BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 24, 1906
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY
BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Members of the Brookline Historical Society
FIFTH ANNUAL MEETING.
Another year of life of this Society and of this town has closed and we are here assembled, on this our fifth annual meeting, a fitting place and time to record some of the events which have transpired during the year 1905, having connection with this Society and the community in which we reside, now passed into history.
Eight papers, including the President's Annual Address, have been read at the meetings of the Society in the past year, as follows
In February, a paper on "Two Old Brookline Homesteads," prepared by Mrs. Thomas Doliber and read by Miss H. Alma Cummings, both members of this Society; in March, a paper was read by Mr. Walter Kendall Watkins of Maiden, entitled "The Paper Money of Our Fathers"; in April, Mr. Charles H. Stearns, Vice-President of this Society, read a paper on "Some Recollections of the Old Town Meeting House of Brookline, 1806 to 1848 "; and in May, a paper prepared by Miss Ellen Chase of this Society was read, entitled "A Summer's Driving Trip in New Hampshire in 1802," by a Brookline lady; in October, at the first meeting after the summer vacation, Mr. Walter Kendall Watkins of Maiden read a paper before the Society, on "Boston Neck to Muddy River"; in November, Mr. Charles G. Chick, President of the Hyde Park Historical Society, read his paper on "The Sidelights of the Stamp Act and the Boston Tea Party," and in December, Mr. George S. Mann, a member of this Society's read an interesting paper on "Shay's Rebellion."
The Society had printed in 1905, with the Proceedings, the President's Annual Address, a paper entitled "Two Old Brookline Homesteads," and in the Publication No. 3, of the Society, "John White of Muddy River," two papers read before the Society in 1903 and in 1904, by Mr. Charles F. White, a descendant and a member of this Society, and also "The Centennial of Blue Hill, Me., Academy," a paper read by your President before the Society in November, 1903.
of the Society was increased in 1905 by two admissions, decreased by one death and two withdrawals, which leaves the number the same as at the beginning of the year, of one hundred and fifty-three. That is small for a town of 25,000 inhabitants, and 1 trust that active measures will be taken during the year 1906 to increase that number, which there is no doubt can be done by personal endeavor and by such other means as may be deemed advisable.
MR. EDWARD ATKINSON
was the only one included in the roll of deceased members for the year 1905. He died suddenly in Boston on December 11, 1905, aged 78 years 10 months and 1 day. He was born on Cypress street in Brookline, February 10, 1827, and all his life had been a resident of the town, in the progress and welfare of which he was always interested, and for which he had given time, thought, and service in the town meetings and on many important town committees. No other citizen was more widely known within or without the town.
He was an able speaker and writer, and used his voice and pen fearlessly for what he believed was for the good of his fellowmen. He was interested in the formation of this Society and was one of its early members. Advancing age and many pressing duties prevented him from taking an active part in its councils, but it held a warm place in his thought. Those who knew him personally and intimately bear witness to his nobility of character, and to his worth as a friend and neighbor. His sunny smile and cheerful contact with acquaintances and friends endeared him to the many who sorrow that they shall meet him no more in the walks of this life.
THE DEATHS IN BROOKLINE
for the year 1905 numbered 345, an increase of 38 over the previous year. Seventy-one of them had passed the bound of three score and ten; namely, 29 males and 42 females. Of that seventy one, 6 males and 9 females were between 70 and 75 years of age; 13 males and 13 females were between 75 and 80, and 3 males and 1 female had exceeded 90 years.
The oldest males were: Mr. John S. Richards, 94 years 1 month and 24 days; Mr. Henry V. Poor, 92 years; and Mr. Timothy Lyons, 90 years. The oldest female was 93 years and 9 months. Besides these those best known in town and vicinity were: Mr. John C. Leighton, 86 years; Mr. Francis Cabot, 79 years 9 months and 25 days; Mr. Charles E. Guild, 77 years 3 months and 12 days; Mr. Xanthus Goodnough, 77 years 10 months and 3 days; Mr. Obadiah D. Witherell, 79 years 9 months; Mr. William Fuller Tufts, 78 years 1 month and 22 days; Mr. Terrance Gallagher, 75 years; Mr. John D. Young, 72 years 2 months and 8 days; Mr. William A. Wood, 74 years 2 months and 20 days; Mrs. Caroline Griggs Coolidge, 85 years 7 months and 22 days; Mrs. Sarah W. Seamans, 77 years 8 months and 9 days; and Mrs. Sarah F. Read, 85 years 3 months and 21 days.
The combined ages of the 71 persons were 5629-9-11, or an average of 79 years and 11 days each, which speaks well for the health conditions of Brookline, and including other advantages it makes a desirable place of residence.
