Henry Davis Sleeper
Henry Davis Sleeper (1878-1934) was a nationally-noted antiquarian, collector, and interior decorator. He was born March 27, 1878, in Boston to Major Jacob Henry Sleeper, a distinguished Civil War veteran and Maria Westcott Sleeper, their youngest son after Jacob and Stephen. He was grandson of Jacob Sleeper, one of the founders of Boston University as well as a clothier and manager of a real estate trust. Henry's education appears to have been by private tutors due to ill health as a child.
Henry Sleeper was introduced to the Eastern Point in Gloucester, Massachusetts in the spring of 1906 by the Harvard economist A. Piatt Andrew who had built a handsome summer mansion, Red Roof, on a rock ledge above the harbor. Sleeper was much taken by the location and immediately decided to build a little further along the ledge from Red Roof. Eastern Point was an enclave occupied by a somewhat louche group of "Bohemian" artists and intellectuals with frequent visits from some of the more colorful and unconventional members of Boston Society, in particular Isabella Stewart Gardner, the legendary art collector and builder of Fenway Court in the Back Bay Fens, now the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. The group became known as Dabsville, DABS containing the initials of the core members .
Construction of Beauport, Sleeper's relatively modestly scaled Arts and Crafts-style house began in the fall of 1907 and was sufficiently finished to receive A. Piatt Andrew as a house guest in May 1908. As property flanking Sleeper's became available, Beauport was expanded several times until 1925, often in response to events or important experiences in his life. The house was now not only a home but a major showcase for Sleeper's interior design and decoration business. Clients could choose wallpapers, window treatments, or entire rooms to have reproduced in their own houses. Sleeper had a specialty in "Puritan Revival", the Jacobean-American architecture and decorative arts of the original American colonies, but his tastes and interests included French decor of several centuries and a great deal of orientalia.
Sleeper became the U.S. Representative of and a major fundraiser for the American Field Service, an ambulance corps founded by A. Piatt Andrew early in World War I. While Andrew served in the battle zones, Sleeper crisscrossed the Atlantic with supplies and funds, and worked closely with the French military. France awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Legion of Honor.
After the War, Sleeper's practice expanded and he won national recognition via prestigious periodicals and several high-visibility clients. Isabella Stewart Gardner commissioned work from him; Henry Francis du Pont engaged his assistance with the big new wing of the family's massive Delaware house, Winterthur, now a famed museum of American decorative arts; he designed for Hollywood stars Joan Crawford and Fredric March. In May 1934 he was granted an Honorary Membership in the American Institute of Architects.
Henry Davis Sleeper died in Massachusetts General Hospital of leukemia on September 22, 1934, and is buried in his family's plot in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Watertown and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Andrew wrote the memorial tribute published in the Gloucester Daily Times.
Sleeper had never married and left no direct descendants. Beauport passed to his brother Stephen whose real estate income was unequal to Henry's debts. Beauport was sold to Helena Woolworth McCann who was contacted by Henry Francis Du Pont urging that Sleeper's rooms remain exactly as they were as the value of the house and its collection of art objects depended primarily on their being left unchanged. Mrs McCann preserved the house as it was; at her death, the house was inherited by her daughters from whose hands it passed into the care of Historic New England in 1942.
- Timothy T. Orwig, Carolyn Pitts, and Patty Henry (2001-08-31), National Historic Landmark Nomination: Beauport / Sleeper-McCann House; Little Beauport; Sleeper, Henry Davis, House (PDF), National Park Service (including maps and plans and PDF (32 KB)
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