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

Hingham’s Unbuilt Highways, Part 1

For nearly the last 100 years, residents of Hingham have had to deal with traffic congestion in its downtown, the harbor area, and along Main Street. The recent effort by the town to survey residents about possible improvements to Route 3A and Summer Street is only the latest attempt to try to solve the town’s traffic problems. Documents from the John Richardson Collection and other materials in our archives confirm that the search for a solution to traffic problems has a long history.

Starting in the 1920’s the town asked the state to fund a project to take beach and through traffic away from Hingham Square. The state took the easiest solution and expanded Broad Cove Road and Otis Street to four lanes so that 3A could be re-routed away from the eastern end of Lincoln Street and North Street in 1932. Though successful, this action reduced the ability for non-automobile traffic to easily access the waterfront from that date forward. Around the same time, to further speed Nantasket and other traffic east of the Harbor, the state also built Chief Justice Cushing Highway, with the now infamous Harbor Rotary, and constructed George Washington Blvd. to Hull.

Looking North towards the Harbor Rotary in 1941:

Hingham Rotary and Harbor (1941)With the 1950s came the start of the freeway era in the country and Massachusetts. By 1959, the state had completed the 128 Beltway, the Central Artery, and the Southeast Expressway as far as Derby Street (later to be Route 3). Hingham officials saw the new expressway as an opportunity to attract tax-producing industrial and commercial development to South Hingham but also worried about what a potential residential population boom would do to the town. With these thoughts in mind, the Hingham Planning Board produced a report called the ‘1959 Town Plan Summary’ which projected Hingham’s population as 25,000 by 1980 and made a series of recommendations to best accommodate this growth while preserving the town’s character.

Cover of 1959 Planning Board Report:

1959 Hingham Town Plan Summary

The report made two recommendations to help increase recreational use of the Harbor. The first was to fill parts of it to connect the Harbor islands to the mainland and build a marina where the Yacht Club is now, as seen in the map below.

Hingham Harbor Plan (1959)

Second to ease waterfront access to town citizens, and to help solve many of the town’s traffic problems, the Board recommended building a pair of parkways (which, depending on costs, would be built as limited access expressways right away, or upgraded to them in the future) to take Nantasket and other through traffic away from the Harbor area and from Main Street (see Location A in the map below). The north-south parkway would take through traffic from Route 3A at the Back River Bridge southward parallel to Beal Street (by the Ammunition Depot, slated to close and holding out the opportunity for industrial development) and then further south along the western side of town to Route 3. The east-west parkway would then take southbound and Nantasket traffic east, following a route through the center of Town, north of High and Free Streets, and then across 3A to George Washington Blvd.

1959 Hingham Highway Plan

Neither of these plans got off the drawing board: they appear to have largely been an alternative to the state’s known plans for the Hingham area, which included, as can be seen referenced on the top left side map, the Shawmut Trail. The Shawmut Trail was a proposed expressway that would have run from Route 3 near today’s Braintree Split eastward across the Fore River (over a new bridge) to Route 3A in Weymouth just west of the Back River Bridge. It would then have continued into Hingham mostly along the path of Route 3A to end at the proposed Route 128 (later 228) Expressway near Turkey Hill (shown on Map C). As can be seen on the Location B and C Maps above, a portion of the Shawmut Trail route would have run directly from the Broad Cove Rd/Otis Street intersection to the Rotary. This would, as the report notes, involve running Route 3A “on a dike across the southern shallows of the Harbor cutting off the ponded areas from further recreational or boating use.” In other words, this plan would have prevented most of the current activities in the southern end of the harbor.

View of the southern end of Hingham Harbor from the Bathing Beach in 2014, a scene that would not be possible if the Shawmut Trail had been built:

View of the southern end of Hingham Harbor from Bathing Beach, 8/9/14
Photo by Robert H. Malme, 8/9/14

Needless to say, this plan did not impress Hingham’s citizens or town officials. By the end of 1968 the state relented and ended the proposed Shawmut Trail in Weymouth. In the early 1970s the state officially abandoned the plan. Though none of these proposal came to be, a plan to build a relocated 228 expressway came much closer to fruition. More about that in Part 2.

 

Carl Burr’s Hingham, Part 1

Thanks to the generosity of Hingham resident Gerry Bennett, the Historical Society has recently been loaned the diaries of Carl Burr (1884-1961), a seventh generation Hingham resident who lived his entire life at the family homestead at 61 Leavitt Street, across from today’s Hingham Public Library. I have just completed cataloging these diaries to make them accessible to researchers and others interested in this local history resource. Click on the link to read the full Carl Burr Diaries Finding Aid.

