The Construction of the New Meetinghouse: Old Ship Church

By Rosamund Conroy

Early New England meetinghouses were the hearts of towns, serving not only as places of worship but also municipal buildings and even forts or garrisons. These basic structures hosted a variety of activities—from town meetings and trials to baptisms—and the original settlers were generally prohibited from building their homes more than a half a mile away from their town’s meetinghouse.

Hingham’s first meetinghouse was constructed shortly after the incorporation of the town, on the site where the Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitor Center now stands. It had a palisade fence, a bell and was probably a rough-hewn, unheated timber structure, similar to many others of that time. 

In January 1679, perhaps in a nod to its growing population and increasing wealth, the town voted to replace the old meetinghouse and build a new one “with all convenient speed.” They established a small committee to visit other towns for ideas and by May 1680 (the new year being in March under the Julian calendar), the town voted to build the new meetinghouse—the structure we now know as Old Ship Church— “where the old one doth stand.”

The vote was split though and the location proved controversial, with several powerful freemen preferring a different site. Despite the discord, other aspects of the project proceeded and in August 1680, the town agreed the building’s dimensions. In October 1680, they established the rates (the contribution per man, proportional to their assessed wealth) for a project total of about £437—an enormous sum of money in those days. At nearly £16, the highest rate payer was Daniel Cushing Snr. Esq., while many of the younger or poorer men “promised” a £1 contribution, vowing to pay it at a future date.

An excerpt from the Daniel Cushing Manuscript (1680’s) showing the total rate collected for the meetinghouse. The selectmen listed above held opposing views as to where the meetinghouse should be situated. Only photocopies survive from this part of the manuscript.
(Hingham Historical Society archives/Photo: R. Conroy)

The next spring arrived yet the location continued to be a thorny issue. In May 1681, the General Court got involved and sent two members, William Stoughton and Joseph Dudley, to view both sites. (Interestingly, Dudley would later be widely reviled throughout the colony for his role in the short-lived government of Sir Edmund Andros.) The men found both locations unsuitable and disallowed the construction of the new meetinghouse in “either the old place or in the plaine.” Governor Simon Bradstreet and the magistrates ordered another town meeting to resolve the issue and directed the selectmen to give them a “speedy returne” about the outcome. 

A compromise was reached when Captain Joshua Hobart donated a parcel of land for the meetinghouse. It was near to the old site but presumably more agreeable to all parties and an affirmative vote was duly passed at the subsequent town meeting. The meetinghouse frame was raised over three days in July and its first use was civic, for a town meeting on January 5, 1681. At that meeting, a committee was established to agree upon the seating arrangements in the new meetinghouse—a complicated task that involved segregation by sex and ordering by social hierarchy. 

A few days later, on January 8, 1681, the new meetinghouse—now known as the Old Ship Church—held its first Sabbath service, a tradition that continues to this day.

 

An excerpt from the Daniel Cushing manuscript (1680’s) showing the rate that each man paid, plus their seat in the meetinghouse. Hinghamites sat on seats (benches), not pews and the order presumably applied to all occasions, civil or religious. Only photocopies survive from this part of the manuscript.
(Hingham Historical Society archives/Photo: R. Conroy)

Would you like to know more? For a general overview of life in seventeenth-century New England, Albion’s Seed, by David Hackett Fischer provides an interesting social history of the English folkways that shaped America’s colonies. Food buffs will enjoy reading America’s Founding Food by Stavely and Fitzgerald, whereas Good Wives by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich provides a glimpse into the hidden world of Puritan women.

Primary source materials can be as engrossing as edited works and they often bring a particular historical period to life in unexpected ways. A wealth of seventeenth-century primary sources can be found locally (try the Hingham Historical Society, the Hingham Public Library or the Massachusetts Historical Society) as well as online (for example, in the digital records at the Massachusetts State Archives).

 

Yellow Polka Dot Bikini?

As we wilt in the summer heat people everywhere are flocking to the beaches, a time honored tradition throughout most of the world.   Today we can choose what we wear to the beach.  This was not always the case.

maryal-knox-sl7.jpgIn the late 19th and early 20th centuries, dress codes for beachwear, particularly women’s, were very strict.  Women wore bathing costumes that consisted of two or three pieces of clothing often made of heavy black wool.  A two-piece ensemble consisted of a knee-length dress with sleeves and a collar, often in a sailor style, and bloomers or pantaloons underneath.  A three-piece outfit had a top, again often in a sailor style, a skirt, and pantaloons. They were worn with cotton stockings and lace up “slippers” made of embroidered serge (a kind of wool) or flannel.  Head coverings were also worn: either some kind of hat or cap or a kerchief knotted around the head.  These bathing costumes could sometimes contain as much as nine yards of wool! 

