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Historic churches and homes of Cambridge.

Constance Grosvenor Alexander.
In a sketch necessarily so brief as this must be, much can be merely touched on, much must be omitted that would be of interest to all who visit our beautiful, historic town. All that the writer can hope to do is to make these brief comments of sufficient interest to serve as guides to the tourist, or as finger-posts to storehouses of knowledge from which the curious may extract the hoards to be had there for the asking.

Cambridge has been called the “first capital of our infant republic, the cradle of our nascent liberties, the hearth of our kindling patriotism.” Intimately associated as indeed it is with the stirring times of the Revolution, its two oldest churches, Christ Church, Episcopal, and Shepard Congregational, have their history most intimately woven with that of the patriots. First let us take Shepard Church the first church in Cambridge, because it is the oldest society, though its present building is comparatively modern.

When Cambridge was established and called Newtowne, it was designed to be the metropolis, but later this plan was given up in favor of Boston. Still, many people stayed here, reinforced in 1632 by the Braintree Company under Mr. Hooker. The latter, a graduate of Emanuel College, Cambridge, [46] England, had taught in England, having among his converts John Eliot, apostle to the Indians. Mr. Hooker's friends built a meeting-house here and sent for him to be pastor. The church then was on Water street, now Dunster, south of Spring street, now Mt. Auburn. Hooker soon removed, with most of his congregation, to Hartford. At his departure, the remaining members of his flock founded a new church. The first regular church edifice was built near Governor Dudley's house, and Mr. Thomas Shepard was ordained pastor, 1636. At about the same time was established here the colony's first school, later developed into Harvard College.

The first members of Mr. Shepard's church were men prominent in the state, among them Henry Dunster, first president of the college. As there was, for nearly one hundred years, no other place of worship here, many Church-of-England men held pews in Mr. Shepard's Church, and kept them down to the time when Christ Church was founded. There are many records of this time, preserved partly in Mr. Shepard's own handwriting, in a book possessed by Dr. McKenzie.

In Shepard's time came the troubles over Mrs. Anne Hutchinson and her heresies, settled by a synod held in this church.

In 1636 Harvard College was established in Cambridge; for two reasons was it placed here: because the town was conveniently situated and because it was here “under the orthodox and soul-flourishing ministry of Mr. Tho. Shepheard.” Twelve important men of the colony were chosen to take orders for the college, and of these were Shepard, Cotton, Wilson, Harlakenden, Stoughton, Dudley and Winthrop. Thus from the first, college interests [47] were closely linked to those of the First Church. Church and State were one in those days; Christo et Ecclesiae was the college motto.

In 1638 Newtowne became Cambridge, and the same year the college was called Harvard. Its first leader, Nathaniel Eaton, for maltreating his pupils was dismissed, and for a time Samuel Shepard administered the college affairs. In 1664, however, Henry Dunster became president. He was a member of Shepard Church, as was also Elijah Corlet, master of the “Faire Grammar School,” on the site of which the Washington Grammar School now stands. In 1642 the first college commencement was held in the First Church.

In 1649 a new church was erected on nearly the present site of Dane Hall at Harvard Square. In this same year, before the church was completed, Mr. Shepard died. We have the record of him as “the holy, heavenly, sweet-affecting, soul-ravishing preacher.”

Next to Shepard came Mitchel, almost equally celebrated for piety and eloquence. Cotton Mather and Richard Baxter praise him highly, and President Increase Mather said to his students, “Say, each of you, Mitchel shall be the example whom I will imitate.” During this pastorate, Dunster was convicted of Anabaptist views and was compelled to resign in 1654.

In 1671 Uriah Oakes came over from England to be pastor. After the enforced resignation of President Hoar of Harvard, Oakes was appointed superintendent and later president (1679).

In 1717 came to the church Rev. Nathaniel Appleton, interesting as one who “fell on stirring times.”

At his installation Cotton and Increase Mather [48] took part. His degree of D. D., was the second granted by Harvard, the first being that given to Increase Mather. Dr. Appleton's pastorate lasted sixty years. Under him General Washington often worshipped. In his church met the delegates from the towns of the state to frame the constitution of the commonwealth. In his church, too, on October 17, the First Provincial Congress, presided over by John Hancock, met, and it continued to meet here until its dissolution, December 10. Here the Committee of Safety held its first meeting, November 2, and here, on February I, 1775, the Second Provincial Congress met, adjourning to Concord on the 16th. Appleton's portrait, by Copley, hangs in Memorial Hall. In 1756 the Fourth Church of the Society was built. In it, for over seventy years, were held the public commencements of the college, and in it, too, was given the address of welcome to Lafayette, 1824. In Appleton's time Christ Church was built. Then, of course, he lost his Church-of-England parishioners.

