Prudence Fish

One man, Ezra Lunt Phillips, changed the face of Gloucester. There is no doubt about it.

My acquaintance with the legacy of Ezra Phillips began about 1987.  At a yard sale, I discovered a photograph reprinted from a glass plate negative.  It was labeled “Ezra Phillips in his new car”.

Ezra Phillips in His New Car

My friend was curious and said, “Who do you suppose that is?” to which I replied that I knew exactly who he was …the architect of the very house on Edgemore Rd that was built at the turn of the 20th century and in 1987 being restored.  It was called Balmaha.  Then I realized what Ezra Phillips was looking at.  It was Balmaha under construction. This is the very same beautiful house that in 1987 was in the midst of being restored by Susan and Rick Richter.  I had seen the original plans with his name on them. In this photo he is visiting the work site, surveying the progress. Copies of the photo were given to the Richters, their brokers, the new owners and others.

Balmaha, Edgemoor Rd.

Ezra’s father was a flour dealer.  His business was on the right-hand corner of what is now Main St. and Duncan St.

By the early 1890s, Ezra had opened an architecture office at 4 Pleasant St. and was still boarding at home but by 1896 he owned the property on Gloucester Avenue that was to be his home for the rest of his life. The address changed several times but it was always the same house.

His wife’s name was Grace and they had two children, Elizabeth and Nathan.

Ezra Phillips, throughout his life, contributed more than his architecture to the community.  He was very active at Trinity Congregational Church and the YMCA.

In addition to volunteer organizations he was an officer or board member of many institutions including vice president of the Gloucester Safe Deposit and Trust Co., the Cape Ann Savings Bank, treasurer of the Cape Ann Anchor Works, the Russia Cement Co., the Gloucester Coal and Lumber Co. the Rockport Granite Co. and a charter member of the Rotary.  Where did he find the time to design all the beautiful buildings?

By 1902, after living for many years on Washington Square, his father, Nathan, and mother, Maria, moved to 159 Washington St. at the corner of Derby.  This is a lovely house but it is not known if their son had a hand in renovations.  They also had a summer home at Agamenticus Heights (Wolf Hill area) overlooking the Russia Cement Company. (LePage’s) with which the family was involved.

4 Nathan Phillips House, 159 Washington St.

Nathan Phillips passed away in 1905 but his widow continued on living in the large house on the corner of Derby St.

By 1926 Timothy Holloran had joined the architectural firm which then became known as Phillips and Holloran.  They continued as partners at least through 1935.  Ezra Phillips died in 1937. Timothy Holloran continued on alone.

Timothy Holloran’s son, Robert Holloran, joined his father after graduating from Wentworth Institute.  Eventually, Robert went to work in Boston at Shepley Bullfinch, the prestigious firm founded by Henry Hobson Richardson.

But during all these years there was a miracle in the making.  Ezra Phillips had never thrown away a set of plans and neither had his partner Timothy Holloran.  They were carefully kept and after the death of Timothy this treasure trove, like a big pot of gold, descended to Robert Holloran who thoughtfully preserved them.

Robert Holloran died at a very old age in 2008 and in 2011 the plans were given to the Cape Ann Museum.  Here is what is so astonishing.  There were more than 300 plans mostly for local buildings! Is it hard to get your head around this?  There are existing plans for 300 of some of the best and most beautiful and important buildings on Cape Ann. These plans span the period from about 1890 until the middle of the 20th century.

Municipal buildings include renovations to the former town-house, now known as the American Legion building in preparation for the returning veterans of WW1.

There were renovations to Central Grammar by Phillips, originally designed by another architect and native son, Tristram Griffin of Riverdale whose practice was in Malden.

Phillips designed at least one hotel, the Tavern, located on the Boulevard, replacing the Surfside.

In short, any building of any consequence renovated or built during that more than half a century can often be credited to Phillips or to Phillips & Holloran after they became partners.

But how about the countless houses for which they were responsible? Do you recognize these landmark houses?

