Millbury Post Office // 1940

Located in downtown Millbury, MA, the town’s local post office stands as a great example of Art Deco and Colonial Revival architecture styles, showing how well different styles can be incorporated into a single, complimentary design. The Millbury Post Office building was constructed in 1940 from plans by Louis Adolph Simon, who served as Supervising Architect in the Office of the Supervising Architect for the U.S. Treasury from 1933 until 1939, when the office was moved to the Public Works Administration / Works Progress Administration. The post office was designed at the tail end of the New Deal programs to help stimulate local economies by building infrastructure and providing jobs to locals. Inside, a mural “An Incident in the King Philip’s War, 1670” was painted by Joe Lasker and installed in 1941 and was “revivified” in 1991.

The Breakers – Great Hall // 1895

Merry Christmas from The Breakers! This 1895 Gilded Age mansion is the best to explore during December, when the halls are decked and stunning Christmas trees adorn the lavish rooms (learn more about the mansion in my last post) When you walk into The Breakers, you enter the Great Hall. Architect Richard Morris Hunt designed the Great Hall after the open-air courtyards in Italian villas, but enclosed due to the tough New England winters. The palatial space (measuring 50 foot square), even if crowded by tourists trying to get the perfect shot on their smartphones, feels spacious yet somehow welcoming given the art museum-like detailing. The walls are made of carved limestone from Caen on the coast of France and adorned with plaques of rare marbles. Elaborately carved pilasters decorated with acorns and oak leaves support a massive carved and gilt-cornice which surrounds a ceiling painted to depict a windswept sky, further expressing the open-air courtyard feeling envisioned by Hunt, the architect. Four bronze chandeliers dangle from the gilded ceiling, and flood the room with warm light, evoking warm summers in Italy.

Touro Synagogue // 1763

While Newport is arguably best-known for the Newport mansions from the Gilded Age, there are soooo many amazing buildings from the Colonial era, including some of the most significant and historic in the United States. Touro Synagogue in Newport is the oldest synagogue building still standing in the United States, the only surviving synagogue building in the U.S. dating to the colonial era, and the oldest surviving Jewish synagogue building in North America (for reference, second-oldest extant synagogue in North America was built in 1833, seventy years later)! Its history begins in the 17th century when the small but growing colony of Newport received its first Jewish residents possibly as early as 1658. The earliest known Jewish settlers arrived from Barbados, where they participated in the triangular trade along with Dutch and English settlements. By 1758, the Jewish population had grown sufficiently that there was a need for a house of worship. The Congregation now known as Congregation Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel) engaged Newport resident Peter Harrison to design the synagogue. Harrison, a British American merchant and sea captain, who was self-tutored in architecture, studying mostly from books and drawings. By the time he designed Touro Synagogue, he had already completed iconic buildings including Newport’s Redwood Library and King’s Chapel in Boston. Construction began on the “Jews Synagogue” in 1759, which was completed years later in 1763. The building is one of the most significant buildings in America, and is open to tours where you can see the immaculately restored interiors.

Ames Gate Lodge // 1880

In 1880, twenty years after Frederick L. Ames built his rural estate “Langwater”, he felt the need to give the property more rural character, especially given the close proximity to the Ames Shovel Works. Emulating old European estates with gatehouses, Ames hired star-chitect Henry Hobson Richardson, to design a gate lodge at the entrance to his property, fitting of one of the richest men in Massachusetts. Richardson’s design for the gate lodge was oriented longitudinally and is bisected by the arched entry to the estate. The large room on the left was intended to serve as a storeroom for flowering plants, and the two-story portion had a caretaker’s residence on the lower floor and a “bachelor hall” for men’s socializing and spill-over bedroom. The building uses glacial boulders found on the expansive grounds and older stone walls, with trim of Longmeadow brownstone. The bright red terracotta roof contrasts boldly with the rough stone walls. The building is one of the most beautiful structures I have seen, but can be difficult to photograph without trespassing. Ugh!

Delano House // c.1890

This late 19th century home in Marion was built for Florence and Walton S. Delano, a descendant of the great Delano family in Massachusetts. Walton worked in nearby Wareham at A. S. Gurney and Company, dealers in coal, grain and flour. The house is unique as it is in the American Foursquare form, a type of home built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The hallmarks of the style include a basically square, boxy design, two-and-one-half stories high, usually with four large, boxy rooms to a floor, a center dormer, and a large front porch with wide stairs. This example stands out for the shingle siding, flared eaves and rubblestone foundation. Swoon!

