Monday, August 13, 2018

William Ralph Emerson, Architect

Eustis Estate, Milton, Massachusetts

William Ralph Emerson (1833 – 1917) was an American architect best known for his Shingle Style homes and buildings.  He lived in Massachusetts and was a friend and colleague of many important figures of this time period, including Frederick Law Olmsted, William Morris Hunt, and Carl Fehmer. He was a cousin to Ralph Waldo Emerson, and a distant cousin to me.  I’ll outline his genealogy below.

Emerson came from along line of ministers and Harvard educated men.  He never attended college but trained himself and worked alongside other architects in Boston.  First, he partnered with Jonathan Preston, and later Carl Fehmer, before starting his own architecture firm.  Only half of the buildings he ever built are still standing, but they are considered very important examples of classic Queen Anne Victorian architecture, and the Shingle Style which he developed in the 1880s.  He also worked with Olmstead to design the first buildings for the National Zoo in Washington, DC. 

The wealthy newlyweds William Ellery Channing Eustis and Edith Hemenway, with their twin sons, inherited land in 1876 from Edith’s mother to build a family home.  They hired the young architect William Ralph Emerson to design the house and estate.  He designed the house to serve the hobbies of the Eustis family, including a laboratory and photo studio for William, and day and night nurseries for the twin boys. Several generations of the Eustis family resided here.

The day nursery fireplace featured tiles with nursery rhymes

Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie

There was a little man and he had a little gun

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet
Mistress Mary quite contrary

Hickory Dickory Dock the mouse ran up the clock

V for the victuals including the drink

In 2012 the Eustis family sold their estate in Milton, Massachusetts to Historic New England, previously known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.  The house was able to be renovated back to most of its original state due to the enormous amount of William Ralph Emerson paperwork and plans found.  The building was opened to the public in 2017 and is the only Emerson house open to the public. There are over 100 acres of land adjacent to the Blue Hills Reservation (conservation land), with fields, gardens and four buildings including a lovely gatehouse on the main road.

A screen shot from the website of Emerson's floor plan of the second floor of the Eustis mansion

We visited the Eustis Estate in July and had a wonderful time.  The estate is open to both guided and self-guided tours.  In each room there are mobile devices (tablets) with links explaining what you are seeing, and background information including many of Emerson’s plans and blueprints.  You can also access these pages at home via the Historic New England website. I studied these plans and webpages many times both during the tour and later at home.  The self-guided tour was fun, and we took advantage of a lift for the disabled up to the second floor.  The furniture is not off limits, so take a seat and try out the comfortable furnishings. There were docents conveniently placed around the house to answer questions. 

Since I'm a mother, I decided to try out Mrs. Emerson's chair
she used to read stories to her twin sons.  
Above the middle chair are carved the words
"Once Upon a Time". Each of the side chairs has a son's initials.

The estate can be rented for functions and weddings, so check the calendar on the website or call ahead to make sure that it is open for tours. 

We made ourselves comfortable on the front
porch and enjoyed the view of the estate

Some of William Ralph Emerson’s most famous homes:

1876 The Eustis Estate, Milton, Massachusetts for William Ellery Channing Eustis
1881 The Boston Art Club, Boston, Massachusetts
1887 St. Jude’s Episcopal Church, Seal Harbor, Maine
1887 St. Margaret’s Roman Catholic Church, Beverly, Massachusetts
1896 Felsted, Deer Isle, Maine for Frederick Law Olmsted

St. Margaret's Church, Beverly, Massachusetts

St. Jude's Episcopal Church, Seal Harbor, Maine

The Emerson Genealogy down to William Ralph Emerson:

Generation 1:  Thomas Emerson, born 26 July 1584 in Sedgefield Parish, Durham, England, died 1 May 1666 in Ipswich, Massachusetts; married on 1 July 1611 in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, England to Elizabeth Brewster. Ten children.

Generation 2: Joseph Emerson, born about 1620 in England, died 3 January 1680 in Concord, Massachusetts; married second to Elizabeth Bulkeley, daughter of Reverend Edward Bulkeley and Lucyann Coy. Seven children.

Generation 3:  Peter Emerson, born 1673 in Mendon, Massachusetts, died 19 January 1751 in Reading, Massachusetts; married on 11 November 1696 in Reading to Mary Brown, daughter of John Brown and Anna Fiske.  Ten children.

Generation 4: Reverend Daniel Emerson, born 20 May 1716 in Reading, Massachusetts, died 30 September 1801 in Hollis, New Hampshire; married on 17 October 1744 to his third cousin Hannah Emerson, daughter of Joseph Emerson and Mary Moody.  Thirteen children.

Generation 5: Samuel Emerson, born 6 September 1764 in Hollis, New Hampshire, died 7 August 1851 in Kennebunk, Maine; married first on 6 July 1791 to Olive Barrel.  Three children.

