Town Meetings in the Northwest Precinct of Cambridge, 1736-1795

Town Meeting Warrant, 25 Feb 1750 (front). SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.21, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA.

One of the earliest and purest forms of Democracy in the United States took place at “town meetings”- a practice established in Massachusetts and distinct to the New England region. Unlike in our present-day use of “town halls”, qualified residents had the opportunity to not only discuss matters particular to their communities, but to actively vote on them- allowing them to have a strong voice in how their towns were administered.[note]Gott, Hollis M. “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy.” Arlington News, 16 Mar 1946, p.1. Accession number 1958.1.2, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 05 Jul 2017.[/note]

As part of my internship at the Arlington Historical Society, I recently had the opportunity of cataloguing twenty-six town meeting warrants for the Northwest Precinct of Cambridge- also known as Menotomy and present-day Arlington.[note]After a certain unknown year, the Northwest Precinct also came to include Charlestown. Please see: Medford Historical Society Papers. Vol. 14, p. 21. Medford, MA. 1911. Perseus Digital Library. 09 Aug 2017.[/note] The town warrants date between 1736 and 1795[note]Menotomy was part of the Northwest Precinct of Cambridge between 1732 and 1807. Please see: Ibid, p.21.[/note], covering a pivotal period from before to right after the American Revolution.[note]Notably, Elroy M. Avery, author of “A History of the United States and Its People”, said “Never was the town meeting more truly the voice of the popular will than in the gathering storm that ended in the war of American Independence.” Please see: Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.5.[/note] (See image above)

Only a few documents remain in good condition, and most have become yellow and fragile with the passage of time. Yet, they still have countless traces of those who handled them. There are creases along the center from when they were folded down and red residue on the corners from the wax used to seal them. Furthermore, even though the writing of the time was very stylized, one can see the difference between writers’ hands as well as their own take on spelling and abbreviating certain words. These details make working with first-hand evidence truly a privilege, because even the smallest of details allow us to take a glimpse back in time; in this case, the town warrants can teach us about what concerned Arlington during the colonial period and what occurred during town meetings.

What is a town meeting? Who was involved?

Excited to learn more about the town I call home, I became immersed in my task by researching names of town officials as well as customs of the time. Coincidentally, I learned that at the same time someone else was studying a document from the Society’s collections that described what town meetings entailed and what they meant to early American democracy. The document is an article written by Representative Hollis M. Gott titled “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy”; it was included in the Arlington News[note]The Arlington News was a local Arlington newspaper.[/note] on March 16, 1946. In this document, Gott tells us that the first town meeting may have been held in Salem, MA in 1629.[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.2.[/note]

He also tells us that, from the beginning, town meetings had “supreme control of the affairs of townships”, where the local government was run by the governed.[note]Ibid, p.1.[/note] Towns themselves were considered legal corporations and political units that were represented in the General Court; their role was such that it was considered more important than even that of the county.[note]Elson, Henry W. “History of the United States of America.” The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Chapter X p.210-216. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh. History of the USA, http://www.usahistory.info/colonial/government.html. 09 August 2017.[/note]

Generally, at a town meeting, “all the qualified inhabitants [met], [deliberated], [acted] and [voted]…”[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.1.[/note] Unfortunately, as might be expected of this period, “qualified inhabitants” meant only free adult males.[note]Elson, “History of the United States of America”, p.210-216.[/note]

Besides regular townsfolk, town meetings involved officials or “selectmen” such as a constable, prudential committeeman, clerk, treasurer, assessor, and collector.[note]Cutter’s History of the Town of Arlington also provides a list of others who were town officials (except constables), beginning from the year 1732. Please see: Cutter, Benjamin & William R. Cutter. History of the town of Arlington, Massachusetts: 1635-1870, p. 167. Boston: David Clapp and son, 1880. Perseus Digital Library. 09 Aug 2017.[/note] Most of which were likely voted for at a yearly town meeting as directed in many town warrants.[note]Town Meeting Warrant, 16 Feb 1741. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.12, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 23 May 2017.[/note] However, it is interesting to note that John Cutter appears as a committeeman for nearly thirty years (1736-1763) in the Northwest Precinct’s town warrants; this makes it likely that the position of committeeman may have run for a longer term.[note]Town Meeting Warrant, 10 May 1735. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.9, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 17 May 2017. & Town Meeting Warrant, 22 Feb 1763. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.24, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 06 Jun 2017.[/note]

It is also worth noting that within the Northwest Precinct’s town warrants, the roles of constable and the committeeman are the ones mentioned most often. During this time, the role of the constable was as a volunteer “peace officer” elected by other leaders in the community.[note]“History of the Office of the Constable.” Massachusetts Constable’s Office, https://www.massachusettsconstablesoffice.org/history-of-the-constable. 09 August 2017.[/note] On the other hand, the committeeman had the “general power to superintend the concerns of the town”, which included implementing decisions made during town meetings.[note]“Office of Selectman.” Connecticut Council of Small Towns, http://www.ctcost.org/pages/CCST_Files/2015-5.pdf. 09 Aug 2017.[/note] Thus, we find that town warrants were written by the committeeman to the constable in order that he might warn residents about upcoming town meetings.

The Second Meeting House of Salem, 1701-1785. Danvers Archival Center, Peabody Institute Library, Danvers, MA.

What happened during a town meeting?

Town meetings were typically held yearly, on March afternoons.[note]Some town meetings were held on different months and there were years that had more than one meeting. Please see: Town Meeting Warrants, 2017.FIC. SMB.01.G.01, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA.[/note] Although some meetings may have been held at schoolhouses or the courthouse,[note]Town Meeting Warrant, 05 Feb 1735. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.8, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 17 May 2017. & Town Meeting Warrant, 12 Mar 1795. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.34, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 28 Jun 2017.[/note] they most often took place at a centrally located meetinghouse that also functioned as the town parish.[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.2.[/note] The original meetinghouse of Menotomy was known as the Second Parish, and it was located where the current First Parish Unitarian Universalist of Arlington stands- at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Pleasant Street.[note]The name changed once Menotomy became part of West Cambridge in 1807, before finally becoming Arlington in 1867. “Menotomy Minuteman Historical Trail: A Walking Tour of Arlington’s Past.” Menotomy Trail, p.7, http://www.menotomytrail.com/MenotomyMinutemanTrailGuide2.pdf. 09 Aug 2017.[/note] While we have little visual information of what it looked like, it was likely small and of simple wood construction, with minimal ornamentation.[note]“Religion in Colonial America: Trends, Regulations, and Beliefs.” Facing History and Ourselves, https://www.facinghistory.org/nobigotry/religion-colonial-america-trends-regulations-and-beliefs. 09 Aug 2017.[/note] (See image to the right for an example of a meetinghouse)

At the meeting, those in attendance would typically be called to order by the town clerk. After prayer by the minister, someone in attendance would read the articles up for consideration and they would all select a moderator for the rest of the meeting.

