by Nancy Bertrand
Welcome to our Historic Lakeside Walking Tour. It occurred to us that so many people drive, walk, run, skate and bicycle around Lake Quannapowitt that they might like to experience the historic sites that they pass by.
The land on the shores of Lake Quannapowitt (or, as it was originally called the “Reading Pond” or “Great Pond”) has been of paramount importance to local inhabitants for thousands of years. The earliest European settlers to the Wakefield area arrived in 1638 and found a fertile landscape that had been cleared by Native Americans. Throughout the 377 years of European settlement, the lakeside area has been the center of population, commerce and even industrial use, but the lake itself has remained the jewel of our town, as exhibited in the illustration above, “On Pond Lane” by artist Henry Cheever Pratt (1803-1880). The undated painting shows the area between 1860 and 1880.
We will begin our historic walk on the Upper Common.
The Upper Common. This triangular stretch of land is the remains of the original town common, first mentioned in town records in 1653. For over half of the town’s history, the common was a broad expanse stretching all the way to Water Street.
The Upper Common has now been designated the “Veterans Memorial Common.” It is the home of a number of veterans’ memorials, including the newly redesigned World War II Monument, along with monuments to World War I, Korean War and Vietnam Veterans and the “Linn Village Monument,” memorializing the town’s first settlement.
One of the town’s most prominent war memorials is the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial, erected in honor of Civil War veterans. Impetus for the project was an 1896 bequest by local philanthropist Harriet Flint. On March 22, 1901, the town commissioned the Van Amringe Granite Company of Boston to construct the Monument.
The statue is generally attributed to sculptor Melzar Hunt Mossman (1846-1926) of Chicopee, MA. Mosman, a veteran of the Civil War himself, was a well-known sculptor of public art; his best-known works are the bronze doors of the US Capitol Building and Soldier’s Monuments in Boston, Springfield and Middletown, Connecticut. The Van Amringe Granite Company was responsible for many prominent Civil War Monuments, among them 87 monuments at the Gettysburg battlefield alone. Wakefield’s monument was dedicated in gala public ceremonies in 1902.
The Lower Common, near the lake, was not originally a part of the town’s Common, but it was actively used by the earliest residents. In fact, the earliest cemetery in the town was actually encompassed by what we now know as the Lower Common. It was the only burying ground serving the population from 1639 until the establishment of the “Old Burying Ground” in 1689.
In 1834, the community’s first designated municipal building, the Town House, was built on this land — actually on cemetery land. Later, the Yale Engine House, a fire station house, stood on this land, as shown in the photograph below.
The Yale Engine House, built in 1859.
The land encompassing the Lower Common was added as parkland in 1885. Cornelius Sweetser, a native son of South Reading (now Wakefield) who had made his fortune in Saco, Maine, bequeathed funds to be used for public park lands. The bequest came soon after Wakefield accepted an 1882 act of the legislature to allow cities and towns to lay out public parks within their limits, a reaction to the increasingly disorderly growth caused by industrialization.
The Bandstand (originally called “The Pagoda”) was constructed in 1885 as part of the expansion of the town common. Its distinctive Queen Anne form and prominent lakeside location have made it a symbol of the Town of Wakefield.
In the 1840s, the town of South Reading renamed its two lakes. Smith’s Pond (now “Crystal Lake”) was renamed Wahpatuck. The Great Pond was renamed Lake Quannapowitt. The name referenced the Native American James Quonopohit,whose name appeared on the Indian deed of 1686. Quonopohit was a nephew of Wenepoykin, the last sachem of the Nipmuck or Pawtucket tribe that owned this land. A Natick or ‘praying Indian,’ Quonopohit was also called James Rumney Marsh because of his association with Chelsea. (There is actually no record of his having any settlement in the Wakefield area.) The choice of Native American names for these lakes was probably influenced by the American Romantic Movement in literature and art, and inspired by James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 incredibly popular novel The Last of the Mohicans. (This same movement would influence poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and inspire The Song of Hiawatha and other works.)
Walk toward Main Street, stopping to compare today’s view with the photograph below, taken on the 4th of July in 1877.
Beyond the beach in this photograph, you’ll see the steeple of the Congregational Church, the third Meetinghouse building to serve the congregation, predating the imposing stone church that is there today. Off to the right are the industrial ice houses. More about them later…. For now, walk on toward Main Street.
