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MacDowell Colony
U.S. National Register of Historic Places
U.S. National Historic Landmark District
Location: 100 High Street, Peterborough, New Hampshire
Built/Founded: 1908
Governing body: Private
Added to NRHP: October 15, 1966[1]
Designated NHLD: December 29, 1962[2]
NRHP Reference#: 66000026

Coordinates: 42°53′24″N 71°57′18″W / 42.89°N 71.955°W / 42.89; -71.955 The MacDowell Colony is an art colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, founded in 1907 by Marian MacDowell, pianist and wife of composer Edward MacDowell. She established the institution and its endowment chiefly with donated funds. She led the Colony for nearly 25 years, against a background of two world wars, the Great Depression and other challenges.

Over the years, an estimated 5,100 artists have been supported in residence. Among the awards which their work has received, have been at least 61 Pulitzer Prizes. The colony has accepted writers, poets, playwrights, artists and composers.

Stays average four to five weeks and are limited to two months. Room and board are free, and some residents receive help with travel expenses as well. Each artist is assigned one of 32 studios for personal use available on a 24-hour-a-day basis. Each studio is a separate building with power, heat, simple amenities, lunch delivered, and no telephone. Artists allow interruptions by invitation only. In nearly every case, the studios are out of view of each other.

The Colony is a community of between 20 and 30 artists, who generally share breakfast and dinner in a common dining room. They frequently engage in group activities in the evenings.

The Colony was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.[2][3]


Notable colony-created works


The composer Edward MacDowell was one of the first seven members of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He believed that interdisciplinary associations among artists were valuable.

In 1896, Marian MacDowell bought Hillcrest Farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire, as a summer residence for her and her husband. She had always been careful to give him a quiet room for his work. Edward MacDowell found that the New Hamsphire landscape enhanced his work of composing music.

The couple formulated a plan to provide an interdisciplinary experience in a nurturing landscape by creating an institutionalized residential art colony in the area. In 1904 Edward MacDowell began to show signs of a mental illness or dementia that ended his composing and teaching career. He died in 1908.

In 1907 Marian MacDowell deeded their farm to the Edward MacDowell Association, and founded the MacDowell Colony. The first guests were Helen Mears, a sculptor, and her sister Mary Mears, a writer. Marian and friends raised funds among a wide variety of people for the colony, which was supported by former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, the financier J. P. Morgan, and other prominent people, as well as many others across the country. MacDowell said the most consistent support came from women's clubs and professional music sororities, who raised more money for the Colony than a men's fraternity did.

Starting first with lectures before women's groups to raise funds, MacDowell at age fifty resumed her performing career and became a noted interpreter of her husband's work.

The first residents came in 1907. Through the years more separate studios were built. At first soliciting members, MacDowell turned over the admissions process to a committee by the early 1920s. The program continues in dozens of buildings scattered over 450 acres (1.8 km²) of land.

Medal Day

Every year, the Colony presents the Edward MacDowell Medal to an artist who has made a significant cultural contribution; residency at the Colony is not a requirement. Medal Day is one of the rare occasions when the Colony is open to the public. The ceremony includes a keynote speech, after which the artists open their studios to visitors.[4]

Tax status

The colony has, since its inception in 1907, operated as a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization. In 2005, amid the annual application process every charitable organization in New Hampshire makes to its town government for property tax exemption, Peterborough’s selectmen challenged MacDowell's charitable status and proposed that MacDowell make a “payment in lieu of taxes” (PILOT). MacDowell’s board of directors unanimously rejected this proposal, saying the colony is a charity devoted to the public good.

The town issued the Colony a tax bill. The colony paid the bill, but its board of directors took the case to Hillsborough Superior Court. Oral arguments on the case were heard in December 2006, resulting in Judge Gillian Abramson’s strong ruling in favor of the Colony. She wrote: "By fostering the creation of the arts, MacDowell serves a charitable purpose for the benefit of the general public through its artist-in-residence program."

After the verdict, the Peterborough selectmen appealed the case to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Oral arguments for the appeal were heard on January 16, 2008. On March 14, 2008, the New Hampshire Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the Superior Court ruling and issued an unequivocal opinion declaring that The MacDowell Colony, by promoting the arts, is a charitable institution.[5]

In its decision, the Court said: “The trial court [concluded] that by ‘supporting the artistic process,’ MacDowell benefits ‘at the very least, artists across the world, and, in a broader sense, the general public.’ The [trial] court further concluded that MacDowell’s artist-in-residence ‘program primarily benefits society as a whole.’ We agree."

"While MacDowell does provide services to the Colony Fellows, its charitable purpose is, as the trial court determined, ‘promotion of the arts.’ The provision of that service benefits a far greater segment of society than the artists who actually use MacDowell’s property."


  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. 2007-01-23.  
  2. ^ a b "MacDowell Colony". National Historic Landmark summary listing. National Park Service. Retrieved 2007-10-22.  
  3. ^ S. Sydney Bradford and Polly M. Rettig (January 6, 1976) National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination: MacDowell Colony, National Park Service and Accompanying 5 photos, from 1907 and 1975.
  4. ^ ""Medal Day"". The MacDowell Colony. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  
  5. ^ "Town of Peterborough v. The MacDowell Colony, Inc." (PDF). The Supreme Court of New Hampshire. 2008-03-14. Retrieved 2008-03-17.  

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