About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Friday, September 22, 2017



Rockport's Hannah Jumper house dooryard with its
famous blue gate.

If a tourist or resident of the quaint New England Town of Rockport at the very tip of historic Cape Ann happens to peek between the row of three nice old houses located between the old Blacksmith Shop and Atlantic Ave. on Mt Pleasant St. they will be looking at an old red fish shack called Motif #1.

Motif 1, when I was young was called “Motive Number One” a typical idiosyncrasy as often found in an old New England town.  Motif 1 is familiar to people around the world.  It has been called the most frequently painted and photographed building in the world and it is a rare person who hasn’t seen its picture on a calendar or in a TV or Internet ad.  It has almost been forgotten that the original iconic building at the end of Bradley Wharf fell into the harbor during the blizzard of 1978.  It was quickly reproduced and life went on.
Motif #1 in Rockport.  Often called the most photographed
building in the world.
Conversely, if one were to go out on Bradley Wharf for a closer look at the red fish shack and looked back toward the town and Mt Pleasant Street they would be looking back at the row of houses mentioned above.  And looking to the left at this row of houses they would be looking at the back of Rockport's number two icon, the former 19th century home of Rockport folk hero, Hannah Jumper.

These two iconic buildings have drawn the attention of residents, tourists, artists and photographers since the 19th century and are familiar to people around the world but the attention these days is drawn to the Hannah Jumper house.

The perfect old apple tree in the front yard of this snug house on the harbor adds the perfect touch. But beyond the quaint scene admired by passersby, the Hannah Jumper house has a story to tell.  It was made famous not only for it charm but for the lady that lived there in the 1850s; Hannah Parsons Jumper, seamstress and house cleaner who moved into town in the early 19th century from the "Farms"  on Witham Street, an outlying area of Gloucester near Good Harbor Beach.
Here is the Hannah Jumper house in the spring, probably April with the forsythia in
bloom.  The apple tree is not leafed out yet

At this time Rockport was called Sandy Bay, the fifth parish of Gloucester.  Its independence  and the name Rockport didn't occur until around 1840.

Here is the story of Hannah and her rise to fame as reported by the Cape Ann Chamber of Commerce in their Rockport USA blog.

July 8, 1856, is an important date in the history of Rockport. On that summer morning, 200 wives, mothers, daughters and assorted supporters gathered in Dock Square to take part in an event that would have repercussions to this very day.
Hannah Jumper looking like a proper lady but with
a determined look on her face!
Brandishing hatchets, led by Hannah Jumper, they began their raid. In the words of Ebenezer Pool. an eyewitness. “…On finding any keg, jug, or cask having spirituous liquor in it…with their hatchets broke or other ways destroyed it…” Who was Hannah Jumper? How did so many law abiding. homemakers find the courage to follow her’?
Hannah Jumper, a tall, redheaded, 31 year old seamstress, left her family’s farm in Joppa and came to Rockport in 1812. Her talent with a needle and thread, along with her abilities to grow herbs and make medicinal brews from them, helped her to build a pleasant life in the small fishing community. Thus established, Hannah began to form lasting friendships with many of the women who would later join her in the rebellion against “demon rum”.
Fishing was the mainstay of Rockport. However, the weather only permitted this activity for nine months of the year. Instead of finding other employment during their enforced three month “vacation.” the men idled away their time and consumed enormous amounts of liquor.
Year after year, the economic deprivation caused by those periods of inactivity was worsened by the money spent on spirits. The women of the town grew increasingly frustrated and their patience wore thin. Hannah Jumper not only shared their feeling and their concerns, but she also became very outspoken on the subject.
Finally, in 1856 with the rise of the temperance movement and the early rumblings of women’s rights being heard, the women of Rockport met secretly to plot their historic raid. Only three men were considered trustworthy enough to be taken into their confidence.
On the morning of July 8, 1856 women from every corner of Rockport rallied around Hannah and five other women who had assumed leadership roles. Even at age 75, Hannah Jumper was still a formidable figure!
Secreting their weapons beneath lacy shawls, the protesters set out to destroy every drop of alcohol located in places they had marked (under cover of darkness) with a small white cross. Howls of outrage and threats of recriminations followed the progress of the “hatchet gang”.
Five hours later the weary but victorious women ended their revolt and went home to fix supper for their families.
One disgruntled target of the raid, Jim Brown, took the matter to court. The verdict, in favor of the women, was appealed time and time again. In the end, the original verdict was upheld and Brown was ordered to pay the court costs of $346.25 to the defendants.
Subsequently, Rockport became a ‘dry’ town, and remained so until 2005, when voters approved the sale of  alcoholic beverages in local restaurants.

Hannah Jumper’s house in Rockport.
This photo, shot in 2005, shows the sign promoting a vote to restore sales of liquor in Rockport—right in Hannah’s front yard! She actually launched her raid while living in this house, right down next to the harbor on Mount Pleasant St.    From "The Personal Navigator" blog.

