Hingham Bird Carving Artistry: Duck and Shore Bird Decoys and Avian Miniatures

Our “Boxes, Buckets, and Toys” exhibit at the Hingham Heritage Museum has celebrated the craftsmanship of Hingham’s coopers and box and toymakers. Another area in which the woodworkers of Hingham excelled was the carving of duck and shorebird decoys, as well as decorative miniatures.

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Joseph Lincoln’s trade card

Life-like wooden decoys are used by duck and shorebird hunters to attract live birds: groups or “rigs” of wooden birds are set in or near the water to lure birds flying by to stop and join them.  The coastal areas and freshwater ponds of the South Shore were popular shooting locations for both sportsmen and market gunners and making wooden decoys became a cottage industry at which a few local practitioners excelled.

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Joseph Lincoln with his decoys

The most famous of our local decoy artists was Joseph Whiting Lincoln (1859–1938), who lived and worked beside Accord Pond on the Hingham-Rockland border.  After working in a shoe factory, Lincoln undertook a variety of occupations before settling into a career as a decoy carver in the 1870s.  In what had been his uncle’s cooperage, Lincoln created decoys that were shipped all over the East Coast and are highly sought after today for their artistry.  This “no nonsense” Yankee  made some miniatures, almost always in decoy style, but generally referred to his miniature carvings as “toys.”

Elisha Burr (1839-1909), a box maker whose Civil War canteens and woodenware are collectibles today, and his son Russ Burr (1887-1955), were also well-known decoy artists.  Like Lincoln’s, their work is highly sought after by collectors today. Russ Burr is also well known for his miniatures, two of which are on display in the Kelly Gallery at the Hingham Heritage Museum.

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Russell Burr, “whittler,” with some of his miniatures.  Photo courtesy of Bob Mosher

Alston “Shorty” Burr (1910-1979), Russ Burr’s nephew, continued the family carving tradition using his Uncle Russ’ patterns for avian miniatures.  Two of Shorty’s miniatures, similar but cruder than his uncle’s, are also on display in the Kelly Gallery.

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A Russ Burr shore bird decoy.  Image courtesy of Bob Mosher

There is much to appreciate in these bird carvings, whether considered as hunting tools or one of the few purely American art forms.  According to Bob Mosher, a contemporary Hingham carver and decoy historian, the difference between Lincoln and Burr decoys is instructive.  Lincoln made “working birds”—even his miniatures were made as little decoys, and his work is simple and impressionistic.  Burr’s style, on the other hand, is more detailed and “busy,” creating an “active, alive” carving.

Contemporary carving by Mosher and Hingham carver W.D. Sarni can be viewed and purchased in our Museum Shop on the 1st Floor of Old Derby Academy.

 

The “Precedent” and the Birth of Fire Fighting in Hingham

In 1802, the Town of Hingham authorized the construction of firehouses at Little Plain (Hingham Centre) and Broad Bridge (Hingham Square), although the responsibility to acquire the fire engines themselves rested with private citizens—the proprietors of Engine Companies No. 1 and 2.  The “hand tub” engines that they commissioned and paid for were large wooden tubs placed on carts for mobility and filled by hand from the nearest water source. Once the bucket was full, firemen pushed long wooden bars (“brakes”) up and down, setting in motion a piston in the tub that pumped the water out through a hose and nozzle.

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Francis H. Lincoln wrote in the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham:

If one were to imagine a fire in those days he would see a company of perhaps fifteen men at work upon the brakes and attending to the hose and pipe, while a line of men and women stretched away to the nearest water, which they passed from hand to hand in buckets, emptying it into the tub, passing the empty buckets back by another line to be filled again.

IMG_4495This wooden tub is from the Little Plain Engine, No. 1, nicknamed the “Precedent” because it was the first of what would ultimately be four such engines to be completed.  It was manufactured by local craftsmen: Peter Sprague made the tub from cedar furnished by Thomas Fearing. The ironwork was by the local firm of Stephenson and Thomas.

