If you’ve driven past Munroe Tavern in the past week, you might have noticed a cadre of ladders and workers painting the exterior of the building. Like all homes, our historic properties need to be touched up occasionally so they can look their best for all those wonderful photos that our visitors snap of them during the season. Wondering how each of the unique colors of Buckman Tavern, Hancock-Clarke House and Munroe Tavern were selected? Well, allow me to peel back the curtain and explain how each house got their color.
Buckman Tavern: With construction of Buckman Tavern taking place in 1710, one can imagine that the exterior of the building has been painted hundreds of times of its life. However, once Lexington Historical Society began interpreting the tavern, we have at least some idea of how many times the exterior has been painted. According to records the exterior of Buckman Tavern was painted in 1915, 1926, 1941, 1955, 1959, 1969 and 1989.
The yellow walls and cream color trim that you see on the tavern today were chosen as a result of an exterior paint study done in 1987 by Sara Chase of SPNEA (now Historic New England) Conservation Center. During that study, Sara took historic research, including using Amos Doolittle’s engraving, and scientific analysis of paint layers found on old clapboards to determine the potential color of Buckman Tavern. During her work she discovered that the first paint layers on the clapboards was “a thick medium dull ochre yellow, a thick slightly greenish ochre yellow, a layer of oil glaze and a warm light tan.” Sara later notes in her report that the “tan and cream [trim] is probably a little late for 1775” and concludes with the suggestion that a yellow and cream scheme was the best recommendation for the exterior paint of Buckman Tavern. This color scheme is still adhered to today and was at one point such a popular color for homes that ACE hardware in Lexington used to carry a “Buckman Tavern Yellow” paint option.
Hancock-Clarke House: Like Buckman Tavern, the Hancock-Clarke House, built in 1737, has seen countless paint jobs. However, during the restoration of the home in 2008, much research was done by Rykerson Architecture to try to determine the correct exterior color of the home. Again, a combination of physical evidence and scientific testing would help determine the color scheme that is currently being followed. In their report, Rykerson noted that an oil painting of the home dating to around 1840 showed the house being painted a yellow ochre. Rykerson was able to discover that “when first restored in 1897, the windows were painted a contrasting white; the house and trim were by then a uniform color.
A previous report on the exterior paint of the Hancock-Clarke house completed in 1977 by Dr. Judith Selwyn of SPNEA found many layers of paint on the house. But Dr. Selwyn felt that the “curry” color put on the house in 1970 was similar to the earliest layers. She noted that at a paint mine in Lexington yellow ochre paint was mined in the eighteenth century and provided some explanation as to the possibility of the exterior being painted a yellow color. The last bit of research done regarding the exterior paint colors was done by Brian Powell, who examined the paint in 2006. Brian found that paint on both sections of the house were of a “early yellow ochre- a medium or light green- possibly a layer of another yellow ochre—3 layers of grey/brown including the present paint.” With this information obtained from the various reports and visual aids, the current color scheme was selected and has was last used in 2018. The current colors of the house are part of the California Paints Historic Colors of America series. The body of the building is Georgian Yellow with a Polish trim.
Munroe Tavern: Munroe Tavern was built in 1735 and has undergone several changes to the exterior of the building throughout its history. Due to the replacement of the exterior finishing materials over these years, Rykerson Architecture in their Historic Structures report from 2010 was unable to determine an exact original color of the building. However, they did note that since 1939, the exterior has been painted red. However, some clues as to the original color of the building can be found in a 1991 report done by Sara Chase prior to the replacement of clapboards and corner boards that were done in 1993.
As Sara notes in her report: “Sample chips were taken where the wood had been sheltered or where wood was secured with cut nails. The sampled corner board was cut and the lower portion of the wood obviously had been cut when the [tap room was removed] …There were earlier and later cut nails and we looked for wood attached with earlier nails. The early cut nails, with diagonally opposite cutting flanges might date from as early as 1815. No wrought nails were found on the exterior wood . . . It appears that there are three layers of dark red paint, each slightly different in value, of most recent paints. Next below that are three layers of greys of quite different values on the clapboards and lighter ivory on the trim. The earliest paints found on the samples are a dull ochre with a lighter cream trim. The ochre, cream and at least one grey layer are pre 1870, pre-machine made paints, because of their unevenly ground and poorly dispersed pigment particle.”
As Sara concluded, the earliest paint samples dated were a grey color that dated to before 1870. She also notes, as did Rykerson Architecture, that it was not possible to determine the exterior color of Munroe Tavern during the 1770-1780 time period. With this information in mind, the decision was made in 2011 to continue the tradition started in 1939 of painting the exterior a red color scheme with the addition of using white trim instead of an all solid red scheme. The current colors of the house are part of the California Paints Historic Colors of America series. The body of the building is Cogswell Cedar with a Lead White trim.
In conclusion, if you’re considering an update to your own dwelling and are looking for examples of historic house colors, all three of our properties have been researched to determine possible original colors and can serve as great examples of what colors to choose. If you need more information regarding the specific make-up of the colors, please don’t hesitate to reach out. We’re always happy to assist.
-Chris Kauffman, Education and Interpretation Manager
Featuring the voices of Lexington Historical Society permanent staff and occasional guest authors.