By Lois Lilley Howe
Read April 25, 1949
This article originally appeared in the Cambridge Historical Society Proceedings, Volume 33, pages 37-57
WE CANNOT think of Old Garden Street without thinking of the Common which forms one side of it. Yet our thought of the Common is just of a big open space with trees and a Soldiers’ Monument like any New England green. We are told that George Washington took command of the Revolutionary Army there, to be sure, but now it is just a nice place for old folks, or nurses and babies, with a nuisance of a baseball ground in one corner.
But the Common — the Cow Common, as it was called — was not always so quiet and unimportant. To begin with, it was the place selected by the first settlers for their intrenched camp. It reached all the way to Linnaean Street though it was crossed by the “Pallisado” somewhere between Waterhouse Street and Follen Street. As we understand it, this whole region was covered with forest; it is difficult for the imagination to grasp what the work of clearing this Common must have been. Probably much of the wood may have been used for building and some for the Pallisado, though that seems to have been mostly of willows.
Here in this clearing was great activity. Here was the place for military training and here the Forum of the embryo city. Here the citizens met for elections. In 1637, at the time of Anne Hutchinson’s trial, there was a tremendously exciting election. The opposing candidates for the office of chief magistrate were Governor Sir Henry Vane and Ex-Governor Winthrop. There was an oak tree which stood near the present gate towards Holmes Place, and in the height of the tumult Reverend John Wilson, pastor of the Boston Church, “in spite of his forty-nine years and his great bulk struggled up into this tree and addressed the people in such forcible language that quiet was restored, and the election proceeded.” (Thomas Hutchinson, History of Massachusetts) Winthrop was elected and Sir Henry Vane left the country forever. In 1896 a scion of the Washington Elm was planted on this site, and there is a tablet beneath it close to the Holmes Field Gate.
In September 1774, there was another stirring scene. A crowd of two thousand men collected to demand and enforce the resignations of Lieutenant Governor Oliver and Judges Danforth and Lee, appointed by the King. Here, too, an armed body of yeomanry met to dispute the return of Percy’s troops from Concord.
Mr. Samuel Batchelder tells us that Washington did not take command of the American Army on July 3d, 1776, because it rained, nor did he take command under the famous elm, but we know that the elm was there and that he certainly did take command of the army and train raw recruits on the Common and that there was a barracks there. We know how anxious he was about the soldiers cutting down trees for firewood. In 1775 the whole number of men at that time encamped was about eight thousand.
The Common was a great open space, not only crossed by pedestrians but by those who drove horses and carriages and carts. The road from Menotomy (now Arlington) to the “Village,” now Harvard Square, ran across it, and, even more important, a road called “The King’s Highway” ran from Mason to Kirkland Street and so to Charlestown.
About 1823 some of the prominent citizens began to consider enclosing the Common and making a park of it. A petition to the General Court for doing so was granted in 1828. This aroused violent opposition from the residents of Watertown and Arlington who, in their turn appealed to the General Court, but they lost their case, and the Common was enclosed, largely at the expense of Judge Fay who was given the right to plant trees and make paths on it.
Here, on Harvard Commencement Day, every year, was a scene of gaiety — tents and shows and general excitement like a country fair. At last, in 1870, was dedicated the Soldiers’ Monument, to the memory of the men of Cambridge who had fought in the Civil War. The architect of this monument was Thomas W. Silloway of Boston, and the sculptors were Cyrus and Darius Cobb, twins, who had been in the war themselves.
It differs from all the Soldiers’ Monuments which adorn our other old towns because the soldier is represented in his heavy winter coat with a cape and because he has no hat. This caused a great deal of criticism, as soldiers are supposed always to wear their hats. I believe the Cobbs excused it on the theory that the soldier was standing mourning for his departed comrades. One morning the citizens awoke to find the soldier had a hat which he had put on in the night. It took the Cambridge Fire Department a whole day to get it off.
The statue of Lincoln was installed in this monument in 1946 at the time of the celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Cambridge as a city. In 1875 the old cannons were brought from the Arsenal and installed around the Monument. There has been much controversy over their history.
A statue of John Bridge, one of the most prominent of the early settlers, was set up in the northwest part of the Common in 1882.
When the Common was enclosed, two little pieces of it were enclosed separately, perhaps to soften the injured feelings of Watertown and Arlington. The line of Kirkland Street was carried over to Garden Street. This scrap of a street was called by my elder brother and sister, who were interested in Pilgrim’s Progress, “the Slough of Despond,” for obvious reasons. On that Common was the flagpole very much where it is today. The other little piece of Common was between North (now Massachusetts) Avenue and Holmes Place, and has now become the entrance to the subway.
All this area has been changed by the subway. In 1906 the George Washington Memorial Gateway at the east end of the Common was erected by the General Society of the Daughters of the Revolution, just about on the site of “the Slough of Despond.”
The Cambridge Plant Club maintains a hedge of shrubs around the Common except by the baseball field. So after the stormy years the Common has become a place of rest and quiet.
