175 Years of the Maple Street Church

(In the Herald-Citizen, 12/27/19)

Maple Street Church(Author’s photo, December 2019)

The Maple Street Church, originally known as the Third Orthodox Congregational Church of Danvers, was formed in 1844 and one year later a building was constructed on the site of its present church building on Maple Street. As the town grew, the church split off from the First Church of Danvers, and took the name Third Church because there was already a Second Congregational Church in the southern part of town that is now Peabody. This year marks the 175th anniversary of the Maple Street Church, an institution that has played a prominent role in the community for generations.

Danvers Plains, the area that includes Danvers Square, was quickly becoming the commercial center of town with the coming of the railroads, replacing the area surrounding the corner of Hobart and Centre Street that had served as the center of the community since it was Salem Village. This new church became a centerpiece of the new downtown, and the building hosted town meetings until town hall was built in 1855. During one of the town meetings held in the church in 1847, the people of Danvers voted on a resolution condemning the United States’ entry into the Mexican-American War, which was widely opposed in New England.

1887 Map, Danvers Square
(Danvers Square in 1887, Maple Street Church is at the top labelled as “orthodox church.” Sanborn Fire Insurance Map.)

In 1836 American settlers in Texas declared independence from Mexico, partly so that the settlers could own slaves – which was illegal in Mexico – and Texas was later annexed by the U.S. as a slave state. In 1846 President James K. Polk sent U.S. troops over the Mexican border to provoke an attack, which he then used as a cause for the Mexican-American War. Abolitionist New England viewed the conflict as a ploy to add territory to the southern US and thereby expand slavery.

Rev. Richard Tolman delivered a sermon to the Maple Street Church on July 4, 1847 denouncing the “miseries and crimes of the Mexican War,” and connected it to the expansion of slavery as he decried “the dreadful waste of treasure and blood… for the purpose of extending and perpetuating that system of oppression.” Many members of the church, including Deacon Samuel Fowler whose brick house still stands at the Port Corner, were known for their strong abolitionist beliefs.

Original Maple St Church
(The first church building, 1845-1850. Drawing by David S. Shattuck. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

Though it quickly became the center of the Danvers community, the church suffered a terrible setback only five years after construction. At nine o’clock on the evening of July 10, 1850 two arsonists set fire to the building. The inferno was enormous, and threatened the whole neighborhood. The “General Putnam” engine company of volunteer firefighters from Danversport responded, its horse-drawn carriage galloping up High Street. When the firefighters arrived, men from the neighborhood joined them in combatting the flames. But, the church was lost.

During the fire, one man who volunteered to help the firefighters, William Duffy, had worked so hard that he won the respect of the fire company and returned to the engine house with them, where he was immediately voted in as a member of the volunteer company. Soon after, Duffy was arrested for being the accomplice of the man who set the fire that night.

Duffy was sentenced to life in the Charlestown State Prison, while the arsonist who turned state’s evidence apparently served no time. Well into his prison term, members of the church and the Danversport fire company captain lobbied to have him released early, finding it unjust that the man who had actually set the fire walked free while the accomplice was imprisoned. Duffy was released, and several years later enlisted to fight in the Civil War. He died fighting for the Union.

Despite the tragedy of the church burning down only years after it was established, a new church building was soon built and the congregation continued to grow quickly. When first established in 1844 the church counted only 42 people but by 1869 there were 200 members and by 1899 there were 751 members, with yet more attending services. That same year three of its members became some of the first western missionaries to visit China, which only recently began allowing western missions. The leaders of the church continued to be important in the wider community, and after pastor Rev. James Fletcher resigned from the Maple Street Church in 1864 he became the principal of Holten High School, the public high school in Danvers, from 1866-1871.

