The “Folly” in Folly Hill

Browne Hall
(Image of Browne Hall reprinted in Harriet S. Tapley, Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923 (Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923).

In 1740 a large mansion was built atop Leach’s Hill, a home whose construction was deemed a folly and altered the name of the hill itself. Today featuring the large water tanks towering above Route 128, the hill lost its former glory due to one of the worst natural disasters in New England history.

In those days, from the summit of the hill one could see Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, the Blue Hills in Milton, and the hills of Chelmsford. Today the Boston skyline remains visible on the southern horizon, as is the ocean to the east, and the old Danvers State Hospital perched atop Hathorne Hill to the west. Folly Hill is visible from all across the north shore, and attracted local explorers and wanderers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, who as a young man in the early 1800s explored the hilltop and ruins of “Browne’s Folly.”

Folly Hill looking south
(Looking south from Folly Hill, September 2019. Danversport Yacht Club and Sandy Beach in the foreground, and the Boston skyline in the background. Author’s photo.)

William Browne, a wealthy Salem merchant, representative in the Massachusetts legislature, and member of the Governor’s Council, purchased the hill for the location of a fine country estate. In 1740 he built “Browne Hall,” an 80-foot long mansion that consisted of two wings connected by a central entrance hall. The house was extravagantly furnished and built in a neoclassical style, with columns around the main doors and the floors painted to look like a mosaic.

One visitor noted that the entrance hall had an oval gallery with a fine railing above the ballroom, and a large dome for the roof. The mansion had four main entrances – one facing north, east, south, and west – and if all of the doors were propped open, one could stand in the center under the dome and see outside from all four directions. An opulent palace for a wealthy man, this house on the summit of the hill was visible for miles – but its precarious location atop the hill was its downfall.

At 4:30am on November 18, 1755, people across Massachusetts and the Atlantic coast suddenly awoke. The ground rumbled for four and a half minutes, walls shook, and chimneys crumbled as a powerful earthquake struck the area. The quake’s epicenter was off Cape Ann, but its effects were felt as far away as Nova Scotia and South Carolina. Clocks stopped in Boston and more than 1,500 chimneys crumbled, while in New Haven the ground rose and fell like waves on the ocean. Out on the actual sea, sailors 200 miles from the coast felt the rumbling and feared that their ship had run aground. The earthquake was the strongest ever felt in Massachusetts – likely between a 6.0 and 6.3 if measured on the modern Richter scale – and may have caused a tsunami as far away as the Caribbean.

Once the tremors ceased, the inside of Browne Hall was littered with broken glass and it was feared that part of the structure was compromised. Browne no longer considered the home safe to live in due to the damage, which was exacerbated by the house’s location on the peak of the hill. Abandoning this prominent yet precarious location, Browne moved part of the mansion to the corner of Liberty and Conant Streets in Danvers. William Browne passed away eight years after the earthquake and was buried in Salem’s Charter St. Cemetery, leaving the remnants of his once-glorious estate in Danvers to the next generation.

The remaining part of the house, now at its much lower location, was inherited by Browne’s nephew and heir. But, his nephew was a Loyalist during the Revolution and so all of his property was confiscated, including the remnants of Browne Hall. Browne’s nephew returned to England during the Revolution and later became the Royal Governor of Bermuda. The part of the house at the end of Liberty Street was left abandoned, with all of the home’s furnishings still within.

This unkempt building became known as a haunted house, and local children dared one another to enter. Nathaniel Hawthorne recounts the story of several boys hesitantly exploring the deserted mansion, believed to be the home of some evil spirit. On one adventure, they opened a door only to have specters of the home’s former owners lurch out of the closet at them as they turned tail and fled. These images were later discovered to be merely Browne family portraits tumbling off a shelf, rather than ghosts of the home’s former inhabitants.

Browne Hall Portraits
(Two of the Browne family portraits that were kept in Brown Hall. Reprinted in Ezra D. Hines, “Brown Hill and Some History Connected With It,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 32 (1896): 201–36).

The remnants of Browne Hall were later sold off in sections. The central hall became part of the Danvers Hotel, which was located where the savings bank building is now at one corner of Danvers Square.  It was later relocated yet again across the Square, but it burned in a large fire that destroyed the whole area in 1845.

After the house was removed, the hill – by now renamed “Folly Hill” due to Browne’s folly of building such a large house at the pinnacle of the hill – remained empty during the following decades. Hawthorne enjoyed taking walks to the open land around Salem, and frequently took a route that led him across the Salem-Beverly Bridge, down Bridge Street and Elliott Street past the hill, and then down Liberty Street back to Salem. He wrote about the green cart path that led to the top of Folly Hill, the overgrown cellar hole of the house, and the marvelous view of the surrounding towns from the summit.

Hawthorne, in a letter to his cousin, described the remains of Browne Hall as a connection to a prior glorious age before the Revolution and the uncertainty that followed. He wrote, “The ancient site of this proud mansion may still be traced upon the summit of the Hill… there I have sometimes sat and tried to rebuild, in my imagination, the stately house, or to fancy what splendid show it must have been even so far off as in the streets of Salem, when the old proprietor illuminated his many windows to celebrate the King’s birthday.”

Hawthorne Letter 1 - EIHC 32 - 0246

Hawthorne letter 2 - EIHC 32 - 0247
(Image of part of Hawthorne’s letter describing Folly Hill, reprinted in Ezra D. Hines, “Brown Hill and Some History Connected With It,” Essex Institute Historical Collections 32 (1896): 201–36).

