BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 22, 1908
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY
BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
SEVENTH ANNUAL MEETING.
Read before the Society by Edward W. Baker, February 26, 1908
From time to time, in newspaper and magazine articles, the town of Brookline is advertised at home and abroad as "the richest town in the country." What is more to its credit, since the population has increased to the proportions of a city, the town is constantly referred to as an example of municipal administration marked by honesty, intelligence and progressiveness.
All classes of the community participate actively in public affairs, and the town benefits by the cooperation of all. It has been the very good fortune of the town that such cooperation has been influenced and guided by the well-educated and clear-headed citizens who have given freely of their time and contributed to the common good from their experience and knowledge of business, the professions, the arts and the sciences. Further, the citizens of moderate means, the well-to-do, and those of great wealth have willingly borne their share of the taxes which have been necessary for the benefit of all.
Although the town has been the home or residence of many families of abundant fortune it has profited in comparatively few instances from the gifts or bequests of its native or adopted sons or daughters. During the more than two hundred years of the town's history, the writer learns of only three bequests for the public benefit of which there is any record or remembrance today.
In 1762 the town received the Edward Devotion School Fund. A century later, in 1867, under the will of James Sullivan Warren, a fund was established for the purpose of planting trees along the town highways, and in 1876 the Public Library benefited by the bequest of Martin L. Hall for "the purchase of books of standard value." The generosity of John L. Gardner, whose interest prompted his gift to the Public Library, should not be overlooked, and full credit should be given to those individuals who have made gifts to particular schools or for certain specified purposes; but the present consideration applies only to bequests for a general public benefit.
In the year 1634 the General Court ordered a "sufficient cart-bridge built over Muddy River," and at a later date (1640) the cost of this bridge was apportioned between the towns of Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Cambridge and Watertown.
The town of Cambridge in 1635 made provision for a causeway and a broad ladder down to low water for the convenience of the ferry across Charles river to the road from Roxbury and Boston.
Between the Muddy River cart-bridge and the ferry to Cambridge was the established line of travel from Boston to the colleges, but it was not until the year 1662 that the river was spanned by a bridge. In 1662, however, a bridge was built near or at the place where the bridge now crosses the river close by Soldiers' Field. At the time it was built even until the present, that bridge was and is legally designated as the "Great Bridge."
The completion of the "Great Bridge" brought about the formal laying out of "the common highway betwixt Boston and Cambridge."
There was considerable controversy over the matter, but, after the committee had "viewed several ways," and had "debated the matter with committees for the towns of Boston and Cambridge," who did not agree, the report was finally presented and accepted, that "the said way shall goe without the common field by Goodman Devotion's and Goodman Steven's houses and so to Cambridge bounds as the old way now runneth."
So the highway from Boston to Cambridge was laid out, and was the only way to Cambridge, except by ferry, until 1793.
This was the road traveled by the dignitaries of the church and officers of state traveling by horseback or coach between Boston and the colleges. Along this road were set the old milestones, under the direction of Paul Dudley, of which seven were necessary to mark off the road to Cambridge.
One of those old milestones stands today in the lawn of Harvard Church, nearly opposite where it originally stood, when erected in 1729.
Over this road, on April 19, 1775, marched Lord Percy with three regiments of infantry, two divisions of marines and two pieces of field artillery, on the way from Boston to reinforce the eight hundred grenadiers who, in the early morning, had crossed in boats from near the present Park Square, Boston, to Phips Farm in East Cambridge, and thence to Concord and Lexington.
In the months following Lexington and Bunker Hill, this particular road was a throbbing artery of military life and energy. With the ten thousand British in Boston besieged by the sixteen or seventeen thousand American troops extending from Roxbury to Cambridge and Charlestown, the old road was marched over and back by the troops from Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Connecticut and all parts of Massachusetts. Towards Boston traveled those whose sympathies made it necessary to seek protection within the lines of His Majesty's forces; and in the other direction stretched the line of those fleeing from the sufferings and privations of the beleaguered town, to seek shelter and assistance from friends and fellow patriots in the country outside.
Truly the road has its history, and an old house which has stood where it now stands facing that road for two hundred and twenty-eight years is entitled to some respect from the schoolboys and girls of today, as well as from their elders, even if the old house does not quite harmonize with its surroundings.
