, to New York City to open an architectural practice. In 1947 he purchased land in New Canaan and built the Breuer-Robeck House as a weekend home for his family. This was the first house he built in New Canaan, a town that now has one of the most significant collections of mid-century Modern houses in the United States.
The home’s current owner has long been concerned about the trend to tear down Modern buildings and wanted to ensure that the property be protected. The preservation easement on the Breuer-Robeck House protects exterior elevations of the main house and addition; interior features of the main house including its fireplace, flagstone flooring and wood ceilings; the driveway as it was designed by Breuer; prevents subdivision of the existing 2.7 acre lot; and limit new additions and additional structures. This is the eightieth property protected by a preservation easement held by Historic New England and the third Modern property protected in the Preservation Easement Program. The other Modern properties are the 1963 Flansburgh House and the 1937 Hoover House, both in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
Historic New England protects Shingle-Style Stable in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.
Constructed c. 1886, the Coolidge Reservation Stable, located in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, is Historic New England’s seventy-ninth property to enter the Preservation Easement Program. The stable is a well-preserved example of a late-Victorian period stable and barn/carriage house, simple in form, yet displaying elements of the Shingle style in its wood-shingle siding and low-sweeping roof lines.
In 1871, banker, railroad magnate, and financier Thomas Jefferson Coolidge Sr. purchased 116 acres of land in Manchester-by-the-Sea and established a country retreat. In 1886 he built two new stables, one of which is believed to be the Coolidge Reservation Stable. Today, it is one of the few surviving buildings from the estate. The property is now owned by the Trustees of Reservations and is part of the Coolidge Reservation on Coolidge Point.
Historic New England’s preservation easement creates a partnership with the Trustees of Reservations that prevents future demolition of the stable, and protects its exterior elevations as well as interior features such as flooring, woodwork, stalls, and feed storage bins.
Historic New England protects important mid-twentieth century house in Lincoln, Mass.
The Flansburgh House in Lincoln, Massachusetts, is the latest privately owned historic property protected by a preservation easement in the Preservation Easement Program at Historic New England. Completed in 1963, the Flansburgh House was designed by the late architect Earl R. Flansburgh, FAIA.
The house is designed around an open interior garden court and was built to illustrate Flansburgh’s approach to Modern residential design. It is set on a slightly sloping wooded lot and surrounded by tall pine trees and stone walls built by Flansburgh and his sons. Glass windows and sliding glass doors line the outside walls, and glass walls with open hallways line each side of the open courtyard allowing light to penetrate from both the exterior and interior of the house. The preservation easements held by Historic New England protect interior and exterior features of the house and garden and landscape features. They prevent subdivision and limit new additions and additional structures.
Earl R. Flansburgh's long and distinguished career in architecture focused primarily on the planning and design of educational facilities, but he also designed one or two private houses every year, hand-picking the sites and clients. He founded the Boston firm of Earl R. Flansburgh + Associates (now known as Flansburgh Architects) in 1963. His buildings received more than eighty regional and national design awards. He served as the Boston Society of Architects (BSA) president in 1981 and received the BSA Award of Honor in 1999.
This is the second Modern house protected by Historic New England’s Preservation Easement Program. The Hoover House, designed by Henry Hoover in 1937, and also in Lincoln, entered the program in 2008. Lincoln and the surrounding area has excellent examples of Modern houses custom built by a group of architects including Historic New England’s 1938 Gropius House, designed by Walter Gropius, which is open to the public.
For information about the Preservation Easement Program please 617-994-6642. Historic New England is highly interested in working with owners of twentieth-century properties to protect the full range of New England's built heritage.
Community Supported Agriculture at Jacobs Farm
In 2009 voters in Norwell, Massachusetts, approved spending $50,000 of Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to establish a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm at Jacobs Farm. Using these funds, a farm manager was hired and a not-for-profit organization, Norwell Farms, Inc., was organized to guide farm activities and lead fundraising efforts. Jacobs Farm, owned by the Town of Norwell, is protected with preservation and conservation restrictions held by Historic New England and is the center of operations for the CSA, where 1.6 acres are currently planted with organically-grown vegetables and flowers.
Jacobs Farm is a unique property retaining its historic farm setting with eighteenth and nineteenth-century outbuildings, open fields, and stone walls. The main block of the house was constructed by Joshua Jacobs in 1726 and was enlarged throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the additions of several wings, ells, and sheds. Two eighteenth-century barns remain on the property as does a mid-nineteenth-century carriage shed. The property remained in the Jacobs family and was actively farmed until 1939 when it was devised to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, by Dr. Henry Barton Jacobs.
Over the next few decades, the main house was used as a resident overseer quarters with limited rooms open to the public. Later, the Norwell Historical Society (NHS) used the Main House as a headquarters. Following several years of negotiations between the Town of Norwell and Historic New England, in 1989 a portion of the property with the farmhouse, outbuildings, and fields was sold to the Town of Norwell with preservation and conservation restrictions that protect the buildings and their settings.
In its first year Norwell Farms, Inc., is enjoying success with its one hundred shares sold out in one week. This project has returned a portion of the fields at Jacobs Farm back to active agricultural use, reaffirming the property’s importance as a historic and natural resource for the local community.
Located in a remote area of the town of Caribou in northern Maine, Griffin Farm became a Historic New England easement property in 2008. Once operated as a potato farm, for almost twenty years this property has been a vacation home for its current owners, who were attracted to the peace and tranquility of the location, along with the architectural features of the house. Concerns about the property's long-term preservation in anticipation of a decision to list the property for sale led the owners to contact Historic New England. As a part of the Preservation Easement Program, the property's significant architectural and landscape features are now protected in perpetuity by a preservation easement.
The Griffin family cultivated and harvested potatoes on the property from 1868 until 1989, when the property was sold out of the family. Historically, a series of connected farm buildings existed on the property and included the existing 1912 Farmhouse and the late nineteenth-century, two-story "Pickers' Shack," remaining today as a rear wing of the Farmhouse. An earlier farmhouse, barn, stable, and chicken coop completed this complex of connected agricultural buildings, but were removed by the Griffin family in the mid-twentieth-century and are no longer standing. In addition to the Griffin Farmhouse, a free-standing barn currently exists on the property that was constructed in 1990 by the current owners based on historic images of the earlier, larger barn.
The Griffin Farmhouse retains its original character and is an intact example of early-twentieth-century Queen Anne-style architecture. The current owners have meticulously repaired both the interior and exterior of the Farmhouse, which had suffered years of deferred maintenance prior to their purchase of the property in 1991. Additionally, this property's one hundred acres of open space retain their rural characteristics and consist of expansive hilltop fields, woodlands, and gardens. Preservation easements held and administered by Historic New England protect the important historic interior, exterior, and landscape features of this special property. Protected features included all exterior elements of the Griffin Farmhouse and Barn such as doors, windows, siding and trim, and interior features of the Farmhouse such as woodwork, flooring, built-cabinetry, and a fireplace. The surrounding land is protected against future subdivision and must be maintained as open fields and woodlands.