Today's History Highlights Archive

Six Historic Movie Sets in New England

So many New England places have served as historic movie sets that we found it hard to choose one for each state. Filmmakers over the years have set scenes in the mansions of Newport, along the colonial seaports and at college and prep school campuses – to name just a few.

Take, for example, the 1987 film Mystic Pizza. It features the Yale campus along with Rhode Island’s historic Watch Hill.

The historic districts of Providence and Boston have starred in many, many films. Even Connecticut’s famous Glass House has been cited as the inspiration for the architecture in Batman vs. Superman.

We did manage, however, to come up with representative historic movie sets in each New England state. If you know of others, please include them in the comments section.

Mystic Seaport

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Mystic Seaport, one of New England's popular historic movie sets

We decided to go with Amistad because of its historic theme. Amistad, of course, told the story of the slaves who rebelled aboard the ship of the same name, went to trial and won their case with the help of John Quincy Adams.

The 1997 Steven Spielberg film used both the Massachusetts and Rhode Island statehouses, along with Mystic Seaport and several Newport, R.I., mansions.

Surprisingly, Amistad was the first film to use the seaport since the television movie A Man Without a Country 25 years earlier.

Acadia National Park

Acadia National Park serves as a historic movie set for Pet Sematary because the Antiquities Act protects it from development. The 1906 Act gives the president the right to create national monuments from federal lands, and Pet Sematary is one of a number of blockbuster movies shot on land protected by the Act.

Mainer Stephen King, appropriately, wrote the horror novel on which the 1989 film is based. The story about a haunted pet cemetery takes place in Ludlow, Maine, a real town in Aroostook County. But the film was actually shot in a number of Maine towns: Hancock, Bucksport, Ellsworth and Bangor.

The film boasts the tag line, “Sometimes dead is better,” and features a soundtrack by the Ramones.

The Crane Estate

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The Crane Estate, used as a historic set in several films

Witches of Eastwick, based on the novel by Boston North Shore resident John Updike, features the Crane Estate in Ipswich.  David Adler designed the Tudor Revival mansion for the Robert Crane family on a 2,100-acre estate. The Trustees of Reservations now own the estate and offer public programs and beach access during the summer.

In the 1987 film, the Crane Estate is the home of the eccentric millionaire Daryl Van Horne, played by Jack Nicholson. Other historic Massachusetts sites in Witches include Abbot Hall in Marblehead, the Wang Center in Boston and Milton Academy in Milton.

The Crane Estate also served as a historic movie set for Flowers in the Attic (1987), Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) and The Equalizer (2014).

Philips Exeter Academy

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Philips Exeter Academy

Philips Exeter Academy in Exeter, N.H., provided the historic movie set for A Separate Peace, the coming-of-age novel every Baby Boomer read in school. The 1972 film starring a 20-year-old Parker Stevenson took place during World War II.

John Knowles published the novel 15 years after attending Philips Exeter as a boarder from West Virginia. He fell in love with the place, later writing, “The great trees, the thick clinging ivy, the expanses of playing fields, the winding black-water river, the pure air all began to sort of intoxicate me.”

Historic Exeter, N.H., is also featured in the A Separate Peace, as is New Hampshire’s Salisbury Beach. The nearby towns of Portsmouth and Dover, N.H., also appeared in another sort of coming-of-age film: the 1962 production of Lolita.

A later made-for-TV version of A Separate Peace was filmed in Toronto, Canada.

The Blithewold Mansion

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The Blithewold Mansion, used for weddings and historic movie sets

We already gave Amistad to Connecticut, so we decided to select Mr. North as Rhode Island’s historic movie set. Thornton Wilder wrote the novel on which the 1988 film is based. Mr. North starred Anthony Edwards, Robert Mitchum and Lauren Bacall.

The main character arrives in Newport, R.I., and rumors about his healing powers start to spread. Director Danny Huston filmed it not in Newport, but at The Blithewold Mansion in Bristol. Coal baron Augustus Van Sickle built the English manor-style house, which features 33 acres full of rare and unusual plantings. The nomination for the National Register of Historic Places describes Blithewold as having outstanding landscaping, gardens and arboretums. Popular for weddings, Blithewold is now run as a house museum.

If you’re wondering, the Colony House in Newport appeared in Amistad as the appellate court and Marble House as Queen Isabella’s palace. Rosecliff Mansion appeared as the White House dining room.

The University Green Historic District

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UVM's University Green

The University Green Historic District, a central part of the University of Vermont campus, stars as the historic movie set in What Lies Beneath. The horror film starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer has a stock plot. Claire Spencer, the wife of a university scientist, believes her lakeside Vermont home is haunted – or else she’s going mad.

The film features other Vermont locales, but the University Green is easily the most historic. It dates to 1801 and has some of the school’s oldest and most architecturally significant buildings surrounding it. The National Register of Historic Places added it to its list in 1976.

Images: Mystic Seaport, By Stan Shebs, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=115477; Acadia By Chandra Hari - Wikimedia file, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64743138; Crane Estate, By Djmcrenn - Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4520123; University Green of Vermont, By Mfwills - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8670114.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. nancy lamontagne

    January 27, 2018 at 10:29 am

    The Man in a Net, with Alan Ladd, was fimed in Thompson and woodstock CT, in the 50’s

  2. Ray Sullivan

    February 1, 2018 at 6:23 pm

    And don’t forget Stanley and Iris with Hanoi Jane Fonda and Robert DeNiro, filmed in the White City section of waterbury, CT as well as the Waterbury Button Company.

  3. Paul Bellefeuille

    February 2, 2018 at 10:49 pm

    The 2017 Netflix film “The Discovery” directed by Charlie McDowell and starring Jason Segel, Robert Redford and Rooney Mara was filmed at the Seaview Mansion in Newport RI in April 2016. I had the honor of working on the film as “Pat Phillips” and was amazed by the size of the mansion and the beauty of the surroundings…so was Charlie McDowell. Robert Redford had worked in Newport in The Great Gatsby where some of the film was made. Woody Allen’s 2015 film Irrational Man was shot all over RI with Salve Regina College in Newport as one location and Providence’s Athenaeum another. Massachusetts has a tax incentive for Hollywood productions and smaller independent films and many films and TV shows are now being produced in MA. The Hulu series “Castle Rock” which features the town made famous in many Stephen King stories just wrapped production for their first season with the majority of the shooting done in the towns of Orange, Lancaster, Ayer and cities of Worcester, Fitchburg, Tewksbury and others with most studio work done at New England Studios at Devens. It’s the first TV series since 1985-1988 “Spenser for Hire” that was fully produced in MA

  4. Doug

    February 6, 2018 at 10:13 pm

    Very interesting…had no idea there used to be a toll booth at the Long Bridge in Portsmouth, NH. BTW, Salisbury Beach is in Mass., not NH.

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