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    April 01, 2015

    If the Black House were for sale (which it is not!)

    Believe it or not, over the years people have asked if Woodlawn is for sale.  What would be the...

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    April 08, 2015

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Press Room
Woodlawn Director on National Planning Team

Woodlawn’s executive director, Joshua Campbell Torrance, recently traveled to Louisville, Kentucky to participate in the planning of the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) 2015 annual meeting.  This year’s event will be in Louisville, September 16-19, 2015.

Torrance serves on the Program Selection Committee for this year’s meeting themed, The Power of Possibility.  The programs will address the challenges faced by those in the public history field and offer strategies to make inroads to the future. The event is expected to draw hundreds of state and local history professionals from across the country.   There were more than one hundred proposals submitted for this year’s event. “Each proposal put forth an innovative approach, activity or practice that moved an organization forward by shifting obstacles into opportunities. The committee had several conference calls before the trip and everyone came prepared, so we were able to make the selections in a one, day long work session,”  remarked Torrance.

AASLH is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee and has over 6,300 members.  Torrance also serves on the Historic House Committee for AASLH.

2015 Annual Meeting Held

The Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, governing board of Woodlawn Museum, Gardens & Park held its annual meeting on January 15, 2015 at The Black House in Ellsworth.

Presentations on two new plans were given.  Robert Brais, Vice President of ConsultEcon presented the recently completed business plan for Woodlawn and Phyllis Young, Marketing and Development Coordinator for Woodlawn presented on the new communication plan for the organization.  The annual budget was also reviewed and approved.

Frederick Ehrlenbach was seated as Woodlawn’s newest Trustee.  Commenting on the selection of Ehrlenbach, executive director, Joshua Campbell Torrance said, “Fred’s lifelong connection to Ellsworth and his leadership and steadfast manner on a number of boards and planning committees in the community were qualities that the Trustees were seeking.”  Fred is an active member of the Ellsworth Area Chamber of Commerce board of directors and co-chaired the Ellsworth’s Sestercentennial Committee in 2013.

Ruth Brenninkmeyer was honored with a plaque and gift for her nine years as a member of the board and voted a Trustee Emerita.  According to Torrance, “We certainly have enjoyed working with Ruth over the years. She is a true ambassador for Woodlawn and has brought much to the board with her ideas and enthusiasm.”  During her tenure as a Trustee, Ruth was in the founding group that established Woodlawn’s croquet court and a stalwart member on the Ellsworth Antique Show Preview Party Committee, which she will continue to serve on.

This year marked the 114th annual meeting of the Trustees.  The Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations was formed in 1901 by concerned citizens in response to extensive lumbering and the increase in private land ownership in Hancock County. They were very successful in preserving thousands of acres on Mount Desert Island, and then donated their holdings to the Federal government 1916 which formed the core of Acadia National Park. In 1929 they accepted Woodlawn from the bequest of George Nixon Black, Jr. and have continued to maintain and govern it for public use ever since.

Woodlawn Announces Donor Challenge

Woodlawn Museum, Garden and Park has been issued a $20,000 challenge by an anonymous donor for its 2014-2015 Annual Appeal.  Every donation to the appeal from now until the end of 2014 will be matched, dollar for dollar up to the $20,000.

According to executive director, Joshua Campbell Torrance, “In 2014, we did much to build upon past years’ efforts to do even more for our region while continuing to operate in the “black”.  An anonymous donor has recognized Woodlawn’s success and issued this $20,000 challenge to keep the momentum going in 2015.” 

Each year in its annual appeal, Woodlawn reflects on its accomplishments in the past year.  In 2014, Woodlawn hosted over fifty programs that connected people to the traditions and culture of Downeast Maine.  The trails, grounds, community garden and croquet court were used by more people than ever before.  Student programs grew with nearly 300 elementary school children attending October field days and numerous high school students working on history projects.  In partnership with other groups, there have been running races on the trails, a Winter Carnival in February, the Downeast Heirloom Apple Day in October and the Ellsworth Antiques Show in August.

Preservation of the estate continued in 2014 with the butler’s pantry and interior shutters in the Black House restored.  A planting plan was developed when a number of dying pine trees were removed.  A master property plan to guide future expansion and growth on the estate was created with help from Oudens Ello Architecture.  And, most significantly, John and Mary Black’s “best” bed was conserved and reinstalled with the original cotton dimity textiles which makes it one of America’s most important and rare cultural artifacts from the early 1800’s.

Gifts to the 2014-2015 Annual Appeal will help maintain Woodlawn for recreational use and create innovative programming allowing students and visitors to experience the property and learn about the region’s heritage.  Community members are invited to help Woodlawn meet the $20,000 challenge with a gift mailed to Woodlawn, at PO Box 1478, Ellsworth, Maine, 04605.

