The rebirth of Aldworth Manor

Last modified: 10/26/2015 5:46:59 PM
“The old girl is holding up well,” said Shane Long, as he describes the historic manor house his family purchased nearly a year ago. “We’ve seen a lot of older houses and, comparatively, it’s doing pretty well.” Shane and his parents, Roger and Tammy Long, are giving me a tour through Aldworth Manor on a sunny August morning. After months of work during which they stripped away decades of renovations done to adapt the house to other uses, the soul of the home has begun to emerge.

A home it was intended to be, with a history that is worth telling. Aldworth began its life as a Victorian house built before 1851 in the Lincoln Square section of Worcester, Massachusetts. Purchased 15 years later by Philip L. Moen, of the Washburn & Moen Manufacturing Company, it was eventually willed to Moen’s daughter, Alice, along with $1,000,000, but with the stipulation that it could remain hers only as long as she lived in it. When Alice married her father’s employee, Arthur E. Childs, who had purchased over 500 Harrisville acres with a magnificent view of Mount Monadnock and dreamed of building a hunting lodge there, the couple devised a scheme to legally circumvent the conditions of the will. They would dismantle the house, move it by rail to Harrisville, and reconstruct it on their hilltop.

And so they did. In 1908 the house arrived at the Chesham station of the Boston & Maine: Seventeen flatbed rail cars loaded with the carefully numbered parts of their present and future home — from foundation stones to roof trusses and everything in between. From Chesham it was transported across town to the Childses’ newly constructed road that wound nearly a mile up their hill to the place where the couple would begin a new life.

How long it took to complete the reconstruction is unclear, but not the fact that the exterior of the square house was changed from Victorian to one with a marked Italian flavor. A massive, two-story wing extended the house to the rear, forming a T-shaped footprint. To the south-facing facade the Childses added open, arched corner pavilions connected by a broad, sunny veranda, all of which faced the mountain. A new, red-tiled roof with copper gutters set off classical columns, heavy wooden roof brackets, window moldings, and stucco siding. Arthur and Alice Childs transformed their Victorian home into something of a neo-Renaissance summer villa and one of the premier summer estates of the Monadnock region. The landscaping included extensive, stone-terraced garden “rooms” with statuary, a pool and garden pavilion, 10 acres of lawn, and a tarred road (reputedly the first in Harrisville) lined with imported rhododendrons.

The Childses lived out their days in their hilltop mansion, and before the stock market crash in 1929 ended the splendor they had come to know, they employed as many as 27 people at the house.

Built as a single-family home, Aldworth Manor was, however, destined to change. During the years following the Childses’ deaths (his in 1934 and hers a few years later) additional buildings were erected as the property became, in succession, a sanatorium, a boys’ boarding school known as the Thomas More School (1959-1972), the campus of the newly-established Antioch College (1973-1975), and for 40 years the communal home and commercial bakery of a group of Seventh Day Adventists.

The Longs took possession of the property in late 2014. “I guess one reason why the building survived is because it has been adaptable,” said Shane Long. “People have used it for different reasons, and we’re going to continue that.”

Those adaptations over several decades brought about some practical but unfortunate changes, which the Longs must now remove as they restore Aldworth Manor: many drop-down ceilings; windows and false floors that enclosed pavilions converted to classrooms; a drab cement-block addition not in keeping with the style of the rest of the house; wallpaper, carpet, and many layers of paint. Over time, original light fixtures disappeared — either were removed, sold, or were stolen — and must now be replaced.

Yet the bones of the house and garden are sound. “It was well built to begin with,” Roger Long said. Original materials were of the highest quality, and the Childses were thoughtful when they erected the building on their hill. While the house was sited deliberately for the views, the sun follows the building throughout the day.

With new ownership the house enters another chapter in its history, as an event venue with lodging. After acquiring the property, Shane began the process to acquire approval from the Harrisville Planning Board for its new use. That was completed at a public hearing in July 2015, and Aldworth held its first event in late August: blueberry picking, music, dancing, tours of the manor, and a barbecue dinner. It marked a return to public access, which is part of the Long family’s plan. They will host weddings, community gatherings, workshops, retreats, and festivals.

Challenged but not overwhelmed, the Longs are well into the first of two ambitious restoration phases — completion of the ground floor of the manor for large group gatherings and renovation of another large structure that had been built as a dormitory for Thomas More School. The second phase will cover conversion of second floor suites for short-term lodging, each with a private porch and/or balcony. Eventually a solar array will make the manor electrically independent.

“We have to float the boat,” Shane said, “so that means doing weddings and other rental events up here, but we also want to have a balance of the arts and outreach to the community because this isn’t meant to be a private residence; no one will be living in Aldworth Manor alone. That’s it in a nutshell. We have several phases to plot out and do, but we’re planning to do the exterior, get things moving downstairs, and slowly move up. We’re exploring options for two third-floor penthouses for either short or long-term lodging.”

The Longs are an eclectic family deep into the arts. Shane is a musician, singer, and musical educator with a master’s degree in choral conducting. He spent 10 summers working on a farm in Italy. Roger and Tammy are retired educators. He has a degree in art and is also an experienced mechanic and carpenter, having built and restored homes. She had 36 years in public education in Arkansas and is also a pianist. Jordan Long, Shane’s brother, who worked with Shane and Roger on early phase demolition, has a master’s degree in contemporary art and is a filmmaker with his own production company, HCT Media. His YouTube video “Saving Aldworth Manor,” has, for the past year, introduced Aldworth to the world. He is presently making a short film and the year’s video update and also helps with the social media for the family venture.

The Longs hope that sharing Aldworth will benefit both Harrisville and the region. Meanwhile, Tammy said the whole family appreciates the warm reception they have received from the townspeople. On Saturday they will open Aldworth once again to the public, staging a fall harvest festival from 2 to 5 p.m., with music, food, arts and crafts showcasing local talents and products. Admission will be free. Aldworth Manor is located at 184 Aldworth Manor Rd.

The Longs are currently booking outdoor and indoor events for next year. Contact Shane at 903-7547 or aldworthmanor@gmail.com.



Research for this article was done with the help of the archives of Historic Harrisville.


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