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Sources

Ebel, John E. “Massachusetts Historical Society: The Cape Ann Earthquake of November 1755.” Massachusetts Historial Society, November 2005. http://www.masshist.org/object-of-the-month/objects/the-cape-ann-earthquake-of-november-1755-2005-11-01.

Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “Browne’s Folly.” In The Complete Works of Nathaniel Hawthorne, 12:131–35. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1878. https://books.google.com/books?id=Dx5EAAAAYAAJ&dq=hawthorne+Browne%27s+folly&source=gbs_navlinks_s.

Hines, Ezra D. “Brown Hill and Some History Connected With It.” Essex Institute Historical Collections 32 (1896): 201–36.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Danvers Ice Industry

On hot summer days, we take for granted the treat of having a crisp cold drink with ice cubes in it, not to mention the ability to refrigerate and freeze food. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the advent of the ice industry made this refrigeration possible and radically changed the lifestyles of everyday people. Danvers was the site of a booming local ice industry during these years, and a group of Danvers entrepreneurs capitalized on this new industry by establishing an international ice trade.

The Mill Pond, known for centuries as Putnam’s Pond, was the center of the local ice trade. The pond was originally a meadow that was flooded when Beaver Brook was dammed. The dam today is under Sylvan Street at one end of the pond, and for over 250 years the Putnam Family operated a sawmill powered by the flowing water. Although not the original intention, the pond became a perfect location to harvest ice.

Ice House and Saw Mill.jpg
(Putnam saw mill in the foreground, with the ice houses in the background. Road at bottom right is Sylvan St. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

The Otis F. Putnam Ice Company took advantage of this opportunity. Boards would be added to the dam to raise the water level in the pond at the start of winter. Over the course of the cold months, the pond would freeze at least 10 inches deep. Then, the snow would be shoveled off, and metal tools were used to cut a grid pattern 3 inches deep into the ice. A horse then pulled a sharp tool down the pre-cut grid lines, separating the squares into blocks of ice.

Ice Harvesting.jpg
(Workers from the Otis F. Putnam Ice Company harvesting ice from the Mill Pond in 1900. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

These blocks were then floated over to the Sylvan Street dam and through the narrow opening to an ice house that sat where the Walnut Grove Cemetery is now. The blocks were packed in sawdust or hay, which insulated them and prevented melting. About 6,000 tons of ice were harvested each year from the pond, and some years two rounds of ice could be harvested if the weather stayed cold long enough.

Ice House
(Another view of Putnam’s ice house, located at the present-day site of Walnut Grove Cemetery. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

During the warmer months, the iceman traveled around town in an insulated wagon delivering ice to the kitchens of Danvers to keep food cold in the iceboxes. This Mill Pond ice was used primarily for refrigeration, not as ice cubes in drinks. One reason is that ice was too expensive to use frivolously, but also the quality of the water was in question. Beginning in 1901 the town consulted with the state board of health about pollution in the pond from nearby industries, and the state restricted the consumption of ice to only the top most layers of the pond.

Putnam Ice Wagon.jpg
(The Otis F. Putnam Ice Company delivery wagon at the turn of the century. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center. Republished from Zollo, Trask, and Reedy, As the Century Turned).

While the Putnam Ice Company served local customers, another group of Danversites plied their talents at the international ice trade. In 1845 a fire swept through downtown Danvers, which destroyed the house and shop of shoe manufacturer Joshua Silvester. He then went to England to establish a shoe factory, but while there discovered the great demand for ice in the large cities of Britain. When he returned to Danvers in 1846, he suggested to several of his friends that they should enter the ice business. Silvester himself was unable to be a partner after the losses he suffered in the fire, so his friends formed a stock company led by Henry T. Ropes.

The Danvers businessmen bought out a Salem company owned by Charles B. Lander that was doing a brisk trade sending ice from Wenham Lake to icehouses in Liverpool, England. The ice was cut and collected at Wenham Lake, and shipped by rail to Boston where it was packed in sawdust for the voyage to England. One of the builders of the rail spur from Wenham Lake to the railroad mainline along Locust St. in Danvers was Grenville Dodge, the Danvers native who later oversaw the building of the eastern half of the Transcontinental Railroad.

The business was slow to make returns for the Danvers men, but Ropes persevered and became very wealthy once the business took off.  From 1860 to 1880 Wenham Lake produced as much as 30,000 tons of ice annually, but this was not enough to meet demand. As the business expanded in Britain, the Danvers company needed to ship more ice than could be supplied locally so it expanded operations into Norway. Although it may seem hard to believe that shipping ice across the ocean in cargo ships was cost-effective, it was actually far cheaper to send this natural ice halfway around the world than it was to make “artificial ice” with prohibitively expensive machines.

The Danvers company marketed its ice not just to ordinary consumers for refrigeration, but also to the wealthy for use as ice cubes in drinks. The early shipments of ice from New England changed British society. One other early American ice company also imported American bar tenders to show the London elite how to enjoy cocktails with ice in them.

On April 2, 1892, a Liverpool newspaper ran an article with the headline “Ice is King” which described the Danvers company’s enormous success over the previous decades. The article also noted that the company had presented a gift of ice to Queen Victoria and the Royal Family, who were quite pleased with this new luxury.

Both locally and internationally the ice industry continued until the age of electrical refrigeration. The ice houses along the Mill Pond in Danvers burned down in 1935, thereby ending the local harvesting of ice. But, the ice at the Mill Pond continued to be used by children who skated on it for decades, until it no longer froze through solidly enough to be safe.

