Saturday, December 31, 2011

Joseph Pulitzer House

New York, New York

You know the maps.  Every concierge in New York City hands them out while circling the hotel location so you can find your way back to them.

We weren't staying at a hotel.  Just a day trip. But the maps are a great reference tool.  I was waffling.  Guggenheim or Whitney?  But could this be mid-town house museum?  Here on the map is the Joseph Pulitzer House right near the Whitney at 11 E 73rd Street.   Sure sounds like a house museum.

We ducked into the nearest hotel and asked the concierge for help.  He wasn't familiar with this house museum but a google search produced more info.  As we headed back onto the busy cold streets we took a closer look at the printout.

Wait just a minute!  This is the I.S. 145 Joseph Pulitzer school in Queens.  Not ready to go back to middle school we ditched this for the day and decided the computer in my warm cozy office at home was the best place to investigate further.

Joseph Pulitzer was easy to research and a pretty interesting guy.  Yet a thorough history of the house was found on a most unusual web site - the New York City Chapter of the American Guild of Organists.  That's right!  They've got an on-going project documenting all the organs, past and present, in the five city boroughs.  And Pulitzer's house, with an Aeolian organ, was listed under the category of "non-extant or moved residents and yacht."

 Joseph Pulitzer is well known for founding a newspaper empire, funding the establishment of the Columbia School of Journalism, and creating the Pulitzer Prizes honoring excellence in journalism and the arts.

The Pulitzer's family home on East 55th St was destroyed in a fire in 1900.  He subsequently hired Stanford White to design a lavish new mansion on 73rd St.  After living in the mansion for only 8 years he passed away and his family moved out.  It was vacant for a few years and then plans were developed to replace it with a new apartment building but the Depression intervened.  Over a twenty year period the mansion was slowly converted into apartments.  In the early 1950's another high rise replacement plan was proposed. When the plan was abandoned the building was converted into a cooperative.

The good news is this Stanford White designed mansion was saved from the wrecking ball on multiple occasions.  The bad news is .... we can't visit.

Back to the important stuff. My visit to the Guggenheim was fantastic.  Not crowded and saw a fascinating retrospective of  Maurizio Cattelan's work.

Go to  for pictures and mansion history.

Friday, December 16, 2011

White Christmas in Arizona

Just looked back to an early posting on this blog.  I was sure I had included a somewhat obscure and seasonal bit of information in a May 2009 entry.  But no. It's not to be found.

The posting I am referring to is about the Biltmore Hotel in Phoenix Arizona.  I remember it clearly from our tour as we walked around the pool on a warm sunny day.  There in the blog entry is a picture of the pool.  Yet no mention of ............  Irving Berlin composed the song White Christmas while sitting around the very same pool.  No doubt on another sunny warm day!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

$6.2 M Rehab

 "Historic Houses of NY State, A.G. Smith, Dover Publications, 1997.

This is going to be one long period of delayed gratification!  Many house museums are closed during the winter months.  I understand that.  Heating costs to keep the few cold weather enthusiasts from freezing solid to the floor boards would be astronomical.

But when Sagamore Hill closes on Dec 5 a three year $6.2 million dollar rehab will commence. A much smaller exhibit will be housed in another building on the property.

Sagamore Hill is the 28-room Queen Anne shingle-style mansion in Oyster Bay on Long Island, NY that Teddy Roosevelt built and used as the summer White House during his presidency from 1901-1909.  The home is now part of the National Park Service holdings and has not had any major renovations in more than 50 years.  The electrical, heating, security and fire safety systems will all be upgraded.  A new roof, gutter and drains will be installed.  Exterior work also includes restoration of 78 windows and doors, porches and siding.

To protect the home's contents everything must be packed up, stored and catalogued on a computer spreadsheet.  Workers began this herculean task nine months ago.  There is one particular prize possession not yet protectively shrouded and put away for safe keeping - the 10-foot-elephant tusks inlaid with silver ornamentation.  Any suggestions on the best place to keep these babies for a few years?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Martha and Me

I'm happy to report that Martha Stewart has been adding to the house museums on her website. Since my September 12, 2011 post she has added two homes to American Treasures.

Here's the complete list:

Great Camp Sagamore : Raquette Lake, NY
Gropius House : Lincoln, MA
Adamson House : Malibu, CA
Bonnet House : Fort Lauderdale, FL
Beauport, Sleeper-McCann House : Glouster, MA
Historic Deerfield : Deerfield, MA
Hollyhock House : Los Angeles, CA

To read more about the homes go to :

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Sign Up Now

Something new!  I just added a feature to the blog where you can sign up to be notified by email when a new posting has been added.  That way you don't have to check in all the time only to find out there's nothin goin on that day or maybe worse try to figure out a pattern of postings.  It doesn't exist.

