Grass Hill School // 1861

In western Millbury, the Grass Hill school was constructed to provide a place of learning for children in the agricultural section of town. The district school, a remnant of the system of autonomous school districts that characterized the educational system of Massachusetts in the 19th century, this is a larger example of many of them. West Millbury had many wealthy farmers and they financed a district school here as far back as 1814. After two earlier, smaller school buildings, this two-story school was erected and was one of the most substantial. At one time, students in eight grades taught there, all at the same time, with grades 1-4 downstairs and 5-8 upstairs. As there weren’t many students, each grade only took up one or two rows. The building remained as a school for the town until 1968, and the building was leased to the Millbury Historical Society long term. They just completed a massive restoration project for the building, it looks great!

Lapham Woolen Mill // 1879

I have gotten a lot of requests recently to feature an old New England mill town, and I wanted to highlight a lesser-known one, so here is Millbury, Massachusetts! This gorgeous mill building was constructed between 1879-1919, impacted by over forty years of growth and design. The Lapham Woolen Mill is the largest and most intact 19th century industrial building in Millbury and sits in the middle of Bramanville, an industrial village in the town, off Singletary Brook, a branch of the Blackstone River. The Lapham Woolen Mill was built on the location of the former Burbank paper mills, which were in operation in Bramanville between 1775-1836. The Lapham Woolen Mill was started in the mid-1870s by Mowry A. Lapham, who oversaw the company’s growth after the Civil War, manufacturing clothing and other woolen goods. After Mowry’s death, the company’s pollution into the brook got the best of them and they disbanded, selling it. The mill was then purchased by Josiah and Edward Mayo, and their business partner Thomas Curtis. The group renamed the existing business the Mayo Woolen Company. The complex was occupied by Steelcraft Inc., a manufacturer of medical supplies, until recently. The building’s future was threatened until 2020, when a proposal to restore the old mill, and add new housing on the site was proposed. Fingers and toes are crossed to see this gorgeous building restored!

Bramanville Congregational Church // 1804

Not just your typical white New England church here… this one was moved! This church was built in 1804 in the north parish of Sutton (present day Millbury, Massachusetts). In the 1700s, the members of the northern part of Sutton petitioned to have a parish church of their own, rather than trekking across the large town to gather for town meetings and religious purposes. They were permitted to erect a parish church inn 1743, and built a church. The building was replaced in 1804, thanks to the wealth and new members of town moving there for manufacturing. Years later, the parish petitioned the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to have the North Parish of Sutton become the town of Millbury, due to the difference in needs being a mill town compared to Sutton’s more pastoral living, and they were designated as a town in 1813. The first town meeting of Millbury was held at First Congregational Church of Millbury that year on the town common. As industry along the Blackstone River picked up, so came waves of workers, many of whom were recent immigrants to New England. It was soon decided that the town church should relocate to provide a new center for town. In 1835, this church was moved about a mile away and erected high on a hill, in Bramanville village, a bustling industrial village. The church has remained in its location in Bramanville, even after the town center again moved, this time eastward to its present location. The Greek Revival style church elegantly reflects the significance of ecclesiastical buildings in early New England towns.

Hall-Balcom House // 1810

This historic house in West Millbury, Massachusetts, began in the end of the 18th century as a one-and-a-half-story wood-frame farmhouse. By 1810, the home was rotated 90 degrees and a more substantial, two-story brick house was constructed facing the street. The Federal style home was owned by Thaddeus Hall (1779-1855), and after his death, it was owned by his son, Orson Eddy Hall, who possibly rented the property for income while he resided in New Orleans and ran the iconic St. Charles Hotel there. The property was later acquired by Willard Balcom and remained in the family. Oh what I wouldn’t do to see the paint come off this old brick house!!

Longley Farmhouse // 1819

Backroads in New England are just amazing! When driving through Millbury on my way to visit one of the finest examples of Federal style architecture in the state, I stumbled upon this gorgeous rural Federal style farmhouse, and had to snap a picture! Millbury is best-known as a mill town (hence the name), but you can find dozens of rural farms dispersed between the mill villages in the township. The Blackstone River cuts through the town, and during the Industrial Revolution, it provided much of the water power to the town’s many textile mills and factories. Like many former mill towns, the shifting of the economy away from manufacturing towards the service sector, harmed the economy of Millbury in the 20th century. Many mills were abandoned and demolished, others adaptively reused. Before we get to some industrial history, I wanted to share this charming farmhouse. This home was built for Nymphas Longley upon the time of his 1819 marriage to the love of his life, Nancy Bond. They ran a farm on over 80 acres, with Nymphas also serving as a town selectman, an overseer of the poor, and led recruitment efforts in town at the start of the Civil War. Like many farms, this one saw suburban development take some of the former land, but this home still sits on over 9 acres, not bad for being so close to Worcester!

