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!
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.
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.
Located across the street from the soon-to-be-demolished Draper Factory in Hopedale, MA., the company’s former office building stands as an excellent example of how adaptive reuse of old buildings can meet current needs of a town, while preserving the past. In 1910, the Draper’s hired architect Robert A. Cooke, a local architect who had previously designed many workers’ housing projects for the company nearby. The new office building replaced an older 1880 building which held a staff of 6 men, the new building would have a staff of 90! With the unfathomable success of the Draper Corporation, the new office building, resembles a school building for a large town, showing how rich the company had become. The renaissance revival building was abandoned around the time Draper closed in 1980, but this building was adaptively reused as a senior living facility in the 1990s, saving this piece of local history!
In 1886, Hopedale, Massachusetts separated from Milford, almost entirely due to the young, and successful Draper Corporation growing in The Dale village of town. When George and Eben Draper succeeded in creating their own town of Hopedale, with their factory at the center, it gave the Draper brothers almost complete control over the development of a 3,547 -acre community. In the ensuing decades the factory village of Hopedale became a “model” company town. The Draper Corporation controlled every aspect of the town and worker life in a paternalistic program that extended beyond social structure to include architecture and urban planning of the village, with the company developing hundreds of homes for workers, a town hall, library, churches, schools, and recreational facilities, generating an entire town centered around the industrial giant. Draper Corporation originally made doors, window sashes and blinds and ran a printing office, but they discovered early on that their most profitable business was making textile machinery. By 1892, with the advent of the Northrop Loom, Draper became the largest producer of textile machinery in the country! Due to their success at the end of the 19th century, much of the complex was built and rebuilt in fire-proof brick factory buildings with large windows to allow light and air into the facilities. Draper’s dominant position within the textile machine manufacturing industry began to erode shortly after World War II, and the company began to sell its company houses to their occupants as private homes in 1956. During the 1960s American textile machinery makers such as Draper lost their technological leadership to foreign manufacturers due to cheap labor, and the general American textile industry collapsed. The plant eventually closed in 1980, and has sat vacant until the bulldozers came this year. The site is undergoing a full demolition, which is striping this town of its historic heart. It is truly sad to see.
This 2-1/2 story wood frame house in Acton, Massachusetts was built in 1760, and is one of the town’s best-preserved colonial-era houses. It is an unusual double house, consisting of one section with a square plan, and the other with a typical colonial “half house” plan, having three bays and an off-center chimney. The house was built by Jonathan Hosmer, Jr., a bricklayer whose workmanship is evident in the house’s many fireplaces. Hosmer was also prominent in civic and military affairs; he served (along with his son, who was killed at 17 years old) in the 1777 Battle of Bennington. The home was later owned by Jonathan’s son Simon, who may have added the attached dwelling, creating the double-house form we see today. In 1974 the property was acquired by the Acton Historical Society, which rents one of the units, and operates the rest of the property as a museum. The home is a great example of a Georgian double-house with a saltbox roof.
One of three pre-1725 houses in South Acton, the Faulkner Homestead is the best preserved First Period house in the area and displays elements from its First Period construction date of 1707 and from the later Georgian period. The home was built for Ephraim Jones, who was one of the first millers starting what was to become the Faulkner mills located near the old homestead. The home was known as a Garrison House, built as a refuge for the settlers in times of Indian raids, but there is no record that it was ever used for that purpose. In the 1730s, the home was rented by Ammi R. Faulkner (1692-1756), who purchased it years after he moved in. The Faulkner Homestead remained in the Faulkner Family for over 300 years, when it sold our of the family in the 1940s.
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.
Settlement of South Acton (by colonialists) was begun in 1701 when the Jones and Knight families purchased 600 acres of a private land grant. Over the next 26 years, members of the two families established and operated mills near the Fort Pond Brook, which provided running water for operations. Samuel Jones built a home here in 1732, which as originally built, was a simple, four room central entry Georgian home with gable roof, typical of many eastern Massachusetts homes at the time. In 1750, Jones opened a tavern and general store in his house, enlarging it with a two story addition now visible on the left side. Samuel’s son Aaron Jones, a Harvard graduate and soldier who fought at the Battle of Concord nearby, took over the tavern from his father. In 1818, Aaron more than doubled the size of his establishment when he built a large, 5-bay extension and rear kitchen ell directly behind the existing structure. In addition to enlarging his property, Aaron also had it “modernized”, inserting sash windows (replacing the casement windows) throughout and adding fashionable Federal style door and window surrounds. The additions gave the building two major entries, as well as secondary access to the communal taproom. The property was then willed to his son Elnathan Jones, who operated the establishment until 1845 as both a tavern and hotel. The building remained in the Jones family until it was sold in 1946, and divided inside into multi-family use. The house was sold for salvage in 1964 after years of neglect, but was saved by Iron Work Farm, Inc., a non-profit who maintain the property to this day.