Just look up to the right hand corner where it says follow by email.  Enter yours and hit submit.

It's that easy!


Manchester, VT

I want a DO OVER!  I just didn't have enough time.

For the record my do over includes sunny skies.  But don't mess with the gold and russet leaf colors that were still stunning on this late October visit. 

Hildene, is the family home of Abraham Lincoln's only surviving son, Robert Todd Lincoln, and his wife, Mary Harlan Lincoln. Vermont is not a state that I  associate with the Lincoln family. So my first question is why, aside from the obvious beauty, did Robert build here?

Easily explained. Robert's first visit to Manchester, VT was in the summer of 1864 when he, his mother and brother, Tad, stayed at the Equinox Hotel. ( By the way the Equinox is still a handsome hotel on main street. It's also part of the Starwood Hotel Group where we typically rack up points and then use them for hotel stays! Oh good find!) His second connection to the area prior to building was that his Chicago law partner owned a home and land in Manchester and he often visited  him there.

In 1902 Robert purchased 500 acres and built a 24-room Georgian Revival summer home on a promontory overlooking the Battenkill Valley.  The entrance on historic RT 7A begins a long drive bordered by massive trees that leads you up, up and back from the road to the  mansion.  Once there the view of the surrounding mountains and valleys is picture post card perfect.

Now in the ideal visit you've allowed yourself enough time to linger outside, photographing the sweeping vistas.  Then without feeling rushed you'd slowly gracefully enter the foyer.  But wait that's my next visit, not this one.  In this one I rushed up the hill past a group of four and barged into the sedate foyer as if I was a six month old puppy.

Hildene is the only house in the US where only direct descendants of Abraham Lincoln continuously lived.   That's why the house is in the unusual position to say that almost everything in the house (the furniture, the china, the books, the contents of the office safe) belonged to the family.

The last owner , Peggy Lincoln Beckwith, was a colorful personality with a zeal for life.  She passionately adopted and then just as abruptly dropped photography, flying , painting, and golf. While living in the home she was typically dressed in overalls and personally tended to the animals and workings of the farm.   She judged value for herself and in one instance used a signed Gustav Stickly piece of furniture as a work bench.  When one of the tools was too long for the top drawer she just carved a circular hole through which a long tool could poke out.

Hildene is once again a working farm. On sale at the gift shop are cheeses made from the goat milk of Hildene's herd of Nubian goats.

Just prior to the start of the tour our attention was drawn to the 1000 pipe organ in the entrance hall on the stair landing.  The player organ was a gift of Robert to his wife, Mary, in 1908. Our musical recognition skills were tested with a tune.

What an odd choice.  Dixie in a Lincoln home?  Can't be.  Yet the tune was one of Abe's favorites and only after his life became associated with the confederate states.

My fav - the dining room wall paper.  The wallpaper installed by daughter Mamie  is obviously a stand out.  It's actually a 3D application with layer built upon layer.  And the trees individually clipped or pruned prior to application.

A second choice is the screen or room divider that Robert built himself for his grandchildren.  It's adorned with pages from children's storybooks.  At bedtime the kids could point to their choice for the evening.  I like that because I can see the person he was, a grandfather with a loving connection to his grandchildren.

Just before leaving I had an interesting conversation with the house historian, Gary, about why some of us find history  fascinating and it puts others to sleep.  His theory - an early history teacher way back there in elementary or middle school either sparked a passion or had you nodding off.  She/he was someone who imbued the story of history with life rather than bullet notes in a chapter outline.

I've patiently been ticking off those elementary school teachers at Samuel Smith in Burlington, NJ.  So far no one stands out as an inspiring history buff.  On to middle school or junior high as it was called then.

Here's two interesting history tidbits I didn't learn during my visit but later while I surfed the web.

The law firm that Robert Todd Lincoln founded with Edward Isham was dissolved in April 1988.  Internal squabbling amongst the partners was blamed. 


Edward Ishams' daughter Ann Elizabeth was one of only four female first class passengers to die in the Titanic sinking.   There was a woman seen in the water following the sinking with her arms wrapped tightly around a dog.  It's speculated that she drowned due to her refusal to leave her Great Dane dog behind.

OK those tidbits are little side notes not related to Hildene. Yet isn't that the fun of history?  You never know where the story is going to take you. 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Highfield Hall


I'm almost ready to pack up and move to Cape Cod. Not only are there numerous house museums to visit but Highfield Hall has the most interesting events calendar. There's art exhibits, cooking classes, jazz nights, lectures, nature walks and a Holiday Ball.

Highfield Hall is a fascinating place, both it's history and current usage.

