Carl Burr’s Hingham, Part 2

As discussed in Part 1, the diaries of Carl Burr (1884-1861) provide a glimpse of how Hingham was changing from a largely rural community to the suburb of today during the first half of the twentieth century. As with transportation, the entries chronicle changes seen in how the town valued and used its open spaces.

Carl Burr was an avid outdoorsman. His year was measured by the fishing and hunting seasons. His entries through the 1910s and 1920s spend much time describing many places in Hingham available for hunting and fishing. He mentions hunting pheasant and quail on Turkey Hill, rabbits near Popes Lane and Pleasant Street, foxes in the High Street area and spending early mornings in Septembers in blinds awaiting the chance to shoot ducks in the Home Meadows.

Home Meadows as seen in 1888

Home Meadows near Winter Street

In the Spring he spent time fishing for trout and mackerel at Triphammer and Accord Ponds or casting a line off of the Leavitt Street bridge over the Weir River near his home.

A view of a hunting cabin at Triphammer Pond in 1911

Triphammer Pond
He helped found the Hingham Sportsmen’s Club (HSC) in April 1932, which held monthly meetings at the G.A.R. Hall along with shooting contests and field days in many farms in town.

GAR Hall on Main Street in the early 20th Century

GAR Hall with Trolley Tracks
But even before the Club was founded, his journal entries reflect a change in both the rural nature of the community and the types of wildlife available and allowed to hunt. Many of his entries refer to the lack of luck in finding anything during local hunting trips, particularly birds on trips up Turkey Hill. He stops referring to duck hunting in the Home Meadows after 1923 and instead goes on hunting trips to places on Cape Cod or in New Hampshire instead. With the town evolving into suburbia, regulations were put in place banning hunting in most areas. An entry on April 7, 1949 says he marked the 50th anniversary of his first bird hunt by taking the gun given to him by his father down to the Weir River though he notes shooting anything has been illegal there for the past 10 years.

Looking across the Leavitt Street Bridge over the Weir River in 1941

Standing on Leavitt’s Bridge
By the late 1930s fish are becoming so scarce in Hingham’s streams that he helps raise funds for the HSC to purchase trout and other fish from local fish farms to stock Hingham’s rivers. This only solved the problem in the short-term and the practice was discontinued by 1950. In November 1960, Carl Burr was one of several owners of land in the Home Meadows who sold their acreage to the new town Conservation Commission to help preserve the land as open space.

View of the Home Meadows near Water Street in 1958

Home Meadows Estuary

Open space changes in Hingham can also be summed up by the use of the Hingham Agricultural and Horticultural Society’s properties across from his house.

Agricultural Hall and Fairgrounds around 1900

Agricultural Hall
Agricultural Hall was built in 1867. Early in his life he attended the many events that took place there including agricultural exhibitions and sporting events on the fairgrounds by local amateur and school teams, including games of the Breezy Hill baseball club, the ‘home’ team from Hingham Center:

Breezy Hill Baseball Club, 1915
As the years passed, however, fewer agricultural activities took place on the grounds, amateur town teams disbanded and school teams moved to the fields used today. To follow baseball, he becomes a fan of the Boston Braves, attending many their games in Boston, or listens to them on the radio (and later television). By the time he became custodian of the Hall in the 1950s, the grounds were largely abandoned and only town elections and a few other civic events occurred in the building. The Hall was torn down a few years after his death in May 1961, replaced by the Hingham Public Library.

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.

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.