Several years ago Hannah Jumper’s house came on the market for sale.  I went through it more than once.  The tiny crooked staircase, the paneling in the parlor around the fireplace contrasted with the view of Motif 1 from the large picture window in the rear of an added on living room.  The house was furnished with traditional furniture and antiques that invited you to sit down and linger for a while.  I was thrilled and considered it a great treat to have had the opportunity to cross its timeworn threshold.

Four or five years have passed and I have not paid attention or noticed any particular activity there until this week.  I live in Lanesville (a village in Gloucester) about four miles away so don’t often have reasons that would take me into this neighborhood until recently.  A Rockport friend alerted me that the old clapboards on the house were removed and she wondered about the necessity of doing this.  I went to take a look at what she was talking about and my heart almost stopped.  Every clapboard was gone revealing the wide sheathing boards of the house.   But that is not all. The fairly wide cracks between the sheathing boards revealed an interior completely stripped of all woodwork, plaster, paneling, mantels and doors.  It was an empty shell.  Even the ancient chimney with its fireplaces including the original cooking fireplace with bake oven was gone.
The Hannah Jumper house as it looks today, only a shell
with no chimneys or fireplaces.
My reaction was first of sorrow turning to anger that this could happen right under our noses just about obliterating Rockport’s (in my opinion)  icon number two. Even worse it is located in the Rockport Historic District. (In defense of the Historical Commission it has to be understood that they only have jurisdiction over the front fa├žade of the house or any part seen from a public way.)

They had no authority over the interior.  With the main chimney, the heart and soul of an old house, also removed should that not have been under their jurisdiction?  It could certainly be seen from the public way, Mt Pleasant St. and also from Motif 1 out on the wharf and from Bearskin Neck. Was there a permit and approval from the Rockport Historical Commission for that demolition?

By happenstance several months ago in another ancient Gloucester house I met a man who told me he was working at the Hannah Jumper house painting and stripping the wood around the fireplace.  At that time I gave him the name of a restoration mason to give to the owners and stressed how important it was to have the chimney evaluated and restored by a restoration mason.  The message was delivered to the owners but as far as I know was not acted upon.

I really don’t know what has transpired since the day I visited the house other than painting and normal maintenance .  Apparently, there were some structural problems to the underpinning which are always repairable even if difficult in that waterfront location.  I want to know why the paneling wasn’t saved (if it wasn't) or the bricks from the chimney or the old doors.  I want to know how such an important antique house came into the possession of an owner with so little sensitivity to the house for which he had paid $750,000 dollars.  Maybe the problem was not lack of sensitivity but simply bad advice of from workmen, neighbors or tight lipped townspeople who like to mind their own business by not saying anything or getting involved.
Demolition uncovered a section of early skived
clapboards with rose head nails.  Jim Laverdiere photo

Back in Gloucester my friend, Peggy Flavin, went to work researching the deed.  It appears that the house dates to about 1738.  It is of an unusual form.  After 1730 or so all of the cottage houses on Cape Ann had the newer style gambrel roof.  Hannah Jumper's house has a steep pitched roof, the only one from that period that anyone remembers seeing on Cape Ann where the gambrel roof style prevailed.

The house was a hall and parlor house which means a chimney and front door in the middle and a room on each side, one a hall (kitchen) and the other a parlor.  There were two chambers (bedrooms) above, one over the hall and one over the parlor.  The house was only one room deep and probably four room in all.  At the right hand end of the house a small barn was added or moved there at an early date.  Other additions were added onto the rear of the house.

The house was carved up from time to time as portions of the house were sold.  It would be expected that the apartments would be side by side as they were in recent years.  Surprisingly, in this case it was the little second floor rooms with slant ceilings that were sold off from time to time with the right to pass through other parts of the house.  One deed even suggested that the front door had been moved but might be moved back to its original position.  So architecturally it is a cape style house with a pitched roof and a chimney in the middle; a real hall and parlor house of the early second period.
Here it is as it looks today, Sept. 2017.  The apple tree is
thriving but not much else.

It is too late to put Hannah's house back together.  Too much of the original fabric, actually every inch of it, is gone.  But the interior could be reproduced.  According to the Gloucester Times a demolition crew from out of town was hired to complete the destruction of the house, an endeavor which took three weeks to complete according to the newspaper. I would hate to think what that cost the owner but is probably why he can no longer afford to restore the interior and is planning a free-flowing, contemporary interior.

Rockport has been plagued with other demolitions in recent years.  Will this deed be the event that will galvanize the town to put the brakes on this heavy handed, inappropriate approach to so-called “restoration"?  

It would appear that there is little regard for preservation here or anywhere and yet I know that this is not true.  Almost one year ago I wrote a post in this blog about the gutting of houses.  In the first twenty four hours after the posting 1,000 readers had viewed the blog so I know it hit a nerve.  People from all over the country were responding.

