Members of the Brookline Historical Society and Friends
BROOKLINE HISTORICAL SOCIETY
ANNUAL MEETING, JANUARY 18, 1911
PUBLISHED BY THE SOCIETY
In beginning this, my second annual greeting as your President, and the tenth year in the life of this Society, I desire to thank those members whom I could always count upon to be present at our meetings. The interest of those who attend regularly is unflagging, and makes up for the comparatively small attendance. The change in the place of our meetings has increased somewhat the numbers; whether from the novelty of the surroundings or otherwise time will tell. Yet, friends, I would not begin this paper in a pessimistic vein. I know how difficult it is to get a large attendance at meetings in Brookline where there are so many and diverse attractions, and I trust that the gatherings in this venerable and time-honored place may prove the wisdom of our removal from our former comfortable quarters in the Town Hall. We certainly are greatly indebted to the Grand Army Post for their most courteous invitation to occupy their rooms, and we may again find it advantageous to occasionally have our meetings there. It behooves us to do all we can to make our meetings interesting and profitable.
The following have been the papers presented during the past year, 1910:-
January 19. Annual meeting, election of officers, address by the newly-elected president, in which, besides the ordinary details, he gave an account of one of the older houses in our town.
February 16. "The Earthquake of 1908 in Sicily," by Mrs. Martha C. Kittredge, one of our members. This was a personal experience of the writer, who was on the island at the time of the eruption, and she gave a most vivid description of the scenes of devastation, many of which she actually saw. It was a most interesting account and was listened to by a number of Mrs. Kittredge's friends, in addition to the usual attendance.
March 23. "The Buckminster Family," by Rufus G. F. Candage, our former president. Aa your president was out of the state at that time he cannot give you an account of this paper. Vice-President Comstock presided.
April 20. "On the Border in '54," by John F. Ayer of Wakefield. This was a story of the experiences of the writer, and it was hard to realize that he, a vigorous, energetic veteran, could have been the one who participated in those stirring times fifty-six years ago, when he, a stripling, went with a band of Massachusetts men to do what they could to have Kansas enrolled as a free state. These pioneers went into what was then a vast wilderness, far from the borders of civilization, to plant the Flag of Freedom, in the face of emissaries of the slave power, to endeavor to make Kan8&ll a free state. It was a very entertaining paper and was listened to by a good audience.
May 18. "Brookline in 1861," by Edward Wild Baker. This paper was prepared from the reports of meetings held in Brookline in those exciting days in the beginning of the Civil War. It was moo graphically told, and to the few in the audience who were here at that time, it most vividly brought back the memory of those stirring days when frequent patriotic meetings were held and the enlistment of men for the army was strenuously urged. Quite a delegation of the army post was present. The summer interim.
October 19. "An Early New England Adventure," by one of our townsmen, Hosea Starr Ballou. The word "adventure" was synonymous with our modern word "venture," and the paper gave an account of the fitting out of English vessels with stores for the New England colonies.
November. 16. "Old Queen Street, Boston," by Walter Kendall Walkins of Malden. This was the first meeting in the Devotion House, and partly from the novelty of the occasion, as well as the old-time flavor of the title of the paper, there were some thirty gathered in the upper room of the old house. The paper was an exceedingly interesting one, and gave an account of what is now Court street from the seventeenth century to the middle of the nineteenth. The wonder is, how the writer could have obtained the facts of that by-gone period, and could so correctly locate the old buildings on that ancient thoroughfare. An innovation was made at this meeting of serving coffee and cakes at the end of the reading of the paper.