Edward Devotion (1st) joined the First Church in Boston, and became a freeman in 1645. He was a planter, and lived at Muddy River. He was the father of eleven children, and his possessions in land were on both sides of the road from Boston to Cambridge, where the house, now standing, was built in 1680. Among his children were sons John (born 1659) and Edward (born 1668). Both signed the petition for the separation of Brookline in 1704. Father and sons are frequently mentioned in the earliest town records,-the son Edward the more frequently, probably because of greater activity in current happenings.
In addition to the real estate in Brookline which he inherited at the death of his father, the younger Edward owned lands in Roxbury, Dorchester and Needham, but he sold nearly all of it previous to his death in 1744. He was survived only by his widow, Mary, whom he married previous to 1719, and who, in the year following her widowhood, married Philip Gatcomb of Boston.
Edward Devotion's last resting place is in the Walnut street Burying Ground, where the spot is marked by the old slate gravestone in that part of the grounds included in the half-acre originally purchased by the town in 1717.
His will was signed and dated "this fourteenth day of June in the seventeenth year of his majesty's (George III) reign and in the year of our Lord Christ one thousand seven hundred and forty-three." By this will he names several legacies, providing particularly for his well-beloved wife Mary and for his beloved friend James Shed of Roxbury, both of whom were appointed executors.
Edward Devotion was not particularly well educated, so far as any records show, but that he was interested in the welfare of the community in which he had been born and lived, that he desired to advance and assist the town in providing educational facilities, is amply proved by a provision of his will, as follows:
"Item. In case my estate prove to be sufficient to pay my just debts, funeral charges and the aforementioned legacies and there should be any overplus left, then my will is and I hereby give the said overplus to the town of Brookline 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 cannot agree upon a place to set the said School upon, then my Will is that the said overplus be laid out in purchasing a Wood Lot for the use of the School and the ministry of said town forever."
The question naturally arises, "Why did Edward Devotion make this provision in his will and why should he stipulate that his legacy should be for 'a school as near the centre of said town as shall be agreed upon by the town'?" The answer to the question may be found by a study of the town records from the beginning of the town to the year preceding the death of Edward Devotion. No more important subject engrossed the attention of the inhabitants than the education of their children and the providing of the necessary facilities in the way of schoolhouses. As early as 1728 the town voted to have one schoolhouse as near the centre of the town as a spot could be obtained. A committee was appointed to measure the town for that purpose, a survey was made and a plan drawn, of which a reproduction has been published.
A piece of land was purchased for £20 from Peter Boylston, and a building "twenty-four feet in length, one and twenty foot in breadth and seven foot between joynts" was authorized. This building was not erected. The town voted to have a north school and a south school, and the Selectmen were instructed to dispose of the timber already prepared for the 24 ft. x 21 ft. building.
The school question would not stay settled for any considerable length of time, and in 1742 the town passed this vote:
"Voted, to choose a committee to find the most convenient spot to erect a school-house for the benefit of the whole town."
During the period when this school question was discussed, Edward Devotion was serving the town in various public capacities, particularly as tythingman,-a position which means little or nothing to us in 1908, but a position which possessed important functions a century and a half ago.
It seems fair to assume that the agitation of the school question, the knowledge of the needs of the community, the fact that he had no children to follow him, and a desire to benefit the town where he was born and where he had lived, caused him to make that provision in his will which has been quoted.
When the provisions of his will became known, after Edward Devotion's death, the Selectmen of 1745-1746 took steps to protect the town's interest.
In 1740 Edward Devotion had sold to Solomon Hill- a young man in whom he showed great interest-the seventy-six acres of land in Brookline which he had inherited from his father, -"it being the homestead of the said Devotion." He took from Solomon Hill and his wife Hannah (Sheldon) a mortgage on the property, and it was a condition affecting the legacy to the town that Hill should pay this mortgage before the legacy could be of benefit to the town, unless the executors should sell the estate by reason of the refusal of Hill to redeem the mortgage.
Without going into legal technicalities or the details of real estate transactions, it is sufficient in this connection to say that Hill did not pay the mortgage, and under the authority of the will a committee, acting as the attorneys of the executrix, Mary Gatcomb, sold the property and distributed the proceeds as contemplated by the testator.