As I wrote this story I received an email from a Rockport resident who said, “I can't stand the decimation of the Hannah Jumper House - - just awful!

So I ask, when will this demolition stop and what will you do in your community to prevent a scenario as upsetting as the demolition that has taken place at Hannah Jumper’s house?

Maybe the spirit of Hannah Jumper will once again galvanize the community to act and defend preservation in Rockport.

The response to this post has been HUGE.  I think the destruction of landmarks is really beginning to hit a nerve and elicit strong reactions.  People just don't like it and resent seeing familiar icons disappear or be irrevocably altered in the name of progress or improvement.  Don't hesitate to add your voice when you see bad things happening to places you love and respect.

This charming painting of the Hannah Jumper house was posted today (9/24) by Bing McGilvray.  It was painted by Roger Elliot Gilson, 1960s.

Monday, August 21, 2017



On June 20th I reported the death of Abbott Lowell Cummings, a man who was an inspiration to those of us who are dedicated to the study and well being of early houses. Here is your opportunity to express your appreciation for his tremendous contribution to the history of New England houses.



October 12, 2017
3:00 P.M.

Old West Church
131 Cambridge Street
(next door to the Harrison Gray Otis House)

Reception to follow at
The Colonial Society of Massachusetts
87 Mount Vernon Street

A trolley will be available to shuttle participants up Beacon Hill
to the Colonial Society

For further information:
Donald Friary

Monday, August 7, 2017



Right off the top let me assure you that there are very few places that tell you what color to paint your house.  You probably won't ever have to deal with that although I can't make that promise. Paint is cosmetic and I don't believe in dictating color.  I would like to say that regulating color is a myth but you would probably tell me that in some places it is real and I would believe you.  

First of all there are two kinds of historic districts and it makes a difference which one you live in or in which you might buy property.  

A National Register District is a Federal District.  Buildings in the area are designated as contributing to the district if they are truly important or non contributing if they are newer or insignificant in some way.  

Inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places is not based solely on age or condition.  Other qualifications are not architectural but based on who lived there.  Did someone famous or important in some way live there?  Other qualifying criteria can be linked to an important event in history that took place there and distinguishes the house.

In spite of these designations there are no rules governing the National Register District and no restrictions whatsoever on any of the buildings.  You can tear them down unless there are other local regulations that prevent that.  So just being in a district does not restrict a homeowner whatsoever.

Many times I have heard people state that they would never live in a National Register District because you have to open your house to the public one day per year.  That rumor persists! I have heard it over and over.  It simply is not true and never was.

Another but more stringent form of historic district is a local historic district; an area or neighborhood determined by the city or town in which you live to be significant and it does come with restrictions.  

This means that if you are going to alter any exterior part of the house that can be seen from a public way you must go before an historic district commission for approval before the local building inspector can issue you a building permit.  This is much more serious oversight than what comes with living in a National Register District.  But remember it only pertains to the exterior including the front facade of the house and maybe the sides if they are visible from your street or another street in the area. 

If you already live in a local district or yearning to buy a particular house in the district you need to be accepting of the fact that there is another layer of  supervision over your house.  The requirements are not that restrictive but if you have a "don't tell me what to do" attitude toward property ownership in it may not be the best place for you to settle in.  

On the positive side living in a local district insures you that your neighbors are under the same supervision and covenants and nothing terrible is going to change that will bring down the value of your house or deteriorate the neighborhood.  Living outside the district leaves you much more vulnerable. Personally, I would love to live in an historic district protected from disastrous changes in the area.  

So before you make a decision to move into a local historic district here are some of the things that will be expected of you.

Improvements or changes can be OK.  But a general rule of thumb is that if you replace any parts of the exterior know that you will probably have to replace them with like materials which in many instances will be wood.  Again, remember that this does not pertain to the entire exterior but only what is seen from a street.

If your house was adversely treated before the district was designated you will not be forced to change anything.   However when you do decide to correct and upgrade you will have to do it appropriately.

Big items are siding, windows and doors.  If you bought the house with vinyl siding or older aluminum siding or asbestos you will not be forced to remove it.  If you do remove it  you will either restore what is underneath  or replace the exterior with wood clapboards or shingles, whichever would have been on your house previous to the siding.

Windows should be restored.  Replacement windows such as vinyl windows with snap in grids have no place in the historic district and cheapen a house whether it is in a district or not. Homeowners have been sold a bill of goods by window companies, lumber yards and building supply houses. Original windows, sometimes with wavy glass can be restored.  Rotted sections  can be replaced as needed, glass can be replaced pane by pane or the whole window re-glazed.  Windows and doors can last for hundreds of years. They really can. A replacement window has a life expectancy of 20 to 30 years! Wood window sash that are working properly and have a good storm window inside or outside, are just as energy efficient as an unattractive replacement window that you will have to replace again down the road. If the neighbor's kids throw a rock that breaks your replacement window it cannot be repaired. You will have to buy a complete new window at great expense.