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Sources:

Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Annual Report of the State Board of Health of Massachusetts. Vol. 41. Boston: Wright and Potter Printing Co., 1910.

“Natural Ice.” Cold Storage and Ice Trade Journal, March 1906.

Putnam, A.P. “Wenham Lake and the Ice Trade.” Ice and Regrigeration, July 1892.

———. “Wenham Lake and the Ice Trade.” Ice and Regrigeration, August 1892.

———. “Wenham Lake and the Ice Trade.” Ice and Regrigeration, September 1892.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Zollo, Richard P., Richard B. Trask, and Joan M. Reedy. As the Century Turned: Photographic Glimpses of Danvers, Massachusetts. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1989.

John Greenleaf Whittier and Oak Knoll

(In the Danvers Herald July 5, 2019)

Oak Knoll - Danvers Archives
(Oak Knoll. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center)

In April 1876, world-renowned poet John Greenleaf Whittier moved to a mansion house on Summer St. in Danvers. Born in Haverhill in 1807, Whittier was one of the “fireside poets,” the first group of American poets that were famous at home and around the world. The group included Whittier, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., and James Russell Lowell. In general these writers explored traditional New England countryside themes, and through their writing sought to bring about social change against injustices of their time, and in particular supported the abolition of slavery.


(The “Fireside Poets.” Source: https://archive.org/stream/historyprogresso09sand/historyprogresso09sand#page/n489/mode/1up)

Whittier attended the 1833 convention that founded the American Anti-Slavery Society, of whose importance he later wrote: “I set a higher value on my name as appended to the Anti-Slavery Declaration of 1833 than on the title-page of any book.” Prominent in abolitionist and literary circles, he first had his poems published in a Newburyport newspaper whose editor was William Lloyd Garrison. In later years, Garrison went on to become one of the best-known abolitionists as founder of the American Anti-Slavery Society and editor of The Liberator, a leading anti-slavery newspaper that also advocated for women’s rights. The two became life-long friends, though they had disagreements about the best tactics for the abolitionist movement.


(The first page of a letter Whittier wrote while at Oak Knoll to William Lloyd Garrison. Digital Commonwealth: https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/search/commonwealth:dv142x13s)

Built in 1842, the house in Danvers to which Whittier moved in 1876 was a stunning Greek Revival-style country mansion. Whittier named it “Oak Knoll” because in front of the house there was a small rise with a grand oak tree upon it. The estate had manicured hedges, rolling lawns, rose gardens, and wild countryside surrounding it. The poet so loved the beautiful nature around his residence that when invited to go on carriage rides to other estates he was known to reply, “We will see nothing more beautiful than what we have at home.” After moving to Danvers, Whittier was offered as a gift the lavish Kernwood estate (now the country club) along the Danvers River in Salem. He refused, preferring the beautiful natural surroundings of Oak Knoll.


(Map of Oak Knoll. Historic American Building Survey, 1936, Library of Congress. Note Summer Street along the bottom edge.)

Whittier wrote more than 100 poems while living in Danvers, including the collections The Vision of Echard, and Other Poems (1878) and his last book of poems, At Sundown (1890). There are many of Whittier’s manuscripts and early-edition published works in the Danvers Archival Center. In his study, Whittier wrote at a desk from the Haverhill schoolhouse that he attended as a child, which was later donated to the Danvers Historical Society.

One of the best-known poems Whittier wrote at Oak Knoll was “The Witch of Wenham.” The poem’s theme is the witch-hunt of 1692, which began in what is now Danvers and spread throughout the surrounding towns. The poem reveals Whittier’s historical knowledge, and ends with a description of the area near Oak Knoll,

And when once more by Beaver Dam
The meadow-lark outsang,
And once again on all the hills
The early violets sprang,

And all the windy pasture slopes
Lay green within the arms
Of creeks that bore the salted sea
To pleasant inland farms,

The smith filed off the chains he forged,
The jail-bolts backward fell;
And youth and hoary age came forth
Like souls escaped from hell.

While living in Danvers, a steady parade of famous figures came to visit the elder poet and one historian describes these visitors “as pilgrims to a shrine.” The Emperor of Brazil Dom Pedro II visited Whittier at Oak Knoll. The Emperor was a man of letters who sponsored education in recently-independent Brazil, and worked to abolish slavery in that land. Another visitor was Dorothea Dix, an activist working for prison reform, and especially to end the practice of incarcerating mentally insane individuals in prisons because there were no other facilities for them. Her work led to the establishment of special hospitals across the country to treat those with mental illness. At her death, Dix was buried with a copy of Whittier’s poem “At Last” in her hands.


(His Imperial Majesty The Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil. Shown here in 1872. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pedro_Am%C3%A9rico_-_D._Pedro_II_na_abertura_da_Assembl%C3%A9ia_Geral.jpg)

One of Whittier’s visitors who played an unusual role in American history was Samuel J. Tilden, a long-time friend and abolitionist. Whittier was at Oak Knoll in 1876 when newspapers announced that Tilden may or may not have been elected President of the United States. Tilden received the most votes, but due to disputed recounts it was not clear whether he or Rutherford B. Hayes won the required electoral votes. A constitutional crisis ensued, President Grant sent federal troops to secure Washington, DC in case of civil unrest, and in the end a special commission declared Hayes the winner. When Tilden died in 1886, Whittier wrote a poem of remembrance published in a Boston newspaper.