In earlier days, inhabitants voted by shouting “aye” or “nay”, but they later incorporated paper ballots.[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.3.[/note] Amongst the topics discussed were approving budgets and laws, voting for town and school officials, paying for the salary of a preacher, and repairing the meetinghouse.[note]Town Meeting Warrants, 2017.FIC. SMB.01.G.01. Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA.[/note] Although, in reality, almost anything concerning the town could be discussed.[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.3.[/note]

Attendance and respectful participation were expected: “No one could speak without the moderator’s permission, and he could impose fines for disorderly conduct”. However, those who did not attend also received fines.[note]Ibid, p.3.[/note] (See image below for an example of a town meeting)

New England Town Meetings. Weber Reads, Weber State University.

Church and State

From the above evidence, it is clear that the colonial era was a time when the combination of church and state was acceptable. The church was at the heart of most colonial communities and religious observance was enforced, especially on the Sabbath.[note]“Religion in Colonial America: Trends, Regulations, and Beliefs”[/note] In accordance, one of the requirements to be considered an “inhabitant” was that one had to be a member of the Congregational church. Others, such as Baptists and Antipedobaptists, were not allowed to participate in town meetings.[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.2.[/note]

Thus, we find that the town voted for both church reparations as well as church officials and as such, they kept church and town records together.[note]Ibid, p.2.[/note] The Northwest Precinct’s town warrants specifically mention the need for reparations at the meetinghouse that included pews, a bell, and a pulpit. In addition, the salary of Reverend Samuel Cooke was brought up as a matter for discussion multiple times between the years 1747 and 1777.[note]Town Meeting Warrant, 16 Feb 1747. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.15, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 23 May 2017. & Town Meeting Warrant, 1777. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.28, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 13 Jun 2017.[/note]

Although, Representative Gott states that by 1725 towns could separate church and state, Menotomy continues to combine both secular and religious matters at least as far as 1789.[note]Gott, “Town Meeting’s Place in American Democracy,” p.2. & Town Meeting Warrant, 1788. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.33, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 28 Jun 2017.[/note]

Town Meetings Today

In retrospect, it is clear that town meetings such as these were only possible because they took place at a time when the concerns of towns were simple and populations were small. It was in later years, as the activities of towns began to expand and populations grew, that electing representatives became necessary. From then on, town meetings evolved into the current form of a “limited or representative town meeting”. Arlington began to make use of this type of town meeting beginning in 1920.[note]Ibid, p.6.[/note]

Although the “old” town meeting was not actually perfect and it had to change, we cannot ignore the great influence that it had on democracy in the United States. Thomas Jefferson was noted as saying, “New England townships have proved themselves the wisest invention ever devised by the wit of man for the perfect exercise of self-government and for its preservation.”[note]Ibid, p.1.[/note]

Possible Discovery: Was Jason Russell a constable?

Amongst the many constables mentioned within the Northwest Precinct’s town warrants there is one named Jason Russell.[note]Town Meeting Warrant, 25 Feb 1750. SMB.01.G.01, Accession Number 2017.FIC.21, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 06 Jun 2017.[/note]

A Jason Russell lived in the colonial house currently operated as a museum by the Arlington Historical Society. Although not much is known about his civic participation, we do know that he was a farmer and had many children.[note]Please see “Jason Russell and His House in Menotomy” by Nylander for background information on Jason Russell.[/note] He is also perhaps best known for his participation and unfortunate death during the Revolutionary battle of April 19, 1775.[note]Brorson, Stuart. “Stories of Arlington’s Jason Russell House.” Wicked Local, 23 Feb 2012, http://www.wickedlocal.com/x1793846760/Stories-of-Arlingtons-Jason-Russell-House. 09 Aug 2017.[/note]

While it was common for family members to have been named similarly to each other, the date of the document in which a “Jason Russell” is mentioned coincides with the time during which this particular Jason Russell lived (1717-1775).[note]On the other hand, his son also named Jason Russell was born in 1741 and was likely not a constable at the age of 10. Please see: “Jason Russell.” Geni, 04 Mar 2017, https://www.geni.com/people/Jason-Russell/6000000001657781052. 09 Aug 2017.[/note] (See first two images below)

Another clue is that the signature on the town warrant exactly matches another “Jason Russell” signature on the copy of a deed within the Society’s collections. The deed is for a lot in Mason, New Hampshire from Jason Russell to his son.[note]Copy of a deed to a lot in Mason, NH. Shelf 3, Accession Number 1931.18.1, Arlington Historical Society, Arlington, MA. 06 Dec 2008.[/note] (See last two images below) These two documents make it very likely that Jason Russell was a constable during the year 1750/1. Thus, this potential find may offer an exciting new insight to a man that was important to not only Arlington but also American history.[note]Cutter also notes a Jason Russell who was a prudential committeeman in 1761-63 and 1768 as well as a precinct assessor in 1758 and 1761-63. Please see: Cutter, “History of the town of Arlington,” p.167.[/note]

by Florentina G. Gutierrez, Collections Care Intern, Arlington Historical Society

Moxie: “It’s a drink for those who are at all particular”

It’s the official soft drink of Maine, but Moxie has Arlington connections. Moxie’s originator, Dr. Augustin Thompson (1835-1903), came from Union, Maine and set up his medical practice in Lowell, MA. He wanted to create a “cure-all” medicinal tonic. Using a “secret ingredient”, later known to be gentian root extract, he created a syrup called “Moxie Nerve Food” in 1876. However, the market for patent medicines began a slow decline, so in 1884 he added soda water to his concoction and it became a soft drink. Consequently, Moxie is among the first bottled — and continuously marketed — soft drinks made in the US. Besides bottles, it was also sold in bulk as a soda fountain syrup. In the years around the turn of the last century, Moxie Bottle Wagons dispensed Moxie at fairs and amusement parks, promoting it for “health and vigor.” Moxie was also distributed in other areas of the country, but it really took off in the Northeast.

