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Preserving Antiquities[an error occurred while processing this directive]
"And you call these antiques!"
She raised her lorgnette to cold gray eyes and glanced about at the collection of pewter porringers, teapots, plates, quaint tin lanterns, Sandwich glass lamps, banjo clocks, pictures of early New England sailing-vessels, brass candle-sticks, samplers, Currier and Ives prints, the stenciled Hitchcock chairs, the fan-back Windsors, the prized butterfly table, the chest-on-chest-all the other objects, rich with the romance of the days when America was young.
"My dear woman," the high-pitched voice continued, "if you could see the things in the European museums, you would not call these old!" The brown eyes of "The Little Lady of the Antiques" flashed. Then they softened as she gazed about at her loved possessions so charmingly arranged in the low-ceilinged rooms of the weather-beaten house where she sold American antiques.
"I said nothing," she afterwards told me. "What was the use? She wouldn't have understood, you know. I suppose as the world counts things, my pieces of furniture and pewter and glass aren't truly old. But, oh, they mean so much to people like you and me who are interested in the old homes of New England, in the old-time domestic arts and handicrafts, and in the manners and customs of the generations who lived before us!"
This same spirit, voiced by the "antique lady" was responsible for the founding, in 1919, of The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities. Its folder says, "It was organized for the purpose of preserving these memorials of our ancestors and saving for future generations as many as possible of the rapidly disappearing architectural monuments of New England."
For so short a period of time, the Society has carried out a remarkable program. Aside from aiding in the preservation of at least thirty buildings, it has acquired the claims to eight quaint old houses. They are the "Scotch Boardman House, built in Saugus, Massachusetts in 1651, to shelter Scotch prisoners taken at the Battle of Dunbar and brought to Massachusetts to work in the Lynn Iron works; the Cooper-Austin, built in Cambridge in 1657; the Abraham Browne, Jr. House, built before 1670 in Newbury, Massachusetts; the Eleazer Arnold House built in Lincoln, Rhode Island, in about 1687; the Harrison Gray Otis House built in Boston, in 1795; the Laws House built in Sharon, New Hampshire, about the year 1800, and the Samuel Fowler House built in Danversport, Massachusetts, in 1809.
"The society has also acquired the reversion to the very interesting Conant house at Townsend Harbor, Massachusetts," (I am again quoting from the folder) "dating from about 1720. It also owns the Quincy Memorial in Litchfield, Connecticut, a modern house with endowment funds of the society and its investments of real estate have now reached a total of $201,589.30"
Besides this, the society owns an exhibit of household furnishings of all kinds, the clothing, and the tools of all trades used in the past by the people of New England. This exhibit occupies seven rooms of the Harrison Gray Otis House, used as the headquarters of the society. In the library is preserved a collection of photographs and engraved views of New England Buildings and antiquities numbering about 46,000 examples.
All lovers of early New England antiquities are familiar with the work and aims of The Essex Institute of Salem, Massachusetts. Perhaps the history of its founding is not so well known. In an address given before the American Association of Museums in October 1926, the curator and secretary Mr. Henry Ryckoff Belknap said, "It dates back to 1821, when thirteen men met in order to found the Essex Historical Society. Two months later the beginning of the Museum collection was made by the accession of the sixteenth century oak chair said to have been brought from England about $0.63 by the Dennis Family and which may still be seen in the museum. A month later it was decided to have the talented artist, Frothingham, paint a portrait of the venerable President, Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, which is one of the most noteworthy in our gallery."
In 1848 the Historical Society and the Essex County Natural History Society were merged and The Essex Institute was incorporated.
A quotation from the folder of The Institute so well presents its aims that I offer it instead of my own description. "It has for its object the promotion of history, science and art in Essex County, Massachusetts, and is supported by an annual assessment upon its members and by the income from its fund. Its museum contains one of the largest collections of antiquarian and historical objects illustrating the life of the English settler to be found in the United States, including three type rooms-a New England kitchen of 1750, a bedroom and parlor of 1800 and large collection of costumes, old furniture, china, glass, war relics, tools, medals, and coins, etc. On exhibition in the picture gallery are over one hundred paintings, many of them of considerable age and interest, including a fine collection of portraits of prominent persons by Stuart, Copley, Blackburn, Smibert, Trumbull, Greenwood, Frothing Vinton, Osgood and others, with engravings and art objects."
An apothecary's shop of 1825, a Salem cent shop of 1840, a shoemaker's shop of about 1830, and an oldfashioned flower garden containing flowers and herbs grown in Salem before the year 170o are located in or near the Annex of the building.
The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities and The Essex Institute are not the only organized efforts to preserve authentic records of the lives of our forefathers. There are the large city museums and the museums of the small towns and cities of which the one at Beverley, Massachusetts, is an interesting example. The historical societies of the various New England States are doing excellent work in preserving the traditions of the past.
But I must not forget to call attention to the work of the women of a little New England village whose fame is almost international. To quote Amy V. Richards, "In Deerfield, in Massachusetts, you will see the old arts preserved and carefully fostered, the most beautiful memorial that this generation offers our foremothers."
