woodcut illustration for 1890 Boston Globe article | photos: c. ryan, mostly 2021
The first Massachusetts home featured in this Boston Globe historic house article was Gloucester’s “Ellery house”, as a classic First Period saltbox:
“OLD HOMES, OLD FAMILIES. Houses in New England, Each of Which Has for Three or More Generations Sheltered the Same Race. Romances Drawn from Wood and Brick
The Sunday Globe begins today to publish stories and pictures of old New England homesteads which have sheltered at least three generations of the families now living in them.
This is not so endless a task as some may suppose it to be. New England, no doubt, contains a greater number of old houses than any other division of the country, but it is rare indeed to find one among those that has been long in the possession of the same family. Such a shifting of ownerships may reflect the growing prosperity of the original occupants who perchance have built greater homes than those of their fathers, but often the disappearance of the inheritors of these ancestral houses signifies either the utter extinction or the scattering and breaking up of the family.
The sketches in this series opening today appeal, therefore, in a peculiar way to the public curiosity, and the Sunday Globe would thank any of its readers if they would call attention to any houses within their own knowledge which may be occupied by a family who have possessed the property through three or more generations continuously or otherwise.
There are various periods in the history of Gloucester house building, each marked quite as distinctly to the architectural student as the different strata of the earth’s crust indicate to the geologist the various periods of formation. In the case of the old houses of note it may be said that they all belonged to the upper crust.
The houses of the first settlers of Gloucester, with rare exceptions, have long since been replaced by others of more elaborate design, and the few remaining in the suburbs are small one-story edifices of no particular architectural pretensions.
In common with Boston, Salem, Newburyport and other colonial seaports, Gloucester once owned a large fleet of ships, brigs and barks, that sailed to foreign ports, exchanging the products of the town and of the county for Spanish gold and Surinam molasses, which was converted into New England rum.
These merchants built commodious residences and dispensed a hospitality commensurate with their position as leaders of the social and intellectual life of the town.
The most historic edifice in town is the Ellery house, which stands just below the old meeting house green on Washington street in Riverdale, a suburb of the town.
It was built by Rev. John White shortly after he came here in 1702 to minister to the spiritual wants of the First Parish, receiving a grant of land from the town on which to build his home. At that time the main settlement was in that portion of the community, but the necessities of commerce and fishing made it convenient for the inhabitants to remove nearer the seashore, deserting their first habitations on what is now known as “Dogtown Common,” where the remains of their cellars can still be traced today.
The type of architecture is well portrayed by the accompanying cut. On the projection which overhangs the lower story in front there were four balls pendant, a style of decoration of the times, which have long been removed.
Inside, the old-fashioned low studded style of room is at once apparent, and the antique furnishings and general air of the place make one realize more vividly the age of the house and fixtures, which are of a nature to bring joy to the heart of an antiquarian.
Some of the furniture in the parlor is about 200 years old. The house was bought in 1710 by Capt. William Ellery, and it still remains in the hands of his direct descendants, the occupants being John Ellery and his wife. Thus it will be seen that it has been in this family 150 years.
The purchaser of the house was a son of the original settler, William Ellery. The Ellery family were prominent in the social and intellectual life of the place from the first, being leading merchants. Hon. Benjamin Ellery, called in the family “Admiral,” was the eldest brother of William. He went from Gloucester and settled in Rhode Island and was the father of Deputy Gov. William Ellery and grandfather of William Ellery who signed the Declaration of Independence, the signer being a grandnephew of the first owner of the house.”
The White Ellery House is part of the Cape Ann Museum collection. There are inaccuracies in the 1890 nutshell above. James Stevens and the tavern he operated is absent. The rum trade is acknowledged; any NE slave trade economic connections are not. [Massachusetts was the first colony to legalize slavery. Vermont was the first to abolish (VT 1777 vs. MA 1783).] The article predates the build out of Rt. 128 which rallied a preservation relocation.
Maybe CAM might commission a set of woodcuts of the historic properties as they are now by various local artists.
