I started this journey in early November, not realizing that many of the Historic New England homes closed for the winter. Thankfully, Historic New England has a robust events calendar on their website, and I noticed that the Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut would be open December 8th & 9th. The event was called “A Victorian Christmas at Roseland Cottage” and sounded like a perfect activity for a December weekend. Not to mention that the home is located less than an hour from my sister-in-law, so it became a perfect “excuse” to meet for lunch and invite her and my husband along for the journey.
Roseland Cottage is located in the center of Woodstock, CT among a handful of other historic homes, set along the perimeter of the center square. But Roseland Cottage is vastly different from its neighbors, as it is the only home built in the Gothic Revival style – stark in contrast to the American Colonials nearby. The intricate exterior design and can’t-be-missed dark pink color reminded me of the Gingerbread style cottages on Martha’s Vineyard but on a larger scale. I couldn’t wait to get inside!
As this was a one-off weekend for the home to be open, and Christmas decor was the main feature of the tour, and admission was free, it was quite busy. I was a bit disappointed that we were only to see a few rooms on the first floor of the home – as the focus of the tour was the history of the Christmas decor, not necessarily the home itself. This simply means that I’ll have to plan another visit in 2019! I can’t wait to see the formal gardens in bloom, learn more about the origins of the beautiful stained glass windows, and venture to the upstairs of the home on my next visit.
As mentioned above, the majority of the history that we learned about surrounded the holiday decorations – but I can’t wait to find out more about the Bowen family next time!
- Roseland Cottage was built in 1846 for Henry & Lucy Bowen as their summer cottage. The remainder of the year, they lived just outside New York City with their ten (!!!) children.
- The home is designated as a National Landmark, and a major factor in that determination is the fact that it is one of the best examples of the Gothic Revival style of architecture. The Bowen family kept to this style on both the exterior and interior furnishings, which was lovingly preserved by children, grandchildren and likely great grandchildren to remain the way that we see it today.
- Henry & Lucy loved Christmas, but with ten children and subsequent grandchildren it became more and more difficult as the years passed to get everyone together to celebrate. However, in 1887, the entire Bowen family, consisting of 26 in total, were able to gather at the Bowen’s home in New York to celebrate Christmas. The gathering was so memorable and important to the family, that each member of family was asked to select a moment or event during the gathering to write about. This included documenting the decor, the food, the festivities, everything! Then all of the essays were gathered and published. The staff at the Roseland Cottage used these essays to recreate the Bowen Family Christmas celebration of 1887 for visitors.
My Favorite Spots
As the tour was focused on the Christmas festivities & traditions of the Bowen family in 1887, my favorite spots will keep to that theme as well!
North Parlor – Christmas Tree
The photo above was actually a small room just off the North Parlor, which was also connected to the South Parlor – making for a enormous “double parlor” within the cottage. They entertained four US Presidents in this home – so this large entertaining space must have been very important, and well used! Stained glass adorned the windows of the double parlor, and was a feature of this smaller room, which was host to a traditional Christmas Tree of 1887. Ornaments would have been hand made, mostly of paper, and feature photographs or drawings of friends, family members and nature scenes. Lights on the tree would have been candles that were only lit for 10-15 minutes at a time with a bucket of water or sand nearby, just in case. We can all thank Prince Albert & Queen Victoria in England for creating the popularity of the Christmas Tree, and in the 1850’s it became a fixture in American Christmas celebrations. This traditional 1887 tree with the stained glass behind it was simply beautiful!
The Dining Room – Table Setting
While the Bowen’s would have had a table set for 26 in their home in New York for that memorable Christmas dinner, this table set for six still showcases what it would have looked like in 1887. A small Christmas tree in the middle of the table has ribbons & weaths that extend up to the plaster molding in the ceiling. At the end of each ribbon sits a small present, and there would have been a present and ribbon for each table setting. Also found on the table were a drum and two horns, which was an homage to a story featured in the essays written by the Bowen family. Apparently two of the younger grandsons were gifted horns, and Henry Bowen the drum. Grandfather and grandsons entertained the family throughout the meal – which wasn’t entirely appreciated by Lucy Bowen. It was a memory that lives on through their story telling of the festivities that day, and reminds me of Christmas dinners when I was a child.
The South Parlor – Garland
A view from the North Parlor to the South Parlor was decorated with hanging garland and a small kissing ball, as it would have been in 1887. While the massive arched doorways were easily sealed off by intricate pocket doors, this garland would have created a less intrusive barrier between the socializing of the women and men (the sexes were split between the two rooms, of course!). The stained glass in these rooms were simply gorgeous, and I’m dying to learn more about them!
The Dining Room – Mantle
Before Christmas trees were a staple of holiday decorating, the mantel would have been the main focus of decorating for the holidays. Green boughs would have been a staple of the display, and as fruit was such a luxury at that time, different fruits would have been added into the display, sometimes sugared. Oranges were quite uncommon to come by as they were very expensive, so the wealthier the family, the more oranges you may see in within the greenery. Pretty!
Here are a few things that caught my eye that I can’t wait to go back and learn more about!
- The exterior of this home is simply gorgeous. The criss-cross design over the window panes, the corbels at each peak – even the chimneys are covered in intricate filigree!
- I’m always drawn to hardware in a home – and the Roseland Cottage had some of the most beautiful door knobs I’ve seen! The royal blue filigree and gold accents were on every door throughout the downstairs of the home.
- The plates, part of the Christmas table setting in the Dining Room, were the “Game Plates” as each featured a different animal that may have been served on them. They featured pheasants, ducks, deer and more.
- The furnishings throughout the home kept very in line with the Gothic exterior – a bed in a downstairs bedroom featured an intricately designed headboard, and chairs within the parlor were adorned in a royal red velvet with curved and intricate backs.
- Booties (provided by the staff) were required for this tour, similar to what I experienced in my visit to The Otis House – just something to keep in mind when choosing your footwear for the day!
- While the Christmas decor was beautiful and perfect for a December visit, I cannot wait to see the gardens in full bloom – I would suggest a spring or summer visit!
These include many photos of the featured Christmas decor, but also some elements of the home which I truly cannot wait to go back & find out more about!