The committee who acted in the town's behalf consisted of Mr. Isaac Gardner, Capt. Robt. Sharp, Mr. Thomas Aspinwall, Hon. Jeremy Gridley and Henry Sewall, Esq. These attorneys discharged themselves of their obligations by payments to Robert Sharp and the estate of Samuel White in the nature of reimbursements for sums which had been advanced to protect the town's interests; they also paid to Robert Sharp the sum of £15 4d lawful money for "purchasing a silver tankard for the Church of the town of Brookline according to the will of Edward Devotion." They also paid to the trustees named by the town to receive the same, the legacy, which amounted to three hundred and eight half Johannes, of full weight (equal to $3,696), "for ye use of a school in said town."
This money was received by the trustees in May, 1762, and they acted under the authority conveyed in several votes passed at the town meeting held in the same month: -
"Voted, whether the town will appropriate the use of the Legacy left said town by Mr. Edward Devotion, dec'd To a school, and it passed to appropriate sd Legacy to the use of Keeping a School. Voted, That the Middle School House where it now Stands be the place to keep a School with the Interest of the Legacy left said town by Mr. Edward Devotion."
Nehemiah Davis, Nathaniel Sever, Deacon Joseph White, Deacon Ebenezer Davis and Isaac Gardner were chosen a committee to take care of and let out the legacy, and they signed the receipt given to the attorneys for the executrix. These trustees organized by choosing Isaac Gardner, Jr., as treasurer of the fund, and from that date (1762) until the fund disappeared as a separate trust in 1846 the complete records of the original and succeeding trustees are contained in two volumes preserved in the Town Clerk's office The first items of the expenses by the trustees are these entries:
On the credit side of the account appears the receipt of £l from Deacon Davis, the remainder after purchasing the tankard for the church
The two volumes of accounts give the expenses of maintaining the schools, so far as paid from the income of the school fund, the principal items covering the salaries of the teachers and the cost of wood for the winter heating.
There are given the names of some forty schoolmasters who served during the life of the fund, about many of whom today there is no other record, but of those who were Brookline residents some have left a lasting impression on the town's history. Among such are Hull Sewall, 1762-65; Dr, Wm, Aspinwall, 1769; Stephen Sharp, 1775-77; John Goddard Jr. 1777; Isaac S. Gardner, 1808-09; and some others. In 1768 the master at the grammar school was Jonathan Searle, who must have been deep in learning and heavy in person if one may judge from the entry that 1s 4d was paid for bottoming the great chair.
The principal of the fund was loaned on real estate mortgage security except in two instances. Loans were made to the Town of Brookline on several occasions, and to the "State of Massachusetts Bay" in 1777. The fund suffered nothing from the loans to the town, but the loan to the State depreciated seriously.
In 1779, on account of the failure of paper money, the principal of the fund was reduced to the equivalent of $2,280.65, which was kept good until 1837; in which year the government of the United States made a distribution of the surplus revenue, and Brookline's portion, $2,209.34, was added to the school fund the interest to be applied to the support of the public schools.
Two interesting entries are found in the earlier volume The first treasurer Isaac Gardner who served from 1762, lost his life April 19, 1775, when the British were retreating from Concord and Lexington. At the meeting of the School Committee "held at the house of Deacon Joseph White, September, 1775, John Goddard was chosen the School Treasurer in room of Isaac Gardner, Deceased."
The committee held some of its meetings at the Old Punch Bowl tavern, as indicated by entries in 1772 and 1774 of small amounts paid Landlord Eleazer Baker for entertainment.
From time to time the committee in charge of the school fund made reports to the town. The most interesting of such reports was the one presented in the year 1838, signed by Joseph Goddard, Ebenezer Heath, John Robinson, Benjamin Goddard and William Ackers, who had served together continuously for twenty years or more. The original manuscript of this report of 1838 is preserved in the Town Clerk's office and is a very interesting document. The committee reported as follows:
"The Trustees of the School Fund avail themselves of this opportunity to Tender to the Town their resignations of said office, -this they do in consideration of their advanced ages, all of them having arrived over three score years and ten and some of them nearer fourscore.
"They also embrace this as a suitable opportunity to report to the Town the present state of the School Funds, the amount of which ever since they have sustained the office of Trustees till within the last year has been $2,281.08, on which no diminution has occurred.