In 1830, the Town’s first suction apparatus, the “Hingham,” was acquired and “hand tubs” or “bucket tubs” such as the Precedent became obsolete.

The tub was reassembled and stabilized in recent years by Dick Kenney of the Bare Cove Fire Museum. It is currently on display at the Hingham Heritage Museum, on loan from the Bare Cove Fire Museum, 45 Bare Cove Park Drive, Hingham, MA 02043.

 

Hingham Community Band & “the old-time melodies which everyone loves”

“Sound drums and trumpets!
Farewell sour annoy!
For here, I hope, begins our lasting joy.” – William Shakespeare

Once a dependable and generous keeper of time, William Goodwin’s bass drum, on display in the Kelly Gallery at Old Derby, is a charming keepsake of Hingham’s lively past. The drum is a sizable and early relic, cased in birchwood, balancing on the rope tension while exhibit lighting illuminates it’s face. The periphery of the double-sided calfskin head, where impressions of countless striking remain, reads “Hingham Community Band”. A uniformed, marching ensemble comprised of traditional woodwind, brass and percussion instrumentation, the Hingham Community Band was organized during the first decade of the 1900s.

It was somewhere between 1920-1930 when William Eleazar Goodwin (1891-1952) was the chief director of the rhythmic beats essential to the collective timbre of the Community Band. Goodwin was born in Foxborough, Massachusetts to Charles, a railroad conductor from Groveland, and Mary Lovett. By age 19 he was living in Dorchester where he married Elizabeth Daly of Boston, daughter of Irish immigrants, in 1915. He later settled with wife and two, school-age daughters, Dorothy and Elizabeth, in West Hingham where he was a meat purveyor in a grocery under his ownership at North and Thaxter Streets.

While the drum is light of weight, it’s bulky volume requires a party of two to maneuver if the player is not sized to carry it comfortably on his chest. Since all the instruments in a marching band are to be played while mobile, the sturdy leather handle on the outer front of the drum’s case would be held by another band member.

Frederick L. Lane | General Manager of the Nantasket Steamboat Co | Boston Post Sun 26 Jun 1921

Boston Post Sun, 26 Jun 1921

Led by musical director Frederick Leavitt Lane (1872-1943), the band appeared in parades and celebrations, civil and religious ceremonies and played at sporting events including boxing matches throughout Greater Boston and the grand opening of the Boston Garden in 1928. Each member of the band was a trained musician and resident of Hingham. At times there were 80 marching members with a range of ages from 16 to 72. As the Boston Herald noted in 1928, “The Hingham Community Band has specialized in the rendition of favorite compositions; the old-time melodies which everyone loves”. Lane was treasurer of the Nantasket Beach Steamboat Line under company president and Hingham native Ebed Ripley. Designated the oldest ferry company in the country, the Boston and Hingham Steamboat Co. was founded in 1831. After 50 years the firm restructured and was renamed Nantasket Beach Steamboat Lines. The service provided excursion passenger transit between Rowes Wharf, Boston and Nantasket Beach, the “Coney Island of Boston”, from the 1890s through the 1930s. Lane began with the company as a bookkeeper and quickly ascended to general manager and treasurer in 1912. Due to Lane’s authority, the Hingham Community Band would perform on the Steamboat company’s crafts including the legendary “Mayflower” where on the foredeck they held concerts during the summer months. MayflowerA steam-powered, side wheel vessel, the Mayflower was the lone survivor of a wharf fire that destroyed 4 other Nantasket Steamboat passenger boats in 1929. After over 40 years, she was taken out of service and while grounded on Nantasket Beach, lived nearly 40 more years as the nightclub “Showboat”. Frederick Lane was also the owner of the Pear Tree Hill Dairy, purveyors of high grade milk, cream and butter located on Main St. in Hingham. Lane passed away in Warner, New Hampshire in July of 1943. He is buried in Hingham Cemetery.

In 1952, at the age of 61, William Goodwin died in Hingham. Though remaining in Hingham until passing in 1980, his wife Elizabeth sold the property at North and Thaxter in 1954. Both are interred in St. Paul’s Cemetery.