252 Main Street is a brick Federal house, constructed about 1818 for a member of the locally prominent Eaton Family. It is notable for its Rufus Porter murals on the dining room walls. Rufus Porter, an itinerant painter, decorated the interior of many of the homes in Wakefield.
In the nineteenth century, lakeside land was the site of the homes of many shoe manufacturers, as was 220 Main Street, on the corner of White and Main streets, seen above. In 1845, John Aborn married the daughter of prominent shoe manufacturer John White (with specialities of ladies’, misses’ and children’s shoes), and was made a partner in his father-in-law’s firm. John White’s shoe factory was behind this house.
As the town expanded its park lands, portions of the lakeside were cleared. Wright’s Boathouse, built around 1886 by A. J. Wright, was moved around 1893 to the back of his residence at 202 Main Street.
Albert Judd Wright’s residence, built in the Queen Anne Style around 1888, stands at 202 Main Street. For many years it was a nursing home. Wright, a Civil War veteran and avid yachtsman, was a printer with business in Boston. His ownership of this house exemplifies the changing nature of the population of Wakefield in the late 19th century. The railroad line made it possible for commuters with business in Boston to build grand homes in Wakefield.
196 Main Street is a Greek Revival style home with hand-carved fluted columns built around 1848 for Hiram Eaton, a shoe cutter, and a member of the locally important Eaton family. Eaton, who was probably employed by one of the town’s many large shoe manufactories, was on the board of the Lakeside Cemetery.
194 Main Street is a Greek Revival home built circa 1850, was the home of William White, a farmer, who made shoes on the premises. His family would become prominent in the town’s shoe industry.
190 Main Street is a robust example of Italianate architecture, built circa 1840-1856 by a member of the Eaton family, lavishly remodeled in the 1870’s and 1880s by William F. Young, an executive in a Boston grocery firm.
142 Main Street, constructed between 1798- 1810, replaced the home of General Benjamin Brown, who had served in the Revolutionary War. Modeled on mansion houses in Salem, and constructed for Thomas Clement, a retired naval officer, an early tenant was Thomas Haley Forrester, the cousin of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Forrester, a Salem native, was described as an intelligent, well-educated, rich, but most dissipated man (a bachelor),” He died in 1840 “as the fool dieth.” The painting, from the collection of the Wakefield Historical Society, shows Forrester in his youth.
142 Main Street is most closely associated with Lucius Beebe (below), who lived here from 1852-1884.
Beebe, a cotton & leather broker, was prominent in town affairs. After his initial donation of $500 toward a town library, housed in the Town Hall building that had been donated by Cyrus Wakefield, Beebe’s family would make a donation totalling $200,000 toward the construction of the current town library on Main Street, opened in 1923. Lucius Beebe and his wife Sylenda had 12 children; the house at 142 Main Street was referred to as the “Beebe Farm,” with farmlands extending behind the home. A “whimsy” or summerhouse, originally on the grounds of this house, is currently on exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.
Fishing Weirs. Beebe’s cove, across from 142 Main Street, is the home of some of the remaining visible fishing weirs thought to have originally been constructed by Native Americans in this area. (A fishing weir is a wooden and stone obstruction used to catch fish.)
114 Main Street was the home of Dr. Thomas Stimpson, built before 1750 in the Georgian/Federal style. Native Americans are believed to have camped on the shore of the lake, near this house. The house was the homestead of a substantial farm, which stretched to the east away from the lake.
The 264 acre Lake Quannapowitt has a history of recreational use, from swimming to skating to boating to windsurfing.
The steamboat Minni Mariah (seen below) traversed the lake in the 1870s; boathouses rented canoes and rowboats through much of the twentieth century.
Through the years of the town’s history, the shores of the Lake have housed a variety of recreational, as well as commercial activities. Howard Johnson restaurant and ice cream stand (below) opened for business in June, 1936 and operated until October 1954. The site was later occupied by the Lakeside and Lanai Island.
The town subsequently purchased the land and created the Gertrude Spaulding memorial passive park.
The Gertrude Spaulding Park is a passive park recently established by the town. Gertrude and Bill Spaulding were civic leaders and public benefactors. Bill Spaulding was instrumental in the establishment of the town’s Citizen’s Scholarship Foundation. Gertrude Spaulding, a long-time school committee member, was the founder of the Friends of Lake Quannapowitt.
A public playground nearby is the Colonel Connelly Playground.
Col. Connelly, who served in the Army in the Spanish American War and World War I, was a highly decorated veteran, having received the Croix de Guerre and many other honors during World War I. Connelly was the first commander of the town’s American Legion Post.