Nothing is prettier than a small paned, true divided lite window with individually set panes of glass. When the sun reflects off the old panes set at slightly different angles or perhaps old enough to be wavy these "eyes" of the house speak volumes.  Please don't even consider relegating them to the dumpster in exchange for an inferior replacement even if your house isn't in an historic district and even if it isn't antique.

Doors in an historic district without a doubt will be wood.  Repair the door if possible or replace it with a similar wood door.  

Synthetic materials like vinyl or fiberglass are never going to be appropriate.  Don't even think about it.  You will waste your time if you live in a local historic district and try fight for approval of these materials.  The same goes for steel doors which do not even come close to being acceptable and eventually rust out.  

There isn't much room for exceptions.  If the commission goes out on a limb because they feel sorry for you it is the beginning of the end for the district.  How can you turn down an applicant who points a finger at a neighbor who got away with an inappropriate change?  There has to be a level playing field with no exceptions.

For most admirers of old houses there is more beauty in a shabby but honest house than in a neat,and tidy house wrapped in vinyl with the hollow eyes of replacement windows with or without grids.

If you are already living in a district you are well aware that there are rules and regulations governing your house.   If you anticipate doing work on  your house first have an informal conversation with the local commission to get input and a feel for what  you can do before you invest money on an architect or purchasing new materials. When you do approach the historic district commission in your community come armed with photos or samples of the materials you wish to use.

If you are thinking of buying a house in a local district and are resistant to the regulations think twice about living there and don't put yourself in a situation that will be contentious.

One  common myth is that  historic districts have control over color.  Perhaps some of the older districts were overly restrictive but most districts don't address color and they shouldn't.  Color is cosmetic.  It is somewhat temporary and will eventually be changed and therefore not anything worth getting too upset about.  Color doesn't physically damage a house.  

Landscaping is also exempt from control.  The covenants can change from town to town and from one part of the country to another.

Don't put the local commission on the spot by asking permission for siding, replacement windows or steel doors.  It won't work.  Don't ask.  Not around here in New England anyway.

Living in an historic neighborhood should be a treat and something to be proud of.  But if you think you can convince those in charge to make an exception and bend the rules for things you might want to do, perhaps living in an historic district is a mistake.  If commissions were to begin making exceptions it would mark the beginning of the end of an historic district.  Everyone has to be treated the same.  If the commissions turns down your application they are not picking on you.  They are doing their job to protect the integrity of the neighborhood historic district long after most occupants have moved on.

Each historic district has its ordinances and each commission is made up of individuals with different ideas or levels of knowledge.  But for the most  part there is nothing being asked of the residents of an historic district that is unreasonable or hard to live with.  Again, don't try to persuade the commission to break the rules.  Just take pride in your house and neighborhood.  Be happy knowing that you are protected on all sides and enjoy your good fortune in being able to live in  a special place.

If you live in the New England area and have deteriorating true divided lite windows, before you throw them in the dumpster consider a call or a visit to the Window Woman of New England, centrally located in Amesbury, MA.


If you are considering replacement windows, Allison Hardy will change  your mind!

Thanks for reading.  And please think twice before you invest in replacement windows, vinyl siding or steel doors.  You will save money and your house will be good for another hundred years!


Wednesday, August 2, 2017



     This is an open letter to owners of old houses and prospective owners of old houses.  This post is about BEAMS!

     Every homeowner, especially new homeowners, take much pride in their new home ownership.  At least that is my observation.  Certainly all want to beautify their houses and in doing so express their taste as they make their new house their home reflecting their interests and style.  I can't believe that they would deliberately damage the biggest investment of their life.  They wouldn't knowingly choose to decrease its monetary value, beauty or integrity by hurting the house would they?

     So why do so many do damage to their new house anyway?

Crude brown beams in an otherwise nice room.
     It has to be because they don't know any better and are jumping on a destructive band wagon.  No one has cautioned them and so they follow so many other owners of antique houses and do as they do, like sheep.  They assume that what they are doing is restoration; clueless that they are making grave and irreversible mistakes.  Removing any of the original fabric of the house is a mistake.

     For forty years people have said to me, "Pru.  You have to see this house!  It is all restored.  You're going to love it.  The owners have exposed the beams and...."  "Stop right there", I want to scream at them.  "I don't want to see another house with exposed beams...ever!"  (unless it's first period, of course)

     From the earliest building dates in the 17th century the houses in the New World were post medieval.  That doesn't mean crude.  Early settlers brought their building style with them from England.

     From the mid 1600s until the 1720s, approximately, the time at which the earliest houses appeared, they were built with very heavy framing and this framing was exposed. This is called the "First Period" architecturally speaking.  These houses were not rough.  There were no adz marks showing.  All the edges of the beams, especially the summer beams were dressed with chamfers. There were no sharp edges.  A 17th century house would have dramatically large beams dressed with fine and bold chamfers. We call these decorated frames.

