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.
Tabor Hall // c.1880
This beautiful Italianate building was constructed around 1880 for the newly established Tabor Academy, which was founded in Marion, Massachusetts by Ms. Elizabeth Taber in 1876. After Ms. Taber funded the constructed of a town library and museum and oversaw construction of the new academic building for her school, she endowed money for Tabor Hall, which was to house the school’s Principal, some boarding students, and most importantly, herself. The structure was located on Spring Street, just north of the library, until 1937, when the “Tabor Swap” was finalized. The swap was a deal between the academy and the Town of Marion, who exchanged properties in 1937. The town received the library building, the academic building (soon after converted to Town Hall) and land where this building once sat. The town erected Sippican Elementary, a public school on the land, and Tabor Academy moved this building a block over.
Marion Town Hall // 1876
Welcome to Marion, Massachusetts! Colonized in 1679 as “Sippican”, the town was once a district of adjacent Rochester, Massachusetts. The name, which also lends itself to the river which passes through the north of town and the harbor at the heart of town, was the Wampanoag name for the local tribe that once utilized these lands. Native settlements in present-day Marion dates as far back as 3000 B.C. as the local people were members of the Wampanoag tribe who, when the Pilgrims came, lived in a number of villages in Southeastern Massachusetts under the leadership of the great chief Massasoit. By the 19th century, the town was mostly known for its many local sea captains and sailors whose homes were in town. Today, the coastal town is known for its charming village and large waterfront homes, oh and amazing architecture!
This building was constructed in 1876 by Mrs. Elizabeth Taber (1791-1888), who, at the age of 85, founded Tabor Academy in town. She named it after Mount Tabor in Palestine rather than after herself. The school was built towards the end of the “Age of the Academies”, when in 1852, Massachusetts became the first state in the country to make education compulsory. While some major private institutions already existed, many more were founded in the mid-19th century. Tabor Academy served as a private school for boys and girls over 12 years of age, and was to remain free for local students. With the rise of public schools in the state, many academies began to struggle with admitting students, especially those that had parents willing to pay additional money for enrollment. The school struggled around the Great Depression and thus, traded buildings with the Town of Marion in the 1930s and this building became the Marion Town Hall, a use it retains to this day. The building itself is a stunning Italianate design constructed from plans by Boston architect William Gibbons Preston.
Stay tuned for more buildings and history on one of my favorite Massachusetts towns!
Sears Estate – Dexter Southfield School // 1922
Located in South Brookline, the former estate of Anna Sears stands high on a hill, surrounded by later buildings of the ever-growing Dexter Southfield School. The Sears Estate was built for Anna Sears, a widow who was married to the late Richard Sears, a photographer. The home was designed in 1922 by Walter Kirby as part of a 49-acre estate which, in addition to the main house, included three guest cottages, garages, and a barn. The estate remained a private residence until 1945, when it became a seminary for the Catholic Foreign Mission Society of America. The campus was acquired by the Dexter Southfield School in the 1960s who relocated from the Cottage Farm area of Brookline. The stuccoed exterior, red tile roof, door surround, balconies and iron window grilles and sconces are characteristic of the Spanish Revival style.