previous next

Colonial houses—old and new.

THE following article was written a few years since, at the request of Principal Hobbs, for use in the Brooks School, by Mrs. Alfred Brooks, who resides in the house described. It now appears in the Register with her consent.

The quaint house at the corner of High and Woburn streets, commonly known as the Jonathan Brooks homestead, is one of the old landmarks of Medford. The writer does not know the date when it was built, but that it belongs to the very early colonial period is shown both by the external and internal architecture. The rooms are very low, and the great beams of the framework project around the sides and across the middle of the ceilings. [p. 68]

There are two brick ovens, showing the builders intended to be well fed, and all the rooms, except one in the attic, had fireplaces. The largest of these has been bricked up, but the opening of one large one still remains, with hooks and the hinged place for the crane back of a modern stove. These two large fireplaces were evidently used for cooking as well as warming, but the other five are small and shallow, and were intended only for warming, and by some science which seems lost to the modern architect they never smoke, and warm the rooms with just a handful of wood. One of them is surrounded with old Dutch tiles. The alternate ones represent Dutch village scenes in blue and white, while the others have a geometric pattern in blue and brown on a white ground. They are rudely set in soapstone. In one room the fireplace was reset at an early date by a quaint, wrought-iron grate very different from the iron of the present day. The wood-work and timbers are fastened by clumsy hand-made nails and heavy spikes.

This house has been in the possession of the Brooks family since 1768. This date has been given from hearsay and has not been verified, but is approximately correct. The house had already had several other owners, and so must have been built many years before.

Jonathan Brooks was the oldest son of Thomas Brooks, who lived on Grove street in a house built by his father Samuel, back of the old brick wall now standing, which was made by Pomp, Thomas' slave. Jonathan, on his marriage with Elizabeth Albree, also a descendant of one of Medford's early settlers, went to live in this house, which has since borne his name. There all his children were born, among them the Rev. Charles Brooks, who was so active in Medford school matters. Here and in the adjoining house his accomplished daughter Elizabeth dispensed the gracious, old-fashioned hospitality, the fame of which still lingers.

About her own childhood, in this old house, the last of that family, Miss Lucy Ann Brooks, told many charming [p. 69] stories as she sat smiling in the invalid chair, from which she watched with kindly interest the children of the Brooks School a few years ago as she was pushed along High street for her daily ride.

The brick part and eastern L of the adjoining house are also very old. That house Jonathan's brother Isaac owned and lived in for a few years but his widow sold it. Years afterwards Jonathan bought it back and his family lived there, renting the house on Woburn street. Both houses are now occupied by descendants of Isaac Brooks, the great-great-grandchildren of Thomas Brooks, the fifth in line from the other Thomas who first purchased land in Medford in 1660.

For eighty years the highway has been appropriately called High street, and at this point is the ‘height-oa — land’ it traverses. The other was once the direct road to Woburn, hence its name.

At the northern end of the house is a long, one-story ell, including a woodshed. The wide doors of the shed, whose tops are the old familiar style of elliptic arch, have long, hand-forged hinges, but have been long disused, as an elm tree has grown directly against them. The wing at the rear of the house, that closely adjoins High street, has also a gambrel roof and is the oldest portion of the house, being the ‘frame covered with boards’ named in the deed of Jonathan Bradshaw.

Features of its construction indicate this, and also that the lean — to that fills the western corner is of much later date than the main house.

Each chimney has a broad band of black painted just below the taper of its top, and each is carried higher with modern bricks and tile because of the swaying tree tops.

Three great sycamores within the fence enclosing the front door-yard stand so closely that they had little room to branch, other than forward. This they did vigorously, one branch being nearly forty feet long, reaching out over the street in pleasant shade and kindly benediction on all that pass beneath. [p. 70]

Mr. Hooper furnishes the following from Middlesex Registry of Deeds:—

Mar. 18, 1768.
Jonathan Bradshaw Jr. to Jonathan Patten, a small piece of land with a frame covered with boards, bounded west on Deacon Jonathan Bradshaw and measures thirty feet westerly from said building: east on Woburn road: south on the road to Menotomy: north on the heirs of Benjamin Scolly.’ (Book 67, page 509.)

By the same description Patten conveyed to Thomas Brooks, Jr. (book 84, page 159), and on May 5, 1791, (book 108, page 195):—

‘Thomas Brooks Jr. to Jonathan Brooks a lot of land with house and barn, bounded west on Deacon Jonathan Bradshaw, deceased and measuring thirty feet from where Jonathan Bradshaw's frame stood.’