This photo clearly shows the decorated edge, (chamfer) on the summer beam.  This is a first period room
and is of the period when the framing of the house with its chamfers was meant to be seen.  After this period
the framing members of the house were carefully hidden away and not meant to be seen by human eyes.  This is
a room from Ipswich, MA removed to the Metropolitan Museum in New York.  Ipswich has the largest collection
of early houses.

     That really concludes the story of correctly exposed beams in America and it is only circa 1725! So unless your house is about 300 or more  years old don't even imagine that it ever has had exposed beams and don't go looking for them!  Perhaps some did; there are always exceptions but don't count on it.

     There are not too many houses remaining that were built before 1725.  That means there should not be too many appropriately exposed beams.  Period!  Where I live in Gloucester, MA, a town settled in 1623, there are only about ten houses remaining from the first period and perhaps as few as two date to the 17th century.

     In the first period when exposed beams were legitimate they were white washed, not left brown.  So beamed ceilings should be a rare feature.  Right?  And they should be whitewashed

      Moving into the second architectural period from let's say from about 1725-1730 to the 1790s, depending somewhat on where you live, many, many houses were built.  If there were protruding framing posts in the corners or a summer beam above, all were covered (boxed)  with smooth boards with beaded edges.  These boxes were painted the same color as the rest of the woodwork in the room. Plaster covered the floor joists above.

     After 1725 (as well as before) refinement was what builders and home owners were striving for.  Practically all woodwork was painted or would be as soon as finances, time or choices were arranged.  There are occasional exceptions  but we are talking about the norm.

   Somewhere along the way the error of exposing rough hewn beams with adz marks and rough joists became synonymous with restoration.  Nothing could be further from the truth. It is wrong, wrong, wrong

Lovely room but why the rough beams?

     The imagined necessity of exposing ugly brown overhead has caught on and taken off much like the destructive movement to get rid of your old wood window sash in order to buy cheap replacement windows that cost a lot of money and have to be replaced again in twenty to thirty years. Homeowners have fallen hook, line and sinker for these destructive fads.  When I see brown splintery beams and the underside of the second floor floorboards I want to cover my eyes.  It is painful to look at a destroyed ceiling knowing the plaster has been hauled off in the dumpster.

     Whether on the Internet or in Realtor ads it is obvious that a smooth plaster ceiling is an endangered species.This damage is evident when you see the photos of otherwise nice old houses restored with love by a caring owner with a lot of hard work and a lot of money who has not done their homework.

A nice old house from the 1830 until they did this.   Ugly ceiling
unpainted mantel, stripped and urethaned floor,  and bricks
surrounding the firebox that should have been parged.
Unfortunately rooms that look like this are everywhere and they
should not be considered restored

 Save the integrity of your house and do your pocketbooks a favor.  The worst plaster ceilings can be saved.

    If you live in an antique house and still have plaster ceilings, for Heaven's sake, leave those plaster ceilings alone!  Rough beams belong in the barn.

This concludes the rant that has been percolating in my mind for some time.  You will all probably think of exceptions, I can think of some myself, but don't dwell on them.  They are few and far between.

Thanks for reading and thanks for putting up with my tirade.  Everywhere I look lately at what I think should be a lovely old house I am disappointed when I find that the house has already fallen prey to the ceiling wreckers.


Sunday, July 16, 2017



This is an amazing and convoluted story of an interesting 19th century family and the adventures of their heirloom soup tureen.
The Victorian Soup Tureen

On February 1, 1869 Herbert Small of Boston married Sarah Elizabeth Morton of Newton called Lizzie.  They were married in Boston.  He was the son of Samuel Small, a manufacturer of black keys for pianos, and Ann (Morley) Small.  Sarah was the daughter of William Morton and Elizabeth (Kurtz) Morton an affluent couple from Newton, MA.
Herbert Morley (1844-1935) and Elizabeth Morton Morley (1843-1929)
Within a few years with the help of a loan from William Morton this young couple moved to the village of Baldwinville in central Massachusetts, in the town of Templeton, where Herbert Small built a paper mill on the Otter River. He also built a large Italianate house on a hill overlooking the mill that ultimately had 14 rooms for their growing family of five boys.

The Morley house in Templeton, MA in the village of Baldwinville.  That interesting roof on the left is the well house.

Five Morley brothers.  My mother's husband,
 Sumner, is at the bottom.  (1886-1920)
This somewhat well-to-do family was extremely intellectual.  Mr. Small graduated from Amherst College in the 1860s.  Their house was home to a large library. They were active in the community and the children were well educated.  All attended Goddard Seminary in Barre, Vermont and most went on to Tufts becoming professors and teachers.  They were home schooled in their earlier years by teachers who lived with the family.  As the children grew older they traveled to Europe frequently with their father.

