Hidden artifacts found

January 19, 2007
By

LOU MANCINELLI


Photo by Ed Stanley
These artifacts were found during ceiling repair at Jamaica Plain’s only pre-Revolutionary building, the Loring-Greenough House, this past summer.

JP CENTER—Last summer, beads, keys, jewelry, postcards and other artifacts dating back to the middle of the 1910s were found on the top floor of the Loring-Greenough House in Monument Square, during repair of the ceiling. The room now serves as the residence for the caretaker at JP’s only remaining building from the colonial era.

The house’s last caretaker realized weaknesses in the ceiling and reported them. A preservationist carpenter who was hired by the Tuesday Club, the house’s owner, found the artifacts during renovation.

Postcards, some jewelry and other documents belonged to one of the room’s former tenants, domestic servant Mary Meaney, according to Katharine Cipolla, Elizabeth Wylie and Ed Stanley, members of the Tuesday Club.

The sides of the old documents look like they have been nibbled by mice. A bark-colored stain blots the outer edges of the paper and fades to an archaic beige color in the middle. They are the size of a business card and are brittle paper that could crumple in your hands, even if you are careful.


One announces the “Twelfth Annual Ball of the Claremen’s Benevelont Association, November 17, 1915 [at] Hiberian Hall [on] 184 Dudley Street.”

On the back of a postcard sent from Portland, Maine, there is a painting of the upper torso of a woman with pale skin and pink round cheeks, wearing a white dress with a red tie wrapped around the waist, and a red strap over one shoulder. Her picture is outlined by a green heart, and from the center out, like a ripple, the color of the paper darkens and blots to brown and green.

Another postcard is addressed to Mary from the Portland Manual Training School in Cumberland, and is signed, “lovingly, John.”

He started writing from right to left on the postcard like any standard letter, but ended up scribbling up along the right and left side to the edge of the card as well.

Not much more about Mary Meaney is known by members of the Tuesday Club.

“We didn’t know she existed until we found these things,” said Cipolla.

Cipolla said she thinks Meaney might have hidden the cards and other items because she was a servant and may not have had much personal space. “Her master could come in on her at any time. She didn’t own this space,” said Cipolla. “But we’re not sure.”

She said Ruth-Ann Harris, adjunct professor of history at Boston College, who specializes in early 20th century history, is going to conduct more research about the objects found and Mary Meaney the woman.

“Whenever we find something, we’ve gone out of our way to find about it,” said Cipolla, who has been chair of the board of managers for the Tuesday Club for 15 years.

The artifacts and the Loring-Greenough House are pieces of American and Jamaica Plain history that can be touched with bare hands.

“This is not just a pretty building in the center of town—there are a lot of pretty points,” she said. “Here you can touch 200-year-old wood.”

History
Almost 250 years ago, a Lieutenant in the British Royal Navy bought 60 acres of land called Polley Farm in the center of Jamaica Plain for 693 pounds, 6 shillings, and 8 pence “lawful money.”

In 1760, the land’s owner, Commodore Joshua Loring, built a Georgian Mansion on the property to suit his growing family and position in the community.

Today, the old mansion at 12 South St. is known as the Loring-Greenough House.

Loring was born in 1716 to the parents of Massachusetts pioneers. His father’s family had been in the colonies since 1634. In 1740, Loring married 20-year-old Mary Curtis, whose father owned a 31-acre farm on the northeastern side of Jamaica Pond.

Loring was once a brigantine captain known as “Commodore of the Lakes of North America.” He and his crew worked in 40-foot waters to raise vessels that had been deliberately sunk for winter storage, like the 100-ton sloop Earl of Halifax. His commission from this effort, as well as a loan from a friend, provided him the money to build the mansion. The mansion was surrounded by gardens, orchards and choice livestock.

Historical records show Loring’s mansion was an esteemed property on the JP landscape. Several other wealthy British loyalists lived in the area as well, such as Royal Gov. Sir Francis Bernard. His estate was on the southwest end of Jamaica Pond.

