Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Everett Letters: September 23, 1851

Last week I posted the first in a long series of letters written by members of the Everett family.  See the first letter, written on August 19, 1851.

These letters were written between 1851 and 1859 and contain the correspondence between Otis and Elizabeth Blake Everett in Boston and their son Otis Blake Everett who was working in India.  Other family members also write occasionally.  In the 1850s Otis and Elizabeth Everett lived in a house in the South End near where the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Cathedral High School stand today.
A snapshot of a part of "Map of the City of Boston and immediate neighborhood," by Henry McIntyre, 1852.  From the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library:.  The image at left shows the area around Washington Street, Malden Street, and Waltham Street.  The image at right is a close up of the same map that shows Blake's Court off of Washington Street.  The Everetts lived in the house on the corner of Washington St. and Blake's Court.  If you look closely, you can see the house labeled as "O.H. Everett."  Other families who appear in later letters are also represented on this map, like the Weld family, whose house was located just to the west of Blake's Court.
This series of letters offers a rare glimpse in to the private life of a mid-nineteenth century South End family.  The founding Historical Society president, Richard Card, transcribed the letters and researched the Everett family.  He found the following:

"Otis Everett (father), born in 1803, was bookkeeper to William Amory at 65 State Street.  He was married to Elizabeth Lowell Blake (mother) and at this time [the time the letters were written] they were still living in what had been her father’s house, on the corner of Blake Court [about where Union Park Street and Washington Street. intersect, on the Cathedral side of the street], then numbered as 928 Washington Street.  They had three sons, of whom the eldest was Otis Blake Everett, born in 1829, who was employed by the merchant firm of Tuckerman & Co., in Calcutta.  The middle son was Thomas B. Everett, a clerk on India Wharf and later a partner with Frank Hodgkinson in a merchant firm.  In 1854 he married Sarah E. Greene (whose family lived at 77 Dover Street and whose brother George was in Calcutta) and they took a house in Roxbury.  The youngest son (born in 1833) was Percival L. Everett, who was employed at this time by Augustine Heard & Co, in Canton, China.  In later years he was president of the Third National Bank.

A wide array of uncles, aunts, cousins, neighbors, and dogs are mentioned in the letters, often by initials or nicknames.  Probably the various Darracott, Williams, and Curtis relatives spring from married sisters of one of the Everetts or Blakes.  JHE is Mr. Everett’s brother John H. Everett, while JHB is Mrs. Everett’s brother John H. Blake.  The Everett’s cook is Esther, with Catherine probably serving as maid.  And in India, Otis B. Everett is sharing a house with Goodwin Whitney and later also with his brother George Whitney..

One should keep in mind that mail steamers normally left only twice a month, and that Calcutta-Boston mail generally took close to two months in each direction.  In other words, it would take some four months to receive an answer to a question asked in any letter.  And England and France were at war with Russia in the Crimea, causing further disruptions."

With that, here is the second letter, dated September 23, 1851.  Bracketed sentences are comments of Richard Card's that he added during the transcription.

Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Letter: September 23, 1851
[From Otis' brother Thomas Everett.  The beginning of this letter from Thomas to Otis has been lost.]
 … Father and mother spent a fortnight at Manataug this summer, which they enjoyed extremely.  The company consisted of old Mr. Weld & Martha, Uncle John W’s family, Mrs. Green & Mary Darracott, Capt’n Faucon, Mary Blake & Charlie Parker.  During their absence Puss [brother Percy] & I kept old bachelors’ hall at home, except the Sundays they were there, which we passed with them.  They return’d looking brown as berries and perfectly delighted with their visit.  The ladies played all manner of jokes upon Capt’n F., and he in return did the same to them.  Mary Blake seemed to be almost crazy with delight.  She could hardly sleep at night, so much did she admire to look at the water, and be out breathing the invigorating atmosphere of that place.  Father was very lucky at fishing, and caught several very large tautog. … Altho’ I have many more things to say, want of time to relate them compels me to bring this to a close, and I therefore transfer the remainder of news to mother’s much more agreeable and ready pen to relate.
                                                            Remaining your affectionate brother,
                                                                                                Thomas B. Everett
September 23, 1851
Dear Otis,
I most gladly take up the pen where Thomas laid it down, for as I cannot talk to you, writing is next best.  We have not got accustomed to your absence yet, and after almost every interval of silence when we are all together comes the exclamation, “If only we could get a letter from Otis.”  But I hope we shall not have to wait much longer before we hear of your good health, safe arrival, and promising business prospects.  Thomas and Percy started yesterday for Brandon, and father and I are so lonely that we want you more than ever.

