Council of Independent Colleges Historic Campus Architecture Project

 

 
Evergreens, The

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Institution Name: Amherst College
Original/Historic Place Name: Evergreens, The
Location on Campus:
Date(s) of Construction:
1856original construction Pratt, William Fenno
Designer: William Fenno Pratt (Northampton, MA)
Type of Place: Individual building
Style: Italianate (Glossary)
Significance: culture, history
Narrative: see below
References: see below
Materials:
Foundation: brick faced with granite
Walls: wood flush-board siding
Roof: metal standing seam
 
Function:
1856-1988private residence
1988-present (2006)museum (historic house museum)
 

Narrative:
The Evergreens is Amherst's first and best-preserved example of the Italianate style as used in domestic architecture. It was constructed in 1856, only one year after the Italianate Morgan Library on the Amherst College campus, and is part of the Dickinson Historic District, a cluster of large mid-19th-century buildings located east of the Amherst town center. Designed by local (Northampton) architect William Fenno Pratt after designs published by Andrew Jackson Downing, The Evergreens was built by Amherst College treasurer Edward Dickinson as a wedding present for his son Austin and future daughter-in-law, Susan Gilbert. Because The Evergreens was occupied only by the immediate family until 1943, and by close friends between 1947 and 1988, the house was never modernized. The building, landscape, and furnishings all survive as a remarkable encapsulation of daily life and aspirations in a middle-class Victorian household. The entire house--including service spaces such as the kitchen, pantry, scullery, buttery, and maid's room--survive with virtually all of their period finishes and furnishings intact.

Austin Dickinson (1829-1895) was the brother of poet Emily Dickinson, who lived next door at the Dickinson Homestead. He succeeded his father as treasurer of Amherst College (1873-1895) and rose to prominence as the town's leading citizen. Austin Dickinson was the long-time moderator of the Town Meeting, a successful attorney, and led the community in numerous public works and beautification projects. Susan Huntington Gilbert Dickinson (1830-1913) was a childhood friend and close confidante of Emily Dickinson from whom she received over 250 poems for her critical reading. A short time after Austin and Susan occupied The Evergreens, it became a hub of social and cultural activity in Amherst, and Austin's lifelong interests in art and landscape design helped make the Evergreens a local showcase. Under Susan's direction, the Evergreens became a focus of social and cultural life in the community. They entertained frequently, and their guests were not limited to local friends and faculty, but also included prominent visitors who came on College business or lecture tours--people such as Ralph Waldo Emerson; abolitionists Henry Ward Beecher and Wendell Phillips; Andrew Bullock, Governor of the Commonwealth; author Frances Hodgson Burnett; landscape architects Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux; and many others.

Martha Dickinson Bianchi (1861-1943), daughter of Austin and Susan Dickinson, used The Evergreens as her primary residence during her lifetime. Beginning in 1914, she gradually put aside her own literary career to edit and publish the works of her reclusive Aunt Emily, sparking a revival of interest in Dickinson's poetry in the first half of the 20th century. After Martha's death in 1943, her heirs recognized the tremendous historical and literary significance of a site left completely intact and sought ways to insure the preservation of The Evergreens.
 

References:

Orfant, Joseph R. Dickinson Historic District [Amherst College]. National Register of Historic Places designation report. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior/National Park Service, 1977.

Historic Structure Report: The Evergreens. 1995. Amherst College, Amherst, MA.

The Evergreens. Historic Landscape study. [s.l.: s.n.], 1996.

 

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Last update: November 2006