- School & Youth
- Get Involved
Folders 1.13-1.25, C.1.4
Series II, Other papers, 1916-1991, undated (#1.13-1.25, C.1.4), contains photocopies of papers relating to Helena (Woolworth) McCann's (1878-1938) purchase of the Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House in Gloucester, Massachusetts, from the Sleeper family; a 1941 estate inventory; photocopies of papers relating to the placement of the Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House on the National Register of Historic Places (including nomination and acceptance forms); printed articles regarding the Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House; photocopies of papers regarding the "Beauport Yankee Intern Project, Henry Davis Sleeper Research, Summer 1984," comprised of information on the project and research leads and letters relating to missing papers of Henry Davis Sleeper (1878-1934); and a photocopy of a business listing for architect Halfdan M. Hanson (1884-1952) at 119 Main Street in the City of Gloucester, Massachusetts. The series also includes material related to the history of the Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House; genealogical material regarding the Sleeper family; and material related to Henry Davis Sleeper (1878-1934) donation of silver objects to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. The estate inventory is a double-slipcased, hard-bound, carbon copy, appraisal report labeled as "Beauport Appraisal 1941: Personal Properties of Constance McCann Betts, Helena W. Guest, and Fraiser W. McCann." The appraisal was conducted by the American Appraisal Company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, at the request of the McCann family during July 15-19, 1940. The 140 page report contains a detailed inventory and valuation of the contents of all rooms and outbuildings comprising the Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House at Eastern Point in Gloucester, Massachusetts. Papers relating to Beauport history and Sleeper genealogy include correspondence, photographs, clippings, photocopied documents, etc. (including a memo from Philip Hayden regarding a visit made by actress Helen Hayes (1900-1993) to Beauport between 1921 and 1934). Papers relating to the donation of silver objects to the Museum of Fine Arts includes correspondence, photographs, clippings, resource material, photocopied documents, etc. (including listing compiled by Timothy Orwig, Historic New England fellow, 2001); regarding Sleeper's donation of Paul Revere (1735-1818) and John Prince silver items. The series is arranged chronologically.
Family papers (1 file box, 1 carton)
Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House collection
Folders 1.13-1.25, C.1.4
Henry Davis Sleeper, also known as Harry by his friends, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 27, 1878, the youngest son of Major Jacob Henry Sleeper (1839-1891) and Maria (Westcott) Sleeper (1836-1917). His father served with distinction in the Civil War, and later took over the family real estate business. His grandfather Jacob Sleeper (1802-1889) was a clothier, managed a building and trust at 31 Milk Street, and was one of three founders of Boston University. It was his real estate trust that provided Sleeper with income to collect art and eventually finance Beauport, at least initially. Eldest brother Jacob Sleeper (1869-1930) was a Foreign Service officer who spent time in Venezuela and Colombia before succumbing to an illness which had brought him under his brother's care at Beauport. Middle brother Stephen Westcott Sleeper (1874-1956) was a real estate investor, taking over management of his grandfather's building. He married Eliza H. Cushing (1876-1946) in 1911 and they later joined his younger brother on Eastern Point, purchasing the summer cottage Black Bess, six doors down from Beauport.
Sleeper is said to have been tutored at home due to his frail health, and no trace of any formal education has been found. When Henry reached the age of eleven, the Sleeper family began spending summers in their new home on Marblehead Neck, designed by architect Arthur Little. Henry's father built the home in 1888 and died while summering there three years later. After his mother sold the home in 1902, Sleeper saw that he would have to purchase another summer retreat for his family to escape the city heat. When he visited his friend A. Piatt Andrew's home on Eastern Point in 1906, he was determined that this would be the site of their new refuge.
The social enclave of Eastern Point was created in the 1880s by wealthy Bostonians John and David Greenough, who formed the Eastern Point Associates to purchase farmland in east Gloucester from the heirs of farmer Thomas Niles. They bought the land on November 12, 1887 for $100,000 and began laying out streets and dividing the parcel into building lots. On a map of the subdivision produced for the Associates in 1889, the future site of Beauport occupied the lot designated as number 101. In 1901, the lot was sold to well-known Cape Ann hotel builder George O. Stacey, who already had sites including the Moorland Hotel, the Magnolia Hotel, and the Hawthorne Inn to his credit. One year later, Stacey purchased three adjoining lots and a few parcels across the road for the three-hundred-room Colonial Arms Hotel which opened for the season in 1904. Stacey separated the southernmost lot, 101, and sold it to Henry Sleeper on August 13, 1907. Sleeper began construction in the fall of that year and occupied Beauport by May 12, 1908, when Andrew was his first houseguest.
