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.
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 Draper Corporation originally made doors, window sashes and blinds and ran a printing office, but they discovered early on that their most profitable business was making textile machinery.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.
Not far off Main Street in Acton Center, this stunning old Georgian home was built around 1740 for Jacob Hooker a tailor and later served as the home of James Dudley, a blacksmith in the village. After the American Revolution, Acton called on Reverend Moses Adams (1749-1819) to be the minister for the Acton Meetinghouse. The town acquired the old Dudley House for Reverend Adams to reside in with his family. In 1780, the home was enlarged, and possibly given the raised foundation we see today. Mrs. Adams ran a store out of the basement, accessed by the doorway in the brick foundation. After Adams’ death in 1819, the property went to the next reverend in town, until his death decades later. In 1889, a carpenter, Moses Taylor, purchased the home, restored much of the woodwork, and replaced the historic windows with 2-over-1 windows, popular at the time. Moses moved a house on Main Street to make way for the new Acton Memorial Library, and was active in building and renovating homes in Acton until his death.
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!
Acton, Massachusetts, was once part of Concord, the first inland colonial town established in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635. 100 years later in 1735, land that we know today as Acton, separated from Concord to become their own town. Acton’s second Meetinghouse was located here in Acton Center, which was selected for its location more accessible to all houses and farms in the town. The Second Meetinghouse was built in 1806, and burned to the ground in 1862. Immediately after, a town committee was formed to construct a new town hall. Opening in 1863, Acton’s Town Hall stands as a stunning Italianate building with tripartite arched windows, corner quoins, a two-stage cupola with clock, and a bold (and historically appropriate) paint scheme. Acton’s Town Hall remains as one of the finest extant in the state.
Located adjacent to the Administration Building at the Tewksbury State Hospital, the Superintendent’s Residence, built in 1894, combines elements of the Craftsman and Colonial Revival styles wonderfully. The home is two-stories, and built of red brick laid in Flemish bond, capped with a slate hipped roof with exposed rafters. A massive uncovered porch wraps around the home and sits atop a rubblestone foundation. Like the adjacent Administration Building, the Superintendent’s Residence was also designed by Boston architect John A. Fox. From this residence, the massive almshouse and asylum would be run by the superintendent, who oversaw day to day activities and made sure everything was running smoothly. The house appears vacant now.
Born into the heart of Boston Brahmin society (Boston’s elite class), Robert Gould Shaw II (1872-1930) had a life of great opportunity, but full of tragedy. Robert was born in Boston and was a first cousin of Robert Gould Shaw, the famed military officer who accepted command of the first all-Black regiment (the 54th Massachusetts) in the Northeast. Robert II had a life of leisure, and enjoyed his position in society by drinking and enjoying elite sporting events. He became a wealthy landowner around Boston, and international polo player of the Myopia Hunt Club in the North Shore. He gained a reputation for alcohol abuse and promiscuity and divorced his first wife after just four years, she would later move to England and marry Waldorf Astor, and become the first woman seated as a Member of Parliament. The couple’s only son Robert Gould Shaw III followed his mother to England, but was eventually imprisoned there for six months for “homosexual offenses”. His alcoholism and his mother’s death, may have led to his suicide in 1970. Robert Gould II in Boston, remarried and purchased land in Oak Hill, Newton to build a country estate. He hired James Lovell Little Jr. to design the Tudor style property with a mansion, and various outbuildings including a carriage house and stable. As the Gilded Age gave way to the Progressive Era and eventually the Great Depression, the Shaw fortune collapsed. Shaw died in New York in 1930. The estate was later purchased as the new home to Mt. Ida College, now a regional campus of UMass.
As another piece of this interesting family’s history… Louis Agassiz Shaw II, one of Robert’s four children in his second marriage, had all the opportunities of his father, as he attended Harvard, had a sizable bank account, but was a recluse and had some mental issues and paranoia. Like his elder half-brother Robert Gould Shaw III, and father, Louis struggled with depression and alcoholism and in 1964, he strangled his 64-year-old maid, who he said was plotting to murder him in his sleep. He confessed but plead not guilty; he was committed to Danvers State Hospital and later McLean, where he lived for 23 years until his death. After which, much of his art collection, which he intended to donate to the Fogg Museum at Harvard, was discovered to be fakes.
In 1832, William D. Meeker of Brookfield purchased a c.1780 gristmill on the banks of the Still River, which ran through the agricultural town. He immediately invested in it, rebuilding the structure upon the original foundations, but as a four-story building. Meeker must have hired engineers to create a system to transfer water power from the basement water wheel up four stories. The mill was later sold to a Gregory Knapp in town. Knapp died in 1868 and his properties (including the mill) went to his widow Angeline, who became a very wealthy, and eligible, bachelorette. She remarried not long after. Fast-forward to 1952, the grist mill was occupied by the Brookfield Craft Center, which is recognized as one of the finest professional schools for creative study in America, dedicated to teaching traditional and contemporary craft skills, and fostering the appreciation of fine craftsmanship. Gotta love adaptive reuse cases like this!
On a rise above the Cape Elizabeth’s rocky shore stands Beckett’s Castle, a picturesque Gothic cottage of a century ago. Designed and built by the Portland literary figure Sylvester Beckett for his summer residence, the Castle was begun in 1871 and finished in 1874. It is said that Beckett constructed the cottage from local gray fieldstone largely with his own hands, though he must have had help, or fabricated this fiction as he would have in his own books. The home was patterned after a typical English castle, but on a much smaller scale, and is tucked away from the street. Sylvester Blackmore Beckett was born in Portland, Maine in 1812, as the son of English parents. Although never attending college, he acquired a modest education and became a prominent journalist and articulate writer. He was admitted to the bar in 1859 and spent much of his time administering and settling estates becoming well-connected in town. Beckett held massive parties in the home, and invitations to the social gatherings held there were highly prized; guests were served expansive dinners cooked in primitive fashion in a large fireplace. Sylvester Beckett died in 1882, and went to his only child, Lizzie. The home fell into disrepair in the 1970s, but was restored by the most recent owner. It was sold in 2018, and the listing photos show some great interior spaces.
In the early 20th-century, Hull was linked by ferry, railway and road to Boston and this resort town became a popular urban recreational destination. Between 1915 and 1920, Jewish Bostonians started buying property and building summer homes in the area. The new Jewish summer residents required a temple for worship when away from their main homes. In 1920, land was purchased just north of the bustling Nantasket Beach for the erection of a place of worship. This temple was likely built by a Jewish architect/builder Joseph Rudnick, who arrived in Boston from present-day Lithuania in 1886. Unable to speak English, he hired a tutor to teach it to him, and quickly began working on constructing apartments and other buildings all over the Boston area. Temple Israel of Nantasket remains a handsome and rare example of a 1920 American
wood-framed, stucco-clad synagogue, with an active congregation.