About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Sunday, March 12, 2017

THE REMARKABLE 1764 SAUNDERS MANSION

WHERE HAVE I BEEN?

It has been some time since I have posted.  I had several posts prepared and just about ready to go when my attention was diverted to what I perceived as an emergency here in Gloucester.

1764 Saunders Mansion.  Became the SawyerFree Library in 1884,
 a gift from Samuel Sawyer who deeded it to the trustees of the library
The deed stipulated that it would remain a library in sacred trust and 
in perpetuity     1956 Dexter photo courtesy of CAM
Ten years ago the Sawyer Free Library in Gloucester was seeking a grant to enlarge the library.  The library, a very busy library with high traffic, consists of a Georgian house built in 1764 to which was added a stacks section in 1913.  Finally in 1976  a large low key contemporary building was added which has become the main functioning part of this sprawling complex.  This 1976 addition was designed by a local architect, Donald Monell. It was particularly pleasing and appropriate for the setting, the entire complex having high visibility and blending with City Hall and the Cape Ann Museum, the latter designed by the same architect.

The library was awarded the grant but then was unable to get the override from the City that was needed to proceed so the plans were shelved.

Ten years passed  until this year when the library was once again eligible to apply for a 40%  grant. The opportunity only comes around every ten years.  An architectural firm looked over the job and advised the library board and building committee to bypass the 1764 house, physically cutting it off. Then they then advised that it was best to demolish the 1913 addition and to also to demolish the handsome 1976, forty year old main section designed by Donald Monell and start all over again.

On the left is the old Thomas Saunders House, 1764.  A 1913 connecting link is next followed by the 1976 addition
designed by architect, Donald Monell. The hipped roof reflects the hipped roof of the old house.  The arched windows reflect the arched windows in nearby City Hall.        P. Fish photo
A short distance away is the Cape Ann Museum also designed by Donald Monell and also attached to an old house, the Elias Davis house.  The library and the museum perform as bookends flanking Gloucester City Hall.

The Cape Ann Museum attached to the Elias Davis house with a contemporary
addition.  The museum and the library face each other and were designed to
work well together as they flank the centerpiece of the Civic Center, Gloucester
City Hall    CAM Photo

I recoiled at the threat to the library, rolled up my sleeves and jumped in to do what I could to save the library and protect the house.  My first step after a scathing letter to the editor was to write a history of the old house which was published in a local blog called Enduring Gloucester. (enduringgloucester.com) This was followed by a history of the entire block in which the library is located.  

http://www.sawyerfreelibrary.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/GDT-letter-12-22-2016.pdf

Rather than reconstruct these two stories I am going to give you the links and urge you to read both pieces.  The story of the house called the Saunders house will not disappoint you.  It's history is right up there with the most interesting and most read stories I have previously published.

https://enduringgloucester.com/2017/01/04/the-saunders-house-1764

Then please read the follow-up.

https://enduringgloucester.com/2017/02/15/a-neighborhood-wiped-out/

I am happy to report there have been successes.  After many meetings, publishing later discoveries on Facebook and joining a group of like minds there has been a positive outcome.  At this point demolition is off the table.  Architects are working on an alternate design that involves retrofitting the present library with the possibility of adding onto the back for more space.

The old house has been decommissioned for library use because of lead paint and shaky handicapped accessibility.  The idea now is to form a non-profit  for the old house.  The Historical Commssion has pledged to help find preservation or restoration money to appropriately restore the most remarkable rooms in the high styled  Georgian mansion.  The goal is to be able to eventually rejoin the Saunders house when it is free of lead and fully handicapped accessible.

Our fingers and toes are crossed for a favorable outcome.  There is every reason to believe that in the end Gloucester will have a beautiful library with a fabulous antique house combined with a state of the art 21st century library with all the bells and whistles and all within the shell of the 1976 Monell section which is so much loved by the community.

And now I can step back and complete the new stories that were about ready to go when I was so distracted that I could only think of one thing: saving the library!

Thanks for reading and know that with valid arguments and by speaking out, it IS possible to make a difference.   You can fight City Hall! (or the library)

Gloucester City Hall.
 Off to the left is the library and off to the right is
Cape Ann Museum.  Gloucester has a very handsome Civic Center.  Removing
the library and replacing it with s very contemporary building would  interrupt
the rhythn of these lovely compatible buildings and the streetscpe.   Web photo




Saturday, January 7, 2017

STILL HATING FIG NEWTONS, STILL LOVING OLD HOUSES AND CHIPPENDALE FURNITURE

FIG NEWTONS: YUK

In the 1940s an older couple moved into the house next door to ours.  I liked this husband and wife, the Norwoods, and even as a child was impressed by some of their furnishings and decorating.