Recreational swimming was popular throughout most of the lake’s history, as shown in the ca. 1947 photograph above.
Rentals of boats took place on both sides of the lake. On the east side, a popular location was Rosson’s Quannapowitt Picnic Grove and Boat Livery, sited along the Wakefield & Stoneham Street Railway’s Lakeside Route on the north side of Lake Quannapowitt in the early part of the 20th century.
The Wakefield-Reading Fairgrounds lay not far from the lake’s north side. In the photo below, you can see the Quannapowitt Agricultural Association set up at the Fairgrounds.
In the present day, the west side of the lake houses the Quannapowitt Yacht Club, sited on Linda Road. The QYC, established in 1884, claims to be the oldest inland yacht club in the nation.
Walk lakeside through the Comverse Network Systems property until you reach North Avenue, turning left on that street.
North Avenue was first known as Grove Street for the “pleasure groves” along the lake, until it became known as “Railroad Avenue” around 1874, becoming “North Avenue” in 1903.
After the coming of the railroad in the 1840s, Lake Quannapowitt became a center of commercial activity as companies formed to begin the harvest of ice, which was stored icehouses that ringed the lake. Two buildings on North Avenue are believed to have been ice company buildings moved from their original locations: #610 (circa 1850) and #509 (circa 1848).
The small house at 509 North Avenue, above, reflects the nature of the houses being built in the 1840s. On both sides of the street, residents were mainly Irish coming to Wakefield from the 1850s to work in the rattan and shoe factories. Dennis O’Connell who lived in this house was born in Ireland and is listed as a shoemaker in the 1869 Directory. Note: 509 North Avenue has been demolished.
Lakeside Cemetery. Established in 1846 as the town’s second cemetery, Lakeside is the resting place of many of the town’s notable nineteenth century residents, including Cyrus Wakefield. The cemetery features many impressive marble and granite monuments. Lakeside Cemetery also houses the graves of most of the town’s Civil War veterans.
The Lakeside Cemetery Chapel is an interesting structure, built in 1932 in the Neo-Gothic style in granite and limestone.
Temple Israel Cemetery was established about 1860 by Boston’s Temple Israel, the first synagogue established in Boston.
The Hall Park and Veteran’s Field are the site of the Morrill Atwood Ice Company, one of the largest of the ice companies, succeeded on this site by the Porter Milton ice company. The photograph below shows the span of these structures, as you turn the corner onto Church Street.
From its beginnings with the formation of the Quannapowitt Railway Company for the transportation of ice in 1849, the harvest of ice from both Quannapowitt and Crystal Lake was an important economic industry, which would begin to wane with the coming of refrigeration in the 20th century. The icehouses in “Hartshorne Meadow” would be all but demolished in a conflagration in 1929. The Town acquired the land, which included the Hartshorne House, at that time.
41 Church Street, the Colonel James Hartshorne House. The earliest part of this house was built circa 1681 by Thomas and Mary Hodgman. A subsequent owner, Jonathan Cowdrey, was a clock and buckle maker who enlarged the house to two bays. Years later the house was owned by Dr. John Hart, a Revolutionary War surgeon and patriot, who used the house as income property. He enlarged the house to its present size and used it as an inn; the second floor was used by the Mount Moriah Lodge of Masons.
The house was already very old when James Hartshorne, a cordwainer or shoemaker, bought the house in 1804. His family continued to own the house until 1890, when it was sold, along with the lakeside land adjoining it, to the Morrill-Atwood Ice House. The house was used intermittently as a tenement for icehouse workers until a devastating fire demolished the icehouses in 1929. At that time the house was purchased by the Town of Wakefield. It is administered and maintained by the Colonel James Hartshorne House Association.
Church Street homes. Church Street contains a cluster of some of Wakefield’s oldest surviving homes, including #46 (1814), #44 (1790), #42 (1800), #40 (1804), #38 (1803) and #34 (1812). Church Street was originally called “Leather Street” because of the number of shoemakers that lived on it.
With the commercial and government center of the town located around the Common in the nineteenth century, Church Street thrived until the business center of town shifted toward the south in 1850. Many houses were built in the early nineteenth century, like 46 Church Street, above. Built in the Federal Style, it was the home of William Emerson, but was owned by the Winship family for many years.
44 Church Street, called the Nathaniel Cowdrey houses, was built in 1790. It is one of a row of early Federal houses on Church Street which share a number of construction features. It is a ¾ house, like the much later house at 61 Prospect street.
