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.

Potter House // 1909

Murray Potter (1871-1915), a professor of Romance Languages at Harvard, purchased an older Shingle-style house at this location in Lancaster with the desire for it to become his summer residence with wife, Bessie. They deemed the 1895 house too small and decided to raze the 14 year old dwelling and construct a larger, more academic home. Bessie was born and raised in Salem, and her upbringing was likely the inspiration for their Lancaster house. This home was designed as a copy of the 1782 Pierce-Nichols House in Salem, designed by Samuel McIntire. Murray died at just 44 and Bessie lived at the homes for just a couple summers alone (they did not have children) until she sold or gifted the house in Lancaster to the Perkins School as a dwelling for the unmarried female teachers. It remains owned by the private school.

Lancaster Center School // 1904

Situated on the iconic Town Green of Lancaster, MA, this gorgeous Colonial Revival school building elegantly fits into the surrounding context of stately civic buildings in the small town. The Center School, (now known as the Prescott Building), was designed by architect Herbert Dudley Hale of Boston, and built in 1904 for use as the Town of Lancaster’s first high school. The building committee formed to oversee proposals and funding of the school settled quickly on the desire to see it built in the Colonial Revival style to compliment the other Town Green buildings at the time, most importantly the Charles Bulfinch-designed church at the northern end (more on that tomorrow). The Center School had been used continuously as a public school until 2001, when it outlived its utility as a modern and codified school facility. The building stood vacant for a number of years until it was restored and re-utilized as town offices next to the town hall.

Lancaster Town Hall // 1908

In 1643, Lancaster, Massachusetts, was first settled by colonists as “Nashaway” (named after the local Nashaway Native American tribe). The Nashaway’s principal settlement was a piece of land in what is now Sterling that was located between two ponds, their land occupied much of the land in north-central Massachusetts. The Nashaway Tribe comprised of an estimated 200 individuals, with was reduced in numbers by smallpox and the Mohawk Wars. The town was officially incorporated and renamed Lancaster in 1653, after Lancaster, England, where some of the earlier colonists were from. During Metacom’s War in 1676, which was fought partially in Lancaster, a group of Native Americans pillaged the entire town of Lancaster in response to English colonial brutality against them, a series of bloody raids and attacks left dozens dead. The town was abandoned until the 18th century.

Fast-forward to the 1900s… Lancaster had become a proper town, with a growing population, including some very wealthy residents. In 1906, the three living sons of Nathaniel Thayer (a Boston-area banker, who spent much of his later life in town to get away from the woes of city life) donated funds to the Town of Lancaster to erect a suitable memorial to their late father. The 1848 Town Hall was cramped and not suitable for the town, so it was decided a new town hall building would be constructed in his name. Boston architect Alexander Wadsworth Longfellow (one of my favorites) was hired to design the building, which took 13 months to complete. The Colonial Revival building was built using brick laid in Flemish bond with marble trim. A massive portico with pediment supported by four monumental Doric columns, strict symmetry, and the ocular windows with wreath and other detailing really caught my eye.

William Jelly House // 1905

Ernest Machado, the Cuban-American architect mentioned in the last post is credited with designing this massive Colonial Revival mansion on Beckford Street in Salem. The house was constructed in 1905 for William Jelly, a teller at the Salem Five Cent Savings Bank. William’s family-owned property on the street before he acquired the property, seemingly from his father. Ernest Machado was a locally significant architect who designed stately city mansions and enchanting country estates for some of Boston’s wealthiest families in the late 19th- and early 20th centuries. This home is setback off the street and faces the side, a common practice for larger homes in narrow urban lots. The house has a five bay symmetrical facade facing south, with clapboard sheathing, rusticated quoins, and a modillion cornice. It is topped by a gambrel roof, which has two large interior brick chimneys at the ridge. A Chippendale patterned balustrade stretches between three pedimented dormers which rise above the roof on main facade. Who else loves Colonial Revival houses?!

