What is this fascination Americans seem to have today for things (or people) that are “disruptive?” It started in Silicon Valley with the adulation of newly-minted billionaires who had developed “disruptive technologies.” To qualify as successful it seemed like you had to develop a new technology that “destroyed” something. In olden times we used to think that to be successful you had to be a builder, additive to the economy and not just wiping out something else.
This fascination with “disruption” has now moved into politics. Donald Trump has embraced it, contending that everything is rigged. So did Bernie Sanders, with his calls for “revolution.” It worked well for both in the Primaries, although it didn’t quite get Bernie nominated and may not get Trump elected. Whatever the final outcome of the election, neither the “Grand Old Party” (GOP) nor the Democratic Party will look the same. They have been “disrupted!”
I am glad to report there is nothing “disruptive” about Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Our mission is just the opposite: to protect, preserve, and open to the public selected examples of classical American residential architecture of the early 19th-century .
We don’t even have any enemies to hate, although some modernist “Bauhaus” schools of architecture seemed to think it was sinful to build anything new as a replica of “old” classical architecture. Young architects were discouraged (forbidden?) from looking to the past for inspiration. “Invent something new!” This, of course, is just the opposite of what Thomas Jefferson said 200 years ago when he successfully espoused classical architecture as the model for the nation’s new capital in Washington, D.C. He noted classical architecture had stood the test of time for over 2,000 years. And so, Jefferson would be pleased that classical architecture is still very much alive, especially in some of the finest new homes being built today.
In the preservation field, I mentioned that we have no enemies, or other house museums we’d like to “disrupt.” I like them all and wish them well. Winterthur, Henry F. DuPont’s spectacular collection of antiques and architecture, rolled into a house museum suitable for scholars, has been my role model, along with the house museums of Charleston, South Carolina. While we are not in competition with any of these museums, I am pleased that Classical American Homes’ properties have certain qualities that could differentiate and perhaps eventually make them unique in the Pantheon of great house museums. I refer to all the original furnishings that are finding their way back home. Most house museums have furniture “of the period” but not original to the house.
At Millford Plantation in South Carolina, we have almost the complete suite of furniture ordered by Governor Manning from Duncan Phyfe in New York in 1841. The same is true at Edgewater, where the Donaldson family’s Duncan Phyfe furnishings, as well as many family portraits, have miraculously returned — mostly by good luck but also research. And at Ayr Mount, in North Carolina, many Kirkland family furnishings (they owned the place 170 years) have amazingly turned up on our doorstep.
Best of all, these returning furnishings are all top-of-the-line and museum quality. The original owners had extraordinary taste and sophistication for the era, when transportation was by barge or horse and buggy. So CAHPT’s house museums not only are original, but still look stylish today. They represent the final phase of hand-carved furniture in America, an amalgam of English, French, and German classical styles, combined into a unique American idiom. The owners were all interesting people themselves, but that’s another story for another day.
Anyhow, we have six historic sites that are beautiful examples of classical architecture and original furnishings, located on splendid landscapes with ocean, river, or mountain views. Come see for yourself! I’m sure you won’t be surprised that once again I have my year-end “begging bowl” out. Although I will be leaving the greatest part of my estate to Classical American Homes, we still need help. I hope you will support our cause of preserving these properties as models for future generations — and a lesson that all things old don’t need to be disrupted. Your support would be hugely (heard that word somewhere?) appreciated by me and our talented team of preservationists at Classical American Homes. Margize Howell and Peter Kenny, our Co-Presidents, join in saying thank you for your friendship and support. Thanks!