Thirty-six of them, to be exact. As a kind of birthday celebration to mark its own centenary, Historic New England is opening all of its properties free to the public on June 5. Hours run 1-5 p.m., with tours on the hour (last tours at 4 p.m.). The houses really do run the gamut (to borrow Tom Wolfe phrase) from our house to Bauhaus. The oldest is Portsmouth's Jackson House (1664), the newest the Gropius House (1938) in Lincoln, home of the former Bauhaus director Walter Gropius. The first house acquired by Historic New England (then the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities) was Swett-Ilsley House in Newbury (above), normally only on the first Saturdays of the month.
The nifty thing about Historic New England is that the organization does not merely preserve houses--it interprets them. While real estate brokers running an open house want you to imagine yourself living there, Historic New England conjures up the lives of the houses' past owners, building an understanding of how we have inhabited New England over the last four centuries. For example, the building of Cogwell's Grant in Essex (below) dates from 1728, but the house is shown filled with the amazing folk art collections of 20th century owners Bertram K. and Nina Fletcher Little. Additional special programs will take place at Beauport (1907) in Gloucester, where a staff member will discuss preservation projects at that site, and at the Codman Estate (c. 1740) in Lincoln, Mass., where a staff member will discuss work on the extensive gardens and landscape.
Posted by David Lyon
Photos courtesy of Historic New England