Photo of the Burr Homestead on Leavitt Street in 1885 and beyond. Taken by Charles Marble from the roof of Agricultural Hall:

Burr Homestead in 1885

Carl Burr was the eleventh child of Elisha Burr (1839-1909) and Mary Pratt Burr (1842-1940). He married Esther (Essie) M. Snyder (1889-1975) of Cohasset on June 15, 1910 and they raised two children, Alston P. Burr (1910-1979), who after 1940 lived next door at 67 Leavitt Street, and Constance (Connie) Burr Talbot (1915-1989) who spent her married life in Darien, Connecticut. He kept a daily diary for most of his adult life. The entries provide a window on a Hingham that was changing rapidly from a rural farm town in the early 1900s to the suburban community it is today. Changes that are evident through his diary’s descriptions of modes of transportation and use of open space.

Transportation
Carl Burr never owned a car. He didn’t have to travel far to visit family. Carl’s younger brother, noted decoy maker Russ Burr (1887-1955), lived next door at 55 Leavitt Street until his death in 1955, older sister Mary (May) Burr Ripley (b. 1878) and her husband William (Bill) Ripley (b. 1876) lived two doors up at the corner of Leavitt and Spring Streets.

Burr Homestead houses along 57, 61 and 67 Leavitt Street, 5/2/15

Burr Homestead houses along 57, 61 and 67 Leavitt Street. Photo taken May 2, 2015 by Robert H. Malme.

He was within walking distance of stores in both Hingham Center and Hingham Square. In his early years he was a plumbing and heating contractor and his entries list his extensive use of the local street railway system to visit clients throughout Hingham and neighboring communities.

Hingham Street Railway Car on Main Street near Pear Tree Hill:
Hingham Street Railway Company Car, Pear Tree Hill

He used the Nantasket and Old Colony railroad lines to take off-hour excursions to Nantasket Beach and Paragon Park or to travel to Cohasset to visit his future wife.

Nantasket Beach Railroad Train c. 1900 Nantasket Railway train heading towards Hingham near the Weir River around 1900, courtesy of the Hingham Historical Society.

Through connecting rail lines in other towns, he could travel far from home. He writes on August 15, 1909 traveling to Providence, RI via ‘the electrics’ for a dinner. In the 1920’s he became maintenance supervisor to buildings in Boston and started daily commutes via the Old Colony Railroad into South Station often returning home in the early afternoon. And like this past winter season, he noted several times when severe snowstorms prevented the trains from running.

Passengers board Old Colony Railroad train at Hingham Square Depot around 1930:

Hingham Square Train Station

As the years went on, particularly after World War II, however, the railroad started to give way to the popularity of the automobile. His entries refer to rail service starting to get cut back. On April 3, 1948 he notes he can no longer take a 12:30PM trip back to Hingham from Boston, but must now take a train to Quincy and then a bus. By the late 1940s, any late evening work would require his son Allston picking him up in his car from Quincy or the ‘rapid transit’ station at Columbia, today’s JFK-UMass station. After he stopped working in Boston in 1951, he started to rely totally on family, or friends, to transport him around town or elsewhere. Toward the end of his life, on September 8, 1959 he noted traveling on the new Southeast Expressway, its opening causing the end of railroad service in Hingham for nearly 50 years.

Hingham Square Train Depot being demolished in 1949:
Demolition of Hingham Square Train Station

Part two will discuss the changes the diaries chronicle in Hingham’s open spaces.

Powerful Words in the Name of Freedom

Every day Hingham residents drive or walk past the entrance to a small park lying between Central and Hersey Streets. Now known as Burns Memorial Park, it was once home to Tranquility Grove, an outdoor space used for meeting and rallies—including in particular abolitionist rallies.

Hingham was home to an active group of abolitionists. Led in large part by local women who were considered extremists by many, Hingham’s abolitionists worked for freedom through petitions, speeches, meetings, and protests. High-profile abolitionists visited Hingham regularly during this period, including Frederick Douglass (who came more than once), William Lloyd Garrison, an aging John Quincy Adams, and the Grimke sisters.

