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?!
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!
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.
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!
The area which became the town of Boxborough, Massachusetts, was first inhabited by the Native Americans of the Nipmuc and Pennacook tribes. Land in Boxborough was not settled by colonists until the beginning of the eighteenth century by farmers looking for fertile land to establish farms, who branched out from nearby Acton. Boxborough was formed from Harvard, Littleton, and Stow in 1783 and was incorporated as its own town. With the exception of small local industries including gristmills, sawmills, and cooperages as well as some minor boot and shoemaking, comb-making, and a lime quarry and kiln, Boxborough’s economy remained almost entirely agricultural through the 19th century. The town grew steadily and a Town Hall building was funded by the turn of the 20th century. This Queen Anne/Colonial Revival Town Hall building was constructed in 1901, atop the foundation which was constructed of locally gathered cobblestone by local volunteer farmers. Today, the town retains much of its agricultural heritage, but it is definitely under threat by subdivisions and Neo-Colonial mansions further contributing to Bostons suburban sprawl.
George Otis Draper (1867-1923) was born in Hopedale and attended MIT to prepare to help run the extremely busy Draper Corporation in town, a family business (featured previously). With his position at the company, he had the money in the late 19th century to build a massive country estate known as The Larches. The shingled Colonial Revival style home featured a massive castellated tower and appeared like a castle in the countryside. George O. Draper sold this home to his aunt Hannah Thwing Draper Osgood in 1909, and within a month, the home burned to the ground. Around the time her husband died, she rebuilt the Larches and lived here with her daughter until they both died in 1929. The “new Larches” is a stunning blending of Colonial Revival and Craftsman styles. The home was likely designed by Robert Allen Cook, who was based out of nearby Milford, MA. The property today is run by Crossroads Clubhouse, an employment and recovery center that offers people with mental health conditions opportunities to achieve their full potential.
Hopedale in the 1920s oversaw a civic building campaign led by George A. Draper (1855-1923), then treasurer of the Draper Corporation. Draper often talked about the need for a community center in Hopedale for his workers, and in 1919 decided to build one at his own expense. He commissioned architect Edwin J. Lewis, Jr. of Boston to design the Hopedale Community House which was intended to serve as a social and civic center for all Hopedale residents, as well as Draper Corporation employees residing in other towns. The building was opened in 1923, but sadly George Draper died before he could see it used. The Community House included an assembly hall, a banquet hall that doubled as a gymnasium, a kitchen, rooms for smoking and cards and billiards, a ladies’ social room, the Knights of Pythias club room, and candlepin bowling lanes in the basement, all of which exist to this day.
When the Draper Corporation’s building boom of its factories and workers housing transformed the formerly sleepy industrial village into a bustling town, the mill owners realized that the inadequate fire station nearby would do little to prevent a fire that could wipe it all away. In 1915, the Drapers hired architect Robert Allen Cooke – who had already designed numerous buildings for the factory owners in the village – to furnish plans for a substantial new fire station. The Renaissance Revival station is larger than many firehouses built in cities nearby with populations two- or three times more citizens. The station features four arches equipment bays, a tall hose-drying tower, and fine terra cotta trimming. The fire department in Hopedale, thanks to funding by Draper, was always one of the finest in New England, and is credited as one of the first to have a vehicular fire truck in 1906.
Anyone that has followed me for long knows I am obsessed with two architecture styles, Dutch Renaissance and Colonial, and Tudors! Set back way off the street in Hopedale, Mass., sits this rambling Tudor Revival country estate. Built in 1926 for Eben Sumner Draper Jr. (1893-1959), the son of Massachusetts Governor and Draper Corporation owner Eben Sumner Draper, the home provided a secluded escape for the rich millionaire. The home was designed by Boston architects Bigelow & Wadsworth, and replaced his father’s Shingle style country mansion “The Ledges”. The new Draper mansion was highlighted in numerous architectural magazines shortly after it’s construction, which highlighted the amazing brickwork, layout, and interior finishes, all of which remain to today! This spectacular home is over 14,000 square feet and has 17 bedrooms, several located in the staff wing, 10 full baths and 4 half baths, an in-ground swimming pool, gazebo, tennis court, and landscape design attributed to the notable landscape architect Warren Manning. In the 1960s, the home sold out of the family and was used as a home for adults living with developmental disabilities, mental illnesses, physical disabilities, the facility has since sold the Draper mansion and occupies the former carriage house.
In 1886, when the Town of Hopedale was incorporated, George Draper (who basically created the town for his company) bankrolled $40,000 for the design and construction of a town hall building for the new town. This Richardsonian Romanesque building was built of local Milford granite with brownstone trim. The town hall building was designed by architect Frederick Swasey and was intended to always house two commercial spaces at the ground floor. To the right of the storefronts is the entry to the town hall, which is framed by an entry arch with engaged colonettes. Before the building was completed, George Draper died, and the building was officially donated to the town by his heirs.