Illustration 1: Francis Thompson’s home. The building was
Menotomy’s original meetinghouse (officially the Second Parish of
Cambridge), had been moved twice and was located at 208
Pleasant Street when this photograph was made in 1944. At that
time it housed Tufts College Vacation School of French. Sadly, this
Colonial treasure was razed in 1954.
Thompson was profoundly civic-minded towards Arlington, where
he lived for over 45 years, and to whose institutions he bequeathed
45% of his fortune. His generosity resulted in the Thompson Wing
at Symmes Hospital, the Thompson Scholarship (still awarded
annually at Arlington High School), and the town conferring the
honor of naming for him the Francis E. Thompson Elementary
School. (Photo credit: Robbins Library, text courtesy of Richard A.
Duffy)

The company moved its operations from Lowell to Boston by 1909. During this time, Moxie’s medicinal claims diminished (particularly after the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906). “Moxie” became a term used for vim, vigor, and courage. Logos and ads, along with the Moxie Horsemobile, driven by “Moxie Men” promoted the drink.

As for Arlington, Augustin’s son Francis Thompson lived on Pleasant St. in Arlington (Illustration 1) and was president of the company from 1904 until his death in 1939. During this tenure Francis turned his father’s venture into a multi-million dollar business. He and his wife left a rich legacy to the town, financing scholarships for Arlington High School graduates each year. The Thompson School is named in honor of his generosity.

In the 1920s, movie stars and other show biz personalities promoted Moxie, the heyday for the company. Calvin Coolidge is said to have celebrated his inauguration with a cold Moxie and in its best year, Moxie outsold Coca Cola. Also during this time, Moxieland opened in Jamaica Plain (74 Heath St.) as a manufacturing and distribution plant.

The Depression of the 1930s, plus decisions to raise the price from a nickel to a dime, and substitute cheaper ingredients cause a decline later in the decade. In addition, a key employee, Frank Archer died in 1939. The company adopted the slogan “What this Country Needs is Plenty of Moxie” during World War 2, but after the war Moxie suffered financially. They tried to market a sweeter “New Moxie” which didn’t take off. Afterwards, the company downsized.

Illustration 2: Ted Williams says “Drink
Moxie”

In the 1950s a “Moxie Laboratory” opened in Needham Heights, producing syrup and concentrate. They also added a Diet/Sugarfree Moxie. During this time Red Sox legend Ted Williams became a Moxie spokesman, endorsing the product on radio and in print (Illustration 2).

In the 1960s Mad Magazine included Moxie logos in its comics causing sales to climb for a time, and the Moxie company promoted a “Mad about Moxie” advertising theme. However, Moxie continued to struggle financially and the brand was eventually purchased by the Monarch Beverage Company of Atlanta in 1966. In the 1970s they marketed “Old Fashioned” Moxie without great success. An annual Moxie Festival began in the 1980s. The company was sold again in 2007 to Cornucopia Beverages of NH (owned by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Northern New England, in turn a subsidiary of the Kirin Brewery Co). Nowadays, Moxie is produced by the Moxie Beverage Company of Bedford, NH. and remains available in New England and other portions of the Northeast.

Written by Colleen Cunningham

Illustration 3: This is an image of Freeman Young, the treasurer of Moxie who lived on Mystic Street in Arlington. Notice
the wooden Moxie bottle case on lower right. The photo was made in the wooded hills of what is today’s Morningside
neighborhood. (Photo and text courtesy of Richard A. Duffy)

Commemorative Plates

Ceramic objects in the AHS collection span centuries while telling local stories. Of these ceramics, several plates uniquely celebrate and document Arlington history. These pieces are known as commemorative or souvenir plates. Popularized toward the end of the 19th century,  plates of this kind were relatively cheap to produce and a novel way to memorialize events. Such plates were rarely intended for practical serving use, but rather assumed to be hung as wall decoration or delicately placed inside a china cabinet for viewing.

This white plate with dark green transfer is one of the best examples of Arlington souvenir plates in the collection. The front of the plate shows nine separate buildings of historical significance in town, including the Jason Russell House. The back of the plate is marked, “Arlington was incorporated in 1807. This heritage plate is one of only 225 ever to be designed.” Noting that a plate was produced as one of a small batch was thought to significantly increase its monetary value.

Another favorite in the collection is a plate celebrating a local iconic piece of art. This blue transferware plate was probably produced during the mid 20th century and is marked “Indian Hunter Menotomy, Arlington, Massachusetts, Cyrus E. Dallin, Sculptor. Made in England for The Friday Social Club, Arlington, Massachusetts.” The central figure on the plate is the “Menotomy Indian Hunter,” a sculpture created by Dallin that still stands in the gardens next to Arlington Town Hall.

Commemorative plates, and other practical ceramic objects, are a simple and fun way to note important events and memory. Plates such as these in the Arlington Historical Society’s collection show off significant local art and architecture, reminding us of  the importance of  decorative objects in relaying history.

Written by Selena Shabot, Intern

Ballad of the War of 1812

On Tuesday, April 24, 1917, Nina Winn wrote about attending a Historical Society event in which “Aunt Sue  read a poem & Elizabeth Smith wore the ball dress she wrote of – made by Hannah Hall [later Mrs. Cyrus Cutter] & given by Mrs. Sterling & Mrs. Bates. Then the ‘[Old] Peabody Pew’ was presented and was apparently a great success – plenty of laughing & response – vestry was packed – over 300 – refreshments were _donuts – poor cheese, coffee, cake & punch not any [of it] so very good. but had a good time.”

And then on Tuesday, May 15 of that same year, “Peabody Pew” was reprised “Had to go over town – repeated ‘Peabody Pew’ in eve for benefit of Red Cross and surgical dressings – Went over about 7-45, rest [of cast] _much earlier.  Miss [Dorothy] Doe played violin & [Mrs E. Nelson] Blake sang & rest sang old-fashioned songs. Aunt Sue read her poem & they sold printed copies of it. Home soon after 10.  Vestry was packed & some standing – Said it was better than before.”

Arlington historian Richard A. Duffy has noted that “May 15, 1917 was also the day that the flag of the Red Cross was first hoisted in front of the old town hall that occupied the present site of the Uncle Sam statue and the end of Mystic Street.  It was a prominent symbol of the surgical dressings work that had been taking place in quiet corners of the town, but which now had moved to large headquarters to accommodate an influx of volunteer workers since the United States had entered World War I.”

