A recent request made me curious about Albert Charpaize, a French landscape gardener with expertise in rustic woodwork. In the annals of Henry Wood Booth, it states that he was engaged by George Gough Booth in the fall of 1914 to complete rustic woodwork on the estate. He had worked until Christmas that year, when he had returned to his home in Dayton, Ohio, before returning to Cranbrook in the Spring of 1915.
Having found no correspondence between George and Charpaize, I anticipated there would be mention of him in the letters that George sent to his son, Henry Scripps Booth. The correspondence between George and Henry is always a delightful source for information on Booth family life and travels, as well as the progress of early Cranbrook architectural projects. While I found no direct mention of Charpaize, I noticed that George referred instead a “Rustic Man”.
Henry Wood Booth’s Annals state that, between 1914 and 1915, Charpaize built two rustic summer houses (small one near the Pump House and a larger one on the hillside west of Nob Hill), a rustic fence on the northward side of Oakdale Road, a rustic wood bannister on Nob Hill, and five rustic bridges – one across the entrance to Mill Pond, one across the Serpentine near the Spillway, one across the brook near Cranbrook Road, and one each across Sunny Brook (located between Kingswood School and the lake) and Stony Brook (located north yet parallel of Sunny Brook).
Visual sources are an important source for verifying information in documents, in this case for identifying the work of Charpaize, and his artistic signature is distinctive. Look again at the bridge across Sunny Brook and compare it with the rustic fence and the rustic tea house below:
Archives are the vestiges of times past – they are the key to historical accuracy. Yet, different types of records hold varying degrees of evidential value. From the description of the work of the Rustic Man given by George, the list of projects described by Henry Wood Booth, and the visual sources, it is possible to confidently infer that the rustic man is Albert Charpaize.
Ideally, the list of projects in the annals should be corroborated by an informal source (a document created to officially record an activity, rather than consciously conveying history as is the case with annals, chronicles, and newspapers). The test for historical evidence is always who created it, for whom, when, why and for what purpose. Then I found Charpaize in the Coats and Burchard Appraisal of 1914-1918, which refers to him four times: “pergola to well” at Colony House, and three rustic bridges – one at mill race, one across the stream near Brookside Cottage and one across the stream at Cranbrook Road (all in 1915). The appraisal provides the evidence for Charpaize working on specific projects across the estate.
The archives of three generations of the Booth family have contributed to our knowledge of Albert Charpaize. I feel sure there is more to be discovered – the appraisal only listed three of the bridges described by Henry Wood Booth. The story of Cranbrook’s Rustic Man is to be continued…
– Laura MacNewman, Associate Archivist