Yesterday we visited one of the last remaining and true representations of Gothic architecture in the country; the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, CT. Roseland Cottage is owned and operated by Historic New England, a heritage organization founded in 1910 whose mission is to preserve historic homes, farms, landscapes and objects and to perpetuate their stories through events, tours, and education.
“We save and share New England’s past to engage and inform present and future generations.”
The Roseland Cottage pops up quite often during my journey down the rabbit hole to find an historic site to visit on our weekend jaunts. It’s easy to remember because the photographs show a unique building with a distinct color palette of shades of pink. Not the “blush and bashful” of Steel Magnolia memories (“the sanctuary looks like it’s been hosed down in Pepto-Bismol”) but a rarely seen Gothic pigment that you’ll not see on any house in your lifetime (or the inside of a southern parish). The outside alone is worth checking out yet when you go inside…
A few key points if you’re not going to read on:
- Built in 1846 by Henry Chandler Bowen (1813-1896), NY financier and businessman.
- One of the best preserved, best documented Gothic cottage-villas in the nation
- Added to National Historic Register in 1977
- Declared a National Historic Landmark in 1992
- Sits on 3 acres
- Houses the oldest indoor bowling alley in the US
- Intact Parterre gardens
- Much of it’s original interior design and fixtures intact
- Three generations of Bowens lived on the property until Historic New England purchased the home. Kind of a big deal.
We drove down from Boston and from Route 395 you take the Thompson/N.Grosvenordale exit. Neither one of us had ever been through Thompson or Putnam, Connecticut before and we now know why! The area is one of the state’s best kept secrets. The views are breathtaking! There are mansions and historical properties everywhere; farmland expanses, sudden wooded enclaves, and winding roads. It could almost put Newport to shame, if it wanted to but one can tell right away, the residents seem fine with the anonymity and near unmucked backdrop. As we meandered our way through town, gawking at the gorgeousness, we came upon a long line of cars waiting to enter the Woodstock Fair, so if you are going to head to Roseland, make sure you leave time to get through the traffic; only set us back about 5 minutes or so but we have no idea how long it might take regularly. On the flip side, maybe you want to attend the Fair, too so it’s a good idea to check in about that during the end of summer period.
There is parking right behind the house but the entrance to the lot is before the house itself. Our GPS app took us down a side street that did not offer any entrance to the property. So be prepared to backtrack slightly if you miss it. But you can’t miss it. It’s nothing like you’ve ever seen!
The two and one-half story house of frame construction sits on three acres, facing northeast toward Woodstock Common at the crest of Woodstock Hill. It has a bouard and batten fabric exterior accompanied by a steeply pitched roof, pointed gables and ornamental chimney stacks. Other details include drop mouldings, pinnacles, crenelations, porch trellises, bay windows with tracery and stained glass; all components of the Gothic theme. The striking rose pink color palette has been consistent since the 1800s with maroon and dark green accents. Other buildings on the property include a barn, a garden pavilion, a bowling alley, and an ice house.
The main entrance to the site is through the gift shop where there are books, magnets, bags, hats and tasteful keepsakes pertaining to the property and other Historic New England homes. I always buy magnets when I visit a museum or historic site that sells them. The one I bought here is a picture of the indoor bowling alley on the property, the oldest in the US.
The tour begins in the Parterre garden, the design of which is nearly untouched since it was planted at the time of construction in the mid 19th century. Parterre Garden info from Wikipedia:
A parterre is a formal garden constructed on a level substrate, consisting of plant beds, typically in symmetrical patterns, which are separated and connected by paths. The borders of the plant beds may be formed with stone or tightly pruned hedging, and their interiors may be planted with flowers or other plants or filled with mulch or gravel. The paths are constituted with gravel or turf grass.
French parterres originated in the gardens of the French Renaissance of the 15th century and often had the form of knot gardens. Later, during the 17th century Baroque era, they became more elaborate and stylised. The French parterre reached its greatest development at the Palace of Versailles, which inspired many similar parterres throughout Europe.
The garden is bursting with sun-loving perennials; black-eyed Susans, saliva, hydrangeas and stone crop sedom to name a few, all hedged in six hundred yards of English boxwood.
Our tour guide, Rachel, spoke knowledgeably and lovingly about the property, the magnificent Gothic structure and the Bowens, the owners/builders who for three generations called the Cottage home until 1968. The structure and gardens reflected the principles of Andrew Jackson Downing (1815-1852), writer, horticulturist and designer who was a prominent advocate of the Gothic Revival in the United States.
Henry Chandler Bowen (1813-1896) was born in Woodstock, Connecticut to George Bowen and Lydia Wolcott Eaton. After his education at Woodstock Academy, he moved to New York city to take up trade in silk retail and importation under the leadership of brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan. After a few years on an annual salary of $300 which increased by $100 for five years, Bowen branched off on his own to open his own dry goods business, specializing in silks, at 112-114 Broadway in Manhattan, an Italian marble building designed by English architect Joseph C. Wells (1814–1860), founding member of the American Institute of Architects. Wells designed many of the earliest Gothic Revival structures in the Northeast United States including “Old First”, the first Presbyterian church in Greenwich Village.
