Cyrus Washburn: The Namesake of Washburn Avenue

I always thought that Washburn Avenue was named for some literary figure. After all, the road is part of the Poets’ Corner neighborhood that includes streets named after Alfred Lord Tennyson, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. But it turns out that the namesake of Washburn Avenue — Cyrus Washburn — wasn’t a writer or poet. Rather, he was a carpenter and developer who built at least ten houses during the late 19th Century that still stand on Washburn Avenue, Walnut Street, and Longfellow Road.

CyrusWashburn_ShotNESC1897

Source: Talbot (1897)

The story of Cyrus Washburn and the development of this section of Wellesley is pretty simple. Let me start by showing you a map of the region in 1856, long before Washburn Avenue and Longfellow Road were laid out:

1856map_FlorenceGrove

Florence Grove — site of the Poets’ Corner neighborhood
(Source: 1856 Map of Needham)

Although the roads are unlabeled, you should be able to see how ‘Florence Grove’ is bounded by Worcester, Oakland, Washington, Walnut, and Cedar Streets (starting at the bottom and going clockwise). In addition to these woodlands, there was a large stretch of farmland south of Walnut Street at the current location of Poets’ Corner.

This area stayed largely undeveloped until 1880, when the subject of this post, Cyrus Washburn, arrived in Wellesley and purchased part of the western edge of this farmland. A carpenter by trade, he had spent decades building houses and renting them in his hometown of East Weymouth. The only reason he left there and moved to Wellesley was that East Weymouth cut down the beautiful trees in front of his mansion.

The first house that Washburn built in Wellesley was for himself and his wife, Elizabeth, on the recently laid out Florence Avenue (which, in 1914, was renamed Longfellow Road after the Longfellow family, who had owned property along Worcester Street since the 1840s). He would then go on to build nine more large houses: two on Florence Avenue, two on Walnut Street, and five on Washburn Avenue (laying out the road in the process). The majority of these homes were kept by Washburn and rented out to families. A notable exception was 35 Washburn Avenue, which is believed to have been the home of his gardener or housekeeper — the house was built perpendicular to Washburn Avenue along a now-extinct path that led to the Washburn estate house on Florence Avenue. Below is an 1897 map of the area:

Washburn_houses_1897atlas

Source: Wellesley Atlas of 1897

And here are photographs of the ten houses that Cyrus Washburn built, as well his barn, which was converted into a residence around 1954. (All photographs were taken by Joshua Dorin in February of 2013.)

22Longfellow

22 Longfellow Road – built in 1880
Cyrus Washburn House

26Longfellow

26 Longfellow Road – built in 1880
Cyrus Washburn Barn (converted around 1954)

15Longfellow

15 Longfellow Road – built in 1888

7Longfellow

7 Longfellow Road – built in 1888

354Walnut

354 Walnut Street – built in 1883

350Walnut

1 Washburn Avenue (formerly 350 Walnut Street) – built in 1883

9Washburn

9 Washburn Avenue – built in 1884

11Washburn

11 Washburn Avenue – built in 1884

13-15Washburn

15 Washburn Avenue – built in 1886

25-27Washburn

25 Washburn Avenue – built in 1899

35Washburn

35 Washburn Avenue – built in 1890
Believed to be the house of Washburn’s gardener or housekeeper

When Cyrus Washburn died in 1899, most of these properties were sold. The rest of the estate was held until his wife’s death in 1906. (The Washburns did not have any children.)

The development of the rest of the Poets’ Corner neighborhood did not begin until 1919. Although it’s not exactly clear why the streets were named after literary figures, it is probable that the developer noticed that Longfellow was also the name of a famous poet. Unfortunately, only a few lots close to Walnut Street were sold before the developer was foreclosed upon in 1920. It wasn’t until the late 1920s that construction began again.

Today, over eighty years later, the Poets’ Corner is arguably one of the more desirable and charming neighborhoods in all of Wellesley. And to that, I’d like to add ‘historical’ — at least for its western edge along Washburn Avenue, Walnut Street, and Longfellow Road. Such a large cluster of pre-1900 dwellings all built by one person is rare in Wellesley. Unfortunately for Cyrus Washburn, his legacy has been forgotten, probably in large part because everyone assumes that Washburn Avenue was named for some obscure poet. Well, now that I’ve written this post, hopefully that will soon change.

