Tag Archive | historic home

Circus Trip 2018: Oldfields Gardens

Day 25, Thursday, August 9, 2018

Indianapolis, Indiana

I went to the Indianapolis Art Museum!  But first, I must try to explain the names…  Newfields is the official name of the Indianapolis Art Museum complex; it is named for the newer house built on the site that the museum is on.  The art museum is just one building on the site, though.  In 1966, Ruth Lilly and Josiah K. Lilly, the younger generation of the pharmaceutical king family, donated the estate to the Art Association of Indianapolis for their museum complex.  The donation included the country homes of the family; the original home was named Oldfields, and the new house was Newfields!

The Newfields complex includes the Oldfields gardens, the Oldfields Mansion (also called Lilly House), which was accessible through a self-guided tour, and the Indianapolis Art Museum, the Clowes Pavilion (another mansion which is currently closed for restoration) as well as the 100 acre Virginia B Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which I did not have time to visit.  Admission is $18, which is high, especially after they had no admission fee for years, but it is incredible!  I feel like that $18 was good for two days, but I can’t remember, and I couldn’t turn up any mention of it on their website.

I started with the gardens, figuring that I could spend some time outside earlier in the day before it got unbearably hot.  Well, to be honest, it was already unbearably hot, but I am nothing if not dedicated to my touristing.

The gardens were designed for the original owners of the home; and include a sunken formal garden, a ravine garden, an orchard, a fountain, the Grand Allée (vista) and a border garden. When the Lilly family purchased the estate in 1933, the gardens were mature and thankfully the family didn’t change the design of the gardens.  It is incredible to have these historic gardens available to the public!

There is a lot to see, and outdoor art installations also add a touch of whimsy to the gardens.  I have to admit though, the brightly colored, nearly life sized bears, alligators, meerkats, turtles and other animals scattered around added a bit too much whimsy for my taste.  I prefer my art a bit more traditional.  It was fun to wander around and check everything out though!

 

 

Virginia 2015: Stratford Hall

Day 10: Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Our next place was Stratford Hall. Moving up about 100 years for the George Washington Birthplace, we were going to see the birthplace of Robert E. Lee!

Stratford-Hall-Sign

Stratford Hall was the plantation home of Colonel Thomas Lee, who purchased the land for the plantation in 1717 – it was then known as “The Clifts.” He renamed it Stratford Hall, after his grandfather’s home in England. Thomas Lee was kind of a big deal; he was a founder of the Ohio Company, a member of the Virginia colony’s governing council. At the time of his death, he was the President of the governing council and acting Governor of Virginia. The home was not constructed until 1737 (it was finished in 1738).

The landside of Stratford Hall, with original outbuildings

The landside of Stratford Hall, with original outbuildings

Thomas left the home to his son, Philip Ludwell Lee, who left the home to his daughter, Matilda Lee. Matilda married her cousin, Revolutionary War Hero “Lighthorse” Harry Lee – he was Robert E. Lee’s father – but Matilda was not his mother. Upon her death in 1790, she left Lighthorse Harry Lee a life interest in the property – he could live there until his death, but she willed it to their son together .

Harry Lee married a second time, to Robert E. Lee’s mother Ann Hill Carter. Unfortunately, Robert E. Lee’s father was better at war than he was at finances, and after spending a couple of years in debtor’s prison, he moved the family to Alexandria and his son from his first marriage took over the property, and soon had to sell it due to a lawsuit over an unrelated scandal. After having been home to the Lees for four generations, the sale took Stratford Hall out of the Lee family for good.

The cliffside of Stratford Hall

The cliffside of Stratford Hall

Although Robert E. Lee only lived at Stratford until he was four, he had fond memories of the home and estate his entire life, and wrote about wishing he could once again consider it home.

The architecture is Georgian, with a Central Hall and wings on either side. It has beautiful central staircases; one on either side of the home. The home has four outbuildings, one on each corner of the house, and they are all still standing. I loved the symmetry of the home.

An artsy shot of Stratford Hall

An artsy shot of Stratford Hall

The stables are also original I believe, and there are reconstructed slave quarters at the site.

Slave Cabins at Stratford Hall

Slave Cabins at Stratford Hall

When we got there, we headed over first to have lunch at the restaurant on site before they closed for the day. We split some baked potato soup and crab cakes, which were both fine but not spectacular. Then we headed back over for the tour – Jon chose not to go (I guess he was “historic homed” out at that point).

My crabcakes at the Stratford Hall restaurant

My crabcakes at the Stratford Hall restaurant

I found the tour interesting, but slightly odd. There wasn’t really much formal information; the docent pointed out some interesting artifacts and then left everybody to peek around the rooms on our own. I did appreciate that she didn’t bug me about the fact that I was sucking on cough drops; better than coughing violently throughout the whole tour, as I was still getting over the cold.

