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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

S.S. Pierce by Anthony M. Sammarco

S.S. Pierce & Company brings to mind to most of us neatly packaged foodstuffs that arrived by mail, or earlier by delivery man, in red boxes and the distinctive crest of the firm emblazoned on the wrappings. The company stood for gourmet foods and exotic imports, such as reindeer tongue that was largely unavailable in Dorchester a century ago.

Samuel Stillman Pierce (1807-1880) was born in the Cedar Grove neighborhood of Dorchester. The Pierce Family had settled in Dorchester shortly after the town was settled in 1630, and descended from Robert and Anne Greenway Pierce, who built their house in the mid 17th century on what is today Oakton Avenue. The house, which still stands and is preserved by Historic New England, is a fine example of East Anglican architecture, and was one of the few houses in southern Dorchester in the years prior to the Revolution.

Samuel S. Pierce was the son of Daniel and Lydia Davenport Pierce and was born in the farmhouse built by his family in the mid 18th century. Daniel Pierce was a cabinetmaker, and though we know of no ascribed furniture, the proximity of his home to the Lower Mills, a veritable beehive of artisans and cabinetmakers, may have resulted in his craft being undertaken at home. His son Samuel, however, was apprenticed to a firm of importers in Boston and then went into the grocery business for himself while still a young man. In 1831, Pierce founded his own grocery store and commenced a business that catered to families in Boston, with expert care and attention not just to the quality of the produce and provisions he offered, but in the presentation and in the maintenance of satisfied customers.

The first store of S.S. Pierce & Company was at the corner of Tremont and Court Streets in Boston, in a large granite building that housed his grocery store on the first floor and offices above. The store stocked thousands of items, many of which had a limited sale to the general public. Requests in the years prior to the Civil War heard for kangaroo tail soup, truffled lark and reindeer toungue, were made by Bostonians according to C. Lester Walker, who wrote an article for “The Reader’s Digest.” According to the article, the store might annually sell “5,000 tureens of pate de fois gras, 45,000 jars of caviar and 95,000 cans of mushrooms” and that it sells “crepe suzette, English lime marmalade, French frogs legs and costly terrapin stew… the firm even stocks escargots and boxes of pink French snail shells to cook them in.” Needless to say, one wonders how Bostonians had become so cosmopolitan in their refined palates over a century and a half ago.

S.S. Pierce was an astute businessman, and his large family provided four generations of Pierces to maintain both the name and the high standards of excellence that S.S. Pierce & Company had become known to represent. The diversity, quality and rareness of the foods offered by Pierce was unexcelled, and “some Bostonians claim that S.S. Pierce has introduced more new food products to Americans than any other U.S. grocer. The first recorded sale of canned corn was made by Samuel Pierce in 1848. Pierce’s sold Singapore pineapple before Hawaiian was ever heard of. And sun-ripened canned peaches, brook trout from Iceland, even rattlesnake meat.” Needless to say, Pierce maintained a business without rival, and was not simply a self-made man but an astute judge of Bostonians, and their desire for gourmet and luxury foods. He was to sell liquor while most Bostonians ascribed to the Total Abstinence Pledge, in which one pledged never to indulge in “evil spirits.” S.S. Pierce was to include “Twice Across Madeira” wine in his shop with the assurance that it was “shipped from Funchal, Madeira to New York, transshipped to Buenos Aires and then back to New York, thus having twice crossed the Equator.” The Madeira was surely of fine quality, but the cachet was to make this particular brand of Madeira one of the best sellers in New England.

With the finest foods available at this Boston store, imported Madeira and wines from Europe, and a supportive customer base who patronized his business, Pierce purchased a large row house on Union Park in Boston’s newly fashionable South End. His family, of his wife Ellen Maria Theresa Wallis whom he married in 1836 and eight children, lived in Boston during the winters and summered at a house he owned in Dorchester. The house, enlarged after the Civil War to accommodate his family, stood on a knoll overlooking “Sunnyside,” the area of Adams Village today, and the Neponset River. The estate was comprised of a house and stable, with ten acres and marshland. Though S.S. Pierce died in 1880, his son Wallis Lincoln Pierce continued the trademark name and standards established by his father. The family, among them Samuel S. Pierce, Jr., who died as a young man in California, Dr. M. Vassar Pierce, a noted Milton physician, and Holden White Pierce, maintained their connection to Dorchester as their sister, Henrietta Pierce still summered in the family home. The Pierce summer house, by the time of World War I, was a rambling series of additions made over the years. With dormers, ells and outbuildings, one can imagine the activity of the family during the summer in Dorchester.

However, times were changing, and along Minot Street, just north of the estate, three deckers were being built on former farmland. Miss Pierce died in 1920, and her heirs sold a portion of the property to the Archdiocese of Boston, and shortly thereafter St. Brendan’s Church was built facing the new Gallivan Boulevard. The laying out of Lennoxdale, Myrtlebank, Rockne and Crockett Streets and St. Brendan’s Road was to take the remaining portion of the Pierce Estate, and allow for the building of the houses that represent one of the most charming neighborhoods on the site of the Pierce summer house.

S.S. Pierce & Company was founded in Boston, but by a Dorchesterite born and bred. The sense of both quality and luxury has been ever present in the foods offered by the firm, and an unsurpassable ability for the firm to please, in every sense of the word. The firm still exists, in a reduced capacity, but still providing quality foods for institutions and schools. With the same crest emblazoned on its canned food, we realize that with over a century and a half of service to New England, Samuel S. Pierce is remembered, and his accomplishments are shared, with pride.

Andrew Carney by Anthony M. Sammarco

The Caritas Christi~ Carney Hospital in Boston is a vitally important hospital that provides medical services to residents of the metropolitan Boston area. Spanning a large tract of land, the hospital is today one of the largest in Boston, however it began in 1863 with a modest gift from Andrew Carney.

