House Tour Holiday
Larry Buckley writer
Helen Trotman & Peter Baker photographer
Six of Weston’s finest Colonial homes, festively decorated for the season, will be open for the 2007 Holiday House Tour on Saturday, December 8, from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm. The biennial event, organized by the Women’s Community League Juniors, benefits the League’s Service and Scholarship Fund. Tour chairman Diana Chaplin has assembled an outstanding roster of privately owned, pre-Revolutionary War houses, most of which have never been open to the public. Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased in advance at www.wclweston.org or on the day of the event at the Josiah Smith Tavern barn, 358 Boston Post Road, across from the Town Green. Only a limited number of tickets will be sold. Participants may visit the six houses in any order, with a break for tea and a tour of the historic Golden Ball Tavern Museum at 662 Boston Post Road.
Addresses of featured properties will not be disclosed in advance. The first house is the only example in Weston to be moved not once, but twice. Built for wealthy merchant Elisha Jones, the construction date of 1754 to 1755 is documented in the owner’s diary along with the name of the out-of-town builder, who easily outshined his local counterparts. The exceptionally fine example of early Georgian architecture was the largest in Weston and the first with a “four over four” plan consisting of a gracious center hall and four major rooms on each floor. In the turbulent years leading up to war with England, Elisha Jones was an outspoken Loyalist whose views made him the object of attack. He fled to Boston, which was then occupied by British troops.
After the Civil War, a wealthy Boston businessman bought the property as a country farm. When he decided to replace the century-old mansion with something more up-to-date, it was sold and moved to Boston Post Road. It stood across from the cemetery for five years, until the owner acquired a more suitable site on the opposite side of the town center. The second move, in 1888, was a civic nightmare. The house was too wide for the road and had to be cut in two. As the first half proceeded, the second half continued to block traffic, which had to be rerouted. A March blizzard compounded the problem. Finally, after four weeks and considerable public outcry, the house reached its present destination. Tour goers who look above the front door on the inside can see where the two halves were reattached. The present owners have completed a major restoration, and today the Elisha Jones House is one of Weston’s prized landmarks.
The Burleigh Mansion was built in the mid-18th century in Newmarket, New Hampshire, near Exeter. The original owner, Lt. John Burleigh, was an enterprising man who prospered in the shipping trade and could afford a well-detailed, high-style Georgian house. In preparation for moving the Burleigh Mansion to Weston in 1922, workmen spent six months dismantling and labeling each piece. The new owner was an antique dealer married to the daughter of a Weston estate owner. The couple moved everything except plaster and shingles, 17 truckloads in all. Outstanding decorative features include imported blue Delft fireplace tiles, early 19th – century French scenic wallpaper, paneled rooms, corner cupboards, and interior shutters. The present owners have spent four years restoring this unique treasure. All the windows were removed and restored, the priceless stair hall wallpaper was restored, and new paneling and cabinets were custom-milled. The owners then acquired a second Colonial house that had been scheduled for demolition in Kingston, New Hampshire, dismantled it, and trucked it to Weston. The frame was used for a family room addition and the wide pine boards, doors, hardware and fireplace surrounds were reused where needed.
The William Smith House is one of the oldest remaining in Weston. The earliest part of the house was built about 1715 for the Smith family, one of the first to move permanently from Watertown to the newly-incorporated town of Weston. The family patriarch was a tailor as well as a farmer. His seven children included Josiah Smith, who built the historic tavern where the holiday tour begins. The Smith House probably began as a “one over one,” with only one room per floor. As was typical of the time, the house faces south, an early environmental strategy for capturing maximum sunlight in winter. The first addition was probably the two rooms on the east side of the front door. Another addition gave the house its asymmetrical, six-bay fenestration. The current owners removed a later garage, and created a comfortable new kitchen and family room incorporating the former kitchen hearth and beehive oven. Two sets of French doors lead out to a stone terrace and perennial gardens.
On the same scenic country road, the John Bemis House is another handsome south-facing Colonial, traditionally dating to 1731. The house appears to have been built as a typical “two over two” with a rear keeping room across the back. Like many early New England homes, it has a large central chimney and “tight-turn-around” staircase. The house has five fireplaces, Georgian woodwork, and original detail throughout. Current owners have added modern amenities, including a gourmet kitchen/family room that complements the period front rooms. A bank of windows overlooks the large backyard and pond.
The Jonathan Spring House was built about 1764, and belonged for many years to father and son boot makers who were members of the Coburn family. In the early 20th century, a wealthy couple purchased the property and established a model dairy with a huge stone barn on what is now the adjacent house lot. The house was used for boarding the hired men. The original 18th-century barn has survived and adds to the picturesque character of the property. Gardens are extensive and produce flowers sold commercially. The Jonathan Spring House was the first house in Weston to be protected by both preservation and conservation restrictions.
The 1740 Abijah Upham House is perhaps best known for its handsome front door surround, which features a 14-panel wood door framed by vine-laced pilasters and a broken scroll pediment. Although now a local landmark, this example of 18th-century wood carver’s art is not original to the house or to Weston. In the 1950s, new owners felt that the house needed to be restored “in character, form and feeling to its noble past position,” (see The 1740 Mansion, a booklet printed for the town’s 250th anniversary), although, in fact it had always been a simple farmhouse. In addition to the elaborate Connecticut River Valley door surround, the mid-20th century owners added a dentil cornice and “recreated” a tap room in the cellar. Today, the open kitchen/family room still overlooks pastoral fields and meadows. The house has five fireplaces, a beehive oven, exceptionally wide pine floors, and raised field paneling that is charmingly out of plumb.
The Holiday House Tour also includes admission to the Golden Ball Tavern Museum, a richly evocative historic house, showing decorative and architectural changes of one Weston family over two hundred years. Built in 1765 to 1768 by Isaac Jones, a cousin of Elisha, it operated as an inn, catering to the many travelers along Boston Post Road. It ceased to be a hostelry in 1793, but remained in the Jones family for six generations, until it was purchased by a non-profit trust in the 1960s. Visitors can compare the “four over four” center hall plan and Georgian architectural detailing to the Elisha Jones House and Burleigh Mansion, also on the tour. Special holiday decorations by the Country Garden Club evoke 18th-century styles. Tea and light refreshments will be served.