Whittier was particularly respected in his later years as the last of the greatest generation of American poets. On Whittier’s 80th birthday Massachusetts Governor Oliver Ames attended a large party with 600 invited guests to honor the luminary. A few years before, in 1885, Whittier was asked to write the inscription on the memorial to Rebecca Nurse, hanged for witchcraft in 1692. He was described at the memorial’s dedication as “one of the most eminent and beloved poets of the present age.” Whittier died in 1892 while visiting a friend in New Hampshire.

Whittier Grave 2

Whittier Grave 1
(Whittier’s grave, Union Cemetery, Amesbury, Mass.)

When a biographer asked Whittier later in his life whether he considered Oak Knoll or a house he owned in Amesbury as his true home, the poet said of Oak Knoll, “Say, it is my home. I retain my legal residence in Amesbury, and I go there to vote, but my home is at ‘Oak Knoll.’”

Oak Knoll was torn down by a developer in 1958. The area of the former estate is now split between the Greenleaf Drive neighborhood and the beautiful marshland of the Greenleaf Open Space Area, preserved as natural land, much the same as it was in Whittier’s day.

Oak Knoll Google Map
(The area of the former Oak Knoll today. Google Maps)

 

—————————————————————————————————————————————–Sources:

Academy of American Poets. “A Brief Guide to the Fireside Poets | Academy of American Poets.” Text. Accessed June 13, 2019. https://poets.org/text/brief-guide-fireside-poets.

———. “Snow-Bound [The Sun That Brief December Day] by John Greenleaf Whittier – Poems  Academy of American Poets.” Accessed June 13, 2019. https://poets.org/poem/snow-bound-sun-brief-december-day.

Danvers Archival Center. “Fiscal Year 2014 Annual Report,” August 9, 2014. https://www.danverslibrary.org/archive/2014-annual-report/.

Poetry Foundation. “John Greenleaf Whittier.” Poetry Foundation, June 13, 2019. https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/john-greenleaf-whittier.

Sanderson, Edgar, John Porter Lamberton, and Charles Morris. The History and Progress of the World. Philadelphia, T. Nolan, 1913. http://archive.org/details/historyprogresso09sand.

Tapley, Charles S. Country Estates of Old Danvers. Danvers, Mass., n.d.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Upham, William P. “Account of the Rebecca Nurse Monument.” In Essex Institute Historical Collections, 23:151–60, 201–28. Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1886.

Woodman, Abby J. Reminiscences of John Greenleaf Whittier’s Life at Oak Knoll, Danvers, Mass. Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1908. https://catalog.hathitrust.org/Record/007677070.

 

 

‘Witches’ and Revolutionaries at the Rebecca Nurse Homestead

(In the Danvers Herald May 21, 2019)

Rebecca Nurse House - Dan Gagnon
(The Rebecca Nurse House, Author’s Photo)

Tucked away behind the trees along Pine Street is the Rebecca Nurse Homestead, which was involved in many currents of American history and contains two of the oldest buildings in Danvers. Isolated from the surrounding neighborhoods, this island of colonial life is visited by several thousand visitors each year from all corners of the world.

Although most closely associated with the 1692 witch trials during which Rebecca Nurse was falsely accused of witchcraft and hanged, the 300-acre farm was first settled in 1636. Townsend Bishop, a respected magistrate and wealthy merchant, received the first grant to the farm but did not live there long. In 1645 he was accused of not bringing his child forth to be baptized into the Puritan church.

Bishop was accused of being a Baptist, a new sect that believed that only consenting adults should be baptized, not infants. This new religious group was much-loathed by the Puritans – the only religious group allowed to practice in Massachusetts at that time – and Bishop was run out of town for his heretical beliefs. Today some of Bishop’s fine household goods are at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

Subsequent residents of the Homestead were the Endicott Family, whose ancestral mansion abutted the farm and stood where the CVS on Endicott Street is today. These farmers were the family of Massachusetts’ first resident governor, John Endicott, whose house on Endicott Street served as the governor’s office until a law was passed that required the governor to live in Boston. The Endicott House was set to be torn down in the 1980s, and was moved to the Nurse Homestead to save it from demolition.

In 1678, Rebecca Nurse and her husband Francis purchased the farm and moved onto the property with several of their grown children. Their children married soon afterwards, and the Nurse family hosted a double wedding in October, 1678 when two of their daughters married local men on the same day. In the following years, the Nurses deeded parcels of the farm to their children, dividing it between four households. The house of their daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Thomas Preston, still stands on Ash Street.

Nurse Homestead farm map
(The outline of the original 300-acre Nurse Farm overlaid on a contemporary map. The Nurse House is the red marker, the Nurse cemetery is the yellow, and the current or former sites of her children’s homes are the blue. For full map of the Sites in the Life of Rebecca Nurse, see: https://spectersofsalemvillage.com/map-life-of-rebecca-nurse/)

Fourteen years after moving to Salem Village (the area that is now Danvers), Rebecca Nurse was accused of witchcraft. Her chief accusers were Mrs. Ann Putnam and her daughter Ann Putnam Jr. who lived just south of Hathorne Hill. Nurse allegedly sent her “specter” – a ghostly form of herself – to attack Ann Jr. and several other people in the Village.

While living at the Homestead, Francis Nurse organized a legal defense of his accused wife and collected signatures from neighbors attesting to Rebecca’s innocence. This evidence was presented to the court at her trial in June, 1692, and it persuaded the jury to find her not guilty – the only person to receive such a verdict during the witch-hunt.