A1 Diner // 1946

Arriving by truck in 1946 from the Worcester Lunch Car Company factory in Worcester, Massachusetts, this piece of Americana has served dishes to Gardiner, Maine workers, families, and tourists for nearly a century. The diner opened as Heald’s Diner under the ownership of Elmer “Eddie” Heald. The Worcester Lunch Car Company began in 1906 and which shipped ‘diners’ all over the Eastern Seaboard. The first manufactured lunch wagons with seating served busy downtown locations, and due to their compact size, and ability to be easily moved, were great options for young businessmen and immigrants looking to start in the food industry, think Triple-deckers for restaurants. The Gardiner, Maine location is special as the diner itself is situated about 20 feet in the air on stilts, due to the location near the Kennebec River, which often flooded downtown. Heald sold his diner in the early 1950s, and it was sold again to Al “Gibey” Gibberson who named the diner after himself, Al’s Diner and ran it until he sold it in 1988, to owners who didn’t name it after themselves but called it the A1 Diner instead, likely as the “l” in Al looked like a 1. The diner is quintessential roadside American history inside and out, and the food is even more impressive. Do you have an old diner near you?

Beebe-Phillips House // c.1832

The Beebe-Phillips house in Waterford, CT, was built in the 1830s by Orrin Beebe (though some accounts say it was built for his wife Lydia after his death), and is an excellent example of a traditional full-cape house in Connecticut. The home is a vernacular example of the Federal style with no frills or expensive details. The house was originally located elsewhere in town but was moved to its current site on Jordan Green in 1974 by the Waterford Historical Society, next to the Jordan Schoolhouse.

Merwin House // 1825

In about 1825, Francis and Clarissa Dresser built this charming brick Federal house in the rural town of Stockbridge, MA. Just 25 years later, the railroad arrived to town, connecting it to Connecticut and New York to the south, opening the town up as a leisure destination for wealthy city dwellers looking to escape the noise and congestion of the city. The period following the Civil War through World War I saw the Gilded Age reach the Berkshires. With artists, writers, financiers, and industrialists flocking to the rural hills of western Massachusetts for seasonal escapes. In 1875, William and Elizabeth Doane, wealthy New Yorkers, purchased Merwin House from the Dresser family to use as a summer retreat. As the Doane family grew to include two young daughters, Vipont and Elizabeth, they added a Shingle Style side addition to the original brick structure. The home became known as “Tranquility”, even after the home was willed to daughter Vipont. After a couple marriages, Vipont married Edward Payson Merwin, a New York stockbroker. Historic New England acquired Merwin House in 1966, shortly after the death of Marie Vipont deRiviere Doane Merwin, known as Vipont. It was her desire to leave Merwin House as a museum, as her will states, “as an example of an American culture which is fast becoming extinct.” The space is occasionally open for tours and is partially occupied by the Housatonic Valley Association.

North Easton Railroad Station // 1884

Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893) was born in Easton, MA, the son of Oliver Ames Jr. who ran the Ames Shovel Works in town. On the death of his father in 1877, Frederick became head of the Ames & Sons Corporation also inheriting upwards of six million dollars, which he invested in railroads. From this, he eventually became Vice President of the Old Colony Railroad and director of the Union Pacific railroad. At the time of his death, Ames was reported to be the wealthiest person in Massachusetts! Due to his role for the Old Colony Railroad, Ames had a rail station built in his hometown, adjacent to his family’s factory. Henry Hobson Richardson, who designed many other buildings in town for the Ames Family, designed this station in his signature Richardsonian Romanesque style with its large arches, varied rustication of stone, and brownstone trimming. The building was completed two years before Richardson’s death. Rail service here was cut in the 1950s, allowing the Ames family in 1969 to buy the station back from the consolidated New York Central Railroad, gifting it to the Easton Historical Society.

Three Sisters Lighthouses // 1892

The first lighthouse station for Eastham, known as the Nauset Beach Light Station (nicknamed The Three Sisters), was completed in 1838. The name Nauset, which came from a local Native American tribe, formerly referred to the fifteen-mile stretch of Cape Cod from what is now Brewster almost to modern-day Truro. The lighthouse station actually consisted of a group of three lights atop 15-foot high brick towers located on a bluff looking over the Atlantic. Even though there were three lighthouses, the station was staffed by only one keeper up until 1867, when the position of assistant keeper was added. The assistant lived with the head keeper and his family in the station’s one dwelling (talk about cozy)!. The Lighthouse Board in 1873 noted the inadequacy of these accommodations in a report stating, “The dwelling-house should be enlarged, or a small cottage built for the accommodation of the assistant keeper, as the building now occupied is entirely too small”. Congress allocated $5,000 in 1875 for a keeper’s dwelling at Nauset Beach, which was erected in 1876.

After the relentless Atlantic Ocean brought the three brick towers to the brink of disaster due to the eroding land under them, in 1892, three new towers were constructed thirty feet west of the originals along with a brick oil house. The replacements were constructed of wood so they could be readily moved if the need occurred again. By 1911, it was determined that there was a need for only one lighthouse (as three could get confusing), and two of the three lighthouses were auctioned off, the third was attached to the keeper’s house. The two towers (minus their lanterns) were sold in 1918 to the Cummings family of Eastham for $3.50. The family moved the two towers to a nearby location and joined them together as a summer cottage called “The Towers” on Cable Road. In 1923, the smaller wooden lighthouse was retired and replaced with the current Nauset Light. In 1983 after much uncertainty as to their future, the National Park Service united the Three Sisters in a park, just west of their original location for history geeks like us to enjoy!