A peek at a lovely Milton estate overlooking the Blue Hills
For years, I’ve ridden my bike past the Eustis Estate on Canton Avenue in Milton, with its beautiful stone walls and stone gatehouse, marveling at the work and art that went into it. Recently, I got a look at the estate itself, perched at the end of a long driveway and surrounded by 80 acres overlooking the Blue Hills.
Starting in mid-May, the public will also be able to see the 1878 home, built on land given to a young couple as a wedding gift. In 2012, Historic New England, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the region’s history, bought the estate from the Eustis family for $7.1 million and has spent $5.3 million restoring it. On May 17, the Eustis Estate Museum and Study Center will open to the public.
Peter Gittleman of the historical society gave me a tour as workmen replaced some of the second-story windows. It seems he knows every stained-glass window, carved fireplace, and hand-painted tile in the 18,500-square-foot home.
“The Eustis Estate epitomizes the Aesthetic Period, which was art for art’s sake,” Gittleman said. “It was a love of pattern, a love of ornament, a love of nature.”
The estate, designed by the prominent architect William Ralph Emerson, was a wedding gift for W.E.C. Eustis and his bride, Edith Hemenway, from her parents. Generations of the Eustis family lived there until 2014, but it is the newlyweds whose presence is still keenly felt.
“We are amazed that such a young couple created such a massive and sophisticated home,” Gittleman said. Their descendants have been involved in converting the homestead into a museum, donating photos, stories, and furniture to the effort.
Edith Hemenway was 25, her husband 26, when they married on Nov. 7, 1876. A year later, they had twin boys. Soon after, the couple began to build their family home on land given to them by Edith’s mother, Mary. In 1885, the couple had a daughter.
A Harvard-educated engineer who would later own two mines and a smelting company, the young groom was an amateur photographer who had a darkroom installed in the basement. The museum computer kiosks will offer bios and family photos W.E.C. took of his children and his wife, who died at age 53 of pneumonia.
The estate could be called Milton’s Downton Abbey, not just for the building and grounds, which include an apple orchard and views of the Blue Hills, but also for the family who lived there. There’s a parlor and small parlor, day nursery and night nursery, a telephone closet, and a sewing room. The couple had five servants who lived in the house.
The museum improvements include upgrades from well water and a septic project, and converting a three-car garage into a visitor’s center. That gatehouse I see from my bike is now a regional office for Historic New England.
In the fall, a second phase will begin: the Study Center, which will name a scholar in residence who will live in the caretaker’s apartment inside the home, and include interns and fellows.
The home is notable because the Queen Anne stone-and-brick facade is a departure from Emerson’s usual shingle-style designs. Emerson, a cousin of Ralph Waldo Emerson, designed several homes, including his own, that dot Milton.
But the inside work is the fun stuff.
“One of the great stories is the rediscovery of the original paint colors,” Gittleman said.
The walls had been painted over in all of the rooms, and through microscopic paint analysis, Historic New England was able to discern the colors and sometimes gritty texture from nearly 140 years ago.
Gittleman punches up the paint chip process on a computer kiosk — they are stationed throughout the home for visitors to use — and shows how the great hall’s Pompeiian Red color was traced back, and recreated. Those kiosks can also tell visitors what various parts of the house looked like throughout the years.
In the parlor, workers used duct tape to peel off a top layer of paint, which revealed a pretty amber. Though the original drapes throughout the home were long gone, Historic New England chose fabrics and patterns that were period-appropriate, and had them made.
For 2½ years, workmen and crafts people have been at it, and on a recent day, one Historic New England worker sat sewing a pillow.
“There are some houses that are too big to live in, but this one isn’t,” Gittleman said. Well, it’s pretty huge. “Yes, but the rooms are human scale.”
And there are sweet touches, such as the original hand-painted tiles of nursery rhymes that frame the fireplace in the day nursery. Around the 11 fireplaces that the public can see on two floors — the third floor is reserved for storage — are ornate wood and terra cotta carvings and hand-pressed tiles with imprints of plants.
You can see the original gas plugs that were used for sconces before the house was electrified in 1902, and a “gasalier,” or gas chandelier, hangs over the dining room table. There are window seats and pull-down writing desks and a “twin chair” of carved wood and velvet, used by the new mom for her boys, Gus and Fred.
Family members, though said to be enthusiastic about the museum, did not want to talk about it for this article.
The museum will be free to Milton residents; general admission is $15.
Starting on opening day, an exhibition of “Mementos: Jewelry of Life and Love from Historic New England,” will be on display in the sewing room. There’s a period wedding dress and pins, necklaces, and bracelets from Historic New England’s collection of 110,000 objects.
The kitchen, updated in the mid-20th century, still has a six-burner stove from 1879. And to keep staff from shouting up flights of stairs, there are “speaking tubes,” which enabled them to speak civilly to others in the house.
Guided tours will be offered, or visitors can wander around, using the computer kiosks.
“When I first saw the house, I fell in love with it,” Gittleman said. “But over the years of working on its restoration, I’ve come to understand and appreciate the people who lived and worked here.”