Reminiscences of Jamaica Plain, 1845-1875
By Miss Ellen Morse (given before the Tuesday Club in 1921)
There are some people in this world (and some among our friends) whose requests cannot be disregarded. These requests may be too gentle to be called commands; yet they will lure us on in spite of ourselves. This is why an octogenarian has been persuaded to appear today before this youthful audience. She earnestly hopes also that it may be an audience very forbearing and kindly towards all that may be wearisome and too personal in these reminiscences of our town of Jamaica Plain from the early 1840's over a period of 30 years.
Some years ago I had occasion to visit a sick woman, who lived on Custer Street, and as I approached the house, which was so different from the new tenements in that neighborhood, I was struck by the strangely familiar look in spite of there being a double entrance for two families. When I went upstairs and stood by the bedside of the sick woman, my mind seemed to travel back some 70 years. I couldn't help exclaiming: "Why, this was my mother's bedroom, and here I must have been born."
Yes, that was the old house which had stood on the northern corner of Prince and Pond Streets and which some of the younger people may remember as the Pierce House before it was taken by the City for the Park and moved to its present location. My father rented that house from his friend, Mr. John Ashton, and he and my mother moved there from Boston as young married people in 1841. The first few years of my life were spent in that house and its neighborhood, which was then my little world. When I was lost one day there in a small cornfield, no forest could have seemed more frightful.
On the opposite corner of Prince and Pond Streets stood the old Waldo House, and a very early recollection is of a wedding there and of watching from the window the guests coming and going, which seemed a very gay sight to a little country girl. Behind the Waldo House, where is now Mr. Rice's estate, stood the house then occupied by Mr. John Low (217 Pond Street) on the site of the one which Francis Bernard, the Royal Governor, lived in from 1750 to 1769. This house was also in my childhood the home of a fine large family of Blake's, and many good times with those children are remembered.
The only other house on Prince Street were those of Mr. Francis Low and Captain Daniel Bacon (222 Prince Street), both of which happily are still standing, the Low House now being occupied by Miss Annie Blach and her sisters. Later my father bought several acres of land on Prince Street up the hill, and he built at different times the two houses that stood there until all of the land on Jamaica Pond was taken by the City.
Moreland Cottage stood on Pond Street opposite Eliot Street, approached by a long driveway (or it seemed long in those days,) and was occupied by Mr. and Mrs. John Rogers and their daughters. An early remembrance is of being taken to that house and seeing lovely ladies on the porch ready to give their pleasant welcome to a little girl. What a sad change came over that beautiful place when it was moved to an inconspicuous spot on a small corner lot near the Pond, and ugly ice houses were put up in its place, a road also being cut through, on which two or three small houses were built for employees of the (Jamaica Pond) Ice Company.
This, however, did not happen in the 1840's; but when these changes did come, Moreland Cottage in its new location was for many years occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Lyman. On May's Land (now May Street) was the old May Farmhouse, and May's Ditch, a very small pond, was a great winter resort and a very safe one for children of those days with skates and sleds. There was no Orchard Street then, and the May Estate extended through to Eliot Street, part of this land afterwards being built upon by Captain Charles Brewer. Eliot Street in my childhood days contained some very interesting houses and people.
On the northern corner of Pond and Eliot Streets, where now Mr. Nelson Curtis lives, stood a dignified white house, in which lived Mr. Melanthon Smith and his family. Mr. Smith was a noble specimen of a gentleman of the old school, always full of thoughtful neighborly attentions, which made a great impression even upon children and young people, and he was so very generous and full of public spirit. Mrs. Smith was of a different type, a very good woman, but her interests centered on her housekeeping and dressmaking, so that some of her neighbors related very funny stories about her earnest questions in regard to the latest pattern in sleeves-a very vital matter with this plain, practical, little woman.
Next door to Mr. Smith in the house were Mr. and Mrs. Channing Williams now live, were Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Sweet and their two tall boys. Mrs. Sweet was a daughter of the splendid old Dr. James Jackson, and I remember her as a very noble woman. Henry, the oldest boy, was a little backward mentally, and I am afraid that the other boys in the neighborhood took some advantage of his lack of intellect, but perhaps they were not really unkind. The younger brother George gave great promise as a doctor, but he died before he had really started in his profession.
