New Discoveries at 400 Beacon Street

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When the decorative mantel in Irving Tomlinson’s room was removed, a piece of the original, unfaded wallpaper was revealed. Color-matching tools like the one held by Longyear staff member Bryan Reed will aid in the replication process.
Circa 1908 photograph of Rev. Irving Tomlinson’s room at 400 Beacon Street. Longyear Museum collection.

Over the past few months, as preparations for the restoration work at Mary Baker Eddy’s final home in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, have gotten underway, some fun surprises have come to light.

Over time, the original wallpaper in many of the rooms had naturally faded due to exposure to light. Other rooms had been redecorated in the intervening years since Mrs. Eddy and her staff lived here (1908-1910), the original wallpaper stripped. Although black-and-white historical photographs provide much information as to the home’s original appearance, the exact color schemes of the wallpaper – which is different in nearly every room – has remained largely a mystery.

Recently, however, during the exploratory phase of the restoration, original scraps of wallpaper have been found beneath doorframes, mantlepieces, light fixtures, and wall-mounted telephones and intercoms.

These recent findings have given us the key to picturing the rooms in full color.

As part of the restoration process, a team skilled in historic wallpaper replication will use these newly-discovered samples to create reproduction wallpaper virtually indistinguishable from the original.

Above right: Martha Wilcox’s room at 400 Beacon Street, circa 1909. Photograph, Longyear Museum collection. Above left: A present-day photo shows a strip of the original wallpaper that had been protected by the door frame. Top: The door frame removal also revealed a handwritten date – “February 21, 1908” – the day on which a door was cut in the wall prior to Mrs. Eddy’s move to the third floor while her second-floor suite was being remodeled.

Meanwhile, an additional discovery was made. Nearly every door in the house was originally furnished with a doorstop. And in a wonderful example of New England practicality and thrift, the doorstops were homemade, using bricks covered in carpet that matched the corresponding room.

In this circa 1908 photograph, a carpet-covered brick can be seen in the doorway to Nellie Eveleth’s third-floor workroom. Longyear Museum collection.

As our team searched for clues as to the original patterns and colors of the carpet which, like the wallpaper throughout the house, had either faded over the decades or been removed altogether, attention eventually turned to the doorstops.

During part of the exploratory work, the decision was made to open up one of these bricks (there are nearly 50 of them) to see if there was anything on the underside. Lo and behold, beneath the wrapping we discovered that scraps of carpet had been used for padding! There were unfaded, unworn pieces of original carpeting just waiting for us, their colors as bright and fresh as the day they were manufactured. What was also interesting was that the padding didn’t always correspond to the carpet on the outside of the bricks, so new patterns were revealed, adding to our knowledge of the house.

An original carpet-covered brick doorstop shows a century of wear and tear. Scraps of new carpet were cut to size and placed on top of each brick, serving as padding beneath the exterior.

Surprisingly, it’s not that much more expensive to have carpet replicated than to purchase it off the shelf, so reproduction carpet will be ordered for the rooms that are slated to be interpreted.

Thanks to all of these discoveries, future visitors will be able to experience the house in Chestnut Hill in all of its original beauty. Even more importantly, they’ll be able to glimpse a little of Mary Baker Eddy’s sincere love for her household staff. “One size fits all” wasn’t good enough at 400 Beacon Street. Throughout the house, no two wallpaper patterns are the same; no two carpet patterns are the same. Mrs. Eddy wasn’t outfitting servants’ quarters, she was decorating rooms for a family of cherished individuals. 400 Beacon Street wasn’t just a house – it was a home.

Laura Sargent’s room, circa 1908. Photograph, Longyear Museum collection. Inset shows a scrap of the original wallpaper that was found behind one of the wall sconces.