When the railroad from Boston and New York transformed Cape Cod from sleepy fishing and farming villages wealthy families began building summer estates to escape the city heat (not so different from today). In 1878 the Beebe's of Boston, heirs to a dry goods fortune, built two Stick-style Queen Anne mansions on a 700 acre property in Falmouth,MA.

For a mere 50 years or so the homes remained in the family but when the last heir passed away the property was sold and began a journey through different owners and uses. Attention to the beauty and possibilities of the estate waxed and waned. For a period the two mansions were used as a hotel and later the estate housed a theater and school. (Reminds me of the inn in White Christmas. The movie with Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye. But that being the movies the inn was saved before it slid into disrepair. Not the case here.)

The two mansions suffered from years of neglect and vandalism until in 1977 one of the two grand homes, Tanglewood, was demolished. Highfield Hill continued its decline and was nearly razed as well. Eventually it was saved by a local ordinance enacted two days earlier.

I found the preservation story of the home fascinating. Loved the pictures of volunteer supporters doing the dirty work of cleaning up;local government involvement in the 11th hour rescue; and the professional manner in which the house is now run and presented to the public. This extraordinary example of local initiative was recognized with a 2010 Preservation Award from the Massachusetts Historical Society.

The estate now is a vibrant community asset offering public viewing of the mansion, a full calendar of cultural events, and rental availability. The current non-profit owners have achieved their goal as outlined in their strategic plan " to create a new model for an historic house that's not a static display, but a house that is to be used and treasured by the entire community."

While tours of the house must be prearranged and are for groups only, a room just off the entrance has a permanent exhibit with a full history of the family and their estate.

Wish I had taken some notes. Since our September visit the details have slipped my mind. I vaguely remember some melodrama with a father rushing to his suicidal daughter's bedside and the carriage colliding with and killing a local ten year old boy. Even an internet search on that didn't turn up the details.

You can see from the pictures that this house can be a wonderful venue for a wedding "at home" if you don't happen to have a floor plan that can comfortably accommodate hundreds of people.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Got Plans this Weekend?

What are you doing this weekend? Live close to New York City? Love architecture, culture, learning or outdoor activity?

It's Open House New York (OHNY) weekend and the Historic House Festival.

The 9th annual OHNY weekend will be held Saturday Oct 15 and Sunday October 16. The event showcases hundreds of New York City's most architecturally and culturally significant spaces and places, many of which are not usually open to the public. They'll be site talks, tours, performances and family activities.

Especially appealing: OHNY just announced two days ago that the newly renovated, and not generally open to the public TWA Terminal at JFK will be open on Sunday from 1-4 P.M.

This year the Historic House Trust has partnered with OHNY and will hold its annual Historic House Festival on the same weekend. The theme for the Festival is NYC Never Tasted So Good: Celebrating Culinary History and Contemporary Food Trends. Each of the 23 historic house in the city's five boroughs will be holding food themed tours and entertainment.

Want to fit your exercise workout into the weekend? Try the bike tour of Queens stopping at all of the Trust homes and cool eating spots.

A weekend packed with fun activities. Will the weather cooperate?

Check out these websites.

Friday, October 7, 2011


Nancy, the chairwomen of the Museum committee, very kindly responded to the question about the Josiah Dennis Manse in my last blog entry.

"The round stone at the front door is one half of a millstone. The other half is at a door at the back of the Manse. If you visit a working grist mill (There is one in Sandwich, MA) you will see this kind of mill stones actually grinding the corn."

Wish I had a picture of the back door for you.

What I do have and will blog on at some point is exterior and interior photo's of the 1745 school house that is on the property.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Josiah Dennis Manse Museum


Missed this house museum by one day on my first visit to the Cape this June and you may have visited before me if you read the July 26 post to this blog. The Josiah Dennis Manse Museum held its grand reopening after the town of Dennis completed a 2.7 million dollar five year restoration. So the home was a must see on our September return trip to the Cape.

The incredibly well informed guides held our attention with stories about the home, its inhabitants, and maritime life on Cape Cod. But there was one particular story that we all focused on.

Floating lighthouses were once used to keep ships safe from shallows,reefs and other treacherous waters. They were in use between 1820 and 1985 with the heyday being 1909. At least initially they were without they're own power and were hauled out to the site by another boat. They were eventually replaced by buoys, LNB's(large Navigational Buoys)or Texas Towers.

Back in 1918 the Cross Rip Lightship with 6 crew members on board was towed to its post in the Tuckernuck Shoals. After a long winter the boat became encased in a frozen sea. The First Mate walked a long 3 miles back to shore to ask permission to abandon the Cross Rip before the boat was washed out to sea as the granite anchor had been pulled loose in the melting ice.