There were a number of reasons such cumbersome outfits were worn.  The main reason was modesty, although taking good care of a pale complexion was also considered very desirable.  Curiously, heavy warm bathing attire was also considered necessary because the seawater was cold!

Horse-drawn bathing machines were in common use on many public beaches.   These were huts made of wood, or sometimes just a wooden frame with canvas sides, that were Bathing machineson wheels.  They were used for changing into bathing costumes from street-wear and were drawn into the water by horses.  There were steps down into the ocean so a woman could go directly from the bathing machine into the water, thus protecting her modesty.

Encased in nine yards of wet wool, often further weighed down by weights sewn into the hem to prevent the bathing dress from rising in the water, women found “swimming” a challenge and thus contented themselves with “bathing.”  At many beaches, a rope was be attached to an offshore buoy.  Women would hold onto the rope and jump up and down in the waves!

ropeBy 1907 the popularity of “swimming” had increased and women were frustrated by their cumbersome costumes. When an Australian professional swimmer, Annette Kellerman, came to the U.S. , she wore a form-fitting swimsuit fashioned from a man’s swimsuit (form-fitting pants and pull over shirt).  She was arrested at Massachusetts’ Revere Beach for indecent exposure!  However, women demanded similar swimsuits for themselves and Kellerman soon started a company manufacturing them.

In reaction to these more “indecent” costumes, in the early 1920s, swimsuit laws were passed regulating the amount of skin a woman might expose at the beach.  Swimsuit police patrolled the beaches with tape measures to check any beachwear that didn’t conform, and women were arrested for showing too much skin.

By the ‘30’s different, stretchable fabrics were developed and, happily, swimsuits began to become more like those we wear today.

The pop-up exhibit at the Hingham Historical Society currently shows some beach attire worn by young women from Hingham around 1900. We hope you’ll stop in to take a look.

Pop Up

 

The Howard Foundry at Hingham Harbor

Photo of the Eagle Iron Foundry on Summer Street c. 1895, with Hingham Harbor visible beyond. From the Albert W. Kimball Collection at the Hingham Historical Society

Where we enjoy water views along Summer Street today, there was once a thriving industrial center at Hingham Harbor. On a section of the shoreline between Whitney and Barnes wharves once stood the Eagle Iron Foundry, locally called the Howard Foundry.

The Foundry was built about 1844, burned in 1846, and was rebuilt rather quickly. It cast sash weights, furnaces, and plow blades for the Howard plow. The plow blades were sent up to Middle Street, where the wooden parts were attached before the completed plow was sold.

The Foundry closed around 1895, and if you look closely you will notice that all the windows are boarded up. This helps date this photograph.

The building was renovated to house the generator powering the Hingham Street Railway and then, after the railway closed, George Kimball repurposed the building as a workshop.

Charles Howard (1791-1860) of Hingham invented the first iron plow capable of cutting the tough sod of the American prairie. This small model was made by his son, Elijah Leavitt Howard (1833-1904), for his own daughter, Anne B. Howard.  Gift of Anne O. Borntraeger and Esther Oldham, Charles Howard’s great-granddaughters, to the HIngham Historical Society.

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.

 

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.

A Crow Point Cottage

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Clambake Pavilion, Melville Garden on Crow Point, Hingham

One of the earliest surviving structures on Hingham’s Crow Point, the house at 7 Merrill Street was erected around 1860, most likely as a worker’s cottage.  This was shortly after Dorchester industrialist Samuel Downer (1807-1881) bought up most of Crow Point as the site for a proposed kerosene factory.  After the Civil War, Downer took his real estate investment along Hingham Harbor in a different direction and opened Melville Garden, a Victorian amusement park, in 1871.

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Daniel Frasier

This changed the fortunes of the cottage as well.  Its first recorded owner, Isadore Smart of Cambridge, appears to have rented the house as early as 1879 to a company, also from Cambridge, called “Frasier and Smith,” which manufactured felt covers for piano key hammers. Its main operations were located in Cambridge, but perhaps there was a good market for his wares in the music halls of Melville Garden.

 

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The Frasier and Grozier cottages alone on Merrill St. in 1892.