The fine old Ellery House, now belonging to Mr. and Mrs. Durfee, then had a broad lawn extending to Eliot Street, and a wonderful children's party in that house for the little heiress, Esther Ellery, was a festivity never to be forgotten. Mr. and Mrs. Dexter, great-grandparents of Mrs. James Parker, lived in the old house now occupied by Judge Duff, and that was one of the hospitable centers for Parish Sewing Circles and Supper in those days.
The Monument Area
Centre Street was a beautiful street, bordered by fine trees and with many fine old mansions with broad lawns (even the part occupied by a few shops) having no ugly buildings. The Seaver Store I remember from my earliest childhood. It had been established in 1794 by the grandfather of the two brothers who now carry it on. I well remember the father of Robert Seaver, who like his genial sons was everybody's friend, interested in every Jamaica Plain happening both past and present. For many years this had been the only store in Jamaica Plain, but in my day Mr. George James carried on a general village store on the opposite side of Centre Street near Green Street. Perhaps my special reason for remembering this store is because of my great sorrow one day when I dropped a penny or some small coin down a crack of Mr. James' piazza. How could such a sad loss ever be made up for or forgotten?
Among the most attractive of the old houses on Centre Street were those of the Curtis families, the historic Wing House, that of Mr. Thomas Seaverns on the site of the present Lakeville Apartments, and the Emerson House, which not many years ago Mrs. Adams moved to face Jamaicaway. Beyond the old white Meeting House, which was on the site of the present Unitarian Church but facing Eliot Street, was the Parsonage, where is now Dr. Chadwell's house. Mrs. George Whitney and her family occupied this parsonage in my childhood. Mrs. Whitney was the daughter of Dr. Gray, who was minister of that church for 50 years, and Mr. Whitney came as Dr. Gray's colleague in 1836.
The young minister lived only a few years after taking up his work, but his family continued to live in the parsonage for some years after his death in 1842. I remember that after our early morning Sunday School in the pews of the old church the children were allowed to go across the green to Mrs. Whitney's hospitable house for a drink of water before returning for the morning service, for we all went to church as a matter of course in those days.
Beyond the Parsonage was the fine house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Curtis. Then came the house of Mr. Moses Williams, which is no doubt remembered by some of these present. Then came the Hallett House, which was originally a very pretty two-story house. Later with an additional story it was Mrs. Walker's schoolhouse. I associate it as being occupied for some years by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Horton and their handsome daughters and sons. We cannot forget the noble Loring-Greenough House, which has held such an especially interesting history going back to Revolutionary days and earlier. All those old houses and others are remembered as full of old-fashioned hospitality of many kinds, and the faces and figures of the fine men and women who lived in them are most pleasant to recall. How we should like to have their pictures to look at today!
On Pinebank was the second Perkins House, which was destroyed by fire and afterwards replaced by the present one, now used for the Children's Museum, and the Gorham House, which was for so many years especially associated with music and everything that was pleasant and happy for children and young people as well as for the older ones. Beautiful Bowditch Hill with the homes of the noble Bowditch and Dixwell families was a little separated from the village, but it was one of the most charming parts of its neighborhood.
A child growing up in the 1840's remembers long tedious trips from Jamaica Plain to Boston in a conveyance, which is now called a bus; but then its name was an hourly because it started every hour. This child always supposed it was spelt O-W-E-R-L-Y. This hourly at certain times made its trips from Centre Street through May's Lane to Pond Street, stopping at Prince Street corner for passengers. It may be well imagined that a little girl would only be taken to town in those days for something very important like visits to a doctor or dentist-no movie shows then.
How we rumbled over Hog(g)s Bridge and the long interminable Tremont Street to our destination-two rows of people facing each other, their feet in deep straw-and how glad we were to be back in our peaceful village again! In those early 1840's a stagecoach was still making mail trips from Boston to Dedham, stopping at the Jamaica Plain Post Office, which was then on the corner of Thomas and Centre Streets.