December 21. "Journal of Benjamin Goddard," by Edward W. Baker. Benjamin Goddard was a Boston merchant who came to Brookline about 1810 and lived in the fine old mansion which is still standing on Clinton road, but which was built on land now owned by Mrs. Jonathan White, and facing Boylston street. Two excellent reproductions of this old mansion and of the farmhouse nearby accompanied the notice of this meeting. This diary or journal has within a few years come to light and has been deposited for safe-keeping in the vault of the Town Clerk's office, and Mr. Baker has selected portions of it, particularly of the years 1812, 1813 and 1814, the period in which occurred the second war with England, and related largely to Mr. Goddard's emphatic opinions regarding the action of the then President of the United States, in bringing on and declaring the war. The journal also gave items of local interest, the results of Mr. Goddard's farming, social functions, which were frequent in those days, records of Sunday's sermons, in which he spoke of Dr. John Pierce, and other interesting matters. It was one of the most entertaining papers our Society has been favored with, and was listened to by about thirty persons gathered in the kitchen, which is the largest room in the house. In the audience were two of Mr. Goddard's descendants, who gave short talks on their ancestor.
The membership of the Society January 1, 1910, was 165; that of January 1, 1911, is 167. Five new members have been admitted, and there have been no resignations. Three members have died during the year, viz.: Mrs. Ada Ripley (Heath) Doliber, the wife of Thomas Doliber of Goddard avenue, who died January 3, 1910, aged 54 years, 7 months. Mr. Lewis Wight, died January 12, aged 77 years, 5 months. Mr. Francis Adams White, died January 13, aged 85 years, 8 months.
Mrs. Doliber was the daughter of Charles Henry Heath, whose father was Charles Heath, and whose grandfather was Ebeneezer Heath, who lived in the house still standing on Heath, near Boylston street, now occupied by the Misses Dana. The Heath family has been very prominent in Brookline affairs, and as those who were present at our last meeting will remember, was frequently mentioned by Mr. Goddard in the social gatherings at his house. Mrs. Doliber's mother was Lucy Ripley, who lived on Walnut street, in the house now occupied by Edwin N. Crosby. Mrs. Doliber some years ago wrote a paper for one of the D. A. R.'s about the Heath family, which was afterwards read at one of our meetings.
Mr. Lewis Wight has been a resident of Brookline for a number of years, living in a fine house on Rawson road. He had been in the fur business but had retired. He had not been an active member of our Society.
Mr. White, the father of our Secretary, was born in the town of Boylston, Mass., the youngest of ten children. His grandfather, Aaron White, was a native of Brookline, though removing to Roxbury about 1769, and settling on what has since been known as Mount Pleasant. It is interesting to know that this large family of children all lived to well past middle life, the average age attained being over eighty-four years. Mr. Francis White lived in Roxbury in early life and was engaged with his brother Isaac in the leather business. In 1858 he bought of Nathaniel Goddard the place on Warren street, Brookline, where he passed the remainder of his life. The name of White has always been identified with the life of Brookline, three of that name being on the petition to the General Court for incorporation as a town.
During the past year the decennial United States census has been taken, and the population of Brookline as of 1910 is 27,792, an increase during the ten years of 7,851.
At the same time we must remember that mere numbers do not add to the real growth of a town. A majority of the increase are residents of apartment houses, who do not always add to its real wealth or strength. We must not make a sweeping denunciation of such residents, for many, no doubt, are most desirable citizens, but a majority come to these apartments simply to sleep and have but little to do with the affairs of the town. The total number of polls (males of twenty years and over) as taken by the assessors April, 1910, was 7,486, while the registered voters were about 4,800.
The new Public Library, which was mentioned as in process of erection in last year's address, was finished during the past summer. The old building which had been moved to one corner of the lot, was pulled down, the grounds have been graded, and the new building was dedicated on the afternoon of November 17, with a most impressive service. The building is simple in its style, but dignified, and grows in beauty and stateliness the better one is acquainted with it.
The streets in and around Coolidge Corner have been paved with granite blocks, with cement grout, another evidence that the town, or the northern part of it, at least, is fast losing its suburban character, and is becoming but an adjunct of a great city.
A new trust company has recently been opened in that locality.
Among the deaths of prominent citizens during the year, mention should be made of Manning Seamans, who was born in the town. For many years he was associated with his father in the grocery business, and since Mr. James Seamans' retirement, Manning has carried it on in his own name. He will be greatly missed from Harvard Square.