But, immediately after the foreman announced this verdict, the accusers in the courtroom began yelling, rolling around, and screaming that Nurse was once again hurting them with witchcraft. This outcry, along with pressure from the judges, persuaded the jury to redeliberate. They left the courtroom again, and then returned to ask her more questions. Because she was elderly, ill, and hard of hearing Nurse either did not answer their questions, or did not answer them sufficiently which led the jury to find her guilty.

Her family petitioned the governor for a reprieve to delay her execution until they could appeal the case, which he granted. However, someone identified only as a “Salem gentleman” lobbied the governor to revoke his reprieve, and Nurse was hanged on July 19, 1692. It is believed that she was reburied in the family cemetery on the farm after her execution. In 1885, her descendants built a memorial to her in the cemetery – the first memorial to an accused witch anywhere in the United States.

325 Nurse Monument Wreath
(The Rebecca Nurse Monument at the conclusion of the commemoration of the 325th anniversary of her execution, July 19, 2017. The Danvers Alarm List Company lobbied Gov. Baker to declare that day “Rebecca Nurse Day” in Massachusetts, and hosted a memorial event featuring a lecture and a service at the monument to mark the occasion).

Nurse’s descendants lived on the farm for another century, and her great-grandson, also named Francis, lived on the farm during the mid-1700s. He was a sergeant in the militia, and served on the first board of selectmen of Danvers when it became an independent town. He was living at the Homestead on April 19, 1775, when around 9am he heard the bells of the First Church ringing frantically. He grabbed his gun, and ran for the training field on Centre Street. The British had left Boston, and were advancing on Lexington and Concord.

The Danvers Militia frantically traversed 16 miles of dirt roads and paths to cut off the British retreat to Boston. The Danvers men intercepted the British troops at Menotomy (present-day Arlington, Mass.) in a brutal fight involving hand-to-hand combat at the Jason Russell House. Nurse survived, but seven Danvers men did not. Sergeant Francis Nurse lived five more years, before he was laid to rest in the family cemetery.

The Homestead continued to be a private farm up until 1907 when it was put up for sale, and it was feared that the farm would be entirely divided up and the house demolished. Danvers resident Sarah E. Hunt raised money to purchase and preserve the property as a non-profit museum. It was owned by this local group for two decades, until it was sold to a larger museum organization. This organization put the property up for sale in 1981, and it was again feared that the property would be lost. The Danvers Alarm List Company, the group of Danvers Revolutionary War reenactors, purchased the property so that it could remain a non-profit museum.

Nurse House Map Clemens
(Plan of the Nurse Homestead by William J. Clemens, courtesy of the Rebecca Nurse Homestead Museum. NOTE: Hours listed in the drawing are not current museum hours)

Today the Nurse Homestead shares the history of Danvers with thousands of local, out-of-town, and international visitors each year. It is the only home of a victim of the 1692 Witch-Hunt preserved and open to the public.

 


Sources:

Danvers, Town of. Report of the Committee Appointed to Revise the Soldiers’ Record. Danvers, Mass.: Town of Danvers, 1895.

Danvers Alarm List Company. “Timeline | The Rebecca Nurse Homestead.” Accessed May 24, 2019. http://www.rebeccanurse.org/timeline/.

Gagnon, Daniel A. “Sites in the Life of Rebecca Nurse.” 2018. https://spectersofsalemvillage.com/map-life-of-rebecca-nurse/.

Hoover, Lois Payne. Towne Family: William Towne and Joanna Blessing, Salem, Massachusetts, 1635. Baltimore, MD: Otter Bay Books, 2010.

Perley, Sidney. “Endecott Land, Salem Village, in 1700.” In Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society, 4:99–120. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1916.

Rosenthal, Bernard, ed. Records of the Salem Witch-Hunt. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Salem, Town of. Town Records of Salem, Massachusetts. 3 vols. Salem, Mass.: The Essex Institute, 1868. https://ia801600.us.archive.org/30/items/townrecordsofsal00sale/townrecordsofsal00sale.pdf.

Shurtleff, Nathaniel B., ed. Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England. Boston: Commonwealth of Massachusetts, 1854. http://hdl.handle.net/2027/inu.30000041586334.

Suffolk County (Mass.). Suffolk Deeds. 14 vols. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill Press, 1880.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Upham, Charles W. Salem Witchcraft: With an Account of Salem Village and A History of Opinions on Witchcraft and Kindred Subjects. Mineola, New York: Dover, 2000.

Zollo, Richard P. From Muskets to Missiles: Danvers in Five Wars. Danvers, Mass.: R.P. Zollo, 2001.

 

The Danvers Library and Its Benefactor, George Peabody

(In the Danvers Herald, April 18, 2019)

Danvers Library 2019 - Dan Gagnon
(Peabody Institute Library, Danvers, 2019. Author’s photo)

Danvers’ Peabody Institute Library, one of several “Peabody Institutes” across the United States, is named for noted philanthropist and Danvers native George Peabody. He was born in 1795 in the South Parish of Danvers, which later became the Town of South Danvers and is now the City of Peabody.

File:George Peabody House.JPG
(George Peabody House Museum, Peabody, Mass. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:George_Peabody_House.jpg)

George Peabody grew up poor and received little education (this was before Danvers had a public high school), so he went to work at age 12 as a clerk. He volunteered as a soldier in the War of 1812, and then returned to work in various dry-goods stores. He later impressed a wealthy merchant in New York and became his business partner.