At one point there was a machine in one of the rooms; I imagine it was used as a part of the historic restoration. I asked her to tell me about the machine; but she misunderstood and launched into a lengthy explanation of the particular green in the room (the paint). She went on for several minutes on the paint and its history, at which time I didn’t have the energy to explain that it wasn’t at all what I was asking about. SIGH…

After the tour, I checked out the outbuildings, and made friends with a chicken in the stable. Oddly, there was only one… I also took a little time to look at the exhibits in the Visitor’s Center, which detailed the restoration of the home (but don’t explain that funny machine).

My chicken friend

My chicken friend

Stratford Hall’s architecture was probably my favorite historic home of the trip. I loved the brick and the symmetry, and the clean lines and simple styling of the home. The grounds are beautiful, and I’m sure would have been a lovely place to live.

Sadly, the staff were odd. The lady selling the tickets was kind of rude… The docent was nice, but not as well informed as she should have been, and the gift shop clerk… Let’s just say that while I was waiting to make my purchase, she was talking on the phone because she was having some trouble with the credit card machine. No worry, because I was going to pay cash! But she actually asked me if I could “come back later.” Umm… No… So, yeah, the service part of the experience at Stratford Hall could use some work…

MI Road Trip: Hackley and Hume Historic Site

After our lunch at Founder’s Brewery, we got back on the road and made our way to Muskegon, Michigan. It is a small lakefront city established during Michigan’s lumber boom, and kept vibrant due to its location on the lake and shipping routes. We wanted to tour the Hackley and Hume Historic Site, which consists of two historic homes that are owned and operated by the Lakeshore Museum Center. Charles H. Hackley is Michigan’s most famous lumber baron (as if each state has a most famous lumber baron!) and Thomas Hume was one of his business partners.

When we showed up to tour the homes, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the tour was free in October! They charge a nominal fee all season long, but the home is also partially funded by property taxes, so October is the time the museum gives back to the community in the form of free admission.

Hackley purchased the double lot in 1887 and promptly sold part of it to Hume. The homes and the City Barn behind the homes were designed and built between 1887 and 1889. Despite having been designed by the same architect and largely using the same color scheme on the exterior of both homes, they are very different from each other. Hackley was married and had two older adopted children; he was the founding partner of the business and had his home built as an extravagant retirement home.

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The exterior of the Hackley House – smaller but more elaborate than the Hume House

The Hackley home was built to impress; it was very detailed and intricate. Both homes are built in the Queen Anne Victorian style, but the Hackley home features elaborate woodcarving throughout, majolica tile, leaded glass windows, imported marble and expensive furniture.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The stairway in the Hackley House – No that’s not a ghost outside the window; its the painter.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The entryway of the Hackley House has five carved heads, representing the five races of man. This one is the Native American.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The beautiful woodworking around the sink in the bedroom.

The bathroom was also very unique – apparently Hackley was a bit of a germo-phobe, so he had the bathroom completely tiled to ensure that it was sanitary – even the ceiling! The bathroom also had an old time toilet paper holder. The toilet paper came in squares back then, not rolls, and the squares were held down by a spring-loaded metal bar.

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

Have you ever seen tile on the bathroom ceiling?

The Hackley home largely remained true to the turn of the century period. Hackley’s daughter lived in the home for a period of time after her father’s death, then eventually sold it to the American Red Cross, who took good care of the place.

The Hume house had a more open floor plan, and was more modern, but also more modest. The Hume family had 6 or 7 children, and he was a lesser partner in the business, so he didn’t have as much money. As a result, his home was nowhere near as richly appointed. It is presented as it existed later in life after being redecorated in the 1920s. It is still clearly a rich man’s home, but the décor in the home is much more simple.

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

One of the fireplaces in the Hume House

Both homes are great examples of Queen Anne style architecture, and it is interesting to note the differences. The two homes also share a gigantic carriage house; with each half of the carriage house a mirror image of the other. Now it houses a small museum, a theater for the movie of the area and family history, and a gift shop. The museum is small, but it explained more of the history of the area, and has an incredible amount of detail about the Hackley and Hume families and even the servants who lived in the homes and carriage house. Part of the barn has been restored to its look as a stable and the coachman’s quarters.

Photos are allowed inside, without flash, and just in case you are wondering, yes, the homes are painted in their original colors. The Hume house has… 14… exterior colors!

 

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Hume House (with the City Barn in the background) – larger much less intricate than the Hackley House. And 14 exterior colors!

The Lakeshore Museum Center also operates two other historic properties that are open to the public, a replica of a fire barn built in 1875 (and largely funded by Charles H. Hackley) and the Scolnik house, a historic home decorated to explore the lives of working class families in the Depression era. We didn’t have time to visit these other properties, but I would love to go back and check these out as well!

