BEN: PERLEY POORE AND INDIAN HILL
Recently I was working on a house history ( my real occupation) and had written considerable history about an 18th century house, the subject of my report. Included in the report was some background on the history of the community, West Newbury, Massachusetts. I included brief stories of the 1727 earthquake, the late 18th century tornado and mention of notable people and industries in the history of the town. The report was finished when I remembered an important story that needed to be included...the story of Indian Hill Farm and its owner, Ben: Perley Poore. (the colon after Ben is preferred) How could I have overlooked Indian Hill?
|Indian Hill undated but extent of building evident|
Benjamin was born in 1820. He attended Governor Dummer Academy, traveled to Europe with his affluent parents and became a journalist and newspaper man spending 30 years in Washington, covering Congress, associating with all of the players in Washington during those years. It was in Scotland with his parents that he visited Abbottsford House and conceived the idea of building a great house.
|A young handsome Ben: Perley Poor|
He assembled a huge collection including paneling from the very important Province house in Boston, (demolished in 1850s) waincotting from the John Hancock house (1863) and staircase from the Tracy mansion in Newburyport. This was just for starters.
He continued to build at Indian Hill incorporating old building parts and assembling fabulous, imaginative rooms to house his collections.
His diverse collections included Martha Washington's set of dishes and chairs from Mount Vernon along with many odds and ends from the White House from several administrations. He even acquired the piece of carpet on which Lincoln stood while being administered the oath of office and the desk used by John Quincy Adams in the Hall of Representative from which he fell and died. The amazing list goes on and on.
Simultaneously he developed spectacular gardens. ( See Alice Morse Earle, "Old Time Gardens", 1916) This wonderfully enchanting creation of house and garden did not go unnoticed. He entertained many who were spellbound by this incredible house with many nooks and crannies. One nook was so small that portly President Taft was wedged into a space and became stuck! (This was long after Poore's death in 1887.)
Ben: Perley Poore married and had two children; Emily and Alice. Emily died at age 29 unmarried.
Alice married in 1880 and had one son, Ben: Perley Poore Moseley born in 1881. Alice died in 1883 at the age of 28.
As I wrote this post I remembered that a collector friend had won a lapdesk from the Poore family at an auction many years ago. A quick phone call confirmed that the lapdesk belonged to Alice. It contained a braid of her hair, a lock of her baby's hair, her Bible, a tintype of Alice and a list of her wedding presents! What a strange post script to this story. Before I publish this post I may be able to scan Alice's picture.
Ben: Perley Poor attracted attention when he made a bet with an associate. He was so sure he would win the bet he pledged that if he lost the bet he would walk to Boston pushing a wheelbarrow full of Indian Hill apples and deliver it in person to the other man. He lost the bet and for two and one half days trudged along pushing his wheelbarrow toward Boston with its cargo; a barrel of apples. Throngs lined the way as he arrived in Boston, some claimed as many as 30,000. He was much admired as a "man of his word" even though his opponent had offered to let him off the hook. The Wheelbarrow Polka, published in Boston in 1856 commemorated the event.
|Published in Boston in 1856|
Henry Davis Sleeper was so inspired by Poore that he began the creation of Beauport on Gloucester Harbor, now owned by Historic New England and called the most fascinating house in America. Subsequently Henry Francis Dupont followed suit in the development of Winterthur in Dover, Delaware having been so impressed by Sleeper's collection of Americana that he hired Sleeper to assist him in his collecting and decorating..
|Indian Hill in 1950 at about 100 years old, looking less manicured than in earlier years|
|Ben: Perley Poor in old age|
In 1948 SPNEA returned the property to Edward S. Moseley, a great grandson of Poore. Perhaps the immense size of the property and the collection overwhelmed the Society. Without a large endowment it could have been a huge drain on their budget. A major reason, however, was that due to WWII and gas rationing, very few people were able to make the trip to West Newbury to see the property. Most people didn't have the luxury during those years to use their cars for pleasure, saving their rationing stamps for necessary travel.
Nevertheless, Poore set the stage for those that followed. Perhaps he wasn't the purist that later researchers would have liked but he was the original collector, restorer and antiquer. It is sad that the memory of this fabulous creation has fading and his influence hardy recognized in the 21st century. Can you even begin to imagine the objects that he considered antique in the 1840? Most of what we now call antiques hadn't even been dreamed of or yet produced! He deserves credit for his foresight.
It makes me so sad to tell you that in August of 1959 Indian Hill burned, a tragic and incalculable loss. A fragment of the house was restored and is privately owned but it could never be the same.
In its prime Indian Hill Farm consisted of 400 acres of land. The house was an assemblage of an unbelievable eighty rooms according to tradition! Today, public records describes the remaining piece of the land as just under four acres with a total of nine rooms. The footprint of what is left still demonstrates the intricacy of its construction.
|The intricately assembled footprint is still apparent|
In December 1908 the magazine, American Homes and Gardens, did a nice story with a lot of pictures. Here is the lengthy link to the story. The details of the Indian Hill Farm are almost too much to grasp.
I hope you can open this link (or copy and paste) to see for yourselves this magical place that we can only see through the eyes of the magazine photographer but never with our own eyes. Perhaps this post will even breath new life into the story of this almost forgotten man and the monument to his life that he left behind.
|Indian Hill as seen today in public record. Still charming |
but with only nine rooms; many, many rooms have been lost.