Robert Gould Shaw Estate // 1912

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.

Murdock-Wiswall House // c.1718

Another of Oak Hill Village’s pre-Revolution homes is this stunner! This home was built some years before 1718 and was eventually occupied by Robert Murdock (1663-1754) and wife Hannah Stedman. Murdock emigrated from Scotland to Plymouth, MA in 1688 with his brother, later settling in Roxbury. In 1703, Robert bought a house and 120-acres of land here, and worked as a housewright. Like the King House (last post), the house was likely rebuilt or modified substantially at this time. Robert also served as a selectman, Constable, Surveyor of Highways, and Assessor in town until his death; and his son, Robert Murdock Jr., took over the property. By the mid-18th century, the estate was purchased by Jeremiah Wiswall (1725-1807). Wiswall served as Captain of the militia at the battle at Concord and Dorchester Heights during the Revolution and held a number of positions in the community including Overseer of the Poor, Constable, Selectman and as a hogreeve (person charted with the prevention or appraising of damages by stray swine). He was very involved in the events leading up to the Revolution including the committee on the tea embargo and drilled with the militia. He also lent money to the town to hire soldiers and owned a house designated as a place to receive smallpox inoculations in 1777, though it is unclear if it was this house he used. The house was eventually slated for demolition in the 1960s, but was saved by Dr. Roy Carlson, President of nearby Mount Ida College (now owned by UMass. For $1, he purchased the home from a developer and paid for it to be moved from its original location at the corner of Brookline and Dedham streets a ΒΌ mile southwest to its current location, on Carlson Ave, and it served as the President’s House.