Louis and Eleanor Tripp 1936 – 2003
Louis Tripp, and his first wife, Florence, bought the Handy house on September 4, 1936. The story of exactly how Louis and Florence found the house is perhaps best told by Eleanor Tripp, Louis’s second wife. In an interview performed by Westport historian Mary Giles in 1976, Eleanor explained just how Louis came to buying the Handy House:
“Louis and his first wife, Florence, were just riding around Westport and they had in mind buying a boat and when they came down ‘Handy Hill’ they saw a sign in front of this house on the fence and it said, ‘Get the key at Mike Coughlin’s’. He lived across the road. When they saw all the beautiful fireplaces, (the house was empty at the time) and woodwork and beautiful construction they decided to buy the house instead. That was in September 1936. They decided to use it for vacations until they retired. He [Louis] retired in 1948; she [Florence] had died before that and I [Eleanor] had married Louis and was living in Washington with him, so in 1948 we came up together on our honeymoon. In 1941, we spent a month here. The first thing we had to do, of course at that time we were at war, and lawnmowers or anything like that were not available so we were using sickles to hack down the grass. The first thing we did was to take wallpaper off and patch cracks to get ready and the windows — hardly any of the windows had much putty left so that was the big project. We worked together. It was fun and we fell for the whole setup right off the bat…”
Louis Hillman Tripp was born in Westport on June 11, 1884, the son of Jonathan and Lucy Tripp. Louis’s father, Jonathan Potter Tripp, was a Master Mariner, born in Westport, and his mother Lenea “Lucy” Etta (Manley) Tripp, was born in Lowell, Massachusetts.130 They married December 31, 1874, in Fall River, Massachusetts. Louis was their only child.
Louis attended Westport and Fall River public schools as a youth. He graduated high school in 1902 and went on to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).131 Louis graduated MIT in 1906 with a degree in Mechanical Engineering.132 Tripp wrote his senior thesis on the heating and ventilation systems of the Reichstag, Berlin, Germany.133
Prior to moving to Washington DC, Louis lived in New York City where he had been in charge of the marine department for a trans-Atlantic steamship company and had acted as a design and test engineer on a project for a large steam boiler manufacturer.134
Louis entered work for the Government Service on March 1, 1907, in the Office of the Supervising Architect of the Treasury Department. In 1910, Louis became engaged to Florence Dennis.135 They were married on April 25, 1911, in Newton, Massachusetts, where Florence and her family resided. In 1913, Louis transferred to the Office of the Quartermaster General, War Department. He was commissioned a Captain in 1917 and advanced to the rank of Major shortly thereafter.
By 1918, Louis was a commissioned officer in the United States Army holding the rank of Major.136
At this time, Louis was in charge of mechanical engineering design for the construction division of the United States Army within the Quartermaster Corps. Through the 1920s and 30s, Louis and Florence lived in Washington DC. The 1920 Federal census lists Louis’s occupation as Major in the United States Army. He was discharged from the Quartermaster Corps on September 30, 1920. From March 1923 to May 1946, Louis worked as the Director of Construction for the Veterans Administration.137 By 1933, Louis was identified in the Washington DC City Directory as “Director of Construction Services for the Veteran’s Administration.”
Louis and Florence purchased the Handy house from Abbott Smith on September 4, 1936.138 While the deed between Abbott and Louis simply states “for consideration paid,” personal notes of the Tripps’ state Louis paid $2,000.00 for it.139 The parcel still contained “about 35 acres more or less” as it had when Abbott Smith acquired it. On July 19, 1938, Louis acquired an additional two acres to the east of the house, on the opposite side of Drift Road; he paid $417.00 for this parcel.140 Florence Tripp passed away in 1939, before she and Louis could retire to Westport and the Handy house.141 In Florence’s obituary, Louis was identified as a Colonel. Louis married his second wife, Eleanor Swanteson, in 1941. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Eleanor grew up in Washington DC for the better part of her life.
Louis contracted a number of Westport carpenters and trades people to perform repairs and make improvements to the house while still living in Washington DC. On vacations to Westport, Louis and Eleanor would also work on the house in preparation for moving into it permanently. Many of these projects were recorded by Louis and Eleanor in the form of correspondence to contractors and/ or notes filed away in their personal papers. Like Abbott Smith, much of the work done by Louis and Eleanor is chronicled in photographs. In 1948, Louis and Eleanor left Washington DC and relocated to Westport, making the Handy house their home.142
The work Louis and Eleanor are responsible for largely repaired, restored, and improved the Handy house, so that it preserved the historic building, while at the same time made it comfortable for year-round living. Louis largely undid the exterior alterations Abbott Smith introduced to the house, including the roof dormers and the front porch. Louis modeled his repairs on old photographs of the building, and essentially restored the house back to its mid-nineteenth century appearance. While Louis and Eleanor updated critical conveniences like the kitchen, bathroom, and heating system, they respected the historic nature of the house and did little to affect the architectural finishes.
Louis Tripp died on September 11, 1963.143 He is buried with his first wife, Florence, in Arlington National Cemetery. Following Louis’s passing, Eleanor continued to live in the Handy house throughout the rest of her life. Eleanor’s passion for history was not limited simply to the Handy house, but covered a broad spectrum of interests as they related to Westport and the area in general. In 1992, the same year the Handy house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Eleanor was made an honorary member of the Westport Historical Commission, in recognition of her work documenting Westport’s history. In an effort to preserve the house in perpetuity, Eleanor placed an easement on the property so that it could not be significantly altered by future owners.
After living in the Handy house for 55 years, Eleanor passed away August 16, 2003. Eleanor was 93 years old.
130 Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Town and Vital Records, 1620-1988 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.
131 Fall River Massachusetts School Committee, Annual School Report of the City of Fall River, 1902. J.H. Franklin & Co.:Fall River, 1903. p. 74, 79.
132 Unidentified document, photocopy with heading Louis Hillman Tripp, Westport Historical Society, Westport Massachusetts.
133 Louis_Tripp info 2.doc file. Westport Historical Society archives, Westport, Massachusetts.
134 Unidentified document, photocopy with heading Louis Hillman Tripp, Westport Historical Society, Westport Massachusetts.
135 Personal and Social News, The Boston Herald, Boston, Massachusetts, 7 November 1910, p. 7.
136 Unidentified document, photocopy with heading Louis Hillman Tripp, Westport Historical Society, Westport Massachusetts.
137 Untitled typed notes on Louis H. Tripp, document headed with Louis Tripp’s name and Westport address. Westport Historical Society, Westport Massachusetts.
138 Abbott P. Smith To Louis and Florence Tripp, 4 September 1936, Bristol County, Massachusetts, Deed Book 781
139 Untitled typed notes chronicling work performed on the Handy house by Louis and Eleanor Tripp. Westport Historical Society, Westport Massachusetts.
141 Obituary, Mrs. Florence Tripp, The Boston Herald, January 23, 1939.
142 Handy House, 1794 or Earlier. Eleanor’s tour.doc, p. 1. Westport Historical Society Archives, Westport, Massachusetts
143 Louis_Tripp info.doc Westport Historical Society Archives, Westport, Massachusetts.
Eric Gradoia, Architectural History and Conservation. Copyright 2014