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When all is said and done we now have concrete evidence of the magnitude of the work of Ezra Phillips and continuing with the firm of Phillips & Holloran.  Imagine three hundred plus sets of drawings documenting the development of this city for more than half a century.  What a wealth of information is stored in those tightly rolled-up sets of plans; plans that thankfully have found a permanent home at the Museum.  What a legacy for Gloucester!

Ezra Phillips’ funeral took place at Trinity Church on Middle Street.  Rev. Dwight Cart conducted the service in the place where Phillips had long been a deacon. He was assisted by the former pastor, Rev. Dr. Albert A. Madsen and Rev. Edmund A. Burnham, pastor of the Essex Congregational Church.

It is fitting that Rev. Cart quoted from Oliver Wendall Holmes, Sr., “The Chambered Nautilus” beginning with “Build thee more stately mansions.  O my Soul”.

He went on to describe the life of Ezra Phillips as “well designed with nothing cheap and shoddy in its building.  A life founded upon faith, built upon quiet service enhanced by joy and humor, active, alert, community-minded, true to friendship, honest and sincere.  One who loved many things, and served many interests tirelessly, but whose first love was still his last…his home, and those who have made these walls live by the constancy of their service and affection.

His was a life well lived.

But that’s not all.  Here is an example of how he is still contributing eighty years after his death.

The  Sawyer Free Library is in the midst of discussions concerning the expansion of the library or complete replacement.  One of the sections of the library, the stacks section, was built in 1913.  Its future is up in the air.  The building committee turned to the Cape Ann Museum, and of course, it was almost predictable that they would have the plans for the “fireproof” building.  In ascertaining its value this new information about its fireproof construction adds another element in the evaluation and worth of the building.  Fireproof!  Who knew?

After the plans arrived in Gloucester at the museum, I had the pleasure of trying to track down his descendants, none of whom were here in Gloucester.  After making calls to places and people in Vermont and in New York I finally found his grandson in Northbridge, MA.  Although in his eighties, William Christopherson was still very active.

When I reached him I asked him if he had any heirlooms, keepsakes or trinkets that had come down to him from his grandfather.  He told me that he had one thing that belonged to Ezra.  I should have been sitting down when he said, “I have his last automobile”.  One could predict after looking at the early photo of Ezra in front of Balmaha that he would have a special car.  It had a name of which I had never heard.  It was from the late 1920s and a rare and expensive automobile. His grandson was perhaps seven or eight years old when Ezra died but he begged his mother to keep the car.  She did keep the car and can you believe that it is in perfect condition and still on the road!  I don’t think it gets driven much but the fact that he still has it makes me smile.  I can picture it in the driveway on Gloucester Ave. Now if I could only remember the name.

We must remember Ezra Phillips for his contributions to his hometown and for all he accomplished in and for the City of Gloucester.  We must also pay attention to endangered buildings that with a little research might prove to be attributed to the firm of Phillips or Phillips and Holloran and reconsider their worth.

Few of us have realized that in almost any neighborhood in the City of Gloucester one could look around and see the fruit of the three hundred sets of plans designed by him and his partner if only we knew which ones they are.  But thanks to the museum, there is now a master list and they can be identified.

Ezra Phillips changed the face of this City, one building at a time.



Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.

The Way it Was – May 5, 1851

United States Capitol 19th century before being enlarged after 1850.

In anticipation of the arrival of four sisters, distant cousins brought together by the Internet and convening soon at my house, I began to scramble around looking for family memorabilia to share with them.  In the process, I came across a cherished letter from long ago.  I sat down to reread it and saw the date, May 5, 1851.  After reading it and noticing the coincidence of the dates, I knew I wanted to share it.

These days we are so filled with despair and disappointment. Every day brings another blow to democracy.  Integrity, happiness and a sense of well-being are at an all-time low.  It wasn’t always this way!  Read on!

The writer of the letter was George Bryant from Paris and Oxford, Maine.  He was born in 1830.

George Bryant with his quill pen.