Beautiful improvements on the grounds of Cape Ann Museum
note: pinch and zoom or double click to enlarge photos.
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Sawyer Free upcoming January 2021 events are highlighted in a wonderful newsletter:
Prudence Fish lecture on January 9th
Learn more about Gloucester homes from your home!
Author and authority on antique houses, Prudence Fish, is a 2021 invited speaker at Sawyer Free Library. Her lecture about the oldest houses in Gloucester, showing Saturday, January 9th, from 2-4pm, is sure to be informative and entertaining. Because of Covid-19, the library has specially pre-recorded the event in order to bring a fresh, new talk directly to you. More about Pru Fish here
Cook a Book – January 12, 1pm
Matz Gallery Exhibitions- January 2021 Carol Dirga
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Heading from Gloucester & Cape Ann to Concord makes for easy nature hikes and must see visits year round. Winter walks on mild days offer unobstructed views. It’s remarkable how many points of interest and preservation are within walking distance — or brief drives– from each other.
The Concord Museum expansion, the Little Women film impact, and Carol Thistle are featured in the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism Industry Update from January 2020 (MOTT). Read the full January 2020 news and stats here for inspiration. Nice to see North Shore highlighted.
“On behalf of the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism, Happy New Year to our tourism colleagues around the world, as we embark on an exciting new year and a new decade here in Massachusetts. We are looking forward to a busy and productive year. In-state initiatives on our horizon include Plymouth 400, the Restaurant Promotion Commission, a new Historic Women Trailblazers of Massachusetts initiative in honor of the 100th anniversary of the right to vote for women, and a major exhibit on King Tut coming to Boston in June. On MOTT’s international front, we have trade opportunities in Germany, Japan and South Korea in the coming months, as well as two of our most important tourism conferences, DNE and IPW. In this month’s MA Spotlight, we profile Concord Museum’s Marketing & PR Director Carol Thistle, who shares details about exciting new exhibits coming up in 2020 here.”
“…we are so excited about the Little Women film and we have already seen an increase in visitation to Concord because of it. Louisa May Alcott’s copper tea kettle that she used as a nurse during the Civil War is showcased in the Museum. Louisa almost died during the endeavor and was inspired to write her first published work, Hospital Sketches, which helped launch her remarkable and prolific career as one of America’s favorite writers.” – excerpt from Carol Thistle interview for MOTT spotlight Jan 2020
“The $13 million capital campaign supported construction of the new Anna and Neil Rasmussen Education Center, which opened in fall 2018. What are some of the educationalfeatures? With this state-of-the-art Center, we host Forums on women’s suffrage, the abolition movement, revolutionary history, decorative arts and other topics connected to our collection. Since the opening of the Rasmussen Education Center, the Museum has served 14,000+ students through a variety of curriculum-based educational programs. Kids can explore the world of Henry David Thoreau, cook over an open hearth, and learn about Native culture through archaeology and so much more. In 2019, the Paul Revere’s Fund provided free bus transportation to the Museum and underwrote all program fees for nearly 4,000 students from Lowell, Lawrence, and Everett.”
“One of the greatest joys in my marketing and public relations career has been promoting so many incredible destinations in our state. Massachusetts has so much to offer local, national and international visitors with its natural beauty, seacoast and of course its history. In the past 25 years, through branding campaigns and strategic marketing, I have promoted some of Boston’s key icons, including Faneuil Hall Marketplace, the Boston Harbor Islands and the Museum of Science – as well as the cities of Gloucester and Salem. For the past 3 ½ years, I have been the Marketing Director for the Concord Museum as it has undergone an exciting $13 million dollar capital campaign, expansion and renovation. I’m also currently serving on the Board of the Concord’s Chamber of Commerce as well as the Advisory Board for both Discover Concord and the Town of Concord’s new Tourism initiative.” – excerpt from Carol Thistle interview for MOTT spotlight Jan 2020
Plan ahead because there’s so much in close proximity. It’s easy to park at one of these sites and walk to the others.
