Christie D. Jackson, Trustees of the Reservations
Long Hill Door and Wallpaper
Join us on a journey discovering how Charleston’s 1812 Isaac Ball Mansion’s interior architecture inspired the design and aesthetic of the 1920’s Beverly Massachusetts home of Ellery and Mabel Cabot Sedgewick. Long Hill is a Federal Revival house. The Sedgewicks hired the Boston architectural firm Richardson, Barott & Richardson to incorporate the outstanding 1812 woodwork & interior architecture salvaged from the once grand Isaac Ball Charleston mansion.
The long-time editor of the Atlantic Monthly, Ellery Sedgewick enjoyed celebrity status in the 1920s. His first wife, Mabel Cabot Sedgwick, a well-known horticulturist, wrote the much-beloved, and still used The Garden Month by Month. After Mabel’s death, Ellery married the former Marjorie Russel. She sustained and expanded the gardens, which are laid out in a series of separate garden “rooms” surrounding the house, each distinct in its own way, accented by ornaments and statuary.
Eventually the woodwork would be used in the home, a feature celebrated in the August 1925 issue of House Beautiful. The article noted the interiors gave Long Hill “the dignity, spaciousness, and hospitality of the old Southern mansions.”
While, at face value, this appears to be a fashionable design choice for the Sedgwicks, recent scholarship has revealed that their decision to incorporate these interiors was deeply rooted in a desire to preserve both history and connections to Charleston. The Sedgwicks were friendly with Charleston preservationist Susan Pringle Frost, even staying at her home on occasion, which made the local newspapers. Frost brought a lot of firsts to Charleston: she was one of the first women to own a business in the city and one of the first to drive a car. She also founded the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings (today, the Preservation Society of Charleston) and helped bring about the city’s first preservation restrictions.
During one of the Sedgwicks’ trips to the city, Frost helped connect them to the Isaac Ball mansion. The house survived the Civil War as well as Charleston’s earthquake of 1886 largely unscathed. By the time the Sedgwicks visited in 1916, however, the property had fallen into disrepair, which was being used as a cigar factory.
The installation only tells half the story. Recent research into the construction of the Ball house has revealed an incredibly important history imbued in the woodwork now at Long Hill. The use of enslaved carpenters to help build Charleston’s elite homes is an increasingly told story, and the Ball family was no stranger to this practice. The Balls owned 12 Lowcountry plantations, including Comingtee and Limerick, and over 1,300 slaves. Surviving plantation records note the presence of at least 20 enslaved carpenters. Their highly skilled work is mentioned in various accounts and records, as in this 1904 remembrance: “The carpenters could not only construct the flood-gates and rice-field trucks, and build the [slave] houses, but make the plantation wagons and cars, and do work, requiring great neatness of finish. Very credible pieces of furniture were sometimes made by them.” The enslaved carpenters moved between the Ball properties, including the Isaac Ball mansion, to make use of their specialized skills, a common practice at the time. A carpenter’s book records the various highly refined tools the highly skilled enslaved artisans used for their work in Charleston. These artisans were seldom mentioned in past scholarship about the Isaac Ball mansion, but today we have new insights into their work that allows us to acknowledge them by name.
The interiors of the Isaac Ball mansion now at Long Hill embody a remarkable story of enslaved craftsmanship. History evolves, as does our understanding of it. Today, we look with new vigor at the woodwork at Long Hill. Long admired for the beauty it brought to the Sedgwicks’ home, we can also celebrate the artistry and complexity behind its creation.
Christie Jackson is the Director of Collections and Senior Curator, Historic Collections, for The Trustees of Reservations, the world’s oldest land trust, caring for 123 sites including twenty historic properties in Massachusetts. Christie received her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College, and went on to receive two Masters degrees, first from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in museum education, and from the Winterthur Program in American Material Culture. While at Winterthur, she was awarded the Montgomery Prize and the E. McClung Fleming Thesis Prize for her research on ocean liner interiors. She has worked at various museums, including Mystic Seaport, with the Williams-Mystic Program in Maritime Studies. Christie was also the Ruby Winslow Linn Curator at the Old Colony Historical Society and the Senior Curator of Decorative Arts at Old Sturbridge Village. She co-wrote a book about a 19th century cabinetmaker with Brock Jobe and Clark Pearce entitled: Crafting Excellence: The Furniture of Nathan Lumbard and His Circle. Her current research interests include historic wallpapers, period design books, and ocean liner material culture.