In 1792 Abiel Holmes began his long pastorate. During his time, in 1814, the college first held separate religious services. It was in Dr. Holmes' pastorate that the important separation came, from which sprung the First Parish (Unitarian) Church. Unitarianism had begun, practically, in King's Chapel, Boston, under the teaching of Clark. The people there had given up the English liturgy and taken one arranged by their own minister, denying belief in the Trinity. For a time this congregation held within itself the seeds of the schism, but presently these were cast abroad on the four winds and took root far and near. As the new beliefs became manifest, Dr. Holmes showed his disapproval and was at last compelled [49] [50] [51] by his parish to resign. With the majority of his church he withdrew from his place and formed the “Shepard Congregational Society.” This society built, in 1832, a new meeting-house on its present site, and though compelled, by decision of the Supreme Court, to yield up its funds, records, communion silver, and some other valuables to its one time fellow-members, whom it had now left, it yet preserved in itself unbroken the succession from the first church of 1636.

Those through whose objection the division had come, stayed behind and formed the First Parish Unitarian Church. They used the old meeting house until 1833, when the present one, on the corner of Massachusetts avenue and Church street, was built.

The remaining history of Shepard Church is briefly told. Dr. Holmes died in 1837. After him came Nehemiah Adams, and in 1835, Rev. John Albro, who remained thirty years. After his death came Dr. Alexander McKenzie, who has ably led the people and kept close the ancient connection between the church and the college.

We turn now to Christ Church, the second oldest in the city, and one even more full of association, since its building has always remained substantially the same. On April 5, 1759, a letter was sent to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, asking aid to build an Episcopal Church in Cambridge. It was desired by five or six gentlemen, “each of whose incomes,” says an authority, “was judged to be adequate to the maintenance of a domestic chaplain.” The letter, signed by Henry Vassall, John Vassall, Tho. Oliver, Robt. Temple, Joseph Lee, Ralph Inman, David Phipps and James Apthorp, was drawn up [52] by Dr. Caner, rector of King's Chapel, Boston. The aid granted, these gentlemen proceeded,in 1761, to the erection of a church, over which Rev. East Apthorp was made rector. The architect of the church was Mr. Peter Harrison, Newport, R. I., who also designed King's Chapel (ten years earlier), and the Redwood Library and City Hall in Newport. The land was bought, the rear half from James Reed, the rest from the owners of the common. Some say the pillars were turned on the common, but certain it is that the frame was not brought from England.

Expense was not spared in furnishing the church. A fine organ, made John Snetzler of London, a bell weighing over fifteen hundred pounds, a silver christening basin from the rector's mother, a folio Bible from Mrs. Faneuil, and two folio prayerbooks from Mr. Lechmere, were the chief gifts. Of these all but the organ and bell are now preserved and can be seen. The organ was broken, its pipes scattered, by vandal hands in 1778; the bell was recast in 1831, and again recast in the chime (with its old inscription) in 1859. Near the door were put two small pews for the wardens, whose wands of office stood in the corners, and these pews still remain.

In 1761 the church was opened, although, owing to the absence of any bishop, it could have no true consecration. At this service, a prayer for George III. was, of course, said. All but one or two of these first members were Tories later, and their houses, on Brattle street, were known as Tory Row or Church Row. Besides these Tory Row people, Richard Lechmere, Benjamin Faneuil (brother of Peter), James and Thomas Apthorp (brothers of East), Madame Temple and her son Robert, Brig- [53] [54] [55] adier-General Isaac Royal, the Skiltons and Sweethens of Woburn, and Robert Nichells of Billerica, all went to Christ Church.

At 10 Linden street was the old rectory. It had hand-painted wall paper and Delft tiles, and was so grand it was called the “Bishop's palace.” Indeed, so did the Puritan people in the town dread lest Dr. Apthorp aspire to be bishop that they fairly drove him, by opposition, back to England in 1764.

The next important period of the church's history was the Revolution time during which Christ Church was beaten upon by the waves of a wild tide of patriotism. The rector was forced to fly and had but a troubled life of it thereafter. In the summer of 1774 the last regular services before the Revolution were held in the church. The only member left was Judge Lee, who was unmolested because his principles were mild.

Now for a space the church ministered to the soldiers' bodily rather than to their spiritual needs. After Lexington, the company of Captain John Chester from Wethersfield, Conn., was quartered in the church. There is still a bullet mark in the porch as a reminder of this period. The sole member who took the colonial side, John Pidgeon, was appointed commissary-general to the forces. The rest, Tories, fled to General Gage in Boston.