By the above we may picture something of the locality in the latest colonial days, and backward for some years. The home of the pious deacon at the height-oa — land (where later was built the more modern house occupied by Rev. Charles Brooks)was probably of the older style with the lean-to. Possibly opposite was his father's (the Ensign John's house), where the church was gathered. Jonathan, Jr., born February 13, 1723, attained his majority in 1744. Doubtless he soon after erected below his father's the ‘little house by the side of the road’: the ‘frame covered with boards’ and filled in with bricks for warmth.

Then Jonathan Patten, who married Jonathan Bradshaw, Jr.'s, sister Susannah in 1762, purchased the little gambrel roof ‘frame covered with boards,’ and built against it the larger structure, in or near 1768.

Historian Brooks used a wood cut of it as the ‘tailpiece’ on the final page of his history of Medford, together with a fac-simile of his father's signature, piously adding (he was addicted to Latin quotations)—

Sicut patribus, sit deus nobis.

If his artist of 1855 dealt as truly with the trees as [p. 71] with the house, their recent growth has been small and entirely eastward.

The house is typical of colonial architecture, a favorite with modern architects, and portrayed in publication by one from several points of view.

With its green blinds and uniform straw color, it forms a pleasing picture at the parting of the ways, an old landmark of our ancient town.

Just across the street at the corner of Hastings lane is another old colonial house, probably much older than the Brooks house. Persistent search has failed to reveal the date of its erection, but it is very probable that it was the home of Ensign John Bradshaw, and if so, is the place where the first church of Medford was ‘gathered’ (in 1713), for so they styled the organization of a church two centuries ago.

It originally stood closely parallel with High street and was smaller than at present. Its frame is of oak, and at some time, no one knows when, six feet were added to the western end, with a frame of pine and of a different mode of carpentry. Probably a second chimney was then built, and in that (in the attic) is a closet fitted with iron hooks, on which hams were hung for smoking. In 1871 an extension was built against the first story of this addition, making a large room with a pillar in the center to support the second story wall.

A few years ago the entire house was moved eastward a little, turned to face the street corner, and general repairs made. This resulted in entire new sills and floors, while a new cellar was secured by blasting out the ledge below, and a wide veranda added to the side entrance.

During this work the old house was carefully examined by builders, who came to see its curious construction, and by other interested ones. The attic is plastered throughout, and the old house guards its secrets well, revealing nothing but venerable age when the roof was stripped for re-shingling two years ago. [p. 72]

It is now occupied by Mr. Herman Goedecke, who came to it soon after its refitting, by which it has taken on a new lease of life, though one of the oldest houses in the city, and once known as the Richardson house.

Leading away from this house southward is Hastings lane, and rising from it is Rock-hill, reputed to have been the seat of the last Indian king, Nanepashemit. Crowning this hill is a modern built colonial house, designed by a young Boston architect. In its commanding position it is noticeable from all points. While the red man chose this location that here he might watch for the canoes of his enemies in either direction, the present residents see only the motor boats of their friends.

Neither Nanepashemit nor the Squa-Sachem would recognize in the tranquil Mystic basin of today the tidal river and wooded slopes of their time. Even the river has been moved out of its old course to make room for the parkway at the base of Rock-hill. Here Captain Kidd was said to have buried a part of his ill-gotten treasure; and here that some sanguine ones dug in fruitless search. And here also some one found what was more profitable, some rock, that burnt and ground, was used in painting some Medford houses—a not unavailing quest.

In the construction of this house the great porch columns, built around an oaken timber and turned by the hand process, with many doors and other fittings from an old colonial mansion in Providence, were used in reproducing in this its design.

Other sections of the city have been rapidly built up, but this locality, beautiful for situation, and central when two centuries ago the first meeting house was built close by, is now finding favor with home seekers. There are pleasant and comfortable dwellings being built on new made streets as well as along the old historic road that echoed to Revere's shout and his horse's hoof beats on the morning of the first Patriots' Day.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Dutch (West Virginia, United States) (2)
Providence, R. I. (Rhode Island, United States) (1)
hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1768 AD (2)
1871 AD (1)
1855 AD (1)
May 5th, 1791 AD (1)
March 18th, 1768 AD (1)
1762 AD (1)
1744 AD (1)
February 13th, 1723 AD (1)
1713 AD (1)
1660 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: