Jethro Coffin House // 1686

Here it is… The oldest house in Nantucket! The Jethro Coffin House dates to 1686, and when it was built, Nantucket’s English population totaled several hundred, and the native Wampanoag outnumbered them by at least three to one. The home was built seemingly as a wedding gift from twenty-three-year-old Jethro Coffin (1663–1727) to his new sixteen-year-old wife Mary Gardner (1670–1767). The marriage merged two of the old Nantucket families and was built on Gardner family land out of lumber transported to the island from Exeter, New Hampshire, where Jethro’s father, Peter Coffin, owned timberland and a saw mill. The First Period house has small windows of small panes of glass as the material was shipped from England at high cost. The large central chimney would heat the entire home on cold winter nights. Mary and Jethro sold their Nantucket dwelling to Nathaniel Paddack in 1708 and moved to Mendon, Massachusetts, when Jethro inherited property there. By the late nineteenth century, the house was abandoned (for some time it was used as a barn) and had fallen into disrepair. A Coffin family reunion held on the island in 1881 renewed interest in the property and off-island members of the family bought the old Coffin House. The Nantucket Historical Association acquired the house in 1923, and four years later, Historic New England), commenced an extensive reconstruction in an attempt to return the house to its historic appearance. It remains a location of pride for residents and visitors to the island to this day.

Hyde-Richardson House // c.1728

The Hyde-Richardson House is one of roughly twenty remaining pre-Revolutionary War homes in Newton. The home was built for Timothy Hyde (1689-1756) after he inherited the property including 36 acres and a house from his father John Hyde. Timothy had two wives: Rebecca Davis who he married in 1718 and died in 1724 (seemingly in childbirth); and his second wife Sarah Whitmore, whom he married in 1727. The home was likely built soon after his second marriage. It is possible that parts of the original home on the site were reused for this structure. He served as Surveyor of Highways and Constable and in 1710 was drafted to serve with the militia in the successful siege of Port Royal in Canada. In 1761, Jeremiah Richardson bought the property and married his wife Dorcas Hall that same year. Richardson was a deacon and like Timothy, served as Surveyor of Highways. The property remained a farm until the 1930s when the automobile and suburban expansion reached the Oak Hill section of Newton. The farmland was ultimately was subdivided to create the surrounding neighborhood in the mid 20th century.

John Palmer House // c.1683

In 1682, John Palmer acquired a small piece of land in Marblehead, soon after building this First Period home. The house is said to have framing timbers made of English walnut, salvaged from a sailing vessel off shore, with one timber formerly a mast and still displaying rope marks. The house was willed to his son after his death, who built a larger home soon after nearby. This house was “modernized” with double-hung windows which likely replaced the smaller, diamond pane casement windows typical in homes of this period.

Atherton Farmstead // c.1840

This beautiful farmhouse in Cavendish, Vermont is located along a winding dirt road and has ties to one of the town’s original family’s. A home was built here in 1785 and changed hands numerously over the first few decades of its existence. The farmhouse that was built also served as a tavern for travellers along the newly laid out Wethersfield Turnpike. It is possible that the cheap land and rural character of the new town was appealing to some, but reality away from true commerce may have made many sell the farm after a few years, which could explain why the property was bought and sold so often early on. The property was purchased by Jonathan Atherton, a Revolutionary War veteran, farmer, surveyor and lawyer, who acquired large landholdings in Cavendish. In 1821, Jonathan Atherton was sued in court by his neighbor, Jedediah Tuttle for beating Tuttle’s wife Lydia. In order to finance the bonds, Atherton mortgaged all his real estate in Cavendish to his brother Joseph, and Elihu Ives, Jonathan Atherton Jr.’s father-in-law. Atherton St. lost the case and had to pay a fine. The property was eventually inherited by Stedman Atherton, the youngest son of Jonathan, who seems to have demolished the old homestead and constructed the present home on the site. The original dwelling was also the childhood home of Henry B. Atherton, a staunch abolitionist and soldier in the American Civil War, who later served as a lawyer and state legislator for New Hampshire, and his sister Eliza (Atherton) Aiken, a Civil War nurse who has been referred to as America’s own “Florence Nightingale”. The old Atherton farmstead was recently renovated.

Windham County Courthouse // 1825

When the Windham County courts were transferred from Westminster in 1787, they were housed in the village known as Newfane on the Hill. Four decades later, influential residents convinced their townsmen to shift the village down to their land in a flat part of town, a location better suited for waterpower and commerce and ease of travel in the winter months. The first two buildings constructed were the courthouse and jail on a common. The village center grew rapidly as people moved old buildings down the hill and remodeled them or built anew, establishing a particularly unified townscape. This courthouse building is very stately for such a small town and packs an architectural punch. The two-story building is capped with a belfry and was designed in the Federal style with fan motifs over the windows and door. In the 1850s, nearby Brattleboro tried to usurp Newfane’s county seat status, so they in turn expanded the courthouse, raising the ceiling on the upper floor and adding the monumental Doric portico and pediment to give the building a decidedly Greek Revival appearance.

Naulakha // 1893

Located on a hillside in rural Dummerston, Vermont, you will find Naulakha, one of the most significant properties in the region. Naulakha (pronounced now-LAH-kuh) was built in 1893 for Rudyard Kipling an english journalist and author born in British India, an upbringing which inspired much of his professional work. In 1892, Kipling married Caroline Balestier, who was born into a prominent New England family. The couple honeymooned in Vermont near Carrie’s family home. The couple would settle in Vermont in a cottage which was soon outgrown, leading the couple to buy 10 acres of land from Carrie’s brother Beatty Balestier and built their own house. The new Shingle-style home they had built was named Naulakha after a book written by Rudyard and Caroline’s late-brother Wolcott. Kipling wanted a home that merged the distinctive qualities of the Indian bungalow with those of the American Shingle Style and he worked closely with his architect, Henry Rutgers Marshall of New York City, a Balestier family friend to achieve this.

The rectangular mass of the home parallels the contours the hill upon which its sited, and sits atop a raised fieldstone basement salvaged from stone walls on the property. From the home, Kipling wrote some of his most influential work, including the Jungle Books (1894, 1895), Captains Courageous (1896, The Seven Seas (1896), and The Day’s Work (1898). Sadly, the Kipling’s moved out of Naulakha after just a few years, largely from familial disputes with Caroline’s brother, Beatty. The family removed to England where they settled, though Rudyard always mentioned how much he missed his secluded life in Vermont. The property was then purchased by the Holbrook family, who made slight modifications to the property, but all maintaining the original design and feeling. In 1992, the British-based Landmark Trust acquired Naulakha as its first American building, later creating the Landmark Trust USA to maintain the property and more. The Landmark Trust USA rents out Naulakha and the adjacent carriage house for short-term rentals to provide revenue for maintaining these properties.

For more on my stay at the absolutely stunning Kipling Carriage House, check out my later blog post here.

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!