Preservation of Historic Sites and Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Instead, he chose to preserve the building's countless accretions so as to reflect the evolution of domestic life over three centuries. This approach, which can be seen at many of SPNEA's house museums today, has since become a distinguishing feature of SPNEA's preservation philosophy" (Redfern para. 2).

It was in 1915 that Appleton made his first visit to Newbury's fabled Spencer-Peirce-Little House, where he immediately recognized the importance of this imposing stone mansion. He recognized that the two-story brick porch was unique in New England. He kept in touch with the Little family with some regularity, hoping to secure the preservation of the property. Appleton died in 1947, but his thirty-year relationship with the Little family bore fruit in 1971 when Amelia and Agnes Little arranged for the land, buildings, and furnishings to come to SPNEA when they died (Redfern para. 2).

Norman Morrison Isham

Appleton learned much from Norman Morrison Isham, though he departed from the teacher in several respects. Isham co-wrote two seminal books on old building, Early Rhode Island Houses in 1895 and Early Connecticut Houses in 1900. Isham was an architect himself and designed some important Colonial Revival buildings. He also supervised restoration projects and directed archaeological excavations: "Influenced by a scientific regimen in analyzing the structure, materials, and environment of old buildings, Isham perhaps epitomized his generation's blend of antiquarianism, archaeology, and architecture" (Lindgren 72).

Isham was an architect in Rhode Island and was known for his study and restoration of colonial buildings. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut and educated at Brown University. For six years, he worked at the Providence architectural firm of Stone, Carpenter, and Wilson, and he then established his own office in 1893. he was made a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects in 1913 (the Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania 3).

Isham viewed the earliest buildings of New England as an expression of the medieval world, noting that for one thing, Rhode Island had been settled by artisans who were themselves descendants of Medieval craftsmen. Isham agreed with Appleton that the artisans of the seventeenth century had preserved "the traditions of their trades" in these structures. The prevailing belief at the time had been that these craftsmen had been "wasteful and clumsy" but Isham referred to them as "economical" and "skillful in handling their material:

Just as the English crafts movement had praised the roughness, irregularity, and variety of preindustrial carpentry, so, too, did Isham refute the charge that the work of early Yankees was ugly, haphazard, and barren. Those early craftsmen had been "artistic," he said in his own twist of Horatio Greenough's adage "form follows function," because they "solved the problem before them in the simplest manner, with logical use of the material which they had at hand, and with good arrangement of line and mass." Unlike his own day, those buildings were simple, but "simplicity, as we are just beginning to see, is the cardinal virtue in architecture." (Lindgren 72)

One of the differences between Isham and Appleton is in their loyalty to different groups in society, Appleton to the patrician class of which he was an example, and Isham to a more democratic base: "Yankee preservationists of his ilk held a subterranean streak of populism, mixed with antimodernism, in their admiration of this folk tradition" (Lindgren 72). Lindgren notes other similarities between Isham and Appleton, however, in the way they were dedicated to preserving certain types of architecture and certain influences in building:

All the while, these antiquaries were a world apart from those architects who were experimenting with a confusing range of Classical, Renaissance, and Colonial revivals that showed more panache than restraint, more machine-made decoration than an artisan's soul. Meanwhile, Isham and Appleton were laboring to save the medieval vernacular, which had been shaped by common men and revealed, unlike academic work, a building's intimate contact with the soil, the times, and the craftsman's hand. Paradoxically, while Isham was praising those earlier artisans who had clung to their traditions, New England's workers were being robbed of their own customs and skills by profit-minded corporate managers who promoted Americanization, social order, and business efficiency in the name of progressivism. (Lindgren 73)

The sort of work Isham did can be seen in his commission in the 1930s to restore the Weaver farmhouse. After the restoration was startred, the house was given to SPNEA:

The first lean-to addition was also the first room restored during Isham's famed 1930's restoration. And it had been carefully done. Besides a huge fireplace, it still retains many of the original hand-planed, feather-edged, vertical pine boards, along with batten doors with wooden latches and strap hinges. The ceiling is exposed oak beam and the floor as well as ceiling above is wideboard. Of particular importance, this room also contains two of the original square-shaped, single casement, leaded glass windows. They too were carefully restored and re-hung where evidence had shown them to originally be. These windows provide some of the best evidence available of seventeenth century windows. The entirely restored room presents an excellent picture of a seventeenth century interior in Rhode Island. ("The Clement Weaver Home" para. 7)


Preservationists William Sumner Appleton and Norman Morrison Isham made their mark on the idea of preservation, left examples of their own work in this field, and in the case of Appleton created an ongoing organization dedicated to preservation. Appleton was more the Brahmin offering his expertise and ability in service of preservation for the American artisans of the past, while Isham had a more egalitarian vision of the value of preservation and of what sort of buildings should be preserved. Together, they set a pattern followed by many groups to this day. They restored a number of buildings personally and through organizations like SPNEA, founded by Appleton and supported by Isham and others for decades as the organization acquired properties and restored buildings across New England, Isham was an architect and so had a direct involvement in architectural restoration, while Appleton was well educated and contributed what he could to the process and to the organization of the society he founded.

Works Cited

The Architectural Archives of the University of Pennsylvania. University of Pennsylvania, 2003.

The Clement Weaver Home" (2007). April 29, 2007. p://

Lindgren, James M. Preserving Historic New England: Preservation, Progressivism, and the Remaking of Memory. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Mason, Randall and Max Page. Giving Preservation a History: Histories of Historic Preservation in the United States. New York: Routledge, 2004.

Redfern, Maggie. "Three Old Houses Cast Their Spell…

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