Read before the Brookline Historical Society, January 28th, 1902.
BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 28, 1903
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY
Your President has asked me to write something of the history of the house I am living in, which is on what was formerly known as the Sewall Farm, I have also added some personal recollections of our town, especially of that part with which I was most familiar, and I shall have to apologize in advance for the plentiful use of the pronouns I and my.
The name Sewall was an honored and respected one in the eighteenth century. It has completely died out as regards the family who occupied this farm; but it is interesting to note the frequent mention of the name in the town records from the incorporation of the little town in 1705 to the year 1767, and the evidently high standing of the family. Samuel Sewall, Jr., who headed the petition to the General Court to establish the town as a separate village or "peculiar" (as the phrase runs) was a son of Chief Justice Sewall, who owned a large tract of land in what is now known as Longwood. Judge Sewall came into possession of this tract, which embraced several hundred acres, through his wife, who was a daughter of John Hull, a princely Boston merchant, though born a poor boy. John Hull in his youth lived in Muddy River Hamlet, in a little house which stood near the Sears Memorial Church, but afterwards removed to Boston, where he amassed a large fortune for those days. Judge Sewall probably never lived on his Brookline estate.
Samuel Sewall, Jr., was the first Town Clerk of the little "peculiar." In 1707 he was chosen Treasurer; and from this date until 1715, he was Clerk, Treasurer, and Selectman. In 1712 he was chosen Representative to the General Court, and in 1713, was one of a committee to agree with Mr. Cotton for a burying place. In 1718, in the apportionment of pews in the new meeting-house, which stood just west of the Parsonage of the First Parish, " Samuel Sewall was given that spott or room next the Pulpit, and valued at five pounds." In 1724 he was again chosen Selectman but refused to serve. In the same year it was voted "ye selectmen and Mr. Sewall and Capt. Aspinwall be a committee to audit ye Treasurer's accounts, and if ye finde them right cast and well avouched to give said Treasurer a full discharge from them." In 1725, he was chosen Moderator, also Clerk and Treasurer, again in 1726 Moderator; and the following year, he, with others, was chosen a committee "to measure the Town, and to Stake Whare the School Houses are to be set." After this date Samuel Sewall's name appears but seldom in the records. He lived in a house which, according to Miss Woods' Historical Sketches and also Dr. Pierce's Town Hall address, was built in 1703, on or near the site of the house I live in; he died February 27, 1751, aged 73 years, and was buried in the Walnut street Cemetery. In digging for drains and other purposes about our house, we have come across the foundations of this old house, which was supposed to have been demolished between 1760 and 1770.
In this same old house also lived for a time Henry Sewall, son of Samuel, Jr., who was born March 8, 1720; he was graduated from Harvard College and made his debut in town affairs by being elected, in 1741, Fence Viewer. In 1745, he was chosen Town Clerk and Treasurer. In 1747, it was voted "that Henry Sewall, Esq., be added to the Church Committee to present the Town's Choice to Mr. Brown." Mr. Brown was the second minister of the town, succeeding Mr. Allen, or Allin, as it is sometimes written. The same year. Major White, Capt. Sewall and Mr. Isaac Gardner were chosen a committee to view the Treasurer's accounts, also in the following year. In 1749, voted, " Henry Sewall. Esq., Isaac Gardner and Nehemiah Davis be a Committee to repair the meeting house." In 1750, "Abram Woodward, Henry Sewall, Esq., and John Newell be a Committee to dispose of a pew." The following year Henry Sewall, Esq., Capt. Benjamin Gardner, Mr. Jonathan Winchester, and Ebeneezer Davis, were a committee on a new minister.
Mr. Brown had a short pastorate. It is interesting to see how frequently the town records make mention of the affairs of the Church, and what a large place it had in the minds of the inhabitants. In 1752, " Samuel White, Edward White, Henry Sewall, Esq., Selectmen and Assessors"; but in 1754, voted "that the Assessors for the last year stand a tryal with Henry Sewall, Esq., for abatement of part of his rates." Even in the good old times human nature was about the same as now.