The owners refused permission to abandon the ship reminding the mate of the lightship creed "You have to go out; you don't have to come in." Chilling!

And they didn't come in. A few months later a rudder and American flag from the Cross Rip lightship washed ashore.

Want to tour a lightship? There's one berthed at Jack London Square in Oakland,CA that's open for weekend public tours. Or maybe you'd rather read about them. Try Lightships: Floating Lighthouses of the Mid-Atlantic Coast by Wayne Kiklin published in 2007.

One of the best parts of my visit was the discussion in the car on the way home. Mostly I just sat and listened to my 3 companions discuss what they really enjoyed and what was most remarkable about our visit. It was energizing to see others get excited about this house museum. It happens to me all the time.

Here's a little check list for your tour. If your guide doesn't tell you first then be sure to ask about:

* What's strange about the shadow box portrait of Nathan Stone Jr?

* How many other US towns are named after its first minister?

* Why both young boys and girls learned stitchery?

* Why Lulu the pony sailed the seas on a clipper ship?

* Why smoking pipes were made to be broken multiple times?

* How one slept tight on a rope bed?

One more question to June or Nancy. Can you tell me something about the beautiful front step or round stone? I saw something similar, though not as grand, at another Cape house museum.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Winslow Crocker House

Yarmouth Port, MA

You know you're not in just any house museum when there's a large basket of blue booties awaiting you at the front door. It's a sign that more than usual care is being taken to protect the floors and rugs that you're about to trample on.

This 2 story Georgian style house was built in 1780 by Winslow Crocker,a wealthy trader, land speculator and rumored rum runner. As you can see from the photo this is a handsome and sizable building with large rooms. Compare it to other homes of the era and it becomes even more impressive.

Go back to the June 22, 2011 At Home posting for the early 1800's Caleb Nickerson House in Chatham. That comparison helps identify the Crocker house as a true McMansion of it's time.

Crocker died in 1821 and left the house to his two sons. The sons managed to live totally separate lives while sharing the same house. The solution - divide the home vertically by building a wall that split rooms and fireplaces in two.

The Crocker family continued to own the home until the 1930's when it was purchased by Mary Thatcher, the descendant of another original Yarmouth settler. Ms Thatcher, a philanthropist with a passion for collecting antiques, moved the house 6 miles from its original site in West Barnstable to the property next door to her family's original homestead.

Once reassembled beam by beam in its new location she began a restoration not based on historical relevance but on her desire to use the home as a showcase for her antique collection. She stripped the paint from the wood paneled walls, replaced the nineteenth century 6-over-6 style window panes with the colonial style 12-over-12, installed a colonial type fireplace with beehive oven, and added electricity, central heat, a kitchen and bathrooms. The renovation resulted in a colonial Cape Cod house with a twentieth century flavor.

Miss Thatcher always intended the house to be used as a museum and bequeathed the Crocker House and the one next door to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, now Historic New England. It has been a house museum since the late 1950's.

Because my visit fell on the afternoon of the All Around the Common event the second floor was not open for visitors but... Just as I was about to leave a guide from the Captain Bangs Hallet House lamented how she had never seen the entire house. With the tour closing down in five minutes and on a whim, Bill the veteran tour guide, welcomed her to the second floor and with a wave of his hand invited me to come along.

Interesting Question: Were Crocker and Thatcher related? According to the folks at Historic New England "they are thought to be related, at least by marriage, and possibly several times over."

Thursday, September 22, 2011

All Around the Common

Spent another lovely few days on the Cape (Cape Cod, MA). And since we weren't biking we had plenty of time for house museums.

As we approached the Captain Bangs Hallet House in Yarmouth Port traffic slowed to a crawl. A long line of cars cruised around the green searching for a parking space. Without realizing it we had wondered into the annual "All Around the Common" event that's held one Sunday each autumn. The two house museums, church, and artist's home which surround the common are all open to the public and free of charge for the afternoon.

Once parked my husband immediately spotted the straw hatted man casting antique fly rods on the green and went to inquire and try his hand at flicking his wrist.

The Captain Bangs Hallet house had a cookie and cider table set up on the front porch and a steady line of visitors. The usual tour had been dispensed with for the day. There was no second floor showing but each room on the first had a well informed period costumed guide. The house is "the only fully furnished Sea Captain's home open to the public on Cape Cod". And the earlier period kitchen in the basement of the home has a collection of early household gadgets.

Does the name Edward Gorey ring a bell to you? Didn't to me either but you might recognize his pen and ink drawings that still frame the introduction and credits on PBS Mystery! Gorey was an American author,artist,playwright and set designer who lived in one of the oldest homes on the common. It's now a museum dedicated to his life's work.

