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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016



Solomon's Temple in Gloucester, MA.Circa 1883. People on the portico are probably the
descendants of Solomon and Mary Davis. Notice the arched trellis entrance into the garden.
 Photo property of Cape Ann Museum.

Solomon Haskell Davis was born in Gloucester Sept. 3, 1803.  His parents were Elias Davis and Lucy Haskell Davis.  They lived on Pleasant Street in the house that became part of the Cape Ann Museum.  That is where Solomon grew up.  Here is a small family tree.

Dea. Francis HASKELL
Elizabeth WHEELER
Capt. Elias DAVIS
Solomon Haskell DAVIS
Chart found on Ancestry

 Solomon married Mary Babson, daughter of William Rogers Babson, Jr. and Mary Griffin, on February 22, 1830 in Gloucester.

Mary Babson was born on June 13, 1804 in Gloucester and died on June 13, 1881 in Gloucester.   She died of hemiplegia which was probably a stroke causing paralysis.  It appears that she died on her birthday.

Their three children were Sarah Babson Davis; Solomon Haskell Davis, Jr. and Mary Louise Davis.

On May 7, 1839 Solomon Davis, a successful shipmaster, purchased a houselot on Middle Street in Gloucester from Serena Dale, widow of Dr. Ebenezer Dale. This piece of land had been  part of the grounds to the Dale house which was situated to the left side of the houselot.

This circa 1840 house was imposing on the exterior.  The inside was more restrained.  Photos of the fireplaces show mantel that look rather Federal but are slightly plainer and a little heavier which is in keeping with the age of the house.

This is the decade when fireplaces were declining and stoves were replacing the fireplaces.  By 1850 it would be hard to find a fireplace in a new house.

During this decade many houses had traditional mantels as did the Davis house but sometimes there was no fireplace but a thimble for attaching a stove.  It is hard to tell but the Davis house may not have had fireplaces.  The kitchen fireplace was the last to go but without a photo of the kitchen it is impossible to know what Mary Davis cooked on in her new 1840 kitchen.

Here is one of the fireplaces with a thimble for connecting a stove.  It doesn't look as though there is a
hearth in front of the mantel.  The doors are now four panel doors which prevailed from this period until
the end of the 19th century. It is hard to tell if it had thumb latches on the doors.  It probably did but they updated
with door knobs. Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and Cape Ann Museum.
This another similar, simple but dignified mantel.  It also is equipped for a wood stove, a feature of the
 Greek Revival period.. Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

The Dale house next door was located on the corner of Hancock Street but  its garden extended along Middle street until it came to the home of William and Mary Babson, parents of Solomon's wife, Mary Babson Davis.  Their house was a modest but lovely Federal period house with elegant woodwork built by Jonathan Ober, housewright. whom I suspect may have also built the Ellery Dale House.

The Dale house had been built around 1790 and before being purchased by the Dales had been the home of John Stevens Ellery and his wife, Esther Sargent  Ellery who had moved to Boston.  Esther was the sister of Judith Sargent Murray whose house was just down the street and is now the Sargent house useum.  These two grand houses belonging to the two sisters were very similar on the inside.  The main difference on the exterior was that Judith's house had a gambrel roof when built and Esther's built about ten years later had a hipped room and was the first house built in Gloucester of the style which became very popular during the Federal period.

This is the Ellery-Dale house.  On the right side just a littleof Solomon Davis's 
house shows.  The very beautiful Ellery-Dale house was cut in half and moved to 
two locations in orderto make way for the first building of the new YMCA as this 
street became more commercial. Photo property of P Fish

Gloucester was not noted for having very many houses of the Greek Revival style and this house was probably the most pretentious of all of them with its stately columns and its wrought iron balcony inside the columns at the second floor level.

After the death of Solomon in 1866 and his wife, Mary, in 1881 the house was inherited by the three children.  Solomon, Jr lived in Sacramento in the latter part of the 19th century and eventually his share transferred to the two daughters, his sisters, Sarah, wife of John Chamberlain and Mary Louise who never married.

It next went to another generation of Chamberlains; John, son of Sarah Davis Chamberlain and her husband, John Chamberlain.  His wife was Elizabeth.

John and Elizabeth sold land to Alex Patillo as the street became more commercialized.  Patillo built a large brick building that became a furniture store very close to Solomon's temple which was now hemmed in between two large brick buildings.

Thse was the William Babson house, in-laws to Solomon Davis.
Photo courtesy of Cape Ann Museum

The Babson's piazza with the columns was a later addition.  The columns were removed from the Universalist church diagonally across street.  They were taken out when the church was remodeled and the box pews were removed. The gallery was suspended differently.  All those columns would have been a nuisance with the new arrangement of pews.  The patches in the plaster where the columns were removed can still be seen.  This house was later moved to a new location without he columns.
The Davis house can be seen on the left.  The beautiful Dale house and the William Babson house became like book ends to Solomon Davis's temple until the bookends were replaced by the large brick bookends.  

