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Chesterwood archive

Identifier: Am-Mss-Chesterwood

Scope and Contents

Papers; manuscripts; albums; scrapbooks and bound materials; awards; certificates; diplomas; newspapers, magazines, and clippings; photographic materials; architectural drawings; audio recordings; and ephemera of the French Family. The materials concern Daniel Chester French; members of the French Family; American sculpture; the American Renaissance; landscape architecture; the Lincoln Memorial; Henry Bacon, twentieth-century social and domestic life, and Berkshire history.


  • circa 1813-circa 1949

Conditions Governing Access

In-process collection. The Chesterwood Archive is open for research, though access may be affected by staff work. Researchers are encouraged to contact Special Collections staff prior to a visit.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyrights in the Chesterwood Archive held by the National Trust for Historic Preservation were transferred to Williams College and are administered by the Chapin Library. Some photographs in the Archive may be copyrighted by the photographer or his/her heirs. Contact the Chapin Librarian for further information.

French, Daniel Chester (1850-1931)

Born in Exeter, New Hampshire, Daniel Chester French (20 April 1850–7 October 1931) developed a talent for sculpture while studying under Abigail May Alcott (sister of novelist Louisa) in Concord, Massachusetts. He also apprenticed briefly with John Quincy Adams Ward in New York City, trained in Boston with William Rimmer and William Morris Hunt, and worked in the studio of Thomas Ball in Florence, Italy.

His first public commission, completed in 1875, was the Minute Man (Minuteman National Park), erected for the centennial of the Battle of Concord at the start of the Revolutionary War. The Minute Man won French wide acclaim and marked the beginning of a distinguished career. For the next half-century, he was in great demand to create public sculpture. By the end of his remarkably productive life he produced more than one hundred such works, in addition to sculpted portraits. His most famous creation is the seated Abraham Lincoln for the Lincoln Memorial (completed 1922) in Washington, D.C.

In 1888, after working in Concord, Boston, and Washington, French settled in New York City. In that same year, he married his cousin Mary Adams French (1859–1939). In 1896 he established a summer home, “Chesterwood”, in Stockbridge in western Massachusetts, and beginning in 1897 lived and worked there from May through October. The house and studio at Chesterwood were designed by Henry Bacon, later the architect of the Lincoln Memorial, while French himself laid out the estate’s gardens and woodland walks.

Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973)

Margaret French Cresson (1889–1973), as she became after her marriage in 1921 to William Penn Cresson, was the only child of Daniel Chester French and Mary Adams French. Born in Concord, Massachusetts, she was herself a talented sculptor, working in bronze and marble and specializing in portrait heads, reliefs, and memorial plaques. She studied under her father, with Abastenia St. Leger Eberle and George Demetrios, and at the New York School of Applied Design for Women. She also worked industriously to preserve the legacy of Daniel Chester French and the Chesterwood estate. Her Journey into Fame: The Life of Daniel Chester French was published in 1947.

Mary Adams French (1859-1939)

Mary Adams French (1859-1939) was the wife of celebrated American sculptor Daniel Chester French. As many wives of artists of the American Renaissance, she herself was an artist, a writer of short stories, plays, and novelettes, and the author of the autobiography, Memories of a Sculptor's Wife (1928). She rarely published her fictional writings. Mary Adams French summered at Chesterwood from 1897 to 1939.

Henry Flagg French (1813 - 1885)

Henry Flagg French (1813 - 1885), was Daniel Chester French's father. Although a lawyer and judge, Henry French was an exceptionally outspoken proponent of landscape design, and communicated often with renowned landscape designer and writer Andrew Jackson Downing. Author of Farm Drainage: Principles, Processes and Effects of Draining Land (1882), Henry French was the first president of the Massachusetts Agricultural College at Amherst (the University of Massachusetts). French was appointed to the post of assistant secretary of the treasury in 1876, a position he held until a year before his death in 1885.

Henry French Hollis (1869-1949)

Henry French Hollis (1869-1949) was Daniel Chester French's nephew, son of Harriet French, the eldest of the sculptor's siblings. Hollis enjoyed a varied, if not initially successful political career. He was New Hampshire's democratic candidate for Congress in 1900, and campaigned for the governor's seat in 1902, but was unsuccessful in both efforts. He went on to become New Hampshire's first democratic US senator since 1852 in 1913, a post he held until 1919. He moved to Europe after the First World War.