Sources:

  • Norfolk County Registry of Deeds
  • Wellesley Historical Commission files: #22 Longfellow Road; #26 Longfellow Road; #350 Walnut Street; #354 Walnut Street; #9 Washburn Avenue; #11 Washburn Avenue; #13-15 Washburn Avenue; #25-27 Washburn Avenue; #35 Washburn Avenue; #303 Worcester Street
  • 1856 Map of Needham
  • 1876 Map of Needham
  • 1888 Atlas of Norfolk County
  • 1897 Atlas of Wellesley
  • Souvenir History of the New England Southern Conference by Micah Jones Talbot (1897)
  • Boston Herald: 23 September 1897
  • Obituary Record of the Graduates of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine (1899)
  • The Wellesley Review: 17 February 1899
  • Wellesley Townsman: 13 July 1906; 6 March 1914; 25 June 1920
  • History of the Town of Wellesley, Massachusetts by Joseph E. Fiske (1917)
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George Holmes Howison

Writing this particular post makes me regret not having taken philosophy in college. It just seemed like a whole bunch of gobbledygook. So it’s probably not surprising that I’m struggling to write about George Holmes Howison, a Wellesley resident during the 1870s and early 1880s and one of America’s preeminent philosophers. I just can’t seem to explain his significance to the American philosophical movement during the late 19th Century. Maybe Howison’s writing would make more sense to me if I had studied Kant or Hegel, two philosophers who greatly influenced him. Fortunately, I’ve figured out a way to avoid all that philosophy mumbo jumbo. According to Friedrich Nietzsche, “philosophy is the biography of a philosopher.” So instead of trying to understand esoteric philosophies, all I need to do is focus on Howison’s life story.

GeorgeHolmesHowison

Source: Jones (1895)

And really, we only need to examine one event from his life to understand his philosophical views. This event occurred in 1838 when Howison was only four years old and living in Maryland. Rather abruptly, his slave-owning parents denounced slavery, freed their slaves, and relocated to the free soil of Marietta, Ohio. Such a profound statement must have made quite an impression on their young son. So much so that the decades Howison spent as a philosopher were focused almost exclusively on the idea of personalism, a concept dealing with the uniqueness and value of an individual.

It wasn’t until much later, however, that Howison would begin writing about personalism. In fact, he was not even exposed to the influential works of Kant and Hegel until the mid-1860s when he was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis where he taught mechanics, astronomy, political economy, and even Latin. At the invitation from a friend, he had joined a small group that read and discussed the writing of German philosophers of the late 18th and early 19th Centuries. It was also in this discussion group where he would meet such notable American thinkers as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Amos Bronson Alcott. In addition to inspiring Howison to deepen and formalize his own thoughts, Emerson and Alcott made him long for New England where intellectuals seemed to flourish and prosper.

Howison got his wish in 1871 when M.I.T. offered him a position as Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Science. And thus began his connection to Wellesley. In 1874, Howison purchased a small tract of land along Worcester Street (across from Rockland Street) and built a stately Queen Anne Victorian for himself and his wife, Lois.

Howison House

The Howison house at 507 Worcester Street
(Photo taken by Joshua Dorin – February 2013)

Howison’s presence in Wellesley, however, didn’t last very long. In 1878, M.I.T. terminated his position due to the poor financial state of the university. It was during this period of relative unemployment that Howison began to write and develop his philosophical ideas. He even traveled to Europe and enrolled in a philosophy class at the University of Berlin where he was exposed to even more Kant and Hegel. This experience inspired Howison to pursue a career in philosophy. However, he nearly lost that ambition when he was denied a coveted philosophy professorship at Harvard in 1882. Feeling dispirited and rejected, he strongly considered leaving academia. After all, Howison was almost fifty years old and felt that there wasn’t enough time left to accomplish much.

Nevertheless, Howison kept searching and finally found success in 1884 when he was selected as the first philosophy professor at the University of California in Berkeley. Over the next two decades, he helped the philosophy department at Berkeley become one of the leading programs in the nation. As the department chair, he hired professors that shared his Hegelian view of personalism. In addition, Howison was a masterful teacher whose students attained positions at some of the most highly regarded institutions throughout the world. By the time he finally retired in 1904, his philosophies were well ingrained within American thought. Howison died twelve years later at the age of 82.

So that’s the best I can do to explain why George Holmes Howison was such an important figure to the development of American philosophy. I can’t say that I really understand that much about what he wrote, but at least I know a little bit about his life story. And according to Nietzsche, that’s worth something.