Here is the house on the day it was demolished.  It is shabby but in its need of a new paint job it almost looks as though the house is made of granite.  The front facade of the house appears to be smooth boards to resemble marble.  It is December and there is an enclosure in front of the door that would be removed in the warm months.  Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and Cape Ann Museum.

Now it was all downhill for this once beautiful block on Middle Street.  It had become commercial and the only residence left was the Solomon Davis house.

Then things really took a turn for the worse.  The "Y" wished to expand and they wanted the now shabby but elegant Davis house.  It would be replaced by an indoor swimming 
pool.  The "Y" prevailed.  Solomon's Temple was doomed.

The last photo before the start of the demolition.  Notice the French window on the second floor left for access to the balcony behind the columns.  See how the sun glints off the old window panes.  Replacement windows can never look like that these
windows with their true divided lites of glass reflecting the light.  Unidentified man near the door.   Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and Cape Ann Museum

By this time one of the most significant poets of the 20th century had settled in Gloucester; Charles Olson.  He was an enormous, imposing man and a preservationist. When the news broke that Solomon's Temple would be demolished Olson joined the fight to save it.

On December 3, 1965 Charles Olson wrote a letter to the Gloucester Times in poetry form.  It was called "A Scream to the Editor".  It wasn't enough to save the house but what he wrote has never been forgotten or overlooked. Because of Olson and the impact of his "Scream", the memory of the grand house has been kept alive.

Here are excerpts of Olson's words taken from his "Scream to the Editor of the Gloucester Daily Times.

                                                             Moan the loss, 

                                                            another house
                                                            is gone
                                                            which assumes
                                                            its taste, bemoan the easiness
                                                            of smashing anything.

The demolition begins.  Hagstrom was hired to complete the demolition. Can't help but wonder who operated the equipment and how he felt.  He was just doing his job.  Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

                                                           Bemoan Solomon Davis'
                                                           house gone 
                                                           for the YMCA to build another
                                                           of its cheap benevolent places
                                                           bankers raise money for

Big bites dig into the top of the house. Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM

In reference to its dignity and stateliness Olson proclaimed.

                                                           as well made the Solomon Davis house itself
                                                           was such George Washington
                                                           could well have been inaugurated 
                                                           from its second floor. (in reference to the balcony)

The demolition continues in tight quarters. Courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

As the demolition proceeded Olson agonized.  Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

                                                    Now the capitals of  Solomon Davis' house
                                                    now the second floor behind the black grill work
                                                    now the windows which reached too,

There it goes.  There is no turning back now.  The deed is done as the stately fluted columns crash onto Middle St.  It's almost over.  Solomon's Temple is no more. Photo courtesy of Dawn Dexter and CAM.

Olson concludes with this:

                                                        For $25,000 I do not think anyone
                                                        Should ever have let the YMCA take down Solomon Davis'
                                                        house for any purpose of the YMCA.

There is much more to this poem, but persuasive as Olson was, Solomon Davis' Temple was destroyed right in front of his eyes.

Charles Olson was not the only person watching and bemoaning the desecration.

Another Gloucester resident and preservationist, Harold Dexter, who owned and saved other significant houses was there with his camera.  Now his daughter, Dawn Dexter, has donated his slides of this awful event to the Cape Ann Museum.  With her permission and the permission of the museum we can show you what happened that sad day.

And now, ironically, the YMCA is expanding again.  With no more room for expansion left at this location the "Y" is moving to a new location.  And, yes, another building, the former Fuller School, will be demolished to accommodate the new YMCA.  This leaves the old building on the site of the Ellery-Dale house, and its swimming pool addition on the site of Solomon Davis' house with its future up in the air.

Sadly, the Dale house, the Babson house and Solomon's Temple are history.  What a stately block of lovely houses it was!

It is painful to look at Harold Dexter's photos but so grateful to have them and thankful that he recorded that awful event with his camera.  And we are thankful to Charles Olson who recorded the event both dramatically and eloquently with his words.

And thanks to Dawn Dexter for saving her father's slides and making them available.[

Charles Olson said:

                                                      I hate those who take away
                                                     and do not have as good to 
                                                     offer. I hate the carelessness

And so do I!!

Thanks for reading.


1 comment:

  1. Hello Pru, There is something particularly sad as well as dramatic about demolition photos, especially those taken after a fight to save the building.

    It does seem to me that the Davis house was small enough to be moved without too much trouble. Although I prefer houses on their original sites, even in the 19th century houses were moved all over, and this is preferable to their loss.