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Annals and Reminiscences of Jamaica Plain

By Harriet Manning Whitcomb

Cambridge

1897



This sketch was prepared by request to be read before the Jamaica Plain
Ladies' Tuesday Club. Subsequently a desire was expressed to have it put
in a more permanent form and offered for sale at a Fair for the Jamaica
Plain Indian Association. Although personally reluctant to appear before
the public in this way, I have allowed my desire to aid a good cause and
give pleasure to my friends who have kindly received my paper to
influence me in its publication.

I am indebted to "The Memorial History of Boston" to Drake's "Town of
Roxbury," to Dr. Thomas Gray's "Half-Century Sermon," and to the memory
of a few of the older residents for some dates and incidents given.

If any of these should prove to be inaccurate, I must rely upon the
charity and courtesy of my readers for only indulgent criticism.H.M.W.

ANNALS AND REMINISCENCES OF JAMAICA PLAINTo collect and review the
circumstances and events which have made our homes and those of our
ancestors for many generations is more than a pleasant service. We find
an interest and fascination in every step of the way, leading us, as it
does, into one of the most delightful portions of our country, and
introducing us to not a few of the most refined and cultivated, as well
as distinguished people of New England.

There is ever a charm about old-fashioned people and places, as about old
books and pictures, antique furniture and china; they affect us by the
very contrast they afford with ourselves and our surroundings, even
though it is with a touch of pathos and sadness.

Long years ago a much-traveled man, who knew the country well, said,
"Jamaica Plain is the Eden of America." He was not a Bostonian, and our
village was still a part of Roxbury, so that the suggestion of conceit
and boasting over this small portion of "the Hub" could not be imputed to
him.

It has often seemed to us that the loving, favoring smile of heaven
rested peculiarly upon our plain, environed as it is by gently rising
hills, which, with their robes of verdure and noble trees, shelter it
from harsh winds, and hold it in the warmth and freedom of a pure
health-giving atmosphere. Our charming lake, covering more than
sixty-five acres, nestles like a gem in its western borders, mirroring
forms and colors, all of beauty, and holds upon its banks some of the
most delightful of our homes.

In early days it gave of its clear, soft waters for the needs of the
neighboring city; while through the eastern portion of our village the
quiet Stony River made glad the farms and yielded power for mill and
factory.

We find that the name originally given to out village was Pond Plain, but
as early as 1667, it is referred to in an official paper as the "Jamaica
End of the Town of Roxbury."

There are differing opinions as to the origin of the present name; some
have so far reflected upon our colonial ancestors as to intimate that a
decided fondness for Jamaica rum suggested it, and it is doubtless true
that the punch bowl had other uses than to be simply ornamental on the
sideboards of our grandsires. Others, however, believe that it was given
to commemorate Cromwell's acquisition of the island of Jamaica, in 1670,
which secured to Boston numerous very valuable products. There seems, to
us, to be a peculiar appropriateness to the name, as it signified in
Indian "Isle of Springs," because if the brooks and springs which abound
here, making the land verdant and fertile. If we cannot to-day boast of
grand and stately castles, reared in the olden time, as in the mother
country, with guarding moats and bastions, loopholes for crossbows and
guns, - silent testimonials of opulence and power, - we yet can bring
to view pictures of many a dwelling, gray and brown with weather stains
and lichens and folds of ivy, which have held within their walls of oak
and cedar people and events whose records thrill our hearts with
patriotic pride or affectionate reverence.

In early times our village was chiefly an agricultural community, and the
cultivation of fruits and vegetables for the city supply was the
specialty; but here and there were elegant countryseats occupied by
government officials, professional and literary men, and city merchants.
Some of these homes and people we hope to see, by favoring records and
memory's aid, this afternoon.

Until within a short time, near the Boylston Station, stood a very
ancient building, with a pitched roof in the rear sloping nearly to the
ground, known as the "Curtis Homestead." It is claimed that this was one
of the oldest houses in our country, and that, in 1639, William Curtis
made a clearing in the forest for it, using timbers in its construction
from his felled trees. The record is that William Curtis marries Sarah
Eliot, sister of Rev. John Eliot, in Nazing, England, in 1618, and that,
in 1632, they came with their four children to Boston, and it is believed
that most of those who bear the name of Curtis in our country are direct
descendants of this William and Sarah. For about two hundred and fifty
years this house was the home of the Curtises, the last occupants being
the widow and children of Isaac, seventh in descent from William.