“Many in Arlington were eager to be among their neighbors at public events such as the encore of ‘The Old Peabody Pew,’ to demonstrate their patriotism.   The poem read by its author, Susanna Adams Winn, at the April 24 performance, promptly was published as an illustrated booklet as a wartime fundraiser, each copy selling for 25 cents.  None other than Caira Robbins, a spirited leader in Red Cross war work and one of the famous ‘Robbins Sisters,’ attended personally to ongoing sales of the poem in the community,” said Duffy.

“The poem certainly is a product of its time, but can be enjoyed by today’s readers as more than just a charming artifact.  It’s important to understand its reception in the context of a time of great national uncertainty and fear,” Duffy observes.  “The story related in verse form harkens back to idealized peaceful times of the past, and can be seen as encouraging a sense of hope among its listeners in 1917 that similar happiness will await when ‘The Great War’ has been won.”

The collection of images below is a scanned copy of the poem read by “Aunt Sue” — Susanna Adams Winn — “The Ballad of the War of 1812.” The front cover includes an image of Elizabeth Abbot Smith in the dress worn by Hannah Hall Cutter and the back shows a silhouette of Hannah Hall Cutter. Both the dress and the silhouette are also in the Society collection. See further down on post for a full transcription of the text to facilitate reading the poem in its entirety without needing to open separate images from the scanned original booklet.

A BALLAD of the WAR OF 1812
By SUSANNA ADAMS WINN

PRINTED FOR THE BENEFIT OF THE
SURGICAL DRESSINGS WORK AND THE
RED CROSS CHAPTER

ARLINGTON, MASSACHUSETTS
1917

Foreward

The presentation to the Arlington Historical Society in April 1917 by Mrs. E.M. Sterling and Mrs. E.A. Bates of the quaint Ball-gown made and worn by their mother, Mrs. Cyrus Cutter, born Hannah Hall, more than a hundred years ago, seemed a fitting occasion for the writing of some account of the ingenuity and skill shown in its making, in the day and generation when the luxuries and facilities of the present-day debutantes were not only unknown, but undreamed of.

This can be called “a true story” with perfect impunity, as all the details of the narrative were related to me by the dear lady herself, many years ago.

                                                                                                S.A.W.

A Ballad of the War of 1812

I.

The tumult and the fighting now had ceased;
The dove of Peace had settled over all;
From War’s sad thrall our country was released;
But something troubled little Hannah Hall.

II.

Still in her teens; with eyes of Heaven’s own blue,
And voice as sweet as any woodbird’s call,
With rosy cheeks and dimples not a few,
A comely maid was little Hannah Hall.

III.

Skilled was her needle, in that long ago,
Deftly her tasks performed, both great and small.
While “trippers on the light fantastic toe,”
Were all surpassed by little Hannah Hall.

IV.

The war of eighteen-twelve was at its close,
And plans were making for a great Peace Ball.
Excitement reigned amongst the belles and beaux,
But sad at heart was little Hannah Hall.

V.

As now, so then, a hundred years gone by,
Though wars may rage, and empires rise and fall,
“Eternal Feminine” repeats the cry,
“Nothing to wear,” had little Hannah Hall.

VI.

Her elder sisters, married long before,
She oft had seen depart for rout or ball,
In silken garb and finery galore,
But naught was left for little Hannah Hall.

VII.

The war had drained her father’s funds so low,
She dared not ask him for the wherewithal;
Her mother shook her head and answered, “No,”
When importuned by little Hannah Hall.

VIII.

But suddenly she had a happy thought;
Hope danced again about the great Peace Ball.
For things are sometimes made, that can’t be bought,
“I’ll make a gown,” cried little Hannah Hall

XI.

For she bethought her of the fine nankeen,
Brought from o’er seas, beyond the Chinese wall,
By some old ancestor she’d never seen,
And stored away for little Hannah Hall.

X.

“Now none must know,” unto herself she said,
“If anyone finds out ‘twill spoil it all.
I’ll wait ‘til everyone is safe in bed,
Then sew and sew,” said little Hannah Hall.

XI.

Candles she gathered in sly, devious ways,
No fragment for her purpose was too small.
For this, the feeble “light of other days,”
Was all she had, poor little Hannah Hall.

XII.

She dyed her homespun crewels with strange brews
Of vegetables, herbs, or berries small.
Lost is her art, but not the bright gay hues,
That decked the gown of little Hannah Hall.

XIII.

And then she worked with fingers swift and deft.
Her stitches so infinitesimal,
We wonder now that any eyes were left,
To persevering little Hannah Hall.

XIV.

Day after day, or rather night by night,
Unweariedly she plied her needle small.
Though time was short, facilities so slight,
Nothing discouraged little Hannah Hall.

XV.

Finished it was at last, in every part,
And “Pa” and “Marm,” brothers and sisters small
Were then allowed to view this work of art,
Proudly displayed by little Hannah Hall.

XVI.

And when the long-expected time drew nigh,
And all the Precinct hastened to the ball,
Although her expectations were so high,
They all came true for little Hannah Hall.

XVII.

More partners, than for just one girl seemed right,
By her sweet winning ways, were held in thrall,
More heads than one could count, she turned that night,
The reigning belle was little Hannah Hall.

XVIII.

Among the swains we need not name,
This sprightly lassie favored most of all;
And in due course of time a wedding came,
And so good-bye to little Hannah Hall.

1964: Views of Arlington Center east of Mystic Street

 

Individual snapshots were assembled to create a panoramic view, three inches high and 27 inches wide.

It’s 1964. Comets could be seen streaking down Massachusetts Avenue.

The Comet automobile, that is. Some likely purchased at Arlington’s Bonnell & Stokes Lincoln-Mercury-Comet dealership located between the Center and the Heights. But I digress . . . .

This post continues one from last month, offering a unique tour of Arlington Center over a half-century ago. The photographs were snapshots taken to create an illustration for a sidewalk landscaping proposal. The images were glued together, approximately aligned, and roughly cropped to create a sort of panoramic view. Thus the startling sight of a car missing its front or rear end, or parts of passing trucks obscuring storefronts. The emulsion on the prints is damaged in places, but most of the business storefronts shine through in this wonderful photographic artifact.

The scene is the north side of Massachusetts Avenue, and this narration will move from left to right (west to east) as the businesses are discussed.

