Late 19th century commercial architecture in downtowns all across New England always transport me to the past because they evoke the days of carriages in the streets and the hustle and bustle of post Civil War American cities. After Portland’s Great Fire of 1866, many standing or damaged wooden buildings were replaced with fireproof construction in the event of another conflagration. Five years before the Great Chicago Fire, this was the greatest fire yet seen in an American city. It started in a boat house then spread across the city. Amazingly, only two people died in the fire, but ten thousand people were made homeless and 1,800 buildings were burned to the ground. This is one of the buildings constructed in the rebirth of the downtown/waterfront of Portland. The Rackleff Block was built in 1867 from plans by architect George M. Harding, who designed the building with details reading Italianate and Victorian Gothic. The building retains its original cast iron storefronts and ornate cornice with brackets.
The town of Sprague, Connecticut was incorporated in 1861, with the land formed from portions of the town of Franklin. A few years earlier, in 1856, former Rhode Island Governor and U.S. Senator William Sprague III of Rhode Island had laid out plans to build “the largest mill on the Western Continent” in eastern Connecticut, only to die later that year. His nephews William and Amasa Sprague constructed the Baltic Cotton Mill in what was to become the village of Baltic, which is today the geographic and population center of the town of Sprague. The village of Baltic developed largely between the years 1857-1861, when the Sprague brothers developed the mill, commercial buildings, and workforce housing for the employees. In 1870, 804 men, 396 women, and 210 children worked in the Baltic mill. This building was constructed after the initial period of development for the town in about 1875 as a grist mill. It is now home to the town’s library!
One of the finest Queen Anne style residences New England is this 1877 summer cottage, named “Snug Harbor”. The mansion was designed by architects William Appleton Potter and Robert Henderson Robertson for Charles H. Baldwin, a prominent admiral in the United States Navy. The design utilizes a brick first floor with shingle siding above, a high cross-gabled roof, panels and half-timbering, asymmetrical form, and a porte cochere at the entry. Later owner Arakel Bozyan, painted the entire exterior a deep red color and renamed the house “Gamir Doon”, Armenian for “Red House”. The house was restored back to a traditional color scheme and sold in 2020. The interiors are STUNNING!
Built as the summer residence of Mr. Eben Rollins Morse and Mrs. Marion Steedman Morse of Boston and New York, Villa Rosa was one of the finest summer cottages in Newport. The property was purchased by Mr. and Mrs. Morse, which originally included three, large estates two of which were featured previously. Mr. Morse was a stockbroker and investment banker, and the couple lived on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, maintaining a summer home in Beverly, Massachusetts. In 1900, the couple hired Ogden Codman, Jr., a society architect and historian from Boston, to design a townhome in New York (their new permanent home) and Newport, where they could summer with other wealthy New Yorkers. Their cottage, Villa Rosa, was a huge statement, likely to insert themselves into the high-society of Newport summers. Oriented to the south, rather than to Bellevue Avenue, the house took maximum advantage of its long narrow setting. The exterior of the house was covered in pastel pink stucco offset with white bas-relief panels and was crowned by a copper dome. The heart of the house was the green trellised circular Music Room or Ballroom, the first room in the United States to incorporate lattice design as a decorative scheme. The property was eventually sold for $21,500 to E.A. McNulty, a Rhode Island contractor. Ogden Codman’s masterpiece was demolished in December of 1962 and an apartment complex built on the site in 1965. Townhouse condominiums replaced the gardens in the 1970s and the gateposts, a final vestige, were cleared in 2004.
Image courtesy of Newport Historical Society.
Immediately upon entering the main entrance of The Elms, one of the finest Gilded Age mansions in Newport, you are enveloped in the Stair Hall or foyer. The space is stunning, with walls lined in limestone and purple Breccia marble pilasters and columns with bronze capitals and bases. The floors are of white marble bordered in green with stairs in white Italian marble. At the beginning of the stairs, there are two large urns of green marble and pink granite, each with four bronze female figures. The urns bear the name of the decorator, Allard et Fils of Paris, who was responsible for crafting the details of the period rooms for the mansion. At the top of the first set of stairs is the Gallery Hall, a long hall connecting many rooms on the first floor and also serving as a gallery of irreplaceable art including two early 18th-century oil paintings depicting episodes in the history Scipio Africanus, the ancient Roman general who conquered Carthage by Venetian artists Paolo Pagani and Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini. The space is grand, yet cozy and feels more like a home than the larger Breakers mansion.