Aunt Catherine spent the Jubilee week with us and we had a grand time going about together.  [A railroad jubilee celebrating the linking of Boston railroad lines with Montreal culminated in a grand parade on Sept. 19, 1851, with a formal dinner on Boston Common attended by U.S. President Millard Fillmore.] We went to Mrs. Greene’s to see the great procession and Dover Street far outshone all other streets in its adornments, for no expense was spared, and the cheers of the passers-by were one continual “Hurra.”  In the evening we had Cheney’s open barouche and rode all over the city to see the illuminations and fireworks.  [John E. Cheney’s livery stable was on the corner of Washington and Dover Streets.  A barouche is a carriage with a driver’s seat in front, two double seats inside facing each other, and a folding top.]  We had some splendid ones on Blackstone Square, and altogether the week went off grandly to everyone’s satisfaction without accident or disgrace from any one.
Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Letter: September 23, 1851
Thomas has told you about our Marblehead excursion.  We enjoyed every moment of it and I never laughed so much in my life before, all put together.  And now let me think if Thomas has forgotten any thing in the news way that has lately happened.  O yes!  Flagg has sold out his store and bought out King’s line of omnibusses and moved to Roxbury.  Johnson, who kept near Northampton St. has taken Flagg’s house and store [across Washington Street from the Everett house], and it goes on the same as usual.  The Pierponts [William A. Pierpont & Co., brass founders at 407 Harrison Avenue, corner of Blake’s Court.] have failed but hope to be able to make arrangements to keep on their business.  Mr. Babbitt has bought a house in Roxbury and moved out there, and offers his old one for sale at 16 thousand dollars. …

We have had a terrible tornado in this vicinity, being most destructive in West Cambridge and Medford.  Many houses were entirely leveled and the largest trees twisted entirely up by the roots.  A heavily loaded baggage wagon was carried several feet.  Mr. Pierpont’s house [in Roxbury] was unroofed and the roof carried a great distance, and several persons were killed.  All around the outskirts of the tornado it was perfectly still.

Now for family folks!  All the wanderers have returned to their homes since cool weather commenced.  William Williams arrived a fortnight since in good health, notwithstanding his severe exposures.  He seems to have enjoyed his excursion and has gained a great deal of knowledge and experience.  He says he has frequently slept in the open air with no protection but a single blanket in the severest tropical rains, and in one place was so short of food that they cooked the monkeys, and that although they had an excellent cook yet it passed his skill to make them palatable, excepting in the form of soup, for either roasted or fried they were tougher than tough.

Carry Curtis is preparing for her wedding, which takes place the last of October.  She goes West with George to pass the winter.  I believe we wrote you that George purchased Fanny [a dog] to carry out West.  She arrived there safe and all were delighted with her, but to their great regret she has since been stolen.  Aunt Mary Curtis has been very sick , bleeding at the lungs, and we are still anxious for her lest she should have a return of the complaint, but she is now out of immediate danger and we hope will entirely recover.  Anna Adams has had a similar attack and for many days was given over by the physicians, but they now feel encouraged again, and if she does not go into a rapid consumption [an old name for tuberculosis] they think she may get well. … Snap and Nelly send their love to Gip [also a dog] and wish to know how he likes a sailor’s life.  They both enjoy good health and have lost none of the music of their voices when the boys go down the lane.

The South End Market progresses rapidly [The Williams Market, then being built on the corner of Washington and Dover Streets, had market stalls below and a meeting hall upstairs.  It was later the New Grand Theatre.]  The street has been paved from Dover to Brookline Streets, and Union Park (back of Mr. Clapp’s store) [Clapp’s was later Flagg’s] is having an iron fence erected round it, and preparations for a fountain, so we shall look in nice order when you return.  We have heard twice of the Equator’s being spoken, but got no letters, and we feared from your location at the time that you would make a long passage.  But, however, we hope to hear from you in the month of November, and I try to be as patient as possible.  Do write every opportunity, and write every little thing, if it be ever so trifling, that we should like to hear, for you were always the best news gatherer in the family, and pray keep up the accomplishment on paper.
                                                            With ever so much love from father and me,
                                                                                    Your affectionate Mother,

Dear Otis,
Your mother and Thomas having written you all the news. it only remains for me to say that I miss you very much and just now we are all alone, Thomas & Percy being on a journey.  Your mother goes to Dorchester this PM, so I shall dine all alone.  Do be particular & write us by every opportunity.  I have written you once to Bombay & once to Calcutta, which I hope you have rec’d.  Some of us may perhaps write again next month, which will be our last letter as after that a letter would not probably reach you.  I have not seen either Mr. Sharp or Bradlee since they stopped payment [in other words, their business failed]  I learn that Mr. Bradlee & Mr. Hale pay all their debts.  You know that I have always said that young people living so fast would sooner or later come to the end of their purse.  Mr. Jonah B. felt rather cross about it.  I have no more news & so can only wish you a pleasant voyage home.
                                                                                    Your aff. father,
                                                                                                Otis Everett

