Lucy Ellis Allen.

West Newton half a century ago (Volume 1) online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryLucy Ellis AllenWest Newton half a century ago (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook




GopightN" Oopn; 2-





Copyright, 1917
by Lucy Ellis A lien


DEC -3 1917'
©CI,A4817U2 '




2[ijc Sucg Jackfion (f Ijaptcr. 1. A. K.

OF West Newton


"We watch the flights of the sun
through space, shortening winter and
bringing spring and summer, with
birds, leaves and fruits, and yet it is
not half as wonderful as the passage
of a human soul, glowing and spark-
ling with ten thousand effects as it
moves through life, carrying its
atmosphere and influence, as does

Man is indeed a force producer and
force bearer, journeying forward and
exhaling influences on all sides. —
But once the good man appears, his
power is irresistible and such was
the case in West Newton some half
a century ago, when there came to
this little village such men and wo-


men as most of us have heard of,
since childhood.

" Their presence made sunshine
and right hving easy, their coming
changed the climate and their influ-
ence can never wholly die — "

At that period which we are con-
sidering, the world was alive to the
greatest interests; education, freeing
of the slaves, temperance, and true
government. In all these questions, *


West Newton men and women took .t

a lively interest and gave the village
the reputation of being a most pro-
gressive community.

Among the noble group who called I

West Newton their home, the name
of Horace Mann stands first; a man
who chose as his topic for considera-
tion when graduating from college:
" The Progressive Character of the
Human Race. "

All are undoubtedly familiar with
the spot where Horace Mann's


house once stood at the corner
of Chestnut and Highland Streets,
where now the Saffords reside. Hor-
ace Mann was a member of the
House of Representatives in Massa-
chusetts and served on the State Sen-
ate, at an earlier period; and through
his personal exertions, Massachusetts
established a Board of Education and
Mr. Mann was at once placed at its
head as Secretary. During his resi-
dence in West Newton, in addition to
other duties, he wrote the reports of
the board for the people of the State.
These reports discussed in a forcible
manner, many new questions on edu-
cation and they had a great influence
in elevating the standard of public
sentiment and of school instruction,
not only in Massachusetts, but
throughout the whole country and
world, as they were published in
many languages. His earnestness in
advocating new methods and new


plans started the great movement in
public school education, which is
more strikingly American, than any
system which we call American in
distinction from others called

Besides his work as Secretary of
the Educational Board, he had gen-
eral care and superintendence of the
erection of three Normal School
buildings. Mr. Mann in speaking of
his service said : " I labored in this
educational cause an average of not
less than fifteen hours each day, and
from the beginning to the end,
(eleven years) never took a single
day for recreation." Some educa-
tional errand was sure to be his ob-
ject if he visited any friend. In 1847,
he wrote to an old friend, of his home
in West Newton : " I have built a
house for myself at this place, which
will gladden your hearts. I have
been a wanderer for twenty years


and when asked where I lived, I an-
swered: 'I do not live anywhere, I
board.' This Arab life I could bear
while alone, but when I had *wife
and weans', it became intolerable.
We have therefore put up a shelter in
West Newton, ten miles from Boston
and within one hundred rods of the
West Newton Woman's Normal
School." Here he lived delightfully
with his family and the little ones
whom he never could turn his back
upon. It is said that the only natural
outlet for his native hilarity was his
love of children, and this resource was
all that saved him when the outside
world seemed bent upon thwarting his
educational aims. The children, too,
on their part, thought no play was so
charming as that in which their father
partook. He did not know how to tell
fairy tales, nor did he approve of
them, but he could bring the wonders
of Nature within the compass of their


admiring little souls. To cultivate the
religious character of his children,
irrespective of dogma, for he was a
most progressive and liberal thinker,
was his aim; and it was the happiest
of thoughts to him that his children
could make God a sharer of their joys
and an object of personal affection and
confidence, as the loving heavenly
parent, who made father, mother, and
the butterfly alike.

