One thing I really love about small towns in New England is the prevalence of amazing old homes on the winding back roads. Located in Boxborough, MA, the Jacob Littlefield Farmhouse showcases the agricultural character and charm seen in the town. The farmhouse and outbuildings were built by Jacob Littlefield, who likely hired a housewright from town as the home is a near match to a home built on a nearby street. Mr. Littlefield was a farmer from Wells, Maine with seven children and a wife named Anna. After his death, his wife Anna owned the farm, until her death in 1896. Their son Albert ran the farm from about 1896-1922, after which time Jacob’s grandson Earl was the owner. Earl was taxed in 1928 for ownership of two horses, 17 cows, a bull, the house, barn and shed, tool house, ice house, root house, hen house, garage, and a second house on 101 acres. He resided here until 1929 when it was sold out of the family. Since then, subsequent owners have restored the home and the various outbuildings to maintain the architectural and historic integrity of the property. We need more stewards of old homes like this!
Did you know that Boston once had it’s own Hogwarts? While we didn’t have wizards and witches in the streets, we did have young magicians learning the tricks of the trade! The Boston School of Magic was founded in the 1880s by William Davis LeRoy (1862-1919), a professional magician who also served as President of the Conjuror’s Club of Boston. Upon opening its doors, the Boston School of Magic was one of a handful of such schools in the country. For $75, you could learn how to escape from a pair of handcuffs from a professional instructor at W.D. Leroy’s “School of Magic”, and even buy some magic items for shows from his large catalogue. Mr. LeRoy was also friends with the famous Harry Houdini, who purchased items from his store and consulted with him on new acts. Houdini was extremely popular in Boston and held many acts and feats of strength here. The Boston School of Magic was located in the second floor of the Blanchard Building at 103 Court Street, a brick commercial building with stone facade constructed in the middle of the 19th century. The building was demolished in the 1920s and replaced with a two-story structure, which too was razed for Government Center.
Unlike the historically more fashionable South Slope that has always defined Beacon Hill’s character, the steeper, less accessible North Slope began with a 19th-century free black population and an integrated working-class community, but the architecture still stands out! In the 1840s, before massive land-making projects resulting in the Back Bay and South End neighborhoods, Boston-area developers had to think of creative ways to develop housing in the dense blocks of Boston. One solution was to purchase a larger parcel and lay out smaller house lots bordering narrow, dead-end ways, similar to this little enclave in Beacon Hill. Sentry Hill Place (originally named May Street Place) was so named in the 1910s by the residents in honor to the wooden sentry post that stood atop Beacon Hill
prior to the 1780s. Sentry Hill Place is comprised of seven near-identical brick rowhouses, all built in 1844 when the alley was laid out. At the terminus of the alley is a wood-frame structure which encloses the block and provides access to the two end units, an addition from the 1880s, to obscure what was once the rear of a barn which was accessed off the street to the north. Today, the once working-class enclave of homes is one of the more desirable in the neighborhood, for obvious reasons!
Located a stone’s throw from the Elijah Locke Homestead (last post) in Rye, New Hampshire, this mid-19th century home stopped me in my tracks when driving by. According to old maps, the home was owned by Moses Leavitt Garland, who married Lucretia Locke, a descendant of Elijah. The home shows strong Greek Revival features including the large gable end facing the street serving as a pediment and pilaster at the corners and entry with entablature above. The house recently sold, and the owners demolished the ell connecting the home to the large barn (not pictured) and replaced it with a historically appropriate addition.
Rye, New Hampshire sits on the short coast of the state, between the busy towns of Portsmouth and Hampton, and provides a respite from the swarms of tourists and beach-goers alike. Modern-day Rye was the first settlement in New Hampshire by Europeans, and was originally named Pannaway Plantation, established in 1623 at Odiorne’s Point (more on that later). The settlement was eventually abandoned for Strawbery Banke, which became Portsmouth, the historic port town we know today. The town was later a village of New Castle, and was known as Sandy Beach Village, before it was called “Rye”, for Rye in Sussex, England, and incorporated as its own town in 1785. The town met in a Meeting House until it purchased an old 1839 Methodist church in town. In 1873, the building was purchased by the town of Rye for $1000, with an additional $2658 spent on renovations, which added a new ground floor to increase the height from 1.5 stories to 2.5 stories, added 10 feet in depth to the building, and the two-stage tower and belfry. The Greek Revival building has long been a landmark in town, hosting dances, concerts, whist parties, singing schools, oyster parties and immunization clinics, beyond the typical governmental functions. There were calls to demolish the building for a modern town hall, which saw resistance (thankfully) and now the town has agreed on a land-swap with a bank, demolishing an old house to take over the bank building, turning it into some town offices.