His great-grandparents had settled in Maine, still part of Massachusetts, soon after the Revolution with several families making the trek to the District of Maine from Plymouth County, Massachusetts.  They cleared the fields and built their houses; the hardest days were over and twenty-year-old George was in Virginia, having traveled to Washington by train from Boston.  He had wonderful penmanship; you could call him a calligrapher, and it was said that he wished to write calling cards for the senators.  I have no knowledge that he did.  He called himself a teacher of chirography or penmanship.

This is one of two pages of his handwriting that survive. On one he practiced.

The year was 1851 and he wrote a letter to his grandfather, Arodus Bryant, back home on a hillside in Paris, Maine.  What follows in the letter is his account of the trip.  The excitement and the patriotism he felt as he saw the nation’s Capitol for the first time are almost palpable.  The letter was saved and a copy miraculously came to me from another descendant in New Jersey, also an Internet acquaintance.


Dear Grandfather,

   Thinking that a letter from “Old Virginia” might interest you while sunning yourself by those front windows, I have resolved to write you one and give you a short account of my travels thus far and to describe to some extent the manner and customs of these people here.  Yet I hope to give you a more detailed and interesting account when I return home as this must necessarily be very limited and superficial.

    I intend to make you a long visit of one week when I get back in order to make up for what I have lost.  I as much intended to make you a visit while at home, as one could, but the day appointed was stormy and the only day I could before starting if I went at the time agreed upon.

    I will give you a line about my journey. 

    We started from Boston at 1 o’clock in the morning with an excursion party bound or Washington.  The tickets were for the whole trip to Washington and back so I had to buy a ticket for the trip at risk of not being able to sell the back half, which it was my good luck to do before I got to New York.

    We arrived at New York about 1 o’clock in the afternoon and could have gone to Philadelphia that night if our tickets had been on this route so we were obliged to stop until the next day at noon. We then started for Philadelphia and arrived there at 5:00 P.M. and after waiting three or four hours, we took the cars for Baltimore and after riding all night we arrived there about 5 in the morning.  We then took the cars for Washington and in less than 2 hours we were in the City of Washington.

    And according to the nature of all Americans, the first thing to look for was the magnificent building known the world over as the CAPITOL OF THE UNITED STATES.  As we got out of the depot behold, there it stood, a most magnificent edifice upon a rise of ground not more than 40 rods from the depot.

    Without further ceremony and with hurried step we all rushed up the avenue which led to its entrance and, after ascending many stone steps, more noble than I ever before imagined, we came to the long anticipated spot.  And here we beheld architecture approximating as near to perfection, seemingly, as art or science ever can produce.  But with this we were not satisfied.  We longed to see the great men and renowned patriots of the ages, but this session hour being at the late hour of 12, we spent our time exploring the building and examining the (illegible word) connected with it.

   These alone are enough to interest one for days.  At length the session hour drew nigh and we all repaired to the House and Senate galleries.  You can scarcely imagine our feeling of sublimity as we mused upon the scene. 

We were in the far-famed apartment that for many years has thundered with a nation’s eloquence and poured forth a nation’s sentiments: here too the courts transpire which fill the public print throughout the land stimulating every mind from the school-boy to the gray-haired veteran, and here is, where men have gained a distinction that shall render their names immortal and mingle them with a nation’s glory in all coming time: here too, is concentrated the political strife of more than 20 million of the human race.  Here Clay and Webster are wont to raise their voices resounding from Maine to Mexico.

    As we were thus wrapped in sublime meditation, Thomas Benton came in with a lion’s authority stamped upon his countenance.  He took his seat and began looking over some books and papers.  He had come in a little before the rest and we soon learned that he was about to make a speech.  In a short time they all came in and took their seats, many of which we recognized by their likeness in books and frames.

    If you have a picture of Henry Clay you know just how he looks.  I think he has the best shrewd, self-possessing and eloquent expression every beheld.  Cass wears an expression very intelligent and noble in appearance but I suppose you would have one speak about a Whig rather than old Lewis Cass, if he is a much smaller man.  I would gladly go on giving a description of things connected with the Capitol but it is getting near bedtime and the sheet is nearly full.