On August 1, 1844, the Hingham Anti-Slavery Society hosted a large regional rally to mark the tenth anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the British West Indies. The rally featured a speech by Frederick Douglass at the First Baptist Church and a procession down Hingham’s Elm Street to Tranquility Grove. As the abolitionists entered the Grove, they were greeted by large white banners hung from the surrounding fir trees. In bold black letters, the banners spelled out anti-slavery slogans:

20141011_110642They are slaves that fail to speak/ for the fallen and the weak

20141011_110456True freedom is to be earnest to make OTHERS free

20141011_110507God made us free! Then fetter not a brother’s limbs!

20141011_110636Welcome All to Freedom’s Altar!

Fragile and creased with age, the banners from the 1844 Tranquility Grove meeting are preserved in our archives. One of them makes direct reference to Tranquility Grove, greeting supporters entering the rally with a verse:

Hail! Friend of Truth, thou enterest here
The grove long named TRANQUILITY.
O let thy soul then breathe sweet peace,
Pure love and TRUE HUMILITY.

P1060107The efforts of the Hingham abolitionists contributed to the larger national abolition movement which would continue to gain traction across the country until the Emancipation Proclamation brought their hard work to fruition. The banners remain an evocative reminder of Hingham’s participation in that important work, and their powerful statements still right true to this day.

The Lane Family Seen Through 19th Century Deeds

Sometimes, even the most mundane documents give us deeper insight into the lives and relationships of Hingham’s oldest families. Such is the case with a collection of deeds and wills recently donated to the Historical Society by Philip S. Allen. The focus of the collection is the Lane family, one of Hingham’s oldest and most prominent, particularly well-known for Jared Lane, one of the town’s many talented coopers. The deeds and wills, however, cast light on Hannah Lane, the widow of Rufus Lane, Jared Lane’s brother and a painter who resided on South Street where the Hingham Water Company once stood.

After Rufus’ death in 1801, Hannah did not remarry. She enjoyed the use of her husband’s considerable personal and real estate, which she conveyed to her sons, Charles and Rufus, over the course of her 37 years as a widow. (When Rufus died, Charles and young Rufus had not inherited directly, having been only 11 and 13 at the time.)

The first deed from Hannah is dated 1811, ten years after Rufus’ death, and conveys to Charles and Rufus a small shop and its contents located on Town land near Elisha Cushing’s estate (now, 692 Main Street). Like later conveyances to Charles and Rufus, the shop was conveyed to them jointly. Charles and Rufus are described as “painters,” like their late father, and paid their mother $300 for this property.

Lane Deed (1811)

Hannah Lane’s 1811 Deed to sons Charles and Rufus Lane

Hannah later conveyed other real estate, with a house upon it, to Charles and Rufus jointly. In April 1824, they divided this property between them, by means of a Land Division Agreement, also in our collection. It is easy to tell the two are brothers just by the language used in the agreement. Like two young boys dividing a candy bar, they drew a very specific line down the center of the property—and through the house—with each brother getting half. The Agreement addresses the specific aspects of the house and property to which each is entitled—including entire rooms which are divided and split down the middle.

The brothers acquired other land over the years, and not always from their mother. Another deed in our collection, from January 1824, evidences their purchase of nearly three acres of woodland in the area of Hingham known as the “Third Division” (the area of Levitt Street, merging into present-day Wompatuck State Park) from the previously mentioned cooper Jared Lane and his wife Sarah for $133.33.

The brothers jointly owned the firm of R & C Lane, which was engaged in mackerel fishing and dealt in fishermen’s supplies, and they frequently sold property back and forth between them. One deed in the collection has Rufus buying land and “all the buildings upon it” on North Street from his brother Charles for the considerable sum—in 1833—of $2,700. As the years went by, their property holdings began to reflect their unique personal interests, but that didn’t stop their mother from continuing to sell to the two of them together. The final deed in this collection, dated March 1835, is from Hannah to her two sons—again jointly—conveying a shop and land at the junction of North and South Streets in Hingham Square, for $717.87.

The collection includes Hannah’s Last Will and Testament, written in 1835. Upon her death, in 1838, she bequeathed all of her remaining real estate not just to Charles and Rufus but also to her one surviving daughter, Sally, who had married Benjamin Parker of Boston in October 1814. (This was the sole mention of Sally in these Lane family documents.) She left her personal property to her eight grandchildren. The will of one of these grandchildren, Abigail, is the final record in this collection. Abigail’s will, made only three days after her grandmother died, leavers all of her personal and real estate to her cousins, Charles Lane, Jr. and Rufus Lane, Jr.

