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 Lincoln Chair Returns

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The “Lincoln Chair” has returned to Hingham after a sojourn in the Arts of the Americas wing of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Tradition holds that this joined armchair, made of red oak with walnut inlays, belonged to Thomas Lincoln “the cooper,” one of Hingham’s original settlers. It was long thought to have been constructed in England, but microanalysis of the wood in the early 2000s revealed that the chair was made in North America. This information makes the chair even more of a rarity than formerly believed, as only about two dozen examples of 17th century New England joined chairs exist.

Of a type often called a “wainscot” chair, the Lincoln Chair has a plank seat and carved panel back. The series of elongated S- and reverse S-curves are thought to have been inspired by classical design.

The chair descended in the Lincoln family until 1914. In 1908, as the Town’s 275thanniversary approached, a national campaign was launched to raise funds for a bell tower in memory of Hingham’s first settlers. When the Memorial Bell Tower was dedicated in November 1912, an interior chamber, the “Peter Hobart Room,” was created and furnished with furniture and artifacts from mid-17thcentury England. Hingham’s Lincoln family donated the chair to the Memorial Bell Tower to furnish the Peter Hobart Room.

IMG_4897 (1)The chair was moved into Old Ship Church in 1933 and remained there until 2008, when it was loaned to the Museum of Fine Arts for display with other First Period furniture.

But now, the Lincoln Chair has returned home to Hingham. We are grateful to the Town of Hingham and Hingham’s First Parish for their stewardship of the chair over many years and for their decision to loan the Chair to the Society for display at the Hingham Heritage Museum.

Get out the Vote!

Election day is upon us! We’ve all received numerous mailings and seen countless ads; now it’s time to make our way to the polls to perform our civic duty and receive the iconic (and much desired) “I Voted” sticker. Filling out our individual ballots and sliding them into the ballot box seems routine to us, but this was not the original voting practice of the Commonwealth. A dive into the archives can help us look into the history of voting in Massachusetts and the integral role our state played in establishing our voting practices today.

Pasted on the pages of one of the many bound books in our collection is a series of political ballots from the 1870s and 1880s. You can see these ballots belong to both familiar and unfamiliar parties – from the “Regular Republican Ticket” and the “Regular Democratic Ticket” to the “Liberal Republican Ticket” and the “Regular Greenback Labor Ticket.”

 

Political ballots, or party tickets, were created in the 19th century to make it easier for people to vote. Prior to these ballots, Massachusetts voters had to write down who they wished to elect. This meant voters had to not only remember the names of their desired candidates, but also the spelling of the names to avoid the possibility of the vote being thrown out. While early voters could remember the few names of elected officials within the small colony, as Massachusetts’s state government grew, this task became much more challenging.  Enter David Henshaw.

Henshaw, a Bostonian, decided to take a printed list of 55 candidate names and submit it as his ballot in 1829. For over one hundred years, Massachusetts law had required voters to handwrite their vote, but Henshaw challenged this practice. His act led to a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case: Henshaw v. Foster. The Supreme Judicial Court ultimately recognized that the original law did not foresee how large the government would grow and how many candidates voters would have to elect; therefore, the Court determined that printed ballots were acceptable. And so began the mass production of party tickets in Massachusetts, and, soon, the nation.

Party members printed these ballots in newspapers or distributed them on the streets. Party leaders soon realized that by incorporating party symbols, elaborate designs, and vivid colors in their ballots, they could appeal to more voters, both literate and illiterate. Below you can see how parties in Massachusetts sought to visually appeal to voters. You may even notice the names of a few Hinghamites: John D. Long, Charles W.S. Seymour, Arthur Lincoln, and Alexander Lincoln.

 

If politicians disagreed with the candidates chosen to be on their party’s ballot, they sometimes chose to rebel by creating their own party ballot. If there was just one candidate a voter didn’t like on the ballot, the voter could cut out the name of a desired candidate and paste it over the name of the original candidate. You can see on the ballot below that one voter preferred “Henry Stephenson of Hingham”.

 

Over the years, parties found ways to intimidate voters into taking their ballots or stuffed the ballot boxes themselves, resulting in a cry for reform. In 1888, Massachusetts became the first state to pass legislation requiring the creation and use of state-issued ballots which listed all candidates of all parties on one ballot, a practice Australia had already used effectively. Massachusetts once again began a voting system that the whole nation would eventually adopt, a system that is currently in practice today.

So as you make your way to the polls, remember how far we’ve come as a state and a nation to ensure our democratic experiment is a success!

To learn more about party tickets and voting, check out these articles/sites referenced:

“19th Century Political Ballots” by the Boston Athenæum http://cdm.bostonathenaeum.org/cdm/landingpage/collection/p16057coll29

“Rock, Paper, Scissors: How we used to vote” by Jill Lepore https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/10/13/rock-paper-scissors

“Vote: The Machinery of Democracy – Paper Ballots” by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History http://americanhistory.si.edu/vote/paperballots.html

“Archaeology Month” Opens Door to Hingham Archaeology Exhibit in 2019

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is immersed in celebration.  Planning is well underway for the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower in 1620,  the 250th Anniversary of the occupation of Boston by the British in 1768 and eventual evacuation in 1776, and the 400th Anniversary of the arrival of the Puritans in 1630. Hingham’s next big celebration–commemorating the landing of Peter Hobart and his group of settlers in 1635–is a way off, with the Town’s 400th anniversary just over the horizon.