During the siege of Boston, troops were quartered here and added their
record of strife and suffering to that of domestic peace and happiness,
in which the "Apostle Eliot" and his estimable wife often shared; and
possibly Winthrop, Pynchon, and the Dudleys, and others whose names stand
as pioneers of religious liberty in New England.

Emerson aptly said, "There has never been a clearing made in a forest,
that did not let in the light on heroes and heroines."

A few years since, the march of improvement, so called, obliterated this
genuine relic of colonial days, with the fine old elm, which for more
that a century had shaded it and wafted kindly breezes over it.

Although we have no knowledge that the Apostle Eliot ever lived in the
"Jamaica End of Roxbury," he is closely identified with our early history
and development, and deserves more than a passing notice. In 1689 he gave
some seventy-five acres of land, including the tract lying from Orchard
to Thomas, and from Centre to Pond streets, "the income from which was to
be used for the support of a school and a schoolmaster." The street,
hall, and schoolhouse, which bear his name, commemorate his generous
gift. This noble man stands out in those early days as a beacon of
godliness, for education, and for trust in philanthropy. Perhaps, in no
sphere of his remarkable life does he more command our admiration and
reverence that as the friend of the Indian and the Negro. His untiring
zeal and self-denying labors on their behalf entitle him to be called
"the Apostle."

In a letter to a friend in 1659, he writes: "Pity for the poor Indian,
and desire to make the name of Christ chief in these dark ends of the
earth, and not the rewards of men, were the very first and chief movers
in my heart." Nor can we question that these were the all controlling
motives, when we consider that after acquiring their language, by the aid
of a young Pequot, he translated the entire Bible into their tongue,
besides a Psalter, primers, grammars, a and other useful books; and all
this in addition to faithfully fulfilling the duties of minister of the
First Church in Roxbury for fifty-eight years, a record of devotion,
diligence, and scholarship almost unequaled.

One has beautifully summed up his life in these words: "His missionary
zeal was not less that Saint Paul's, his charity was as sweet as that of
Saint Francis d'Assisi, and his whole life a testimony that the call to
saintliness has not ceased and the possibility of it has not died out."
Eliot lived to see the fruits of his devoted work in the changed
character and life of many Indians. More than two centuries have elapsed
since this leader on the Indian cause went to his reward, but his mantle
rests to-day on some here who deeply feel the need and love that work in
behalf of the poor Indian.

In 1663 our Centre Street was laid out and called the Dedham road or
highway, being a direct route from Boston, by way of "the Neck" and
Roxbury Street, to Dedham. At that time and for more than one hundred and
fifty years after traveling was by horseback, by private carriage, and by
the stagecoach. Those who were unable to own horses or pay stage fares
walked to and from Boston, often heavily laden.

The accommodation stages would stop for passengers along the route,
blowing a horn as they approached the dwelling, wherever a signal had
been placed for them. The express stages, used chiefly by business men,
running from Providence and the New York boat, took no heavy baggage,
required double pay, and made stops only as they needed relays of horses.
Four such changes were made from Providence to Boston, and the journey
was completed in about four hours. In 1826 the first Jamaica Plain
hourlies began to run; the fare was twenty-five cents. They started
from Mr. Joshua Seaver's store, and would call for passengers in any part
of the village as requested in the order-box.

Mr. Seaver's store, established in 1796, stood on slightly elevated
ground farther back from the street than the one now occupied by his
grandsons, and connected with his dwelling.

Here, also, was the village post-office for many years, and the favorite
meeting-place of the townspeople to discuss local interests, indulge in
pleasantries, as well as exchange their coins for fine groceries, small
wares, and farming utensils. Our grandparents of that day folded their
quarto sheets, sealed, stamped, and addressed them, and paid twelve and
one-half cents for the privilege of sending then on their mission. The
advent of the two-cent postage stand and the one-cent card was not then
dreamed of.