The President Calvin Coolidge State Historic Site in Plymouth, Vermont preserves the birthplace and childhood home of Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President of the United States. This iconic historic village appears much as it was during Coolidge’s lifetime. The homes of the Coolidge family, their relatives and friends are joined by the 1840 church, 1890 schoolhouse, cheese factory, and historic agricultural structures and barns. More on all of these later. First up is the birthplace of President Coolidge. This squat 1 1/2-story dwelling was built in 1840 at the rear of the Coolidge Family store which fronts the main road. The five-room house was later known as the location where President Coolidge took the presidential oath of office. By the 20th century, the old home was altered, but was restored in 1971 just in time for the 100th birthday celebration by the State of Vermont for Coolidge, dedicating the village as a historic museum.
After the Quabbin Reservoir was filled (more on the history in my last post), the cleared land and body of water, with its over 181 miles of coastline, was seen as not only an engineering marvel, but a place of natural beauty and splendor. Upon a rise in the land and the edge of the reservoir, they saw a perfect location to build a tower that could serve many purposes. The Metropolitan District Water Supply Commission hired the firm of Densmore, LeClear & Robbins to design a tower that would serve as a radio tower, fire station and observation tower to view the reservoir. The structure, while designed in the Arts and Crafts mode, is of modern construction and is comprised of two main parts. The lower portion, is constructed of stone and concrete, with metal casement windows, granite lintels and sills and bronze doors. This section was used for radio equipment. The interior has glazed tile walls and cement floors. The six-story tower has five floors of metal and concrete stairs. At the top is a two-level, glass enclosed observation tower.
I love exploring old industrial towns. In Ware, Massachusetts, the urban decay of some buildings provides opportunity and potential, but also so much negative thoughts for long-time residents as it reminds some of the town’s once thriving past. Just off Ware’s Main Street, I spotted this former chapel and had to learn more. This structure was built in 1881 as the second East Congregational Church chapel. The congregation was largely made up of immigrant laborers who worked in the town’s mills. This chapel replaced a Greek Revival building erected in 1857 on Water (Pulaski) Street that was later remodeled by the town into a fire station. That building was destroyed during the Hurricane of 1938. This Victorian Gothic chapel was designed by architect Eugene C. Gardner of Springfield, who was very busy in central/western Massachusetts. The chapel long was used by church members for spillover events and social gatherings. Later, the building became the office of the Ware River News.
One of the later mill buildings constructed in the mid-19th century for the Otis Company is this brick building which contributes to the rich industrial heritage of the town. Built in at least three stages, this long industrial building probably grew from a middle section dating 1856, expanded in both directions over the next several decades and but was largely completed by 1869. The building was a major manufacturer, supplying thousands of jobs for the town until it closed after WWII. In 1945, the top two stories of this building along with their towers were removed in 1945, which echoes the history of many similar mills all over New England (but hey, at least this one is occupied today!)
Originally owned by marble dealer Daniel Kent (1793-1858) in the 1850s at the height of marble quarrying in the town of Dorset, Vermont, this house shows the history of Dorset very well in its alterations and ownership. After the marble dealer Kent passed away, the property was owned by watchmaker Luke B. Gray (1825-1878). Soon after, homeopathic physician Charles Farrar Harwood (1833-1902) and family moved in. His son, Elmer Harwood (1885-1960), the first Rural Free Delivery mailman in Dorset, continued living here, likely renovating the home with the oversized front porch and charming rustic quality. Harwood oversaw the delivery of mail to the rural farmhouses and village of Dorset, which previously made individuals living in remote homesteads had to pick up mail themselves at sometimes distant post offices or pay private carriers for delivery. In 1965, the home was remodelled and sold it to Hugh Vanderbilt, the son of Robert Thurlow Vanderbilt (yes of that family) whose primary residence was in Greenwich, Connecticut. This new ownership showed how the town of Dorset became popular as a rural/country retreat for the wealthy, many of those families remain here today, preserving these old homes.