The Ashbel Woodward House in Franklin, Connecticut was built in 1835, on land purchased by Doctor Ashbel Woodward, a prominent local physician, a year prior. Woodward, was a graduate of Bowdoin College, and he began practice in Franklin in 1829, serving as the town’s primary medical practitioner until his death in 1885. Though in his 60s at the outbreak of the Civil War, Woodward perhaps lent his greatest service to his country when he served as a battlefield surgeon and medical facilities inspector for the Union army. Besides his work in medicine, Woodward collected literature and numerous artifacts pertaining to Franklin’s past and eventually wrote a book detailing the town’s history. The Ashbel Woodward House is an excellent example of the Greek Revival architectural style in a five-bay form. Interestingly, there are semi-elliptical windows in the pediment gable ends on the side elevations, seemingly a nod to the Federal style that was waning out of style at the time. The property is in use today as a museum, documenting the life of Dr. Woodward and the people of Franklin, Connecticut.
The Elms – Mrs. Berwind’s Bedroom // 1899
On the second floor of The Elms mansion in Newport, you will find two separate bedrooms for the owners Edward and Sarah Berwind, a husband and wife of high society. The larger of the two bedrooms was for Mrs. Berwind as you know what they say, “happy wife, happy life”. Mrs. Berwind’s bedroom has cream-colored woodwork covered with custom-woven celadon green damask with borders of coordinated green, gold, and cream material. She had an adjoining bathroom and her chambers had access to her husband’s chamber along with a shared fireplace.
The Elms – Sitting Room // 1899
The formal Sitting Room at the Elms in Newport, Rhode Island is one of the many statement-rooms found in the Gilded Age mansion. This room is located directly above the Ballroom and is the first space seen when ascending the main staircase onto the second floor. The sitting room was used by the Berwind Family and their guests as a gathering and socializing space, a little less formal than the ballroom downstairs for more elegant events. The Preservation Society of Newport County has done an amazing job at restoring the building and purchasing furniture and fixtures that were sold off when much of the inside of the property was sold off at auction in the 1960s. The Preservation Society restored the red silk walls fabric in the 1980s, bringing the space back to its original grandeur. I cannot think of a better place to just “sit”.
The Elms – Dining Room // 1899
The Dining Room of the Elms Mansion in Newport, Rhode Island, is represents the Gilded Age in all the best ways. The room sits just off the ballroom and like all of the other rooms in the summer residence of the Berwinds, it was designed by famed interior designer Jules Allard. The dining room was specifically to display a collection of early18th-century Venetian paintings purchased by Mr. Berwind from the Ca’ Corner estate in Venice (the Berwinds were avid collectors of 18th century French and Venetian paintings). The iconic coffered ceiling is not of wood, but of molded plaster, grained and painted to imitate oak. Each coffer is decorated with the winged lion of Saint Mark, the patron saint of Venice. Pour custom-made crystal chandeliers hang in the four corners of the room. At the end of the room is a stunning green marble, agate and onyx fireplace that is framed by a ceiling-high pediment supported by carved Ionic columns. Could you see yourself entertaining in this dining room?
The Elms // 1899
One of my favorite things to do each holiday season is to explore Newport and the mansions all gussied up with lights, ornaments and holiday cheer. This year, I visited The Elms, one of my absolute favorite buildings in Newport, which is a house museum! Stay tuned for some room features, similar to my series last year on The Breakers mansion.
