Like many historic homes in the Boston area, the Emerson-Franklin Poole House (named for some notable former owners), which came on the market this spring, is marked by beautiful, period design features. This Federal style home, however, comes with a feature even more striking than the usual historic details: a stunning, three-wall mural painted by Rufus Porter, an artist who made a living painting murals and decorative work in New England homes in the early 1800s.
Located on Salem Street in Wakefield, the house was built around 1795 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. When it appeared on the market this spring, buyers' reactions to the mural ranged from awe and appreciation to, well, "I suppose I can paint over it.”
“It isn’t for everyone,” says the home’s listing agent Laurie Hunt of Angie's Home Team RE/MAX Leading Edge in Wakefield. “Some wanted the house for the space — it’s huge — but they didn’t want to live with the mural. Some viewers came just to see the mural. We actually had a descendant of the painter come and ask if he could take his picture standing in front if it.”
Porter is said to have started painting in homes around 1810. He was an original “faux” painter, adding grained and marbleized effects to his work. His murals started a mini trend — particularly in Wakefield, where some homes have maintained them, intact, though still more are thought to have been painted over.
“We don’t know how many there are in Wakefield, unfortunately there are no restrictions on this house and someone could have bought it and painted over it,” says Hunt. But they didn’t.
The unique piece of real estate was just recently taken off the market, purchased by Jordan Belknap, who says he has no plans to remove his new home's most special feature.
“My wife and I appreciate the historical significance of the house and plan on doing what we can to preserve the mural,” says Belknap. “The mural enhances the charm of the home and makes a great conversation piece."
Rufus Porter was born in Massachusetts in 1792. His family dates back to the early settlement of Salem in the 1600s, when John and Mary Porter became the wealthiest landowners on the North Shore. Porter’s parents moved to Maine when he was young and eventually he developed his skills as a painter, inventor, musician, and writer. In 2005, the Rufus Porter Museum and Cultural Heritage Center opened in Bridgton, Maine, to help preserve his work, and advise homeowners on restoring murals.