Among the artists, writers, and intellectuals who in the early 20th
century came to the Connecticut
countryside in search of peaceful places to do their work were Esther Everett
Lape and her life partner, Elizabeth Fisher Read.
Lape (1881-1981) was a well known journalist, researcher, and
publicist, who was also associated with the Women's Trade
Union League and one of the founders of the League of Women Voters. Read
(1872-1943), was a scholar and lawyer and an active participant in the woman
suffrage movement. Both women typified what in the 1920s was known as "the
New Woman"—independent, financially self-supporting, politically active,
and socially emancipated. In addition, Read was Eleanor Roosevelt’s personal
attorney and financial advisor, and the three women were not only dedicated to
political issues but also close friends.
In 1927 Lape and Read bought an old farm in Westbrook, where they constructed
a house of rustic fieldstone with brick trim and curly wrought-iron balconies
that appear to have come from a building of the 1880s or ‘90s. In contrast to
the rustic exterior and medieval-style leaded windows, the house’s interiors
feature Georgian-style paneling and chimneypieces. The plan is unusual, lacking
in public spaces. The ground floor contains a garage and a guest suite, while
upstairs are the owners’ bed-sitting rooms, where meals and socializing apparently
took place in a pattern that resembles the less specialized room use of the 18th
Nearby is an old farmhouse, probably built sometime between 1750
and 1800, which Lape and Reed had encased in fieldstone to match the main house;
it contained service quarters. Stone was also used for terraces, benches, and a
well, and extensive gardens surrounded the buildings.
The mix of architectural styles, the
combination of elegant and rustic features, and the idiosyncratic plan
carefully tailored to the needs of the inhabitants were common in intellectual
country homes like Salt Meadow, places conceived for an informal life of
conversation and creation.
Salt Meadow is now part of the Stewart B.
McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. It is located at 733 Old Clinton Road in Westbrook.