A “gentleman’s folly” and a lady’s delight

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by Jenevieve Hughes | July 1, 2014

The Summer Cottage at Shaw Mansion today.
Shaw Mansion summer house today.


Just when is a “gentleman’s folly” also a lady’s delight?

In the garden, as it turns out!

You might have noticed this charming structure perched in the garden behind Shaw Mansion, today the home of the New London County Historical Society (or perhaps you’ve seen the photograph here on this website).

But how much do you really know about this whimsical garden accoutrement?

Pictured below is Jane Perkins, whose great-great grandfather, Captain Nathaniel Shaw, built the Shaw family residence in the late eighteenth century. Jane was the last family member to own the house, and in 1907 she sold the mansion and surrounding property to the New London County Historical Society.

Jane Perkins in the Summer Cottage at Shaw Mansion (1906)
Jane Perkins in the summer house at Shaw Mansion (1906)


Edward Baker, executive director of the Historical Society, says the Summer House is what would have been called a “gentleman’s folly”.

While such “follies” were considered ornamental structures in the garden, this summer house, built in 1792, was still an ideal place to spend a hot summer day. Baker explains:

With the wide louvered exterior shutters closed, and the windows opened, the air flows off the river and up the rock outcropping, circulating through the house to create a lovely micro-climate in the backyard of the Mansion.

The domed-ceiling also makes this Summer Cottage a “whisper-room”, in which voices can easily be heard across the space. Considering that the wrap-around bench seats twelve or more, this is a convenient trick — and one that keeps a conversation from turning into a game of telephone.

Roses in front of Shaw Mansion.
Roses in front of Shaw Mansion.   Photo Credit:  Edward Baker

It’s easy to imagine this fanciful structure as a festive haunt for gathering with friends or a favorite spot for a quiet retreat.

Yet when you visit Shaw Mansion this summer, you’ll soon see that the Summer House is not the only intriguing structure in the garden.

Nor is it the oldest!