A Trio of National Treasures Lets Us See How the Other Half Lived
by ELLEN HIGGINS
The Sargent House was built for Judith Sargent Stevens, one of this country’s first feminist writers, and her first husband, John Stevens. It is the only remaining high-style Georgian house left intact in Gloucester, and is one of the best examples of the houses some of Gloucester’s early merchant class lived in.
“The fabric of the house is almost entirely original,” says local resident and author Regina Cole, “and the furnishings include important antiques and art. It is a stunning example of Georgian architecture at its best.” The furnishings were given to the museum when it was started in 1917, a great portion of them given by descendants of the Sargents.
One particularly important descendant was the painter John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), Judith’s great great-nephew. He could trace his roots back to Colonial Gloucester. He donated the wallpaper in the dining room and several of his paintings and drawings, including the only known portraits he did of his parents.
Gloucester had many such magnificent houses in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but they have all disappeared through neglect, renovation or demolition. “The Sargent House is a mirror of Gloucester history,” says Cole, “Anything that happened in Fishtown is reflected here.”
Another Mansion and a Castle Too to View
Both built in the early 1900s, Beauport and the Hammond Castle are two more extraordinary examples of former homes turned into museums. Beauport, also known as the SleeperMcCann House, is one of Eastern Point’s palatial estates. Henry Davis Sleeper, its eccentric first owner, decorated each of the grand dame’s 40 rooms in a different theme. Originally, he set out to design a cottage retreat, but his passion for collecting caused him to expand the property over a 27-year period. Boston luminaries including Isabella Stewart Gardner and writer Henry James were frequent party guests. Woolworth heiress Helena McCann bought the property in 1935. Seven years later, she donated it to Historic New England, which gives tours and holds special events including “tea by the sea.”
Hammond Castle can be viewed from Beauport as you look across Gloucester Harbor to Magnolia. The genius inventor John Hays Hammond Jr. built the medieval-style castle as a laboratory and home in the late 1920s.
The castle housed his collection of Roman, Renaissance, and medieval art and artifacts, including suits of armor. He added a drawbridge, a lookout tower and an eight-story pipe organ. He ran Hammond Radio Research from his home lab. The prolific inventor produced more than 400 inventions and held some 800 patents giving Thomas Edison a run for his money. Museum Trust manages it today providing tours and offering the castle as a venue for special events including weddings.
The Sargent House Museum:
49 Middle St., www.sargenthouse.org or 978.281.2432
Beauport: 75 Eastern Point Blvd., www.historicnewengland.org or 978.283.0800
Hammond Castle: 80 Hesperus Ave., www.hammondcastle.org or 978.283.2080
Garden Tour Benefits Sargent House
On Saturday, June 21, private gardens located across Cape Ann will be open to the public for a special one-day only viewing, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Now in its ninth year, The Cape Ann Garden Tour is sponsored by The Sargent House Museum with all proceeds from the event being used to benefit the museum and its programs.
As wide a variety of garden styles as possible are included to give a glimpse of the charm and diversity of Cape Ann. This year these include both a famous seaside estate and an historic, lovely, famed garden not seen for years. Others range from large, professionally designed and maintained landscapes to pocketsized gardens lovingly tended by their owners: a delightful mix of styles and locations make up this year’s “rain or shine” event. Gardens on view this year are in Annisquam, both East and West Gloucester, and Eastern Point.
The Sargent House Museum’s own evolving gardens will also be open for viewing as part of the tour. The Cape Ann Garden Tour not only brings in much-needed funds for restoration of the Museum’s grounds and gardens, but also to raise awareness of the organization and its mission to preserve the site and bring to notice its remarkable owner, Judith Sargent Murray. The Garden Tour, organized through the efforts of many volunteers, has become the Museum’s primary annual fundraising event.
Tickets to the Cape Ann Garden Tour are $25 and may be purchased in advance at The Sargent House Museum and downtown at The Weathervane, 153 Main Street, or through the website at sargenthouse.org. Tickets will also be available the week before the tour (June 15-21), for $30. The tour is selfguided and carpooling is encouraged since parking is limited at many of the sites. For additional information, please call The Sargent House Museum at 978.281.2432.