Maple St Church - Moynahan 1899
(The second church building, 1851-1944. Picture circa 1899, originally printed in Moynahan, Danvers, Massachusetts)

Fire struck the church again in the congregation’s hundredth anniversary year. Around 10pm on the night of May 20, 1944 one of the firefighters at the old central fire station looked out the window and saw flames reflected in a window across the intersection. A fire that began in a shed behind the church had quickly spread to the church building. The fire departments of seven towns fought the flames, fearing that they could easily spread to the neighboring gas station, the Maple Street Elementary School, and the railroad warehouse.

Maple St Church Burning
(The second church building burning in 1944. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

Despite the multitude of firefighters and equipment, the fire raged through the grand wooden structure, and one hour after the fire was discovered the steeple collapsed into the church. In a sign of ecumenical and community-wide support for the church, at one point during the height of the inferno Fire Chief Joseph E. Kelley, Catholic priest Fr. Michael F. Collins, Superintendent of the Electric Light Dept. Leo Nimblett, Maple Street Church Deacon Carlton M. Stearns, and teenager Leland E. Martin Jr. (who later became a Danvers Fire Chief) ran into the basement of the burning church to rescue the congregation’s silver communion set. The church was rebuilt in 1948, the structure that stands today, and the rescued communion set is still used.

Maple St Church Ruins
(The burned out church building, as seen on the Sunday following the fire in 1944. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

Maple St Church Clock and Rubble (1)
(The clock from the church’s steeple lying on a pile of debris in the nave of the church. Courtesy of the Danvers Archival Center, and printed in Martin, A Hearty Band of Firefighters.)

At its 175th anniversary, the Maple Street Church’s congregation numbers approximately 375 people and the church’s services are broadcast on Danvers Community Access Television (DCAT). In addition to mission trips, the church sponsors Boy Scout Troop 16, is active in the Danvers Interfaith Partnership, and organizes numerous charitable endeavors.
—————————————————————————-
Sources:

Archer, Charles F. W. “Danvers.” In Standard History of Essex County, Massachusetts. Boston: C. F. Jewett and Company, 1878.

Hanson, J. W. History of the Town of Danvers from Its First Settlement to the Year 1848. Danvers: J.W. Hanson, 1848.

Hines, Ezra D., and W. J. C. Kenney. “Danvers Fires and Fire Companies.” The Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society 5 (1917): 84–85.

“Late Sentence for Incendiarism.” Gallipolis Journal. November 7, 1850. Library of Congress. https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn85038121/1850-11-07/ed-1/seq-3/.

Maple Street Church. “The InSpire.” Danvers: Maple Street Church, December 2019. https://www.maplestreetchurch.org/the-inspire.

Martin Jr., Leland E. A Hearty Band of Firefighters: The Illustrated History of the Danvers Fire Department. Edited by Richard P. Zollo. Danvers: The Danvers Historical Society, 1997.

“Old Danvers Church Destroyed by Fire With $100,000 Loss.” Daily Boston Globe, May 21, 1944.

Proceedings at the Celebration of the Two Hundredth Anniversary of the First Parish at Salem Village Now Danvers. Boston: Congregational Publishing Society, 1874.

Putnam, A.P. “Danvers People and Their Homes.” Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society 5 (1917): 74–83.

Sanborn Map Company. “Sanborn Fire Insurance Map from Danvers, Essex County, Massachusetts.” Danvers, Mass., November 1887. Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/sanborn03714_001/.

“Summary.” The Advent Herald. November 2, 1850. Adventist Digital Library.

Tapley, Charles Sutherland. “The One Hundredth Anniversary of the Maple Street Church.” The Historical Collections of the Danvers Historical Society 33 (1945): 16–21.

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

Tolman, Richard. Evil Tendencies of the Present Crisis: A Discourse, Delivered July 4, 1847. Danvers: The Danvers Courier, 1847. https://archive.org/details/eviltendenciesof00tolm/page/n4.

The “Folly” in Folly Hill

(In the Danvers Herald, 10/4/19)

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).

—————————————————————————————————-

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.