Follow by Email

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.