Home of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Concord, Mass. Emerson’s home of 50 years is situated across from the Concord Museum and a two minute walk from Alcott’s family home. The house belonged to his wife, Ellen Tucker who died of TB at twenty in 1831, just two years into their young marriage. Emerson supported Thoreau, Alcott’s father (Bronson Alcott) and Hawthorne because of spousal inheritance. He married Lydian in 1835 in Plymouth, Mass. They raised a family in the Concord home.
Gloucester – Concord connections: Emerson itemized “Gloucester” in his pocket journal entries because he came here for work and pleasure: as a Gloucester Lyceum invited speaker; with friends, most notably a famous walk here with Thoreau; visited Rockport in August 1855 and Pigeon Cove with family in 1856 (where he is remembered as the Inn in Rockport Mass most famous guest). Art fans aside: his ancestor, Thomas Emerson, built Arthur Wesley Dow’s house in Ipswich!
Lousia May Alcott home of Little Women Orchard House
Founded in 1912 (!), the museum is the long time family home where Alcott wrote and set Little Women website Ralph Waldo Emerson backed her father’s work. Thoreau was her schoolteacher.
“When she was about seven her father enrolled her in a school taught by Thoreau, then 23. Thoreau often took his students out of the classroom into the woods. He taught them about birds and flowers, gathering lichens, showing them a fox den and deer tracks, feeding a chipmunk from his hand.
Sometimes he took the children on his boat, the Musketaquid, and gave them lessons as they floated down the Sudbury and Assabet rivers. As they passed the battlefield where the American Revolution started, he explained how the farmers had defended themselves against the redcoats. Louisa recorded her vivid memories of those field trips in Moods.” excerpt New England Historical Society
Gloucester – Concord connections: Alcott stayed on Rocky Neck when she visited Gloucester.
Concord, Mass. Don’t forget that Walden Pond is right here, too! Hike to the site of the Henry David Thoreau cabin which he built on Emerson’s land and stayed 2-2-2 (as in two years, two months, two days) over 1845-47.
“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only.” Henry David Thoreau, Walden Pond, published 1854.
Combining this stop with downtown Concord underscores the scalability of his solitude and deep nature study, and how it was made possible with support from cherished family and friends. (Since it’s pretty much his back yard, no wonder he could walk home!)
Thoreau lived at 255 Main Street in downtown Concord from 1850 until his death in 1862. His former student, Louisa May Alcott, bought the historic house for her sister. She and her father lived there, too.
Gloucester – Concord connections: Walden Pond NPS Visitor Center designed by architect MaryAnn Thompson, same firm that built Temple Ahavat Achim in Gloucester, Mass. Thoreau came to Gloucester at least twice that we know of- in 1848 as an invited speaker by Gloucester Lyceum hosted in the town hall; and in 1854 as the penultimate stop of his north shore trek. Dogtown.
Lincoln, Mass. (Walden Pond/Concord line). A Historic New England property, Gropius House is a landmark Bauhaus residence now museum built in 1938, the same year as MoMa’s legendary Bauhaus exhibition. Marcel Breuer’s house 1 is down the hill.
Gloucester – Concord connections: Mass Modern trail and great buildings. Don Monell and other modern inspiration can be found on Cape Ann. The Graduate school at Harvard designed by Gropius was a TAC (The Architects Collaborative) build in 1950. TAC was founded in 1945 with the clout addition of Gropius who continued with the firm until his death in 1969. Original 7 founders were Norman Fletcher, Louis McMillen, Robert McMillan, Benjamin C. Thompson*, Jean Fletcher, Sarah Harkness and John Harkness. Twenty years later, Monell’s Plum Cove elementary school design in 1967 in Glocuester Mass was leveraged by partnering with The Architects Collaborative. Gloucester’s Plum Cove school is a TAC build. (Wikipedia lists several commissions. The school could be added.) This early 20th century history in Concord could inspire another movie.