As I have said, our Society has recently held its meetings in this (so-called) Devotion House. As the status of this house and the occupancy of it may not be familiar to all our members, I will briefly state it. The house itself and the lot on which it stands is owned by the town, which bought about seven acres of land twenty years ago for school and other purposes. Two large brick buildings to accommodate the Devotion Grammar and Primary Schools were built on the Harvard street front, and an engine house on the Devotion street side. The land on Stedman street is used as a playground. For several years after the town had acquired the land, and before the schoolhouses had been completed, the large barn on the lot was used by the street department, and the house was occupied by laborers. After the schools were opened the School Committee recommended the tearing down of the old house, which had become very much out of repair, but a strong opposition arose, so strong that when an article in the town warrant asking for an appropriation to put the house in good condition was brought up in town meeting, it was carried by a large majority.
Quite a sum was spent in repairs, and for a year or more it remained vacant. Then some patriotic citizens, including the members of this Society and the ladies of the D. A. R. and the D. R., pledged money sufficient to care for the building for three years, and the town, or its Selectmen, granted an association known as the Devotion House Association, leave to occupy it for that length of time. The house has been opened and used as a museum of antiques and relics and open to the public twice a week, at a charge of admission of ten cents. This Society is the largest contributor to this fund, and as this is the third year of this arrangement, it has been suggested that the Brookline Historical Society take the charge of the building at the end of the term, provided the town allows the continuation of the present arrangement. It would be well for the Executive Committee to take this into consideration.
Two different papers have been read before this Society concerning the Devotion family - one by Mrs. Thomas Griggs, giving a history of the family, and one by Mr. Edward W. Baker, giving an account of the Devotion fund which was left by Edward Devotion for education in the town. It may be interesting to say something about the more modem occupation of the house and farm by the late George Babcock, who owned and tilled it for many years; and what I may say will be largely from my own recollections of the place. The original Devotion farm extended on the north to Charles River and joined the Sewall farm on the east. The laying out of the mill dam and its branch to Brighton, now Commonwealth avenue, cut the farm in two, and a syndicate of Boston merchants, among whom David Sears was one, thinking that this new approach to Boston would greatly advance the value of lands adjacent to it, bought large tracts in what was then Brookline, including this farm. Some of the Sears land is still held in the family; also the large tract on the north of Commonwealth avenue, now occupied by a golf club, is still owned by the descendants of Ebeneezer Francis, another of this syndicate.
Mr. Babcock probably hired his farm of these gentlemen when he first came to Brookline, between 1830 and 1840. He subsequently bought it or a part of it, seventy-three and a half acres, according to the tax list of 1850, bounded by Harvard street and Brighton, now Commonwealth avenue. The Harvard street frontage extended from about one hundred feet east of Babcock street, to the land now owned by the Ayer family. The Brighton avenue frontage was not so extensive, but the farm embraced all of the streets which have subsequently been built on this large tract. It was a most beautiful piece of land, diversified by hill and dale. It also included a large growth of woods. Babcock's woods, Babcock's hill, Babcock's meadow, were household words to the boys of the decade from 1850 to 1860. A farm road meandered the entire length of the farm from Harvard street to Brighton avenue, crossing brooks on rustic bridges and again running through high banks of land. The hill, now almost entirely gone, rose quite abruptly from near the northerly line of Harvard street, leaving a narrow strip of land between the hill and the road, which was used by Mr. Babcock for his early peas. It was a sunny, protected spot, and it was one of his ambitions to take in the first peas to Boston market and to have it recorded in the Boston Post, for Mr. Babcock was a good democrat, and a faithful reader of that paper. It used to be a by-word among the farmers in the vicinity, perhaps prompted by jealousy, that Mr. Babcock used to go out on some mild February day with his men and make holes through the frost with a crowbar, to put in his seed peas, in order to ensure an early crop. Another of his ambitions was to take the first prize at the Norfolk County Cattle Show for his yoke of steers, and he had a fine wooden yoke, which he used expressly for taking them to and from Dedham on the day of the fair, the yoke reposing for the rest of the year in his parlor.