Schools and Entertainment
The Village Hall on Thomas Street, which is now used by the Grand Army Post #200, was then used in the daytime for a primary school and in the evening for lectures and concerts. Good Miss Lucretia Williams taught this school, and one little girl can remember a big stitch on her patchwork brought a hard knock with a thimble on her knuckles. A red peppermint rewarded very good behavior, for moderately good a white one was given.
Distinguished lecturers came then to the platform of the old hall, Mr. Homes and Professor Agassiz being among those whom some of the boys and girls of those days remember most vividly. Professor Agassiz' benevolent, kindly face and his broken English gave him great charm, even if we couldn't follow much of his scientific instruction. What a privilege it was to hear such men in those days when they traveled all over the country to deliver their fine lectures! How did they ever survive the long journeys in stagecoaches and the resting places in country hotels and cold bed-chambers?
After these lectures there were often neighborly gathering of some of the fathers and mothers in some of the hospitable homes, and evening were finished in pleasant social ways with simple refreshments. Charming concerts by the Mendelson Quintette Club, in which the famous Fries brothers (Wolf and August) played so delightfully, were given at Village Hall and sometimes at private houses. The Parish Sewing Circles, where mothers and daughters sewed for the poor and where everyone stayed for supper (then called tea) were among the neighborhood pleasures and excitements.
There were private theatricals also at some of the houses, which were at that time very famous. On one of these occasions, where there was to be a performance at the Spaulding House of Poor Pillicody, one of the actresses who was to have an important part suddenly gave out almost at the last moment. What could be done? I remember that my brother, who was to be one of the actors, boldly went to town and interviewed Mrs. John Wood, then a leading actress in the Boston Museum Company, who (it happened) was free that evening. She very kindly filled the gap to the great delight of the audience as well as of the youthful performers.
It seemed to the children of those days as if their fathers and mothers had a great many good things as they watched them starting off on an evening sleighing party or for a fancy dress party at some friend's house. We wondered if we would be doing the same delightful things when we grew up. But there was also much of very simple family life in those years, and there were many home evenings.
Life Then and Now
There were no trained nurses then, and when sickness came, perhaps it might be possible to get some woman called a nurse, whose experience, if she were bright and conscientious, would be very helpful. At least her hands and feet were helpful, and when the babies came, they were most necessary. But how much help was gladly given by good neighbors and how like a good angel one of these neighbors would sometimes appear and offer to take a night's care and watching to relive the weary mother or daughter!
The summer life then was very different from that now, and it was not considered necessary to leave this country neighborhood. Fathers and mothers sometimes treated themselves to a trip to the White Mountains, Niagara, or the Catskills, and sometimes they took the children for a week or two to some nearby beach, but most of the summer weeks were spent at home. This gave the opportunity for much neighborly life, and there were very pleasant meetings of mothers and aunts on the piazzas with sewing or perhaps reading aloud, if the children were not too absorbing and noisy in their sports and antics.
We all appreciate now the privileges of summer games and outings in places cooler than Jamaica Plain and the opportunity which so many modern children have at camps and seashore; but something may perhaps also be said in favor of the old-time serenity when mothers and housekeepers did not have the strenuous preparations for the summer move and the busy times of settling down again to the autumn and winter routine.
With the introduction of horse cars (sometime in the 1850's) and the greater frequency of steam trains, it became much easier to make trips to and from Boston for business and shopping and occasional theatre and opera. Children heard Father and Mother (and perhaps an older brother) talk about Grisi and Mario of opera fame, of Jenny Lind and Fanny Kemble, who were all just a little too early for them to enjoy. But on some wonderful Saturday afternoon to be taken to the Boston Museum to see Aladdin's Lamp or some other fairy spectacle and incidentally to see the grand wax works, that was indeed a treat to a child of that period to be remembered for many a long day.
Jamaica Pond in our childhood was especially associated with fishing and short trips on rafts near the shore, but there were not many boats there until later on. We must have done many dangerous things, but in those early years we cannot remember that there were any serious accidents. There were also the good times in the beautiful woods, which were much later so thoroughly and unnaturally (it seemed to us) cleared and cleaned up by Mr. Billings.