(A post script: Howison sold his Worcester Street house in 1887 to Warren Sawyer, a prominent Boston businessman who worked in the leather trade. The Sawyer family resided there until 1943. Sawyer Road, located to the north of the property, takes its name from that family.)

Sources:

  • Wellesley Historical Commission files: #507 Worcester Street
  • Schools and Schoolboys of Old Boston by Arthur Wellington Brayley (1894)
  • Illustrated History of the University of California by William Carey Jones (1895)
  • The Spokesman-Review: 1 January 1917
  • Berkeley Daily Gazette: 16 November 1934
  • The Dictionary of Modern American Philosophers, Volume 1 by John R. Shook (2005)

The Not-So-Conservative “Conservative” Town

One of my guilty pleasures in life is reading the comment sections of online articles. Terrible grammar aside, it’s hilarious how misinformed most people are on whatever is being discussed. This is especially true of the comments on articles having to do with Wellesley that appear on boston.com and other news sites. Many of these comments suggest that most people living in Wellesley are “snobby,” “disgustingly rich,” and “strongly conservative.” I even hear current and past residents of Wellesley describe the town as such.

Here I’d like to debunk at least one of those notions, namely that Wellesley is a “strongly conservative” town or even a “conservative” town at that. Let me start by stating that I am not judging anyone based on his or her political views. I don’t care if you’re liberal or conservative. And being conservative doesn’t mean that you’re snobby or even rich. My only purpose here is to show that such statements about Wellesley’s “conservative” nature are fallacies.

In order to quantify Wellesley’s conservatism, I’ve examined the Republican vote percentages in US Presidential elections. It’s an imperfect proxy and there are certainly other metrics one could use, but this is quick and easy. I’ve also carried the analysis back to 1920 in order to shed some light on the changing political demographics of the town. Below is a graph of my findings. Additionally, I’ve plotted the Republican vote percentages for the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  

RepublicanVote_Wellesley_graph

There are a number of observations that stand out. If you look at the presidential elections since 1992, you’ll see that the Republican vote in Wellesley has been hovering around 40%. Yes, the Republican vote may have been higher in 1992 and 1996 if Ross Perot had not run for office. But since 1996, the Democratic vote in Wellesley has topped 50% (peaking in 2008 with 63.7% for Barack Obama). Furthermore, during the last decade, Wellesley has been as conservative as all of Massachusetts — which isn’t very conservative. Therefore, when you read or hear comments from people about how Wellesley is “strongly conservative” or even “conservative,” just know that the town is actually quite politically liberal.

But as the graph shows, Wellesley wasn’t always this liberal. In fact, there are two separate periods that were very distinct from the present day. The earliest period was from 1920 to 1960, when Wellesley was what I would call “extremely conservative”. Republican candidates routinely received between 70% to 80% of the Wellesley vote, peaking in the 1956 election with 82.1%. And Wellesley’s conservatism stood out from the rest of Massachusetts — the Republican vote was 25-30 points higher than the state average. (But I’d caution people against saying that “liberals weren’t allowed in Wellesley” during this time, which is something I’ve heard many times before. No, there were thousands of liberals in Wellesley. And upwards of a hundred Socialists and even a few Communists. They were all greatly outnumbered and didn’t make a lot of noise, but they were there. Let’s not resort to hyperbole.)

The second period that I’d like to discuss is from 1964 to 1988. During this time, the political demographics of Wellesley underwent a drastic change. With the exception of 1964 (when extremely conservative Republican candidate, Barry Goldwater, received a paltry 41.8% of the vote to Lyndon Johnson’s 54.8%), Republicans routinely got between 50-60% of the vote in each election. You’ll also see that the Republican vote gap between Wellesley and all of Massachusetts shrunk markedly during this time, from around 20 points during the first half of this period to around 6 points in the second half. So by the 1980s, although Wellesley was still somewhat conservative, the town didn’t stand out that much from the rest of the state.

So that leaves us with an important question. If the political data show that Wellesley isn’t “strongly conservative” — and hasn’t been for many decades — how come so many people insist otherwise? In other words, why does Wellesley feel conservative? To answer this question, we need to consider just one word: Swellesley.

