Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site contains the historic home, studios and gardens of Augustus Saint-Gaudens, a preeminent sculptor of the Gilded Era and primary member of the Cornish Art Colony. The site’s main house was built circa 1800, and purchased by Charles C. Beamon in 1884. Beamon was an art patron who initiated the Cornish Art Colony by encouraging different artists to congregate on his estate. Beginning in 1885, Saint-Gaudens rented the house for six summers, purchased it in 1891, and named it Aspet for his father’s hometown in France. Saint-Gaudens lived and worked on the site during the peak of his productive career (1885-1907). Also during this time, Saint-Gaudens and his wife built three studio structures, made changes to the house, and re-designed the gardens and landscape. Today, Saint-Gaudens contains 20 historic structures, five outdoor monuments, four cultural landscapes, and a number of archaeological sites covering 279 acres. Its archive and museum collections hold more than 10,000 objects (NPCA, 2004).
The wide variety of cultural and natural resources at Saint-Gaudens NHS offers a broad view on the different ways climate change can affect sites in New England. As global temperatures rise, this region has had to adapt to longer summers and shorter freeze seasons. Scientists have also documented a high number of extreme precipitation events since 1996, although there has been substantial variability in decade-to-decade precipitation since 1935. Temperatures are expected to continue rising at an accelerated rate through the future, and days with precipitation exceeding one inch are also expected to increase (USGCRP, 2013). Managers of Saint-Gaudens NHS have recognized that changing climate is challenging the site’s landscapes, historic structures, museum collections and monuments in the following ways:
Landscapes Over the past few years, staff at Saint-Gaudens NHS have witnessed changes in phenology (i.e. plant and animal life cycle events and how they relate to climate), and damage from increased heavy rain and flooding. In 2012, the bloom schedule at Saint-Gaudens was a month ahead of normal, and in 2013 it was 2 weeks ahead of normal. This is a result of springs with higher daytime temperatures and less snow. Staff have also linked this change to long term warming trends occurring over the past 30-50 years . Also, three of the greatest rain events in the last 25 years have occurred in the last three years at Saint-Gaudens, destroying the site’s trails and damaging a stone dam built by Augustus Saint-Gaudens in 1900 (Kendall 2013, personal communication).
Historic Structures Recent change in wind patterns may be directing wind-driven rain at historic structures’ exterior walls, leading to new water infiltration at the site. Saint-Gaudens is also experiencing a new normal in freeze/thaw patterns on the site: historically, snow began falling in November/December and stayed on the ground through the winter. The new normal is for snow to fall and then melt several times during the winter season. This accelerated change from freeze to thaw can occur on a daily basis. Saint-Gaudens staff have noticed this process degrading brickwork in particular: bricks are breaking free of mortar, shearing off sections, and splintering.
Structures, like landscape, also need to cope with increased precipitation. Recent extreme precipitation events are overwhelming the drainage capability of Aspet. Poor drainage exacerbates problems with mold and moisture in basements, and rot seeping into wooden fences and sills (Kendall 2013, personal communication).
Museum Collections Rising temperatures and humidity are causing problems for collections on display in historic structures that are not climate controlled, and have not needed to be until recently. Increased frequency in humidity fluctuation damages paintings, and will warp, crack, and damage inlays and decorative elements of wooden furnishing. Any existing cracking, warping, etc. will also be worsened by increased changes in humidity (Kendall 2013, personal communication).
Monuments Outdoor stone sculptures are also suffering material loss from more frequent freeze-thaw cycles. This is compounded by detailing on monuments where water can collect and subsequently freeze. Other staining on monuments caused by acidic rain and biological growth–both enhanced by climate change–has also been increasingly problematic (Kendall 2013, personal communication).
More information on Northeast historic and projected climates available here.
1. Kendall, Rick, Email to the author, August, 2013.
2. National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “Saint-Gaudens National Historic Site: a Resource Assessment.” September 2004, http://www.npca.org/about-us/center-for-park-research/stateoftheparks/saint-gaudens/saga_report.pdf.
3. United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP). “Regional Climate Trends and Scenarios: The Northeast U.S.” 2013, http://scenarios.globalchange.gov/sites/default/files/NCA-NE_Regional_Scenario_Summary_20130517_banner.pdf.