In those earlier years there was no Rockwood Street, and children were allowed to take their luncheon and stay for hours in those woods, picking the many kinds of beautiful wild flowers, which grew there so luxuriantly and watching the birds. A cave, which seemed very wonderful to us, was a place of great interest in those woods. Our mothers seemed to have no fear about these expeditions for their children, as there were no wild animals there, only occasional snakes, and the days of gypsies and tramps had not yet arrived in our neighborhood.
After the little school taught by Miss Williams in the Old Village Hall, Miss Jane Lane, a sister of Mr. George Lane, Latin professor at Harvard, carried on a private school for girls and boys in the rambling old house which stood for many years on the corner north of Centre and Eliot Streets. How we wish that old house were still there instead of the new block of shops which is now greeting our eyes on that once-dignified corner. Miss Lane was an old-fashioned teacher and a good deal of a disciplinarian, but her teaching was probably as thorough and satisfactory as it was in most schools of that day.
In the long spelling class were many boys and girls of the neighborhood-all eager to keep their places as near the head as possible but there was a great deal of moving up and down. I think there is no doubt that important branch (of learning) was taught in a very thorough way. There was no music except perhaps an occasional little song. The only song that I connect with that school is one beginning:
"Now school is done;
away we run,
hurrah, hurrah, hurrah!"
Of course there was no opportunity for physical exercise except in the schoolyard in a short recess. There were two sessions of this school, and the summer vacations were only for the month of August. Very long, dull noon hours used to be spent between the sessions by a little girl, for whom the two long trips home were too long, eating her solitary lunch in the school room, watching and waiting for the return of the teacher and children.
Miss Adams' school began later and continued for many years under the care of her two younger sisters, Hannah and Helen, in their Burroughs Street barn transformed into a schoolhouse. For a few years also Mr. William Jarvis, a bashful bachelor, carried on a young ladies' select school. The young ladies were rather a lively set of girls, especially the older ones, who enjoyed nothing more than playing pranks upon their teacher, of which he was apparently unconscious.
One memorable hot day our teacher excused himself, saying, "Young ladies, I leave you a little while on your honor." Immediately one of the older girls collected money and sent one of the obedient younger ones to buy a treat of cream cakes at a nearby confectioner's shop. The girl returned very quickly full of confusion with the word that she had found Mr. Jarvis in the shop partaking of ice cream. How could he do anything but blush when he again resumed his duties in the schoolroom? The good man was never known to scold; neither is he remembered as a successful teacher, although he was well educated, but he did effort his pupils much amusement.
Over Mr. Jarvis' desk was a large open ventilator in a half-story attic. Here the girls used to resort at recess time, sitting around the ventilator, the soles of their shoes being plainly visible from below, and it was very tempting to the mischievously inclined ones to occasionally drop their crumbs down on the good man's chair. Can this be believed by the well-behaved girls of later generations?
Mr. York's Day and Boarding School, which began in the old Waldo House and Miss Peabody's, were both on a more modern plan. Mr. York was a Greek by birth, but his wife was a native of Cape Cod. Both were well-educated fine people and very strict Baptists; so among their boarding scholars some of the girls, but not all, were of that faith. Still there was no sectarian influence evident, and the instruction by Mr. and Mrs. York and their assistants was of a very high order for those days. Miss Peabody, belong to a distinguished New England family, naturally had a higher social standing, and her school, which started after Mr. York's, was more popular and more successful in many ways. The girls who had the association with this remarkable woman and teacher were fortunate in every way.
An early boarding school for boys was carried on by a Mr. Green in the fine old house which stood on the south corner of Pond and Centre Streets and which was afterwards for many years used as a boardinghouse. Mr. Stephen Weld's boarding school for boys later in the 1850's was quite famous, most of its scholars being Cubans, and I think perhaps the initials cut by some of those boys in the bark of the big trees on the board of Jamaica Pond may still be faintly visible. Their walks were often taken in that direction, and they were interesting figures to the girls of those days.