THE 200TH ANNIVERSARY
of the town's incorporation was celebrated in an appropriate manner on November 10-13, 1905, with an oration in the Town Hall by Hon. Henry Cabot Lodge; dedication of a memorial tablet to the signers of the petition for the incorporation and in honor of the Brookline soldiers who marched to the battles of Lexington and Bunker Hill, upon the green near the First Parish Meeting House: by exercises for the school children in their respective school buildings, and in the Town Hall; by memorial Sunday services in all the churches of the town; with a display of day and night fireworks upon the Cypress street Playground; and with a banquet in the Town Hall, at which, including invited guests, more than five hundred persons were present. There were responses to toasts as follows: Lieutenant-Governor Curtis Guild, Jr., for the Commonwealth; Acting Mayor Hon. Daniel A. Whelton, for the City of Boston; Rev. James De Normandie, D. D., for the First Religious Society of Roxbury; Mr. James M. Codman, Jr., Chairman* of the Board of Selectmen, for the Town of Brookline; Hon. Samuel J. Elder of Winchester, for the Ladies; and Hon. James R. Dunbar for the Bench and Bar. The President of the United States was toasted and a response was made by the orchestra playing "Hail to the Chief." The Chaplain of the occasion was Rev. William H. Lyon, D. D., of the First Parish Church of Brookline. Places of historical interest and public buildings, and also places of business and private dwellings in the village and central part of the town, were elaborately and becomingly decorated with flags and bunting, giving to them a gay holiday appearance. The weather was beautifully fine for the season of the year, and the plan of the Committee having the celebration in their charge, by appointment of the town at the annual meeting, was successfully carried out, which made it a dignified and appropriate celebration, which no doubt will be handed down to future generations as such. It is to be hoped that a memorial volume of the occasion will be published at some time in the near future.
THE PIERCE PRIMARY SCHOOL HOUSE
was completed in 1905, upon and near the site of the old one, at a cost of $80,000. It is a fine building containing all modern improvements, built of brick with stone trimmings, and is a pleasing contrast when compared with the old building of which it takes the place.
The year 1905 was not noted for activity in the erection of new buildings, and yet sixty-four dwellings and apartment houses w ere added to the number of the previous year in the town, showing that the growth is still onward. Some of the apartments, in accommodations for families, were equal to a dozen or more single houses of a few years ago, and equally so in the cost of construction.
THE OLD BUILDING
which stood at the junction of Harvard and Washington streets facing Harvard Square, built in 1828 and occupied by the Baptist Church and Society from that time until 1859, when it was changed over for business purposes, and which, since the widening of Harvard street two or three years ago, has stood in a dilapidated condition and has been an eyesore to the people of the town, was demolished a few months ago. Usually the destruction of an historic structure is cause for regret, but in this instance it was cause for rejoicing that the old building no longer cumbers the ground nor remains a disgrace to the square in the heart of the town. Upon this site there has been erected a modern brick edifice for business purposes, of sightly appearance, which was occupied at the beginning of 1906. As one now approaches the square from the railway station, or the bridge over the railway, with a stranger, he is no longer obliged to apologize and explain for its appearance but feels his bosom swell with pride at the change that meets his eye.
AT VILLAGE SQUARE
noticeable changes have also taken place in the Morlock Block, which is now named the "Sagamore." That building has had a new front and its interior changed over into stores, offices and flats; into one part of which the Brookline Press has moved from across the street. Russell's Block, adjoining, is also being improved and renovated, showing that the march of improvement has reached that locality. The new building on the corner of Pearl and Washington streets, the real estate and express offices near the corner of Washington street and Morss avenue, and Chase's Express office and stable further down, have improved that section of the town very materially. But the advertising signs so conspicuously placed on Guild's and Whyte's Blocks are blemishes which should not be allowed, and are an eyesore. When and how Village Square is to be improved to meet the wants of the trolley lines that pass through it, and accommodate the passengers that ride on them and there change cars, seems as far distant as at any time in the past.
THE PUNCH BOWL VILLAGE
once so called, after the famous Old Punch Bowl Tavern there built and kept by one John Ellis prior to 1740, and demolished in 1833, included what is now Village Square and the territory from it along Washington street to Muddy River. That portion lying between Pearl street where it intersects Washington street back to what was formerly the brook on the north, now covered, and thence to Muddy River, and from the junction of Village lane and Washington street to Muddy River on the south, was originally a part of Roxbury, which was annexed to Brookline in 1844.
