Launching the Hingham Heritage Google Map

I had no idea when I retired in March 2015 that so much of my early retirement would involve projects tied to history.  These projects culminated in the Hingham Historical Society‘s Custom Google Map Project, which I have shepherded for the past year.   As the opening of the Visitor Center at the Historical Society’s newly renovated Old Derby Academy approaches, it is exciting to unveil our work.  The new Hingham Heritage Map is a custom Google map with a series of topical overlays on which locations of local historical significance are geo-located and described.

Not sure what that means?  Just click in the upper left hand corner to see the “legend,” or list of overlays, and in the upper right hand corner to enlarge the map:

Select one of the themed layers using the map “legend” on the left, and the Google map will populate with icons representing sites of interest.  Click on one and scroll down to read more about its history and in some cases, see historic and contemporary photos.  Note: Many historic structures on this map are private homes today, but exteriors can be viewed as you walk, bike, or drive along.

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Eileen McIntyre with veterans Norm Grossman and Syd Rosenburg (Barry Chin photo for Boston Globe)

Over the past two years, I was pleased to make connections with fellow history-minded Hinghamites whose help and encouragement made the project possible.  In late 2015, I met with Andy Hoey, Director of Social Studies in the Hingham Public Schools, to explore ways I could put my experience with a new StoryCorps smartphone app to use, capturing oral histories. I’d originally thought I might work with some students to encourage their use of the app.  Andy suggested that I consider capturing stories of local military veterans and introduced me to Keith Jermyn, Hingham’s Director of Veterans’ Services. I kept in touch with Andy as I interviewed veterans in town over the succeeding months to come. The initiative was covered in a Globe South story that ran with their Veterans Day coverage last year.  While we did not realize it when we connected about StoryCorps, both Andy and Keith would later prove helpful in the map project.

Detail from W.A. Dwiggins map, “The Old Place Names,” 1935

In March of 2016, I met with Suzanne Buchanan, then Executive Director at the Hingham Historical Society, and others to explore a potential way-finding project for the planned opening of the Visitor Center at the Hingham Heritage Museum.  Over the next several weeks, I researched an earlier signage project explored by the Hingham Downtown Association. My findings suggested that adding more signs to point visitors to Historic Downtown Hingham, and the new Museum, would be challenging. I also realized that for most of us these days, physical way-finding signs are not a major navigation tool. As I pondered this, an unrelated event sparked an idea.

In the spring of 2016 I attended my 45th college reunion and was impressed by a custom Google map the Boston College alumni office had created to guide attendees to the events held on two campuses. I wondered if we could design such a map as an easy-to-access resource to the Hingham history all around us–so I contacted the BC alumni office to find out how the map had been created.  The Associate Director, Strategic Marketing and Writing, of the Office of University Advancement, Stacy Chansky, was very helpful, sending me online resources. Wow, I thought. Maybe some local students could be enlisted to help me with create a custom Google map to showcase Hingham history that would launch when the new Hingham Heritage Museum opened.

I shared my idea with Suzanne and, based on her enthusiasm for the concept, I reached out to Andy Hoey to see if any Hingham High School students could be enlisted when school resumed the following September.  Andy came through for me, not only identifying two interested seniors, but also gaining approval for them to receive course credit for the hours they spent on the project.  Seniors Eliza Cohen and Collin Bonnell and I agreed on a multi-themed approach to mapping the history of our Town. Our objective would be not only to pinpoint locations but also to include text and photographs.

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First Universalist Church and Society, now a private home on North Street.

Both students had themes they wanted to research. Eliza set off to document the Town’s historic meeting houses, places of worship, and cemeteries, while Collin dove into Hingham’s rich military history across the centuries. (I contacted Keith Jermyn about Collin’s work and he contributed by giving Collin material on the many military monuments around town.) Later, Collin also would help me research Hingham’s farming history.

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Banner from Hingham’s historic 1844 abolitionist event at Tranquility Grove (Burns Memorial Park today). 

Other topics I took on were bucket-making and other early industry in town and the history of Tuttleville, a 19th-century freed black community in Hingham.  This latter topic would later expand to include Hingham’s historic relationship to our nation’s abolition movement. Each research topic would become a layer of the custom Google map.  And I made sure that the Hingham Heritage Museum would be represented on each map layer, through a reference to archival materials or artifacts related to the theme for that layer of the map. (I’ve learned much along the way about the rich resource our new museum will be for all kinds of research.)

As the project got underway last fall, the Society’s registrar, Michael Achille, helped us find information and photographs from the Society’s archives and the Public Library’s history collections.  Michael has been invaluable as both an expert resource and a cheerleader throughout this project.  He is now working with Andy Hoey on an Historical Society-sponsored internship for Hingham High School students starting next fall.  Assignments for the students are expected to include future enhancements to the custom Google map we have created for the Heritage Museum.