Peabody later moved to London and established his own bank, George Peabody & Co. As a banker, he loaned money to foreign kingdoms and empires, and helped establish the credit of the US Treasury abroad. George Peabody and Co. still exists, though it was renamed a generation later to the probably more familiar “J.P. Morgan & Co.” Peabody never married or had a family, and he chose Morgan’s father as his protégé. Peabody’s bank is the predecessor to the present-day banks J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. and Morgan Stanley.

Away in London in 1852, Peabody regretted that he could not attend the celebrations of Danvers’ 100th anniversary. As an invited guest of honor, he had the privilege of giving a toast at the banquet, which followed a grand parade. Instead, Peabody sent a sealed envelope containing a toast that was dramatically read at the gala: “Education, a debt due from past to future generations.” Putting his money where his mouth was, the envelope also included an announcement that he was donating $20,000 to establish a library for Danvers.

When he finally returned home in 1856, he received a hero’s welcome. Having split only one year prior, both Danvers and South Danvers gave a joint reception for Peabody, who visited his hometown as his first stop back in the US. He arrived at the Maple St. Church in Danvers Square and was greeted by a one-hundred gun volley. From there, a parade travelled across town and through triumphal arches erected for the occasion, as people threw flowers and cannon salutes boomed.

That day he told a group of children from his former neighborhood, “(Your) early opportunities and advantages are not very much greater than were my own, and I have since achieved nothing that is impossible to the most humble boy among you.”

Peabody Mural - Richard V. Ellery
(Mural in the Danvers library depicting George Peabody’s return to Danvers based on drawings from the time. The mural was done by Danvers artist Richard V. Ellery as part of the Works Progress Administration’s art projects during the Great Depression. Author’s photo.)

Although stingy and thrifty in his personal life – a holdover from his impoverished childhood – he is remembered as “the father of modern philanthropy” for donating the majority of his fortune to educational institutions in America and to the Peabody Trust, which continues his mission to provide affordable housing to over 110,000 Londoners. He was admired for his charity in London, where even British nobility attended his American Independence Day party each July 4th.

In addition to the libraries of Danvers, Peabody, and Georgetown, his donations established the Peabody Academy of Sciences (now the Peabody Essex Museum) in Salem. Focused on education, Peabody donated to many universities across the United States. Harvard University, Yale University, and Phillips Academy, Andover have museums named in his honor.

Peabody made subsequent visits home with large receptions each time, and donated more than $100,000 towards the Peabody Institute, Danvers. In 1869 he returned for the dedication of the Institute, built at Peabody Park in Danvers along the banks of the Mill Pond. Guests who attended the events at the Institute  that week included Senator Charles Sumner and Oliver Wendell Holmes.

The original building was a Gothic Revival structure. It caught fire in 1890, though many books and a large portrait of Peabody (that still hangs in the library today) were saved from the flames. The present structure was built in 1892 on the same spot. It featured a large auditorium and stage for events and lectures, in addition to reading rooms. The auditorium was removed in 1981 and more floors for books were built. During this renovation, space for the children’s room and Danvers Archival Center was added below ground.

Peabody Portrait
(Portrait of George Peabody saved from the fire. It still hangs in the library today. Author’s photo)

Library Auditorium
(The interior of the library showing the auditorium, 1978. Photo by Ron Gagnon)

Remnants of Stage
(Remnants of the auditorium stage seen in 2019. Author’s photo.)

The 1869 trip home for the dedication was Peabody’s last. A statue of him was dedicated later that year outside the Royal Exchange in London, and he died soon after. His last words were, “Danvers, Danvers! Don’t forget!,” referring to his wish to be buried in his hometown. A funeral was held for him at Westminster Abbey in the presence of Queen Victoria, who also rode in his funeral cortège. The Queen admired Peabody, and once offered him a title of nobility, which he refused as an American. Peabody was temporarily buried in the Abbey, the first American to ever be buried there.


(Dedication of Peabody statue, Royal Exchange, London. From the Illustrated London News, July 31, 1869)

File:Funeral of George Peabody at Westminster Abbey, 1869 ILN.jpg
(Peabody’s Funeral at Westminster Abbey. From the Illustrated London News, 1869)

But, Peabody wished to be buried in his hometown. In another first for an American, on the Queen’s orders a squadron of Royal Navy warships transported Peabody’s body across the Atlantic. After another funeral attended by the Queen’s son Prince Arthur in Peabody, Mass. (which changed its name in his honor the previous year), Peabody was buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem.

In 1995 hundreds of people gathered in Westminster Abbey to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Peabody’ birth, which shows the lasting positive effect of his philanthropy. The event included the organist playing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” in the same church in which the British monarchs are crowned.

In March, 2018, Peabody was remembered by Google, which featured an image of him and several educational institutions that he endowed – including the Danvers library – above the search bar on Google.com.

Google honors George Peabody, considered 'the father
(George Peabody and the Danvers Library on the Google homepage, March, 2018)

In the words of a London pamphlet describing Peabody soon after his death: “He acquired riches for the sake of doing good.”

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Sources:

Best, Antony. On the Fringes of Diplomacy: Influences on British Foreign Policy, 1800–1945. Routledge, 2016.

Chernow, Ron. The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

Dean and Chapter of Westminster. “George Peabody, Philanthropist.” Westminster Abbey. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://www.westminster-abbey.org/abbey-commemorations/commemorations/george-peabody/.