Generation 6: William Samuel Emerson, born 12 February 1801 in Kennebunk, Maine, died 28 September 1837 in Alton, Illinois; married on 8 December 1828 to Olive Leighton Bourne.

Generation 7:  The architect William Ralph Emerson, born 11 March 1833 in Alton, Illinois, died 23 November 1917; married first on 24 December 1863 to Catharine M. Mears; married second on 15 September 1873 to Sylvia Hathaway Watson. He had one child with each wife.  He is buried in Forest Hill Cemetery in Jamaica Plain in plot 14/1497 on Brook path.  There is no memorial stone. 


William Ralph Emerson is my third cousin, five generations removed.  Our common ancestor is Peter Emerson, born in 1673 in Mendon, Massachusetts (see above in the third generation).   William descends from the Rev. Daniel Emerson (1716 – 1801), who I have blogged about HERE, and I descend from Daniel’s brother Brown Emerson (1704 – 1774).  

My lineage:

Generation 4: Brown Emerson, born 16 April 1704 in Reading, died 16 March 1774 in Reading; married on 17 June 1725 in Reading to Sarah Townsend, daughter of John Townsend and Sarah Boutwell.  She was born 25 March 1705 in Lynn, Massachusetts.  Ten children.

Generation 5: John Emerson, baptized 5 April 1739 in South Reading, Massachusetts, died 14 November 1809 in Hancock, New Hampshire; married on 20 December 1764 in Reading to Katherine Eaton, daughter of Noah Eaton and Phebe Lilley.  She was born 19 December 1744 in Reading, and died 21 January 1809 in Hancock, New Hampshire.  Eleven Children.

Generation 6: Romanus Emerson, born 1 September 1782 in Townsend, Massachusetts, died 10 October 1852 in South Boston, Massachusetts; married on 22 November 1810 to Jemima Burnham, daughter of Joshua Burnham and Jemima Wyman.  She was born 9 May 1783 in Milford, New Hampshire, and died 5 August 1868 in South Boston.  Seven children.

Generation 7: George Emerson, born 11 July 1817 in South Boston, died 11 January 1890 in Dorchester, Massachusetts; married on 11 August 1845 in Boston to Mary Esther Younger, daughter of Levi Younger and Catherine Plummer Jones.  She was born 17 February 1826 and died 7 January 1913 in Boston.  Eight children.

Generation 8: Mary Katharine Emerson, born 25 December 1847 in South Boston, died 23 April 1932 in Roxbury, Massachusetts; married on 28 October 1869 in Chichester, New Hampshire to George E. Batchelder, son of George E. Batchelder and Abigail M. Locke.  He was born 8 October 1848 in Chichester, and died 28 July 1914 in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Nine children.

Generation 9:  Carrie Maude Batchelder m. Joseph Elmer Allen

Generation 10: Stanley Elmer Allen m. Gertrude Matilda Hitchings (my grandparents)

See these links for more information:

From the Forest Hill Cemetery website:   

The Historic New England’s website for the Eustis Estate:

A blog post by Barbara Poole on her visit to the Eustis Estate:

From the Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System:    (download the inventory sheet PDF and you can see many photos and a 24 page report on the this property, and also download the PDF of the National Register of Historic Places Registration Form for this property, which is very interesting at 67 pages!)

The Felsted House on Deer Isle, Maine and its connection to many Hollywood films:

Other resources:

The Architecture of William Ralph Emerson, catalog by Cynthia Zaitzevsky and the photography by Myron Miller, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass. 1969.

Heather Ewing, 'The Architecture of the National Zoological Park,' in New Worlds, New Animals: From Menagerie to Zoological Park in the Nineteenth Century. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Watch a video by Historic New England about the Eustis Estate:


Heather Wilkinson Rojo, “William Ralph Emerson, Architect”, Nutfield Genealogy, posted August 12, 2018, ( accessed [access date]).


  1. Always happy to find a connection, be it ever to remote. My 3rd great-aunt, Eliza Bassett married Enos Emerson (1803-1862) in Keene, Ohio. Enos went West! His father was Jacob (b. 10 Jun 1774-D. 3 Apr 1839 in Keene, Ohio. Jacob was a brother of Romanus, so you would be related to Enos Emerson through John Emerson (1739-1809), their father. Your whatever cousin was married to my 3rd great aunt. Additionally, I have Bulkeleys in my family line, but at a glance I don't see a connection to your Rev. Edw. or to Elizabeth. Ah, those New England lines--what a tangle! [And Eliza was a descendant of the William Bassett who arrived on the Fortune.]

    1. Hello cousin Vera Marie! I found Enos Emerson, born 21 April 1803 in Hancock, New Hampshire and died 10 March 1862 in Keene, Ohio. I see he married Elizabeth Bassett on 24 November 1828 in Keene. In my notes I see that Enos and his brothers Brown (b. 1801), and George (b. 1814) all died in Keene, Ohio.