But in 1774, Loring’s appointment by British General Thomas Gage to the governor’s council by writ of mandamus enraged locals. A writ of mandamus is a command from a superior court to an inferior court. In the past, the people had elected council members.

Loring, a Tory loyalist, was threatened by mobs that opposed the king’s rule in the colonies. Before the revolution began, Loring fled his mansion for the protection of the king’s troops.

His property was seized by colonists. During the Revolutionary War, one side of the mansion served as quarters for a Commissary. The other side served as a place to feed troops and as a hospital in 1775 during the Battle of Bunker Hill, a colonial loss.

The hospital, known as “Ward Hospital,” was named after American General Artemis Ward, who was killed during the Battle of Bunker Hill, considered by some to be the bloodiest battle of the revolution. Over 1,000 British and 450 colonial soldiers were killed.

After the war, the military abandoned the property. In 1780, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts declared Loring’s former property vacant, and it was sold to a developer. The developer sold the property to widow Anne Doane in 1784.

Not long after, Doane married lawyer David Stoddard Greenough. The Greenough descendants lived at the house for five generations until 1924 when the house was sold for development. Through those years the Greenoughs had slaves, then servants.

The Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club, which started as a women’s club, but in 1993 converted to a community organization, saved the building from development.

Initially, Greenough sold the property to a developer with the last name of Ward. The developer constructed one-story retail buildings across the street from the house, now occupied by Tedeschi’s and JP House of Pizza. Plans were set for the demolition of the house to make room for a brick apartment building. Ward also planned to develop one-story retail on South Street and three-story buildings on Greenough Avenue and the current Curtis Hall lot.

But the ladies in the Tuesday Club thought JP’s only pre-Revolutionary house ought be saved. According to Cippolla, the women sought the aid of every major preservation group available at the time, including what is known today as Historic New England and the National Trust.

“They just didn’t want it,” said Cippolla. “The ladies were told if the house was in downtown Boston they would take it.”

Ward eventually agreed to sell the building to the Tuesday Club for a profit, but not as much profit as he would have made developing the property.

Marguerite Souther, owner of a local dance club and Tuesday Club member, contributed the money to guarantee the mortgage of the house, because Tuesday Club members could not produce the funds on their own. The Tuesday Club held bridge parties, sold antiques and served tea to raise money to pay back Souther.

Over the years, the Tuesday Club has done significant work to the building. A grant in 1999-2000 for $350,000 funded painting and other exterior repairs.

The house is registered on the national and state registers of historic places, and has been awarded landmark status.

The entire original woodwork of the house and architectural structure remains as it was over 200 years ago. Mantle work about 4 feet high around the fireplace on the first-floor living room on the left side of the house is the only change.

The house’s frame was constructed of boards of horizontal timber close to 18 inches long and four inches thick. Those boards can be seen in the closets and certain walkways through the house. The house is lined with hardwood floors.

During a Gazette walk through the house, Cipolla said it is important to maintain the house for educational and cultural purposes.

“If you’re going to talk about cultural history, then you have to have a place like this to talk about it,” she said.

She also talked about the educational mission of the Tuesday Club. “One of the things this place can be is a backdrop to talk about history,” she said. “It also serves the community as a place to have smaller meetings and smaller art venues.”

The Loring-Greenough House is open for tours every Tuesday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon, and at other times by appointment. There is a suggested donation of $5.

The Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club also hosts several special events during the year such as dinners and concerts.

Chapter and Verse, a local literary reading series, is held at the house. JP Unplugged, a new acoustic concert series, will begin holding monthly concerts at the house in February.

Cipolla was nominated to be director of the board of manager’s for the Tuesday Club because her father was a contractor, and they thought she could handle the job, she said. She has also worked as a librarian for Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

For more information about the Loring-Greenough House visit www.lghouse.org or call 524-3158.

Editors note: A significant amount of information for this article was researched via the Jamaica Plain Historical Society web site (www.jphs.org).