Woodlawn’s to host 1827 Best Bed Symposium featuring Earle Shettleworth and Jane Nylander

Woodlawn is pleased to present a special one-day symposium, Celebrating an American Treasure: Woodlawn’s 1827 Best Bed: Context & Conservation, on September 26, 2014, from 8:15 am to 4 pm. This program celebrates the recently completed conservation of the 1827 best bed and its original dimity and silk bed curtains.  These extraordinary textiles have been accessible to the public since Woodlawn first opened as a house museum in 1929. Their conservation ensures their continued preservation for decades to come.


Featured in the National Endowment for the Humanities’ magazine Curio and in The Magazine Antiques, Woodlawn’s best bed is nationally significant.  It is one of the best documented historic bedsteads in America.  It survives with its original bed curtains and in its original location. Purchased by John Black in Boston in 1827, the bed is complete with all its curtaining, festoons, fringe, and bedding (feather bed, mattress, bolsters and sackcloth) intact.  Well documented by invoices, the bed is especially noteworthy for the drawing sent by the Boston upholsterer who provided instruction for the installation of the elegant bed curtains.


The conservation work, conducted over 1 ½ years by Deirdre Windsor, from Windsor Conservation, in Dover, Massachusetts and Jon Brandon, from East Point Conservation Studio in Brunswick, Maine, was generously supported by the Coby Foundation of New York and the Felicia Fund of Providence, Rhode Island.

The program will feature keynote illustrated talks by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr., Director, Maine Historic Preservation Commission, and Jane C. Nylander, President Emerita, Historic New England, two of New England’s foremost scholars of early Maine culture.


Deirdre Windsor, Principal, Windsor Conservation, will discuss the conservation process used to clean and stabilize the twenty-one textile elements that comprised the bed curtaining. Natalie Larson, Historic Textile Reproductions, Williamsburg, Virginia and Laura F. Sprague, independent curator and project manager for the project, will share the bed’s history and remarkable documentation that sets this bedstead apart from any other in America.  As part of the program, special subject tours of the best bed and Woodlawn’s museum collections offer participants a rare opportunity to learn about this unparalleled collection with program speakers and other scholars.  Lunch will be provided.  Registration is $60.00 person ($50 for Woodlawn members). Because space is limited, early registration is recommended. To register or for more program and schedule information, please contact Woodlawn at 207 667-8671 or

Oudens Ello Architecture selected to develop Woodlawn Master Property Plan

The Hancock County Trustees of Public Reservations, governing board of Woodlawn, is pleased to announce it has hired Oudens Ello Architecture to develop a master property plan that will maximize the full potential of the property as both a museum and public park.

Oudens Ello Architecture was chosen after winning a competitive design charrette process. Boston-based, it is a full-service architecture and urban design office specializing in academic, cultural and institutional projects.  Principals Matthew Oudens, AIA, LEED AP, Conrad Ello, AIA, LEED AP, and Paul Schlapobersky, AIA, LEED AP, bring a research-based approach to their projects yielding thoughtful, well reasoned solutions that respond to their unique physical and cultural contexts and reflect a close collaborative relationship with each client. Current clients include the Martha’s Vineyard Museum, Stonington Historical Society (CT), Dartmouth College, Williams College, and the towns of Eastham, Millis, and West Tisbury, Massachusetts.

As part of the master property plan, Oudens Ello Architecture will consider the re-establishment of the estate's carriage barn structure, renovations to the historic kitchen Ell attached to the main historic house, and improvements to the 180 acre landscape, originally divided between the manor house portion of the site with its formal gardens and that of the working farm. The plan will address pressing space needs at Woodlawn including the desire for expanded programming, events, exhibitions, archival storage, organizational support, and research spaces for community use. The plan will also address issues of access, vehicular and pedestrian circulation, parking and facilities to better accommodate current visitor flow and an anticipated increase in the number of visitors to the estate.

“We are thrilled to hire Oudens Ello Architecture for this important project that will map Woodlawn’s future growth and expansion.  As a firm, we felt they understood our needs, and Woodlawn’s unique characteristics, very well. As individuals, we felt their personalities and commitment to excellence would help guide us through this exciting moment in Woodlawn’s history,” remarked Joshua C. Torrance, Woodlawn’s executive director.

“We were immediately taken with the unique qualities of the Woodlawn estate and are honored to play a role in its stewardship as an important heritage site and growth as a vibrant public amenity. As with much of our work on historic properties in New England, we understand the delicate nature of this undertaking and how vital it is to strike the proper balance between delivering a visible, dynamic new facility for the institution, and at the same time respecting and preserving the Black House and its grounds as the primary focus and enduring image for visitors.” remarked Matthew Oudens, principal at Oudens Ello Architecture.

