Rescuing Horace Walpole: The Achievement of W.S. Lewis

Lewis in Farmington

Lewis commissioned the architect William Adams Delano (1874-1960) of the fashionable New York partnership Delano and Aldrich to design the New Library and additional buildings at the rear of 154 High Street to create a fitting room for Lewis’s growing collection, to adapt the house to married life, and provide a squash court. The work was commissioned while Lewis and Annie Burr Auchincloss were engaged, and carried out over the next year after their return from an extended honeymoon in Brazil and Europe. The squash court was in due course converted to additional library stacks.

Delano’s letter confirms with easy charm his desire to accept the commission for the New Library, and congratulates Lewis on his engagement. Delano, who was the cousin of Franklin Roosevelt, had designed, among many other buildings, the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore and the Knickerbocker Club in New York City, and in the year of this letter was engaged in the refurbishment of the White House.

Delano’s design is a particularly successful exercise in classicism, combining the “Wrennaissance” of the early twentieth century with the Regency ideal of the library as living room. It is a story and a half high, paneled in butternut, with two pairs of double-sided projecting bookcases, and comfortable chairs and sofas, presided over by a portrait of Annie Burr by Ellen Emmet Rand (1875-1941) above the mantelpiece. Above the ranges of bookcases are some portraits, principally of Walpole’s family and friends; more were added in later years.

The house Lewis bought in Farmington had been built in the early 1780s by Major General Solomon Cowles, who formed a company of volunteers to support Washington in the War of Independence, and was a member of the town’s most prominent family. It contains some of the best woodwork of its date in the region. Lewis and his wife are seen in front of it with a 1943 Pontiac Station Wagon.

Lewis and Annie Burr Auchincloss were married on 26 January 1928 at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, two years after Lewis had bought 154 Main Street, Farmington—he had first met her at Oldgate, the house of Theodore Roosevelt’s sister next door. Her wedding dress was described the following day in The New York Times as a gown of ivory-colored transparent velvet embellished with old point lace. “Her veil of old family lace fell in graceful folds over her long court train of velvet. The veil was fastened to the coiffure with orange blossoms.

This photograph captures something of Annie Burr Lewis’s calm and gracious personality, appearing reserved yet serene. Theirs was an especially successful marriage, and throughout her life she supported her husband’s collecting adventure. There were dogs, and there was an extensive social life, but there were no children.