Swellesley is the sobriquet that we’ve given our town. It represents having the perfect house, the perfect car, and the perfect family. It also reminds us of the good old days when the world was much simpler and everyone appeared happy. And it’s this conservative picture of the town that pops into the heads of residents and non-residents alike. Is it accurate? Of course not! But it serves the needs of all people. If you like the world of Swellesley, then I’m sure this contrived reality is quite comforting. And if you hate it and don’t think that you belong in Swellesley, believing in it allows you to separate yourself more easily from those who aren’t like you. Very few people openly discredit the existence of Swellesley.

I don’t anticipate that everyone will agree with this post. Who am I to say that Wellesley is or isn’t conservative? Or that the town was not as conservative in the past as many people claim it to be? After all, I didn’t live in Wellesley back then and I don’t know how you felt or what you experienced. My only response to that is what you feel and what exists aren’t necessarily the same thing. Growing up in Wellesley during the 1990s and early 2000s (when the town was slightly liberal overall), I felt that the town was solidly conservative. Looking back on it, I realize now that I was wrong. I resorted to stereotypes and judgments. I cherry-picked evidence to support my beliefs and I failed to see the entire town. And now I regret that because I know that I could have better understood myself if I was more honest with what was going on around me. Much of what I thought and did was in response to living in a fictional world.

As for the other adjectives that are used repeatedly to describe Wellesley — snobby, entitled, and ridiculously affluent — I won’t address them here, but I’m guessing that they describe only a minority of the population. And if we continue to allow others (and even ourselves) to describe our town as such, Swellesley will forever overshadow Wellesley.

Sources:

(Note: All data were taken from the Massachusetts Election Statistics except for the 2012 election data.)

(Edit: A reader made a good point that I believe warrants some attention. It is often said that soon after the passage of Lyndon Johnson’s Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Republican and Democratic Parties switched platforms — that is, pre-1964, the Democratic Party was conservative and the Republican Party was liberal. Unfortunately, that is more myth than fact (at least in the 20th Century). Just look at the presidents from pre-1964.  No one can argue that FDR, Truman, or JFK, stalwarts of the Democratic Party, were conservative. Nor can they argue that Eisenhower wasn’t a conservative Republican. It gets a little messy in the 1920s, but the Republicans (Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover) were arguably the conservative candidates, especially when it came to fiscal policy.) 

Josiah Gardner Abbott (Part Two)

This is the second of a two-part series on Josiah Gardner Abbott. Click here to read the first part.

When discussing the early development of Wellesley, you can’t ignore the Abbott family. After all, there are two separate neighborhoods that were named for the Abbotts: Abbott Road in Wellesley Hills and the Cliff-Abbott Estates north of Route 9. The ironic thing, however, is that the Abbott family didn’t reside at either of these locations.

When Josiah Gardner Abbott moved to Wellesley with his family in the mid-1860s, he took up residence in a house on twelve acres of land on Linden Street halfway between Rockland and Kingsbury Streets. The original size of their house is unknown, but one can only assume it was large given Abbott’s lucrative law career — during the late 1850s, his annual salary, excluding any windfalls, was nearly $30,000 (more than $800,000 in 2013 dollars).The Abbott estate, known as “The Hundreds,” quickly became one of the showplaces of Wellesley. Below is a map of the estate in 1897:

Abbott_estate_map1897

Map of Abbott Estate in 1897
(Source: Wellesley Atlas of 1897)

The Abbott estate was sold following the death of the last surviving child of Josiah Abbott in 1933. Before the house was razed, a public auction was held to sell the entire contents of the 53-room mansion. A notice in the Townsman advertising the auction lists many of the items that were put up for sale:

“Chickering baby grand piano, old gate leg table, pair of Girandole convex mirrors, butler’s secretary, rare satinwood hepplewhite card table, small mahogany serpentine front bureau — very old, claw and ball foot serpentine front desk, fine Chinese Chippendale library table, desk with cabinet top, ball and claw foot lowboy — carved knees and shells, pair Astral lamps, large lot of old china, glass, pewter, prints and engravings, number of old paintings by noted artist, several pieces of hand hammered American silver made before the Revolutionary War, many pieces of Sheffield in trays, service plates, tea set, etc., antique oriental rugs and carpets.”

Before the land was subdivided, the 12-acre property was strongly considered by the town as the site of a new high school. The planning board was in full support, but the Town Meeting members voted it down and opted for a location on Hunnewell Field (near to where the 1938 high school was actually built). The Abbott estate was instead developed into Kirkland Circle, which until 1940 was called Livermore Gardens East and Livermore Gardens West after Josiah Abbott’s wife, Caroline Livermore.