    I will just say that we heard Benton make a speech followed by one from Clay.  As I had but little time to spend in Washington I made it in my way to visit most of the public buildings but was the most interested in the Patent Office where I saw the old original Constitution, the military coat and equipment worn by the immortal Washington, Franklin’s old printing press, and a thousand other things of interest which have not room here to insert.

    I am now in Virginia enjoying myself pretty well.  It is cold here for the time of year and very changeable.  There is not so much difference between seed time here and in Maine as I supposed.  Many are not half through planting yet.  It was as warm here the last of February as it is now.

Darkies are plenty here, but I shall have to leave that subject until another time.  I will write you another letter by and by, giving you a description of the Virginians and slavery.

    I should be happy to have a letter. I have written this in great haste and you must not take it to be a fair specimen of my writing but excuse it.

Yours ever,

George Bryant


Sadly, this young man, born May 9, 1830, educated and with such promise and enthusiasm for life died a year after he wrote the letter, June 17, 1852.  He was barely twenty-two years old but had experienced more that most his age, brought up on rural farms in the District of Maine.  He was buried in the neighborhood cemetery just over the stonewall from the house he called home.

George Bryant celebrated America and rejoiced in being an American.  He was in awe of the leaders in the Senate and thrilled to see them, hear them and witness them in action. Back then there was no hint of division, disorder or protest on the streets of Washington.  Respect for their leaders was the order of the day.

On this May 5, 2017, one hundred and sixty-six years after George expressed himself with such joy, passion, and patriotism Washington has become a different place.

RIP  George Bryant

The old homestead where George Bryant lived and died.

Prudence Fish
May 5, 2017


Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.






In the year 2000 one particular block in the City of Gloucester, MA had not changed in 100 years with the exception of the Sawyer Free Library onto which had been built a new wing.

Holding down the corner of Middle Street and Dale Avenue stood the Saunders house, built in 1764, converted for library use in 1884 with additions in 1913 and 1976. 

Sawyer Free Library showing 1913 and 1976 additions to 1764 Saunders house.

Sawyer Free Library showing 1913 and 1976 additions to 1764 Saunders house.

In 1800 Capt. Beach owned the old Saunders house with a large piece of land. In 1801 John Mason bought land from Beach and built a house which he then sold to Joseph Henderson and Samuel Gale for $1600 in 1807. Henderson and Gale who were also house wrights next sold the lot with the house for $1215 to Nathaniel and Charles Babson in 1810.  Along with the house, there was also a shop.  It is not clear whether this was a separate structure or was included within the house.

This Federal period house with the gable end on School Street was next owned by John W. Haskell for many years.  The main part of the house that faced Middle Street had replaced 2 over 2 window sash, popular in the Victorian period.  The ell of the house still had small paned 6 over 6 window sash that would have been original to the house.  Although set way back on School Street the house faced Middle Street.  In front of the house is another house that can be seen in the photo.  It was most likely the back of the home of John J. Somes that was later replaced by the Lorraine Apartments built nearly thirty years after this picture was taken in 1882. 

Later in the 19th century, the Lane family lived there.  The house was deeded to Maria Lane, wife of Edwin Lane of the fire department.  At that time the fire station was on Dale Avenue on the site of the Central Grammar Apartments today.  It was just steps from Lane’s house to the station.

This is a Corliss and Ryan photo taken about 1882.  Courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum


Eventually, another house was built next door at 7 School Street.  This house was occupied by J. Warren Haskell, probably the son of John W. Haskell.  It was larger than the charming but small Federal at 3-5 School Street.

Benjamin F. Somes, bank president, lived on the corner of School and Middle in a Federal period house with a nice fanlight over the door.  John J. Somes, long time city clerk, lived in a modest Victorian house that was next door to Benjamin’s house but newer and closer to Middle Street.   Photo courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.


The two Somes lots on the corner of Middle Street and School Street became the lot on which the Lorraine Apartments replaced the Somes houses about 1910.  School Street was between the Benjamin Somes house and the Congregational Church.  The Somes houses may have been moved to new locations in the city.


