Season Closing

So Beauport is now closed for the season.  The regular tour schedule is generally June 1 through October 15.  But just because the house is closed to the public, doesn’t mean there is no activity–well, besides the occasional mouse.  Closing during the winter months is beneficial not only for the house but also for Historic New England.  During the open months, Beauport can easily bring in over 5500 visitors to a house that was built as a private residence.  This amount of traffic does cause some wear and tear to the building and the winter months are a time to repair, investigate, and plan for future projects.  Also, the furnace has been defunct since 1954, which means the house is extremely cold in the winter.  The average temperature of the interior is roughly 30 degrees during the months of January and February, which would make an interesting tour but maybe not an enjoyable one!  

But closing for the season is not just switching the lights off and walking away.  To winterize Beauport takes several weeks and involves many different steps both on the interior as well as the exterior.   

The interior of the Museum is thoroughly cleaned.  This means dusting and wiping down all surfaces; light vacuuming of the floors, hooked rugs, and drapes (over a screen to avoid pulling of the fabric); and washing windows and ultra violet acrylic panels.  Rugs are stacked, covered, and pulled out of general paths– this eliminates walking over them during the winter walk throughs.  Furniture with fabrics are covered with dust protection and every object is examined for any signs of damage or stress.  With over 50 rooms and 10,000 objects, this task can take over a week to complete.


As was mentioned, the house can get pretty cold during the winter months, therefore it is imperative to turn the water off to the facility each year.  With seven full baths, one half bath, and eleven sinks in the house, this is challenging and time-consuming– not to mention the public facilities near the Gate House, the Office bath in the Garage, and the six outdoor spigots! 

Turning off the water is not a simple task–the valve to the main line in the street has to be shut off; water meters are removed; water heaters are drained; faucets that are prone to freezing are disconnected; caps to drains are unblocked; all faucets are opened; and environmentally friendly anti-freeze is poured in the traps.  On the exterior, spigots are opened and drained then blown out with compressed air to eliminate any water sitting in a low spot underground.

And then there is the landscape.  This past summer, Beauport’s landscape was restored to the period of interpretation.  In order to allow the new plantings to establish and survive in this harsh New England environment, the birch trees have been braced and the lower portion of the trunks have been wrapped with a mesh material to discourage chewing or clawing from squirrels and other small animals.  In addition, all the new arbor vitae have been wrapped in burlap to minimize the damage from the driving winter storms. 


All this to make sure that the house continues to stand for generations to come– we hope you come and visit us next year!


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Structural Work at the Terrace

Beauport has a long history of changes– what started off as a ‘small’, twenty-two room country cottage, evolved into an eclectic mix of styles and additions that is nearly 15,000 square feet today.  But Sleeper, the original owner, did not just add major wings to the house– sometimes the changes were merely moving garden ornament from one garden to another and sometimes it involved completely changing the exterior finish material.

 Originally, the first floor of the house was clad in stucco.  In 1913, Sleeper decided to change the stucco to brick, which was more fashionable at the time.  The 1913 specifications detail complete removal of the stucco and a brick wall construction of a double wythe with headers tying the wall together.  This created an interesting detail change at the house.  The double wythe thickness of the brick wall would be constructed further out than the upper floor side wall shingles, making severe building changes. 

House trim disappears into brick walls and concrete parging is used to connect the brick wall to the upper side wall shingles.  All was done to accommodate the thicker lower wall.  Upon further investigations, however, what was supposed to be a double thickness wall is actually only one wyth thick–or a simple brick veneer.  


The headers that were supposed to tie into both walls are actually cut in the middle only to create the look of an English bond brick pattern.  It is not clear why the change was made, it may be that this type of construction proved either too difficult or possibly too expensive.  Curiously, the South Gallery wall is the only wall that was constructed to the specifications.

One of the issues with any masonry wall is that they tend to absorb water.  In a double thickness wall, the moisture would be absorbed by the first layer and allowed to dry due to the interstitial space between the two layers.  On a simple brick veneer, however, the bricks would absorb the moisture and transfer it to the wall sheathing and framing behind.  This detail caused severe deterioration at the house framing and sheathing.

  Repairs are underway…

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Landscape Restoration Complete

Ah… Summer!  Although every season at Beauport is spectacular, summer is always the best.  And this summer is even more special as it marks the completion of a multi-year Landscape Restoration project!

The front gardens

The restoration of the landscape has been many years in the making.  Working from reports commissioned in the 1990s–which outlined character zones and color palettes– staff developed an overall plan for the landscape.  In 2009 Historic New England started working with the landscape architecture firm of Reed Hilderbrand to turn all of the planning into a reality.  The first phase of the project was to restore the waterside terraces – a series of sharply defined formal spaces.  This project redefined the use of space and the use of material to more closely match the original owner’s intent- Henry Davis Sleeper.  This project was completed in 2009. 