“Funeral of George Peabody at Westminster Abbey.” New York Times, November 13, 1869. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1869/11/13/80248714.pdf.

George Peabody. Peabody Donation Presented To The Peabody Institute Danvers Massachusetts U.S. By George Peabody Of London 1862. London: J.W.L Maude, 1862. http://archive.org/details/PeabodyDonationPresentedToThePeabodyInstituteDanversMassachusettsByGeorgePeabodyOfLondon1862.

George Peabody, the Philanthropist, and Working Man’s Friend. London: W. Partridge and Co., 1870.

Glauber, Bill. “Service in London Honors Memory of George Peabody Philanthropist Spread Charitable Deeds in Great Britain, America.” The Baltimore Sun. November 17, 1995. https://www.baltimoresun.com/news/bs-xpm-1995-11-17-1995321035-story.html.

Hanaford, Phebe Ann. The Life of George Peabody: Containing a Record of Those Princely Acts of Benevolence Which Entitle Him to the Esteem and Gratitude of All Friends of Education and the Destitute, Both in America, The Land of His Birth, And in England, The Land of His Death. Boston: B.B. Russell, 1870.

“Peabody Housing Association | About Us | London.” Peabody. Accessed April 6, 2019. https://www.peabody.org.uk/about-us.

Peabody Institute, Danvers. Proceedings at the Reception and Dinner in Honor of George Peabody, Esq. of London, by the Citizens of the Old Town of Danvers, October 9, 1856. To Which Is Appended an Historical Sketch of the Peabody Institute, with the Exercises at the Laying of the Corner-Stone and at the Dedication .. Boston: H. W. Dutton & Son, 1856. http://archive.org/details/proceedingsatrec02danv.

“Peabody Institute Library of Danvers.” Massachusetts Cultural Resource Information System. Accessed April 1, 2019. http://mhc-macris.net/Details.aspx?MhcId=DAN.220.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Trustees of the Peabody Institute. Annual Report of the Trustees of Peabody Institute, Danvers, Mass., For the Year Ending March 1, 1898. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Mirror Press, 1898.

Wallis, Severn Teackle. Discourse on the Life and Character of George Peabody. Peabody Institute, Baltimore, 1870.

Danversport’s Grand Statue

(In the Danvers Herald, 2/28/19)

Statue
(Author’s photo, February 2019)

At the fork of Water and South Liberty Streets in Danvers is a large statue of a man mounted upon a horse, one of only 10 equestrian statues in Massachusetts. Often misidentified as a military man, the statue is of eccentric millionaire William Penn Hussey (1846-1910).

The statue depicts Hussey riding on a white horse, which commemorates him leading a procession through the streets of Danvers that included a 1,000 horsemen honor guard in front of a crowd of 75,000 cheering spectators. He rode not as a conquering general but instead as a generous community benefactor chosen as grand marshal of Danvers’ 150th anniversary parade in 1902.

Penn Hussey was born in North Berwick, Maine in 1846 and was a cousin of poet John Greenleaf Whittier, another one-time Danvers resident. Hussey was a teenage prankster, and one Sunday morning on St. Patrick’s Day he painted the local minister’s horse green while the village was attending church.

He ran away from home as a teenager and went west, working odd jobs in the California mines. An Indianapolis newspaper that later profiled his rise from rags-to-riches described him having occupations such as “ranchman, brakeman, cowboy, hobo.” He moved to Danversport in 1874, and worked as a farmhand, an attendant at the state hospital, and then a coal distributor.

While working at Danvers State Hospital, Hussey cared for a patient from Edgartown, Martha’s Vineyard. Later, the patient returned home and Hussey went with him to continue as his caretaker. While there, Hussey fell in love with the patient’s sister, Sarah Munroe. They married and returned to Danversport where he established a coal depot and distribution business.

Penn Hussey pen and ink
(Pen-and-ink drawing of Penn Hussey along with his signature, from his company’s prospectus)

Later, Hussey put his mining experience and knowledge of the coal business into practice and founded a coal mine in Nova Scotia with his new (and wealthy) father-in-law. Hussey took out a loan to invest in the company, and travelled to Europe to convince wealthy financiers to invest in his project. While abroad, he addressed the House of Lords in London on the subject of his mine in Nova Scotia (which was then part of the British Empire). He succeeded in obtaining financial backing for his mine, and became a multimillionaire.

Map Broad Cove
(Map of Hussey’s Broad Cove Mine, from his company’s prospectus)

Hussey and his wife lived in the large brick “Riverbank” estate on Water St. from 1883 until his death in 1910. Despite living in a lavish mansion, he was so proud of the white horse he owned that he once brought it into his stately living room to show guests. He also socialized with the elite of Europe, and his daughter Mary Elaine met her future husband in Paris at a gala given by the President of France for the visiting Shah of Persia.

danversmassachus00moyna_0128
(Riverbank in 1899, printed in Moynahan, Danvers, Massachusetts: A Resume of Her Past History and Future Progress)

IMG_0814
(Riverbank in February, 2019. Author’s photo)

Penn Hussey was known locally for his philanthropy in providing coal to Danvers locals who could not afford to heat their homes, and he refused to collect debts on over 1,000 accounts of people who were unable to pay him back. Despite being a multimillionaire who could afford the finest private schools, he sent his son to Holten High School (the public high school in Danvers, the precursor to Danvers High).

