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Great Expectations

Terraced steps lead to a delicate Gothic Revival summerhouse. The ultimate source of this type of terracing is very likely eighteenth-century France.

Barrett House, New Ipswich, New Hampshire

Site Manager Darlene Marshall explains the presence of a high-style mansion in a rural setting.

Two hundred years ago, the country town of New Ipswich stood poised on the crest of a growing economy. The second New Hampshire turnpike was opening up the region as a commercial center. Small businesses and textile mills, evidence of the new republic's infant industries, were springing up along the banks of the Souhegan River. Charles Barrett, a prosperous farmer in town, felt sufficiently emboldened by the future to embark upon a series of business ventures, investing in a glass factory, a toll road, a canal system, and, most successfully, in New Hampshire's first cotton mill. His son, Charles Jr., followed the father's pattern, joining in a partnership in 1819 in a textile mill with the latest modern machinery, a power loom.

In 1800, when young Charles was to be married, his father joined with the bride's father to build and furnish a home for the couple. Called Forest Hall, the house's stately architecture and lavish furnishings convey a confident urbanity and sophistication that clearly reflect both families' aspirations. The numerous handsome reception rooms were designed for entertaining in a cosmopolitan manner. An elaborate allée was later added to the landscape, with a flight of stone steps flanked by maples rising up the hillside behind the house. Similar in form to terraced steps, or "falls," found at grand houses along the coast, the Barrett allée is unusual in that it leads up to a summerhouse rather than down to a water feature. The elegance of the design, however, is entirely consistent with a home of this architectural quality.



Above Left: The parlor features a secretary that was a wedding gift, an Empire-style pedestal table, and a fine gold mirror. The sandpaper drawing of Barret House in the hall dates from the second quarter of the nineteenth century. Above Right: A bathroom was installed in the early twentieth century. The elaborate shower was never connected because the owners died a few years later, leaving the work unfinished. 

But the golden age of New Ipswich was not long lived. Nearby Greenville, New Hampshire, offered better factory sites, focusing industrial development in that town instead. After the railroad bypassed New Ipswich, the town entered into a decline, and the population dwindled. Charles Barrett's descendants stayed on and even updated the house, but today Forest Hall remains essentially a relic of the federal era. After 1887, the family used the house only in the summer-time. Caroline Barr Wade, the family member who gave the house to SPNEA in 1950, fondly recalled staying there as a child in the 1870s and 1880s-"Forest Hall has at its entrance two huge slabs or steps of granite, and [on] warm summer evenings Madame Barrett and my mother would sit just inside the front door on an old fashioned sofa or chairs, and the rest of us on various cushions on these wide, low steps, talking and singing."

The happy coincidence of three anniversaries this year-the two hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the founding of New Ipswich, New Hampshire; the two hundredth anniversary of the building of SPNEA's Barrett House, and the fiftieth anniversary of the house as a museum-has afforded the opportunity for community-wide celebration. Barrett House provided the site for several events, including a Revolutionary Encampment that attracted over 1,500 people. Many local residents toured the house for the first time, and one commented that what he valued most about the festivities was that "They brought the town's people together."

-Darlene Marshall, Site Manager, Barrett House


Above Left: The diningroom represents the level of elegance a family like the Barrets would have expected, with imported French scenic wallpaper and Chinese export dinnerware. The window looks out on an unspoiled view of the countryside. Top Right: In the kitchen, three bottles made by the New England Glassworks in nearbyTemple, New Hampshire, and a mug decorated with sign language symbols that belonged to Charles Barrett's grandson, who became deaf following a childhood illness. Bottom Right: Visitors last summer witness a reenactment of a Revolutionary War skirmish.

Great Expectations