Here to return to
AT the time of my birth in 1842, our family was living in Pemberton Square, at Number Twenty-Nine, nearly opposite the approach to the Square from Somerset Street. It was when I was three years of age that we moved into Number Six Park Street. Incidentally it may be remarked that I have lived continuously “on the Common” from that time to this (1922), the sole remaining local representative of the residents of that period. Number Six was a more modern type of house than the Bulfinch block, being constructed, like its neighbors, Numbers Five, Seven, and Eight, with a front elevation of the red-faced brick, which was so characteristic a feature of the fashionable dwelling of that period. The lot on which this house stood, nineteen feet in width, had been a part of the estate of Governor Gore, which had been sold to Mr. Francis C. Gray, who built a house for himself on the larger lot. It was purchased by Dr. John C. Warren in order that his son might be near him; and the house which had already been planned by the architect, Mr. George M. Dexter, was built upon it. It was a tradition in the family that my mother had hesitated long before agreeing to this site in preference to one next to Saint Paul’s Church on Tremont Street. The latter choice was finally set aside as one in too close proximity to the inevitable funereal functions of its neighbor. In preparation for the occupancy of this house, illuminating gas was introduced into all the rooms; and my mother was responsible for a statement, often dwelt upon by her, that this was the first instance of gas being used in a private dwelling-house in the City; and that the event was considered one of sufficient importance to be mentioned in the daily newspapers. It must have been about this time also (1848) that Cochituate water was introduced into the City. The installation of “fixed basins” in every bedroom was then considered a great advance over the old type of washstand. There were two bath-tubs, which, for a house with less than twenty feet frontage, was considered a generous supply. Both of them were fitted with apparatus for shower-baths, which poured a feeble stream of cold water upon the shoulders of those whose systems could withstand the shock. The tonic effect of this mode of ablution was heralded abroad with much enthusiasm by the medical fraternity, and was administered indiscriminately to the young, the feeble, and the aged, as a panacea for many ailments. The im-perfections inseparable from the plumbing of those days soon gave rise to complications which were not always compatible with an ideal hygienic standard, and finally led to the abolishment of the “fixed basin” from the sleeping-apartment. It was in this house that the younger members of the family were born; and although there were but four master’s bedrooms, it was supposed at the time to give ample accommodations for a family of seven children.
My earliest recollections of sleeping conveniences are those associated with a “trundle bed,” which in the daytime disappeared beneath the flowing drapery of the four-posted bed of my parents. The drawing- and dining-rooms were up one flight of stairs; which occupied so much space in the centre of the building that the passage which communicated with these two apartments was a long and narrow one. The doctor’s office was on the ground floor, and the adjacent hall did service for the waiting patients; as did also a goodly portion of the first flight of stairs.
My good father was fond of sermonizing on the luxuries of the day, as compared with those of his youth. Doubtless the changes in “essentials” since his time have much to do with present-day laments over the high cost of living. Our immediate neighbors on each side were members of the Quincy family. I recall a visit which I made with my father to President Josiah Quincy in his old age. He was suffering from an injury to his hip, caused by a fall. He had been attended medically during his long life by three generations of the Warren family; and inasmuch as the first generation yielded two members to his service (Joseph and John), my father thought that the opportunity should not be missed of introducing to him a fifth Warren. I was still quite a lad, and doubtless went with my father more or less by compulsion; but I recall vividly the scolding which my father got for not giving him a better leg. This threw me for the time being quite into the background, much to my satisfaction. After the death of President Quincy, the house passed, I think, into the possession of Governor Gardner, and underwent much alteration, receiving in the lower story a facing of freestone, which had then begun to be a fashionable material.
Number Eight Park Street was occupied at that time by the Honorable Abbott Lawrence, whose dwelling has been preserved with comparatively little change in many of its parts, by the Union Club. I recall a very agreeable visit to Mr. Lawrence, in my childhood; and was much entertained, while seated on his knee, by the exhibition of a bag of copper coins, which had recently been discovered by workmen digging in his cellar.
They were of more historic than monetary value, bearing the imprint of King George, and evidently buried there in Revolutionary times.
After the death of my grandfather in 1856, we moved into Number Two Park Street, and Number Six was occupied by my uncle, J. Sullivan Warren and his wife. My uncle died in 1867, and his widow continued to live there until her death in 1896.
