My Sally Hess Internship

How has the 2016 Sally Hess internship affected me? Truthfully, it’s hard to describe all the minute ways in which I have grown while working with the Hingham Historical Society this summer. The opportunity to serve as the 2016 Sally Hess Intern has aided me in a good deal of self-discovery and helped launch my development as a museum professional.

Here’s a little background about myself— I went to college with an inkling of an idea for what I might have wanted to study as a major: a high school teacher had assigned an art history paper in which we had to describe work of a Renaissance painter. This sparked curiosity for a subject that I had never before encountered. My high school didn’t offer any art history courses so I gave it a shot my freshman year of college. It just so happened that I had stumbled across the subject that kindled an intense yearning to know more—a craving which I hope everyone feels at some point in their lives.

So, after four determined years of study I graduated college in May 2016 with my Bachelor’s degree. Coming back to one’s hometown after such a momentous occasion doesn’t always feel so glorious; however, I took this anticlimactic feeling to propel my next steps, which included reaching out to the Hingham Historical Society in hopes that they might have some niche for me to work with them. While I waited for them to respond to my inquiry, my mind kept returning to the typical questions a newly graduated individual deliberates: what do I want to do with my degree? Where should I look for work? What work is there for someone with my focus? Needless to say, I was feeling restless, nervous, and a little dire.

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Eve Fairbanks working with a wool winder at the Old Ordinary, our 1688 house museum

Then, in a rather timely fashion, the Historical Society responded, interviewed me, and decided to award me their Sally Hess Internship for the summer of 2016. Thus I found myself with a paid internship with a great organization. Over the months I’ve been working with them, I have been exposed to many facets of the museum world that had never even seemed an option for me. For example, I consider myself a “public-speaking-aphobe.” The Sally Hess Internship required me to act as a docent at the Historical Society’s 1688 house museum, known as the Old Ordinary. This opportunity took me out of my comfort zone but I soon overcame some of that initial nervousness I have with presenting myself. I learned the rooms inside and out by watching other tour guides and reading the material the Hingham Historical Society provided for me. By the fifth tour I gave on my own, visitors to the Old Ordinary were not only commenting on the extraordinariness of the building but also on the quality of my tours. I also experienced the collections work done at a museum: cataloguing 17th– 20th century artifacts, entering new files into our collections database, and researching the history and significance of objects in our collection. I have fallen even more deeply in love with the museum world and have confronted many of those haunting post-graduation thoughts I previously mentioned.

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Sally Hess intern Eve Fairbanks catalogued the numerous  architectural elements from local buildings in the John P. Richardson Collection at the Hingham Historical Society. 

I now feel as though I have a direction I want to head in. I’ve confirmed with myself that I might enjoy museum work as a career. I plan to seek out other opportunities working with documentation of artifacts, helping organize behind the scenes at a museum, or (who knows) maybe even giving more tours. The notion of going back to school for a Master’s degree doesn’t seem so far-fetched; now, that I feel a new verve for this business. I am so grateful that the Hingham Historical Society gave me a chance to work with them. I will never forget this experience and can’t wait to see where it leads me.

Thanks infinitely,
Eve

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.

Genevieve Crosby, Shutterbug

Men took the majority of the early photographs of Hingham. As cameras became smaller and film could be sent out to be developed, women took up the hobby as well.  Miss Genevieve Crosby worked as a clerk in the town accountant’s office and loved taking photographs. She picked the hobby up from her parents, Alanson and Charlotte Crosby, who took many photographs of her as she was growing up.

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Genevieve Crosby prepares a shot.  Gift of Genevieve Crosby. In the photographic collection of the Hingham Historical Society

Shown here on Hingham’s North Street before it was paved, Genevieve Crosby prepares a shot–and you can see the delight on her face. Crosby took a series of photos of the interior and exterior of her home at 197 North Street and of Hingham Town Hall and the surrounding areas of town. Together with snapshots of family and friends, they are now in the photograph collection of the Hingham Historical Society, providing a small window into life in Hingham in the 1920s.

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Photograph of Genevieve Crosby as a small child.  Gift of Genevieve Crosby. In the photographic collection of the Hingham Historical Society.

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The parlor hearth of the Crosby home at 197 North Street, Hingham.  Gift of Genevieve Crosby.  In the photographic collection of the Hingham Historical Society

“Gentleman Farmers” of the 19th Century

Brewer BarnThe “gentleman farmers” of the 19th century were men who typically had made their fortunes in that century’s industrial and commercial expansion and, only afterwards and as an avocation, applied the scientific and economic values and principles that had fueled their successes in those arenas to agricultural pursuits.  For instance, in 1856, wealthy Boston businessman John Brewer built a mansion along Martin’s Lane in Hingham, which later grew to encompass the twin drumlins of World’s End and the Hingham Harbor islands, and his son, Francis W. Brewer, built “Great Hill,” an estate off Hobart Street, now More-Brewer Park. (Shown here: a print from a glass plate negative of the barn at Great Hill, the foundations of which can still be seen in the park.)

Portrait of Samuel Downer

One prominent father-son duo of “gentleman farmers” with a strong connection to Hingham were both named Samuel Downer. The father, Samuel Downer, Sr. (1773-1854), was a Dorchester merchant with ties to shipping and the Massachusetts maritime economy.  He was a founder of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and devoted horticultural experimentalist, known for having developed several new varieties of pears.  We have in our collection a portrait of the elder Mr. Downer, painted by Henry Cheever Pratt in 1840.  Mr. Downer chose to pose with fruit and flowers and a popular naturalistic work of the era called The Romance of Nature—all reflecting his desire to be remembered for his agricultural interests and not the trade and commerce that had led to his wealth and position.

Portrait of Samuel Downer, Jr.His son, Samuel Downer, Jr. (1807-1881), was a pioneer in the development of kerosene and a participant in early petroleum exploration in Pennsylvania.  (Locally, he is known for having bought up most of Crow Point in Hingham and developed the mid-19th century resort Melville Garden.)  This Samuel Downer (photo at right) also cultivated fruit for a hobby.  One of his inventions was “Downer’s Late Cherry,” a useful application of scientific principles to farming: it bore fruit later than other varieties of cherry, effectively extending the local cherry season.

PH503The Hingham Agricultural and Horticultural Society, founded in 1869, was also comprised of local men and women, many of whom were involved in industry, trade, and commerce.  (Here, they pose for a formal portrait in front of Hingham’s Agricultural Hall in the late 1880s or early 1890s.) As a society, they were earnestly dedicated to scientific farming, that is, using the progressive values of the 19th century and the power of new knowledge and industrial technology to “improve” agriculture along “modern” lines. At the agricultural fair each fall, prizes offered in different categories attracted many entrants. One could win a medal or ribbon—and an accompanying cash prize–for anything from crops and livestock to flowers and preserves.

The prizes offered for “Agricultural Experiments” demonstrate this interest in scientific farming.  A poster advertising the 1863 Agricultural Fair (detail reproduced below) offered prizes for the “best conducted experiment” in several areas, including for instance, “ascertaining the most economical manner of apply Manures for a crop of Indian corn, not less than ½ acre . . . .”

Africultural Fair Poster 1863 #2

Hingham Baseball: Reminding Young and Old That We Are All The Same

“Take me out to the ballgame” wrote Jack Norworth in his 1908 song of the same name. By that date, early in the 20th century, baseball had long been considered America’s pastime.

One reason for baseball’s popularity is its unique ability to unite generations.  It is a game that is inherently able to be played by people of all ages and as such has always been a unifying force within small American communities.

Whether it’s a sandlot game between neighborhood kids or a semi-formal league between towns, the game of baseball brings people young and old together under a common love of sport and competition. This was true in Hingham, where informal baseball teams formed as early as the 1870s.

More often than not, these teams were comprised of a mix of men, from schoolboys to middle-aged business owners to retirees, all of whom share in common their love of the game and their sense of community.

Preserved in the archives of the Hingham Historical Society are a number of photographs from this early era of America’s favorite sport. Team photos of Hingham men with their dapper uniforms and basic gear show us not only how frightening it must have been to be a catcher in those days but also how Hingham’s older and newer generations put aside whatever differences they may have had to come together and compete.

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This picture, taken c. 1905, illustrates the demographic mix, with a teenager like Charlie Jeffries (back row, far right) playing on the same team as middle-aged William Blake (middle row, far right) and an elderly William Turner (back row, second from left). These men all pose with the same uniform proudly displaying the large Hingham “H.”