The section which includes Parker Hill and Heath street, and the Punch Bowl Village from the lines above described, was known as "Roxbury Precinct," and in it lived and were the homesteads of Crafts, Heaths, Griggs, Wymans, Downers, Brewers, and others, some of whom owned lands in both Brookline and Roxbury. The land on the south side of Washington street, which included the Ward Farm, for many years the property of John, Samuel and Henry Ward, and nearly all land along Pond avenue to Chestnut street, and at one time nearly all land from that part of Washington street to Jamaica Pond, was a part of Governor Leverett's allotment at Muddy River, made to him in 1637.
The Mill Dam, or Western avenue, now Brookline avenue, was the first road after that over the Neck to be built, which connected the peninsula of Boston with the mainland; and the greatest undertaking Boston had entered into, one and a half miles in length, was built by the Roxbury Mill Corporation, chartered June 14, 1814- Uriah Cotting, its principal projector, did not live to see it completed, nor did he see that it was the first step towards converting the Back Bay into terra frma. This work, for which for the first time Irish laborers were expressly imported into the country, says Drake, in his "Sketches of Roxbury," was begun in 1818, and the stone used was principally taken from the Parker Hill quarry. It was opened July 2, 1821, with a public parade, the opening of another avenue to Boston being considered a great event. A cavalcade of citizens, Gen. William H. Sumner acting as chief-marshal, crossed from the Roxbury shore, and were received by the inhabitants of Boston.
The whole territory was flowed in consequence of the construction of the dam, which had been valuable only for a trifling quantity of salt grass, and could have been purchased for a few hundred dollars. It was supposed that an immense water power could thus be obtained of fabulous value, and that all kinds of manufacturing and mechanical business would be established and carried on by its means, and that the individual owners of the land flowed, and of the surrounding region, would be benefitted and enriched. The calculation as to the value of the water power was erroneous, and the results obtained were out of all proportion to its cost. Gristmills and iron works were erected, machine shops, manufactories and rope-walks were built, but owing to the error in calculation its success was a failure and many persons were financially ruined. All plans devised to give value to the property failed until 1859, when the Boston Water Power Company, by legislative enactment, was given permission to fill the territory and convert it into dry land.
Before the Mill Dam road was built there stood on the corner of what is now Brookline avenue and Washington street, says Miss Woods, in "Historical Sketches of Brookline," in the rear of the Gas Company's office, a dwelling house with a large yard in front; and east of where the avenue now is was a small schoolhouse belonging to "Roxbury Precinct." The grounds sloped from the grassy upland to the brook on the north, and to the marsh at Muddy River, which was then forty or fifty feet wide. In the rear of that dwelling house was a garden or orchard with grounds sloping to the brook and marsh, the latter being overflowed at high tide. That dwelling, with the lands on both sides of Muddy River, in ancient time, was the property of the Griggs family, early settlers in Roxbury. George Griggs of Launden, Buckinghamshire, England, came over to this country in the ship "Hopewell," with Alyce his wife and five children in 1635.
Dr. George Griggs, early in the 18th century, built the old house next to the gas works, now falling to decay, known at one time as the "Tontine," but now better known as the "Long House." The western half of that house was added by Dr. Downer. Dr. Griggs had a daughter Mary, a beautiful woman and something of an heiress for that time, who married, against her parents' wishes, Capt. William Wyman, with whom she lived an unhappy life. The old house and land, afterwards owned by the gas company, with other land in the vicinity was long known as the Wyman property.
When the Mill Dam road, now Brookline avenue, was built and extended to the "Punch Bowl Village," it changed the condition and appearance of the estate and cut off a large part of Captain Wyman's yard. Afterwards a blacksmith shop was built and occupied upon the eastern corner of the Mill-dam road, which later was removed across Washington street to a lot now bordering on Pond avenue. After the death of Captain Wyman and the sale of his estate, the old house, later owned by the Gas Company, was kept for some years as a tavern, with the sign of the "Punch Bowl "; but as it had little except local patronage, and that of the lower order, it was given up. Drake, in "Sketches of Roxbury," says: "In the rear of the gas works, at the corner of Brookline avenue, stood an old house, which after many years' neglect was blown down, probably by the great gale of September, 1816." That must have been another house and not the Wyman house above described.
The houses of Captain Wyman and Dr. Downer both originally set back farther from the street than at present; the widenings that have taken place from time to time have cut off the yards. It was by marriage to Captain Wyman 's daughter that Dr. Downer became connected with the family and its possessions. The Downer or "Long House " had a broad green yard shaded by buttonwoods and two Lombardy poplars, and between the two houses stood a beautiful elm.