Sleeper's original Little Beauport, named after Le Beau Port, French explorer Samuel de Champlain's description of Gloucester Harbor, was a relatively small cottage situated on a modest lot. Shortly after Sleeper purchased the lot on Eastern Point, he and Andrew discovered the William Cogswell house in Essex while on their way to visit Emily Tyson, who had recently restored Hamilton House in South Berwick, Maine. Sleeper eventually purchased the interior of this dilapidated eighteenth-century farmhouse and used the paneling and shutters to form the Cogswell's Hall and the Green Dining Room, both on the original 1908 floor plan. It was this purchase that began Sleeper's interest in architectural salvage which he used throughout his summer home, making his new house appear old.
Beauport was the beginning of a fruitful partnership between Sleeper and Gloucester architect Halfdan M. Hanson (1884-1952). Like Sleeper, Hanson did not have formal education but only training from correspondence classes. Together they created a house of risk and ambition and continued to expand Beauport and work on various other commissions until Sleeper's death in 1934.
When Sleeper purchased the lot in 1907, just next door was the massive Colonial Arms Hotel preventing all possibilities of expansion to the north. On New Year's Day of 1908, the hotel burned to the ground leaving only a black cellar hole and open ground. On October 16, 1911 Sleeper purchased an eighteen-foot strip of this land. By December of that year Henry and Hanson completed the Book Tower, Shelley Room, and Pineapple Room. The following year, the Linebrook Parish Room, which become a favorite room for intimate dinner parties and entertainment, the Belfry Chamber upstairs and connected by the secret staircase, and the Chapel Chamber guest room on the first floor were added.
Sleeper's crowning achievement came with his participation in the American Field Service. In 1915, Andrew enlisted him to raise funds for the Field Service in France, a group of American ambulance drivers that transported the wounded from the battlefield during World War I. Sleeper became the AFS's American representative and chief fund raiser, and served as director of its Paris headquarters in 1918-1919. For his efforts he received the Legion of Honor (1918), the Medal of Honor (1919), and the Croix de Guerre (1921).
Sleeper's interest in the decorative arts was well established before World War I. He served as Director of Museums for the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England, and as a founding member and trustee of the Shirley-Eustis House Association. And, in 1914-1915 he assisted in the reconstruction of the Church of Our Lady of Good Voyage (also designed by Halfdan Hanson) in Gloucester. After the war, Sleeper embarked on a professional career as an interior designer and decorator which brought Beauport further attention from the media, friends, and eventually clients.
In 1921, Sleeper opened offices at 50 State Street in Boston, moved to 40 State Street between 1925 and 1926, and finally settled in a building at 420 Boylston Street, which housed a number of other interior designers. His work received attention in a number of important periodicals and monographs, including House Beautiful (1916), Country Life (1929), and in several of designer Nancy McClelland's works. In its early years, he described his business as "Norman and English Country Houses - 17th and 18th Century American Interiors," but later he modified this to "English and French Interiors- 17th and 18th Century American Paneling." He executed commissions for clients including Isabella Stewart Gardner (1923) and Henry Francis duPont (1923, 1925, and 1928) in the East, and in Hollywood, for John Mack Brown (1930), Joan Crawford (1934), and Fredric March (1934). In 1923, he decorated Chestertown, duPont's new summer home in Southhampton, Long Island, New York and five years later he began consulting for the new wing of the duPont family home, Winterthur, in Winterthur, Delaware.
By the 1930s, Sleeper and Beauport were extremely well-known. The house became Sleeper's showroom containing his lifetime collection of glass, ceramics, folk art silhouettes, furniture and so much more. In May 1934, Sleeper received a prestigious honorary membership in the American Institute of Architects for his outstanding contribution to the advancement of architecture and applied arts as "a collector of Americana and protector of the culture of early America." Four months later Henry Davis Sleeper died at the Phillips House of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on September 22, 1934, from leukemia and was buried in his family's plot at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Upon Sleeper's death, Beauport passed to his brother Stephen. Although he had a modest trust fund from his grandfather and a successful interior design business, Henry Sleeper relied almost entirely on elaborate mortgages and financial dealings to finance Beauport. With Beauport, Stephen also acquired his brother's debt and was forced to sell the house. On October 21, 1935, Mrs. Helena Woolworth McCann (1878-1938), wife of Charles E. F. McCann (d. 1941) of Oyster Bay, Long Island, purchased the house. Mrs. McCann, who collected European art, including her well-regarded collection of export porcelain, understood the charm and historical significance of her new American find and wished to preserve it unchanged, with the exception of remodeling the China Trade Room in 1936.
Before her death in 1938, Mrs. McCann approached William Sumner Appleton, corresponding secretary and founder Historic New England, with the intention of bequeathing the property. Shortly after this initial discussion Mrs. McCann took ill and the proposed bequest was forgotten. Instead, she left Beauport to her three children, Constance Betts McMullan, Helena Guest, and Fraiser McCann, and they continued to occupy the house for several years. Appleton approached the children with their mother's proposed bequest and suggested the unusual idea of allowing the family to access Beauport after it obtained museum status. On December 21, 1942, ownership of Beauport transferred to Historic New England as a permanent memorial to Helena Woolworth McCann.