Bacon Family


During the entire time Francis Parkman lived at Jamaica Pond - and well into this century - his neighbors across the length of Prince Street were the Bacons, on their sizeable estate that stretched over the hillside overlooking the Pond into Brookline. The estate had originated on the Pond Street side as John Eliot's pasture in the 17th century. It then came into the hands of Royal Governor Francis Bernard, then to Boston merchant Martin Brimmer and finally to John Prince, who built the present Prince Street in 1809, severing the hillside from the Pond.

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.


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.