Church of Stones

Church

Just outside downtown Medford, on the road that Paul Revere took to Menotomy (now called Arlington) sits a rustic church of stones, as if from the European countryside. It’s the Grace Episcopal Church built in 1868 by the important American architect H.H. (Henry Hobson) Richardson early in his career. Actually, it’s his oldest building still standing.

Richardson is most well known in Boston for his landmark Trinity Church which was built a decade later in Copley Square—home of the Boston Marathon’s finish line. There are lots of Richardson-designed gems in the region, as his practice was in Brookline, Massachusetts. That said, while he was a local architect, his reputation and influence was certainly national. He, along with Chicago’s Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright, are often considered the holy trinity of American architecture.

Medford’s Grace Episcopal Church is a bit unusual, in that it preceded his signature “Richardson Romanesque” style of architecture. This church was created in a Gothic Revival style, perhaps reflecting works the young architect saw in Europe when he was a student at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. The structure surface features rough-cut glacial rocks and granite blocks. The roof is of gray and red slate.

With the Church, stands a tall tower holding nine bells which were originally hung in 1873. The largest was given by the city of Medford to be used as the city’s fire bell. The bells were cast by the Blake Brothers Company who were successors to a famous bell foundry in the North End of Boston, founded by none other than Paul Revere himself.

 

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Over the River

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bridge copy

The Mystic River is only seven miles long and it’s not very wide. But, it played a large role in American history. The name itself may sound familiar, as it was the title of a popular movie directed by Clint Eastwood and Sean Penn. The movie was an adaptation of the novel by Dennis Lehane, the bestselling Boston author.

On his way to Lexington, Paul Revere crossed the Mystic River by way of what is now the Cradock Bridge in Medford. The first bridge built here, in 1637, was a wooden drawbridge: the first toll bridge in New England. It was rebuilt in 1880 and 1909 according to a nearby sign. Plans are currently underway for another upgrade, at an estimated cost of 8.5 million dollars.

It was along the Mystic’s banks that Massachusetts’s first ship was built in 1631. It was the first of many. Over 500 clipper ships were built here through the 1800’s, many designed for the China trade.

This area was also known for its rum. Old Medford Rum was popular and advertised as “the best rum in the states”.

But most interesting to me, is the connection between this bridge and a song from my childhood: “Over the River and Through the Wood.” The song, which we sang in grade school, was originally written as a poem by Lydia Maria Child, the 1800’s women’s rights activist and abolitionist who grew up in Medford. In the rolling song, Child describes her Thanksgiving trip to her grandparent’s house, over an earlier bridge at this same spot.

Over the river and thru the wood, 
To grandfather’s house we go;
The horse knows the way
To carry the sleigh,
Thru the white and drifted snow, oh!

Over the river and thru the wood, 
Oh, how the wind does blow!
It stings the toes,
 And bites the nose,
As over the ground we go.

Over the river and thru the wood,
To have a first-rate play;
Oh, hear the bell ring,
”Ting-a-ling-ling!”
Hurrah for Thanksgiving Day-ay!

Royall Pain

Picturing the history of slavery in America conjures up southern plantations, but at the time of Paul Revere’s ride, slavery was very much alive in the northern states, too. Boston’s John Hancock owned slaves, as did Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin.

On his way to Lexington, Paul Revere rode right by the stately home of Isaac Royall Jr., one of the wealthiest men in New England and one of Massachusetts’ largest owner of slaves. Little did Royall know how his fortunes would change the very next day.

It was Issac Royall’s father, Isaac Sr., who brought 27 slaves to Medford, Massachusetts, from the island of Antigua in 1737, where he had made his fortune, owning a sugar plantation. The 600-acre estate along the Mystic River was called Ten Hills Farm, and it was originally owned by the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop (another slave owner). Isaac Sr. commissioned the building of the home seen here in the left of this drawing, and the slave quarters, on the right. The Royalls’ slave quarters are the only ones known to still exist in the northern states of the original thirteen colonies.

Issac Jr. inherited his father’s farm (and his slaves) upon his death only a few years after moving to America.

How did Issac Royall Jr.’s fate change after Paul Revere’s ride? Royall was a Tory, meaning he was a supporter of the British, and not the colonist revolutionaries. When the first shots of the revolution were fired the next day, Royall’s status changed dramatically. He fled his farm soon after, escaping to Nova Scotia, and then England. He died soon after. The house was eventually used as a headquarters for leaders of the Continental Army, including George Washington.

The fortunes of Harvard University changed too, due to the Royall Estate. When the property was sold by the relatives who inherited it, a portion of the sale was donated to Harvard as Isaac Royall’s will had stipulated, to be used as an endowment for its first ever law professor.