In addition to the Linden Street estate, Josiah Abbott also owned two large tracts of land that totaled nearly two hundred acres. Shortly after his death in 1891, the first of these two properties was developed by his children into the Belvedere subdivision located between Washington and Forest Streets in Wellesley Hills. (The name was taken from the Belvidere section of Lowell in which the family lived before moving to Wellesley.) Construction began as early as 1894 when the first stretch of Abbott Road was laid out from Washington Street. Over the next fifteen years, much of the north half of the Abbott Road neighborhood was developed, which included several new streets:

  • Caroline Street and Livermore Road (named for Caroline Livermore)
  • Fletcher and Franklin Roads (named for two of Josiah Abbott’s sons)
  • Clovelly Road (originally called Stackpole Street, which was the name of the road on which the Abbotts lived in Lowell)
  • Arlington Road (named for the street on which the Abbotts lived in Boston for a few years before moving to Wellesley)

The Belvedere subdivision immediately became one of the most desirable neighborhoods west of Boston. This was because the Abbott children placed certain restrictions on the construction of the residences in order to establish an exclusive neighborhood. These restrictions included minimum street frontage, setbacks, and construction costs. In 1909, the Abbott children sold the remaining undeveloped land around Abbott Road to the Maugus Real Estate Trust, under the control of Isaac Sprague, which developed the rest of the property including Windsor, Lincoln, and Inverness Roads.

The other tract of undeveloped land owned by Josiah Abbott was located due north of the Abbott estate between Worcester Street and the Weston border. This property remained in the Abbott family until 1934 when it was sold and then developed by George Arnold Haynes, who had already built a number of homes in the Cliff Estates. Together these two areas became known as the Cliff-Abbott Estates. Similar building restrictions to what were in place for Belvedere were used in the Abbott Estates.

Finally, I’m sure many of you are wondering about Josiah Abbott’s connection to Abbott Street, a small road off Weston Road near Wellesley Square. Well, the similarity between their names is just a coincidence. Abbott Street was developed around 1890 by Nathan Abbott who was unrelated to Josiah Abbott. Nathan Abbott, also a lawyer in Boston, had moved to Wellesley in the mid-1880s, taking up residence in a house on Washington Street on the current site of E.A. Davis & Co. and Blue Ginger. After developing the land to the rear of his house into Abbott Street, he left Wellesley and would soon become the first dean of the law school at Stanford University.

This concludes the two-part post on Josiah Gardner Abbott and the development of the land he once owned. I have to admit that much of Abbott’s life, including his service on the Electoral Commission in 1877, was a complete mystery to me before I started the research. And now I understand why. It’s not just because Abbott died 122 years ago. It’s also that he wasn’t very active in town affairs. Although Wellesley has been great at memorializing those citizens that devote their lives to improving the town, it’s been ambivalent at doing the same for those who haven’t. The only reason you probably knew of Abbott’s name was because of the subdivision of his land, not for his remarkable career as a lawyer and politician. I guess that’s no longer true.

Sources:

  • Norfolk County Registry of Deeds
  • Needham Map of 1876
  • Wellesley Atlases of 1888 and 1897
  • Memoir of the Hon. Josiah Gardner Abbott, LL.D. by Charles Cowley (1892)
  • Field Genealogy: Being the Record of All the Field Family in America…Volume 2 by Frederick Clifton Pierce (1901)
  • Wellesley Townsman: 2 May 1930; 8 June 1934; 22 June 1934; 5 December 1935; 21 February 1936; 28 February 1936; 13 March 1936; 3 May 1940; 2 April 1981
  • Wikipedia.org [Stanford Law School]

Josiah Gardner Abbott (Part One)

I vaguely remember learning about the 1876 US Presidential Election between Rutherford B. Hayes and Samuel J. Tilden in my AP US History class. Something about Tilden holding a slim lead in the popular vote, but Hayes winning the Electoral College through some shady backroom deal. Perhaps I would have remembered it better had I learned that one of the fifteen men that decided the outcome of the election was Josiah Gardner Abbott, a longtime resident of Wellesley who lived in a 53-room mansion on Linden Street and owned hundreds of acres of land that would become the Abbott Road neighborhood and part of the Cliff-Abbott Estates north of Route 9. Needless to say, he was one of the prominent men in the Commonwealth and well-known in political and judicial circles at the national level throughout the second half of the 19th Century.