This farm with its groves and pond has been the inspiration for many a pencil sketch and painting. There were broad ditches, which made capital places for skating in the winter time, and in summer the woods made an attractive spot for picnics. The house itself had a large lean-to in the rear, which was taken away when the town repaired the premises. There were also a large barn and numerous sheds and outbuildings. Miss Woods in her history of Brookline speaks of the beautiful elms shading the house. Several of these were taken down when the schoolhouses were built, and an enormous rock maple which stood just at the gateway, had to be sacrificed when Harvard street was widened. The present maples that are growing so finely on either side of the house were planted after the town had acquired the land. Mr. Babcock was a quiet, retiring man, but eccentric and of the old school. He always wore a stovepipe hat winter or summer, on his market wagon or in the field, oftentimes with the nap almost entirely worn off. He had an overcoat, called in those days a surtout, which he wore for best for forty years, and he boasted that it had been in and out of fashion four times in those years. Although he worked hard, he had not the faculty of laying up money, and the story goes that when one of his hired men, who had lived with him for over twenty years, wanted to visit his old home in Ireland, Mr. Babcock had to mortgage his farm to pay the man his accumulated wages. He died in 1867, and the same year a large part of the farm extending from Harvard street to Brighton avenue, on the easterly side, amounting to forty-three acres, was sold to Henry Blaney who lived on Park street, where the Methodist Church now stands. Mr. Blaney had for some time tried to induce Mr. Babcock to sell him this land, but in vain, for he was very loth to part with his farm, although he was so impecunious; but one day a mutual friend, who had been sent for that purpose, induced him to consent to the sale, and after the land had been surveyed and the preliminaries arranged a day was set for the signing of the deed at Mr. Bowditch's office in Boston. But Mr. Babcock had had time to repent of his agreement to sell, and on the day set he harnessed up his horse into his old market wagon and drove away early into the country, not returning until nightfall. Whether he did finally sign the deed or whether the transfer was made after his death, I am not sure, but doubtless the excitement hastened his death.
Mr. Blaney laid out this large tract and built the present Babcock street and set out the fine row of maples on either side. He also built three or four houses as an inducement for people to buy house lots, but the time had not come for this and his venture was not a profitable one, as we all know. Babcock street and the streets that run into it are now well built up. Another large tract west of the house, called the pasture lot and including the pond and part of the hill, was sold soon after to James M. Beals of the aforesaid Boston Post. After Mr. Beals' death it was again sold to Benjamin B. Newhall, who graded the land, carting the gravel from the hill to fill up the pond, and built Beals and Stedman streets. He began to build on and near Harvard street, but died in the midst of the work. This tract was thirteen acres in extent, and is now mostly built over. Quite a quantity of land still remained in the family, the rest of the hill and the valley beyond, also that immediately surrounding the house. The former was sold to several Brookline gentlemen, Mr. John Gibbs acting as their agent, and at his death Mr. James Seamans taking the office. An immense quantity of gravel was sold from the hill, and the land was afterwards sold to David H. McKay, who laid out Naples road, Fuller; Coolidge and Thorndike streets, and built a number of houses. He, too, died while still in his enterprise, and the land has been sold to various parties. Mrs. Babcock survived her husband many years. There were no children born to the couple, and her nephew, Nahum Smith of Weston, inherited what was left of the farm, and he it was who sold six and three-quarters acres to the town in 1891. The price paid for this lot was S61,()()(). And so has passed the Devotion-Babcock farm, like so many of the farms of the town. In this case the very topography of the land has changed, and there has been a literal fulfillment of Scripture, in that "the valleys have been exalted and the hills laid low: the crooked (cart paths) have been made straight and the rough places plain."