Roseland Cottage to celebrate 200th birthday of Henry Chandler Bowen
By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Woodstock - posted Thu., May. 9, 2013
Staff at Roseland Cottage in Woodstock have been busy preparing the grounds and museum for what they hope will be a full summer season. This year marks the 200th birthday of Henry Chandler Bowen, who had the Gothic revival cottage built as his family's summer retreat. Several events are scheduled to mark the celebration, according to Site Manager Laurie Masciandaro. They include concerts, a special Fourth of July celebration and other special events.
Head gardener Amanda Manso worked the soil in the 3,000 square foot parterre garden on April 25. By Memorial Day weekend, it will be filled with flowers that Bowen used to plant yearly. Boxwood shrubs will surround more than 35 varieties of annuals and perennials, including impatiens, hollyhocks, snapdragons and roses. All of the flowers are in keeping with what was planted in the original Bowen garden. The transformation requires a small army of volunteers.
Inside, Educational Coordinator Gail White moved through the cottage in period dress. She'd just finished giving a tour to 50 fifth grade students from Norwich and Waterford. Her favorite part of any tour is the anti-slavery debate she recreates. “It gets people to think about the issue from two different perspectives,” she said.
That debate is an important part of the tour because it is an important part of the man who built the house. Bowen was a staunch abolitionist who founded and later served as editor of the anti-slavery newspaper, “The Independent.” As his wealth and influence grew, so did his political activities and summer parties. Bowen's Fourth of July parties brought Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and Rutherford B. Hayes to Woodstock. Roseland became a summer mecca for many politicians and social and literary figures.
Roseland represents a unique view into life during the latter part of the 1800's. Virtually everything in the house belonged to the Bowens, including furniture, framed pictures, books, rugs, place settings, and silver. Historic New England acquired the property in 1968 when Bowen's granddaughter Constance Holt died. Holt had maintained the house in keeping with her grandfather's wishes.
“Roseland is a special place,” Masciandaro said. “Bowen was a pivotal figure in 19th century history. There is so much tangible evidence here. It's really the story of three generations of Bowens. And it's the story beyond the Bowens, the years leading up to and after the Civil War.”
From the architecture of the house to a bed frame (trompe l'oeil) to the rug in the dining room (an Anglo-Egyptian pattern) to wall coverings (Lincrusta Walton), Roseland is a visual masterpiece. A gorgeous red oriental follows the stairs from the hallway to the second floor. The Brooklyn Bridge is etched in glass in a hallway light. Blue and white porcelain doorknobs grace the doors in the north and south parlors.
The cottage was extravagant but it represented a moral lesson as well. “The impulse to revive the Gothic style was a religious impulse,” Masciandaro said. It was meant to inspire people who saw it, whether they lived nearby or passed it in their travels. The Bowen family Bible lays untouched on a table in one room. A copy of the pledge Bowen made his sons and daughters sign sits on a bureau in an upstairs bedroom. The pledge to not drink, smoke or attend the opera was a moral code for Bowen, not one of self-discipline. None of his children could adhere to it, and it was the root of much bitterness in Bowen's later life, according to Masciandaro.
“Bowen was a local boy who did well,” Masciandaro said. “He loved Woodstock. He felt there was no better place than New England.” This summer, the celebrations will honor his memory and the contributions the Bowen's made to the Quiet Corner and the nation.
Roseland Cottage opens to the public on June 1. Tours will be free to Woodstock residents, and $8 for adults, $7 for seniors, $4 for children. For more information go to www.historicnewengland.org.