Our previous blog post discussed finding a forgotten location by consulting our copy of the Scarlett map of Acton. (The original was drawn in a notebook owned by the Acton Memorial Library.) Scarlett’s work was so careful and useful, we wanted to know more about him. At first, we were confused about why D. Henry Scarlett, who seemed to have lived in Tewksbury, MA for most of his life, became interested in Acton and knowledgeable about its history. It turns out that his Acton connections were more extensive and long-lasting than we had expected.
Daniel Henry Scarlett was born in Bedford, MA on March 23, 1884 where his father was superintendent of the town farm. His parents were Henry C. Scarlett who grew up in West Boylston, MA and Mary S. Mace who grew up in Tewksbury. From Daniel Henry’s notebook, we learned that the family lived in Acton about 1887-1892. Acton town reports confirm that his father and mother were running Acton’s town farm during those years. The family then moved to Tewksbury where father Henry was known as a successful farmer. Though his parents’ marriage had publicized problems, Daniel Henry was listed as living with both parents in the 1900 census. In 1905, his father Henry, divorced, married Hattie (Norton). In the 1910 census, Daniel Henry was living with his father, stepmother, new siblings William and Carrie, and his father’s new mother- and sister-in-law. Daniel Henry worked for the Boston and Maine Railroad as a crossing tender at Tewksbury/Baldwin Station near the Tewksbury State Infirmary. He was a “flagman,” at his signaling post evidently every day of the week, a job he began around 1908 and continued until 1926. His father Henry died in 1929. In the 1930 census, stepmother Hattie, siblings, and “D. Henry” were listed as living together. D. Henry was then a gardener at the State Infirmary.
"Very Ingenious Fellow"
Tracing D. Henry Scarlett’s life only through vital records and censuses, one would not realize how many interests and talents he had. D. Henry Scarlett was an amateur astronomer. He had no formal training, but he used his earnings from the railroad to buy telescopes. He told a reporter that “I am almost as familiar with the stars as with the streets of Lowell, and I dearly love to study them. I haven’t any observatory, but I hope to have one some day.” Lowell Sun (Nov. 11, 1915 p. 6) During 1911-1912, he observed Mars through a five-inch telescope set up on his father’s land. His observations and drawings were published in Popular Astronomy (1914, vol. 22). His patience and attention to detail were quite obvious. Professor A. Lawrence Lowell of Harvard described his work as “wonderful”; Scarlett had shown that an amateur with a relatively low-powered telescope could observe much more than astronomers had believed possible. Scarlett said in the Nov. 1915 Lowell Sun interview that one had to make one’s observations when the atmosphere was right; he had been known to be out all night, even enduring sub-zero temperatures in order to get his observations.
D. Henry Scarlett received recognition for his work. He was made an honorary member of the Astronomical Society of France. High school classes came from Lowell to look through his telescope. According to a later interview, when World War 1 came, he thought he would be called up, so he donated his telescope to Harvard. He registered for the draft but evidently was not called. He continued to save his railroad earnings, hoping to build his own observatory. He bought a piece of land in the Wamesit part of Tewksbury across from the post office (evidently at 283 Main Street). A 3-ton, level base was installed on the property and drilled with bolt holes to hold down a telescope. Scarlett built a small home and a protective structure that was placed on two railroad tracks so that it could be moved out of the way when the telescope was in use. In 1928, his dream came to fruition and he obtained a 12-inch reflector telescope. Over the next few years, his observatory was visited by many teachers and students. (Lowell Sun, Dec. 19, 1931, p. 14)
Astronomy was only one of Scarlett’s interests. He was an avid collector, taking a particular interest in geology, botany, and history. A 1931 article (Lowell Sun, Dec. 19, p. 14) said that the stone wall and brick walk that Scarlett had built outside his observatory were made of items of either scientific or historical interest. One of the stones was taken from the cellar wall of Acton’s first house. To our surprise, the paper mentioned that the centerpiece of his garden “which attracts the attention of passers-by is a clever piece of workmanship, begun by Mr. Scarlett when he was 16 years of age and completed recently. It is an exact replica in miniature of the Acton memorial." Under that, he placed soil from the graves of Capt. Isaac Davis the other Acton men killed on April 19, 1775 (presumably taken from Acton’s Common).
It turns out that the display was actually an evolution of Scarlett’s work as a teenager that merited mention in the Boston Daily Globe (Aug. 4, 1901, page 25). As a seventeen-year-old, D. Henry Scarlet had created a 75x100 foot miniature village representing Acton on his parent’s farm at 1018 Livingston Street in Tewksbury. It contained a 14-foot model of the Acton monument, a replica of the Congregational church, a railway, trains, cemeteries, the town farm, and a number of houses, buildings, and streets. He kept a guest log to record his many visitors. His father was interviewed for the article; at the time, he sounded a bit dubious about the extent of his son’s absorption in the project and suggested that his talents might be better developed away from the farm.
D. Henry Scarlett later worked for the railroad. His flag man’s shanty was described by a newspaper reporter as revealing “neatness personified,” made more habitable by cupboards and chairs that Scarlett had made. (Lowell Sun, Nov. 11, 1915, p6). He probably had time between trains to attend to his hobbies, or perhaps he indulged his creativity after work. His woodworking also included custom-designed items made of pieces of historically significant wood. One of his ornamental cups was described as “made from wood taken from the home of Capt. Davis in which [Scarlett] set small pieces of wood, all splendidly matched, from the homes of every one of the soldiers in Capt. Davis’ company.” (Lowell Sun Dec 19, 1931, p. 14). He had been working with "historic" wood for many years by that point, apparently having been inspired by similar work done by members of the Bunker Hill Historical Association, especially Reuben Law Reed. (The Society has one of Reed's creations.) In March, 1906, Henry Scarlett donated to the town of Acton an ornamental gavel, sounding block, powder horn, and case that he had created out of 188 pieces of wood, brick, stone, and other materials from historic properties. He included in the case a notebook describing the contents of his gift and then made at least one backup copy in which he described the significance of all of the pieces and added historical tidbits that he had learned from talking to Acton residents during visits to the town. (Jenks Library is fortunate to have a scan and a transcription.) The notebook also contained his Acton maps with notes about his sources, drawings of the sword of Captain Isaac Davis, and a record of his speech at the presentation of his gift at Town Meeting:
“Perhaps you think it strange that a young man should take so much interest in this town... I lived in this town from the time I was three years old until I was eight; five years of the pleasantest days of my childhood. I commenced to attend church in that old meeting-house around the corner and began my education in that School-house a few steps down the street.... As I grew up, I decided that someday I would make Acton some kind of a present, as many others have already done.... as an object lesson to all who wish to look upon its contents, and examine the records concerning the same.”
The five years of Henry’s early Acton residence included the dedication of the Acton Memorial Library when Acton’s citizens and former residents were contributing funds and items of historical significance to its collection. The 1890s were years in which pride in the town’s history was at a very high level; the enthusiasm must have had a large influence on the young boy. Only in his early twenties in 1906, Henry Scarlett had obviously spent a lot of time talking to Acton residents (whom he mentioned by name). His notes about the tiny relics used in his gift are filled with detailed memories that would otherwise have been lost.
Back to Acton, and then West
Around 1936, Henry Scarlett sold off his Tewksbury property and moved his home and observatory to land that once belonged to Captain Isaac Davis (across the street from the site where Davis’s house once stood). Evidently, Scarlett replicated the arrangement he had created in Tewksbury for sheltering his telescope. Jenks Library has pictures taken by Belle Choate of how his yard looked decades later; the base created for the telescope and remnants of the tracks used for moving its protective structure were still there. Construction was evidently done by November 11, 1936 when the Concord Enterprise reported that village boys had been guests at the Acton Astronomical Observatory of D. Henry Scarlett on Isaac Davis Way. The boys viewed rare items in the home and then looked at the moon through the telescope.
In 1937, Daniel Henry Scarlett married Mrs. Helen (Arnot) Harris, a native of Ontario, daughter of David Arnot and Isabelle McElwaine. Scarlett was 52 and listed as retired. After having stayed in place for so many years, in retirement, D. Henry was free to travel. The couple took a “motor trip” through Canada in 1938, returned via Niagara Falls for short time, and then headed to Mexico, sailing out of New Orleans, and then to Southern California where Helen’s brother lived. On their trip to Mexico, they were accompanied by 21-year-old Alfred N. McDougall from West Acton.
For all of D. Henry Scarlett’s affection for Acton, he did not stay long. In 1942, he sold his property and moved out west. By early 1944, the couple was living on Oracle Road in Tucson, Arizona. Both died in Tucson, Helen on May 20, 1946 and D. Henry on June 17, 1958. They were buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Tucson.
Our lesson from researching Henry Scarlett is that even in this era when we can access so much online, archives and libraries hold treasures that are easy to miss. In this case, Henry Scarlett’s work was preserved at Acton’s Memorial Library and shared with our predecessors at the Society. We are lucky that Acton history was among Daniel Henry Scarlett’s many interests and that he took the time to record stories from older townspeople. As we discover so often, history unrecorded is history lost.
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