2006-09-07 / News

'Halfacre' renovation reveals historic architecture

By Michaela Kennedy

The Jamestown Historical Society will proudly present Halfacre on Saturday, Sept. 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for its annual house tour. Built in 1895 for Elizabeth H. Clark, the summer cottage boasts one of the last American shingle-style designs of locally renowned architect Charles Bevins. Halfacre is located at 170 Walcott Ave. Tickets, sold at the door, cost $15.

"The tour is our biggest fundraiser in recent years," said Historical Society President Rosemary Enright. She noted that the non-profit organization has sponsored a house tour every year since 1986, and has highlighted as many as 16 historic houses and landmarks in Jamestown. "We try to bring in different aspects of how to look at houses on the island," Enright added.

This year the tour invites people to look at a house that is in the process of renovation. "We hope this will give visitors a different way of looking at a 110-year-old structure," Enright said. "They can concentrate on the structural detail and original ornamentation rather than the current owner's taste in furnishing. We also hope that it will encourage people who buy these historic homes to renovate rather than to tear down and build new, to help us preserve the 'feel' of Jamestown that brought them here in the first place," she explained.

The house will not be completely devoid of furnishings during the tour, however, according to current owner Alexandra Kent. Kent noted many possessions were passed down through the generations of her family, and some of the pieces still remain in the house. "I grew up hearing stories of all the furniture," she remembered. Kent attributed the large collection of furnishings to the many women in her family who went unmarried and never took their belongings out of the house.

Ownership of the house stayed within a female line as it was passed down to maiden nieces until Kent's grandmother, Lisa Beeuwkes, bought the house from cousins in 1969. The home has continued to stay in the hands of the women in the family, and Kent now lives there with her family and her mother. She and her husband are taking on the task of renovating the home for year round use while still preserving the integrity of the original style.

Maureen McGuirl, co-ordinator of the event, said that the house is one of the best-documented structures in Jamestown, thanks to the meticulous record keeping of Clark. "The house embodies many stylistic qualities Charles Bevins was known for and reflects the strength of the woman who commissioned it," McGuirl noted.

According to McGuirl, Clark was an extraordinary woman for her time. She worked as a sorter and classifier of marine specimens at the Museum of Comparative Zoology in Cambridge, Mass., which is today known for its glass flowers. She became private secretary to Alexander Agassiz, curator of the museum. A series of letters shows that Clark made decisions about acquisitions and loans for the museum while Agassiz traveled for extended periods. Later, when Agassiz established a base at Castle Hill, he suggested to Clark that she purchase land and build in Jamestown.

"It is really a pleasure to see a house being continually loved by generations of Clark family women," McGuirl added.

The historical society extends a heartfelt thanks to the Kent and Beeuwkes families for sharing their home and family documents, and invites all on Saturday to celebrate a unique snapshot of Jamestown's past.

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