The Eliot School was for many years used for the High School, and in my young days Mr. Daniel Hagar, a much-respected teacher, was the principal of that school. Hagar Street by Eliot Hall was named for him, as his house was on that ground.
There was much friendly feeling and intercourse among the people of the old churches in those days of the 1850's. In 1854 the old white Meeting House of the Unitarian Parish, which was built in 1768/9, was moved across Eliot Street to the present location of Eliot Hall, the spire being first pulled down. This was a great sight for Miss Lane's scholars, who were allowed an extra recess so that they might sit on the steps of the old house to see the wonderful performance. Very soon after the body of the church was placed in the new position so that services might be held there during the building of the new church, the old historic building was destroyed by a fire, which was set by some mischievous boy or man. There were many such fires in those days when it was such fun for the boys to run with the old hand engines.
The Baptist Church then stood on Centre Street near the present Seaverns Avenue, which did not then exist. Immediately after the destruction of the Unitarian Church a courteous invitation was sent by the Baptists, offering their building for services on Sunday afternoons, and this offer was gratefully accepted. Some time later, when fire destroyed the Baptist Church, the opportunity came for this friendly act to be reciprocated, and for many months the new stone Unitarian church was used by these neighbors on Sunday afternoons.
These things are pleasant to remember, and Jamaica Plain has been rather noted for them, as when good Dr. Thompson, minister of the Unitarian Church, raised money from his parish to help in building the little Methodist Church. The Episcopal Church then stood on St. John Street, and Mr. Babcock, the rector in the 1850's, lived with his family in the house next to the church. The family is very pleasantly remembered, especially the two beautiful daughters, Annie and Emma. Many gay church sociables were held in their rectory, to which other young people were sometimes invited, and I have a vague recollection of Virginia Reels and other dancing on those occasions, but I dare not be sure of the accuracy of my memory in this regard.
When the stone Unitarian church was built, for many years Sunday school was held in the vestry under this church, which we entered from a driveway from Eliot Street, this driveway occupying the site of the present Parish House. After some years some of the parents began to wonder if these basement rooms were very healthful for their children, although no harm is remembered to have come to them there. However, for that reason the parish rented Eliot Hall, and for a number of years it was used for the Sunday school and for all social occasions, until money was raised for the Parish Hall in 1889.
How quiet our streets were in those old times! It seemed as if we could walk or ride or drive anywhere and everywhere without a thought of danger, although I do remember an exciting experience when on a before-breakfast ride my horse started on a run down Prince Street past the houses (where there was no sign of life) at full speed, until he was suddenly brought to a halt near Centre Street by painters, who stretched their ladders before him. This brought our wild ride to a sudden end with horse and rider panting and breathless. It was a kind act, and perhaps it saved more serious trouble, but it was a bit sudden and a little unsettling for my morning duties as teacher in my little home school.
We cannot leave the 1850's without especially speaking of the life on Jamaica Pond in those days both in summer and winter. When the Metropolitan Company first began to run horse cars between Jamaica Plain and Boston, Mr. Stephen M. Weld, the President of the Company, made great efforts to attract skaters to Jamaica Pond by having signs on the cars advertising "Good Skating," and when snowstorms came, the Pond was cleared at the expense of the Company. This, of course, had the effect of drawing large numbers of people-not a rabble, but it was really like a great social gathering.
It was a very picturesque sight when the Pond was cleared in wide curing avenues for the skaters and when sleighs were merrily gliding over the parts where the snow had been left undisturbed. The days of modern fancy skating had not yet come, but there were some of the beautiful girls of that time who were quite famous for their graceful skating as well as for their beauty. Now that we are making our rapid trips to town by automobile, it does indeed seem past history as I look back to the days when after a half past six breakfast I used to row my brothers across Jamaica Pond to the Pond Street shore to take a horse car for their early ride to town, but it did make a pleasant beginning to the day. And how delightful it was for the friends on the opposite shore to visit each other in their boats like a little bit of Venice!