Jesup Memorial Library // 1910

Bar Harbor’s first library is believed to have been organized in 1875 by a group of summer residents. This collection of 176 volumes was assembled for the use of Mt. Desert’s permanent residents and made available to them for two nights per week. A small frame library was built in 1877. In 1883, the growing collection was turned into a subscription library with borrowing privileges charged at the rate of $1.00 per family, but the fee was dropped three years later. By the late 19th century, the village’s population boomed, especially in the summer months when wealthy families descended upon the sleepy town every year to take in the cooler climate and sweeping scenery of Mount Desert Island. Acknowledging the need for a more suitable library, Maria Van Antwerp DeWitt Jesup, the widow of Morris K. Jesup (1830-1908), a New York financier and long-time summer resident of Bar Harbor, gifted the town funds to erect a new building as a memorial to her late husband. The Colonial Revival style library was designed by the New York firm of Delano & Aldrich, and exhibits a beautiful centered entrance recessed in a limestone arch.

Breeze Cottage // 1896

The marriage of Anna Perkins Pingree to Joseph Peabody in 1866 was a merging of two of the most influential and wealthy families of Salem, Massachusetts. The marriage however did not meet the mark, as the couple eventually had a large falling-out after purchasing a mansion in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood in 1877. In her time away from her estranged husband, Anna became heavily involved in the arts, collecting hundreds of paintings and decorating her homes in Boston, Ipswich, and her new summer cottage in Bar Harbor. In 1896, she had her Bar Harbor cottage built on West Street, a road of substantial summer homes right next to downtown. The Colonial Revival “cottage” sits on the waterfront of Frenchman Bay and has only 12 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms, in 12,500 square feet.

Valentine Hill House // c.1649

Valentine Hill emigrated to Boston in 1636 from England with his brother and began a successful career as a merchant and trader. In 1638 Valentine was made a member of the Artillery Company, In 1640 he took the Freeman’s Oath, and in that same year ordained as a Deacon in the Boston Church. In 1641 he was elected a Selectman serving until 1647. In 1643 Valentine received a grant of land at the falls of the Oyster River in what is now Durham, N.H. In 1649, Valentine and an associate got permission to build a saw mill on the river. Additional grants of land included 500 acres for farming. Due to issues with his businesses in Boston, he moved up to present-day Durham to manage his mills and property there. On the property, he employed “seven Scots”, who were indentured servants captured by British forces in the Battle of Dunbar, and among other industries, lumber was milled for use in the shipbuilding industry in surrounding towns. In 1649 Valentine Hill built the original homestead, a single-story house with a basement. In 1699, Nathaniel Hill, son and heir of Valentine, made a two-story addition to the house, giving the home the appearance we see today. After successive owners, the next major period of the property was early in the 1900’s, when James Frost took over the estate, completing the transformation of the grounds and turned into a Colonial Revival summer estate with extensive formal gardens, arbors and an elaborate stone wall. The property remained in the family until the 1980s, but suffered from some neglect. The house was purchased in 1997 and restored to her former glory and is now known as the Three Chimneys Inn. Interestingly, if this home can be dated with dendrochronology (aging the home based on the age of the cut timber), this home would be at least a decade older than the present oldest home in New Hampshire!

George House // c.1929

This Georgian Revival house was built in the mid-late 1920s for the George Family, who ran a construction company based out of Worcester, Massachusetts. The home was a summer retreat for the family, who acquired a prime lot on Butler Point in Marion, MA, from the Butler’s Point Associates, a group of men who developed the peninsula with the Kittansett Club and desirable house lots from plans by the Olmsted Brothers, landscape architects. The house is prominently sited and is one of the best examples of the Colonial Revival style I have seen in the seaside town. It is clad in cedar shingles as a nod to the vernacular coastal homes and larger Victorian-era summer homes seen in the village.

Ward Parker Delano House // 1797

During the 1790s and early 1800s, the rise of the coastal schooner trade and whaling ushered in a long period of prosperity for coastal towns in New England, which continued unabated until the Civil War. The War of 1812 provided many Marion sailors and sea captains with the chance to experience life at sea with privateers papers issued by the United States government, these captains went to sea in their schooners to hunt down British ships, plundering them like pirates. One of these captains was Ward Parker Delano, who built this house in 1797 overlooking Sippican Harbor. Under subsequent owners in the Delano family, the home was modified on numerous occasions in styles popular at the time until the early 20th century when it was Colonialized, which added the portico, gable, and dentils.