Lancaster isn’t known as a town of summer retreats, but there are a handful of gorgeous historic summer houses built for urban residents of Boston and Worcester to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life and to take in the natural Massachusetts scenery. One of these houses is the Mary Johnson House, built in 1910. When Mary E. Johnson mapped plans for her summer mansion to be built in 1909, her husband had been dead for 14 years.The Norwegian-born Iver Johnson was a successful businessman. He made guns, bicycles and motorcycles for many years in Worcester and Fitchburg. Iver Johnson firearms gained some notoriety when they were used in assassinations in the United States of President William McKinley and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and in an attempt on the life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Johnson firearms were also issued to all the Moscow mounted police in Russia in 1907 – 10 years before the Russian Revolution. The Arts and Crafts mansion built for Iver’s widow was designed by Herbert Langford Warren, founder of the School of Architecture at Harvard University. She died in 1915 and the property was taken over by the McAlister-Hawk School, a prestigious preparatory school for boys. In 1934, the school was sold to Dr. Franklin Perkins, who moved what was originally known as the Hillbrow School in Newton to Lancaster. The school, renamed in Dr. Perkins’ honor, occupied the 120-acre Johnson estate, serving children with developmental disabilities and emotional and mental health needs.
Harkness Estate – Eolia Mansion // 1908
Eolia, the Harkness Estate, sits on the shoreline of Waterford, Connecticut and is significant as one of the most complete grand-scale, seaside estates in Connecticut. Similar to Seaside Sanatorium (featured previously), the Harkness Estate is another Connecticut State Park in the coastal town, but is quite opposite as the buildings and grounds are in much better condition and get use! The property was developed as a formal seasonal retreat and working farm in the early 1900s for William Taylor and Jessie Stillman, until it was purchased by Jessie’s sister Mary and her husband Edward Harkness soon after. Edward S. Harkness (1874-1940) spent most of his life managing, with his older brother Charles, a tremendous fortune built up by their father Stephen Harkness, who had had the foresight in 1870 to become John D. Rockefeller’s business partner by investing in the Standard Oil Company. Edward Harkness married Mary Stillman, daughter of wealthy New York attorney Thomas E. Stillman, in 1904. Mary’s maternal grandfather was Thomas S. Greenman, a shipbuilder in Mystic, Connecticut, who co-founded George Greenman & Co shipyard (now part of the Mystic Seaport Museum). As the centerpiece of this summer estate, the premier NY architectural firm of Lord & Hewlett, designed this stunning Renaissance Revival mansion which holds a whopping 42-rooms. Mary hired female landscape architect Beatrix Farrand to design the absolutely stunning gardens on the grounds. In 1918, Edward Harkness was ranked the 6th-richest person in the United States, and the couple decided to give away much of their wealth, including selling off some of their property in Waterford for Camp Harkness for children with polio. Mary and Edward were very private people who avoided public attention and acclaim, unlike many of the rich of today. Mary Harkness’s final gift, was written in her will, that her beloved estate Eolia, would be gifted to the State of Connecticut.
Stay tuned for some more buildings on this stunning estate!
Marion Nichols Summer Home // 1935
This summer estate in Hollis, NH epitomizes the hidden architectural splendor that can be found off the beaten path in many small New England towns. Hollis began serving as a summer destination in the late 1880s and the trend continued until WWII. In many cases, old family homesteads became summer residences for descendants who had moved to the city but desired to return to their “roots” periodically. The Nichols Home is unique in Hollis as it was designed to be a summer retreat for a well-to-do widow and her considerable servant staff, combining all the comforts available with the advantages of a rural retreat. The design of the main house offers separate living spaces for the family and the servants, including a library, living room and dining room for the use of the family. The servants’ wing was designed to include a two-car garage, a butler’s pantry, a manual dumbwaiter connecting the basement and first floor used to transport fireplace wood and a receiving unit for the delivery of milk, groceries and other goods. Sleeping porches, capitalizing on the benefits of the fresh country air, are an integral component of the house design and are included in both the family and servant wings. The home was designed by the Boston architectural firm of Densmore, LeClear & Robbins, who were hired by the 52 year old widow’s children for their mothers’ summer home. It is said that Ms. Nichols never liked the home and decided to summer instead at the old family summer home down the street.
“Seas the Day” Cottage // 1875
This quaint little summer cottage in Wesleyan Grove was built in 1875 for Hanson Arnold, a merchant and methodist from Woonsocket, R.I. The home is typical of many other summer cottages in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard, with its delicate stick work, turned posts, full-length porch, and second story balcony with pierced bargeboards. The home was at one point named “Seas the Day”, a trend of naming the cottages occurred sometime in the 20th century by families who summered on the island, many incorporating the family’s name somehow. The home was restored recently with all new detailing and a reversion back to the original porch configuration.
Governor Oliver Ames Summer House // 1878
This stunning Victorian home in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard was built in 1878 as a summer home for Oliver Ames (1831-1895), a businessman, investor and Governor of Massachusetts. Oliver Ames was the son of Oakes Ames, who is credited by many historians as being the single most important influence in the building of the Union Pacific portion of the transcontinental railroad. After his father’s death in 1873, Oliver Ames became the executor of his father’s vast estate and business dealings, and spent vast sums of money on properties in the places he lived including North Easton, MA, Boston and Martha’s Vineyard. He summered at this large home fronting the ocean in Cottage City, then a part of Edgartown. He decided to run for state senate in 1879, after he was unsuccessful in securing passage for the separation of the Martha’s Vineyard community of Cottage City, where he owned a summer house, from Edgartown. Winning election, he saw through the incorporation of the town (now known as Oak Bluffs). Ames served as the Governor of Massachusetts between 1887 and 1890, and continued to summer in his beachfront home during that time. The eclectic Victorian home blends many popular styles at the time from the Shingle style with the continuous shingle siding, the Stick style with the delicate stick-work at the veranda, to Queen Anne with its asymmetric massing and square tower.
Melville Walker House // 1860
Built for Melville Walker, a sea captain on land gifted to him by his father, this home perfectly exhibits the changing dynamic of Kennebunkport. Melville Walker would often be out at sea for months at a time, and he apparently brought along his wife, three daughters and son on many trips to ports all over the world. The Italianate home was eventually sold out of the family, and by 1901, it was purchased by George Little, an executive with the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad. That year, he had the summer home renovated with Colonial Revival detailing, including the hipped roof, dormer, and other detailing. The belvedere, 2/2 windows, and Victorian era porch were retained, showing the original form and detailing of the Italianate version. In the 1950s, the home was converted to an inn, with small cottages constructed surrounding the property to house additional families. Today, Maine Stay Inn & Cottages welcomes families from all over the world to experience the beauty of Kennebunkport.
Derby Summer House // 1793
The Derby Summer House is a rare and excellent example of a formal eighteenth century garden house designed with, the lightness of detail which, characterized the Federal Style. It was built in 1793-94 by Samuel Mclntire, the noted craftsman-carpenter of Salem. The structure was built in Elias Hasket Derby’s farm garden in present-day Peabody (now the site of a shopping mall) and featured two figures on the roof; a Milkmaid and Reaper, designed by John and Simeon Skillin of Boston (removed at the time of the photos). The Derby Farm eventually purchased by Mrs. William Crowninshield Endicott, a descendant of the original owner, and she had the summer house transported to Glen Magna Farm 4 miles away. The structure is now a National Historic Landmark.