But I cannot leave the Common without speaking of Holmes Place, as I remember it before the Law School was built. In the first place, what is now called the Gannett House, which was built in the ’30’s of the nineteenth century, stood with its portico facing toward Harvard Square. It was known as Mrs. Baker’s boarding house. Mrs. Baker’s daughter, Miss Alice Baker, kept, with Miss Susan Lane, a popular girls’ school in Boston. She was much interested in old Deerfield and its history. She owned the fine Frary house in Deerfield and wrote the history of the inhabitants of that town who were carried away by the Indians.
Next to Mrs. Baker’s house was a curious building with an arcade in front and a curved roof. This had been the station of the Harvard branch of the Fitchburg Railroad, an effort to connect Cambridge and Boston by steam, which was but short-lived. This became the students’ eating house, called Thayer Commons after Mr. Nathaniel Thayer, who gave the money to adapt it for the purpose. Here the students had their meals until Memorial Hall was built. There were no restaurants in Harvard Square.
Next was a characteristic one-chimney New England farm house occupied by Royal Morse, and at right angles to this was one of the most beautiful and unusual Colonial houses, the gambrel-roofed house in which Oliver Wendell Holmes was born. Had this been retained, as it should have been, instead of being destroyed when Austin Hall, the Law School, was built, how well it would have looked facing the Gannett House in the space before the hall!
All these houses passed through many hands. The land on which the Gannett House was built, and much of that on Massachusetts Avenue behind it, belonged to Walter Hastings, hence the name of the dormitory, Walter Hastings Hall, on that site. There stood in that lot a one-chimney farmhouse with a lean-to, whose origin I cannot find. Eveleth, the college carpenter, lived there. Beyond that was a very small Methodist church, the forerunner of the present Epworth Methodist Church.
Garden Street, on the other side of the Common, was the road to Fresh Pond, the western end being called the road to the Great Swamp. I think of it as beginning at Church Street, but I find that the burying ground was considered as being on Menotomy Road.
The First Church, Unitarian, was built close to the Burying Ground in 1833. The place it fronts on, with Charles Sumner sitting against the brick wall which protects him from the subway, has been, I understand, recently christened by our City Fathers “General Douglas MacArthur Square,” which brings us right up to date.
The burying ground itself dates from 1635, when a paling was built around it. In it, among other early members of the community, are buried many of the early presidents of Harvard College. In 1735, what is spoken of as a “good and handsome stone wall,” was built around it, for which the College paid about one sixth of the expense. As they said, “The College expects to make use of the Burying-Place as Providence gives occasion for it.” However, in 1845, Mr. William Thaddeus Harris complains that “Cambridge suffers her ancient graveyard to be neglected and have a desolate appearance,” so the wall was removed and a wooden fence took its place, which later was replaced by the present iron fence.
In this graveyard, in 1870, a monument was erected to mark the place of burial of the Minute Men of Cambridge who were killed in the Battle of Concord and Lexington. More men were killed and wounded from within the limits of Cambridge than from all the other towns. When this monument was in place, it was found that one word of the inscription was spelled wrong, and one whole line was chiseled out and relettered.
On the western side of the burying ground stands Christ Church, built in 1761. The line of the Common was slightly changed for this and the Town Pound moved.
About 1830, my grandmother, Mrs. Samuel Howe, of Northampton, recently widowed, came to Cambridge to educate her children by taking boarders, as have many other women. She at first occupied a house on Dunster Street but soon decided that she preferred Garden Street. There was one house next to Christ Church (now the Rectory). This belonged to William Saunders, carpenter and member of the Common Council. The next house was on the other side of Appian Way, and the next house after this was Fay House.
She bought the corner lot on the northeast side of Appian Way. This included a house on that street, now numbered 22, which was occupied for very many years by Dr. Wallace Preble. In this house she lived in 1832, while her neighbor Saunders built for her the house number 2 Garden Street. I have a copy of her contract with William Saunders.
In this she lived for the rest of her long life, until 1862, a period covering many changes, beginning with the enclosing of the Common. Here her two daughters continued to live after her death. Sara Robbins Howe, the younger, was six years old when she moved into this house, where she died at the age of ninety, in 1916. In the third story of this house, about 1878, she kept a school for children. This, my sister, Clara Howe, took over in the early eighties. Judge Walcott was one of her pupils, and at one time she had two small Chinese boys, the children of the Chinese Professor.
Dr. and Mrs. Norris bought this house after Miss Howe’s death. They opened up, in the kitchen behind the stove, an old fireplace and Dutch oven and made a pleasant breakfast room of it. Even in 1832, stoves were not usual.
My grandmother afterwards built the corner house, number 3, but I have no data as to its construction. Number 2 is almost as close to the back wall of the Rectory as it could be and allow of a decent alleyway, but number 3 is so close to the corner of the Appian Way house that one of the stunts of the young of the neighborhood was to see who could squeeze through.
I have very little knowledge or interest in the occupants of number 3, but the Appian Way house, when my recollections begin, was occupied by Professor James Bradstreet Greenough and his wife and two sons: James, who founded the Noble and Greenough School, and Robert, at this time a baby, who afterward became a distinguished cancer specialist.