Preserved in a delightful bass drum at the Heritage Museum is Hingham’s musical identity in the contributions of spirited and ambitious residents Frederick Lane and William Goodwin.

Steppin’ Out

[The photos and text are from a 2011 exhibit put together by Mary Fitzmaurice and Suzanne Buchanan to showcase shoes, boots, and other footwear in our costume collection.]

After farming, shoemaking was the most common occupation listed in the 1893 Hingham Genealogy.  Like aprons and stockings, the shoes that people wore every day rarely survived. They simply wore out. That explains why most of the shoes on display here are in pretty good condition. They probably were worn only on special occasions or by people who could afford more than one or two pairs of shoes.

The well-worn working man’s shoe in the center of the bottom picture is the one exception to that rule. It is one of thousands of shoes that were hidden in chimneys and walls by New England families when they built new homes in the 1700s and 1800s. The origins of this tradition are murky, but shoes dating back to the 15th century have been found in the walls of houses in England, so we know that it came over with the Colonists. Some scholars think it was a way to bless the house or bring good luck. If you live in a historic house, you may have an old shoe in your wall, too.

First group 

  1. Light blue kid high-button boots, ca.1890, with a 1” Louis heel, ten milk-glass buttons, and scalloped button hole edges. COS-SH8
  2. Shoe box from T.E. Moseley & Co. of Boston, printed by August Gast & Co. of NY in 1887.  Gift of Mrs. Alfred Cushing.COS-SH23.
  3. Ivory kid high-button boots, ca. 1890.
  4. Red child’s shoe with ankle strap. Metal buttons center front. Made by Foster and Peabody of Boston, 1850-70.
  5. Green leather child’s shoe with metal buckles, 1890s
  6. Black leather girl’s shoe with 3 straps and bows, 1890-1910
  7. Child’s pink scalloped high-button shoes, c. 1900-20.  COS-SH33.  Gift of Wisconsin Historical Museum.

 Second Group

  1. Ladies’ black kid shoes with cut-out details and pink silk lining and gold chain stitching.  Made in Paris, Viault-Este, and sold in London by Thierry & Sons. c. 1850-1875.  Gift of Clara L. Barnes.  COS-SH26.
  2. Ladies’ bronze kid leather evening shoes with brown tie bows and vamp heel and a pink satin insert on each toe.  c. 1920-25.  Made in Paris by Viault-Este.  Gift of Mrs. J. Andrews. COS-SH29
  3. Ladies’ pale green satin slippers with gold and clear glass bead decoration over short, round vamps.  Ivory kid and cotton innersoles and lining.  Stamped on right innersole: Thayer McNeil  & Hodgkins, 41 Temple Place, Boston.  1890-1910.  Gift of Mrs. George F Bennett.  COS-SH21.
  4. Child’s black high-buttoned shoes with red leather lining, c. 1900-20.  COS-SH32
  5. Beige ladies’ leather tie shoes with silk ribbon ties, bound in silk grosgrain. c. 1810-1860.  COS-SH25.
  6. Child’s flat brown leather slippers with square toes and vamps.  From I.E. Moseley & Co.corner of Summer and Hawley Streets, Boston.  Late 19th century. COS-SH17.

Shoes Third group 

  1. Pair of men’s “gutta percha” shoes, an early type of rubber galoshes, c. 1840-50.  Gift of the Prudden Family.  COS-SH40.
  2. Men’s black leather shoes with square toes and brown shoe laces. c. 1810-1850.  Gift of Robert Hurley.  COS-SH31.
  3. Women’s wooden clog, or patten, with velvet strap and pointed toe.  “Willard” written on bottom.  c. 1700-1780.  COS-SH46.  Susan Barker Willard Bequest.
  4. Brown leather man’s shoe, c. 1750, well worn, found behind the chimney at 25 Ship St., which was built in 1753 by Jonathan Churchill.