There were regattas from time to time and always on the Fourth of July, when we all assembled to see our brothers and friends race in their two- and four-oared boats for some small prize, and our excitement no doubt seemed as great as that nowadays over a Harvard-Yale contest. The girls all rowed, and if they were very careful, they were sometimes trusted in the light four-oared wherries. On summer evenings what good times the young people had when they met in their various boats and laughed and talked and sang sentimental and popular songs. The mosquitoes were there to, but (never mind) we were all very happy.
The Civil War
What a change came over the life of that beautiful pond in the summer days of 1861! How many of the boys who had figured in the regattas and in the evening gaieties became soldiers instead of rowers; and how the girls all began knitting socks and making flannel shirts for them. All the social gatherings were for those purposes, and soon a branch of the Sanitary Commission was organized in our town for the hospital work, which became so sadly necessary. All of this story has been so recently repeated that it need not be dwelt on, but to those who lived through those years of the Civil War it must always be a vivid memory.
The Second Massachusetts Regiment, the officers of which were almost all, if not quite all, Harvard graduates and Boston boys with several from our own town, was encamped for several weeks in the early summer of 1861 at West Roxbury on the old Brook Farm grounds, and much of our local interest naturally centered in that regiment. Its camp was named Camp Andrew in honor of our noble Civil War governor. Trips to the camp at the hour of Dress Parade or on special occasions to see the presentations of the flags varied the busy days and gave the treasured opportunity of greeting our friends before their departure for the front on July 8th.
Fifty years from that day on July 8, 1911, a small company of the veteran officers and men of the old Second met on the grounds of the old camp and dedicated a bronze tablet set in a boulder, simply saying that from that camp the Second Massachusetts Regiment went out for its four years of service. By this boulder the veterans raised a flag, which they gave to the care of the Lutheran Home in a building at the entrance to the grounds, and the Superintendent of the Home promised that the flag should always be raised on Memorial Day and on all other appropriate days.
Through many hot days of that summer of 1861 the women and girls met at Eliot Hall (then a new building) to make Havelock's (named for General Havelock, whom we associated with the Siege of Lucknow) for the regiment. The Havelock's were made of white lined with green linen visors. They were hats with capes to go over the army hats and come down over the shoulders to protect the boys from the southern sun, as they did the soldiers in the Crimean War. So the generous men contributed the expensive materials until a thousand of these elaborate articles were finished, and then they were tenderly packed and sent to our regiment.
But alas! Much as the officers appreciated the loving work what did we hear after a while? The Havelock's were never worn, but they caused much amusement and were finally used by the men for cleaning their guns or for other purposes, equally commonplace and practical. This was a sad disappointment, but it had been a great help to the workers to have those busy days, and this was some compensation for their mistaken efforts.
One memorable Sunday stands out in a specially marked way: this was September 1862, a very hot Sunday, when news was coming that the Northern troops had been cut off from Washington and that a battle was going on at Antietam, Maryland. In the Unitarian Church, where a large congregation had just assembled, the minister Dr. Thompson arose and said that a most urgent call had come from Washington, asking for all possible hospital supplies to be sent there that evening. The congregation was therefore dismissed, and all were asked to give the day to that needed work.
In some households the linen had already been depleted, and it was hard to spare more sheets and pillowcases to tear up for bandages and scrape for more linen; but it had to be done, for nothing could be too much to give or to do for this great need. So those Sunday hours were spent, and at night great packing boxes were filled and ready to be sent from the church to the Washington Hospital headquarters. The joyful news that Washington was safe soon came to relieve the people of the North after some of the most anxious days of the Civil War.
Sometimes in the midst of the anxious days of those four years would come the joyful surprise of a short furlough of a young officer, and what a hero he was when his friends, old and young, gathered together to give him greetings! Our own house was taken possession of on one occasion, the family of the returned soldier having been invited out to supper. When a message was sent them that callers had arrived, they immediately returned home to find a party of many friends and neighbors who had made the rooms gay with military decorations and had spread a royal feast in their dining room.
