The Civil War had barely ended when, on December 11th, 1867, Sarah Victoria Whittlesey Pratt, age 36, gave birth in Norwich Connecticut to her fourth child, Bela Lyon Pratt. Sarah’s father, Oramel Whittlesey, had founded the first conservatory of music in New England, Music Vale Seminary in Salem, Connecticut. Her husband, George Pratt, a graduate of Yale University and a lawyer, was the son of the first Bela Lyon Pratt of East Weymouth, Massachusetts.
As Sarah Victoria held her infant boy, Bela Lyon Pratt, in her arms, it is doubtful she had any inkling that, by the turn of the century, he would already have carved out a strong artistic reputation for himself. However, given that she herself had been raised in an artistic atmosphere surrounded by music and art, it was likely that she might indeed encourage her child to follow such a path. By the time Bela was five years old, she had recorded on a little piece of notepaper:
One day after Bela had passed his 5th birthday our family physician chanced to be at our house. On the stand in my mother’s room stood some tiny models of a cat, dog, horse, a deer and other animals. The doctor picked them up and exclaimed: ‘Who made these?’ My mother, rather impatiently said ‘Bela pinches them out of beeswax. I can’t keep a bit of wax in my workbasket. He always plays with it.’
‘Why! Don’t you realize that child is a genius? He is a born sculptor!’ announced the physician, greatly to my mother’s astonishment.
I distinctly remember hearing her discussing the matter with my father in the evening. Thereafter, Bela was allowed to ‘play’ with beeswax to his great delight. As soon as he could use a knife, he began to carve various objects, which were much admired by his playmates. There happened to be a neighbor on the next street who heard of Bela’s talent. She had taken some lessons in modeling and sent word to Bela by one of the children saying she would give him some clay if he would come see her. He went, received the clay and at once modeled a lion’s head!
Bela Lyon Pratt was a quiet, unassuming family man. According to all reports, he was renowned for his generosity, humor and kindness. His love of music lead him to play cello, guitar and oboe much to his family’s delight. He had a wry sense of humor which often carried him through times of “blues” and anxieties over finances. Life for this busy man, who created more than 180 pieces of sculpture in less than fifty hears, circled around his home in Jamaica Plain MA, his studio, his professorship as head of the Sculpture Department at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. He frequently lunched at Boston’s exclusive Tavern Club. He golfed, fished, played billiards and even established the N.E archery club, all this with his colleagues and wide circle of friends. His extended family often included brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews, who spent summers on North Haven Island, Maine, where, at his closest friend, Frank Weston Benson’s recommendation, he purchased property in 1903 on Bartlett’s Harbor, a short walk through the woods to Benson’s home and studio. To round out this New England Yankee’s very full life of work and play, he eventually owned a sizeable farm and several houses on and around the old family residence in Salem CT. There he enjoyed farming activities such as raising chickens and cows. He even, as a cash flow enterprise, planted pear and apple trees as well as vast crops of potatoes!
His early death on May 18th, 1917, at age 49, sealed shut the solid reputation he had built as a Beaux Arts, deeply American sculptor. He had helped form and become a vital part of the Boston School of Art, but it had to move ahead without his shining light.
Neither exotic nor scandalous, Pratt’s life cannot be characterized as “titillating” as can be said of many of his contemporaries. His death came at a time when the art scene was shifting away from European influence to a truly American School. Although his sculptures reflected little of the more “modern” cubist school, the character of his pieces was always clearly American in their demeanor.
Pratt’s wife, Helen Lugarda Pray Pratt, also a fine sculptor herself, carefully preserved quantities of photographs of his works, numerous articles referring to his work, as well as historic letters and documents. Most fortunately for us, she refrained from chucking his weekly personal hand-written letters, unselfconsciousness in their nature, which he had obligatorily written to his mother, Sarah Victoria Whittlesey Pratt over the years. Within these letters are snapshots of the Beaux Art period in Paris France and in America.. They tell of his colleagues, his family, his struggles and successes, all the while defining what is now referred to as “The Boston School of Art.” They are a veritable treasure trove of information, carved from his own hand.
It’s been a long time coming, but finally, Bela Lyon Pratt, eminent American sculptor enters the 21st century!
Take your time. Delve in. Follow the transformation of a work of sculpture from the initial idea to reality. Learn about the craft of modeling in clay. Discover history on the way. Get to know the players. And finally, connect this amazing, unpretentious man to his works, all 180 of them! And, don’t forget, there are multitudes of “unfinished” or “uncommissioned” works to consider too!!
Cynthia (Pratt) Kennedy Sam
May 18th, 2011 - 94 years to the day after my grandfather passed.
This article and photograph provided courtesy of the Bela Lyon Pratt Historical Society. Copyright 2011, Bela Lyon Pratt Historical Society, All Rights Reserved. For more information, please visit the Bela Lyon Pratt Historical Society web site at: http://www.belalyonpratt.com/
When Mary Smoyer conducts the annual Women’s History Walk through Jamaica Plain, Maud Cuney Hare (1874-1936) will be the first African-American woman included. It seems appropriate; her life’s work is a testimony to make known the cultural achievements of the black community.
Maud C. Hare was a multi-talented genius: pianist-lecturer, composer, playwright, biographer, poetry editor, folklorist, Black music historian and collector, founder and director of The Allied Arts Centre in Boston.
Hare moved to Jamaica Plain in 1904 after her marriage to William Parker Hare. The couple resided at 43 Sheridan Street for years before her death in 1936.
The granddaughter of slaves, Hare came from a prominent family of Galveston, Texas. Her father, Norris W. Cuney, was a pioneer in black politics and a successful businessman. Her mother, Adelina Dowdy (Cuney) sang publicly on occasion.
Maud Cuney first came to Boston in 1890, after a summer spent in Newport R.I., to attend the New England Conservatory. She faced discrimination as one of only two “colored” students in the school.
Her father received a letter in late October asking him to remove Maud since many of the students suffered from “race prejudice.” Mr. Cuney wrote an eloquent letter back to the school, flatly refusing. Affectionately praising his daughter he wrote to her, “I can safely trust my good name in your hands.”
The incident outraged the Colored National League, which threatened to have the doors of the building closed. Years later Hare wrote about how she stayed and was “subjected to many petty indignities,” but “insisted on proper treatment.” She was only sixteen and far away from home. Later, her friend W.E.B. DuBois would call her “the bravest woman” he’d ever known.
Maud Cuney Hare is best known for her book: Negro Musicians and their Music (1936). Reaching back to the African homeland and diaspora, she gathered materials and collected songs in her wide travels in Mexico, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico, Cuba and throughout the United States. The book included biographies of contemporary musicians, as well as early black pioneers of American and international renown.
For many years she was active as a musician-pianist-lecturer, touring with her partner of twenty years, baritone William Howard Richardson. They specialized in African-American and Creole music and their concerts received rave reviews from major newspapers.
In 1919, their concert-lecture at the Boston Public Library was the first presentation of a musician of color in the B.P.L. series. They gave concerts with many of the other leading musicians of their day and were closely associated with Roland Hayes and Clarence Cameron White.
In 1927, with no money, Hare founded the Allied Arts Centre in Boston, an ambitious project. The Centre held concerts, lectures, and classes in art, music and drama. Both known and up-and-coming writers produced original and published plays. Hare’s own “Antar of Araby”, about a fifth-century poet-warrior, was produced with music by Clarence Cameron White, Hare and Montage Ring (Ira Aldridge).
Many talented people from Boston’s black community participated: some would develop national reputations as artists in their fields. The Allied Arts productions received praise from the newspapers, and the house was usually filled with a mixed audience.
Written By Elizabeth Quinlan. Reprinted with permission from the August 28, 1992 Jamaica Plain Gazette.Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
Based on a 2011 interview with Ted Walsh, a 73-year resident of Rosemary Street, one of the founders of Arborway Associates.
By Peter O’Brien
In the early 1950s a group of returning veterans who had grown up together as the Rosemary Rosebuds, from Rosemary and South Streets, decided to form an association to expand their social activities which until then were spontaneous outings to the movies, day-trips to the beach, and various sports events and parties. Those outings were launched from the group’s regular meeting place, “the mailbox,” located at Rosemary and South Streets.
They hoped that by adopting an area-wide name, Arborway Associates, they would encourage wider membership and they could sponsor dances, group rentals at local beaches and seaside communities, and other social gatherings that would attract others, especially young women, from near and far corners of Jamaica Plain. It was also hoped it would advance the social graces of the young veterans, especially in the mysteries of ballroom dancing, since many of the then-popular dance halls like Moseley’s in Dedham, The Totem Pole in Newton, Coral Gables in Weymouth, The Beachcomber in Wollaston and the dance halls at Nantasket, Rexhame, and Revere beaches were encouraging stag as well as couples’ attendance. Irish dances were regularly held at Hibernian Hall at Dudley Street and the nearby Metropolitan or Hibernia Hall at Forest Hills, but most dances were avoided by the dance-shy Rosebuds.
Ironically, the Arborway Associate’s first endeavor was to sponsor a dance at the Hotel Bradford, located at 275 Tremont Street, Boston. The Bradford held regular, well-attended, dances led by the well-known Boston dance bandleader, Baron Hugo. The association’s first annual dance was scheduled for April 23, 1954 and it required much planning and coordination as well as an intense sales effort to fill a small book of ads from generous sponsors and supporters. A copy of the book of ads can be found here.
Sadly, the dance was poorly attended and thus was barely able to break-even, despite the modestly successful ad-book sales. It was, however, a valuable learning experience in everything except dancing and the Rosebuds continued to avoid the dance floor until, as they got older, free flowing spirits loosened them up and provided the courage to get out there during weddings and co-ed parties.
So the Arborway Associates died after the one attempt to grow the Rosemary Rosebuds’ social lives. Soon, as marriage and family obligations took over, nearly the entire original group left Jamaica Plain, scattering the once close-knit crowd. The break of nearly 60 years was closed by a 2010 informal reunion at a Doyle’s luncheon. The luncheon group is expanding as they continue to meet to tell ‘war’ stories and to reminisce about growing up in the good old days of 1940s and 50s Jamaica Plain. To a man they agree there was no better place. And, best of all, they all eventually became very good dancers and several married Irish colleens they met at the Irish dances.
In 1845, Daniel Bacon, a retired China trade captain from Barnstable, bought some of Prince's land and the next year built a mansion behind the present 156 Prince Street. Two granite posts and a sunken driveway indicate its site off the street today. Prospering as a ship owner, Bacon retained John Prince's name for the place, Spring Hill Farm, from an underground feeder of Jamaica Pond on the property. In 1851 his son William took control of the land and soon purchased the rest of the hillside from the Goddard Family of Brookline. Here we see Prince Street in January 1893. The photograph is by the Olmsted Brothers and is provided courtesy of the Frances Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University.
The Goddards had already sold their holdings between the Pond and Prince Street to others. Parkman bought his Pondside cottage in 1854 from the Chickerings of piano fame. In 1810, the Goddards built the still-standing farmhouse at Prince and Perkins Streets. William Bacon built his mansion just below the crest of Spring Hill (all owned by the Hellenic College since 1946), and the Hill supported four generations of the family. Most illustrious was William's son, Robert, though he was not always present on the scene.
Born there in 1860, he was in the same Harvard class as Theodore Roosevelt. He entered the investment banking business in Boston, soon attracted the notice of J. P. Morgan, and moved to New York City, becoming a junior partner and administrative head of the House of Morgan in 1899. He retired in 1903 and devoted himself to his own affairs in Boston, sitting on the boards of prominent railroads and businesses, including US Steel, Edison Electric and National City Bank. Upon being nominated Assistant Secretary of State, Bacon resigned from these posts.
He acted as assistant to Secretaries Root and Taft and became Secretary himself when Taft became President and later became his ambassador to France. Bacon's business background helped greatly in dealing with the era's industrial nations and in setting up the State Department more efficiently. He contributed much to settling troubles with Cuba, Venezuela and Panama. Life on the Hill at this time when Bacon was away is nicely seen in the Moss Hill memoir of Mary Bowditch, when she went to primary school at Spring Hill:
"I found the boys to be the most friendly playmates. They included me in all their games. I felt equal to them. Grandpa William Bacon was always in the offing at recess time with his two handsome French poodles. If we transgressed, Grandpa often flew at us, but his bark was worse than his bite. Robin Bacon was my best friend among the boys. Gaspar was younger and Eliot a darling baby in his carriage."
When the Republican hold on the Presidency ended in 1912, Robert Bacon returned to Jamaica Plain. With the outbreak of World War I he was off to France, managing the American Field Ambulance Service and as aide-de-campe to General Pershing. The war wore him out, and he died of surgical complications in a Boston hospital just short of his 60th birthday.
His second son Gaspar was ready to step on stage. Born in 1886 and Harvard-educated, he too had fought in Europe. Yet, Spring Hill was always his headquarters after legal training. Gaspar soon entered politics and served as President of the Senate (1929-32) and as Lieutenant Governor under Democratic Governor J. B. Ely. Bacon was a progressive Republican, a good speaker and unusually popular throughout the state, a sensitive intellectual, whose writings were widely read.
The 1934 election set him against "Boston's Robin Hood," J.M. Curley, his neighbor across the Pond at 350 Jamaicaway. Bacon had long stalked Curley and relished the fight. Yet, the Great Depression - blamed on all Republicans - burdened him. The sly Curley managed to link Bacon to J. P. Morgan, though it was his father's connection. Curley hated the old Boston stock, and Gaspar Griswold Bacon's very name was too good to let go. Curley and his ticket swept into office - a first in Massachusetts's history. The New Deal was in full swing.
Bacon retired from politics, took up teaching international relations at Boston University, and practiced law. Just before the start of World War II (in which he served with distinction) he sold Spring Hill to V. Barletta. He returned to Boston after the war and died on Christmas Day 1947. By that time Spring Hill's new owner had already razed Daniel Bacon's manse and was living in the William Bacon's house. After a fire in 1945 it was repaired but finally demolished in 1952, with a ranch-style on the Daniel Bacon site replacing it.
The Hill as we know it became one unit when Hellenic College (after taking over the old Weld property on the Brookline side in 1947) bought 31 acres of the Bacon estate from Barletta. This is the hillside backdrop for the Pond, undeveloped and so far protected. It is something perhaps too long taken for granted and requires cooperation among many to assure its quiet and scenic use.
By Walter H. Marx. Sources: R. Heath, "Hellenic Hill," Boston, 1990; National Encyclopedia of American Biography; M.O. Bowditch, "Moss Hill: A Memoir"; J. F. Dinneen, "The Purple Shamrock," New York, 1949, Chap. 18
Reprinted with permission from the August 27, 1993 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant (1833-1890) was a Jamaica Plain inventor and industrialist who filed more than 60 U.S. patents. Sturtevant’s patents related to fans revolutionized manufacturing worldwide and played a special role in the advancement of the shoe making industry in 1860s New England. Sturtevant built the first commercially successful blower in 1864.
Sturtevant was born into a poor Maine farming family. He left home at age 15 to work in Northbridge, Massachusetts. He later returned to Maine and became a skilled shoemaker. He devised a crude machine used in shoe manufacturing and came to Boston in 1856 seeking backing for further development. He worked on his design from 1857 to 1859 and secured five patents for design improvements. In December 1859 he patented a special spiral veneer lathe to manufacture stock for shoe-peg machines.
Sturtevant set up a successful manufacturing plant in Conway, New Hampshire to manufacture wooden shoe pegs and from that base sold materials to factories around the world. Sturtevant was troubled by the airborne wood dust created by the machines in his factory and went to work designing a way to eliminate the dust and its resulting health effects. In 1867 he patented a rotary exhaust fan and began manufacturing the fan and selling it to industrial buyers across the country.
Image provided courtesy of the New England Wireless and Steam Museum
With the exhaust fan business doing well, Sturtevant went to work designing air blowers, fans, and pneumatic conveyors. In 1878 he built a factory near the current intersection of Green and Amory Streets in Jamaica Plain. At the time, it was the largest fan manufacturing plant in the world. At its peak, the plant produced 5,000 blowers per year and employed about 400 workers. Sturtevant opened branch outlets in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oregon, England, and Germany.
Sturtevant lived at 11 Revere Street until 1889 and then at 60 Elm Street. He died in his home on April 17, 1890. Sturtevant had two daughters, the younger of whom, Lilla married Eugene Noble Foss on June 12, 1884. The Foss family lived at 8 Everett Street from 1884 until 1905. Sturtevant came to know young Eugene Noble Foss while he was a successful salesman for the Vermont-based St. Albans Manufacturing Company.
Foss home at 8 Everett Street in Jamaica Plain. Photograph 2007 by Charile Rosenberg.
Sturtevant hired Foss in 1882 and put him in charge of the manufacturing department. Two years later Foss became treasurer and general manager. Upon Sturtevant’s death, he was elected president. He later directed several other manufacturing enterprises but resigned all corporate positions when he was elected to his first political office. Foss served as governor of Massachusetts from 1910 to 1913.
In addition to the industrial fan line, the Jamaica Plain factory also produced American Napier automobiles from 1904 until 1909. The Sturtevant Aeroplane Company operated from 1915-1918 in Jamaica Plain building military aircraft for both the U.S. Army and the U.S. Navy for use in World War I.
Sturtevant’s son-in-law, Eugene Foss, moved the main manufacturing operations to Hyde Park in the early 1900’s and the large building complex remains there today. A photograph of the Hyde Park facility is shown here to the right. Westinghouse purchased B. F. Sturtevant Co. in 1945 and continued to operate a Sturtevant Division. The Howden Fan Company bought the Sturtevant brand in 1988 and continued to manufacture Sturtevant fans, selling them under the Howden Buffalo name. Sturtevant fans were recently installed as part of the Central Artery project to ventilate Big Dig tunnels. Howden Buffalo’s local offices are located in the old Sturtevant complex (now Westinghouse Plaza) in Hyde Park. The entire Sturtevant fan line was later sold to Acme Manufacturing Corporation, a family-owned business in Claremore, Oklahoma that continues to build fans under the original Sturtevant product names.
The Sturtevant and Foss families are buried in Jamaica Plain’s Forest Hills Cemetery in nearby plots.
Photographs of the Sturtevant plant in Jamaica Plain from the 1919 Aircraft Year Book
1919 Aircraft Year Book, Aircraft Manufacturers Association Inc.
Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News, Nov 2001, An early history of comfort heating. Bernard Nagengast.
“Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant” Dictionary of American Biography
Heating/Piping/Air Conditioning Engineering, Oct 2002, Industrial ventilation throughout the 20th Century. Kenneth E. Robinson.
J.D. Van Slyck, New England Manufacturers and Manufactories (1879)
Old Woodworking Machines web site
The New Encyclopedia of Motorcars, 1885 to the Present, GN Georgano, editor. Dutton, New York, 1982. U.S. Patent Office
By Charlie Rosenberg and Michael Reiskind
Copyright © 2003 Jamaica Plain Historical Society
by W. H. Marx
The Jamaica Plain Historical Society recently reprinted extracts from the 1812-54 diaries of our Brookline neighbor, Benjamin Goddard (1766-1861). He was one of the 15 children in the fourth generation of the family raised on the Goddard Farm, whose existence is commemorated by a plaque on the road that connects Jamaica Plain with West Roxbury and Newton. In keeping with the custom, when the older son was ready to take over the farm, in 1787 Benjamin’s parents retired to a house near the present Rt. 9. Benjamin e had already started off on his own with an associate with a store in Boston and then with his brother Nathaniel, a shipping merchant.
With his share from just one voyage, Benjamin was able to build his own home near his father’s in 1811 just before the War of 1812. The war brought hard times to New England, as his diaries attest. He died in 1841 at the remarkable age of 95.
The house was later moved and still stands at 43 Summer St. The extracts show a gentlemen farmer and a pleasant person, whose eulogy sermon published the Sunday after his funeral mentioned his perseverance, loyalty, strong native sense, clear judgement, justice, and integrity and terms him a wise steward and benefactor with uniform cheerfulness and affection.
When his diaries were discovered after 1900 among family papers, they were first thought to be mere farm accounts. Fortunately, their true worth was discovered when they were presented to the Brookline Historical Society. Unfortunately, they have never been fully edited and published. It is not surprising that when J. G. Curtis published his town history in 1933 he chose the following from what had been published in the Society’s Proceedings in 1911.
In this harvest season Benjamin Goddard comes across the years vividly and merits more study for his picture of our area, which yet boasts of the only working farm in Boston of the many once here.
October 24, 1817: The autumn thus far has been remarkably favorable for the ingathering of the harvest. The ground (is) very dry and springs low. Most people are forward in their work. We finished digging potatoes and have now gathered nearly all the apples. Have barrelled 100 barrels; some more gathered but for want of barrels are in heaps. Have already made barrels of cider—mostly for vinegar. Gathered the garden vegetables excepting turnips, cabbages, parsnips, and celery. All these will yet improve. Have concluded to let the corn stand a while longer, the stalk not being sufficiently dry. The quality of the corn is extraordinarily fine and the quantity more abundant than usual. On the whole the harvest is great and good.
November 8, 1817: Took in cabbages, cauliflowers, cale and celery. These finish the harvesting for this season excepting three cheeses of cider to make. The corn all husked and housed. The potatoes in the cellar sold; apples in barrels and at least half sold and delivered. So we are nearly ready for winter. Soap and apple sauce made for season. Good luck attended both except the first kettle, which was drove with so much zeal as to get a little burned at the bottom. Like other misfortune it produced good, for the next was managed with caution and produced good.
December 12, 1817: Myself taking care of home; an employment very pleasant at this season as it required but little manual labor and is fraught with many delights. The barn, granary, and cellar are stored with the productions of the farm by the labor of man and beast. The most delightful part of the whole is dealing out daily portions as their necessities shall require and at the same time seeing them fatten upon the proceeds of their own.”
This article appeared originally in the October 8, 1991 edition of the Jamaica Plain Gazette and is used with permission.
E. W. Baker, “Extracts from Benjamin Goddard’s Diary,” Brookline Historical Society Proceedings, 1911, 16-47
J. G. Curtis, History of the Town of Brookline, Boston, 1933, 117/8
N. F. Little, Some Old Brookline House, Brookline Historical Society, 1949
Bromley Park was a 680-foot long residential square set perpendicular to Bickford Street and dead ended at the old Boston and Providence Railroad right of way. The street was lined with brick bow fronted row houses and divided by three rectangular strips planted with trees, grass and shrubs exactly like those town house blocks built in the South End such as Rutland Square, Worcester Square and Braddock Park. Bromley Street and Albert Street came off Bromley Park at right angles and connected it to Heath Street. The Bromley Park playground, 50 - 60 Bickford Street and 950 to 954 Parker Street occupy what was Bromley Park for 75 years.
Bromley Park has a more significant history which is forgotten today and obscure a half century ago: it was the country house of the venerable Lowell family. All of Bromley Park Houses was the 18th and 19th century estate of Judge John Lowell, his son and grandson. Another son, Francis Cabot Lowell, brought the industrial revolution to America when he built the first integrated cotton mill on the banks of the Charles River in Waltham in 1813. This enterprise was expanded into the great mill town on the banks of the Merrimack River in 1823 named Lowell in his honor. On March 10, 1785, Judge John Lowell bought a 10 1/2 half-acre farm and farm house which fronted on Center Street for 750 pounds. (Suffolk deeds. Book 147. Page 269). Center Street - known then as The Great Road to Dedham and Providence - was one of the principle thoroughfares through Roxbury. The house stood about where 267 Center Street is today. In the 17th century the land was originally owned by and John Weld, one of the founding families - and one of the richest landowners - of Roxbury. (Note: until 1851 Jamaica Plain was a part of Roxbury; called Jamaica end of the town of Roxbury as early as 1667). The Weld planting fields adjoined the farm of William Heath - another founding family - which stretched up against Parker Hill.
The Lowells were not one of the founding families of Boston or Roxbury but settled on the North Shore at Cape Ann after they arrived in Boston on June 23, 1639. The patriarch, Percival Lowell, described as a "solid citizen of Bristol", determined at the age of 68 that the future was in the New World. A man of wealth, he left England in April, 1639 with a party of 16 people: his two sons John and Richard and their wives, servants, furniture and livestock.
Governor John Winthrop needed solid dependable people to settle the North Shore area as a buffer against the French from Canada and he urged that the Lowells remove to Newburyport. It was there that Judge John Lowell was born in 1743. His father was the pastor of the Third Parish Church of Newburyport. After graduating from Harvard like his father, Judge Lowell clerked at a Boston law firm for three years before opening his own office in Newburyport with two of the richest merchants in that town as his chief clients. His wealth was such that at the age of thirty he built twin houses on High Street in Newburyport which were among the finest in the port. His contemporary and colleague, the future president John Adams, wrote jealously to his wife that Lowell has "a palace like a noble man and lives a life of great splendor."
It was out of the chaos of the revolutionary war that the Lowell family emerged as a family of enormous wealth and influence in Massachusetts and established them among the highest of the Brahmin class. Judge Lowell was by inheritance, temperament and the society in which he lived and worked a Loyalist type. But he was a shrewd man and like his forebear Percival was alert to the fact that the New World had greater things in store than the monarchy of England. So although he knew the last two Royal governors personally, he threw his fortunes in with that of the nascent nation and joined the political arm of the nationalists, the Committee of Safety as an elected Selectman from Newburyport. On March 7, 1776 British General Lord William Howe abandoned Boston and removed to Halifax, Nova Scotia taking with him many of the most distinguished families in Boston who left behind large empty houses on corner lots filled with gardens and orchards. Judge John Lowell moved into one of those houses, the former home of John Amory at the end of 1776. The Amory House was at the corner of Tremont and Beacon Street opposite King's Chapel. A peach orchard grew in the spacious grounds which stimulated Lowell's interest in agriculture.
Lowell seized the opportunity left by the fleeing Loyalists by filling the void they left behind. The capital was almost empty of attorneys and Lowell prospered as legal advisor to the State Commissioners responsible for Tory property seized by authorization of the 1779 Confiscation Act. This closely followed the Banishment Act of 1778 which ordered all those who sided with the King to leave the Commonwealth. Lowell drew up deeds of sale and arranged leases and auctions of the properties. The sale of Loyalist properties and leases of others - such as the Amory House which Lowell rented from the Commonwealth - helped pay for the costs of the Revolutionary War. But he made most of his fortune during the war years in managing the legal work on captured ships and commerce seized by privateers from the British. In 1782, Congress appointed him Judge of Appeal for admiralty cases. After the war, he worked as the executor and estate administrator for numerous Tory emigres such as the former Royal Governor Hutchinson whom he knew personally.
Lowell also represented Commodore Joshua Loring whose Jamaica Plain mansion stills stands on Center Street, as well as the Vassal, Lechmere and Coffin families and others living in London and Bristol. (Loyalists from Salem moved to Bristol). Lowell handled all their affairs in America and for comfortable fees regularly sent substantial sums from the sale of property and income from estates across the Atlantic.
Judge Lowell took great interest in the growth of Boston. If his contemporary John Adams worked on the national level, John Lowell worked to strengthen Boston and Massachusetts in the years after the Revolutionary War. In 1783, Lowell was one of the founding directors of the First National Bank of Boston (His son John would be one of the first vice presidents of the Provident Institute for Savings in 1817). He invested in shares in bridges, canals and toll roads.
Judge Lowell also worked to improve the state of agriculture left in shambles after a decade of warfare. He was an avid gentleman farmer and one of the members of what Tamara Thornton describes in her book Cultivating Gentlemen ( New Haven, 1989), as the Boston Federalist agricultural society who preferred to live in country seats in the manner of British gentry.
After he moved to Roxbury he commuted across the Boston Neck to his law office but mostly he conducted his business on the farm. And for good reason. Writing in his 1946 biography of the Lowell family (The Lowells and Their Seven Worlds from which much of this history is taken), Ferris Greenslet described the Lowell estate just above Hoggs Bridge where Center Street crossed Stony Brook: "In the old Judge's time and that of his son, it must have been retired and lovely. To the north across the short pitched valley of Stony Brook, the steep acclivity of Parker Hill hid the spires and soft- coal smoke of Boston. Towards the sunset stretched the shaded hills and bowery hollows of Brookline. The old Judge taking his hundred steps on a sunny morning could see the bright waters of Boston and Dorchester Bays." Another reason why Judge Lowell enjoyed the estate - and probably why he bought it - was that it was owned 90 years earlier by Joseph Gardener whose family also had deep roots in Salem.
Joseph Gardner was a member of the small but very wealthy Brookline wing of the Gardner family. Like the Lowells they were originally from Salem. The family began with Thomas Gardener (1592 - 1674) who was probably born in Scotland but moved to Dorsetshire, England. In 1624, Thomas Gardner landed at what is today Gloucester Harbor to manage a fishery plantation established by a group of investors from Dorchester, England. About five years before the Pilgrims landed, merchants from the south of England had sent fishing vessels to the shores of New England. This was a long trip and the catch often spoiled so it was decided to build a fishing plantation at Cape Ann where the fish could be caught in season and preserved before returning to English markets. But the rocky coast proved unsuitable and the venture failed. Gardner stayed on and with Roger Conant built a permanent settlement at Naumkeag or what is today called Salem about 1626. Gardner was made a freeman of the Church on May 17,1637 two years before Percival Lowell arrived. Thomas Gardner's two sons - both of whom were born in England - were Thomas and Peter. They each married Roxbury women and as each received land as part of the marriage, the brothers removed there to begin a second branch of the family (Until 1705 Brookline was a part of Roxbury called Muddy River).
Peter Gardner was born in England in 1617 and joined his father at Salem in 1635. On May 9, 1646 he married Rebecca Crooke (or Cooke) and their son Joseph was born on Jan 11, 1759. Peter Gardner lived in Roxbury at the junction of Warren and Dudley Streets where he had a garden and nursery. For many years in the 17th and into the first decade of the 18th century what is today known as Dudley Square was called Gardner's Green.
His brother Thomas settled in Brookline and by 1674 owned 175 acres of farmland over what is today Leverett Pond, Pill Hill, Cypress Street and Route 9. He became the richest landowner in the Muddy River section of Roxbury. On March 22, 1682 Joseph married Mary Weld daughter of John Weld, one of the most famous of the great Roxbury families. They settled on land owned by her father on the Great Road to Dedham. The house in which Judge Lowell lived was probably built by Joseph Gardner about the time of his marriage. John Weld had a house in the town center and a another on South Street in what is today the Arnold Arboretum. Weld used the Dedham Road land as income by renting it to a tenant farmer. All property owners whose land was located on a main thoroughfare of Roxbury incurred certain public responsibilities: by order of the town selectmen, all property along the road had to be fenced and those fences kept in good condition; any large rocks in the public way along a property owner's land had to be removed and no private owner could remove or damage a tree on the public wayside.
Failure to comply with any of these rulings meant a fine. He built his house well back from the busy road. Of the four principle highways leading into Roxbury, the Great Road to Dedham was arguably the most important because it was a direct land route to Providence which was always an important southern ally to Massachusetts governors. Joseph Gardener no doubt met many a traveler on the way to and from Roxbury or Boston which kept him up to date with the news of the colony. The house and barns were listed in the deed when the widow Mary Gardner sold the estate in 1765 (Suffolk deeds. Book 103. Page 209). Her late husband made out his will in 1754 and is identified as being a collarmaker - or harness maker- for horses. This Mary Gardner was probably married to Joseph Gardner second, son of the first Joseph. Either that or she was over 100 years old at the time she sold the farm.
The land passed quickly between various executors who bought it for rental income from tenant farmers until John Lowell acquired the houses and farmland just after the end of the Revolutionary War. The Gardner farmhouse was. set on flat ground in the elbow of a ridge behind which was a dairy barn and, later on, greenhouses. It was built at an angle to catch the views of the Stony Brook valley at the southerly corner of the property. A circular drive led in from Center Street. The Judge enlarged and "modernized" the 17th century farmhouse with the fashionable Georgian style hip roof, tall windows and a porch. But more than this Roxbury farm linked the Lowells and the Gardners; the two great families of Salem were connected by marriage too. In September of 1797 John Lowell's daughter Rebecca Russell married Samuel Pickering Gardner at the Roxbury house. Pickering Gardner was born in Salem in May of 1767 but like his father in law recognized that the future lay in the capital city of Boston and he moved there in 1793.
(Their grandson, John Lowell Gardner, married Isabella Stewart in 1860). Judge Lowell and his growing family settled comfortably into the post war Roxbury society to live a country life . But, as Thornton points out, rural pursuits took on a new meaning after the Revolutionary War; no longer was it sufficient to simply linger among well tended lawns and gardens, These estates had to be practical; they had to contribute to the growing new nation in some way. That way was scientific, experimental agriculture. In 1792 Judge Lowell was one of 29 men who petitioned Governor John Hancock to incorporate the Massachusetts Society for the Promotion of Agriculture, one of only three in the United States and one of the few in the world at that time. The MSPA was responsible for introducing many different varieties of fruits from Europe into cultivation in New England.
Although none of the incorporators were farmers, the Society was dedicated to the promotion of scientific agriculture designed to increase crop yields and increase the diversity of fruits, vegetables and livestock in the New England market. Despite several questionnaires sent to them, almost no one who earned a, living from farming participated in the MSPA. Nevertheless, these gentlemen farmers should not be underestimated; they were serious; they used their wealth and time to advance agriculture and horticulture in the very young nation. They were the only ones with the means and the time to experiment with fruits, trees, flowers and livestock. Farming was a civic responsibility to Judge Lowell and his son John because the broken state of agriculture in New England after the War threatened the economic growth of the region and made it still dependent on British trade. John Adams was the first president of the Society (1792 to 1796; he resigned when he became the second US President). John Lowell was the second MSPA president and he served until his death .
Judge John Lowell lived out his life on his Roxbury farm and he died there at the age of 59 on May 6, 1802. The property by then had increased to 17 acres and was valued at $10, 500 (a very high sum in 1802). Judge Lowell's principle investments were $30,000 in eight ships owned by his son Francis Cabot Lowell engaged in bringing raw cotton to Britain and returning home with milled cloth for the New England market (When the War of 1812 stopped this trade, Lowell took British industrial techniques and built his own cotton mill to manufacture raw Southern cotton into cloth). The Roxbury estate and the Tory agency and property business was left to his eldest son John Lowell, called The Rebel ( 1769 - 1840). Described by Greenslet as "short, slender, frail and fiery", he graduated from Harvard in 1786 and in 1790 built a stone house for himself on School Street where Old City Hall is today. He married Rebecca Amory, daughter of John Amory, in 1793. (Amory returned to America and Boston after the War. He was never formally banished - his name is not listed in the Act; rather he simply stayed on in London where he had gone on business in 1774 when he saw how the American political winds were blowing).
Amory Street - formally School Street - takes its name from Rebecca Amory and her father. This street began near the Lowell estate and was for many years the only road from Center Street to the Norfolk and Bristol Turnpike (Washington Street). An attorney like his father, The Rebel was a passionate Federalist and its most fluent propagandist in Boston. He wrote many pamphlets and the Roxbury hilltop home was the center for visiting Federalists during the Jefferson and Madison administrations. (One particularly strident pamphlet against James Madison so riled the Democrats that they threatened to burn the Roxbury house down).
In 1801 a client whom he represented in a murder case was found guilty and executed. Convinced of the man's innocence, the verdict shocked Lowell. The next year his father died and he suffered a nervous breakdown and his physician ordered a long rest. The Rebel resigned his law practice, entrusted his investments and real estate to his brother Francis and sailed for England with his wife and daughter Rebecca Amory Lowell in 1803. In a state of depression, he stayed away for three years traveling in England, France, Germany and Italy. He wrote back to his brother that he would abandon commercial law and devote himself to farming and agriculture. From England he sent back books and seeds and trees for the Roxbury farm; from Italy he shipped back Merino sheep, among the first to be bred in America.
From London and Europe he bought marble mantelpieces, statues and furniture for the Roxbury house as well as the town house on School Street. The twin shocks of a client's execution and the death of his father at only 59 years of age, turned John Lowell The Rebel into a pioneer of Massachusetts horticulture. A great lover of England, he revisited London in the spring of 1806 and toured the hilltop market town of Bromley ten miles south of London. In the words of the 1876 Handbook to the Environs of London, Bromley is situated "on the banks of the Ravensbourne River on high ground in the midst of richly wooded and picturesque country much in favor with city merchants". It reminded the now homesick Lowell of the Stony Brook valley in Roxbury. Greenslet writes, "the long ridges overlooking the smokey valley of the Thames and the distant spires, towers and domes of London recalled the Roxbury hilltop he had inherited. . . Then and there he determined to christen the estate Bromley Vale."
In Bromley town he sketched a stone castellated tower and when he returned home in mid 1807, he had his sketch made into a stone tower on his estate near the present day Bickford Street corner of the housing development. He also built a small pond to swim in and to irrigate his planting field. A windmill pumped the water out to the vegetable beds. Judge John Lowell built one of the first green houses in Massachusetts shortly after the MSPA was organized. John Lowell the Rebel added a second glass house and made Bromley Vale famous for the cultivation of exotic flowers; he cultivated some of the first orchids grown in a greenhouse in America. Bromley Vale had a total of five greenhouses. (His son and inheritor John Amory Lowell built one greenhouse to cultivate pineapples; in another he grew orange trees).
He lived in his Boston town house in winter, but from April through October he was in Roxbury. He turned only one acre of his farm into a kitchen garden, the rest he made into orchard, vineyard and greenhouses. He experimented with sweet potatoes and sea kale, but he was most active in horticulture. And he worked the land himself: he employed only one full time gardener and a seasonal laborer in the summer. (He signed all his pamphlets critical of the policies of Presidents Jefferson and Madison, "New England Farmer". This was ironic given how much he had in common with Thomas Jefferson who also experimented with fruits, trees and flowers at Monticello). Lowell loved fruit trees in particular. "No man in the early period of this century did more for the promotion of pomology than Mr. Lowell.", wrote a fellow gentleman horticulturist who specialized in pears on his Dorchester estate, Marshall P. Wilder, in 1881.
Lowell The Rebel succeeded his father as president of the MSPA. He was an honorary member of the Horticultural Society of London, founded in March of 1804, and he corresponded regularly with its founder and president Thomas Andrew Knight. Knight sent scions of pear, cherry and plum trees to Lowell as well as seeds for distribution to members of the MSPA. In 1806 six bundles of fruit trees arrived from France and in 1823 the first fruit trees cultivated by the London Horticultural Society arrived in Roxbury. Lowell would plant the trees and vines at Bromley Vale and determine which ones were hardy enough for the New England climate. He would distribute cuttings from his fruit trees to anyone and in time this established a New England fruit nursery system. As he wrote in 1822, "We are utterly destitute in New England of nurseries for fruit trees. We have no place to which we can go for plants to ornament our grounds." In another letter of 1824, he had in his mind the germ of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. "As to horticulture. it is newly explored. I recollect the first boxes of cultivated strawberries ever sent to the Boston market; they are now in profusion, of excellent quality, although they can be better."
In 1801 Judge John Lowell, as president of the MSPA, contributed $500 to endow the first professorship of Natural History at Harvard University. In 1805 his son contributed money to buy land for and build the Harvard Botanical Garden. Seven acres were purchased outside Harvard Square on a road known today as Garden Street and Lowell served as chairman of the committee which supervised the Garden. (Sixty-seven years later, Charles Sprague Sargent would become Director of the Botanic Garden. In 1872 he founded the Arnold Arboretum).
John Lowell The Rebel was asked to preside over the first meeting of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society on February 29,1829. The first history of MHS, published in 1880 said that it was only natural that Lowell should moderate this founding meeting as he "stood at the head of the horticulturists of Massachusetts." He was a founding member, but he declined any leadership or chairmanship in MHS. He gave money and encouragement. At the first anniversary dinner, the head table was decorated with orange trees in flower from his greenhouse and black Hamburg grapes from the Bromley Vale vineyard.
John Lowell The Rebel - like his 17th kinsman Percival who came to New England at the age of 68 - believed in America. He was an early investor in the start of a native agriculture that would strengthen America's farmers. In his remarks at the second anniversary of MHS on September 10,1830, he summed up the reasons why he and his father had become - in Thornton's phrase - cultivating gentlemen. "[The United States is] too long accustomed to rely upon foreign nurseries for fruit trees and other plants. We should depend our own resources and learn to appreciate them. It has been the prevailing fashion to underrate everything of domestic origin and to attach value to exotics . . everything that bore the impress of a foreign original was sought after and admired... [but] these prejudices are fast receding before the beaming light of intelligence and patriotism."
At his death on March 18, 1840, the periodical, New England Farmer (established in 1822) wrote that "the agriculture of Massachusetts was indebted to him more than to any other individual living." John Lowell The Rebel served as president of the Boston Athenaeum from 1816 to 1819. In 1834, several members of the Athenaeum commissioned the sculptor John Frazee to carve of bust of Lowell which they presented to the library the next year. It resides today in the second floor art and architecture room. In 1872, his son John Amory Lowell gave a marble bust of his father to the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, possibly a copy of the Frazee bust.
The estate and the family law practice passed to John Amory Lowell (1798 - 1881). Amory Lowell was just as much an enthusiast about horticulture as his father and grandfather. Like his father he cared for the orchards and vineyard at Bromley Vale, he was president of the MSPA and active in the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. In 1846 he contributed $1000 to establish the Lowell Award for advancement in horticulture. He was also a contributor to the building fund for the second home of the Society on Tremont and Bromfield Streets, which opened in September, 1865. But it was John Amory Lowell's primary responsibility to face the future of the Bromley Vale, which now stretched to thirty acres.
On June 11, 1834, the Boston and Providence Railroad opened its passenger line along the valley of Stony Brook through Roxbury and Jamaica Plain, making it one of the first rail lines in Massachusetts. The railroad skirted the Lowell property and crossed Center Street at grade. In 1866 when the Boston and Providence Railroad announced that it planned to widen its right of way and expand service to include freight cars for the burgeoning industries in the valley, Lowell and his son Augustus, both living at Bromley Vale, realized that section of Roxbury was dramatically changing. Augustus (1830 - 1900) moved to a nine and a half acre estate on Heath Street in Brookline that he bought in that same year which he called Sevenels (after the seven Lowells in his family). John Amory made plans to subdivide the estate. The first land sale was a 1/4 acre parcel with buildings on it situated between the railroad right of way and Center Street which Lowell sold to Magnus Lefstrom on April 29,1859. The deed contained a set of restrictions which bound Lefstrom to how the land could be used. First it could be for his use only (thus preventing speculation) and second "that any building built will not be for a factory, manufacturing of any kind or for a blacksmith or foundry shop or machine shop" (Norfolk County deeds, Book 275. Page 292). It's interesting that the founding family of the factory city of Lowell did not seem to want such things built near their estate. On January 13, 1870, Amory Lowell sold a 7,562 square foot parcel to the Boston and Providence Railroad Corporation for $13,216. This was a long strip of land which paralleled the existing right of way thus doubling its width. A new passenger station - Heath street - was built on this parcel midway between Heath Street and New Heath Street (the latter was laid out by the City of Roxbury through a land purchase from John Amory Lowell in 1861). The next day, he gave the mansion house and 59,360 square feet of land (roughly one and one third acre) to his two unmarried sisters, Rebecca Amory and Anna Cabot Lowell to be theirs as long as they lived. (Book 987. Page 176). Rebecca - known all her life as Amory - died at the age of 79 in December of 1873; her sister would live another twenty years. Now that his sisters were taken care of, John Amory turned to the remainder of the property. He acted as both planner and developer. Although he did sell large parcels - particularly along Center Street - to a single buyer, for the most part he made certain that the property would be built up with attached town houses. The principal residential street he called Bromley Park to commemorate the name of Judge John Lowell's farm. John Amory financed three new streets all which came off Bromley Park: an extension of Parker Street, Bromley Street and Albert Street; the latter was parallel to the railroad right of way. Parker Street extension was completed in August of 1871. Albert Street more than likely takes its name from Prince Albert, consort of Queen Victoria. The street was laid out in 1872 the same year that the great Albert Memorial was unveiled in Kensington Park in London. The earliest plan showing the layout of three new squares perpendicular to Bickford Street is dated May 10,1870 (Book 1001. Page 275). Bromley Park was built in 1872.
A plan dated January 2, 1872 accompanying a sale of one parcel shows a row of house lots facing a square labeled Bromley Park (Book 1086. Page 271). On May 10, 1870, three large parcels totaling 3 and 3/4 acres facing Center Street were sold to his neighbor Owen Nawn for $85,000. Nawn lived in a large house on 2.29 acres of land directly opposite Bickford Street. (Chestnut Street goes through what was the Nawn property today ). This sale included the stone tower and walls near Bickford Street which John Lowell The Rebel built in 1807. The deed restricted that the road which Lowell intended to build from Heath Street (i.e. Parker Street) be kept open as a through way. A second large parcel of almost two acres was sold to the brewer William Alley on April 17,1871. Alley built a small brewery and three stables on the square parcel bordered by Bickford, Parker and Heath Street. This transaction seemed to contradict the restrictions placed on one of the first sales of Lowell land on March 12, 1870 near Heath Street : "nothing shall be built except a dwelling house. No factory or store and nothing built in which spirituous or intoxicating liquors shall be sold" (Book 993. Page 73). Development of Bromley Park began in earnest so that by 1873 the entire street was built up with 28 brick row houses. On the west side of Bickford Street, Abraham Lent built twenty-seven brick row houses on a lot he bought from Lowell on June 2, 1872 (Book 1109. Page 220). This whole lot is shown built up on the 1873 Atlas of Roxbury. (The last of the houses, all in a state of dilapidation, was razed in 1977). Eighteen other brick row houses were built on Parker and Bromley Streets adjacent to Bromley Park. The timing was perfect: in September of 1873 the United States slipped into the worst depression in its history caused ironically by chaotic railroad expansion. This halted any business investment in the country for six years. By then John Amory Lowell had determined the character of the subdivision of his family's estate in one of the first planned residential communities in Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.
