Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Postcards from Maine: Woodlawn

Oh, look what the mailman brought!

Our this trip to Maine, we visited Woodlawn, a historic house on 180 acres in Ellsworth, not all that far from where we stay on Mount Desert Island:

Woodlawn, up on a hill with a graceful curving driveway, surrounded by meadows and gardens.

A colleague of mine had told me I HAD to see this house only about a week before our trip so, for once, my timing was perfect. I'd never heard of it, or of the family, but there are some nice connections between this house and its family and both the Gibson House Museum, in Back Bay, where I volunteer, and the Museum of Fine Arts, for whom I do some freelance writing, after working there for 17 years. 

Woodlawn belonged to three generations of a Revolutionary War General's family, named Black. When the last owner of the house, George Nixon Black, died in 1928, he left his grandfather's estate to Hancock County as a museum. It's a lovely, atmospheric gentleman's farmhouse, with furnishings and decoration spanning the 19th century — with a strong Colonial Revival influence. Nearly everything's original, carefully preserved by Mr. Black.

I couldn't take photos inside the house, so you'll have to visit the website, above, or take a road trip. I look forward to going back; among other things, the first floor hallway is painted the perfect shade of light, warm, beige/brown/tan/whatever. It just glowed. I want to bring a Benjamin Moore paint deck to try to match it for a future living room.

The Black family had a distinguished and very prosperous history in Maine and Massachusetts. Mr. Black (who was gay and lived with his partner for decades) was a quiet philanthropist. When he died, he left large bequests to the Museum of Fine Arts and many other institutions. He also made national headlines by leaving $40,000 to his chauffeur.

Black lived in Boston, in a townhouse at 57 Beacon Street. And — talk about good taste in real estate — he also built what's widely held to be THE greatest Shingle Style house in America, Kragsyde, in Manchester, Massachusetts,  Peabody & Stearns. His heirs didn't (or couldn't) keep it and it was demolished in 1929, a tragedy. (But Kragsyde was "resurrected" in 1982 on Swan's Island, off the Maine coast — by a former tour guide at Woodlawn and her carpenter husband. It's a great story; if you're intrigued, you need to read this.)

The carriage barn, full of old carriages and sleighs.

I loved the barn's weathered siding and blue double doors.

 An old-fashioned formal garden on the estate, surrounded by lilacs. 
There's a community garden, too.

A view of a meadow from the driveway, bordered with old stone walls.

In the distance, a field of buttercups. The property has trails designed for exercising the Blacks' horses. Today people use them for walking, running, snowshoeing, or cross-country skiing.

Woodlawn has Maine's only tournament-sized croquet court. Their annual Invitational Croquet Tournament was in progress when we were visiting a couple of weeks ago, and we spotted this gentleman heading to the court before the afternoon competition. Carrying his mallet, he wore regulation white croquet clothes, which matched his hair.

We were struck by his a serious, determined expression as he left his car and strode to the court. We then discovered he is indeed quite dedicated to his game:


  1. Interesting! My grandmother was born and grew up in Hancock, ME. She went to school and church on MDI. Today she is 95 and I would be interested in hearing more about this place from her. Her husband (my grandfather) is buried on MDI.

  2. Lucky you to have gotten to go to Maine! Years ago I stayed at the Cleftstone Manor on Mt. Desert Island and loved it. It is a B&B and lovely. Not even sure if it is still there. The carriage house is wonderful...you do find the most interesting things when you travel.


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