Before getting down to business, attention is called to the barren expanse of the recent (1960) reconfiguration of the Mystic Street and Massachusetts Avenue junction. While aligning Mystic Street with Pleasant Street was a long-overdue improvement to eliminate multiple bottleneck points for north-south vehicular travel, the design promoted a bit too much speed by including what essentially was an “exit ramp” from Massachusetts Avenue to Mystic Street and a two-sided parking lot on the former Mystic Street roadway.  Three decades later, the intersection was beautified and made safer for pedestrians by creating leafy Whittemore Park and relocating the 1819 Jefferson Cutter House (home to the Cyrus Dallin Museum) as the centerpiece of a historically themed green space.

Detail from a Norman Hurst photograph, taken a decade later.  From the historical collection of Robbins Library.

At the former eastern corner of Mystic Street and Massachusetts Avenue stands the red-brick Finance Building.  The street-level tenant wrapping around corner was the recently opened Poly Clean Center, which was not merely a laundromat, but touted the economy of coin-operated do-it-yourself dry cleaning.  The results were rarely as successful as professional dry cleaning, and the fad faded.

Adjacent was Sheehy’s, one of several places in town that specialized in greeting cards, such as Driscoll’s in East Arlington.

Next door, the wide storefront whose name is mostly obscured by the drawings of trees pasted onto the image, is Arlington Furniture, one of two large furniture stores (the other was Gordon’s) in the Center.  Gordon’s selection leaned more towards contemporary furnishings, while Arlington Furniture was a proud Ethan Allen gallery, featuring “Early American” designs that were extremely popular in the 1960s.

The Edison shop was operated by electric utility company Boston Edison.  It sold a wide array of major appliances, available through the convenience of an installment-purchase plan integrated with the customer’s monthly electric bill.  In 1964, the Norge brand of washing machines and clothes dryers was prominently featured, with periodic payments as low as two dollars.  Also in Arlington Center, at the corner of Broadway and Alton Street, was a the appliance showroom of the Mystic Valley Gas Company (formerly the Arlington Gas Light Company), offering competitive deals.

Brigham’s ice cream parlor was one of two in Arlington, the other location being in Arlington Heights.   It would be another few years before Brigham’s would acquire Buttrick’s, move its headquarters to Mill Street in Arlington, and thus operate a third restaurant location in the town.

F. W. Woolworth Co. (known informally as Woolworth’s, Woolie’s, or just the five-and-dime), would have been one of the most frequently visited establishments in Arlington Center, due to the wide variety of its merchandise.  By 1964, its Arlington Center neighbor and national competitor, S.S. Kresge, had already left town.

Alson’s Shoes was a multi-generation family business.  Its “Family Shoe Club”  offered a 13th pair free after the purchase of twelve pairs.  A featured children’s brand was Jumping Jacks, making Alson’s go head-to-head with one of its Arlington Center competitors, Plotkin’s.

The Sherwin-Williams store of course carried a full line of house paints, and offered the loan of a “color harmony guide” in the era before mass-produced color strips  and folders became ubiquitous giveaways.  At Christmastime, the store advertised craft and light-carpentry project kits.

The Center Delicatessen’s neon sign and boldly striped awning conjure nostalgia for the simple sandwich shops of yesteryear.

The Stork Club, a playful take on the name of the renowned New York nightclub that would abruptly close its doors in 1965, would seem to be a maternity apparel shop.  No advertisements have been found for The Stork Club, so perhaps readers will be able to share memories of this business.

The Mary Alyce Shop was an Arlington ladies’ store, in business at the same location since the mid-1930s.

At the west corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Medford Street is the Crisafi Pharmacy.  It replaced a Cole’s drug store at that location, and thus was an example of an independent taking over from a chain “discount” operator.

On the east corner is a Liggett Rexall drug store.  Despite the prominence of the Liggett and Rexall names, very few of the stores were company-owned in the way that CVS and Walgreens operate today.  They were mostly independent franchises for whom the cooperative purchasing arrangement of branded products occupied a much larger spot in the U.S. pharmacy marketplace than exists today.  The orange-with-blue-lettering Rexall signs made bold graphic statements on streetscapes from coast to coast.

The view straight down Medford Street gives a tantalizing glimpse of the individual places there, but just a few are identifiable.  To this day, there still are doughnuts, Arlington Catholic High School (the newcomer on the block), and St. Agnes Church–all important Arlington institutions!  On the right is the Nevaire gift shop, with an eclectic merchandise array–from religious goods to portable manual typewriters.

And–of course, and since 1916–stands the Regent Theatre.  Note its rooftop neon sign, from which the E. M. Loew’s name was removed after the Regent exited that chain.  The cinema marquee advertises the film “From Russia With  Love,” allowing us to precisely date this image to the last week of June 1964.  The movie had previously played for two weeks at the Capitol Theatre in East Arlington (then called the New Capitol), before its seven-day second run at the Regent.  Sean Connery’s second James Bond thriller was considered mature audience fare, so the matinee show was the Frankie Avalon-Annette Funicello outing, “Muscle Beach Party”–just right for the youth of the Summer of ’64 in Arlington, Massachusetts.

In memory of Nina Winn at Christmas

An excerpt from the diary of Miss Nina L. Winn, December 23, 1916:

No flowers at [florist David] Duncan’s
& Mrs. Duncan there because he is so poorly,
[to] cemetery with my 2 wreaths – couldn’t
afford more.

Regular readers of Nina Winn’s diaries will be familiar with passages throughout the years, in which she describes her faithful trips to Mount Pleasant Cemetery on anniversaries and other special occasions, to decorate the graves of her parents and of her brother Arthur, who died as a teenager.

Nina’s memory is honored at this Christmas, in a manner keeping with a tradition she so deeply valued.

Dec 17, 2016 photograph
Dec 17, 2016 photograph

 

 

 

Park Pharmacy’s 1948 nifty new soda fountain

compressed-park-sodaInterior photographs of Arlington businesses are quite rare, so when this one appeared recently on eBay it was purchased by a donor as a gift to the Society. This inside view of Park Pharmacy is published for the first time here.

park-pharmacy-ad-1937-clarionPark Pharmacy was located in Arlington Heights on the northeast corner of Park Avenue, diagonally across from its nearest competitor, Menotomy Pharmacy. There had been a drug store at this location since Thomas Emus moved there by 1914.  Emus operated two pharmacies in Arlington for a few years, and when he sold the 1323 Massachusetts Ave. location, the name was changed to Park Pharmacy by 1925.  The business closed around 1970.