The block in 1851.  Saunders house was then Dr. Davidson’s

Next door on the right side of the Lorraine Apartments on Middle Street was the former First Parish Church, in recent years the Temple Ahavat Achim. Continuing up School Street it soon intersects with Mason Street.  Mason Street is a sharp right-hand turn facing Central Grammar and the passageway to Dale Avenue next to the Sawyer Free Library.

On this short leg of Mason Street at #3 was the pretty Italianate house that was quite new when Corliss and Ryan photographed it in 1882.  Right behind it is the back of the First Parish Church.  The small chimneys indicate stove heat.  Fireplaces were no longer needed for heat. Through the trees on the left side of the house is the gable end of the old house that originally stood on the corner of Dale Avenue and Warren Street facing City Hall.


In 1867 this piece of land was sold for $950 with no house on it.  In 1883 it was sold by Horatio Andrews to Emma Perkins with a house for $5000.

This handsome house has pairs of brackets under the eaves, the hallmark of the Italianate period in architecture so popular in Gloucester.  Chances are that it was built in the 1870s.  This photo is courtesy of Cape Ann Museum.

As late as the year 2000 this neighborhood was still as described.  The Saunders house with its library additions was still next door to the old First Parish Church with the Lorraine Apartments on the corner of Middle and School streets.


Library and First Parish Meeting House as they appeared in the late 19th century.



The Lorraine Apartments built as a hospital circa 1910. Burned 2007.

On School Street, the first house, the old Haskell house, was still standing at 3-5 School Street with the other Haskell house still standing next door at 7 School Street.  Turning the corner onto Mason Street was the Italianate house of the later 19th century.  This completes this block as it was in the year 2000 just before this long-time stable and established block began to change. 

The first house to go was the former pretty Italianate at 3 Mason Street.  The Sawyer Free Library, in anticipation of expanding to meet modern library needs, purchased the house for $229,000 and demolished it.

The library next focused on the two School Street houses.  On June 4, 2003, the library acquired 3-5 School Street for $339,000.  Just about two weeks later 7 School Street was acquired by the library for $350,000.  Both houses were demolished clearing three house lots in preparation for a larger library with some parking.

That ended the planned demolition but unplanned demolition continued to wreak havoc on this city block.

In December of 2007, a devastating fire destroyed the Lorraine Apartments with a loss of one life.  As the apartment house collapsed in flames it took the former First Parish Church, then Temple Ahavat Achim, with it completing the destruction of this block.  Only the old Saunders house with its 1913 and 1976 additions remained.  Now Gloucester was presented with a unique opportunity to redevelop this block and begin renovations to the library.  There was plenty of room for the library to spread out.  Kirk Noyes, representing the Gloucester Development Team who owns Central Grammar organized a charrette hoping for inspiration for exciting redevelopment. 


The new contemporary Temple Ahavat Achim

Sadly, this opportunity to do something really wonderful slipped away as a poor reproduction of the Lorraine Apartments quickly rose from the ashes and a controversial Temple replaced the old converted first Parish Church, its contemporary design thought to be out of place in a small historic district struggling to survive the loss, recover from this major upheaval, and keep its identity.


The reproduced Lorraine Apartments.

The money hoped for though an override for the library failed to materialize and the 2007 plans for expansion of the library were shelved.

With a new round of library funding available in 2017, the library has again jumped on board.  Having discarded the 2007 plans the building committee began anew and presented the city with a disappointing set of plans.  Although the interior would provide the much-desired features it was recommended that the 1976 library building be demolished and replaced with a very contemporary and controversial building designed by architects who apparently didn’t look at the surrounding area, consider the Gloucester Historic District or the 250-year-old Saunders house.  The city was shocked! The important Saunders house didn’t work for these architects so that would be put out to pasture unless someone could come up with a sensible idea for an architecturally important but 250-year-old detached piece of the library.  The new plan has yet to be approved and the land on School Street and Mason Street remains vacant but providing some parking for the library.  The newest plan does not call for expanding in the rear of the library where the old houses once stood.


Nearly $1,000,000 in historic Gloucester houses was lost, a number of affordable rental units lost, nearly $1,000,000 in grounds work, a beautiful amphitheater and landscaping doomed if the plan goes through.  Now there are two sets of architectural drawings costing several hundred thousand dollars wasted if the plan isn’t approved or used.