The project is expected to last several months and will result in a board approved master property plan.  Consultant firms working with Oudens Ello Architecture on the project include Michael Boucher Landscape Architecture, the James E. Sewall Company, RSE Associates, Altieri Sebor Wieber Engineers, Consigli Construction, and Cosentini Associates.  An anonymous source has provided the funding for the master property plan project.

Woodlawn receives $55,000 to conserve rare best bed

Woodlawn is pleased to announce that it has received two major grants that will allow the institution to conserve and preserve its rare best bed.   With elegant festoon drapery curtains, it is widely considered to be one of the most important historic beds in America.  In 1827 Colonel John Black purchased the bedstead and the English cotton dimity curtains and silk fringe in Boston, Massachusetts, for his new house in Ellsworth. It survives as not only a Maine treasure but also a national treasure. Conservation grants were awarded to Woodlawn from the Coby Foundation, Ltd., in New York City, $55,000, and the Felicia Fund, $20,000, in Providence, Rhode Island.

John Black’s best bed is rare and remarkable survival.  The carved mahogany bedstead frame and English dimity cotton dimity curtains with silk fringe remain in the very same room where the bed was first installed in 1827.  Adding to its rarity, the original invoices for the purchase of the bed and its hangings survive, as do other elements of the original bed including: the brass cornice elements, its linen sacking bottom, and mattresses.  Significantly, the bed is documented by a drawing sent by the Boston upholsterer with instructions for how to install it.  Remarkably, the casings for the hair mattress and featherbed also survive.  Even stains on the featherbed cover indicating problems with bed bugs survive, illuminating a common problem in nineteenth-century domestic life that even John Black wasn’t immune too.

These fragile furnishings survived two more generations to inhabit the house, the last being the builder’s grandson, George Nixon Black, Jr. (or Nixon as he was familiarly called). Woodlawn was his ancestral summer home and he ensured its preservation.  His extraordinary textiles, fragile as they are, have been accessible to the public since the house opened in 1929.  Nowhere else in America can one see an original best bed of this quality.  Indeed, Woodlawn’s 1827 best bed is an iconic American artifact.  This is why Woodlawn chose to conserve the textiles rather than replace them.

“We are most grateful to the Coby Foundation and the Felicia Fund for their generous support to preserve one of America’s great historical treasures and for sharing our commitment to ensuring that it remain on view to the public,” remarked Joshua C. Torrance, Woodlawn’s executive director.

Natalie Larson, a reproduction textile specialist based in Williamsburg, Virginia and owner of Historic Textile Reproductions, has help refurnish early American bedsteads in house museums across the country, including many of the presidential mansions.  She observed with amazement and admiration, "Black's bed is the best documented, extant bed known in America. It tells the most complete story of the owner, time, place, and price. It has all of its original components - bedstead, curtains, bedding. It's in the same house and same room. There are bills of sale. It's the only one known with an illustration from the upholsterer who details the order in which the curtains are to be hung. Woodlawn's 1827 best bed offers the most complete story. There isn't another one like it! And we're still learning more about it. Inscriptions found on the cornice have yet to be deciphered so there's still more to learn."

BedBeginning on October 24, 2012 a team of museum and conservation specialists worked for three and one-half days on the methodical documentation and careful de-upholstery of the bedstead. Deirdre Windsor of Windsor Conservation, Dover, Massachusetts, one of America’s leading textile conservators, led the process, assisted by Jon Brandon of East Point Conservation Studio in Brunswick, Maine.  Ms. Larson made scale drawings to document how the twenty-two individual pieces were constructed 185 years ago.  Woodlawn’s Sleigh Barn became an on-site photography studio for J. David Bohl, a freelance museum photographer from Hull, Massachusetts, and formerly Historic New England’s staff photographer, who photographed each of the textile elements as well as the process of de-upholstery in the bed chamber.  Laura Fecych Sprague, an independent museum curator and a leading scholar of Maine’s early material culture, organized the work plan, and executive director Joshua Campbell Torrance facilitated the many detailed steps onaked bedf the process.  Earlier in October Walter Smalling, an architectural photographer from Penobscot, Maine, and Washington, DC, generously contributed a series of photographs documenting how the bed appeared prior to conservation work.

The conservation of the bed and curtains will occur over the next year.  The curtains will be professionally cleaned and stabilized at Windsor Conservation and reinstalled with improved ultraviolet light-filtering materials to ensure their preservation.  East Point Conservation Studio will conserve the bed on site.  Reinstallation will take place during the fall of 2013, accompanied by public programs to explore and celebrate their importance to American social history.  


Woodlawn Museum, Gardens & Park
P.O. Box 1478  •  Rte. 172  •  Ellsworth, Maine 04605  •  (207) 667-8671