Emerson and Historic New England
Historic New England’s interests and connections with William Ralph Emerson began decades before the 2012 purchase of the Eustis Estate in Milton. As Historic New England’s founder, William Sumner Appleton, acquired items for what was then called The Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, he was particularly drawn to photographs and architectural drawings. Appleton’s purchase of more than 1,000 photographs by the Soule Photographic Art Company included several views of Emerson buildings, like the Touzalin House in Milton which was destroyed decades ago.
Though Appleton’s initial interests were in buildings he described as “Ancient,” meaning those constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, he gradually expanded his efforts to collect architectural fragments, images, and drawings from later time periods in order to tell a more complete story of the northeast. He likely knew of Emerson from his youth in Boston and undoubtedly recognized the architect’s importance as he tried to preserve the histories of New England architecture. In 1939 Appleton located and copied a set of architectural drawings for St. Mary’s Church in Barnstable, designed by W. Ralph Emerson and completed in 1890. Though the building was not yet fifty years old, it had been heavily remodeled. But, by copying Emerson’s original drawings, Appleton made sure that the S.P.N.E.A. collection could help preserve the early history of the building.