Andrew Carney (1794-1864) was born in Ireland of humble, God fearing people. He was apprenticed as a youth to learn the tailoring trade, and after his immigration to this country in 1814, he secured a position with the firm of Kelley and Hudson, tailors on State Street in Boston. Laboring long hours, he later joined with Jacob Sleeper and opened their own tailoring business, which not only succeeded, but prospered. For over two decades, Carney and Sleeper provided not just “ready made” suits, which were a novelty at the time, but expert tailoring. The partners had opened their shop on North Street in Boston’s North End, and Carney’s industrious and economical nature contributed to its success. After the business partnership was dissolved in 1845, Andrew Carney held positions of honor and trust in Boston. With no further business concerns to occupy his time, he took great interest in banking and assisted in the founding of the Bank of the Republic and the Safety Fund Bank (now Bank of America.) He was a director of the John Hancock Life Insurance Company and assisted in the founding and in the funding of Boston College, which was then located on Harrison Avenue in Boston’s South End, adjacent to the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

Carney was considered a responsible and respected man in Boston and contributed liberally to numerous charities. One business associate said that Carney was “one of Boston’s many great Irishmen” and another said that he was “one of God’s best noblemen.” With such glowing accolades during his lifetime, one might consider his success, after such humble beginnings in Ballanagh, County Caven, Ireland as the impetus for his sincere interest in the less fortunate. In 1863, during the height of the Civil War, the Carney Hospital was founded “to afford relief to the sick poor; and, though it is in the charge of the Sisters of Charity, it receives patients of all religious denominations. Chronic, acute, and other cases are received, contagious diseases alone excepted.” The hospital, located in the once elegant Howe Mansion on Dorchester Heights in South Boston, had not just an elevated site with cooling breezes and magnificent panoramic views of Boston and the Boston Harbor islands, but convenience to downtown Boston. The hospital was founded upon the premise that it should be “a hospital where the sick without distinction of creed, color or nation shall be received and cared for.” Carney’s gift of $13,500.00 enabled the purchase of the property, and the conversions necessary top provide medical services for the poor and immigrant classes of Boston.

The Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul, after the request of Bishop John Williams, were presented with the hospital and began their care for the medically needs on June 9, 1863. Its director was Sister Ann Alexis, who was superior of the Orphan Asylum on Camden Street in Boston, and is said to have been “very quiet, but most active, energetic, and skillful [as a] manager.” With an addition to the former Howe Mansion in 1868, the Sisters of Charity commenced a hospital that supplied a much needed service in Boston. After his initial donation had allowed for the purchase of the Howe Estate and the supplies necessary top convert it to a hospital, Andrew Carney continued to donate large sums of capital to ensure that the hospital provided medical care to those who could not afford it elsewhere. His total donations amounted to $75,000.00 by the time of his death in 1864, an enormous sum in the mid nineteenth century when a family might expect $1,000.00 annually.

Carney’s intention to endow Carney Hospital did not materialize, for he died prior to signing the codicil of his will bequeathing further monies. However, though his involvement with Carney Hospital was for only a short period of time, his commitment and interest in a hospital that would provide medical services and convalescence for those who needed it “without distinction of creed, color or nation” was to ensure its continued efforts. Today, the Caritas Christi~ Carney Hospital, which had moved in 1957 to a new hospital designed by Carney, Carney, Carney & Keefe in Dorchester, attracts a diverse staff who serve an equally diverse patient base. It’s mission statement says that the “Cariras Christi Health Care, rooted in the healing ministry of Jesus Christ, is committed to serving the physical and spiritual needs of our community by delivering the highest quality care with compassion and respect.” It clearly seems that Andrew Carney’s vision of the Carney Hospital still holds true to this day. We salute not just Caritas Christi~ Carney Hospital, but the man who was “a kind-hearted, whole-souled, generous friend and protector” to all.

J.H. Hammatt Billings by Anthony M. Sammarco

In the Milton Cemetery there is a large granite monument with a bronze laurel wreath that commemorates the grave of nineteenth century architect Charles Howland Hammatt Billings (1818-1874,) the son of Ebenezer and Mary Davenport Billings who kept the Blue Hill Tavern on Canton Avenue in Milton in the early nineteenth century. The tavern had been built in 1681 by Roger Billings, but in the early 1820’s it had become an “elegant tavern, boarding house, and fruit gardens, kept by Ebenezer Billings, which is one of the most delightful summer retreats in this neighborhood.”

Hammatt Billings, as he was to be known in his professional life, was apprenticed about 1830 to the noted wood engraver Abel Bowen with whom he remained until 1837 when he joined the architectural office of Ammi Burnham Young who was then in the process of designing the Boston Custom House. With his training as an engraver, Billings was to become a capable designer and trained architect, so when he opened his own architectural office at 460 Washington Street in Boston (now the site of the Registry of Motor Vehicles in the Liberty Tree Building at Washington and Essex Streets) in 1843 he was well rounded in the various aspects of architectural design. Self-proclaimed as a “Designer and Architect,” Billings often worked with his brother Joseph Billings, who was an engineer. This partnership, a loose one at best, would lead Hammatt Billings to design houses, churches, clubhouses, commercial blocks and libraries throughout New England. His style of architecture, which might best be described as the “classically picturesque,” would gain him the commission to design the Boston Museum on Tremont Street in Boston. Designed as an exhibition hall and theatre with monumental Corinthian columns supporting the galleries, the Boston Museum was an early example of the Renaissance Revival in Boston, with a dressed granite façade and arched windows. Billings later went on to design the campus of Wellesley College between 1869 and his death in 1874. Using a picturesque approach to the overall campus design, he had serpentine roads leading to impressive buildings that were ranged around a lake. A talented and gifted architect, it was said of him that “he expressed rather than led his generation” in architectural design.

However, his “Monument to the Pilgrim Forefathers,” begun in 1859, was possibly his best known design. An 83 foot granite base supported a to foot colossal figure of “Faith,” which held a book in one hand and pointed towards the heavens with the other. This monument was thought to be the forerunner of Bartholdi’s State of Liberty, but “Faith” was not finished until twenty five years after Billings’ death, after having been reduced in size and reworked and altered by other artists. However, Hammatt Billings’ grave in Milton proudly proclaims that he was the “Architect to the Monument to Our Pilgrim Forefathers.”