John Amory Lowell lived out his last decade in his town house at number 7 Park Street opposite Boston Common and there he died at the age of 83 in 1881. His trustees continued to sell off a few house lots but all rowhouse construction on Bromley and Parker Streets ceased after 1884. Thirteen of these house on the east side of Parker Street were still vacant when the BHA purchased them in 1952. A bakery was built on Bromley Street house lots by 1919.
On April 1,1884, Owen Nawn sold a 30,000 square foot lot for $2000 on the east side Bickford Street to the City of Boston for the Lucretia Crocker School. ( Book 1631. page 614). This was the second school built in this rapidly growing corner of Jamaica Plain; in 1874 the Lowell School was built on Center and Mozart Streets. Anna Cabot Lowell died at her home in the remnants of Bromley Vale on November 14,1894 at the age of 86. The Boston Post wrote that with her death, Boston "has lost one of the last survivors of the older generation. her charities were numberless and during her life she did what she could to help the community in which she loved. She died at her home [of] many years near Hogg's Bridge in what was formerly the City of Roxbury." [Hogg's Bridge carried Center Street over Stony Brook where Center and Columbus avenue intersect today]. "Miss Lowell's family has long been known throughout the Commonwealth and many of her ancestors have had much to do with building its present prosperity." The Lowell mansion was razed soon afterwards.
The next year the Boston and Providence Railroad began the enormous project of eliminating the many dangerous grade crossings along its right of way from the South End to Forest Hills. Beginning in August of 1895, its crews built a 20 foot granite causeway starting at Cumberland Street in the South End and extending to just beyond Forest Hills Between Roxbury Crossing and Jackson Square, this work required rerouting Stony Brook and placing it in a brick culvert over which the granite causeway was then built. Steel plate bridges supported by iron beams were built at the Center Street, Heath Street and New Heath crossings. By the end of 1897, a solid wall of granite separated Bromley Park from the rest of Roxbury.
Trains now roared past at the same level of the row house rooftops. By then many of these houses had been converted to tenements for the workers in the growing brewery businesses which were expanding rapidly on Heath Street. On June 12, 1912 the Ward Baking Company of New York City bought the last parcel of Bromley Vale which had been the home of the two Lowell sisters. (Book 3668. Page 401). But the company never built on its land and it remained vacant for the next 40 years until it was bought by the Boston Housing Authority in 1952 for a second planned residential community, the Bromley Park development. Buildings Number Three (275 - 279 Center Street), Number Four (265 - 267 Center Street) and Number Fifteen (today next to the MBTA station) were built on the site of the Lowell mansion and gardens. After the mansion was destroyed, the only architectural fragment that recalled the name of Lowell was the school at the corner of Mozart Street. This was razed in 1959 and Mozart Playground was built. Today only the name Bromley Park remains to recall the Lowell family.
Catharina Slautterback helped me greatly by finding travel books about Bromley in England and for helping me with portraits of the Lowells.
Sally Pierce vastly improved this paper for suggesting I look at Cultivating Gentlemen.
© Copyright 1999-2005 Richard Heath/Jamaica Plain Historical Society
By Peter O’Brien
Based on 2011 interviews with Sally Donovan, the last owner’s wife; several former employees; and the author’s employment as a clerk from 1949 to 1952. Special thanks to John Lovett who suggested this story and arranged the interview with Sally Donovan and to Kathy Griffin for editorial assistance.
The Beginning (1867)
Jesse James was busy robbing banks all over the Midwest; Alaska was annexed for a paltry $7.2 million, and England and France jointly rejected a cross-Channel tunnel connecting the two. It was 1867 and as the Civil War was entering the Reconstruction phase, a 49-year old apothecary, or pharmacist, Charles B. Rogers, started the first drugstore in Jamaica Plain at the corner of Centre and Burroughs Streets. That store was destined to serve the Jamaica Plain community for 111 years until overwhelming economic and social conditions forced its closure in 1978.
Right up to the end, the furnishings, fixtures, and professional environment, along with some unusual features in the store, impressed the estimated two million or so customers it served in those 111 years.
Those customers included governors, mayors, judges, actors and vaudevillians, professional athletes and coaches, farriers, clergy and gangsters, teachers, the rich and famous, and the poor and needy of Jamaica Plain. They all had the common need for the little bits of chemicals the doctors prescribed to ease pain and extend their lives.
Other visitors included those just interested in finding someone in the Boston City Directory, located near the door, with the store staff often filling in as genealogical consultants and Jamaica Plain street experts. Even the drop-in visitors just looking for the shoe store (Hanlon’s was upstairs) or those who just wanted to use the phone booth were given a “Thank you” when handing them their change for the phone. Those were the days when the customer was number one. Even when he didn’t buy anything, he was still a customer and the staff would hush whenever one entered — an unwritten store rule which called for empathy for a sick person or his caregiver.
In 1902 an elegant black-onyx marble soda fountain was installed, and for 46 years it was watched over by a beautiful mirror that hung there until long after the soda fountain was removed. The wooden showcases, the handsomely carved and mirrored partition in front of the pharmacists’ work area, and the rest of the beautiful carved woodwork throughout the store were all original and kept in excellent condition despite a large volume of foot traffic, most of whom, it seemed, smoked heavily in those days.
Passing through only five owners in its long life, C. B. Rogers held on to its high pharmaceutical industry standards, while large chain stores were driving out the small neighborhood drugstores throughout the country, and morphing into general stores with pharmaceutical sidelines, until 1978 when the last owner, John J. J. Donovan, was forced to close the store. This is a snapshot of what it was like to work there from the late 1940s to the late 1970s, some of the people who worked there, and what the ending was like. For many of us it was an unmatched work experience where drugs were dispensed ethically and compassionately; employees were respected, and every customer was treated with genuine caring. It’s gone now and greatly missed.
The Store’s History (See Appendix 1)
When Charles B. Rogers started his drugstore in 1867, four years before our Civil War Soldier’s Monument was erected, we believe it was at 701 Centre Street, at the corner of Burroughs Street, in Jamaica Plain, although the City records don’t show him there until 1874.
In 1878, Linville H. Smith, a clerk in the store, lived with Charles B. Rogers and his wife Caroline. As a New Hampshire native, he may have been related to Charles, whose roots also were in that state. They all lived for a time at the same 701 Centre Street address. When Linville Smith married Adeline, they moved to 51 Burroughs Street. A neighbor at 40 Burroughs Street, Ernest G. Lewis, started in the store around 1890.
In 1893 Charles B. Rogers died and Linville Smith and Ernest Lewis took over the store.
In 1898 Ernest Lewis’ son, Jack, was born and in 1924 Jack entered the store as a pharmacist.
Around 1942, Ernest Lewis and his son, Jack, become the owners. In 1949 Ernest retired and Jack Lewis became sole proprietor.
In 1965 John J. J. Donovan entered as a pharmacist and in 1970 he bought the store. In 1978, due to the economic leverage of the large drug retailers, the growing crime against drug stores, and the stresses involved on the staff, his family and himself, Donovan closed the store, ending an unbroken run of 111 years serving Jamaica Plain’s doctors, dentists, hospitals and their patients.
An estimated two million people entered the store in those 111 years and for most it was a unique experience. Even in the 1950s new customers nearly always commented on the store, its woodwork, fixtures, and throwback products from much earlier days.
Entering the store, you would find the candy/tobacco counter on the immediate right. At the left was a heavily-used Boston City Directory on an easel. Next to the easel there was a long church-pew-type bench and beyond that the old dark wood and very busy telephone booth with the traditional bi-fold door. The soda fountain had formerly been located directly opposite the entrance, next to the phone booth. The fountain was installed in 1902 and the trade magazine The Pharmaceutical Era reported the event thus: “In the drug store of C. B. Rogers in Jamaica Plain, a handsome new soda fountain has been put in, adding greatly to the general appearance of the store. The fountain is of a large size, of onyx and silver trimmed.” The fountain was removed around 1948, and a refrigerated cooler holding insulin, citrate of magnesia, some chocolate items, and occasionally our lunches replaced it.
The store’s fine oak woodwork included a mirrored partition with windows that separated the pharmacists from the public. The windows at either end of the partition allowed just an oblique view of the pharmacists working back there. The floor was tiled with small black-and-white porcelain tiles with a black border. Dark oak display cases ringed the perimeter and a center island showcase divided the store on the long axis running parallel to Burroughs Street. The original tin ceiling was painted off-white. Apothecary bottles, known as Label Under Glass (LUG) bottles, with various chemicals lined the shelves above banks of wooden drawers holding hundreds of non-prescription treatments and miscellanea. The pharmacists used antique scales and mixing tools when compounding ointments, lotions, pills, capsules, etc.
Each and every order, whether a prescription, an over-the-counter medication, a hair-conditioning or -coloring preparation, a cough remedy, a box of chocolates or a bottle of Evening-In-Paris Perfume was hand wrapped in white paper and sealed with a stick of hot sealing wax melted in a tiny gas jet burning at the end of the wrapping counter, next to the cash register. Many hours were spent training new employees to get the wrapping and sealing just right, while avoiding setting the place on fire from the always-burning gas jet. Finger burns from the melted wax were common.
Another gas jet burned in a little can-shaped cylinder atop a five-foot high gas pipe rising from the floor at the tobacco counter. After a gentleman selected his cigar from the box the clerk presented to him, he was handed a trimmer to cut the end off, obviating the standard bite-and-spit practice out on the street. Then he would slide open the little door on the cylinder and light up from the gas jet burning inside. It was all very elegant for a little corner drugstore, and something not found in any literature on drugstores anywhere. By the middle 1950s the gas jets were gone, but until then, customers were awed by these reminders of another time. One particular customer, the well-known Boston judge, Daniel W. Casey, seemed to revel in the little ritual every other evening.
The pharmacists (and clerks) were always dressed in shirts, ties, and starched white jackets, even in the stifling pre-air conditioning summer days. A huge portable fan blew a hurricane from the front of the store but we still sweated mightily to maintain C.B. Rogers’ decorum.
In the early 1950s the pharmacists included owner Jack Lewis and brothers Jack and Tony Montalbano — who later left and opened their own store in their hometown of Everett calling it Whitehill (Montalbano) Pharmacy. Martin Davis, another pharmacist, was as conscientious and careful as they come, especially if he suspected a patient was abusing a prescription medicine or even the over-the-counter-but-still-potent stuff like paregoric or a certain patent cough medicine that carried a heavy dose of codeine! Martin regularly challenged suspected abusers and often refused refills for that reason.
A lanky, very serious, balding man with glasses perched on his nose, sat with long legs crossed while hunched over an old fashioned book-keeper’s lift-top desk as he prepared, in a beautiful hand, the monthly statements for the many Rogers’ Charge Account customers. This was Jack Lewis, whom many thought was Mr. Rogers, an appellation that caused Jack to shrug shyly with just a trace of a smile breaking across his rather patrician face.
Jack’s fine writing — entering the date, the items purchased with the prices shown as exponents — extended to totals tallied on an old Burroughs mechanical calculator at the far right of the pre-printed statement form. He would stop his bookkeeping only to answer the phone, as no one else dared answer it unless Jack directed him or her to get it. Thin, or more accurately, skinny, Jack surprisingly had a sweet tooth with a fondness for chocolate-covered peppermint patties, but just the white, not the pink wintergreen ones.
A tall, kindly man with great professional bearing befitting an old Yankee pedigree, Jack Lewis was the essence of C. B. Rogers drugstore and preserved the culture and tradition of the place as it no doubt had existed since its founding in 1867 by a middle-aged Charles B. Rogers. Notwithstanding his role as owner, he did all the same chores and covered the same shifts along with his staff of pharmacists. He was a gentleman through and through.
Other pharmacists included Gerry Scollins who later had his own store on Hyde Park Avenue and a young Louis Principe who came aboard but didn’t stay long.
In 1956 Roy Ciapciak from Buffalo, NY, was hired and he stayed until 1965 with time out for a stint in St. Louis until his wife, Mary (Dolan) got homesick for Jamaica Plain. In 1965 he opened Windsor Pharmacy in Norwood. He closed that store in 1984 and worked at Hospital Pharmacy, Norwood, for 20 years. Now retired, Roy remembers an older pharmacist named Dempsey and several clerks including Tom Cloherty. As so many others do, he remembers Jack Lewis as the best he ever met and his working experience at Rogers was unmatched anywhere.
Bill Sullivan of Charlestown joined the store in about 1957 after a few years working for the Liggett’s chain in downtown Boston. He and his wife Mary moved to West Roxbury in 1961. He was mercilessly shot while lying on the floor in 1975 during one of the five hold-ups in his time at Rogers. He had complied with all the robber’s demands but it wasn’t enough, and the robber shot Bill as he was lying face down on the floor. Bill never worked full-time again and he carried the bullet to his grave in 1997 at age 82. Mary Sullivan recalls Bill’s love of the store, its owner and the family atmosphere of the place. His light-hearted humor and quips are still remembered.
In 1959, Ed Carey from Mission Hill and later Kingsboro Street entered as a clerk. He obtained his degree and became a pharmacist in 1963. He left in 1971 for his own store in Lakeville (Mass.) which he ran for 25 years. He remembers the hand printing of the prescription labels after being entered in the prescription ledger books. He also recalled Rogers’ unique price code using symbols for digits to disguise the actual wholesale cost of the medicines. He fondly recalled the Christmas window decorations and the busy Christmas sales of cameras, film, perfumes and some long-forgotten brands of cosmetics.
John J. J. Donovan of Cambridge entered the store in 1965. He and his wife Sylvia “Sally” (Saliunas) of Waterbury, Conn., were both United States Air Force veterans: he as a pharmacist, she as a registered nurse.
Sally Saliunas was born in 1924. She grew up in Pennsylvania and attended Duquesne University where she earned B.S. and R.N. degrees. She tried to join the Army in 1951 but was rejected with flat feet. The Air Force accepted her and she served seven years, including 15 months from 1951 to 1952 evacuating patients by air from a “MASH” hospital outside Seoul, Korea. She is therefore a combat veteran. Among the highlights of her military life was flying in the same transport with John Eisenhower, the president’s son, and being awarded the Air Medal. She met her future husband, John Joseph Joseph [sic] Donovan, in the service. They were married in 1958 and lived initially in Roslindale before moving to Jamaica Plain. John worked as a staff pharmacist at Rogers from 1965 to 1970. In 1970 he bought the store from Jack Lewis who retired to Cataumet, Mass.
Starting in the 1970s, under Donovan’s ownership, the store experienced a sharply different Jamaica Plain social environment. There were numerous attempts to pass forged prescriptions, several break-ins, and five holdups including the one when Bill Sullivan was shot. It got so bad the glass windows at the pharmacists’ work area were replaced with bullet proof glass and a security guard was on duty in the store during all open hours. The toll on Donovan’s health and the decline in morale in the store were significant and along with the pressures of the super drugstores’ buying power, the 12-hour days and the constant fear, John decided to close the store in 1978, selling off the fixtures, inventory, and equipment.
John then took a job at East’s Pharmacy in West Roxbury, but trouble followed him there too. The owner of that store was convicted of selling prescription drugs “under the counter” through one of his employees to the illegal drug community. John’s brush with the FBI in that case hastened his retirement.
Clerks in the late 1940s included Bob Nelson, Mike Flahive, Bernie Panos, Dr. Charles McDevitt (a long-time chiropodist on Centre Street who was just getting his practice started), and yours truly. Charles ‘Nippy’ Cropper, a bit younger, was the bicycle delivery boy who carried needed medicines to many customers in the area. (Later, Charlie Cropper and I were long-time colleagues at Boston Edison Company.)
Later clerks included the Darcy brothers, the King Brothers, the MacCormack brothers, and Tom Cloherty. Janice O’Hara Murray worked there as a clerk during her high school years. For Janice, her time in the early 1970s, during the Donovan years, became a family affair. During the school months she worked part time, going full time during the summer, as did her sister Joanne O’Hara along with their friend Jeannie King. Joanne’s future husband, Gerry Martell, was the deliveryman handling that chore with John Donovan’s 1967 Mustang. Gerry’s parents, Betty and Gordon Martell, were also clerks. Geoff McCarthy was the store’s business manager.
Janice O’Hara Murray fondly remembers John Donovan’s compassion for his customers, his long hours, his willingness to stay open for a late-arriving prescription customer and his concern for his employees. She and her sister often helped John with his Christmas shopping for his daughter at Erco’s Toy Store. They knew just what toys were hot that year and that made John the wise Santa.
The 1950s cosmetician, Mrs. Lee Labonte, originally from Brockton, ranked above the clerks and was free of most of the clerks’ more mundane duties. Lee lived on Perkins Street. “Ma” Barker as cosmetician replaced her later. Ma had worked at Carroll’s across the street and was thoroughly experienced in the world of beauty products.
On Saturdays, with a full crew aboard, the junior clerk would retire to the cellar with the week’s list of “running low” items jotted down each time a sale produced an imminent shortage of that item on the shelf. That chore would take a couple of hours filling up milk crates from the backup supplies on the shelves down in the cellar. The boxes would then be lugged upstairs where every available hand pitched in to get the replacement items to their respective shelves as time between customers allowed.
Conversely, when the excelsior packed boxes from local drug wholesalers Gilman Bros. or McKesson would come in, the junior clerks would check off the items on the packing list and proceed to stock them either in the cellar storage, or on the store shelf, wherever they were needed. The excelsior, wood-fiber packing, was highly flammable and had to be disposed of quickly.
A newly-hired clerk had to spend the first 40 or so hours removing, dusting and re-shelving every one of the thousands of different items in stock as a way to learn the stock. I remember vividly in my second week on the job, in my starched white jacket, shirt and tie, a customer asked for a very obscure item and to the pharmacists’ surprise I went directly to the shelf where it resided and proudly returned to wrap it for the customer. The pharmacists and senior clerks were duly impressed as I was, and am, to this moment.
While the minimum wage in 1950 was 75 cents an hour, part-time clerks’ pay was about 50 cents an hour, and it would be paid in cash, laid out in little piles on payday near Jack’s bookkeeping desk and stool. The pharmacist’s salaries, estimated at about $2.25 an hour, were placed in small envelopes so that the rest of us couldn’t see what they were making.
Another duty of the junior clerk was to pick up a special order of drugs at the Gilman Bros. Company, drug wholesalers who were then located at 100 Shawmut Avenue, a short walk up from Tremont Street. This was done by streetcar departing from right in front of Rogers’ store. A few minutes turnaround at Gilman’s then back to the store with the needed drugs. No ID check, no questions, just “I’m here for the C. B. Rogers order,” sign, and they’d hand it over. These pickup trips were a nice break in the regular routine and of course all expenses (20 cents) were paid.
And one last thing, cash registers in those days didn’t compute the change.
The 1950 Jamaica Plain Medical Community (See Appendix 2)
In 1950 there were six hospitals, thirty-four doctors, twelve dentists and twenty drugstores serving them in Jamaica Plain. There was also one farrier, or horseshoer. Two of the best-known physicians were Dr. George Faulkner whose first practice was at C. B. Rogers store about 1900, just before he founded the famous hospital, and Dr. Frederick W. Beering, Jr. who practiced from his home at 61 South Street, at the corner of Custer Street, from about 1899 to 1960.
Doctor Faulkner’s history is thoroughly documented. Not so for Doctor Beering, however. He was born to Prussian parents on Oct 1, 1875. His father was a woodcarver. Beering and his office were like a Norman Rockwell painting. When I went there in 1950 with a hand injury suffered in a baseball game at Murphy Playground, it was very dark, with overstuffed leather chairs, an ancient desk and an even older examination table, lamps, scales, etc. Doc Beering showed me a framed newspaper clipping about his Harvard touchdown against Yale in, I think, 1896, wherein he was described as “The Flying Dutchman” (A review of Harvard’s records show Frederick W. Beering, Jr. attended the medical school from 1895 to 1899, but was not awarded a degree. And a review of Harvard’s football records shows no one by that name on any Harvard football team in the 1890’s.)
He told me at that time that he reckoned he was owed about $50,000 (a princely sum then) for his pro-bono work that often went beyond the office visit, when he would note “For my account” on many of the hundreds of Beering prescriptions I saw coming into Rogers, thus providing free medicine for the patient also. He would often kick back part of the $3 office visit fee to the kid he just examined, easing the stress of a visit to the doctor for patient and parent alike.
Beering had three or four favorite prescriptions and they were used for just about every ailment known to man, but, notwithstanding his somewhat dated methods, patients would call God’s blessing upon him when handing over the prescription. They revered him despite his less than cutting-edge medical skills that were offset by compassion and kindness. Sadly, Beering was omitted in the fine Jamaica Plain history book, “Local Attachments,” by Alexander von Hoffman, an oversight I hope is corrected in a future edition. Doctor Beering died in 1965 at age 90.
In 1950, the lone Jamaica Plain farrier, or horseshoer, Jimmy Lovett, operated his blacksmith shop at 10 McBride Street. His skills went far beyond horseshoeing, however, as that profession in his native Ireland was very close to a veterinarian. His son, John Lovett, recalls how his dad treated a horses’ hoof disease called “thrush” which could become serious if not treated. Jimmy cured severe cases of the disease with chemicals from C. B. Rogers. He also used Sloan’s Liniment, known as horse liniment, for horses’ sore legs. Horse liniment worked on people, too!
The Day-to-Day Business
The store was open six days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., with a split shift on Sundays. Sunday hours were from 9 a.m. to 12 noon, and then from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Shifts were devised to cover all open hours and as long as the shifts were covered, Jack allowed swaps as long as a note recording the swap was left on his desk. Most of the clerks worked three days a week after school and all day Saturday. Sundays were covered on a rotating basis or about one Sunday per clerk every fifth week. The Sunday split shift was covered with just one clerk and one pharmacist. I would walk home for Sunday lunch at noon and then back for the 4 p.m. reopening. On many Sundays I don’t think we took in enough to cover the light bill for the day.
Filling the prescriptions involved entering it and its number in a large leather-bound ledger book and then numbering and hand writing the label for the item. Those ledger books went back to day one at the store and from time to time one of the very old ones would be used in the Centre Street window display along with LUG bottles, mortars and pestles, scales and “Show globes” filled with colored water. The purpose of show globes, large tear-shaped bottles often suspended or standing in drugstore windows, was to demonstrate the pharmacists’ skill in extracting the colors from base chemicals. An unfounded myth said that the colors were a code for an epidemic being present or not present in the community.
Most of the time the prescription was for a specified number of pills or capsules which were counted manually and slipped into a glass vial. These manufactured medicines were usually made by large drug companies like Eli Lilly (1876) or Upjohn (1886). Frequently, however, an ointment, cough syrup, or other medication had to be compounded from scratch using raw chemicals and the pharmacists loved that challenge. Before the raw chemicals’ potencies were standardized in the early 1900s, pharmacists determined potency of some chemicals by determining how much was required to kill a cat, or how many flies died near a solution of the chemical.
I remember that in those rare cases requiring compounding, the pharmacist would come out and present the compounded medicine to the customer in person rather than having the clerk pick it up at the “Ready” shelf. It was a nice touch and the pharmacist was justly proud of his preparation. It’s interesting to note that in the 1920s, 80% of prescriptions had to be compounded or made by the pharmacist. By the 1940s only 26% required compounding and by 1971 only 1% of the prescriptions were actually made by the pharmacists.
Rogers’ long history and reputation for pharmaceutical expertise brought many calls from other pharmacists seeking advice in compounding unusual prescriptions. This assistance often required reference to Rogers’ extensive library of pharmacology books. Doctors frequently called seeking a particular drug’s specifics, availability and possible interactions in the days long before today’s computers can quickly produce that information. However, I recall a prescription calling for pharmaceutical quality “Bear’s Grease” that baffled even Rogers’ expert staff, and they had to call someone in Wisconsin to find it.
Fifteen to twenty prescriptions a day was about average in the early 1950s; a very busy day in the “cold” season would see thirty to forty. Compare that to the hundreds of prescriptions waiting to be picked up at your local big-box drugstore today. In 1967, at its centennial, Rogers filled its two-millionth prescription as noted in a plaque awarded by Lederle Laboratories that is in Sally Donovan’s collection of Rogers’ memorabilia.
There was a significant impact on store traffic when Ed Hanlon moved his shoe store from the corner of Seaverns Avenue to the second floor directly above Rogers. Countless people would come into Rogers looking for Hanlon’s and after their shoe-buying trip would stop in for cigarettes, the phone booth, or to pick up sundries. The Hanlon family and staff were all daily regulars in the store. Much later a rare book dealer occupied the former Hanlon store and it continues there as this is written.
In the 1950s new health and beauty products were making major impacts in people’s lives. They included VO5 hair preparations, Clairol products, shaving cream in aerosol cans and challengers to the Gillette line of shaving products where once “Thin” or “Blue” were the only razor blades available. A godsend for America’s teens, Clearasil, displaced older acne cures, including witch hazel, Noxzema, Cuticura soap, peroxide, non-soap soaps, vegetables and the old standby, “Drink plenty of water.” Some of the other old stuff like Vicks, Sloan’s Liniment, Old Spice, Vitalis and Wildroot hair tonic, Alka Selzer, Milk of Magnesia, etc., went on for years, but many other old- time products slipped away.
Other cosmetic products including Evening in Paris, Lily of the Valley, Jean Nate products, Hazel Bishop, Estee Lauder, Max Factor, Elizabeth Arden, etc., flooded the market, and despite the very well-stocked Carroll’s (cosmetics) store across the street, Rogers did a very brisk business in all the popular cosmetics which were exploding with the phenomenal increase in movies and their starlets. Hair and other beauty products poured into the market to get a share of the growth in disposable personal income. All of a sudden, it seemed, everyone wanted to look and smell better.
And despite the nearby Jones’ Camera and Gift shop, Rogers did a very nice business in cameras, film, and film processing. As a result the staff had to know the features of the various Kodak cameras coming to market and the attributes of the several different types of film, flashbulbs, and accessories.
During the 1940s and into the 1950s there was still a somewhat Victorian sense of modesty or at least a much greater shyness in people. As a result, requests for male and female personal items were often whispered in hushed voices or sometimes described in a note for the item, and sometimes hand signals were used. The clerks, even at our young age, developed a keen discretion and empathy for the customer shyly ordering the personal items, which often were pre-wrapped in plain brown paper with the contents discretely penned-on in small letters. Many “browsing” customers simply waited until no one was in the store to nervously place their order.
Many customers thought the “Rx” printed on the prescription form stood for Rexall, a nationwide chain of drugstores. However, it simply is Latin for “take thus,” followed by the prescribed medicine, dosage and frequency.
There were a couple of large drugstore chains besides Rexall in the 1950s. They included Liggetts, Walgreen’s, and several smaller chains in the south and southwest. Through acquisition, Rexall grew to over 11,000 franchised stores nationwide. Rexall’s headquarters was at 43 Leon Street, Roxbury, presently in the Northeastern University complex. The brick Northeastern University power plant building on Forsyth Street was once part of the Rexall complex.
Rogers was always independent but did package house brands of generic products like aspirin, paregoric, some cough medicines, laxatives, nitroglycerin, digitalis, etc. The pharmacists would dispense the bulk products into smaller, retail-size, “Rogers Drug” bottles. Occasionally, as training, the clerks were allowed to count out 100-tablet lots of aspirin and transfer them to the bottles with that old pill-counting gadget still in use today. Once the stuff was packaged, the clerks neatly affixed the preprinted labels, then wrapped the bottles in damp glassine paper, glued the seams, and twisted and trimmed the tops and bottoms. The glassine would shrink as it dried, making a skin-tight-but-somewhat-cloudy wrapper for the bottle. Other Rogers’ brand items included horehound and peppermint and molasses candy, rock candy, wart remover, and citrus of magnesia. Jack Lewis continued the Rogers’ line of products long after they were profitable in deference to his father, Ernest G. Rogers. Ernest occasionally appeared at the store well into his 80s and Jack’s affection for the old man was always very touching.
The store has had additional lives after Rogers Drug including Today’s Bread, a popular restaurant for two decades. Teresa Bruce closed Today’s Bread in 1998 and Amrik Pabla opened an Indian Restaurant called Bukhara’s Indian Bistro that continues there today. Thus, the site remains viable and continues to contribute to Jamaica Plain’s culture and history.
And, as I stand across the street and reminisce about the long-ago nights I enjoyed surveying Centre Street from the store’s windows, between customers, I feel very lucky to have been part of the wonderful old drugstore that anchored that corner for so long. It, more than any other experience, is my Jamaica Plain.
Jamaica Plain Historical Society, 2004 Oral History by Janice O’Hara Murray.
BPL Kirstein Business Library; Liane Lalor
BPL Microtext Department: Cecile Gardner
Mass College of Pharmacy Library: Kelly Dagan and Erin Wentz
The appendices can be viewed by clicking here.
by Paul Precht
He sold felt hats and wing tips in the days men suited up to go to a ball game. He’s kept a few samples of 70’s high stylema brocade vest and medallion, shoes with strawberry crosshatching and two-inch heels.
The sweatshirts emblazoned with athletic Iogos and “Batman” baseball caps are on sale now, because Callahan’s Men Shop is closing, 76 years after Paul Callahan’s father opened the first men’s store, the store which relocated 22 years ago to corner Centre Street and Harris Avenue.
“1 feel good about it,” says Callahan, who at age 64 is looking forward to his first vacation in at least six years. “The community has been good to me.” Neighboring businessman Stavros Frantzis stopped by to wish him well and applaud his decision to do something in the coming years besides work six days a week. “We will miss a good guy from Jamaica Plain,” Frantzis says. Between his Jamaica Plain store and another outlet in Dudley Square that closed last year, Callahan’s had a diverse clientelem blacks, whites and Latinos, young and old.
“We tried to find a niche for all of them,” Callahan explains. It had become more difficult recently, with rising overhead costs and major clothing lines like Levi’s no longer selling to small independent stores. “There are [brand name] lines that don’t do small retailers. They cater to department stores” or sell in their own stores, Callahan says.
“I could compete price-wise, I just couldn’t show the variety,” he says. “I don’t see much hope for new merchants to come to the area.” Richard Fowler, whose real estate and insurance business is one of the few that goes as far down memory lane as Callahan’s, remembers when Centre Street had half-a-dozen places where you could outfit yourself. The independent clothier, Fowler says, is going the way of the independent pharmacist and hardware store. “I’m sorry to see him go,” Fowler says. “He’s good people and a good neighbor and a good adjunct to the neighborhood.” The kids who played baseball in the Catholic Youth Organization leagues may not know it, but Callahan, who was born and raised in the neighborhood, helped outfit them in their uniforms. Callahan kept up with the changing styles, but he always kept shelf space for snap-brimmed hats and creased slacks sought by more traditional dressers. “We used to outfit the man from head to toe, hat to shoes,” Callahan says. “Now everyone wears jeans and a sweatshirt and a baseball cap, even at weddings.”
“I can remember selling a hat to Maurice Tobin and James Michael Curley when everybody wore hats,” Callahan remembers. The Celtic’s Sam Jones and George Scott of the ‘67 Red Sox also number among his clients. It will have been a long run when the doors close on the February 28, 40 years since he took over the Hyde Square store from his father. “The community has been good to me,” Callahan says. “Jamaica Plain is a good town, a good place to live.”
This article originally appeared in the February 24, 1995 edition of the Jamaica Plain Gazette and is used with permission.
Growing a thriving business while enjoying a satisfying career and building an impeccable reputation in Jamaica Plain, Paul Callahan never forgot his faith and his responsibilities in living it. Callahan’s Men’s Shops served thousands of Roxbury and Jamaica Plain customers, including several prominent politicians and sports figures, through The Great Depression, the war years and the post-war social upheavals in Boston. They were respected members of their Roxbury and Jamaica Plain communities for 75 years.
Special thanks to John Lovett who suggested this story and participated in the interview on November 6, 2014. Kathy Griffin provided production assistance.
By Peter O’Brien
Paul Callahan was born on May 22, 1931 at 10 Roseway Street, Jamaica Plain. Paul’s parents, Edward J. and Mary E. Callahan, had family roots in Ireland and Germany. Edward was born in Jamaica Plain in 1896 and Mary in Olneyville, Rhode Island, in 1898. Paul lived in the Roseway Street house with siblings Edward Jr., Donald and Gloria until his marriage in 1964. Paul’s family owned and operated two men’s clothing stores in Roxbury and Jamaica Plain.
Among many school memories, one of his earliest is of the German airship, Hindenburg, flying over Boston on May 6, 1937 on the way to its fatal crash in Lakehurst, New Jersey. His second- grade class at the Curley school was released to see the ship as it passed overhead. Paul remembers thinking it was very big and very low as it flew slowly over Jamaica Plain.
After the Curley School, the Agassiz School, and the Curley School again, he graduated from Jamaica Plain High School as the 1950 Class President, Captain of the football team and the acknowledged best-dressed kid in school. His yearbook entry said his life’s goal was “to never grow old.” Decades later, this class president would keep his class young by organizing many reunion trips to Maine and regular reunion luncheons at a local restaurant.
Paul’s football career at Jamaica Plain High School included playing in the first high school game at White Stadium, against South Boston High, on the evening of September 28th, 1949. The coin-toss for the game was done by Mayor James Michael Curley. Up until this time, regular-season games were played at various high school fields and playgrounds around the city, only a few of which had lighting. The new White Stadium, with its clean new locker rooms, tunneled entry to the beautiful grass field, and unlimited hot showers was like playing in the NFL! William Bond, the longtime and much-loved Jamaica Plain High School teacher and coach, had promoted Paul off the bench when the football team’s Center, and later assistant coach, Adam Mroz, was injured. Paul kept the Center’s job for the rest of his playing days.
Paul served in the U.S. Army from 1952 to 1954, stationed at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Paul and his regular-Army troops provided support services for the cadets including medical care, food service, the marching band, and military police protection. Paul was garrisoned on the West Point campus for the length of his service, and despite his lack of typing skills, he was assigned the Company Clerk’s duties!
When discharged in August 1954, Paul started at Suffolk University the following month and graduated in 1959 with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration. He had worked part-time in the family business since 1940 and upon graduation went to work, full time, at the Dudley Street store, hoping to earn more than the 10-cents-an-hour he received in 1940 at the Centre Street store!
He would later manage the Jamaica Plain store for twenty years, leaving a permanent mark on the store’s neighborhood, thousands of satisfied customers, hundreds of uniformed young athletes at St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, and many grateful families who were treated with dignity and respect by the church-related, but privately-funded charity Paul has managed for nearly 45 years.
Paul has lived in the same house on Dunster Road for 42 years. His neighbors there include the Paget family, longtime owner/operators of the Boston Swan Boats, which are stored in their back yard.
Callahan’s Men’s Shops
When Paul’s father, Edward Sr., decided at age 23 to go into the men’s clothing business, he looked for a location where plenty of foot traffic would inevitably bring in business. In 1918 he found the perfect spot at 294a Centre Street, opposite the Thomas G. Plant shoe factory. Employment at Plant’s topped 4,000 people at peak, many of whom were young Irish and German immigrants.
Just a year later, in 1919, Edward opened a second store at 155 Dudley Street, Roxbury, near the corner of Harrison Avenue and the famous Hibernian Hall at 184 Dudley Street. Built in 1913 by The Ancient Order of Hibernians, Hibernian Hall was the center of Boston’s Irish social life. For many years, especially after the war when five Irish dance halls (the Hibernian, the InterColonial Club, the Dudley Street Opera House, the Rose Croix and Winslow Hall) were clustered at Dudley Street, this location provided the kind of foot traffic Edward wanted. Young Irish working men seeking to improve their appearance and social standing flooded the area. The boom years for these dance halls ran from the 1940s to the 1960s. Dudley Street back then was called “the closest parish to Galway.”(1)
John Lovett recalled that his father had danced at Hibernian and remembered the Callahan’s store nearby. Later, John’s father’s brother-in-law, John Kelly from Cork, Ireland, ran Hibernian Hall. That led to a job for John in the cafeteria at the famous dance hall.
Dress codes did not have to be enforced at these lively Irish dance halls because everyone came in their Sunday best. Where better, then, for the men to get decked out than at nearby Callahan’s? In addition to the dance hall attractions, the Dudley Street area was teeming with people coming by streetcar and the “elevated” to shop at Ferdinand’s Furniture store, Folsom’s Market, Timothy Smith’s Department Store, Dutton’s and Hovey’s stores, Blair’s Foodland, and the many specialty shops springing up along Washington Street, including several competing men’s clothing stores.
One of the features of the Dudley Street Callahan’s store was that a tailor, above the store, could cuff a pair of pants in five minutes. This no-charge service, along with the usual suit and jacket alterations, was just a few of the reasons clothing flew out of the store to a widely-diverse, and extremely clothes-conscious, clientele. Callahan’s clients included Mayor James Michael Curley, Governor (and later Secretary of Labor) Maurice J. Tobin, and many other Boston-area politicians, as well as George Scott of the Red Sox and Sam Jones of the Celtics.
In 1928 the store at 294a Centre Street was moved to 362c Centre Street at the corner of Forbes Street, opposite the Blessed Sacrament Rectory. This location added the church and Hyde Square shopping traffic. It was perhaps the “classiest” store in the area at that time, as has been noted by other Jamaica Plain Historical Society writers.(2)
In 1959, Paul moved to the Dudley Street store, replacing his brother Donald who left to become an Air Traffic Controller. Edward Sr. died in 1967, and Paul’s brother, Edward Jr., took over the business at the 362c Centre Street store. Paul was managing the Dudley Street store at the time.
In 1968, Mike Williams, fresh out of Dorchester High School, was hired at the Dudley Street store. He remained an outstanding Callahan’s salesman and family friend for 25 years, eventually managing the Dudley Street store in 1985. When the Dudley Street store closed in 1992, Mike took an administrative job for the City of Boston, where he works today.
In 1969 the family remodeled the Dudley Street store and won an award from the Roxbury Merchant’s Association.
In 1978, the final move of the Jamaica Plain store saw the store at 362c Centre Street, at Forbes Street, relocated to 730 Centre Street, at the corner of Harris Avenue.
In 1983, Paul’s brother, Edward Jr, retired. Paul then moved to the 730 Centre Street store and took control of the business.
In November 1992 Callahan’s Men’s Shop was honored as an Outstanding Business by the Jamaica Plain Business and Professional Association.
1993 saw the end of Callahan’s 75-year run when Paul retired after 53 years in the family business. Both stores had survived the sharp decline in race relations and increases in crime in the 1960s and 1970s, and there were a couple of unpleasant incidents in the Jamaica Plain store. Overall, however, Paul says that the stores’ reputations and race relations remained very strong in those turbulent times.(3)
This 1995 watercolor by an artist named T. Carey and the photograph capture the essence of the last store at 730 Centre Street. A restaurant currently occupies the site.
About Men’s Clothing
Small retail clothing shops relied on experienced wholesale salesmen to keep them abreast of evolving fashions. Paul remembers these salesmen arranging visits to clothing manufacturers in Boston to see the new styles and to pick up orders. Those manufacturers included Dainty Dot Hosiery, Cooper’s Underwear, Joe Price Neckwear, Al J. Samuels Clothing (suits), the Cable Raincoat Company, Joe Winer Caps and the distributors of Swank and Hickock leather goods (belts).Coupled with awareness of the current styles was the knowledge of their customers’ preferences and tastes, which varied greatly from store to store over the years. The style preferences in Dudley Street were markedly different than at the Jamaica Plain store just a few miles away, so it was important to buy merchandise the different clientele would prefer, and to never mix the two stores’ inventories.
While both stores sold a full line of men’s clothing, the biggest seller, and the thing that built Callahan’s stores’ reputations, was men’s hats. Callahan’s was one of Boston’s largest hat retailers. Back in the day, every man would have a couple of good fedora hats to match his topcoat, suits or other seasonal outerwear. These fedora or “soft” hats would also be seasonal, i.e. of a material suitable for the weather. Some readers may remember one well-known Boston department store, Raymond’s on Washington Street, founded in 1870, whose slogan was: “Raymond’s, Where You Bought the Hat!” In downtown Boston, the best men’s stores, and style setters, were Brooks Bros. and Leopold Morse Company.
There were hundreds of designs for men’s hats made by the major hat-makers including Stetson, Adams, Bollman, the Picayune Hat Company, and others. These large manufacturers would also custom-build hats to a retail store’s design. The hats could be made of wool, rabbit fur, beaver fur or velour. This gave the retailer a distinctive hat style that could be labeled with that store’s name. Callahan’s hats were made exclusively by Stetson Company and each was embossed on the band with Callahan’s Trademark. Callahan’s was the largest Stetson hat outlet in Boston for a number of years. The only downside to customizing the hats was the long delivery time.
Variables in hat design included base material and color, brim width, crown height, and the band location. Paul’s father, Edward Sr., designed a “Secret Hat” and received a certificate documenting the Callahan Trademark for the hat. Edward then ordered a bright red neon window sign announcing “The Secret Hat,” which, sadly, was lost in one of the store’s moves.
When a customer bought a hat, his initials were embossed at the rear of the band, using the stamping device shown. If the initials were placed at the front, the customer would have his initials impressed on his forehead! A hat could also be stretched for better fit using the stretching device.
The well-known brand of Adams Hats was widely advertised but, because it was made of wool, it didn’t fare well in the rain. The Stetson hats were made of either fine rabbit or beaver fur. Paul has a collection of 30 of these Stetson/Callahan hats, some nearly 40 years old, which still look new. Among his collection are a ceremonial hat and its metal case which belonged to the Sherriff of Dublin, Ireland, in 1905.
Neckties were a big seller at Callahan’s, with prices at 55 cents, 65 cents, and the high end reaching $2.50 each. They were hung from boards suspended from the ceiling to be easily seen when matching with the customers’ suits, jackets or shirts. Hand-painted ties were popular and every man had at least one of those to brighten his wardrobe.
Van Heusen and Arrow were the big names in shirts. The shirts were never displayed but were sold, unwrapped, out of boxes on the shelves that kept the stock clean. No cellophane or plastic bags were used in the old days. One shirt sale at $1.95 guaranteed steak for supper that night for the Callahans! Van Heusen button-on collars were also popular.
Advertising and seasonal window displays were vital parts of Callahan’s success. Because it was considered an art, a professional window dresser, Bernie Schwartz, was hired for the twice-a-year window displays. Bernie’s work won “best window” contests for several years.
Paul married his sweetheart, Jane (Wilson), in 1964. Jane was born in 1935 and had lived on Mission Hill at the corner of Parker and Tremont Streets. She graduated from Blessed Sacrament High School in 1954. They had two girls, Nancy and Paula, a son, Paul, and eight grandchildren in 49 wonderful years together before Jane went to her rest in 2013. The family home on Dunster Road is decorated with many of Jane’s beautiful needlework pieces and paintings that she carefully selected for their home.
Around 1990, Paul began donating the baseball and basketball uniforms for the St. Thomas Aquinas CYO teams. They were worn with no hint of who provided them. That is, no sponsor’s name ever appeared on any of them.
For decades Paul has served as an usher at St Thomas and for 45 years he has managed the main charity of the parish, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. The Society is totally supported by parishioners’ donations and fund-raising trips that Paul has planned, organized and led for parishioners and other donors. The charity provides much-needed support for as many as 20 families every week.
Paul and John Lovett fondly remember Sister Jeanne (Gribaudo) CSJ, originally from Roslindale, a member of the Order of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, who joined St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in the early 1990s as a Pastoral Associate. In that role she had a positive impact on all aspects of parish life, and was largely responsible for making the parish grow. The Pastor, Father Thomas, initially wondered how long their personalities would work together, but they did for many years.
Paul and John were proud to see Sister Jeanne coordinating the late Mayor Menino’s funeral Mass. Sister Jeanne had worked for the Mayor as a dollar-a-year advisor on youth issues. Mayor Menino, who was John Lovett’s classmate in the St. Thomas Aquinas High School class of 1960, dubbed her “Sister Relentless” for her tireless efforts to get the city to allow her to use Boston public school gyms for basketball games she organized in the early 1990s. Sister Jean is now posted to St. Agatha’s parish in Milton and teaches at Merrimack College in North Andover. She remains close to the Menino family.
John Lovett reports an interesting side note from Mayor Menino’s funeral when President Clinton was seen chatting with a Security Officer just after the service. The officer was wondering what the President and Mayor Menino were chatting about in the nice photo of them on the wall at Doyle’s Café? President Clinton replied, “We were talking about managing our weight!”