A charming group of literary friends
shared the home of Mr. Mann. Mrs.
Mann herself was a most cultured and
refined woman, a daughter of Dr. Pea-
body of Salem, an authoress of some
distinction, while always sharing and
assisting in her husband's educational
duties. Mrs. Mann had with her a
sister. Miss Elizabeth Peabody, the
pioneer and interpreter of Froebel to
the Americans. Altho ' opposed on all
sides and ridiculed in her early work,
she persevered to the end and lived to


enjoy the distinction of the greatest
woman, not only in Boston but Amer-
ica, in enforcing the Kindergarten
movement, which today we are all so
familiar with. The famous Elizabeth
Peabody School in Boston is only one
preservative of her persistent and
triumphant work. Miss Katharine
Beecher, the sister of Harriet Beecher
Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher lived
also at the home of Mr. Mann, and
Miss Rebecca Pennell, a remarkable
teacher of Mathematics in the Normal
School and later professor at Antioch
College. Mr. and Mrs. Conant, too,
added their influence and inspiration
to the household, during the time that
Mr. Conant assisted Mr. Chesboro,
who is spoken of later in his engineer-
ing work in bringing water from Co-
chituate to Boston.

Suddenly owing to the death of John
Quincy Adams, came the demand for
Mr. Mann's services as representative


to the National Congress. It was an
important crisis in the cause of liberty,
for slavery was then to be stemmed or
allowed to extend itself indefinitely,
for a champion as fearless and per-
sistent as Mr. Mann was needed. Mr.
Mann at first felt that he could not
leave Massachusetts, but upon reflec-
tion, he saw that the new office had
bearings upon the great cause of free-
dom, and he allowed himself to be
persuaded. His friends were glad to
have him leave his educational labors
for a time, for his plans were so vast,
that no man could live under such

Some few years after Mr. Mann left
West Newton, his home was occupied
by his brother-in-law Nathaniel Haw-
thorne, for Mr. Mann's wife and Eliza-
beth Peabody, were the sisters of Mrs.
Hawthorne. Mr. Hawthorne had just
come from the famous Brook Farm
Community in West Roxbury, so


similar in idea to the Wordsworth,
Coleridge and Southey Pantisocracy,
in the beautiful English Lakes about
Grasmere and Keswick. While in
West Newton, Hawthorne penned his
" Blithedale Romance," it is said, and
altho ' the author does not deny that
he had the Brook Farm Community in
mind and occasionally availed himself
of actual reminiscence, he claims that
he had no pretence to illustrate a
theory or elicit a conclusion in respect
to a Socialistic scheme. Surely we
find no Ripley in the "BUthedale Ro-
mance," with whom rests the "honor-
able paternity of the institution," no
Dana, Channing, Parker and others
among his characters. Still are we
not satisfied that one book even was
written in our little village before
Hawthorne went to his Concord home
or the Old Manse? His was ever a life
of retirement and so like " the young
champions of mediaeval times, on the


eve of Knighthood, he was shut up
alone, to watch and pray beside his
armor." This man turned human
beings into philosophy and philosophy
into human beings, awakening, as it is
said, a new birth of literature in
America, of which we are justly proud.
Mrs. Lydia Maria Childs became a
resident of West Newton too, living
with her husband David Lee Childs at
the corner of Chestnut and Fuller
Streets, after leaving New York, where
she had been editor of the " Anti-
Slavery Standard ", while in New
York, she had lived at the home of the
genial philanthropist, Isaac T. Hopper,
whose biography she wrote in West
Newton and which is one of the most
readable pieces of biography in Eng-
lish literature. Here, too, she wrote
and worked on the "Progress of Re-
ligious Ideas ", which is an attempt to
represent in a candid, unprejudiced
manner, the rise and progress of the



great religions of the world and their
ethical relations to each other. She
must not be regarded only from a lit-
erary point of view, for she was so
wise in counsel that men like Charles
Sumner, Henry Wilson and Governor
John Andrew, as well as the destitute,
availed themselves of her foresight
and sound judgment. As Lowell says
of her : —

" There comes Philothea, her face all

She has just been dividing some
poor creature's woe.

No doubt against many deep griefs
she prevails.

For her ear is the refuge of destitute

She knows well that silence is sor-
row's best food,

And that talking draws off from the
heart its black blood."