Arch_Month_Poster_18Meanwhile, as we celebrate Massachusetts Archeology Month this October, the Hingham Historical Society is happy to announce that it plans to stretch the frame of celebration in the Commonwealth beyond centuries to eons, or at least to a myrieteris (a period of 10,000 years).  An exciting new exhibit, based on archeological discoveries found along the right-of-way during the construction of the MBTA Greenbush rail line in Hingham, will open at the Hingham Heritage Museum in the Fall of 2019.  Ancient artifacts representing the earliest recorded life and culture in what we now call Hingham, some dating back 7000 years, will offer visitors a very different understanding of who first lived here, and how they lived. Educational materials will play a prominent role as well.

Thousands of artifacts were uncovered and inventoried by Public Archeological Laboratory (PAL) and UMass/Amherst Archeology during several years of excavation by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and are now stored in Rhode Island and Amherst. The archeological work was required as a condition of gaining permits to proceed with construction of the commuter rail line.

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From “Roads, Rails, and Trails: Transportation-Related Archaeology in Massachusetts,” by Eric S. Johnson, Massachusetts Historical Commission, 2012.

What are the finds?  One discovery near Foundry Pond was an anvil stone which provided a surface used to chip and create spearheads and arrowheads for millenia. Found adjacent to the rock in a pile of chips was a Neville projectile point, a type of point known to date to the Middle Archaic period 8000 to 6000 years before the present era (BP).

Native American fire circles and post holes found near the corner of Central and South
Street, remnants of a tannery, including pieces of shoe leather and the sole of a shoe, information about which roads in town were originally native trails, a shiny belt buckle from the 1800s, clay pipe pieces, early redware and colonial pottery pieces–each of these has a story to tell, and all are part of the Town’s rich history.

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Archaeologists at work in Hingham Square.  Photo courtesy of Public Archaeology Laboratory.

Review and selection of artifacts and story lines are among steps underway in preparation for this new exhibit.  Michael Achille of the Hingham Historical Society has formed an Advisory Committee which includes Jim Peters, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Commission on Indian Affairs; Kathryn Ness, Curator of Collections at Plimoth Plantation; Suanna Crowley, President of the Massachusetts Archeological Society; Andrea Young, Administrator of the Hingham Historical Commission; and Andy Hoey and Katie Roberts, representing the Social Studies and Science Departments of the Hingham Public Schools. Historical Society staff and volunteers and representatives of the MBTA, UMass, and PAL will also be key participants in the development of the exhibition and educational program.  A generous grant from the Greenbush Historic Preservation Trust is underwriting initial planning and development efforts.  The Society will invite individuals and companies to participate  in matching this grant.

So keep an eye on this space. Formal announcements and details will appear over the next several months.

A Tale of One Family

A Review of Meg Ferris Kenagy’s Book The House on School Street: Eight Generations. Two Hundred and Four Years. One Family.

Not many people can say their family lived in the same house for eight generations, and even fewer strive to uncover the lives of these ancestors. Meg Ferris Kenagy is one of these rare individuals as she dives head first into this challenge and presents her discoveries in her book The House on School Street: Eight Fenerations. Two Hundred and Four years. One Family. Kenagy brings the history of her family’s house to life through numerous stories about her ancestors. We experience their lives and deaths, births and marriages, and the resulting joys and heartaches that accompany each event.

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Martha Sprague Litchfield, left, and Sarah Trowbridge Litchfield. Circa 1890. Photo courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

Kenagy’s vivid descriptions of her family, the house, and Hingham make it feel like she is sitting down with us and flipping through pages of a photo album while sharing her family’s story. We see Colonel Charles Cushing building the house in 1785 after fighting in the Revolutionary War, and we watch subsequent generations move into and out of the family home. We learn of the successes and struggles of the family as they find ways to make a living in a changing world. As Kenagy shifts the narrative’s focus to each owner chapter after chapter, she recognizes the unique relationship each family member had with the house on School Street. She successfully sees the house through each of their eyes.

Although Kenagy admits there are gaps in her family’s story that research cannot fill, she does not let this obstacle frustrate her. Instead, Kenagy embraces what she does not know and proposes answers to the questions she cannot answer. By doing so, she becomes more attuned to the motivations, fears, and struggles of her ancestors. When Kenagy does know the answer to certain questions, she occasionally quotes letters and other sources to add another layer to her family’s story.

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A large barn can be seen to the left of the house in this 1889 photo. A carriage house is to the right of the house. Photo courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

While this book presents the story about eight generations of a family, it also provides an overview of the history of Hingham. Through Kenagy’s detailed descriptions, we see Hingham’s transformation from a small village to a bustling wartime shipyard. Selected quotes from sources like the History of the Town of Hingham, Massachusetts and the Hingham Journal bring the town’s history to life. By acknowledging the history of the town, we can clearly recognize the family’s influence on Hingham’s community.

You can sense writing this book was a deeply personal experience for Kenagy. Not only does it document how she confirms family stories, but also how she uncovers family secrets. We are excited to learn more about Meg Kenagy’s experience writing this book and researching her family’s history when she comes to the Hingham Heritage Museum at Old Derby for a talk and book signing on Saturday, October 27, 2018 at 3:00pm. Please join us!

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.