The art sale was held in the New Church. The church was built in 1870 by a group of Yarmouth residents who were followers of the 18th century theologian Emanuel Swedenbborg. Today it's owned and managed by a non-religious organization and is used as a community site.

I'll soon post another entry on one more house museum on the common, the Winslow Crocker House.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Martha and Me

Martha and I both have an interest in house museums and historically important homes. We've both recently commented on house museums in California and suggested a short list of homes to visit or view.

But here's the difference. Martha gets to take pictures of the interior while I'm prohibited! (There's lots of other differences but who's counting?)

Who's Martha and why is she entitled to this unusual access?

Martha is the media mogul Martha Stewart. Ah, now it becomes clear.

The September 2011 edition of Martha Stewart Living has a nice little piece on the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Hollyhock House in Los Angles. There are two exterior shots but most of the wonderful photos are of the interior highlighting the rich wood accents.

I followed the article's "more on-line logo" and found that Stewart's website has a tab devoted to house museums, American Treasures. While not extensive there are 5 homes listed, two of which I've seen and 3 others I'd like to. In fact for lots of great interior shots of my recent post, the Gropius House, see Martha's website.(

Does the website update this section with additional homes? I don't know the answer to that but I'll be checking it out from time to time and looking for those interior shots that I'll never get.

Here's a shot of an interior I can take photos of 24/7.

my kitchen

Friday, August 19, 2011

National Trust Count

And the count can be posted.

Almost 30%

Should I make a goal of 100% ?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

National Trust for Historic Preservation

I'm a little blown away by this! Last month I joined the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Now I can't stop counting in my head all the fascinating nuggets of information that undoubtedly I've missed in the last few years before I finally got around to it.

This week on their website I found two Cape Cod restoration articles: Provincetown Town Hall and the Brewster Meeting House. And Chatham, a town we'll be visiting this fall, has been identified as one of the dozen distinctive destinations in the Northeast.

Closer to our home is a Norwalk,CT national register site that I often pass by. The inn next door purchased the property in 2001 and planned to demolish it. The hotel was sued and the case was favorably resolved this past winter after a 10 year battle. All fascinating and two of which I knew something about but wasn't actively following. Now it will be easier to keep up to date on these things.

The National Trust was established in 1947. It's motto is "Helping people protect, enhance and enjoy the places that matter to them". My $30 family membership entitles me to a subscription to the award winning Preservation Magazine, free or discounted admission to over 500 historic sites worldwide, discounts on books and merchandise and special discounted rates at participating Historic Hotels of America. And I got this nifty tote that I carry often to show my support.

The website lists the 29 National Trust Historic Sites. I think I'll go count how many I've already visited and missed out on the family member discount. And when I'm finished I'll subscribe to a RSS feed so I'll always be in the know.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Willliam Cullen Bryant Homestead


I was thinking colorful hot air balloons (because of a festival in the 70's) and my friend was reminiscing about cross country skiing on frigid winter days. Yet happily this wonderful sunny warm August day was meant for touring the house museum in Cummington, MA.

William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), is no longer an incredibly well known historical figure. Yet our blue shirted blue eyed young tour guides caught us up to speed with his voluminous accomplishments. For 50 years he was the editor and publisher of the New York Evening Post,now the New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch paper.

Through the fortune he earned there as well as his contacts and influence, he became a major player in the founding of Central Park, the establishment of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a mentor to Walt Whitman and friend and supporter of Abraham Lincoln. Today he is best known as a romantic poet with the poem Thanatopsis being his most famous. Yet those of us who aren't poets may like to know that Bryant Park at 42nd and Sixth Ave in NYC was named for him.

Thirty years after the family's western Massachusetts homestead was sold outside the family he repurchased,enlarged and renovated it. He subsequently spent summers there from 1865 until his death.

The property is now owned by the Trustees of the Reservation. That unique Massachusetts organization's goal is to "preserve, for public use and enjoyment, properties of exceptional scenic, historic, and ecological value". It's diverse properties include historic houses and structures, gardens, gorges and waterfalls, large woodlands, working landscapes, early industrial sites, Native American history sites, and sites with literary connections. The very first home reviewed in this blog, Naumkeag, is a Trustee home.

While chatting with the tour guides I learned about the nationally recognized graduate level Public History Program at U Mass. Public history, that's one of those terms that you intuitively think you understand but when you go to describe it you're like what the heck is that? Anyone want to help me out here? Where's that tour guide when I need him?

My cross country skiing friend suggested a lunch spot that in the winter makes piping hot chocolate. With temps in the 90's we didn't try that but the black bean burger started me on a bean burger binge that I haven't been able to get off. Not complaining though. If it weren't in another state I'd stop in The Old Creamery everyday.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Gropius House

Lincoln, MA

It's hard for the three of us (my husband, daughter and myself) not to speak Walter Gropius's name in anything but a loud, drawn out and somewhat denigrating fashion. Not because we have anything but the highest respect for him but because we saw the wonderful 2010 production of the Glass House at the Resonance Ensemble off Broadway theatre in New York City.