Surprisingly, as an architect Hammatt Billings had shown great talent, but he never really achieved fame. However, in the designing ad illustration of books, which he learned through his apprenticeship with Abel Bowen, he became mildly famous. In 1847 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called Billings “the best illustrator of books we have yet in this country.” This was noteworthy praise, as Billings had illustrated Mother Goose for Grown Folks, which was written by Milton author Adeline D. Train Whitney. His illustrations were thought so good that he was commissioned to create “the original likenesses of Tom, Little Eva, Topsy, Legree, and other characters in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” His career as an illustrator, like that of his career as an architect, was “breathtakingly varied.” He was associated with Gleason’s as well as Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing Room Companion, Boston newsweeklies, of which he was one of numerous illustrators, including Winslow Homer, who made pictorial illustrations. Though not one who forged ahead in architectural design and went on to become well known, Hammatt Billings is one who contributed to the rich fabric of Boston life in the mid 19th century and who gave “visible form to the personal, civil, patriotic, and other public sentiments pervasive at the time in Boston and beyond” and is once again remembered with pride.

Walter Baker by Anthony M. Sammarco

Walter Baker (1792–1852) was the son of Edmund and Sarah Howe Baker.
He was graduated from Harvard College in 1811 and then attended Judge
Tappan Reeve’s Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut. In 1812, he left the
law school and returned to Dorchester, where he was engaged in a woolen
manufacturing business with five looms during the War of 1812. This business
proved immensely successful, as European imports had been curtailed. By
1815, he was in Natchez, Mississippi, teaching school, but three years later
he was taken into partnership with his father in the family chocolate mill. In
1824, Walter Baker assumed the presidency of Baker Chocolate upon his
father’s retirement, and henceforth the company was known as Walter Baker
& Company. He married twice. His first wife was Deborah Smith Mott, and
they were the parents of Walter Baker Jr. (1825–1887). After her death in
1838, Baker served as chairman of the committee that built Lyceum Hall on
Meeting House Hill in Dorchester, an elegant Greek Revival building that
served as a place for lectures, dances and community events. His second wife
was Eleanor Jameson Williams (1806–1892), whose father was a wealthy
Boston East India merchant then living in Philadelphia. They had four
children, none of whom survived infancy.

Baker served as colonel of the First Regiment, First Brigade, First Division,
of the state militia and was to be known as Colonel Baker for the remainder
of his life. However, he devoted himself to the chocolate mill and began
an expansion that continued unabated for the next twenty-five years. He
introduced a less expensive chocolate known as Lapham, which he named
for his employee Elisha Lapham. He also introduced spiced cocoa sticks
in 1840, homeopathic chocolate in 1844, J.G. French’s Chocolate (named
for Baker’s coachman Jacob G. French), Caracas chocolate in 1849 and
German’s Sweet Chocolate (perfected by Baker’s former coachman Samuel
German) in 1852. He shipped his chocolate, cocoa and broma throughout the United States, and it was said that Abraham Lincoln and his partner, William Barry, sold Baker’s
Chocolate and Cocoa in their New Salem, Illinois general store, the only packaged and branded food product available there.

In 1834, Baker hired the first two women to work at the mill, sisters Christina and Mary Shields, to wrap and prepare the 750 pounds of chocolate produced daily. In 1848, the mill built in 1813 by his father, Edmund Baker, was destroyed by fire and was replaced by a new three-story mill designed by Gridley J. Fox Bryant and built of rough-hewn Quincy granite. The mill was impressive and insured for $7,023, with the machinery, pans and utensils being insured for an additional $6,010. A sign bearing the legend “W. Baker & Co., Established 1780” was hung on the façade. This obviously fireproof mill had brick floors, granite walls and a “safe stove” where cocoa was made, and according to A Calendar of Walter Baker & Company, it “prevent[ed] incendiaries making their way into the mill…inside shutters [were installed] on all lower story windows.” This new mill was the center of chocolate production, with two men, two apprentices, six girls and a forelady.

Upon his death in 1852, Walter Baker left a chocolate mill that was one of four in the Lower Mills. The aspect of so much chocolate being produced led to the area being known as Chocolate Village, and his family’s delicious vision was continued by trustees and is today part of Kraft Family Foods.

William Follen Adams by Anthony M. Sammarco

Yawcob Strauss was the pen name of William Follen Adams (1842-1918,) a nineteenth century writer of German dialect stories that were immensely popular at the time.

Born in Dorchester, he attended the local public schools but left for a job as a clerk at a Boston dry goods store when he was fifteen. He remained a clerk until 1862 when he enlisted in the Thirteenth Regiment Massachusetts Volunteers during the Civil War. Enlisting at the urging of Governor John Andrew, the recruits were desperately needed for Union soldiers. Adams was to see combat in the Battles of Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville and was wounded at Gettysburg in 1863. Unable to fell, he was held as a prisoner by the Confederate Army until the Union soldiers were able to retake the town. Serving as a ward master in the convalescent hospital in Washington, D.C. after his recovery he remained in the Capital until the end of the war when he returned to Dorchester. Following his service during the Civil War, Adams returned as a clerk in Boston and married Harriet L. Mills; he shortly thereafter began to write short stories that were not only amusing, but were to reflect the heavily accented English spoken by a wash woman who worked for his family. Born in Germany, this woman spoke English perfectly well, but her accent was heavily German. By 1872, Adams was had written Our Young Folks, a publication for young adults. His poem “The Puzzled Dutchman” was to attract attention and praise for Adams with requests for other poems and stories in a similar vein.

Among his most popular books was Leedle Yawcob Strauss, published by the Detroit Free Press in 1878. This book of poems, with the Characters “Leedle Yawcob Strauss” and “Dot Leedle Louisa” were modeled after his own children, Charles Mills Adams (1874-1959) and Ella Paige Adams Sawyer (1878-1966.) So popular did his writing become that he became a regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press and an author of two books of poems, among them “Mother’s Doughnuts” in 1885, “Cut, Cut Behind” in 1887, “Dialect Ballads” in 1887 and “Yawcob Strauss, and Other Poems” in 1910.