In a surprise ceremony on March 24, 1995, the corner of Centre Street and Harris Avenue was named Callahan Plaza. Paul was set up for the surprise under a pretext to help his son-in-law at his office nearby. He was then led outside to a cheering group who unveiled the new sign honoring the Callahans. Later that same day, another surprise was sprung by his daughter as Paul found himself guest of honor at a large gathering at the Footlight Club on Eliot Street. He was simultaneously lauded as a genuine good guy and roasted with more than a few embarrassing stories Paul had hoped were long-forgotten. The late Mayor Thomas Menino was also present to lend his testimonial to Callahan’s long-time service to Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.(4)
Never comfortable staying idle, Paul and Jane got into the antiques business by shrewd buying at local auctions and then retailing through consignment antique shops. They had a booth in a large store in Wrentham which has since folded and left Paul with large left-over inventory which will probably be sold on-line.
Paul also has a horticultural bent, taking cuttings from his mother’s old plants and thus perpetuating them. He has about 55 house plants and from time to time offers them for sale in an honor-system sidewalk sale which he proudly says has never once been abused. He also maintains a healthy and productive vegetable garden decorated with old Jamaica Plain street signs.
Looking back …
Despite the eleven-hour, six-day work weeks, along with the typical small-business staffing and financing problems, and in later years, robberies and shoplifting, Paul has never regretted his choice of a career. He always remembered his father’s devotion to the family business which motivated him for 53 very happy years as Jamaica Plain’s premier haberdasher, while always finding time for his own family and his church.
1. Book: Susan Gedutis, 2004, “See You at the Hall: Boston’s Golden Era of Irish Music and Dance”
2. Jamaica Plain Historical Society: Richard Goolsky’s 1940s Jamaica Plain, Part 3.
3. Jamaica Plain Gazette, February 24, 1995
4. Jamaica Plain Gazette, April 7, 1995
By William Annand
Excerpted from a book that the author is working on based on his recollection of growing up in Jamaica Plain between 1950 and 1964. Special thanks to Peter O’Brien for suggesting this story and generously sharing his writing expertise and vast local knowledge. Kathy Griffin provided production assistance.
They were hoping for a flat-topped three-decker, their personal interpretation of the post-war American dream – a place of their own with two rental flats. But the money they had saved living in the projects of Southie wasn’t quite enough, and so they settled for and settled into a two-story fixer with a pitched roof on Rosemary Street. The price of their dream was $8500.
They were my parents, Jeannette and William. The year was 1950. I was four years old and my Jamaica Plain upbringing was about to begin. In a certain sense, my life as I have come to know it was about to begin, because I have no recollection whatsoever of life in the projects of Southie.
Why Jamaica Plain? I have no idea. They had no family or friends there. Presumably my parents had looked as far and wide as one could in the pre-Internet days of the mid-twentieth century. Why Rosemary Street? Mom told me much later that Rosemary Street was nice enough. It was a quiet dead-end street, but was also very convenient to the Park Street streetcar that stopped at the end of our block. That streetcar stop was important. We were a car-less family and would stay that way for nine more years.
Looking back across those years, I would have to agree with Mom. Rosemary Street was good to me. Bordered at the open end by Saul Grossman’s Arborway Pharmacy and at the dead end by an embankment that scaled up to the railroad tracks, there was a lot for a kid to do. Saul was a good guy who served up a fountain coke for a nickel and put extra syrup in the mix if you asked. He also had nickel candy bars and a good selection of comic books for a dime. The brick side wall of Saul’s place was great for playing Boston/New York with a friend. If you smashed a pimple ball just right off the wall, it would rebound over the hedge on the opposite side of the street for a home run.
Baseball was a big deal for boys at the time. Saul’s wall was also the place where later I would risk my cherished baseball cards flipping them toward the wall in competition with other neighborhood kids. The kid whose card came to rest closest to the wall would acquire all the others put into competition. When we tossed our cards, we never gave a thought to dinged corners. We were kids. Profiting from collectibles was not part of our consciousness. Our idea of a sports card collection was a stack of cards held by a rubber band and stuffed into a back pocket. Many years later grown-ups would figure out a way to ruin that innocent pleasure.
Getting back on topic, down at the dead end of Rosemary between the last houses and the embankment were open fields with heavy brush – a great place to play Hide-and-Seek or Cowboys-and-Indians, complete with cap guns, home-made bows, and arrows with rubber tips that looked like the working end of a plunger. I can still remember the distinctive smell of fired caps. It’s funny about childhood memories. Certain smells can be more acute memories than faces. Maybe that’s just me.
When winter came and snow piled up, the action moved to the embankment with a bunch of kids careening down the slope on Flexible Flyers. My first Christmas on Rosemary brought me my own sled – a welcome replacement for flattened cardboard boxes that got soggy after a couple of runs down the slope. “Don’t go near the tracks,” was Mom’s warning as I headed for the embankment. Fortunately for us, the tracks were mostly unused in those days.
Mom designated everything between Saul’s place and the embankment a safe corridor for me to roam whether on foot or in a vehicle. My available vehicles upon arrival on Rosemary were a hand-me-down bike with a squealing coaster brake and a wooden wagon that you’d plant one knee inside as you pushed off with your free leg. These were okay, but the preferred mode of a boy’s transportation on Rosemary Street was the home-made scooter. Constructed from an old wooden packing crate mounted on a flat board over salvaged roller-skate wheels, scooters were customized by hammering soda bottle caps onto the sides and top of the packing crate. Meeting up with a friend on scooters always included checking out his latest caps. As I remember my first scooter, I had some mint condition Nehi and Royal Crown Cola caps that my peers approved of, but until my dad found a moment to show me how to use a hammer properly, my caps kept falling out.
Dad didn’t have many moments to show me stuff. In those days, Mom managed my activities single-handedly. It wasn’t necessarily that Dad was disinterested. It was simply that he didn’t have the time. There was this parental plan in effect that Dad would slowly rehab the entire house working around his full-time job as a printer. Initially we had moved into the more dilapidated of the two flats and rented the other. The long-range plan was to reverse the two flats when our own was more presentable. Then Dad would set to work on the other one. I didn’t know it at the time, but Dad also had a vision for the large unfinished attic under the pitched roof, a vision that would become important in our daily lives a few years later.
Mom’s role in the plan was to take care of my sister and me and manage the family income to fund the rehab. That income was a combination of my dad’s meager salary and the rent collected from our rental flat. Both my parents would go on to demonstrate great skill at their respective tasks. If my dad didn’t know how to do something he would find out how. Plumbing, electrical, your name it; he somehow mastered it through trial and error. For her part, Mom turned the money in her care into on-time mortgage payments and cash for everything Dad required for the rehab. Fortunately for my sister and me, Mom also reserved enough to put food on our table and clothes on our backs. I don’t know what the mortgage payments were, but the dream of home ownership took a heavy toll on my parents’ lifestyle for several years. As for me, within a few months of moving into the neighborhood, I was to find out what school was all about and discover the world of JP that lay beyond the corner of Rosemary Street. But that’s a story for another day.
The door was of solid wood, highly polished with a frosted glass panel that obscured what lay on the other side. Depending on where you stood, the other side could be a long corridor of similar doors or the busy small world of Ms. Jenny Penta, my kindergarten teacher at the Agassiz School. Mom had delivered me to Ms. Penta that first day of school in September 1950, and like the other mothers, she was encouraged to stay a bit. When suddenly I couldn’t see Mom anymore, I turned and noticed her leaving quietly through that paneled door, her muted shadow dissolving into the glass as the door closed. I cried. It was the last time that school would make me cry. Mean kids might have brought me to tears a time or two. I really don’t remember. But for me school, especially Jenny Penta’s kindergarten, was cool. She was especially strong at manipulatives, the things that keep little hands busy and develop coordination as well as learning. She also would prove to be a teacher with unending patience.
Each day thereafter, Mom would accompany me to the Agassiz School and go back home alone. We quickly got past the crying incident. Mom explained that Ms. Penta had told mothers to leave quietly once their children were engaged in the activities she had set up for opening day. After a couple of days, Mom just left me at the entrance, and then a little before the entrance so that I could arrive at school like the big boys.
On those many trips together up South Street we sometimes walked and at other times took the streetcar. As this was a whole new world for me, I preferred the walk. The streetcar ride went by too fast. Leaving Rosemary, one block brought us to Hall St. Just beyond Hall was Steve’s. The sign on the place said First National Stores, but Mom called it Steve’s after the owner’s name, so it was Steve’s in our family dialect. The First National name was reserved for the larger market of the chain on Centre Street. Mom didn’t like Steve’s. For a couple of things in a pinch, it was okay, but Steve’s wasn’t especially clean and it didn’t smell so good. There was lot of sawdust on the wooden floor. The few shopping carts were creaky and couldn’t go straight. Markets back then weren’t the cold shiny antiseptic clones that they are today. So I guess to be kind you could say that Steve’s had character.
In those very early days of my upbringing, Steve’s First National was just a landmark we passed on the way to school, but about a year later it became important for me. One day I was entrusted with some money wrapped in a paper that listed a couple of items Mom needed, and then packed off to Steve’s on my own. That was a major deal. I was a young man out on the town with a job to do and money in my pocket to get it done. Of course the novelty soon wore off, and whenever Mom would summon me to go to Steve’s it was more of a Why do I have to go affair.
A little further up our walk was Bob’s Spa. We weren’t customers there, but a Rosemary Street neighbor kid’s (Frankie Caliri’s) dad worked at the spa, and I liked their window display of fresh fruit, a commodity that was not usually in our family budget. Next up was the St. Thomas Aquinas Church. For me the church was just a very large and fancy building. But for Mom it was a focal point of curiosity. On Rosemary Street almost everyone was Catholic, and this big church was the social hub of their lives. Mom had been raised a Hard-Shell Baptist, but she had fallen away and was now becoming interested in Catholicism. Most of her friends were Catholic, and her sense of things was that Catholicism was a happier, more upbeat way to keep the faith.
Across from Thomas Aquinas on the corner of Child Street was a tiny inconspicuous store with a big collection of penny candy under glass. The place was almost at basement level, with a step down to enter. It was quiet in the mornings when we passed, but bustling with kids from St. Thomas Grammar School in the afternoon. Over the years I would spend many a nickel there for half a sour pickle. They had dills and sours soaking in barrels. Delicious! I wasn’t that big on the penny candy though. Most of the good stuff stuck to your teeth, like the Tootsie Rolls, Bullseyes, and those rock-hard Mary Janes. The absolute stickiest of the sticky was Turkish Taffy in any flavor. There were also mini packages of NECCO wafers. I didn’t mind them, but they were kind of bland and boring. Long strips of waxed paper with sugar pills stuck to them were impressive looking, but they were boring too. I forget what they were called. In my view, none of this penny stuff could compete with a nickel Zagnut bar from Saul’s on the corner of Rosemary. A Zagnut was quite the thing – peanut paste and coconut. Even though I was just an occasional pickle customer at the penny candy store, for some reason I have a clearer visual memory of the clerk there than I do of many of my schoolteachers. I wonder what that says about my educational priorities. She was a slight older lady barely bigger than most of the kids pushing their way forward to check out her penny candy. She must have stocked some grown-up things too, but I never noticed them. Like I mentioned, the space was really tiny.
Continuing north we would pass Curtis Hall, or the Muni as everyone called it. I associated the place with my sister because she liked to swim there. I didn’t. I didn’t like to swim anywhere. I was fat and could only manage a dog paddle. I should mention that my sister was 8 years older than me, so there weren’t that many things that we could enjoy together. One thing that was very clear was that moving to Rosemary wasn’t the adventure for my sister that it was for me. She had left behind a circle of friends that was years in the building. No texting or Facebook to stay in touch back in those days. Being uprooted must have been much tougher for a teenager than for a four-year-old.
After passing the Monument we were almost there. I never found the Monument in any way interesting as a kid, but I was fascinated by the Atlantic Gas Station at the end of the next block. We had no car so everything about cars was of keen interest to me. Brigham’s was a landmark too. Every once in a while on a warm afternoon I could have a raspberry sherbet cone covered with jimmies. Sheer heaven! I’ve never liked milk sherbet, but Brigham’s sherbet was more of a refreshing water ice. Finally the turn onto Burroughs Street and the school day was about to begin. I think the whole walk probably took 15 minutes.
One landmark I have not mentioned was a billboard at the base of Saint Rose Street. That seemingly innocent structure became a living nightmare for me the first winter on Rosemary. In those years Marjorie Henderson Buell’s cartoon character Little Lulu was very popular. Lulu was a star in the Sunday comics, or the funnies as we called them. She was also the spokesperson for Kleenex tissues. That in itself is kind of funny when you think about it. I don’t know of any cartoon character who pitches products these days except for kids’ cereal. I doubt it would be effective. Imagine Popeye pitching canned spinach or Blondie telling you that Bounty Towels are the quicker picker-upper. Have we all become hardened cynics unreceptive to fantasy? Or is it just a part of what learned publications describe as a massive cultural shift?
Anyway, winter with its colds and flus was high season for Kleenex marketing. That winter the billboard at the bottom of St. Rose illustrated a Lulu cartoon of someone sneezing so hard that his/her head blew off. I don’t remember exactly if it was a boy or girl. I don’t think it was Lulu herself. She would never have been in that predicament because she always had her Kleenex handy. Maybe it was her sidekick Tubby or his cousin Chubby. Whoever it was, on that awful billboard there was a decapitated head poised in mid-air. I could not handle it. I could not look at it. I always had to shield my eyes or look away. Thankfully one day it was gone.
Remembering Sister Roger
It was the last Saturday of Ms. Sarah Dodge’s Introduction to Music program at the New England Conservatory. The program was an informal one that exposed younger kids to a variety of musical instruments while teaching some music fundamentals. Considering the prestige of the Conservatory, the cost was very modest. My mom had enrolled me that spring on the advice of a friend. I was a second-grader at the time, reluctant to exchange my free Saturdays for another school day. But the class was a lot of fun and I was hoping to return in the fall.
There was a problem however. Ms. Dodge was conferencing with all attending parents that morning. She had just told my mom and me that I showed a talent for piano and should begin taking lessons with one of the Conservatory staff. Our family couldn’t afford the lessons and we certainly couldn’t afford a piano. However, you don’t tell a teacher that kind of stuff. My mom smiled and thanked Ms. Dodge. Then we left quietly.
Mom was not one to roll over in defeat. She put aside for the time being the issue of us not having a piano, and focused solely on finding a teacher we could afford. A friend whose daughter attended St. Thomas Aquinas Grammar School recommended Sister Roger, a nun in residence at the parish convent. Sister Roger led the church choir and gave private piano lessons. The convent was between the parish church and the parish grammar school on St. Joseph Street. Most of the nuns in residence were assigned classes at the grammar school, but Sister Roger was a music specialist. In my mom’s view, there were two advantages to this alternative: proximity to our home on Rosemary Street, and a low rate for private instruction. In late summer Mom decided that we would pay a visit to Sister Roger.
I will not forget my first visit to that convent. The outside was drab, but the architectural style was ornate with Victorian detail. An iron fence bordered the sidewalk. A long flight of exterior stairs ascended to a grand entrance. Had this convent stood in solitary splendor on a hilltop, it could have been used in a Hitchcock movie as a place where mysterious things took place.
The interior was not as intimidating. Whereas the exterior was dull and a little grimy, everything visible on the inside showed careful attention to housekeeping. Every surface was scrubbed and polished. To the right of the entry was a small waiting area with a door that opened to Sister Roger’s small teaching studio. To the left was a sort of parlor. Straight ahead were double doors which led to the convent’s inner sanctum where no visitors were allowed. It was all very mysterious for a 7-year-old who had no direct experience with the world of nuns.
Thankfully Sister Roger’s habit was less mysterious. It consisted of a veiled black gown with a starched white bib and a white cap under the veil. Her appearance was far less ominous than that of some of the nuns of the day whose winged bonnets made it appear that they were poised for takeoff. I had seen that kind when I went once with my mom to visit her friend at the Carney Hospital.
Sister Roger ushered us into her studio and got straight to business. She sat me at her upright piano and asked me to play anything I could. After a minute she stopped me and gave us her opinion. She said she would be happy to start me on lessons but that I would need to start at the beginning to learn correct fingering and proper finger position. She wanted to make sure that was acceptable before going any further. Since that was fine, we then set a time for my first 30-minute lesson, and she gave me a book checking off two, simple, one-line ditties she wanted me to practice. No mention was made of payment.
We walked home and Mom asked me what I thought of Sister Roger. I said she was okay. On closer inspection of the two assigned pieces at home, I could see that they involved only three white piano keys. There was middle C, the B just below it, and the D just above. That was a snap. I could practice that on the kitchen table. It would buy my mom a little time to find us a piano. I didn’t realize it then, but Sister Roger had noticed immediately that I had no sense of fingering. Her purpose was to get my thumbs grounded at middle C so that I could extend from there.
Sister Roger proved in all ways to be an excellent teacher. Strict with the music and a little reserved or maybe shy in manner, she had an ecumenical spirit of her own many years before Vatican II. In the entire time I studied with her she always seemed embarrassed about payment. I would simply hand her an envelope and she would quickly put it aside. No mistake in my playing escaped her correction, but her corrections were never harsh. In her capable hands I progressed rapidly and due to a stroke of good luck was soon to acquire my very own piano.
From a friend on South Street, my parents learned of a family in her building who was moving out and leaving behind a piano. We could have it for the cost of moving it. A week later it was in place in our living room. The piano was what a working musician would refer to as an old beater or banger. The cabinet was a mess, but musically the piano checked out okay. Since our place was forever being remodeled and we didn’t have stylish furniture, the beat up cabinet did not look a bit out of place. Besides, Sister Roger had already become my hero and her piano looked beaten up too.
With all this good fortune, the third grade sailed by. My grades were exemplary – meaning they left nothing for my mom to complain about. Sister Roger praised my work to my mom. It was a good winter for snowfall with some school cancellation days due to storms. I got to go sledding a lot and made some money shoveling neighbor’s sidewalks. Jamaica Plain had given us her answers to our problems. Life on Rosemary was good. About the only issue I can recall is my sister’s reaction to me having a piano, a luxury that she had never been afforded. I suppose she had a point, but as a full-blown teenager she had arrived at that precipice where almost everything her parents did was wrong or unfair. They told her it was her piano, too, and she should be free to play it any time she wished. She did that on rare occasions, but for the most part turned her attention to other complaints.
Let’s Go Fishing
In all the years we lived on Rosemary Street my dad was a busy guy. On the rare occasions when he carved out a block of time just for the two of us to spend together, it was pretty fun. Like any enterprise he got involved in, Dad needed to be completely prepared. This trait was demonstrated again and again in his home projects. When he had meticulously assembled all the tools and materials he needed for a particular renovation project, he never had to buy anything else. If I have a small project that takes me to the home improvement center, I usually forget something and have to go back later.
Dad’s work commute on a bicycle brought him by Jamaica Pond twice daily. The pond was a place that he enjoyed from a distance without ever stopping there. He got the idea one spring that it might be fun to try his hand at fishing. When he invited me into the plan, I was happy. I was eight years old at the time. The pond had rental boats, but they were out of the question, and he didn’t even make an inquiry about the cost. Instead he envisioned a quiet fishing spot at the edge of the pond where we would stick our poles and fish would hook themselves to oblige our interest. Of course we had no poles or hooks, but he was already working on that.
Dad’s private haunt for all material things was the towering Sears and Roebuck store near Kenmore Square. Private in this case refers to the solitude he could enjoy away from the family. It does not mean that he disliked his family or that the store needed to be cleared of all other shoppers to make way for his entrance. He could find his solitude in the midst of a thousand strangers. But shopping with the family meant being pushed and pulled in different directions by the different priorities that each of us had.
Sears today is but a dim shadow of that splendid Sears and Roebuck Boston store of the 1950s. Dad passed the landmark building daily on the way home and would often stop by for something he needed or just to soak up all the things he couldn’t afford. The mammoth Sears catalog was a fixture in our house and the smaller Christmas catalog that came out in the fall was eagerly anticipated. I used to take that one to the bathroom when I had to take care of some personal business. Many shoppers came into Sears to pick up things from the catalog. Some came periodically just to see what was new. Others came to check out the displays of the latest televisions and major appliances. Televisions were still a novelty and any TV that was turned on attracted an audience.
At that time Sears sold a comprehensive line of sporting goods branded J.C. Higgins. Dad’s first Jamaica Plain bicycle had been a Higgins, but it didn’t hold up so well and he switched to his British-built Raleigh. For fishermen, J.C. Higgins offered a whole world of hooks, bobbins, lures, lines, weights, nets, reels, and rods. For the fashion-conscious angler there were hip waders, fishing vests and hats. Slowly and incrementally over the course of many visits, Dad began to assemble a collection of fishing gear in preparation for our grand outing to Jamaica Pond. When he felt he had all the tackle that we would need, he bought a big tackle box to hold everything. Then he set a date for our first venture into the great outdoors.
On the appointed day it pelted rain and didn’t let up through the mid-afternoon, so we spent the time going through his tackle box together as he showed me all the marvels he had acquired. I didn’t know much about fishing, but it seemed to me he had hooks big enough to catch a whale and enough bobbins to crowd the ducks off the pond. But the stuff was interesting and the many lures he had, while they also looked way too big for a pond fish, were very colorful.
On our make-up day the weather turned out fine. We headed for the pond with sandwiches my mom had packed. She was very pleased to see Dad spending quality time with his son. Our departure was a scene Normal Rockwell could have painted. Dad didn’t trust me to carry any of our important gear. Instead, I was assigned a big bucket for bringing home the catch of the day. For the time being, the bucket held our lunch.
Though we cast our shiny new rods into open water all along the back of the pond and into many little sheltered nooks along the side, the only thing we accomplished the whole afternoon was to eat our sandwiches and get our lines tangled. Dad also lost a flashy orange lure with yellow streamers on it when he didn’t have it attached to his line securely, and it flew majestically across the water when he cast. I had all I could do not to laugh. On the way back I carried our empty lunch wrappers in the bucket until we reached a trashcan. Dad talked about how the second time our luck would be better.
The second time around, results were a little better. Dad caught a fish, but I will only report that it was visible to the naked eye and that it squirmed and whipped its tail around until he unhooked it and gently put it back. Results were similar on a few more pond visits until Dad declared that the fishing season was over. He stashed all the gear in his basement hideaway. That was perfectly acceptable to me. I had never caught a thing and was losing interest.
What stuck in my mind from that experience were those rental boats. Each time we stood on the gritty sandy dirt at the pond’s edge, I wondered if a boat would have made a difference. I had never been on a boat and was curious. That thought stayed with me until many years later when I was already settled in California. I ordered an Old Town canoe from Maine, the kind with the wicker seats, and later explored the lakes in and around the Sierra Nevada with my own family. I don’t remember catching anything there either.
Remembering the Arnold Arboretum
A couple of weeks after the end of our fishing season, Dad suggested that we go to Arnold Arboretum to play catch and do a little hitting. At the time I had a few pimple balls, a Wiffle ball, and an old Hillerich and Bradsby bat that somehow or other we had acquired without buying it. I didn’t know what Dad’s motivation was for these overtures to me to spend time together. Maybe he had decided on his own to give me some time. Maybe Mom had encouraged the idea. It’s possible too that he just wanted to lighten his weekend-remodeling schedule for a while. Whatever! It was spring. Baseball was in the air. And you don’t say no to your dad when he takes an interest in you.
We set out on a Sunday walking the whole way. Once again Mom had packed up our lunch and wished us a good trip. After finding a suitable open space in the Arboretum, we warmed up playing catch. Then he pitched to me, lobbing a pimple ball underhand from a close distance. My dad really didn’t know if I could hit a ball at all since we had never done this sort of thing together before. I wasn’t much of a slugger then or anytime later, but I managed to make contact on all his lobs and whizzed the ball right back at him a few times. Then he backed up and pitched overhand with an exaggerated windup that was pretty funny. I hit some and missed some.
After lunch we walked a bit. He wanted to see more of the Arboretum. It was another place he knew only from passing. At one point he turned to me and suggested we play Hide-and-Seek. That seemed truly strange, but he was serious. We took turns covering our eyes and counting to 100 before setting out to look for the hider. This was the only time in my life that I played the game with an adult. It made a difference because Dad was very creative in choosing his hiding places, and at one point I wondered if he might have headed back home. But all in all it was fun, especially seeing my Dad behaving like a kid.
We stayed with the Arboretum plan for a couple of months, going every couple of weeks. At that point summer had arrived. School was out and on Sunday afternoons my dad returned to his remodeling work while Mom, my sister, and I made occasional trips on the MTA to Revere Beach. Father-and-son outings were done for the year.
If you’ve ever lived through a New England winter with its shortened daylight, repetitive sunless grey days, and dirty brown snow accumulating anywhere not essential to cars and pedestrians, you know that winter can sap your energy and take away your desire to be outdoors. In my dad’s case, it was especially tough. Even on clear days when the roads were dry, he had to come home from work on his bicycle in the dark windy cold. He had a few reflectors on the back of his bike and a headlamp powered by a little generator mounted up front, but it was a treacherous trip in winter. My mother worried about him if he got home even a little late. On days when the roads were slick or had icy patches, he had to take the Park Street streetcar to the Huntington Avenue Bridge and transfer onto the Brookline Avenue bus to Kenmore Square. This added to his commuting time. Dad’s personal tempo slowed down noticeably every winter.
When spring finally came around the following year, Dad bloomed once again like the crocuses in the Arboretum. I had asked him a few times to fix a balsa-wood airplane I had bought for a dime at the corner store. The wings on those planes would usually get messed up after only a couple of flights because the balsa wood was so flimsy. Either the wings would crack from the impact of a crash landing or they would no longer stay securely in place in the pre-cut wing slot of the body. I always knew when I bought one of those things that it wouldn’t last long, but that didn’t deter me from buying them.
When this particular plane was beyond Dad’s ability to repair it – in other words it was hopeless – Dad suggested that I get a book about constructing model airplanes from the library. We would choose a model and build it together. Then we would once again return to the Arnold Arboretum, this time for adventures in flight.
Spring was a time of renewal for all of us, and I was genuinely excited about renewing my Sunday outings to the Arboretum. I made a special trip to the library behind the Muni to get a book and began studying it walking home. After we had decided on our model, my dad made a list of materials needed and stopped by Sears the next day to pick them up. We decided to build two identical planes and put them into competition at the Arboretum. Our wood was balsa, but it was thicker and sturdier than the balsa used in the flimsy planes at the drugstore. Dad had picked up an X-Acto knife to cut out parts from the wood. He already had wood glue and sandpaper in his supply cabinet. Dad didn’t want the family pianist messing with the X-Acto, so I helped with the gluing and sanding.
As was the case with any project he took on, my dad’s work was meticulous. He had the patience of a craftsman. Time would become irrelevant for him as soon as he got into the task. I’ve never had that kind of patience and I know now that I won’t. My wife is an artist. She has it. She can work for days executing something on one piece of paper. My youngest son has it. He’s an art student at university. He never rushes anything. I’m envious of both of them.
Walking to the Arboretum was a challenge when our planes were finally ready. They had a much longer wingspan than the ones from the store, and were already assembled with glue, so they were a little awkward to carry. When we got there, Dad chose the same clearing where the year before we had played catch. Dad’s first flight sailed gracefully across the area and landed gently. Mine didn’t. I pushed the plane so hard out of my hand that it nosedived near my feet. No damage was done though, and I picked it up to try again.
There was a small pond in the Arboretum at the time. It was covered with water lilies and had a lot of slimy stuff just under the surface. The pond may still be there. On the second flight my airplane started well but veered right and landed on some water lilies in the pond. I had to take off my shoes and socks and roll up my pants to wade out and fetch it. The slimy stuff gave me the creeps, but I managed to bring back my plane. Then I moved well away from the pond and practiced on my own until I got the hang of it. When I was ready we resumed competition. He won most of the challenges, but I won a few.
All in all it was a successful day. When we left the Arboretum our planes were still in good shape. I think we got three or four more outings out of those planes before Dad felt he was falling behind on the remodeling schedule, and went back to his habit of dividing his Sundays between church and work.
That summer brought another round of trips to Revere Beach. My sister loved to swim, and I think she enjoyed checking out the boys, too. Once I teased her about it and she got upset, so I kind of knew it was true. I still wasn’t much of a swimmer, but I liked to splash around in the water, especially when my sister didn’t want to get her hair wet, and I could douse her by kicking water at her. The most fun for me was building sand castles with channels cut in the sand down to the water’s edge. My mother usually brought a book to read while she kept an eye on us.
Whenever we were ready to leave, I took flying leaps into my castle so no one else could claim it. Those leaps coated me with sand. We never paid to use the bathhouse. Instead we used buckets of salt water to try and rinse off before leaving. No matter how hard I tried to rinse off, I always went home with scratchy sand grating between my toes.
On the last beach trip that summer I brought all the coins from my piggy bank to play games at the penny arcade. I discovered a baseball game with a bat positioned at the end of a long metal chute that descended from the back of the machine. When you squeezed a trigger the bat swung at steel balls that rolled down the chute at regular intervals. Depending on where the ball went when you hit it, you could make an out or a hit. I loved that game. It swallowed a lot of my coins. It was pretty clear I was a baseball nut.
Copyright © 2014 William Annand. All Rights Reserved.
Professor Sisson explained that an uncounted number of records lay waiting in London for interpretation; that history needed to be and some day surely would be rewritten from these legal documents, for their statements, made under oath and in the most rigid circumstances, were far more to be trusted than the rumor and tradition that had long been bandied from one book to another. How true was this utterance I was to learn five years later when I was to attempt to unravel the facts concerning the Lorings, and their house.
But getting permission in 1932 was a slow affair. I must write to the United States Embassy in London where I must present my passport. The United States Embassy must apply on my behalf to the British Foreign Office. The Foreign Office must take the matter to the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, who would decide, and all this took time, which few tourists possess. The two weeks that may seem ample in which to view a city are nothing at all for research. I had hopelessly gone on to Exeter where one morning I was startled to receive a long, brown franked envelope bearing outside in large, black capitals the words "On His Majesty’s Service." Within was my permission. And although it was almost sailing date, I did have time to return to London and join the nervously eager group waiting before the portals of the impressive building in Chancery Lane, heart of the legal district and object of my desire. Here was the storehouse of the National Archives of Britain, which had accumulated in the Courts of Law and Departments of State since the Norman Conquest.
As I recall my women companions, they were all markedly of the bluestocking type. When they donned their long cotton dusters for the struggle, they were attractive chiefly for their singleness of purpose. I remember that even the plumbing was ancient; that the room reserved for readers of older records was called the Round Room, because it was just that, with a circle of readers’ desks so placed that the chief attendant could view all.
Meanwhile at home the interest that the purchase of the Loring-Greenough House by the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club had stimulated in the history of Jamaica Plain, especially in that of the house and its early occupants, had not abated. The revival of enthusiasm for the whole Colonial past, occasioned by the Boston Tercentenary in 1930, had found expression at Loring-Greenough House in a neighborhood garden pageant. A widening circle was realizing that the club, in acquiring the old mansion, which had been built for a famous Massachusetts Tory, Commodore Joshua Loring, had fallen heir to a large portion of New England history, history not only of national moment but of romantic poignant intimacy that had touched a multitude of significant lives. There was an urge to continue the search for more detail, particularly after the dismaying discovery that our hitherto chief authority, Francis S. Drake, in his book of l878, The Town of Roxbury, Its Memorable Persons and Places (Jamaica Plain, it will be remembered, for 216 years had been the middle portion of that town) occasionally did not agree with the legal papers; in short, in the mass of material that he treated, he made human mistakes and others had copied them. Moreover, all too seldom did he cite his sources. We could be grateful to Drake for arousing interest, even emotion, over the absorbing past of Jamaica Plain. More than anyone else he had saved old Roxbury from oblivion, but we must seek further if only to verify his statements, and perhaps find more. As a framework we could rely on the excellent Loring Genealogy, which had been printed forty years after Drake published and had been culled from an extraordinary treasure of Loring ancestral records now the property of the New England Historic Genealogical Society.
The search revealed many a choice bit. The registries of Suffolk and Norfolk disclosed every transfer of the land from its first settlement in the 1600’s to its acquisition by the Club in 1924. There was even a little Elizabethan handwriting lingering about, a petition from the early inhabitants of the town asking pardon for building so far from Roxbury Meetinghouse, and the very first book of records of the old Town of Roxbury, brought up from the black coal dust of the cellar of City Hall, Boston. The hunt for detail had plenty of thrills.
We found that Joshua Loring, builder of the mansion, had been born in Boston August 3, 1716, descended on both sides from Massachusetts pioneers. His mother had been Hannah Jackson of the notable Jackson family of Newton, his father, for whom he was named, fourth in line of Deacon Thomas Loring who had come from Devon to Hingham in 1634. The father had died when the son was but five, and young Joshua had come to Roxbury to learn from James Mears the father’s trade of tanning.
It was exciting to find the boy’s name in manuscript Roxbury records, which showed that, even at fifteen, he had been able and aggressive. We could well believe that, in spite of his apprenticeship, he had never been a tanner. The family record showed that when he became of age he went to sea, entering upon the tempting but hazardous life of privateering in the long struggle of the English colonies with the French.
In 1740 at twenty-four he married twenty-year-old Mary Curtis of Roxbury, fifth child of the eleven of Samuel Curtis, whose thirty-one acres of beautiful farm land lay along the northeasterly end of Jamaica Pond.
By 1744 Loring was commanding "a fine brigantine privateer of Boston, with a crew of one hundred and twenty seamen." We found supporting evidence in his designation as "Captain Joshua Loring" in a church record of that year which listed him with Honorable Paul Dudley in a small group of donors who helped restore the fire-stricken Roxbury meetinghouse. Early listings of members of the Boston Marine Society showed that he had been admitted among ship masters on February 3, 1744, certified No. 15. And the year 1744 was otherwise memorable for Loring. In August, while he was cruising near Louisburg, his fine vessel met two French men-of-war. After a chase of four hours and heavy cannonading, Loring’s vessel was captured with sails and rigging torn and a topmast shot away; but, although captain and men were taken to Louisburg prison, Loring’s personal luck held. While the men were put in close confinement, he was placed comfortably in an officer’s house, respected for his resistance to a superior force, and in December was back in Boston, released by prisoner exchange. Soon after, on January 23, 1745, he became lieutenant in the Royal Navy.
During Loring’s absence, on November 1, 1744, his first son, to be known to Massachusetts history as Joshua Loring the Younger, was born in Roxbury. A daughter Hannah, who became the Mrs. Joshua Winslow of Copley’s portrait, had been born two years earlier, December 15, 1742.
It was in 1752 that Loring, then in his thirty-sixth year, took title to an old Roxbury farmhouse with spreading lands in the middle of the Jamaica Plain section of Roxbury, of which the present grounds of the Loring-Greenough House are a remnant. The place, from its first settlement by a Polley through three generations of that family had been known as the Polley Farm. It had been the childhood home of Mary Curtis Loring’s grandmother, who had been Hannah Polley, and it had been sold out of the family line but seventeen years. Thus through nearly a century it had been developed from a few wild acres to a sixty-acre farm. It lay not over a mile from the farm of Joshua Loring’s father-in-law. We found two inventories from its earlier period, one of April 2, 1689, and the other of January 8, 1721. Each shows the simplicity, even harshness of farm life in the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries in Jamaica Plain.
When Joshua Loring bought, it was from heirs of Joshua Cheever, a wealthy Bostonian who had evidently acquired the farm for investment. Loring paid "Six hundred ninety three pounds, six shillings, and eight pence Lawful money," and thereby received-or as he thought-"to his … only proper use benefit and behoof forever … A Certain Farm or Tract of Land situate … in the Town of Roxbury … County of Suffolk containing about Sixty acres … bounded as follows, Northerly on the Country Road in part, and partly on the land of William Burroughs, Jn. Williams, and Ebenezer May or on a private way, Easterly on part of said Way & partly on the land of said Ebenezer May and Eleazer May, Southerly on land of John Weld, and Westerly on the Country Road. Also a Wood lot containing fifteen acres more or less situate in Brookline … Also a piece of Saltmarsh containing about five acres," concerning all of which more would later be heard.
It was with pleasurable recognition that we learned, that the purchase had been aided by a substantial mortgage loan from Isaac Winslow, the same man whom we know from no less than three portraits in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The "full just Sum of fourteen hundred Sixty and Six good Spanish Mill’d Dollars of full weight" was the amount for which Loring gave him his bond.
Heightened hostilities against the French pushed Loring’s career. On December 19, 1757, he was commissioned captain in the Royal Navy. In 1759 he was commanding operations on Lakes George, Champlain, and Ontario, called by the high-sounding title of Commodore and Commander of Naval Ships on the Great Lakes, but he had a primitive task.
His advertisement in March of that year, under authority of Major General Jeffrey Amherst, for "deck sloops and schooners of His Majesty’s transport service, and also for battoe or boatmen, and ox-team drivers" shows the nature of the rough campaign. Francis Parkman has set forth the hardships of that lakeside war: the lack of roads, the scarcity of food and of all needful supplies, the ever present danger of Indian attack, yet the need for Loring to build from the standing trees of the forest on the wild shore of Lake Champlain a vessel and other craft in a losing race against oncoming winter in order that he might bear his part in supporting the stratagem that was to conquer Quebec.
Just as 1744 had been a year of destiny for Loring, so was 1760. We were bewildered to reconcile his war activities with the legal documents that showed his movements in Jamaica Plain. While every effort was being directed by Amherst to complete the conquest of Canada by the taking of Montreal by encirclement, and Loring was guarding the important approach by way of the lake waters, on March 22 a lease from the Eliot School trustees was being arranged by or for him for the use of land across the highway from his farmhouse, in order that the old dwelling might be moved thither. The lease helps to fix the date of the building of the mansion which was erected on the site, built the better, beyond doubt, because of Loring’s knowledge of wooden shipbuilding. A note of July l, 1760, showed that on that date the site was cleared of debt. The moved house would serve as a parsonage for a church society yet to be gathered.
The end of the Commodore’s war career was abrupt. On August 23, 1760, with the Montreal campaign thrusting to a crisis, its triumphant close only two weeks and one day away, Loring in his vessel the 0nondaga grounded in the St. Lawrence River, after a short struggle with the island force of Fort Levi, received a cannon shot that tore the calf of his right leg. That he survived the severe wound is remarkable.
Meanwhile the new house was rapidly rising. The Reverend Thomas Gray, Jamaica Plain minister for more than fifty years following 1793, who lived in the moved farm house-parsonage, has named August of 1760-the very month of Loring’s wounding-as that of the erection of the mansion.
The decade that followed appears to have been the most prosperous of Joshua Loring’s life. He could live well on his pension from the British government plus his private transactions, which later were found to have been many. Family tradition tells of the choice livestock that he added to his farm, the planting of new orchards, and the laying out of gardens.
As to the Commodore’s family who enjoyed the country life in Jamaica Plain, we found printed confusion. James H. Stark named Joshua the Younger as twin of Benjamin. Others followed him with further errors. Family records establish that after the birth of the first child, Hannah, and of the first son, Joshua, the Younger, twin sons, Joseph Royall and Benjamin were born in 1750. Their mother had twin brothers, Joseph and Benjamin Curtis, and plainly named her sons for these. A daughter Mary, of whom no further mention was found, was born in 1760, and in 1761 a second pair of twins, John and Thomas. Of the four younger sons, three attained manhood and had notable careers, John being in his turn a commodore. Thomas died in 1768 as a child of seven.
In 1761 Joshua the Younger was an ensign in the British Army, in 1765 lieutenant in the 15th Foot. Hannah, on December 26, 1763, at twenty-one married Joshua Winslow, nephew of the Isaac of the mortgage and cousin of Susanna Clarke, who was to be the wife of John Singleton Copley. Copley’s charming portrait of Hannah is dated the year of her marriage. On October 19, 1769, Joshua the Younger married Elizabeth Lloyd, of whom much was later to be printed. Benjamin, Joseph Royall’s twin, is named second in the Class of 1772 at Harvard, the last class so to be listed in order of family prestige.
It must have been a pleasant community, Jamaica Plain of the 1760’s, in spite of the fast gathering trouble with the mother county. The estate of Sir Francis Bernard, Royal Governor, occupied after 1769 by Sir William Pepperell, lay at the southwest end of Jamaica Pond. Welds, Dudleys and others of rank and intelligence lived on comfortable estates not far away. A drive of but five miles over the Neck into Boston made a fascinating array of luxury goods available to prosperous shoppers, as could be deduced from the close-set columns of the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, goods brought in by all astonishing number of merchant vessels.
We found plenty of evidence, beside the Harvard listing, that the Loring household held a place of highest esteem. The records of the First Parish of Jamaica Plain, which was the Third of Roxbury, disclosed that Joshua Loring was moderator of the meetings that arranged for the coming to the community of its first settled minister, William Gordon, who was to become known as one of the earliest historians of the Revolution. We learned that Loring was one of the founders of St. Andrews Royal Arch Chapter of Masons and its first secretary. His tragedy awaited August, 1774, when he accepted General Thomas Gage’s appointment to the Governor’s Council by writ of mandamus. Council members for years had been elected by representatives of the people. Popular regard for Loring and his family turned to rage, and from that moment it would appear that no tale about them was too cruel to be believed.
We put ourselves in the place of Mary Curtis Loring in the years of her pride and happiness, then in her sorrow. For her had come the heartbreak of torn loyalties. Her brothers were strongly on the colonial side. Her wifely duty lay with her husband.
Then the Loring quest quickened. A fine volume came to hand from the St. Catherine Press of London, The Loyalists of Massachusetts Their Memorials, Petitions And Claims. The book, by an experienced scholar, Edward Alfred Jones, in beautiful print and splendidly illustrated, contained as Plate XXXII the only picture that we have ever found of Commodore Joshua Loring. Even more exciting for me was the fact that the greater part of the work had been written from unpublished material preserved in the Public Record Office in London. Other material might be there of intense interest to our Club. This author had freely cited his sources. The papers were in the Audit Office group.
On June 7, 1955, a plane from Le Bourget, Paris, set me down gently at a London airport. And on the morrow I went and for days thereafter, only too happy to sign my name and address each day, to agree to wear no unseemly clothing, to carry no cane or umbrella into the search room, to make no disturbance, to do or not to do the other requirements asked of a foreign as of a native searcher.
Of course the plumbing was more ancient than before, and the place was chilly. I pitied the elderly woman in charge of the women’s coatrooms as she shivered and knitted before a tiny fire of coals in the un-June like damp. But the Round Room was the same; only the searchers seemed younger and gayer than in 1932, both men and girls, or perhaps it was only that I was twenty- three years older.
The eighteenth-century records were of course on paper, paper of a much better quality than much of ours today. The writing was almost modern, was fairly well punctuated, and easily understood, except for an occasional misspelling or a word that has passed out of use. Because of the German influence on the throne in the l700’s, most of the nouns were capitalized, but this capitalization was erratic. Though the reading was easy, there were many papers, and they were time-consuming.
They were preserved in large bundles wrapped in cloth and tied with tapes, the papers themselves in separate tape-tied packets within. And they were in the Audit Office group because almost immediately upon the close of the Revolution Parliament had empowered a commission to inquire into the losses of American Loyalists and reimburse them to some extent.
The reports, really petitions, promptly and eagerly made in these circumstances, were called, "memorials," and the persons who made them "memorialists." Each memorial had to be accompanied by letters from persons of standing vouching for the identity and integrity of the memorialist, and each must follow a definite formula. In fact, the memorialist, by paying a shilling, could obtain from the printing office of W. Flexney, opposite Gray’s Inn Gate, Holborn, a pamphlet that set forth the exact form in which to state his troubles, much as we can obtain printed help in making out our tax returns.
I found the papers exciting from the start, whether or not I was to find anything about the Lorings, and I could not help lingering over many with unfamiliar names. But when I came upon the report of a letter that had been written by Commodore Loring on December 14, 1769, to one Mr. Blackburn of London seeking insurance on the Jamaica Plain mansion, I knew that I was on the right track. The letter, quoted to substantiate a claim of value, was as follows:
I should be obliged to you if you would endeavor to get some Insurance made upon my house in the Country, my house it is true is a Wooden One, but I live pretty free from Risque of any Neighbors, and still where I could have the assistance of an hundred People in a few Moments I do not think there is any more Risque in a Wooden house than in a brick One, as nine times out of ten, they take fire in the inside. There is I am informed Numbers in Phila & New York insured in London. I should be glad to ensure two thousand pounds upon the house and furniture which is about five hundred pounds less than my real interest, if you can get this done I should he much obliged to you, or a less sum.
On the second day, in Bundle 47 AO 13, I reached the high spot of the search, the finding of Mrs. Loring’s memorial.