For example, in their kitchen was a table surrounded by a set of four Mexican hand painted chairs with rush seats.  They were in vivid blue, cheerful and quaint adding a warm friendly touch to the kitchen.  I had never seen anything like those pretty chairs and thought they were wonderful.
Mexican chairs brightly hand painted with rush seats.  The Norwoods,
 our new neighbors, had a set like these in their kitchen.  They were bright blue.

The set of dishes used in this charming kitchen were French Quimper ware.  I adored these colorful peasant looking dishes with the quaint painted chairs.  Most children wouldn't even notice someone's kitchen chairs or the neighbor's kitchen dishes but I did!  And I wished we had some just like them.  (either that or a chrome dinette set)


In the Norwood's dining room was a Chippendale lowboy with ball and claw feet.  It was clearly vintage, but barely, and certainly not antique but I had never seen one before and I knew I wanted a lowboy.

In the living room was a so-called Governor Winthrop secretary bookcase.  These were very popular and common but I hadn't seen one before.  Like so many others those days, my mother had a Governor Winthrop desk purchased at Jordan Marsh Co. in Boston for $100 but it didn't have the glass doors and bookcase on top.  So I added that to my list of favorite things, a must have for a beautiful home.

During these years my best friend was Susan.  (I hope you're reading, Sue)  Her grandparents lived way out in the country at the top of a steep hill called Norcross Hill with sweeping views of the town and with Mt. Monadnock and Mt. Wachusett off in the distance. On summer days Susan and I would walk up there to visit.  It was quite a long walk and toward the end we were climbing the terribly steep hill.  On the side of the road was a stone watering through put there years before in the days of the horse and buggy for the horses to drink as they struggled up the hill with their wagon loads or buggies.  There was also a brook that went under the road.

But back to the Norwood's.  After several years as our neighbors they bought an antique house with fields around it.  It was on the hill near Susan's grandparent's house and we would pass it just before we reached our destination at Susan's grandparent's big antique house in this old rural neighborhood.

One day on the way home we stopped at the Norwood's and Mrs. Norwood gave us a package of fig newtons to eat on our long walk home.  I detested them and I believe Susan did too because my memory tells me that when we got to the brook we threw them in.  I have never tasted another fig newton from that day to today.

Before too many years Mrs. Norwood passed away.  Mr. Norwood was selling their things.  My mother inquired about the Quimper dishes.  My recollection is that they were $75 which my mother thought was too much for those post war days.  So she passed on them and I don't know what happened to them.

While I was away on summer vacation there was an auction.  When I got home a neighbor told me that Mrs. Norwood's things had been sold at the auction.  What happened to the furniture?  The neighbor told me that the nearby antiques shop owner, Dave of Dave's Used Furniture, had been the successful bidder for the lowboy and the secretary.


Here is an almost identical secretary bookcase to the
 one that so impressed me in my youth.
Over we went to this shop and there were the coveted pieces.  My recollection is that the lowboy was $27.00.  How could I ever get enough money to buy it?  I didn't have any money.  But wait.  How about that $25.00 war bond for which I had bought stamps every week at school.  Mother let me cash it in for the lowboy.  Perhaps I had the necessary $2.00 to complete the sale or maybe my mother kicked in the $2.00.  The lowboy was mine! My first piece of furniture in a long life of collecting and buying furniture.

This vintage Chippendale lowboy is very similar
to the prized lowboy I purchased.
The lowboy was ensconsed in my mother's dining room with a tea set on top.  It went with me to CT, then back to Newburyport, MA; always in my dining room.  When my son bought a big house I passed it on to him because I had moved to a smaller house and needed to thin out quite a few pieces. It isn't period but it is still a handsome piece of furniture.

After practically a life time of buying property, selling property of our own along with many years as a Realtor I still can't resist looking at the ads and following new listings through Realtor.com.  From time to time I check the listings in my home town.

A few days ago I did just that and there was a new listing.  I recognized it instantly.  It was the Norwood's old house on that country road.  I looked at the photos and read the description claiming it to possibly be the oldest house in the town.  That is very doubtful but it is still a nice country place, off the beaten path, with fireplaces, old stonewalls and pasture land on five acres.

This is an old picture of the house found on line.  It is more as I remember it than the newer photos.  It has a lovely Greek Revival door and inside the house there are Greek Revival doors and mantels.  The house is dated 1750 but it is probably closer to 1840.  If it was 1750 it would be facing south and the front door would not be in the gable end of the house.The newer picture is easily recognizable but this is more the way I remember it.  It was white not gray but had more detail than it does today.
Seeing the pictures of the house set me off down memory lane reminiscing about our hikes up Norcross Hill, my fond memories of the Norwoods and my introduction to Chippendale furniture. The only thing the Norwoods had that I didn't like was those awful fig newtons!

Old pastures and stonewalls add just the right touch to this country property.

Some things never change.  I still love old houses and Chippendale furniture and I think I would still hate fig newtons, not that I have checked lately.

Thanks for wandering down memory lane with me on a snowy January day.

Pru