Strangely enough, in the 1890s Mr. Small decided to do away with their last name: Small.  He decided that he would take his mother’s maiden name: Morley.  So the entire family kept Small as their middle name but took Morley as their surname. Some say they changed their name because all being well over six feet tall didn’t appreciate being called Small.  Others said that the name Morley had more cache and that is probably more like it.

This move confused many who thought Mr. Morley had taken his wife’s maiden name: Morton, and concluded that he was so hen-pecked that he was forced to take her name which was really not the case although the rumor persisted. But their last name became Morley and not Morton.

My mother who had moved to this village to teach the second grade.  She soon fell in love with the youngest son, already a widower, whose young wife had died in a terrible train wreck in Bridgeport, Ct. in 1910. By this time (1914) the Mortons in Newton had died and  with the children grown Herbert Small Morley and his wife went to Newton to live in the Morton’s commodious house leaving the big house in  Templeton (Baldwinville) for my mother and her new husband to live in.
My mother with her second grade class, about 1913

The Morton house at 119 Cedar Street in Newton, MA.  Demolished in the 1930s for a subdivision.
Sadly, only five years into the marriage my mother’s husband died suddenly but she was able to stay on in the house for many years before remarrying. She ultimately came into possession of numerous items some of which were inscribed with an “S”, possibly wedding presents for the Smalls in 1869.
In my childhood I was very much aware of the big Morley house, now unoccupied but a perfectly intact example of an 1870s Italianate house, a time capsule with all the furniture, appointments and decorations still in place. My mother, being the only Morley relative left in the area became caretaker of the house for her former in-laws.  Frequently she would take the big brass key to the double front doors off its hook and would go to check on the house with me in tow.  In that way, although very young, I became acquainted with this great place as we moved through the house from room to room making sure everything was in order.

In our dining room was an item of interest perhaps dating to the marriage of Herbert and Sarah Elizabeth.  It was a large silver plated soup tureen.  The finial on the lid was a cow and the handles on the sides of the tureen were cows’ heads.  It was a product of the Reed and Barton silver factory and quite a curiosity to all who saw it, made at a time when there were silver items for every possible use. There were many figural pieces with animals or birds as part of the design. But a cow of all things takes the cake.
The handle on the lid of the tureen was this cow!
It had another distinguishing feature.  At some time in the 19th century a Morley maid had placed the tureen on the back of the big black kitchen stove to keep the soup warm.  But at that time silver plating was done on brittania or similar soft  pewter-like metal.  It was inevitable that the heat from the stove would melt the pedestal base of the tureen leaving it warped and wobbly with a rather big piece missing and that is exactly what happened. The tureen remained unsteady on its base for all time.
Badly damaged pedestal under the soup tureen
Ultimately the tureen came down to me and went with me to Connecticut, then back to Massachusetts to our next house in Newburyport.  In Newburyport it was not on display but stashed in a closet.  Although buried deep in the back of the closet it was not overlooked by burglars who took it along with a great deal of much better solid silver.  The loss was great.  It probably was a disappointment to the thieves to find out that the big tureen was not sterling and could not be melted down for money.

Fast forward to somewhere around 2010.  As usual I attended a Sunday flea market with a friend.  My friend purchased a large doll house and we had to pick it up in my wagon.  This necessitated driving through the crowded flea market very slowly and cautiously.  The aisles were filled with pedestrians and shoppers.

Suddenly, much to the surprise of my passenger friend, I slammed on my brakes, shoved my car into park and jumped out.  On one of the tables was a soup tureen!  And it had a cow finial!  I knew that if it had a melted pedestal it was mine...and it did!

The unsuspecting dealer said, “Have you ever seen anything like that before?”  “Yes”, I replied.  “It’s mine.”  Perhaps I wasn't very tactful but he was not at all gracious about this. I ended up paying him $35.00 for it.  He was not happy.  I never thought that he was the thief and he wasn’t.  He had obtained it from an antique “picker” named Brian.

After some searching I located Brian, the picker, from Hampton, NH who told me that he made it a habit to stop by a scrap metal shop in Amesbury, MA where they would sometimes set aside things that came in that were of interest and that is where he found the tureen sitting on a shelf.  This scrap yard was less than five miles from where it had been stolen more than thirty years previously. 

It was in bad shape, dented and tarnished, no doubt left in a cellar or barn to be kicked around when the thieves found out that they couldn’t turn it into cash.
The melted pedestal on the tureen.

Off went the tureen to a repair and replating shop.  At great expense it was brought back to life.  But what about the damaged pedestal?  To repair that ancient damage would cost several hundred dollars more.  All agreed that the wobbly base was part of its history; part of the story, and that I should leave it alone and that is what I decided to do.  They did attach a small round leg to stabilize it a bit but that is all.  It won’t tip over but it still wobbles.
The restored soup tureen. Shining but still wobbling!

A year later at the flea market someone told me that a man named Brian was looking for me.  I found him along with his wife.  It was the picker who had rescued the tureen from the scrap yard the year before.