William Penn Cresson (1873-1932)

William Penn Cresson was born on 1873 in Claymount, Delaware. Cresson studied at the University of Pennsylvania and at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. He received a Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1922. He practiced architecture in Washington, DC before perusing a diplomatic career. He served as Secretary of the American Legation at Lima, Peru (1909-1912), and later as secretary at the American embassies in London, Petrograd and Lisbon. From 1924 to 1927, Cresson lectured in diplomatic history at Georgetown University, and from 1924 until 1927, held the Fletcher professorship of international law and diplomacy at Tufts University. He was widely known as an author, and was married to Margaret French (1889-1973), the daughter of Daniel Chester French (1850-1931). Cresson died in 1932.

Helen Douglass French (1900-1994)

A member of the American Institute of Architects from 1922 until her death in 1994, Helen Douglass French was a working architect for many years during the mid-twentieth century. She lived in Florida for a time and later in San Francisco and summered in Glendale, MA, for many of the years between 1932 and 1981. She appears to have specialized in residential architecture. Her professional name was H.D. French. Helen Louise Douglass graduated from the Cambridge School of Architecture and the Ecole des Beaux Arts Architectural School in Fontainebleau, France. She married the landscape architect and land planner Prentiss French (1894-1989) on November 30, 1927. He was a nephew of the sculptor Daniel Chester French. After DCF’s death in 1931, she and her husband, at the urging of Mrs. French and her daughter, transformed French's little studio in the meadow south of the Chesterwood studio into a residence,“The Meadowlark," where they summered for a number of years. Later they remodelled the Hawkins house where French's chauffeur had lived on the Chesterwood property for summer use; it was christened "The Canary," and painted yellow. They were beloved relatives of their cousin Margaret and, after her death in 1973, continued to come to Glendale annually until 1981. Prentiss to served on the Chesterwood Council. Mrs. Cresson called upon H.D. French's professional advice repeatedly regarding a number of alterations at Chesterwood, both minor and major, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. H.D. French took an active interest in the physical stewardship of the property. She adapted Chesterwood’s early 19th-century barn into a gallery for exhibiting sculpture in 1962.


270 Boxes

Language of Materials



Organized into seven series: I. Daniel Chester French. II. Margaret French Cresson. III. Mary Adams French. IV. Henry Flagg French. V. Henry French Hollis. VI. William Penn Cresson. VII. Helen Douglass French.

Physical Location

L2 Storage and Library Storage Facility.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

In 2010 most of the documents, photographs, and other papers held at Chesterwood were transferred by the National Trust for Historic Preservation to the Chapin Library for the sake of improved preservation, security, and access to researchers. Papers related specifically to Chesterwood itself – its land, buildings, collections, and activities – are retained on site in Stockbridge.

Related Materials

The Chapin Library also contains a selection of biographies and other books concerned with Daniel Chester French: Memories of a Sculptor’s Wife by Mary Adams French (1928); Journey into Fame: The Life of Daniel Chester French by Margaret French Cresson (1947); and American Sculpture in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, edited by Thayer Tolles (1999). Offprints of many relevant periodical articles are contained in the Margaret French Cresson papers. Additional references, The Lincoln Memorial by Edward Concklin (1927), Daniel Chester French: Sculptor by Adeline Adams (1932), and The Lincoln Memorial and American Life by Christopher A. Thomas (2002), are available in Sawyer Library. Further books about Daniel Chester French and his work, and about Chesterwood, are in the library of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute; these include Daniel Chester French, an American Sculptor by Michael Richman (1976).

Separated Materials

In 1963 Margaret French Cresson gave to the Library of Congress correspondence of her father, herself, and other members of her family, altogether some 23,000 items. A finding guide to this collection is available on the Library of Congress web site. Most of these papers were microfilmed, and two copies made of the 44 reels: one set is at the Library of Congress, for use generally in lieu of the original documents; the other may be consulted at the Chapin Library in conjunction with the Chesterwood Archives.
Chesterwood archive
Peale, Anne
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Repository Details

Part of the Chapin Library Repository

26 Hopkins Hall Drive
Williamstown Massachusetts 01267