The Elms was commissioned in 1898 by coal baron Edward Julius Berwind (1848–1936) and his wife Sarah Torrey Berwind (1856-1922) as a summer cottage where the couple could escape the woes of city life for a few weeks of every year. Edward was “new money” (his parents were middle-class German immigrants); and by the 1890s, he was hailed as “one of the 58 men who rule America”, making him one of Newport’s most important summer residents. To live up to his new status, he hired Philadelphia architect Horace Trumbauer, who took inspiration from the 18th century Château d’Asnières in France. The site on the iconic Bellevue Avenue is not directly on the water, so Trumbauer sought to enhance the siting of the mansion by elaborate landscaping (more on that later). The house was built to be fireproof, after the complete loss of the original Breakers mansion in 1892 and is clad with Indiana limestone. The couple held many lavish parties in the Elms until 1922, when Mrs. Berwind died. Mr. Berwind invited his youngest sister, Julia, to become his hostess at his New York and Newport houses. Mr. Berwind died in 1936 and Julia continued to summer at The Elms until her death in 1961. Childless, Julia Berwind willed the estate to a nephew, who did not want it and fruitlessly tried to pass The Elms to someone else in the family. Finally the family auctioned off the contents of the estate and sold the property to a developer who wanted to tear it down. In 1962, just weeks before its date with the wrecking ball, The Elms was purchased by the Preservation Society of Newport County for $116,000. It remains one of the most visited house museums in the nation to this day.
Lounsbury House // 1896
One of the (many) stately homes on Ridgefield’s Main Street, this massive Neo-Classical mansion is also among the most visited in Fairfield County. Lounsbury House was built in 1896 by former Connecticut Governor Phineas C. Lounsbury. While attending the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, Governor Lounsbury was so taken by the Connecticut State Building that he built a replica to serve as his family home. The Connecticut State Building was designed by Waterbury-based architect, Warren R. Briggs at a cost of $112,000! Gov. Lounsbury loved this house, which he named “Grovelawn” until his death in 1925. After his death, his heirs were unable to maintain the massive home, and it started to decay. The Town of Ridgefield did not want to see the mansion demolished, and in an early example of historic preservation, the town purchased Lounsbury House in 1945. A school was built behind and nearly ten years later, the home was leased to the The Ridgefield Veterans’ Memorial Community Association. The home is now managed by a board and rented for weddings and community events.
Keeler Tavern // 1713
Around the year 1713, Benjamin Hoyt built a home for himself and his family on Lot 2 of the laid out building lots along Main Street of Ridgefield CT. The building was originally a one room dwelling with a stone fireplace and no basement and was located next to the David Hoyt mansion (aka The Fountain Inn). After several years, he expanded the property by building around and above the structure, to give it the gambrel roof and size we see today. More than 50 years later, in 1769, the property was purchased by Hoyt’s son-in-law, Timothy Keeler. Timothy Keeler and his wife converted the building into an inn in 1772, just prior to the beginning of the American Revolutionary War. Keeler sided with the American revolutionaries and was active in the local militia. After the Battle of Ridgefield, British forces fired on the Keeler Tavern, because Keeler was an enemy. One of the cannons used to pummel the tavern is still lodged in a corner post of the house to this day. After later owners in the Keeler Family, the property was purchased by world-renowned architect Cass Gilbert, who turned it into his family’s summer home in 1907. In doing so, he made various improvements and additions to the building, in particular he designed a Garden House and added a sunken around the year 1910. Gilbert would also design a fountain as a gift to the town, which sits almost opposite his family’s summer residence. The property was purchased in the 1960s and has since been a historical museum.
Ropes Mansion // c.1727
The Ropes Mansion in Salem was constructed in 1727 for merchant Samuel Barnard, a native of Deerfield who moved to Salem and made a fortune in trade. Samuel died in 1762, and the property was willed to his nephew and brother. The property was sold in 1768 to Judge Nathaniel Ropes II. Ropes’s short tenure as an associate justice on the Superior Court of Judicature, the highest court in the colony, was marked by a significant controversy over how judges were paid. Because these royal judges were effectively at the mercy of the colonists, the British proposed paying them directly, through the already-unpopular colonial taxes. This action further outraged Massachusetts patriots, who feared that the judges would become partial to the Crown over colonial interests. Due to this significant backlash from colonists and Patriots, there was significant pressure on these judges to not accept their royal salaries, including Judge Ropes, who promised that he would not accept the royal salary. Although he had refused his royal salary, he nonetheless held Loyalist views, and his position as a high-ranking judge made him a symbol of British power in the colony. According to tradition, in March 1774 an angry mob attacked the house, throwing mud, sticks, and rocks at the windows and calling for Ropes to renounce his allegiance to the Crown. However, at the time Nathaniel was in his bed, gravely ill with smallpox, and he died the following day, with the stress from the mob supposedly being a contributing factor in his death at just 47 years old. With the death of the last two unmarried Ropes sisters, Mary and Eliza, the house and grounds were bequeathed to the Essex Institute (now the PEM) by 1907 for the purpose of establishing a school of botany, as a perpetual memorial to the Ropes family. The stunning public gardens there were laid out in 1912 John Robinson.
