Beginning in the second quarter of the 19th century, the Gothic revival style took hold in the United States, impressing upon domestic and public structures a romanticized rendering of medieval life. Inspired by the movement abroad—primarily in England—the revival was first championed in the United States by Alexander Jackson Davis, a designer whose influential books included Rural Residences, which was, according to Virginia and Lee McAlester, the first house plan book ever published in America. One of the best-preserved examples of domestic Gothic revival architecture is Roseland Cottage in Woodstock, Connecticut.
Roseland was commissioned in 1846 by the New York City entrepreneur Henry Chandler Bowen, a native of Woodstock who made his fortune through several successful business ventures, including Bowen and McNamee, which specialized in silks, ribbons, and fancy goods. As a Republican, Congregationalist, and active abolitionist, it is fitting that Bowen chose to build his house in the Gothic revival style, which was believed to have moral value relating back to the piety of the original Gothic architects of the late medieval period. He chose for the task the English-trained architect Joseph Wells, who had already demonstrated his mastery of the Gothic style through several structures—most notably the First Presbyterian Church of 1846 on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The estate, built on the village green, consists of a main house with a large servants’ wing, an icehouse, a garden house, and a carriage barn with a bowling alley, all set among a 21-bed parterre garden. While analysis has revealed that the house exterior was originally painted a dusty purple, the cottage’s vertical board-and-batten wood cladding has been coral pink since the late nineteenth century.
As is typical of Gothic revival houses, many of the windows at Roseland Cottage are comprised of stained glass set in diamond sashes, and the north and south façades are each punctuated by three gable dormer windows. Ornate vergeboards trim the gables carved using a scroll saw—a tool capable of creating intricate curves that was perfected in the early nineteenth century. The varied east façade features a centered projecting cross gable and a full size porch with carved supports and crenellated parapet. The façade’s main story window with pointed arches is topped by an oriel window, which is set below a decorative trefoil window, making this façade a veritable encyclopedia of the Gothic revival design.
Within this the exuberant exterior of Roseland Cottage lies a heavily decorated and formal—albeit asymmetrical—interior. Most of the Gothic revival furniture is original to the house, with furnishings documenting three generations of owners. Bowen commissioned several works from Thomas Brooks of Brooklyn, New York, including a window seat of black walnut adorned with quatrefoils, vines, and trefoil arches. Recently restored Lincrusta Walton wall coverings were probably hung during a redecoration in the 1880s.
The large servants’ wing allowed for frequent entertaining, and Bowen threw lavish Fourth of July parties that were attended by many notable figures, including former presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Rutherford B. Hayes, and Benjamin Harrison. After Bowen’s death in 1896, his family maintained the estate, unaltered, until it was purchased in 1970 by Historic New England with help from the Connecticut Historical Commission.
Today, the grounds of Roseland Cottage are maintained according to their original 1850 design. Visitors to the house and garden are encouraged to bring a picnic or stroll among the more than 4,000 annuals planted within the garden’s boxwood borders.
Roseland Cottage is located on Route 169 in Woodstock, Connecticut. It is open from June 1 to October 15, Wednesday through Sunday, with tours every hour on the hour from 11am-4pm. Admission: $8, Historic New England members and Woodstock residents can visit at no charge. For more information, call (860)928-4074, or visit www.historicnewengland.org.