Did You Know?: William Sumner Appleton and the Preservation Movement

William Sumner Appleton in front of the Harrison Gray Otis House in 1929. Photo credit: Historic New England

Depending on how you feel about the giant white tavern that overlooks the Weston Town Green (full disclosure: I love it and its creaky floors and renovated rooms, please please let it be done soon), you may be surprised to know that it almost did not survive a wrecking ball. Well, okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration but in the mid 20th century, sisters Ellen and Alice Jones bequeathed their home, the former Josiah Smith Tavern (hereafter the JST), to the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, which suffered an inglorious acronym of SPNEA until being renamed to Historic New England.

To celebrate the “impending” re-opening of the tavern, the Weston Historical Society spring lecture at the Community Room of the Weston Public Library on Thursday, April 28th at 7:30 pm will be devoted to the history of SPNEA beginning with William Sumner Appleton, the founder and chief force behind the early 20th-century movement to preserve historic homes/buildings in New England. Appleton founded the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities in 1910 in response to the loss of the region’s “historic fabric.” 

Speaker Ken Turino is Manager of Community Partnerships and Resource Development for Historic New England. His presentation will use Appleton’s story to show how the preservation movement in America was born and how the techniques he developed were adopted by what became the profession. He will also talk about how the field has evolved and broadened over time.

In addition to his work at Historic New England, Ken Turino is on the faculty of Tufts University in the Museum Studies Department, where he teaches courses on Exhibition Planning and Reimagining Historic House Museums. He is a curator, educator, director, producer, and author. His films have been shown on PBS including the prize-winning film, “Back to School: Lessons from Norwich’s (VT) One-Room Schoolhouses.” 

Weston Media Center will be videotaping the lecture, which will be available on the Weston Historical Society website.  WHS is planning to hold this lecture in person for the first time in two years. If circumstances change and the lecture goes to Zoom, an announcement will be sent via email and will be on the WHS website.

There is, unfortunately, an overlap between this event and Candidate’s Night with the League of Women Voters. Both will be recorded so you’ll have to choose.

More information is available at the Weston Historical Society website.

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