Friday

Extra! Extra! Read All About It! Nathaniel Visits The Paper House in Rockport!

Nathaniel and the sign for the Paper HouseIn the Pigeon Cove section of Rockport stands a house made of paper that has withstood both the cold and snow of winter as well as the rain and humidity of summer along with the occasional hurricane or two since 1924 when Elis N. Stenman, a Swedish immigrant, decided to fashion his summer home out of newspaper.  Yes, you read that right - newspaper!

Needless to say, when Nathaniel and I heard of the Paper House we just had to go check it out and see for ourselves this most unusual of homes that started out as a normal summer home and turned into an experiment that is now a very curious museum of sorts.

A little off the beaten path for most tourists in Rockport, the signs to the house can easily be missed but if you follow Route 127 north towards Pigeon Cove, once you pass the Yankee Clipper Inn take the second left onto Curtis Street and then the next left onto Pigeon Hill Street where you'll soon see #52 on your right with the sign above annoucing that you've arrived at the correct destination.

The Paper House in Rockport, Massachusetts

Viewing it from the street, the Paper House looks like your average, every day small summer home which is exactly how it started out when Stenman, a mechanical engineer from Cambridge who designed machines to make things out of wire like paperclips and hook-and-eye closures, began building his summer home in 1924. Hiring a carpenter, he had a wooden frame erected along with a wooden floor and then he took over creating the walls out of newspaper that had been collected by his family since 1922 when he got the idea that newspaper would probably work just as well for insulation as anything else out there.

Close-up of the wallpaper in the Paper House

Additionally Stenman's motivation also came from something he told a reporter at the time the house was being built, "I always resented the daily waste of newspapers after people read them for a few minutes."  A reader of three newspapers a day himself and a proponent of recycling long before anyone had even thought of the word, Stenman used those very newspapers that he felt were a daily waste by pasting them together with a homemade glue concoction of flour, water, and apple peels then folding and making them into different layers before finally topping them off with a marine grade coat of varnish. Upon completion, the walls and interior lining of the roof were 215 layers thick (approximately 1/2") and - surprisingly - quite weatherproof.

The ceiling in the Paper House

Originally Stenman was going to cover the newspaper "insulation" with clapboard but after seeing how durable it was he got curious and decided to conduct an experiment to see just how long the paper would last without destroying the print. So far, the paper has survived quite nicely since 1924 in spite of the various types of weather New England has thrown at it with only a yearly coat of varnish being applied to the outside walls which also receive a little bit of extra protection from the porch overhang.

Outside porch wall

If you click on the above picture and look at it closely, you can see that in spots the paper is starting to deteriorate and expose the layer below but that's one of the cool things about the Paper House as those little gaps give visitors the chance to peek into the past a little bit as headlines or stories or ads from long ago are visible.

The piano, bookcase, bed, and radio cabinet that was made in 1928 during Hoover's campaign for President

Once his house was fully published built complete with electricity and running water, Stenman moved on to outfitting it with furniture that he built from newspapers that were rolled into log-like materials that were cut into the proper size and then glued or nailed together.  To construct the "logs" Stenman used a long wire with a loop on the end that he tightly rolled the newspaper around before applying a small bit of glue to the ends and tying with a string until the glue was dry and the log was formed. Using a knife, he would cut the "logs" to whatever sizes he needed creating some rather amazing pieces of furniture that were both decorative and durable.

Chair and plant holder on the sunporch.

This octagonal chair on the sun-porch of the house has Elis F. Stenman's initials designed into the back of it.

Table, chairs, lamp, and settee on the sunporch of the Paper House

An octagonal table surrounded by more personalized chairs and a settee are also on the sun-porch.

Paper mantle over the fireplace in the Paper House

The mantle over the fireplace is made from the rotogravure (pictorial) sections of the Boston Sunday Herald and the New York Herald Tribune. They cover a fully functional fireplace that is made from real brick and was used to warm the house on chilly days.

The Paper House grandfather clock made from Sunday papers from the capital cities of the then 48 states.

A grandfather clock was constructed from newspapers that were collected by a neighbor who wrote to the capitals of all forty-eight states (Hawaii and Alaska were not states at that time it was built) and requested a newspaper for use in the project. All forty-eight responded and are represented in the clock.

Close-up of some of the Sunday editions that make up the grandfather clock.

If you look closely, you can read some of the banners of the newspapers that were sent to Stenman including The Sacramento Bee, The Oregon Statesman, The Sunday Olympian, and The Arizona Republic.

A bookcase made of papers from foreign countries.

This bookcase is made of newspapers from foreign countries which were collected by a family friend who lived in Washington D.C. and forwarded them along for Mr. Stenman's use. Next to it and better seen in one of the photos above is a radio cabinet that was made in 1928 during Herbert Hoover's campaign and election.

A writing desk made from papers about Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic.A piano covered with paper rolls
Close-up of the Lindbergh desk.

Above, a real working piano is covered with rolls and rolls of newspaper and there's also a writing desk that is built from newspapers recounting Charles Lindbergh's historic flight from New York to Paris. If you look closely you can read some of the headlines, "Lindbergh Receives Welcome From the Entire Nation", "Small Crowd Awaits Lindbergh's Takeoff", "American Aviator Calls on President Calles at Palace" and more.

The paper drapes were made by Esther Stenman
A close-up view of the paper valances in the Paper House

The curtains and valances on the windows were designed by Esther Stenman, Elis's wife, who constructed them from comic books.

Image Credit: VintageRockport.com

Explanation of the Honor System

The photo above, which is used with permission from VintageRockport.com, shows Mr. and Mrs. Elis Stenman in their Paper House circa 1932. Obviously at that time many people were quite curious about the house and would often stop by to check things out while no doubt the Stenmans welcomed them in and graciously showed them around; after all, I'm sure the Stenmans didn't go to all of the time and trouble to build something out of 100,000 copies of newspaper just to hide it all away!

It wasn't until after Mrs. Stenman died in 1942 that the family started to charge visitors a dime to visit what had turned from a summer home and experiment into a museum. Today, the cost to visit the Paper House, which is maintained by Stenman's grandniece Edna Beaudoin whose mother ran it before her, is $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children ages 6 to 14.  Admission is on the honor system as explained by a sign on the desk in the house where photos are most definitely allowed.  By the by, the desk that the "Photos Are Allowed" sign is on is the same one that Mrs. Stenman was seated at above, it's made entirely of copies of the Christian Science Monitor and is now located on the sun-porch.

Yes! Photos are allowed!

Described as "one of the most unique sites you'll ever see", the Paper House is open daily from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. April to October and well worth going a bit off of the beaten path to visit should you find yourself in the Rockport/Gloucester area.  It's a one-of-a-kind place that you won't find anywhere else no matter where your travels may take you!

The 1924 Paper House located in the Pigeon Cove section of Rockport, Massachusetts.

Copyright © - Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from Travels With Nathaniel/Linda Orlomoski/Hawthorne Hotel is strictly prohibited.

3 comments:

  1. Oh, that is way cool! Thanks, Nathaniel!

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  2. A curious place indeed! Love the fact that he was concerned about recycling, even back then.

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  3. It is definitely one of my favorite places to take out-of-town visitors. They are always surprised by it.

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Thank you for your feedback; it is greatly appreciated!
~ Nathaniel and Linda