From West Newton, Mrs. Childs also


wrote a criticism of "Uncle Tom's
Cabin," which Mrs. Harriet B. Stowe
had been roused to write after the
passage of the Fugitive Slave law and
of which Mrs. Elizabeth Barrett
Browning wrote : " I, as a woman and
human being, rejoice in its success.
If a woman has no business to write of
such questions, she had better subside
into slavery herself and take no rank
among thinkers and reformers." Cer-
tainly " Uncle Tom's Cabin " was a
sign of the times and Mrs. Childs from
the first had taken active interest in
Slave matters, as had Horace Mann
and others in West Newton. Mr.
Nathaniel Allen's house on Webster
Street was one of the " Underground
Stations " in Massachusetts and Mr.
Allen stood ready to act as one of Wil-
liam Lloyd Garrison's body guard in
Boston or take the slave to Bedford,
the next underground station to that
in West Newton.



The Normal School which Mr. Mann
spoke of as living within one hundred
rods from in West Newton had been
started in 1845. The sub j ect of Normal
Schools had become the most impor-
tant one of Mr. Mann's life, at an
earlier date, and when he finally suc-
ceeded in starting that at Lexington
five years previously, he wrote: "To-
morrow we go to Lexington to launch
the first Normal School for Women
on this side of the Atlantic. I cannot
indulge in an expression of the train
of thoughts which the contemplation
of this event awakens in my mind.
Much must come of it, either of good
or of ill, I am sanguine in my faith
that it will be the former. The good
will not come itself, — that is the re-
ward of effort, of toil, of wisdom."

The Normal School at Lexington
was about to be closed after five years
and the project, "ridiculed and
opposed," was likely to be discon-



tinued, for even in Boston, the so-
called Athens of America, the wealth-
ier class, with few exceptions of
course, cared not for any reforms
or interests toward promoting popu-
lar education. Mr. Mann was not to
be baffled, and called at the office of
Mr. Josiah Quincy, Jr., as a last re-
source and in his striking manner
said : " If you know any man who
wishes the highest seat in the kingdom
of heaven, it is to be had for $1500.,"
by that he meant the purchase of the
West Newton Fuller Academy, which
building was till a few years ago,
located on the corner of Washington
and Highland Streets, where now the
Unitarian Church stands. Mr. Quincy
before rising from his desk, drew his
check for the amount, and so the Nor-
mal School for Women was started in
West Newton.

When in Lexington, Mr. Mann had
secured as principal of the Normal



School, Mr. Gyrus Pierce, a graduate
of Harvard, native of Waltham, once
Unitarian minister in Reading and a
very successful teacher in Nantucket.
Mr. Mann considered Mr. Pierce the
man of all teachers in Massachusetts,
who was fitted to carry on the Normal
School, for he lived the life of intel-
lectual work, of uplifted thought and
noble, generous feeling. A man who
was such an indefatigable and pains-
taking worker that he slept at most
only five hours, working the rest of
the twenty-four, for he not only acted
as principal, but he was his own
janitor. He it was who came to West
Newton as principal of the Normal
School for Women. He not only knew
how to teach with precision, but he
evoked from his pupils, such a force
of conscience as insured thorough
study and assimilation of whatever
was taught. Mr. Pierce's students, by
their mental habits, which were con-


scientious, exact, reliable, were said
to be known wherever they were met.
His whole meaning in life was em-
braced in the motto with which he
daily closed his school: "Live to the
truth, my children ".

Many young ladies from the first
families and best society of Boston
and the State were attracted to this
school and up to within a few years
ago, we had in our midst, the woman
who became " Father Pierce's " assist-
ant and co-worker, Mrs. E. N. L.
Walton, who later came here to live
with her husband, Mr. George Walton,
who was on the State Board of Educa-
tion, and an educator always.

If to Mr. Mann the conception was
due, Mr. Pierce settled the problem of
the Normal School system against all
and every kind of opposition. Here,
too, the "Model School," under Mr.
Nathaniel T. Allen, gave the normal
pupils practical lessons in teaching the



children of the community and here
Mr. Pierce acquired the name " Father
Pierce," for his face was said to be
similar to the great Froebel and later
in life it was said to be a benediction
to look upon his face, so benign and
beautiful was it.

In 1854 the Normal School was
moved to Framingham and the build-
ing in West Newton was purchased for
a private school by Mr. Nathaniel T.
Allen and he associated with him
"Father Pierce". Mr. Horace Mann
took especial interest in the develop-
ment of this private school for Mr.
Allen had lived with Mr. Mann at an
earlier time.