A day, which stands out vividly to us older people, is that April day of 1865, when after the joy and thankfulness because the war was ending came the tragic news of Lincoln's assassination. Our neighbor, Mr. Farrington, a striking figure always, came in the early morning into our driveway on horseback and in great excitement shouted the terrible news to my father, who was in his bedroom. The poor man was almost out of his mind as he rode among his neighbors bearing the sad news. What a week that was, and how impressive services were the services held in the churches on a day especially appointed as a day of fasting and prayer!
Most of us have attended impressive services in memory of President Harding a few months ago, but with all the sadness connected with that event how thankful we can be that he was tenderly cared for through those last days and that no cruel act brought is noble life to its sudden ending!
If I had the brilliant pen and gift of Sir Frederick Hamilton in his Days before Yesterday, how many interesting pictures and incidents of the personalities of those days might have been given to you, even tough we are not dealing with diplomats and royalty; but even without this royal background and many individuals do come before our minds who have helped in their varied ways to make the life of their time interesting.
The two families of sisters who lived on Harris Avenue for so many years: the three Henrys, one of whom used to carry peppermints to church and pass them over to the restless children in the next pew and one of whom, although not rich, left a thoughtful legacy to that church; and the Harris sisters, whom I first remember living on Harris Avenue with their father, the good Deacon, and their good mother, very stiff and straight but no doubt full of warmth and kindness.
Can anyone ever forget Miss Lydia and Miss Ellen Harris? They were really learned women in many ways, and occasionally brilliant bits of information showing this would fall from their lips, although uttered with great shyness at some meeting where serious subjects were being discussed. How they loved flowers and what energy they showed in gathering them here and there from many gardens for the decorations of the church, which for so many years was their loving work. It was hard for them to give up when some of the younger people began to pine for some more varied and artistic arrangements and offered to take their turn, but they bore the suggestion more graciously than did their good brother who after many years as church organist was gently approached with regard to some changes about the music which seemed desirable.
He was very much respected and his musical work had been appreciated; but his sensitive nature could not bear criticism, and the church lost his interest and presence from that time. But the good sisters stayed loyally to the end of their days, and no church occasion-especially no wedding-would have been complete without them, even though they might always be a little late, probably because it took so long to adjust those wonderful chenille veils and other unique garments of the olden time.
And yet as late as 1882 Mrs. George Ernest relates this interview with one of the good sisters: "When the Footlight Club was to give an old-time play in the hope of borrowing something particularly suggestive of the period of the play I took my courage in my hand and made a call upon the two quaint ladies. The one who received me came down in just the coveted attire: an ashes of roses silk with brocaded stripes running round both body and skirt worn over a hoopskirt of the vintage of 1867. With a satisfied thrill I made my plea, only to be checkmated with the reply, given with some hauteur, 'we should be glad to help, but we have nothing at all old-fashioned.'"
However, a very cordial answer came to the request for a loan of old silver for a loan exhibit. We may be sure that in the matter of clothing the sisters were quite unconscious of wearing anything unusual and that they were very nobly superior to spending time or thought upon changes in styles or fashions. All in all, they represented one fine type of women of a former time, and we are glad to remember them.
Some of you may remember Abner Child. What a character he was! How attentive he was in welcoming all who came to the Unitarian Church as he fulfilled his duties as sexton! And how he pushed the ladies into their carriages so that they almost fell out on the other side! And what a voice he had singing so loud in the back pew (after that voice became cracked) that it raised over the music of the organ and choir. At last when a bold member of the Parish Committee ventured to suggest that Abner should not join in the singing, the poor man's heart was well-nigh broken, but he survived and was loyal to the church and his friends, although he was ever after a sadder as well as wiser man.
We must not leave out another quaint personality who may be remembered by some of those present. This was Milton Young, who for many years drove the depot wagon from Green Street Station, and although he had a rival in Mr. Mason, a more taciturn man, he was the family friend about whom many amusing stories were told. He had wonderful conversational powers, and from the moment when his passengers entered his ramshackle wagon until they landed at their destination his flow of words rarely ceased. His drawling voice could be heard at a long distance, and although it was somewhat wearisome to listen to him and to answer his questions, his patrons seldom had the heart to check him, as he was such a friendly character.
