Lancaster isn’t known as a town of summer retreats, but there are a handful of gorgeous historic summer houses built for urban residents of Boston and Worcester to escape the hustle-and-bustle of city life and to take in the natural Massachusetts scenery. One of these houses is the Mary Johnson House, built in 1910. When Mary E. Johnson mapped plans for her summer mansion to be built in 1909, her husband had been dead for 14 years.The Norwegian-born Iver Johnson was a successful businessman. He made guns, bicycles and motorcycles for many years in Worcester and Fitchburg. Iver Johnson firearms gained some notoriety when they were used in assassinations in the United States of President William McKinley and presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy and in an attempt on the life of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Johnson firearms were also issued to all the Moscow mounted police in Russia in 1907 – 10 years before the Russian Revolution. The Arts and Crafts mansion built for Iver’s widow was designed by Herbert Langford Warren, founder of the School of Architecture at Harvard University. She died in 1915 and the property was taken over by the McAlister-Hawk School, a prestigious preparatory school for boys. In 1934, the school was sold to Dr. Franklin Perkins, who moved what was originally known as the Hillbrow School in Newton to Lancaster. The school, renamed in Dr. Perkins’ honor, occupied the 120-acre Johnson estate, serving children with developmental disabilities and emotional and mental health needs.
William C. Strong purchased the old Wyman Farm in present day Waban Village in 1875, consisting of 93 acres of open land and rolling hills. He subdivided some of the land after the completion of the Waban Station, later developing the Strong’s Block, the premier commercial block in the village. To kick off the development along Windsor Road, he hired architect Herbert Langford Warren, the Dean of Harvard’s Architecture School (who also owned a historic farmhouse nearby) to design a couple homes for sale. This stunning house is notable for the prominent gable end gambrel roof, shingle siding, and porte-cochere.
After the completion of the Waban Station, providing opportunity for residential and commercial development due to transit to and from Boston, two men sought to develop the area into attractive housing lots. In 1886, Dr. Morrill Wyman, founder of Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, sold the old Wyman Farmhouse (still extant) and 150 acres of farmland to real estate speculators. The speculators, Charles Page and Frederick Henshaw, proceeded to subdivide the land into 87 house lots, creating this suburban neighborhood in Waban we know today. Frederick Henshaw sought to build his own home adjacent to the old farmhouse and hired H. Langford Warren (who then owned the farmhouse next door), esteemed architect and then Dean of the Harvard School of Architecture to complete designs. The Queen Anne mansion with its bold octagonal bay commands the corner lot and is a well-preserved significant home in the neighborhood.