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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of three pre-1725 houses in South Acton, the Faulkner Homestead is the best preserved First Period house in the area and displays elements from its First Period construction date of 1707 and from the later Georgian period. The home was built for Ephraim Jones, who was one of the first millers starting what was to become the Faulkner mills located near the old homestead. The home was known as a Garrison House, built as a refuge for the settlers in times of Indian raids, but there is no record that it was ever used for that purpose. In the 1730s, the home was rented by Ammi R. Faulkner (1692-1756), who purchased it years after he moved in. The Faulkner Homestead remained in the Faulkner Family for over 300 years, when it sold our of the family in the 1940s.
For the last post in this series on Bristol, Rhode Island, I am leaving you with a house that is architecturally stunning, but holds a dark history. Linden Place was built in 1810 by slave trader, merchant, privateer and ship owner George DeWolf and was designed by architect, Russell Warren. The DeWolfs of Bristol, who became the biggest slave-trading family in U.S. history, transported well over 11,000 Africans to the Americas between 1769 and 1820. The U.S. banned the slave trade in 1808, but the DeWolfs continued dealing in the slave trade until the 1840s by going through Cuba, where they had numerous plantations. They also got help from a DeWolf brother-in-law, who served as a customs inspector in Bristol — thus ensuring family slave ships continued to come and go. In 1825, George DeWolf suffered major financial hits and he and his family fled to his plantation in Cuba, where they’d be beyond reach of his creditors. Stories explain that with the possibility of legitimate payment out of the question, the townspeople sought compensation for George’s debts where they could, and they broke down the front door of Linden Place, and took everything, even peeling the silk wallpaper off the walls.
Following DeWolf’s bankruptcy, the house was bought by his uncle James DeWolf, who was alleged to have directed the murder of a female African slave in 1789 who was sick with smallpox on the slave ship Polly, which he commanded; she was bound to a chair and lowered overboard. James DeWolf was tried and effectively acquitted; which, sadly, should not surprise anyone based on historical precedent. In fact, James DeWolf financed another 25 slaving voyages, usually with other members of his family and was thought to be the second richest man in the United States upon his death in 1837. In later years the house passed to Samuel Pomeroy Colt, a grandson of George DeWolf (as well as the nephew of the inventor of the Colt revolver). His son Russell married actress Ethel Barrymore, who was the great-aunt of current actress Drew Barrymore, and lived in the home. Today, the grand estate is a house museum and event space.
This stunning house was built in 1694, possibly with structural members from an earlier parsonage, by Beverly’s first minister, Rev. John Hale (1636–1700). Hale is now best remembered for playing a significant part in the infamous Salem witch trials in 1692. Hale’s theory was that demons impersonated the accused and appeared in their forms to the afflicted. He probably most likely changed his views about those executed for “being witches” due to the fact that his own wife (the second one) was accused as being a witch, though never prosecuted. Hale served as the minister of the First Parish Church of Beverly (last post) until his death. This home, just a short walk to his church, was the finest in town at the time. The house featured numerous additions and alterations over its time including the gambrel section added in 1745. The Hale House remained in the family for 12 generations, and was eventually gifted to the local historical society, now known as Historic Beverly in 1935. It now operates as a house museum.
Located on Asbury Street in Hamilton, MA, this large farm estate has a whole lot of history! The home was constructed around 1786 as a family farm for the Smith Family. After successive owners and a changing dynamic of the town from agriculture to suburb, the home was purchased in 1928 by the siblings of Beatrice Ayer, the daughter of Frederick Ayer an industrialist. The home was a gift to Beatrice and her husband, George S. Patton. George Patton (1885-1945) is best-known as a military officer who was an outstanding practitioner of mobile tank warfare in the European and Mediterranean theatres during World War II. The general was colorfully referred to as “Old Blood-and-Guts” by his men and he played a key role in defeating the German counterattack in the Battle of the Bulge, after which he led them across the Rhine River and into Germany, capturing 10,000 miles of territory and liberating the country from the Nazi regime. Patton died in Germany in December 1945 following an automobile accident. His death left his wife, Beatrice, and four children to preside over their Hamilton farm alone. Beatrice died in 1953 in a hunting excursion. At the time of his mother’s death, General George S. Patton IV was serving in Korea. He and his family took over the family home. George Patton IV died in 2004, and his wife, Joanne Patton eventually gifted the family home to the Town of Hamilton. The site is now a cultural center and archive which can be rented out for events.
Chesterwood is the former summer home, studio and gardens of American sculptor Daniel Chester French (1850–1931), who is best known for creating two of our nation’s most powerful symbols: the Minute Man (1871–75) at the Old North Bridge in Concord, Massachusetts, John Harvard in Harvard Yard, and Abraham Lincoln (1911–22) for the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Daniel Chester French was one of the most successful artists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, producing more than 100 works of public sculpture. In the fall of 1895, he and his wife drove by horse and buggy and discovered the resort town of Stockbridge. They returned the next summer and purchased the Marshall Warner farm from the family who had purchased the land from Mohican Native Americans. The French family and two maids moved into the white clapboard farmhouse the next summer. To ensure that his summer would be productive as well as restful, he improvised a studio in the barn. He asked his friend and colleague, architect Henry Bacon, to design a studio for him (Bacon would later work with French on the Lincoln Memorial). Soon, in spite of renovation, the original farmhouse was deemed inadequate and French commissioned Bacon to design a residence, completed in 1901. The family owned the home for decades, even after Daniel Chester French’s death. Much of the credit for Chesterwood’s preservation and metamorphosis from summer retreat to public site belongs to Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973), the sculptor’s daughter. After her parents’ death, she maintained the property and began to use it year-round, assembled the work of her father, and established the estate as a historic site of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.