No. 267. The Memorial of Mrs. Mary Loring of Highgate near London 13th December 1783 received 15 December 1783 Evidences- Sir Wm Pepperell Wimpole Street Mr. J. Lorine Englefield near Reading Berks Rob. Bayard Esqr. Wood End near Wolton Underidge Gloucestershire Mr. J. R. Loring Lieut. of his Majestys Ship Salisbury in Portsm
To the Commissioner appointed by Act of Parliament for enquiring into the Losses and Services of the American Loyalists-
The Memorial of Mrs. Mary Loring of Highgate near London, Relict of Joshua Loring Esqr. late of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England humbly sheweth-
That the said Joshua Loring resided in Jamaica Plain in Roxbury within five miles of Boston, was a Captain in the Royal Navy and One of his Majesty’s late Council of the Province aforesaid appointed by Mandamus, which rendered him obnoxious to the People that he was repeatedly mobbed and otherwise ill treated in such manner as to oblige him to leave his House as early as 31. August 1774 and to fly for Refuge to Boston, and put himself under the Protection of the Kings Troops, from which time untill the Evacuation of the Place (which was more than eighteen Months) he wan confined to the Town, and never saw his House nor any part of his Estate afterwards, which was taken possession of by the American Troops on the 19th April 1775 (being allotted them for Quarters) who plunder’d it of the Furniture, Stock, and Stores-
That her late Husband did to the best of her belief, receive One Hundred Pounds in Boston from General Gage as a Relief, and further after his arrival in England an allowance of Two hundred pounds per annum as was given to other Councellors, but your Memorialist could not help feeling it extreamly hard that this allowance was stopped from the 5th July 1781, when her husband did not die untill the 5th Octr following, and further that She was not able to procure any Allowance whatever as his Widow untill 5th May 1782 when it commenced at one hundred pounds per annum-
Your Memorialist has five Children, four Sons and a Daughter to whom the Property alluded to in the Schude annexed is left upon her Death. The Sons have served In the Navy & Army the whole of the War-the losses sustained in consequence of the attachment of her late Husband to Government, and the Relief received appears by the Schedule-
Your Memorialist therefore Prays that her Case may be taken into your Consideration in order that your Memorialist may be enabled under your Report to receive such Aid or Relief, as her losses-the Services of her late Husband & Sons may be found to deserve-
And your Memorialist as in Duty bound will ever pray- Highgate 13’th December 1783
N. 1 & 2 A large well built House, out Houses, Coach House & Stable with Sixty Acres of Land under the best Improvement adjoining situated in Jamaica Plain in Roxbury within five Miles of Boston £ 2500
N. 3 Furniture, Stock, Farming utensils belonging to} 987.. I..6 the above
N. 4. A dwelling House, large Barn & Hovels with} 495} eighteen Acres of Meadow Land adjoining situated as above
N.5 Twenty three Acres of Woodland situated in} 232..I0
Roxbury within seven Miles of Boston
N. 6 Five Acres of Salt Meadow near Boston Neck} 37..10..
a Pew in the Church in Jamaica Plain 18..15..
N.7 A House, outhouses, Stable & Garden situated } 450
near the Common in Boston
N.8 A Pew in Trinity Church in Boston 12
A Negro Man named London 50…
My own Test. £ 4782..16..6
Mrs. Loring’s son, Joseph Royall Loring, allaying the natural doubt in the minds of the commissioners, and indeed of ourselves, that his mother could possess sufficient business experience to appraise her losses to the last penny, made oath before the Lord Mayor of the City of London that the itemized portion of the inventory was the joint work of his late father and himself. He was about to embark on a long voyage and would not be available for questioning. His deposition reads:
Joseph Royall Loring of Highgate in the County of Middlesex Lieutenant of His Majesty’s Ship Salisbury maketh Oath and Saith that he this Deponent is ordered to join the said Ship Immediately which said Ship is going on a Voyage to Newfoundland and not expected to return until on or about the Month of December next and this Deponent further saith that the Schedule or Inventory (Number three) prefixed to the Memorial of Mrs. Mary Loring of Highgate in the County of Middlesex Widow of the deceased Joshua Loring late of the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England in America Esquire-containing the furniture Stock and farming Utensils belonging to the Estate of the said Joshua Loring situate in Jamaica Plain Roxbury in America aforesaid amounting to the Sum of Nine hundred Eighty Seven pounds & one Shilling and Sixpence is a true Inventory or Schedule of the said furniture Stock and farming Utensils taken by him this Deponent and the said Joshua Loring deceased and which said Inventory or Schedule so taken was and is in the hand Writing of this Deponent and this Deponent further saith that at the time of the taking of the Inventory of the said furniture Stock and farming Utensils the same was appraised and valued at the said Sum of Nine hundred and eighty Seven pounds One Shilling and Sixpence. And this Deponenent further saith that he has attended the Commissioners at their Office in Lincoln’s In fields from the third day of April Inst until the fourteenth day of the same Month in Order to give Evidence touching and relating to the Matters herein before mentioned but there being no Board of the Commissioners and this Deponent being obliged to join his said Ship without further delay, he this Deponent was advised lo make his affidavit before the Lord Mayor of the City of London.
Joseph Royall Loring
Sworn in London this 14th April I784 before me
Sworn before the Commissioners of American Claims at their office in Lincolns Inn Fields January 29th 1785 Charles Munro
An Acct. of Sundry Stores, farming utencils and household furniture, left at Jamaica Plain In New England
3 Carts @ £8 24
3 Plows @ 20/ is 6o/ I Iron tooth harrow 25/ 4..5..
4 Iron Crow bars @ 10/ is 40/,7 shovels & spades 30/ 3..10
2 Pickaxes 14/, 4 Plow chains & 1 log D." £5 5..14
3 Wood Axes & two broad D." 32/,2 crosscut saws 21/ 2..16
1 chest of carpenters tools 4..
4 broad howes, 4 narrow D," 36/, set of drilling tools 5/ 4..6
4 sythes 20/, 6 Hay forks, 16 Rakes 20/, 3 sleds 40/ 4.
2 wheel barrows 10/ roleing stone for garden 40/ 2..10..
Cart harness for 3 horses & 4 ox yoaks 1..16
2 Slays, & harness D." compleat 6
3 Yoak of working Oxen & I D." steers 40
6 Cowes with Calves 36
6 head of young heffers @ 40/ 12
3 Coach horses & 1 young colt 70
20 Tons of Hay 60
250 Bushells of Indian Corn, Ry & Barley @ 2/6 31..5
200 Bushells potatoes @ 1/6 51
50 D." of different kinds of roots 5
60 barrells of Cyder 3
3.D." of Vinagar 13
300 Loads of dung in the yard @ 6/ (£) 90
lives stock, such as fowles, duck, hogs, &c, &c. 5
Timber, board, Plank &c in the yard 20
1 chariot & harness for two horses 100
1 single horse chaise & whiskey chair} 45
and harness for D."
£545 - 5
Household furniture In the Dining Room
1 Mahogany desk & Bookcase 25
Library of Books 30
1 pair Sconce looking glasses 30
2 Mahogany Dining tables 3
1 Marble slab 40/ 12 Masilinto prints 24/ 3..4
8 Chairs [ sic ] Mahogany Chairs @ 10 4
Andirons, shoves, & tongs & back 2..10
A closet of China & Glass &c. 10..
Furniture in the Hall
6 Views of the River St. Laurince of [sic] the fireplace 6..1
ornamental China over the mantlepiece 4..
8 Chairs @ 2o/ is #8, 2 Mahogany tables 6o 11
4 Window Curtains 8o/, 2 pr Branches 40/, 1 Tea table 21/ 7..1
1 Full Set of Table China #12—-, 3 dozn burnt China plates 28/ 2..8
2 set of Tea China, 3 large burnt China bowles, 3 small D." 13..10
Sundry pieces of old china with odd dishes 4
A Pymarid of jelly Glasses 5
52 - 19
In the Landing Room
6 Winsor Chairs 54/ a Weather glass 21/ 3..15
1 8 Day Clock with mahogany 20..
In the Dressing room & Bed room Adjg.
Dressing Glass & Table + chairs & a desk 4
Bedroom, Bedstead, Bed & Curtains 3
Dressing table & Glass with 3 chairs 1..10
In the Kitchen
A compleat set of kitchen furniture, consisting of pewter,}
brass, copper, iron, 8 chairs & 2 strong tables, shovel, 40
In the Nursery
a Looking glass, 6 chairs, and one table 3..17
two Beds & Bedsteads without curtains 3
a trunk of odd Books 2
a Chest of draws 30/ andirons shovels & tongs 9/ 1 19 10..16
In the Blue Chamber
A Bed, Mahogany bedstead & Chinse curtains 20
6 Chairs @ 10/ is 60/, a, handsome burau tables & Dressing glass 8
a pair of handsome Scone glasses #6,4 window curtains 80/ 10 [sic]
a bath stove shovel & tonges & poker 1..10..39..10
In the Drawing room
8 Chairs, very handsome with worked bottoms 12
a pair of Scone glasses, handsome 6
Tea table 18/, 4 dammask Curtains yellow #16 16 18
1 pr. of branches, & pair of card tables 2.. 10 37..8
In two Small bedrooms
Two beds bedsteads & curtains £5, dressing table & glass 18/ 5.. 18
1 desk & 4 chairs 2..7..18
In the Chamber over the breakfast room
a Bed, bedstead & curtains 6..10
6 Chairs 36/ looking glass & table 45/ 4….11
chest of draws Andirons shovel & tongues 1l….11
In the garotts
three beds for Servants 4….10
2 large carpets £20, 1 oil cloth 80/ 24…
3 Scotch carpets 12..
Blanketts, quils & counter 2. 10 53..
a large washing Copper 10 10
Deduct for things valued viz.
Chintz Bed Curtains £ 4.. ….
Dressing Glass 10..6
4 Chintz Window Curtains 4.. ….
4 Yellow Damask ed." 16.. ….
Such were some of the possessions of the elder Lorings. It was fitting that the Commodore should adorn the wall above his fireplace with "6 views of the River St. Laurince," every winding of which he must have known from his campaigns. A substantial amount of his property, for which Parliament allowed no compensation, lay in bonds, mortgages, and other loans. Joshua Loring, like many another colonial gentleman in the days before banking was developed, as we know it, is shown to have been a personal banker for friends and neighbors. A typical source of Loring income was the following note of one John Smith:
I promise to pay Capt. Joshua Loring or Order: Nine pounds on demand with Lawful Intrist till paid being for Value rec’d £9:0 Roxbury 28th of May, 1774
And "Lawful Intrist" was high.
Mrs. Loring included it all in her statement of losses and did not hesitate to start the account with a computation of interest for over eight years at 6% of the whole value of the physical property, producing for this portion of interest alone the substantial amount of £2487: I:13, a high figure for the times. This she followed with a long list of personal bonds that her husband had held for neighbors and relatives, with interest at the satisfactory 6%, from Brewer, Child, Richards, Kennedy, Weld, Curtis, and others, all of whom had been, beyond doubt, impoverished by the war and its resultant inflation. However, feeling for equity was not lacking on this side; a committee here acted as agent for the absentee Loyalists, paid their unpaid bills, and as far as possible collected money due them.
Mrs. Loring was eventually allowed £2256, nearly two-thirds of her claim of £4815.
Her statement that her husband left his home "as early as 31 August 1774-and never saw his House nor any part of his estate afterwards" demolishes at a stroke a favorite Roxbury legend that has appeared often in print. Drake wrote, for example:
On the morning of the Lexington battle, after passing most of the previous night in consultation with Deacon Joseph Brewer, his neighbor and intimate friend, upon the step he was about to take, he mounted his horse, left his house and everything belonging to it, and pistol in hand rode at full speed to Boston, stopping on the way only to answer an old friend who asked, "Are you commodore?" "Yes," he answered, "I have always eaten the king’s bread and always intend to!"
Stark and the Dictionary of American Biography copied Drake. E. Alfred Jones quoted Stark. Earlier, in March, 1836, the Reverend Thomas Gray wrote down what must have been the local hearsay:
"Commodore Loring occupied his new house till April 1775 (next day after Lexington Battle) when, with his Family, he fled to England, It was immediately confiscated… ."
Miss Catherine P. Curtis, Mrs. Loring’s grandniece, born in 1797, recorded in her old age, without dating, what were probably the simple facts: "Grandfather Curtis’s sister Mary Maried Commodore Loring in the British service. He was obliged to make up his mind which cause to stand by. He sat up all night before his flight talking with his Neighbor Col. Brewer about the times… . The next morning he mounted his horse, pistol in hand, and rode to Boston, full speed … He left a beautiful new house … with a fine garden stocked with fruit trees … and a farm house, and sixty-five acres of land… . The Loring stock of cattle, cows, oxen and horses were running loose in the street, but Grandfather would not have one of these driven into his yard for fear he should be thought a Tory. ."
In any case, we can be sure that the flight was precipitate, more reasonably in August than later. That Loring expected to return in a happier time may be gathered from the fact that years afterward a wall in the cellar of the mansion was found to be double, and behind it was a stock of fine liquors of which no mention appears in the inventory.
For a year and a half the Loring family were no farther away than Boston and could hardly have helped knowing what was happening to the property. Indeed, during the siege, Mrs. Loring was allowed to pass the sentries in order to call upon her aged mother, who lived nor far from the mansion. ." Although on May 23, 1775, five weeks after the first shot of the Revolution, the selectmen were instructed to "take care of the estates of those gentlemen who have left them and gone into Boston," selectmen could have done little when recruits were swarming in. Private Samuel Haws of Wrentham wrote in his homemade butcher-paper diary, "May the 30 Day Captain Ponds Company moved to Commo. Lorings house."
On June 3, General Nathaniel Greene arrived in command of three Rhode Island regiments, and these were stationed in Jamaica Plain. It is a neighborhood tradition that Greene made the mansion his headquarters, but it could not have been for long. The battle of June l7 hurried the need for care of American sick and wounded, and the Third Provincial Congress, in session at Watertown, hastily arranged for hospitals. Their Journal recorded on June 23:
"The Committee appointed to provide a hospital for the camp in Roxbury reported that they have appointed the house belonging to Joshua Loring…"
A week later the Congress gave to Dr. Lemuel Hayward, trained by Dr. Joseph Warren, a commission as, surgeon of the hospital. By October Dr. Hayward could report: "Doctr. Willm. Aspenwall and myself have attended not less than six hundred patients as Provincial Surgeons, and out of that Number have not lost more than forty."
So the fall passed into the winter of the siege, which had become insupportable to the British and almost so to the neighboring towns. When on March 17, to the amazed, delirious joy of the province, Sir William Howe’s fleet, crowded with armed forces and Loyalists, sailed out of Boston Harbor for Halifax, Joshua Loring and his wife Mary sailed with them. Loring had suffered all that Mary Loring avowed in her memorial and far more. Title to his dwelling and to all his other real estate was yet to be taken from him, he himself to be proscribed and banished upon pain of death.
After the mansion had been emptied of soldier-patients, it was leased successively by the selectmen to various persons of prominence, the last of whom was Isaac Sears, who had won fame as a leader of the Sons of Liberty in New York. It was he who was living in the house when it fell under the Act of Confiscation of April 30, 1779, and became the property of the State.
Approval of the Act was far from general, even among the most ardent of liberty lovers. Eight days after the fatal vote, the Reverend William Gordon wrote to John Adams from the parsonage in view of the mansion, "To confiscate the estates of all which absentees without distinction, or exception I must deem, till I have more light, cruel-cruel, superlative cruel."
Cruel it seemed to us also when we sought to learn if the mansion really had been auctioned at the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, as Drake had said. Spread in alluring if minuscule, faded print, we found the notice of the forthcoming sale in the Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser for May 20, 1779. The committee appointed for the business, Caleb Davis, Ebenezer Wales and Richard Cranch, had let no grass grow under their feet. The auction was to be held on Tuesday the first of June, the same day as that of the sale of the late country seat of Sir Francis Bernard, baronet, "on the border of a delightful Piece of Water known by the name of Jamaica Pond," Bernard’s to be sold at eleven in the morning, Loring’s at three in the afternoon, on the premises, not at the Bunch of Grapes.
This, the legal notice, was reinforced by our reading of the actual bills of the auctioneers, Russell & Clapp. There were items for printings by Benjamin Edes & Sons, 100 handbills and a charge for pasting them up, a fee for "the Cryer for Sundrie Times," to Syranus Collins of Roxbury the inflated price of £22-10 for "7 Dinners & Boles Punch, 2 Bottals wine hoss baitings & Oats," Rarest of all, behind which may lie a sorry tale, was a charge of one pound ten shillings "June 1st Paid for a Lince Pin for Mr. Russell’s chaise lost at the sale of Loring’s Place." Deflation of tires could have its counterpart in 1779!
Loring’s Jamaica Plain estate went in two portions, the smaller that contained the farmhouse named in the London inventory, to John Keyes, a tanner; the larger, with the mansion, to Isaac Sears. Gordon, ever eager to spread tidings, wrote on June 13 to Major General Horatio Gates in Providence, "It may be news to you that our friend Sears has purchased his house," the one word his revealing the occupancy.
Another house of Loring’s, "N.7" of Mrs. Loring’s schedule was advertised to be sold to the highest bidder on June 8 "at twelve o’clock at the Bunch of Grapes in State Street." It was this auction that was confused by Drake and after him others with the sale of the mansion. The house was described as "at the South End of Boston next to the South Writing School adjoining on the Common" to be sold at the same time and place as a "large and elegant Dwelling House … lately occupied by Sir William Pepperrel … pleasantly situated in Summer St., Boston, a little below Trinity Church."
It will be recalled that Sir William served in London as "evidence" for Mrs. Loring’s memorial.
The stay of Isaac Seal’s at the mansion was brief. His maritime ventures had been ruined by the war, and he was all but bankrupt. Sears assigned all his affairs, including the Jamaica Plain estate to his reliable son-in-law, soon to be his partner, Paschal Nelson Smith, and it was Smith who, on April 5, l784 sold the place happily to Anne Doane, wealthy widow of Elisha Doane of Wellfleet and Boston. Anne bought for a home in anticipation of her approaching marriage to David Stoddard Greenough, long-time family friend and her legal adviser. The marriage took place on May 11, five weeks after the purchase, and established at the house a family line that was to continue for 140 years.
For the Lorings, however, the I780’s were a tragic decade. Whether the climate of England did not agree, whether they lacked the plenteous food that they had enjoyed in America, or were borne down by their unhappiness, an amazing number of their immediate circle died in those ten years. Joshua the Elder went first on October 5, 1781, at the age of sixty-five. His eldest daughter, Hannah, Mrs. Joshua Winslow, died in 1785, at forty-three. Before she left America she had been widowed at thirty-three and left with six children for their Grandmother Loring’s aid. Joshua the Younger died in 1789 before he was forty-five. His brother Benjamin, the Harvard graduate, a Navy surgeon, died unmarried at thirty-seven in 1787. The death year of Mrs. Mary Loring, wife of the Commodore, has been variously given by historians. The burial of a Mrs. Loring on January 20, 1795, in the graveyard of St. Michael’s Church, Highgate, is probably hers, as also that of a "Josiah" Loring on October 11,1781, in the same place, that of her husband, the "Josiah" being a. mistaken interpretation of the abbreviation "Josa". Both were lately searched, by the Reverend Harry Edwards, vicar of St. Michael’s Church, who found also the burial record of their son, Benjamin Loring, who died 1787. Only the gossipped-about daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Lloyd Loring, survived them all.
The property of Elizabeth’s husband, Joshua Loring the Younger, had consisted largely of bonds and mortgages such as his father had owned. He submitted no inventory of his household possessions left in America, but one exists here in Boston in the Massachusetts Royal Archives. It reads like the belongings of a decently fastidious, homeloving couple, including toys for the children, Elizabeth and John. The latter, the younger, was born October 13, 1773, and was less than a year old when Joshua, the Commodore, was driven from his home, and but two when Sir William Howe was placed in command of British forces in Boston.
Although Joshua the Younger was bitterly execrated in America, I found letters commending him from General Gage, Lord Howe, and Lord Cornwallis himself. Cornwallis wrote:
I had frequent Opportunities of observing the Conduct of Joshua Loring Esqr in his Office as Commissary of Prisoners and I always found him diligent & attentive to his Duty: I can truly certify that he is a Gentleman of exceeding good Character and that he lost his Estate by his Attachment to his Majesty’s Government. (Signed) Cornwallis Mansfield Street 20th April 1783
I must confess that I was moved to hold in my hand at once the three notes from Gage, Howe, and the eminent Cornwallis who surrendered his forces at Yorktown.
The tale that Elizabeth, wife of Joshua the Younger, so engrossed Sir William Howe’s attention that he neglected his military duties and thus lost the American colonies has been dwelt upon and enlarged by various writers of recent times who have used their imaginations to fill in details. All hark back to one or both of two sources, neither reliable: the first a scurrilous reference in Francis Hopkinson’s self-styled "harmonious ditty," The Battle of the Kegs; the other, statements of Judge Thomas Jones in his History of New York in the Revolution.
Judge Jones, a New Yorker who had lost heavily in the conflict, hated both sides. While he denounced Howe as stupid and corrupt, he characterized American leaders as knaves or uneducated fools. When E. Alfred Jones cites Judge Jones as authority for the scandal, he adds, "Jones’s observations must, however, be received with caution." And Bellamy Partridge, in his Sir Billy Howe, after relating his version of the matter, admits that contemporary writings have not shed any considerable light on the subject.
Beyond doubt the younger Mrs. Loring was, to say the least, careless of her reputation, although her husband, who was a close friend of Sir William, was with her throughout the period in question, until she left America in 1778. And it is certain that Joshua the Younger was broken in health and spirit as well as finances when they resettled together at Englefield near Reading, England. Yet his wife bore him three more children there in the years before he died in 1798.
I found letter after letter from him begging for Government assistance under various categories and asking for resumption of salary for offices that he had formerly held in America but that no longer existed. In view of the letters and all the gossip, I found of special interest the wife’s plea for compensation in her widowhood. Her memorial is short.
The Petition of Elizabeth Loring
That Your Petitioner is left the Widow of Joshua Loring who died at Englefield in Berkshire on the 18th of September 1789 and who was in the receipt of ten shillings per Day, half Pay, in consequence of his having been Commissary of Prisoners in North America during the late unhappy Dissensions in that Country.
That previous to these Dissensions your Memorialist and her family lived in a State of Comfort, & Affluence, until her Husband, disdaining the most flattering Overtures made to him by the disaffected Party, obtained with the Approbation of General Gage, the hazardous but important Office of High Sheriff of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay, preferring an active Discharge of the Duty he owed to his King, whom he had long served in a Military Capacity to every other Consideration.
By the event of the War her Husband was deprived of all his Property, the greatest Part whereof consisted in Bonds and Mortgages, for which there has not been any Compensation admitted—-By Death the principal Support of his Family, a Widow and five Children, three of whom are infants, is also lost, and they must sink into the most distressing State of Poverty unless Relief is extended to them. The long and Expensive illness of her Husband makes this Distress immediate, as his half Pay due since the 24th of June cannot be for some time received, after every Guinea that could be commanded has been expended.
Your Petitioner therefore, trusting to the Varacity of her Representations, and the Reality of her Distress, prays That such Pension or Allowance may be granted to her and her five Children as the disinterested Loyalty of her Husband,-his former Situation in Life-the Number of his Family-and their pressing and immediate Distress may be thought to seserve [sic] from the Bounty of Government.
by your Petitioner who as in duty bound will ever pray Elizabeth Loring
To this petition of Elizabeth Loring, whom Kenneth Roberts made the evil spirit of his novel, Oliver Wiswell, never once mentioning that she was the mother of young children, is appended the following in the rough, blotted handwriting of Sir William Howe. He must either have used a very poor quill, been emotionally disturbed, or been trembling with age. Since he was but fifty-nine, it was perhaps not the latter.
I certify to the Facts as stated in this Petition relative to the late Mr. Loring’s Loyalty, to the Widow’s present distressed circumstances, and to the affluent income Mr. Loring enjoyed in America- W. Howe
Certainly a weight of sorrow and humiliation had fallen between Howe and Elizabeth Loring since they had danced too often together in America and these days fourteen years later which find her appealing for help.
Elizabeth won her request and lived until 1831, receiving Government allowances for no less than forty-two years. It would hardly seem that Britain would so have rewarded her, had she been responsible for the loss of the American colonies. Her children and grandchildren were destined to rise high in Navy and Church.
The Lorings personalize for us the American struggle for liberty. Through them we realize in a vivid way the family aspects of the conflict, the difficulties that were involved on each side, and for each side the terrible cost of war, not only in treasure but in pain and in displaced home and emotional life. We are fortunate to have this detailed view of our past that is linked so strongly with the beginnings of the United States as a nation. Through it we can have a stronger appreciation of our forefathers, for their firmness and courage to oppose authority when it was based on the injustice of taxation without representation. A highly intelligent Scottish gentleman once said to me, "When your country won its liberties, it won our liberties too."
1. Eva Phillips Boyd, The Place Remembers. Presented June 19, 1930, by Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club.
2. Francis L. Drake, The Town of Roxbury: Its memorable Persons and Places, Its History and Antiquities with Numerous Illustrations of its Old Landmarks and Noted Personages (Roxbury, 1878) . (Reprinted by the City of Boston, 1905 as Document 93.)
3. Charles Henry Pope and Katharine Peabody Loring, Loring Genealogy, Cambridge, Mass. Referred to hereafter as Loring Gen. Ancestral Records of the Loring Family of Massachusetts. Three handwritten and typewritten volumes cited by permission of the owner, the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Referred to hereafter as Loring Ms.
4. First to settle was John Polley, who bought the land of Joshua Hewes. Hewes is named in the earliest list (c. 1639) of "Estates and Persons of the Inhabitants of Rocksbury" as owner of 288 acres. Charles M. Ellis, The History of Roxbury Town, 1874, p. 19. Drake, op. cit., p. 50. List of owners" three generations of Polley name; Isaac Sears ; Paschal N. Smith; Anne Doane; five generations of Greenoughs covering 140 years; Thomas F. Ward et as.; Margurite Souther; Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club.
5. Massachusetts Historical Society.
6. Loring Gen., XLVI, I, 78,79. Loring Ms., I, 220.
7. Manuscripts Records Town of Roxbury, 23, "Monday March 12th 1732/3 Hezekiah Turner Iunr. Robert Anne, & Joshua Loring desired Liberty to Erect a pew in the Mens galleries next to the windows at the right hand of the stairs, and Loberty was Voted them Accordingly." This passage may be seen in microfilm at Boston Public Library and in Roxbury Town Record,II (1730-1790). 8. Loring Mr,. P. 222. Loring Gen., p. 78.
9. Roxbury Vital Records (Salem, Mass., 1925), I, 86. "Mary d. Samuell and Hannah [born] June 8, 1720." Also S.C. Clarke, Descendants of William Curtis, pp. 6-8.
10. Loring Ms., p. 223.
11. W.E. Thwing, History of the First Church in Roxbury, Massachusetts 1630-1904, p. 140 et seq.
12. Boston Marine Society Constitution and Laws, 1834, 34. Listed as certificate No. 15, admitted Feb. 2, 1744. Also in book of 1842; dropped thereafter.
13. Loring Ms., p. 223. Loring Gen., p.78.
14. Roxbuty Vital Records, I 218. Reproduction, Loan Exhibition of One Hundred Colonial Portraits, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 19 June-21 September, 1940. No. 98.
15. S.C. Clarke, Descendants of William Curtis, p. 5. Isaac Curtis, born 1942, son of pioneers William and Sarah Curtis, married "Hannah Polly" of Roxbury, 1670. Ibid., p. 7. Their son Samuel was father of Mary Curtis Loring.
16. Polley to Walley, Suffolk Deeds, L, 152, April 16, 1735.
17. Suffolk Probate Records, Cases nos. 1824 and 4503.
18. John Walley II and other heirs to Joshua Cheever, Suffolk Deeds, LXXXI, 53, October18, 1745. Cheever inventory fills more than four pages. Suffolk Probate Records, Case no. 9898.
19. Heirs of Joshua Cheever to Joshua Loring, Suffolk Deeds, LXXXI, 26.
20. Winslow mortgage, Suffolk Deeds, LXXXI, 30.
21. Ms,. Military journal of Maj. Gen. Winslow of expedition against the French at Crown Point in 1756, pp. 134, 152. Owned by Mass. Historical Society. See also Loring Ms,. P. 226; Loring Gen., p. 78.
22. Loring Ms., p. 227.
23. Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe.
24. Wynne, General History of the British Empire in America, 1772, II, 96, 97.
25. Records of the Congregational Society of the Third Parish in Roxbury. Lease from Eliot School Trustees, dated Mar. 22, 1760.
26. Suffolk Deeds, LXXXI, 31.
27. Gray, Half century Sermon Delivered April 24, 1842, Appendix 33. This building is shown to the left of the meetinghouse in he cover illustration.
28. Thomas Mante, History of the late War in North America (London, 1772), pp. 301-307.
29. Ms., Catherine P. Curtis, The Curtis Family, 8. Quoted by permission of owner, New England Historic Genealogical Society, The author was a grandniece of the wife of Joshua Loring the Elder.
30. James H. Stark, Loyalists of Massachusetts, 1910, p. 425. Edward Alfred Jones, The Loyalists of Massachusetts Their Memorials, Petitions and Claims, 1930, p. 199, repeats Stark’s error. Dictionary of American Biography, p. 419, article by John G. Van Deusen, states wrongly that Joshua the Younger was born in Hingham. For single birth of latter, cf. note 16.
31. Jones, op. cit., p. 200.
32. Boston Marriages for 1763. Also noted by Boyle, "Journal of Occurrences in Boston from Jan. 1759 to 14 April 1778," printed in New England Historical and Genealogical Register, 1930, p. 163. "1763 Decr 26 Married Mr. Joshua Winslow junr. to Mis. Hannah Loring, Daughter of Commodore Loring." (Note title Mrs., in this case a sign of dignity.)
33. Quinquennial Catalogue of Harvard University 1910, p. 153.
34. Milestone, gift of Paul Dudley, still stands opposite Loring-Greenough House.
P. Dudley Esq.
35. Boston Evening Post, Jan. 3, 1764, reported that 42 vessels cleared the port of Boston.
36. Loring Ms., p. 234.
37. Present whereabouts of original now unknown. It long hung in the offices of the British and Foreign Bible Society in London, but inquiry there in 1952 revealed that in 1926 or thereabouts it had been sold to an American through a dealer, and no record of sale was available. Nor with the single exception of the japanned highboy at Winterthur is there any trace of the other contents of the house.
38. Directions to the American Loyalists In order to enable them to State their Cases by Way of Memorial To the Honourable Commissioners appointed (by Statute the 23 Geo. III, C. 80) to inquire into the Losses and Services of those Persons who have suffered in consequence of their Loyalty to His Majesty and their Attachment to the British Government, By a Loyalist, London. MDCCLXXXIII. (Copy among rare books at Boston Public Library.)
39. Public Record Office, Audit Office 13, Bundle 47. "Extract of a Letter from my Father to Mr. Blackburn" submitted by Joseph Royall Loring.
40. Drake, op. cit., p. 417. Stark, op. cit., pp. 423-424. E. A. Jones, op. cit., p. 199.
41. Memorandum For Mrs. Genl Sumner. March 1863. "The following is an extract from a Statement in my Anniversary Ordination Sermon preached March 27, A. M. Thos. Gray." (Paper in possession of the author.)
42. C. P.Curtis, op. cit., p. 8.
43. Ibid., p. 9.
44. Drake, op. cit., p. 35.
45. Original at N. E. Hist. Gen. Soc. Library.
46. The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, published 1838, p. 378.
47. Proceedings Massachusetts Historical Society, LXII, 232, 318. Hayward’s commission dated June 30, 1775.
48. The Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts in 1774 and 1775, pp. 60, 61, Dec. 6, 1774. "Resolved, that the names of the following persons be published repeatedly, they having been appointed counselors of this province by mandamus and have not published a renunciation of their commission" Among the names was Joshua Loring.
49. Massachusetts Acts and Resolves, 917. Act passed Oct. 16, 1778.
50. J.W. Leonard, History of the City of New York 1609-1909, p. 226; Records of the Chamber of Commerce of New York, p. 160, "During the war he was engaged in some business in Boston but returned to New York at the peace and made a partnership with son-in-law Paschal N. Smith"
51. "Letters of Rev. William Gordon," Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings, 1929-1930, LXIII, 410, dated May 8, 1779.
52. Massachusetts Archives, Royalists Papers, Vol. 154, Papers 271, 271a, 271b, 273, 275.
53. Commonwealth of Massachusetts to John Keyes, Suffolk Deeds, Vol. 130, p. 191.
Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Isaac Sears, Suffolk Deeds, Vol. 130, pp. 237, 239.
54. "Letters of Rev. William Gordon," op. cit., p. 415.
55. The Continental Journal and Weekly Advertiser, May 20, 1779.
56. Walter Barrett, The Old Merchants of New York City, says of Sears at this period, "He had recently come to New York from Boston and was very poor."
57. Smith to Anne Doane, Suffolk Deeds, Vol. 142, p. 236.
58. Ms Genealogy, compiled by David S. Greenough Fifth, shows five successive generations continuing the name of David Stoddard Greenough. (Paper in possession of the author.) E. A. Jones, op. cit., p. 302, "Her brother Joshua stated March 22, 1785, that she had died on February 22 previously, leaving six children unprovided for, who were living with their grandmother, Mrs. Loring."
59. The frequently published date of Mrs. Loring’s death. 1789, cannot be correct. A letter of her nephew, Joseph Curtis, states, "The last letter of Mrs. Loring to my father was dated in 1791. She mentions Joseph her son being in poor health." Loring Ms. p. 246.
60. Massachusetts Archives, Royalists Papers, Vol. 154, Papers 436, 437, 438, "April 9, 1776 Inventory of Joshua Loring Junrs. Household Furniture in the House of Capt. Robert Calef in Green’s Lane." Items include "Childs Cradle", "Childs Riding Hourse & Sundry."
61. Henry Belcher, The First Year of the American Civil War; Allen French, The First Year of the American Revolution; Bruce Lancaster, From Lexington to Liberty; Bellamy Partridge, Sir Billy Howe; Kenneth Roberts, Oliver Wiswell.
62. Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings of Francis Hopkinson (Philadelphia, 1792), III, 169.
63. The History of New York During the Revolutionary War and of The Leading Events in the other Colonies at that Period. By Thomas Jones Justice of the Supreme Court of the Province, Edited by Edward Floyd De Lancy, Printed for the New York Historical Society 1879. 2 vols. This work was not published until nearly 90 years after it was written. Jones was himself a prisoner in Connecticut under the order of Loring, and his cattle had been plundered for British army use.
64. E.A. Jones, op.cit., p. 200.
65. Loring Gen., pp. 137, 226. Dictionary of National Biography, XXXIV, 138, 139. Sketch of Elizabeth Loring’s son, Sir John Wentworth Loring, Admiral.
By Eva Phillips Boyd. This article originally appeared in the April-June 1959 issue of Old-Time New England magazine and is reprinted with permission.
Copyright © Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities.
By Walter H. Marx
Along what later was the boundary between the towns of Roxbury and West Roxbury (a straight line from Willow Pond to Egleston Square, still marked at Amory and School Streets) ran the lands of the Curtis family from the 17th century into this century. Starting at the then exposed Stony Brook, their land ran west towards Jamaica and Willow Ponds. For generations it made the family comfortable as the products of this vast farmland at the Roxbury border were sold to the Boston market.
Right: Guests at a hoeing party pose at the Curtis farm on June 4, 1873 before setting out for work in the field. A small brass band can be seen at the right. Photograph courtesy of Martha Tyer Curtis and the late Nelson Curtis Jr.
The Old Curtis Homestead was conveniently located near Stony Brook on Lamartine and Paul Gore Streets, a stone's throw from the Boylston Street railroad depot, where it stood from 1638 to 1887 as Jamaica Plain's oldest home for 250 years. It was built by the progenitor of the family, William, who came from England in 1632 and married the sister of the Rev. John Eliot, Apostle to the Indians. He was later buried in the Eustia Street Burial ground. The distinctive house of unseasoned oak and diamond-glass panes remained in the family for eight generations.
Because of the family's tendency to stay on its land, it's not surprising that when the Town of West Roxbury existed (1853-73) the Curtises took a prominent role in the town, which centered around the Monument. To give it a worthy Town Hall to replace the ramshackle Village Hall on Thomas Street (where the parking lot now is) the family provided Curtis Hall in 1868. Not unexpectedly, the present Chestnut Street from Boylston to Centre was called Curtis Street. A school of the same name is at the corner of Chestnut and Paul Gore.
As the 20th century dawned, many newer Curtis homes dotted the northern Jamaica Plain landscape. On the huge block of Curtis land bounded by Centre, Sheridan, Curtis, and Boylston Streets nearest the Old Homestead stood the home of George Curtis at 4 Boylston Street. Built before 1720, it was the oldest home standing on Jamaica Plain's Old Home Comers' Day on July 13, 1907, but was demolished soon afterwards, when its corner was developed. Republican reform mayor Edwin Curtis (1854-6), who was Police Commissioner during the Police Strike of 1919, was George's son.
Across Centre Street, at number 429, stood the 1722 house of Samuel Curtis, again the oldest standing dwelling in JP at the time of the Boston Tercentenary (1930) before it made room for the Connolly Branch Library. Here, as in the Old Homestead, Rhode Island troops were quartered during the Siege of Boston.
When one of the five generations of Curtis's that dwelt in the house renovated it, iron lugs, fired from British artillery in Boston during the siege, were found imbedded in the roof gutter and cannon balls were found in the fields. The family buried its valuables in the well out back just in case the British broke out of Boston.
Further up Centre Street is the Curtis tract bounded by Pinebank, Perkins, Centre and Beaufort, as the holdings were divided. Towards what is now the corner of Centre and Moraine Streets was the residence of Joseph Curtis, a victim of the 1920's development that changed that intersection forever. The Curtis Victorian manse a few steps away down what later became South Huntington Ave., number 425, was the classic abandoned haunted house en route to school of this chronicler's childhood. No one ever lived there, and in winter it was desolate. It has made room for the Pondwalk Condominium.
Some of the Curtis houses gloriously survive. At the southern end of the family's land at the corner of Centre and Lochstead still stands the home of Charles E. Curtis, originally built in 1721, where is now the Gormley Funeral Home. The original farmhouse was swallowed up when Curtis added the present mid-Victorian shell on the front in 1882. The full 18th century flavor yet exists in the rear rooms with low ceilings and summer beams. This area was the last of the Curtis holdings to be broken up into house lots early in this century.
The other Curtis houses to survive are those built by the Nelson Curtis family, whose house is at 363 South Huntington Ave., later a funeral home and now a seminary with a renovated period barn. His land and orchards extended to Olmsted Park with a now filled-in brook that drained into Willow Pond. Curtis, who died in 1887, was a prominent mason contractor of many Boston buildings, politician, and banker. He built his Italianate home in 1862.
He gave $10,000 to the Town of West Roxbury to buy land from the Greenoughs for its Town Hall, which he built in 1868. The house remained in the family until the teens of this century and was turned to face the new South Huntington Ave. in the 1890's. They then built the most recent Curtis house, 57 Eliot Street, a Georgian revival mansion, which became part of the old Children's Museum here. His is the tale of a family that saw some nine generations in our area.
Reprinted with permission from the December 13, 1991 Jamaica Plain Gazette.
Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
Curtis Hall Has Many Memories Inside
By Henry Keaveney
Manus J. Fish - Supt. Public Bldgs. Lewis H. Bacon - Architect
Having read the bronze plaques at the entrance to Curtis Hall that tells its story, we next strike the area where I used to spend so much time that my mother would wonder why my fingers were wrinkled. My brains were floating in the water, which entered through my ears there.
On the third floor was the gymnasium where Joe McNamara was the instructor. He was a fine gentleman and a beautiful physical specimen of manhood, but he died almost overnight of pneumonia. He had a marvelous way of organizing classes in calisthenics to the rhythm of a piano. The pianist, a lady, was always ready and willing to incorporate requests into the program, such as "Dardanella," "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles," "Long, Long Trail," "It's A Long Way to Tipperary," and all the other popular songs of the day.
The gym was well equipped with wood and steel wands, dumb-bells, ropes and poles for climbing, low and overhead parallel bars, horses, and weights.
The original Curtis Hall was destroyed by fire in 1908 and rebuilt in 1912 with the library as a separate building. I can remember a group of us children sitting in a corner on the floor while the librarian introduced us to the niceties of a book entitled "Katrinka," the story of a girl's life in Russia. I read that book a couple of times, and later I developed a craze for all the books of the historical fiction writer, Joseph Altscheler, who specialized in the Civil and Mexican Wars.
March 29, 1990
Excerpted from the 1920's memories, "Those Were The Days," by Henry Keaveney, first President of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.
Among the few remaining homesteads of history-making families of the trying days of the Pilgrims and Revolutionary period is the old Joseph Curtis place in Jamaica Plain, or what was known as the West Roxbury District. It is situated opposite Paul Gore St. on Center St., formerly the old road to Dedham and outlying towns. The house was built in 1722 for Joseph Curtis by his father, Samuel Curtis.
Samuel Curtis was a grandson of William Curtis, the founder of the family, who came from England in 1632 on the ship Lion. The originator of the Curtis family married the sister of John Eliot, apostle to the Indians. The farm given to Joseph Curtis by his father contained about 32 acres, but many acres were added during Joseph’s lifetime. His wife kept a shop of British goods on Boylston St., a short distance from the house. The Curtis family has aided its country materially, and many of its members have achieved great things and attained high, honorable positions.
The following was copied from notes made by Miss Frances H. Curtis, which were taken from the diary of Katherine Curtis, who resided in the house during those troublous Revolutionary days:
My great-great-grandfather Curtis, he was a patriot, for after the battle of Lexington, Mr. Joseph Curtis opened his house and gave quarters to a company of 100 men from Farmington, Conn.
He reserved for his own family only his wife’s shop and one chamber.
This company was composed of young men of good station, and during the three months they occupied the Curtis house perfect discipline was preserved.
There were many alarms that the British were coming out of Boston, and one night, being suddenly called arms, every man brought his watch and purse and deposited it with Mrs. Curtis.
What shall I do with them?’ she asked.
The men replied: ‘If we come back, we shall know our own, and if we do not, we would rather you had them than the British.’
The house is, in many respects, up to date, having some modern improvements, but for the most part remains as it was when erected 185 years ago. The well-preserved beams and supports - with their peculiar fastenings, massive chimneys, arched hearths and old ovens are still to be seen. The attic is in an unfinished state, just as it was when the household slaves were quartered there.
A great deal of the original house furnishings are still in use. There are among the contents a Paul Revere lantern, which hangs in the front hall, the old clock, warming pan, chairs, pictures and many other things.
There are two very old pictures in the sitting room, one, an engraving by H. Kingsbury, dated October 20, 1775, taken from Kitchingman’s painting, "Beggar and His Dog;" the other is from a painting by W.R. Bigg, entitled "Saturday Evening, the Husband’s Return From Labor," engraved January 31, 1705 by W. Nutter.
About 30 years ago the late Mrs. Abigail Reed, a great-great-granddaughter of Joseph Curtis, had extensive repairs made upon the house, tinting the walls the original colors, and bringing it generally as it was at first. During the repairs three small cannon balls were taken from the rafters, where they were embedded. A larger cannon ball was found on the farm, presumably relics of the British occupation of Boston. In one of the closets, there are the imprints of a pair of tiny hands in the plaster.
A number of years ago a grandson of Joseph was sent into the closet as punishment, and he evidently stood repentantly with his head resting on the backs of his hands. The plaster was soft, and the young man left an interesting memento.
The homestead has been continually in possession of the Curtis family and is now occupied by direct descendants, the fifth generation from Joseph Curtis or the eighth from the founder of the family.
The house was a great attraction during Old-Home Week, having a descriptive tablet upon it.
Miss Marguerite Souther was a grand Edwardian lady, but paradoxically
she was a woman of pioneer spirit, liberated far beyond her generation.
"Rita Souther", as she was known to her intimate friends and as she often signed herself, was born to affluence at "Allandale", the estate her grandfather had acquired on Allandale Street, Jamaica Plain, off Centre Street, next to the Arboretum, abutting what was formerly the Rowe Brothers stone quarry. It was a large estate and it contained a magnificent spring. It is currently the site of the Springhouse retirement community opposite the Faulkner Hospital.
Marguerite Souther's grandfather, John H. Souther, was the gentleman who finally was able to complete the filling of the Back Bay from Dartmouth Street all the way out to the Cottage Farm in Brookline. John Souther creatively used steam shovels, gondola cars and a very large sand pit in the Charles River area of Needham. The estate was acquired from Stephen Merrill Allen who had built it sometime between 1840 and 1860. For details of the filling of Boston, see "Boston: A Topographical History", Walter Muir Whitehill (1959).
Sometime just before Marguerite Souther was born in 1882, the old mansion burned to the ground. Miss Souther's father, Charles H. Souther, then replaced it with a magnificent shingle-style mansion on the same site. Marguerite Souther grew up there with her three brothers: John Glendon Souther and the younger twins Channing Weare Souther and Charles Dana Souther. Our generation had wonderful times at Allandale. There were skating parties, coasting parties, burning parties, tea parties and formal dinner parties, the last one being in 1968, as you will see.
Several years after Miss Souther's return from Smith College, the Souther family fortune went into a decline. It was then that a friend told her that running dancing classes could be a profitable way to make a living. Accordingly, Miss Souther started dancing classes in various places, not yet necessarily in Eliot Hall, where they thrived from sometime in 1910 until she retired in the late 1960's. Miss Souther has described those early years teaching dancing as a major challenge. For instance, she would take the streetcars to North Station, the train to Lowell and the streetcars to the dancing hall, leaving Lowell as late as 11:30 in the evening. She described how she almost fainted on the train returning home one evening when she had a touch of the flu. Soon, however, the Eliot Hall location in Jamaica Plain took permanent roots and by the time my older brother Kenneth, born in 1912, was seven or eight; he and all his little friends went to Miss Souther's Dancing School at Eliot Hall.
