Wednesday, December 4, 2013

"Grave, but interesting"

This house is in the Boston suburb of Waltham. It's called Stonehurst. My house is half way up the Hudson Valley, remote from any suburb. It's called Daheim.

Stonehurst was finished in 1886. Daheim was completed in 1889, not counting additions which continued to be tacked on until the First World War.

Stonehurst was the summer place of a Boston Brahmin named Robert Treat Paine (1835-1910). Daheim was the country estate of Charles F. Dieterich (1836-1927), a penniless immigrant who became America's "Gas King."

The eastern end of Stonehurst is a heady brew of Arts and Crafts, Shingle Style and the Richardsonian Romanesque.

The western end is a stylistically unrelated Second Empire house, dragged to the site in 1884 and attached to the new house under construction.

Here's the old house before it was moved. Mrs. Paine's father, George Lyman, gave it to her and her husband as a wedding present. In fact, he gave houses to several of his married children, creating a family compound on his Waltham estate called the Vale. When Lyman died in 1880, his heirs subdivided the estate and Mr. & Mrs. Paines went to work on something grander and more modern.

Seeing the nearly completed Stonehurst upon arrival home from an 1885 European tour, Mrs. Paine described it as "grave, but interesting." Whether or not you find it beautiful, Stonehurst is a thoroughbred of its type - in conception, plan, detail and execution.

My house also incorporates an older house, in this case a vernacular balloon frame farmhouse as opposed to a Second Empire mini-manse.

Stonehurst's architect was the famous Henry Hobson Richardson (1838-1886), numbero uno in the "recognized trinity..(with Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright)...of American architecture." Daheim's architect was James E. Ware (1846-1918), a busy fellow, but not a brilliant one. Richardson was Beaux Arts trained (the second American after R.M. Hunt to be so), and extremely versatile (the New York State Asylum in Buffalo and Capitol in Albany, mansions across the northeast and midwest, and most famously, Trinity Church in downtown Boston). Richardson had a taste for medieval gravitas and Roman arches. He is one of very few architects with a style named after him, to wit, the "Richardsonian Romanesque." Phillips Brooks, Anglican Bishop of Massachusetts, described his death at age 47 as, "the passing of a great mountain from the landscape." The free spending Richardson died broke, incidentally, leaving a wife and 6 children in grim financial straights.

The City of Waltham, owner of Stonehurst since 1974, in concert with the Friends of Stonehurst, are among the most sensitive stewards of historic property that I've ever seen. The house is in brilliant condition, sits on 109 unsullied acres, feels like it's still in the middle of the country, and is in regular use by an appreciative community which, among other things, loves to get married there. Stonehurst's landscape doesn't really figure in this post, but I will note that it was carefully designed by Frederick Law Olmsted himself. His plan, unfortunately, is not readily discernible today.

Here's Robert Treat Paine, painted in 1884 at the age of 49 by Hubert von Herkomer. Stonehurst's builder was everything Daheim's was not. Grandson of an eponymous signer of the Declaration of Independence, pillar of Boston society, philanthropist and social reformer, he was also, as chairman of Trinity Church's building committee, the man who catapulted Richardson into the big leagues by hiring him to design Trinity Church.

Mrs. Paine, nee Lydia Lyman (1837-1897), was the granddaughter of Theodore Lyman, a rich Boston merchant who, in 1793, began developing the 400-acre Waltham estate he called the Vale. The City of Waltham, located 10 miles from the Boston Common, was a late 19th century industrial center which, curiously, also contained great country estates. That these aristocratic preserves should be located within two miles of Waltham's famous factories was anomalous, to say the least, but no more anomalous than their survival to the present day. Stonehurst, the Vale and Gore Place are all still with us, all still in beautiful condition, each on a remarkably spacious site, and all open to the public.

Here is la famille Paine, photographed on the terrace at Stonehurst in 1905. The beautiful ivy of the past has, once again, fallen victim to fanatical modern theories of maintenance. Paterfamilias R.T. Paine, widowered since 1897 and looking older than his 70 years, sits at the center, surrounded by children and grandchildren. Robert Treat Paine Jr., summer occupant of Stonehurst from his father's death in 1910 until his own at the age of 96 in 1961, stands in the back row, second from right. The little boy, fourth from left in the front, is Theodore Lyman Storer, who in 1974 gave Stonehurst and 109 acres to the City of Waltham.

