Before most small New England towns had single school buildings for elementary, middle and high school, small one-room schoolhouses like this dotted the landscape, especially in rural towns. Having smaller schools spread out allowed for a greater number of students to attend school without traveling by horseback long distances, and more local school buildings was a great solution. This c.1857 school building was in use until 1949, and it didn’t even have heat, running water, or electricity until the 1930s, making smart design a necessity to get the most out of the building. Large windows would provide natural light to flood the classroom and the steep gable roof would ensure snow to slide off the roof. Sadly, many towns have lost these buildings, but some have been restored or even repurposed as homes!
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.
This gorgeous house in Schenectady’s Stockade neighborhood was built in 1792 for Jacob A. Swits. Swits was a descendant of the first settlers of Schenectady and served in the local militia upon the start of the American Revolution. He later, worked in town as a merchant and was involved with local affairs. He became Major General of the regional militia during the War of 1812. Between these two wars, he had this home built, which was likely a asymmetrical three-bay Federal home. Sometime later, the rightmost bay was added and much of the ornate detailing was added.
Welcome to the Stockade Historic District in Schenectady, NY! The National Park Service has described it as “the highest concentration of historic period homes in the country,” from this, the Stockade became New York State’s first local historic district, protecting it from demolitions and unfettered development. The neighborhood began in 1661, when a group of Dutch settlers, mostly merchants and fur traders looking to do business with Native Americans, settled the banks of the Mohawk River. This group of settlers built twelve houses surrounded by a wooden stockade (wooden defensive walls), to protect them from invasions, the neighborhood was named after this feature. The neighborhood developed over the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, providing an amazing layered neighborhood that showcases the best of designs throughout history! This home is no different. It was built around 1850 as an early example of Italianate architecture. It was most notably occupied by the famed Dr. Charles Proteus Steinmetz, a German-born scientist who beat the (then) impossible odds of succeeding with from dwarfism, hunchback, and hip dysplasia. Born Karl August Rudolph Steinmetz, he emigrated to the United States in the 1880s He changed his first name to “Charles” in order to sound more American, and chose the middle name “Proteus“, a wise hunchbacked character from the Odyssey. He got a job with General Electric in Lynn, MA, and was later transferred to Schenectady where he lived out his days. He settled in this quaint home between 1893-97, running a laboratory out of the first floor rooms. He went on to bigger homes, and never married or fostered children. I highly recommend that you all read more about him, he was a truly fascinating person!
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.
Arguably the most identifiable and iconic building in Acton is Exchange Hall, towering above the small village of South Acton. Exchange Hall was built in South Acton in 1860 to serve a variety of functions, primarily commercial. South Acton, with small milling operations and an ironworks established along Fort Pond Brook, had been a locus of
settlement since the earliest years of the 18th century. While the town’s village center evolved to the north, South Acton remained the site for industrial and economic development into the 19th century, spurred by the arrival of the Fitchburg Railroad from Boston in 1844. On the eve of the Civil War, South Acton supported a number of thriving
businesses, most under the aegis of three men: James Tuttle, his brother Varnum Tuttle, and Elnathan Jones Jr. The latter was the great-grandson of Samuel Jones, who established a successful tavern and store across the road from the site (a previous post). At the cost of $10,000, the three men financed the construction of Exchange Hall, designed to serve as the focus for the group of shops they ran together. The Italianate style Exchange Hall is 3 1/2-stories atop a raised foundation, with full length porches, stunning proportions, and a cupola at the roof.
Perched high on a hill in Acton, Massachusetts, this once grand Italianate mansion has been slowly deteriorating without a caretaker. The home was built in 1861 for George C. Wright (1823-1910), a wealthy coffee and spice merchant at Dwinell, Hayward, and Co., a powerhouse in the coffee industry in Boston. In 1855, he was overworked in Boston and fell ill for two years, which worried his wife, who convinced him to relinquish some of his work and move back to Acton, which he did. Soon after he built this house, not too far from the village train depot which would give him easy access to Boston. In papers, he stated, “I felt that good air and a plenty of sunshine would do more for my health than anything else. For this reason, we built upon a hill and arranged the rooms of the house so as to get the sun to its fullest degree.” Wright later served as a State Representative, and remained active in local politics in the suburban town. His home was connected to a large barn (since demolished) and featured a large belvedere (removed after a hurricane) to provide sweeping views from his house on the hill. In recent years, an absentee owner did not appear to maintain the home and it has deteriorated, but good news! The house sold the week that I took these photos, so hopefully it will be restored to its former glory soon!
This large Italianate house in Acton was built in 1873 for Henry Waldo Tuttle (1847-1916), who ran a grocery store business in town with his father, James Tuttle. The business did quite well as Henry built this massive home around his 26th birthday, likely around the time of his marriage. The exuberant Italianate home features a wide central gable and a projecting central entrance porch accessed by double entrance doors. The home has a detached stable to the left of the home too!
Located in Acton Center, the Dr. Harris Cowdrey House represents the emergence of Acton, Massachusetts from a sleepy rural town to a wealthy suburban town. This home was built in 1830 by Dr. Harris Cowdrey (1802-1875) as a 1 1/2-story gable end Greek Revival home. It was evidently enlarged to its present size decades later, possibly around the time Dr. Cowdrey and his wife Abigail growing their family. The Cowdreys had two children , Arthur who became a physician, after serving in the Civil War as a surgeon, and a daughter Helen who married a doctor herself, Dr. Charles Little also of Acton. After Dr. Harris Cowdrey died in 1875, Helen Cowdrey Little (who’s husband died young at just 32 years old) remained in Acton living with her mother in this house until 1886 when both women died. The home was later occupied by the Acton Women’s Club, who ran a crafts school for children out of the barn. The house showcases the original Greek Revival form, but features mostly Italianate detailing from the brackets, to the wrap-around front porch supported by turned posts.