Meanwhile, my grandmother’s younger son, James Murray Howe, with his wife and two young sons, Archibald Murray Howe and James Murray Howe, Jr., settled in the house on the other corner of Appian Way. This house, I am sure, had a history, but nobody knows it. The Hannah Winthrop Chapter has not been interested in it. I have been told that its front door was originally on Appian Way, and I suspect it was once a one-chimney farmhouse. It had a very pleasant sunny parlor at the back. Dr. Herbert Mclntire lived in it from 1887 until the house was bought and torn down by Radcliffe in 1930.
During the early seventies there was a group of Harvard students who lived in this house and in number 2. They were many of them classmates and cousins of each other and of Archibald and Murray Howe. There were sisters and cousins of mine and other girls to match them. Mr. and Mrs. Greenough were young, gay, and social and liked young people.
In those days there were no movies, no automobiles. People, especially young people, entertained themselves much more than they do now. Mr. Greenough was a distinguished scholar, but he loved private theatricals. He was the leader, the impresario, as we say now, of many performances. No one thought of a public hall. These plays were given in private houses, where were double parlors with folding doors, the poorest of stage appurtenances, but good acting. Mr. Greenough dramatized Thackeray’s “The Rose and the Ring” for them. (The Cambridge Dramatic Club has his own copy.) He wrote, with Mr. Frederic Allen, a musical comedy called The Queen of Hearts.
I was a small child and only occasionally allowed to see dress rehearsals, which were seldom dressed, but it was all vivid to me, as my older sisters and cousins were all mixed up in it. There was one play with seven Howes in the cast.
There were no programmes but marvelous posters, not with pictures but gorgeous lettering, which remained as decorations in our house for years. Some of these actors were engineers who knew how to draw and had other knowledge. My aunts said that the night before the soldier on the monument wore the hat, they heard many mysterious noises, but they thought it best to keep very quiet.
The ground enclosed by 2 Garden Street and the Greenough’s house was a very pleasant garden. Steps led down to it from both houses. There is a tale of a student who became engaged to his lady love on his own class day, and the pair sat all day in that garden.
The Greenoughs lived there until late in the eighties, and after that, Mr. and Mrs. Harleston Parker of Boston took the house. They had a son, afterward a well-known architect, but he had a goat, and that was the end of the garden for the time being.
I have said that there were no houses between number 4 and Fay House in 1832, but after that, at some indefinite time, there was built, as close to number 4 as it could be, a double house. The part next to number 4 was occupied by the Reverend Joseph Henry Allen, one of the saints of the earth, a lecturer in the Harvard Divinity School, his daughter Mary, and his three sons. Gardiner, who became a physician in Boston, wrote A Naval History of the American Revolution. The other two sons, Richard and Russell, grew oranges and lemons in California.
There was another daughter, Mrs. Gage, for whom Mr. Allen bought the other half of the house, and there she brought up her four daughters.
Mr. Allen was not only a minister but a scholar. His study was a kind of bulge built into the space between 4 and 5, and from it he could dart out by the back way and cross Appian Way to confer with Mr. Greenough, while the two of them composed that classic known to my contemporaries as Allen and Greenough’s Latin Grammar.
As far as I can find out, one of the first occupants of the western side of that house was Judge French of Concord. His little son, Daniel Chester French, sculptured a lion in the snow one winter’s day.
The next house, rather far back from the street, was that of Dr. Charles E. Vaughan, the founder of the Cambridge Associated Charities. He went to California in 1895. The house was torn down in 1908, and a temporary building for Browne and Nichols School was built on the back of that lot. The two granite steps up to the house terrace were used at the house on Willard Street, which was moved from Brattle Street, by Mr. Runkle in 1908.
Fay House deserves a story all its own and has it, for Mrs. George Pierce Baker has written its history. However, she herself did not remember Miss Maria Denny Fay, my mother’s cousin, who always seemed to me like a grande dame of the old school. Nor did she remember Miss Fay’s beautiful niece, Mrs. Charles Moulton, afterwards Madame de Hegerman Lindencrone, with her three children: her daughter Suzanne, whom we called Nina, her son Howard, and Francis, the youngest, who could not speak anything but French when I first saw him. I remember my cousin Maria giving a singing lesson on a rainy afternoon to a little girl in rubber boots who was afterwards known as Mme. Suzanne Adams, the opera singer.
That must have been a pretty corner by the Fay House. On the other corner of Mason Street was the old Deacon Moore house, with a row of poplars in front of it. Here Miss Jennison kept a dame’s school “for the daughters and small sons of the best families.” Little Thomas Wentworth Higginson went to school here, toddling over from Kirkland Street. Mrs. Horace Scudder was another pupil.
The Washington Elm was then in its glory, a beautiful tree, and up beyond Waterhouse Street was another fine elm called the Whitefield Elm, because, in 1740, the Reverend George Whitefield, the English Wesleyan, preached here, as he was not allowed to preach in the meeting house. They say he had an audience of two thousand people.