General Washington, a good churchman, though for reasons of expediency he often worshipped with his men at the Congregational meeting house (then under Dr. Appleton), when Mrs. Washington came, Dec. 31, 1775, had Christ Church re-opened for a service which he attended. One is still shown the place where his hat was laid, near the threshold.

GeneralWashington and Mrs. Washington probably occupied [56] Robert Temple's pew, third from the front, on the left wall, now the slip opposite the sixth pillar from the door,” says Mr. Batchelder. A queer little uncomfortable wooden pew is shown you, if you climb to the belfry, and is said to be the very one in which the general sat. That day Col. William Palfrey read service, and gave a form of prayer which he had written in place of the one for the king.

In June, 1777, when British and Hessian troops were quartered here, after Burgoyne's capitulation, Lieut. Richard Brown of the Seventy-first English regiment was shot by a sentry. He was buried under Christ Church, probably in the Vassall tomb, and it was on this day that the church was most defaced by vandals.

After this the church was a mere ruin, the people were scattered, their very estates sold. In 1790 it was re-opened, and on this occasion for the first time a prayer was made for the president of the United States.

With intervals between there followed a long period when lay readers chiefly conducted the church services. In 1800, on February 22, there was a service in commemoration of the death of Washington. In 1824 full repairs were made, the box pews were changed to square, and other alterations were made. In 1826, the church was regularly re-opened.

On October 15, 1861, the one hundredth anniversary was observed, and then was first heard the Harvard chime. Soon after the old wine-glass pulpit was removed.

The present rector came to the Church in 1892, and ministers to a prosperous and peaceful parish. [57]

The interesting relics to be seen in the church are the communion service, bearing arms of William and Mary, and forming part of a larger set given (1694) to the rector of King's Chapel, Boston, by these sovereigns. These pieces were used there up to 1772, when Thomas Hutchinson became governor. He was given the crown communion plate and the pulpit furniture to distribute. The new set of plate went to King's Chapel, and the old was divided between a church at Newburyport and Christ Church here. There are three pieces here, flagon, chalice and paten. On the under side of each is written, “The gift of K William and Q Mary to ye Rev'd Samuel Myles for ye use of their Maj'ities Chapell in N. England-1694.” Mr. Batchelder, who gives these facts about the service, adds also that it is used only on especial occasions. There is another silver service and one of gold (the Foote memorial). The silver basin given by Mrs. Grizzel Apthorp is used as the chief alms basin. A silver service given in 1791 by Mrs. Bethune, (laughter of Benjamin Faneuil, is used for communion-alms. The original parchment parish-register dating back to 1759 is preserved by the church.

Between Christ Church and the First Parish Church lies the old peaceful graveyard, ablaze in autumn with golden-rod. The yard is fully two hundred and sixty-four years old, and had been used about one hundred and thirty years before Christ Church was built. Here lie Stephen Day, first printer of this continent north of Mexico; Elijah Corlet, first master of the Faire Grammar School; Thomas Shepard, first pastor in Cambridge; also Jonathan Mitchell, Nathaniel Gookin, William Brattle, Thomas Hilliard, and Mr. Appleton; [58] and of the Harvard presidents, Dunster, Chauncy (on whose tomb is a Latin inscription), Oakes, Leverett, Wadsworth, Holyoke, Willard and Webber. Here are also Governor Belcher, Judge Remington, Mrs. Brattle; and under Christ Church is the old Vassall tomb, containing ten coffins-those of the family and also one of the black servants of the family, and one probably of Lieutenant Brown, the English officer who was shot by a sentry. In the yard stands a monument erected to the memory of Mr. Hicks, Moses Richardson and William Marcy, who fell April 19,at Lexington. An interesting bit of the graveyard's history is that here, in July, 1775, the tombs were reft of their metal coats-of-arms, from which bullets were made.

It is natural to turn from Christ Church to a brief mention of the dwellings of its first parishioners.

The old Watertown Road once ran up what are now Mason and Brattle streets. On Brattle street were the stately residences occupied by men to whose staunch loyalty to England was due the name of Tory Row bestowed on their dwellings. As these families were also, as has been said, Christ Church parishioners, the second name was given their abodes of Church Row. Between these people and those of the college and of the Congregational Church little love was lost.

When the Revolution broke out, the denizens of this peaceful row grew unpopular to such a degree that they fled for refuge to General Gage in Boston, and their property was, in most cases, confiscated. The houses of Major Henry Vassall, Lieutenant-Governor Oliver and Mrs. George Ruggles were used as hospitals for those wounded [59] at Bunker Hill. Those whose houses were saved for them were chiefly those whose Toryism, like that of Judge Lee, was of an inoffensively mild type.