Why wasn’t the Gloucester Historic District Commission or the Gloucester Historical Commission included in the planning?  There are a lot of unanswered questions.  For the time being, we are left with a decimated neighborhood and an application pending for funding for a new library that will make many people very unhappy if it ever gets approved.

Although it didn’t all come out of one pocket the expenses incurred and the loss of antique houses and rental units in an attempt to renew the library are huge.  I feel sorry those who have contributed so much such as the amphitheater named for the Randos and the new beautiful landscaping by Hillarie Holdsworth that would be destroyed.  I feel sorry for the Monells knowing that the beautiful and appropriate building their father designed would callously be bulldozed.


The new amphitheater for the library. Dedicated to the parents of John Rando.

When and if a new library gets built, whatever the design, it will represent a very costly trial and error attempt. There has been insufficient regard for the old Saunders house, the Gloucester Historic District, the National Register designation, or the civic-minded individuals who contributed time and money so generously in support of their library to make it better. 


Prudence FishPrudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.


Children on the Beach. Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)

Children on the Beach.                                Edward Henry Potthast (1857-1927)

The Boston and Maine trains played an integral role in my summer vacations in Gloucester.  Now after reading the pieces written by Peter Anastas and Eric Schoonover I wondered if Enduring Gloucester’s readers could stand one more train story!  I hesitated then decided to take a chance. Trains seem to have played a memorable role in the lives of my generation.

1Pru - Train Depot

Each summer my mother and I would take the train from my small hometown in central Massachusetts to rendezvous in Boston at North Station with “Auntie” with whom I would spend my long awaited summer vacation days in Lanesville and Folly Cove.

While in Boston we shopped at Jordan Marsh and Filene’s for a new bathing suit for me and a new dress and shoes for the first day of school in September.  Then if I was lucky enough we might visit to Jack’s Joke Shop before riding the subway back to North Station and the Rockport line at Track 2. There I would say good-by to Mother and board the train to Gloucester with Auntie. In the early years engines were formidable, behemoth locomotives belching clouds of black smoke, later replaced by streamlined diesels.

2Pru - Train

My happy anticipation grew as we left the cities of Boston and Lynn behind and approached the Salem station.  At that point in our journey the lights were turned on in the passenger cars.  I knew what that meant. We were about to enter the tunnel.  How exciting that was to a four or five year old!

That event was followed by a sharp change in scenery.  After leaving the Beverly station there were glimpses of big houses, and blue ocean water.  And what was that funny sounding station…Montserrat? That stop was followed by Beverly Farms and Pride’s Crossing; then Manchester with sail boats in the harbor.

After passing the Lily Pond and the West Gloucester station, none too soon for me, the conductor would call out, “Gloucester, Gloucester.”

As we alighted from the train the familiar sights, sounds and smells left no doubt that we were really in Gloucester. Auntie and I then proceeded out to Washington Street to wait for the bus with me sitting on my suitcase in front of the Depot Café to wait for those big orange busses of the Gloucester Autobus Co.  We must watch for the bus that said “Lanesville, Folly Cove.”  That was very important. 3Pru - Orange bus Heaven forbid that we get on the wrong bus!

While impatiently waiting on the sidewalk I stared at the big house on the corner of Commonwealth Avenue and thought it was quite wonderful.  It was almost new then.  It is still wonderful but, like me, showing its age.

The landscape soon became more and more familiar.  As the bus made its way along Washington Street Auntie, always a teacher, pointed out the old Ellery house and, on the opposite side of the road, the big yellow Babson house.  The construction of the rotary, Route 128 and the A. Piatt Andrew Bridge were still a distant idea.  Little did I know that these historical landmarks pointed out to me as a child would be so important to me as an avid preservationist many decades later.

Way down the road we traveled under the Riverdale Willows, saw the abandoned Hodgkins Tide Mill and crossed the causeway to Annisquam.  After a few more miles we passed the Consolidated Lobster Company at Hodgkins Cove. I was told with a slight tone of disapproval that their lobsters came from Nova Scotia and not as good as our Ipswich Bay lobsters.  Our lobsters would come from George Morey at Lanes Cove.