In 1869, the old Jennison house was taken down, and the Shepard Memorial Church (the First Church, Congregational) was built. Early in 1938, it was found that the graceful steeple of this was unsafe; the stones were disintegrating. It was therefore taken down and its lower part made into the present tower. This was a fortunate time to do this, for in September, 1938, came the great hurricane, which would undoubtedly have blown the steeple down with great damage. The hurricane, however, bent the shaft of the golden weather cock, and it had to be repaired.
This ancient weather cock has a history. It was made by Deacon Shem Drowne, who also made the grasshopper on Faneuil Hall. It stood from 1721 to 1869 on the spire of the New Brick meeting house on Hanover Street, Boston. It is said that Cotton Mather preached the first sermon under it in 1721.
The vane was taken down for repairs in 1785. The bill, still in existence, was “Repairs and Gold Leaf. — 7-15-4.” It was taken down for the second time in 1822, third in 1832, fourth in 1844, fifth in 1858, after which it remained in place until eight o’clock P.M., September 8, 1869, the day of the great gale, when the entire spire fell. It crashed through the roof of an adjoining house, and the vane parted company with the shaft on which it had turned 148 years. It was badly broken and crushed. The society owning it had it repaired and regilded and kept it inside the building as a relic. Appreciating it as such, Mr. William A. Saunders bought it, and it was placed on the steeple of the Shepard Memorial Church June 28, 1873.
Inside the vane were found papers wrapped in lead. The lead not being air-tight, they had decayed and could not be read. There were also two flattened bullets, probably shot in sport by British soldiers when they were encamped on Copps Hill near by.
The rooster measures, from bill to tip of tail, 5 feet, 4 inches, stands 5 feet, 5 inches high, and the body is 8 or 9 inches thick. Its estimated weight is 200 pounds.
Profiting by the loss of the old papers, a sealed copper box containing papers and a history of the vane was placed within the body. After having witnessed all the events in Boston’s history from only ninety-one years after its settlement through five generations, the vane was placed in its present position, and we can all hope that the graceful spire may someday be restored. Dr. McKenzie’s parsonage next door has become a college club house.
Just at that next corner have come the greatest changes. Waterhouse Street really dates from 1724, when the part of the Cow Common between that street and Linnaean Street was cut off and divided into farms. Here still stands the house of Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, who introduced vaccination into this part of the country. The exact date at which it was built is not known, but it is pre-revolutionary.
His granddaughter, Miss Mary Ware, lived there until her death in 1903. There was a clock in the house which was only wound on Christmas Day and the Fourth of July. The weights ran down into the cellar, and if the house had not been so low-studded it would only have been necessary to wind it once a year. When Miss Mary Ware died, her niece, Mrs. Robert DeWolf Sampson, stopped the clock. Before her death she donated it to the Harvard Medical School.
The house has been rented since then until this last year when Miss Ware’s great grand niece, Mrs. Southworth Lancaster, came to live in it.
Mr. Arthur Gilman built on the South side of it, and on the other side, Mr. Harold Whiting, Associate Professor of Physics at Harvard, built the house now occupied by Mrs. James L. Paine. He lived at number 3 Garden Street while it was being built, and he could have hardly moved into the house when he was called to the University of California. He left California in 1895 by sea and was shipwrecked and lost with his whole family. It is curious that the builder of the next house, Dr. Charles Follen, perished in the loss of a steamer on Long Island Sound in 1840. This house was occupied for many years by Dr. Henry P. Walcott.
The old turnpike to Concord crosses Garden Street like a pair of scissors, and in the “heater-piece” between the eastern ends stood a charming little house with a beautiful garden. The Reverend Richard Manning Hodges, a Unitarian minister, bought this house in 1835, from Rhoda Beale of Hingham. Here he lived until his death in 1878, after which it was occupied by his daughter, Catherine, and her husband, Dr. Charles B. Tower. Mr. Hodges was the grandfather of Dr. William D. Swan and Mrs. J. Bertram Williams. At the west end of the lot was a nondescript and very old house once belonging to the estate of Aaron Parker. At one time, it became a two-family house and was occupied by Mr. Edwin R. Sage in one part and, in the other, by Frau Grodte, who taught German in the Buckingham School.
In 1917 and 1925 all this and a part of Concord Avenue were swallowed up by the two big apartment houses, Mather Court, built in 1917, and Whitefield Hall, built in 1925. Soon afterwards, the Commander Hotel was built on the corner of Garden Street and Phillips Place, where had been two houses belonging to Dr. Hildreth. In the one on the corner, Dr. and Mrs. George P. Cogswell lived for many years. It was one of those one-room thick houses like the Rectory of Christ Church, and it was said to have been built in 1796.
The so-called Bradford House of Browne and Nichols School was occupied by Dr. John W. Webster, who murdered Dr. Parkman. After all these years his sign was recently found in the cellar.
