Wednesday, January 7, 2015
January 7, 2015: Waltham Histories: Historic Homes
[Two years ago this week, I moved to my new home in Waltham, Massachusetts. Since then I’ve learned a lot more about the histories and stories of this great town, and wanted to share a few of them this week, leading up to a Guest Post from one of my favorite Walthamites!]
On AmericanStudies connections for three of Waltham’s most historic houses.
In my Waltham experience, Gore Place (or rather its spacious grounds) provided the spot on which the boys and I enjoyed our second visit to Circus Smirkus. But the estate of Massachusetts Governor Christopher Gore, built in 1806 as a summer home for Gore and his wife Rebecca and then turned into the couple’s permanent year-round home after 1816, has a lot to offer even when the circus isn’t in town. Known as the “Monticello of the North,” the estate’s house in particular is widely considered one of the most significant Federal Period mansions, and as a result of its architectural prominence has been designated a National Historic Landmark. I’ve wondered elsewhere in this space about whether preserving such historic homes is worth the effort and expense required—and of the many arguments in favor of such preservation, helping record our evolving architectural history, and thus the cultural and social elements to which it connects, is a particularly potent one.
In my Waltham experience, the Lyman Estate has stood out for its amazing historic greenhouses—I happened to discover the estate and greenhouses on the course of a daily summertime walk, and have returned a few times since to explore and enjoy their exotic offerings. The country estate, known as “The Vale,” has likewise received National Historic Landmark status for its exemplary Federal Period house and grounds. But while Gore Place has remained relatively static since its early 19th century origins, the Lyman Estate has substantially evolved across the two and a quarter centuries since its construction, and each stage, and the Lymans to whom it connects, represents an interesting window into American history. For example, the most recent renovations were undertaken by Arthur Lyman Jr. and his wife Susan Cabot Lyman, as part of the late 19th and early 20th century’s architectural and artistic Colonial Revival movement. It’s easy, and not at all inaccurate, to think of that period as one of immense and constant change—but the revival movement illustrates a concurrent desire to return to the past, one to which the Lyman Estate can nicely connect us.
In my Waltham experience, Stonehust, the Robert Treat Paine estate, has been just a sign and driveway along the back road I drive to my apartment complex. Which is, it turns out, a perfect illustration of how many amazing American histories and stories surround us at all times, easily overlooked but waiting to be discovered. For one thing, Stonehurst’s integrated design represents a unique and inspiring collaboration between two of the most talented and influential Americans of its era: architect Henry Hobson (H.H.) Richardson and landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. And for another, the man who commissioned that collaborative effort, businessman and reformer Robert Treat Paine, represents an inspiring alternative to his Gilded Age moment generally and its robber barons specifically—Paine pursued a lifetime of social reform and philanthropic activism, not in the superficial “Gospel of Wealth” way but far more deeply and meaningfully. I look forward to learning a lot more about Paine and his life and work, and his historic house has provided the starting point for those researches.
Next history tomorrow,
PS. What do you think? Any histories and stories from your hometowns you’d share?