Driving down the dirt roads of rural Vermont with no cell phone service can be a great way to explore, so imagine my delight when i drove past this stunning old building tucked behind a historic cemetery! The building was erected in 1835-1837 by Levi Bailey, a local entrepreneur and mill owner who, in 1794, in partnership with a George Betterley, purchased the mill site and proceeded to build a dam, for later development. Legend says, in 1808, he required the good will of David Hapgood, his next door neighbor, so he could buy more land in front of his proposed mill. But, in fact, Levi had so irritated Hapgood somehow, that he instead donated the coveted acre to the Town of Reading for use as a town cemetery, ensuring that Bailey could never control it. Thus a “spite” cemetery was laid out, the only one I am aware of! Underterred, Bailey erected over the next two decades the series of buildings to manufacture goods, the buildings we see today. Bailey’s Mills in Reading, Vermont, is actually three connected, 2 1/2-story, brick, Greek Revival style buildings with several attached wood frame appendages added over time. He lived in the building and a store was run out of the building for locals. The building is now home to the Bailey Mills Bed & Breakfast.
Continuing with the snecked ashlar buildings of Reading, Vermont, this schoolhouse is possibly the oldest extant such building in the state. Built in 1834, the South Reading Schoolhouse is located in a very rural village in Vermont, yet is very well preserved, showing the building much as it looked nearly 200 years ago. “Snecked Ashlar” describes a certain type of stonemasonry, brought over from Ireland and Scotland, in which a relatively thick rubblestone wall is veneered with large flat slabs of stone laid on edge. The slabs are tied, or “snecked”, to the rubblestone wall with “snecks”, small flat stones laid across the top edge of the slabs to tie them back into the rubblestone and produce a stable wall facing. It is particularly interesting to see such a large, two-story rural schoolhouse in the area, a testament to the importance of education, even for Vermont’s farming residents. The South Reading Schoolhouse was last used as a school in 1970. It is presently used as a community center for the village of South Reading and as a meeting hall for the South Reading Meeting House Association. A natural spring fountain can be found in the foreground of the schoolhouse today.
A very rare example of a snecked ashlar church, the South Reading Union Meeting House in Reading, Vermont remains in a great state of preservation, and a testament to innovative building styles seen in rural parts of New England. Built in 1844, the stone church was built by local stone masons based on the unique regional stone construction method. The church features a triangular stone in the facade which shows its construction date. There is something so stunning about stone churches..
Lexington Farm was built by Elisha Wright Watkins (1805-1886) in around 1835, and was operated as a dairy farm until the 1980’s. Today, the property consists of a snecked ashlar stone farmhouse, cow barn, horse barn and tractor barn, grouped together at the southern extremity of the village of Felchville (also known as Reading). The farmhouse and barns are situated next to a waterfall on a tributary of the Black River, and are surrounded by pastures, hayfields and extensive woodland. A couple decades after Watkins’ death, the property was purchased by Alonzo Goddard. It stayed in that family and was eventually willed to Errol Locke in 1923. Errol, by trade, wasn’t a farmer. He was a Harvard-educated man who graduated there in 1913. Eventually, he went to work for a company called General Radio, which was founded in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1915. He started as a clerk, and 37 years later, he retired as president. The company, by that time, had moved to Concord, Massachusetts, which we know, thanks to the important events of April 19, 1775, is not too far from Lexington, where Locke lived. He renamed the Watkins Farm, Lexington Farm, seemingly as a tribute to his home town in the Bay State. In 2009, the Hall Art Foundation began the process of converting Lexington Farm to museum-quality galleries. The former dairy farm’s location and existing structures were ideally suited for this purpose. After approximately three years of restoration, renovation and refitting, Lexington Farm was transformed to approximately 6,000 sq. feet of exhibition space.
In the early 1830s, skilled masons from Scotland and Ireland came to central Vermont to work on building projects. A number of these workers, mainly from the Aberdeen area, and specialized in a specific building style in which plates of stone are affixed to a rubblestone wall. This method of bonding stonework is so prevalent in Scotland and
Ireland it has been referred to in some journals as ‘Celtic Bond’, but in Vermont, it is known as “snecked ashlar”. The mixture of stone sizes and colors produces a strong bond and an attractive finish. This home is a rare example in the state, which is estimated to have about 50 of these homes left. I could not locate any information on the owners of the home, but the house has seen better days, with the wooden front porch shifting away from the main house. Also, if you look closely, you can see the original wood shingle roofing breathing under the sheet metal roof!