Business success flourished for Bowen and he was able to devote influence to social and cultural matters that were essential to his core beliefs. He was one of 21 founding members of the Plymouth Church of Brooklyn; a congregationalist church under the pastorate of social reformer and abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe. The church, designed also by architect Joseph Collins Wells, became the foremost center of the 19th century anti-slavery movement. Through financial means and a network of like-minds, in 1848 Bowen published The Independent, a weekly congregationalist newspaper strongly pro-abolitionist and pro-women’s suffrage. For a price of $3 per year, The Independent was delivered to subscribers via carrier. It is said that Abraham Lincoln was a reader and that Bowen conceived the plan for Lincoln to deliver his great address at the Cooper Institute and attend a Beecher sermon at Plymouth Church.
In June of 1844, Bowen married in Brooklyn, Lucy Maria Tappan, 19 year old daughter of his former employer and mentor Lewis Tappan. The marriage would produce 10 children.
The alluring design elements of the building that housed his first solo business effort were likely influences of Bowen’s affection for Gothic features in architecture. When it was time to consider building a summer home for his budding family, Bowen hired Wells to design it. The product was Roseland Cottage.
It’s clear from the get that Bowen had an eye for style and attention to the small details that make a world of difference. Tour-goers enter the home through the main door which is at the side of the home; the front faces Route 166. The wide central hall is dark and eyes land immediately on the dimly lit, elaborately carved, red-carpeted staircase. “Please touch the banister!” our tour guide recommends. Just before the first step of the staircase and on the ceiling is a glass chandelier with an image of the Brooklyn Bridge etched on the front. It is said that the Bowen family watched the construction of the bridge from their home. Therefore, a custom-made period piece.
Bowen did not allow any smoking or drinking at Roseland. In the card room or this conservatory, even men could not enjoy a scotch and cigar during recreational entertainment. While I would certainly find it a challenge to be in a home with 10 small people running around to fully enjoy such a luxurious environment, I am grateful that so much of the interior details are preserved without the lingering effects of tobacco smoke! Amiright?
The first floor of the cottage is a square plan. Mirror image double parlors are joined by an arched passage and matched with sliding doors. Each parlor is fitted with a bay window embellished with mullion encasements, adorned with a window seat.
We are educated on the tour about lincrusta; a deeply embossed wall covering, developed by British inventor Frederick Walton who patented linoleum. Lincrusta panels are installed on several walls with varying patterns from room to room.
“Lincrusta is made from a paste of gelled linseed oil and wood flour spread onto a paper base. It is then rolled between steel rollers, one of which has a pattern embossed upon it.[3
Notable installations included six staterooms on the Titanic, the White House, the Winchester Mystery House  and Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut, where it has been completely restored and is on view to the public.”
Each room is adorned and/or furnished in exquisite, though not overdone, detail. A diamond window in the upstairs powder room looks through to the hallway. The sink in the same room is marble topped with cupboard doors that open to a what appears to be a tooled leather storage compartment. Most of the furniture at Roseland dates to the lifetime of Henry Bowen and much of the furnishings are original including an extensive elaborately carved black walnut parlor set and four cottage bedroom sets hand grained and carved.
The Bowen Children:
- Henry Elliott (1845-1919) married in Brooklyn, Elizabeth White Plummer (1848-1922) c. Marion,
- Edward Augustus (1847-1926)
- Mary Louisa (1848-1925) married George C. Holt, brother to step mother Ellen Holt.
- Grace Aspinwall (1840-1950)
- Clarence Winthrop (1852-1935)
- Alice Linden (1854-1948)
- Herbert Wolcott (1856-1927)
- John Elliott (1858-1890)
- Franklin Davis (1840-1950)
- Winthrop Earl (1863-1865)
Shortly following the birth of their 10th child, Lucy died from complications of childbirth at age 40. As we were reminded on the tour, at the time it was unheard of for a family to have 10 children all survive birth and infancy. Many of the Bowen’s neighbors were not so fortunate. The last child, Winthrop Earl died at the age of two. His portrait hangs above a fireplace in one of the first floor rooms.
On Christmas day in 1865, Bowen married Ellen Holt, daughter of Dr. Hiram Holt and wife Marian Chandler of nearby Pomfret. Ellen and Henry were third cousins, sharing great grandparents in Peter Chandler and Mary Hodges. In 1868, Ellen gave birth to Paul Holt Bowen, their only biological child.
After their marriage, the Bowens updated some of the home to reflect the newer design styles and to accommodate their summer guests. It was during this time that Henry Bowen began an annual 4th of July get together on the common across the street from the cottage. Party goers enjoyed guest speakers, concerts and many notable figures including US Presidents attended. Our tour guide revealed that Ulysses S. Grant was tossed out of the bowling alley at Roseland Cottage for smoking or drinking or both.
The last occupant of Roseland Cottage was Constance Holt (1879-1968). Constance was the granddaughter of Henry Bowen through his daughter Mary Louisa. She was also his niece since her father, George Holt, was brother to Henry’s second wife Ellen.