Robert Strong Woodward painting in the back of the Packard
It was always a custom of Robert Strong Woodward to travel around the back roads of New England, most especially those of Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont, looking for his ideal of places to paint. He was especially fond of old barns and old houses. Almost every Sunday afternoon he would start out sitting in the passenger seat of his open phaeton 12-cylinder Packard touring car with a stack of geodetic maps and sketchbooks in his lap. On most of the paved roads I would chauffer him along at a fairly good clip of 30-40 miles an hour. Then he would direct me to take a back dirt road and the speed went down to 5-10 miles per hour. When we came upon a special old barn or old house or a tree which appealed to him, we would stop, pull to the side of the road (unless it was mud season) and he would sketch for an hour or so before we moved on to the next stop.
In the fall of 1930 (this was before my time as chauffeur) he was traveling on a dirt road in West Halifax, Vermont, when he came upon an old dilapidated house surrounded by huge elm and maple trees. He stopped to make his first sketch of what he would later always refer to as The Halifax House. He was to make many more sketches, chalk drawings and oil paintings over the following years.
There is some discrepancy in the Woodward diary as to which of his paintings was the very first one made of this old house. After studying the various paintings and comparing various diary notes it is my conclusion that the very first painting was one named The Grace of Years
. It showed a falling-in roof on the ell of the house and rotting siding on the house and the ell. At the time the house was abandoned. Soon thereafter it was purchased by a wealthy woman who lived near West Point, New York, and she feared, with the war going on, it would not be safe to live where she was in New York and sought out this home high on the hills of West Halifax, Vt. She then undertook to restore it, which very much upset Mr. Woodward who much preferred it, for the purposes of his paintings, in its dilapidated state. In about 1935 on one of his Sunday trips in the Packard he took this painting to show her and she purchased it on the spot for $650 and took it back to her home in Wappingers Falls, New York. After being renovated back to its original state, the Halifax House was still a lovely old building and RSW continued to paint it over many years. Selected paintings of this house from many sides and during different times of the year are the following:
Over the following few years this New York lady also purchased several, chalk drawings all of which she kept in her New York home. She then returned the original painting to him, fearing that the Germans would be bombing the area around West Point and the painting would be lost. She continued to live in the Halifax House during most of the year until the end of the war when she then felt safe to return permanently to Wappingers Falls. At this time she offered to give to RSW the house and land about it completely for free. He refused to accept it mainly because of the cost which would be involved in its upkeep. For a few years following this, the house was an antique shop but then sold to become an ordinary home. When the war ended the painting was back in the Buckland studio from where it was sold to another purchaser. RSW continued to go back to the house to make oil paintings and chalk drawings. Reproductions of the oil paintings of the Halifax House appeared in several magazines during those years. These apparently attracted the attention of Stanley Woodward
, an artist who lived and worked on the Massachusetts north shore area and was best known for painting seascapes. He had a studio in Rockport, Mass. RSW and Stanley Woodward had always had a rather contentious relationship, probably because of the same Woodward name although there was no real family relationship. This became worse, however when Stanley decided to travel up to Halifax, Vermont, to make a painting of the same house. RSW considered that this was HIS house to paint. Below is a newspaper reproduction of the Halifax House as painted by Stanley Woodward.
The Halifax House still exists today on the Jacksonville Stage Road out of Halifax toward Colrain. The house and the ell are unchanged, however, all of the surrounding terrain has changed drastically. The previous fields which were hayed in early days are now a mature forest. Sadly, the place is hardly recognizable.
Following are recent photographs of the appearance of the Halifax House taken by web site contributor Janet Gerry Nelke.
The Halifax House today (November 2011)
The Halifax House today (November 2011)