Recently we came across three small, matted watercolors that belong to the Society. They are all marked “Acton Mass” on the back. A cursory glance made one of us think they were done by Arthur F. Davis, a prolific local artist who painted several works owned by the Society. However, a more careful observer noticed that the initials on one of the paintings were actually AEP, and another was clearly marked “Payson.” Payson was a painter completely unknown to us.
Having previously conducted research projects only to discover that one of our predecessors at Jenks Library had already covered the same ground, we have learned the importance of finding out what others have written about our subject and asking current members what they know. We found a Society newsletter from 1999 that mentioned the donation of the paintings from the estate of Marie (Davis) Hunt. At that time, no one knew who A. E. Payson was, although the writer had found Arthur E., Annie E., and Aurin E. Payson in Acton’s 1910 Census and was asking for help figuring out which of them was the artist.
Fortunately, before we even had time to start our research, we were joined at Jenks by a Society member who had been present when the Memorial Library received a donation of two paintings done by Annie E. Payson, definitively identified as the family's painter. Now we had questions of our own; who was Annie E. Payson and why hadn’t we heard of her before?
We started with the 1910 census from which we learned that Arthur E. (age 51) and Annie E. (53) Payson lived on Concord Road in Acton with their two sons, Aurin E. (18) and Arthur H. (16). Arthur E. was a “Commercial Traveller” (salesman) of Lubricating Oil, and Annie was listed as having no occupation. That was common for women at the time, but we found the following ad in the March 2 Concord Enterprise of that year:
TEACHER IN PAINTING
Pupils wanted in Oil and Drawing to enter class. Studio open from 9 a. m. to 3 p. m. Orders taken in Oil and Pastel.
ANNIE E. PAYSON
We found identical ads in Concord Enterprise issues dating back to December 1908. Because someone in Acton probably took lessons from her or owned her paintings, we thought it would be easy to find more about her and her work. Disappointingly, beyond those newspaper ads and her local paintings, we have found no traces of her art training or her experiences as a painter and teacher. However, we did learn about her family and their years in Acton.
Annie Payson's Family
Annie Edwards Payson was born in Salem, Massachusetts to Augustus and Elizabeth Ann/Annie Elizabeth (Edwards) Hardy. She was, supposedly, a member of the well-known Jonathan Edwards family on her mother’s side, while her father’s New Hampshire ancestor Phine(h)as Hardy’s military service later allowed her to become a member of the DAR. Annie’s birth date (from Salem records) was August 9, 1855, although her age in subsequent records is not always consistent with that date. Her father Augustus Hardy was a painter (of houses) and later had a door, sash and blind business. By the 1865 Massachusetts census, he had moved his family to Boston. Perhaps Annie was able to get training in painting there; we have not yet found records that yield information about what she did as a young woman.
On December 17, 1890 in Malden, Massachusetts, thirty-one-year-old Annie “B” Hardy, resident of Malden, married Arthur E(liot) Payson, a merchant residing in Malden, son of Aurin M. and Hannah G. Payson. Arthur and Annie’s sons Aurin Eliot and Arthur Hardy Payson were both born in Malden, and the family was still there for the 1900 census. Arthur E. was a salesman. In early years, he worked in the sash and blinds business. By 1904, according to the Malden directory of that year, the Paysons had moved to Acton. Their connection to the town seems to have been through Annie’s siblings. Annie’s brother Harry was an Acton resident when he died in 1898. Arthur and Nellie Hardy, two of her other siblings, spent the summer that year in South Acton (Concord Enterprise, June 23, 1898). Arthur Hardy and his wife had moved to South Acton by 1902 according to a directory at Jenks Library and were still residents in the 1910 census.
The Paysons' Acton Years
After moving in, Arthur E. Payson, Annie, and their sons seem quickly to have become part of the fabric of the town. The earliest mentions of the family in the Concord Enterprise were of the boys’ involvement in the Acton Center Boys' Club in the spring of 1905. By April, 1907, Aurin was president of the club and A. Hardy was secretary. The boys participated in musical and other performances, and Aurin was involved in the Grange and sang at the Congregational Church. Their father also was involved in the Grange and was elected as an officer in December 1907 and as Worthy Master in December 1908. He participated in debates that seem to have been popular entertainments of the time, gave vocal performances, and performed in plays. He also was involved in politics to some extent and served on the committee appointed to try to get Acton Centre into the new water district in 1912.
