This late-Georgian farmhouse in Boxborough, Mass showcases how architectural integrity and historical context matter in historic preservation. Architectural integrity means the degree to which a building’s original design and physical composition is evident and intact. Historic contexts are the patterns, themes, or trends in history by which a specific property or site is understood and its meaning (or significance) within history is made clear. In this example, the old farmhouse retains much of its architectural integrity as it physically appears much as it would have upon its time of construction. However, the former farmland was sold off and developed as a residential subdivision, which completely obscures the historical context of the building in relation to its original use. The Simeon Wetherbee Farm remained in the Wetherbee family until the 1965, when the land was likely soon after subdivided and sold off for housing lots. A majority of the homes built surrounding this old farmhouse are classified as “Neo-Traditional” a modern take on Colonial architecture, but with cheaper materials and odd proportions. They are not a favorite among architects and historians.
This house in Boxborough was built near the site of the 17th century cabin of John Taylor and his son Solomon. The cabin burned in 1782, and was replaced within a month with this late-Georgian style home which was constructed as a salt-box with three fireplaces. In 1784, Oliver Taylor was owned 87 acres of farmland, upon which, sat a house, barn, and 14 animals. This was an amount nearly identical to property held by his brother Solomon, suggesting they shared ownership of the property. Both had served in the military during the Revolutionary War. Solomon is noted as having marched on Concord in April, 1775 with Captain William Whitcomb’s Stow company of militia. The farm sat in its rural setting until MA Rt. 111, a highway cut through the town and brought more development nearby. The home was acquired years ago and is now home to the Taylor School, a Montessori, who hired KEHM Architects to design the playful additions. What do you think of this modern change?
Tracing the history of old New England homes can be difficult and finding the history of this house is no different! The rural property here in Boxborough, MA, was owned in 1731 by Moses Foster, a teacher according to a deed of that year. A home was built here, but it appears it was a one-story house, which is verified as the 1798 tax lists report two single-story houses on the property. It is likely that a subsequent owner modified one of the homes and added a second story to fit a growing family here, probably in the early 19th century. To add more layers to this, the historical commission’s research lists the house date as c.1731, the sign on the house reads c.1778, and my estimation is c.1810. Who said historic preservation and house research is easy?!
In 1775, Silas Wetherbee gave three acres of land in present day Boxborough, MA, to be used as a meetinghouse and burial ground site for the new town that he and 17 other outlying farmers of Stow, Harvard, and Littleton hoped to establish. That year, having formed a new religious society, they acquired the old meetinghouse in the nearby town of Harvard, dismantled it, and began to reconstruct it on land donated by Wetherbee. In 1783, the Town of Boxborough was officially incorporated, with the meetinghouse at its approximate center. That next year, Silas sold his son Levi, “60 acres of land, half of a building referred to as the “old house,” and half of a barn, all located just east of the townhouse. The farm was run by Levi until his death in 1829, when it came into the possession of his son, John Wetherbee (1800-1858). In 1908, the property was sold out of the family when it was purchased by Burpee Clark Steele, who owned it for the next seventeen years. Steele had immigrated from Nova Scotia to Boxborough in 1886, and he quickly became known for his expansive apple orchards. In 1925, Burpee Steele conveyed the farm to his son, Burpee Franklin Steele. Under his ownership, the old barn blew down in the Great Hurricane of 1938, and he constructed a new barn years later. Also a later addition, the Richardson Ice House was moved to the site by the local historical society in the 1990s. The farm today is protected by the town, but the buildings could use some better maintenance. Hopefully the town funds their preservation so they do not decay.
Boston’s constant churning of development has given us amazing architectural landmarks, and incredibly unfathomable architectural loss. One of such cases of loss is the former Brattle Street Church which was located on Brattle Street, roughly where the main entrance to Boston City Hall is located today. Demolition of significant architecture in Boston began way before the period of Urban Renewal in the mid-20th century, and the loss of the Brattle Street Church in Downtown Boston showcases this. The Brattle Street Church had been founded in the 1690s by a group of merchants seeking an alternative to the authority exercised by Increase and Cotton Mather in Boston’s existing congregations. Despite these beginnings, the church remained Congregational through the 18th century. At the time of the Revolution, Brattle Street counted such figures as John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, and John and Abigail Adams among its parishioners. The original wooden church was replaced in 1772 by this stunning brick building, designed by Thomas Dawes. Just years after the doors opened, the American Revolution upended life in Boston. This building was a survivor, and was apparently hit by cannon-fire by the American batteries at the siege of Boston. A cannonball can be seen lodged into the building at the second floor, to the right of the Palladian window. After the American Civil War, development of the Back Bay led to a shifting population away from the downtown core, and a new church was erected for the congregation, the Brattle Square Church, designed by Henry Hobson Richardson. This church was demolished in 1872, just 100 years after it opened its doors and took a cannon for America.