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The pattens on the right side in the last picture deserve brief additional mention.  In days when streets were unpaved and a woman’s dress fell all the way to the ground, these wood or metal platforms lifted her feet and clothing above the muck.

Umbrella Town?

Hingham’s 19th century woodenware and cordage industries get most of the attention, but did you know that our town also made umbrellas and parasols?  By 1818, an umbrella factory was already in operation on South Street; its owner, Benjamin S. Williams, incorporated the Hingham Umbrella Manufacturing Company in 1825.

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Umbrella found in Edward Cazneau’s home. John P. Richardson Collection

Edward Cazneau succeeded Williams as proprietor of the umbrella factory in 1828.  According to the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, Cazneau announced in an inaugural advertisement in the Hingham Gazette that “all Umbrellas or Parasols sold here by retail will be kept in repair twelve months, gratis.”

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Edward Cazneau, 1803-1868

The late John P. Richardson recovered several umbrellas from the attic of what had been Edward Cazneau’s home.  A note that he attached to the umbrella frame in the photo above reads, “Found in the attic of the Cazneau House on the east corner of South and Hersey St. Hingham, Mass. I, John P. Richardson recovered several umbrellas from this attic. Cazneau owned an umbrella factory at Hobarts Bridge, North St.”

By 1837, the Hingham Umbrella Manufacturing Ccmpany had 75 employees (20 men and 55 women) and, that year, it made and sold over 18,000 umbrellas. This success was not lasting, however; the umbrella factory closed five years later, in 1842.

Signs of “nature’s god” at the Ebenezer Gay house

When a local developer purchased the Rev. Ebenezer Gay (1696-1787) house at 89 North Street, local historian John P. Richardson participated in some pre-construction historical investigations.  These painted panels from the Gay house, later installed in the 1690 Old Fort House which Mr. Richardson owned and occupied, are now part of the John P. Richardson Collection at the Hingham Historical Society.

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Wall Fragment from the Ebenezer Gay House.   John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society.

The first wall fragment is made of a plaster and lath surface attached to heavy vertical boards, which are in turn attached to two more modern boards horizontally laid.  The decorative side is painted a dirty off-white base with a meandering vine ad flower motif that originates out of a basket or planter decorated in a cross hatch pattern with dots in each diamond of the crosshatch.  The basket rests on a hilly green stylized landscape. The vine bears large, stylized acanthus-type leaves and flowers of varying shapes in red and blue. Five hand-cut nails protrude from the wall—two at the far left, one at the top center, one at the upper right, one at mid-right.

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Wall Fragment from the Ebenezer Gay House. John P. Richardson Collection, Hingham Historical Society.

The second decoratively painted wall fragment consists of two layers of plaster and lath encasing two heavy vertical boards. The plaster side is painted with at least 2 layers of paint, the topmost having been added by a 20th century Gay family member seeking to restore the design.  The original background was green, while the background of the current surface layer is a dirty tan color.

A meandering vine motif climbs the panel, with the vine bearing red tulip-shaped blue lily-shaped flowers.  At right is a narrow border set off by a dark brown line.  Within the border the flower and vine motif repeats in a narrower scale. To the right of the border is an unfinished area of white plaster with two maroon colored squares of paint laid out in a windowpane pattern.

In his book, The Benevolent Deity: Ebenezer Gay and the Rise of Rational Religion in New England, author Robert J. Wilson III described the Gay house at it looked during the years that Ebenezer lived there with his wife, Jerusha (Bradford) Gay and their ten children:

The house was a 2-1/2 story, rectangular, pitched-roof affair, somewhat large for the period, but not ostentatiously so.  Though it was painted a rather austere blue-gray on the outside, the interior was lively and colorful.  Someone (Jerusha?) adorned the cream colored walls of the family sitting room with a free hand vine design, very like eighteenth-century crewelwork.  The woodwork, fireplace wall, and the wainscott (added later) were all painted a light green.  The whole effect suggested that nature’s god in all his vibrancy was very much alive in the Gay house.