Term Paper: William Sumner Appleton and Norman Morrison Isham Their Approach to Historic Preservation

Pages: 10 (2629 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Topic: Architecture  ·  Buy This Paper

Preservation of historic sites and of vintage architecture has become a major focus for many in the contemporary period, but the idea of preservation is much older than that. Preservation is not simply a matter of saving everything that is old or unique, and there are always a number of decisions to make as to what to preserve and how to do so within the business and social needs of the community. Not everything can be preserved, and not everything may deserve to be preserved. The needs of the population for new and viable structures means that some of the old has to vie way to the new, and how to decide when to take a stand requires a concept of preservation and of both the importance of it and the limitations that may affect it. Different theorists have addressed this issue as they have also sought to motivate the movement for the preservation of the worthy and the important, and two such theorists with somewhat different approaches to the subject are William Sumner Appleton and Norman Morrison Isham, both of whom left writings on the subject as well as took action in furtherance of their goals and their idea of the need for preservation.

William Sumner Appleton

William Sumner Appleton lived at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries in the Boston area, where at the time, preservation was maturing from a string of spontaneous efforts to an institutionalized movement. As this took place, both the aims of preservation aims and its methods were transformed, a process in which Appleton played a key role. In the nineteenth century, Boston did not have an organization dedicated to preservation as such. The Bostonian Society was meant to be such an organization, but the group seemed to be satisfied by the single project of looking after the Old State House. www.questia.com/reader/action/gotoDocId/107991708" the Trustees of Reservations was also nominally interested in historic structures, but in practice the group refused to accept any such structures for years because they had no means of maintaining them. Even a desire for preservation can be stymied when there are no funds to achieve the goal. The national Daughters of the American Revolution was organized in 1890 and included preservation in its mission, leading in Massachusetts to participation in the Bulfinch State House campaign, but nothing beyond (Mason and Page 96).

The first standing regional preservation institution in America came indirectly out of another ad hoc effort for the restoration of Paul Revere's house in Boston. That was the oldest remaining structure in the city and dated from sometime between 1676 and 1681. Descendants of Paul Revere joined with others to form the Paul Revere Memorial Association to purchase the building. In 1907, the group began a restoration unlike any other Boston had seen: www.questia.com/reader/action/gotoDocId/107991708"

The Old South Church and the two statehouses were major public buildings, their treatment a matter of widespread amateur debate. The Revere house, on the other hand, was outside the daily ambit of its preservers, and had undergone radical and unrecorded changes. Its restorers aimed to return it "to its original condition," so its treatment became a matter for expert investigation, not architecture but archaeology. (Mason and Page 96)

The memorial association made an even greater contribution to preservation in the form of its secretary, William Sumner Appleton Jr., and preservation would become his life's work. The Revere House changed his focus from patriotism to architecture, and in 1910, he chartered the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (SPNEA), a name Appleton himself called an unfortunate mouthful (Mason and Page 96).

Appleton had a patrician sense of family, honor, and country, developed through his upbringing on Beacon Street in Boston. He had a strong sense of "Brahmin ancestry and gentility" (Lindgren 17). In Appleton's youth, Beacon Hill was the center of Bostonian aristocracy:

Appleton's father sold the house, and moved the entire family to Europe in 1887 for over a year. Upon his return, Sumner attended St. Paul's in Concord, New Hampshire, the first of the Brahmin-created boarding schools and one particularly committed to the traditions of the British gentry. Within the male world of St. Paul's, he mixed with the children of Brahmins and New York and Philadelphia industrialists. (Lindgren 18)

Appleton continued his education at Harvard, which "imparted an ideological system that stressed a student's obligation to community through mugwump politics, upper-class institutions, and conservative economics. Elitism permeated its instruction, and students learned that democracy produced chaos, New England's heritage deserved respect, and stability offered future certainty. Appleton absorbed its spirit as he emerged from his less-than-congenial family life and its accompanying ill health" (Lindgren 18). His education only reinforced his sense of traditionalism and class identity. He sought to recover and preserve his family heritage and once stated of his home, "In New England the old order passes so swiftly... that I know hardly any other place so wholly of the olden time" (Lindgren 19).

The preservation society Appleton founded would be infused with his sense of class and tradition and the need to preserve both. In the first Bulletin published by the society, Appleton issued a preservation manifesto of unprecedented ambition. On the cover was a photograph of the John Hancock house, built in 1737 by Thomas Hancock, and destroyed in 1863. Appleton wrote, "Our New England antiquities are fast disappearing... because no society has made their preservation its exclusive object." To correct this, Appleton wanted "a large and strong society, which shall cover the whole field... And act instantly wherever needed to lead in the preservation of noteworthy buildings and historic sites" (Mason and Page 98). Appleton never mentioned the Old South or either statehouse, and the only Boston buildings he cited were of domestic scale. The society's program thus embraced only modest structures and sought to acquire them "through gift, purchase, or otherwise, and then to restore them, and finally to let them to tenants under wise restrictions" (Mason and Page 98).

At the end of the second year, the society had acquired two properties and had already refined the techniques of private intervention that it would follow for decades. In this process, Appleton saved resources and used innovative means of acquiring properties by seeking gifts and bequests, buying houses subject to life occupancy, and financing restorations in return for reversion of property on their owners' deaths. In 1912, he started the "revolving fund www.questia.com/reader/action/gotoDocId/107991708" for this purpose, relying on local groups and keeping SPNEA as a purchaser of last resort:

He honed adaptive use as a preservation tool, rather than making every acquisition a house museum. Appleton's purpose was to stretch SPNEA's funds, but the idea that restored buildings could continue in the lives of their communities was a powerful one. (Mason and Page 98)

The first property acquired by SPNEA was the Swett-Ilsley House in Newbury, Massachusetts, built around 1670. Appleton chose this rambling structure with a seventeenth-century core and later additions as his first preservation project as he was especially interested in houses of the earliest colonial era, later dubbed the First Period, because these humble dwellings were seen as vulnerable to drastic remodeling or even demolition. They were also less likely to be rescued by private restoration efforts than grander Georgian or federal houses, and the society could acquire them at modest cost. These houses also possessed a post-medieval aesthetic with great appeal to Appleton, who had himself studied with Charles Eliot Norton at Harvard, had traveled extensively in Europe, and was familiar with the teachings of John Ruskin and William Morris:

Appleton valued hand craftsmanship wherever he found it, whether in an ingenious seventeenth-century door latch or a contemporary Boston-made Arts and Crafts vase. (Redfern para. 1)

Appleton followed the advice of restoration architect Henry Charles Dean abd set about peeling away layers of lath and plaster at the Swett-Ilsley House, revealing original timbers, early eighteenth-century paneling, and one of the largest fireplaces in New England as he did so. Restoration stopped when funds were exhausted, and this was before any long-gone original features like diamond-paned casements could be recreated. The result was a house with an unrestored eighteenth-century exterior and a partially restored interior, reflecting elements of both the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

As he worked on this house, Appleton visited the neighboring Coffin House (from around 1654), and he encountered a family still residing in their ancestral home and profoundly imbued with an awareness of old-time tradition:

Newbury's centennial had been celebrated in their front yard in 1735; a forebear, Joshua Coffin, had written the town's first and still definitive early history, in 1845. Appleton cultivated his relationship with the family, and fourteen years after his first visit, they gave the Coffin House to SPNEA to be preserved as a family memorial. (REdfern para. 2)

Appleton then undertook restoration of the Coffin House and brought to the project "a nuanced understanding gained from work on several other First Period properties during the 1920s.… [END OF PREVIEW]

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