A Carved Masterpiece
A Carved Masterpiece
Click on the Hot Spots to learn more about the Dining Room sideboard.
The stained glass panels in the sideboard are likely from the studio of William J. McPherson, identified by the signature on the edge of one of the stained glass panels in the vestibule doors. The solder detail on all the first floor stained glass shows the same decorative treatment of small ball at each of the joints.
While we have no evidence of who the wood carvers were, scholars have speculated that the carved panels that flank the sideboard are the work of Luigi Frullini, who had been in New England at the time working on carvings for the owners of Chateau Sur Mer in Newport, Rhode Island.
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From the early years through the 1920s, the MacDonald family supplied most of the farm labor on the estate. Up to eleven family members worked for the Eustises, followed by a second generation of MacDonalds who were born and raised on the estate while their parents worked here. Other individuals and families were also employed at the estate over the years to operate the many facets of farm work. At one time there was a dairy and pig barn, carpenter shop, paint shop, pipe shop, harness shop, machine shop, and blacksmith shop on the property.
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A Working Estate
Aside from his professional work and personal hobbies, W.E.C. Eustis was interested in managing his Milton estate as a working farm. Most of the open land was cultivated, tended by a farm manager and a staff of gardeners and laborers. A large greenhouse was built on the property in the early 1890s and the boiler house behind it still stands.
The Eustises also created a small pond so that ice could be harvested during the winter. A wooden structure was built along the shore of the pond where ice could be stored.
In 1902 W.E.C. built a fieldstone power house near the pond. One hundred seventy-five feet above it stood a large wind turbine that powered a generator inside. This electricity was first wired to the library and eventually to the rest of the house. According to family lore, even after the entire house was connected to municipal power, W.E.C. kept the library hooked up to the on-site power source, which he believed to be more reliable. As a result, the library never lost electricity when the rest of the main house did.
Swedish immigrant Manning Johnson worked as the landscape gardener on the estate from 1904-1917. One of his many responsibilities was to maintain the windmill and power system. His son Paul grew up on the estate and loved to follow his dad as he worked:
He would check [the windmill] twice a day to change instrument charts and to see that everything was working fine. The wind would usually handle the generating of electricity and the pumping of water, but in calm weather, Dad would start the huge gas engine to supplement the wind…The engine could be heard half a mile away. The mill would pump water and charge the batteries in the basement of the big house. At one time, it supplied the electricity needed for all purposes. (One Man’s Story, by Paul Johnson, 1991)
Graffiti in the AtticGraffiti in the attic leads to an important discovery
When this painted message was found hidden between two rafters in the attic, it gave us a significant clue as to who likely painted the interiors of the Eustis house. L. Haberstroh & Son was a Boston decorative firm established by German-born artisan Lucas Haberstroh (1822-1883) in 1870. His son Albert (1855-1912) joined him in 1877.
In 1905 the firm purchased a building at 647 Boylston Street in Copley Square, where the firm continued operating until 1912. To this day the building’s facade bears the firm’s name.
In 1889 the Haberstroh firm produced a promotional booklet titled Art in Decoration. It contained many paint techniques that the firm offered as their specialties. One description of a clouded paint technique bears a similarity to the paint seen on the walls of this room:
“…on the walls and overhead there is an interesting effect of rolling clouds, moist and agreeable in color. This room is a pleasant surprise to the visitor, and is one of the chief points of interest to the ladies.”
A grand space at the center of the home
When the Eustis Estate was built in the late 1870s, the “living hall” was a relatively new concept. Architect William Ralph Emerson was a key proponent of this large and inviting space. He included the design feature in nearly all of his house plans. The living hall was more than just a space that connected rooms; it was a vital part of the house and a central part of daily life.
The living hall was also among the first impressions visitors had of the young couple’s home. Guests entered through the vestibule, where they encountered a pair of dramatic stained glass windows, colorful yet obscuring the view into the hall beyond. Once inside the hall, visitors were impressed by the imposing fireplace of molded terra cotta set behind an arch covered in gold leaf. The richly carved staircase soaring three stories anchored the other side of the room. Opposite the front doors, plants from the estate’s greenhouse thrived in the sunlight.
McPherson's Stained Glass
A hidden signature identifies the maker
When Historic New England removed these stained glass panels from the vestibule doors during the house restoration, we found a signature identifying William J. McPherson of 440 Tremont Street in Boston. This is the studio that created the windows.
William J. McPherson (1821-1900) was a well-known decorator and painter who worked in the Boston area during the second half of the nineteenth century. A highly successful artisan and businessman, McPherson eventually grew his shop to employ 150 men. Over time he employed many well-known craftsmen of the day, including stained glass artisan Donald MacDonald (1841-1916), a one-time partner, and John La Farge (1835-1910), who worked in McPherson’s shop during the mid-1870s.
In a 1910 publication titled The Oldest Paint Shops in Massachusetts, the author offered this assertion about McPherson: “No shop ever established in Boston has done more good for the craft, both master and man, than that of W. J. McPherson. He always advocated the highest grade of work that his clients could afford, and he never rushed his men.”
It is very likely that McPherson’s shop fabricated all of the stained glass windows in the house, including the massive half-moon windows in the third-floor gable ends and the smaller panels in the dining room sideboard cabinets.
The Eustis Estate
A Magnificent Home for a Young Family
On November 7, 1876, twenty-five year old Edith Hemenway married twenty-six year old W.E.C. Eustis. A year later Edith gave birth to twin sons Frederic and Augustus. Shortly thereafter the couple began to build their family home on land given to them by Edith’s mother, Mary Hemenway.