This house was occupied for many years by Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Lothrop Thorndike. Mr. Thorndike (1829-1911) was by profession a lawyer. A graduate of Harvard College in 1852 and of the Harvard Law School in 1854, he was particularly interested in laws concerning bankruptcy and banking. He was also a lover of music, and as such he became an officer of the New England Conservatory of Music, a member of the Handel and Haydn Society and of the Saint Cecilia Society. He was a trustee of the Perkins Institute for the Blind and of many other social, historical, and business associations, serving as president of the Old Cambridge Shakespeare Association from 1891 to 1895.
Handsome and debonair, he was a man of unusual charm. One who knew him well writes of him, “His personality contained a rare quality difficult to express, a quality that seems to have, in a large measure, died out in the materialistic sordid world of today. This came from a sensitiveness to all that exemplified the beautiful and the good; no detail seemed too inconspicuous to touch him, no grand harmony of the universe but lived in his soul. It was a hidden fountain which flowed forth to delight and cheer others, a force that lifted the atmosphere about him and made life more worth living.”
His wife, Anna Lamb Wells, had a notably beautiful garden next to the house on the corner of Garden Street and Phillips Place. When the Thorndikes moved to Weston the Browne and Nichols School was built in or on that garden. The architect was a sister-in-law of Mr. Nichols, Mrs. William Ichabod Nichols, whose maiden name was Minerva Parker. This school was the first important building by a woman architect. About the same time the school was built, Dr. Rockwell’s house was built and Dr. Wesselhoeft and his family moved into the big house just at the juncture of the two streets, which has now been made into an apartment house.
This brings us to Arsenal Square and the reason it was so-called.
About the close of the 18th century our Commonwealth began to consider the necessity for the better storage of its munitions of war. As Cambridge had, in the early days of the Revolution, been the center of activities with barracks in the Common, Cambridge was selected as the place of the state arsenal. On June 10, 1796, Massachusetts bought of Joseph Bates Wheelwright a piece of land with its western border on “Mill Porridge Lane” now a part of Garden Street.
In 1813 more land was bought from the heirs of Bates, and in March, 1817, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse sold Massachusetts the land adjoining. He was not very anxious to sell it, as he said in a letter published in the proceedings of this Society in 1911: “I have only nine or ten acres — just enough to keep my creatures and amuse me by its cultivation.” He feared that in time of war this valuable military depot would be extended to eventually “create a neighborhood not very desirable to cornfields, orchards, and fruit gardens.”
No further land was acquired until 1864, when a lot having 418 feet frontage on Chauncy Street was purchased from the Waterhouse heirs.
Meanwhile, in 1816, the General Court found that there was an absolute necessity for additional buildings for the safekeeping of munitions of war. In 1818 Governor Brooks reported that a fireproof building of brick in Cambridge was completed. It is described as 100 feet long by 40 feet wide and three stories high. In the years 1848-49 a “neat and elegant building 1 1/2 stories high, 100 feet long and 25 feet wide with a slated roof had been erected.” It was the office or store house, and a brick dwelling house for the use and occupation of the keeper was built about 1852 near Follen Street.
April 29, 1861, Harvard students signed an obligation to obey such drill officers as the corporation might appoint. They were uniformed and organized into a battalion of four companies under command of Joseph Hayes, of the Harvard class of 1855, afterwards a brave general officer. This battalion guarded the Arsenal during May, 1861, and perhaps at other times. Two hundred fifty-seven names of the students in this battalion appear upon the rolls of the State House.
Again in 1863, during the draft riots of that summer, the Washington Home Guard, a Cambridge company commanded by Captain Isaac Bradford, afterwards chief of the police and later mayor, did guard duty there. During a night of their occupancy Governor Andrew sent wagons to convey muskets, rifles, and ammunition from the Arsenal to the State House.
This was as near as Dr. Waterhouse’s prognostications of military terrors ever came, but there was at times a great deal of military equipment stored there. After the Civil War it was sold to private parties.
All these facts were unknown to the youth of my generation, but the Arsenal was a very distinctive and unforgettable feature. The block from Chauncy Street to Follen Street belonged to it. On the Chauncy Street corner was the main building, 40 feet on Garden Street, built close to the sidewalk line. It was reminiscent of the type of the old three-story Federal house, with the third story windows smaller and square, though there were double doors of great proportions into its yard. It was of brick, painted cream-white with black iron shutters on each window. The building of the superintendent stood on a little terrace at the back of the lot. It was at right angles to the main building and parallel to Garden Street. The keeper’s house near Follen Street turned at right angles again, so making an attractive courtyard which was ornamented, of course, by a flagpole and pyramids of cannon balls. The whole was surrounded by a high open picket fence also painted black.
But the enduring memory of my generation will be the machine shop built in 1864 or 1865 on the Chauncy Street lot. This was occupied about 1876 by the Cambridge Dramatic Club, the aftermath of those private theatricals of Professor Greenough’s. The young and enthusiastic members made it over with their own hands into a theater. The entrance was on Garden Street, up a flight of steps. The theater had the wonderful arrangement of graduated seats down to a real stage with a curtain, footlights, and scenery. No electricity, of course, but plenty of gas. The walls were painted a light color, and the windows had long curtains of burlap with cross stripes of color painted on them. Here in 1877 was given the first play.
