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|Hayley Matthews • 5/19/17|
The Short Version: When most people think of US history, the Northeast is top of mind. It’s the birthplace of the country and where the New World’s grand experiment with democracy began. If you’re a history lover, the properties of Historic New England are beautiful destinations where you can indulge in your passion and connect with other history aficionados. The homes, farms, and landscapes in the five-state region of New England represent 400 years of heritage. Most of the sites host events, such as vintage baseball games and curator tours, to bring the charms of yesterday into the present. With an initiative to educate history buffs and novices about the notable topics, events, and places in the area, Historic New England, the country’s oldest regional heritage organization, has become a popular destination to interact with the past and make new friends.
In 1909, William Sumner Appleton learned of plans to significantly alter the 18th-century home of Jonathan Harrington in Lexington, Massachusetts — the site of a confrontation between American and British troops in 1775. Believing it would be a tragedy to lose such an important piece of American history, Appleton discovered his passion for protecting the life and architecture of New England.
Appleton saved the Harrington House and began his mission to preserve properties with architectural and aesthetic merit. In 1910, he founded the Society for Preservation of New England Antiquities — now known as Historic New England. With a particular affinity for the more modest dwellings of the first settlers of the region, the organization has acquired multiple 17th-century properties for preservation over the years and continues to further its founder’s efforts today.
For those who share the same love for history and preserving the past, there is no shortage of opportunities to explore the area’s history. Historic New England’s properties can be found in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, and Rhode Isand, and offer a glimpse into the region’s rich heritage.
The organization owns nearly 40 properties across five states, so there is sure to be a designated historical site near you no matter where you are in the region. Whether you’re looking for a new date idea or seeking to meet new people, Historic New England offers a multitude of beautiful venues and educational activities to explore.
Some people love the romance of Historic New England’s architecture, and sharing it with a date or partner is a great way to get to the heart of each other’s interests. Walking the gardens and enjoying a picnic from the region’s most beautiful properties offers a unique way to learn about life as far back as the 17th century.
Adventurers can explore trails to take in the views outside and then retire to the historically accurate property interiors. The different destinations showcase a timeline of the region beginning with the humbler homes of the first settlers to the opulent homes of leaders of past societies.
The Hamilton House, a Georgian mansion in South Berwick, Maine, is a perfect example of old charm. Built circa 1785, the Colonial Revival-style country estate is located on a bluff overlooking the Salmon Falls River. The beautifully decorated mansion is inspirational and sure to spark conversations among visitors about the tastes and styles of the past.
Those with an eye for design can visit Beauport, the Sleeper-McCann House, formerly home to one of America’s first interrior designers, Henry Davis Sleeper. Overlooking Gloucester Harbor, each room features a historical or literary figure, theme, color, shape, or object. If you appreciate interrior design, do not miss the gorgeous China Trade Room with hand-painted Chinese wallpaper. The site also has a quirky side, with an Octagon Room paying homage to all things in eight. Fans of amber glass shouldn’t miss Central Hall, which houses an ingenious display of over 150 pieces of amber glass. Perched on a rock ledge, it’s truly a vision to behold.
If you’re into pink houses and Gothic Revival, the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, is a must-visit. Unique and otherworldly, this is also the site of the Midsummer’s Fairy Tea Party, and you can easily see why. The cottage is draped in whimsy and has everything from an aviary to the oldest surviving indoor bowling alley. Just the opulent gardens will blow every visitor away.
Historic New England not only encourages visitors to tour the homes but also to attend the many events offered at its sites. Several of the properties have engaging activities that take you back to historical moments that enhance society today, marrying the past with the present.
Beer lovers can head over to the Swett-Isley House in Massachusetts for Tales and Ales. Sit around a traditional tavern table while swilling brews from Ipswich Ale Brewery and enjoy a hearty dinner. Tales of swashbuckling, sword fights, scandalous romances, and brawls from Newbury’s past are commonplace and are best washed down with the local ale.
Baseball fans can go back in time (the 1860s to be exact) for a match with old-school rules and teams at a vintage double-header at the Spenser-Pierce-Little Farm. Join forces with your fellow visitors to cheer on the rival Lowell BBC and the Portsmouth Rockinghams teams as they take the field. Historically accurate rules, including no gloves allowed, underhand pitching and outs from caught bounced balls, are enforced.
History-loving couples with kids can enjoy a fun family date kite-flying at Watson Farm in Jamestown, Rhode Island. Watch and learn from a professional kite-flyer, and then try your hand at it by launching your own kite into the air. Self-guided tours of the farm trails to Narragansett Bay are available to those seeking breathtaking views. Pack a picnic and make a family day of it. Bonus: The kids will be so worn out, they’ll turn in early and give you some quality alone time.
Spanning four centuries and five states, Historic New England’s properties are the perfect place to celebrate weddings, parties, or other special events. These magical settings will transport guests back in time and are sure to create unforgettable memories.
With 37 acres of lawns, gardens, and historic greenhouses, the Lyman Estate gives any gathering gravitas. Located in Waltham, Massachusetts, and open year-round, you can enjoy cocktails in the garden and dine al fresco on the covered veranda. Palladian windows, chandeliers and classical columns all give a special event a unique feel.
The Governor John Langdon House in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, boasts a 100-foot rose and grape arbor that leads to a small pavilion and secluded garden — perfect for a bride’s walk down the aisle. An expansive garden with perennial beds creates an ideal backdrop for pictures or a cocktail hour. The Georgian Mansion, once the home of a revolutionary leader, signer of the Constitution, and governor, is perfectly preserved.
These properties represent just a few of the organization’s venue options and are sure to be a couple’s dream location for an engagement, wedding, or anniversary celebration.
Beyond visiting properties and enjoying the region’s beauty, be sure to make time to participate in Historic New England’s Everyone’s History Project, the result of the organization’s partnership with communities and organizations across the region to collect and share stories.
Visitors can learn about African-American tourist destinations and local favorites like the Boston Haymarket. Historic New England presents critical moments and places in history in a way that attaches visitors to the region’s cultural heritage.
William Appleton’s mission to preserve some of the country’s most impressive historical landmarks has proven to be a worthwhile endeavor, and, for more than a century, Historic New England has furthered his cause. With tours of the beautiful properties, a calendar of events, and educational opportunities, Historic New England is a great destination to connect with others over a shared love of American history.