In the 1920's when Miss Souther's brother, Channing Weare Souther and his family were living at Allandale, Miss Souther and her mother were living on Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain, directly in back of where we lived on Newsome Park. My first impression and vision of Miss Souther is clear in my mind. One day she came out of the house dressed in a long light reddish brown tweed suit, nearly the color of her hair. She had on a matching light brown tweed hat and bone glasses. Her mother, Mrs. Charles Souther, followed her out. Mrs. Souther wore a black taffeta dress with a hat and veil. Miss Souther put her mother into the back seat of a Model T Ford touring car, top-down, and her Chow dog "Chang" (the same color as her tweed suit) in the front seat next to her. Then she went around and cranked the engine; the engine roared, she backed out onto Eliot Street and took off toward the Monument. This was a symbol of her early independence.
It seems appropriate chronologically to repeat the story of the acquisition of the Loring-Greenough Mansion at Eliot Square in Jamaica Plain by the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club in the early to mid-1920s. David Stoddard Greenough IV decided to sell the estate. Building was booming at that time. There was a great risk that it would be sold for commercial development. Homes just across the street had just recently been torn down to make way for stores. In this period when the house was at risk the two incumbent Tuesday Club Presidents, Mrs. Henrietta F. Goodnow and Mrs. Irene Carrow Rees; and other able leaders like Mrs. Elizabeth Z. Grabill and Mrs. Lucy E. Henderson, were unable to raise the necessary funds in spite of gifts from many donors. (From the earliest days, all Tuesday Club members' records are kept in given names rather than their husband's names.) Miss Souther now stepped in for the Club. She personally signed and guaranteed the mortgage on the property and the mansion was saved. The mortgage was paid off in some three years and this was celebrated by a pageant called "The Place Remembers".
This leadership is a very good example of Miss Marguerite Souther's courage and independence. I do remember the time very well, for it was my mother's generation who tried and tried to put the pieces of this major investment together when the grand place was very close to going to the wrecker. A few years after the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club had successfully acquired the Loring-Greenough House, a fire erupted. Some fine chandeliers had been installed. Miss Souther heard about the fire, went into the house full of smoke to remove the chandeliers.
"Get out of here, lady. This place is full of smoke. You are in danger," said a fireman. "Not until I get these things out of here" was Miss Souther's brave response from the ladder on which she stood while removing the chandeliers.
Miss Souther was not afraid to speak up in politics as well. A good friend of mine, who grew up in Jamaica Plain in the 1910's and 1920's, once told me about Miss Souther taking a very strong stand on an important political issue, of course, on the side of what she thought was right. I do not remember the details of this, but his telling me about it is very clear.
Around 1927 I first went to Miss Souther's Dancing School. My attendance at Eliot Hall continued all the way through college in 1939. It was only later that I recognized that the young ladies who attended Miss Souther's dancing school and later assemblies were from the best families in the Boston area. Nearly all would be debutantes, as was the custom at the time, when they had graduated from school. They attended such fine girl's private schools as Beaver Country Day, Winsor School, May School, Brimmer School, Lee School, Buckingham School, and Park School. Some had attended earlier the former Miss Seeger's School on Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain. The younger boys came from private schools such as Dexter, Park and Longwood Day with a few public school boys mixed in. However, as the years went by, and the dancing schools evolved into the Junior Eliots and finally the Senior Eliots, the boys came from private schools, naturally largely day schools: Noble & Greenough, Milton, Brown & Nichols, Roxbury Latin, Rivers, Belmont Hill with a few from the "boarding schools". Then freshman college year was when the boarding school boys swelled the group - schools such as St. Mark's, Exeter, Groton, Middlesex, Brooks, and others.
Miss Souther was exacting. If a girl came to an Eliot Hall dance at age 15 or 16 and did not appear to be too popular at that age, Miss Souther had a band of somewhat older ushers who saw to it that the girl was danced with regularly. Miss Souther would let a new invitee come to one dance to see how she fared. If a girl came too decolletee, Miss Souther would chastise her and probably put something over her cleavage.
Miss Souther was equally firm with the boys. If she suspected that a boy had brought a liquor flask into the boy's coatroom or lavatory, Miss Souther would barge right in, grab the liquor and confiscate it. She might send that boy home. If she had to go into the boy's lavatory (with the square Victorian 19th century toilet in it), she did not hesitate to do so. Much has been quoted about Miss Souther's firmness and abruptness. It is obviously true that she had to keep the standards high or the mothers, and the patronesses, would not lend their names or their daughters to these affairs.
Miss Souther on the other hand could be a kind person. Most years that I attended Eliot Halls were those of the Great Depression. Looking back on it, it is quite obvious to me that Miss Souther, in her knowledge of the community and her kindness, hand-picked the people who manned the desk at the entrance, who served the ice cream at the Supper Dance, at approximately 10:30, and those who wished to be her assistants. In several cases I recall that the people she employed were in some degree in financial straits or were without employment in those difficult years.
In 1962, fifty years after Miss Souther started the Eliot Hall dances, a group of her former pupils got together and presented Miss Souther with a booklet listing as many of the former Eliot Hall people, both boys and girls, as could be rounded up to honor her. Soon thereafter, Miss Souther retired and her niece, Barbara Souther Cooke, took over and ran Eliot Hall well into the 1980's, despite the changes in customs and mores.
The last party that we attended at Allandale was in 1968. One of my school classmates, a former Eliot Hall regular, an Annapolis graduate and a high-ranking Naval Officer had returned from Vietnam. Barbara Souther Cooke's husband, Colonel Fredrick J. Cooke was also there. Miss Souther put a dinner party together with several of our contemporaries from the 1930's. It seemed that her motive was to make her own true judgement of what was right or wrong with the Vietnam War.
Shortly after that party Miss Souther sold Allandale to the Faulkner Hospital. Faulkner planned to expand across Allandale Street and quickly razed the 1880's mansion. The hospital never built on the property but rather decided to expand further up the hill. The Springhouse retirement community now occupies the Allen/Souther estate site. Miss Souther moved into Longwood Towers with many of her favorite possessions. When she died at the ripe age of 93, one of her former pupils, the Rev. George Blackman of the Church of Our Saviour in Brookline, together with Rev. Francis Caswell, Retired Headmaster of Dexter School in Brookline, remembered her at a service filled to the aisles. Marguerite Souther was recognized as the grand lady she was with all her special personal characteristics.
It is quite obvious that Marguerite Souther was a lady, brought up with all the comforts and conveniences. When she had to face up to the realities of the times in which she was living, she quickly evolved ahead of her time and proved that it is possible for women to accomplish a great deal in ways formerly left to men and to do so without losing their graciousness.
Written by David A. Mittell, who grew up on Prince Street in Jamaica Plain. He attended the Agassiz School and Roxbury Latin. He is a 1939 graduate of Harvard University. Mr. Mittell is a retired executive of Davenport Peters, the oldest American continually operating lumber wholesaler. He is a member of the board of trustees of the Plimoth Plantation and Roxbury Latin High School. Copyright © 2003 David A. Mittell.
Told in the first person, Edwina’s humor, spunk and optimistic spirit shine through stories that introduce us to the diverse cast of characters that populated her world. Edwina’s story evokes the sweet simplicity of childhood memories, with the knowing eye of a wiser woman looking back at them, and reminding us that in her story, we find ourselves. Threaded with life’s lessons and an understanding look at human nature in the simple setting of an earlier time.
We hope you will enjoy the following excerpts from the book. You can buy the book at http://www.jphs.org/books/ or at your favorite neighborhood bookseller.
A Note from the Author
My grandmother, C. Edwina McNeil Connell, once told me she had been writing reflections and stories about her childhood for many years and would continue to do so in a journal I had just given her. She always had great aspirations that I would become a writer, and she hoped that some day I would bring her stories to life.
Although she died in 1996, it was not until spring 2002 that Edwina’s writings were discovered among the daily journals she kept throughout her life. The writings from which this book was drawn appear in various notebooks and diaries dated 1956-1988, given to me by Edwina’s daughter, my mother, Janet Connell McGatrey.
In honor of my mother, and her mother, Edwina, I have written this book. And yes, Grandmother, with this book, I have become a writer.
I grew up in the early 1900’s as the daughter of a dressmaker in suburban Boston. I was surrounded by materials, patterns, buttons, braids, laces, sewing notions, threads of every color, snaps, hooks and eyes, needles, scissors, tapes, and fashion magazines of every description. But more than that, I was surrounded by a variety of people who visited our home, which was also Mother’s place of business. Life with my devoted mother and a father who, for the brief time I knew him, always had peanuts - was the proverbial bowl of cherries.
I took poverty and my Irish Protestant background in stride, not realizing that I may have been at a disadvantage in our Irish Catholic neighborhood. I really feel that my life was quite rich in every sense of the word.
Most of my childhood memories, which will be the subject of my book, are from Paul Gore Street, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. When I was five I moved to that street, a long street, as the numbers went to over 195. Even now, I frequently meet people who lived on that street, though I have not been back in a single house there since we left nearly 40 years ago. The houses were mostly three deckers, so I daresay in the last 40 years, I figured it out somehow, that nearly 60,000 people more or less, have lived on Paul Gore Street. It seems I never meet someone new that our conversations don’t invariably go through some form of, “0h, you lived on Paul Gore Street? I did too! Do you know so and so?” And most generally, I do.
C. Edwina McNeil
From Chapter 21, Peddlers and Stores
Paul Gore Street was a long street off Centre Street. It crossed over Chestnut Avenue, down through a stop light to Hammett Kind Street and to Boylston Station, where steam trains ran in to Boston from New York City. As children, we used to go up to Boylston Station. It was a big thrill to sit and wait for a train to race past. The stationmaster would chase us off if he saw us, as it was dangerous. We were told that if we got too near the trains, the momentum could suck us right under the tracks.
There were few automobiles, mostly horses and carriages. Cabs were horse-drawn. The grocery man, Cliff Nelson, used to come around with a horse and buggy every morning to take orders for the day, and then he would deliver the groceries before noon.
Sometimes, I would go to the grocer’s store to get butcher paper for my Mother to make patterns. In order for Mother to be able to keep up with the latest styles, she had several customers who would go with her to an exclusive dressmaker’s workshop and try on a dress. Mother would closely observe the dress, come home, and while it was fresh in her mind, make a sketch. She would then make her own pattern for a dress on the butcher paper.
Our grocers, brothers Cliff and Tom Nelson, were very generous, but one day Cliff asked me why my mother always needed the paper. I said, “To make a pattern.” He looked quizzical and said, “Okay,” and just gave me the paper. I suppose he had no idea what I was talking about.
As I think of it now, Tom must have been the owner and gave Cliff a job to help his family. The business came from the father, so I suppose he had to do it. Cliff was a real oldmaid gossiper and carried tales from one house to another. Every housewife knew she had to be careful what she said to Cliff, although the ladies always were anxious to hear what he had for news.
He would say things like, “Mrs. So-and-So, at 10 a.m. didn’t have the breakfast dishes off the table,” or “I saw Mrs. So-and-So’s bed not made at 11 p.m.,” and things that were even worse, because he made them up.
One day, he came for the grocery order, and my mother was combing my very fine, curly hair that snarled and tangled terribly. By this time my hair had grown long again. Poor Mother always had a time to get the snarls out and had to tell me stories to get my mind off the combing. I made a great fuss every morning, and Mother should have given me a good clout with the hairbrush, but she never did.
Anyway, this day she was telling a story, as usual, when Cliff stopped by. For some reason, I guess because of the story Mother was telling me — and because I was somewhat mischievous — I told him we were going to California and I was going to be in the movies. The idea of being in the movies was fresh in my mind, as Mother had taken me to the 5-cent Nickelodeon just a few days before.
Well, didn’t Cliff Nelson go out and spread a yarn how Mrs. McNeil was going to California and Edwina was going to be in the movies. The neighbors knew Mother had a brother in California, so they figured it could be possible. We were a long time squelching that story.
Cliff really got himself into trouble when one of his customers had her brother visiting. Cliff told everyone he saw “a man asleep on Mrs. So-and-So’s couch” when he went for the order. The story spread quickly. The husband was so furious that he beat Cliff up. All the neighbors talked about the incident for a long time. After that, a young boy came for the order, and Cliff stayed in the store.
Mother sewed for both Tom’s and Cliff ’s wives. The families both lived on Sunny Side Street, a few houses from each other, but the wives never spoke to each other. Mother always said the two brothers got the wrong wives. Tom should have married Cliff ’s wife and visa versa. So much for the two wives of Sunny Side Street.
Peddlers came through our street every day, with vegetables and fruits in season. On Fridays, there was always a fresh fish cart, as everyone in Boston ate fish on Fridays, Catholics and Protestants alike. We had an umbrella man who was also our scissors and knife grinder. All of the women came out with their scissors and knives, and he used to let us kids turn the grinder.
In the winter, during the big snows, the streets were never plowed. Everyone just shoveled in front of his own house. The peddlers used to take the wagons and put sleds behind them. We used to love to chase them and hop on for a ride.
I can remember, in particular, that the iceman and his horse would come every day. We had an ice chest that opened up on top and on the side were little shelves. The piece of ice would go on the opposite sides. We put a sign in the window to request either a 10, 20, or 30-cent piece, and the iceman would come up and put in the desired size. If you weren’t home, you would leave the money on top of the chest, and the iceman would come in. People never even thought of locking their doors.
Our iceman was a jovial and pleasant man. He had the most wonderful horse named Clover. He was always most careful with Clover. He talked to him kindly, lovingly and never whipped him. Going down the street, that horse knew just about every stop. The iceman would holler out to the horse, “Giddy up.” and the horse would go. Then he’d holler, “Whoa,” and the horse would halt so the ice delivery could be made.
We just loved Clover, and used to pull him closer to the curb so we could feed him. During the summer, Clover always wore a straw bonnet to help shield him from the sun. We would follow Clover, and on a hot day the iceman would hack off pieces of ice for us to suck. It was delicious.
Minnie Snow was another interesting character. She kept a penny-candy store in Hyde Square. There you could spend as long as you wanted choosing your heart’s desire. Minnie must have been a woman of infinite patience. She would lean on the candy counter and stare into space for as long as it took you to make your selection. You could buy quite a lot for 1 cent, but once Minnie Snow had the penny, no amount of persuasion would let you change your choices. So you held onto the penny until you were certain your decision was final. You could change your mind a dozen times before you gave up the penny, but never afterward. Minnie was not talkative, or particularly pleasant, either. She moved her eyebrows up and down, pulled down her mouth, scowled, and rubbed her tongue around her lips when anyone was talking with her, but said nothing. She nodded or shook her head for yes and no, as the case may be, and for a long time I thought she was dumb.
At Christmas, Minnie gave each child a few pieces of candy in red striped Dorothy Bags, as she called them. We always looked forward to the treat. Some children tried to get more than one Dorothy Bag, but I don’t believe anyone ever succeeded. Minnie was too smart. All the kids believed she had eyes around her entire head. Without moving her head, she would call out the only word I ever heard her say, “Mind! Mind!” when some child in the rear of the store was touching something. We just about jumped out of our shoes when we heard her speak, and were amazed at how she always knew when there were “exploring hands” in her store.
Minnie sold papers, magazines, cigars, cigarettes, tobacco and a few groceries, too, but the store was bare compared to most others. She had chairs along the wall, and men would sit there and gossip, but not with Minnie. She just listened.
Copyright © 2005 Jill Hofstra. All Rights Reserved
Elizabeth Bethune Campbell was a Jamaica Plain resident and author of the book, controversial in its time, Where Angels Fear to Tread. Her book was self-published in 1940 from her home in the rectory of St. John’s Episcopalian Church on Alveston Street in Jamaica Plain. We are greatful to UBC press for permission to reprint the following excerpt about Campbell from the book, The Heiress vs the Establishment:
Ellen Swallow Richards’ home is at 32 Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain. A video of a modern portrayal of Richards by Joyce Miles can be seen here.
In the 1890s American women emerged as a major force for social reform. Millions joined civic organizations and, under the banner of “municipal housekeeping,” extended their roles from domestic duties to concern about their communities and environments. Their contributions were vital in civilizing and improving the horrific conditions created by the industrial revolution and the philosophies of social darwinism and unregulated capitalism.
One of the first was Ellen Swallow Richards, whose work in the decades after the Civil War set the stage for the women’s Progressive movement. Richards was the first woman admitted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the first scientist to conduct stream by stream water surveys in the United States.
Richards never expected to be admitted to MIT when she wrote to ask if women were permitted to study there, but her former teachers at Vassar College gave her such strong references that MIT’s president gave her a provisional admission. As a student, Richards was so meticulous and diligent that she soon took charge of the lab work of one of MIT’s most important projects — analyzing the tens of thousands of water samples from all over the state.
The 1873 study of state streams led to a method for determining the “normal” distribution of chlorine in water, which was seen as an indicator of pollution from industry, and also led to the establishment of the first state experimental station for water pollution research in Lawrence, Massachusetts.
Richards believed that environment was the major factor in the quality of life and argued vehemently against “eugenic” attempts to improve “the race” of people by scientific selection of parental partners. She coined the term “euthenics” for improvement of the environment, both in and out of the household. She also used the term “ecology” in a broader sense and began the “home ecology” movement, also called the “home economics” movement.
Among her many accomplishments, Richards’ research demonstrated the need for Massachusetts factory and food inspection laws, the first in the nation. She was also involved in the development of sanitary sewer treatment systems. Richards was an early example of the many American women who adopted conservation and environmental causes in the Progressive era. Although not outspoken in the women’s suffrage or women’s rights movements, she saw improvements in scientific education as a key to the progress of women and the country.
“Municipal housekeeping,” as it was later termed, would be a direct extension of Richards’ vision of the new role for women. Within a generation, Richards’ vision became widely accepted. Women’s clubs and civic improvement groups of the Progressive era contributed immense energy to the cause of conservation, with long-lasting effects. As late as 1948, a New York Times editorial page, in an endorsement of an anti-smoke rally, would “urge housewives and others to take this opportunity.” Like Richards, many women also contributed to the sanitary movement and the reform of awful conditions in urban slums.
Another reformer with perhaps the deepest impact in the Progressive era was Jane Addams, whose 1889 establishment of a “settlement house” in Chicago, called Hull House, brought social reform to one of America’s most squalid slums. She was inspired by a visit in 1887 to an English settlement residence called Toynbee House in London’s East End.
Addams worked with city administrators on garbage cleanup, sewer installation, street lighting, clean drinking water, child labor, food inspection, health and medical service reform, fighting epidemic disease and many other slum problems. Among the residents who worked with Addams at Hull House were Alice Hamilton, a young M.D. whose experiences inspired her reform efforts on behalf of workers in dangerous trades, and Florence Kelly, an “impatient crusader” against child labor and abusive conditions in women’s workplaces.
Over a million women participated directly in reform efforts through women’s clubs during the Progressive era. Each city’s women’s clubs took up conservation and urban improvement causes in various forms. Many of the clubs were united under the General Federation of Women’s Clubs, which had national committees on forestry, waterways and rivers and harbors. For example, the waterways committee was formed in 1909 to promote water power, clean water and cheaper transportation, according to historian Carolyn Merchant. “The rationale for women’s involvement lay in the effect of waterways on every American home: Pure water meant health; impure meant disease and death.”
While their California counterparts worked to save the sequoia forests and the Hetch Hetchy valley, Progressive women in New York and New Jersey were saving the Palisades of the Hudson River from a stone quarry, and Progressive women of Colorado were saving cliff dwellings and pueblo ruins from vandalism. Middle-class housewives in New York formed the Ladies Health Protective Association in 1884 to encourage better street cleaning, while Philadelphia women formed the Civic Club in 1894 and their counterparts in Boston created the Women’s Municipal League in 1908.
In spite of their contribution, Merchant notes that women were systematically excluded from areas that became professionalized after the peak of the Progressive era. After 1913, the American Forestry Association no longer invited women to speak at its conventions, and its magazine no longer carried articles by women. Increasing tensions over the women’s suffrage movement and the split in the Progressive movement over the Hetch Hetchy dam controversy may have had something to do with the cold shoulder, but in general, areas that became professionalized tended to have fewer opportunities for women.
One public health professional who was not marginalized was the Rev. Caroline Bartlett Crane. Originally a teacher and news reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune and an editor at the Oshkosh Morning Times, Bartlett quit and entered a seminary. By 1889 she was ordained in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and installed as a pastor of a Unitarian church there. Crane organized “new and untried kinds of social service,” including discussion groups on civic problems.
When she could not find a speaker to discuss meat inspection in 1902, she began researching the subject herself. Along with members of the women’s club, she visited nearby slaughterhouses and was shocked by the grossly unsanitary conditions. She also found that the slaughterhouses made no distinction between healthy and diseased animals. Crane disclosed these conditions to the city council, but learned that it had no jurisdiction over businesses located outside the limits, as these were. The state board of health took no action either. Crane made a study of meat inspection laws in other states and drafted a proposed law that gave cities the right to regulate meat sold within their limits. Her bill became law in the spring of 1903, and a year later she founded the Women’s Civic Improvement League of Kalamazoo.
Her success also led to requests for help in other cities, and Crane became a traveling consultant for sanitary planning to at least 20 cities. A visit to Uniontown, Pennsylvania, for example, resulted in the condemnation of the public water supply; a tour of Kentucky cities resulted in the establishment of a state bacteriological laboratory.
Crane insisted that women take a share of the responsibility for the cleanliness of the city, advising: “We certainly should keep our city — that is to say, our common house — clean. The floor should be clean. The air should be clean…” Yet, as historian Suellen Hoy noted, she also saw “municipal housekeeping” as a non-partisan responsibility that should involve not only women but the whole community working in a partnership with local government.
Written by William Kovarik, PhD, an Associate Professor at Radford University, Radford, VA.
Caroline L. Hunt, The Life of Ellen H. Richards (Boston, Whitcomb & Hunt, 1912): 99.
Marcia Yudkin, “Earth, Air, Water, Hearth: The Woman Who Founded Ecology,” Vassar Quarterly, Spring 1982: 32-34.
“An Anti-Smoke Rally,” New York Times, Nov. 18, 1948: 26:3.
Jane Addams, Twenty Years at Hull House (New York: Macmillan, 1948), first printed in 1910.
Carolyn Merchant, “The Women of the Progressive Conservation Crusade: 1900 - 1915,” in Kendall E. Bailes, ed., Environmental History: Critical Issues in Comparative Perspective, (NY, University Press, 1985): 156.
Mary S. Gibson, ed., A Record of Twenty Five Years of the California Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1900 - 1925 (Pasadena, CFWC, 1927): 7.
Suellen M. Hoy, “Municipal Housekeeping: The Role of Women in Improving Urban Sanitation Practices,” in Martin V. Melosi, ed., Pollution and Reform in American Cities 1870 - 1930 (Austin, University of Texas Press, 1980): 173.
Ellen Swallow Richards lived at 32 Eliot Street in Jamaica Plain. Reprinted with permission from the Fall 1976 New England Galaxy. Copyright © Old Sturbridge Village, Inc. (http://www.osv.org/)
By Francis E. Wylie
For a married woman to achieve not only bliss but also intellectual parity with her husband a hundred years ago was a remarkable accomplishment. Ellen Swallow’s love affair with Robert H. Richards was hardly one of history’s great romances, but it demonstrated that hearts and minds could be equal, rational and compatible.
Ellen Swallow, a liberated female for her day, was the first woman student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and she became a fine chemist, a crusader for good food, clean air and pure water, and the mother of “domestic science.
Robert Richards, a member of the first class at M.I.T., was a pioneer in modern metallurgy and had the perspicacity to admit science to the domestic scene. He and Nellie, as he called her, made a remarkable team.
Ellen was born in Dunstable, Massachusetts, in the hills near the New Hampshire border. Her father was a farmer-storekeeper-teacher, and after she had attended Westford Academy she herself taught for a while. By the time she was twenty-six she was sickly in health and clearly destined to be an old maid. Then, apparently in a sudden burst of determination, she pulled herself together and, with her scanty savings and borrowed money, financed her admission to Vassar College in 1868.
Vassar, which had opened only three years before, the first women’s college of consequence, revealed a new world to Miss Swallow. “Some twenty or more of the girls wear their hair flowing to their waists without any attempt at doing it up,” she wrote in her diary, a bit priggishly, at the end of her first week. “lt is not usually curly, but long and straight. It seems as if they had not yet dressed.”
Being older than other Vassar girls, and more serious, she had no time for fashion and frivolity. She worked her way to a degree by tutoring, and then decided she wanted to be a chemist. She was advised that the best and perhaps only place to study chemistry was the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, already recognized as a first-rate scientific school though it had opened the same year as Vassar, 1865.
M.I.T. was a college for men. Women were admitted to a night class in chemistry taught by Charles W. Eliot (who left the faculty in l 869 to become president of Harvard), but those who had applied for status as full-time students were rebuffed. Miss Swallow had special qualifications, however, and the Institute agreed in 1871 to take her as a special student - without fees, so she would not officially be enrolled. That suited Ellen, and within a month she wrote: “I am winning a way which others will keep open. Perhaps the fact that I am not a Radical or a believer in the all powerful ballot for women to right her wrongs and that I do not scorn womanly duties, but claim it as a privilege to clean up and sort of supervise the room and sew things, etc., is winning me stronger allies than anything else. Even Prof. A. accords me his sanction when I sew his papers or tie up a sore finger or dust the table, etc. Last night Prof. B. found me useful to mend his suspenders which had come to grief.?
Prof. B. presumably was Bob Richards, in whose laboratory Ellen was shut up “very much as a dangerous animal” to keep her from contact with undergraduate men. He was three years younger than she and a first-year faculty member.
Richards had been born in Gardiner, Maine. His mother’s family background included the wealthy Gardiners, Tudors, and Hallowells, and his father was the son of an English merchant. He had gone to school in England, was invariably defeated by Greek and Latin, failed to get into Harvard, and was at the foot of his class at Phillips Exeter Academy when he heard about M.I.T., a new kind of college. He was one of the first seven students to enter.
M.I.T. was innovating - teaching science in the laboratory. “The method of teaching was completely new to all of us,” Richards later recalled. “We found ourselves bidding goodbye to the old learn-by-heart method, and begging to study by observing the facts and laws of nature.
“I found that this new school was teaching me nature, which I had loved and observed all my life; that I was being taught nature by direct contact and that mathematics, languages and history, were nothing but a means to an end. Having at last found out the use of books, I could not read or study enough to satisfy my craving for knowledge, experience and skill. In academic schools, I had to drag myself to my books never understanding why I must. Now I could not keep away from books, drawing board and laboratory. Education ceased to be a plague spot and became a delight.”
Richards graduated in 1868 with a degree in geology and mining engineering and immediately became an instructor. In 1871 he organized what was probably the first laboratory in the world in which ore could be processed by industrial methods.
His classmate, Joseph Revere (grandson of Paul), came in from the Revere Copper Company plant at Canton, Massachusetts, to show him how to smelt copper. That same year Richards participated in what was probably the first summer school of its kind. He and his M.I.T. students traveled on the new transcontinental railroad to mines and smelters in the western mountains in order to study methods and they brought back more than 200 bags of ore to work with in the laboratory. For thirty years Richards conducted such expeditions in all parts of the country.
To maintain the fiction that she was not a student, Ellen Swallow had been listed at M.I.T. as “not a candidate for a degree” but in 1873 she was awarded the degree of Bachelor of Science (and also an A.M. by Vassar). In the laboratory a few days later, Professor Richards asked her to become his wife. “To my everlasting joy, she decided to accept my offer,” Professor Richards wrote. They were married two years later and Nellie donned boots and a short skirt to spend the honeymoon with mining students on a trip to Nova Scotia. By buckboard and muleback, Mrs. Richards and her husband visited lead, copper, tin, silver, gold, and iron mines during succeeding summers. She was chemist for the team and she was the first woman to be elected to the American Institute of Mining Engineers. She was also elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an unusual honor for that time.
This was a period of enormous development in mining, and Professor Richards was a consultant to such companies as the fabulous Calumet and Hecla in finding new deposits and solving processing problems. He invented machinery and wrote the definitive four-volume, 2,800-page work on ore-dressing.
New England mineral inspectors had occasionally induced gold fever in the inhabitants; Professor Richards showed their optimism to be unjustified. Discovery of gold and silver near Newburyport set people frantically to digging up pastures and resulted in the sale of a million dollars in stock. Richards demonstrated that only a shallow vein existed - not enough to pay for the mining.
At another time, Richards was persuaded to examine ore displayed by some promoters who exhibited receipts from the New York Mint indicating that they had shipped $80,000 in pure gold. Richards was suspicious and found (with a taste test) that the ore consisted of rocks covered with flour paste into which some gold dust had been introduced. With money from the sale of stock, the promoters had melted up gold coins to provide the dust as well as some genuine gold bricks to be shipped to the Mint. Pure fraud.
After her graduation from M.I.T., Ellen Swallow was appointed an assistant in chemistry and later, instructor. She wanted to get a doctorate, a degree not yet awarded by the Institute, but came up against an insurmountable academic wall. Years later, Professor Richards reflected that the faculty shrank from the prospect of letting a woman be the first doctor of science produced by M.I.T.
It was 1883 before women were admitted to M.I.T. on equal footing with men. Mrs. Richards served unofficially as their dean, while supervising a Woman’s Laboratory which was especially effective in training teachers of chemistry.
Much of her time, however, went into the study of pollution and public health hazards. Typhoid fever and other diseases were constant menaces, and the Massachusetts Board of Health commissioned an M.I.T. professor to survey sources of drinking water, many of them contaminated by sewage. Mrs. Richards did most of the laboratory work and through three decades performed thousands of analyses of water from all parts of the state.
When the world’s first comprehensive course in sanitary engineering was inaugurated, she was one of the key teachers. She also studied air pollution, examined wallpapers and textiles for arsenic, and analyzed foods for adulterants.
Years earlier when she had been a student at Vassar, Ellen had been convinced of the importance of fresh air by a professor’s demonstration that lighted candles placed in a closed container would be extinguished for lack of oxygen. She wrote (with the prevalent lack of understanding of the nature of tuberculosis): “Consumption is the result of the tight building of the present day. A fireplace is better than life insurance.”
People at that time were walling up fireplaces and installing stoves. They kept their windows closed while they slept for fear of “night air.” Mrs. Richards crusaded for good ventilation in homes and schools. She and her husband installed special ventilators in their own home in Boston. In fact, their house became a kind of laboratory for testing new ideas in cookery and homemaking.
Mrs. Richards favored education for women on general principles but she directed her energies toward improving their education in the practical application of science to home management. The creative arts, such as spinning and weaving, had been taken out of the home, leaving women with the dull drudgery of cleaning and cooking without an understanding of how domestic life could be improved. In a talk before the women of Poughkeepsie in 1879, the first of many addresses she would make throughout the country, Mrs. Richards said:
“Now it is often stated that our educational system unfits the girls for their work in life, which is largely that of housekeepers. It cannot be the knowledge that unfits them. One can never know too much of things which one is to handle… . Can a cook know too much about the composition and nutritive value of the meats and vegetables which she uses? Can a housekeeper know too much of the effect of fresh air on the human system, or the danger of sewer gas, or foul water?
“Go where you will into the country and you will find the sewing machine universal, but alas! just as much poor bread, just as much fried pork, just the same open sink drain under the kitchen window, just as the same damp, dark cellar, just as much fear of fresh air, as you would have found thirty years ago. And in the cities, how much better is it; rather, how much worse?”
With an understanding of chemistry, Mrs. Richards pointed out, women could detect and battle against adulterants in foods. She herself led a task force in collecting samples from groceries throughout Massachusetts and found, for example, baking powder that was forty-five percent starch and cinnamon that was mostly mahogany saw dust.
To demonstrate to the undernourished poor the value of inexpensive but well-prepared foods, Mrs. Richards opened in Boston a New England Kitchen which sold such dishes as fish chowder at twelve cents and mush at five cents a quart. Similar kitchens were established in Providence, in New York, and at Hull House in Chicago. Mrs. Richards argued that a dime’s worth of beans was as nutritious as twenty-five to fifty cents worth of potatoes (the Irish immigrants’ staple.) Affluent but frugal Bostonians were good customers, but the people for whom the kitchens were intended were less responsive so the facilities were given up as failures.
“Their death knell was sounded,” Mrs. Richards explained, “by the woman who said, ‘I don’t want to eat what’s good for me; I’d ruther eat what I’d ruther.’”
As a part of the Massachusetts exhibit at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, Mrs. Richards operated a “Rumford Kitchen,” named for the Yankee-born Count Rumford who had pioneered in the science of nutrition. Visitors could watch the expert preparation of food and buy 979.3 calories’ worth of baked beans, brown bread, butter, and applesauce for thirty cents.
The year before, Mrs. Richards had coined the word “oekology” (she later spelled it “ecology,” but it would not become a household word for more than half a century.) She used it to denote the science of housekeeping - ranging from dietetics to sanitary plumbing. “Oekology is the worthiest of all the applied sciences, the science which teaches the principles on which to found healthy and happy homes,’” she declared. The new word represented Ellen Richards’ continuing effort to broaden the scope and rationalize the methods of household technology. The term “domestic science” had been in use for some years - and no one did more to apply science to domestic practices than Mrs. Richards. She organized the domestic science course at the new Pratt Institute in New York and was influential in shaping such studies in other schools and colleges.
In high schools, domestic science had developed somewhat in parallel with manual training for boys; its approach was inadequate, Mrs. Richards thought. Looking backward in 1908, she said: “Ten years ago domestic science meant to most people lessons in cooking and sewing given to classes of the poorer children supported by charitable people, in order to enable them to teach their parents to make a few pennies go as far as a dollar spent in the shops. To do this, common American foods were cooked in American ways, regardless of the nationality of the children, and usually failed to please the inherited foreign tastes. But complacent philanthropists felt happy in having offered bread to the starving, as they were pictured to be, and pretty bad bread it often was, judged by European standards… .
So also the tradition of the valuelessness of a woman’s time kept the plain sewing to the front, and classes were taught seams and ruffles and cheap ornamentation in the false assumption that it was economy. As late as the St. Louis Exposition, in 1903, the work of the public schools of this country was almost without exception bad from an ethical point of view, showing waste of time and material and the inculcation of bad taste.”
It was with this view of the field that Mrs. Richards accepted an invitation in 1898 to visit Melvil Dewey at Lake Placid. Dewey, then director of the state library and of home education in New York (and inventor of the Dewey Decimal library system), needed her advice regarding “Household Science” questions to be incorporated in the New York State regents’ college entrance examinations. Out of their conversations grew the concept of “Home Economics,” the broader approach that Mrs. Richards had been seeking. A specific result was an invitation to the teachers and writers in the field to a Lake Placid Conference on Home Economics the next year. The conference, held annually, grew in size and influence under the leadership of Mrs. Richards until, meeting at Chautauqua in 1908, the participants agreed to gather again in Washington later that year to form the American Home Economics Association. Mrs. Richards was elected president and served until 1910, when she insisted on retiring.
The AHEA brought together people with many interests, such as dairying, hygiene, sociology, and economics, and promoted teaching in the field in colleges and schools; sponsored research in nutrition by the United States Department of Agriculture and other agencies and encouraged new kinds of activities by the Grange and women’s clubs. It was concerned not only with household science but also with the full range of economics of production and consumption.
Mrs. Richards’ vision continued to expand. Her first book, published in 1882, The Chemistry of Cooking and Cleaning: A Manual for Housekeepers, had been narrowly pragmatic. Through the years she dealt in a practical way with diet, shelter, food adulteration, sanitation, water, and such subjects. Her eighteenth and last book, published in 1911, was titled Conservation by Sanitation. But a volume published the previous year showed the extent of her growth. It was titled Euthenics - The Science of Controllable Environment, a Plea for Better Living Conditions as a First Step toward Higher Human Development.
Mrs. Richards conceived of Euthenics as a way of trying to improve the total environment of dealing with disease, pollution, crime, moral decay, and all the other physical and spiritual ills of civilization: “America today is wasting its human possibilities even more prodigiously than its material wealth. In the confusion of ideas resulting from the rapid, almost cancerous growth … made possible by mechanized invention, the people have lost sight of their own conception of right and wrong.
Here in America we are always locking the barn door after the horse has been stolen… . Time presses! A whole generation has been lost because the machine ran wild without guidance.”
She believed that government and industry would have to assume responsibilities for improvements, but her hope of salvation lay in education rather than legislation. ”Evolution from within, not a dragging from the outside, even if it is in the right direction, is the right method of human development,” she asserted.
Like Oekology, Euthenics did not really catch on, although, as the decades passed, mounting social and environmental crises intensified efforts to find solutions. For a number of years Vassar College conducted a Summer Institute for Euthenics. Today there is an international Institute of Euthenics, with headquarters in Chicago. And the word is in the dictionary.
Although she had become a national figure through her crusading, Mrs. Richards continued to devote much of her time to teaching and research at M.I.T. and to helping with local problems. She was the leader in a movement to improve conditions in Boston schools where fire hazards, bad sanitation, poor ventilation, and ill-prepared lunches endangered the lives of children. She was active in other causes, one of them the efforts of the Massachusetts Cremation Society to popularize the new rational method of dealing with dead bodies. Professor Robert Richards visited crematories in other cities to study the various systems, and in Boston an oil-fired method was developed. A large pig was cremated to show that the method was effective, and Professor Richards kept some of its ashes in a toy pig on the mantel of their home.
Mrs. Richards died in 1911, at the age of sixty-eight, following a heart attack. Her ashes were buried at Gardiner, Maine, where her husband had inscribed on a stone:
“Pioneer - Educator - Scientist - An Earnest Seeker - A Tireless Worker - A Thoughtful Friend – A Helper of Mankind.”
Professor Richards lived on past his hundredth birthday. When he died in 1945 his ashes were also buried at Gardiner.
FRANCIS E. WYLIE is the author of M.I.T. in Perspective, a history of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology which was published this year. He is former chief of the Boston news bureau for Time and Life and is retired as director of public relations for M.I.T. Now engaged in writing for various magazines, he lives in Hingham, Massachusetts.
Kristen E. Gwinn speaks about the life of Jamaica Plain’s Emily Greene Balch who won the Nobel Peace Prize for her visionary work with the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Balch was a renowned writer, social reformer, economist, and academic who was a Jamaica Plain native and member of First Church Unitarian Universalist in Jamaica Plain. A professor of economics and sociology at Wellesley College, Balch’s academic career abruptly ended when Wellesley refused to renew her contract following her opposition to the First World War. She dedicated the remainder of her life to the international peace movement. Ms. Gwinn is the author of the new biography, Emily Greene Balch: The Long Road to Internationalism that illuminates Balch’s ideas on negotiated peace, internationalism, and global citizenship.
This event was co-sponsored by Jamaica Plain Forum of First Church in Jamaica Plain, the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, and the U.S. Section and the Boston Branch of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and held on Saturday, January 8, 2011 from at 3:00 p.m.at the Parish Hall, First Church in Jamaica Plain, 6 Eliot St., Jamaica Plain. Photograph courtesy of Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/95512134/
Click the triangle below to start the audio (74 minutes)
All of present-day Forest Hills was part of the bequest of the London merchant Thomas Bell in 1672, “for the maintenance of the schoolmaster for teaching and instructing poore mens children.” This bequest was to the Roxbury Latin School.
The 151 acres of land Bell gave to the Latin School, 47 of which extended from Walk Hill Street to about present-day Arborway, had been granted to Bell by the town of Roxbury in 1639. The land came out of the 4000 acres granted to the town by the General Court on May 2, 1638.i The land was given to establish the western boundary of Roxbury (founded in 1630) from Dedham (founded in 1636 on the banks of the Charles River by Roxbury and Watertown families). The General Court stated that the limits of Roxbury would be eight miles from the meetinghouse, but this was never formally ratified. For the rest of the 17th century until after Massachusetts Bay came under Crown government, the western boundary of Roxbury was present-day Beech Street.
For the first eight years of the settlement of Roxbury the western boundary was approximately Walnut Avenue and Forest Hills Street, called Back Street until well into the 19th century because it was at the back end of the town. The road met at the junction of South Street in the Stony Brook valley, at what is today Forest Hills Square. This long and meandering road – which can more or less still be traveled today – from Seaver Street and South Street to Beech Street was the western line of Roxbury until 1638.
The 1638 ruling by the General Court nearly doubled the size of Roxbury. The 4000-acre grant extended from about the Long Crouch – Seaver Street – to Beech Street, and included what is today Franklin Park, the former Boston State Hospital, Forest Hills Cemetery and the Clarendon Hills section of Roslindale.
In that corner of Roxbury in the Stony Brook valley, between the highlands of present-day Walnut Avenue and Seaver Street, were the homesteads of William Curtis and Thomas Bell. The Curtis family prospered and is today a well-known name as one of the founding families of present-day Jamaica Plain. Thomas Bell lived in Roxbury for fifteen years before he returned to England in 1647. He never returned to Roxbury, but he never forgot it. Writing in 1846, almost two centuries after Bell returned to England, Charles Ellis declared: “The bequest of Thomas Bell to the school has already become one of great value. He was one of the wealthy men of the town… a generous man and one of a liberal mind. He is the Harvard of our Free School.”ii
Thomas Bell was born in 1606 at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, in the heart of East Anglia, where most of the Roxbury migrants came from. Bury St. Edmunds was an important market town and a center of cloth manufacturing (flax mills were important in the 20th c.). Bell married Susanna Bryden (1604-1673) at Bury St. Edmunds on August 1, 1631. Her father made gloves.iii
Thomas Bell was a Puritan. Puritan ideology was based on a return to the pure church established by Jesus Christ Himself. It was a reaction to the Church of England governed by the Archbishop of Canterbury William Laud and his ruling bishops, who were seen as having been corrupted by the Pope and the Catholic Church. The most zealous of the Puritans who founded Massachusetts Bay believed in earnest that they were the Chosen of God, who had formed a covenant with them to erect a Zion in New England. The First Church at Roxbury housed not just the faith but also the state as well, the holy state of Roxbury, the oligarchy of the saints.iv (Yet Bell soon realized that religious persecution was not absent from New England. He saw Roger Williams exiled in 1636 and Anne Hutchinson – who arrived in 1634, the same year as the Bells – excommunicated and banished in 1638, both for not following the Puritan party line of Massachusetts.)
Puritans are usually portrayed as militants, and most of the founders were like John Winthrop and Richard Mather, but others were more moderate, like John Eliot (although he participated in the persecution of Anne Hutchinson, he mellowed as he built his Indian mission), and Thomas and Susanna Bell. In her book Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home,v Dr. Susan Hardman Moore explains how this moderation made it possible for many migrant Puritans to return eventually to England. Protestants like the Bells felt threatened by the influence of the Catholic mass, but as Moore points out, they fled to America less to set up the New Jerusalem than as voluntary exiles (p. 3).
Thomas Bell was also a merchant; he came from a regional market town and he saw that religious and political troubles during the unpopular reign of King Charles I were bad for trade. God and mammon seemed to rest comfortably in the mind of Thomas Bell and after considerable thought, he, his wife Susanna and year-old son Thomas immigrated to Roxbury in 1634. He left England to escape religious and political strife, but the move also opened up new opportunities for him in the Atlantic trade (Moore, p. 3).
Thomas Bell followed his sister Katherine Meakins to the new world. She and her husband Thomas immigrated with John Cotton in 1633 as servants to Edmund Quincy, who became deputy to the General Court. Bell would have traveled further up the Charles River to settle inland, but his wife, tired of the long and difficult sea voyage, refused, and they settled in Roxbury, probably because the Meakins lived there.
As one who paid his own way to America, Bell was entitled to fifty acres of land, which was granted to him along Stony Brook in the west end of town. He built a house on high ground overlooking the brook at present-day Amory and Boylston Streets (approximately where 179 Amory Street is today).vi In the Roxbury Book of Possessions of 1652, Bell owned “his house and barn [and] twenty four acres plus fourteen acres and two and a quarter acres of salt marsh.”vii At the opposite side of Stony Brook near the present-day Stony Brook MBTA station, was the ten-acre homestead of William Curtis, on which he built his house in 1637. Curtis married Sarah Eliot, John Eliot’s sister, in 1618. Sarah and William migrated to Roxbury in 1632, together with Anne Montford, Eliot’s fiancée, whom he married in October 1632. (Elliot migrated in1631.)
Thomas Bell was made a church member in 1634 and a freeman, meaning a full citizen with all civic rights, in 1636. Although not living in Roxbury town center (or in the port of Boston), Bell flourished in the Atlantic trade in which he was apparently already established. As Moore points out (p. 12), his transatlantic loyalties would remain with him the rest of his life. He built his business on supplying Roxbury and Boston with basic goods that they could not yet manufacture on their own, particularly cloth and metalware. In 1645, for example, Bell imported canvas, cotton cloth, shovels, bellows, pewter, window glass, woolen stockings, shoes, felt, rugs, iron pots and bird shot.viii Bell also had trading interests with Barbados. In 1649 after he and his family had resettled in London, his Boston agent Henry Shrimpton shipped cattle and provisions – probably from Roxbury or Watertown – to that island, which was just beginning its sugar trade. In exchange, Bell shipped to London timber and tree masts (the latter from Maine, then a part of Massachusetts Bay), moose skins, fish and tree nails for shipbuilding (Moore, p. 10).
