The Pines in Princeton MA, was the summer home of Thomas Allen, a wealthy Bostonian and noted landscape painter, and his descendants from 1894 to the 1960’s. In its prime it consisted of 243 acres laid out in various formal gardens, wooded areas, farmland and water features including a small lake. Thanks to Mr. Allen’s habit of keeping a daily journal we are able to appreciate his devotion to this, his "ultimate canvas.”
After spending several summers at The Howard House, one of the many hotels and inns that catered to the Boston elite who came to Princeton each summer to escape the heat, Thomas Allen Jr. decided to build his own summer residence. He called it The Pines. Between 1890 and 1893 he purchased several parcels of land on the back of Little Wachusett Mountain totalling 84 acres. Ultimately he owned 143 acres. Between 1894 and 1895 he built a 19 room house that was a variant of the modernist style. He sited it on top of a granite outcropping that afforded magificant views and took full advantage of the cooling breezes that had been bringing tourists to Princeton for decades. The Allens stayed at The Pines from mid May until Mid October.
In addition to the main house there was a large stable and a lean-to greenhouse. He built houses and retained existing farmhouses and barns where the full time farmer, Jacob Yonkers lived as well as the staff that cared for Thomas and his family during the summer - gardners, chauffeurs, grooms, maids. Probably 26 people in all. There was also the charming "Cliff Cottage" where Allen's daughter, Eleanor, practiced the piano and all the children put on plays and skits for the entertainment of the adults. Next to a small pond, created around 1900, there was another field stone structure used for changing and for storing the boats used on the pond. Every structure, including an ice house and pump houses were built from the unending supply of field stone on the Estate. There were two gravel pits that provided material for the driveways and paths.
At its peak, the Estate was on both sides of Allen Hill Road. A livestock pass through was built under the road to get sheep from one pasture to another. Originally called Mountain Road and used as a shortcut from the train depot to the the hotels on Mt Wachusett, it was diverted by Mr. Allen to give better views of The Pines to passersby. One of Mr. Allen's sons did not enjoy the formal lifestyle in "the big house". He purchased and built the first Sears Roebuck prefab house in the country, across the road from the main gate.
This was a fairly self sufficient operation. There were fruit orchards, a terraced vegetable garden, sheep, cows, and the pastures needed to sustain them, working and riding horses, 400 chickens. The family took full advantage of the wild blueberries and strawberries that grew in the area. "People used to drive up from Worcester with baskets and pails and spend the day picking". ( E. Allen Recollections of 70 Summers in Princeton") All of this was supported by an extensive irrigation system based on 3 artesian wells and miles of pipe and pumps that were powered by coal and wind. The house was heated by 12 fireplaces but was not electrified until 1916. Later on central heating was added.
The Allen Estate was considered noteworthy enough that there were at least 2 postcards published that featured colorized photos of the house and front gate. There was also mention of it as a "must see" spot in Princeton in an early automobile guide book. ( source Princeton Historical Society)
After Mr. Allen's sudden death in 1924, his wife Alice, and his surviving children - Eleanor, Tom and Dorothy and their families - continued to use and enjoy the fairyland he created well into the 20th century.
Thomas Allen Jr. was born in 1849 in St. Louis Missouri. He was one of five children all of whom were millionaires. The family fortune was based on his father's involvement in railroads and other pursuits including as a US Congressman. He spent his childhood in Missouri and in PIttsfield Massachusetts. His roots can be traced back to Thomas' great grandfather who was known as the "fighting parson" during the Revolutionary War.
He was encouraged by his artistically inclined mother to pursue his interest in painting. While still at Washington University in St Louis he made a sketching tour in 1869 to the Rocky Mountains west of Denver Colorado. After this trip, he went to Europe to study at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at Dusseldorf, Germany. After graduating from the Academy he studied for three more years in France. While primarily a landscape painter he also painted portraits and pastoral scenes. He had an appreciation of the simple and commonplace. He lived and painted in Texas between 1877 and 1879 capturing the landscape and life of the times. "Market Plaza" depicting the daily scene in San Antonio, is considered to be his masterpiece. He was one of the few artists to capture this period of Texas history and his work remains highly prized and collectable.
