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We engage diverse audiences in developing a deeper understanding and enjoyment of New England home life by being the national leader in collecting, preserving, and using significant buildings, landscapes, archives, stories, and objects from the past to today.
In 1910, William Sumner Appleton founded the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, known today as Historic New England. For the next thirty-seven years until his death in November 1947, Appleton continued to lead and inspire this rapidly growing organization.
Appleton defined the organization’s purpose; persuaded, charmed, and occasionally hectored the membership; raised money (sometimes covering deficits from his own funds); worked without remuneration; established a sound preservation methodology; and guided the organization successfully through two world wars and the depression. Appleton’s vision evolved over the last century into a thriving heritage organization that now welcomes more than 200,000 visitors each year to historic properties in five New England states.
Beginning in the 1890s and continuing through the first decades of the twentieth century, Appleton documented his widespread interests and activities in a series of remarkably detailed scrapbooks. The extensive national and international travel that influenced his thinking on the methods and aesthetic principles of preservation is recorded through maps, brochures, tickets, postcards, etc. Between 1893 and 1915, he made two trips abroad, traveled across the United States three times, and attended four World’s Fairs (Chicago, 1893; Buffalo, 1901; San Francisco and San Diego, both 1915), as well as participated in numerous historical events, such as the 1908 Tercentenary of Quebec. Politics and current affairs take up numerous scrapbook pages. His deep interest in theater and the arts is apparent throughout.
Appleton often viewed exhibitions of work by artists like Howard Pyle, Cecilia Beaux, and Charles and Marcia Woodbury at Boston’s Saint Botolph Club, the Boston Art Club, the Boston Camera Club, and other galleries. Many charitable and preservation organizations, including those concerned with the conservation of natural resources, received his support. His utter devotion to Harvard’s football team is shown through hundreds of pages of newspaper clippings recording the highs and lows of many seasons of play. Of course, hundreds of pages record his passionate interest in buildings, both old and new, and his interest in a more organized, formalized approach to preservation.
As he recuperated from his breakdown, Appleton began to explore in a serious way the historical and antiquarian activities that had been a tradition in his family. He turned to pursuits more in keeping with his interests and joined several patriotic, historical, and antiquarian organizations. Through the Sons of the Revolution, Appleton became active in the 1905 effort to preserve the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End, the oldest surviving house in the city. Serving as secretary of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, he worked with architect Joseph Everett Chandler and others on the restoration.
After his father’s death in 1903, Appleton was trying to decide whether to continue the family’s Holbrook Farm Dairy in Newton, Massachusetts. He took classes at Harvards’ Bussey Institution, a school of agriculture and horticulture, but quickly decided that “the farmer’s life was not for me” and sold the dairy. Much more stimulating and rewarding was a course on architecture taught by Denman Ross, art collector and influential lecturer and writer on art theory and design. In 1906, Appleton took the lead in another preservation effort – to thwart the Boston Transit Commission’s plans to alter the Old State House. In the face of opposition from a number of groups, the Commission was forced to change its plans. Appleton’s experiences in the fourteen years since his graduation from Harvard matured him into a more rounded individual and laid the foundation for his professional career.
In 1909 Appleton learned of plans to significantly alter the eighteenth-century Jonathan Harrington House, which overlooks the green in Lexington, Massachusetts, and was the site of a dramatic incident during the confrontation with the British troops on April 18, 1775. Outrage at yet another loss to the region’s historic fabric had a galvanizing effect on him, and he took the necessary legal steps to establish the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, taking care to ensure that it would enjoy non-profit status.
As he gathered members for SPNEA, the charm, zeal, diplomacy, and tenacity that characterized his professional work for the rest of his life came into play. He assembled officers and a board of trustees, including his cousin Alice Longfellow, who could provide financial support and prestige. Several of them also had academic experience or had worked with other related organizations. Yet Appleton’s instincts were democratic. Membership was open to all, and dues were modest. As corresponding secretary, he communicated to members through the quarterly Bulletin, informing them of current activities and asking for annual contributions to support special projects.
The first house the fledgling organization acquired, in 1911, the c. 1670 Swett-Ilsley House in Newbury, Massachusetts, was initially let out as a tea house with the goal of making it self-supporting. Appleton’s prime criterion for preserving a building was its intrinsic architectural or aesthetic merit, rather than its association with great men or events. He had a special interest in the modest dwellings of the first settlers, which by the standards of the day were incompatible with modern comfort and were falling into decay. Over the years, the organization acquired ten seventeenth-century houses, valued today by scholars as unique records of late medieval building methods in this country. In 1916 the organization acquired the Harrison Gray Otis House in Boston as its headquarters, a step that fortuitously saved the building from demolition a few years later when Cambridge Street was widened.
Appleton also established a New England Museum – at first a random assortment of old things, which gradually took shape as a systematic, documented collection of furnishings and fine and decorative arts, as houses with their contents intact entered the collection. At the same time, he was a voracious collector of images – postcards, ephemera, measured drawings, and most importantly, photographs. An avid amateur photographer who took hundreds of documentary photographs of his restoration projects, he befriended professional photographers and sought donations of their work. Not everything could be saved, but buildings and streetscapes could be “preserved on paper.” Over the years, Appleton’s energetic if somewhat indiscriminate collecting practices have been refined, and today Historic New England’s holdings are recognized as the richest and best documented assemblage of New England material culture in the nation.
