This stunning Federal style house in Gardiner, Maine, was built about 1810 by Ebenezer Byram, who had purchased the land from Robert Hallowell Gardiner, a descendant of Dr. Sylvester Gardiner, the “founder” of the town. Dr. Gardiner was a resourceful Boston druggist, who was one of the principal owners of the Kennebec Purchase, known as the Plymouth Company, who purchased land on the west side of the Kennebec River in Maine. Dr. Sylvester Gardiner had been attracted to the Gardiner area for a number of reasons, primarily because of the depth of the water of the river to the point of Gardiner as the head of navigation for ships here. This house overlooking that river was purchased in 1878, by Henry and Laura E. Richards. Laura Richards (1850-1943) was the daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe, an abolitionist and the founder of the Perkins Institution and Massachusetts School for the Blind. Her mother, Julia Ward Howe wrote the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a tune that I am sure most of you have heard of, but never knew the name. Henry and Laura moved to Gardiner in 1876 after suffering financial reverses in Boston, where Henry worked at his family’s paper mill, and it was about that time that Laura Richards began her writing career. At this house in Gardiner, Laura wrote more than 90 books including biographies (including one on her mother), poetry, and several children’s books. Even more impressive, Laura was awarded one of the first four ever Pulitzer Prize in 1917 for her biography on her mother, years before women were even afforded the right to vote!
Constructed c. 1850, this Gothic Revival house in Farmingdale, Maine, has many identifying features common in the style: a symmetrical facade, steeply pitched gable, and lancet windows in the front gable. Besides its architectural significance, the home is also historically significant as the home of Dr. Gertrude Heath. Gertrude Emma Heath (1859-1935) was born in Gardiner, Maine in January 1859. When Gertrude was just three years old, after the American Civil War began, her father died in battle at Fredericksburg, leaving his widow Sarah to run the family affairs. She excelled in school and received her early education in the public schools of Gardiner, afterward attending Hahnemann Medical College at Chicago, Illinois, taking special courses. She graduated from this institution in 1883 with the degree of Doctor of Medicine, and began medical practice in Chicago in 1884, moving back home within that year. Soon after returning to Maine, she accepted a position at the Maine State Hospital, at Augusta, where she specialized in eye and ear conditions. It is amazing learning stories about such strong women, when at the time, women medical practitioners were almost unheard of and women were decades away from earning the right to vote.
The rowhouse at 23 Holyoke Street in the South End neighborhood of Boston is an excellent architectural specimen, but is best known for one of its residents, Susie King Taylor. Susie King Taylor (1848-1912) was born into slavery near Savannah, Georgia; and despite Georgia’s harsh laws against the formal education the enslaved, she attended two secret schools taught by black women. She became free at the age of 14 when she escaped onto a Union-owned boat off the coast of the then Confederate occupied Fort Pulaski on the islands off the coast of South Carolina. She soon attached herself to the First South Carolina Volunteers, the first black regiment in the US Army. She served under the Union Army in various capacities: officially as a “laundress” but in reality a nurse, caretaker, educator, and showcased such strength and courage as a young woman. Eventually, Taylor married Sergeant Edward King in 1862, and together they remained with the unit until it was mustered out of service in 1866. It is likely at that time that she met Harriet Tubman, who served as a nurse, scout, and spy for the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Postwar, the Kings moved to Savannah, Georgia. She hoped to continue her teaching career and opened a private school for the children of freedmen. Unfortunately, her husband died the same year, and a public school opening caused her private school to fail. By 1868, Taylor was forced to find work as a domestic servant. She moved to Boston in 1872 where she married Russell Taylor in 1879. She devoted much of the rest of her life to work with the Woman’s Relief Corps, a national organization for female Civil War veterans. She lived at this home on Holyoke for much of her time in Boston, likely re-connecting with her old friend Harriet Tubman when she lived on the street.
