The Architects of Newburyport: Edwin S. Dodge


Newburyport High SchoolIt may surprise many who look upon our beautiful high school that a ‘wild and crazy’ guy designed it.      Edwin was born in 1874 with a silver spoon in his mouth and he liked it the first moment he tasted it.     He was the son of the wealthy manufacturer Elisha Perkins Dodge.      This businessman’s former building is now a combination apartment/commercial establishment behind the street façade of the Szechwan Taste Restaurant on Pleasant Street.       I might add that it is one of the few buildings in the city which has its own National Historic Register.   


Now getting back to Edwin, he may have been a party animal but he was no dummy.    He trained as an architect at MIT and graduated in 1897.      He then went on to get his post-graduate at the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris.     This school was famous for producing avant-garde architects and artists.      It was here far from his staid parents, that Mr. Dodge decided to adopt a rather ‘modern’ lifestyle unlike his dower New England parents.     He became romantically involved with the art patron and writer, Mable Dodge Luhan who was also known at the time as Mable Ganson Evans.     After graduating in 1902, he travelled amongst the leading artists and architects in Paris and finally married Mabel in 1904.      They had a very unconventional marriage.     We know this because she wrote about it in her autobiographies Intimate Memories and European Experiences.      They were so unique they were mentioned in the book, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas.     To fully understand who they rubbed shoulders with, the true writer of the Toklas Autobiography was Gertrude Stein and she was poking fun at the true Alice B. Toklas who ran a salon.    In this establishment, they attracted expatriate American writers, such as Ernest Hemingway, Paul Bowles, Thornton Wilder and Sherwood Anderson, and avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Matisse and Braque.With such incredible exposure and not staying in just one place, they traveled about Europe.      If they had been born at a later date, they would have been called jetsetters.      Trying his hand at a massive job, they lived and tried to restore the palatial Villa Curonia in Arcetri, near Florence.      One of the sad facts that extensive restoration/renovations attempted by a couple can strain a relationship sometimes to the breaking point.     The house was so much like the movie, “The Money Trap”, that their marriage fell apart.       As Mabel explained it, “The house drank money”. (A lot of Newbury porter’s have shared that experience!)    They had a fractured relationship and finally in 1911, they separated and he returned to the U.S.     Unfortunately, there was much ill-feeling and scandal but finally the divorce was finalized in June 1916.


A bit chastened and a whole lot wiser, Edwin partnered with John Worthington Ames who had trained at Harvard but they found common ground by the fact that he also did his post-graduate at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts.       They formed the successful architectural firm of Ames & Dodge.


The buildings designed by this firm stretch all over New England with some found at Harvard and in Hartford.      In Newburyport, his greatest and most long-lasting work is the Newburyport High School which surprisingly was his creation alone two years before he partnered with John Ames.       A blending of many traditional styles and yet, the divergent shapes all blend into an impressive and beautiful edifice.


DSCN0590 - CopyAnother building that he designed is the Ellen T. Brown Memorial Chapel at Oak Hill Cemetery.       Thanks to Community Preservation Act money, its exterior has been restored to the way Edwin Dodge would have wanted it when it was originally built in 1914.   It also is probably his design alone.       


It is worth taking the time to stop and walk around the structure.     If the Oak Hill Cemetery Association can get enough funds together, they may be able to rent out the facility.     It is quite beautiful inside and would be an excellent addition of available space here in the City.


So many who walk by think it is a mausoleum and hurry by.      It is a shame because it is the only true Palladium architecture in Newburyport and is deeply influenced by his time in Florence.     Much of Georgian and Federal style architecture takes its ideas from the designs of the Venetian architect Andrea Palladio* who lived in the early 1500’s.   It’s presence allows for a unique comparison to the true style.


Take the time to check out this unique building.


Often visiting teams that come to the High School are amazed at our beautiful school; it may be the product of the twentieth century but it has all the classic styles that spanned our seaport’s long history.      With the recent renovation, it sparkles and should be a point of great pride compared to the utilitarian (and dull) typical school buildings such as the  Bresnahan, Brown and Nock.


Mr. Dodge died in 1938.   By that time, he also did the Hartford Fire Insurance Company building in Hartford, the Cabot Hall at the Cabot House on the Harvard University campus.     He did many buildings for Smith College and also the Lotta Fountain at the Charles River Esplanade amongst many others.


Every Newburyporter should be proud of his loving contributions to our city.


-P. Preservationist


This entry was posted in Architecture, Art & Culture, Education, Heritage Tourism, History, Preservation History. Bookmark the permalink.

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