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Everett Letters: August 19, 1851

Years ago, Richard Card, the founding SEHS president, was told of the existence of a bunch of old letters stored in a shoebox in an attic of a South End house that was being renovated.  He purchased the letters, which he transcribed.  Richard found that the letters were written between 1851 and 1859 and contain the correspondence between Otis and Elizabeth Blake Everett in Boston and their son Otis Blake Everett who was working in India.  Otis and Elizabeth Everett lived in a house near where the Cathedral of the Holy Cross stands today.   

Last week, Richard released the letters from his private collection and officially donated them to the Historical Society. After one hundred and fifty plus years they are in remarkably good condition. They contain an immense amount of detail about family connections, weather events, weddings, births, deaths, recreational activities, business concerns, trade items, and so much more.

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting images of the letters and the accompanying transcriptions.  Bracketed items are Richard's notes where he felt additional information might be helpful.  I hope you enjoy the story of the Everetts and this rare glimpse into the personal lives of a nineteenth century family. 

Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Letter: August 19, 1851.
Boston, Aug.19, 1851

My dear Son,
I wrote you in June last, calculating for the overland mail from London on 6th July so as to meet you on arrival at Bombay with letters.  Thomas & Percy [Otis’s two younger brothers] wrote afterwards.  On the 19 July [the] Brig Ohio arrived at Salem & reported having spoken the Equator [the ship on which Otis had sailed] on 18 June Lat. 2 N., so you had made rather a long passage thus far.  We were somewhat disappointed at not having a letter, but presume you did not board the Ohio.  This letter I intend to send to meet the English mail of 6th September.  I hope it will meet you immediately on your arrival at Calcutta.  Something over 100 days have passed away since you sailed.  We feel quite impatient to hear from you, but suppose [we] must wait patiently some sixty days or more. 

The summer is now nearly ended, but has been quite a pleasant one, tho’ not much warm weather.  For the last three weeks it has been very dry & dusty.  The street in front of our house [Washington Street] has been obstructed nearly three months.  They have just finished laying a large drain thro’ the street & most of the owners of estates have been cutting into it.  Have now a capital drain to the cellar, so that if we have another high tide it may run off sooner than before (the water I mean).  They have now commenced paving commencing at Dover [now East Berkeley] St. & going to Malden St., and we have had dust enough.  Ramsey, the successor to John Rider comes every morning to water the street. [Water wagons then were used to wet down gravel streets to alleviate dust].

Your mother & myself propose going to Manataug [a summer resort] on Thursday to pass some 10 days or so.  The Smiths have come up & we are to have their rooms.  Your uncle JDW & his family, OCE & his, Mr. Weld [Daniel Weld, a wealthy elderly merchant, who lived with his daughter next door to the Everetts] & Martha are now there.  They have passed the summer there & had some splendid fishing.  Tautog [an edible fish, also called blackfish] have been quite plenty.  This afternoon we are going to Newton to ask Mary Clapp to go with us.  She has never been at the sea coast.

The dogs are quite lively (Snap & Nelly).  I sold Fanny to Geo. Fisher to take to the West for $15.  Nelly has grown quite handsome & is a little beauty.  Snap is as wide awake as ever, tho’ for several days after you went away he was quite dull.  He seems to like to have me talk to him about you and it really seems as if he understood what I say.

Business is dull.  The factories are making up with heavy losses.  Money is tremendous tight.  Calcutta goods have advanced in price.  I hope that you will make a good voyage.  I intend to send this by Europe on Wednesday 20 inst. so as to be in season.  Tho’ if you have a long passage round from Bombay it will be rather old news, but the boys will write later.  I must leave room for your mother.
                                                                                    Your aff. father,
                                                                                                Otis Everett

Everett Letters, Richard O. Card Collection,
courtesy of the South End Historical Society,
Exterior of letter: August 19, 1851.
Dear Otis,
It seems so pleasant to be once more addressing you; I only wish I could do it by voice.  We have not yet become accustomed to your absence and something occurs every hour to recall you to memory, but we have not wanted for visitors this summer, although all the relatives and relations are out of town.  There have been two deaths in Mr. Brigham’s house since his family went to Grafton. [William Brigham was the Everetts’ next door neighbor on the north side.]  They were a man and his child belonging to the family Mr. B. took there to look after the house in their absence; probably they have lived upon the green fruit in the yard.  Flagg [Jacob B. Flagg was a grocer who lived and worked directly across Washington Street from the Everetts] has moved to Roxbury and sold out his stock in the store to Mr. Johnson, who formerly kept with Mr. Clapp.  Mr. Savage’s family have moved to Jamaica Plain.  Father and I called to see them a few days since.  They seem quite contented with their country home.  Not many other changes have occurred in the neighborhood … All Aunt Rebecca’s family are in the country now excepting Uncle Henry.  He was robbed a few nights ago by some one who entered the house whilst he was asleep and took his watch from over his bed and his wallet from his pants, which laid in a chair close by.  He has not yet heard anything from them, and probably never will.  The wallet contained 80 dollars.  They entered by removing a square of glass in the kitchen.