The building became quite historic
in the eyes of the oldest citizens, first
as an academy, given the town by
Judge Fuller; second, as the first Nor-
mal School building for Women in the
World and the model school con-
nected with it, as it was termed the


most distinguished model school in the
country; and third, for a private
school of fifty years' standing, unique
in having but one man, Nathaniel T.
Allen, at the head all those years.

It was distinctly an Allen School in
name, for Mr. Allen connected with
him an uncle, three brothers, George,
James, Joseph, at different times; sev-
eral cousins, nephews, nieces and
daughters. Many of these men and
women have held very high positions
in the educational world in colleges
and schools, have edited and written
books on education, religion, history
and politics.

To this school came nearly five thou-
sand pupils from every state and terri-
iory of the Union, all countries of
North and South America, the islands
off the coast; many of the European
countries and even from Asia. For
the first Japanese, Cubans and Porto
Ricans it is supposed, who came for



educational purposes to the United
States attended the Allen School. In
connection with it as a private school.
Dr. Dio Lewis and Mr. William A.
Alcott were invited by Mr. Allen to
give their lectures on physical culture
and physiology. So intense was the
enthusiasm that not only the young
people of the school, but men and
women from all parts of Newton
joined in the exercises and the so
called " Town Hall " had to be resorted
to as a gymnasium, prior to that built
in connection with the Allen School,
which had the distinction of being one
of the first gymnasiums in the country,
built in connection with a preparatory
school. Here, too, the first roller
skates were tested by the inventor, Mr.
James L. Plimpton, a cousin of the
Aliens, which form of exercise has al-
ways been so popular in all cities
and towns.

In 1863, through the influence of



Baroness Marenholtz von Bulow, the
pupil and interpreter of Froebel, Mrs.
Louise Pollock was secured from Ger-
many by Mr. James Allen to open the
first kindergarten in the United States,
and so the Allen School had children
of all ages connected with it and the
nature studies and sciences held such
an important place in the curriculum
of the school, that there have ema-
nated from the school many of our
distinguished scientific men. Mr.
Mann amusingly said to Mr. Allen, who
had been a pupil of Louis Agassiz, that
he should charge him freightage on his
son's trunks, when he moved to Ohio;
they were so loaded down with speci-
mens of minerals !

The building was always used for all
meetings of reform in the village, such
as Anti Slavery and Free Soil meet-
ings, and one of the first Civil Service
Clubs in Massachusetts was here



Besides Horace Mann, Cyrus Pierce,
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Lydia Maria
Childs, West Newton had many others
who were closely connected and inter-
ested in all that tended toward reform
and the uplifting of the community.

Mr. William B. Fowle was one, a
most distinguished educator and
author, who might have been the prin-
cipal too of the Normal School.

Rev. Joseph Clark another, who be-
came Secretary of the Home Mission
Society and whose son, educated in
West Newton, has been secretary of
the same society in New York.

Mr. John Dix, editor of the Boston
Journal, was an able thinker and co-
worker on all subjects before the
world; while Mr. J. W. Plimpton, al-
ways generous and noble, stood ready
to assist by word, deed or open purse,
every good object and cause, as did
Mr. John Ayers, Mr. David Howland
and others who were attracted to West



Newton around this time, all Theodore
Parkerites, progressive and liberal.

A charming woman too, lived on
Waltham Street, after the death of her
husband, Mr. Whitwell, a lawyer of
Boston, and her father, the man who
owned all that portion of Boston called
Scollay Square. This was Mrs. Lucy
Scollay Whitwell, whose interest in
life was healthful and wise, because of
the purity and beauty of her spirit. Her
daughter, who had been an assistant
to Mr. George B. Emerson in his fam-
ous school in Boston, married a man of
marked ability Mr. William Parker,
who, with Mr. Mann, Mr. Nathaniel
Allen and others did so much in start-
ing the Unitarian Church in West
Newton. Mr. Parker, when a resident
here, was superintendent of the Bos-
ton and Worcester Railroad, later he
became superintendent of the Boston
and Lowell and again of the Baltimore
and Ohio. Many anecdotes are con-



nected with him which show his true
worth and popularity as a man. When
about to leave for Panama, where he
was called to superintend the building
of a railroad, he was given silver of all
descriptions, by the employees of the
railroads he had been connected with,
and later after assisting the nephew of
Empress Eugenie, wife of Napoleon
III, to escape for South America, he
was awarded by Napoleon, a ring in
which were fifty-six diamonds, which
is highly prized by the children and
grandchildren, who now live in Bos-
ton, New York and California. Not
only did he assist the nephew to es-
cape, but also the slaves whom he
allowed to pass over the Baltimore
and Ohio, to freedom in the north.
The son of Mrs. Whitwell was a most
eminent engineer and remarkable
scientist. While in West Newton, he
was appointed chief engineer of the
Boston water works and together with


