The mansion at Gore Place was built in 1806, set on a 45 acre house lot with surrounding farmlands. The Gores entertained such notable dignitaries as Daniel Webster and James Monroe in their beautiful home, “outfitted for all seasons.”
Today this Federal period historic house is owned and operated by the Gore Place Society, a nonprofit members organization dedicated to the preservation and restoration of Gore Place.
Christopher Gore was born in Boston in 1758, the tenth of thirteen children of Frances and John Gore. John Gore, a successful merchant and artisan, was able to send Christopher to Harvard College (class of 1776). Christopher served in the Continental Army as a clerk with the artillery regiment of his brother-in-law Thomas Craft.
After the war, Christopher Gore chose the law as his profession and apprenticed himself for £100 to John Lowell. He was admitted as an attorney to the Bar of Suffolk County and opened his office on State Street in Boston.
Gore was unquestionably bright and ambitious, but several factors helped the young lawyer’s practice to flourish. Many of Boston’s older lawyers were Tories and by leaving the country, they left their clients to the younger generation. The Revolutionary War increased the city’s wealth and also the demand for services such as Gore could provide. Gore also invested in revolutionary scrip and the many new mills and toll roads that sprang up on rural land west of Boston. His fortune grew rapidly.
In 1785, Christopher Gore married Rebecca Amory Payne, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and maritime insurer. The Gores were a sophisticated couple, possessing excellent literary tastes and social graces. They soon became prominent members of Boston society. Rebecca’s dowry helped the couple make their first purchase of land in Waltham. They gradually enlarged their holdings to 400 acres. In 1793 they built a wooden mansion to replace an earlier farmhouse on the site. A large carriage house built at the same time remains to this day.
In 1780, Gore served as a delegate for the ratification of the Constitution for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. George Washington appointed him first United States Attorney for Massachusetts in 1789. Seven years later he was appointed to serve on the Jay Commission negotiating mercantile claims on behalf of American shipowners whose ships had been seized or destroyed during the war with Britain. His duties required Gore to travel to England where he and wife Rebecca were to remained for eight years. In addition to his duties with the Commision, Gore spent two months as chargé d’affaires in London after his friend Rufus King resigned from his post and before James Monroe, the new ambassador, arrived. This suit (see photo) was worn by Gore when he was formally presented to King George III and Queen Charlotte.
Building a mansion
While abroad in 1799, the Gores received news that their house in Waltham had burned and they quickly began planning a new mansion for the site. Rebecca Gore was particularly interested in architecture, and her husband gave her credit for the new design. The Gores had visited many country homes in England and traveled through France, Belgium, and Holland, so not surprisingly the new house was fashioned after the English and French buildings she most admired. The work of Sir John Soane probably influenced her concept, although a Parisian architect, Jacques-Guillaume Legrand, is said to have assisted Mrs. Gore and drawn up the final plans. The new design featured an interplay of geometrical shapes, including carefully laid out oval parlors, and restrained neoclassical ornamentation adapted from the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome. In summer, the house was designed to be light and airy. The Gores finally returned to Massachusetts in 1804 and work on the new brick mansion commenced in 1805. The cost of construction totaled just under $24,000, a very large sum for its day. Mr. Gore’s records detail expenses for everything from Pennsylvania marble floor tiles to imported English hardware.
Landscaping the grounds
The gardens and grounds surrounding Gore Place were also altered to a more European design. The Gores must have been aware of the work of Humphry Repton, an English landscape architect, then at the height of his popularity. Repton advocated broad lawns, open fields, ponds, clumps of trees, and inconspicuous gardens; he would not tolerate formal gardens or abundant shrubbery. The Gores incorporated many of Repton’s ideas. Shaded walks radiated from the house and another skirted the grounds. A road lined with trees still approaches the house from the west. As a gentleman-farmer, Gore took a keen interest in new ideas on agriculture. A variety of fruits, vegetables, and grain was cultivated on estate. The Heathcot pear, named for the Gore’s gardener who planted the tree in 1812, won a premium from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in 1830 along with Gore’s Rhododendron Maximum.
Governor and Senator
Soon after completion of the new mansion, Christopher Gore was elected to the Massachusetts Senate. He ran for Governor of the Commonwealth in 1807 and 1808 before winning a one-year term in 1809. In the spring of 1813 he was appointed to the U.S. Senate, and he and Rebecca spent three years in Washington. Retiring to Waltham in 1816, the Gores made some changes to transform their mansion into a year-round home. They installed “double windows” in four rooms, refitted the stoves and grates, and installed woolen carpets. The Gores remained in Waltham until 1822 when Mr. Gore felt isolated from society and bought a townhouse in Boston for the winter seasons. After Christopher Gore’s death in 1827, Rebecca continued to use Gore Place for the remaining seven years of her life.
The house consists of a large central block with two symmetrical wings. At the center are the principal rooms, including the Great Hall, oval drawing room, and parlor. These formal spaces were built with very high ceilings (15 feet 2 inches) and tall windows that not only added to their elegance but must have ensured good light and ventilation for the Gores’ entertaining. They used the Great Hall for multiple functions, including reception hall, dining room, and ballroom. The adjoining oval drawing room was used as a salon or conversation room where small gaming tables could be set up. A smaller parlor to the east may have been the setting for political conversations or musical entertainment, intimate dinners, or where Mrs. Gore served tea to guests. The Gores decorated these three rooms with elaborate French wallpapers, fragments of which survive. The bed chambers, sitting rooms, and a billiard room situated on the floor above, incorporated lower ceilings but offered excellent views of the grounds. A cupola with an open shaft above the center hall provided additional light and ventilation. Christopher Gore placed his fine library on the first floor at the easternmost room. Kitchens and other service areas with servants rooms were located in the west wing.
Some interesting personalities
Mr. Gore claimed that he had “no desire to vie with neighbors” in the elegance of his house, but the effect of the rooms and furnishings at Gore Place must indeed have been impressive. Among the guests entertained by the Gores were President James Monroe and Daniel Webster. For the last two years of his life, Christopher Gore employed an outstanding butler, Robert Roberts, who would have ensured the running of his household to the highest standards. In 1827 Roberts, an African American who was active in Boston’s abolitionist movement, wrote and published The House Servant’s Directory, a manual for household servants and their employers. The book ran through numerous editions.
The house today
Today the house is furnished with fine art and antiques of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Christopher and Rebecca Gore had no children, so after Mrs. Gore’s death, in accordance with her husband’s will, the house and all its contents were sold at auction. A few of their possessions survived in the hands of nieces, nephews, friends, and neighbors and have been returned to Gore Place. After 1834 Gore Place became home to several other families. In 1921 it passed out of private hands when the Waltham Country Club established a golf course and tennis courts on the grounds. During the Depression, the country club failed and the property fell into disrepair. In 1935, the bank was about to tear down the buildings and sell off the land for housing, when Mrs. Helen Patterson gathered her friends and the financial resources necessary to preserve it. The Gore Place Society was founded that same year. Over the past years, Gore Place has been lovingly restored and open to the public as one of the great estates of the Federal period.