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An enchanting 1878 Milton estate is transformed into a modern museum

Home Improvement
A look at the exterior of the Eustis Estate.
A look at the exterior of the Eustis Estate. Courtesy of Historic New England

The Eustis Estate in Milton was built in 1878 by the famed architect William Ralph Emerson and is now a rare surviving example of its kind.

Inside of the stone facade is an architectural style that showcases the “aesthetic movement” in Massachusetts, according to Peter Gittleman, the visitor experience team leader at Historic New England, which is currently turning the home into a museum and study center.

“It was a time in design history when people of upper classes engaged in design were appreciating art for art’s sake” Gittleman said.

This appreciation resulted in details including stained glass windows, naturalistic tiles, sophisticated paint treatments, and intricate carvings.

“The colors, the ceilings, the dark wood floor — it was a place that filled up your senses,” Gittleman said.

A look at one of the stained glass windows.
A look at one of the stained glass windows at the Eustis Estate. —Courtesy of Historic New England

The mansion was built for a newlywed couple — William Ellery Channing Eustis and Edith Hemenway Eustis — both of whom came from wealthy families that owned large plots of land next to each other in Milton. The Eustis Estate was built right in the middle of the two.

“The Eustis family was well off and well connected,” Gittleman said. “But the Hemenway family, as the newspaper articles suggest, were one of the wealthiest families in America.”

Gittleman notes that there is much more to the Eustis and Hemenway story that Historic New England expects to find out.

The regional heritage association purchased the home in 2012 for $7.1 million at the request of William Ellery Channing Eustis’s grandson, who lived there at the time. The family lived on the estate for a few more years until Historic New England could take complete control and turn the home into a museum, in addition to protecting the other buildings on the 97 acre estate.

The home's dining room.
The home’s dining room. —Courtesy of Historic New England

Along with Historic New England’s protection, the Eustis Estate Historic District was also just added to the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic New England employees have finally begun work to turn the residence into a historic house museum and study center. After only a few weeks of work thus far, they have discovered a bevy of historic facts about the family and the home itself.

Gittleman said workers recently found original paintwork, full of dark and vibrant colors, underneath the layers of lighter, more modern paint.

“[Seeing the original paint] gives it a great sense of what place is going to look like when we bring back the rich, deep Victorian colors,” Gittleman said.

New paint is stripped back to find the home's original colors.
New paint is stripped back to find the home’s original colors. —Courtesy of Historic New England

Only a few of the rooms are coming furnished with original pieces. Four of the home’s large bedrooms will be used as rotating exhibition galleries, the first of which will be on historic jewelry.

“People will have a reason to come back to the historic house,” Gittleman said, given the transient nature of the space. “There will also be acres and acres of open land for people to visit and walk.”

Historic New England realizes there is still a lot to learn about the property, so when the restoration is complete in May 2017, a “scholar in residence” will be hired to live in the home’s old servant’s space.

Though there will be some guided tours, Gittleman said he really wants people to experience the home in their own way.

Stairs in the Eustis Estate.
Stairs in the Eustis Estate. —Courtesy of Historic New England

Not only will there be rooms where people can sit on the furniture and interact with the space, he added, “there will be tethered iPads to learn stories of people who lived there, the process of restoration, and the home’s architecture and design.”

The property’s garage will be turned into a visitor’s center and the home’s library will be turned into a resource room.

Because Historic New England was actually able to talk to family members who lived in the home, it could gather stories that have been passed down through the three generations. These stories can lead to research tips and can help confirm hunches when determining the home’s history, Gittleman said.

More paint restoration in the interior.
More paint restoration in the interior. —Courtesy of Historic New England

“We do a lot of oral histories,” Gittleman added. “There is a lot of truth in family stories.”

And this family was indeed invested in their home.

“The family deeply respected and understood their own history,” Gittleman said. “They knew it was a rare survivor. If it had been owned by the wrong people, [the land] could have been developed into 40 houses. We are all quite excited that it will be open for public enjoyment.”