In 1759, voted "Jeremy Gridley, Henry Sewall, Esq., Capt. Craft, Dea. White, Dea. Davis and Isaac Gardner be a Committee to wait on Mr. Joseph Jackson and acquaint him with these votes." These votes refer to a call to Mr. Jackson to be the minister of the town. (Mr. Jackson accepted the call, and served as minister until his death in 1795. Dr. Pierce succeeded him in 1797: Dr. Pierce died in 1848, so these two ministers' term of office embraced nearly a century). Capt. Henry Sewall, as was his later title, continued to serve the town in various capacities, the last mention of him in the records being in 1767, when he was chosen to dispose of a pew belonging to Zabdiel Boylston, late of Brookline, deceased. This was the celebrated Dr. Zabdiel Boylston who introduced the inoculation of small-pox into this country, and whose remains lie in the Old Brookline Cemetery. In 1762, Jeremy Gridley, Henry Sewall, Isaac Gardner, Robert Sharp, and Thomas Aspinwall were chosen a committee " on receipt of money from the Edward Devotion Estate "; this was the Edward Devotion School Fund about which we have recently heard so much. In the same year -
"Received of Jer. Gridley, Henry Sewall, Isaac Gardner and Thomas Aspinwall, Attorneys of Mary Gatcomb, Executrix of the will of Edward Devotion, late of Brookline, the sum of fifteen pounds and four pence, lawful money for purchasing a Silver Tankard for the Church of ye town of Brookline, according to ye will of Mr. Edward Devotion Dec'd:
May 24, 1762. Robert Sharp A true copy examined Isaac Gardner, Jun'r. T. Clerk."
This tankard is still in use by the Church of the First Parish. Henry Sewall died May 29, 1771, aged fifty-one years. He had three sons and one daughter - Henry, Hull, Samuel and Hannah. Henry and Hull both died at the age of twenty-four, Hull on November 17, 1767, and Henry, October 17, 1772. Samuel, who thus inherited the Longwood estate, was a young lawyer practicing in Boston at the breaking out of the Revolutionary War, and he became so odious as a Tory that he was obliged to leave his native land and ended his days in England. His estate was confiscated, and apparently was leased out to different parties, who paid the taxes on the land and buildings for the rental. It is probable that Henry (Capt. Henry) Sewall was not living on this estate at the time of his depth. The Sewalls also owned a large property on both sides of Walnut street, including what is now known as the Sewall district; the house was probably on the site of the house now owned and occupied by Mr. Stephen D. Bennett. I can remember a house which stood on the site of the present one and which must have been pulled down more than fifty years ago. I find from the tax list of 1763, the oldest list that is known to be in existence, that Henry Sewall was assessed on this Walnut street estate, and lived there until his death in 1771. In this same tax list, at the very end, is this interesting item: -
"for Capt. Sewall's Kent for the year 1762 11 pounds, 12 shillings, 9 pence, Lawfull money."
This probably means the valuation of a negro slave belonging to Capt. Sewall. In 1774 Samuel Sewall (the Tory) was assessed at this same place, Walnut street, and the next year, Hannah Sewall, his sister, appears as the owner. Evidently Samuel had taken himself out of the country. In 1776, Hannah was married to Edward Kitchen Wolcott, and from this date until 1791 Mr. Wolcott was taxed as a resident of Walnut street, or the Sherburne road as it was then called. It is interesting just here to note that on the 14th day of August, 1781, Edward Kitchen Wolcott and Hannah his wife conveyed to a committee of the town a parcel of land "for the purpose and use of the minister of the Congregational Church in said Town of Brookline, whereof the Rev. Joseph Jackson is the present Pastor, and his successors in that office forever to the exclusion of all and every other denomination that subsists at present or may in the future." This was probably on the extreme westerly line of their estate, and the land is still used for a Parsonage of the First Parish.
To return to the Longwood estate. There is a doubt as to when Capt. Henry left this house, but from the same tax record of 1763, we find Elijah Whitney taxed for the property, presumably a tenant; this continued until 1766. The only mention I find of Mr. Whitney in the records is, that in 1765 he and Mr. William Ackers were Fence Viewers. In 1767, and probably this is the date of the building of the present house, Hull Sewall, son of Capt. Henry, appears as the party paying the tax; Hull died this same year, and from 1768 to 1772, Thomas Wyman was assessed for the farm. This Wyman was apparently a builder, for we find in July, 1774, this record: voted, " Whether the Town will abate out of the Rates of Thomas Wyman for the year A. D. 1772, his proportion of charge towards building the tower and steeple of the Meeting House in said Town"; and it passed in the negative, not to allow him any abatement. No ambiguity about that. The question of a steeple or tower to the little church had been discussed pro and con for a number of years, the Town one year voting to build it, only to have the decision reversed the next year.