The play is not about Gropius but about Mies Van der Rohe's design of the Farnsworth house and his relationship with its owner. Mies, the plays main character, refers to Gropius many times in this less than respectful manner. So while on our Gropius House tour I asked our guide about this and he hinted at some professional rivalry behind the elongated accentuated pronunciation. Yet for us its hard to shake the habit: G-R-O-P-I-U-S.

My interest in Gropius was also sparked by two recent MOMA exhibits, Bauhaus: Workshops for Modernity (Nov. 2009 - Jan. 2010) and Counter Space:Design and the Modern Kitchen (Sept 2010 - May 2011).

I like modern houses. Yet here in New England it's much easier to locate house museums from the 18th and 19th century. I did visit and post a blog entry on Philip Johnson's Glass House in New Canaan CT. Come to think of it there's another modern home in New England that I've seen in the last 3 years but never posted on, the Frelinghusen House and Studio in Lenox,MA. I need to correct that straight away.

The Gropius house was built in 1938 as his family home. A brochure describes it as : "Modest in scale, the house was revolutionary in impact. It combined familiar elements of New England houses-wood siding, stone foundations, and brick chimney-with industrial materials like glass block, acoustical plaster, and chrome banisters, and the latest technology in fixtures."

Our tour guide was wonderful, an easy going manner, full of interesting personal stories and knowledgeable about the architectural details of the home and Gropius's work. Several times he mentioned Mrs Storrow, the owner of the property prior to Gropius. Anyone who's lived in Boston knows this name well. The winding parkway that follows the Charles river for miles is named after a family patriarch.

A few comparisons with Frank Lloyd Wright came to mind as we wondered through the home and grounds. Most notably they both organized a community of architects, artists, and musicians around themselves. Artistic entertainment and parties at home were used as a way to interact with and inspire their students and associates.

The Gropius house has a wonderful closet filled with some of his wife's possessions including lots of pocket books,a circular hat box, and a metal hat she might have worn to one of the parties. The hat looked like a fascinator, would have fit right in at the recent royal wedding in England. Well maybe not in utilitarian gun metal but say a blue silk?

The night before our visit we were having dinner in Chinatown with old friends from the Boston area. I told them about our planned visit to the house the next day and asked if they were familiar with the architect. Of course! Kathy's childhood home on Moon Hill was part of a Lexington, MA street of homes designed by the Architects' Collaborative, a Gropius lead architectural firm. And in addition her Dad had purchased a Concord,MA home that was a close copy of the Gropius home. I was intrigued and short on time. So we choose to visit the nearby close copy only and I think you'll see from the photo just how close it is!

We had plans in Western Massachusetts for the evening so we couldn't linger as long as we'd have liked. We'll be back to visit the wonderful DeCordova museum which is just down the road and to ask our friend Kathy for a tour of Moon Hill.
(Note: The one really bad photo at the top of this entry is a copy of the one on the Historic New England brochure. Because of the way the landscaping has matured its tough to get a good photo of the house from the front without walking out into the field and you know how I'm ever fearful of ticks and Lyme Disease. All the rest were taken by me that day.)

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Grand Re-Opening

GRAND RE-OPENING! That's a phrase customarily used in reference to restaurants, retail stores, and car dealerships. House Museums- not so often.

But there it was advertised in the local Cape newspaper.

1736 Josiah Dennis Manse Museum
Grand Re-Opening Celebration
Saturday, June 25,2011
Ribbon Cutting 1:00 pm

Wish we could have made it but we left the Cape one day short of the grand re-opening celebration.

Another house moved to next year's list.

You can make it though. The house is open until August 30th on Tuesdays 10-1, Thursdays 1-4 and some Saturdays. The address is Nobscussett Rd, corner of Whig Street, Dennis Village, MA.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

America's Kitchens

For a year now I've been looking at a bookmarked site called "America's Kitchens". When I first found the reference I was fascinated by the idea of a serious study of the kitchen. But for many many months I've rarely visited the site. Yet there it sits very near the top of my long list of bookmarks.

The site referenced is a page on the Historic New England website
( It refers to one of the traveling panel exhibitions sponsored by the association. In 2010 the exhibition was in its inaugural site and there was a year long list of programs associated with it. I tried, several times really, but could never quite get up to the Massachusetts where the mostly evening programs were being held.

