Two days after Patriot’s Day, little remains of the flurry of holiday activities along the parade route in East Lexington, Massachusetts. The many flags and patriotic buntings which lined Massachusetts Avenue have been packed away until perhaps the Fourth of July. The only traces of a holiday celebration that I see from where I sit sketching are a plastic fork, a paper plate and a napkin on the ground by the historic Stone Building.
Almost all of the small village of East Lexington is historic. It developed separately from Lexington center where the “shot heard ’round the world” was fired. The early to mid 1800s were its heyday, led by the Robbins Family, who owned a successful fur dressing company producing capes, caps and muffs among other things. They, along with another manufacturer of fur dressings, Ambrose Morell, employed over 300 people at the height of their businesses.
The Robbins family not only brought prosperity to the village but also a worldly perspective. Eli Robbins (1786-1856) was very civic-minded and progressive in spirit. It was he who built Robbins Hall in 1833 as a combination public meeting hall and residence, a place to celebrate freedom of speech. The handsome Greek Revival structure played host to lyceum lectures (educational lectures of the period), religious services and speeches by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Julia Ward Howe and Henry David Thoreau to name a few. Abolitionism and temperance were topics of discussion.
The building was passed down through the family and eventually became known as the Stone Building. In 1892, it was sold to the town of Lexington and became a branch of the town’s public library. In 1997, the building was closed due to a serious flood problem.
Today, the building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, but sits empty. The Stone Building is beautifully preserved on the outside and awaits the preservation of its interior. The trustees of the Lexington Library plan for it to become “The Lexington Heritage Center.” As a permanent space for public meetings, performances, exhibits and lectures, it will aim to preserve the mission of its creator, Eli Robbins.