Historic New England: Codman Estate

Back in June 2022, I visited Codman Estate, called “The Grange” by former owners, which is located in Lincoln, MA and operated by Historic New England (HNE). Built as a plantation house and later serving as a summer estate, five generations of the Codman family lived in the house and filled it with their extensive collections. Because the house was gifted to HNE by the family in 1968, all materials in the house are original and belonged to the Codman family and their relatives. The house currently hosts two regular guided tours, the Servants Tour and the House Tour, which take place on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month. Of course, I had to take both tours and walk through the beautiful gardens!

Side view of Codman Estate; A three-quarters view of a blue, Federalist style house with black-shuttered windows and a white porch with wooden Ionic columns.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Servants Tour

Debuting in 2022, the Servants Tour gave visitors the opportunity to go “behind the scenes” of the Codman estate, seeing the kitchen, pantry, cellar, servants’ bedrooms, main bedroom, and upstairs hall. This tour is held once a day at 10:00 a.m. and lasts just under the hour with a format similar to the “Servant Life Tour” at The Elms in Newport, RI. On the day I visited, the tour guide began the tour outside the house in the shade of a large tree.

The first indoor stop on the Servants Tour was the laundry room. Visitors viewed laminated copies of “help wanted” ads from 19th century newspapers, along with photographs of servants at the Codman Estate. An iron warming stove stood in the walk-in closet off the main laundry room, where sheets were still hung up to dry.

The second set of stops on the servants tour were the kitchen, pantry, and servants’ dining room. In the kitchen, the guide described difficulties faced by Mrs. Sarah “Sally” Fletcher Bradlee Codman (quite the name) in hiring and keeping a good cook. In one year, the family might hire and lose seven or eight cooks, who quit their jobs due to the amount of work to feed a large household and the lack of gratitude from Mrs. Codman. The tour guide related that after several letters from her son urging her to hire an assistant to the cook, Mrs. Codman relented and experienced less turnover in the years that she paid for both cook and assistant.

Kitchen Call Box; A black box surrounded by a cream colored wood frame
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Mrs. Codman filled her kitchen with the best technology and design. The call box, or early intercom system, members of the Codman family to call down to the servants’ quarters with requests. The ornately decorated metal stove was the best of its time but the inverse of modern appliances, with the stovetop on the bottom and several ovens on top. The pantry and counter spaces were filled with delft ceramics and china belonging to the Codman family and their relatives. HNE historians suspect that relatives who wanted their sets preserved would send the dishes along to the Codman house, as they knew it would one day become a museum. My favorite piece was a white teapot with a blue painted windmill.

Kitchen Stove; Front view of a mid- to late-19th century black metal kitchen stove set into a painted black brick fireplace.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Delft Teapot with a Windmill; A blue and white delft teapot featuring a Dutch-style windmill
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

A quick walk down to the cellar revealed the last coal delivered to the house. Beside the door to the coal room was an advertisement for the United States Fuel Administration. The blue ink image, which displays a pair of draft horses pulling a cart with a man shoveling coal out the back, was designed by American artist J. C. Leyendecker during World War I, around 1914 to 1918.

United States Fuel Administration Ad; A small print of blue ink on white paper. The image portrays a pair of draft horses pulling a cart while a man shovels coal out the back. The test reads, "Order Coal Now United States Fuel Administration"
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

The tour guide then led us into the main bedroom, which belonged to Mrs. Codman. Her book recording servants’ wages remained on her wooden desk. Even with the paintings hung on the walls and an ornate crystal candleholder set on the bureau, the space was not as heavily decorated as the public areas of the house. A view from Mrs. Codman’s bedroom window afforded a view of the servants’ wing of the house, so Mrs. Codman could keep an eye on them and contribute to the high turnover.

The next bedroom belonged to Marie Reine Lucas, who worked as the French nanny of Dorothy Codman, youngest child from the final generation of the Codman family to live in the house. Called “Reine” throughout the tour, the nurse was regarded as one of the most loyal servants in the Codman household. She remained with them as the family moved between their houses and went abroad. My favorite item in this room was the colorful Jules Verne book.

The tour guide led us through the second-story hall, which connected sections of the house with a complicated staircase. Like many older homes, the house was expanded from a large family home to a mansion over many years and renovations. Decorated with the family’s art and an intricate red rug, the hall hosts one of my favorite features of the house, a late 18th or early 19th century clock from the Aaron Willard clock workshop in Roxbury, MA. His birthplace in Grafton, MA is now the Willard House & Clock Museum.

The servants tour ended where the main tour began, at the front parlor of the house. This room was decorated by Ogden Codman, Jr, the oldest son of the last generation of the Codman family, who came into fame as American architect and interior designer. He decorated in the Beau-Arts style, teaching wealthy “New Money” clients to incorporate “Old Money” art and neoclassical design with the technology of the modern world to create a visually exciting but physically relaxing environment. In the parlor, the fabric of the furniture matched the curtains and the bases of the lamps even as these designed clashed with the carpets and lampshades.

Hours Tour

The main tour meets on the front steps of the house and lasts for just under an hour, the same length as the Servants Tour. I took the 11:00 a.m. tour, but other tours are available on the hour at 12:00 noon, 1:00 p.m., and 2:00 p.m. The 11:00 a.m. tour included all of the visitors who took the servants tour plus an additional couple and ended up a bit tight even with the remarkable crowd control skills of the tour guide. If you plan to take just the house tour, I advise you to choose a later time.