This was maintained until 1887, when the whole place was bought by Mr. Edwin H. Abbot, who built the stately stone house on Follen Street, now occupied by the Longy School, and a stone wall all around the lot. Here is now the Hotel Continental, which has absorbed everything except Mr. Abbot’s house.
At the west side of the so-called square stands an 1860 or 1870 type of mansard-roofed house in which lived Mr. and Mrs. Franklin Perrin and their handsome son, Arthur. Mr. Perrin was the president of the Cambridge Savings Bank at one time, and, in my memory, occupied, to me, the more important position of the Superintendent of the Sunday School of the First Parish Church, Unitarian.
Next to their house on Garden Street is a similar house built presumably about 1876 by J. Marcow. Next to that is the house which the late Frank Gaylord Cook gave to the Shepard Memorial Church as a parsonage.
The corner of Garden Street and Chauncy Street, opposite the Arsenal, was vacant and was used as a cow pasture for many years. Next to it on the corner of Walker Street (once Wallace Street) was a double house which I think must have been quite old. I remember two very pretty doors side by side and lilac bushes between them and the street. One of these houses was occupied by DeQuedville, a carpenter and upholsterer, who had two daughters. The older astonished and excited all Cambridge, when she was one of the first students at Radcliffe, by marrying LeBaron Russell Briggs, her instructor.
On the Chauncy Street corner, in the early years of this century, the present house was built by Mr. Erasmus Darwin Leavitt, a civil engineer connected with the Calumet and Hecla Copper Company. Here he and his daughter, Margaret, lived for many years. He had another daughter, Mary, who was the second wife of Dr. William Wesselhoeft, and who built the house now occupied by Miss Constance Hall. These two sisters were very agreeable and popular, but as they had lived for some time in Germany and were intimate friends with the Krupps, they were extremely pro-German and were rather under a cloud during World War I. After Dr. Wesselhoeft and Mr. Leavitt had both died, the two sisters sold these houses and built another nearer Norton’s Woods. Mr. Leavitt’s house has lately become the International Student Center.
On the western corner of Walker Street Miss Helen Upton, sister of Mrs. Rufus Allyn, built a very pretty small house for her old age. When that period was ended, the house was bought and enlarged by Professor Morris Hickey Morgan.
The next house on the corner of Shepard Street was lived in, in 1889, by Miss Needham, one of the founders of, and the first president of, the Cambridge Plant Club. This club is the oldest Garden Club in the United States and has just celebrated its sixtieth birthday. The house at that time as all on side of the front door. An addition has since been made to it, and so Miss Elvira Needham’s lovely garden has been destroyed. She had a vast knowledge of plants and flowers, and some member of the Plant Club who went to call on her in the winter said her house was so full of beautiful flowering plants that there was only room for the two chairs she had.
The north side of the block, that between Shepard Street and Linnaean Street seems almost all to belong to the middle nineteenth century. Most of the houses were built in the seventies. On the corner of Shepard Street is the house built by Mr. William Brandt Storer.
WILLIAM BRANDT STORER was born in Boston, April 2, 1838. “He was the son of Robert B. Storer, a prominent merchant of Boston, who for a long time was engaged in the Russia trade, and he was a nephew of Judge E. Rockwood Hoar, his mother being the latter’s sister. He was a graduate of Harvard in the class of 1859. Mr. Storer retained a warm interest in his alma mater, and, besides serving as chief marshal on commencement day, was ever ready to aid in promoting the welfare of the university. On the breaking out of the Civil War he entered the army and served on the staff of General Devens with the rank of colonel. He afterwards went into business with his father, whom he succeeded as Russian vice-consul. During the administration of Governor Claflin, Mr. Storer was a member of his council. He was at the time of his death Russian vice-consul, a director in the National Bank of Commerce, treasurer of the Sailors’ Snug Harbor, director of the reform school at Thompson’s Island, and vice-president of the Union Club.” (From the Cambridge Tribune, October 17, 1884.) His two unmarried daughters, Elizabeth Winslow and Helen Langdon Storer, still occupy the house, and like their father are interested in various charities, particularly the Animal Rescue League.
Next comes the house formerly that of Reverend Charles Carroll Everett, Dean of the Harvard Divinity School, 1879-1900, whose daughter, Mildred, was one of the prominent members of the younger set. Then comes number 55, built by my uncle, Uriah Tracy Howe, about 1870, in whose parlor this Society had a meeting, in 1939, when his granddaughter, Mrs. Sarah Folsom Enebuske, read us a paper about her Folsom ancestors.
The big house next door, the most modern in the block, was built in 1905 by Mr. Benjamin Vaughan. This Society will remember the delightful hospitality it has received from his daughter, Miss Bertha Hallowell Vaughan.
The smaller house just beyond was built by Mr. John Rayner Edmunds, M. I. T. ’69, who was assistant at the Harvard Observatory, and one of the founders of the Appalachian Club. Great interest was felt by the neighbors, as he was building the house for his bride. She died when her first child was born. He never married again, but a delightful ex-school teacher, Miss Fanny Staples, kept house for him. She was a devoted member of the Shakespeare Club.