Charles Follen Adams said of himself in Literary Boston of Today with regard to his writing that “I do not depend in my work wholly upon the grotesqueness and incongruity of dialect, for my aim is to write a more or less cheerful philosophy of life as I see it. I never force myself to write merely for the sake of writing, and it is only when I have that which seems to me a happy thought which lends itself to expression in my way, that I write, no matter how strong the inducement to do so may be. I might write a poem next week, and not write another for an entire year.”

More successful as a writer than as a store clerk, his poems and short stories of a century ago give a hint of the large scale immigration taking place in this country in the nineteenth century.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Colonel Charles B. Fox by Anthony M. Sammarco

Glory, we reveled in theBoston Transcript. He was born in Newburyport while his
With the sensationalism garnered in the movie "Glory," we reveled in the
drama and impact of the Civil War; however, the film also served to
remind us of why that war was fought. The Fifty-fourth Regiment, led
by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, was the first African American regiment
formed in Massachusetts, yet few of us realize that the Fifty-fifth Regiment,
the second African American regiment, was led by a Dorchester resident.
Charles Barnard Fox (1833–1895) was the son of the Reverend Thomas B.
Fox, editor of the "Boston Transcript." He was born in Newburyport while his
father was minister of the Unitarian church in that town, but the family
moved to Dorchester in 1845. Educated in the local schools, Fox entered
the field of civil engineering. His brother, the noted architect John A.
Fox, was also a civil engineer and is considered the father of Stick-style
architecture in this country.

Fox had enlisted in the Civil War at Lyceum Hall on Meeting House Hill,
the local recruiting office. With his brothers, John A. Fox and Thomas B. Fox
Jr., he was encouraged to enlist by his maternal grandmother, Lucy Tappan
Pierce, who came from an ardently abolitionist family. He received his
commission as second lieutenant in the Thirteenth Massachusetts Infantry;
one year later, he was made first lieutenant. In 1863, he was transferred
to the Second Massachusetts Cavalry with the same rank. That same year,
he was made major of the African American Fifty-fifth Regiment and was
promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel on November 3, 1863. The Fifty-fifth
Regiment had been trained at Camp Meigs and was composed of men
who had everything at stake in the war. Fox and his fellow officers were well
trained and commended for their service, and it was said that Fox “had a
high standard of what a regiment should be, and he endeavored to bring his
men up to it.” Fox’s obituary read, in part:

It was abundantly shown in his long and meritorious service in the army
during the civil war, and especially in his readiness to enter a branch of
the service that was not regarded with favor even by many who in theory
favored perfect equality between races, and which was not calculated to
attract the young soldier powerfully, in comparison with the more popular
and agreeable positions in white regiments. But Colonel Fox believed in the
equality of the black men with the white, and whatever he believed he lived
up to, and the relations which existed between him and the colored soldiers
in his command were ever the most intimate and mutually regardful nature.

Fox was reared in the Unitarian faith, and upon the family’s removal in
1845 to Dorchester, they became connected with the First Parish Church
on Meeting House Hill. The minister was the Reverend Nathaniel Hall, a
fierce antislavery opponent who expounded on the evils of both slavery and
the subjugation of African Americans in the South. His sermons, many of
which were published for a more general readership, were vociferous and
pointed to his belief that slavery was immoral and could only be abolished
through the war. Charles B. Fox was undoubtedly influenced by Hall, and
by his own father’s opinion, which was quite often read in the daily editions
of the "Boston Transcript."
Charles Barnard Fox served in the Army of the Potomac until after the
Battle of Fredericksburg, in the Siege of Charleston and in the Campaign
in Florida, the Battle of Honey Hill being particularly gruesome. His record
of bravery and courage was made known when he was made brevet colonel
of the Fifty-fifth Regiment; he resigned his commission on June 25, 1865,
at the end of the Civil War and decided to remain in the South. For three
years after the war, Fox managed a cotton plantation on Sea Island off the
coast of South Carolina. It was not until 1868 that he returned to Boston,
becoming an inspector at the Boston Custom House. In partnership with
his brother and his friends, he assisted in the establishment of Holbrook
& Fox, a real estate and land auction house in Boston. It was his friend
Silas Pinckney Holbrook and his brother John Andrews Fox who created the
partnership. The firm of Holbrook & Fox was one of the leading firms of
its kind in New England and was well respected for the development of the
real estate market in the late nineteenth century. Colonel Thomas and Ruth
Prouty Fox built their home, designed by his architect brother, on Fuller
Street in Dorchester. His connection with the development of the old farms
and estates of Dorchester continued until his untimely death in 1895.
The contributions of Colonel Charles Barnard Fox in regards to the Civil
War were important enough to have his convictions and personal beliefs
supersede his comfort. He served the members of the Fifty-fifth Regiment
well and earned their respect with the title of colonel by brevet, an honor
that few officers received for their service in the Civil War.

Boston Transcript.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Dorchester Pottery Works by Anthony M. Sammarco

The Dorchester Pottery Works was established in 1895 on Preston Street (now Victory Road,) and was to produce hand decorated stoneware of distinctive New England motifs until its demise in 1979. Founded by George Henderson (1863-1928) on land adjoining the prestigious Harrison Square neighborhood of Dorchester, the pottery works initially produced stoneware for commercial use. Henderson, a native of North Cambridge, had been a partner since 1884 in the firm of S.L. Pewtress Pottery in New Haven, Connecticut, under the style of Henderson and O’Halloran. The decision to sell his partnership and move from New Haven to Dorchester may have been of a family nature, but when he relocated in 1895 he established a family business that would strive for old fashioned, well made stoneware.