Our Religious Pamphlets Collection

Up in the archives, we have been busy indexing a collection of over 300 different religious pamphlets from the 18th and 19th centuries.  Most of these soft-cover, professionally printed booklets contain a single sermon given in a Hingham or South Shore church, although there are also religious tracts, catechisms, devotional literature, and Sunday School texts.  There is even a pamphlet of marital advice to husbands and wives.

Pulpit in Old Ship Church (1941 photograph from Branzetti, Historic American Buildings Survey)

Pulpit in Old Ship Church (1941 photograph from Branzetti, Historic American Buildings Survey)

Our religious pamphlet collection provides a useful complement to the Hingham church records preserved both in our archives and at other institutions.  They tell an important story of the development of Protestant Christianity in this small corner of the country from the Great Awakening to the rise of liberal Christianity and Unitarianism to the evangelical reaction of the Second Great Awakening.  As the 19th century progressed, social issues such as abolition, temperance, and social inequality increasingly became the subject of sermons in Hingham and South Shore pulpits.

Joseph Richardson's "A Sermon in Two Parts," delivered Sunday, June 28, 1856

Joseph Richardson’s “A Sermon in Two Parts,” delivered Sunday, June 28, 1856

Preaching—whether written or delivered from the pulpit—was popular in 19th century Hingham, as the many multiple copies in our collection of certain “favorites” by local preachers Joseph Richardson (Pastor of First Parish or “Old Ship” Church from 1805to 1868) and Oliver Stearns (Pastor of Third Parish or “New North” Church from 1839 to 1856) attest.  Many of our copies of the sermons of Ebenezer Gay (Pastor of First Parish from 1718 to 1787) are reprints, demonstrating that he retained an audience for his sermons 50 years after his death.

Even in the mid-19th century, attending Sunday church services in Hingham was an all-day affair, and preaching was a central part of the services in our Protestant churches.  (The pulpit of Old Ship Church in the photo at the top of this post attests to this.) These sermons are long by contemporary standards, most of them 25-30 pages long.  A number of the sermons are in two parts:  one for the morning service and one for the afternoon. They are dense and closely-argued, raising the unhappy suspicion that our ancestors’ attention spans, or at least their listening skills, were better developed than our own.

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Sunday, June 28, 1858. The morning’s sermon . . .

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. . . and the afternoon’s sermon

One Family’s Tradition of Service, Part 2

Captain Gorfinkle returned to America after his service with the Peace Delegation was complete and continued his military service as part of the reserves. Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, he organized many philanthropic campaigns to aid military service people in the Boston area between World Wars. One charitable effort involved the donation of pianos to military bases throughout New England and beyond, including the Hingham Naval Ammunition Depot.

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Colonel Gorfinkle continued his patriotic service in World War II, serving as a member of the War Manpower Commission, appointed by President Roosevelt to oversee the New England region. After the war, he remained active in the Reserves, serving as military attaché for Massachusetts governors Christian Herter (1953-1957) and John Volpe (1962-1965). He finally retired from Reserve service in December 1965—at the age of 71. Besides his law practice and military service, he was an active philanthropist in the Boston area, and chief among his interests were Beth Israel Hospital, the Newton Tennis & Squash Club, which he helped found, and Brandeis University.

The Colonel’s son, Herbert J. Gorfinkle, continued the family tradition of military service and was also involved in this country’s efforts during World War II. He was a member of the 381st Engineers Combat Battalion, which deployed to Europe following D-Day, serving as Unit photographer. His unit stayed in Germany for a year after the war helping rebuild that country’s infrastructure. His collection contains many photos of bridges over the Rhine River which his unit was helping rebuild. It also includes letters home to friends and family.
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After the war, Herbert Gorfinkle completed his education at the University of New Hampshire in 1947 and then received a Master’s in Business Administration from New York University’s School of Retailing in 1948. He then started a successful career in the mercantile industry, serving as manager or founder for several successful retail chains including Jordan Marsh and the Edwards Stores of Boston. He and his wife, Connie, moved to Hingham from Braintree in 1972 and raised three daughters on Andrews Isle within the Home Meadows—near Hingham Harbor, which he helped champion as member (1983-1990) and Chairman (1988-1990) of the Harbor Development Committee. Herbert Gorfinkle was also a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Coast Guard Auxiliary and Commodore of the Metropolitan Yacht Club.
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