The pharmacy did not commission this photograph. It was made as part of the portfolio of the “Sterling” counter dealer. For readers who can imagine color in a black-and-white image (and those with fond memories of their old kitchen Formica), the counter top was “tan linen” and the facing pattern was “Prima Vera with quartered walnut die.”

Although the counter was the star of the show in this image, what’s much more interesting is the selection and quantities of merchandise kept in stock. The photograph is undated, and detective work on minute details of the products suggests the timing is Christmas of 1948.

cottAt left is a floor display rack of Cott brand soft drinks, advertising “15 delicious flavors,” a number that would increase after 1948. This was a few years before the slogan “It’s Cott to be good!” appeared.

Rising in the background are shelves holding a dizzying array of smoking products: Wellington, King, Tru-Line and other brands of pipes; tins and pouches of Burley & Bright’s Half-and-Half, Granger’s, Revelation, Sir Walter Raleigh, Union Jack, and Velvet tobacco, to name a just a few; Phillies cigars; cigarette cases . . . and in close proximity, cough drops and throat lozenges.

godfrey-chesterfield-adPresiding in the tobacco section is a framed poster of popular radio and television broadcaster, Arthur Godfrey, in his role as spokesman for Chesterfield cigarettes.  He is shown holding a decorated carton, while saying “Give ’em all my Christmas best!”

To the right of the soda fountain is a glass case displaying what appear to be boxes of dusting powders and other ladies toiletries.  Atop the case are gift boxes of Schraftt’s assorted chocolates, a brand manufactured in Charlestown, Mass., until going out of business in 1981.

On the shelves in the back corner is an odd assortment of fountain pens, flashlights, and Campfire marshmallows.  Perhaps the latter item was there to be put to use in preparing treats served at the soda fountain, to which we return our focus.

Sealtest, a national ice cream brand that was discontinued in 1993, was the featured product.  Among the flavors listed is “Family Roll,” a chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry or cherry ice cream novelty that was introduced in 1948. sealtest-logo

One of the reasons there were so many drug store soda fountains is that it was uncommon for people to enjoy ice cream at home on a regular basis.  Refrigerators typically had small freezer units within the main compartment of the appliance.  Park Pharmacy sold Sealtest’s “space saver square” pint package for 30 cents, along with cartons of Butter Cup cones, to “Make ’em at home!”

serutan-clockThose who came to enjoy a Coke, or a 25-cent ice cream sundae, could keep track of the time by glancing at the wall clock that advertised, of all things, a laxative.  Serutan (its slogan: “read it backwards”) was aimed at folks aged “after 35” as an “aid to elimination.”  Apparently the incongruity of placing such a message directly above the soda fountain, flanked by Coca-Cola decorations, was a notion that was lost on the proprietors!

 

1964: Views of Arlington Center west of Mystic Street

This assembled "panoramic" image measures 23 inches in length.
This assembled “panoramic” image measures 23 inches in length.

 

A recent post to the Arlington List (a local “listserv” subscription mailing list) seeking to know the name of a long-gone sandwich shop where today’s Not Your Average Joe’s restaurant is located drew the correct response by me that it was Dewey’s Luncheonette.  This was followed by an informative and entertaining series of posts by Arlington List members, remembering different aspects of commercial life in Arlington Center a half-century ago.

This inspired me to share the following series of photographs made in June 1964.  These are previously unpublished images of buildings that were shot head-on.  The individual prints were roughly aligned, glued, and physically cropped to simulate a panoramic image.  Thus, unusual elements may be noticed, such as automobiles missing their front or rear sections.  Pasted onto these images are hand-drawn trees that obscure some of the storefronts, suggesting that these photographs were assembled as part of a streetscape-improvement proposal.  The uneven scissor-cut borders, cracked emulsion, and other condition issues of this photo-collage suggest that these images were intended for one-time use and to end up in the trash.  The many flaws of this historical artifact make us realize how fortunate it is that these images have survived.

We’ll take our tour heading east to west (right to left in the images), with the street number of Massachusetts Avenue provided in parentheses next to the business being discussed.

arlington-national-bank-vfw

In this first image we see the recently opened (1960) route of Mystic Street at the far right, which aligned it directly with Pleasant Street, away from its original junction with Massachusetts Avenue on the east side of today’s Whittemore Park.  To accomplish this, the old Arlington town hall (in service as such from 1853 to 1913) was demolished.  The Uncle Sam statue would be erected in 1976 on the open space between Mystic Street and the former Arlington National Bank building (no. 635).

The Arlington National Bank was chartered in 1921 and fifty years later, in July 1971, was acquired by Coolidge Bank and Trust of Watertown.  But not without Arlington National’s president and one of its directors being sued along the way to this sale by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 1970.  Their insider-trading scheme was foiled.  In 1991, a disgraced Coolidge Bank would be closed by regulators during the New England real estate and banking crisis, Coolidge’s case including revelation of unseemly management practices.

But back in 1964, the Arlington National Bank was cheerfully serving the community, and advertising its popular “Christmas Club” to help customers save in weekly installments (at typical 4% passbook savings interest) and receive a payout check in time for early holiday shopping. walk-up-tellerNotice the “Walk Up Teller” exterior feature at the right corner of the building.  This was a convenience in the era before ATMs, to expand available hours for basic bank services when the rest of the bank was closed.

The street next to the Arlington National Bank building was then called Railroad Avenue (in the year 2000 it was renamed David Lamson Way, after a local African-American Revolutionary War combatant).  vfw-tightRailroad Avenue was the object of considerable attention in the early 1960s, as part of a plan to extend it as a traffic loop to Water Street, and to raze the railroad station (partially seen in the background) for parking spaces.  The rail depot was built in 1883 and had been purchased by the Town of Arlington, who was renting it to Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1775.  The wrecking ball would not strike for another decade, something that many wish could be undone and the station restored, now that the rail line has become the Minuteman Bikeway.

shop-unique-bulding-crop

The above image shows the building whose ground floor has been is entirely occupied since 2002 by Not Your Average Joe’s (no. 645).  The sign for Dewey’s Luncheonette can be seen facing Railroad Avenue.  Dewey’s also operated its taxi cab office and stand at this location.  One of the “partial cars” mentioned above can be seen in this image, and it’s one of Dewey’s cabs.dewey-corner

Sharing the building with Dewey’s Luncheonette are the Variety Smoke Shop (both at no. 645), Farrington’s phonograph record store (no. 649)–notice the black platters decorating its sign; and The Shop Unique (no. 651), which sold greeting cards and gifts, featuring Hummel figurines.  Longtime Society member Bill Mahoney has observed that what is the current bar area of Not Your Average Joe’s is at a raised floor height compared to the seating area of the restaurant, reflecting the fact that when there was a separate business occupying the storefront, its physical configuration differed from that of its neighbors.

