Lyman Estate


Theodore Lyman’s Federal Country Estate

Theodore Lyman (1753-1839) was born the son of a minister in York, Maine. He established himself in shipping before moving to Boston after the American Revolution. He expanded his business interests from the Northwest fur trade into the China Trade, acquiring sufficient wealth by the time he was forty years old to support a country estate and gentleman’s farm. Theodore Lyman began to acquire land in Waltham in 1790 through the purchase of small farms. In 1793 he commissioned famed architect Samuel McIntire of Salem, Massachusetts, to design and build an elegant country house in the Federal style. The formal name, “The Vale,” was chosen as a reference to the estate’s location in a slight valley, with a brook running through it.

Mr. Lyman married twice. Through his first wife’s family wealth, he established his business in Maine. Following her death, he married Lydia Pickering Williams from Salem’s prominent Pickering family, and it was through his wife’s Salem connection that McIntire was hired. With two daughters from Theodore’s first marriage, the family grew to include four sons and a daughter who, through marriage within Boston’s merchant class, created a large, influential, and closely linked network of cousins, aunts, and uncles with shared business, social, and cultural interests throughout the region.

Beginning with Theodore Lyman, each successive generation to own the estate had a passion for horticulture and agriculture. In addition to a 600-foot-long Peach Wall, the estate contains a completely intact historic greenhouse complex which was begun in 1800 with the construction of the Ancient Greenhouse. In 1804 the three-part Grape House was built to house citrus, figs, pineapples, bananas, and forced native fruits. This was followed in 1820 by the creation of the Camellia House, and in 1840 the Grape and Camellia Houses were connected, thereby creating another greenhouse. By 1839 the estate contained 400 acres and included meadows, ponds, pleasure grounds, woodlands, a deer park, gardens, greenhouses, a working farm, as well as the mansion, carriage house, gardener’s cottage, and various farm buildings.

It was used primarily as a warm-weather retreat for the family, though both Theodore and George Lyman resided here year round as widowers. The family lived on Boston’s Beacon Hill the rest of the year. Large expanses of open countryside, together with proximity to Boston, made Waltham an attractive location for country retreats. The estate was beloved by four generations of the Lyman family until 1952, when the fifth generation donated the property to Historic New England.

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