In the image below, we've stepped into a small anteroom just inside the front door, which is out of sight to the left. Straight ahead is the living hall, a popular (if misleadingly labeled, since people rarely 'lived' in it) feature of better quality Shingle Style houses of the 1880s.

De rigeur in a living hall were floor space as vast as the client could afford, a showy staircase and at least one opulent fireplace. Taken together, these elements formed a sort of homage to the medieval halls of aristocratic barons. Of course, the halls back then constituted the baron's entire house (or virtually so) and his entire household (or almost all of it) ate, slept, and did whatever else you do at home right in that one big room. Living halls in 1880s America, while retaining an aristocratic symbolism, were considerably more sanitary not to mention centrally heated.

When Mr. Storer gave Stonehurst to the city, the furiture was all still in it. It's stored today, out of the way of weddings and functions.

High class Victorian interiors, especially from the '80s and '90s, illustrate an odd preoccupation with places to sit. One would think these people couldn't manage 6 steps without having to stop and park it.

To the the east of the hall, through that door on the left in the image below, is the so-called Summer Parlor. The family used Stonehurst six months of each year; the rest of the time the house was closed and the furniture shrouded.

Another place to sit.

Stonehurst's interior and exterior detailing set it apart from lesser houses built during the same period. As I say, you may not like its asymmetrical style or generally dark palette, but it is a showcase of quality craftsmanship and original design.

On the north side of the summer parlor, through the door below on the right, is Mr. Paine's study, with furniture undisturbed.

A door from the study connects to a corridor leading back to the big hall.

En route is a guest bath, looking unchanged from 1886.

The door in the image below leads into the Second Empire house, where a Richardson-designed corridor has replaced the original staircase. The front door to the old house, now located in the dining room, is visible in the distance.

Rooms in the old house were distributed more or less symmetrically on either side of the center hall. The renovated dining room combines a portion of the hall with the former front parlor.

Richardson made what was a library or maybe a study on the other side of the hall into a serving pantry for the new dining room. The pantry sink makes a compelling argument for stone or metal countertops.

Note the very un-pantry-like fireplace in the imge below. The door beside it, which probably once led to a dining room, now connects to service pantries, back stairs, an aviary (really; they kept birds) and a new kitchen.

A one-story service wing, tacked onto the north side of the old house, contained a large kitchen and laundry, a new back door and a servants' hall used today as an office. The kitchen and laundry have become a modern catering facility, and the old kitchen stove survives as a sort of souvenir.

Let's return to the family areas. The door on the right in the image below leads to the serving pantry. I'd assume this back stair was inserted into the old dining room during the Richardson alterations.

We're back in the dining room corridor, the dining room itself being behind the camera. The living hall and summer parlor are in the distance to the east. We're turning right into the so-called Autumn Parlor.

The Autumnn Parlor, originally the rear parlor before the old house was moved, has remained essentially unchanged. This area on the main floor, plus the bedrooms above it, speak with a very different architectural accent than the H.H. Richardson additions.

The adjacent Bow Parlor, sandwiched between the Autumn Parlor and the living hall, shows how far domestic taste in house interiors evolved in 20 years. There's more wood, less light, lower ceilings, no symmetry and an obligatory built-in place to sit.

Here's another place to sit en route to the main stair.

And here's another, just in case you need a rest before you start climbing. The main stair at Stonehurst is a beautiful piece of cabinet grade carpentry, much nicer than my stair at Daheim. My beautiful Daheim is a great big friendly Victorian mansion, whereas Stonehurst is a design classic. I say this not to denegrate my house, which I know is better than most, but to underscore the difference between good upper middle class work and high quality professional design.

The second floor landing overlooks a picturesque (albeit useless) mezzanine, into whose fireplace is chiselled a syrupy inscription from "The Chambered Nautilus" by Oliver Wendell Holmes, that reads: "Build Thee More Stately Mansions, O My Soul." The wall on the right used to be the rear exterior wall of the old house. The window in the middle of it still opens into a bedroom.

The second floor of Stonehurst is light on bathrooms - there are only 3. This is inconvenient considering the fact that there are 8 family bedrooms. The first bath opens directly onto the second floor landing; there are none en suite.