But to my surprise it has resurfaced on Cape Cod at the Heritage Museum and Gardens in Sandwich, MA and is on display from April 1 - October 31, 2011. Historic New England describes the exhibit as: "America’s Kitchens traces the role of the kitchen in people’s lives from the seventeenth century to today. Six vignettes (New England Hearth, Plantation Kitchen, Southwest Kitchen, Victorian Kitchen, Efficient Kitchen, and 1950s Kitchen) are created with a combination of room-size graphic murals, artifacts, such as a 1920s Hoosier cabinet, photographs, and personal stories. "

Lucky us. We on the Cape in late June. And while there was no special lecture we were able to view the exhibit. My favorite vignette is the turquoise kitchen. It was originally the second kitchen, used only on special occasions, in an Italian American family's home.

The website lists 7 traveling exhibitions that can be rented and set up around New England in various museums. My favorite title is "From Dairy to Doorstep: Milk Delivery in New England, 1860 - 1960". That's no doubt due to my fond memories of Brownie our milkman. Whoops he was our wonderful Wonder Bread delivery man not milkman. Well neither of them lasted once the supermarket moved into the neighborhood.

The dairy exhibition is the only one of the seven traveling exhibitions that can be viewed on line.
Go to

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Mount - Revisited

Back in the fall of 2008 when I visited Edith Wharton's home, The Mount in Lenox, MA, the board of directors and staff were quite alarmed at the dire financial straights that the home was in. In my blog entry's closing I suggested a donation to insure the continued existence of the home as a house museum open for public tours.

Well I doubt it was my donation that did it but The Mount has reduced its overall debt by nearly 50% since the spring of 2008! They met a significant May 2011 note repayment and feel that momentum is growing.

Bravo! Well done!

Time for another visit? Perhaps. I love the area. There's so much to see within a small radius.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

California Houses

On June 19th my man, Andrew Ferren, added another NY Times article to my essential list of house museum resources. As you no doubt recall from my January 3, 2011 blog entry, he has written two others, one on London, England and an earlier piece on Washington, D.C.

His articles pull together a handful of interesting house museums in one locale. This latest, "California Houses as Celebrities in Themselves" is on the Los Angles, CA. area.

Homes featured in the article include:

Gamble House 1907-1909 : Pasadena: Charles and Henry Greene architects

VDL II House 1932 : Hollywood: Richard Neutra architect

Schindler House 1921-1922 : West Hollywood: Rudolf Schindler architect

Eames House 1949 : Pacific Palisades: Charles and Ray Eames architects

I was reminded of Ferren's London article last night as we watched the 1960 movie, The Grass is Greener with Cary Grant, Deborah Kerr, Jean Simmons, and Robert Mitchum. In that article Ferren compares house museums with street lights, citing that they are equally ubiquitous in London. That's true in Great Britain in general as well.

The movie is about an earl and countess who live in a "stately house" in the English countryside. Stately house is one of several expressions used for house museums in England.

According to Cary Grant or rather the Earl's calculations, there are 400 stately homes in England. The count is now up to 500, an increase of 100 in 51 years. I found some interesting websites and plan to do further research. I certainly would like to do that over there in person but I'll have to opt for an on line effort first.

By the way we were sort of tickled with the movie. It had house museums and fly fishing. Not often you see those two topics tied together. But even with that I wouldn't rate the movie too highly. It was originally a play and apparently they did little rewriting for the film. We fast forwarded through 25 minutes of straight dialogue that had one scene change and no costume changes. Talk about SLOW pace!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A House Museum By Another Name

I spent my early morning hours on Saturday reading portions of the Sunday N.Y. Times and the local Connecticut paper. I found two inspirations for this blog.

The first is an article entitled "An Immigrant from France is Welcomed to New York. It's about a 1955 Citroen Traction Avant. Yes an automobile! The personal stories, historical focus, and "noteworthy features" reminded me of the house museum tours that I so love.

With a few changes this could be a description of a house museum.

"The Traction Avant - the name is French for front-wheel drive, has the look of an old time mobsters car. Made from 1934 to 1957, it was quite innovative by prewar standards. While it wasn't the first car with front drive, it popularized the layout in Europe, and its unibody structure was considered advanced."

A similar passage in my blog might read:

Taliesin West - Welsh for Shining Brow- has an an idiosyncratic modern look. Built from 1937 onward, it was quite innovative for its time. While it's not Wright's most famous construction, he designed many of his well known buildings, including the Guggenheim Museum in New York City, at the compound while living here during the winter months.

And doesn't this part sound like the description of a some kitchen innovation that proved over time to be a poor solution to the problem it was invented to address?

"The hinged windshield opens at the bottom with a push of a lever on the dashboard. It's useful on rainy days when the windshield fogs up. But you get your trousers wet."