 … Frank Darracott has bought a house in Ashburton Place, for which he gave 22,000 dollars, and James D. has gone into partnership with his father and moved to Woburn.  The Fenno’s have all had the varioloid [a mild form of smallpox], but I must stop, for I keep thinking of so many things to write that such a medley will I fear confuse you, and not aid you at all in getting your thoughts into proper trim for business. … I am counting the days and hours for a letter from you, and be sure you write minutely and by every opportunity, then you shall have the like done for you when your oldest son goes away from you.
                                                                        Your ever affectionate mother,

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Boston Jazz History

Last weekend I went to the book launch of The Boston Jazz Chronicles by Richard Vacca.  The launch was held in the most appropriate place possible:   Wally's Cafe is the last remaining South End jazz club from the mid-twentieth century and Mr. Vacca discusses some of its history in his book.

I went to the launch for a few reasons.  I like Wally's, I like Mr. Vacca and , and I like most things related to Boston history.  But the biggest reason was because the book discusses a lot of jazz clubs that were located in the South End.  We've been working on a Walking Tour of South End nightlife for some time now and this book has proved to be an invaluable source of information.  Mr. Vacca was kind enough to walk around with us and discuss some of the sites that we talk about in our walk.

Richard Vacca speaking to a packed house at Wally's Cafe.
So if you have an interest in jazz or in Boston or South End history, I encourage you to look at this book.  You can purchase it on or go check it out from the BPL main branch or South End Branch library.  I know the South End Branch ordered a copy so it should be there now or very soon. 

Mr. Vacca will also be speaking about his book on May 24th, a Thursday night, at 6:30pm at the Historical Society.  He will be bringing copies of his book.  If you'd like to attend, send an email to or call 617-536-4445 to sign up. 

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Story Behind 512-518 Tremont Street

You might have heard that the little one-story building at the corner of Tremont and Dwight Streets, seen at left, is slated for demolition.  A new building with condos upstairs and commercial space on the ground floor will take its place.  Demolition in historic districts is relatively rare.  When it does occur it's usually because the building in question is beyond repair and is a danger to the public (as in the case of the early last year) or because the building is not historically and/or architecturally significant and a developer wants to tear it down and build something new (like the and ).

Here are the bits and pieces of history that I could find about the lot at 512-518 Tremont Street, the building that stands there now, and the building that stood there before.

When I first heard about the proposal to tear down the current building, I wanted to find out when it was built.  I suspected that it was probably built in the early twentieth century but, given the history of the development of the South End, I thought that perhaps a nineteenth century building stood there before the current building.

According to the deeds for the property, a housewright purchased this lot from the City of Boston in 1842.  The first mortgage on the property appeared in 1847, indicating that a structure was probably built there at that time.  By 1857, Joseph Carew, sculptor, is listed as the owner.

The 1872 and 1875 Boston city directories indicate that Joseph and Henry Carew, brothers, operated a "statuary and monumental works" here.  In 1892, Joseph Carew is listed in the directory as working on Gerard Street but the building on the corner of Dwight and Tremont is still listed as a monument works.

Newspapers indicate that in the early twentieth century the space housed a series of restaurants and cafes and had residences above.

Then I stumbled on what I was looking for: permits reveal that in 1924, the owner of the property was "City Building Wrecking Co."  They applied for permission to demolish a three-story brick building occupied by stores.  This must have been what stood there before the one-story structure, although I can't find any pictures of the first three-story structure.  Around the same time as the demolition of the three-story building, an application for a permit to build was filed by new owner Samuel Gold.  He proposed a one story building to be used for commercial use only.  It stated a desire to "use existing foundations" in the construction of the structure.  This is the building that stands there now.

512-518 Tremont St. 1972, South End Historical Society.
Since 1924, the one story building has housed a First National Store, cafes, a White Castle Restaurant, the Gypsy Reading Room, living quarters (possibly illegally), Paul's Export Co., the Old Dover Tavern, the All-American Tailoring Co., and the G and N Restaurant, among many other things.  Most recently the Old Dutch Cottage Candy store has called that building home.