There are records of over 60 slaves who worked for the Royalls throughout the years in Medford. When their owner fled, the existing slaves were left to forge lives on their own. One 63-year-old slave named Belinda eventually hired a lawyer and won a pension of “15 pounds and 12 shillings a year” from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 1783. After all, it was argued, she had been kidnapped at the age of 12 in Guana and spent a lifetime as a slave and was now left with nothing. She was one of the first slaves to ever argue for reparations for a life lost. Slavery had been ruled illegal in Massachusetts in 1780, due to the freedom clause in its young constitution.

From the Petition of Belinda Royall in the Medford Historical Society:

“Fifty years her faithful hands have been compelled to ignoble servitude for the benefit of an Isaac Royall, until, as if Nations must be agitated, and the world convulsed for the preservation of the freedom which the Almighty Father intended for all the human Race, the present war was Commenced – The terror of men armed in the Cause of freedom, compelled her master to fly – and to breathe away his Life in a Land, where, Lawless domination sits enthroned – pouring bloody outrage and cruelty on all who dare to be free.”

“The face of your Petitioner, is now marked with the furrows of time, and her frame bending under the oppression of years, while she, by the Laws of the Land, is denied the employment of one morsel of that immense wealth, apart whereof hath been accumulated by her own industry, and the whole augmented by her servitude.”

On the cold, damp March day that I drew the remnants of the Royall Estate, all was quiet, empty and still. It was a good day for ghosts.


Dashing through the Rain

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The classic holiday song “Jingle Bells” was written in 1850 by James Pierpont in the long-gone Simpson’s Tavern on High Street, in Medford, Massachusetts. The tavern was situated along Paul Revere’s route (from which I’m drawing this spring)—so says a plaque on the wall of the three-story brick office building on High Street where the tavern once stood.

The plaque sits below the front window of an optical shop and says:

“Jingle Bells” Composed Here                                                                                On this site stood the Simpson Tavern, where in 1850 James Pierpont (1822-1893) wrote the song “Jingle Bells” in the presence of Mrs. Otis Waterman, who later verified that the song was written here. Pierpont had the song copyrighted in 1857 while living in Georgia. “Jingle Bells” tells of the sleigh races  held on Salem Street in the early 1800’s.

-Medford Historical Society 1988                                                   

Because the current Jingle Bells building is so ordinary looking, I took a seat directly across the street in the Lighthouse Cafe and drew from there. When I left my house just three miles away, I had rushed, hoping to draw the scene through falling snow. Snow, oddly rare this year, would be a perfect setting for a drawing of “Jingle Bells,” I thought. Unfortunately, the snow turned to rain as I crossed the town line.

The Lighthouse Cafe used to be called Ye Olde Lanthorn Restaurant and on the wall above my table, to my pleasant surprise, hung a fake old sign that read:

“One if by land…two if by sea”                                                                               Paul Revere’s ride was immortalized in the words of the poet Longfellow. The path of that ride, taken to alert the colonial patriots, brought Revere through High Street, Medford, where he stopped briefly, to enjoy our local hospitality. We welcome you to Ye Olde Lanthorn Restaurant.    

Lanthorn is an old British term for lantern.

The restaurant has changed owners a few times over the years. In the 1970s, it was a Pewter Pot Restaurant—one of a chain of Yankee-themed eateries, with post and beam ceilings, waitresses in Revolutionary era outfits and a menu featuring classic New England foods like pot roast, baked beans and broiled scrod. It was in this Pewter Pot that on April 18, 1973, Medford bookmaker Joe “Indian Joe” Notarangelli was mowed down by machine gun fire while he was eating, by a member of the Winter Hill Gang—the Irish Mob. Seems he did not want to pay them a portion of his illegal earnings for their “protection.”

Now, the Lighthouse Cafe is owned by a family from Albania, and was pretty un-newsworthy on the day I drew by the front window. I listened to the family members speak to each other in their native language. I guessed the daughter was the waitress, the father was the cook and the mother delivered the food. Behind me was the only other customer, and I could hear, all too clearly, her one-way conversation go on and on. I continue to find one-way conversations annoying despite the ever-present use of cellphones.

“That’s so nice!” she said.

“Oh, I’ll need $12.00 for that!” she said.

I turned around for the first time when she raised her voice higher and said “That’s so pretty!”  It was then I saw that it was an old lady, not on the phone, but talking to herself. She was looking at her fingernails admiringly. She kept talking as she left a few minutes later with her little shopping cart.

When I paid the bill for my coffee and grilled English muffin, I asked the waitress if she knew “Jingle Bells” was written right across the street. She raised her eyebrows in surprise. I guess she never saw the plaque.

I wondered if Albanians sing “Jingle Bells.”

I wondered too, if the Albanians knew about the mob killing, but I didn’t dare ask. That’s a different kind of history.