On one occasion when he was taking my brother Robert to a train, which it was very important for him to reach, Mr. Young was late-not an infrequent happening-and the old horse was very slow. When about halfway down Green Street, the train came in sight and Mr. Young's first remark was "well now, ain't that funny? I brought a man to that same train yesterday, and just as we got to this same place, it went by in the same way." The episode was not so amusing to a busy man with an important engagement, but almost anything could be borne patiently from the old Young.
As our minds reverted to those old wagons and drivers, how can we refrain from looking in upon the Green Street Station perhaps before the arrival of the popular 10:19 train for town. What a meeting place that was for friends and neighbors-especially for the ladies starting on their shopping or other business. No modern teas could possibly give such opportunity for social converse and friendly greetings. Then the schoolboy and girl trains. How gay they were and how we older ones enjoyed looking at their rosy faces and hearing their fun, even if it was a little too noisy sometimes.
In the hoopskirt days we felt a little awkward and embarrassed sometimes in those crowded trains; it was so hard to keep the hoops from spreading out into the aisles and in the way of the busy conductor. That trouble is long past now, and many of us hardly know anything about that old-time way of going to and from town or the social gathering at the station. Perhaps like other things we do miss them sometimes, much as we may enjoy modern ways and travel.
More Distinguished Inhabitants
The wonderful Mrs. Adams and her three daughters are associated with my childhood and they lived to such an old age that they need no introduction to some in (the) audience. What industry and energy they showed through many years of teaching and other work and what social interests they kept up! What notable public spirit and readiness to work for every good cause in their days of school keeping in the barn on Burroughs Street.
I remember the private theatricals in their house, in which they acted themselves and where I remember seeing among other actors lovely Annie Russel (afterward Mrs. Alexander Agassiz), Mr. Henry Ware, and some of the Cabot family in a very interesting play. To me they all seemed wonderful actors, and I am sure they must have been very good. What energy it showed in those busy Adam sisters with their school to carry on rehearsals and performances in their house besides the upsetting of everything which was included; but nothing was ever too much for them in those years or for many years after.
In those days before yesterday Mr. Francis Parkman, the distinguished historian, whose birthday was noticed by many writers in September, was a pleasant and interesting neighbor in the summer months. He was seriously disabled about walking, and the condition of his eyes made him dependent on a reader and a secretary for his literary work, but he spent hours of the day in his garden and also rowing on the Pond, which was a great enjoyment to him.
His interest in children was very delightful, and he loved to have them visit him, usually presenting them when they were leaving with some of his beautiful roses or lilies, for which he was almost as famous as for his books. He was also much interested in turtles and in cats and kittens, and certain cats, which used to appear on the shores of the Pond when he was rowing, he talked about in an amusing way, calling them by their names. My father had named one of them Queen Victoria. No doubt all these interests helped him to bear his physical infirmities, and they certainly kept him cheerful and full of delightful humor.
In those 1860's I also recall my first acquaintance with Dr. George Faulkner, who was such a familiar figure as he drove about in his buggy with his white horse, accompanied usually by his invalid wife and their little daughter Mary. While he made his calls, the mother gave the little girl her first schooling or read to her. Well we remember the calls of that good physician: his every kindly presence in the sickroom and his helpful, cheery words in the homes of anxiety and care. How little we thought in those days that a wonderful hospital would be built bearing his name! And what could be a more fitting memorial to him and his family?
The figures and personalities of many other noble men and women come to my mind in looking back upon those old times; many too whose lives have continued almost to the present day; men and women of hospitality and public spirit; those who have loved and encouraged music and art, planted trees, and in many other ways have done their part towards the happiness and well-being of this old town.
In these days of removing old landmarks and historic houses and replacing them with modern apartments and of changes of many kinds there seems to be little left to tell of the old village days. Still we like to believe that the association with the old places and the figures of the past can never quite fade away. At least this is a dream and a hope of this old woman who has been looking backward over many years of the last century and who has given you these few reminiscences today.
Transcribed by Walter H. Marx. Production assistance by Gretchen Kappelmann and Jennifer Stewart.