These wonderful people presented me with a coffee table book; the history of  Reed and Barton silver.
The history of Reed and Barton silver
Best of all in the book was a picture of the tureen.  They were so happy to have played a role in finding the tureen.  It was a great contrast to the dealer who was such a sore loser than he hasn't spoken to me since although I see him nearly every week at the flea market.

From the pages of "Sterling Classics:
The Reed and Barton Story", Taunton, MA 1998.  The decorative band
around the middle is more ornate than mine but
out of the same mold!

As I polished the Morley soup tureen, circa 1870s, I thought about its history and how it found its way back to me.  It had been gone so long that even my now middle aged children didn’t recognize it or remember when we had it on display in our Connecticut house. They were too young and it had been too long ago.

Not so for me.  I remember it in my childhood in our dining room and later in my own dining room in Connecticut before it came with me back to Massachusetts and the house in Newburyport from which it was stolen. 

I will never know where it was for the intervening years but I know it was not very far away.  Now it is in my dining room in Gloucester…safe and sound but not worth nearly as much monetarily as I paid to have it fixed!!  I had to make it right and I’m glad I did.  There are some things on which you just can’t put a price tag.

After polishing the tureen and other items I decided to continue this Sunday afternoon settling down
comfortably with my lap top to record the story of my soup tureen. 

Sarah Elizabeth Morton Morley
I hope you find the story of the tureen's recovery as remarkable as I think it was.  When you lose something I don't believe you ever stop looking.  This time I was lucky but excited to have it back.

Now if I could only find the impressive leather cased fish set with fork and fish slice so beautifully engraved by Farrington and Hunnewell of Boston or the matching leather cased soup ladle,  also from the shop of Farrington and Hunnewell; or the eighteen Boston silver serving spoons, mostly from Newell Harding that came to me from my father's family or the twelve 1830 coin teaspoons in their original box and tissue paper and monogrammed with an H for Howard from an old house in East Templeton now torn down and replaced by a convenience store.  The list could go on and on. Unfortunately, I'm sure their fate was to be melted down.

It is doubtful that I will find anything else but I will never stop looking.    You never know.

Thanks for reading,



Morton Street, from Mill to Homer Street, 
is marked on the 1 848 map, though the 
location is that of the present Cedar 
Street. The street was probably William 
Morton's private driveway. Both Morton 
and Cedar Streets were accepted by the 
City in 1908.
 Mr. Morton's estate described in King's 
Handbook of Newton as a "gothic villa" 
was just north of Cedar Street. He sold 
ten acres of the estate to local 
speculators in 1 847 with the following 
restrictions: "that there shall not be built 

The Victorian parlor in the Newton house.

Monday, June 26, 2017



The Pillsbury-Dickinson House, Georgetown, MA,  Circa 1700

From the 17th century many families from England settled in New England where they established homes and families and put down deep roots.  Many of the names of the early settlers still prevail in Rowley and in all of the other towns that originally were part of the vast area referred to as "Ould Rowley".  As time went on they built their homesteads.  Many family members remained in that part of Ould Rowley that is now Georgetown, Groveland or Byfield.  

An early settler in this region was Rev. Ezekiel Rogers who claimed the land between Newbury and Ipswich.  This tract of land extended all the way to Andover and included Bradford.  His plantation, as it was called, was established in 1638.  Previously Rev. Rogers was pastor of the church at Rowley, Yorkshire, near Hull.

Rogers requested of the General Court a tract of land between Ipswich and Newbury which was granted.  The settlement was begun in the spring of 1639.  The area was referred to as the "new plantation".  The house that is the subject of this story was located in the Byfield Parish of Rowley but as the large tract of land was further subdivided into new towns this house became part of the newer town of Georgetown.

The present owner of the house has owned it for nearly 40 years and throughout this time has carefully preserved the old house.  There has been no attempt to make it look brand new, an approach that has cost many old houses its best and original fabric.  The Dickinson-Pillsbury house has escaped the "gut jobs" that so many early houses have fallen prey to in recent years.  There are no granite counter tops or phony beamed ceilings.  The exposed beams are original.  Likewise, no brick has been uncovered unless it is original.  The owner has studied every aspect of restoration and preservation and has adhered to rules of integrity.

The Pillsbury -Dickinson house in horse and buggy days.
Having escaped many of the alterations that have become fads in recent years, this house remains intact and retains as much integrity as humanly possible.

The house, the Dickinson-Pillsbury house, c.1700, is on the National Register of Historic Places and the following taken from their report supports the integrity mentioned above.

See National Register report below.