As the country’s first full-time professional preservationist, Appleton brought a scientific method to his approach and defined procedures that are largely followed to this day. He came to see a building as an evolving organism, whose changes over time preserved the historic record of many eras. This enabled him to resist the temptation to restore a building to a particular period to make it easier for a layperson to understand. Appleton hired professionals to do the work on a building and thoroughly documented the process in photographs and written records. As he wrote in 1930 about his restoration of the c. 1654 Coffin House, also in Newbury, “The more I work on these old houses the more I feel that the less of W.S. Appleton I put into them, the better it is.”
On November 13, 1947, while on SPNEA business in Andover, Massachusetts, Appleton suffered a stroke. He never regained consciousness and died eleven days later. At the time of his death, the organization owned fifty-one historic properties, a museum collection numbering in the thousands, and a library with upwards of 600,000 images of New England.
Carl R. Nold, President and CEO, was appointed President and CEO of Historic New England in April 2003. Prior to joining Historic New England, Mr. Nold served as director of Mackinac State Historic Parks in Michigan, director of The State Museum of Pennsylvania, director/curator of Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, and registrar/grants officer of the New York State Historical Association and its Farmers’ Museum in Cooperstown. After serving four years on the board of directors of the American Association of Museums (AAM), he was elected vice chairman of that board in 2007, and chairman for 2008-2010, and continues to serve on the board as immediate past chairman. Mr. Nold is a member of DEM HIST, the international committee on historic house museums of ICOM, the International Council of Museums. He is past chairman of US-ICOM, a designator of the Henderson Fund for the City of Boston, an elected life member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, an elected fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society, past president of the Association of Midwest Museums, and past secretary of the Michigan Museums Association.
Diane Viera, Executive Vice President/COO, joined Historic New England in 1995 as the organization’s first marketing director. As executive vice president and chief operating officer, she works closely with President Nold and Historic New England’s leadership team on administrative and operational matters, and leads institutional initiatives. Ms. Viera oversees the information technology team; development team; and external affairs group, comprising the visitor experience team, community engagement, exhibitions management, marketing, public relations, e-communications, and publications. Prior to joining Historic New England, she worked in corporate communications for FM Global, public relations for the AD/COM agency, and as a reporter. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Bridgeport, and has completed social enterprise executive education programs at the Harvard Business School and Kennedy School.
Peter Gittleman, Team Leader for Visitor Experience, is content expert on interpretation, site management, visitor experience, and audience development for Historic New England. A member of the Historic New England staff since 1986, he has served as a museum teacher, school program developer, project manager, and overseer of the tour experience at Historic New England’s thirty-six historic properties. He has helped develop the organization’s school programs, which have experienced dramatic growth in school and youth audiences, received exemplary recognition from federal funding agency reviewers, and are identified as outstanding models for historical organizations nationwide by the American Association of State and Local History and others. He holds a Bachelor of Arts from Tufts University and a Master of Arts in preservation studies from Boston University.
Wendy Gus, Director of Finance, is responsible for all aspects of budgeting and financial management, and for human resource programs. Ms. Gus has more than twenty-five years of experience working with non-profit organizations. As an audit manager at PriceWaterhouseCoopers she worked with a variety of non-profit organizations and higher education institutions. Ms. Gus served as the controller at Montserrat College of Art for five years and as a senior manager at Stanton & Co. for seven years, specializing in their non-profit practice. Ms. Gus holds a B.A. in environmental studies from the University of Vermont and an M.B.A. from Northeastern University. She is a certified public accountant and a volunteer treasurer of the Newburyport Education Foundation.
Benjamin Haavik, Team Leader for Property Care, is responsible for the maintenance and preservation of Historic New England’s thirty-six historic house museums and landscapes. Prior to joining Historic New England in 2004, Mr. Haavik was deputy director of the Historic House Trust of New York City where he cared for twenty-four historic sites throughout the five boroughs of New York City. Mr. Haavik started his career at the Fairmount Park Historic Preservation Trust in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, after receiving his M.S. in Historic Preservation from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2004, Mr. Haavik was a participant in the Attingham Summer School Program in England.
Jennifer Kent, Vice President for Advancement, is the key leader for managing development strategy and operations. She designs and manages a comprehensive development program, ensuring implementation of timely cultivation, solicitation, and stewardship strategies across all donor groups and meeting or exceeding annual and long-term development goals established by the Board of Trustees and President/CEO. Ms. Kent brings more than twenty-five years of development experience to Historic New England, including her most recent work as Director of Development at Heritage Museums & Gardens in Sandwich, Massachusetts, and previously as Director of Marketing and Development at EcoTarium in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her experience includes overseeing membership, annual and major gift support, grants, planned giving, capital campaigns, and cultivation and other fundraising events.
Julie Solz, Team Leader for Collection Services, coordinates the work of the collections management, conservation, curatorial, and library and archives teams. Prior to joining Historic New England in 2001 she worked as a registrar, collection manager, and conservator for museums in New England; Washington, D.C.; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ms. Solz holds an M.S. in Art Conservation from the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation and a B.A. in Art History from the University of New Hampshire. In 2000, Ms. Solz was a participant in the Attingham Summer School Program in England
Historic New England will ensure that the properties, collections, and programs we maintain are financially sustainable, and that sufficient resources are available to support excellence in all that we do.
Historic New England will serve the public by emphasizing innovative use of its historic resources of buildings, landscapes, archives, stories, and collections. Increase engagement and interaction among core audience groups and build engagement among members, interested nonmembers, and the general public.
Preservation and Use
Through strategic acquisitions and deaccessions, Historic New England will shape the collection of properties, archives, and objects to encourage the public to experience the range of home life found throughout New England from the past to the present day.
Since its founding Historic New England has been a catalyst for preservation and the developer of and proponent for standards in the museum and preservation fields. Continue in this leadership role with the goal of building visibility, strength, and support for the organization.