Built in 1785, the Sedgwick House on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA, is the oldest of several Federal mansions built in town after the Revolution. Theodore Sedgwick (1746-1813), one of the early lawyers of Berkshire County, moved to Stockbridge in 1785 and built this house. From 1796 to 1799 he was a Senator in the federal government, and declined a position of Secretary of the Treasury offered by George Washington. Before this, when a House Representative, he was nominated the fourth Speaker of the House. An ardent Federalist, Theodore retired from the national arena upon Thomas Jefferson’s election. Sedgwick was also a member of an early abolitionist society organized in Pennsylvania in 1775 and played a key role in abolishing slavery in Massachusetts by his win in the case of Bett v. Ashley. In this case, Sedgwick served as attorney of Mum Bet (also known as Elizabeth Freeman) an enslaved woman in nearby Sheffield and argued that slavery was inconsistent with the 1780 Massachusetts State Constitution, and won. Bet became the first enslaved African American to file and win a freedom suit in Massachusetts, effectively abolishing slavery in the state. She was later buried in the Sedgwick Family burial plot in Stockbridge. The home was later owned and occupied by Catharine Maria Sedgwick, Theodore’s daughter, who became one of nineteenth-century America’s most prolific women writers. She published six novels, two biographies, eight works for children, novellas, over 100 pieces of short prose and other works.
One of the most interesting homes in Warren, Rhode Island, is located on Main Street. This home was constructed in 1753 by and for Jesse Baker (1733-1818) and was a modest 1-1/2 story gambrel roofed Georgian home. Mr. Baker owned a local wharf with his brothers and father and was also listed as a mariner who owned various ships. By the time of the Revolutionary War, he and his wife stood against the redcoats and offered their ships for the revolution. It is said that Mrs. Baker used blankets from her home to fight the flames from the British burning the nearby Baptist meetinghouse. The home remained in the Baker family for over 100 years until it was purchased by Dr. Joseph Merchant in 1868. Dr. Merchant, seeing the commercial character shift on Main Street, made additions to accommodate his residence and medical practice in the building. He had the modest home updated after the Civil War with Italianate features including the corner tower, entry tower with tripartite rounded arch windows above, dormer, and brackets (now painted orange).
Merchant’s daughter, Mary Jolls Merchant DeWolf accompanied him on house calls, traveling by horse and buggy throughout Warren, Barrington, Swansea, and Rehoboth. After contracting a serious illness from one of his patients, she graduated from high school a year late. In 1898, during the Spanish American War, she joined the United States Sanitary Commission, precursor to the American Red Cross, providing aid to soldiers. Mary formed the British Relief Committee when World War I began and her home became the center of Red Cross work in Warren when the United States entered the war in 1917. She served on the Warren Branch of the American Red Cross for over 35 years. Mary was a champion of women’s rights and the suffrage movement and had the unique honor of being the first woman in Rhode Island to register to vote when the 19th Amendment was ratified in 1920. She passed away in 1947 at 421 Main Street, the home where she was born and lived for 77 years.
While this ca. 1805 Federal estate was built for Elisha Payne, a businessman and later well-known politician around New England. In 1831, the home was acquired by Prudence Crandall (1803-1890) who both lived in and ran an all-girls school out of the large mansion. Originally serving as a teacher for Canterbury’s wealthy families, she eventually hired Sarah Harris a Black woman, who had lived nearby and wished to become a teacher herself. Local white parents were outraged, urging Crandall to expel Harris. She refused. When white parents withdrew their children, Crandall transformed her boarding school into one for African American girls. That, too, met with hostility from local white men who feared that it would draw more African Americans into their community and would lead to interracial marriage.
Admission to the new boarding school rose to 24 in the first few years. Both Crandall as well as her students endured harassment; shopkeepers refused to sell them food, the building was pelted with stones and eggs, and, in January 1934, the townspeople unsuccessfully attempted to set the school on fire. When Crandall continued undaunted, the Canterbury legislature passed its 1833 “Black Law” (repealed in 1838), making it illegal to run a school teaching African American students from a state other than Connecticut. Crandall was arrested and jailed. Her first trial ended in a hung jury; the second trial resulted in her conviction, which was overturned by a higher court. On the night of September 9, 1834, an angry mob broke most of the school’s windows and smashed furniture. Fearing for her students’ safety, Crandall finally closed the school.
Prudence later married Calvin Philleo, a Baptist minister and abolitionist and they moved to Illinois. After she left Connecticut, and after the American Civil War, Connecticut Legislature and Windham County voted in favor of Black education and black suffrage, eventually sending Prudence a pension for her work while she lived in the state. As a white woman of wealth, Prudence Crandall broke all norms and gender barriers to provide what all would say is a basic human right, education to all. She believed that black girls were worthy of decent education, and she risked her life to provide it. The former school building and home is operated today as the Prudence Crandall Museum.