Bell made three trips back to London during his time in Roxbury, in 1642, 1644 and in 1646. This gave him the opportunity to not only strengthen his business but to follow the changes in the religious and political life of England. He was apparently close to the wealthy Weld family of Roxbury, who would later play such a significant part in the development of Forest Hills. In 1646 he acted as agent for Barbara Weld, widow of Captain Joseph Weld (the owner of the land that is today the Arnold Arboretum). She appointed him to collect all debts and goods due to her late husband in England to make certain this property remained in her ownership before she remarried to Anthony Stoddard.ix
In 1642 the General Court passed the General Education Law that required every parent and every master of an apprentice to make certain children could read and write.x In his will of January 1642, Samuel Hagbourne mortgaged his lands in Roxbury Neck and his house to endow a school: “Out of my great desire to promote learning for God’s honor and the good of His church, my will is that when Roxbury shall set up a free school in the town there shall be 10 shillings per annum out of the neck of land and 10 shillings per annum out of the house lot unto it forever.”xi
More needs to be learned about Samuel Hagbourne. He immigrated in 1637 and was admitted a freeman on May 2, 1638. He was a wealthy man who owned great tracts of land about Roxbury Neck in the area of present-day Madison Park. His house was at Eustis and Washington Street. He was important enough to be granted 114 acres from the 4000-acre “Great Lotts” by the General Court in 1639. This was a woodland “between the two roads” (that is, Walnut Avenue and Curtis Street, a lane that is present-day Forest Hills Street).xii In his will Hagbourne granted this land to his youngest daughter. It is today the Wilderness section of Franklin Park, and Hagbourne Hill commemorates the name of the first benefactor of the Free School at Roxbury.
Samuel Hagbourne died on January 24, 1643, and his widow Catherine married Thomas Dudley, who carried out the directive of the will to establish a school. The formal date of the founding of Roxbury Latin School is the last day of August 1645. John Eliot, passionate about education and a great fundraiser, persuaded sixty-six rich Roxbury landowners to sign an agreement that pledged their estates of amounts in proportion to their holdings annually, to raise 20 pounds a year for headmaster and school building. The first twenty shillings came from Hagbourne’s estate. Thomas Bell pledged thirteen shillings. Thomas Dudley – who shares part of the honor with John Eliot as the founder of the Roxbury Latin School – donated the most. He gave a portion of his land to build a schoolhouse as well as one pound four shillings annually from his own estate and one pound a year from the Hagbourne lands inherited from his wife. The schoolhouse – built in 1652 with funds John Eliot raised from Rev. Thomas Weld, who had returned to London – stood opposite John Eliot’s house at Washington and Ziegler streets, today the busway of the MBTA. Eliot’s nine-year-old son John was among the first ten students in 1645.
In August of 1651, John Eliot bought the library of Rev. Weld, the first minister of Roxbury First Church, who had returned to England as an agent of Massachusetts Bay in 1641. The 197 books became the start of the Roxbury Latin School library. No doubt Eliot convinced his former colleague Rev. Weld to support the construction of a school building in order to house all the books. The school occupied this location in several buildings until 1836, when it removed to a new building on Kearsarge Avenue on land once owned by Joseph Warren.
The town of Roxbury began the allotment of the Great Lotts in 1639, and Thomas Bell received 196 acres, making him one of the 16th richest men in Roxbury; this was in addition to the 56 acres he was granted in 1634-1635 along Stony Brook, where his house and farm was. (Other grantees were John and Robert Williams, who received lands that are today part of Franklin Park adjacent to Hagbourne’s woodland, and the former Boston State Hospital along Walk Hill Street.)
Bell’s grant from the 4000 acres included 47 acres “upon the Walk Hill,” and 47 acres along Beech Street, the latter in present-day Roslindale.xiii The exact landholding is impossible today to locate, but it most certainly included the Woodbourne neighborhood. What is clear is that Bell was given a large tract at the crossroads of Back Street and South Street, destined to become a transportation hub for the westerly half of original Roxbury after the Norfolk & Bristol Turnpike cut through the old grant in 1806.
Thomas Bell returned to England in late 1647. He took with him his wife Susanna and their four children, three of whom (all daughters) were born in Roxbury; their son Thomas, then age fourteen, had lived there almost his whole life. They settled back into the London merchant community, and by 1651 lived in Seething Lane in the ancient parish of All Hallows Church, between the Tower of London and the commercial center of Cornhill. Their children grew up to be merchants and the wives of merchants (Moore, p. 104). One of their neighbors after 1660 was the diarist Samuel Pepys. He and the Bells survived both the plague of 1660 and the Great Fire of London in 1666.
Thomas Bell was part of that great number of Puritans who returned to England, a phenomenon not well known. Indeed, as Dr. Moore explains, fully one-quarter of those who arrived in Massachusetts Bay between 1634 and 1639 (the years of greatest migration) had departed by 1660. An astonishing one-third of the ministers left the New Zion for England in that same period.
Bell’s wealth and business connections gave him the greater ability to return to England (Moore, p. 86). The political and religious life of England had changed, or was rapidly changing, as Bell learned from his trips back. The hated archbishop William Laud died in 1646, and with him the power of the bishops died as well. Bell and his family returned between the two civil wars, and on January 30, 1649, King Charles was executed, thus opening the way for the Puritan reign of Oliver Cromwell. England was becoming a more stable society in which to live, worship and do business. As Dr. Moore points out, Thomas Bell of Roxbury turned into Thomas Bell of London, citizen and merchant (Moore, p. 10).
Trade and toleration moved Bell to return to London, but his wife Susanna had to be convinced. Pilgrims examines the tension of how devout people abandoned the New Jerusalem of New England. Susanna was at first reluctant to migrate, but seeing that God had shown the way she agreed to sail to the new world. Now she had to find a way to justify leaving it. A point of virtue in New England was never to question why God brought His people to America. Governor John Winthrop called those who returned to England “deserters,” and he was particularly critical of those who returned for material gain. How could they abandon the City on a Hill? How could they not stay and help each other?xiv God’s judgment was upon those who left. His punishment was seen in the reports of those returning to England being killed in shipwrecks and by pirates.
Susanna needed a reason from God to return. Her husband persuaded her that his trading activities in England required him to return; London merchants always had the upper hand over their colonial partners. He pointed out that if he did not go “the name of God would suffer,” meaning that without supplies the settlements would perish. “Susanna was convinced [as she wrote many years later] ‘that the Lord was pleased to call my husband home for England’” (Moore, p. 11).
This detachment became complete when Thomas Bell requested release of his covenant from the Roxbury Church in September 1654, after Oliver Cromwell assumed state power as the Great (Puritan) Protector. The Bells were free to join All Hallows Church that followed the New England Way of Protestantism.xv
Bell’s trading company had as agents in Boston first Henry Shrimpton and then the Boston bookseller Hezekiah Usher and his brother in law John Harwood. John Winthrop condemned those that left New England for material gain, yet it was just that wealth which enabled Bell to give so much back to Roxbury. Bell never abandoned Roxbury and he never doubted the choice to migrate here. He sold a portion of his land – perhaps a hundred acres – but most of it he leased for the 24 years he lived after returning to London. Thomas Bell kept his transatlantic loyalties all his life.
He was a friend of John Eliot – as devout a Puritan as could be found – for forty years. Eliot began his mission to the Massachuset Indians in 1646, first (briefly) at Dorchester, but more successfully Nonantum in present-day Newton. The mission was never popular in Roxbury or Boston; the Puritan oligarchy regarded the native Americans as simply degenerate men created by Satan. Nevertheless, men of wealth like Thomas Dudley and Joseph Weld supported Eliot’s work. In 1647, in order to raise funds for his mission, John Eliot wrote a lively tract called The Day Breaking if Not the Sun Rising on the Gospel with the Indians of New England. He followed this in 1648 with a second tract called The Clear Sun Shining of the Gospel Breaking Forth Upon the Indians of New England. He forwarded both pamphlets to Parliament. The propaganda campaign worked: on July 27, 1649 Parliament passed An Act for the Promoting and Propagating of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in New England, that authorized a corporation to raise and expend funds for the Indian mission. The corporation was called The Society for the Propagating of the Gospel, and it became the mainstay of Eliot’s work with the Massachuset Indians for the rest of his life.xvi The Roxbury oligarchy opposed Eliot’s mission because he was not a thorough Puritan; he enlarged the meaning of the Covenant so central to Puritan ideology to include the native Americans. The Society in London shared Eliot’s moderate interpretation of Puritanism.
Five hundred to six hundred pounds a year were raised for Eliot’s mission from the army, London’s parishes, and individuals, among them Thomas Bell. He was a member of the Society and the only one who knew John Eliot personally, and quite possibly had met Massachuset men from Nonantum who visited Roxbury. Bell had been responsible through his Boston agents for conveying the annual contribution of Lady May Armine – one of Eliot’s first benefactors – to him for his mission work. After it was founded, Lady Armine became a donor to the Society for the Propagating of the Gospel.
Thomas Bell was essential to the Society. The way John Eliot received funds was from the proceeds of merchandise shipped from England by the Society to Massachusetts Bay and sold. Brass, woolens and linen were imported mainly on Bell’s ships and received by his agents in Boston. In late 1649, lumber, nails, tools and axes were sent over to be used to construct houses at Nonantum. And later in 1652, supplies were sent to build Natick, the first of the independent Indian “praying towns” established by John Eliot with a land grant from the General Court. Thomas Bell’s extensive trading web and interests in consumer goods supported not only Roxbury but also the Indian towns established by John Eliot.
The largest expense of the Society and the greatest achievement of Eliot’s life was the printing of the Indian Bible. One of the Boston agents of Thomas Bell – perhaps the bookseller Hezekiah Usher – came to London to buy printing blocks and paper for the Bible in 1658. Four hundred pounds of type were imported in 1659. The New Testament was printed in 1661 and the Old Testament in 1663. On April 24, 1664 the Society presented a blue, leather-bound copy of the Indian Bible to King Charles II. Lady Armine, together with the rest of the Society members (including Thomas Bell), also received a hand-tooled first edition.xvii
John Eliot did not forget the Free School which was struggling to remain independent of both the church and the state. At Eliot’s request, Thomas Bell increased his annual contribution to 20 shillings in 1669.
When Thomas Bell and his family returned to England, he left his house and farm at Stony Brook to his sister Katherine, who lived there until her death on Feb 3, 1651. The house was then occupied by Isaac Johnson, one of the founders of Roxbury, who was directed to rent out the Bell lands to benefit the poor of Roxbury.
Eliot had been urging his friend Bell to endow the Free School. Thomas Bell died and was buried at All Hallows churchyard on April 30, 1672. On May 3, 1672 his will was read which stipulated in the very first sentence that “Thomas Bell senior of London, merchant, bequeathed to Mr. John Eliot minister at Roxbury and Captain Isaac Johnson a church overseer all of my messuages or tenements, lands at Roxbury in trust for the maintenance of a schoolmaster and free school for the teaching and instructing of poore men’s children at Roxbury.”xviii
Although Thomas Bell had long left America, he never abandoned it and never sold his land, but kept it in leases for the benefit of Roxbury. The bequest totaled 151 acres of woodlots and meadows, largely in the Great Lotts, but also the estate on Stony Brook that swept up to present-day Walnut Avenue. It is important to note that Bell did not give his lands to the trustees of the Free School or to Roxbury First Church, but rather to specific individuals to administer; John Eliot and Isaac Johnson were mentioned by name in the will (Eliot and Johnson later added Samuel Danforth as a third trustee). These trustees and their successors would administer the bequest until 1789.
There has been continued debate over what Bell meant by “free school.” Basically the endowment was a subsidy for tuition and the headmaster’s salary. The school was open to all classes of Roxbury boys who paid what they could. Many paid in vegetables and firewood. (Tuition was free to Roxbury boys until 1934, when the trustees voted to charge $100 a year for Roxbury students.) The significance of the Bell bequest was that it put the Roxbury Latin School on a sound financial base that kept it independent of the town taxes and consequently town politics. The first headmaster paid from the Bell bequest was Thomas Weld in 1674.xix
The land apparently was divided into four leased parcels. In 1675 John Gore leased the Bell lands along Stony Brook to present-day Roxbury Crossing for 21 years, and agreed to pay 12 pounds annually in corn and cattle. (This land was adjacent to Gore’s own house and estate at the foot of Parker Hill.) By 1745 the four leases earned 45 pounds annually.
Another parcel that would yield 15 pounds a year, was leased (or more likely renewed) on March 28, 1738 to Ebenezer Weld for seven years. This 45-acre tract included all of Forest Hills between Walk Hill Street and approximately the Arborway.
On January 21, 1789 the trustees of the Bell bequest and the trustees of the Roxbury Latin School were merged by an act of the General Court. This new trusteeship included the minister and the two senior deacons of Roxbury First Church.xx
Beginning in the year 1791, parcels of land were sold and other property reorganized. The Hagbourne woodlands now belonging to the school, for example, were harvested for firewood and perhaps lumber. Between 1791 and 1796 leases were sold and used as investment capital. On March 14, 1796, 27 acres of the 45-acre Forest Hills land was sold to Ebenezer Weld for $484. The other 19 acres were sold to David S Greenough. The Weld land extended from Walk Hill Street to about Tower Street and included the slope that today includes Weld Hill Street and Woodlawn Street. His family would subdivide this land into house lots and streets a century later. On May 31, 1870, 18 acres of this land (called the Walk Hill Pasture) was sold to Forest Hills Cemetery (Norfolk Deeds, Lib. 195, fol. 140). This fronted the length of Walk Hill Street and included the present-day Tower Street entrance gate to the cemetery.
Eighteen acres of the old Bell estate that extended from Stony Brook to Walnut Avenue was sold on December 13, 1848.xxi Ellis, in his Roxbury History (p. 48), describes the land as smooth open field on the brow of the hill, with great apple orchards on the right of present-day School Street. This would be the land laid out with streets and house lots from Columbus Avenue to about Chilcott Place. On November 16, 1848 a new street and house lots were laid out through this portion from Washington Street to Walnut Avenue. This road was called School Street because it had been owned by the Roxbury Latin School since 1672.
On June 13, 1848 the trustees determined that land sold under the Bell bequest would be invested in other real estate and in railroad, state, and federal bonds. Between 1867 and 1880 more land was sold and the earnings invested, but some were judiciously and very profitably held back. On the advice of John Lowell, Jr., for example, the land at Gravelly Point – that peninsula which today includes the Christian Science Center – was sold off for house lots and gravel during the post-Civil War development of the Back Bay. Some fragments remained unsold, however. As late as 1924 the Roxbury Latin School still owned two parcels of land totaling about one acre between Barlow and Leland streets, originally included in the bequest of Thomas Bell.
In September 1922 the Roxbury Latin School bought the Codman Estate on St. Theresa Street for a new campus, and in 1924 and 1925 opened a huge capital campaign to raise funds to buy the land and build a new, up-to-date school.xxii “True to Roxbury Latin tradition” (as Hale writes in his Tercentenary) of using land as income, the purchase price was met through the sale of its Kearsarge Street property, and the land on Seaver Street and Humboldt Avenue that the school had purchased about 1912 for a planned new campus opposite Franklin Park. The stray Wachusett Street parcels were also sold off at that time to several owners. Four homes were built between 1926 and 1929,xxiii but three lots containing 13, 886 square feet remained at the crest of the hill at the end of Leland Street against Forest Hills Cemetery.
There is no evidence this land was ever built on. After being taken in foreclosure by the City of Boston in the 1970s, the land was sold to the Boston Natural Areas Network on November 23, 1983, as a community garden.xxiv It remains an open space fragment of the great bequest of Thomas Bell for the teaching of “poore mens children at Roxbury.”
January 25, 2013
i Monthly Bulletin of the Statistics Dept., vol. 13-15, p. 27. City of Boston Printing Dept, 1912. Monthly Bulletin of the #BA1244
ii Ellis, Charles M., The History of Roxbury Town (Boston, 1847). Little remembered in Roxbury, Bell is not forgotten at the Roxbury Latin School. It established the Thomas Bell Society as part of its giving program for wealthy donors, “those alumni and friends of the school whose gifts have as their goal the broadest vision and intent for Roxbury Latin.”
iii Anderson, Robert Charles, The great migration: Immigrants to New England, 1634-1635,” Vol. I (NEHGS, Boston, Mass., 1999), pp. 237-242. Bury St. Edmunds was also the birthplace of Humphrey Repton (1752-1818), the last of the great 18th c. landscape gardeners who were of great influence on Frederick Law Olmsted.
iv Three books were most useful to me in my 1989-1990 study of Puritanism for the history of John Eliot and his Indian mission, which I wrote in 1990. These were Wertenbacher, Thomas Jefferson, Puritan Oligarchy (New York, 1947); Miller, Perry, Errand into the Wilderness (New York, 1956); Miller, Perry and Thomas Johnson, The Puritans: A Sourcebook of Their Writings (Harper and Row, 1963 edition).
v Moore, Susan Hardman, Pilgrims: New World Settlers and the Call of Home (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2007).
vi Drake, Francis, History of Roxbury, pp. 389-399.
vii Anderson, p. 237; Roxbury Book of Possessions, Town Records. Nov. 1652, in Report of the Record Commissioners, Roxbury Land and Church Records (Boston, 1884), p. 24. A report of the Record C#BA122A
viii A Volume relating to the Early History of Boston Containing the Aspinwall Notarial Records from 1644-1651, in Report of the Record Commissioners (Boston, 1903), p. 396. See also pp. 13, 94, 69, 143, 183, 381 and 388 to understand the extent of Bell’s business. I am very grateful to Dr. Moore for locating this rich document.
ix Moore, note, p. 210.
x For this brief overview of the Roxbury Latin School, see Hale, Richard Walden, Tercentenary of the Roxbury Latin School (Cambridge, 1946); Dillaway, C. K., A History of the Grammar School or the Free School of 1645 in Roxbury (Roxbury, 1860); Ellis, Charles M., History of Roxbury (1847); de Normandie, James,“The Roxbury Latin School,” in New England Magazine, June 1895.
xi Suffolk County Wills (NEGHS, Baltimore, Md., 1984), p. 13.
xii Ellis, History; Roxbury Book of Possessions.
xiii Ellis, History, pp. 48, 84.
xiv John Winthrop died in 1649; his son Steven returned about 1651, shortly after Oliver Cromwell’s army defeated King Charles II in Scotland, thus crushing any hope of restoration of the Crown.
xv Moore, p. 13; Anderson, p. 327.
xvi What follows is based on two primary works on the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel: Kellaway, William, The New England Company, 1649-1776: Missionary Society to the American Indians (London, 1961); Winship, George Parker, The New England Company of 1649 and John Eliot (The Prince Society, Boston, 1920).
xvii One thousand copies of the Indian Bible were printed at Cambridge, Mass. Two hundred were delivered to Natick, one for each family. It is hard to overestimate the importance of John Eliot’s translation of the Bible in Roman letters from an Algonquian dialect into English. The books have the Bible in Algonquian on one side and English on the opposite like the Loeb Latin library. Not only did it help teach the Massachuset Indians how to read and write, but preserved the Algonquian language to this day. On Feb. 21, 1989, the Roxbury Latin School purchased for $300,000 a rare presentation copy – one of those printed for Society members. It is at the Houghton Library at Harvard University. The writer and his wife examined it in 1990. The Massachusetts Historical society has a copy of the 1685 edition of the Indian Bible. This writer examined it in 1990.
xviii Anderson, p. 238. As an indication of how wealthy Thomas Bell was, the will distributed over 4000 pounds to his children, grandchildren and other family members. His new house on Gracechurch Street, London, was given to his wife Susanna, who died on March 13, 1673.
xix As late as 1946, the Bell bequest contributed one-half of the endowment and one-quarter of the operating expenses of the Roxbury Latin School. Hale, Tercentenary, p. 35.
xx Greene, J. Everts, Roxbury Latin School, An Outline of its History (Charles Hamilton, Worcester, Mass., 1887).
xxi Norfolk Deeds, Fol. 231, Lib. 19. Plan book 250, p. 77.
xxii Designed by Perry, Shaw and Hepburn. Classes opened in 1927.
xxiii 20 Wachusett St., 1926; 28-32-36 Leland St., built about 1929; 29 Barlow St., built in 1931.
xxiv Numbered 2-4-6 Leland St. Decree of foreclosure, Suffolk Deeds, Fol. 5708, Lib. 401; and Fol. 5163, Lib. 582. Conveyed to BNAN, Fol. 10654, Lib. 79.
In September 1989, the Jamaica Plain Historical Society first turned its attention to one person’s presence here which is commemorated a by a fine granite memorial. A formal bench with central shaft, from which emerges a forest Indian, erected by friends of Francis Parkman in 1906, marks the approximate site of Mr. Parkman’s home, called “Sunnyside” and its accompanying gardens between Prince Street and the northwest corner of Jamaica Pond. The memorial also serves as a reminder of all the Pondside properties taken by the City for the Jamaica (now Olmsted) Park project of the 1890’s.
Parkman spent the temperate months of the years after 1852 here away from his downtown home. He died here in November 1893, just after completing his life’s work on the struggle of the English and French in America.
On that September Sunday in 1989 (Parkman having been born on September 6, 1823) the Jamaica Plain Historical Society distributed Parkman’s account of the Deerfield Raid as a sample of his work and will do so again this Sunday September 8, for its third annual Parkman celebration.
In 1989, the environs of the memorial were clear of undergrowth as the result of a recent cleanup. Talks dealt with the sculptor, Daniel Chester French, the memorial’s place in his career, the purpose of public sculpture, and with general remarks about Mr. Parkman. At that time, the memorial was lacking the bas-relief of the historian, and most of the letters in the bench’s floor were missing. These victims of vandalism, taken during the Vietnam War when brass’s price soared, were going to be replaced.
A year later, the historian’s face was back, thanks to the Henderson Foundation of the City of Boston who used new technology and materials other than brass for the bas-relief. Talks on the memorial’s environs and a Boston Evening Transcript article on the Parkman finally accomplished the formal dedication of the memorial, which had never occurred in 1906.
Also, the memorial began to be decorated anonymously in the fall and holiday seasons. As the centennial of the historian’s death approaches, it is time to plan further ahead for the commemoration of the only Jamaica Plain resident ever to appear on a postage stamp.
More information on Parkman here: http://harvardmagazine.com/2014/09/vita-francis-parkman
Written by Walter H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the September 10, 1993 Jamaica Plain Gazette.
Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc.
In this funny yet bittersweet memoir, author Howard Chislett takes us on a journey that spans twenty years of his life. By sharing stories of his early days—from growing up in Jamaica Plain to landing his first full-time job—Chislett paints a realistic portrait of life in America during the 1950s and 1960s. The author has graciously made a chapter of the book available for use on this web site. This book is available for purchase from Amazon.com and from your neighborhood bookseller.
You are where you’re from
I grew up in what was known as the Stony Brook section of Jamaica Plain. Stony Brook was the industrial part of Jamaica Plain. I spent my first 21 years in Jamaica Plain. If you don’t know Boston, then you should know its neighborhoods are insular. My small part of Jamaica Plain was no different. It was the place that shaped my world view. It was my island, my territory, my turf, my homeland, and my world; it was my small part of a bigger universe of Boston.
Boston’s neighborhoods are like most urban neighborhoods where the rich and the poor lived together in a sort of détente cordial. The Jamaica Plain class system was set up this way: the closer you lived to the New York/New Haven RR tracks the less well off you were; the closer you lived to the MTA streetcar tracks on Centre Street, the better off you were; the closer you lived to Jamaica Pond and the Arborway, the more you were a part of the Jamaica Plain aristocracy. My family lived within 25 yards of the New York/New Haven RR tracks. The least well off ones lived on the “other side” of the railroad tracks, that is, between Amory Street and the New York/New Haven RR tracks. These are imaginary dividing lines, but, if you wanted to know your place in the Jamaica Plain hierarchy, your address said it all. Before I was born, my family lived in various parts of Jamaica Plain but they were always in close proximity to the RR tracks. They never completely escaped the rumble and roar of freight and passenger trains that ran day and night.
I entered this world on Wednesday, April 21, 1943. This was not a particularly auspicious time to be born. It was a time of war. By 1943, the United States needed more men to fight in Europe and the Far East. My brother, Cecil, was drafted into the Army a few months before I was born. He was still in high school. He graduated while he was off at basic training. Ma and Dad picked up his diploma.
On my birth certificate, it simply states I was born to Alpheus and Gertrude Chislett, both of Newfoundland: he was born in Islington on Trinity Bay and she was born in Pouch Cove. His occupation was “mechanic”; her occupation, “housewife.” I was born in the quaintly named Boston Lying-In Hospital whose motto heartily proclaimed, at Lying-In, “everyday was labor day.” My stay at the Lying-In was short. There was, after all, a war on—I couldn’t be lying about. More babies were coming into this world, and there was a need for beds.
After leaving Lying-In, my parents took me to where I would spend the next 19 years of my life. My new digs were on the corner of Lamartine Street and Emsella Terrace. The number on the door was 190. On the ground floor was a five and ten cent store. It wasn’t a Woolworth’s or a Kresge’s. It had the eponymous name of Gert’s. The Chisletts lived above Gert’s, and above us lived a middle-age bachelor and his elderly mother. They were Greek. They spoke no English, but he was always good for a nickel whenever he saw me. I never knew his name. I never saw his mother, either. Aside from the nickels, the thing I remember about him was he made wine. I remember the times my old man yelled and screamed at him after his wine vats ran over. These verbal battles were short lived as this guy would freely share his most recent batch of home made red wine with my father.
Our next door neighbors lived at number 188. We, in 190, were separated from our neighbors by about 4 feet of wall in the front of the building, and an open air shaft in the back of the building. There is an old adage about contempt bred from familiarity. In many ways, this old adage spoke the truth. Across our 4 foot separation, lived a spinster daughter and her mother whom I never really knew. Below them was another store that went from a dry cleaner in the late 40s and 50s; to a television repair place in the mid 50s to a used magazine store in the early 60s. On the top floor there lived a family with four kids. This was my home. A place I grew to abhor especially after the Greek’s mother died and he moved out. After that a series of strange individuals moved in upstairs. One such family moved during a blizzard in order to avoid paying the rent. That, on the surface, wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In the weeks before they left, the wife had somehow gotten my mother to take her telephone calls. This was a bad thing as we received all manner of weird phone calls. If I answered I just said they weren’t home.
Also in this family was the husband’s elderly mother. After they finally left, there came a knock on our door. It was the elderly mother. Her stellar son and daughter-in-law abandoned her. They just left this old woman alone in an empty apartment. She came downstairs to find out if her son was with us. My Mom took her in and “put the kettle on.” (Putting the kettle on is Newfoundlander for feed the person). It was obvious this woman’s son was not about to retrieve his mother. The cops came and took her away. I’m sure she thought she was to be taken to her son’s new place. There are shits in every era. Ah, but I’m getting ahead in my story.
An early memory was of my father. He was never home during the day. He left long before any of the kids got up. My Mom would get up at five in the morning, and got his breakfast, and packed his lunch. He often got home after six in the evening. During the war, he worked for the railroad, a vital industry back then. My Mom stayed at home. She had three kids; she was no Rosie the Riveter.
The first two years of my life are what Newfoundlanders would call “mauzy” or misty. I recall the old kitchen where my mother did the washing and prepared our meals. When the wash was taken out of the washer, my mother ran it through the wringer and then took it out to the back porch. There she hung it on a clothes line that was screwed into the outside wall of another apartment across the way. On wash day, Monday, as I recall it, the alley between the two apartments exposed everyone’s clothes. I imagine it was a way of seeing who was doing okay and who was not. This was a rather primitive barometer of socioeconomic levels or plight. I must’ve been getting around on my own, and I was probably under foot or I was just sitting off somewhere observing. My brothers were off at school. In the summer, they would be outdoors playing with friends or off at some church sponsored camp for working-class kids. They spent a few weeks there.
These are some of the things that happened to me during my first nine years:
1. When I was 2 years old, I drank disinfectant and was rushed to the hospital. During the ambulance ride, I vomited all over the back. I have some stray memories of my stay in the hospital. Just before going to sleep, I would always gaze out of the ward’s huge window. The moon would miraculously turn into a giant teddy bear. It sat rocking on the roof of a building across the courtyard.
2. I once played with matches and set the clothes closet on fire. My mother, to teach me a lesson, held a lighted match under my palm. It was a tough lesson—I never forgot it.
3. When I got whooping cough, I thought, “could I really cough my lungs out?” It sure felt like it at the time! It was a horrendous disease to suffer through as a child.
4. Measles weren’t any better. I was in a state of delirium most of the time. I would climb out of my bed, and head for the kitchen. I can still hear everyone yelling at me to get back into bed. They shouted something like, “Do you want to go blind?” Chicken pox was a big itch. Mumps, a name that always sounded funny to me, came in stages. First on the right side of my neck; then on the left side. To a kid, the only good thing about these diseases was a week or two out of school. Every kid I knew got these childhood diseases. Most kids survived; some kids did not. Death, like life, happens. Sometimes, however, death comes too soon.
5. The dental delivery system in the late 1940s was primitive for me. My family couldn’t afford a good dentist but relied, instead, on a public health clinic. Or barring that, we went to some shady tooth puller down at Roxbury Crossing. When I was in the 2nd grade, I had a molar pulled out of my head. I didn’t know why then, and I don’t know why now. I must’ve had a cavity. At this time, the city of Boston had dental clinics for school kids at what was known as Curtis Hall (the local all purpose government building in JP) where a dentist or dental student would look at your teeth. I was in the second grade, and I don’t recall any tooth pain or anything like that prior to this time. I recall sitting in a hard chair; there was light above. The dentist said, “open up.” The next thing I knew, he was pulling at my tooth with something. He pulled, I rose. Eventually, he had someone hold me down in order for him to rip the tooth right out of my jaw. All this without benefit of anesthesia—no Novocain, no gas, no ether, no nothing. I can still hear the ripping in my left ear; I can still feel the hard metal of the pliers. I can still feel that pain. No one should’ve been subjected to this kind of barbarism—it was medieval. I was just a kid, a seven year old kid who had a molar yanked out of my jaw without benefit of any pain killer.
What happened after the tooth came out? I bled. He stuffed my mouth full of gauze. I was sent me back to school. The small group of kids walked back to school, no schools buses then. We walked from Curtis Hall on Centre Street to the Bowditch Elementary School on Green St. It’s not a long walk, maybe half a mile. But after losing my tooth, it was the “trail of tears” for me. I can still see the looks on my classmates’ faces as I took my seat at my desk. With my bulging cheek, I looked like a sorrowful chipmunk. I wasn’t having a good day. I did not want to be in school. I wanted to go home, go to bed, and pull the covers up over my head to make this day go away. I felt rotten. My teacher realized this too; she had me to put my head down on the desk. I fell asleep or passed out—I don’t know which it was. The next thing I remember, my Mom was there and she took me home. I survived and returned to school the next day. A year later, I had yet another molar removed—this time on the right side. This time Ma took me to a public health dental clinic off So. Huntington Ave. Here the technology was more high tech. Instead of “rip and pull,” I received ether. Come to think of it, I thought ether hadn’t been used since the Second Battle of Bull Run. The dentist put a wire mask covered with what looked like a white handkerchief over my face, and he instructed me to “breathe-in” and “breathe-out” as he poured the fragrant ether on to the handkerchief. Next thing I remember, I was coming around while lying on a cot in another room. I felt woozy, and I think I fell asleep on the streetcar on our way home. This was not the end of it.
At age 9, I developed an abscess under yet another molar. A toothache is one kind of pain, but an abscess is quite intolerable. The throbbing pain was exacerbated by the slightest movement. Blinking my eyes sent shockwaves to the seemingly huge bag of pus under my tooth. Again, Ma made the arrangements. This time, I went to a real dentist. No ether this time, he gave me gas. I didn’t care. When I came to, the aggravating pain was gone. It was over. The next time I visited a dentist, I was 21 years old. Yes, that’s right—21 years old. My teeth didn’t fall out of my head, they didn’t rot. I didn’t make any effort to take care of them. My sister-in-law, Edress, valiantly tried to get me to take care of my teeth. I would always get a new toothbrush every Christmas and on my birthday. I used to keep them in the bathroom, but I rarely used them. Why? I don’t know. Caring for teeth was never emphasized in my family. Both my parents didn’t have any natural teeth. My brothers had missing teeth; Larry doesn’t have any natural teeth. I was simply following precedent, I guess. Why my teeth remained intact, I have no idea—I did enjoy sweets, and I ate enough crap to insure a great many cavities, but they never developed. Could it have been, perhaps, the addition of fluoride to the water supply of Boston? I don’t know. As I was growing up the addition of fluoride to the water supply may have been the reason. Not some Commie conspiracy to rule the hearts and minds of America’s youth as many on the Right thought.
Jesus Christ, and you think today’s politicians are full of shit! So when I finally went to a legitimate dentist in 1964, he looked, he drilled and he filled. Nothing more and nothing less, and my teeth have been fine for over 40 years. I’ve had no problems except I cracked a tooth once in an attempt to break a pistachio nut’s shell.
6. At age 8, two friends and I were hit by a car. Here’s how it happened. In those days, parents didn’t have the same fears of sending their youngsters out into the neighborhood and its environs. After a week at work, kids underfoot weren’t tolerated very well. Give the kid a quarter and shunt him off to the movies. So, Wally, Chester and I went off to the movies. I remember the movie we saw; it was the Disney cartoon classic, The Wind in the Willows. We were supposed to leave after the first show; we didn’t. It was dark outside when we left the Jamaica theatre. The theatre was up on Jamaica Plain’s main drag, Centre Street. To make our way home, we had to cross it. It was in late October; it was night. We were late getting home. Panicky kids don’t always remember traffic rules. We just decided to run across the street forgetting the number one cardinal traffic safety rule: ALWAYS LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING THE STREET! We just took off. I heard a screeching of brakes, the sound of flesh and bone and chrome bumpers colliding, and, then, silence. The accident consumed maybe a few seconds. I was able to stand. I saw Wally under the car, but I couldn’t see Chester. I didn’t feel any pain, at first, so I ran away. I ran home. And no one stopped me or came after me. I got home, and my mother was upset. She expected me home hours ago. Where was I? What happened to you? How’d you get that black and blue mark on your head? I fell down on the way home. Let’s clean it up and have supper. I’m not really hungry—I just want to go to bed. Now the pains in my legs started. The car’s running boards side swiped me, and I was thrown toward the curb. When I got home and I looked at my shins, they were black and blue and swelling badly. Did I fall asleep or did I faint? I don’t know.
The next morning was a school day, but Ma woke me up, and said there was a cop here who wanted to talk to me. He told Ma everything. As for me, I thought I was going to be arrested and sent off to jail. All he needed was information for his report. I stayed at home because walking was difficult. I was taken to a doctor, I recall, for some x-rays. In the end, I recovered, there were no broken bones, and Wally and Chester came out of it okay too.
As mentioned, I ran the gamut of childhood diseases. Every kid did in those days. Did a mother whisk us off to some pediatrician when we got the sniffles or worse: red measles? No, she did not. My mother was well versed in the treatment of childhood diseases. After all, she had three sons. The government’s efforts to protect the public health mainly consisted of vaccinating us against smallpox, and, later on, vaccinating against polio. Dutifully, your mother took you to Curtis Hall at a designated day and time, and you got your vaccination. You came back home with the normal warning to “be careful of the scab.” I think if the scab got knocked off, you had to be revaccinated, or as the rumor had it, you got smallpox.
The only time I can recall going to a doctor as a child was when a series of boils erupted on my skin. These were the first plagues to attack my skin. This doctor didn’t seem to know the cause of my affliction. He looked at them and gave me a shot of penicillin. The penicillin worked for awhile. Soon, the boils returned. This time the treatment was home grown. At home, my father was the physician in attendance. He treated my boils by laying a hot towel on top of the boil, “to bring it to a head” as he would say. What happened when it came to a head? He pricked it with a sewing needle and squeezed out the pus. Yes, he did. In today’s world, I don’t think too many parents would resort to this home treatment. When I could get at the boil, I would treat it and squeeze it. Next day, the excruciating pain and the boil were gone until the next one popped up. It seemed it was a self-limiting problem as were the eye inflammations I would get.
After the age of 12, the boils and sties were history. In terms of sickness, I had most of the normal childhood diseases. I say normal only in terms of those particular times. In closely packed tenements and schools, diseases certainly made their rounds among the children. As a kid, I never thought of these illnesses as being particularly scary. The kids with the scary diseases had signs posted on their front doors by somber looking men and women sent out by the city. The dreaded “Quarantine” sign meant “don’t come any closer—it’s dangerous.” And stay away we did. I never broke any bones as a kid although I had many opportunities to do some serious bone breaking. The only serious health issue was drinking disinfectant. I swallowed it and vomited it, and I must’ve breathed some in to my lungs, and this was probably the reason I stayed in the hospital for several weeks.
Then there were the more stupid things kids always seem to do. My Mom had an old wringer type washing machine, and, of course, I ran my fingers through the ringers. I only did it once though. Cuts and bruises are not unusual for boys, and I was no exception. I enjoyed smashing glass bottles on the sidewalk. There were dumber acts, but they escape me now. The thing about smashing glass on the sidewalk was the outward explosion of hundreds of shiny shards of glass. Not only did these shards fly outward; they flew upward. My forehead is pocked with scars from wayward shards of glass. It took me some time to figure out that smashing bottles on the sidewalk was really a stupid activity. But, hey, what is it they say about small things amusing…?
When kids weren’t down with something, we played. In the winter time, there was “coasting” as we called it; in the rest of the world it’s known as sledding. My first solo outing on a sled was disastrous. My brother Ralph was going to teach me how to coast. He showed me, he let me ride with him, and then I had my solo ride. He sat me on the sled, put my feet on the steering bar, and sent me gliding down the hill. It was fun except, at age 4 or 5, I wasn’t too attentive to my surroundings; I was busy watching the runners slide over the snow. I didn’t hear my brother yelling, “Steer! Steer! There’s a tree!” I remember looking up and yes, looming right in front of me was the huge trunk of a maple tree. The next moment I was looking in the mirror. There was a great goose egg in the middle of my forehead all black and blue and the skin split from top to bottom. My brother was holding me up and Ma was yelling at him using words I never before heard spill from her mouth. As for me, I was groggy. After all, I just woke up from my first sledding adventure. After that episode, I learned how to steer a sled better. Plus, I coasted down hills in the more preferred prone position. I learned to swerve around oncoming trees. However, it didn’t take long before I was handling the hill that was Hubbard St.
Yes, in the day, we coasted on public streets. Once you mastered the small hill of Hubbard St., the next hurdle was the hill on Chestnut Ave. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, the Boston snowplows methodically moved snow about. However, Hubbard St. rarely saw pavement until the sun melted the snow. There was always enough snow on the street to go all the way to the bottom. By today’s standards, these winter games were dangerous. In truth, Hubbard Street was a side street; it rarely saw too much car traffic; it was considered a safe street. I don’t recall anyone ever being seriously injured. Sometimes, though, you just couldn’t avoid colliding with a parked car. We used to play something called “sleeries.” Simply, you would try to push the other guy off his sled while going down the hill. Sometime you pushed too hard. He hit the rear bumper of a parked car, head on. It hurt, but not enough to stop the game. As I said, “small things amuse….”
My world was this place. School took me beyond it, the movies took me beyond it, but it was always just a short distance behind me. My refuge in this world was 190 Lamartine St., our railroad apartment. A railroad apartment consisted of a long corridor; it ran from the front of the apartment to the back of the apartment. The front of the apartment faced Lamartine St. while the back faced an alleyway and another apartment building. Although, I call these apartments; they in no way resembled the huge apartment buildings of New York City. In fact the places where I lived were called “double deckers” or “triple deckers.” No more than three families lived in any one of them. They shared walls as in the row house concept. In the front of the apartment was my parents’ bedroom and what my folks called the parlor. As you headed toward the kitchen, on your right was the oldest son’s bedroom, a few steps farther down was the shared bedroom. Across from it was a large closet and our single bathroom. Finally, you came into the kitchen. There was a storage room off the kitchen, and two back doors. One door opened on to a small porch or in as it was called in JP, a piazza. The other door opened to the back stairwell and the cellar.
When we got our first television set, my first observation was: our house didn’t look at all like the house where David and Ricky Nelson lived. No it looked more like the place where Ralph and Alice Kramden lived. My first bedroom I shared with Larry and Ralph who slept in the big bed. I slept in my crib. As brothers would do, they often let me sleep in their bed especially during the winter. Winters in Boston are notoriously cold and although heat was supplied to our apartment, the heat went off at 10:00 p.m. In the winter, our apartment was always cold. It was cold even with the heat on. In bed, body heat substituted for heat from radiators. The heat came on at 6:00 a.m. In the summer, of course, the place was stifling. As a kid, it never seemed to bother me.
In the kitchen, the old wooden icebox was replaced in the early 1950s with a refrigerator. It even had a tiny freezer compartment. My Mom’s first frozen food purchase was broccoli. I concluded that it was an acquired taste that I didn’t care to acquire. The stove stood on four legs and it had the usual oven and four burners, but on the left side was the main source of heat for the kitchen. Although the stove used gas, the left side of the stove used heating oil which had to be added every week. In effect, what we had was an oil burning space heater and cook stove combination. By today’s standards governing home heating, this thing was the equivalent of disaster waiting to happen. Dad kept it in running order, and the place never burned down. Of course, you lit the stove’s burners with a wooden match. In those days, every mother’s son who went to junior high sheet metal class brought home a match box holder to be nailed to the wall next to the stove.
My neighborhood was small, but it was not exclusively residential. This was Stony Brook. There were small businesses. Two doors down from our door was what we called the “Doll Factory.” It was a source of work for some of the neighborhood people. Also in Jamaica Plain there was a brewery (the future home for Samuel Adams), a shoe plant, and a small company that produced surveying instruments. I even recall there was a blacksmith’s shop on Boylston Street. There were, believe it or not, lots of horses around used by the rag man, the vegetable man and the milk man.
There was a small, unpaved street separating 190 from 194 Lamartine St. This street was Emsella Terrace. Who or what Emsella was I have no idea. For that matter, who the hell was Lamartine? This terrace was a short dead-end. Before an electric street light was installed, a man would come around each evening and light the gas lamp—yes a gas street light! The railroad right of way was its terminus. The right of way was a built up granite wall topped by the New York/New Haven RR tracks. There were at least 5 sets of tracks—beyond the tracks was the rest of the railroad’s right of way; and beyond the right of way, there were more wooden apartment houses. The railroad’s right of way provided a source of wild blackberries during the summer. There was a railroad station, so to speak, on Boylston St. No passenger trains stopped there, but the work trains for the New Haven RR stopped there to pick up men and take them to work in the Reedville train yards. This was where my Dad went to work every morning at 5:30. There were other men in the neighborhood that went to work with my father.
Across Emsella from our apartment was another apartment building/store combination. The store was a convenience store—it was variously operated by Greeks and the last operators were refugees from post-WWII Europe. Behind us were more apartments. They were railroad apartments most without central heating—instead they were heated by the now outlawed “space heater” that used kerosene as its source of heat. In my immediate neighborhood there were at least 10 apartment buildings of varying sizes, all painted grey and all made of wood. Also there were several private homes, and a few duplex homes. Diagonally across from our apartment on Lamartine Street there was a large duplex perched on a about an acre of land.
In the early Spring of 1958, every building that stood between 194 to 201 Lamartine Street and back to the railroad tracks was destroyed by fire. A kid set his mother’s laundry on fire as it was drying on the clothesline. The noise of the buildings going up in flames was reminiscent of a heavy rainfall. I went out to close the back door where I was greeted with sight of two apartments buildings ablaze. There were no casualties as a result of the fire. The shells of the buildings stood as a reminder of just how quickly life and lives can change. During the summer of 1958, the whole area was leveled. Eventually all of what was my neighborhood would be leveled. Today the railroad tracks are part of the public transportation system, and my old block is now the Stonybrook station.
The neighborhood was served by a First National or Finast store—a chain grocery store where Joe, the manager, would amaze me at how fast he could add up our bill on the side of a brown paper bag. There were several convenience stores—one owned by the Silver sisters one of whom dressed like a man. There were three barbers: Push, Ralph and Jimmy. There was a shoe repair place, a tailor, a small restaurant (the first place I ever had a burger), junk stores—stores that sold junk. Today, they’re antique stores. There was one gas station, two pharmacies, two taverns, a five and dime, one butcher/liquor store combo, and a commercial laundry. The neighborhood was predominantly white and working-class. During my childhood, there were Chinese, Puerto Ricans, African-Americans, various refugee families from post WWII Europe. The neighborhood was, for the most part, white working-class immigrants from Ireland and Canada with a smattering of Italians, Greeks and Jews.
In my neighborhood, there were lots of kids. From an early age, my mother wanted me out of her house especially in the summer and on the weekend. As soon as I could walk and make some sense with my speech, I was sent out “to play.” I played with the McPherson, Spellman, Wilmarth, Craffey, Craven, Myers, Stewarts, Frizell, Hudson, Balise, Flippin, Watkins, Moriarty and Coakley kids. There were always kids around although there were never enough kids at any given time to form two complete teams for baseball or football. In the summer, we stayed out as long as our parents and social convention allowed, and in the winter, we stayed outside for as long as we could stand the cold. The games we played were: kick the can, hide and go seek, ring-a-leave-o, red rover, billy, billy buck, half-ball, rollies at the bat, baseball, touch and tackle football, coasting, snowball fights, basketball, street hockey with a puck not a ball, pitching pennies (when we had them), pitching baseball cards, hop scotch, hand ball [our version of hand ball bore no resemblance to regular hand ball; our version was closer to ping-pong except 4 squares of cement sidewalk, a rubber ball, and hands served as table, ball and paddles], climbing up trees and, occasionally, falling out of them, jumping into snow drifts from the railroad right of way or from the ash shed’s roof (a dangerous undertaking), flipping a knife, marbles or aggies, stoop ball, for want of a better name, card games, checkers, chess when you learned the moves, all sorts of games.