Never again could the old brilliant congregation be gathered in Christ Church. For years the services languished, and the places of the aristocratic first members remained obviously empty. The life of luxurious leisure, of dignified living, had been too rudely broken to be soon mended.

Beside this particular group of houses, there are others whose history is also interesting. Of these one is the old Waterhouse mansion, on Waterhouse street. It was owned and occupied before the Revolution by William Vassall. Here are preserved relics of the famous Dr. Waterhouse, who was one of the first to introduce vaccination into America. In token of this fact, the family preserve a clock, surmounted by a golden cow. Another relic is an old clock presented in 1790 to Dr. Waterhouse by Peter Oliver, chief Justice of the province. It is wound at Christmas and on the fourth of July.

Another interesting house is the old Hicks House, at the corner of Dunster and Winthrop streets. It is chiefly interesting as the home of the patriot, John Hicks, who aided in the Boston tea-party, December 16, 1773. He was killed in the Concord fight, and his is one of the six names on the monument in the old burying-ground. The glass door is still shown through which he rushed to his death. Washington used the northeast room of this house as a commissary office.

Of all the historic houses here, the most interesting to me, aside from Craigie House and Elmwood, is the so-called “Bishop's palace.” It is [60] on Linden street, between Mt. Auburn and Massachusetts avenue, and stands well back, with its side to the street. A path leads up to it, between old borders of fragrant box. This house was built about 1761 by the Rev. East Apthorp, first rector of Christ Church. When the Puritans feared Mr. Apthorp was aspiring to a bishopric in this country, he was forced by popular feeling to return to England. The house was next occupied by John Borland, a merchant, who lived there until the Revolution. Then General Putnam took it for the headquarters of the Connecticut troops, and it was so used until the Battle of Bunker Hill. Next General Burgoyne was placed there for safe keeping. It is now owned by the daughters of Doctor Plympton, in whose family it has been for over one hundred years. The house is exquisitely preserved. In the stately drawing-room, to the left of the front door, there are, about the fireplace, quaint blue Dutch tiles, and a fireback representing Britannia. The balusters of the staircase are beautifully carved by hand. In the second story chamber once occupied by General Burgoyne, the walls are panelled and covered with landscape paper. On the front door are a huge brass knocker and lock, while the iron key is sufficiently ponderous to lock a Bastile against intruders. The house is built with exceeding care: the clapboards and shingles are split instead of planed, air-spaces are left between the middle brick wall and the two outer wooden ones, and indeed every pains has been taken to render the house a complete and beautiful whole.

It is hard to turn from my subject and lay down my pen, for somehow in Cambridge there lurks a subtle charm potent over the hearts of all, even of those who sojourn here but for a time. This [61] charm is, I think, most strongly exhaled, like a flower's perfume, in summer. Then, as one lingers at evening on the silent brown paths, looking up at the cool, shadowy green boughs, that render more infinitely vast the starry sky-depths beyond, one feels the spell most powerfully. Thoughts of which dreams are made throng the mind, and stories of the past with which the Cambridge air is filled dominate the imagination. Then the college life, with its present hopes and enthusiasms and its joyous modernity has ebbed away for a tidal-hour, leaving bare the quiet shore of the past, seamed and lined with the traces of two centuries tides. In some such a summer I have written this brief account and now send it forth, “with all its imperfections thick upon it,” trusting it will lead someone else to seek out the history and grow to love stories of Cambridge as do I, to whom “its dust is dear.”

For assistance in preparing the facts contained in this article I am indebted to the courtesy of the Rev. William B. King and Dr. McKenzie. I have also learned much from the following authorities: History of Shepard Church, Dr. McKenzie; The Cambridge of 1776, by Mr. Arthur Gilman; Harvard and its Surroundings, Mr. Moses King; Christ Church, Cambridge, Mr. S. F. Batchelder, and from other works of a like nature. [62]

Maples in autumn.

How fairly shows yon distant maple, shedding
     Its blood-red leaves upon the forest ground,
Those very leaves that not long since were wedding
     The young spring breeze with modest rustling sound!
Its yearly tribute done, 'twill be left standing
     To wrestle naked with the winter breeze,
And, by such change deciduous, grow commanding
     And flourish lofty 'mid its sister trees.
Might we too shed, in patient courage hopeful
     Our brilliant dreams, soft falling one by one,
While with God's love, like sap, our veins still flow full,
     We shall not need the wild wind's benison,
But though most desolate our fortune seemeth
     May yet bud greener than the wanderer dreameth.

Susan Louisa Higginson (lived in Cambridge, 1820-1842).

[63] [64]

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