"During the past year there has been added by vote of the town two installments of this Town's proportion of the surplus revenue of the United States, . . . making the total amount of said fund $4,501.74, all of which is now on loan secured on mortgages of real estate. . . .
"We have strictly attended to the Votes of the town from time to time, by confirming the loans on Notes accompanied with mortgages on Real Estates and we have no doubt of the ample sufficiency of the above securities."
The report of the committee was accepted with thanks for long and faithful service; but, alas! the school funds, as such, remained on the town records only a few years longer.
In the summer of the year 1843, two events occurred which had considerable effect on the later disposition of the school fund. The town appropriated a part of the old town hall building (now Pierce Hall) for a High School, and the engine house was burned. These two events precipitated the question of a new town hall building, which was referred to a committee of five. On this committee were appointed Abijah W. Goddard, Charles Stearns, Jr., and Daniel Sanderson, who were also trustees of the school funds.
This committee made a lengthy report at the town meeting of January 30th, 1844. They suggested three different available lots, but, in regard to the one which was selected, and on which the present town hall stands, the report says:
"'Tho' not so central as the other lot suggested [it] is considered by your committee an eligible and beautiful situation- combining the advantages of an eligible place for a fire engine house and two spacious school rooms which may be made in the basement at small additional expense, sufficient accommodations for 144 scholars; allowing two ample rooms for the fire engine and allowing the sale of the old school house and lot on School street."
The committee further recommended that the surplus revenue received from the federal government be taken from the school fund and used towards the expense of building the proposed combination town hall, engine house and schoolhouse, and that the town borrow the balance.
When today we see the crowds of school children attending the primary and grammar schools on the enlarged lot on School street we must conclude that the town meeting of that day did not look far into the future when the committee's report was accepted and adopted, with an appropriation of the surplus revenue and $4,000 additional.
Having taken the step of appropriating part of the school fund for other purposes it became easy to use it all, losing sight of the terms of the bequest by Edward Devotion.
At the town meeting in April, 1844, the trustees of the school fund reported that, upon further consideration of the action by the town in appropriating for the Town Hall building the surplus revenue portion of the school fund, which amounted to about half of the whole fund, they had concluded that it would be for the interest of the town to use the remainder of the fund for the same purpose; that in order to avoid any danger of reversion the town might become the borrowers and be responsible to the trustees, as individuals would be, by which course the security of the fund would be beyond question, and the trustees would be relieved of a great share of the perplexing duty incumbent upon them, etc. This report was accepted and adopted.
The town reconsidered the matter of the plans for the town hall, as a result of which the engine house was erected as a separate building and the School street lot was not sold, but did make use of the whole of the school fund, amounting to $4,789.26, towards the cost of the building.
The last chapter of the story of the original Devotion School Fund may be said to be the report of the trustees in March, 1846, which ends with this paragraph: -
"The Trustees, agreeably to their instructions, having collected the funds, by transfers of the securities or otherwise, and the same having been invested for the promotion of education, in the erection of a Town Hall in which some excellent school rooms have been provided, behaving that the objects for which a part of the fund was originally given are as fully attained as they would have been under any other circumstances, would now most respectfully ask to be discharged.
"Charles Stearns, Jun.,
Abijah W. Goddard."
The report was accepted and the committee discharged.
The rooms in the town hall became badly overcrowded in a few years, as well as the schoolhouse on the School street lot, and the solution of the problem was the building of the Pierce Grammar School on Prospect street in 1855. The rooms formerly used for schoolrooms were taken for town offices, and in 1857 the hall on the first floor was taken for the accommodation of the Public Library.
After 1840 the school fund disappeared; the accounts in succeeding years do not refer to it in any way as in the nature of a loan to the town, and both donor and fund appeared to be forgotten.
In 1857, when the Public Library was established, an attempt was made to "call in" the school fund for the purpose of a library and evening school, but without success.
For another score of years nothing was heard of the Devotion School Fund, until 1877, when a committee, to whom was referred the matter of trust funds, made a report and recommended that the legacy should be made good by the town. This committee suggested that a note for $2,280.65, the amount of the principal of the fund from 1818 to 1838, should be authorized by the treasurer, on which note the town should pay five per cent annually, to be raised by taxation, the amount to be part of the sum appropriated for school expenses. This suggestion was referred to a committee on school accommodations, which committee never reported.