Number Two Park Street was one of a block of four brick houses, four stories in height, with low attic roofs. An iron balcony on the parlor floor relieved the simplicity of the front elevation. A broad arched doorway gave cover to a flight of two steps, and avoided encroachment upon the sidewalk, which was of more moderate width than at the present time; a sidewalk of similar breadth then existed on the Common side of the street. Each lot represented a frontage of about forty feet, which gave ample space for a passage to the right of the main entrance into the back yard. This was a necessary feature of each building, owing to the absence of an alleyway in the rear of the block, due to the fact that the lots abutted directly upon the Granary Burying-Ground. The original plans1 show an arched entrance to this passageway, possibly intended to admit vehicles. The windows on the other side of the front door are drawn on a smaller scale than those which existed in my time, and resemble many still to be seen in some of the ancient residences on Beacon Hill.
The house as originally built occupied the front of the lot only; and an Ell was subsequently added on the northern half of the yard, which extended nearly to the rear boundary fence. This had a solid brick base supporting a tall iron railing, in one corner of which was a padlocked gate, permitting at times access to the cemetery. This enclosure served the purpose of a private city park for the abutters, rather than a place for the burial of the dead; for few interments were made there after the beginning of the nineteenth century. It afforded far from a mournful prospect to the occupants of the Park Street dwellings, and served as a playground for the children of the family. In the summer-time the foliage was most luxuriant; and before the advent of horse-cars on Tremont Street, the enclosure afforded to the inhabitants of Park Street all the advantages of private grounds; giving protection from the noises of city life, and providing a much enjoyed breathing space in the very heart of the metropolis. With the broad expanse of Boston Common on the western front, the buildings afforded an ideal dwelling spot, for the better part of a century, until the rising tide of traffic finally forced the last inhabitant into a new residential district. Many were the adventures in the “Old Granary,” as it was called. Members of my family can still tell of picnics and other festivals held upon the quaint old table-like structures covering the graves of families with historic names.
Many of these tablets were already showing signs of extreme age, and the loosened brick-work of crumbling walls furnished temptation to youthful curiosity. But a wholesome respect for, not to say fear of, their gruesome contents, restrained tendencies to juvenile vandalism. Governor Gardner, who at one time occupied the house, Number Seven Park Street, once told the writer that a tomb in the rear of this lot had greatly excited the curiosity of members of his family by showing signs of collapse in one of its walls, sufficient to expose the contents. The final tumbling in of a few loose bricks, perhaps aided in their fall by inquisitive hands, disclosed a skull still covered with luxurious flaxen tresses. The excitement caused by this discovery induced him to examine into the history of the former inhabitants of this last resting-place. Investigation led to the somewhat startling discovery that a beautiful young lady who had died of smallpox had found here an untimely grave....
At Number Two Park Street Dr. and Mrs. John C. Warren passed their married life; and here their children were born. There were three boys, John, James Sullivan, and Jonathan Mason; and three girls, Susan (Mrs. Charles Lyman), Mary Collins (Mrs. Thomas Dwight), and Emily (Mrs. William Appleton). My father (Mason) was born, and died in the same room (1810-67); a record certainly unusual in the rapidly changing conditions of an American city.
The house, as originally built, contained no furnace. In cold weather the older people sat around the fire; while the boys lighted pieces of brown paper, and shook them up and down in their long boots to warm them, before venturing to pull them on. Although windows were usually kept closed at night, ice had to be broken for the boys to wash in, on rising in the morning. Fortunately, the house was situated in a sheltered spot under the brow of Beacon Hill, and in later years, when the hot-air furnace was in all its glory, there was never any difficulty in keeping the house warm in spite of its wide frontage and the entire absence of double windows.
In the early part of the century, the custom prevailed of apprenticing the young student of medicine to a member of the Faculty. Until 1810 the medical lectures were given at Cambridge, and until 1821, when the Massachusetts General Hospital opened its doors for patients, little or no facilities for studying disease in hospital wards existed in Boston. The apprentice system, therefore, still prevailed as a legacy from a previous generation. My father often described to me the conditions which consequently existed at Number Two Park Street during his boyhood days. A room on the ground floor, well sanded, was given up to the medical students. Here the pupils pursued their studies, and picked up such clinical experience as the practice of their preceptor afforded.
The students also boarded, or at all events took their midday meal, in the house. The boys, Sullivan and Mason, were given places at the table, and took advantage of their association with companions of more mature years to play many childish pranks upon them. I recall the thrilling story of a fiery-headed youth, generally regarded as the “butt” of his comrades, who, after some more than usually impudent practical joke, pursued relentlessly young Sullivan Warren out of the house and across the Common, until the guilty urchin found sanctuary in the Frog Pond. This was before the day when that delightful old reminder of the mother country, the iron fence, had been erected.