The terrace gardens- 2009

 The second phase of the project was to create and implement a plan for the front gardens.  This space, similar to the terraces, had lost its clear definition.  The interpretive period for the landscape at Beauport focuses on the late Sleeper period / early McCann period (late 1920’s through the early 1930’s).  This period was selected because it best represents the integrity of Sleeper’s original intentions, while presenting the landscape at the time Helena Woolworth McCann (second owner of the property) was first attracted to Beauport.  In essence, the spatial relationships and structure of the landscape were well established by this time.  With the exception of the McCann era brick wall along the road, any changes to the landscape composition were implemented by SPNEA / Historic New England. 

Beauport landscape- 1930s

The landscape during the interpretation period exhibited several key features that follow a progression from a “naturalistic” style to a formal style as one traverses from the land entrance to the sea entrance at the terraces. Landscape materials used to create walls and define the ground plane change from rough stone to a more formal brick.  Plant palettes change from native plant communities- like sumac, bayberry, and summersweet- to individual specimens and hybridized plant species.  Geometries change from flowing lines to rigid rectilinear lines.  Landscape spaces transition from amorphous volumes to defined garden rooms.  This progression is indicative of the arts and crafts movement in landscape and it is the defining characteristic of Beauport. 

 Much like the house, the landscape can be divided into several distinct units or rooms.  Each unit is comprised of specific materials and plants that define unique characters, such as the Old Field Succession, the Sun Dial Garden, and the Entry Courtyard.  In order to move forward with the project, the character zones were clearly defined and a set of design principles were established that were followed throughout the planning and implementation process.  The design principles included general rules, such as “Defining circulation through the configuration of planting beds and lawns” to more specific rules, such as “Entry Courtyard Garden: Simple palette of shade plants with contrasting textures and hollyhocks in sunny pockets.”

 Construction began in April and the final shrub was planted at the end of June.   The results are pretty amazing and worth a visit!  Now we are off to water…

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Painting Continues

Check it out!  Following paint analysis, Historic New England is now repainting the side wall shingles of Beauport the proper color.  It really makes a difference!   Come out for a tour and see for yourself.


This project is partially funded by Save America’s Treasures program and draws additional support from the Preservation Maintenance Fund. Please consider a gift to help support work the ongoing work at Beauport and the 35 other sites in the collection.

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Where were you yesterday?

That’s right!   Beauport is officially open for the season. 

Open Tuesday – Saturday, June 1 – October 15
10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Tours on the hour.  Last tour at 4:00 p.m.
Closed July 4

$10 adults
$9 seniors
$5 students
Free for Historic New England members and Gloucester residents

Location and directions
Beauport, Sleeper–McCann House
75 Eastern Point Boulevard
Gloucester, Mass. 01930

And as an extra treat: Saturday, June 4th is Historic New England’s Open House where many of our historic house museums will be open and free of charge!  We hope to see you this weekend.  


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Purple House?

No, actually that’s just the primer.  But the house will be a different color… or at least a different color than the present one.  The side wall repainting is one of the last pieces to the large, three year restoration project at Beauport.

Historical research indicated that the house was stained a much darker color.  Originally oil stains would have been used but over time the oil stains would bleach out and fade from ultra violet light.  When touch up painting was required, the faded color would be matched instead of the original color– leaving the shingles a much lighter and pinkish color over the years.

Paint analysis has been very important throughout the restoration project at the house–windows that are completely removed for conservation have paint analysis performed on the interior paint colors and the exterior trim was analyzed several years ago indicating a much darker brown than the purple color the house trim was routinely painted.  Knowing that the side wall was coated with a different color, the team removed shingles for analysis.


Two side wall shingles were removed– one located in an exposed area of the house and one hidden behind a roof line that was altered in 1954.  Paint analysis was done by Brian Powell from Building Conservation Associates.  Underneath several layers of stain was a much darker brown, which is considered to be the original color.

 So here you go- the new-or really the original color of Beauport!  Repainting is scheduled to be complete in August.

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Landscape Restoration In Process

Major work continues at Beauport this year– including landscape restoration of the east gardens, more window conservation work, and repainting of the side wall shingles to the historic color.

Here is just a sampling of what’s happening at the site:

Before work and during the landscape restoration

During landscape restoration work

Repainting the side wall shingles to the historic color


More windows!


Scaffolding installation for repainting and window work

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