The Finer Things

Regardless of our circumstances in life, we all desire to own something beautiful, something meaningful, perhaps an object with a family connection—cherished by or fashioned by the hands of a loved one—or a piece of our heritage or history. Several stories about such fine objects resonate with family and historical ties.

Consider Eyre Hall, the stately 1759 home of generations of Eyre family members, built on land at the southern tip of Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay peninsula, where their ancestors had settled a century earlier. Expanded, redecorated, and filled with an enviable collection of heirloom furnishings and decorative arts, the home is one of the few of its kind still owned and lived in by descendants of those who built it.

It took a substantial coffee table tome—400-plus pages replete with stunning photos of period rooms, formal gardens, landscapes, maps, genealogical histories of those who both lived and worked at the plantation, and a catalogue of objects—to tell its story. We offer a tantalizing glimpse of its riches.

In the early 1970s, the Hobbs family settled on ancestral land in North Carolina, moving a circa 1740 house to the family farm and relying on Ben’s “hog-pen carpenter” skills to restore it. In the decades since, Ben has honed his skills as a maker of fine furniture—the kind 18th-Century farmers and planters aspired to own and immigrant artisans strived to build.

He taught his three boys the craft (now grown, they too are cabinetmakers) and held workshops to teach others. Jackie Hobbs decided to open a bed and breakfast inn and then a restaurant, using some of the old buildings Ben had been rescuing, moving to their property, and restoring, to house students who came to learn. After four decades, Ben and Jackie are semi-retired, still enjoying the fruits of their labors in a home filled with their handiwork. Renters of the former inn cottages are as well.

Residents of Philadelphia, and by extension, the three counties south of the city that eventually became the colony of Delaware, also sought to own objects of beauty and value, particularly silver, a form of wealth that could be handed down. Despite its small size, Delaware boasted a number of silversmiths whose work rivaled that of their peers in Philadelphia.

After the Biggs Museum of American Art in Wilmington acquired the vast Delaware silver collection of Colonel Kenneth and Regina Brown in 2008, officials established a Silver Study Center to make this work available to scholars and collectors—and to introduce the public to these beautiful objects.

Unless you live in a period home with a working fireplace, you’ve probably never given much thought to the role of bellows, much less their aesthetics. Apparently, neither have most material culture historians. Our article traces the use and production of bellows in America, illustrated with a surprising range of shape and decoration on these most utilitarian of tools. They make affordable collectibles too.

Those who enjoy traveling will find the article about the rise of grand hotels in the early 1800s of interest. Descendants of the colonial tavern, these establishments separated the functions of dining and lodging, often within towering architectural masterpieces, from Boston to Charleston and west into America’s rising cities.

We also look at the pioneering reinterpretation of Philipsburg Manor in New York State, an early provisioning plantation that produced flour and dairy products for export. Three decades ago, Historic Hudson Valley realized the true history of its success rested not with its Dutch owners but on the shoulders of the twenty-three enslaved Africans who ran the mill, milked the cows, tended the gardens, packed and transported the finished goods. It heartens and inspires me to learn these stories and to share the role all Americans played in creating this country.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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