Hedge House Frontage Project Underway

After years of preparation and fundraising, we are pleased to announce that the landscape improvements to the 1809 Hedge House are moving forward. A general contractor was selected for the project before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted life in Massachusetts. Since construction is regarded as an essential business, work can move ahead even as all of the Society’s in-person activities are suspended. We hope that the successful completion of this project will lift our spirits during this uncertain time as we anticipate future gatherings in years to come.

This project is generously supported by our members and community partners – thank you!

Historical Background 

Today the 1809 Hedge House Museum sits above a rolling lawn overlooking the Plymouth waterfront. However, during its long history as a residence, the house was located at 83 Court Street and faced west towards the town’s main thoroughfare. The Federal mansion was rescued from demolition by the Antiquarian Society in 1919, and moved a short distance from its original site to a nearby lot that had once been part of Plymouth’s old waterfront district.

The Society acquired an adjoining lot in 1927 from the American Woolen Company, the last of several industrial companies that used the large building (ca. 1880) on the lot as a storehouse. The Society razed this building and leveled the land to create a clear view to the harbor. To provide a better setting for the historic house, the Society undertook a series of landscape improvements at the new 126 Water Street location in the 1920s. Society members created a boxwood-bordered garden area in front and planted trees bordering both sides of the lawn. Eventually they turned their attention to enclosing the property. In its heyday as a home at 83 Court Street, the Hedge House enjoyed only a modest frontage, bordered by a simple white picket fence. The new yard on Water Street needed a more impressive style of enclosure. The Society opted to duplicate the white painted wooden fence and gate from the King Caesar House in neighboring Duxbury. Deliberations about the fence began in September of 1929; it was completed by 1932.

The painted wooden fence, within a stone’s throw of the harbor, required a level of maintenance that the Society was often unable to provide in ensuing years. By the 1960s, sections had rotted and been haphazardly replaced, the original design had become a patchwork, and the need for reconstruction was critical. The Society struggled during years of economic recession, but in 1975 finally managed to install a white painted tubular steel fence, with rebuilt wooden columns. The new design had no historical basis. This 45-year-old metal fencing remains in place today. The metal is in a state of advanced fatigue, the reconstructed wooden columns are in disrepair, and the entire array must be replaced. Furthermore, the removal of the boxwood-bordered garden area, the loss of some of the perimeter trees, and the installation of gas and water lines over the years have disrupted the front lawn, leading to dangerous sections of uneven ground and an austere appearance that distracts from the Federal elegance of the historic house.

Following restorations of the historic building’s interior and exterior between 2002 and 2007, the Society began planning for a major re-landscaping plan for the front lawn of the Hedge House. In determining what type of fencing or enclosure would be appropriate for the frontage of the 126 Water Street property, the Society turned to the work of Plymouth architect Joseph Everett Chandler, born in town in 1863. Chandler, a descendant of William Harlow, had assisted the Antiquarians with the restoration of his ancestor’s 17th-century home, which the Society acquired in 1920. He also consulted on the landscaping for the relocated Hedge House. In the 1920s Chandler prepared several designs for a Colonial Revival garden for the Hedge site that were partially, though never fully, executed. Preserved in the Society’s archives, the long dormant plans formed the basis for the recreation of the Rose T. Briggs Memorial Garden in 2013. Chandler had also sketched some ideas for the front yard of the museum site, but apparently never developed a frontage design before his death in 1945. Fortunately, several historical examples of Chandler’s landscape designs still exist in Plymouth. Among the most striking are the brick gates and walls of the Fay family’s 1889 estate, “Bayswater,” on Sandwich Street, and the Flemish bond brick walls and iron fencing that border the Willoughby House on Winslow Street, today known as the Mayflower Society House. These surviving features are the historical inspiration for a new Colonial Revival style frontage plan for the Hedge House Museum. They have been scaled down to better suit the size and style of the Hedge House.

Project Scope & Design

  • Water Street and Memorial Drive Perimeters: The new fence will duplicate the scale and location of the existing fence. It will include brick piers and black galvanized steel pickets. The brick will be laid in the Flemish bond pattern used in existing examples of Colonial Revival fences in Plymouth, dating from the turn of the twentieth century. This design will complement existing brick pathways. The brick piers will house electric outlets, which will permit the Society to add temporary lighting during events, improving the safety of the property when used by the public.
  • Southern Boundary: The existing cedar fence will be continued parallel to the property line to hide the rear parking lot of the neighboring restaurant. A new bed of native trees and bushes will be planted in front of the fence, restoring the garden border that framed the lawn in the 1930s.
  • Existing Features: In the late 1920s the Society installed walkways to lead to the Water Street entrance and the boxwood-bordered garden on what is now the front lawn. The granite steps have settled; to improve the site’s safety they will be reset and handrails will be added to match existing handrails elsewhere on the property. The bricks in the walkways have been replaced and re-laid over the years; as needed, small areas with bricks that are cracked or heaved will be reset or replaced to eliminate tripping hazards. The paths themselves will maintain their original orientation and dimensions. The four majestic linden trees planted approximately 75 years ago on the Memorial Drive side of the property will be protected throughout the project.
  • Grading and Irrigation: The prominent location of the Hedge House requires regular lawn maintenance to provide the best setting for this historic home. The grass dies every summer, creating an embarrassing blemish on Plymouth’s waterfront. The grading of uneven areas and installation of an irrigation system will help ensure the future maintenance of the property, increase the site’s functionality during high-traffic events, and eliminate the hazard of unexpected hollows and holes to visitors.

Our goal is to beautify the property in such a way that it will remain welcoming to the public, while also providing a secure perimeter on Plymouth’s busy waterfront. The addition of irrigation and electricity enhances the lawn’s functionality for community events, including the Society’s annual Summer Fair. We hope the improved frontage will strengthen the Hedge House’s position as one of the jewels in Plymouth’s historic landscape.

Anticipated Completion: June 2020

Design: Ray Dunetz Landscape Architects (using preliminary plans created by Bill Fornaciari Architects, Inc.)

General Contractor: Sheridan Landscaping (Plymouth, MA)

 

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