From 1895 to World War I, the Dorchester Pottery Works produced such items as mash feeders, chicken fountains, cheese crocks, as well as acid pots and dipping baskets for plating and jewelry companies. Also, the patented “Henderson Foot warmer,” the clay pig and the forerunner of the rubber hot water bottle, went on to compromise twenty nine percent of the pottery works’ total annual sales by 1919. Adjacent to the Dorchester Pottery Works was Harrison Square, a neighborhood designed and laid out by local architect Luther Briggs, Jr., and named after President William Henry Harrison (1773-1841.) The area, now referred to as Clam Point, is near Dorchester Bay and the former Old Colony Railroad, which passed through the square. This transportation route enabled Henderson to receive his clay from South Amboy, New Jersey and cobalt from Germany and to ship his finished products, thus allowing his business to increase and to thrive. As the business grew, Henderson obtained a permit in 1910 to construct a new beehive kiln. Designed by him personally, the downdraft kiln was built four years later by specialists from Germany. Measuring twenty two feet in diameter, and ten and a half feet in height, the new kiln allowed for up to three freight car loads of pottery to be fired at one time.

The concept of stoneware is an important one, as it requires three thousand degrees of heat for firing, whereas earthenware only requires fifteen hundred degrees. The stoneware Henderson produced required two weeks of attention. The kiln was fired with a combination of wood and coal for forty eight hours or until the necessary temperature was attained. Once reached, the shutters to the fire holes were closed, and the kiln was allowed to cool slowly for five days before the unloading process could begin. The door to the kiln, composed of bricks and mortar, then had to be carefully dismantled. However, before the kiln could even be loaded, the potters had to produce pieces from clay. With wheels and molds, bean pots, casseroles, dishes, jugs and mixing bowls took shape along with the industrial goods being produced. By 1925, there were twenty eight employees with six potters and three salesmen.

Charles Wilson Henderson, the founder’s son, and his wife Ethel Hill Henderson assisted the family business from World War I until the death of George Henderson in 1928. The couple reevaluated the Dorchester Pottery Works at this crucial time, adding new lines of decorative tableware to augment those already in production. The Great Depression caused the business to suffer, as the pottery works’ most important customers were the factories affected by the harsh business decline. To compete with other pottery companies, Ethel Hill Henderson began to decorate her stoneware with motifs of old New England. Before her marriage in 1919, Ethel had been an industrial arts teacher at Dorchester High School and had designed fabrics and Colonial Revival motifs in her spare time. By adding to the stoneware decorations of pinecones, blueberries, strawberries, lily of the valley, pussy willow, the Sacred Cod and spouting sperm whales, Ethel Henderson revolutionized the Dorchester Pottery Works, breathing new life into the business. The stoneware~ fashioned on a wheel, hand dipped in sealer, and then hand decorated~ was produced through a time consuming and labor intensive process. However, the result was stoneware that literally said “Dorchester Pottery.”

Whereas the commercial ware lines so important in the early years of the works were undecorated and purely functional pieces, the decorative pieces could hold their own when compared to the well known Dedham Pottery, another Boston area pottery business. Charles Allen Hill, Ethel’s brother, also came to work for the business. Hill had been a chemistry teacher prior to joining the Dorchester Pottery Works, and his color mixing was of superior quality. This family affair was further augmented by Ethel’s sister, Lillian Hill Yeaton, who assisted in the sales end of the business. Charles and Ethel Henderson began a series of stoneware lines that made the pottery a veritable museum of design. After World War II, Ethel traveled to Mount Vernon, where she recreated an 18th century hanging herb pot like one used by President George Washington. Glazed, but undecorated, it was supplied to the gift shop at Mount Vernon for many years, as were stoneware mugs for Radcliffe College and the Tufts Dental School. Roommates at the colleges were given identical mugs, with handles of different scraffito designs, which allowed their use without confusion. The decorative stoneware grew to make up the majority of production revenues, while the manufacture of commercial ware dwindled.

In the 1960’s, the labor intensive business was recognized as one that still employed “old-time methods of production.” Lura Woodside Watkins, a noted authority on American decorative arts, wrote that the Dorchester Pottery Works “alone maintained the high standard of workmanship that characterized the potteries of an earlier day.” With the last firing of the huge custom built kiln in 1965, the final decline of the Dorchester Pottery Works began. The beehive kiln was replaced by a smaller gas-fired one which proved more efficient and economical, but took some of the charm of workmanship away at the same time. The death of Charles W. Henderson in 1967 struck the death knell of the business, as for the next twelve years his survivors simply produced enough pottery to keep the works going. Carried on by his widow, her brother and sister, and ably assisted by the last potter, Nando Ricci, the Dorchester Pottery Works was one of the few stoneware factories founded in the 19th century that still remained.

After Ethel Hill Henderson’s death in 1971, the showroom was only open on Thursdays, for however long the pottery lasted, and still later only on the first Thursday of the month. Collectors would line up at the door at dawn to await opening. The pieces available were few, and the demand was fierce. The Dorchester Pottery Works truly represented a specialized market for people who appreciated fine stoneware of a distinctive design. The closing of the business was sparked by an arson fire, which in 1979 gutted the pottery works and showroom. In 2001 Bay Cove Human Services acquired the property and renovated the former pottery works for its own use, keeping the kiln room and the kiln itself intact for community exhibitions.

Roswell Gleason by Anthony M. Sammarco

When we think of silver plate, the names of Reed & Barton, Rogers and Lunt come to mind. Few of us realize that the first attempts at silver plating base metal in this country took place on Washington Street, near Four Corners, in the mid 19th century.

Roswell Gleason (1799-1887) was born in Putney, Vermont, the son of Reuben and Abigail Fuller Gleason, but came to Dorchester as a young apprentice to William Wilcox, a tinsmith at Four Corners. In 1822, after Wilcox’s death, Gleason was able to conduct business on his own. His shop produced tin and pewter items that were used in every home of the period, but it was the introduction of Britannia that brought fame to Gleason. Britannia is a pewter alloy composed of lead, tin and other metals to form a pliable metal that withstands constant use. Gleason, through melding and experiment, made a large array of Britannia ware serving pieces that had a more durable quality than the softer pewter. His business was successful enough that he moved from the former Wilcox shop to a new factory at the present site of “Mother’s Rest.”