Mr. Chesboro, who came to live in
West Newton at the corner of Web-
ster and Elm Streets, they undertook
the then great task of bringing water
from Gochituate to Boston. Mr. Ches-
boro had charge from Gochituate to
Brookline and Mr. Whitwell from
Brookline to Boston. Mr. Chesboro
also is remembered as having
achieved the remarkable feat of lift-
ing the whole city of Chicago, twelve
to fifteen feet, and thus improving the
sanitary condition of the city. Again
he was employed by Boston as con-
sulting engineer for the Sudbury
works, which brought a greater
supply of water for Boston.

These men and women, and such
families as the Barnards, Bonds, Bur-
rages, Carters, Frosts, Pratts, Thatch-
ers, Thurstons, Tolmans and Tiff anys,
who came to West Newton about this
time, were anxious for the good of the
whole world. They did not make



their motto: "Come right, come
wrong, we shall get gain alone," they
did not allow their professional duties
to interfere with the cultivation of
their minds. In other words, they did
not deny their ears music, their minds
culture, nor their hearts friendship,
but connected themselves with
Nature, Art, and Literary Classes, and
all that was uplifting to the com-
munity in which they lived, sensitive
to the meaning of life, giving and re-
ceiving alike and spreading the refin-
ing influence.

Attracted by such a galaxy of
broadening men and women, Mrs.
Caroline Dall came to West Newton
with her husband and son. A woman
whose life always was given to litera-
ture and advancement. Her husband
was a Unitarian minister of eminence
and spent many years as a liberal
missionary in India. The son, Mr.
William Dall is perhaps as remark-



able as any who were educated in the
Allen School, as he is known through-
out the scientific world as a publisher
of many scientific papers, and has
been professor and curator of the
Smithsonian Institution in Washing-

Mrs. Caroline Seaverance was also
attracted to our community, the
woman who has the distinction of
being called the "Mother" of Wo-
men's Clubs, for she founded the first
club of Boston, as Mrs. Nathaniel
Allen and Mrs. Walton did the first in

Half a century ago, Newtonville, or
Hull's Corner so called, was more
closely connected with West Newton
than perhaps at the present time, for
Newtonville, West Newton, and Au-
burndale, too, were united educa-
tionally and religiously. On the
Bemis side of Newton, on the banks
of the beautiful Charles river, lived



the charming writer, Celia Thaxter,
who has made the scenes about the
Isles of Shoals so fascinating and
familiar. Mrs. Thaxter and her chil-
dren came often to West Newton, the
children for their schooling at
Allen School, and all, as lovers of na-
ture, for their walks in the woods
near Chestnut and Prince Streets,
where no longer are found the trailing
arbutus, blood root and blossoms so
beautiful. Mrs. Thaxter felt that at
all seasons the woods afforded more
than a shopful of toys could, for the
education of her children, and they at
once began to question: "Whence
came the color of the flowers; How
did they draw their sweet and refresh-
ing tint from the brown earth, " etc.,
etc.? In a letter written to a friend
she speaks of having a " gulf stream
of visitors " in that nook of Newton
which all seemed to find so delightful,
for excursions were taken up and



down the Charles, "among lily pads
and spikes of purple pickerel weed,
exploring brooks and inlets and load-
ing the boat with flowers to be ana-
lyzed later."

Near the Newton High School, now
where the Technical School is, we
were all familiar with the beautiful
Claflin Estate, historical as the resi-
dence of General Hull and where Rev.
James Freeman Clarke made fre-
quent visits. The last half century it
has been known as the home of Ex-
Governor and Mrs, Claflin, both liter-
ary people in their tastes and there
Mrs. Claflin wrote her charming book,
"Under the Elms." There, too, the


Online LibraryLucy Ellis AllenWest Newton half a century ago (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 2)