The Grand Tour – Day 3 – Asheville to Columbia, SC

On Sunday morning, we got up and headed out for our long drive to Charleston.  It is a four and a half hour drive, so we planned to make the trip a bit more leisurely, and not plan to be in Charleston before the tourist attractions closed for the day.  We got our hotel breakfast buffet, packed up and checked out, and headed out.  Soon, it started raining.  Then it started dumping huge buckets of water onto our car.  The drive became pretty frustrating, because it alternated between light rain and a torrential downpour.  We drove for a couple of hours, and then stopped for lunch in Columbia, South Carolina.  We drove around for a few minutes in the business district (which was absolutely deserted on a Sunday) and found the Liberty Bar and Grill.  I found out later that it is a chain, but at the time, we didn’t know that.  It is in an old restored warehouse (they did a good job with the restoration).  I had a Cobb salad and Jon had the Ahi Tuna Salad.  We asked our server to recommend a local brew, and ended up trying the Sweetwater 420 Pale Ale from Atlanta, Georgia.  It was light and hoppy and a teensy bit bland.  It certainly wasn’t on the same level as West Coast microbrews – I think they might get there though!

I thought we were leaving this behind in Washington!

My Cobb Salad at the Liberty Bar and Grill

After lunch we went over to the Robert Mills house before getting back on the road.  I knew nothing about Robert Mills, but I read in the guidebook that the Columbia Historic Society owns and operates four home museums that are open for tours.  We thought they all looked interesting, but we only had time for one, so we chose the Robert Mills house.  Confusingly, Robert Mills didn’t own the house, and never lived in it – he was the architect.  The home was actually owned by Ainsley Hall – his 2nd large mansion in Columbia – the first is across the street.

Robert Mills House in Columbia, SC

Ainsley Hall and his wife Sarah lived in the beautiful home across the street.  As the story goes, one evening in 1823 Mr. Hall was chatting with a colleague who offered to buy the home and asked Mr. Hall to throw out a price.  Mr. Hall responded with $35,000, what he thought was an astronomical price (about $750,000 in today’s dollars – he clearly hadn’t lived through a real estate bubble if he thought that was an unheard of sum, but that’s how the story goes).  You can see where this is going, right?  The colleague accepted the deal, then had his slaves come down and move Ainsley and Sarah Hall out of their home THAT NIGHT.  The record is silent on what Sarah thought of this, but one can assume she was PISSED!  I would be really torqued off!  Now Ainsley really had to kiss ass, so he promised Sarah that he would build her a better house across the street that looked down upon their old home.  He bought the lot and made a deal with Robert Mills to build the home.

The Side View of the Robert Mills House

The Back of the Robert Mills House

Robert Mills has an impressive resume.  He was a federal architect under seven different Presidents, designing and building the US Patent Office (modeled after the Parthenon), the US Treasury Building, and the Washington Monument.  He was an early advocate of fireproofing measures (this is significant later in this post – trust me).  Actually, nobody is really sure what sort of deal he had with Ainsley Hall to build the home, because he mostly designed public buildings.  When you look at the home, you certainly see the public building influence.

So Mr. Mills set about building the home, and when it was almost complete, Ainsley sent Sarah off to New York to go shopping to furnish and decorate their new abode.  He was going to follow her there shortly.  Well, Ainsley set out, then got sick on the journey and died.  And sadly, since he had neglected to update his will to give Sarah the new home in the event of his death, she got NOTHING!  Sarah had to go home and live with her parents…  She never remarried.  The home was sold to a Presbyterian Seminary, and was eventually purchased by a Bible College.

The tour of the house is pretty cool.  The first thing that you notice upon entering the front door is that this home has no grand staircase in the entryway.  In fact, there is no staircase in the entryway at all.  There are two reasons for this.  Mills wanted the entry to be symmetrical with matching doors.  He even put in an extra false door so they would be symmetrical!  Strangely, he could have just had two doors going into the dining room, but apparently that wasn’t what he wanted.  The other reason was that Mills knew grand staircases were a huge fire hazard.  If a house caught fire (which they frequently did back then), the oxygen would race right up the staircase and trap the occupants upstairs.  So instead, Mills put in a staircase that was enclosed in brick.  Interestingly, this is the home’s only staircase.  For the time period, it was highly unusual to not have a separate staircase for the slaves.  The grand entry is also curved, and even the doors are curved!  When you go into the rooms off the grand entry, they have curved walls – it would have been tough to curve the molding in those rooms!

The tour also took us into the basement, where the living would have taken place during the hot summer months (if you didn’t take off for Europe during the summer).  While it certainly was cooler downstairs, it was a bit dreary.  Terra cotta tile floors and less light.  But I suppose you can’t live the glam life all the time.  Megan, our guide, was cheerful and talkative and answered all my questions (we were the only two people on the tour so I could ask whatever I wanted!)

At the end of the tour, Megan showed us where Mr. Mills, had the brick walls on the outside of the home painted red and relined.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The natural work of brick and mortar didn’t create lines that were straight or perfect enough for the obsessive-compulsive Mills.  So he had the brick painted and relined, so they could give it the look of perfectly straight mortar lines running through the brick.  And Jon thought I was particular!

The Painted Lines on the Brick – Look in the Center Section

After we finished our tour at the Robert Mills house, it was time to get back on the road and head the rest of the way to Charleston.  And right about then, it started raining again!