As a restaurant site, it was the Town House Restaurant (a.k.a. Garron’s) that truly made history in Arlington as being the first in modern times to serve alcoholic beverages.  In 1979, after many decades as a “dry” town, Arlington took the first tentative steps towards licensing larger dining establishments to serve alcohol.  Liberalized attitudes and policies towards alcoholic beverages have evolved over decades as a key aspect of Arlington becoming a destination for foodies, as well as having some attractive package stores.

harvard-trust-and-kathryns

 

Continuing west on Massachusetts Avenue we have come upon the Harvard Trust Company (no. 655), which acquired the Menotomy Trust Company in 1947 and remodeled the building to its more-or-less present appearance.  The Menotomy Trust Company was the successor institution to the First National Bank of Arlington (unrelated to the Arlington National Bank), converting from a national bank charter to a state-chartered trust company in 1912.  After a series of mergers and acquisitions, the building has been home to a Bank of America branch since 2004.

It’s hard to imagine, but the Harvard Trust building facade hides the original yellow-brick Renaissance Revival architecture that inspired the design of the Associates Block next door.  (To be fair, the Menotomy Trust Company was the first to camouflage the building in the 1920s by applying then-fashionable decorative-cast concrete, a faux-stone material that did not stand up to the elements).

In front of the Harvard Trust Company is a clear view of parking meters, which arrived in Arlington Center in 1948, about the same time as the bank.  The street meters were removed in the 1980s, but have been reinstalled in recent weeks.  Everything old is new again, at least where trying to manage parking is concerned.

On the ground floor of the Associates Block was a business (no. 659) whose entire name is hidden by the pasted-on tree.  Ironically, it is the only local retailer in these images that is in business today:  Swanson jewelers, founded in 1938.  This was Swanson’s second location; the store moved in 1988 to its present home at 717 Massachusetts Ave.  Next door (no. 663) is the ladies apparel establishment Kathryn’s Fashion Shoppe.  A Christmas advertising message was: “Your gift from Kathryn’s conveys good taste and careful selection with confidence and reliability”–studiously avoiding any notion of what we would call “fashion forward” nowadays.

belden-snow-sears-tibbett

The two-story building adjacent is actually the Associates Block extension, built about a half-dozen years after the main block, in 1907.  Here we see Belden & Snow (no. 665), “The Men’s and Young Men’s” clothing store (originally a branch of its successful Somerville shop).

The last business on this tour is Sears & Tibbetts Prescription Pharmacy (no. 669), owned then by Leonard Tibbetts, and proud to advertise a staff of “eight pharmacists to serve you.”  Discount chain pharmacies had for decades been making inroads into the domain of the independents.  Sears & Tibbetts had an extensive print advertising  theme that was quite serious in tone, and was geared towards a clientele seeking reassurances of safety and quality.  The neon signs above the door conveyed modernity in their era, and are remembered as literal bright spots of artistic nostalgia today.

Readers are invited to post their comments and memories.  Please note that the comments do not appear right away because they are batch-reviewed prior to release. 

In January a post in this blog will feature another detailed view of the “panorama,” also of the north side of Massachusetts Avenue in 1964, heading eastbound from Mystic Street to Medford Street.

60 years ago: “Stop & Shop” building opens

publix-grand-opening-jpg
The original 1956 exterior was little changed until 1995, when Stop & Shop substantially enlarged the building towards Massachusetts Avenue and gave it a red-brick facelift in the process.

In 1956, many housewives in Arlington were enjoying their first Thanksgiving shopping experience in the “ultra-modern” Publix supermarket that had opened to great fanfare just six months earlier at 905 Massachusetts Ave., home today to an expanded Stop & Shop store.

With “extra wide aisles, cheerful coloring, ample check-out stations [eight of them], and no-tip page service [groceries were carried to shoppers’ automobiles for free],” Publix was proud to have opened a building it termed “the last word in construction and facilities.”

Publix, which had no relationship to the supermarket chain by the same name based in Florida, was founded by Maurice Krasner in 1932 as a single storefront grocery in Malden.  In less than a decade, Krasner had created a self-service chain with additional locations in Somerville, Roslindale, and Waltham, grandly referred to as “the four great Publix markets.”  In a comparatively giant leap of expansion, Krasner opened two freestanding modern supermarkets within two months in 1956, on Lexington Street in Waltham, and at the present Stop & Shop site in Arlington.

Sixty years ago, Arlington’s population was approaching 48,000 (about 5,000 more than in 2016) and was steadily increasing in the midst of the post-World War II “baby boom.”  To suggest that the town was in need of a new supermarket such as Publix would be an understatement.  Joseph P. Greeley, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, cut the ribbon at the grand opening on May 23, 1956, accompanied by the town manager and other municipal officials.

In addition to new-store giveaways such as a “Jade-ite” batter bowl with a $5.00 purchase, there were weekly prize drawings for items as extravagant as a 21-inch color console television, a room air conditioner, and an “automatic” electric clothes dryer.

Look Skyward for Balloons Bearing Gifts!

Publix released hundreds of helium balloons, with the objective of delighting residents who could discover one landing in the yard, its string attached to a certificate good for a free canned ham or a pound of bacon.

The Publix Market in Arlington was a hit with shoppers, not least as evidenced by the fact that within months of opening, it expanded its hours to 9:00 p.m. from four to six days a week (supermarkets advertised “daily” but it was understood that this did not include Sundays).free-nylons

The success of Publix would soon be measured by its attractiveness for acquisition by a much larger Greater Boston rival, Stop & Shop.  Another local competitor, Star Market, had the same number of locations as Publix, but its owners, the Mugar family, envisioned a path of continued growth by building their own modern supermarkets.  Indeed, Star Market was planning to construct an Arlington store off Route 2, on land that has remained vacant through six decades of Mugar ownership, and which today is the object of a controversial housing development plan.

