Earlier this year I was researching Hingham’s Irish immigrant neighborhood in preparation for the launch of a Hingham walking tour tied to the South Shore Irish Heritage Trail. As described in Not All Is Changed: A Life History of Hingham (1993, Hingham Historical Commission), “by the 1870s, Crowe’s Lane, Hersey near Elm Street, upper Elm, Emerald Street, and Bates Court, were an Irish village . . . .” I spent time reviewing pages about these streets in the Loring Notebooks in our Society archives. These “notebooks” actually are binders filled with historic details about Hingham streets and properties, assembled by local historian Julian Loring (1899-1978). The description of a property at the corner of Lafayette and Elm Streets — in the heart of the “Irish village” intrigued me. Daniel Hickey, a blacksmith, and his family, lived on this corner from late 1889 until around 1910. I did some additional digging and felt rewarded for the effort: the multi-generational Hickey family story that emerged paints a vivid picture of life in Hingham, and America, in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Daniel Hickey was born in Hingham to Irish immigrant parents. And it was with his father John that a metal-working family tradition began.
Irish immigrant John Hickey, from Kilkenny, met Bridgett Hackett, of County Cork, on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. They arrived in Boston in 1832 and married there that November. They had settled in Hingham sometime before 1835 when their first daughter, Mary, was born. John described himself as a laborer on his 1845 naturalization form but would soon develop far more specialized skills.
The Hickey genealogy in the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham tells us that John and Bridgett found a place to live on North Street near the harbor. Successive federal and state census records tell us that by 1850, John was employed as an “iron melter,” a “furnace man,” then an “iron screener” and, by 1860, a “moulder.” Although no surviving record could be found, almost certainly John was working at the Howard Foundry at Hingham Harbor.
John and Bridgett’s 9 children—5 daughters and 4 sons–were born in Hingham. (John died in 1866 and his wife Bridget in 1873.) Three of their four sons–James, born in Hingham in 1839; Thomas, born in 1841; and Daniel, born in 1851–followed their dad into hot metal work.
Their eldest son James became an iron screener and moulder as a teenager (likely joining his dad at the local foundry) and then took his trade into the Civil War, where he served in the 4th Regiment of the Massachusetts Cavalry—perhaps making cannon balls as well as horseshoes for his unit. After the war James married and moved to Canada.
Second son Thomas, described as a blacksmith when he joined the 1st Cavalry in 1861, later served in the 4thCavalry. His 4 plus years of service were eventful and admirable as related in The Town of Hingham the Late Civil War (1876, F. Burr and G. Lincoln.) He mustered out at the war’s end in 1865 as a second lieutenant. James and Thomas were among the 24 young men from Hingham who were in cavalry service during the Civil War.
Thomas returned to the family’s Hingham home on North Street, where in 1865, he (aged 23) and 4 younger siblings were living with their parents. His 21-year-old sister Ellen worked at the nearby Burr, Brown Tassel Factory, a popular employer for young women from Irish immigrant families, and John Jr., 19, was a periodical dealer, perhaps selling reading material to commuters from the then-downtown train station. Thomas married in 1866. By 1879, records show that Thomas had a 2-man blacksmith business in Hingham. It is quite possible that the second blacksmith at Thomas’ shop was younger brother Daniel, who would have been in his 20’s by that time. By 1880, Thomas and his wife Mary Jane had a home on Cottage Street and three young sons. They moved to Quincy in 1883.
Daniel stayed in Hingham. In 1876, he married Margaret Hanley of East Weymouth, whose parents, John Hanley and Margaret Keane, were both Irish immigrants. John Hanley, a farmer, was born in Tipperary County. Perhaps Margaret met Daniel Hickey when he provided blacksmith services for her dad’s farm animals. After they married and started a family, the couple first lived on Ship Street. By 1892, Daniel and Margaret had 5 children — 3 sons and 2 daughters.
In November 1889, Daniel and his family moved to the corner of Elm and Lafayette, where the property included a barn suitable for horseshoeing. This excerpt from an 1885 illustrated map of Hingham shows the corner as it likely looked when Daniel bought the property in 1889, before the surrounding Maple Street neighborhood was developed, around 1900. Daniel also had a business location for his blacksmith business within walking distance, at 23 North Street. Daniel bought the corner property at 49 Elm Street from Alfred Howard, a carpenter and cabinetmaker, who may have built the home (c.1860) which still stands at this address. Alfred was the son of a blacksmith, Edmund Howard. Daniel had likely known the Howard family for years, as it was Alfred’s uncle, Charles Howard, inventor of the Howard Plow, who had started the Howard Foundry at Hingham Harbor.
The late 19th century was a busy time for livery stables and the blacksmith trade as horse and buggy was a primary means of transportation. In the 1860 census there were 14 blacksmiths doing business in town, as related in a fascinating program on the history of transportation in Hingham researched and presented by archivist Bob Malme (and now available to view on the Society’s YouTube channel.
But times were about to change. The first automobile in Hingham, arriving in 1902 according to Not All Is Changed, was owned by Francis Willard Brewer (1846-1907), an affluent local “gentleman farmer.” By 1912 Hingham had acquired its first motor-powered fire engine, replacing one team of horses. That year, with their family now grown and local blacksmithing businesses gradually being replaced by auto repair shops, Daniel and Margaret downsized to a home at 37 Elm Street. But the family interest in horses, and in metal work, continued with their sons Daniel Jr. and Herbert.
Daniel Hickey, Jr., born in Hingham in 1883, and later living in Boston, was, at age 34, a riding instructor, according to his WWI draft registration. He worked for a time at Boston’s Park Riding School, which was operated by a J. B. Ferry. Daniel was also described as an “automobile driver”—which suggests he worked as a chauffeur in early automobiles, in addition to teaching students to ride horses.
Indicative of the changing times, Daniel’s oldest son Herbert, born in 1878, moved to Detroit sometime after 1910, and had a long career in the fast-growing auto industry. For a time, he was an inspector at the Hudson Motor Car Company, which had an early dealership on Summer Street at Hingham Harbor. Hudson Motor Company, founded in 1909, merged in 1954 to become American Motors Corporation. It was fascinating to learn how the Hickey family’s livelihood evolved with changes in transportation, while the skills in metal work continued through the generations.