Historically, this house has been linked with its neighbor at #42. Both were built c. 1790-1800 on Church Street. By the 1850s each was owned by a Winship, Joel at this house and Samuel at #42. The tax polls of 1860 indicate that Joel and Samuel owned a carriage painting shop on the property of this house. By the 1880s, both houses were owned by George A. Seaver, superintendent of the Lakeside cemetery and Civil War veteran.
42 Church Street was built ca. 1800 in the Federal style by Samuel Stacy who came from Townsend, Mass. Prior to 1812, it was purchased by Joseph Atwell, a prominent citizen who served the town as Selectman and Town Collector.
He sold the house to Doss Freeman, a former slave who, with his brothers Sharper and Peter, had served in the Revolutionary War. (Two other African Americans from the town served in the Revolutionary War: Sampson and Primus Blackman.)
Later owners of the property were Captain William Emerson and Samuel Winship.
40 Church Street was built around 1804 for Ebenezer Wiley from a tin shop which was moved to this site from the spot where it originally stood on the Common. Wiley, a successful shoe manufacturer, was from a locally prominent family. His brother, Benjamin Brown Wiley, built 306 and 318 Main Street, near the Rockery. Ebenezer Wiley died in 1817 at the age of 36. The property was acquired by Benjamin H. Eaton. Eaton was active in the First Parish Church and in 1841 was elected a deacon.
38 Church Street was built in 1803 by Francis Hay, a cabinet-maker and the son of Dr. John Hay, who lived in the vicinity of today’s North Avenue.
After living there for a time, Hay sold one-half of the house and land to his widowed sister, Elizabeth Hay Nichols, and the other half to Ebenezer Hartshorn, a brother of Col. James Hartshorn, who owned the house across the street. Ebenezer Hartshorn later acquired title to all the property at 38 Church Street and lived there for half a century.
34 Church Street, a Greek Revival structure, was built by William Deadman, Senior, c. 1800 on the site of a small house in which he first had half interest and then bought completely. After he died, his wife and son William Dexter Deadman continued to live in the house. His son was the first Captain of the Washington Rifles from South Reading and was a partner in Deadman and Perkins, provisions merchants in town. W.D.Deadman was also the founder of the Golden Rule Lodge of Masons.
Deadman Sr. was one of the town’s first flagmen for the railroad which came through in 1845 and the junction of Church Street and North Avenue where the railroad crosses was known in the nineteenth century as “Deadman’s Crossing.”
Continue walking down Church Street. Note its previous appearance, in this ca. 1907 postcard.
As you approach the large stone church, on your left, you’ll see the Old Burying Ground.
The Old Burying Ground, established in 1689, is the home of some of the area’s oldest and most significant examples of Puritan gravestone art. Historical markers within the Burying Ground lead the visitor on a mini-tour within the facility.
One of the oldest gravestones can be seen above, is the gravestone of John Person, ca. 1687.
To learn more about the effort presently underway to preserve the gravestones, click here.
The path running along the edge of the Old Burying Ground is the Floral Way, a living tribute to the town’s servicemen and women, first planted in 1947. Click here for more information about the Floral Way.
To your left, as you approach the Common, is the First Parish Congregational Church.
The First Parish Congregational Church is the home of the linear descendant of the town’s first established religion. The striking Richardsonian Romanesque stone church is the fifth meetinghouse of the congregation, and was built in 1912.
As you look down the street that separates the First Parish Church and the Lower Common, compare the scene to the turn of the century scene below, showing Cartland’s Ice Houses.
For many years, the boathouses at the south end of Lake Quannapowitt were renowned throughout the area. The first Wiley’s Boathouse was built at the end of Spaulding Street in 1872. In 1887, a second Wiley’s Boathouse was built on the lakeshore. (Below, a photograph of the boathouse in around 1907. Notice the icehouses to the rear of the boathouse.)
A second floor dancehall was added in 1912 and soon became one of the most popular local dance halls.
In 1923, it became Hill’s Boathouse when it was purchased by Howard and Gertrude Hill. The Boathouse remained on the lake shore until 1964, when it was demolished by the Town of Wakefield.
This concludes our Lakeside Tour … please note that it is a work in progress, and will be revised and refined, will receive additions and new information with time. Be sure to revisit the site!
If you enjoyed this tour, take our Prospect Street/Church Street tour.
Coming soon: a tour of downtown.
If you have enjoyed the tour and would like to support the work of the Wakefield Historical Society, visit our website. Join us!
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