HISTORIC INTERIORS: A Country House Near Boston

Blogging is very self-indulgent.  One gets to think out loud about one's interests, and share the musings with interested readers---who, with their comments, give the blogger new insight into old passions.

I've been thinking a great deal this year about the graceful old Federal houses of New England---those first flowerings of design from our young country, that so well reflect the ideals, political and social, of the founders, and that for so long defined the look of most New England towns.  In particular, I determined to write about a group of country houses, those with the newly fashionable oval rooms in particular, built around Boston between 1790 and 1820.   I don't flatter myself that I have new insight to add to the impressive body of scholarship published about these houses over the last hundred years, but hope that you enjoy my light summaries.

What brings me back to the subject of oval rooms today is a group of late 19th century photographs passed on by a friend---but more about those in a moment...

McIntyre's drawing for the entrance front of the Vale, which looks backwards to the Palladian tradition of Somerset House, more than to the newly fashionable neo-classicism that characterized the Federal style (from Old Time New England, Spring 1952)
McIntyre's drawing of the first floor plan (from Old Time New England, Spring 1952
'The Vale', in Waltham, Massachusetts was designed in the 1790's by the great carver-architect of Salem, Samuel McIntyre, for merchant prince Theodore Lyman.   Lyman began development of his estate in 1793, laying out a park and garden in the informal English style of Capability Brown, with a stream dammed to form an ornamental lake, and glasshouses against a brick wall, in which Camellias and other exotics were grown.
The entrance front in the mid-19th century, showing McIntyre's completed design.  The Greek Revival entrance portico is an early 19th century addition
The house designed by McIntyre, completed in 1798, was based on designs in English builder's pattern books, but executed in wood, the plentiful building material of New England, rather than the stone of Old England.  With his typical mastery, McIntyre translated details like quoins and pilasters, meant to be stone, to wood with high effect, yet the scale (the main block was only fifty feet wide), unlike its English prototypes, was domestic, not palatial.  

The Ballroom as it appeared in the early 20th century.
The composition was Palladian, with a separate kitchen wing connected by a hypen, balanced a few years later by a ballroom wing.   The center hall led directly to an oval room centered on the garden front facing the glasshouses, referred to by the family as the 'Bow Parlor'. 

The Bow Parlor, as it appears today.  The white painted Hepplewhite chairs are part of the original Lyman furnishings
Lyman lived in great style in his new house.  After his death, it passed to his son, and in turn his grandson, Arthur Lyman, treasurer of the Lowell textile mills.   What had been one of the grand houses of the area at the beginning of the century was by now dated and old fashioned, and not suited to the more expansive scale of living made possible by industrial age wealth.  Fond of the old house, Arthur Lyman hired the local firm of Hartwell & Richardson (no relation to H.H. Richardson, about whom more in a minute) to enlarge and remodel the family homestead in 1882.

First floor plan as it appeared before 1883 renovations. Note the long curved interior walk to a privy at top right, forming one side of kitchen courtyard, and at a further extreme, a two-holer in the shed at the upper corner.  An indoor water-closet may be seen left of the bow parlor . (Old Time New England, Spring 1952)

The new plan, with modern interior plumbing, but the outside privy still survives. The staircase has moved to left of Bow Parlor

Their first design was for a complete transformation of the house, and was not executed.  Evidence is strong that Arthur Lyman had second thoughts about how drastically he wished to alter the old family homestead, and the final design, completed in 1883 sought to save some of the character of McIntyre's design, even to the extent of re-using the second floor pilasters by McIntyre to frame the new two story bays that pushed out from the entrance front.  Although respectful by the standards of the time, in fact McIntyre's elegant composition was irrevocably altered and subsumed by the new house.  Inside, mantels were replaced, high wainscots installed, yet the Bow Parlor and the Ballroom both survived untouched, as artifacts of the family's past splendors.

The rejected proposal for renovation (American Architect & Building News)
Hartwell & Richardson's accepted design for the renovation (American Architect & Building News)
Interior details in the 'Colonial' style for the new staircase and parlor (American Architect & Building News)
Mr. Lyman writes to American Architect explaining his desire to preserve as much as possible of the old house
 Which brings us back to the photographs that my thoughtful friend supplied.   She thought I might recognize them (I'm a bit of an idiot savant at recognizing buildings from minimal evidence---emphasis on the idiot part), and indeed I did.   They are 21 views of the interior of 'The Vale' after the Hartwell and Richardson remodeling of 1883.  In the rooms can be seen a mix of 18th and 19th century furnishings accumulated by several generations before a 1930's 'restoration' that sought to do away with many of the Victorian 'colonial' flourishes of before.   Like their ancestor before them, that generation of Lymans preserved the Victorian parlor, with its oak woodwork and fire surround of deMorgan tiles.  Today 'The Vale' is owned by Historic New England.

Please click on pictures to enlarge
The Bow Parlor.  The French style furniture suite is original to the house
Two views of the new family living room in the location of the old kitchen.  The tiles surrounding the fireplace are by William deMorgan
The ballroom looking toward the cross hall
The cross hall looking from the new staircase toward the ballroom
The second floor landing
The Drawing Room.  Two of the White Hepplewhite chairs can be seen
The cross hall toward family living room
Dressing room, opening to entrance portico roof
Two rooms in the nursery suite.  Ever thrifty, the Lymans retained the 1850's ingrain carpeting.
The bedroom above the Bow Parlor
Two views of the master bedroom.
A present day view of the master bedroom, after being stripped of its Victorian decorations in the early 20th century (photo uncredited from Historic New England Website.
Present day view of the garden front.  The central bay of the Bow Parlor remains as McIntyre designed it.