The rapidly increasing volume of works on medical subjects finally necessitated the construction of an Ell, in which the library was placed. Here all nonprofessional books found an asylum, in cases of mahogany hue reaching nearly to the ceiling, and forming an oval room of charming proportions, decorated with portraits and busts of many old worthies. In an alcove at the farther end, receiving light from the “Old Granary,” stood a bust of James Jackson, the lifelong friend, which seemed to give special character and dignity to the apartment. My recollections of the house during this period of its history are confined to occasional visits to my grandfather, and to my step-grandmother; and also to the annual family gatherings, which occurred on Thanksgiving Days. It was our custom to attend these every other year, the alternate years being devoted to similar gatherings at the home of my mother’s father, the Honorable B. W. Crowninshield, on the corner of Somerset and Beacon Streets. It would appear that the harvest fête day was more formally observed by the heads of families at that time than either Christmas or New Year’s Day. I also recall attending the wedding of Emily Warren and William Appleton, when hardly more than three years of age. The ceremony was held in the two front rooms, which gave space for a large gathering; and the service was performed by the Reverend Alexander H. Vinton. Susan Powell Mason died on January 3, 1841; and in October, 1843, Dr. Warren married Anne Winthrop, sister of the Honorable Robert C. Winthrop. After her death, in December, 1851, Mr. and Mrs. James Sullivan Warren came to live at Number Two Park Street.
Dr. John C. Warren died in 1856, and in the fall of the next year his son, Dr. Jonathan Mason Warren, moved from Number Six Park Street into his father’s house. The old homestead at this time needed much renovation. As the family had gradually diminished in size, many of the rooms were given up to osteological and fossil collections; accumulations of years during the development of the “Mastodon Museum” on Chestnut Street. A full-sized copy in oil of Rembrandt’s “Lesson in Anatomy” occupied the southern wall of the entrance hall; but this was removed, partly in deference to my mother’s protests, and partly for the purpose of cutting an archway to communicate with a patients’ waiting-room, in the space formerly provided for the alleyway. The necessary alterations were completed during the winter, and my father and his family entered into possession in the autumn of 1857. I recall that a valuation of forty thousand dollars had been put upon the house by the executors of my grandfather’s estate; a figure which my father regarded as excessively high, and therefore prejudicial to his financial interests as one of the heirs. The mansion at this period was a fine example of an old Boston homestead, made comfortable by many modern improvements. There were two bath-rooms, and set basins in many of the bed-chambers. This custom was, I think, quite universal at the time, there being no prejudice against the presence of waste pipes in a sleeping apartment.
On the ground floor, and opposite to the new arched recess in the front entry, was the doctor’s office. The room had two windows facing on the street, and partook more of the character of a “Study” than of an “Office.” High oak-colored book-cases surrounded what was in reality a spacious apartment, forming an oval curve at the farther end, through which an entrance penetrated into an interior lavatory and medicine closet, provided with remedies such as the times afforded. Between the windows was an old mahogany piece of furniture, which contained on its shelves above books of reference, and below a series of shallow drawers containing a formidable array of surgical instruments, most of which in the fulness of time have since found their way into the cases of the historical collection at the Harvard Medical School. Here was to be found a fine medical library, the accumulation of half a century of medical literature, and giving a fair representation of the medical progress of that period. No expense had been spared by its former occupant, and my father became thus the possessor, not only of the current medical literature of the day, but. also of many a rare and valuable monograph produced at times when no thought of expense stood in the way of an ambitious author. The old library on the second floor of the Ell was carefully preserved from any modern improvements, and continued to represent the dwelling-place of the lares and penates. The front rooms on this floor were separated by the typical mahogany “folding-door,” one of them being given up to the dining-room, as in former times; and the other to the drawing-room; or, as it was usually called by us children, “the best parlor.” The view from these rooms was an exceptional one in the City at that period; there being no dwelling-houses intervening between this block and the sky-line formed by the hills of Brookline. The western sun on a winter’s day gave light and warmth which penetrated all corners of these houses until the very close of the day. Our family consisted at that time of my father, Jonathan Mason Warren, my mother, Annie Crowninshield Warren, and five children,--Mary (Mrs. Samuel Hammond), myself, next in order; then Rosamond (Mrs. C. H. Gibson), Eleanor (Mrs. Thomas Motley), and Annie C. Warren. The weddings of Mrs. Hammond (1858), Mrs. Gibson (1871), and Mrs. Motley (1872) took place while they were living in this house. Dr. Mason Warren died here on August 19, 1867. During the season of 1868-69, the house was leased to and occupied by John Lothrop Motley, the historian. In the summer of that year the writer returned from a three years’ course of medical study in Europe, and began the practice of his profession in the old doctor’s office; and continued in practice there until 1874, when he removed to Number Fifty-Eight Beacon Street, where he has since resided (1922).
