I only buy books that I’ve already read and loved… I will linger months and months on the library’s waiting list because it irritates me to buy something and be disappointed.
Except at the library booksale—where for a dollar, you might discover something wonderful: The Big House: A Century in the Life of an American Summer Home.
If you have an interest in American architecture, Gilded Age history, or memoirs, you should read The Big House. I loved it.
(Although it left me deeply irritated that my great-grandfather didn’t have the foresight to build a summer mansion in Cape Cod.)
This is the only photo I could find, and it reflects the changes made by the current owner… they chopped off half the house and added skylights—not a good look from the exterior, but you can imagine it was dark in there with the tiny dormers and uninterrupted roof line.
The New Yorker describes the book:
In 1903, the author’s great-grandfather, a Boston Brahmin named Edward W. Atkinson, built his family a house on Cape Cod, at Wings Neck, the last undeveloped peninsula overlooking Buzzards Bay. The Big House, as this multi-storied conglomeration of gables, dormers, and bays came to be called, included “eleven bedrooms, seven fireplaces, and a warren of closets, cupboards, and crannies.” It was also an expensive firetrap with sixty-seven windows in need of attention, leaking roofs, wildlife procreating in its walls, and no indoor shower. A family memoir, a brief history of the Cape, an investigation of nostalgia, a catalogue of local fauna, a study of class, and a meditation on the privileges and burdens of the past.
You May Also Like: Philadelphia Architecture, Society Hill Trinity Houses.