185 Lyman Street, Waltham, Massachusetts
This house is best associated with...
George Williams Lyman
George Williams Lyman, of Boston & "The Vale" Waltham, Massachusetts
The Vale: House & Gardens
In the same year as purchasing the land, the Lymans employed the builder-carpenter Samuel McIntire - who was as well-known for his elegant interiors as he was for his dignified exteriors - to design their new home. McIntire had made a name for himself in Mrs Lyman's native Salem and in keeping with what he was known for, he built them a Federal-style mansion with a pair of connected wings influenced by the "Innovative planning" of Charles Bulfinch - "America's first native-born architect".
They named their new home "The Vale" for its situation, set in a vale between a wooded rocky ridge to the north and a swift moving brook on the south. Aside from a working farm, the gardens were landscaped by the English-trained gardener, William Bell, in the English picturesque style of Humphrey Repton, incorporating woodland and a deer park.
The greenhouse was built sometime before 1800 and is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the country. The grape house was built in 1804 for growing exotic fruits such as oranges, pineapples, and bananas, but today it houses grape vines grown from cuttings that were taken in 1870 from Hampton Court in England. The Camellia House was built around 1820 for the camellias that were introduced to America in 1797. Many of the Lyman camellias seen today are more than 100 years old. Also of note is the 600-foot long brick peach wall and late 19th century rhododendrons and azaleas planted by the Lymans.
Changing Faces & Historic New England
The house stood as Theodore Lyman intended it until 1883, when his grandson, Arthur Theodore Lyman employed the firm of Hartwell, Richardson and Driver to give it a Victorian facelift. In 1917, two years after he died, his son, Arthur Theodore Lyman Jr., removed his father's fanciful additions and gave it its present Colonial-Revival look. Two of McIntire's original rooms survive in tact: the oval drawing room and the spectacular 2-story ballroom which featured in the movie adaptation of Henry James' The Europeans. More recently (2019), the Lyman Estate was used for the filming of Greta Gerwig's movie adaptation of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.
The Vale remained in the Lyman family for four generations. After the death of Mrs Susan (Cabot) Lyman in 1951, the family fortunes took a tumble as the textile industry they were so heavily invested in dried up. Mrs Lyman's five children gifted the house and immediate gardens to what has since become Historic New England. The remainder of the estate was nearly sold to housing developers in 1962 but was purchased at the last minute by Bentley University for $365,000 who continue to occupy most of the land. The house and gardens are still operated by Historic New England and are open to the public.
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