By 1892, the house was also serving as a summer cottage for Daniel Frasier, owner of the firm, and his family. The families of Edwin Grozier and William Covill lived next door in the so-called “Jones Cottage.” Grozier, editor and owner of the Boston Post, had once been Joseph Pulitzer’s private secretary. Grozier and Frasier were active in the same Cambridge social circles.  The three families had Merrill Street to themselves and could watch the steamboats come in to Downer’s Wharf from their back porches.

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Crow Point seen from Hingham Harbor c. 1900. 7 Merrill is visible behind the sailboat’s mast.

Along with a few similar cottages dotting its hillsides, Crow Point boasted four mansions by the 1890s. Living conditions were rather primitive, however: modern sewer service was not introduced until the late 1940s.  During much of this period, Crow Point’s cottages served principally as summer rentals for Boston families.

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The hexagonal pavilion salvaged from Melville Garden, shown in 1956

Melville Garden was closed and dismantled in 1896. It might have been Daniel Frasier who moved on of the old  Melville Garden pavilions to the north corner of the house at that time.

In 1897, Crow Point was surveyed and subdivided into residential building lots.  The lots were small, and it appears that few were purchased singly. Amid this development, the property at 7 Merrill Street only reappears in Plymouth County title records in 1944.  That year, it was purchased by George and Margaret Knight, who also purchased the adjacent Jones cottage . The Knights tore down the Jones cottage in 1956 and doubled the size of 7 Merrill the following year, making it a comfortable, modern year-round home.

A photo from 1956, just before the Knights began their renovations, shows the Jones cottage before it was razed. It was at the time similar in size and style to 7 Merrill, and, though it would be considered impractically small by today’s standards, no fewer than eight members of the Grozier and Covill families spent the summer of 1892 there together.

The Knights moved the main entrance to 7 Merrill to the driveway side to accommodate easier access from a car. The current owners have restored the entrance to the front of the house, where it was originally located, and added the portico and an extra chimney for symmetry. Also new is the extension to the living room overlooking Hingham Harbor and an inviting rear terrace.

The house at 7 Merrill will be a featured stop on the Hingham Historical Society‘s 92nd Historic House Tour on Sunday, October 2, 2016.

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7 Merrill’s mansard roof is one of the remnants of original construction. After the Civil War, the style became popular with rich and poor alike because it provided a full attic for living space.  The stately portico and fish-scale shingles are modern enhancements.

Hingham’s Tercentenary Pageant

 

Pageant Title PageHingham pulled out all the stops in preparation for its 300th anniversary celebration. Twelve hundred of the Town’s residents participated in a three-plus hour historical pageant, which was performed before 2,000 attendees on the evenings of June 27, 28, and 29, 1935.  In the midst of the Great Depression, the Town appropriated an astonishing $14,000 for its tercentenary observance, which was written and directed by Percy Jewett Burrell, a well-known producer of such extravangas. Reunions of Hingham’s oldest families were held, the Boy Scouts gave tours of Town buildings, and the Hingham Historical Society put on a special Historic House Tour to mark the occasion.

Pageant Site“The Pageant of Hingham” was performed on a sprawling outdoor set at what was then called Huit’s Cove (current site of the Shipyard development) and comprised ten “episodes,” interspersed with music and dance.  The episodes portrayed key moments in Hingham’s history, including the “landing” at Bare Cove, the Rev. Peter Hobart’s dispute with Gov. John Winthrop, an early Town Meeting, receipt of the Town Deed from the Wampanoag, the erection of Old Ship Church, a Colonial “husking” bee, the Battle of Grape Island, Madam Derby’s bequest to found Derby Academy, the ordination of the Rev. Henry Ware, and the Civil War.

We were recently fortunate enough to receive the donation of a costume that a 12-year old Hingham boy wore as a pageant participant: breeches, jacket, hat, and shoe buckles.  Who would have imagined that the costumes were this brightly colored?  Certainly the black and white photographs of the Pageant that we have posted elsewhere provide no hint.

Pageant Costume

The boy who wore this costume, Malcolm Newell, scored a speaking role in the “husking” scene—that of Abner Loring (1742-1789), a 13-year old Hingham boy. According to the Pageant Program, this scene was set on Theophilus Cushing’s farm in South Hingham, “midsummer 1757,” and celebrated peace and prosperity in mid-18th century Hingham:

Here, there is peace, as onward Hingham moves. What was in early days a wilderness is now a fruitful place. The hills, the plains, the streams, and vales lie quiet . . . .  It is a mid-century year—an August month, and beautiful is the harvest . . . .