There were dangerous games such as swinging from trees, jumping off the railroad right of way, kick the can, knife throwing, trading punches, carving your own or someone else’s initials into your skin, to name a few. All of these things were the basic ingredients of my growing up. There were more dangerous things to do, but these were usually reserved for the older guys. Guys we could only aspire to emulate. These were the guys who would jump across the open space between buildings, and, for the most part, all, but a few unfortunates, made it. I still remember the sound of the police ambulance every summer coming to pick up one of these broken boys who didn’t make it across the seemingly short space between buildings. It was farther than he thought. Did I ever do it or try it? I never did it. I often wanted to try to do it, but I quickly realized I had a fear of heights. From the roof to the bottom of the alleyway, to me at least, was about a mile straight down.
Lamartine Street was a busy street. It was the main artery between Green and Centre Streets. It was busy during “rush hour.” Did that stop us from playing a game called stoop ball? No, it did not. Stoop ball was a game played by two kids. The kid who was up bounced a ball off a stoop. The object was to score runs. Runs were scored if the other kid couldn’t catch the ball. The stoop was on one side of Lamartine Street while the field of play was on the sidewalk on the other side of the street. The up man had to toss the ball against the stoop [I’ve been in New York way too long; in Boston, a stoop was called a step; so, in fact, we played step ball], and the ball had to make it to the other side of the street. The object of the game, other than scoring points, was to kill time. A variation of this game was called “half-ball.” As the name implies, you took a rubber ball, cut it in half, got one of your mother’s broom sticks and used it as a bat. This game was similar to baseball in that there were teams. The team size depended on who was around at the time. Usually it was one guy up against four of five in the field. There was a pitcher who tossed the ball across Lamartine Street. The batter hit the ball and scoring depended on how high up the opposite apartment building the ball hit. First floor was first base, second floor was second base, third floor third base, and a hit above the third floor was a home run. No base running, just keep hitting the ball until you made three outs.
In a working class neighborhood, there was never much money around to buy the necessary gear to play games. Some kid had a baseball glove. Another kid had a bat and a ball. The ball was usually some relic from an older brother. It was held together with black electrical tape. Some kid could usually be counted on to have a football. Most of us had sleds for the winter and many kids had ice skates. I never learned how to ice skate. I regret that today. Bikes were the hand-me-downs from older brothers. If you didn’t have older brothers, you might be lucky enough to get a new bike. The problem with having a new bike was every boy in the neighborhood had to ride it. By the time all of us were finished with the new bike’s “break-in” period, it had quite a few miles on it.
Roller skating was a girl thing. However, a few of us tried to skate with those old “skate key” skates. The skates never stayed on. We did, on occasion, get a small square of wood, and sit on a skate and ride it down a hill. That was fun. The more ingenious and manually adept kids made scooters out of old orange crates, two by fours and a roller skate. Old baby carriage wheels, pieces of lumber and an old discarded ironing board became a cart. Any odd sized piece of discarded wood or chair leg became a rifle or a sword or a baseball bat in an emergency. Skinny limbs cut or pulled from sumac trees along with a piece of kitchen string became a bow; arrows were made from the thin branches of the tree. Imagination was a wonderful thing.
In the realm of real toys, my friends and I didn’t lack for too many, but at the time, there weren’t a great variety of toys available to us. Most toys were of the hand- me-down variety. The toy could be in good shape or rotten shape depending on where you were placed in your family’s hierarchy. For boys, the most prized toy was a cap pistol or rifle. BB guns were usually out of the question, “you’ll shoot your eye out” was not just a laugh line in the movie The Christmas Story. I wouldn’t be going too far out on a limb if I said there was always a kid in the neighborhood that possessed one of these coveted illegal toys. In my neighborhood, the Moriarity boys were always well armed with BB guns. How or where they and other kids got them none of us ever knew. And, they never divulged their sources. There must’ve been a black market supplying these kids with BB guns. I remember on Christmas day 1953, a friend and I were walking through, what was called, the “back yard”; two teenage hoodlums, armed with BB guns took aim at us. They were up on the railroad tracks and we were twenty feet below. They opened fire on us, and we scrambled for cover. Have you ever wondered what it was like to be hit with a BB? I got “shot” in the back of my left thigh—it stung like hell. We ducked into the space separating the two buildings as a barrage of BBs bounced off the walls. We were boxed in, but they soon tired, and they took off in search of other targets to hurt or worse.
Every boy I knew got a cap gun for Christmas or for his birthday. Cap guns usually came with an endorsement from the usual cowboy hero: Hopalong Cassidy, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, or the Lone Ranger. As Roy once warbled, “Hoppy, Gene and me taught you how to shoot straight.” If you lucked out, you got the whole shebang. Cap gun and holster and a supply of caps; sometimes, a felt cowboy hat was thrown in too. My favorite cap gun was a nickel plated .44. Its barrel rotated whenever you pulled the trigger. It had imitation pearl handles. Some kids got toy rifles that shot caps one at a time. Once armed, you were ready to gather up your posse and head out to get the bad guys. The thing about cap guns was their fail rate. They would never fire off the whole roll of caps in any sustained order. Usually the caps bunched up inside the gun or they wouldn’t fire at all. One of the best toy guns was a replica of a Tommy gun. The kid who owned one, found that he had more friends than he thought possible. There were also commercially made bow and arrow sets. The arrows had a rubber suction cup at the end so they would stick to the accompanying tin target. Of course, every kid took the suction cup off and fired the arrows at each other—talk about “shoot your eye out.” Rubber knives and tomahawks, cheap metal swords that broke almost as soon as you withdrew them from their wooden scabbards. Back then, no boy was weaponless.
Toy guns lead to war games or Cowboys and Indians or Cops and Robbers. War games were popular since WWII was still fresh in most of our minds especially since most of us had relatives who had been in it. Cowboys and Indians/Cops and Robbers are self explanatory.
What other toys did we have available? For some reason, there was the Slinky. I still don’t know what it was good for or what you did with it. Yet, there it was this coiled piece of thin metal that could go down a flight of stairs. Huh? The yo-yo was a popular toy. Some kids got very good at doing the intricate tricks that always came with a yo-yo. I still own a yo-yo, and I can still do some of the tricks. Board games were popular: Monopoly, Parcheesi, Sorry, Chinese checkers, checkers, and chess. I’ll readily admit to being the world’s worst chess player. I was the first kid on my block to learn how the pieces moved. Once I taught other kids how they moved, they would trounce me, royally. Today, I still can’t beat the computer at chess not even at the sub-novice level. Checkers was okay, but, don’t you know, there was and there probably always will be one kid who never lost at checkers no matter how hard you tried to beat him—he whipped you every time. One of the fond memories I have of my father was he would always let me beat him at checkers and always made it seem as if I did beat him. At age 10, I got a chemistry set from my brother Ralph. I don’t know why I wanted a chemistry set. I had no particular interest in chemistry. The only thing I ever made with the set was invisible ink. Childhoods and childish wants come to an end, and by age 12, toy guns and board games were for children.
By the time I reached age 12, all those goofy neighborhood girls, through the magic of their hormones, became much more physically interesting. They became the new unexplored territory that lay ahead. I, for one, was ready to set off on a journey of discovery.
Copyright 2006 © Howard Chislett
You have just finished reading an excerpt from From This Place and Time: A Memoir which is available for purchase from Amazon.com and from your neighborhood bookseller.
By R. M. Washburn
Campaign Biographer of Calvin Coolidge for President in 1924
Candidate for the Republication Nomination for Lieutenant-Governor of Massachusetts 1932
His Essence, As I Have Long Known Him
His Mother and his Father made of him a man, and his military and political life made of him a mixer.
There are few if any men of his years in the public service who, in personal appeal and the scholarly study of public questions, give more promise of successful statesmanship than he.
Gaspar Griswold Bacon
Son of Robert and Martha W. Cowdin Bacon
1886 Born, Jamaica Plain, Boston.
1908 Graduated, Harvard College. Captain Varsity Four.
1912 Graduated, Harvard Law School.
1912 Admitted to practice law.
1912 Campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt for President.
1916 Private, Cavalry, Mexican Border.
1916 Campaigned for Theodore Roosevelt for President.
1916 President, T. R. Non-Partisan League.
1917-18 Field Artillery. At Fort Oglethorpe, Camp Jackson, Fort Sill, and Camp Kearney. Private. Captain. Major. Now a Lieutenant Colonel, 26th Division, M. N. G.
1919 A Founder of the Military School at Harvard College.
1920 Campaigned for Leonard Wood for President.
1920 District Delegate to the Republican National Convention.
1924-32 Massachusetts Senate.
1927 Boston University. Lecturer on Constitutional Law.
1927 Published: “The Constitution of the U.S. in some of its Fundamental Aspects.”
1928-32 President of the State Senate.
1931 Published: “Government and the Voter.”
Married Priscilla Toland of Philadelphia on July 16, 1910. Three sons: William Benjamin, Gaspar Griswold, Jr., and Robert Bacon.
Not long since I was standing on the street at the Parker House corner in Boston. With me was an employee in a large factory in the suburbs of the city. Then I saw Gaspar Bacon approaching. He joined us. I introduced him to my friend. Gaspar greeted him with characteristic cordiality and with a firm grip of the hand. We talked for a time, and then Gaspar went on his way. My friend then turned to me and exclaimed, enthusiastically: “I have heard a lot about that man, and a lot that is good, but I had never met him. He fills my eye. Tell me about him.” “You show discrimination,” I replied, “and are a good judge of men.” Then I told him this story, not of fiction, but of fact.
Gaspar Bacon has always lived in Boston. He was born in the house of his ancestors, on the western side of Jamaica Pond. Three generations of Bacons have been born in this house, also his father and his children. The house is a simple one, with a good deal of land about it. There is not a touch of ostentation about the place, although there is every reasonable comfort. All this is appropriately so, for the Bacon family since its inception has always been characterized, more by purpose and effect than by show. It has always believed that a man’s standing should be determined, not by those possessions he has been successful in accumulating about him, but by his ability to advance the public welfare.
The Bacon family for generations lived on the seas. The Spartans and the Swiss live among the mountains. Such peoples, because of these atmospheres, naturally develop independence and resourcefulness. These are qualities of the Bacons. The family has long been prominent in the public service: — a Legislator in the days of the Colony, a Governor, Judges, a Secretary of State, an Ambassador to France, a Congressman and a State Senate President.
The Bacon name is an old one and has always been noted in the varied activities of life. And that the family has been long and firmly established is a significant assertion for the purposes of this estimate. For Gaspar Bacon, because of the atmosphere into which he was born, that of a reasonable material independence with command of his time, might easily have drifted along serenely and securely on the momentum of his family. But, like the faithful steward of the Scriptures, he has not been content to do this, but has set out to augment the talents which are his. Because of which he has given up his energies completely to the public service.
The Bacons have always been doers. They have never been content to clutter up the divans of the club houses. They have a certain advantage over some in the public service. For such as the Bacons are not diverted from the demands of the public service by the cares of life that oppress many, and they are immune from the financial temptations which beset the needy in politics. Because of which, when one considers what Gaspar Bacon has already made of his life, it is to his credit, that he has been stirred to do this, not by necessity but by the spur of a patriotic spirit.
There are few Americans who have shown the ability, not only to go in but also to go through, as did Robert Bacon, the father of Gaspar Bacon. This characteristic has always marked the Bacon family. By way of illustration of this quality, it might be said, that they have always been active in athletics at Cambridge. They have taken not only to football but also to rowing. The last three generations of Bacons have rowed on the Varsity Crew. And on one day in one year on the Thames at New London, in the races between Harvard and Yale, it was three Bacons who captained the Varsity Crew, the Varsity Four and the Freshman Crew, respectively. In this spirit of going in and going through, Robert Bacon threw himself into the Great War. He rendered conspicuous service on Pershing’s staff in France. And because of the cause, he overdid and died.
This same quality of going through, Gaspar Bacon has always shown. He has always been quick to plunge into the currents of intense and diverse activities, whether in his studies, in his sports, in military or in political life. He went into the war a private and he came out a major. He went onto the floor of the Senate in 1924, and has been twice unanimously elected its President, and by both parties. The Bacon family has always been a symbol of good compasses, good engines and effective clutches. A brother of Gaspar Bacon is a Congressman from Long Island, Robert Low Bacon.
Three men have had a marked influence over the life of Gaspar Bacon. These three men, in chronological order, have been his father, Robert Bacon, Theodore Roosevelt and Leonard Wood. As Robert Bacon was the spur behind Gaspar Bacon, so was Theodore Roosevelt the spur behind Robert Bacon. Thus it was natural, whenever there was a crisis in the political exigencies of Theodore Roosevelt, and there were many, that then Gaspar Bacon should have thrown himself into the fray. Robert Bacon sat in the cabinet of Theodore Roosevelt as Secretary of State. Taft made him Ambassador to France. Thus is was natural that Gaspar Bacon, and immediately upon leaving the Law School, should have made his political debut upon the stump, in 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt was a candidate for the Presidency. He was for him again in 1916. He was President of the T. R. Non-Partisan League. It was Roosevelt who said of Gaspar Bacon: “He represents precisely the type we think of when we speak of an officer and a gentleman.”
It was Leonard Wood who was the spur behind Robert Bacon in the Great War. It was Leonard Wood who led Robert Bacon to become with him a pioneer for preparedness. And Robert Bacon brought Leonard Wood and his son Gaspar into the same close relations. So it was Leonard Wood who was the immediate stimulus whereby Gaspar Bacon went into the military service. He went to the Mexican Border. He went into the Great War. Thus it was natural that Gaspar should have espoused the cause of Leonard Wood for the Presidency in 1920.
The influence of Robert Bacon over his son Gaspar, and the power of the son to respond, prepared the latter for the public service. Gaspar took a high stand at Harvard. The father and the son doubtless foresaw a political future for the latter, for in his college days Gaspar Bacon specialized in history and in government. But he did not forget the human side of his academic days. He was for one year President of his class at Cambridge, and when one considers the size of these classes, of about 800, and that they include men of all sorts, this election is strong evidence of the democracy of Gaspar Bacon, and of his likability.
He is a lawyer by profession. But the war came and the public service called. Intense by nature, which is apparent to anyone who has met him, he yearned for activity. Because of the spirit of service and the sense of duty which he had inherited, it was natural for him to enlist in the war. It was also natural for him to turn to the paths of politics. He took the stump for Roosevelt in 1912 and 1916, for Calvin Coolidge for Governor in 1919, and for Leonard Wood in 1920. He went into the military service. He was a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1920 for Leonard Wood. He went to the State Senate in 1924.
Of Bacon’s service in the Senate, on the floor and in the chair much can be said. He is an individualist, virile and determined, and yet a cooperator. He is first sincere and never a sham. He is always to be found somewhere, unlike many men who are often to be found nowhere. His legislative attention and energies he has directed, first toward the defeat of proposed bad legislation rather than toward adding to the innumerable and unnecessary laws which already clutter up the statue books. He believes, as does Calvin Coolidge, that the country is over-governed, and that administration is already busy enough in attempting to keep up with legislation, and that new laws should be enacted only with deliberation and discrimination.
He is keen to protect on Beacon Hill those citizens who are preoccupied in earning their living. He believes that the success of industry depends upon the protection and the encouragement of employee and employer, alike, and on the prosperity of each. He has a bent for statesmanship. This interests him as much in the machinery of law-making as in the product of the legislative mill. There is no one quicker to effect economy, in the waste of public service. As presiding officer of the Senate, he has not been content, simply to preside, but he has always been ready to steer, whenever duty directed.
Some men are fitted best to campaign for an office, and least to perform its duties. With other it is the opposite. They are more fitted to perform the duties of the office than to make a campaign. Some men could serve capably, but cannot be elected. Others are qualified to win at the polls but not to serve. Gaspar Bacon, as much as any man, combines not only the qualities of arriving, but also those of serving. There are few men of wider and closer personal and political contacts, with all sorts of people.
Some men are interested in public questions simply as vote-getting steps in their political progress. Gaspar Bacon is fond of the study of these questions, apart from the harvest of public office. His first interest is in constitutional law. He has lectured at Boston University, and these lectures have been published by the Harvard University Press. Homer Albers, Dean of the Boston University Law School, says of them: “They should be read by everyone.” He has written a book entitled: “The Government and the voter.” This includes thirty addresses, showing a wide scope and a scholarly treatment of diverse public questions.
Gaspar Bacon is forty-six years old. He is well built and over six feet tall. He comes right at you. And he is quicker to come than to go. Some men when they call look first for their hats. He looks first for a chair. He has a voice that cheers and a grip that binds, and he is a symbol of sympathy. He is keen for a pleasantry, to listen to and to initiate one. He is genial and genuine. All this is natural to him. For his mother and father made of him a man, and his military and political life made of him a mixer. A Republican, he has carried his close district, overwhelmingly. Men believe in his personality and in his political principles. His next door neighbor votes for him. This is the last, hardest vote to get.
And now, by way of recapitulation and finale, the essence of Gaspar Bacon is re-emphasized. Not necessity, but a patriotic spirit and a desire to serve urge him on. He has ambition, fidelity and effect. There are few if any men in the public service who, in personal appeal and the scholarly study of public questions, give more promise of successful statesmanship than he. This is the pre-eminent essence of Gaspar Bacon. This is his story. It is a short story, but it is a good deal of a story.
His father, Increase Sumner, was a member of that far flung clan that traced its roots to William Sumner, an immigrant of good Anglican stock, who had settled in Dorchester in the 1630s. Increase was a governor of Massachusetts, a judge on the Supreme Judicial Court, a politician, businessman and farmer. His wife, Elizabeth (Hyslop) Sumner, was, through her mother Mehetable (Stoddard) Hyslop, a part of the Stoddard family, which owned Noodle's Island in Boston Harbor.
Life for this upper class 18th century man was typical and predictable. Young William Sumner was at school first at Master Lane's West Boston Writing-School, then at Phillips Academy in Andover, and finally at Harvard College, from which he graduated in 1799. William then studied law privately (as was the custom) and was admitted to the Boston Bar in 1802.
Young Sumner was a representative from Boston to the Great and General Court from 1818 to 1834, during which time he unsuccessfully tried to postpone consideration of the Gerrymandering Bill of 1811. In 1814 he was appointed Executive Agent for the defense of the District of Maine (which became a state in 1820), as it had been invaded by Canadians, and later that year he joined the Board of War, which borrowed money to pay the troops called out in defense of the District. In 1818 Governor Brooks appointed him Adjutant General of the State Militia, a position he held for 16 years and which title he retained for the rest of his life.
In 1826 Sumner married Mary Ann (DeWolf) Perry, the daughter of a Rhode Island legislator and a sister-in-law of Commodore Perry, who would open up Japan peacefully in 1853. She died in 1834, and it was about this time that Sumner's Noodle's Island property became a focus of his energy beyond his extensive landholdings downtown and in Chelsea. Wooded Noodle's Island, by far the largest of five harbor islands (Noodle's, Hog, Bird, Governor's and Apple) joined by landfill to create East Boston after 1830, had been granted first to William Noodle in 1629 and later to Samuel Maverick in 1633 by the Crown.
Maverick sold the island to Samuel Shrimpton in 1670. That family quietly rented out the property for farming for the next century. By then the Shrimpton name had died out, with the last daughters married to Deacon Thomas Greenough of JP and William Hyslop of Dorchester. The families shared the island for picnics and outings for two generations. Why dash off to Nahant, the swell resort of the time, when one had his own isle nearby? Then came the War of 1812. Noodle's, due to its size, was considered an important part of the defense of Boston Harbor (a battle had been fought there at the start of the Revolution).
General Sumner, as part of the defense establishment, saw potential in this swampy piece of ancestral property; his distant cousin and co-executor, David Stoddard Greenough, did not. Greenough, a lawyer, died suddenly in 1830 and left a wife, six children, much property but no will. It took some four years for the estate to be settled, but finally in 1834 Sumner purchased the residual Greenough shares in Noodle's Island from the heirs for $80,000. He then combined them with the half of Noodle's Island that he managed for his uncle and sister since his mother's death and formed the East Boston Company to develop that newly-named area. Finally in 1836 he married Greenough's widow, Maria Foster Doane, who died in 1843.
At that time the David Greenough heirs were subdividing the JP estate that ran from the Monument to the railroad tracks. Sumner moved to JP after his second wife's death and became a Vestryman at St. John's Episcopal Church in 1844. He purchased property at 10 Roanoke Ave. the next year from the Greenoughs for $500. In 1848 he remarried for the third time to Mary Dickinson Kemble of New York City, a niece of General Gage, the last British governor of Massachusetts. They moved into the Greek Revival/Italianate mansion on Roanoke Street in 1852.
By now wealthy and semi-retired, the General was busy-traveling, writing articles for "The New England Historical and Genealogical Register," producing a biography of his father and the "History of East Boston" (1853) in some 800 pages, collecting art, and helping to manage his fledgling parish church. He served on the Vestry from 1844 to 1846 and again from 1858 to 1860, and was a Warden from 1847 to 1852 and again from 1854 to 1857. With other JP Anglicans he helped build and furnish the first church down St. John's Street near Green.
A memorial plaque to his famous mother-in-law and one to the General were moved to the present church in 1882. This land in front of the Sumner mansion became the site of the second church upon Mrs. Sumner's death in 1872 with the provision that an Episcopal church and rectory be built upon it. The General became paralyzed in 1857 after a stroke and died on October 24, 1861. His funeral was at the old St. John's, and burial followed at the new Forest Hills Cemetery. His marble monument marks him as "A Loyal Patriot, A Useful Citizen, And A Steadfast Friend."
His will—all 65 items and two codicils-is a model of precision and completeness. He left busts of himself, which have disappeared, to several friends. Rev. Babcock of St. John's and his staff were given a full set of mourning attire. To several friends he bequeathed bottles of Madeira wine. To his wife he left land, equipment, clothing, furniture, wines and livestock-all minutely itemized.
His name was immortalized when it was applied to the prestigious hill in JP and when it was fittingly placed on the first harbor tunnel (now the East Boston-downtown tunnel) which replaced the East Boston ferry in 1931. In this process he joined many other men in the private and public sectors who have had their names attached to notable public works projects. The second tunnel in 1951 was named for the son of the longtime chief of Massachusetts roads killed in action in World War II, and the third tunnel now under construction will take its name from one of the Boston baseball greats.
Sources: F. S. Drake, "Town of Roxbury," 1878; Last Will & Testament at Massachusetts Historical Society, "Dictionary of American Biography"; Boston 200, "East Boston"; E. R. Snow, "The Islands of Boston Harbor."
Written by K. Cipolia and W.H. Marx. Reprinted with permission from the March 11, 1994 Jamaica Plain Gazette. Copyright © Gazette Publications, Inc. Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library.
“Farm fresh milk from the Vermont cow to your door in 48 hours!”
Based on a 2011 interview with Harold C. ‘Hal’ Knapp, Jr.
By Peter O’Brien
Where’s the Butterfat?
Thirty-two dairies serviced the greater Boston area in the 1930s. By the mid-1950s, there were only fifteen, due to industry consolidation, growth of supermarkets, packaging changes, home refrigeration, and changing consumers’ attitudes about home-delivered milk.
In the industry’s heyday, competing dairies’ home-delivery milk routes overlapped, so that on any Jamaica Plain street one might see wagons, pungs (sleighs) or trucks from a number of local dairies including Griffin’s, Deerfoot Farm’s, Robinson’s, George H.Ware’s, Westwood Farm’s, Whiting’s, Weiler-Sterling’s, Hood’s, Knapp’s, Whittemore’s or Herlihey’s, servicing the area’s fiercely loyal retail customers with milk and other dairy products. Government supports eliminated price competition, so service, reputation, and most importantly, butterfat content, were the keys to finding and keeping customers. A dairy’s customer list on any street was quantified as so many “quarts,” and that quarts list was a valuable component of a dairy’s assets.
George J. Knapp Dairy, founded in 1876, promised “Farm fresh milk from the Vermont cow to your door in 48 hours.” Harold C. ‘Hal’ Knapp Jr., grandson of the founder, remembers the Saturday morning trips to North Station with his father, Harold C. Knapp, to meet the milk train delivering its cargo of raw milk from the Vermont milk co-op to local dairies. Meeting that train with his dad is just one of Hal’s many pleasant memories of running one of Jamaica Plain’s longest-lived dairy operations. Until it was liquidated in 1955, after nearly 80 years of home-delivery milk service, Knapp’s Dairy had enjoyed the reputation of having one of the highest butterfat contents in greater Boston.
The Knapp family’s lives outside the milk business brought them into close contact with several Jamaica Plain icons including August Haffenreffer, Miss Seeger’s School, Miss Marguerite Souther and her dancing school, the Loring-Greenough House, the Tuesday Club, a long-running national antiques magazine, and the Boston antique dealers’ market.
In 1876, Hal’s grandfather, George Jacob Knapp (1856-1931), quit the cabinet-making business and started George J. Knapp Dairy at 75 South Street, at the corner of an alley that became Atwood Square, Jamaica Plain. Later, he and his wife, Emma (1863-1944), moved to 24 John A. Andrew Street, where they found a large barn on a much bigger lot. From there they started building a customer base that would eventually include fourteen communities around Jamaica Plain.
Emma held the home together during the long hours of George’s work at the dairy and after long, happy and prosperous lives together; George and Emma Knapp were buried in Section 28, Lots 1874 and 1875, at Forest Hills Cemetery.
The Knapps had three children, George, Robert and Harold C. Knapp. Harold was born in 1895. George entered the textile business so Robert and Harold C. Knapp would later assume control of the dairy. Harold was the more active partner and he ran the business until his health and the economic viability of door-to-door milk delivery began fading in the 1950s.
Harold C. Knapp’s son, called “Hal” due to the obvious confusion of two Harold C. Knapps in the household, worked in the dairy in his early and teen years, but later declined his dad’s offer to take over. So, in 1955, the Knapp Dairy’s assets, comprised of trucks, processing equipment and the route-lists, were sold to several local dairies, thus ending Knapp Dairy’s 80-year unblemished run in the intensely regulated milk industry.
Hal Knapp was born in June 1934 at Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain. His only sister, June, was born in 1929. When Hal was born, his parents, Harold C. and Julia Anna Knapp, were living in a second floor apartment at 11 Aldworth Street, a short street that runs north from Centre Street to Dane Street. Their house backed up to Hal’s maternal grandfather’s house at 18 Dunster Road.
Hal, just four years old at the time, remembers the 1938 hurricane and that his dad, whom his mother had called home from the dairy because of her fear of the raging storm, just barely got their 1938 four-door Packard sedan into the garage before a huge oak tree fell across the driveway where he had stopped just seconds earlier.
The first-floor tenant at 11 Aldworth Street was Lt. Eddie Leonard of the Boston Fire Department. Eddie’s station was near Roxbury Crossing where he had a traditional Dalmatian in the building that also housed a five-story tall hose-drying rack. Besides designing the Boston Fire Department’s first Rescue Truck, Eddie was a fabulous cook and baker and often shared his delicious baked goods with his upstairs neighbors.
Hal’s dad was interested in fire stations because a fireman named “Goggie” MacDonald had saved his life when he was a child. One day, when he lived at 75 South Street, Hal’s dad heard a fire alarm so he jumped on his bicycle to follow the horse-drawn pumper. His bike’s wheels got caught in the streetcar tracks and he fell in the path of another onrushing fire wagon. Firefighter “Goggie” MacDonald picked up Hal’s dad just as the wagon ran over the bike! Hal has always wondered about the origins of Goggie’s unusual nickname and how he might not be here if not for Goggie MacDonald’s timely rescue of his dad.
Hal attended the Agassiz School, where, due to his diminutive size, he experienced some bullying before moving on to the Dexter School in Brookline, the Noble and Greenough School in Dedham and Boston University, where he earned a degree in aeronautical engineering. Along the way he worked for the Larz Anderson Auto Museum moving cars from their storage facility in Cambridge to a planned-but-never-realized satellite museum next to the Children’s Museum on Boston’s waterfront. Also, at his father’s urging, he learned to wrestle to defend himself from the frequent onslaughts of upperclassmen and the bigger kids in the neighborhood. From early on, however, Hal’s off-hours were mainly spent working in and around the family dairy, learning every aspect of the milk business.
50 Eliot Street
Hal’s mother, Julia Anna Knapp, who worked for a Boston law firm and was fond of restoring old things, found an old house at 50 Eliot Street that she felt could be restored to its former glory. It had for a time been a private school whose growing enrollment forced unplanned haphazard expansion by adding on rooms, porches and a third floor without a master plan of any kind. This was Miss Seeger’s School for Girls. Miss Seeger may have been related to the famous World War I poet, Alan Seeger, who wrote “I Have a Rendezvous with Death.”*
The Seeger school closed in 1936 due to the Depression and two spinster ladies, probably Alice and Josephine Hewins, later operators of the school, were living there when Julia Knapp came along. When the Hewins sisters showed the house to Julia, she found an old photo of the property in the attic and decided that, should they end up owning it, she would remove the add-ons and restore it to the beautiful single-family home shown in the photograph. The Knapps bought the house and Julia hired an architect, Albert Clark, who lived across the street from the house, to draw up plans and specifications for Julia’s renovation project. Hal Knapp still has those Clark documents.
With the plans and specs in hand, Julia approached the First National Bank’s Jamaica Plain branch for a $10,000 (quite large then) mortgage to do the renovation work. The bank was appalled by the plan to remove rooms and reduce the size of the house so they refused the mortgage, despite the fact that the bank handled Knapp Dairy’s and the family’s personal accounts! Unfazed, she found a bank in Roxbury that gladly lent her the money. Soon, after word of the unusual renovation project was out, the First National Bank came to Julia, hat-in-hand and anxious to lend money to be associated with the now well-known remodeling project, but she was pleased to decline their offer, thank you.
During the renovations the Knapps moved to the Jamaicaway in an apartment building next door to Mayor James Michael Curley’s beautiful home. Hal’s aunt lived next door in an identical apartment building. The apartment buildings were so close that the Knapps visited the aunt by jumping across the flat roofs that were nearly touching.
Their lease on the Jamaicaway apartment expired before 50 Eliot Street was ready, so in 1940 they had to move in prematurely and finish the renovations while living there. Hal’s dad was running the seven-day dairy operations and couldn’t participate in the renovation project but Hal, at six years old, could pull nails from salvaged boards and tacks from stair treads. He still has the nail puller in his collection of antique tools.
Hal’s dad did, however, find time to rebuild bicycles at 50 Eliot Street during the war while Julia began furnishing their new house with antiques. Among those antiques are some bow-back Windsor chairs that had been used by the firemen at the Jamaica Plain fire house on Centre Street. Those chairs, which Hal still has, were wired to the seat at the bottom of the spindles because the firemen would lean back and tip the chairs to rest on the fire station wall while they were relaxing between fires. The wiring prevented the spindles from popping out of their sockets.
The Milk Business
Running a local dairy, much like a dairy farm, was a seven-day operation. Hal’s father, Harold C. and his uncle, Robert, took over the business when the founder, George Jacob Knapp, retired. The operational challenges they faced were daunting and included managing a business office with internal and external auditors, handling billing and collections, security issues with drivers handling cash, maintaining a small herd of horses and later, buying, operating and maintaining a fleet of trucks. Other duties included operating expensive and complicated milk-processing equipment, hiring and training drivers while maintaining mutually agreeable labor relations, dealing with health and other municipal inspections as well as Rabbinical inspections for Kosher requirements, and maintaining proper controls throughout the processing and delivery of perishable bottled milk with one of greater Boston’s highest butterfat contents, all within 48 hours of its arrival from the Vermont milk co-op.
Hal’s dad was the driving force in the second-generation operation and he began upgrading the aging equipment and delivery system right away. In 1929 he bought Knapp’s first DIVCO (Detroit Industrial Vehicle Company) truck designed specifically for the milk and other multi-stop home delivery businesses. The DIVCOs were in production from 1926 until 1986 with gasoline engines. Originally designed as an electric vehicle in 1922, the 1926 re-design incorporated a LeRoi gasoline engine. The early trucks could be operated from the front, rear or from outside the truck on either running board. They were steered by a tiller, i.e. no steering wheel. A horizontal handle like a boat tiller turned the vehicle, while the brakes were operated by hand-levers mounted on the outside of the truck. Three separate pedals, levers, and handgrips controlled the acceleration. In 1937 the body was re-designed and remained unchanged in the snub-nosed configuration for the next 50 years. Surprisingly, there is great interest in these old trucks, especially the split-wheel tire rims that now command high prices for use on racecars.
DIVCO wanted to capture the local milk truck business, and since Hal’s father had quickly learned to operate their trucks, DIVCO asked if he would demonstrate the truck to other local dairies. Harold agreed and performed the demonstrations so well that DIVCO achieved their objective and Harold earned a nice discount on all of his DIVCO truck purchases.
The last horse-drawn wagon at Knapp’s was retired in 1942 and Hal has one of the kerosene taillights from it. The horses had been kept in stalls at 24 John A. Andrew Street. The last horse to work a Jamaica Plain route was “Major,” a large, good-natured animal with that special skill found in many door-to-door delivery horses. Major knew the route so well that after the first stop, the driver would simply hang up the reins and Major would, without further urging, move on to the next customer, knowing exactly where to stop along the rest of the route. If a customer had cancelled delivery for that day, the driver simply uttered two tongue-in-cheek ‘clicks’ and Major would walk on and stop at the next customer’s house.
Some of Knapp’s DIVCO trucks were painted green and cream, but most were all white. A specialty wagon-painter called Somerville Wagon Company painted the Knapp fleet. The blue-lettered, white background, porcelain signs with the scripted company name “George J. Knapp Dairy” were removed from the horse-drawn wagons and remounted on the new DIVCO trucks. The motorized fleet of specialty trucks allowed the expansion of the company to include fourteen municipalities, among which were: Jamaica Plain, Roslindale, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Milton, Dedham, Boston, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Chestnut Hill, Quincy, and Brookline.
A very effective post-war equipment upgrade by Hal’s resourceful dad was the replacement of the original coal-fired steam boiler used in pasteurizing the milk and cleaning the bottles with an oil-fired Clayton Steam Generator from a World War II aircraft carrier. It had been used to make steam for the aircraft launching catapults on the ship and like much no-longer-needed war materiel it was sold as “surplus” after the war. The self-contained Clayton Steam Generator was reliable, fuel efficient, easy to maintain and ensured that the recording thermometer on the pasteurizer was at all times seeing the Government mandated temperatures required for milk-safety.
An Early Start in the Milk Business
Hal started working at the family dairy at a very young age. His 1936 calendar-boy pose, at two-years old, marks the beginning of his 20-year connection with the business. He recalls his father waking him early Saturday mornings to go into Boston to meet the train carrying raw milk from the five-dairy milk co-op in East Wallingford, Vermont, and off-loading 40-quart cans of un-pasteurized milk. This Saturday morning trip reprised his father’s trip with his grandfather many years earlier. Later, the raw milk would be delivered directly to Knapp’s Dairy in shiny, glass-lined, tanker trucks eliminating the Knapp’s two-generation trip to Boston.
As he grew to teenaged years, Hal’s duties at the dairy included: unloading and gassing the 10 company trucks, washing the trucks inside and out, performing minor repairs on the truck fleet, stocking shelves with supplies used in the bottling process, cleaning the milk room and pasteurizing vats, disassembling and reassembling the complicated Manton-Gaulin homogenizing machine, washing bottles and cleaning the bottle washer, boxing eggs, going in at night to turn off the ice machine and other equipment, cleaning the roof-mounted coolers that cooled and recycled the cooling water used in the pasteurizing process and performing the all-important butterfat test. Hal demonstrated that butterfat testing process in a 1951 school Science Fair exhibit that earned him the nickname ‘bottles’ because of his unique pronunciation of that word during his demonstration.
One of Hal’s more amusing chores was making special deliveries in the dairy’s beautiful new 1948 Ford pickup truck with its gold and red highlighted pin striping. Another pleasant memory is picking up sandwiches for the drivers and sitting in their circle on milk crates as they swapped work, war, and personal stories. The sandwiches came from either Bob’s Spa on South Street or the closer Carraber’s Variety Store at the corner of Call and Williams Streets.
The drivers were a critical part of the dairy’s success, functioning as salesmen, customer service representatives and providing the face of the company in the community. Their day-long stop-and-go deliveries in a stand-up truck included many three-deckers. It was not easy work delivering the standing order of glass-bottled milk, cream, butter, eggs, etc. and retrieving the empty bottles to be washed and reused. Hal remembers John Walsh, Barney Cook, the Demling brothers and a Mr. Buckley as some of the long-term highly regarded Knapp’s drivers. The Knapp’s drivers were rewarded with crisp cash bonuses at Christmas time – along with a hand-written note of thanks from the owner.
Occasionally, Hal would work on a route with his dad as a ‘striker,’ covering a driver’s day-off. A ‘striker’ in those days was a young boy who rode on a truck delivering milk, bakery products, newspapers, or other commodities on a regular delivery route. The driver would stop at a store or residence and the striker would run full-tilt to drop off the milk, cakes, newspapers or whatever, at the customer’s door or store while the driver was setting up the next delivery. Striking was usually good for $1.50 a day plus a nice lunch at Terminal Lunch in Forest Hills, depending on the driver, while the driver got home for a nice early dinner, depending on the striker.
Hal remembers his father’s kindness to one of the dairy’s neighbors, the Ristuccias, owners of Bob’s Spa at 128 South Street, who lived at 16 John A. Andrew Street during WWII. It seems the Ristuccias needed new tires and wondered if the dairy, which had a wartime rationing allowance for tires because of their exempt industry status, could help them? Hal’s father immediately arranged for some of the dairy’s used tires to be mounted on the Ristuccias’ car for which they were very grateful ever after.
Hal also remembers that Weiler-Sterling’s dairy had an exceptionally fine welder who could expertly perform the difficult process of silver-soldering stainless steel fittings used throughout the milk processing equipment in a dairy. Hal’s dad asked if he could ‘rent’ the welder and Weiler-Sterling said sure – a clear sign of the mutual respect and friendship that existed between small competitors in the milk business. The seconding of that particular employee happened several times over many years. Years later, when Weiler-Sterling was being sold, Hal’s father attended the sale and Mr.Weiler asked if there was anything he would like for himself. Hal’s dad spotted a fine old Regulator Clock on the wall and Mr. Weiler said to help himself to it. Hal’s dad treasured the old clock as a reminder of the fine people he met in his long career in the milk business. Many of those same people were members of the local Dairyman’s Association that met regularly in Sherborn, Massachusetts.
Knapp’s biggest retail competitor was Hood’s Milk who processed milk from several locations and herds. United Farmers competed at the wholesale level by offering small grocers a signing bonus of a beautiful new refrigerated milk chest - a deal that Knapp’s could in no way match. It was a sign of the times ahead.
The End of an Era
In 1955, Hal’s mother finally convinced his father to get out of the business to stop the serious deterioration of his health caused by the long stressful hours running a very demanding business. So, after nearly 80 years in business, Knapp’s Dairy sold off the major assets and the company was closed.
The trucks, equipment, and routes were sold to several different local dairies. The Company name and goodwill couldn’t be conveyed to a new owner because the small dairy business was being consolidated and absorbed by bigger players as customers’ buying habits were changing and margins were shrinking. No one wanted to run a small local dairy anymore.
A New Life for Dad
Once the company was sold and the pressure lifted, Harold’s health immediately improved. He missed the milk business though and soon, because of his fine reputation as a dairyman, he was flattered by an offer from a Needham, Massachusetts, dairy owner to come and ‘troubleshoot’ his dairy. Harold happily accepted the offer, but soon, because he took on all that dairy’s headaches as if they were his own, his health deteriorated again. So, he finally quit working and spent the rest of his life involved as a church Elder, refinishing furniture for his antique-collecting wife and fixing damaged gadgets for the Breck’s Gardening shop at Chestnut Hill. He and his wife, Julia, retired to a condo in Chestnut Hill. Notwithstanding the early damage to his health, Harold C. Knapp lived to see his 95th birthday, remaining bright and alert to the very end in 1990.
Mom Had a Life Too!
Hal’s dad wanted his wife, Julia, to stay home with the children while he was running the dairy, so she quit her job for a Boston attorney. She did, however, conduct internal audits of the Knapp Dairy’s books, picked up Evelyn, the bookkeeper, and drove her to work, and helped with other office related tasks.
Later, however, Julia’s interest in antiques landed her a job with The Magazine Antiques, attending antique shows at various venues in Boston such as the Mechanics’ Building on Huntington Avenue, the Copley Plaza and Vendome Hotels and the like, where she set up a booth and sold subscriptions to the famous, long-established and still-in-print, antiques magazine. This exposure increased her knowledge of the antiques business and antiques themselves. Hal still has the antique furnishings Julia used to set up the booth and even he got exposed to the antiques world when he was 16 and would use the Knapp’s Dairy truck to deliver antiques for the dealers in the shows his mother attended. Hal had learned from his mother how to properly handle antiques and the dealers at the shows noticed that careful handling. Before long, Hal had an antiques delivery business going.
Julia was also a member of the Tuesday Club and she and Harold ran the annual auctions at the Loring-Greenhough house with Hal and his sister, June, acting as runners. Hal’s dad also ran the hot-dog concession at the auctions. Naturally, Knapp’s Dairy trucks did the hauling and delivery of the antiques.
Miss Marguerite Souther **
Miss Marguerite ‘Rita’ Souther, a Jamaica Plain icon, operated the widely known dancing school at Eliot Hall for over 50 years. Hal’s sister, June, worked there as an instructor and his mother, Julia, through her antiquing interests, membership in the Tuesday Club and the auctions at Loring-Greenough House, got to know Miss Souther very well.
When Miss Souther decided to sell her large house at 44 Allandale Street, a second- generation house built by her father, Charles H. Souther, on the site of her grandfather’s former estate called “Allandale,” she asked Julia to appraise the houseful of antiques she had inherited and acquired over many years.
During one of the appraisal visits, Miss Souther said to Hal’s dad: “Harold, look under my bed, there are two guns under there that you can have.” One of the guns was a .22 caliber Derringer and the other was a Colt Target pistol. Harold never asked why they were there.
Miss Souther sold the house to Faulkner Hospital and moved to Longwood Towers, leaving behind a legacy of old-school manners and mores passed on to her thousands of students. Her former property at 44 Allandale Street is now home to the Springhouse retirement community.
Hal’s maternal grandfather, George Hoerrner, worked at the American Brewing Company (ABC) brewery on Heath Street as a stationary engineer, i.e. an engineer licensed to run fixed, or stationary, machinery. George Hoerrner insisted on conscientious lubrication of the equipment used to brew and refrigerate beer and was thus nicknamed “Oil Can.” He lived on Lawn Street in 1905, at 149 Fisher Avenue in 1912, at 100 Magazine Street in Roxbury in 1925 and finally at 18 Dunster Road, Jamaica Plain.
Oil Can went to work for the Haffenreffer breweries and became a close friend of August Haffenreffer, grandson of the founder, Rudolph Haffenreffer. George Hoerrner worked for Haffenreffer’s for 40 years, being responsible for the equipment at several Haffenreffer brewing and storage sites. At retirement, August asked him what he’d like besides the proverbial gold watch. Oil Can replied, “I’d like that copper-covered bar in the ‘customer’ room used to entertain wholesale customers in the basement at the ABC brewery on Heath Street.” August said that one-half of the 16’-long bar was already spoken for, but the other half was his. George also got the engraved Waltham watch. George Hoerrner died in 1947.
Hal remembers a major event in his life was declining his father’s offer to take over the dairy in 1955, which would have provided a draft deferment. However, Hal had seen how the stress and long hours had practically destroyed his dad’s health and he didn’t want to go that way. Also, the consolidations in the industry were eliminating the small operators which didn’t bode well for a career in milk. Hal’s plans for his military obligation were uncertain until his draft notice arrived and triggered his immediate enlistment in the Army as a Helicopter Inspector/Mechanic. He went to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for basic training and was then sent to an Air Force base in Texas for helicopter training. He then chose Stuttgart, Germany, as his deployment destination where he served two-and-a- half years from 1955 to 1958.
In Stuttgart Hal trained NATO helicopter pilots in the response procedures to be used when mechanical problems forced an emergency landing. He also developed guidelines for the immediate grounding of a helicopter with operating problems. He personally became adept at identifying potential problems that would require a helicopter to be grounded and repaired before it could be flown again.
In one incident, he earned an on-the-spot promotion to Sergeant from a General Officer. Hal noticed that oil seeping from the tail rotor on a certain helicopter seemed to have fine aluminum particles in it. He quickly deduced that the rotor unit’s aluminum mounting hardware was deteriorating and if not corrected it could break away causing the helicopter to crash, so he immediately grounded the helicopter. The helicopter was the base commander’s who arrived at the scene and demanded to know who grounded his helicopter and why. Hal somewhat nervously explained his rational for grounding it and then, with the General’s approval, Hal had a mechanic strip the unit whereupon his diagnosis was instantly confirmed. When the General saw the proof of Hal’s diagnosis, he was duly impressed and ordered Hal’s immediate, on-the-spot, promotion to Sergeant.
