The Cheshire Historical Society
Hitchcock Phillips House
43 Church Drive
Cheshire, Connecticut 06410 USA
ALICE WASHBURN HOUSES IN CHESHIRE
Source: Alice F. Washburn Architect by Martha Finder Yellig. Produced by the Tiger Lily Press for the Eli Whitney Museum in conjunction with A WASHBURN CELEBRATION March 4-June 17, 1990 Hamden Connecticut.
|71 Cherry Street built in 1925|
|381 Maple Avenue built c. 1926 The Wooster house.|
|390 Maple Avenue built c. 1925|
|395 Maple Avenue built 1925|
241 Preston Terrace built in 1924
(view facing N)
|241 Preston Terrace (view facing SW)|
|101 Patton Drive built in 1952|
152 Cornwall Avenue, Trythall homestead, was remodelled by Alice Washburn in the 1920's.
Remembered for her beautiful garden at the Foote House at 364 West Main Street in Cheshire (p. 13).
In her final years, Mrs. Washburn rented an apartment on 446 Maple Avenue (1955-1958) (p. 13).
She is buried in Hillside Cemetary in Cheshire
From the Introduction of the "Alice F. Washburn Architect" document (available at the Cheshire Historical Society):
"Alice F. Wshburn (1870-1958) was a designer-builder who worked in the tradition of small-scale master builders and architects active in New England since the Colonial period. Unlike most of them, however, she was female -- a woman who practiced her trade at a time when architectural training was difficult for a woman to come by."
From The New York Times, March 1, 1990, by EVE M. KAHN:
LEAD: IN 1919, at the age of 49, Alice Washburn began designing and building houses at a furious pace. No one knows where the former schoolmistress acquired her architectural skill, but more than 80 of her Colonial Revival-style houses still stand in and around her hometown of Cheshire, Conn., just north of New
IN 1919, at the age of 49, Alice Washburn began designing and building houses at a furious pace. No one knows where the former schoolmistress acquired her architectural skill, but more than 80 of her Colonial Revival-style houses still stand in and around her hometown of Cheshire, Conn., just north of New Haven.
They are called Washburn Colonials, and their owners say they love them. But until recently, few people knew who Alice Washburn was. She retired bankrupt in 1933 and died 25 years later in obscurity.
Her accomplishments are now being brought into the limelight as part of a ''Washburn Celebration.'' The Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden, Conn., will display about 200 photographs of her houses from Sunday through June 17. Also this spring, some of the houses will open for tours, and lecturers will discuss her life and work.
''Hers is a sad, sad story,'' said Martha Yellig, the researcher who rediscovered Mrs. Washburn in 1984 and helped organize the celebration. Ms. Yellig's book, ''Alice Washburn, Architect,'' will be published by the museum this month. ''She was turning out magnificent buildings, and then it all fell apart. I think she'd be grateful to know what we're doing for her now.''
Ms. Yellig, a 48-year-old landscape designer who lives in Hamden, began studying Mrs. Washburn while earning a bachelor's degree in art history at Southern Connecticut State University. Over the years, she had become intrigued by the quantity and the quality of houses that local real-estate agents called Washburn Colonials. ''But nobody knew what the name meant,'' Ms. Yellig said. ''I had to follow leads from one house to the next, from one person to the next.''
From owners, Mrs. Washburn's grandchildren and children of craftsmen who had worked with her, Ms. Yellig eventually learned that the architect had been a high school principal in the early 1890's and quit after marrying in 1896. Once she began her career as an architect and a builder in 1919, she pursued it passionately. ''She was very tough,'' Ms. Yellig said. ''She had to be, in a profession that was almost all male. She'd even ask her crew to tear apart a bookcase that wasn't just right, even if the client was happy with it.'' Mrs. Washburn could be generous: when her designs required expensive woodwork that her customers could not afford, ''she simply gave it to them,'' Ms. Yellig said. This generosity combined with the Depression led to bankruptcy.
But no one knows where Mrs. Washburn learned her craft. ''It's tough to track,'' Ms. Yellig said. Mrs. Washburn received no publicity in her lifetime, and Ms. Yellig added, left behind few documents. But Mrs. Washburn's houses reveal much about her tastes. Ranging from mansions to cottages, the houses were based on 18th-century American architecture, the Colonial Revival style that became popular for suburban houses in the 1920's. She typically gave her buildings gabled roofs and plenty of classical ornaments, decorating even side entrances and garages. Large windows fill interiors with light, no doors separate the living and dining areas and intricate woodwork abounds, like corner china cabinets and staircase scrollwork.
While she repeated some motifs - fluted pilasters on fireplaces, for example - ''no two mantels are alike,'' Ms. Yellig said. ''She was endlessly inventive.'' Like Ms. Yellig, many Washburn homeowners have become connoisseurs of the architect's work. ''Now I look for other Washburn homes when I drive around,'' said John Johnson, a semi-retired chemist who lives with his wife, Anne, in Mrs. Washburn's childhood home in Cheshire. Mrs. Washburn inherited the circa 1828 house and renovated it around 1920, filling it with Colonial Revival woodwork. On the first floor, bannisters end in graceful curls and two arched openings lead from parlors into the dining room, which has carved wainscoting.
For Mrs. Johnson, the only flaw is its generous fenestration. ''I do windows, believe me,'' she said. Roy Norcross, a private-school administrator, lived in the house as a teen-ager in the 1940's. In 1973, he and his wife, Gunvor, a laboratory technician, bought a four-bedroom Washburn house a block away. ''The house hadn't been taken care of when we found it,'' he said. ''But I knew the quality of her work. I knew it would be full of light.'' Their house contains many Washburn details. A carved fan caps the front entrance, classical columns support the side porches and even the gutter downspouts are fluted. Inside, open doorways connect the central hall to the living and dining rooms. ''This place works beautifully for parties,'' Mr. Norcross said. Pamela St. Jean, a freelance computer consultant, owns a three-bedroom Washburn in Cheshire that she calls her dream house. She often spends Sunday evenings in her master bedroom, which has windows on three sides and a handsome fireplace.
Three more Washburns stand nearby. To Ms. St. Jean's horror, the owner of one eliminated many windows and tacked on a two-story post-modern garage. ''How could you do that to a Washburn?'' she said. Most Washburn owners do not make such changes. Mimsie Coleman and her husband, Jules, a Yale Law School professor, are adding a master bedroom to their five-bedroom Washburn in Hamden. ''We're matching the trim, inside and out,'' said Ms. Coleman, the director of publications for the Arts Council of Greater New Haven. ''It's painstaking and expensive work, but it's worth it.'' William Brown, the director of the Eli Whitney Museum, said: ''Alice Washburn was not the greatest architect who ever lived, or even the greatest woman architect. But to build so many houses so late in life and to have those houses so loved is an extraordinary achievement.''
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