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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hinghamhistorical/20141584988/
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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hinghamhistorical/20321122922/
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

https://www.flickr.com/photos/hinghamhistorical/20142963889/

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.

The Old Salt Works

Illustration from "The Old Salt Works," Hingham Historical Society Publication No. 1 (1916)

Illustration from “The Old Salt Works,” Hingham Historical Society Publication No. 1 (1916)

The manufacture of salt in Hingham commenced at Broad Cove around 1812.  Buoyed by the rapid growth of Hingham’s fishing industry in the early years of the 19th century, several salt works were built, both at the easterly end of the harbor, near the steamboat landing, and on the salt meadows at Broad Cove.  Salt manufacture, “one of the old industries of Hingham,” was the subject of a paper presented to the Hingham Historical Society at its January 24, 1916 meeting, by Orin Brewster Sears, “a son of the proprietor of the [salt] works.”   The salt works owned and operated by Orin Brewster Sears’ father, also named Orin Sears, were built in the salt meadow along Otis Street, accessed by Fearing Road.  They were the last salt works to operate in Hingham.

In his paper, “The Old Salt Works,” published in 1916 as “Hingham Historical Society Publication No. 1,” Sears described the method of extracting sea salt by solar evaporation.  Salt water was pumped from the harbor into two long rows of vats around 200 feet long, called the “water rooms,” which ran up from the harbor at the westerly end of the salt meadow.  The pumps used to fill the water rooms were powered by a pair of windmills.  The water sat in the vats, evaporating, until it began to deposit lime, at which point it was drawn, through a system of hollow logs, to the “pickle rooms.”  There, as evaporation continued, lime and other unwanted constituents of sea brine were separated from the salt and water and salt crystals began to form.  The liquid would then be drawn, again through hollow logs, to another set of vats in the “salt rooms.”   Here, as the salt crystals increased in size, they dropped to the bottom of the vats and were raked together, drained, and carried to the “salt house” to dry.  The entire process took around three weeks.

Illustration from "The Old Salt Works," Hingham Historical Society Publication No. 1

Illustration from “The Old Salt Works,” Hingham Historical Society Publication No. 1

The Sears family was instrumental in the development of New England’s salt industry.  Pre-revolutionary colonists imported salt from England.  The war-time embargo created a crisis on Cape Cod, where salted fish was a staple food and primary export.  Captain John Sears of Dennis is credited with having invented the method of sea salt extraction by solar extraction described above.  Well suited to New England’s climate, it was adopted across the Cape as our domestic salt industry grew, aided by tariffs imposed by the young United States government.  It was also the system used in Hingham.  Orin Sears moved to Hingham from Dennis in 1846, motivated by “the desire to keep his boys from going to sea,” then “the only lucrative business on the Cape.”  He purchased the salt works described in the Historical Society paper, although the heyday of the local salt industry had already passed.  Between the mid-1830s and the mid-1850s, as the result of the decline of its fisheries and the development of alternate domestic sources of salt, Hingham’s salt production declined from over 20,000 bushels a year to fewer than 2,000.

The Historical Society’s early interest in Hingham’s “old industries” went hand in hand with the early 20th century belief in progress.  Sears waxed philosophical in his talk about the disappearance of the old ways:

It may seem strange to some of us in this day of development, with mines of rock salt, salt lakes, and salt springs almost everywhere, that our fathers should have been obliged to procure their supply from the ocean; no less so that with our country filled to overflowing with petroleum, they should have been obliged to brave the dangers of the whale fishery, for oil for illuminating purposes.  Those of us who have lived to watch the transition from tallow candle to the electric light, from the lumbering stage coach over rough roads to the automobile on the modern oiled stone boulevards or swifter steam express trains, from the messenger to the wireless telegraph, have reason to thank God that we live in the twentieth century.