Shortly thereafter we went down one last hill and there was Plum Cove and the sandy beach!  Oh happy day! We’re almost there.

After stops in Lanesville the big orange bus traveled down Langsford Street until it approached Butman Avenue and Ranta’s Market.  It was extremely important to pull the overhead cord at just the right moment to tell the driver we wanted to get off, not too soon and not too late.

From there it was a short walk with Auntie dragging my suitcase (without wheels of course) up Butman Avenue to Washington Street after which it was downhill to Auntie’s house. The magic of my summer vacations was about to begin.

Every day was filled with fun at Plum Cove or Folly Cove.  Cloudy days were fun, too, with hikes through the woods on the Rockport Path to the Paper House in Pigeon Cove, picking blueberries, walking to Dogtown or a bus trip to Rocky Neck.  On Rocky Neck there was a wonderful shop that I loved called the La Petite Gallery.  Other trips to Bearskin Neck or shopping in downtown Gloucester filled the long summer days.  One trip to downtown each summer always included a stop at Gloucester’s vast City Hall so Auntie could pay her taxes.

It was with great sadness that at the end of August the trip by bus and train was reversed.  I huddled by the window hiding my face so no one would see my tears.  Next summer was such a long way off.

Every detail is forever burned in my brain.  Little did I know that Gloucester would become my permanent residence and that I would be living in Auntie’s house or that my children and grandchildren would also know the magic of summer in Lanesville.

Little did I know that in the warmer months I would be standing in the now so- called 1710 White-Ellery house, no longer across the road from the old yellow Babson house.  The ancient house is now located behind the Babson house and here is where once a month  in the summer I tell  visitors about the construction of the house and explain to them how it was moved across the road in 1947 to save it from demolition as Route 128 became a reality..

And that is where I was on the first Saturday in June as another summer on Cape Ann begins.


Prudence Fish

Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses. Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.


This is all that remains of what was once a nice old house at the Cut

This is all that remains of what was once a nice old house at the Cut

Back in September I wrote “The Value of a House” published in Enduring Gloucester.  At that time word had circulated around the city that two houses on the Boulevard were in danger of being demolished.  News that one of the threatened houses was the Inn at Babson Court caught the attention of the public.  There was an anguished outcry of dismay from a number of people including the Gloucester Historical Commission.

Meanwhile, the owners of a lesser known house just a few doors down the street obtained a permit to demolish and rebuild with hardly a ripple.  This house was not as old as the Inn at Babson Court but with its two big chimneys running up the back of the house supporting numerous fireplaces it actually had more integrity and more remaining original fabric than did the Inn.  Somehow it never got the attention it deserved and there was little or no reaction or opposition. Misleading was the date of 1900 from the assessors’ records.  People don’t realize that the arbitrary date of 1900 has been assigned to most old houses in Gloucester having nothing to do with the actual age.  The demolition was quickly approved by the ZBA.

73-75 Western Avenue in recent years. Not so long ago it was an intact house.

73-75 Western Avenue in recent years. Not so long ago it was an intact house.


This is 73-75 Western Avenue in better days showing the added enclosed Victorian portico.

This is 73-75 Western Avenue in better days showing the added enclosed Victorian portico.

In the fall the outside of the house was stripped away.  It sat there with little happening.  A large dumpster occupied most of the  yard.  I secretly hoped the owners were having second thoughts.  But as was predictable, its brief reprieve came to an end and heavy equipment sat in the front yard, poised to wreak the inevitable destruction.

The Stripped House, December 23, 2015. Linda Amero photo.

The Stripped House, December 23, 2015. Linda Amero photo.

The demolition only took a few hours. Joshua Gerloff photo.

The demolition only took a few hours. Joshua Gerloff photo.

By mid afternoon I grabbed my camera and headed to the Boulevard.  All that was left was a pile of kindling.

I took several photos. The Harborview Inn right next door was festively decorated for the season looking beautiful and inviting,  sharp contrast to the pathetic pile of rubble just a very few feet from its foundation.   I hurried back to my car not caring to linger.