Annie’s name appeared often in the Concord Enterprise in her ads from late 1908 to early 1910. Despite much searching, we were only able to find a few other tidbits about Annie’s Acton life from newspaper accounts. She was responsible for the “handsome decorations” at a Boys’ Club production in April 1907 and appeared as Liberty in a patriotic ladies’ play at the Grange meeting discussed in the March 4, 1908 Enterprise. She fell on the ice in February 1909 and broke bones in her wrist, necessitating a visit to Carney Hospital in the city and several weeks of healing. Mostly she was mentioned when she hosted Payson and Hardy relatives and when she visited elsewhere.
The Payson boys were teenagers at the beginning of the era when Acton students were sent to Concord for their secondary education. Aurin may have done sports and was definitely in the debating club. He was awarded a prize as the best individual debater at Concord High School in May 1909, a point of local pride. He graduated cum laude in 1911, after which he headed off to Boston University. Arthur (also known as Hardy) seems to have participated during high school in sports, music and theater. He graduated from Concord High School with the class of 1912; his portrait is in a collection for that class at the Concord Library. He did a post-graduate year at Concord High School. In May 1913, he starred in a Concord production of The Mikado; the Enterprise reported rave reviews of his talents in both comedy and singing. A number of people went from Acton Centre to see him perform.
Judging from news items about the Payson family in the Concord Enterprise, they moved from Acton to Wollaston (MA) between May 28, 1913 and June 24, 1914. In later years, they would show up periodically in the newspaper either as visitors to Acton or when a significant event occurred such as an engagement or receiving a commission in the army.
Arthur and Annie stayed in Quincy/Wollaston except for 1925 when they were listed in the Cambridge directory. Arthur was an oil dealer/salesman in Boston. Annie died in Reading (MA) in 1929 and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge. Arthur, a widower, lived in Reading in 1930 and died there in 1936.
Aurin Payson graduated from Boston University in 1915 and from Harvard Business School the next year. After military service during World War I and a stint in banking in New York, Aurin quickly worked up to being president of the American Thermos Company in Norwich, Connecticut, a position he held for many years. He also became involved in Norwich civic affairs, served as trustee and director for other institutions, and served as president and Chairman of the Board of Chelsea Savings Bank. His brother Arthur Hardy apparently attended Boston University’s College of Business Administration and also worked in Boston after high school. He returned to Concord in February 1915 to perform with the Graduate Glee Club in H. M. S. Pinafore. His amusing antics were noted in an opening night review in the Boston Daily Globe (February 14, page 96). He served in the Quartermaster Corps during World War I. In the 1920s, he worked in Boston as an assistant treasurer and then moved to Springfield, Ohio to work as a salesman. By 1929, he had moved to Norwich and was also working for the American Thermos Company. Both brothers were granted patents in conjunction with their Thermos work, for example a 1936 patent for a "double walled vacuum receptacle" that listed both of them as inventors. Arthur co-designed at least one museum-worthy piece for the company; his Thermosphere Carafe is in the Cooper Hewitt Museum. (Annie obviously was not the only family member with an artist’s eye.) Arthur also worked up the ranks of the Thermos company, eventually becoming president and Chairman of the Board.
Over the years, the Payson brothers stopped appearing in the Acton newspapers, though they may have visited. They were certainly remembered; when Harold Phalen, their Acton Center Boys’ Club compatriot, wrote his 1954 history of the town, he included Aurin Payson’s Debate Cup win as a notable event.
The Paysons’ stay in Acton was not long. We are fortunate that Annie left tangible reminders of their time here and that the Society received a donation of some of her paintings. Those interested in her work can also see one of her oil paintings on display at the Faulkner Homestead in South Acton. We would like to learn more about Annie and her art; if you have information or could show us other examples of her work, please contact us.
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