The night of the Great Boston Fire in 1872 was a memorable one for Number Two. This private dwelling was then on the very front line of the residential district; and with its neighbors in the block was nearer to the seat of the conflagration than any dwelling-house of that period. The writer, being the only occupant of the house at that time, hastily summoned members of the family from their homes in the “Back Bay,” and they kept open house for the greater part of the night. Old fire bags, bearing the name of John C. Warren, were unearthed from their concealment in ornamental fire buckets of the date 1816. These were filled with silver; and together with valuable paintings, were removed to the homes of relatives. This was not done until the fire had worked up Summer Street as far as Washington Street, when it was felt that the stampede of vehicles of all kinds would soon make passage from Park Street to Beacon Street impracticable.
The final occupants of the old homestead were Mrs. Jonathan Mason Warren and her unmarried daughter, Annie C. Warren, who remained there until the house was pulled down and replaced as an office and store building, which was leased to Messrs. Doll & Richards for a term of years. This event occurred in the year 1878.
The tearing down of the old Bulfinch building opened a vista into the cemetery from Park Street. Public attention was thus drawn anew to this old relic of the past. The grave of John Hancock was situated in this part of the grounds and had always been an object of interest to visitors at Number Two Park Street. A single stone with the simple inscription “Hancock” was all that marked the site of the grave. It was not long after this occurrence that a suitable monument was placed over the grave of this distinguished Bostonian, for the first time, so as to be easily seen by the passer-by on the crowded Tremont Street thoroughfare. Numbers Three and Four of this block had, if my memory serves me right, already been claimed for business purposes; but Number One was still occupied by Mr. Thomas Wigglesworth and his two sisters, Miss Mary and Miss Anne.
I was sent to school at Park Street Church at the age of five. This was in 1847. It was a girls’ school, kept by Miss Dwight, and I was the only boy. The school-room was situated in the brick portion of the tower which supports the steeple, and was lighted by an arched window above the main entrance on Tremont Street. A door from the farther end led directly up into the wooden steeple, which served as a playground for the pupils. Miss Dwight’s scholars varied in age from beginners to “big girls.” I remained there about one year, and then was transferred to Mr. D. B. Tower’s School for Boys. This school occupied a large room on the ground floor of the church, running from Park Street to the rear of the building, facing directly upon the Granary Burying-Ground. The entrance was, as at present, on Park Street. Mr. Tower had for assistants Mr. Tweed and Mr. Baxter. Mr. Tower was a short, thick-set man, with a powerful physique. He had a deep voice and somewhat imperious manner; but was much interested in his pupils individually, and was a popular and successful teacher. Mr. Tweed, the senior assistant, was no longer young. He was tall and slender in figure, a quaint old-fashioned type, long since passed away. Mr. Baxter was a most genial schoolmaster, and with his colleagues succeeded in keeping well in hand a conglomeration of representatives of the younger generation of fashionable and unfashionable Boston of the period. I remember that Thanksgiving Day was always observed by an annual gathering at the school. Each boy’s desk was covered with a generous supply of apples, nuts, and raisins; and some of the older boys were expected to contribute to the day’s entertainment by “speaking pieces.”
One of the oldest boys in the school was the leading star, and always wound up the day’s exercises with an oratorical effort, which was greatly appreciated. Mr. Sullivan’s school for boys was in the basement of the church, and was approached from Park Street corner by a steep flight of steps. This was also a popular school, but not so large as its neighbors. The schools above mentioned all continued to occupy the church building for many years after.
During the years immediately preceding the Civil War, the eastern part of the Common, especially the grass-plot alongside Park Street Mall, was a favorite playground for school-boys, hockey being then a popular feature in athletics. Many boys from the Public Latin School, then on Bedford Street, took part in these sports. In the spring and summer the game of marbles was a customary pastime. In those days the Park Street region was purely residential; the only evidence of its rôle as a thoroughfare being the passage of the old stage-coach in the early morning hours, from the northern to the southern railway terminus, and the not infrequent blocking of the road by flocks of sheep which were being driven across the city. Cab-stands were unknown, and a quiet, home-like atmosphere, which also pervaded both Tremont and Winter Streets, gave safe approach for timid pedestrians to the shopping district. The residential quarter of Boston at that time was largely in this locality, and the fine old specimens of early nineteenth century architecture, extending well beyond Washington Street, through Summer Street, past Church Green, were strongly suggestive of many parts of the mother City of London.
1 In the possession of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and signed by Bulfinch.