Hussey’s philanthropy in sponsoring Danvers’ 150th celebration in 1902 was described in a Boston Globe article entitled “Spent Money Freely.” The town appropriated only a small sum of money for the events, so Hussey stepped in and bankrolled a large portion of the celebration. He furnished floats for each public school, so that all 1,500 Danvers schoolchildren could ride in the grand parade. He also provided horses and saddles for the parade, in addition to hiring several marching bands. He paid for a banquet at his mansion that fed over 1,000 people “in a royal manner,” as the Danvers Mirror (the precursor to the Danvers Herald) described it.

The 150th parade was six miles long, and took 2 hours to pass by. In addition to the 1,000 horsemen in the parade, there were over 100 floats, marching bands, military detachments, veterans of both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, and members of local civic groups. Seventy-five thousand people swarmed into Danvers via steam train, streetcars, horse-drawn carriages, and bicycles to see the festivities. One train headed to Danvers that day was so crowded that there were even people on the roof.

Penn Hussey’s death in 1910 was announced with a front page article in the Boston Globe, and later his death was included in the Globe’s January 1, 1911 year-in-review article on the most significant events of 1910. Reportedly, he requested to be mummified and have his body placed standing up in a glass case on the front lawn of his Water St. mansion. Instead, he is buried in Hussey Circle at Harmony Grove Cemetery, Salem.

The_Boston_Globe_Wed__Apr_27__1910_ (1) - Copy
(Boston Globe, April 27, 1910)

IMG_0834

IMG_0833
(Author’s photos, February 2019)

In 1913, Hussey’s son John Frederick Hussey commissioned George Thomas Brewster to sculpt a cast bronze statue of the philanthropist. The statue is of Penn Hussey wearing the uniform of a general in the Continental Army, the outfit he wore in the Danvers 150th parade as a patriotic homage. The statue’s head is turned to the east so that his likeness looks affectionately at his former Riverbank mansion across the street.

In 1925, Helen Keller met with Hussey’s son. He was so impressed with Keller’s plans for a New England Home for the Deaf that he sold the Riverbank estate to her organization for half its market price. He also gave $35,000 in trust to the Home for the Deaf to maintain the statue of Penn Hussey, with the stipulation that if the Home closed the statue and small park would be offered as a gift to the town. If the town were to refuse, the bronze statue would be melted down and the proceeds given to the public schools of North Berwick, Maine, Penn Hussey’s hometown.


Sources:

“Alfred Stead Is Dead.” The Boston Globe. December 16, 1907.

“Ask the Globe.” Boston Evening Globe. May 28, 1970.

“Brewster, George T. (1862-1943).” Connecticut State Library. Accessed February 10, 2019. https://ctstatelibrary.org/brewster-george-t/.

Broad Cove Coal Company. Prospectus of the Broad Cove Coal Company, Limited. Boston, Mass., 1894. https://qspace.library.queensu.ca/jspui/bitstream/handle/1974/11457/prospectusofbroa00broa.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y.

“Equestrian Statue in Position.” The Boston Globe. September 18, 1913.

Forman, Ethan. “‘Riverbank’ Makes Waves despite Condo Market Slowdown.” Salem News, July 6, 2011, sec. Business. https://www.salemnews.com/news/business/riverbank-makes-waves-despite-condo-market-slowdown/article_71d17e40-bb1b-53ae-9a02-7e412661e4e8.html.

“Hussey Will Offers $35,000 for Upkeep of Father’s Statue.” The Boston Daily Globe. December 4, 1954.

Inverness Miners’ Museum. “The Broken Ground: A History of a Cape Breton Coal Mining Community.” Virtual Museum of Canada. Accessed February 10, 2019. http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/sgc-cms/histoires_de_chez_nous-community_stories/pm_v2.php?id=record_detail&fl=0&lg=English&ex=00000738&rd=191898.

“Looking Backward: A Review of the Year.” The Boston Sunday Globe. January 1, 1911.

“Millionaire Tramp Dead.” The Boston Daily Globe. April 27, 1910.

Moynahan, Frank E. Danvers, Massachusetts: A Resume of Her Past History and Future Progress. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Mirror, 1899. https://archive.org/details/danversmassachus00moyna/page/n3.

New England Homes for the Deaf. “The History of NEHD.” New England Homes For the Deaf, 2016. http://nehd.org/history/.

Newton, David, and Pamela Newton. They Came From Away: Yanks, Brits and Cape Breton. New York: iUnverse, 2010.

“Odd Tricks of Fortune.” Indianapolis Journal. December 9, 1900.

Smithsonian American Art Museum. “William Penn Hussey, (Sculpture).” Smithsonian Art Inventories Catalog, 2016. https://siris-artinventories.si.edu/ipac20/ipac.jsp?&profile=ariall&source=~!siartinventories&uri=full=3100001~!328225~!0#focus.

Stacy, Bonnie. “Historical Perspective: Mr. Munroe of Edgartown – Tailor, Millionaire.” Martha’s Vineyard Times. January 30, 2013. https://www.mvtimes.com/2013/01/30/historical-perspective-mr-munroe-edgartown-tailor-millionaire-14119/.

Tapley, Harriet S. Chronicles of Danvers (Old Salem Village), Massachusetts, 1632-1923. Danvers, Mass.: The Danvers Historical Society, 1923.

Town of Danvers. The Celebration of the One Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Establishment of the Town of Danvers, Massachusetts, as a Seperate Municipality. Boston, Mass.: Fort Hill Press, 1907.

Zollo, Richard P. On the Sands of Time: The Life of Charles Sutherland Tapley. Danvers, Mass.: Danvers Historical Society, 1990.