Entering Centre Street at the Railroad bridge, frequently confounded with
the historic Hog's Bridge, which formerly spanned Stony Brook near Heath
Street, we see on the right all that remains of the once extensive and
very beautiful estate of the Lowells, a family among the most honored in
our State for character, learning, and culture. The original house, built
of stone in the latter part of the last century, was modeled from an old
castle in Europe, and became the property of Judge John Lowell in 1785,
who resided here until his death in 1802. He was President of the
Massachusetts Society for Promoting Agriculture, and his extensive
grounds were largely devoted to the cultivation of a variety of the
finest fruits and plants. His son, Hon. John Lowell, inherited this
estate and the talent and fondness for horticulture and agriculture, and
added several fine glass houses, which he filled with rare and beautiful
plants, many of them imported from Europe and other foreign lands. He
erected the present commodious mansion. The aged lady who occupied the
house until recently was a sister of Dr. Charles Lowell, once minister of
the West Church, Boston, and father of Hon. James Russell Lowell. The
Lowell Institute for free lectures on scientific, literary, and religious
theses was founded by John Lowell, Jr.

In 1834, the Boston and Providence Railroad cut through this estate, and
from time to time other innovations have despoiled it of its grandeur and
beauty.

We pass several ancient houses, with associations doubtless dear to the
descendants of their first owners, but unknown to use, and come to Hyde's
Square, and the intersection of Centre, Perkins, and Day streets. The
triangle in the center, bordered with shade trees, had a valuable
landmark on it, not a dwelling, but an old pump, which, if it could voice
its memories, would tell is interesting tales of weary, dusty travelers,
in vehicles, on horseback, and on foot, of state-coach horses, and those
heavy-laden teams from far away, to which it had given its cooling,
refreshing waters, through nearly every day and hour of bygone years.

And now, after a few rods, we come to the well-preserved old farmhouse,
the Joseph Curtis homestead, built in 1722 by Samuel Curtis, grandson of
the first William, for his son Joseph. A descendant with the same name,
and fifth in line from William, now resides here, while the broad acres
adjoining, bordering the street with graceful elms, smile with the fruits
of careful husbandry, and afford ample space for the beautiful homes of
four generations of the same family. During the war of the Revolution
troops, from Rhode Island, under General Greene, used this house for
barracks, the family willingly giving up its space and comforts for their
accommodation.

On the corner of Centre and Boylston streets one is attracted by a quaint
and picturesque dwelling, in style and setting one is the most
interesting of the older houses in our town, which tells the story of its
age on one of its chimneys, 1738 being the date. It was erected by
Captain Benjamin Hallowell, who married a Miss Boylston, of Boston, whose
family was prominent in its early history. He was a hot-headed, active
loyalist, and commissioner of His Majesty's customs, as well as mandamus
councilor, which facts made him obnoxious to the public, and in 1775,
during the siege of Boston, he found it wise hastily to vacate his house
and seek refuge in the city. The house was then appropriated by the
patriotic troops doe a hospital, and some of the soldiers who died were
buried in the lot in the rear of the house. Later the property was
confiscated by the State, and, in 1791, bought by Dr. Leprilete, who
resided here until his death. He also was buried in the garden, and a
memorial tablet marked the grave until the remains were removed to a
cemetery. Upon the death of Captain Hallowell in England, his widow
reclaimed the estate. His son, Nicholas Ward, then took his mother's name
of Boylston and inherited the property. Mr. Boylston was a gentleman of
true culture, education, and philanthropy, making valuable donations to
Harvard College, and to several schools. He is justly honored by having
his name perpetuated not only by our street and district, but by a bank,
market, school and street in the city proper. Dr. Benjamin F. Wing
purchased this property in 1845, and it has remained in his family to the
present time.