The new factory employed numerous workmen, and was to produce a high quality Britannia ware that was sold not just locally, but shipped by barge, boat and train throughout the eastern seaboard. Gleason produced lamps that held whale oil, teapots and coffeepots, and caster sets that became a staple in most households; the designs and the quality of his products brought the attention, and inevitable purchase, of buyers from Stowell & Company and Lows, Ball & Company, two fashionable Boston shops.

However, it was in the late 1840’s that Gleason learned of beautiful wares that had a polished surface that looked as if it was made from the finest solid silver. Urged by his friend Daniel Webster, Gleason sent his sons Roswell Gleason, Jr. (1826-1866) and Edward Gleason (1829-1862) to England to study the process of silver plating; they returned after a short while with not simply the knowledge to produce silver plated metal, but with English workmen who were trained and skillful in the process. “In 1849 he … increased his business by introducing the art of silver plating, and was the pioneer of that business in America.” With the establishment of this new line in his already successful business, Roswell Gleason was to make silver tea services available for those with fancy tastes but not the money to purchase solid silver services. With the availability of silver plate, Gleason revolutionized the silver industry, and made cruets, pitchers, services, and serving pieces available at a fraction of the cost of solid silver.

It was precisely the ability of Gleason’s adaptation to changing public tastes and the changing methods of production that enabled him to revel in phenomenal success. His career was successful, and he was fortunate in his family, for he married Rebecca Tucker Vose (1805-1891) of Milton, daughter of Reuben and Polly Willis Vose, and built a splendid mansion, known as “Lilacs,” for her in 1837. His success as a businessman allowed him the finest material comforts, and his large Gothic villa was on Washington Street, just south of his factory. The house was one of the finest in Dorchester, with superb panoramic views of Dorchester Bay from the piazzas. It was complete with a stable and grapery, and had white lilacs planted about the property, from cuttings secured from those at Mount Vernon, President George Washington’s estate in Virginia. With a playing fountain, and a large carriage drive, the estate was not just an elegant country seat, but testimony to Gleason’s ability as a businessman. He was listed in the book Rich Men of Massachusetts in 1851 and he was honored and esteemed in Dorchester. His financial support of the Christopher Gibson School located on School Street was widely appreciated and he served as captain of the Dorchester Rifle Company, a local drill company composed of Dorchesterites who met at Mount Bowdoin to exchange sham battles and to feast upon lavish dinners prepared for the occasion. Gleason was successful and popular, and the deaths of his sons effectively ended his business.

Both of Rebecca and Roswell Gleason’s sons died relatively young. It was their deaths that prompted Gleason’s closing of the business. The Civil War had ended the shipments of his wares to southern markets, and an explosion in his factory caused tremendous damage. Unable to continue, Gleason closed the silver plate and Britannia ware factory in 1871 and retired to a life of ease as near a “millionaire” as had ever been known in Dorchester. He continued his support of local charities, including the Second Church in Codman Square, where he attended both morning and afternoon services every Sunday. He eventually went blind, but maintained a sense of duty to the end. His death came suddenly, and he was buried in his family lot in the Codman Cemetery, the parish burial ground of the Second Church on Norfolk Street.

The family, the only surviving child being Mary Frances Gleason Vandervoort (1825-1885,) maintained “Lilacs” as a virtual museum, with many Gleason produced items among the family antiques. A fire destroyed a portion of the house, and rather than rebuild, the house was moved to face Dorchester Bay and the former carriage drive to the stable was cut through and renamed Ridge Road (now Claybourne Street.) The wealth amassed by Roswell Gleason during the 19th century enabled him to live in comfort, and to amass a large estate; however, it was that estate that made the greatest fortune for the family, as after the annexation of Dorchester to the city of Boston in 1870, land values skyrocketed and were the best investment one could make. “Lilacs” stood atop the hill at the corner of Park and Claybourne Streets, not just as a reminder of the man who built it, but as a monument to the silver plated empire he created on Washington Street in Dorchester.

Howard Johnson: 28 Flavors by Anthony M. Sammarco

Howard Johnson created an orange roofed empire of ice cream shops and restaurants that stretched from Maine to Florida and from the east coast to the west coast. Known as the father of the “franchise industry” he revolutionized the restaurant industry in the United States and ensured good food and quality prices that brought customers back for more.

Howard Deering Johnson (1897-1972) was born in Wollaston, a part of Quincy, the son of John H. and Olive Belle Wright Johnson. His father was treasurer of the United Retailers Company, a cigar manufactory on Summer Street in Boston; Howard Johnson left school to begin work with his father, but he entered World War I, serving in the American Expeditionary Force, 26th Infantry Division, in France before returning after the Armistice to rejoin his father. His father’s death in 1921 left him heavily in debt, however Howard Johnson was in 1925 to open a corner store at 93 Beale Street in Quincy, where he had a soda fountain and sold newspapers, cigars and three flavors of ice cream. In the 1920’s Johnson began producing a rich ice cream with a doubled butterfat and natural ingredients that brought repeat customers, which was augmented by grilled frankfurters and fried clams. His ice cream stand on Wollaston Beach proved so successful that in 1929 he was able to open his first restaurant in Quincy Square’s Granite Trust Building. Here, he opened a restaurant that served New England fare throughout the day, with specials that attracted business people as well as families.

Howard Johnson’s restaurant was well placed, located at the junction of Dennis F. Ryan Parkway and Hancock Street in a thriving shopping district. In 1929 Eugene O’Neill’s play “Strange Interlude” was banned in Boston by Malcolm Nichols, the mayor, and the New England Watch & Ward Society, and was moved by the Theatre Guild to Quincy, in a theatre opposite his new restaurant. As the play was extremely long, there was a dinner interlude and the theatre-goers flocked across the street to Howard Johnson’s. The restaurant was a great success but the impact of the Great Depression caused severe problems and the credit line his business depended upon was restricted by his bank. The concept of franchising his name was a fairly new business idea but if he let a franchisee use the Howard Johnson name, and purchased all food and supplies from him, he could charge a fee in exchange of the use of his logo, “Simple Simon and the Pie Man.” The franchise concept was quite successful and Johnson is thought of as the “Father of the modern restaurant franchise” in the United States.