Tobias H. Ten Eyck was born in 1717 to a wealthy family from Albany, New York. He lived in Schenectady as a child and met his wife, Rachel De Peyster. The year he married Ms. De Peyster, he had this brick Georgian mansion built, which at the time, had a gambrel roof. Tobias was counted among Schenectady’s wealthiest businessmen, dealing in trade here until his death in 1774. The house was purchased next by James Ellice, who lived in the home with his wife Ann. While on a business trip to Montreal as an “Indian fur trader”, Ellice died at the young age of 33. His widow Ann remarried Joseph C. Yates, a lawyer. The couple occupied this home and Joseph built the one story law office to the side of the building to run his firm out of. He also had this home “modernized in the early 1800s, boxing off the third story and adding the Federal period detailing. He served as the mayor of Schenectady (beginning in 1798), being appointed successively to twelve one-year terms. In 1805 he was elected as a state senator, in 1808 as a State Supreme Court justice, and in 1823, as the seventh governor of New York (1823–1824).
Daniel Campbell (1730-1802) emigrated to Schenectady, New York from Ireland, in 1754 at just 24. When he arrived to New York, he became involved in the fur trade, buying furs of animals from native people in the undeveloped lands of upstate, and selling the furs back to Europe. He began to purchase valuable land in the river town of Schenectady and nearby Albany, solidifying his position in those cities. In 1760, he married Engeltie Bradt, daughter of the Schenectady branch of a prominent New-Netherland era family. Soon after his marriage, he hired architect Samuel Fuller to design a spacious new Georgian mansion. The couple split their time between Schenectady and Albany until Daniel’s death in 1802. His widow resided at this home until her death ten years later. As State Street (where this mansion sits) turned more industrial, this home was modified with storefronts and later alterations in the mid 19th century.
John Locke (1627-1696) settled in New Hampshire about 1640, arriving from London. He was a farmer and carpenter, and reportedly built the first church in New Hampshire. He was also a Captain in the local militia, who was constantly at odds with the people who’s land they were usurping. While working the fields at his homestead in Rye, he was killed by a native person, likely as a retaliatory attach. The attacker was soon after shot by his son, who was helping his father at the time. This Georgian home was built by John’s grandson Elijah in 1739 on family land; the date is found incised on one of the original roof beams inside.
This stunning Georgian farmhouse in Acton, Massachusetts, was built around 1773 for Seth Brooks (1740-1831) and his wife Molly Conant Brooks, on land that had belonged to her father, William Conant of Concord (part of which was later annexed to Acton). Seth Brooks fought under Captain Isaac Davis on April 19th, 1775 at the Battle of Concord, who was among the first killed and was the first American officer to die in the Revolution. It was Brooks who ordered Davis’ body carried from the field after he fell, so he could be buried with honor. After the war, the family suffered an unfathomable tragedy. Seth and his wife, all their nine children, and all but one of their grandchildren died of the same type of tuberculosis, “slow consumption.” The family “curse” appears to have been broken by grandson Nathan Brooks, Jr., (1799-1881,) who inherited the property. According to local legend, a room beside the center chimney sheltered runaway slaves, as Nathan Brooks was an avid abolitionist. At the turn of the 20th century, the farm was purchased by Brookline timber merchant Benjamin Pope, owner of the Pope and Cottle Company of Boston. For many years, the Pope family used the house as a summer residence, with managers working the property as a dairy farm. It was Pope who named the farm “Stoneymeade,” and added greenhouses, an icehouse, and had an elaborate water system installed. Stoneymeade Farm continues to this day as an equestrian farm with boarding space for horses.
This 2-1/2 story wood frame house in Acton, Massachusetts was built in 1760, and is one of the town’s best-preserved colonial-era houses. It is an unusual double house, consisting of one section with a square plan, and the other with a typical colonial “half house” plan, having three bays and an off-center chimney. The house was built by Jonathan Hosmer, Jr., a bricklayer whose workmanship is evident in the house’s many fireplaces. Hosmer was also prominent in civic and military affairs; he served (along with his son, who was killed at 17 years old) in the 1777 Battle of Bennington. The home was later owned by Jonathan’s son Simon, who may have added the attached dwelling, creating the double-house form we see today. In 1974 the property was acquired by the Acton Historical Society, which rents one of the units, and operates the rest of the property as a museum. The home is a great example of a Georgian double-house with a saltbox roof.