Unity Church Parsonage // 1878

Architects William Robert Ware and Henry Van Brunt designed this parsonage in Easton, Massachusetts for the Unity Church in town (featured previously). The Victorian Gothic house is constructed of polychromatic stone, wood trim, slate and copper roof surfaces, and terracotta finials. The architecture is very well-developed and stands toe-to-toe with the other architectural landmarks in town, just a short walk away.

Queset House // 1854

Tucked away behind the Ames Free Library in Easton, you will find one of the most stately examples of Gothic Revival architecture in a house in New England. The house is known as Queset House. Queset was commissioned to be built in 1853 and it was completed the following year for Oakes Angier Ames, of the wealthy Ames Family, who ran a shovelworks in town, and built some of the most handsome structures in the state. The house’s front portion design was drawn from a plan by noted architect Andrew Jackson Downing (who died in 1852). Downing collaborated with Alexander Jackson Davis who provided architectural drawings. The two architects created pattern books which greatly influenced Gothic Revival and Italian Villa style architecture for the next decades, with many wealthy people hiring builders to complete homes in their designs. Queset House is different than most in that the house is constructed of local stone. Oakes would later hire Harvard-educated architect John Ames Mitchell, (a first cousin of Oakes Angier and architect of the nearby Unity Church in Easton) designed the rear addition in 1873, adding the copper-clad chimneys. In the later years of his life, Oakes wanted to help further-improve his town and worked with his family to consult with starchitect H. H. Richardson and landscape starchitect Frederick Law Olmsted on projects in town (the Library, Town Hall, Rockery). After his death in 1899, the home was occupied by his son, famous theatrical producer Winthrop Ames, and his wife. The family would eventually gift the property to the Town of Easton, who today occupy it as an extension of the Public Library, open to the public!

Side view.

Langwater // 1859

The country estate of Frederick Lothrop Ames (1835-1893), “Langwater” sits in North Easton amongst a collection of some of America’s greatest architectural treasures, all thanks to the Ames Family. The Ames family was a wealthy family which had lived in Easton for many generations. Frederick’s grandfather Oliver Ames Sr. founded the Ames Shovel Works in Easton, Massachusetts. The Shovel Works earned the family a huge fortune, during a time when aggressive canal and railroad expansion was built by the hands of thousands of men using shovels. Frederick’s father Oliver Jr. was president of the Union Pacific Railroad during the building of the transcontinental railroad. Frederick’s cousin Oliver Ames was governor of Massachusetts 1887–1890. Frederick himself was Vice President of the Old Colony Railroad and director of the Union Pacific railroad. At the time of his death, Ames was reported to be the wealthiest person in Massachusetts. With this immense wealth, Frederick built a castle where he would spend most of the year, overseeing his various businesses, in his hometown of Easton, Massachusetts. The mansion was designed by architect George Snell and built around 1860, with a couple additions and updates until Frederick’s death. A few years before his death, Frederick hired famed architect Henry Hobson Richardson, who he already worked with in designing the Oakes Ames Memorial Hall(Easton’s Town Hall), to design a gate house leading to Langwater (more on that later).

Oakes Ames Shooting Lodge // c.1905

Located near the banks of Leach Pond in Borderlands State Park, this handsome stone structure set the style for one of the most iconic and beautiful buildings in Easton, the Ames Mansion. The one-story concrete and stone structure was designed and constructed under the supervision of Blanche Ames, and may have been a prototype for the construction technique used in the Ames Mansion, built just years later. Blanche was an amazing woman. She was an artist, political activist, inventor, writer, and prominent supporter of women’s suffrage and birth control. In 1900, she married Harvard University botany professor Oakes Ames (no relation). She took the married name Blanche Ames Ames. She illustrated her husband’s botanical research on orchids, and later got involved in designing the family’s country retreat. Originally designed as a warming hut during hunting season, this lodge was originally minimally designed with exposed stone walls. In the 1930s, the lodge was renovated to contain a living space, a kitchen, and a bedroom. When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts acquired the Ames Estate in the 1970s for a state park, the Lodge was restored to its original condition. The hunting lodge is open to the elements and the public, who can warm themselves in one of the two six-foot fireplaces.

Old Brick Tavern // 1804

The Brick Tavern was an important stopping point on the old Union Turnpike, and the original two-story brick structure was completed about the time of the turnpike construction by Paul Willard, who with his heirs, operated the inn for 25 years. In the first years of the 1800s, the Union Turnpike Company planned and built a road providing a link for travel from Boston to Albany. Realizing the possibility for an inn along the first leg of the route, Willard financed this substantial brick building for travellers to stop, eat and spend the night. The tollroad was later made free, and less people stayed at the inn. After subsequent ownership, the building started to suffer from deferred maintenance and it was sold to a local Quaker group. The Quakers modernized the building by constructing the mansard roof and updating the interior. They never occupied it, but rented it to tenants for income. After, it was a hospital, boarding house, and in WWII, as a barracks of sorts for soldiers training nearby at a military base. The building is now a house!