Hawthorn Hill Estate // 1903

The only estate in Lancaster that can rival the Nathaniel Thayer Estate in size and grandeur is the OTHER Thayer estate, built for Bayard Thayer. Sitting on over 55 acres of forests and gentle rolling fields, Hawthorn Hill is one of the most impressive mansions in Central Massachusetts. The property is so secluded that I had to rely on real estate photos to share! The listings mention that there are over 40 bedrooms and 27 bathrooms… Bayard Thayer (1862-1916) is the grandson of Nathaniel Thayer, Unitarian minister of the First Church of Christ in Lancaster and son of Nathaniel Thayer, a banker. When his brother was willed the family estate (featured previously) after the death of their father, Bayard used the opportunity to build a modern estate high upon a hill in town. The mansion was built in 1903-1904 under the direction of Guy Lowell, a renowned Boston architect of the time. In 1907-1908, Little and Browne were commissioned for landscape alterations and in 1914-15, Ogden Codman Jr. was commissioned to renovate the interiors. Bayard died one year later, and the property remained in the family until around WWII. In 1953, the property was acquired by the Boston Cenacle Society, who added a massive dormitory addition to the building. Recent plans were unveiled to subdivide the land and build house lots on half the estate, which gives me mixed feelings.

Gen. Sylvanus Thayer House // 1720

The General Sylvanus Thayer Birthplace and Museum, located at 786 Washington Street (commonly known locally as Thayer House), was built in 1720 by Nathaniel Thayer, a farmer in Braintree. General Sylvanus Thayer, known as the “Father of West Point,” was born in the house in 1785 and resided there until 1793. General Thayer early superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point and an early advocate of engineering education in the United States. Thayer’s time at West Point ended with his resignation in 1833, after a disagreement with President Andrew Jackson. Sylvanus then spent the great majority of the next 30 years as the chief engineer for the Boston area with the Army Corps of Engineers. During this time, he oversaw the construction of both Fort Warren and Fort Independence to defend Boston Harbor. In 1958, the parcel of land on which the house sat was purchased by the Walworth Steel Company; rather than tearing the old house down, it was dismantled and moved approximately one mile down Washington Street to its present location and given to the Braintree Historical Society. The saltbox home is a great example of Georgian architecture and has been very well maintained.

Thayer Academy – Main Building // 1876

In 1871, General Sylvanus Thayer, wrote a will which included a bequest to build “an academy in which young persons of the male sex (or both male and female if my trustees deem it expedient) be educated…to promote the cause of education in the Commonwealth and to benefit the town of Braintree, the place of my birth”. The year after, Thayer died and his money was utilized by his trustees to establish the new school.

The first building was completed in 1876, and the academy opened that next year with tuition free for students of Braintree and $75/year for all others. The Ruskinian Gothic building was designed by the architectural firm of Hartwell & Swasey, the precursor to Hartwell & Richardson. Gas lighting, steam heating, up to date plumbing and ventilation systems were included in the construction and concrete was poured between the walls and between the floors to prevent the passage of sound and the spreading of fire. Thayer Academy’s first class was comprised of 26 students.

Old Thayer Library // 1873

Located at the Braintree Green, the Old Thayer Public Library is one of the older remaining institutional buildings in the town. The building is a result of the generosity of General Sylvanus Thayer (1785-1872), a Braintree native and retired officer of the Army Engineers. He donated $10,000 and gave an additional $10,000 for the support of the institution, oh and he also donated money for the Thayer Academy in Braintree and to Dartmouth College for the Thayer School of Engineering. Before he could see his gifts completed, he died, but his family made sure that the gifts were overseen accordingly.

The Old Thayer Public Library was designed by Hammatt and Joseph Billings, under-appreciated brothers and architects who designed some of the best buildings in the region. The one–story (yes it was a high ceiling) building has a slate hipped roof and two chimneys. The brick masonry walls rise from a continuous, finished granite belt above the granite foundation. Corners are quoined, and the deep eaves and molded cornices are supported by granite consoles rising from a continuous narrow granite stringcourse. The building was eventually outgrown as the population in the suburban city boomed in the 20th-century. It operated as a library until 1953, when it was replaced by a larger building across the street, replaced again in the 1990s by the current library.