The three years from '73 to '75 inclusive we find Dr. Eliphalet Downer occupant of the farm. Dr. Downer was a man of substance, and it may be was the same Dr. Downer who afterwards occupied the house in the village known at one time as the Long House, just west of the gas-house, and which is fast going into decay.
In 1775, we find this vote, "June ye 12th, voted, that some method be taken to secure the incomes of ye Estates belonging to the Refugees now in Boston, which lately belonged to said Town," which was evidently meant to include this estate. In the same year, the estate seems to have been divided, for the tax was assessed to Peter Talbert, William King, and John Broderick, and the next year to Peter Talbert, Abraham Brown and Stephen Knight. The 1777 tax record is lost. From 1778 to 1783, the place is taxed to William Campbell; a valuation accompanies the tax list, and we find the estate was assessed as containing 300 acres valued at 8 pounds per acre, house 115 pounds, 2 barns 100 pounds, out-house 8 pounds, or a total of 2658 pounds or $13,290. Campbell was also taxed on 115 pounds " personal"; his name also appears in the town records as Moderator; in 1781, "voted that Capt. William Campbell, Dea. Elisha Gardner and Mr. Samuel Croft be a committee to set the prices on the articles on which Mr. Jackson's Sallery is to be raised and Report to the Town Treasurer once a month." This was during the Revolutionary War, and the poor little town was using every expedient to pay their quota and yet keep their minister's salary intact. In 1782, Campbell was Selectman.
The list of 1784 is lost. In '85 and '86, Joseph Goddard occupied the house; he was the father of Dea. Abijah W. Goddard, who has recently died, aged 97. From 1786 to 1790 the list is lost, but in 1791, our old friend Edward Kitchen Wolcott appears as the party who is assessed for the Sewall estate, which is here called 320 acres. Mr. Wolcott continues to be the party in possession up to and including 1793; '94 and '95 lists are missing. From 1796 to 1802, a new occupant appears, Daniel Larned. The only mention I can find of him in the records is, that Mr. Daniel Larned and Mr. Ebeneezer Richards were in 1796 elected Hogreaves. The 1803 list is also missing, and in 1804, Wolcott and Sterns appear as joint occupants; that is my grandfather's first appearance in Brookline. The same occupants are assessed till 1807 inclusive. The next year Charles Stearns is taxed for two thirds the above amount of land, also in 1809. In 1810 Charles Stearns leaves the Sewall-Wolcott place to take the Aspinwall house and farm, the old house on Aspinwall avenue which has only recently been demolished. From this date until 1821, Mr. Wolcott appears as occupant of the Sewall farm; but this same year, Charles Stearns comes back and buys a portion of the large estate. According to the tax valuation of that year, he was assessed on "12 acres of tillage, raising 300 bushels of Indian corn, 514 acres of English Mowing, Cutting 10 tons of hay, 2 acres of Fresh Meadow with I ton of Hay, 4 acres of Salt Marsh, 2 tons of Hay, 3 acres of Pasturage, keeping two Cows, 20 bbls. Syder, 4 acres of Woodland, 10 acres Unimproved Land, and four acres of Unimprovable "- in all 33 acres. For many years Mr. Wolcott's name had appeared in the town records as holding offices of various sorts, but after 1821, Mr. Wolcott seems to have been lost sight of. When my grandfather first came to the place, he lived in one half of our house, and the Wolcotts in the other. They were land poor; the husband was addicted to the undue use of ardent spirits, and poor Mrs. Wolcott had a hard time. I have heard my grandmother tell of their destitution, and that she had sent in to Mrs. Wolcott many a warm dinner.