Thus, in 1958, the six Publix markets were purchased by Stop & Shop, nudging it closer to the opening of its 100th store by the following year.   An artifact of the brief, but colorful Publix supermarket era in Arlington could be found in the small designation “Publix Division” posted beneath the freestanding Stop & Shop sign, which was visible well into the 1990s.

publix-logoTo bring us back to the Thanksgiving of 1956, Publix pulled out the stops in both pricing and advertising:  “golden yellow” sweet potatoes for six cents a pound, McIntosh apples for 13 cents a pound, a bunch of Pascal celery for 23 cents, and turkeys “in the blossom of youth” for 45 cents a pound.  All that, and Prudential Blue Ribbon trading stamps, too!

 

 

 

 

 

Kimball Farmer House

The Kimball Farmer House is at the center of this 1919 image. The massive barn at left served his “Foot of the Rocks Farm.” It could be assumed that this photograph was intended as a sort of “beauty shot” of the Farmer property, but in fact it was part of a series of images taken at different angles in the aftermath of a trolley-car accident. Note a member of the public transit investigation team, standing at right. Click the photograph to enlarge its many details.
The Kimball Farmer House is at the center of this 1919 image. The massive barn at left served his “Foot of the Rocks Farm.” It could be assumed that this photograph was intended as a sort of “beauty shot” of the Farmer property, but in fact it was part of a series of images taken at different angles in the aftermath of a trolley-car accident. Note a member of the public transit investigation team, standing at right. Click the photograph to enlarge its many details.

This fall the Kimball Farmer House at 1173 Massachusetts Avenue, recently renovated to create three affordable-housing units by the Housing Corporation of Arlington, welcomed all of its tenants to their new homes. This event provides a welcome opportunity to broadly share the history of the house and the Farmer family, featuring photographs from the Society’s collection.

The Kimball Farmer House is one of Arlington’s most architecturally and historically significant properties and is listed both in the Massachusetts Historical Commission Inventory and the National Register of Historic Places. It is a rare survivor of early 19th-century Federal style architecture, and has exceptionally strong associations with multiple generations of persons prominent in the civic, charitable, commercial, religious and cultural history of Arlington (previously the town of West Cambridge).

The original owner of the house was Kimball Farmer (1790-1841), a native of Tewksbury who married Rhoda Cutter of West Cambridge. Their prominent home was built in 1826, located at the corner of what today is called Forest Street, which for the next 75 years would be the only road leading northwest to the section of Woburn that is now Winchester. Kimball Farmer purchased and ground grain at one of the Cutter family’s historic privileges on Mill Brook, which he then sold at the Boston market. In addition, he farmed 60 acres of crops adjacent to his homestead.

Kimball Farmer served as town assessor in West Cambridge (1832-1834), contributed generously to improving local firefighting services, and in 1840 he became one of the founding leaders and benefactors of the First Universalist Church.

Maria Cutter Farmer (1822-1891), only daughter of Kimball Farmer, lived in the home until her marriage in 1845 to Eli Robbins (1821-1883), who established the family’s large-scale poultry business in Brooklyn, New York.  Maria Farmer Robbins donated the funds to construct Robbins Library in memory of her late husband.

A circa 1853 daguerreotype image shows Maria Farmer, her husband Eli Robbins, and their two sons, both of whom died before reaching adulthood. Note the elaborate cushion of cut red velvet, intended to protect the glass-encased image.
A circa 1853 daguerreotype image shows Maria Farmer, her husband Eli Robbins, and their two sons, Warren (at left, 1846-1869) and Clinton (at right, 1848-1864).  Note the elaborate cushion of cut red velvet, intended to protect the glass-encased image.

Kimball Farmer’s eldest son, Elbridge Farmer (1819-1894), took over his father’s farm shortly after turning 22 years old, due to Kimball Farmer’s sudden death. Elbridge Farmer adopted the latest scientific methods of agriculture that contributed to Arlington’s fame as a center of market gardening for Boston, and this brought him great wealth, which he shared generously in his own endowment of Robbins Library, among other causes. In addition, he built “Idahurst,” in 1894, one of the most significant properties in Arlington, still standing at 53 Appleton Street.

A circa 1862 “carte de visite” format photograph of Edwin S. Farmer, the last of three generations in his family to reside at 1173 Massachusetts Avenue.
A circa 1862 “carte de visite” format photograph of Edwin S. Farmer, the last of three generations in his family to reside at 1173 Massachusetts Avenue.

The third and last generation of the Farmer family to live in the homestead was Elbridge’s son, Edwin Smith Farmer born in 1850. He married Abbie Francena Locke in 1875.  Edwin Farmer carried on the family’s successful market garden in partnership with Walter Peirce—their enterprise known as “Foot of the Rocks Farm”—until he retired from agriculture and leased the farmlands to be worked by other market gardeners.  He was twice elected selectman (1895 and 1904), during a particularly dynamic period in Arlington’s growth as a streetcar suburb. As he was preparing to exit agriculture, Edwin Farmer moved into the financial sphere starting in 1903, as a trustee of the Arlington Five Cents Savings Bank, and as a director of the First National Bank of Arlington.

Edwin S. Farmer in 1907
Edwin S. Farmer in 1907

Edwin S. Farmer was one of Arlington’s early automobile owners, and his 16-horsepower Knox “tonneau” model made 1173 Massachusetts Avenue an attraction in Arlington of the most modern nature. He was a renowned hunter, and undertook expeditions to the Arctic regions. He died unexpectedly in 1912 in the home where he was born.  The house passed out of the family after his widow died, their only son having predeceased them.  To the present day, the Edwin S. Farmer trusts he endowed as death bequests continue to provide financial relief to needy widows, indigent women, and married couples, through a private trust bearing his name, and through another that is administered by the Department of Human Services of the Town of Arlington.

The Kimball Farmer House, along with the adjacent Greek Revival home of Theodore Schwamb (today serving as law offices), are set amidst industrial and commercial development. This pair of historic structures stand as rare and fortunate survivors of the 1920s’ building boom that destroyed many 18th and early-19th century dwellings in Arlington.

The Housing Corporation of Arlington’s historic rehabilitation and re-use as affordable housing units corrected many of the unsympathetic changes to the Kimball Farmer House that occurred over the decades and restored its principal façade to historical accuracy. The high visibility of the Kimball Farmer House and its transformation have resulted in a “double win” for Arlington by providing both much-needed affordable housing and increased opportunities for highlighting the dwelling’s connection to important dimensions of Arlington’s history.