Cornelius Tarbox house murals


Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House, Westport Island, 2016

Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House, Westport Island, 2016
Item 102782   info
Westport Island History Committee

The front stair hall of the Cornelius Tarbox House, a well-preserved Greek Revival home, is decorated with marine murals painted by an unknown itinerant artist in the 19th century.

The name of the house stems from its builder, Cornelius Tarbox Jr. (1785-1858), who built it overlooking Tarbox Cove on the Tarbox family’s extensive landholdings. Cornelius Tarbox Sr. (1750-1813) built the barn and farmhouse, the first buildings on the property, which were already operating as a farm on Westport in the 1770’s.

The Cornelius Tarbox Jr. house dates to 1848-50 according to valuation records in the island’s town archives.

Cornelius Tarbox House entryway, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Cornelius Tarbox House entryway, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101640   info
Westport Island History Committee

This is a view inside the front entryway of the Cornelius Tarbox House. The main stair hall inside the entrance to the house overlooks the waterfront to the south of the house.

A series of floor to ceiling marine murals run panoramically around the walls of the main stair hall. The left wall mural depicts a turbulent seascape with a great, three-masted ship under full sail headed towards a lighthouse. Visible on the back hall is a monumental weeping willow tree on a peaceful grassy shore. On the right wall ascending the staircase is a view of exotic trees atop a rocky shoreline. Beyond the trees, a seascape dotted with boats extends to the horizon.

The murals are painted in a style dissimilar to the earlier murals of Rufus Porter and Jonathan Poor, which lack the perspective and naturalism found here. The murals were likely created after 1850 and before 1866 and may relate to Cornelius Jr., his wife, Ruth (1790-1866), and their youngest son, William F. (1832-1865).

WFT schooner approaching the lighthouse mural, Westport Island, ca 1858

WFT schooner approaching the lighthouse mural, Westport Island, ca 1858
Item 101574   info
Westport Island History Committee

This is a detail image of the three-masted ship pictured on the west wall of the hallway murals in the Cornelius Tarbox House. The ship exhibits four flags on its spars and rigging. One flag on the ship carries the initials, WFT, which may refer to William F. Tarbox (1832-1865), youngest son of Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. (1785-1858) who built the Tarbox house.

Along the sides of the ship's hull are painted a row of pseudo cannon ports. The sails are filled by a following breeze, while the flags stand out in the opposite direction, in a convention of 19th century ship painting.

Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. was a successful farmer and merchant mariner. In the year of his death, he was among the town's most successful: he owned shares in vessel cargo capacity measured as 129 tons in the town's valuation records. Westport had a long seafaring tradition and benefited from the mid-19th century boom in the fishing industry. It follows that the family's house might be decorated with marine murals.

Detail of schooner approaching the lighthouse mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Detail of schooner approaching the lighthouse mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101575   info
Westport Island History Committee

This is a detail of the image of the three-masted ship pictured on a marine mural in the front hallway of the Cornelius Tarbox House. In it, one can see that the mizzenmast carries an identifying flag with the letters “WFT”, which likely refers to the name of the son of Cornelius Tarbox Jr. (1785-1858), William F. Tarbox (1832-1865).

William Tarbox died in Nova Scotia at age 33 in 1865 and is buried next to his parents in the Tarbox Cemetery on Westport Island, not far from the house.

When William Tarbox died, he was living in Nova Scotia, where he had moved to stake a claim when gold was discovered in 1860. It was speculated that he may have invested in the William F. Tarbox schooner that was lost with all hands in 1857. The financial loss may have prompted the move to Nova Scotia.

Approaching the lighthouse mural section, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Approaching the lighthouse mural section, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101592   info
Westport Island History Committee

This detail of the long mural on the west wall of the hallway of the Cornelius Tarbox House is viewed from the north end of the hall. Pictured prominently is a lighthouse standing on a high head of land. The tower of the lighthouse is built with ashlar blocks of light gray stone, as is the keeper’s cottage. A curl of smoke issues from the chimney.

The murals run up the stairwell, ending in a canopy of sky on the second floor.

Willow tree mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Willow tree mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101594   info
Westport Island History Committee

This is a view of the mural panel at the back, or north end, of the hallway in the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House. This narrow panel shows a monumental weeping willow that leans gently to the left. The trunk is painted in tiers of highly stylized abstract patterns.