As he was being discharged, Bell Helicopter Company, with whom he had worked closely for the past couple of years, offered him a job as a Tech Rep out of their Dallas office. Hal accepted, but just before leaving for Dallas, a local company offered him a better job doing payload analyses on various Medevac-type helicopters that Hal had worked on in Germany. He accepted the far-better offer from Microwave Development Laboratories in Wellesley and stayed three years. Another promotion was offered by Lab for Electronics Company, which he accepted. He then went with the Hazeltine Company as a Contract Administrator. While at Hazeltine, Hal explored several ideas for possible patent applications. He left Hazeltine after a short stay there and from August 1965 he worked at Raytheon for the next 27 years.
Hal’s most significant memory of the Knapp’s Dairy years is that it was a rewarding, but very tough business, demanding constant close attention to details and enormous vigilance to constantly ensure the safety of the product. The damage done to his dad’s health and the consolidation of retail milk suppliers that prompted Hal to decline his dad’s offer to take over the company was a decision he does not regret. He has great love and respect for his dad and the wonderful example he set for Hal’s own life. He loved being able to help his father, even as a little boy, and fondly remembers the many hours they spent together getting milk to the thousands of Knapp’s Dairy customers in and around Jamaica Plain.
Now retired at Chatham, Massachusetts, Hal and his wife of 47 years, Carol (Sinclair) of Warren, Rhode Island, who retired from a 40-year nursing career at New England Baptist Hospital, enjoy boating and restoring and maintaining antique cars and tools.
*Jamaica Plain Historical Society Oral History: David A. Mittell, 2004
**Jamaica Plain Historical Society article “Dancing School of Miss Maguerite Souther” by David A. Mittell, 2003
Published in the Boston Daily Globe on July 12, 1908
Histories record facts, furnish dates, and tell the cause and effect of changes and progressions, political and otherwise, but to feel the underlying sentiment of past times, to acquire that close personal touch with persons and events, you must read what men of those times have written; or, better still, if you can, talk with men ripe in years, who can give you first hand, from their own knowledge and reminiscence, the human touches, the little details which are crowded out of histories.
If, instead of being satisfied with simply reading American history and thereby getting, at best, a sort of distant look at past events and people, you would be made to feel a closer relationship and a truer familiarity with those events and people, you must talk with a man like George W. Fowle of Jamaica Plain, who as a child was held in Lafayette’s arms; who knew William Lloyd Garrison and saw him mobbed in the streets of Boston; who later stood with Garrison at the corner of Washington and State Streets and saw the first regiment of colored soldiers go off to the war; who saw Wilkes Booth standing back of his house in Jamaica Plain three days before Lincoln was shot; whose father knew and helped John Howard Payne; whose brother knew and worked under Admiral Foote and heard him give General Grant encouragement and advice at the beginning of the war; whose mother died on the day that George Washington passed away; whose memory, in short, teems with interesting facts of history.
Mr. Fowle, although 87 last Thursday, is as active as a man of middle years. Not a faculty is impaired. His eye is keen, his hearing as acute and his mind as alert as ever, and in talking of happenings of many years ago his memory never fails him.
He has always taken a deep interest in the affairs of the country and its people and thus is able to easily call to mind a host of incidents large and small. And it is a source of great pleasure to him to reflect upon events which have happened since his memory began.
Mr. Fowle comes of the sturdiest of New England stock, and he claims relationship with all the Fowles in the country. “The only family of Fowles which came across,” he explains, “were four brothers who landed back in 1600 and something.
“One settled in Woburn, one in Connecticut and the others in Virginia, and from these boys sprang the families of Fowles here now. One of those who went to Virginia married into the Custis family, one daughter of which was the wife of George Washington.
“I was born in New York and when I was but a baby our family moved to Westfield, which is at the extreme westerly end of the state, on Lake Erie. My father’s mission in going there was to establish a customhouse for the U.S. Government to handle goods that were coming over from Canada. While working there in the government service he organized a military company and as its head was quite a factor in the town.
“While we were there, that was in 1824, Lafayette made his second visit to this country, and, as you’ve read, was feted generally. His mission here, of course, was to be present at the laying of the cornerstone of Bunker Hill Monument. While here, Congress voted him $200,000 and a large piece of land in Ohio, and being naturally curious to have a look at his land he traveled by the old stage coaches to the west, or what was then considered the west, passing through Westfield on the way. It became necessary for him to stop there a day or two and he was given a royal reception.
“I was but three then, but my mother used to discourse frequently on the affair afterward, so that it seems as though I have a recollection of it all my own. My father as head of the militia company helped arrange for the reception, which included an elaborate ball in the evening.
Held by Lafayette
“Lafayette, who, by the way, was extremely fond of dancing, had the first dance with my mother. The next night there was another reception, and many women and children were there, and then Lafayette showed his love of children. I was one of those whom he picked up and held while he joked and laughed with the mothers.
“A few years later we returned to New York, and one of the things that happened while we lived there that left a most vivid impression upon my mind was the epidemic of cholera which spread from England through New York down into Central America. It was terrible in New York that summer, and I can remember now the death teams going by loaded with bodies. I was about eight then.
“While in New York my father used to make trips abroad, Tunis being one of the ports he touched. One day, about four days before he was to sail, a man came up and asked him the cost of a trip to Tunis. My father told him, and the man’s reply was that it would take all the money he had and leave him nothing after he got there, so my father offered to let him live on the boat after they reached there.
“The next night my father and the man were walking along the street and stopped in front of a house to hear a woman playing a musical instrument and singing. One of the songs was ‘Home Sweet Home’ and as the woman finished singing it the man turned to my father and said ‘I wonder what the woman would say if she knew the author of that piece was standing out here listening to it?’
“When my father had found words to express his astonishment at learning who his companion was, Payne explained that it was his song and how he came to write it.
Payne Tells How He Wrote “Home Sweet Home”
” ’ There were four of us boys,’ he said, ‘who were accustomed to meet in the eating saloon, and one night while there someone suggested that each try to write a song about home. We all sat there and scribbled away, and what that woman has just sung was the result.’ Payne was afterward appointed Consul to Tunis and I have a couple of letters at home now that he wrote my father while he was there.
“I had in my possession for many years the only flag with the original 13 stars and 13 stripes in the country. About two years ago I gave it to the State and it is now hanging in the State House. Soon after Congress decided on that pattern of flag my grandfather had one made and hung it from the old homestead.
“Upon his death it was handed down to my father and later to me. The old homestead where it first hung is 150 years old, and still standing on Amory Street near Hogs Bridge. The flag is at least 125 years old. The late Admiral Sampson, while at the Charlestown Navy Yard, heard of the flag and came out to see it.
“When I spread it out before him he said: ‘We are trying to put the old Constitution in such a condition that she will last for many years, and when we get her improvements completed we must have a gala day on board and raise this flag on her, even if for a day.’ This pretty plan was never carried out, because the Admiral’s death came soon afterward.
“Some of my choicest recollections are of William Lloyd Garrison, that noble hearted Abolitionist, and I am indebted to a kindly fate that threw me in with him frequently. I first saw him on the day that he was mobbed in the streets of Boston.
“I happened to be walking down State Street and saw a crowd ahead of me, and as I reached Washington Street saw a mob in front of the office of the Liberator, Garrison’s paper. I got there just after he had been taken into the Old State House, which was then City Hall, for protection.
“The crowd tore down the sign over Garrison’s office, and if I had only realized what important history was then being made I would have saved a piece of the sign which I picked from the ruins and carried around half the day for company.
“Well, I walked through the great yelling mob from the Liberator office to City Hall, and as I reached there Mayor Lyman opened a window and began to address the crowd. I saw Garrison standing beside him. The Mayor appealed to the crowd in the interest of fairness and peace.
“The crowd still hung around waiting for Garrison to come out, and they were nearly outwitted too. I happened to walk around on Wilson’s Lane, which is now Devonshire Street, and saw Garrison being bundled into a carriage, having come out on the other side of the building.
“Just as the carriage was getting away the crowd realized what was happening and they attacked it, trying to cut the harness from the horse, etc. The driver was nervy and determined, however, and he slashed right and left with his whip and drove through that dense crowd.
“Those were exciting times, I tell you. They carried Garrison that day to the old Leverett Street jail. That was in the fall of 1835.
Garrison at Work
“I was a bookbinder, and although the doctors had told me I must keep out of doors all the time, and had been doing so for some time, I decided to buy a shop next to Garrison’s office, and I staid there about a year.
“One night when I came into my office I found a book lying on my desk which one of my workmen had left there, marked for Mr. Garrison and to be delivered that night. I was alone in my office, so I took the book up myself. I rapped on Mr. Garrison’s door and was bidden to enter. As I went into his printing office I saw him at his desk, alone in the shop, working like mad.
“We talked a few minutes and I remarked that he was staying late, to which he replied: ‘I’ve got to get my paper out in the morning. I’m writing an editorial now and when I get it finished I’ll set it up over there and then print it myself. I can’t afford to hire much help, and if I can’t get help I will do the whole thing myself.’
“It wasn’t so much what Garrison happened to say to me that night, but it was the way he said it; it was his whole bearing and the cast and expression of his countenance that told me that he was carving a niche in history. He was in the midst of his terrible struggle and there were yet many dark days ahead of him.
“About 25 years later I was standing at the corner of State and Washington Streets watching the first colored regiment that the north sent to the war, march to their boat. Robert Gould Shaw was at their head, and they marched, as they knew they were marching, to complete annihilation. The work of such men as Garrison was nearly over. They had fought against immense odds for years, night and day, and were watching a cruel war finish their labors.
“As I stood there watching that noble, self-sacrificing Shaw lead those Negroes away, I happened to turn my head and saw Garrison standing beside me. His eyes filled with tears, as he, too, watched the colored troops pass by.
“I spoke to him and asked him if he remembered that day so many years ago when he had stood by the side of Mayor Lyman in the window just over our heads, and he nodded. ‘Yes’ he said. ‘I well remember that day, and many others that have gone since. Our fight has been a long one and the fight those fellows are going into is to be a hard one, for not one of them will come back alive.
” ‘I’m sorry for those poor fellows, for I know just what will happen to them when they get down there,’ and worn and bent with the constant struggle of years, Garrison walked away. I later visited him at his home in Roxbury and he introduced me to his two sons, who are still living, as one of the ‘boys who was in his mob.’
Booth in Boston
“One morning in April 1865, while walking across the land in back of my house I saw two men standing on a pile of rocks that stood on some raised land back of mine. One of them raised his hand in salute and spoke to me, and I recognized my neighbor, Benjamin T. Stevenson. I returned his greeting and went on about my business. Three days later we were all astounded by the news that Lincoln had been assassinated.
“That day I met my neighbor Stevenson and as we talked over the grave situation he said to me: ‘Fowle, do you recall seeing me talking with a man back of your house three days ago?’ I told him that I did. ‘Well,’ said Stevenson, slowly and soberly, ‘that man was Wilkes Booth.’
“I could scarcely restrain my astonishment, and Stevenson went on to explain that on the night before I had seen him with Booth they both had been present at a gathering in Brookline, which was attended by a number of people - a social gathering it was, I believe. When the time came to leave, Booth told Stevenson that he was going to get back to Washington and was in a hurry to see about some mining interests of his.
“My neighbor said that there was no use in starting out at that time of night, and asked him to come to Jamaica Plain and spend the night with him. Booth accepted the invitation, and in the morning they walked out a piece from the house to look about.
“During all the time that Booth was in my neighbor’s company he never mentioned Lincoln, the war, or any of the prevailing troubles, and Stevenson could not believe that Booth, his guest, and Booth, the murderer, were one and the same.”
Thus did the old gentleman regale the reporter, who paid a birthday visit to him, with tales of the past. Nor were these all, for he told many more, not yet exhausting his fund of recollections. And he enjoyed telling them as much as the reporter enjoyed hearing them all.
He has a house full of interesting mementoes of the past, and his brother John and his wife are the proud possessors of like reminders. Another brother, Samuel A. Fowle, who lives in Arlington, was also in Washington at the time of the war, and can recount facts of time gone by. Samuel made medals while in Washington, which the soldiers wore in battle.
Mr. Fowle lives at 214 Chestnut Ave., Jamaica Plain, with his son’s family. His wife died about three years ago. When his father came east from New York they lived on Fort Hill. He learned the printing and bookbinding trade and went to Woburn and opened an office.
Mr. Fowle is a well-known figure in Jamaica Plain, respected by everyone. He is Deacon in the Boylston Congregational Church, and three years ago was tendered a reception by the Society in observance of his residence of half a century in the District. He has been treasurer of the Horticultural Society and Vice President of the Davis Street Home.
Production assistance and transcription by Peter O’Brien.
by Roy Magnuson
I spent the first year of my life in a three-decker at 20 Glade Avenue, a dead-end street off Glen Road near Franklin Park. On my first birthday in May, 1950 we moved to the third floor of a three-decker at 171 Forest Hills Street. My grandparents were the owners and lived on the second floor with my widowed aunt. Life on the third floor had its ups and downs, literally, but I look back on it with many fond memories.
One big issue was the heat. Not enough of it in winter, and too much of it in summer. Until about 1964 our main source of heat in winter was a coal-fired boiler in the cellar that fed steam radiators in our apartment. This system required constant attention and many trips down and up three flights of stairs every day to stay warm.
Each summer a delivery truck would bring several tons of coke, not coal, and deposit it into our cellar storage bin using a chute through a cellar window. I never understood why, but my father preferred coke over coal. Although he used to talk about the dangers of coal gas, I’m guessing that coke was cheaper.
The big decision each fall was when to fire up the boiler. Too early in the fall might mean using up coke when it wasn’t really necessary; too late in the fall might mean not having heat when we really needed it. When it got cold out, we really needed it.
When the big day came, it took a bit of work to get the boiler going. First we’d crumple up lots of newspaper and throw it in the boiler. Then came the kindling: lots of small pieces of wood; then bigger pieces of wood on top of that. Next, in went several lit wooden matches. The object was to get a good, strong wood fire going that produced a nice bed of red glowing coals. (Dad was always on the lookout for wood. When the old utility pole was replaced out front, he got the workers to leave it in our driveway. He spent many hours sawing and splitting it up.) After about a half hour, two shovels of coke went on top, the draft was adjusted, the fingers were crossed, and if everything went as planned, the coke caught, glowed bright red, and we had heat. But before the steam made its way up to our radiators we had the banging.
There was some kind of problem with the steam pipes that fed the radiators on the living room end of our apartment. Every time the heat “came up” we heard this loud bang-clang-bang-clang. It sounded like someone was hitting the pipes with a hammer. But the noise passed in less than 30 seconds, then came the blissful sound of the radiators hissing. That meant heat. Finally! No amount of fiddling with the involved radiators by lifting this end or that end or both ends could ever stop the banging. We learned to just live with it.
Every day in winter Dad made many trips down to the cellar to add coke, adjust the draft, shake down the ashes, shovel out the ashes, add more coke, dislodge a clinker, etc. Then in the early 1960s we converted to oil. That was just awesome. From that point on, when we got cold all we had to do was turn a thermostat on the dining room wall and after a while the pipes banged, the radiators hissed, and we got warm without having to go down to the cellar at all. What an improvement!
In summer we had the opposite problem: too much heat. All day the sun would shine down on the flat roof and bake our apartment. It got really hot. The kitchen at suppertime would often get unbearable. What saved us was our screened front porch. It faced east so it got no sun after noon. We spent many hours out there every summer trying to escape the heat. In 1965 my mom got a part time job at Diamond’s Dress Shop on Centre Street. Right from the beginning she must have saved every dime she made because before long she bought two small air conditioners, one for each bedroom, so we could sleep when it was hot. We were among the first in the neighborhood to have an air conditioner, and what a difference they made. Over the years Mom also worked at Jones Gift Shop, Wayne’s Clothing Store, and Eileen’s Women’s Store.
Before we converted to oil heat, our hot water came from a device in the kitchen called “the stack.” This thing was a cylindrical black gas-fired water heater that sat alongside the kitchen stove. It connected to a copper storage tank in a small closet. When we needed hot water we opened the stack’s door, lit a match, turned on the gas valve which ignited a good sized flame, then closed the door. If we just needed to wash the supper dishes, we only let it run a few minutes. We’d open the closet door and feel the top of the storage tank. If it was hot down several inches, that meant we had enough hot water for the dishes. But if we needed to take a bath (we had no shower), it had to run longer. We needed the top two feet of the tank to be hot to make sure we had enough hot water to fill the tub. We were always reminded to never forget to turn off the stack, because it could explode. The stack was not vented to the outside, which was fine in the winter because it warmed up the kitchen. In the summer it just made the kitchen even more unbearably hot. And it was dangerous because it could be extremely hot on the outside if it had just been running, but you couldn’t tell by looking at it. I learned to just stay away from it. It was removed when we converted to oil heat, which gave us “continuous hot water.” Good riddance.
Ours was the end three-decker in a row of eight three-deckers along Forest Hills Street. There were eight more around the corner on Lourdes Avenue, which also had three six-family houses. That’s a total of 66 apartments in a fairly small neighborhood. Each three-decker was owner occupied, and all were well maintained with an obvious pride of ownership. The neighborhood was very stable. Most families had been there a long time which meant you got to know your neighbors. All these apartments meant that there were plenty of kids to play with. When I was in grammar school, I had to go out to play every day unless it was raining. So did the other kids. We came home from school, changed our clothes, and then went out to play. We had to stay out until we were called for supper.
We found things to do because we had to. We played tag, hide-and-seek, red light, baseball, football. We threw rocks, rode bikes, climbed trees, went coasting in winter, collected horse chestnuts. We lived near the back edge of Franklin Park so we went exploring in the woods. On many Sunday afternoons in summer, my dad and I would walk through the Franklin Park woods and then walk alongside the golf course up to the Refectory across from the Zoo entrance. Dad would have a beer. I’d have a Coke. After a pleasant rest we’d walk back home. We’d often see people riding through the park on horseback. There were stables at the end of Forest Hills Street where anyone could go to rent a horse and ride through the park. Franklin Park was a wonderful and beautiful place to have so close to home.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that so many things were delivered right to our door. The ice man had already vanished by the 1950s, but many other delivery men still came around. Our milkman was Walter Collyer from Hood’s Milk. He came three times each week: Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. He delivered to each floor in our house. We got homogenized milk but my grandparents got the milk with the cream on top. They’d pour off the cream to use in their coffee. I’ve often wondered how many flights of stairs Mr. Collyer trudged up and down every day. Whiting’s milk also delivered to the neighborhood, but my mother preferred Hood’s. We had an egg man who came from his farm in Abington every Friday with a fresh dozen eggs for us and a dozen for my grandparents downstairs. Cushman’s bakery also delivered fresh bread.
A fruit and vegetable man came around yelling from his truck so the housewives would know he arrived. “Bananas! Strawberries! Fresh tomatoes!” You walked down to him so you could see what he was offering that day and check the freshness of his goods. A ragman came around every other week or so, yelling: “Rags. Got any rags?” He had a horse-drawn wagon, even in the 1950s. The insurance man, Eddie, came around each week knocking on doors and collecting the weekly payments due on people’s policies. In summer Bob the ice cream man came around every day ringing his bell. It sounded like the bell at school that told you recess was over. He had a small red pickup truck with a white ice cream freezer in back. When he’d open the freezer door to get your popsicle a cloud of white vapor would spill out and go straight down to the ground. He’d wait around a bit to give everyone time to run home, get a nickel, and run back. Numerous newspapers were delivered: The Globe, The Herald, The Traveler, The Record, and The American. Around Christmas we got two mail deliveries each day.
I attended the Margaret Fuller elementary school on Glen Road from kindergarten in 1954 through the 6th grade in 1961, as my older sister had. My teachers were: Miss Jennings (kindergarten), Miss Pezzulo (first grade), Miss Heffernan (second grade), Miss Madden (third grade), Miss Macavella (fourth grade), Miss Loughran (fifth grade), Miss Shaughnessy (sixth grade). My sister had the exact same teachers seven years earlier.
My classmates (to the best of my recollection) were: John Callahan, Gail Collyer, Paul Cotter, Christopher Diminico, Joyce Duggan, John Fonseca, Robert Gava, Robert Grimes, Angela Hart, Edith Healy, Gary Kobialka, Dennis Magee, Linda Malovich, Edwin Mankiewicz, Mary Mulvey, Vicky Munafo, Judith Nawrocki, Angelina Nawrocki, Horace Ryder, Nancy Sardella, Evelyn Sargent, Judith Scapinski, Joseph Scarcella, Deborah Smith, Marcelle St. Clair, Joseph Tringali, Bruce Walker, Donald Watson, William Wetterhahn, Mary Wieziski. (Note: I may have unintentionally omitted someone or misspelled a name; it’s been a long time.)
One reason why JP was a great place to live was the public transportation. All our lives we rode buses, trolleys, and the El. Right below Green Street Station we could catch the Wren Street bus that would take us up to the business district and all the stores along Centre Street. From there we could take the trolley and get anywhere along Centre and South Streets, as well as South Huntington and Huntington Avenues, all the way to Park Street station. The elevated Orange Line stopped at Green Street station, and went directly downtown to all the movie theatres, stores, restaurants and everything else in the city. By the time we were 12 or so, we often took the El to “Friend/Union” station. Then we’d walk under the Central Artery, through the North End, down to the municipal swimming pools on Commercial Street and spend the day swimming and having fun. We’d also go to “Milk/State” station, change to the Blue Line, and go to Revere Beach for the day. We could go places and do things by ourselves at a fairly young age, which, in retrospect, fostered our sense of independence and self-reliance. And we never once had a bad experience or a problem of any kind. Remarkable.
We were always trying to make some money. We’d run errands, cut the grass, shovel snow; anything to make a quarter or two. I spent many hours with my red Radio Flyer wagon combing the streets, woods, vacant lots, anywhere I might find returnable bottles. The small ones were two cents and the big ones were five cents.
I got my first real job just as I turned 14 at the Green Street Drug Store at the corner of Washington Street and Glen Road. I worked the soda fountain, and sold cigarettes, newspapers, candy and gum. Cigarettes were 28 cents a pack, and we sold a lot of them. I think everybody in JP was a smoker. The drug store was owned by Bob and Birdie Rosenberg. I worked for the summer but had to quit when school started. About 15 years later I met Bob and Birdie in Framingham. They had closed the drugstore and Bob had early stage dementia. What a shame. About a year later I started working across the street at the White City Food Store. I worked every day after school and every Saturday waiting on customers and making deliveries. I worked 19-1/2 hours each week and received a twenty dollar bill each Saturday. I worked there for about one year, then went next door to Strachman’s Cleaners. I also worked there after school and Saturdays and received $1.25 per hour.
The intersection of Washington Street and Green Street/Glen Road also had Timmons Liquor Store, a First National Food Store, Ruggerio’s Variety Store, a barber shop, and Jo-Anne’s Coffee Shop. With all the foot traffic from the El and the bus, it was a busy place. Jamaica Plain was just a great place to grow up. I left in 1974 when I got married and moved to West Roxbury. I look back fondly to my experiences there in the 50s and 60s, and I have many, many pleasant memories. I consider myself very fortunate to have lived there.
His cousin, Jerry Burke, who for many years was the owner of Doyle’s Café and is a local political and historical pundit, furnished the following memoir by retired Judge James Cradock.
Judge Cradock was born in 1941 and grew up on the upper end of Montebello Road near Franklin Park. He attended Our Lady of Lourdes School, Boston College High School and Boston College, where he graduated in 1963. After college he served on active duty with the U.S. Navy from 1963 to 1968. He continued his military service in the Naval Reserves and eventually retired with the rank of Captain.
Following his active military service Judge Cradock completed Law School at Suffolk University in 1970 and practiced law until 1990. At that time he was appointed a Judge of Federal Administrative Law, serving in various locations until his retirement in 2004.
Judge Cradock now lives in South Carolina and is a frequent visitor to Jamaica Plain where many of his relatives still reside.
When I was about 14 or 15 and a student at B.C. High during the 1950’s two schoolmates and I decided to go to a football game at White Stadium in Franklin Park. After school we rode the T from Dorchester over to Egleston Square and walked from there up to the game. On the way we stopped at my house on Montebello Road where my mother gave us milk and cookies. As we left and started walking up to the stadium one of the boys, Frank Carney from Cambridge, said, “Gee, your mother has a beautiful Irish brogue.” I responded, “What do you mean?” I wanted to punch him in the nose! I didn’t of course and Frank became a lifelong friend who reminds me occasionally that he informed me that I was Irish that day. Hah!
The truth is I didn’t believe my mother had any kind of accent. She did indeed have a beautiful brogue, as did my father, both having come from Galway. But their speech to me was as natural as the sun in the morning. This “Irish ear” which I had was reinforced regularly in the neighborhood I lived in.
Montebello Road in Jamaica Plain starts at Walnut Ave., which serves as a border to Franklin Park. It runs from there down a steep hill in our time gladed by leafy maple and oak across Washington Street and there under the El where Forest Hills Street comes in at an angle about halfway between then Green Street and Egleston T stations. From there it continues down, where it was known as “little Montebello” and reaches its terminus at the Our Lady of Lourdes complex of church, convent, school, rectory and old church.
At the intersection on Washington was kind of a mini-mall with Walter Leong’s Laundry, Gordon’s Market and Madden’s Drug Store on one side, and Johnny McLaughlin’s Parkview Spa (our “corner”—several people had run the store prior to Johnny over the years but he was the most recent and best known by our crowd), Mr. Dwyer the cobbler and Buddy Shea the Funeral Director’s office on the other. Across Washington was Johnny Hughes’ venerable Gas Station. At these places immediate necessities were often bought. I remember it being a big thing to me to be sent down the hill from 81 Montebello to the corner for “a quart of milk and a loaf of bread” and later to Gordon’s, where there was always sawdust on the oiled hardwood floor, for “a piece of cube steak.” I remember coming home with the Record-American one time, with a headline saying that Babe Ruth had died.
We had gas lanterns on Montebello that looked Dickensian era and ancient streetcars on Washington that looked from not long after. They were slow enough for some kids to hitch a ride on the back (not us). Washington Street was still cobblestoned then, making cars sound like tenor drums as they rolled along.
Above Washington was “big Montebello” and starting above Pop Martin’s Rest Home at about number 70 and going up to the 100’s there were about 15 three-deckers, counting both sides. Families who lived in them at one time or another during the 40’s and 50’s included the Careys, O’Connors, Tonrys, Keegans, Kellihers, Sullivans, Connaughtons, Conlons, Powers, Gradys, Laffeys, Clohertys, Matthews, Collins, Griffins, Coffeys, Tighes, Cradocks, and Mrs.Peasley. In almost every one of these families there was at least one “beautiful Irish brogue.” Thus we kids who grew up there at that time were graced every day, in our own homes and others, by that lyrical speech, “smiling eyes” and ready sense of humor with a hair-trigger willingness to laugh.
I estimate there were 20-30 of us growing up there then, all shapes, sizes and ages. It was one group, with the older taking care of the younger. I was reminded of it years later when my daughter Kathleen was on a swim team in Fairfax, Virginia which consisted of boys and girls, ages 8 (and under) to 18, where they all found community pulling together. When we were small the older girls looked after us. My brother Butch and I had the benefit of four older sisters, Mary, Patsy, Helen and Chris, and some of their friends like Joan Power, Marie Grady and “Reety” Conlon. Our cousin Noreen Dooley also lived with us then, having come over from Ireland when she was 10.
I remember Mary in particular, the oldest, looking after us. She and sometimes Patsy would bring us over to the beach at Savin Hill. We went to Revere Beach with Chris, and with Helen and her friend Helen Carey. I remember in later years groups of us, boys and girls, would take the excursion across the city to Revere. One time Charlie Cloherty, “the Punch,” got stuck in the folding side door of a streetcar on the way and let the driver know in a vocal way to “close the d—- door”. Since almost none of our families had a car we relied on the T for any traveling. We rode it all the time and it was very ordinary for us. Wasn’t something we ever complained about. The girls would walk us up to the park often, and it was always a treat to go to the Zoo.
Chris, our youngest sister, is and was four years older than me and seemed to get stuck with Butch and me often, hanging out with us on the hill or at the park or taking us on “serious” trips such as to the library or over to the dreaded Forsythe Clinic for dreaded dental work by dreaded (do you brush your teeth?) dental students. I do remember one thing Butch and I loved to do was to go up to the Children’s Museum, which was then in a big old house up on the Jamaicaway. There the lady would give you a pencil and a list and you could walk around for what seemed like hours checking off what you discovered. Butch has reminded me of a movie house there, and an elephant! They had 4th of July fireworks on Jamaica Pond in those days and I remember walking up there from Montebello passing people in their front yards with sparklers. You could take a rowboat out on the Pond to watch the fireworks.
Our first playground was the street. It always seemed shady and cool in the summer and we became unaffected by the steepness of the hill. The girls would play jump rope and draw with chalk on the sidewalk and pavement. We all played Hide and Seek and the boys played games like Relievio and Billy Billy Buck Buck. We always seemed to have something going with a pimple ball, such as a game played off the cement “stoops” in front of houses. If the ball rolled into a sewer it was retrieved by an elaborate operation involving a coat hanger. When you called someone out from a three-decker to play you would stand by the house and cry something like “Hyoo Jimeeey” and if you were the one inside your mother might say, “there’s that eedjit so-and-so callin’ for ye.”
In the winter when there was good snow we coasted down the street. I remember running up the hill after school to do this and gliding down by the kids still walking up. The fathers spread ashes from the coal furnaces in the houses at the bottom of the hill to keep us from going out onto Washington Street. Later we would coast and ski “up the park” across from the block at the top of Iffley Road with the Jewish kids from there. I skied with Danny Connolly up by the Bear Den nearby.
Our original gang of boys, those bedrock first and lifelong friends you “grew up with” consisted of Butch (Jack), Buddy Keegan (Charles), Tom and Charlie Cloherty (T-Bone and Punch), Jerry Morelli and me. Our numbers expanded as the years went on but that early bonding left everything among we originals as a given. We’ve remained good friends all our lives. We’ve lost the Punch since. He was our funniest, and maybe our finest.
Once a year or so Jerry’s mother Mary would have all of us kids up to their house on the top of the hill for dinner. There she would prepare a big feast, and introduce our potato-numbed palates to the wonders of Italian cuisine. I still blame Jerry and his mother as being partially responsible for the fact that I married an Italian girl. Mary was a great friend of my mother’s and they enjoyed many things such as the Lady’s Sodality at Church together.
Our gang became the “little kids”on the hill to be watched over by the ”big kids” 5-10 years older. The ones we interacted with most were Frankie O’Connor and his brother Jackie, Bobby Power, Pete Grady, and my cousins Frannie and Johnnie Tighe. They all played ball with us forever. Frankie and Bobby coached us some. I remember Frankie piling us all into his 40-something green Plymouth for a ride to the beach. Joe Tighe, who was a little older, took all the Cradocks and Tighes down to Nantasket in his first car. Bobby took me to my first movie, “Pinocchio” after asking my mother’s permission. We took the T in town to RKO Keith’s and back with his pal Bobby Teehan. Frankie once drove my father to the City Hospital to take me home after a bike riding accident in the park.
The big kids were a large part of our lives growing up. Some, like Bobby, Frankie and Frannie were more like big brothers. And Johnnie Tighe took this seriously, sometimes directing my activities out playing to keep me out of trouble. He was sort of my bodyguard (I think Helen was a few times too). He encouraged me in sports and think I suggested that he play football at J.P. High. When he left for the Army as I was entering high school it was a loss.
In later years we would have tag rush football games up the park and softball games at Cornwall playground between the big kids and the little kids, which I believe we remained to be well into our twenties. As we got older we became “the boys” on the corner but I think to many we are still “the little kids.”
Our life was rich, and most of our activities seemed to revolve around the church, Our Lady of Lourdes, as our base. Our folks brought their deep and unwavering faith from the old country and embraced the Church in America. My father was a Knight, Holy Name member and usher at Sunday Mass. Mom was active in the Lady’s Sodality and Third Order of Mary. In addition to Mary Morelli she talked often of her friends in both, including Mrs. Jordan, Mrs. Stanley and Peggy Sullivan’s mother from Lourdes Ave. She used to get a kick out of Father Downey’s “mystery rides” when he would lead the ladies on Sunday outings to an “unannounced location.” As an altar boy I served at Sunday night meetings of the Holy Name Society in church and I have never since seen a full group of men sing with such gusto and heart as those members did with “O Holy Name….”
We went to grammar school there and were taught by the good Sisters of Saint Joseph. The nuns were very dedicated and worked hard to give us a good education and make something of us. I had the honor of being president of my 8th grade class (my nephew Jackie Power achieved that distinction years later). With that came the privilege of taking the T in town during school hours to fetch the sisters’ prescriptions at Cheney’s drugstore in the old Scollay Square. That was an interesting place. Big and old-fashioned, it had exotic things such as roots and Spanish flies exhibited in big jars on shelves high on the walls. Back at school I remember during recess outside sometimes smelling the hops and barley from the Haffenreffer brewery, where Uncle Jack (Dooley) worked. We served as altar boys (or in the choir if you flunked the Latin) and played CYO baseball and basketball at Carolina Field and the Mary E. Curley School.
The church had a great Boy Scout troop, #21, with Frank Ledwith, a wonderful guy, as Scoutmaster. We camped at Hale Reservation in Westwood where we had a cabin and went to summer camp at Loon Pond in Lakeville, near Middleboro. There I learned how to swim, row a boat and navigate a canoe.
My first year at camp I was flat afraid of the water, and started in the “non-swimmers” section at the pond. You had to pass a swimming test, probably the length of the dock, to become a “beginner” and swim in deeper water. After awhile I thought I could pass the test but was afraid of it. Every day when I got back to our campsite from swimming Danny Clifford, an assistant scoutmaster and from our corner, would check me. “Did you take the test today?” Finally, with Danny’s nudging I took it and passed, and later graduated to “swimmer” (the deepest section). Swimming became a lifelong favorite pastime for me. Thanks, Danny. The troop had a drum and bugle corps, directed by Frank’s brother Paul and a man named Gabe from East Boston. We traveled often to competitions and parades. We marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade, in South Boston, and in New York! (Go Sox!) The troop was very popular and there were usually over 100 of us at our weekly meetings at the Teddy Roosevelt school up by Egleston Square. I remember when Frank married a very nice lady from the Hufnagle family down by the church. They had a florist shop up on Centre Street. Frank later became a school principal.
The church was a lively, vibrant place in those days. I can remember standing on the corner and watching people literally pouring down Montebello and Forest Hills Street on their way to Sunday Mass. The church would fill up and Mikey Walsh would have the Sunday papers stacked on the front steps to get after. We had many occasions for celebration there, such as First Communion, Confirmation and the May Procession. The holidays especially remain in my mind. I remember walking down an icy hill on a snowy night, helping my mother and Aunt Sadie across Washington Street headed for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at the Old Church.
There were some other diversions for us as kids in J.P. We could walk up to Curtis Hall, by the Monument, and swim in its indoor pool called “the tank.” The library Butch and I went to with Chris was around the corner from Curtis Hall. Later we walked to a new library on Seaver Street by St. Mary of the Angels. We could go to the Neighborhood House on Lamartine Street to play basketball or take woodworking classes with Mr. Flaherty there. There was also a woodworking class in a one-room schoolhouse up on Eliot Street which the kids from Lourdes were invited to and which we enjoyed very much.
The local movie, the Egleston (“Egg box” or “Eggie”) was on Washington in the Square, which bordered on Roxbury. It was a great escape on Saturday afternoons, Westerns and Cartoons. The theatre would explode with the excitement of city-bound kids standing, jumping and some “scaling” popcorn boxes as they found themselves rushing across the wide open plains on horseback with the likes of Tom Mix or Lash Larue. Uncle Jack took me to see “The Boy With Green Hair” there. One evening as we left the Eggie Chris and I (and probably Butch) heard sirens which we found out later signaled the end of the Korean War. Sometime before that we went up on the enclosed pedestrian overpass, which ran above the Square to the T station and watched General Douglas Mac Arthur pass beneath us in a motorcade, wearing his weatherworn army cap. This was soon after President Truman had fired him.
On the same side of the street as the theatre there was a block in the square with a drugstore on either end on the corners. In the middle of the block was Azian’s 5 and 10, at which all of our sisters worked at different times. Directly across the street was The First National supermarket. Across from the theatre was the A&P. Friday nights were busy in those stores, as people would shop for their “order” of food for the week. Most of the shopping was done “by foot” and kids would line their carts up outside each store to earn money pulling orders to peoples’ homes (I think 25 or 50 cents for an order).
We had our own Radio Flyer so Butch or myself would go up with the cart on Friday night to meet Dad at the First National. Then we would cart our order home, pulling with dad’s hand on the shoulder.
One time Patsy caught the chore of walking home with me. With six kids, Mom Dad and Uncle Jack at home our order was big at least to me at 10 or 11. As I struggled to get up the hill pulling the cart I felt like my face was two inches from the pavement, while Patsy gave me pep talks all the way up about how I could read my new funny books when we got home. She found it all quite hysterical.
There was another time not so funny, when Dad and I were going down the walk alongside 81 headed for the back stairs with the order and Dad, who was upset, mentioned to me that Mary and her husband Beaver Power had been in a bad automobile accident in Nevada while driving cross-country to his Navy Duty in California. I think Beaver injured his shoulder but was o.k. after a while. Mary injured her back pretty seriously and took some time to recover. Pat, now their oldest daughter, was with them as a baby and miraculously escaped any injury.
The church remained our base, with the surrounds of J.P. our larger territory or neighborhood. But if that was the case then Franklin Park was our back yard. The park began for us at the top of the hill at Walnut where there was a wooded “island” surrounded by roadways with a path running through its middle to the other side directly across the road from the main entrance to White Stadium. This we called the “Entrance.” My earliest memories of the Park are crawling around in the tall grass where the stadium now stands. Mary tells me Mom and Aunt Sadie brought all of the Cradock and Tighe kids up to that spot often because they enjoyed it there so much. They would teach the girls how to braid and weave the grass like they did in the old country.
Then there were the Victory Gardens, created during the War, which covered the large field where the baseball diamonds are now located behind the stadium. I would go up there on summer evenings with my father, and sometimes Mr. Conlon from across the street. I remember crawling around among what were exotic to me colors and smells of the various vegetables and other plants while Dad worked and weeded. I loved it there and have kept my enjoyment of growing things since. I still have a distinct memory of being up the park with Chris and looking across a field near the Lion House, at prisoners in a stockade! They turned out to be POWs, Italians! Maybe that’s why they smiled at us. We went home and told Mom and she told us never again to go near those charmers.
As we grew the park became our playground. Our winter sports, including tobogganing and ice-skating, expanded up to the Golf Course. We skated where it was flooded for that around the old 16th hole. There was a toboggan chute on Schoolmaster’s Hill near the Ralph Waldo Emerson House.
Buddy taught me to ride a bike outside the main gate to the stadium. The idea was to start out across the street and up the hill a bit towards a rock formation we called the Giant’s Chair. (I think Joan Power fell off that Giant’s Chair once and broke her arm.) There I would get on the bike and roll down, aiming for the bushes to the left of the gate. I either “rode” the bike or crashed into the bushes. There was a method to his madness. After a few crashes (and “flights”) I got the idea, and balance. It worked!
We explored the woods at the other side of the entrance from the gate, first running along Walnut Ave. and then continuing parallel to Sigourney and then Forest Hills streets to the Brook, near where the Shattuck Hospital now stands. We named them the first, second and third woods, divided by us where they were interrupted by roadways. We saw many well-preserved gravel roads bordered by stone walls running through the woods and blocked off from the outside by large stones. Perhaps they were evidence of parkland enjoyed by earlier generations before the woods grew in. We were ever in pursuit of wildlife, however I recall only several “possible” sightings of pheasants. Our closest encounter was when a chipmunk bit Tommy. We picked blueberries in the first woods once, and Howie Russel’s mother baked us pies.
We first played ball at the park. For football we wore plastic helmets which were molded by a machine which made them more square than round. So we often appeared to be looking off askance. We played a game of mayhem called “fumbles” in which someone would take the ball and try to avoid being tackled by everybody, then to fumble intentionally or not. Then someone else would have to pick up the ball, take his punishment, and so on. I remember lying in the ripe fall grass with my head or backside or something else hurting so much that I thought I’d never get up again. Then a few minutes later up and at ‘em. We played by the stadium. We enjoyed watching many high school games there, especially when the stadium first opened and they had those dazzling Friday Night Jamborees.
We started playing baseball in a place we called “the gully” across from a drinking fountain by the stadium and down from a bench. There was a rock there shaped something like a small home plate and we kind of wore the grass down at the bases. We were so small when we started there that some of the big kids would come up and pitch to us underhanded. Larry Conlon did this and so did Frankie O’Connor (Frankie got his hits). I remember Jerry being there, just having moved up from Rossmore Road and using his uncle Chico’s glove. He was 8. And John Cloherty catching balls in the outfield.
Later we would graduate to the diamonds. We biked up there on a paved path, which started at the fountain. As we rode up leaving the stadium on the left we would pass a raised gravel roadway built up to around 10 feet by a wall of granite, and surrounding the ruins of a police department storage facility. This was called “the overlook”. My cousin Gerard Burke, who is quite a J.P. historian and who helped me with this paper, informs me that the overlook was sort of a spa in olden times from which you could view the surrounding fields, then called “the playstead,” a name given by Olmsted.
Our diamond was the one just beyond the practice field in the stadium. There we played many pickup games. When the Jamaica Plain Little League was founded we joined. Our first season was at the far diamond over by the Refectory’s “Hut” and gateway into the main park and Zoo.
Frankie has told me he umpired the league’s first game with a fellow from Forest Hills named Charlie Hoar. The game took place most likely in 1953, between the teams sponsored by the Parkview Club and the Forest Hills Merchants. Frankie was a member of Parkview, Charlie a Merchant. I was on that Parkview team, which was coached by a very nice guy from Iffley Road named Bernie Doherty,who taught me about sportsmanship,and who was well known at the Franklin Park Golf Course and as a boxing coach for J.P. youth.
Some of my fondest memories are of shagging flies with some of the big kids after pickup games at the diamonds on warm summer nights under an iridescent sky, walking home easily through the sweet-smelling park twilight to the sound of the cicadas and then down to the hill to the house at 81 where we could hear the “click-click…..clack-clack” of the elevated train, which seemed to have its own summer rhythm.
I always think of Sunday as a day of celebration. Starting with Mass the family would be free for the day, and anticipated a big dinner in the afternoon, often roast beef. Dad worked six days a week at his job as a bartender in Brighton and took full enjoyment in his day off. Sometimes we would take outings up to the park, the Rose Garden or the Zoo. I remember an annual trip on the “Nantasket Boat” from Rowe’s Wharf down to Nantasket Beach, and walking to the Feis (Irish Festival)) over at TechField in Brookline. On the way there was a small pond across the street from Jamaica Pond called Ward’s or the frog pond, which became a favorite fishing hole of Butch and mine with Dad.
The holidays were the ultimate celebration. At Thanksgiving the sideboard was so laden with exotic nuts and fruit that if it didn’t groan it should have. Butch and I would have a contest at dinner to see who could fit the most food on his plate. Mom’s potato stuffing was a favorite. She used to have me taste it the night before as she was mixing it.
Dad and Mom would go all out at Christmas. I remember Chris showing us how to leave tomato soup on the mantelpiece for Santa. My godfather John Burke would come by with Uncle Jack and leave me a nice gift. Dad would always get a huge tree and on Christmas morning our living room floor was always covered with gifts.
Dad had a chore for me in the winter. He wanted to warm the house up in the evening but got home a little too late for that so in the afternoon I would go down to our bin in the cellar and “shake the ashes down” in the furnace and put a shovelful of coal in. One Christmas Eve Dad took over on the furnace and in his enthusiasm wasn’t so frugal. It was so warm in the house that we all had jolly red cheeks and slept very well.
On Sundays throughout the year the folks would often have Aunt Sadie and Uncle Pat and our Uncle Jack for dinner. Sometimes some of their old Galway friends would come over, such as Bill and Molly Tonry, Binah and Martin Crowe, and Red and Kitty Thornton. There was music in our house. Mom played the melodian, and when she was ironing she would kind of whisper-whistle old Irish tunes. On those Sundays she and Aunt Sadie would sometimes sing sweetly together, tunes like “The Galway Shawl” and the old “Galway Bay,” And I remember Tonry leaning against the built-in China cabinet as he sang “The Queen of Connamaragh.” They would visit and celebrate into the early evening. Mom and Dad always loved having company.
This then was our neighborhood, and our world until the mid-50’s when we spread our wings and graduated to high schools around the city. It was American of course but very Irish at the same time. To me it was in some ways a little like an Irish village, American-style. I don’t profess to it having been perfect. There were the natural ups and downs of life. But we never felt we wanted for anything. There are so many memories of being given so much and we all thought it a great place to grow up. I still enjoy telling people that I’m from Jamaica Plain, born (at the Faulkner) and raised in J.P.
This article continues with a large photo gallery. Click this link to see more.