Merrywood was a gracious estate in the Southern New Hampshire countryside with ample grounds looking out on a mountain view over the peaceful woods and waters of Stone Pond in Marlborough. The Estate has a tantalizing history embodying a murder, wild rides in hupmobiles, prohibited alcohol, artists, plays and priests.* Included is the story of the opulent and mysterious George Bigelow Chase, a Boston and Dedham Episcopalian. Next the bon vivant and diminutive-figured author Paul Leicester Ford who was the murder victim. Then Edward H. Kidder, whose wife is reported to have been in the house when Ford was murdered. Kidder was at the top of the high society lists. His tenure boasts rides for his wealthy fun-loving friends in hupmobiles, jaunts on dirt roads into the surrounding country of his Marlborough, NH home. Last came the privileged Kershaws, steeped in religion and the arts, they too had their share of scandal in prohibition days.
The Kershaws purchased Meerwood on Stone Pond, Marlborough, N.H. in 1916 from Forrest L. Hart and renamed it Merrywood. They lived in that idyllic spot during the summer overlooking the Pond and the view 0f Mt. Monadonock after spending winters in Cambridge. In the city, they owned a gracious home on Bond Street, hobnobbed with the elite of the art world and attended Christ Church, Episcopal. Allen wrote a letter to his wife on Merrywood stationery describing the estate, “… you saw it this spring. It is really palatial inside. Upstairs a long corridor runs the length of the house and after every two bedrooms there is a bath. There are five bathrooms and ten rooms. Mr. and Mrs. Carter are spending the month of Aug here with Mrs. Kershaw, the Fenway Court is closed each summer for one month. For each guest room there is a little card on mantle reading like this on small piece of paper. [card missing] Question mark after breakfast looks as if she could sleep late.”
Francis Kershaw designed the little St. Francis Chapel to please his wife’s religious penchant. The chapel was erected on the shores of Stone Pond and found favor among the summer population of the pond for its Episcopal services, retreats and gatherings and for its charming setting for weddings. With the look of a European peasant chapel, it was at home in that lovely country setting by the pond. (link to St.Francis Chapel post)
The connection between the Kershaws and Frederick Allen is established in the following network. Mr. Kershaw had come to work at the MFA in the department of Chinese and Japanese art. The department curator who invited him to that position was the highly esteemed aesthete Kakuzo Okakura who was also Curator for Mrs. Jack Gardner of the nearby Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. One of the people at Merrywood who helped place the granite millstone for the St.Francis statue by Allen was in the employ of Mrs. Gardner. In his teaching role at the Museum School, Allen was loosely connected to the Gardner Museum and was an Attleboro friend of a painter that she favored. The priest conducting services at the chapel was a relative of the priest connected to the Church of the Advent. In 1930 Allen sculpted a large relief for the Advent. One of its architects, Ralph Adams Cram, also employed Allen to do work for The Cole Memorial Chapel at Wheaton College the same year the St. Francis Chapel was built.
In a letter to his wife in which Allen describes the estate, he mentions the Carters who were staying there for a month. Allen did a portrait of a Carter child, daughter of a D.A.R. executive from his hometown of Attleboro who gave him his first commission. Complicated and convoluted, but that’s how commissions are won, by reputation and by those whom you know.
There are four sculptures at the Kershaw estate, each very different and each important for different reasons.
*For a complete history, read online or in print the story of Stone Pond, A Personal History by William D. Eddy, The Plain White Press, 1988.