Fishermen's house mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Fishermen's house mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101613   info
Westport Island History Committee

This mural adorns the east back wall of the stair hall of the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House. This panel, which is perpendicular to the weeping willow panel on the north wall, is a tranquil scene of a small house standing on the shore beneath a rugged, towering cliff. On the beach, nets dry on supports while two fisherman appear to be pulling and poling a dory, or skiff, ashore. A variety of boats are seen offshore in a wide panorama, with the most distant ones skillfully rendered in atmospheric perspective.

Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. (1785-1858) built the house containing these marine murals in 1848-1850. He was one of the wealthiest landowners on the island, owning shares in vessels as well as farm land and stock. He also had a store on the shore of his property which served fishermen and island residents.

Fisherman's house mural detail, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Fisherman's house mural detail, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101616   info
Westport Island History Committee

In this detail of the scene painted on the east back wall of the stair hall of the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House, a fisherman's house stands on the shore. The house is built of hewn stone blocks and smoke issues from the chimney of the small house.

White sails on the sea mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

White sails on the sea mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101583   info
Westport Island History Committee

This is a view of the side wall mural beneath the staircase of the Cornelius Tarbox House. This mural is a tranquil marine scene with a panoply of boats sailing to and fro across a broad panorama; larger ships are silhouetted along the horizon in atmospheric perspective.

The Cornelius Tarbox House is a well-preserved Greek Revival house. Its name stems from its builder, Cornelius Tarbox Jr. (1785-1858). The house overlooks a cove and was one of several family homesteads on the Tarbox family's extensive island landholdings. The house dates to 1848-50 according to the town's valuation records.

White sails on the sea mural detail, Westport Island, ca. 1858

White sails on the sea mural detail, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101580   info
Westport Island History Committee

Pictured is a detail of the mural on the side wall beneath the staircase of the Cornelius Tarbox House. This detail shows a gaff-rigged sailboat in the center foreground. One of the two figures on board stands in a commanding position.

According to "The Shipping Days of Old Boothbay" (1938), Cornelius Tarbox, Jr., who built this house in 1848-1850, "owned and operated fishing craft; sailed by his son, James L. (1823-1907)." James was not the only family member whose livelihood was the sea. Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. and his wife, Ruth Riggs Jewett (1790-1866), had 12 children many of whom were seafarers or married seafarers.

Cliff-top trees over the ocean mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Cliff-top trees over the ocean mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101621   info
Westport Island History Committee

Pictured is the mural panel that appears on the east wall of the Cornelius Tarbox House along the staircase. The scene is painted as if viewed from a grove of trees; one tree appears to represent a palm tree.

The variety of boats in view includes a prominent schooner on a broad reach heading toward a hilly coast.

Schooner detail on trees over the ocean mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Schooner detail on trees over the ocean mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101625   info
Westport Island History Committee

Pictured is a detail of the mural seen along the staircase in the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. house. A prominently placed schooner sails to the left; the sailors on deck are seen merely as black dots.

The Cornelius Tarbox House was built on the south end of Westport Island near the shore where early boatyards were located; a store operated on the waterfront below the house. Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. (1785-1858) was a farmer and merchant mariner, with shares in various trading vessels made in nearby shipyards.

Merchant schooner underway mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Merchant schooner underway mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101588   info
Westport Island History Committee

Two tall, narrow segments of the murals in the Cornelius Tarbox House flank the main entry door on the south side of the house. The east panel is a maritime departure scene. A merchant schooner equipped with a side paddle wheel sets out, leaving its mooring behind.

Merchant schooner underway detail, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Merchant schooner underway detail, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101586   info
Westport Island History Committee

Pictured is a detail image from one of the narrow marine murals that flank the entry door of the Cornelius Tarbox House. In this departure scene bordering the doorway, it can be seen that the ship has just left its mooring, seen in the foreground. The sails are set and smoke pours from its smokestack.

The Cornelius Tarbox House, built around 1848-1850, is situated on waterfront property on the south end of Westport Island looking toward Beal Island and Georgetown.

The departure scene viewed here may well depict a departure of one of the merchant ships owned by the Tarbox family.

Merchant schooner returns mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858

Merchant schooner returns mural, Westport Island, ca. 1858
Item 101653   info
Westport Island History Committee

Two tall, narrow segments of the panoramic entryway murals in the Cornelius Tarbox House flank the entry door on the south side of the house. On the west side is a maritime arrival scene.

In this view, seemingly the same schooner as seen on the east side of the door has dropped its sails. The absence of smoke issuing from its smokestack indicates the boat is no longer under power, but has made a safe return.

Members of the Westport Island History Committee viewed murals in the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House

Members of the Westport Island History Committee viewed murals in the Cornelius Tarbox, Jr. House
Item 102788   info
Westport Island History Committee

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