It was Emerson who said, "Every great and commanding movement in the annals of the world is the triumph of enthusiasm." Possibly the formation of the Society of Deerfield Industries can not be called a "great and commanding movement," but certainly this organization, started in a New England village, rich with historic memories, is one of the great factors in the revival of American hand industries. As one newspaper writer aptly said, "It was a part of these rich memories that the industries of the colonial days were preserved to this community which is almost as famous now for the beautiful craftswork of the inhabitants as it is for the deeds of their ancestors."
When a private individual becomes interested in the days which form the background of our own lives, and begins to use his time and money to collect and preserve the traditions of the past, the effort may result in something vital. A man who has done this is Mr. Henry Ford. His collection of old-time relics is known all over America and has become a monument to our ancestors. I do not need to tell you of Mr. Ford's purchase of the Wayside Inn in Sudbury Town.
American journalism did that and heralded the fact that "this old-fashioned quaint abode" was to be preserved and cared for as became a place with a romantic past.
Another who must be mentioned as helping to preserve our New England memorials is Mr. Wallace Nutting. We are especially grateful to him for his work in restoring old houses as well as for his exquisite photographs and authentic books.
There is one New England collector and antiquarian who has fostered this spirit of preserving the antiquities of New England in its best and truest sense. May I tell you something of the life and the work of Miss Evanore Olds Beebe, as her friend Mrs. Edith Miniter told it to me?
Her ancestors lived for a couple of centuries in Massachusetts, settling early in Ludlow, a Connecticut Valley town. In 1842, her father was seized with that pioneering spirit which opened up the middle west, and, with his wife and several small children, including a babe in arms, he journeyed to Wisconsin by the Erie Canal and covered wagon. When Evanore, his youngest child was born, the log cabin had been abandoned for a comfortable frame house in the coming city of Fond du Lac. Here the future antiquarian began her life-work of collecting by saving every bit of pretty china or glass to be found in the home.
In 1879 she returned to the East, and went to live in the house in Wilbraham, Massachusetts which she still occupies. In this way, you see, the family circle was completed, as Wilbraham is the next town to Ludlow. The house is called Maplehurst, since huge maple trees march up and down the road as far as the eye can see. The only alteration in the hundred-year-old mansion is the removal of the partitions, making a few large rooms of many small ones, in order that Miss Beebe's collection may show to the best advantage.
It is interesting to learn how she started it. A gift of pink Staffordshire from her uncle was the pivot, and the work of completing the set occupied many happy hours. Her "dishes" now cover walls in rows! She began saving bottles when they were the despised of amateurs, and her method of hanging them in windows, known for years as "Beebe style" is now generally adopted.
The collecting of glass came along with china, and her glass-closet, made from the former entrance to the wine cellar of the house, contains over a thousand small pieces.
And the best part of the collection is the fact that Miss Beebe lives with it! At Maplehurst you sit on a three-legged stool, or a Hitchcock or Windsor chair, eat from a tip-table, stir your tea with a rat-tail spoon, and sleep on feathers in a corded bed!
Cats, numbering from seven to fourteen, wander at will over sideboards loaded with Sandwich glass, and at least two dogs sleep in Boston rockers or on settee cradles!
The house has many visitors, as you may well guess, and they come all the way from the Pacific coast to Maine. Since nothing is ever sold at Maplehurst, it has been possible for Miss Beebe to specialize on articles of all occurrences of importance in her locality. People are willing to give or sell her valuable objects because they know their heirlooms will be cherished by one who loves them. She has never spared time nor effort in the work of preserving matters of local history. An instance of this are her investigations in regard to the Ludlow Glass Factory of which I have told you.
Miss Beebe is a fascinating conversationalist, and is constantly being consulted for the truth in regard to local historical occurrences. The town histories of Wilbraham and Ludlow owe more to her than to anyone else. And, best of all, she loves to tell the stories quaint, tragic, or comic-of her platters and tea caddies, pine desks and bird's-eye maple tables, the Bennington cow, the hound pitcher, and the unique cup-plate upon which a lover presents his lady-love with a pig!
Every paper on old-time lore written by a conscientious club woman assists in preserving the traditions of New England or of any part of the country about which she chooses to tell.
I have spoken before of the many authentic books which serve as monuments of the past, but once again I urge you to read those treating of subjects in which you are especially interested. Nor must you forget the accounts written by the men and women whose grandfathers and fathers told them of the past, and who have, themselves, lived in its shadow, for they will bring forth the spirit and the true atmosphere of old New England days.
So in parting, may I leave with you a thought which has come down to us from the Pilgrims and which should, I believe, be preserved always among the antiquities of New England. The almanac did not then but on the wall of many a house hung
THE TWELVE GOOD RULES
Profane no Divine ordinance. Touch no state matters. Urge no healths. Pick no quarrels. Encourage no vice. Repeat no grievances. Reveal no secrets. Maintain no ill opinions. Make no comparisons. Keep no bad company. Make no long meals. Lay no wagers.