Four of these houses have been absorbed by Radcliffe College, which crept into Shepard Street and has advanced all across to Linnaean Street, leaving only the William B. Storer house on the southeast corner and what we might consider its parent house, that of Mr. Robert B. Storer, on the Linnaean Street corner.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Boyd Storer came to Cambridge in 1856, with their son, William, and three daughters. He bought this house which I have been credibly informed was built by the architect Henry Greenough. He was engaged in trade with Russia and was Russian vice-consul. Two of the daughters, Fanny and Elizabeth, never married. They were among those who grew up during the Civil War, belonged to the “Club,” one of the two sewing circles which started at that time. Their keen interest was specially aroused by the colored race, whose good or ill fortune met their unfailing sympathy. The third daughter, Margaret, married Mr. Joseph B. Warner, one of our foremost citizens.
The house is now owned by their son, Langdon Warner, who is an explorer and authority on Chinese and Japanese art, connected with the Fogg Museum of Art at Harvard. He writes me that at present he has let the house, and he and his family are inhabiting the wood shed on Linnaean Street.
On the other side of Garden Street, China was also represented, for about 1913 there came, with his family, Mr. Edward Bangs Drew, who had been Senior Commander under Imperial Maritime Customs of China, for many years. He could read and speak Chinese and held the 2nd Rank of the Red Button and the Decoration of the Double Dragon, both conferred by the Emperor of China. All of this sounds very colorful, but he and his family fitted into Cambridge as if they had always been there and proved a great addition to the community. They lived in a house, now a school, next to that house which Mr. Cook gave the Shepard Memorial Church for a parsonage.
The character and charm of the Street were much injured by the brick apartment house numbered 52. This and the three smaller houses between it and number 58 occupy a lot in the middle of which once stood a comfortable old-fashioned house belonging to Theophilus Parsons, Dane Professor of Law in Harvard College.
He had four daughters, the oldest of whom, Emily Elizabeth, born in 1824, was an unusual woman. I quote freely from a memorial of her written by her father after her death in 1880:
“From childhood she manifested more than common energy and a disposition to earnest and persistent activity.
“At five years of age she ran a sharp pair of scissors into the pupil of her right eye, destroying that, and weakening the other eye.
“At seven years old she was extremely ill with Scarlet Fever. This left her totally deaf. In adult life she was able to hear whatever was distinctly addressed to her.
“At twenty-five years she injured an ankle, breaking some of the cords. This was never entirely cured. She suffered much from lameness but never complained.
“None of these hindrances prevented her from doing all in her power to relieve suffering of any whom she could reach.
“In 1861, when the War of the Rebellion broke out, she at once declared her desire to enlist in the Army as a nurse and entered the Massachusetts General Hospital as a volunteer nurse.
“She had great fearlessness, entire absence of nervousness, and faced wounds without shrinking.
“She served in several Military Hospitals from 1862 to 1864: Fort Schuyler in New York, the Barton Barracks in St. Louis, and a Floating Hospital in which she had charge of the nurses from St. Louis to Vicksburg.
“She was presented, in June, 1864, with a goblet or vase of silver, lined with gold and beautiful in form and workmanship.
“It was said of her that she was a true and generous Christian philanthropist, embracing all of every race and condition and never sparing herself.”
After her return to Cambridge she began to make efforts to have a hospital in Cambridge, and was able to form a corporation under the name of the “Cambridge Hospital” in February, 1871.
It was many years before the hospital came to function, but she can always be considered the founder of what is now known as the Mount Auburn Hospital.
After Professor Parsons’ death it was difficult for his widow and her three remaining daughters, Katherine, Sabra, and Caroline to keep up the house. It was Caroline who showed the energy and ability of her elder sister. She became famous for the jellies and preserves which she made, and it was she who organized taking boarders and “paying guests.” The house became known as an agreeable and homelike place by many Harvard students, chiefly in the Law School.
After they had all gone, no one would buy the house, so it was torn down and the land came into the market. Suddenly, the neighbors found that apartment going up, just before the region was zoned. They were able to prevent another, but the beauty of the street was ruined.
More fortunate was the fate of the Dixwell property next door. Mr. Epes Sargent Dixwell, who kept a desirable school for boys in Boston, built number 58 about 1840. He had five daughters and one son. His oldest daughter, Susan, married Gerritt Smith Miller of Peterboro, New York, breeder of Holstein-Friesian cattle and founder of the first organized football team in America, as set forth in a tablet on Boston Common. Fanny married Mr. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. Esther married Charles H. Owen of Hartford, Connecticut. Arria married Archibald Murray Howe of Cambridge, and Mary married George Wigglesworth of Milton. Mrs. Dixwell was a Bowditch. She and her daughters will ever be remembered for their kindness and generosity.