The Harborview Inn in sharp contrast to what is left of its long-time neighbor next door.

The Harborview Inn in sharp contrast to what is left of its long-time neighbor next door.

73-75 Western Ave in 1883 The long ell on the left is there but the large portico on the front has not yet been added. You can see the big chimneys accommodating many fireplaces behind the ridgepole, standing tall to the very end. (Corliss and Ryan photo. Property of CAM.)

73-75 Western Ave in 1883 The long ell on the left is there but the large portico on the front has not yet been added. You can see the big chimneys accommodating many fireplaces behind the ridgepole, standing tall to the very end. (Corliss and Ryan photo. Property of CAM.)

My definition of a true antique house is one with a hand hewn, handmade timber frame and fireplaces for heating and cooking.  By these standards this house was a true antique almost 200 years old.

Here is a repeat of the history of the Joseph Proctor house researched by me and previously published in Enduring Gloucester.

“The house was built on land owned by Joseph Procter, just one of a long line of Joseph Proctors.  It may not have been his homestead but certainly was the homestead of his son, Joseph Johnston Proctor, followed by Joseph Osborn Proctor.  The Procter family’s role in the history of Gloucester is huge.  They were heavily involved in the fisheries and many local organizations.  Ultimately they owned a number of houses along the Boulevard including the Inn at Babson Court as well as the stately house at 73-75 Western Avenue.   Their holdings extended up the hill toward what is now Hovey Street.

Joseph J. Procter was born in 1802 and married Eliza Ann Gilbert in 1826.  This couple had eleven children before Joseph died unexpectedly on September 2, 1848.  His death was followed by the death of a one year old son just two weeks later.  Eliza Ann lived in the house until her own death in 1887.

At this time the house was sold to Hiram Rich, a poet (1832-1901), who worked at the Cape Ann National Bank.  Hiram Rich was widely published in many periodicals including the Atlantic Monthly.  Not so long ago in the Gloucester Times John Ronan called Hiram Rich an underrated poet who was important to the City of Gloucester.”

On Wednesday December 22rd almost simultaneous to receiving the news that the house on Western Ave. was being leveled I received a call from an out–of-towner; a stranger to whom I had been referred.  After giving me his name he said, “How would you like to help save one of the oldest houses in Gloucester?” My immediate thought was, “ Here we go again! “   But, of course, the caller already had my full attention and yes I would go to bat for another old house; another piece of Gloucester history, the fabric of this place.

Two hours later I was wandering through the old house poking into the nooks and crannies of the large,  once charming  rooms of this interesting but tired  country antique from the late 18th century.  I had to acknowledge that this was not a project for the faint hearted.   Yet I’m sure most readers of Enduring Gloucester would have the same conviction as I that this house too must be saved.

I learned that some of the heirs to this property wanted to save the old landmark while other heirs did not appreciate its value and wanted it to be demolished.  Old Gloucester names such as Riggs, Haskell and Dennen are associated with the property.

It is premature to predict the outcome and too soon to talk about it publicly but when and if it is no longer confidential information and still in jeopardy you will be hearing from me.

We need demolition delay and we need it now!

There is positive news about the Inn at Babson Court.  The anticipated demolition has been CANCELLED!  The  potential owner has gone back to the drawing board and will retain the house with alterations and adjustments on the interior in order to create new spaces for today’s condo living.  With so little of the original remaining on the inside I have no problem with redesigning the interior.  I hope the developer will be sensitive to retaining an appropriate exterior.  His willingness to accommodate and still come up with viable plan for development is commendable.

There will always be houses in jeopardy in the name of progress.   Will we be ready to go to bat for them?  Will we have a demolition delay in place to at least slow down the destruction thereby gaining time to consider other alternatives?

Has this recent spate of demolitions been a wake-up call?   In 2016 will Gloucester finally say, “We’ve had enough already!”  by approving a long overdue demolition delay ordinance with a long enough delay to give it some teeth?

Now that would be a good first step in the right direction.

 Prudence Fish

Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses.  Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.