Loring-Greenough House // 1760
One of the oldest and most significant homes in Boston is the Loring-Greenough House on South Street in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood. The house was constructed in 1760 for Joshua Loring (1716-1781), a Commodore in the English Colonial naval forces, who sought retirement from military service at this house on the outskirts of Boston. His life as a distinguished member of the Colonial gentry came to an abrupt end with the bitter factionalism of the incipient Revolution, made worse by the fact he was appointed as a member of the governor’s council by Governor Thomas Gage, a position which made him so unpopular that he was reportedly attacked by mobs. A popular story recounts that, asked by an old friend what he would do when faced by a choice between remaining loyal and supporting the popular spirit of revolt, Loring replied “I have always eaten the King’s bread, and always intend to.” Immediately after taking this position as a Loyalist and aligning with the King of England, Loring was forced to flee, with his family, to the safety British-occupied Boston. He was denounced by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress as “an implacable enemy to their country” and later fled to Nova Scotia, before living out the rest of his life in England, where he received a royal pension until his death. The Loring property in Jamaica Plain was quickly taken by Revolutionary forces and was used as a hospital during the siege of Boston. After the Revolutionary War, the property was confiscated by the state in 1779 and sold at auction to private owners.
Anne Doane, a wealthy forty-year-old widow, bought the Loring estate in 1784, in anticipation of her marriage to lawyer David Stoddard Greenough (1752 – 1826). Four generations of their descendants lived in the house until 1924, when the house and the small surviving plot of land on which it stands was purchased by the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, saving it from demolition. The members, all women, were following the example of earlier ladies’ associations, which had saved and begun to restore such historic sites as Mount Vernon and Monticello. The Loring–Greenough property is still owned and operated by the Tuesday Club, which offers tours on Sundays and other programming and events throughout the year.
Governor Henry Lippitt Mansion // 1865
New England is lucky to have so many diverse house museums where architecture and history nerds like me can tour old houses and envision what it was like to live in that era. The Governor Henry Lippitt mansion in Providence stands out as one of the most significant Victorian-era homes in Rhode Island, and contains one of the best-preserved Victorian interiors in America. The mansion was likely designed by local architect Russell Warren, and modified by Henry Lippitt (1818-1891), heir to one of Rhode Island’s leading textile manufacturing families, for his wife Mary Ann Balch (1823-1889) and their six children who survived to adulthood. While Henry was a prominent businessman, his wife Mary may have been even busier. Mary owned and managed rental properties in Providence, including this mansion, giving her husband Henry life tenancy. She oversaw day-to-day running of the mansion, supervising the servants while teaching her daughter Jeanie, who became deaf at age four due to complications from scarlet fever, to read lips and continue to develop her speech. The Lippitt Mansion is an early, and high-style example of an Italianate Villa/ Renaissance Revival design, which moved away from the more prescribed forms of architecture towards the more eclectic, Victorian-era mode. The home features two main facades, with the smaller, west (main) facade featuring a central pavilion with ornate foliate frieze and Corinthian columns, and the north (side) facade – my favorite – with a more commanding presence with a bold porte-cochere. The home remained in the Lippitt family for 114 years, and was later acquired by Preserve Rhode Island, who opened it to the public as a museum in 1993.