"He had in him the rare combination of artist and businessman as he was a man of large means and investments and painting was a side issue . . . His work was exhibited all over the country and in the salons of Paris but it made little difference to him wether he sold his paintings or not. He was robust, good natured, and very democratic. He was unconventional, and yet had great dignity" ( Thomas Allen's Sketches and Paintings of Texas , 1877 - 1899 - Heather Elizabeth White, 2014, Museum of FIne Arts, Houston, Texas)
In 1879 he met his first wife Eleanor Goddard Whitney on an Atlantic Voyage. They were married the next year in Cambridge Ma., and returned to Ecouen, France to live in an artists' colony. Their idyllic life was shattered in 1882 when Eleanor died in May following the birth of their daughter also named Eleanor. . Thomas also lost his father and his mother-in-law that same year and came back to Boston in 1882. He remarried in 1884. He and Alice Ranney had 4 children.
Thomas Allen built a studio in his home on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston. He was a social and business leader and a prominent member of the arts community serving on many boards.
". . . a man of means and artistic discrimination, his surroundings have always been of the most elegant and instructive nature, and his special knowledge of ceramic, the history of painting and decoration, and indeed of the fine art in general has made his name well known as an intelligent and able connoisseur in the arts and handiwork of all times." ( Living New England Artists - Franklin T. Robinson, 1888. Taken from reprint, Garland Publishing Company, 1977)
At the time of his death in 1924, he was affiliated with the Macallen Company of Boston and the Allen Estate Association of St. Louis and the Wellesley Knitting Mills. He is buried at the Woodlawn Cemetary in Princeton.
Being a landscape painter of some renown, Thomas Allen felt well qualified to determine the layout of the garden beds as well as the plan for the larger estate. He took full advantage of wildflowers and other native materials. Thomas was a close student of nature. "He closley observed every pebble, weed, bush or tree, the moving clouds: the anatomy of the earth . . . he studies all in their relations one with another..." ( Living New England Artists - Frank T. Robinson)
In his notes in Records of the Pines in 1899 he detailed his plans for the pathways through the west woods including where to remove and place stones for easier walking. He regularly purchased plants and trees including probably the first umbrella pine.
He knew the Latin names of the plants on the estate and made daily notations of the weather. His love of ceramics and other decorative arts inspired him to populate the gardens with many examples of Oriental Art. In many ways, The Pines was Mr. Allen's ultimate landscape painting.
Two of his children, Eleanor and Tom. each had their own "little gardens".
One of two known colorized post cards showing the house and front entrance.
There are many photo albums depicting life at The Pines for almost 60 years.
During the first couple of years of living at The Estate, Thomas Allen employed Edward O'Donoghue as his primary gardener. Mr. O'Donoghue was in charge of the green house and planted the courtyard in front of the house. Over time Thomas became disenchanted with Edward's capabilities and in May 1897 they parted company. "I make this move with serious regret, for Edward O'Donoghue is faithful, upright and honest and, moreover, is an excellent flower gardener. His knowledge of vegetables is limited and of the care of animals he knows nothing. Neither is he anything of a farmer or mechanic. On such a place I have need of an all around man, one who can relieve me of the care of looking after everything." William Stewart, "a Scotsman", took his place.
Jacob Yonkers and his descendants lived and worked at the Estate year round. Jacob and his crew performed much of the heavy farm labor - haying, sheep sheering, vegetable and fruit cultivation. From year to year casual laborers were employed to weed or to construct special projects.
Thomas Allen and his children Tom and Eleanor were very active participants in the care of the gardens and grounds. Thomas kept a daily garden journal in which he recorded the temperature and barometric pressure as well as the comings and goings of the many visitors to the estate. He also recorded the trials and tribulations of establishing the irrigation system, both lily ponds and the building of roads and retaining walls. He noted what wild flowers he saw on his weekly "tours of the place" as well as the delivery of plants and garden ornaments he purchased. He often brought masses of wildflowers back to the house for all to enjoy. The quality of vegetable and fruit harvests were noted.
It is not accurate to call The Pines a "garden". It was for all intents and purposes a working farm, although it does not appear that the Allens sold any of their produce.
Fields of millet, oats, buckwheat and barley were sown. Hay was harvested to keep the livestock fed all winter long. Corn was also grown and harvested.