Dr. Downer, who was active in town affairs as appears by the Roxbury records, and who was the grandfather of Samuel Downer, Esq., of Boston, left his house early on the morning of the Battle of Lexington, and on his way to the front came in sight of the retreating Britons and encountered one of their flankers, who had stopped to pillage a house. Both leveled their guns at the same instant, and both missed. Closing in deadly struggle, they crossed bayonets, and Downer found he was no match for his adversary in the use of that weapon. The main body was every moment coming nearer. Gathering himself for a desperate effort. Downer quickly reversed his musket and dealt his foe a blow with the butt which brought him to the ground. Although the blow had shattered to pieces the wooden breech of his gun, it disabled his enemy, whom he finished with his bayonet. Then possessing himself of his antagonist's arms as the spoil of victory, he hastily withdrew. When the battle was over he found that his forehead had been grazed by a musket bullet.
Dr. Downer was a surgeon on board the privateer "Yankee," and was taken prisoner and carried to England, from whence he escaped to France. On the passage home he was again captured after being wounded, and taken to Portsea Prison, where he and his companions were harshly treated. He escaped by tunneling under the walls of the prison and the adjacent street, was aided by friends, and after three years' absence made his way back to Boston.
He afterwards served as surgeon-general on the ill-fated Penobscot Expedition for the recapture of Castine from the British under command of Saltonstall, which resulted so disastrously for the American cause. He was a skillful surgeon, though said to have been a hard and rough man.
For several years there was a brewery in one end of the old "Long House," it is said, with a malt-house on the opposite side of the street. After the death of Dr. Downer, a Dr. Silvan came to the house, took up his residence and began the practice of what was termed "the rainwater cure." He professed to cure all maladies that flesh is heir to by the use of rain water. He flourished for a time upon the credulity of his patients, but public opinion was aroused against him and he left the town.
The old "Long House" still stands in a dilapidated condition, as a landmark of the past, and this account of it, gathered chiefly from the "Historical Sketches of Brookline," by Miss Woods, and from Francis S. Drake's "Sketches of Roxbury," has been written for preservation in the archives of the Brookline Historical Society.
THE EDWARD DEVOTION HOUSE
stood west of the "Long House " between the two blacksmith shops, and probably on the land once owned by Griggs, Wyman and Downer, until its demolition some twenty years ago, then known as the Lemuel Foster place.
The house was said to have been built by Edward Devotion, Jr., who died in it in 1744, and was buried in Walnut street burying ground, where a stone marks his grave. Edward Devotion moved to this house from the old Devotion house standing on its original site on Harvard street between the Devotion Schoolhouses, where it was erected in about 1680, and is the oldest building in the town.
Edward Devotion sold the old house, in which he had lived the greater part of his life, with the farm belonging with it, to Solomon Hill, said to have been an adopted son, about 1740, and moved to the "Punch Bowl Village," and it is supposed that the village house was built at that time for his occupancy. The house after the death of Edward Devotion was occupied by Mr. Thomas Brewer, who was a blacksmith and built the brick shop some time before the Revolution. Mr. Brewer lived in that house for many years, and his children intermarried with other Brookline families, although the name has become extinct in the town. When the Brewers ceased to occupy the old house, it passed into the ownership of Mr. Lemuel Foster, who also was a blacksmith and worked at his trade in the shop adjoining. He later built a house on Walnut street opposite the present Whyte's Block, where he resided in the last years of his life.
The late J. Anson Guild married a daughter of Lemuel Foster for his first wife, through whom, at her death, the Devotion house and land descended to Mrs. Guild's only daughter and child, now Mrs. George. Rogers. The old house stood unoccupied for some years, fell into decay and was torn down. The brick blacksmith shop and lot, extending from Washington street back to Pearl, are all now left of the Devotion estate in the lower village.
The writer, however, has a photograph of the old house as it appeared just prior to its demolition, which he hopes will be printed with this address, and thus preserve the outline of the house and last earthly home of Edward Devotion. Everything in the town connected with him and his name ought to be held in lasting remembrance by the citizens of Brookline on account of his gift to the town for its schools and the cause of education. The sum devised by his will would not seem large at this time, but from his moderate estate the town received about $3,500, the use of which it has had for a hundred and fifty years, more or less. Had it been kept at interest and intact, it would now amount to a sum the interest of which would pay more than all the town's annual expenses and still leave a handsome balance to be added to the principal.
