Manor Restoration: Moving Ahead
With the restored windows and shutters in place, we
are moving ahead to work on the West Porch and the interior
restoration of five historic rooms. If you can
help with a donation, we'd be most grateful.
With a good freeze, you can fit 5 or more pickup hockey games on Brooks Pond and still have room for figure skaters.
From Farmland to Summer Estate
The Brooks family first settled in Medford in the late seventeenth century, when the Estate consisted of some 400 acres of woods and farm. The family was one of Massachusetts' most prominent and was heavily involved in the civic life of Medford.
In the mid-nineteenth century Peter Chardon Brooks III and Shepherd Brooks each constructed summer estates. In 1859 Peter built his home, Point of Rocks, designed by Calvert Vaux, at the highest point on the property. Shepherd built Acorn Hill (the Manor) in 1880, to a design by Peabody and Stearns. Both families lived most of the year in Boston, but summered in Medford, then in beginning stages of its transition from farm town to suburb.
Shepherd Brooks and His Family
Shepherd Brooks was born in 1837. With the premature death of his father, he inherited significant assets before his graduation with an architect's degree from Harvard in 1857. He married Clara Gardner, niece of Isabella Stewart Gardner, in 1872, and the couple had three children, Helen, Gorham, and Rachel.
The design of his summer estate was a large part of Shepherd's life work. With a background in architecture and agriculture, he set out to re-shape his farm.
First, he hired the prestigious architectural firm of Peabody and Stearns to design the Shepherd Brooks Manor and Carriage House (Stable), in 1880. He then transformed the landscape by creating Brooks Pond (1884-89) and cutting vistas to it.
The Shepherd Brooks Manor and the Pond together were Shepherd's central vision and are at the core of the historic landscape of the Brooks Estate.
A Victorian Gem
The Shepherd Brooks Manor is in the Queen Anne style, characterized by eclecticism and asymmetry, elements of classical architecture, complex interlocking forms, a steep, pitched roof, and detailed chimneys. The primary exterior material is red brick, with brownstone sills and trim. The house has a granite foundation (with stones recycled from the Middlesex Canal) and a "Rutland Red" slate roof with copper flashing. The windows and cornices/trim were originally painted a deep green, as are the restored windows and shutters.
The house is organized around a large central hall that runs the length of the house, separating an elegant parlor and library on one side and an office and dining room on the other. A beautiful carved butternut staircase dominates the hall.
A House of Many Vistas
The Manor is designed in so that each face of the building is different and responds differently to its context. For example, the West Elevation (the back of the house) faced a broad vista across the property all the way to Point of Rocks. This reinforced the two-story West Porch as a "greeting place" for the daily life of the Brooks families and their guests.
The most familiar view extended from the south verandah to Brooks Pond. This vista also made the Manor visible from the access road itself.
Lots of Space for Family and Guests
The Manor has four major bedrooms on the second floor that closely parallel the layout of the first floor. The rest of the structure extends toward the Carriage House and houses the kitchen and service areas on both floors. The third floor was entirely devoted to servants' quarters.
Changes at the Turn of the Century
If you look at the first photo on this page, you'll see a very different porte cochere (front portico) than exists today. In 1900, Shepherd again hired Peabody and Stearns to add a bedroom over this part of the house. Minor alterations were also made on the Carriage House.
The Twentieth Century
Medford began a dramatic transformation from a rural community to a suburban city in the first decades of the twentieth century. Shepherd died in 1922; his wife, Clara Gardner Brooks died in 1939 and her plans for a nature preserve fell through. In 1942, the City of Medford acquired the remaining 82 acres of the Brooks Estate and demolished Point of Rocks in 1946. Today, only a few pieces of granite foundation are visible at the northern edge of the Estate.
From 1946 to 1954, the Manor was part of Brooks Village and provided housing for nine veterans' families. In the 60's and 70's it was used as a nursing home. It is now occupied by resident caretakers.
Moving from Protection to Restoration
After four years of advocacy, 50 acres of the Brooks Estate and the two historic buildings were permanently protected with a Conservation and Preservation Restriction in late 1998. Since then, M-BELT has been working to protect and restore the open space, landscape and historic buildings -- all the essential elements of this unique and invaluable place.