In 1797, just one hundred years ago, was erected the stately brick
mansion which, with the ample grounds extending to the pond, was called
"Lakeville." Mr. Du Ballet first resided here; later it was the home of
Horatio Greenough, the sculptor, and it is said that he carved his
celebrated group, "The Chanting Cherubs," while living here. In 1840
Lakeville Place was opened, dividing this estate, and later made
beautiful by the several residences upon it. Since 1842, the Lakeville
Mansion has been the home of Mr. Thomas Seaverns and Family. The
inception of the Episcopal Church in our village was largely due to Mr.
Charles Beaumont, father of Mr. Frank Beaumont, who resided in the
Lakeville mansion in 1833. The first services were held here, and later
in the Village Hall on Thomas Street, Rev. Mr. Howe of St. James Church,
Roxbury, officiating. In 1840 a lot of land was purchased of Mr. Charles
Beaumont on the site of the present St. John Street, and a chapel built
which was consecrated on 1841 by Bishop Griswold. The rectory was
completed in 1849, and "was paid for, in large part, with money raised by
the exertion of the Ladies' League." Many of us remember the attractive
avenue, bordered with greensward and graceful elms, which led to the
little brown church and rectory, the retirement of its situation seeming
to be suited to its purpose of worship and quietness. The membership was
very small at first, but in a few years it became the church home of some
of the most influential people on our town. Rev. E.F. Slafter was the
first regularly settled rector, assuming his duties September 1846. The
beautiful stone edifice erected upon land bequeathed by General William
H. Sumner, son of Governor Increase Sumner, was ready for the enlarged
church congregation in 1882.

General Sumner's old residence on the hill near the present church is
beautiful in situation, and still very attractive.

Near the north corner of Pond Lane was built in 1732, a plain,
comfortable house by Benjamin May, great grandson of Captain John May,
one of the earliest settlers of our village. Captain John Parker married
the daughter of Benjamin May, and afterwards resided here for many years
which accounts for its still holding the name of the "Old Parker house."
Here were the high-decorated wooden mantels over large chimney-places,
the paneled wainscoting and ornamental cornices, which adorned many of
the better houses of that period. The grounds were ample, extending to
the pond and covered with a variety of fine fruit and shade trees. Now
crowded by modern buildings into the background, deprived of its garden
gray with weather stains, this old house shows few signs of its
birthright. About the middle of this century the small cottage still
standing on the lot adjoining the Parker house was the quiet home of two
much esteemed old ladies, Mrs. Shepard and her daughter Abby. Miss
Abigail P. Shepard died October 4, 1878 at 82 years of age. The mother
was then totally blind, but possessed the sweet contentment which not
even so great a deprivation and trial could affect. Miss Abby devoted the
little front room to a store for small wares, school children's utensils,
and candies and it was the delight of the girls and boys to leave their
coppers there in exchange for her good things.

Some of you may recall an episode connected with this home which might
have had a tragic ending. Because of the unprotected condition, and the
drawer in which the small receipts from the store were kept and unworthy
young man, belonging to our village, planned a midnight entrance. Miss
Abby heard the window raised, and, in her night robe and cap, faced the
intruder, just as he entered the room. She dragged the surprised and
struggling man into the front room, and held him fast, meanwhile calling
loudly for help. The aged mother secured a window stick and dealt
unerring blows upon the youth. After a desperate struggle, he escaped
carrying a window frame and many bruises with him, but no money. The
neighbors were aroused by Miss Shepard's cried and came to her relief.

We may safely say that not since the days of the Revolution had the
midnight silence and peace of the village been disturbed by so exciting
an experience. The friends of Miss Shepard presented her with a large,
illustrated Bible in appreciation of her courage and bravery.

On the west corner of Pond and Centre streets stands a large mansion
house of colonial style, with an air of quiet dignity, in the midst of
attractive grounds. In the early days it was called "Linden Hall,"
doubtless because of the magnificent linden-trees which lined the walk to
the entrance and shaded the grounds. John Gould erected it in 1755 for
his son-in-law Rev. John Troutbeck, assistant rector of King's Chapel,
where he officiated for twenty years.

He was an ardent loyalist and returned to England in 1776. As an example
of the change in public sentiment with the lapse of time, we learn that
this noted clergyman was a distiller as well, of whom a witty rhymster
wrote: -

"His Sunday aim is to reclaim
Those that in vice are sunk.
When Monday's come he selleth rum,
And gets them plaguey drunk."

This fine estate, extending then in the rear to the pond, was later owned
by Mr. Charles W. Greene a descendant of General Nathaniel Greene, of
revolutionary war fame. He enlarged the house and large wings, and
established a successful boarding and day school for lads fitting many of
them for college. Possibly some here may recall that in the school
building and the grounds the first Papanti taught some of the parents of
the rising generation to dance.