Mr. Wolcott had built a house on the farm, standing on a lane which is the extension of Pleasant street, not far from Charles River, which he used as a public tavern, and had also built a race track near by; but it proved a poor investment and after a while it was abandoned. This house was afterwards owned by the Ebeneezer Francis estate, and has only recently been demolished. The house my grandfather bought, the one I live in, was in a dilapidated condition. What with the frequent change of occupants and want of care, the house was very shabby; part of it had been left unfinished, so that in one place one could look up to the roof, there being no floors; the rear of the house came down to one story after the manner of old-time houses.
The farm extended from Harvard street, at its junction with Devotion place, or in our time the Babcock farm; the northwesterly boundary extended in a straight line to Charles River; then along the river front, taking in what is known as Cottage Farm to about St. Mary's street, extended then along what is now St. Mary's street and Sewall avenue, extended to Harvard street. A large portion of this tract was wild land, and I have heard my father, who was then a young lad, tell of being lost in the Cedar Swamp, as the meadow east of the Amory house was called. I give here several votes from the town records concerning this farm. In 1775, voted, " to provide some convenient place to move any Person or Persons that may be infectious in said town." Voted " to build a house for ye above mentioned use." Voted " to build said house on a farm now occupied by Dr. Downer," and in 1777, voted " that seven pounds eight shillings and ten pence, one fourth part of the taxes of William Blaney for the year 1776 be abated to him in consideration of the inconvenience and damage arising from the Public Buildings on Sewall's point, being used for Hospitals for the Small Pox, great part of that year."
In 1825 my grandfather built a new house for himself, and his sons, Charles, Jr., and Marshal carried on the farm. My grandfather's house is still standing on the corner of Sewall avenue and Stearns road; (since this paper was written, this place has been sold, the old house moved away, and a large brick apartment house has been built,) and it is interesting to read, as you probably did in The Chronicle of January 11, an account of the auction sale of the old brick school house in 1824. It was sold piecemeal and my grandfather bought three sides of the building and the underpin
ning, which doubtless went into his new house; he has told me that the house cost about one thousand dollars. Charles Stearns was born in Waltham in 1772 and was taken up on Bear Hill in that town by his mother to see the burning of Charlestown by the British at the battle of Bunker Hill; he lived to be ninety-two years of age.
As I remember our place in my younger days, it was a lovely spot; three great elms shaded the house, one on the south or front, another on the west, and a third, the one still standing, on the east. My grandfather has told me that when he first came to the place, he could reach the top of this last mentioned tree with a rake, thus making the tree at least one hundred and twenty-five years old. Probably no place in Brookline has changed more in its surroundings than ours; Beacon street was not laid out until 1851 . Pleasant street was only a lane built to reach the public house which I have mentioned, and on it were but two houses, one on or near the spot where Mr. Le Moyne's house stands at the corner of Browne street, and the other on the corner of Commonwealth avenue, which was torn down about twenty years ago. Pleasant street was a narrow road with a very steep hill where Mr. Le Moyne lives, and in winter time, in the blocking snows of the good old times, was for weeks impassable. We were about five or six hundred feet from Harvard street and the quiet and isolation of the spot seems incredible now when we see the bustle and hear the noises of the electric railroad center at Coolidge Corner. To give some idea of the increase in valuation, I find that in 1845, before Beacon street was contemplated, sixty-eight acres of land with the house and farm buildings were valued at $30,000. Last year my two and one-half acres with house and stable were assessed at $163,500.
Of the three large elm trees which shaded the house, the one in front was the largest and oldest; it towered high above the house, and was a target for the lightning bolts which had struck it several times; this had so weakened the tree that in the gale of 1878, which blew down the steeple of the Baptist Church, the larger part of the old tree was prostrated, its fall luckily being away from the house still a considerable portion was left to shade the house; but when the widening of Beacon street was made in 1887, the tree, the house, stable and about thirty thousand feet of land was taken, and the tree destroyed. The tree on the west, the most beautiful of the three, was another victim of Beacon street; when the road was laid out in 1851, this tree was in the middle of the street, but it was so beautiful and wide spreading, making such a fine shade, that a curve was made in the road, saving for a time the tree and some of the outbuildings of the house; the hill was steeper than it is now, and this spot was a favorite one for teamsters to stop and rest their horses under its shade; but in 1867, it was thought best to straighten the street and the old tree had to go. I well remember the remark of old Mr. David Nevins, who lived on the westerly slope of Corey Hill and who used to drive into Boston over Beacon street every day. On the morning when the men were at work cutting down the tree, he reined in his horse, and in his rough profane way called out, " What in h-l are you doing ?" When told, he said, "Well, it has taken God Almighty a hundred years to grow this tree, and you d-d fools can destroy it in an hour." The third tree on the easterly side of the house still stands, or tries to stand; but the change of grade of the widened Beacon street necessitated the cutting of the roots, so that it is slowly dying. As I said, the widening of the street also took in the house; or would have, had I not moved it to its present location about 400 feet southwesterly, where I trust it may stand for many years to come.