Apples, peaches and pears, grapes, melon, blackberries, squash, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, kale, lettuces, peas, beans, beets, radishes were grown for the family. Cows were kept for milk as well as chickens, turkeys, pigeons and sheep. Peacocks were kept as pets. Wild blueberries were in abundance so much so that people came from Worcester to pick them in season.
Immediately in front of the house was a large lawn that culminated in 2 lily ponds. There was a cascade flowing from one to the other and an archway at the edge of the upper pond. Many varieties of lily's grew in the ponds. Over 100 goldfish were also kept in the ponds. "Helianthus multiflora as a background to the house, then cannas, five named varieties: then gladiolus. Edging next to the walk of oxalis, lobelia and English daisies. Large masses of tuberous begonias and in the S.E. and S.W. corners , masses of ferns and among them Besera Elegans (Coral Drops) and montbretia" . ( The Pines Records, May 14th 1896- July 15th, 1901 Pg.6)
There were beds filled with peonies and Asiatic lilies. Since the house was built on a large rock outcropping, trees were planted along a wall south of the entrance - maples, birches, oak, beech and larch. The pillars that supported the front portico of the house were covered in vines, perhaps clematis or wisteria. A wide variety of bedding plants were started in the greenhouse and set out each season - asters, marigolds, scabious. There were rose bushes and masses of laurel and rhododendron. There were well maintained walkways through the woods to allow for regular afternoon walks. as well as Mr. Allen's regular Sunday "ramble". During these tours, he made notes on the conditions he found for the workmen to follow during the coming week.
"This is one of the most difficult things I have to get through the heads of my men; i.e. that weeding is wasted unless the weeds, after being pulled or hoed up, are removed and destroyed." (Records,Pg.231) Mr. Allen was very familiar with the names of many of the weeds.
Lilacs bushes were planted at the base of the front lawn facing the front gates. These were lovingly maintained by Alice, Mr. Allen's wife well into the 20th century. (recollection of William Brooks, Princeton Historical Society)
Mr. Allen's daughter, Eleanor, maintained an Iris garden in back of the house . Thomas imported plants and seeds from friends and relatives' gardens - poppy seeds from his brother's home in Pittsfield and Marsh Willows from a friend's home on Shelter Island.
Mr. Allen appreciated the value of "hardscape" in the overall design of a garden. He had retaining walls and stone lined walkways built around the house and between the pastures and other buildings. He supervised the construction of a "grotto" as part of the upper Lilly pond. Near the back of the house was a fountain that featured a lion's head spouting into a pool. Mr. Allen was especially fond of Asian inspired artifacts and purchased several Japanese lanterns, a very large bronze lantern, a statue of Buddha on a lotus blossom, a Shi-Shi statue (Japanese Lion) that guarded the front drive to the house, a Japanese Tori (gate) was placed over one of the woodland paths. The paths were carefully maintained with brushed and raked pine needles.
Within a year or two of occupying the house, a 6 hole golf course was created on the Estate. Thomas was very fond of the game and recorded scores almost on a daily basis especially if he won, which he usually did.
Water and its distribution over the 143 acre parcel was a major undertaking. There were three artisan wells and a coal fired pump and a wind mill to help the water reach the house and to get through the miles of pipes laid out throughout the property. There was also a spring that supplied water, its output being carefully recorded.
Anna Lee Ames Frolich - great grand daughter of Thomas Allen
Karen Cruise - current owner of The Pines
Princeton Historical Society - Bud Brooks and Betsy Beth
The Pines Records - May 14, 1896 to July 15th 1901 ( personal garden journal of Mr. Thomas Allen)
Living New England Artists, Frank T. Robinson, Garland Publishing, Inc. 1977 reprint ( original 1888), "Thomas Allen, A.N.A.. S. A, A.
Recollections of Seventy Summers in Princeton, Eleanor W. Allen ( unpublished)
The Landmark, October 22, 2009, Princeton Home Boasts a Grand History.
The David B Warren Symposium ( 2014, Vol. 4) American Material Culture and the Texas Expereince: Itinerant and Immigrant Artists and Artisans in 19th Century Texas Houston the Museum of Fine Arts
Francis E. Blake, History Of Town of Princeton in the County of Worcester and the Commonwealth of Massachiuusetts 1759-1915, published by the Town of Princeton, 1915.