For many years his legacy and name were nearly lost to the sight and knowledge of the majority of the residents of the town, and only within a few years has his name been honored by bestowing it upon the schoolhouses on the Devotion lot. Harvard street. The money received from his estate was kept at interest, a part was lost by loaning it to the Commonwealth during the Revolutionary War, which was paid back in depreciated Continental paper money; the interest on the balance was used for the benefit of the town schools until 1844, when by vote of the town the principal was used in building the Town Hall, dedicated in 1845, in which one room or fioor was set apart for school purposes. When the school in that building ceased, the Devotion legacy was lost sight of, and from that time to the present no measures have been taken by the town to place the sum back into the fund to which it originally belonged, or in any way to honor its donor, except as above stated.
This Society and other societies and organizations of the town have used their influence to have the Devotion house renovated for their meetings and for a museum of antiquities. They succeeded a few years ago in getting it partially restored by the town, since which time it has stood unoccupied. At the last annual meeting of the town, a committee consisting of the Chairmen of the Selectmen, Park Commissioners and School Board was appointed to look into the subject of its retention and repair, give one or more public hearings and report their findings in print to the town at its next meeting.
They held two public hearings, at which representatives of this and other societies appeared and advocated its retention upon its original site; to put it in repair for their use by the town, then to have it placed under their control at a nominal rental, as above outlined; and there the matter rests at this moment. It is probable, however, that the committee will make a printed report to be acted upon at the special town meeting called for a week from tonight.
If the house were to be demolished, 1 feel sure that the time will come when the citizens will deeply regret it. It is not only the Devotion House in which Edward Devotion spent the major part of his life, but it is the oldest structure in town, and ought to be preserved as a landmark; as an example of the style of dwelling our ancestors built and occupied, two and a quarter centuries ago; as an historical monument of Colonial times and for the purposes already set forth. The members of this Society and all other citizens should carefully consider the subject, and not only be ready to act, but to act wisely.
The Committee having the subject of the Devotion house and its disposition to consider, reported to the town at its special meeting held January 31, 1906, and recommended that it be placed under the care of the Board of Selectmen; and the town accepted and adopted the recommendation.
In the report the Committee said:
"Edward Devotion was born in 1668; he spent his life in Brookline and was buried in the old Walnut street Cemetery in 1744. He occupied several public positions in the town, as did his father before him, and in 1743 made a will containing the following provision:- "
"In case my estate prove to be sufficient to pay my just debts, funeral charges and the aforementioned legacies, and there should be an overplus left, then my will is and 1 hereby give the said surplus to the town of Brooklyn towards building or maintaining a School as near the centre of the said Town as shall be agreed upon by the Town. But if the said Town can not agree upon a place to set said school upon, then my will is that the said surplus be laid out in purchasing a wood lot for the use of the school and the minister of said Town forever.'
"From this will the town originally received the sum of £739 4s., constituting a school fund which was administered 1762-1845 by a committee of the town. The complete records of this trust are contained in two MS. volumes bound in vellum and now in possession of the town. The fund thus established was ultimately disposed of by the town in the erection of the town house, which contained some accommodations for school purposes.
"The Edward Devotion house was probably built about 1680 by Edward's older brother, John, who afterwards removed to Suffield.
It is probable that Edward Devotion lived in the house until his removal to a house in the village where he was living at the time of his death. The Devotion house is the oldest structure remaining in Brookline, and it has been adopted by the Brookline Historical Society as its seal. Prior to Edward Devotion's death he sold the house to Solomon Hill, taking a mortgage back, which was included in the residue of his estate given to Brookline. The town finally came into possession of the house when the land was bought in 1891, for school and other purposes.
"There is undoubtedly a strong sentiment existing in favor of preserving the Edward Devotion house and using it as an object lesson for coming generations. That there is excellent ground for this sentiment is apparent to the Committee. Edward Devotion was an inhabitant of the town when it was a hamlet. He was prominent in public affairs. He held several offices and was devoted to the church and state. He was the earliest citizen of the town to leave a sum of money for the benefit of the public, and that his interest in education was deep and far reaching is evident from the provisions of his will. He was one of the petitioners for the incorporation of the Town of Brookline. He was an active and public spirited citizen. The town has already honored his memory by attaching his name to one of the largest of the schools of Brookline, and it would not be inappropriate to place permanently upon the Devotion School an enduring tablet to his memory. "We believe it to be the wisest policy for the town to retain the house in nearly its present condition until the objects for which its permanent preservation is desired may be more fully developed. The house should now be thoroughly cleaned and painted when necessary, but no special appropriation is needed for that purpose, as the work can be done by the Selectmen out of the regular funds at their disposal for the care of public buildings.
"The Committee do not recommend any appropriation at the present time, but do recommend that the house be placed under the care of the Selectmen and recommend the passage of the following vote: - "
"Voted, That the Edward Devotion house be placed under the care of the Board of Selectmen."
That vote was passed without opposition.