As I have said, my grandfather came to the house early in the last century; my father was then eight years old; he spent the rest of his days in this same house, and died there at the age of 84. I was born there and have always lived in it, excepting for the few months when the changes in Beacon street and the house were made; my children were born there, and one grandchild; so five generations of our family have lived under its roof. I have spoken of its isolation when I first remember it; but the house and its outbuildings made quite a village of itself. In the rear of the house and running parallel to it was a big old-fashioned barn over 100 feet long, and at either end of it, extending towards the house, was a line of sheds, making a quadrangle with a large sheltered barn-yard in the center. I can hardly imagine a more beautiful picture than a view on a summer's evening, looking out under this fine westerly elm, towards Babcock's Hill, transfigured by the sunset glow. This old barn and several sheds were destroyed by the laying out of Beacon street.
But the quiet of our place extended over all the northerly part of the town; it was a farming community, and the houses were few and far between. About 1843, as I remember it, on Harvard street, between the Allston line and Harvard Square, on the easterly side, there were George Babcock's, our house, my grandfather's, Mr. Perry's, the old Aspinwall house (these two on Perry's lane), and Mr. Bela Stoddard's, now Albert Lincoln's (six) and on the westerly side, three houses of the Coolidges, Mr. Griggs', a house which stood where Mr. Foster's now stands, the Sharp house, Mr. Thomas Seaverns', and the Baptist Parsonage (eight). Harvard street, or, as it was known until 1840, the Cambridge road, was one of the earliest ways of the town, connecting, as it did, with the road to Roxbury and on over the Neck to Boston. The Mill Dam was built in 1821, but as it was a toll road, it was not greatly used until 1865, when the tolls were abolished.
Harvard street was a common country road of uneven width, with no attempt at a sidewalk, except what had been worn by the passing feet, sometimes three feet above the roadway and sometimes on a level or lower. I well remember a high bank about where Deacon George Brooks' house now stands; between the path and the road was a profuse growth of tansy which regularly came up every year.
In the matter of schools Brookline was very primitive. I have often wished the old primary schoolhouse which used to stand on School street about where Mr. Allen's house is, could be there now, as a contrast to the palatial building that has recently been finished just across Prospect street. As I remember it in my earliest school days, it was an ungraded school with scholars in the winter time, from 5 or 6 to 17 or 18 years; for then the farmers could spare their boys and their hired help for at least a smattering of knowledge; and yet I can remember but few fractious or rebellious spirits among these big boys taught by women teachers. Perhaps nothing in this present age is more marked than the neat and generally tidy appearance of the scholars, in comparison with the garb of the country boys and girls of the earlier days. Coarse woolen frocks, blue overalls, high cow-hide boots, were the outer covering of many a manly, generous soul who perhaps in after years has made a mark in the world.
I quote this from the School Committee's report of March, 1843:-
"Your Committee would also submit the following statistics in regard to the schools separately: -
I. " The School taught by a female in the North district. This School is much the largest of any in the town, and is in a very prosperous condition. It being taught by a female through the year, it secures one great advantage, which none of the other schools have, that of a permanent teacher.
" For a number of years in succession this School has been favored by the same instructress. And justice requires us to say that there seems to be on her part no abatement of interest or fidelity. In the summer term the whole number of scholars in this School was 65, and the average 58, and those were divided into 19 different classes."