After a review of the parlor, the tour guide led the group to the drawing room, which was also decorated by Ogden Codman, Jr. in the Beau-Arts style. The room was overstuffed with furniture, lamps, decorations, and books. The tour guide believed the room suffered a similar dilemma as the pantry, where Codman relatives generously donated their antiques to the house with the knowledge that it would become a museum. Unfortunately, this made impossible the separation of pieces owned by the resident Codman family from their well-meaning relatives. One known original feature in the drawing room was the portrait of Richard Codman, the first Codman to begin collecting art. In 1793, renowned artist John Singleton Copley painted the portrait as a copy of another portrait that he had previously painted, as Xerox had not yet been invented.

Too Much Stuff in the Drawing Room; including a floral couch and chair set, more books, more chairs, more side tables, more lamps, more vases, and the corner of the fireplace.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

We next went to the library, formerly the billiards room, which was once again stuffed with yet more art, furniture, and books, including a copy of The Decoration of Houses co-authored by Ogden Codman, Jr. and his close friend Edith Warton. Ogden, Jr. helped to design the interior Warton’s house, The Mount, in Lenox, MA. A few of his other famous interiors include the second and third floor of The Breakers in Newport, RI; Kykuit in Sleepy Hollow, NY; and Hampshire House in Boston, MA.

The first-story hall was mercifully less crowded and featured original yellow-and-white floral wallpaper, a decorative tile floor, and a pair of three-feet-tall Qing Dynasty vases. The tour guide explained that the staircase featured three designs of hand carved balusters or stair spindles to emphasize the wealth of the family, as each new design compounded the expense of construction. The curlicue designs on the side of the staircase reminded me of the flourish on the HNE logo. Another treat in the first-story hall were three small, white models of the Codman Estate displaying the renovations and changing name of the property. From left to right, the first model displayed its initial construction as the Russell House in 1741, the second displayed the Codman House from 1799, and the third displayed “The Grange” from 1866 to the present day.

Models of Codman Estate; Three small, white models of the Codman Estate displaying the renovations and changing name of the property. From left to right, the first model displays its initial construction as the Russell House in 1741, the second displays the Codman House from 1799, and the third displays "The Grange" from 1866.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

We proceeded to the austere dining room, where the tour guide explained it was among the few rooms in the house not touched by Ogden, Jr., because his formidable mother forbade it. Mrs. Codman and her husband, Ogden Codman, Sr., had personally designed the dining room after their wedding. The room had a large mirror to make the space appear larger, along with displaying the decorative wooden lattice on the ceiling. A 17th century Dutch masters painting hangs opposite the mirror, among the most prized artworks in the HNE collection. Other fun decorations in the room are the wooden lion heads on the mantle, a grandfather clock, and a samurai shield repurposed into a chandelier.

Tall Clock built by the Aaron Willard clock workshop in Roxbury, MA
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Lattice Ceilings and Samurai Shield Chandelier
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

With the bottom floor complete, we proceed up the stairs to the second-story bedrooms. In the final generation of the Codman family, two daughters occupied these quarters. They and their mother were accomplished painters, and their watercolor landscapes and still life paintings decorate the walls. Highlights for me were a watercolor of a traditional windmill, a Connecticut River Valley style clock, and a sign explaining the history of the ensuite bathroom. This marked the end of the second tour, but not my experience at Codman Estate.

Connecticut Valley Style Clock; A mid- to late-19th century Connecticut Valley style clock, with a small, black, wooden case and a round clock face.
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Second-Story Bedroom; A bedroom containing a wooden framed bed, fireplace, and framed watercolor paintings
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett

Garden & Grounds

Even without tour tickets, visitors can peruse the expansive lawn, gardens, and outbuildings. Plenty of shade trees line the lawn, allowing visitors to have a summer picnic in the shade. Flowers and neoclassical art filled the Italian Garden, like white statue of a woman overlooking a reflecting pool with water lilies. A rose arbor with concrete Doric columns stood at one end of the garden, while a wooden pergola shaded the other end. Terracotta planters filled with flowers and decorated with lion heads matched the lions found on the dining room fireplace. The three outbuildings on the property were the carriage house, stables, and ice house. These buildings were off-limits to the public and not shown during the tour. The carriage house can be rented for events. In fact, an event was in progress at the end of the day when I returned after another house tour and a long walk. (Stay tuned for next time…)

Italian Garden; including a view of the lily pool, statue, and a wooden pergola
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
A terracotta lion head on a large flower pot
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett
Stables at Codman Estate; A gray wooden building with multiple barn doors
PHOTOGRAPH BY Abigail Epplett


Codman Estate was a fun house tour filled with historical and decorative details. Taking both the Servants Tour and House Tour is the best way to see most of the complex. However, if you are short on time or attention, the House Tour showed plenty of the space. Expect the other members of the tour to be experts in a field pertaining to the house, such as 19th century history, European art, or Beau-Arts décor. This is not a good house tour for families with young children, as the rooms are totally stuffed with breakable antiques. Additionally, the many stairs on the tour make it inaccessible to any with limited mobility or using a wheelchair. “Servants Tours” cost $25 for adults, $23 for seniors,$15 for students, and $0 for HNE members (like me!). “House Tours” cost $15 for adults, $13 for seniors, $10 for students, and $0 for HNE members (like me again!). Grounds are open from dawn to dusk and are free to the public. One important note for those who enjoy a good walk, despite the proximity to Gropius House and the trails marked on a map provide at Codman Estate, the path system between the houses was a series of an uneven and unmarked mountain bike style trails. Do not use this pathway to travel between the two houses or you will end up having an unexpectedly long walk.

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Abigail Epplett

Abigail Epplett leads a dual life as a freelance digital marketing consultant for small humanities-focused organizations and as a customer experience design creative specialist at lab equipment manufacturer Waters Corporation. She holds an MA in Museum Education from Tufts University, where she researched the history of New England from Plymouth to the Civil War. To learn more about her adventures with museums, visit her current blog at abbyeppletthistorian.blogspot.com.