Aspet, a view of the main house and studio from the west. This was the respite of the great sculptor Augustus Saint Gaudens.
By Stephen Piersanti
Text and photographs
September 30, 2010
Cornish/Windsor: 200 Years of Art for the Public and Private Realms
Tours of the town of Windsor, Vt., and private houses and gardens of Cornish, N.H.
Historic Windsor Inc., the Preservation Education Institute of Windsor, Vt., and the New England Chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecturte & Classical America.
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On the first weekend of summer, the ICA & CA New England chapter in association with the Preservation Education Institute and Historic Windsor Inc. conducted a tour of the town of Windsor, Vt., and the surrounding areas to the east that make up the loosely knit town of Cornish, N.H.
Windsor is a sweet and honest Vermont town on the banks of the Connecticut River. The town has a strong building tradition, once being the home to Asher Benjamin early in his career. There are a few buildings that are the direct work of Benjamin, and several houses and buildings bear his hallmark by way of his extensive and popular pattern books. The town seems to contain at least one very good example of any American architectural style, from a church by Asher Benjamin to the late Greek Revival “Windsor House” (also overtly “Vermont” in form), from Carpenter Gothic houses to an early 20th Century Neo Grec/Georgian Revival town library by Henry Bacon. The building tradition is carried on by the work of Historic Windsor Inc. and the Preservation Education Institute, which conduct classes in traditional building technology, organize educational tours and are currently restoring a prominent historic house on Union Street. Also, on the first day of the weekend tour, we visited the Stephen Jacobs House, currently being restored by the PEI/Historic Windsor, as well the studio of sculptor Lawrence Nowlan. We viewed samples of the techniques of artisan plasterer Samantha Colt. The tour itself was organized by Judy Hayward of PEI/Historic Windsor.
(Note that captions are set below each photo.)
Windsor – view of the porch of Windsor House, built in 1836, and the Pettes-Journal Block (Vermont National Bank), built in 1824, beyond, on a Friday afternoon. This was the meeting place for the group attending the tour.
An elevation detail of Windsor House, a Greek Revival and Vermont Vernacular building that is the center of town and the seed for historic preservation in the village of Windsor, having been saved from demolition and then designated a Historic Structure in 1971.
A roofscape along Main Street, Windsor with the hills of Cornish, N.H., beyond.
Detail in the vestibule of Windsor Library, a Neo-Grec/Georgian Revival building erected in 1905, designed by Henry Bacon. Its furniture, casework and paneling are intact.
The Stephen Jacobs House on Union Street, Windsor, just undergoing repairs and restoration by Historic Windsor and the Preservation Education Institute.
Interior detail of the barn on the property of the Jesse Lull House, Main Street, Windsor, a historic property currently under threat.
Detail of the main stair and balustrade, Lull House, influenced by Asher Benjamin’s pattern books, Benjamin having resided and worked in Windsor at the outset of his career.
A detail of the baseless Doric of Windsor House – where the tour set out from
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Cornish is best known as the summer colony of the artists of the American Renaissance. Scattered across the rolling hills, east of the Connecticut River, are houses, farms and small estates. In 1884 Charles Beaman, a successful New York City lawyer, purchased 40 acres of land across the river from Windsor and set up his “casino” on Blow Me Down Farm, where Stanford White would later have a mill building built. From there Beaman campaigned to bring Augustus Saint Gaudens, the sculptor, there for a summer excursion and thus planted the seed for the Colony. Charles Platt, an artist turned architect, had his first houses built there for himself and friends/clients.
The tour of Cornish allowed us to visit Platt’s first commissioned house, which has been intensely restored. The house sits at the top of gentle hill overlooking its now well-manicured grounds with the town of Windsor and Mount Ascutney beyond. We also toured a house and grounds by Philadelphia architect Wilson Eyre, built for another early arrival at Cornish, Stephen Parrish (Maxfield’s father). The house is a poised composition of colonial-revival details on a simple form reminiscent of an English Arts and Crafts house; the grounds and gardens are intimate and grow into the surrounding woods on the hillside.
The approach drive to Hill Home, in Plainfield, N.H.
From Blow Me Down Farm – a late 19th Century Colonial Revival house pegged together by New York lawyer Charles Beaman, who instigated the Cornish Colony – a view of the Connecticut River beyond a dry-laid stone wall and a rain-soaked cornfield.
An interior at Blow Me Down Farm, the property recently acquired by the National Park Service. The room awaits its new purpose.
A detail of an exterior storm casement at Blow Me Down Farm.
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The centerpiece of the tour is Aspet, the house and studio of Saint Gaudens. Once a roadside inn or tavern, Saint Gaudens, over several years, transformed the house and grounds into a gathering place for the members of the colony. The gardens are divided into several different areas and outdoor rooms, and are beautifully maintained currently (as is the house and studio) by the National Park Service. The full working studio, wonderful porches, the “artistic” interior and the gardens are quite an experience – graced, of course, by views of the river valley, Mount Ascutney and the town of Windsor.
Aspet – the home and studio of Augustus Saint Gaudens in Cornish. A detail of the west porch, added to the original house by Saint Gaudens. (Photo taken in September 2009.)
On the west porch at Aspet, Saint Gaudens National Historic Park.
The north garden at Aspet, just to the rear of the main house; laid out by the Saint Gaudens, modified by Ellen Shipman in the early 20th Century.
The garden just north of the studio, the first garden laid out on the property by Saint Gaudens himself, where the sculptor would sit and view the house and Connecticut River valley and Mount Ascutney beyond.
The Stoa-like porch of the studio, with Minoan/Pompeian columns and a pergola sheltering a cast of the frieze of the Parthenon with a plaster ceiling with remnants of sky blue pigment.
Interior of the studio of Saint Gaudens, a cast of the Diana, the porch beyond.
A domestic interior, the North Parlor in the main house, Aspet.