Howard Johnson restaurants, in attractive Colonial Revival buildings sporting orange roofs and sea blue shutters, began to be franchised throughout the New England area; by the late 1930’s, with the ascendancy of the automobile, these restaurants were opened on major roads and interstate highways where the travelling public could be assured of consistently high quality foods that was the same served locally or in Maine or Florida. These franchised restaurants sprang up as if by magic throughout the eastern seaboard serving the same delicious Ipswich clams, grilled frankfurters, chops and steaks and twenty eight flavors of his famous ice cream. In 1939 Reader’s Digest did an article that said “Who is Howard Johnson?” so well know had his name become through his successful franchise concept. The public had come to expect quality service, affordable prices and family friendly service and the restaurants became known as the “Landmark for Hungry Americans.”

Opened on June 15, 1935, the restaurant in Dorchester was among the first of the franchises and was awarded to franchisee Harry L. Densberger.  Located on the Old Colony Parkway (now known as the William T. Morrissey Boulevard) near Neponset Circle, those travelling south in the two decades before the Southeast Expressway was built in the 1950’s passed the orange roofed restaurant, and with ample parking space and a solid tradition of quality and family friendly service, was a major attraction for the travelling public. Following World War II, Howard Johnson was expanding so rapidly that his empire was perceived as the world’s largest food chain with hundreds of restaurants serving standardized fare such as fresh roast turkey, the newfangled clam strips as well as whole clams, and twenty eight flavors of delicious ice cream that the public had come to love. The diligent business acumen was incredible and he was quoted as saying that “I think that [building my business] was my only form of recreation. I never played golf. I never played tennis. I never did anything after I left school. I ate, slept, and thought of nothing but the business.”

Howard Johnson retired as president in 1959, his son Howard Brennan Johnson assuming his position with a company that had 675 restaurants, 175 motor lodges and annual sales of $127 million dollars. However, the founder never really retired, as he “continued to monitor his restaurants for cleanliness and proper food preparation. He would be chauffeured in a black Cadillac bearing the license plate HJ-28 [his initials and 28 flavors of ice cream] while performing unannounced inspections of the restaurants.” He created an orange roof empire that attracted the public on a daily basis. “His contribution to the restaurant industry was the idea of centralized buying and a commissary system to prepare menu items for distribution to his restaurants. This helped to insure a uniform consistency and quality, as well as lower costs.” The American public repaid him in kind, as his name will forever be remembered by referring to him and his restaurants as the uncontested “King of the Road.”

Hyde Park by Anthony M. Sammarco

Hyde Park was the last town to be annexed to the city of Boston, becoming in 1912 the southernmost neighborhood of the city located between Milton and Dedham, Massachusetts. Named by the Reverend Henry Lyman after the aristocratic borough of Hyde Park in London, England it was incorporated as an independent town on April 26, 1868 from sections of the towns of Dorchester, Milton and Dedham, Massachusetts.

Hyde Park has evolved as a bucolic suburb located just seven miles from downtown Boston. Located on the Neponset River with panoramic vistas of the Blue Hills, the town began prior to the Civil War when a group of land investors and developers known as the “Twenty Associates” purchased one hundred acres of land at $200.00 per acre in Milton’s Fairmount section; they laid out Fairmount Avenue, flanked by Warren and Williams Avenues, that connected Brush Hill Road and Water Street (now Truman Highway,) which paralleled the river. Here the associates, headed by Alpheus Perley Blake (1832-1916,) who is considered the founder of Hyde Park, had George Currier build twenty identical wood framed houses that were typical of the middle class dwellings being built throughout the Boston area at the time. The associates included William E. Abbot, Amos Angell, Ira L. Benton, Enoch Blake, John Newton Brown, George W. Currier, Hypolitus Fisk, John C. French, David Higgins, John S. Hobbs, Samuel Salmon Mooney, William Nightingale, J. Wentworth Payson, Dwight B. Rich, Alphonso Robinson, William H. Seavey, Daniel Warren, and John Williams.

For two decades, the Twenty Associates and their families were joined by others who were attracted to the area and the convenience of transportation with the Boston and Providence Railroad and the Midlands branch of the New York & New England Railroad having depots within walking distance of the new homes, and a short commute to Boston for business or pleasure. The Boston Land Company, of which Blake was president, and the Hyde Park Real Estate and Building Company, headed by Henry A. Rich, attracted many new residents that purchased building lots that would eventually see the increase of population to fifteen hundred by 1887.

During the Civil War, Camp Meigs, named for Brigadier General Montgomery Cunningham Meigs (1816-1892,) was opened in the Readville section of what was then Dedham. Here Union Civil War troops were assembled and trained, including Company 54, the first African American troop that was led by Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, and which was immortalized in the stirring movie “Glory.” Another well known regiment that trained at Camp Meigs was the 2nd Massachusetts Cavalry, half of which was recruited in California and transported by clipper ships to Readville for training before being sent to Virginia to fight in the Civil War.

The immediate years following the Civil War were momentous, as there was a movement to incorporate Hyde Park as an independent town. In 1868, following months of acrimonious and often bitter debate, the commonwealth of Massachusetts accepted Hyde Park as an independent town with the creation of a town government with a board of
selectmen, the first to serve being Henry Sturgis Grew, chairman, Zenas Allen, Benjamin Radford, William Stuart and Martin Whitcher. In 1870 a town hall was erected, having been moved from Boston and adapted for use by the new town. The town hall was erected at the corner of
River Street
Gordon Avenue
, and would serve as the seat of government until January 1, 1912 when the town was annexed to Boston. In the last half of the nineteenth century, the population dramatically increased as residents of Boston’s densely populated neighborhoods sought more open space and “looked to the outskirts and discovered Hyde Park.” With houses set on large lots of land with attractive tree lined streets, convenient shopping areas, numerous churches, and schools within walking distance, and ease of transportation, Hyde Park’s population amazingly grew from fifteen hundred in 1887 to fifteen thousand at the time of its annexation to Boston.