The Dickinson-Pillsbury house retains First Period integrity of location, design, workmanship, setting and feeling to a high degree in its surviving frame and simple features and fittings.  During restoration, the archaeologist owner did not remove early paint from the plaster walls or ceilings, nor the soot blackening the ceilings over the fireplaces.
The way to the barn
In addition, the house retains many simple fittings -wooden latches and pegs, hardware, cupboards and a shelf hung from the 
back of the chimney with wooden hangers - which combine with the unaltered finishes to more accurately portray the feeling of a First Period farm building than most of the houses surveyed.
The large cooking fireplace in the original great "hall.  19' x 19'

Front entry with closed staircase.
The very simplicity of the interior is probably representative of the great body of simple First Period farmhouses now lost to us. The analysis of paint and plaster evidence on the walls and ceilings may yield information important to our understanding of this type of building.  The unusual piecing of the 
right end girt is also worthy of future study.

The Dickinson-Pillsbury house is a 5 bay wide 2 1/2 story, central chimney structure with clapboards on the front and shingles on the sides and rear wall. There are hewn overhangs on the front and at the left gable end. The house began as a single cell 2 1/2 story structure to the right of the chimney bay. , The left-hand rooms were added within a generation. The ell projecting from the rear right-hand end was attached 1856.


This simple farm dwelling has escaped major remodeling over the years and retains much of its original First Period construction and finish. The growth of the house is visible primarily in the attic.  Abbott Lowell Cummings has found evidence of brick nogging in the walls up to the window sill  which confirms accounts in early family records.The owner found evidence during restoration that the original windows were of the type in which sills and headers were let into the studs. 
The large parlor, the second stage of the house.  Ceiling was always exposed.
The stylistic similarity of the two halves of this clearly two-stage house suggests that it was enlarged relatively soon after its initial construction. In the right hand room, the substantial hard wood
longitudinal summer beam has a flat chamfer with plain, coved (semi-lamb's tongue) stop at the outer wall and full lamb's tongue stops at the chimney girt. Joists are spaced 20-21 inches on centers. The chimney girt is covered with a box which has a crude quirked bead along the edge. 
The hall chamber

The house is important for its association with Paul Pillsbury, who purchased the house in 1801-2. Pillsbury was a prolific inventor who patented in 1863 a corn sheller which stripped the kernels from ears of corn. The principle behind his bark mill is still used in mills made today. He also invented the first shoe pegging machine, which was used in his house in Georgetown.

There is more!  

In 1856 a small cape was moved to the lot and attached as an ell at the right hand side of the house up against the oldest end of the dwelling.  It is more Greek Revival but offers more rooms and a back staircase to the second floor.

Here is one of the 1856 rooms in the ell, used
by the present owner as a breakfast room.

Here is the back entrance through the 1850s part of the house.
With landscaping and stone walkway it is particularly pleasing.

The back door of the house enters
into the 1856 section of the that was added.

A short distance from the house is a commodious 18th century barn!   It could be suitable for horses.
In addition there is a garden shed, perennial gardens.
Garden Shed 
Foxgloves near the barn.
The chain of title to the house is not clear.  Paul Pillsbury, the first of the Pillsburys to own the house, was actually a descendant of the Dickinson's so that although there is a different name it is still in the same family.
It has been called the James Dickinson house.  James Dickinson died in 1698.  Here is the inventory of his estate.  It is not clear whether he lived here or whether it was built after his death by his son, James.

By 1704 the house belonged to Samuel Dickinson, son of James.  Perhaps it was Samuel who added the early second stage of the house which is still clearly in the first period with a decorated frame.   He also acquired land from his brother, George, and his mother, Rebecca Dickinson Dresser, formerly the wife of James Dickinson, deceased.

This Samuel had a son, Samuel, Jr.  The house descended down through the Dickinson family until Samuel Dickinson's daughter,Sarah, married Parker Pillsbury in 1774.  This couple had a son, Paul Pillsbury, a significant inventor.  Paul made the old Dickinson-Pillsbury house his home.

Paul first invented a corn shelling machine and then a bark mill.

Next he invented  a machine for cutting shoe leather and a shoe peg system which revolutionized the shoe industry, so important in Essex County.  He was nicknamed "Peg" Pillsbury.  Pegged shoes became the standard for shoe construction and Paul Pillsbury made machinery for making the pegs which he sold throughout the area, the center of the early shoe industry.

Now the long-time owner of the Dickinson Pillsbury house has relocated to a smaller in-town house and the old Dickinson house is on the market for the first time in forty years.  It is a rare house and a rare opportunity for the purist to discover the practically untouched house of their dreams.

Although very authentic the house has all the conveniences of a new house.  It has a real kitchen, 2.5 bathrooms, and 21st century comforts.  Sitting high on a knoll, it is further protected by almost nine surrounding acres.

The Dickinson-Pillsbury house just might be the authentic first period house you waited years to find. If you would like to know more about this property please leave a comment for me and I will put you in touch with the owner.

And, by the way, the asking price is $649,900, not bad for a large antique house, acreage and antique barn!

It's waiting for you and ready for occupancy.

This house has had two price reductions and is now $549,900.  9/28/2017
An historic door yard