Josiah_Abbott_MemiorPhoto_cropped

Josiah Gardner Abbott
(Source: Memoir of the Hon. Josiah Gardner Abbott)

Despite all this recognition, Abbott has never been more than a footnote in the Townsman and various Wellesley historical narratives. There is, however, one source — his memoir authored by Charles Cowley — that provides a wealth of information about Abbott. And for reasons unknown to me, no one from Wellesley has mentioned it in the 121 years since it was published. I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to celebrate this man’s life. I will therefore attempt to bring Josiah Gardner Abbott back into the limelight by describing his role in the determination of the 1876 election. Then I’d like to focus on his connection to Wellesley.

This post is divided into two parts. Below is part one (on Abbott’s role in the 1876 election). Part two (on Abbott’s place in Wellesley history) will be posted in a few days.

I should probably begin with some background on the 1876 presidential election in case it’s been a few years since your last history class. Hopefully, you remember at least a little bit about the war between the Union and the Confederacy. What you may have forgotten, however, is that in 1876, only eleven years after the war ended, the nation was still very much on the edge of falling apart. Issues relating to Reconstruction — the era in which the Union was brought back together — created tension between Republicans (controlling the North and West) and Democrats (dominating the South). In particular, there was much debate on the role of the emancipated black population in post-bellum America. Many Southern Democrats were looking for any opportunity to split once again from the Union. Therefore, the 1876 general election that featured Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican governor of Ohio, against Samuel J. Tilden, the Democratic governor of New York, was more than just a typical election. The stability of the Union was at risk.

Things only got worse following Election Day. When voting closed, Tilden held a slight lead in the overall popular vote and looked to be on his way to the White House. But the results in three states — South Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida — were disputed by Republicans, who accused Democrats of election tampering and voter intimidation. Therefore, the Republican-controlled state electoral commissions threw out a number of Democratic votes and gave the electoral votes to Hayes. In response, the Democrats protested these actions and claimed the electoral votes for Tilden. In addition, a controversy erupted over the eligibility of one of Oregon’s electors, which led to the appointment of a Tilden supporter even though Hayes won the state. These complications prevented determining a winner in the Electoral College — the winner needed 185 electoral votes, but Tilden had 184 uncontested electoral votes and Hayes had 165. Twenty electoral votes remained undeclared from those four states.

In order to settle this matter and thus declare a winner, Congress passed the Electoral Commission Act in early 1877. This legislation allowed for the formation of an electoral commission that had the power to decide the outcome of disputed election results. The commission would consist of fifteen members — seven Republicans, seven Democrats, and one Independent — chosen from the House, Senate, and Supreme Court.

So here’s where Wellesley’s Josiah Abbott comes into the picture. Abbott, who had previously served in the Massachusetts Legislature as a representative (in 1837) and senator (in 1842-43), was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1874 (after two failed US Senate runs in 1863 and 1869). Although he was only a freshman in the House, Abbott was well-respected by both parties’ leaders because of his stellar legal career. He had spent decades as counsel, but also served three years as a Superior Court judge in Suffolk County. A lifelong Democrat, Abbott had also been a trusted advisor to his party’s leaders. Therefore, when it came time to form the Electoral Commission, it was no surprise that Abbott was selected as one of the seven Democrats.

ElectoralCommission_HarpersWeekly

Members of the Electoral Commission — Abbott is on the far right side of the second row
(Source: Harper’s Weekly)

The problem with the Commission arose when trying to seat the one Independent. The legislation dictated that four party-affiliated Supreme Court justices would select an Independent justice, who was assumed to be Justice David Davis. The Democrats, however, in an attempt to swing the Commission’s decision in their favor, voted Davis into the Illinois State Senate during the Commission selection process. Unfortunately for the Democrats, this plan backfired when Davis resigned from the Supreme Court and was replaced on the Commission by Republican-leaning Justice Joseph Philo Bradley, tilting the balance of power to the Republicans. It was not surprising then that the Commission voted 8-7 (entirely along party lines) in favor of handing all of the twenty contested electoral votes to Hayes, giving him a narrow 185-184 Electoral College win.