For a project with the scope of ours, it was best to begin by populating a shared database. We made Google sheets the home for all of the data we began collecting beginning last September.  Later in the fall, one of my contacts from the StoryCorps project, Hingham-based journalist Johanna Seltz Seelen, put me in touch with Yael Bessoud, a university-level history student with good technology skills–and her future son-in-law.  Yael joined our team early this year, first researching photographs at the library and in the Society archives and then referencing the Hingham Comprehensive Community Inventory of Historic, Architectural and Archeological Assets to populate the database with content for additional Google map layers, including ones documenting the more than one hundred pre-1800 homes and other structures still standing in Hingham.  Later, Yael was instrumental in transferring the information we had put into our database onto a Google map.

Everyone involved in this project is excited that, less than a year from the project’s inception, we are launching what is now an eight-layer custom Google map documenting so many aspects of the Town’s history.  I want to give special shout-outs to Eliza Cohen, who is beginning her college studies at the Shanghai, China, campus of New York University; Collin Bonnell, who is off to college at Fordham University in New York City, and Yael Bessoud, who, with an Associate Degree in History from Quincy College completed, is now continuing his studies toward a B.A. in Education at Framingham State University.

The map project is ongoing. I appreciate the recent assistance of Geri Duff, who found digital images for many of the historic homes on the Google map and house histories compiled by Historical society volunteers over many years of Hingham Historical House Tours.  With these, I have been able to enrich the descriptions for many sites.

Other resources of value to the project have included: the entries on this blog, which document many of the archival resources that we have tied into map descriptions; Martha Reardon Bewick’s well-researched Lincoln Day address this year, which filled in much detail about the abolitionist gathering at Hingham’s Tranquility Grove (a site on one of the map layers); photos and stories provided by Town Historian Alexander Macmillan; and valuable clues about Hingham’s extensive dairy farm history provided by Peter Hersey, based on the labels from his historic milk bottle collection.

Any project worth doing “takes a village” . . . or in this case, a Town.

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

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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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.

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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.

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

 

The Portico Finds Its Home

Those who have been to our Old Ordinary House Museum—or who have been to the home page of our Society website—have seen the gazebo or summer house in the shape of a small Grecian temple which sits at the top of the Old Ordinary garden.

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As well as being a charming backdrop for garden parties and the occasional wedding, this structure is a genuine piece of Hingham history. Its travels around town over the last two hundred years are documented by correspondence, photographs, and the written reminiscences of the Rev. John Gallop, one of its former custodians–all in our archives.

In the late 17th century, the Thaxter family built a house in Hingham Square, on the present day site of St. Paul’s Church. As added to and improved over the years, the “Thaxter mansion” grew into a large, attractive home, furnished with tapestries, tiled fireplaces, and painted doors—some of which were donated to our Society by Thaxter descendants.

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At some point, prior to the first photographs of the house but almost certainly in the first half of the 19th century, a classically-influenced portico, with a pediment and columns, was added at the house’s front door.

Greek revival architecture was the fashion during the first half of the 19th century, and it sometimes took a more modest form than the Monticello or “Tara” models. Greek-influenced porticos were added to many older New England buildings. In addition to the Thaxter mansion, porticos with columns and a pediment were added to the Old Ordinary itself and (in an architectural mash-up) the English Gothic Old Ship Church.

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The Thaxter mansion was torn down in 1866 to make way for St. Paul’s Church, but the portico was saved. The story is that it was taken away by Hingham artist W. Allan Gay, but in any event, it was installed in the side yard of the Martin Gay house at 262 South Street, where it began its second life as a summer house or gazebo.

The Martin Gay house and its side yard.  (See the portico at the far right of the photograph.)

The Martin Gay house and its side yard. (See the portico at the far right of the photograph.)

Almost 100 years later, during an expansion of the South Shore Country Club, the garden area the Gay property was sold. The portico, which had fallen into disrepair, was threatened with demolition. The Rev. John M. Gallop, rector of the Parish of St. John the Evangelist, saved the portico from demolition. He sought and received permission to remove it. He installed it in the side yard of St. John’s Rectory, on Main Street next door to the church.

Upon his retirement from St. John’s, Gallop donated the portico to the Hingham Historical Society. The decision was reached to add it to the formal gardens on the grounds of the Old Ordinary. (These gardens have a rich history of their own which would take another post to cover.) Still more preservation work was needed, but thanks to Gallop and many dedicated volunteers at the Society, the portico found a permanent home in 1979, not much further than a football field’s length away from where it was originally built.

Installing the portico in the Old Ordinary's garden (1979)

Installing the portico in the Old Ordinary’s garden (1979)