Pictures accompanying the article show dashboard instruments with an art deco flair, personalized pillows, and the badge of the French owners club. In house museum language this might be an art deco vase, embroidered sofa pillows, and a portrait of the family patriarch.

The second article of note that morning is from the local paper, a newspaper so bad it shall go unnamed. There was an article on the only Frank Lloyd Wright designed skyscraper that was ever built. The Bartlesville Oklahoma building was once a corporate headquarters but has been transformed into the Price Tower Arts Center and Inn at Price Tower. The 8 upper floors are now an intimate 21-room hotel.

While the journalist's description of the hotel was most intriguing and her claim that Bartlesville has many more "historic museum-mansions" spurred my interest, Oklahoma is quite a distance from CT and it's way down on my list of places to visit. But here's a few web references to file away. You never know.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Caleb Nickerson House


Twenty minutes into our hour long trip we turned around and headed in the opposite direction. The busy summer season on the Cape hasn't quite started but the long trek up the Cape to Falmouth on Rt 28 for the second day in a row was more than I could tolerate. And while the destination home has an interesting history it isn't truly a house museum. It's more a mansion for hire, perhaps the perfect spot for a summer wedding. But we're not in the market for that.

We made a u turn, passed our little rental cottage in Harwich and drove on to Chatham, the next town down the Cape. ( For a Jersey girl like me who spent every summer on Long Beach Island, this up Cape - down Cape stuff is counter intuitive.)

The Caleb Nickerson House is on a much quieter section of Rt. 28. Vacationers may be whizzing by on their way somewhere but the usual tourist stops of ice cream, beach umbrellas, salt water taffy and restaurants aren't on this stretch of road.

The house is a full Cape - style early 1800's house with a kitchen ell. In 2002 when the valuable land under it was sold for development the eight room house was bought by the Nickerson Family Association and moved by truck and barge to its current site. Over the years the home had undergone remarkably little renovation. Probably because it was being used by another newer larger home on the same property as sleeping quarters for grandchildren on overflow summer nights.

Care was taken to move the house as is because dismantling it would then require reconstruction with today's building codes. Certainly in over 200 years there's been more than a few changes.

The crushed sea shell walk to the back door is lined with an herb garden. Many of the herbs selected and planted in a 1800's kitchen garden were based on their medicinal purposes.

The handsome Egyptian Walking Onion plant, a Canadian transplant, caught my eye. It became popular in kitchen gardens in the 1790's. You'll find the tasty bulb at the tips of the stems rather than deep in the earth. Its name is derived from its self propagation technique of dropping bulbs into the soil that begin to root and form a new plant.

Our well informed guide pointed out many features of an early 19th century home unfamiliar to us.

* Two early convection type ovens were used at the fireplace hearth. The heat from the fireplace slowly cooked the contents. The first one, a simple box, was used for cookies and the second with multiple spiky hooks for quail or other small birds.

* At the base of the front door there is a weather sill. While constructed with the same wooden floor boards it is raised slightly from the regular flooring and forms an arc. It's purpose is to collect the melting sleet and snow from the visitor's soles. The resulting water then drains through small holes to the sand below the house.

*The youngest volunteer guide is watering the garden with an authentic pottery watering can from the era.

We were warmly encouraged to return in January when the yearly beehive oven bake off is held. Sounds yummy but we plan to return to the Cape in early fall when the weather's still glorious and the crowds have gone home. I'm writing a note to myself now to stop first up the Cape in Falmouth. (Doesn't sound right does it? Maybe its down the Cape?)

Monday, January 3, 2011

At Home With house Museums of London

I've found another lover of house museums!! For sure there's more than the two of us but we're not well organized, not vocal, and certainly not as common as streetlights. (Keep reading to unravel this strange analogy.)

A recent Sunday NY Times (Jan 2, 2011) had a wonderful full page article on the many house museums of London. Four are featured and examined fully by the author Andrew Ferran. All four sound fascinating and without a doubt on my list of places to visit the next time I'm in London.

The most intriguing line in the article, the one that makes me giddy and ready to pack my bags is "House museums are to London what streetlights are to most other cities, which is to say everywhere." Think of all those house tours!

While I loved reading the article I wasn't immediately aware that I'd bumped into another lover of house museums but some vague familiarity about the article sent me back to my files. The London article reminded me of a newspaper clipping I had saved in my Washington DC House museum file. I pulled it out for another look.

It's a Feb.1,2009 article entitled "It's Home Sweet Museum in Washington". Maybe you remember it? And the author is the same Andrew Ferran. Read the articles. You'll feel his interest and love of the homes and his joy in sharing them with you. Then you can add another 14 to your list of homes to tour. When spring arrives we'll be ready with our lists of "must sees" for 2011.