*Jane (Fiske McCullough) Thompson and Deb Allen were co-founding editors of Industrial Design; Thomson had worked at MoMa for Philip Johnson. She married Ben Thompson in 1969. To my knowledge, no relation to architect MaryAnn Thompson who designed the Walden Pond visitor center.
The Marcel Breuer House 1 (1939) at 5 Woods End Road is essentially nestled into the Gropius hill property. Floor plans and interior photo published here are from the Marcel Breuer papers in the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution collection. It was added to the National Historic Register in 1988. Minutes away conservation land was set aside thanks to 20th Century modernist architect, Quincy Adams. He served on the town’s conservation committee and donated hundreds of acres of his family’s land for green space.
Lexington, Mass. One could drive to Six Moon Hill after stops mentioned above, on the way back to Gloucester. It’s about 15 minutes from the Gropius House. Six Moon Hill is the nick name for an enclave of neighborhood homes in Lexington, Massachusetts, designed by the modernist architects of The Architects’ Collaborative (TAC) between 1948 and 1950. (The Gropius home was already optimally sited within the Walden Pond/Thoreau orbit. I’d wager intentionally so, a poetic and multidimensional nod to the natural and built environment and how to live. This dialogue among masters across centuries is another reason I believe Maryann Thompson’s visitor center is ideal.)
“Six Moon Hill is a community of twenty-nine Mid-Century Modern houses designed by members of The Architects Collaborative (TAC), beginning in 1948… The property was purchased by the TAC architects in 1947 so they could build inexpensive homes for themselves, their growing families and their friends, and express Modernist socially progressive ideals. A corporation was formed, creating by-laws affecting future development, maintenance and communal responsibilities. The parcel was originally part of a farm, and while the land was initially used for grazing, the steeper areas had reverted to forest at the time of the purchase. Most of Moon Hill is on a ridge with rocky outcrops, wooded with oak and conifers. The impact of construction has been minimized, leaving the site as natural and undisturbed as possible” read more from the historical surveyhere
Art historian Simon Schama resided on Moon Hill between 1981 and 1993.
Don’t miss what’s nearby!
Mass Audubon’s Drumlin Farm is a five minute or so drive from the Gropius house. Moon Hill Road is more like 15-20 minutes. Minute Man National Park and Decordova are here, too. There are ample and varied scenic treks to mix it up for repeat visits.
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Gloucester, Mass. Great teacher at Gloucester High School, Shaun Goulart, creates a local history scavenger hunt trivia game for his 9th grade students that takes place weekly for 6 weeks. We’re taking the challenge paced one week after the students.
ANSWERS TO SHAUN GOULART’S LOCAL HISTORY TRIVIA WEEK FOUR
How did you do? Week two delved into Gloucester’s famous inventors. Stop here if you prefer to go back to see Week 4 questions only
Mr. Goulart’s Local History Trivia Scavenger Hunt Week 4 Inventors
1.John Hays Hammond Jr. “Jack”
Go to the location of his home and take a picture with a member in it.
What did he invent?
Answer: “Over the course of his professional career, he was awarded over 800 foreign and domestic patents resulting from over 400 of his inventions. Many of these began in radio control before extending to electronics, naval weapons, national defense, as well as various consumer products.” – Hammond Castle
“In connection with his radio researches Jack obtained most important patents for receiving and broadcasting and these he sold to RCA…” John Hays Hammond, Sr
Hammond Castle – I hope that one day the Trustees and Historic New England add this as a shared property among their preservation jewels, along with the Natalie Hammond property and much of the parents’ estate, Lookout Hill, with some portion of admission for the City. At one point Hammond Castle was one of the top attractions in Massachusetts.
Go to the location where his company was and take a picture with a member in it.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art website features a story today by Ruthie Dibble, the 2010-2011 Douglass Foundation Fellow in The American Wing (the pinnacle of success for a history major). She’s on the hunt for early American murals in historic New England houses, and might have some luck finding a few on Cape Ann. For more information, check out this link, which highlights the results of some of her research and gives a fascinating glimpse into the artistic tastes of wealthy Americans in the early part of the 19th century.
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