Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House

With a resolution to do and see more of New England, my latest exploration was historic Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House in Gloucester MA last week. Three friends and I made a day of it, touring the  summer home of interior designer, Henry Davis Sleeper, a National Historic Landmark and a member of Historic New England. He began building Beauport in 1907, eventually adding and expanding the home to over 40 rooms that accommodated his lifetime collection of furniture, books, rugs, glassware, ceramics, pewter, silver, textiles, folk art, and numerous, colorful and whimsical objets d’art.

We arrived in Gloucester on a classic New England summer morning ….cool and overcast… and were happy to have a bit of time before our tour to wander the gardens, check out the unique architecture from different angles, and admire the dramatic view across the harbor to the town.

We followed fern-lined and winding flagged pathways bordered by stone walls and formal brick to small but inviting courtyard spaces featuring whimsical art and interesting flora.

Sleeper’s summer retreat is magical and eccentric. For 27 years, the owner collected colonial era art and more, then continually expanded with new rooms to house it all. Talk about nooks and crannies! With only one hour to walk through a labyrinth of 26 rooms, we had a couple of minutes or so per room. However, the home is unique enough to spend an hour in just a room or two. I must return someday for a longer tour!

Our tour guide was excellent, giving us history of rooms, objects, and made it fun with tidbits of information about life in the home. Most rooms were small and dark… made even darker by the overcast skies that day but fascinating indeed… fabrics, wallpaper, doors, windows, paint colors, antiques, hooked rugs, and George! He collected George Washington in numerous forms, a popular interest at the time the guide said. I stopped counting at 15 Georges but there were certainly more.

 

Windows and doors intrigued me. There are doors that are arched, doors that don’t meet, doors that are extremely narrow or short… and windows that overlook nothing but beautiful ones that emphasize harbor views in a variety of designs featuring small panes in different patterns.

I think the best window is the first window below… a massive one in the Golden Step dining room that can be lowered with ropes to allow diners exposure to the sea and open air.

 

Doors, doors, and more doors. We didn’t open them all but one small door opened to a floor length mirror and another was a wall panel that opened to a secret staircase. Quelle surprise!

 

Each room is themed by a color, a historic figure or writer, a shape, an object.. but there hardly seemed any logic exiting one themed room and entering the next. It didn’t matter.  I loved every inch of what I saw. Not only revolutionary for its time, it’s a valuable piece of history and just plain fun. I really like Henry Davis Sleeper. Can you imagine what it was like being a guest at one of his many parties?

My favorite room was the large Octagon Room with the theme of eights from the eight-sided ceiling to the eight-sided table to the eight-sided rug and the eight-sided walls. The idea formed for Sleeper from red toleware he brought back from France. Although our guide didn’t identify the portrait, I’m guessing it’s America’s beloved Marquis de Lafayette.

Our guide introduced the last room on the tour as ‘the best for last,’ the China Trade Room. And it was a treasure with its dramatic high ceilings and hand-painted Chinese wallpaper.  Woolworth heiress Helena McCann and her husband bought the property in 1935 after Sleeper’s death and changed just this one room by adding furniture for entertaining. Following Helena’s death, the McCann family donated the property to the Historic New England preservation organization in 1942. How lucky for us!

Our day did not end there. After enjoying a late lunch in Gloucester, our tour continued by winding our way slowly back to Exeter through colorful and charming New England waterfront towns.

Getting to know New England is certainly an amazing insight into America’s past… and great fun as well. I wonder what will be next on the list for me to explore…

 

Road Trip to Peterborough

I couldn’t refuse a recent invitation to lunch with my son who lives in Keene NH. He had a special restaurant in mind in the picturesque town of Peterborough NH, The Waterhouse. He’d eaten there once and knew I’d enjoy it as we could dine outdoors overlooking the bubbling Nubanusit Brook. We arrived before they opened and found they were completely booked for the terrace for lunch but we were lucky. Seeing our sad faces, the wait staff was able to rearrange a party at another table and squeeze us in. Atmosphere, rushing brook, great food, and superior service. We shall return!

After lunch we decided to stroll the sidewalks and shops and a few gardens of this upscale yet quaint little village. We crossed a bridge, admiring overflowing colorful containers and planters and stopped to observe a line of photographers opposite us. We’ll have to check out their view on our walk back.

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The first public garden we visited was located across the brook from our restaurant. The Putnam II Park and Boccelli Garden is a quiet oasis, a place to sit for awhile, read a book, or relax and watch the action on The Waterhouse terrace. The Boccelli Garden has an interesting and diverse mix of perennials, annuals, shrubs… a great variety of colors, textures, and shapes to study. And it was fun to walk beneath the apple tree with fallen apples dotting the grass.

Crossing the street, we enjoyed the Nubanusit River waterfall, the view that the photographers were capturing, then strolled around the first Putnam Park, following a trail through the woods to a second waterfall…. and a third. Lovely!

On the other side of the bridge is a small garden called Nubanusit Terrace. I delighted in the trimmed box and yew with the healthiest and most vibrant Russian sage that I’ve seen this summer.

Nubanusit TerraceThe last garden we had time to visit was Depot Park, carved out of a parking lot close to where the original train depot once stood. Lining the walkway to the pavilion is the Pavilion Garden, probably best liked of all the gardens. I love the clipped hedges, variety of shapes, and shades of green punctuated with bright flowers along the way.

Depot GardenWe did not get around to all gardens on this day. We still had our shopping and sightseeing to do but promised to meet again to finish our tour. Peterborough is an appealing small town with residents who are extremely proud of their community. I think our next visit will be springtime when I know gardens will be bursting with blossoms and spring bulbs.

antiques, etc.