Among the men, since famous, who graduated from this school, are John
Lathrop Motley, the historian, and George William Curtis, the elegant
writer and able editor. The scenes and characters in Mr. Curtis's novel
"Trumps" were drawn from our village. Dr. Randall, of Roxbury, but
recently deceased, who bequeathed $70,000 to Harvard University, was
early a student at the school, and also the two brothers of Margaret
fuller, one of whom was afterwards a clergyman and a chaplain in the
Union Army. Mrs. Greene is referred to in an interesting article recently
written by a graduate of the school, as one "for whom no need of praise
could scarcely be excessive, as she was in sober truth a mother to every
lad committed to her care."

This property was next purchased by the brothers John and George
Williams, who resided there for several years.

On the opposite side of Centre Street, near Green Street, can to-day be
seen a two-story cottage, with pointed roofs and dormer windows which in
our day has been known as the Calvin Young house. This building with its
fresh paint and modern style can yet trace its history through a century
and a half of years. It was originally owned by Eleazer May who sold it
in 1740 to Benjamin Faneuil, nephew of Peter Faneuil, and in 1760 it
became the property of his brother-in-law Benjamin Pemberton.

We may readily believe that Peter Faneuil - the Huguenot who in 1740
erected and gave to the town of Boston the noted hall which bears his
name - often shared in the comforts and joys of this home of his niece,
Mrs. Susanna Pemberton. About the year 1802, this estate was purchased by
Dr. John C. Warren, son of Dr. John Warren, and nephew of General Joseph
Warren, hero of Bunker Hill, for a summer residence. He was one of the
most distinguished surgeons of our country, and for many years professor
of anatomy and surgery at the Harvard Medical School. His name was
honored in the recent ether celebration, he having performed the first
surgical operation under ether in 1846, and to his sanction it owed its
introduction throughout America and Europe.

The dwelling was at that time constructed after the West Indian style,
with one and a half front and two in the rear. An immense chimney
buttressed the north side; a hall extended that the center of the house,
with doors opening on to piazzas at both ends; the windows in the front
rooms extended to the floor, all conducing to make it an ideal summer
home. The elm, linden, and horse-chestnut trees near the house were
remarkable for size and symmetry.

Dr. Warren beautified the grounds with rare plants and shrubs imported
from Europe; the extended over many acres, including the present Hill,
Parley Vale, Burrage, and Harris estates, and to the line of the
Providence Railroad. Captain Charles Hill purchased a portion of this
estate about the year 1830, and Mr. Calvin Young the residence in 1837,
with the radical alterations in the house, which are apparent to-day,
were made.

About the year 1828, the Warren estate became the property of Samuel G.
Goodrich, author of many histories, books of travel, school and story
books, the kindly, well-loved Peter Parley of our childhood. What a
delight it would be to welcome one more the monthly visit of "Merry
Museum and Parley's Magazine," to read the charming letters to "Billy
Bump," and the adventures of Gilbert Go Ahead, and puzzle out the
charades and enigmas which tested out youthful wits! It was Mr. Goodrich
who cut the fine avenue through the ledges and woodland, and erected the
ample mansion in the grove, which later, because of financial
embarrassment, he transferred to Colonel Fessenden, and ultimately became
the property of Mr. Abram French. Then it was that Mr. Goodrich enlarged
and improved the building which had been his gardener's cottage, among
the quaint and unique house now owned by Mr. George Harris. here he
resided for several years, accomplishing a large amount of literary work,
which repaired his fortune, so that on his return form Paris, where he
was United States Ambassador, under President Fillmore, he purchased a
country-seat in Jube's Lane, now Forest Hills Street. Mr. Goodrich was in
Paris at the time of the abdication of Louis Philippe, was an intimate
friend of M. Lamartine, and was of great service through his wise
diplomacy. Many of his works were afterwards translated into French by M.
de Boisson. While a resident here he was interested in local affairs, and
was genial in his relations with every one. It is related that on an
occasion of a Fourth of July celebration, he gave an after dinner toast,


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Online LibraryHarriet Manning WhitcombAnnals and Reminiscences of Jamaica Plain → online text (page 1 of 3)