I wonder who did the drawings for this bafflingly complicated bathroom.

Next to the bathroom is a linen closet, complete with 1921 warning not to carry back to town the things supposed to stay at Waltham.

Running east from the second floor landing, down the spine of the Richardson addition, is a corridor leading to 4 family bedrooms, one master bedroom, and one bathroom.

Two of the bedrooms are furnished and open to the public; two are closed and stacked with storage; all are conscientiously, assymetrically, inventively, unexpectedly, a bit heavy-handedly, and elaborately picturesque, very much in the manner of the "American Queen Anne." The master and one other bedroom open onto a loggia with south views down wide lawns to, at least at one time, the rooftops of Waltham.

How fab is bath number two?

The detachable pipe stuck in the drain is a combination stopper and overflow.

Why not combine the medicine cabinet with a fireplace?

The owners' bedroom occupies the stone tower at the eastern end of the house. I have a fireplace, benches galore and a built-in wardrobe in my bedroom too, and Dieterich was probably richer than Paine. However, Dieterich's architect was not in the same league as H.H. Richardson.

A dressing room with sink and closets (and nothing else) adjoins the master.

The corridor in the image below, running west down the middle of the old house, gives access to three guest rooms, a guest bath, and a smaller corridor leading to the 2nd floor servants' quarters.

Almost at the corridor's end, a relocated door memorializes four generations of growing children.

For all the charm of H.H. Richardson, these older bedrooms have a serenity missing in the rest of the house. Things to note: the window that overlooks the stair; the fireplaces that are all alike; the unspoilt views.

From the guest bath in the west to the owner's dressing room in the east is a considerable distance. A narrow corridor to the left outside the door below leads to the back stair, 3 maids' rooms and a maids' bath.

More servants' rooms were on 3, but they have been converted into offices and a staff kitchen. The attic hasn't changed a bit, even down to stacks of dusty trunks.

Time to head down, then out via the anteroom through which we entered. The floor plans below give a pretty good - if not a very exact - idea of Richardson's plan.

Robert Treat Paine was a progressive supporter of trade unionism and affordable housing who labored throughout his life to better the conditions of the working class. All manner of clubs and institutions were invited annually to enjoy his Waltham estate. The view below shows a visit of the Wells Memorial and Peoples' Institute in June of 1890. I loved Stonehurst; the link is


  1. Just...wonderful. It's comforting to know that all the furnishings are still available, just tucked away. Thanks for the vintage shots. Unfortunate about the gray weather, one longs to see the Olmstead grounds.

  2. Another gem! Thank you. I had never heard of this house although I have read about Gore Place. That staircase is certainly a fine example of very high quality woodwork.

  3. Well apart from that spectacular entrance hall and staircase and all that wonderful interior woodwork of Stonehurst, I have to say your place in New York is the true beauty in this post today.

  4. Love it! Another amazing house.

  5. I wish to express my gratitude to you for doing such a fine job documenting this important house. I am a collector of 19th century Romanesque Revival furniture and probably have one of the largest collections of Art Furniture by A. H. Davenport (Richardson's cabinetmakers). While my Italianate house in New Jersey is not on a scale to qualify for inclusion on your blog, should you ever wish to see this collection I would be delighted to show it to you.

  6. Really loving your blog. I'm late to the party, so have the benefit of binge reading these posts, and find myself pushing my bed time lately doing just that. My favorite aspect of your coverage of these homes is your love of mechanicals and the nuts and bolts of what made these places tick. Basements and attics are my favorites, and I find those are the places where the mind can most easily travel back to past and pick up on the energy of a great old house. You are lucky that your blog seems to enable you to get past the velvet ropes into the places we the unlucky are denied. I would thank you for your efforts, but being of similar mind I know you are enjoying visiting these places far more than we who read about them. So instead: thanks for sharing! If anyone would like to see many more great pictures of Stonehurst do visit Thomas P. Lang's gallery on FLICKR: J.

  7. Joseph Douglas Potter Sr.April 28, 2015 at 5:49 AM

    As a Waltham native and also as a 7th cousin 5 times removed of Robert Treat Paine I am very proud of my family connection to such a beautiful preserved estate.
    I hope and pray it will stand forever to be enjoyed by all future generations.