The teacher alluded to was my aunt, Catherine Stearns, who taught this school for nearly twenty-five years. Miss Woods in her admirable history has told the story of the old schoolhouse and its surroundings so well that I can hardly add to her vivid narrative. I would, however, like to refer to the old building which is now being dismantled, but which in 1845 was the glory of the town, the old Town Hall. This stood about where the present edifice stands, fronting Washington street, and the hill was dug away to make room for the building. Immediately in the rear, a high gravel bank offered a grand place to run down, for the boys, and girls too, who attended the " Intermediate" School, which was originally built under the Hall, the boys' room opening on the westerly side, and the girls' on the easterly. This was considered a great step in the education of our youth; previous to this, the graduate of the primary either had his schooling finished, or, if his family could afford his time, he went directly to the High. After the Intermediate was started, pupils of nine years (regardless of attainments), were sent to the Intermediate, and at eleven or twelve were supposed fit to enter the High, which was held in the stone building on Walnut street next to the First Parish Church, originally built for a Town House. I went to this Intermediate School for two years, the last few weeks of this time under the teaching of Mr. D. H. Daniels, who was connected with our schools for over forty years. Previous to the Intermediate there were three primary schools in Brookline -the one on School street, the one on Heath street, on the opposite side of the street from the present grammar school, and the one still standing in Putterham (so called) on Newton street-and the High School, which was established in 1843.
In the matter of transportation, our part of the town was entirely dependent upon the old dobbins of the farm, when they could be spared. A trip to Boston was an event of the year; most of the family shopping was done in Roxbury street, and I well remember driving in our old buggy with my mother to Bacon's store, which is still flourishing, I believe. The Brookline Branch railroad was built in 1848, which was opened with a grand celebration, and passengers were carried free for the day the regular fare was a ninepence (12 1/2 cents). Previous to that time an omnibus came down from Brighton through Brookline village, I think twice a day. Brookline also had a line of stages from the village through Roxbury and Tremont street, which had recently been built; these stages made, perhaps, a half-dozen trips a day. I remember the names printed on the sides: " Grace Darling" and "Lady of the Lake." Mr. Glazier was the proprietor of this line of stages; his daughter married our respected builder, William K. Melcher, and, I think, is still living. Various attempts were made to establish an omnibus line over Beacon street, but they each had an uncertain tenure of life, and were finally given up because they did not pay. When I see the thousands who go in and out of the city in the electrics, I often think of the old days, when eight or ten in the stage made a crowd.
The building of Beacon street gave quite an impetus to the growth of our section of the town. In 1854, the Harvard street schoolhouse was built in the triangle formed by Harvard, Beacon and Pleasant streets. It stood on what used to be my father's land, and he had years before set out a number of trees, and it really was an ideal playground for the children. The widening of Beacon street took away this building, and what was left of the school lot, and the discontinued part of Pleasant street was added to my lot; so several of these old trees are now shading my house.
Another great addition to our neighborhood was the opening of the store on the corner of Beacon and Harvard streets in 1857; it was kept for years by William Coolidge, who was for a time one of the Assessors of the town. The old store, with its town pump in front, and its hay scales, was a familiar landmark, and was torn down only a few years ago to make room for S. S. Pierce's mammoth building. The store was a great place to gather the neighbors, who were mostly farmers, on a rainy day or in winter time and many a good story has been told around the old stove. Mr. Coolidge was a Democrat, and several of the near neighbors were of the same political belief; early in the Civil War, as many of you will remember, party feelings were strong and high, and these neighbors were called " Copperheads," and the store was dubbed "The Confederate Crossroads." I am glad to say, however, that as the War went on, there were no better citizens or more zealous patriots than these same Democrats.
By the census of 1840, there were 1265 inhabitants of Brookline; by that of 1900, there were about 20,000; the old farm, as a farm, has disappeared, as indeed has nearly every other farm in Brookline; the old house is still standing, but I imagine it could scarcely be recognized by the old families who have lived in it.
In closing this rather rambling paper, I wish to give credit to Miss Woods' Sketches of Brookline, to Dr. Pierce's Address at the Dedication of the Old Town Hall, to the Muddy River and Brookline Town Records, and especially to the exceedingly interesting papers in the custody of Mr. Edward Baker, who has generously given me of his time in the preparation of this paper.
Charles H. Stearns.