Tilden_or_Blood_HarpersWeekly

“Tilden or Blood”
(Source: Harper’s Weekly)

Democrats throughout the nation were outraged over this decision. They believed that the Republicans stole the election for Hayes. Some called for violence against “Rutherfraud” supporters. Even the Democratic minority on the Commission went so far as to write an address — penned entirely by Abbott — that protested the decision. This address, however, was not published and the original copy was destroyed. (Although a copy was published after Abbott’s death and can be read in his memoir.) The decision not to publish it at the time was due in large part to Abbott’s belief that such an address would be detrimental to the future of the Democratic Party and could even threaten the stability of the nation. It was a difficult, yet noble and patriotic decision by Abbott. He and the other Democrats were ridiculed in the media and portrayed as weak and powerless. But that shouldn’t lessen the significance of his actions. Josiah Abbott may have very well saved the nation.

Democrats_HarpersWeekly

“The Democ-RATS Caught in the Presidential Trap”
Abbott is the second rat from the right
(Source: Harper’s Weekly)

And that pretty much marked the end of Abbott’s political career. After one term in the House of Representatives and another unsuccessful campaign for the Senate in 1877, Abbott went back to practicing law in Massachusetts. He would continue to act as an informal advisor to many politicians, including Grover Cleveland, who in 1884 reportedly offered a Presidential cabinet position to Abbott, who gracefully declined. Abbott soon retired to his Wellesley homestead where he died in 1891.

(In 1887, Congress passed the Electoral Count Act, which gave state executives the power to determine disputed election results in the hopes that the 1876-77 fiasco would not be repeated. Unfortunately, this legislation was imperfect as well and played a central role in the Supreme Court case, Bush v. Gore, that decided the 2000 Presidential election.)

Part two of this post can be read here.

Sources:

The Baury House (Newton Lower Falls)

For this blog post, I’d like to cross the Charles River into Newton Lower Falls. But don’t think for a second that I’ve all of a sudden made this blog about Newton history! In fact, what I’d like to discuss has very strong ties to early industrial and commercial development of Wellesley Lower Falls. Furthermore, a complete understanding of Wellesley Lower Falls cannot exclude Newton Lower Falls because throughout the 18th and 19th Centuries the two villages were really thought of as just one large community rather independent of the rest of both towns.

The building I’d to focus on here is one I’m sure everyone is familiar with — the yellow three-story house at the corner of Washington and Concord Streets just east of the bridge over the Charles River. It’s known colloquially as the Baury House, named for the rector of St. Mary’s Church who resided there during the mid-1800s. However, its history goes all the way back to c.1755 when the dwelling was built by John Parker, a local farmer, for his son, Ezra. That being said, I’d like to focus almost exclusively on two owners of the house who were the most relevant to the development of Lower Falls: William Hoogs and Rev. Alfred Louis Baury.

William Hoogs, a ship carpenter from Boston, took ownership of the house in 1781 from his father-in-law (and boss), Aster Stoddard, who had bought it from the Parker family seven years earlier. Hoogs’s strong influence on the industrial development of Lower Falls began around 1788 when he and Edward Jackson, another local resident, constructed the dam to the south of the Washington Street bridge. (A dam further up the river near Walnut Street had existed since before 1718.) By 1794, Hoogs, Jackson, and three other partners had built a paper mill — known as the Nehoiden Mill — downstream from the lower dam on the west bank of the river just north of Washington Street in what is now Wellesley. Only five years later, Hoogs was the sole owner of this mill, which he soon bequeathed to his son, William Hoogs Jr., who owned it until around 1809. The Nehoiden Mill continued to manufacture paper until 1874, when Richard T. Sullivan converted it into a shoddy mill that extracted wool and was in operation until 1960. The entire factory complex (greatly enlarged by Sullivan) was razed in 1961. William Hoogs Jr. also briefly owned the Foster Mill, another paper manufacturing mill located opposite the Nehoiden Mill on the east bank of the river. That mill burned down shortly after 1892 and the land was soon taken over by the Metropolitan Park Reservation.

In addition to the paper mills, William Hoogs Jr. operated one of the first stores in Wellesley Lower Falls: Hoogs’s Tavern (on the north side of Washington Street where Wellesley House of Pizza now stands). Besides providing lodging for weary travelers and selling everything from boots to bandanas to geese, the tavern was also a well-known drinking establishment that was frequented by many from all over the region. It burned down in 1905.