Mr. Dixwell died in 1899, and the house was bought by Henry O. Houghton, of Houghton and Mifflin, a widower with three daughters. The house was much remodeled, bringing into it Mr. Houghton’s fine library. His daughter, Justine, married Francis Kershaw. Elizabeth, who was a noted social worker, was killed by an automobile. Alberta was the most beloved. She made one room of the house into a Memorial Room for young men she knew who had been killed in World War I. After her death, the house was sold to Professor James B. Munn, who again remodeled it and has entertained this Society there.
Next comes Bond Street, named for the first head of the Observatory.
The Harvard Observatory was first established in 1839, in the Dana Palmer House on Quincy Street. As this situation proved not to be high enough for good observation, it was moved to its present site where Andrew Craigie had once had a summerhouse. The Observatory House was ready for the Bond family in 1844. Miss Elizabeth Bond has told us the story of its first years and how soon her delicate father died.
Joseph Winlock was Director from 1866 to 1875. After his death came Edward Charles Pickering, who for about forty years presided there and increased the usefulness, the value, and the prestige of the foundation enormously. He married Lizzie Wadsworth Sparks, the daughter of Jared Sparks, herself said to be the original little girl whose mother took a tuck in her dress whenever she was naughty, so that sometimes she was ashamed to go to school because her skirt was so short.
She was a remarkable social leader, sought for as chaperone at all the Assemblies, and in her own home a fascinating hostess. With such a host and hostess, there was a great deal of entertaining at the Observatory, for there was a stream of distinguished guests from all parts of the world. Mr. Pickering died in 1919, “full of years and honors,” and a Mr. Harlow Shapley, who succeeded Mr. Pickering, carries on the great traditions of the Harvard Observatory, though much of the work has been moved to Harvard, Massachusetts.
That last bit of Garden Street has always been beautiful, but alas, now the enchanting Botanic Garden has been made into a housing project, and nothing is left to tell the tale, except the Gray Herbarium.
The Gray Herbarium, a brick building given by Mr. Nathaniel Thayer, contains 500,000 botanical specimens gathered from all parts of the world and kept in practically fire-proof files, as are many valuable letters from botanists in remote and distant places. Wherever possible, these have pictures of the writers with dates of their births and deaths, the plants named after them, and accounts of their chief works. The oldest letter was written in 1586, many were written in the eighteenth century, but none was written later than Dr. Gray’s time.
Here is also a bronze basrelief of Dr. Asa Gray, so long the distinguished head of the Herbarium, by Augustus Saint Gaudens, a portrait of Linnaeus, in middle life and a smaller one in his youth, and busts and pictures of many generations of botanists.
Harvard College founded the Botanical Garden, and the first botanist in charge of it was William Dandridge Peck of Kittery, Maine, who was appointed in 1788. He was sent abroad in 1804 to look into the foreign botanic gardens. While he was gone, the present ground was purchased and plowed up, and it awaited his return with his knowledge and the head gardener he was to bring back with him.
Over three acres was bought, which grew to nine. Mr. Peck laid it out in 1806 and reigned there until 1822, when he died. He was a botanist known to fame, and various plants which he discovered are named after him. He followed the Linnaean system, in which plants were classed by the number of stamens, rather than the natural system, which was introduced by Dr. Asa Gray when he took charge in 1834.
Dr. Peck was probably also a conchologist, for his picture shows him with shells hugged up in his arm.
Dr. Thomas Nutall came to the chair in 1822, and lived in the house which was first built upon the grounds, from 1822 to 1828. It is said that he kept the conditions of a legacy for equal residence in two hemispheres by spending the end of one year and the beginning of the next abroad, thus insuring a longer term to devote to the work he loved best, that in this country.
He was a peculiar man and preferred birds and plants to contacts with his fellow men or fellow boarders. He occupied two rooms in the house, mounting a ladder erected in a closet when he went to bed. This closet had a small opening and a shelf on which Dr. Nutall’s food was placed from the outside of the locked door.
The same house was occupied by Dr. Asa Gray and his wife from 1834 to the time of his death in 1888. Mrs. Gray lived on in the house until her death, when it was bought by Allen Howard Cox, an architect, and moved across the street, to the corner of Madison Street. At the very end of the north side of the street is an old white house, once the Wyeth family farmhouse. Between that and the Botanical Garden and the Observatory all the houses are of this century except that of Mr. Cox.
The street would seem to have some special appeal to artists and architects. Near the Wyeth farmhouse is the studio of George Plowman, the etcher. In a little dead-end place, perched almost on the Observatory grounds and called Garden Terrace, is the interesting house build by R. Langford Warren when he was the head of the Harvard Department of Architecture. It is now occupied by Arthur Boylston Nichols, himself an artist. The house opposite was built as a studio by Roger Noble Burnham, the sculptor.
The little house picturesquely located at the top of the street was built by John Nolen, a well known town planner.
Built about the same time as these houses is that on the east corner of Garden Terrace, occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Alva Morrison, and on the west corner is that of Mrs. Munroe Day.
The old Dresser estate, coming across from Raymond Street, was opened up in the ’20’s of this century. This has been cut up into house lots and is known as Gray Gardens East and Gray Gardens West.