From 1877 to 1883 nothing was said or done in regard to the fund, but in 1883 the School Committee took up the matter with a great deal of earnestness. After reciting the history of the fund and its complete disappearance, the report states:
"The gift of Edward Devotion was a trust which the town, having accepted, ought to carry out in accordance with the wishes of the donor. At the time this was bestowed, it met a very considerable portion of the expenses of our public schools, and was comparatively of far greater value than a gift of the same amount would now possess. For nearly a century the trust was executed, and we are now in a better position to place ourselves right in the matter than we have been for many years. Some action in the direction recommended by the special committee on trust funds in 1877 should be taken.
"The donor contemplated associating his gift with a school at the centre of the town as general in its benefits as practicable. The High School has this characteristic more fully than any other, and is much in need of a new building. If the interest on the Devotion Fund from the time of its diversion were added to the principal, and the fund then suffered to accumulate until it should be sufficient to erect a suitable High School building, designated in some way to perpetuate the memory of this gift, and the town's recognition of the purpose to which it was applied, it would seem to be as fitting action as is now practicable."
In accordance with the suggestions in this report the town voted, in 1884, that the Town Treasurer give a note for five thousand dollars, payable to the School Committee, declared to be the trustees of the Edward Devotion School Fund. The appropriation of five thousand dollars to pay the note was then passed with the condition that the amount should be expended in the enlargement of the High School building, and then to cap the climax the town sanctimoniously declared -
"That the bequest of Edward Devotion 'towards building and maintaining a school as near the centre of the town as shall be agreed upon by the town' having been invested in the High School building, the large hall in the same shall hereafter be called the 'Edward Devotion Hall' in his honor."
In the next report of the School Committee this statement appears: "A handsome but not expensive tablet, commemorating the gift of Edward Devotion to the town, has been placed on the wall in the main hall" [of the High School].
When the old High School was succeeded not many years later by the present building, and the present magnificent Pierce Grammar School was erected on the old High School site, can anybody tell what became of that "handsome but not expensive tablet" to the memory of Edward Devotion? The writer has asked every one who ought to know, but as yet has not succeeded in ascertaining what disposition was made of it.
The rapid increase in population in the north part of the town after Beacon street boulevard was built, beginning in 1887, made imperative the necessity for school accommodations in that district. In 1891, at a cost of over sixty thousand dollars, the town purchased what was called "the Nahum Smith estate." This was a part of what older residents knew as the Babcock Farm, and was a part of the seventy-six acres originally belonging to the Edward Devotion homestead, which he inherited from his father and sold, in 1740, to Solomon Hill, as has been told. On the property purchased stood the old house, built in 1680, and which had been occupied continuously, or practically so, from the time it was built until purchased by the town.
The next year (1892) the present primary school building was erected, followed a few years later by the companion grammar school building, with the old house standing between the two. The School Committee named the buildings the "Edward Devotion Schools," and in their report for 1892 outlined a plan for a comprehensive and elaborate development of the area by a group of buildings which when completed will be a fitting memorial for any benefactor of the town's educational needs.
The saying is old but true that "we cannot have our cake and eat it, too." The Devotion legacy was honestly and intelligently invested, and the income used for maintaining the schools as intended by the giver of the fund from 1762 to 1837. It was not the fault of the trustees that the war which our country fought for its independence brought a depreciation in values, and reduced the income from investments. No one can blame them for loans to the state in the times of need and stress. There was no "graft," and, as the committee of 1837 reported, there was "ample sufficiency of the security." It would seem, however, that when the town, in 1846, took the school funds to build the town hall it was false to the trust. To be sure, in 1883, the attempt was made to clear the record by calling the High School enlargement an investment of the Edward Devotion fund. But that improvement was imperative, and the money used was Devotion Fund money only by the flimsiest of apologies, and even then the apology was soon lost sight of, and the memorial tablet disappeared from view.
When the School Committee named the Harvard street buildings the "Edward Devotion Schools," there was at last some fitting memorial to the name of that one of the twenty eight signers of the Muddy River petition for independence who thought so much of the home of his parents, who felt so great an interest in the place of his own birth and residence for seventy-six years, that he bequeathed for the educational and religious welfare of the community a goodly share of his earthly possessions. Let us hope that never again will the town forget Edward Devotion and what he did for the town's benefit.