Since the mid nineteenth century, Hyde Park's residents had traditionally been people of English descent, but by the early twentieth century had a far larger percentage of Polish, Italian, and Irish ethnicities similar to other parts of the city. Today, Hyde Park is a diverse neighborhood with the descendants of the earlier residents being joined by African-American, Hispanics and Asian-Americans, making it a thriving and diverse nexus of cultures. Residents, no matter what their origin, share the common desire to live in a comfortable, safe and well kept suburban city neighborhood with a rich history and sense of tradition.

In the early part of the twentieth century, a prominent harness racing track, called the Readville Trotting Park, was located in Readville on a part of the former Camp Meigs. The racing track was later used for auto racing before it became a Stop & Shop warehouse and distribution center, and which is now used as a multi-use warehouse property. Today, Hyde Park can proudly boast of the George Wright Golf Course, named for baseball Hall of Famer and Cincinnati Reds shortstop George Wright (1847-1937.) After retiring, he moved to Boston and he cofounded the sporting goods business of Wright & Ditson. The championship golf course was designed by the famous golf course designer Donald Ross, and is considered to be one of his finest designs. The Hyde Park Branch of the Boston Public Library is a wonderful library that was once the town of Hyde Park’s library that was built in 1899 on
Harvard Avenue
. Greatly enlarged in 2000 with a modern design by Schwartz Silver Architects, the library’s classic Grecian Ionic design with gray Roman brick and terra cotta trimming is now offset by the walls of glass in the new addition, opening the space to the world around it.

This Then & Now book on Hyde Park, Massachusetts prominently highlights the squares, homes, streets, churches and schools of this lovely neighborhood of Boston. Comparing old photographs with contemporary ones, it shows why this place has been called “Home” by generations of Americans, all of whom pride themselves as being proud residents of Hyde Park.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

John J. Enneking

John J. Enneking
“One of the world’s greatest landscape painters”
                                                             by Anthony M. Sammarco

     I think one of my favorite artists is John Joseph Enneking, a noted impressionist painter and a leader of the "Boston School" of painting. A resident of Hyde Park for many years, he was noted for his paintings depicting the Neponset River from the Baker Chocolate Company, the Eagle Paper Mill and the old Sumner House in Hyde Park and especially of the vivid landscapes of the Blue Hills in Milton.

Seen in the accompanying photograph, cows graze on the banks of the Neponset River as others drink. Though the focal point of the painting is the large shade trees in the center, in the distance can be seen Paul’s Bridge, which spans the Neponset River and after 1868 connected Milton on the left and Hyde Park on the right. This charming landscape, probably painted about 1885, shows an area once known as the Fowl Meadows that still retains much of its natural charm as it is part of the Metropolitan District Commission.

Paul’s Bridge, a stone arched bridge, was built in 1850 and was named for Ebenezer Paul, a large land owner in the area before Hyde Park was incorporated into an independent town in 1868; there had been a bridge here as early as the seventeenth century, called  Hubbard’s Bridge. At one time, Hyde Park was part of Milton, Dorchester and Dedham and in 1868 the town of Milton ceded 400 acres to Hyde Park, most of the area of Fairmount Hill that sloped down to Water Street, or what is now known as Truman Highway.

John Joseph Enneking (1841-1916) was a native of Minster, Auglaize County, Ohio and was raised on a farm. Orphaned at the age of fifteen, he lived with an aunt until he enrolled at Mount St. Mary’s College in Cincinnati, but left to enlist in the Union army during the Civil War, during which he was severely wounded in action and honorably discharged. He moved to Boston where he initially studied industrial drawing and lithography, but later became a tinsmith. He married Mary Eliot of Hyde Park, and they eventually built a large Queen Anne house at 17 Webster Street in Hyde Park where they lived from 1879 until their deaths.. The Eliots descended from the Reverend John Eliot, teacher of the Roxbury Church in the seventeenth century and “Apostle to the Indians,” in that he translated the Bible into the native tongue of the Indians, and his descendants were large landowners in the new town of Hyde Park.

Encouraged by his wife to pursue art as his career, the Ennekings went to Europe where in the 1870’s he studied at the Royal Academy in Munich as well as with artists Charles-Francois Daubigny, Camille Corot and Jean-Francois Millet in Paris, all of whom became close friends. These artists were all accomplished in their “Barbizon” style of painting, but Enneking evolved more as an impressionistic painter following his return to the United States. It was said that in the early sunrise and at twilight, Enneking with sketch book in hand and colors on a palate, wandered through the area, especially the Blue Hills, where he did sketches and studies that were later used in the painting of canvases done in his studio. Among his best known was the “Sentinel Series” of bare trees silhouetted against the sky in the Blue Hills. These small studies were no more than 8 by 10 at the largest and often captured the vividness of the sky with the “sentinels” prominent in the center. I’m fortunate to have been able to acquire two of these studies, of which I am immensely proud, though my closest friend said that they, in regards to their thick impressionistic quality, look like “vomit on artist board.” Oh well, I still enjoy them.

Enneking was a member of the Twentieth Century Club, the Pudding Stone Club, the Boston Art Club, the Paint and Clay Club of Boston, and the Boston Guild of Artists. However, he was also one of “The Ten,” a group of ten artists considered to be the finest of their time in the United States. In 1915 he was honored with a lavish testimonial dinner at the Copley Plaza Hotel in Boston’s Back Bay where more than five hundred fellow artists, museum directors, art collectors and city officials applauded as he was crowned with a laurel wreath for his artistic achievements.

As park commissioner for the town of Hyde Park, he was a noted conservationist. The woodlands of the old Grew Estate, the vast estate of Henry Sturgis Grew and known as Grew’s Woods, were later to become part of the Stony Brook Reservation, and the serpentine road leading from West Roxbury to Hyde Park was named the Enneking Parkway in his honor. Upon his death in 1916, he was buried at Fairlawn Cemetery in Hyde Park, his memorial a naturalistic boulder of Roxbury pudding stone.