Alfred_Baury_sketch

Rev. Alfred Louis Baury
(Source: Grand Lodge)

As I mentioned earlier, Rev. Alfred Louis Baury of St. Mary’s Church is the other owner of the Baury House who is relevant to the development of Lower Falls. Now I’m sure some of you are wondering what a church rector has to do with this area’s development. Well, to answer that question, we need to go back to the founding of St. Mary’s Church during the early 19th Century. At that time, many mill workers and their families had settled in Lower Falls, but the nearest churches were miles away in the town centers of Newton, Wellesley (West Needham), and Weston. Therefore, the Lower Falls population decided to form their own congregation. Because many of these residents had not regularly attended religious services and were not tied to any denomination, Episcopalians living in the surrounding towns convinced them to organize an Episcopalian Church, of which there were none in the area. The first services of what would become St. Mary’s Church were held in 1811 at a schoolhouse on the current site of the old Hamilton School. Only three years later, the church that now stands on Concord Street was erected. Unfortunately, it wasn’t smooth sailing for St. Mary’s during those early years. The situation greatly improved, however, when Rev. Baury served as rector from 1822 to 1851. Attendance soared and money was more plentiful. No doubt, the presence of a thriving church helped transform Lower Falls from a small community of factory workers into one of the most vibrant neighborhoods in either Wellesley or Newton. During his rectorship, as well as after his retirement, Baury and his family resided in the house that is the subject of this post and which had been bequeathed to him in 1825 by Samuel Brown, a creditor living in Boston who had invested in Hoogs’s paper mills and perhaps received the house as payment when the factories failed around 1812. The Baury family owned the house until 1916.

St_marys_postcard_1905-769307

St. Mary’s Church — circa 1905
(Permission from St. Mary’s New and Noteworthy)

At this time, given all that I’ve mentioned, you might be interested to look at an 1880 bird’s-eye map of this part of Lower Falls (along with a present day view) — CLICK TO ENLARGE:

You can clearly see the Baury House near the center of the image. Just below that is St. Mary’s Church and to the right are the Nehoiden and Foster Mills along the Charles River. And at the top right-hand corner, you’ll see Hoogs’s Tavern (at an angle to Washington Street just to the left of the railroad tracks). The 2013 bird’s-eye view shows that all that remain from 1880 are the Baury House, St. Mary’s Church, and the Boyden business block (now the Lower Falls Wine Company located on Washington Street opposite Concord Street).

Beginning in 1917, the Baury House served as the headquarters of the Lucy Jackson Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Years later, in 1971, after falling into disrepair, the house was sold by the DAR to the Newton Redevelopment Authority which restored its exterior, including relocating the house further from the road and rotating it ninety degrees so that its front entrance faced Concord Street rather than Washington Street. It was then sold five years later to Spaulding & Co. which converted the interior into office space. (Richard Spaulding of Spaulding & Co. was a co-founder of Spaulding & Slye Corp., which bought the Wellesley Inn in 2005, razed it the following year, and is now — seven years later — trying to sell the construction site. Needless to say, the Baury House renovation was a far more successful venture.)

Personally, I’m thrilled that the Baury House was restored rather than razed. Much of what was intimately connected to the development of Lower Falls is long gone. This might give the perception to some people that Lower Falls doesn’t have a rich history. In fact, it was only relatively recently that I learned that Lower Falls used to be an industrial hub. And I’ve been interested in Wellesley history for almost two decades! Therefore, all the more reason to give prominence to the existing historical buildings. I think the Baury House renovation did just that.

Sources:

  • Newton Historical Commission files: 2345 Washington Street; St. Mary’s Church
  • Sermon, preached in St. Mary’s Church, Newton Lower Falls, on the fourth Sunday after Easter, 1847 being twenty-fifth anniversary of the incumbent’s first officiating in that church by Alfred L. Baury (1847)
  • A History of the Early Settlement of Newton, County of Middlesex, Massachusetts by Francis Jackson (1854)
  • The New England Historical and Genealogical Register: Volume 20 (1866)
  • Proceedings of the Grand Lodge of the Most Ancient and Honorable Fraternity of Free and Accepted Masons of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by Grand Lodge (1872)
  • Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts by O.H. Bailey & Co. (1880) [Map]
  • History of Needham, Massachusetts: 1711-1911 by George Kuhn Clarke (1912)
  • Congressional Serial Set by United States Government Printing Office (1919)
  • One Hundred Years of Paper Making by Clarence A. Wiswall (1938)
  • Wellesley Townsman: 11 May 1961; 6 July 1961; 7 December 1972; 30 March 1975; 14 August 1975; 31 March 1977; 13 August 1981; 6 November 2012