Husking CroppedYoung Newell and Herbert Cole, another Hingham boy also cast as an 18th century Hingham boy (Perez Cushing, 1746-1794), called out the names of the guests arriving at the Cushing farm.  An example of their lines, taken from the Pageant Program:

Perez Cushing (shouting): “Here they come from Scituate! The Jacobs, Farrars, Curtises, and Faunces!

Abner Loring (shouting): “And the Gannets, Fosters, and Manns.  And see! Hanover’s a-comin’, too!”

It must have been a memorable several evenings for a school-age boy to have performed in this Pageant before the Town and many visitors.  The addition of this purple Pageant costume to our collection makes it all seem a little more real to us today.

Hingham Tercentenary Pageant Scrapbook

Ebenezer Gay, another young Hingham participant, with his mother, in costume for the Tercentenary Pageant.

 

As the Hingham Historical Society turns 100, a look back at its first year

2014 is the Hingham Historical Society’s centennial year.  Riding the tide of a national Colonial Revival movement, which began in the last years of the 19th century and reached a peak in the 1920s, manifesting itself in a fascination with colonial architecture and furnishings and an often romanticized vision of an heroic Revolutionary past, a group of Hingham’s leading citizens formed an association dedicated to preserving the past of one of the nation’s oldest towns.

1917 photo of Society founder and benefactor Susan Barker Willard, posed in 18th century dress

1917 photo of Society founder and benefactor Susan Barker Willard, posed in 18th century dress

The Hingham Historical Society’s organizational meeting was held on June 11, 1914 at the Town Office Building.  Those present included Clarence H. Knowlton, William W. Lunt, Henry W. Cushing, Walter C. Shute, Susan Barker Willard, Edith Andrew, Oscar W. Stringer, Elizabeth L. Crosby, and Allen P. Soule.  John D. Long, former Governor of Massachusetts, representative in Congress, and Secretary of the Navy, was voted our first President.

After several additional organizational meetings, the Society hosted Dean George Hodges of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge for its December 1914 meeting.  Dean Hodges’ topic was “The Hanging of Mary Dyer.”  Meeting minutes note that this “most interesting paper . . . was much enjoyed, it being regretted,” however, “that his audience was not larger.”  After the paper, the minutes go on, “an informal discussion among the members brought out some forgotten facts regarding witchcraft in Hingham.”

At later meetings during its first year, the Society relied upon local talent for its programming.  Papers presented to the Hingham Historical Society during 1914-1915 included Mr. Samuel A. Cushing on “The Cushings of Rocky Nook,” Mr. Walter B. Foster on “Old Local Names,” Mrs. Henry W. Cushing on the old Cushing houses, and Thomas L. Sprague on “Hosea Sprague and Sprague’s Chronicles,” an early Hingham newspaper.  Mr. Clarence Knowlton gave a well-received tribute to local scientists Isaac Sprague, Charles J. Sprague, Thomas T. Bouve, and the Rev. John Lewis Russell.

At the first Annual Meeting, held on June 30, 1915, the Society once again looked abroad for its speaker.  Brooks Adams, author, historian, brother of Henry Adams, and  grandson of John Quincy Adams–but billed for this appearance as “President of the Quincy Historical Society,” addressed the membership on “the relation of the past to the present democracy.”   While Mr. Adams is reported to have presented his subject “in a most lucid and entertaining” manner, it seems that his views on history and democracy did not go down easily with his Hingham audience.  The meeting minutes note that “in the discussion following the speakers did not altogether agree on some of his address.”

The Society accepted gifts of books, manuscripts, and antiques from Hingham residents, recording its thanks in the monthly meeting minutes.  It lacked a place to keep its acquisitions, however, and a prime early goal was to raise funds to build a secure, fire-proof building for its holdings.  At the December 1914 meeting, Susan Barker Willard, an early benefactor who served on the Building Committee, suggested that “post cards representing the ‘Old Garrison House’ be placed on sale, the proceeds to go toward the creation of a building fund . . . .”

If the capital account grew slowly, the Society had ample operating funds after its first year.  At the first annual meeting in June 1915, the Treasurer reported that the Society had $61 in income (all from membership fees) and a scant $21.60 in expenses, which covered expenses of incorporation, purchase of record books, stationery, and postage, and the speakers’ expenses.

As the Hingham Historical Society enters its second century, much has changed and much remains the same.  The Society salutes these founders and the efforts they set in motion to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret the history of the town of Hingham, Massachusetts.