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Other photos, like this one, depict a team comprised entirely of young men and boys, many of whom would go on to accomplish great things in our town.  This photograph, by amateur Hingham photographer Frank W. Reed includes himself as a player (back row, third from right) along with the bearers of many prominent Hingham names: Ripley, Howard, Lane and Stoddard, to name a few. One player, Wilbur T. Litchfield (back row, second from right) would go on to become one of Hingham’s very first electricians and would help to electrify Hingham’s streets and some of its first homes between 1896 and 1900. (Note the rudimentary catcher’s mask displayed at lower left. The “C” on the players’ uniforms may refer to Hingham Centre.)

As these young men grew, one thing typically stayed the same and that was a love for the game.  We can look at these images and quite literally watch some of these Hingham men age over time through their continued participation in the sport. James H. Kimball was a lifelong fan of the game, appearing in team photos as a young man here in Hingham, going on to play at Dartmouth and later returning to town to continue playing on several teams during his time working for his family’s lumber business on Summer Street.  About the photo below, Jim Kimball wrote

This shows the first Hingham ball team that I played on, in August, 1899.  I was a sophomore at Darmouth.  No larger crowd ever gathered than on that Saturday afternoon in August, when we played the first game against the team which was organized by the Rev. C.H. Porter.  It was a gala occasion and drew a big crowd.

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The photo below is of “Porter’s Players,” the Hingham team’s rival in the epic game Mr. Kimball remembered years later. (The Rev. C.H. Porter was pastor of the New North Church.)  They lost the August game, 8-4, and went on to lose a Labor Day rematch that same year, 9.6.

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Teams started out in plain clothes, with no gear, playing “stick ball” before formally adopting the recognizable equipment and uniform style we see today. The one constant from those early days until now has been the sport’s unique ability to bridge the age gap. Today we recreate that camaraderie through our annual Vintage Base Ball game. Though when you look at these early photographs and watch our “modern” vintage game, one thing becomes abundantly clear: we are all the same. In this way, baseball provides us with a special way to visualize our same place in the community and realize that it just a continuation of generations long past.

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Isaac Sprague and American Botany

isaac sprague poster '16-100dpiA new exhibit opened today at our 1688 Old Ordinary house museum, 21 Lincoln Street, Hingham. Isaac Sprague and American Botany: Art, Science, and Agriculture in the 19th Century examines the life and work of America’s best-known botanical illustrator–and son of Hingham–and places his art in the context of several currents of 19th century social history.  Plus, we have mounted some absolutely lovely botanical prints and and a series of beautifully detailed pencil drawings of the many types of orchard fruits that were once grown in this area. The exhibit can be seen Tuesdays through Saturdays, between 1 pm and 5 pm, for the rest of the summer.  We hope you come and take a look and learn a little more about this Hingham artist.

Main Street, Top of Pear Tree HillIsaac Sprague was born in Hingham in 1811. His family lived in Hingham Centre, in a house that still stands today. The Spragues of Hingham were primarily coopers, part of the woodenware industry that gave early Hingham the nickname “Bucket Town.”  Sprague was mostly self-taught as an artist, recalling that he “always had a fondness for making pictures” as a child. He was “constantly discouraged from doing so by [his] father, who said artists were invariably poor,” but his family did have some creative roots–his Uncle Hosea was a printer and engraver, and another uncle, Blossom, ran a carriage-painting business (visible in the center of this early photo of Hingham Centre) where Sprague was apprenticed as a young man.

No. 11Sprague developed an early love of nature and much of his juvenile work is drawn from the woods and fields around Hingham.  In particular, young Isaac drew and painted numerous pictures of birds.  When Sprague was about thirty, he met the wildlife artist J. J. Audubon, who examined a number of Sprague’s bird drawings and, impressed with his talent, hired him as an assistant. In this capacity, Sprague accompanied Audubon out west to the Missouri Territory and Fort Union on a trip to produce sketches for Audubon’s Quadrupeds of North America. This connection with Audubon launched Sprague’s career as a botanical artist.

2011.0.271After his trip west Sprague returned briefly to the South Shore, working as a clerk in a Nantasket Beach hotel until, the following year, he started to work as an illustrator for prominent American botanist Asa Gray, first producing illustrations for his 1845 Lowell lectures at Harvard.  Before long he moved to Cambridge, continuing to work for Gray and other Harvard professors, illustrating several comprehensive botanical volumes in the 1840s and 1850s.  (The illustration to the left, of Aesculus Parviflora, is from an 1848 work, Trees and Shrubs of New England.)

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