Before we end today's lesson, it is worth noting that Arthur Lyman's sister, Lydia,  married Robert Treat Paine, a housing reformer descended from a signer of the Declaration of Independence. They lived across the street, on property given them by her father.  When they remodeled the existing house on that property, they hired the other Richardson, H.H. himself, as their architect, and their naturally landscaped grounds were a collaboration with Frederick Law Olmstead.  For that house, click HERE

For previous Dilettante posts about lost Federal country estates in the Boston area, please click HEREHERE, and HERE.

For more about The Vale, click HERE for  the Historic New England website


columnist said...

The original was sublime. A pity really to have played around with it, (and Victorianised the simplicity). Thanks for the interesting tour!

Anonymous said...

What a perfect start to my work day - thank you for this post - I too love an oval room - and have one in each of my two dream (aka fantasy) houses. I like that the bow room was left untouched during (the rather marvelous) remodeling as evidence of the family's past - a sort of architectural genealogy. KDM

The Ancient said...

I'm less hostile to today's version of the house than you and columnist are, perhaps because I've known it for so very long. Lyman himself clearly felt that the spirit and much of the internal fabric of the original house was left intact. And the alternative -- tearing down the old house in favor of something altogether different -- would have deprived us of this lovely oddity. (And it is an odd-looking house.)

P.S. Do you suppose an architect/developer could make a living building modernized versions of McIntyre houses?

The Down East Dilettante said...

Actually, much as I do regret the loss of purity, I didn't mean to suggest that I'm neither interested in Lyman's sincere efforts in enlarging and upgrading the family homestead---an early tale of historic preservation---nor that I don't find the odd end result charming, for I am and do.

The Down East Dilettante said...

And I'm betting 'no' is the answer to the PS question. A few talented designers like Gil Schafer could certainly pull it off, but I suspect its strictly a couture proposition. Developers build all those ill-proportioned, badly detailed, 'colonial' houses because they're what people want.

Mark D. Ruffner said...

The photographs that your friend gave you are an amazing record, and it does indeed look as though the owners or architects were making a record of the remodling.

The garden view of the house is a bit hodge-podgy, but one does see vestiges of NeoClassism. Knowing of what the Victorians were capable, I'd say the house turned out much better than it might have!

The Devoted Classicist said...

Fascinating! I gasped when I saw the Chateauesque proposal, but had to remember the time. If the major overhaul had been 5 to 10 years later, what a difference it might have made.

Janet said...

I was just reading the HNE magazine article! And this is a wonderful piece for those of us who are nosy and want to know MORE. So great to see all those interior photographs!

The Ancient said...

P.S. You've taken away the better part of two days of my life -- such as it is -- puzzling over the Salem card table in my city dining room. (The one beneath that Benjamin West drawing.) I'd never given much thought to it before.

Donna said...

You anticipated my own "McIntire in Waltham" post for The Architect's upcoming birthday, but I can't top those photos--thanks so much for sharing them, to you and your friend. I'll have to focus on the carriage house! Happy New Year!

ChipSF said...

Although the McIntyre version is a loss, at least this house survives. I am still reeling over the Dark Hollow news.

william said...

This is very interesting. I have heard of a "beau parlor" in houses in Massachusetts but never a "bow parlor."

Reggie Darling said...

Marvelous post, and a visual treat from beginning to end. I understand that HNE only has the gardens open to thepublic, not the house. Is that so? Speaking of HNE (or SPNEA as I shall always remember it) I visited the Otis House in Boston the other day, for the third time in the last decade or so. My goodness, the old girl is looking a bit shop worn!

The Down East Dilettante said...

Reggie---not even the gardens, but merely the greenhouses and immediate grounds. Ever since SPNEA restyled themselves as Historic New England in an attempt to be hip and relevant (HUH???), they've gone down a few wrong paths. The house at the Vale has always been treated as a bit of a step child, because of its lost purity, and the idea that even so, its accreted layers have a story to tell. While I'm sympathetic to budget woes myself, there's been no real attempt to balance the income it produces as a catering hall with public access. Speaking of which, just try---try--- to visit their Codman house in nearby Lincoln---it also has fallen down the function venue hole, and is open something like five Saturdays a year.

As to Otis house--I think the current decorative interpretation, which was groundbreaking when new, must be 40 years now?

Historic New England (forever SPNEA to me) seems to have had significant money management problems in recent decades, as it the old Brahmin world that supported it has given way to newer money that would rather give to flashier causes.

Anonymous said...

...Philanthropy really has gone overseas...Recently visited Ellsworth's Woodlawn. They are also beginning to pay the bills with functions, but are still very much an enjoyable historic site and a nice place for a forest walk. Anyone into the modern colonial will be interested to know that this is the same family who built Kragsyde.

Kim R. Taylor said...

I am an author trying to find floor plans and images of a a Federal style house that would have servants quarters in the house. would you be able to lead me to sources for this(in addition to this great blog! Thank you!