Reexamining Our Own History
Here at the Acton Historical Society, part of our work is to preserve the 1760 Jonathan Hosmer House and to share it with the public. Wrapping up our celebration of 40 years of stewardship of the house, we launched an “Out of the Ashes” exhibit to highlight the work of the amazingly far-sighted and intrepid citizens who rescued the house after arson and vandalism in the 1970s. Some sections of the house were in terrible condition. The pictures displayed at the exhibit are humbling to those of us tasked with caring for the house as it is today.
As work on the exhibit progressed, we realized that not only did we need to show the work of our predecessors, but also to remind people of the many reasons that the house is a treasure worth preserving. The house has stood through a great amount of history. Its story in some ways is representative of Acton’s own progression from an outlying, colonial farm town with one church to a collection of villages shaped by the railroads to a busy suburban community.
Some highlights of what we have learned about the house’s history so far:
The original house was built in 1760 by Jonathan Hosmer. He moved in with his new wife Submit Hunt and raised seven children there. A mason as well as a farmer, Jonathan installed plaster on the end(s) of the house and painted and scored it to look like brick. It is not a surface that one would expect to last for centuries, but some of it was preserved by an addition and was discovered when the house was restored. Some pieces of the original painted plaster will be on display at the exhibit.
The Hosmer family was deeply involved in town affairs and in the colonists' cause during the Revolutionary War, a subject that is currently being researched and will require a separate blog post. Here we will simply mention that it was a costly involvement for the family; Jonathan's brother Abner was killed at Concord in April, 1775, and Jonathan and Submit's eldest son Jonathan died in service in Bennington in October, 1777.
The house became a two-family when youngest son Simon married and Jonathan added a second dwelling to the original house, complete with a large second kitchen. Jonathan’s skills as a mason would have been useful in adding three more fireplaces to the original five and adding another large chimney. Simon and his wife Sarah Whitney raised eight children in the house and lost two more. It would have been the site of much activity.
After almost 80 years, the farm was sold. The new owner Rufus Holden split the property. Hosmer children and grandchildren apparently owned at least two of the pieces. (The Society has one of the deeds transferring land to Jonathan Hosmer’s son-in-law.)
The house itself was sold again to Francis Tuttle, a merchant who moved in with his wife Harriet Wetherbee and their youngest four daughters. In April 1861 after the fall of Fort Sumter, the house was again the home of worried parents as their eldest son went off to war. Captain Daniel Tuttle led the Davis Guards to join Massachusetts’ 6th Regiment that was the first to arrive in Washington fully equipped to serve after Lincoln put out the call for troops. The Society is fortunate to own several items relating to Captain Tuttle and the Davis Guards, including the drum carried to battle by Gilman S. Hosmer, grandson of Simon.
Francis Tuttle’s children and their spouses were deeply involved in the commercial development of South Acton as the village grew after the arrival of the railroad. The founders of the firm “Tuttles, Jones, and Wetherbee,” merchants of the Exchange Hall, were all related, and other family members were brought into the business as well.
The house sold again in 1868, this time to Edward O’Neil, a native of County Cork who worked on the Fitchburg Railroad. He and his wife Mary Sheridan raised four children in the house. We are currently trying to learn more about this period in the house’s history. We do know that in 1870, the house was being used as a two-family dwelling, with the O’Neils and four children on one side and Edward’s (probable) sister Catherine (O’Neil) Waldron’s family on the other. The O’Neils’ lives were not easy; all three of the sons died of TB. The house passed to daughter Mary Mehegan in 1908.
Between 1908 and 1918, the house sold for $1 four times. We are trying to discover why and to understand the relationships among the owners. In 1918, the house was sold to George S. Todd who worked in the composing room of the Boston Globe. For almost 100 years, the house’s attic has stored a box of paper matrices for an evening edition of the Globe from the first week of August, 1918, the week that George Todd bought the house. We don’t know if they were a keepsake or if perhaps he used them as packing material. Some of the pages will be on display in the upcoming exhibit.
George’s sister Ethel lived in the house with him and eventually owned the property. The siblings took care of animals, many of whom George brought home from the city to save them from a sad fate. George Todd had a garage built in 1922. It became the site of an early automobile service business apparently run by a relative of the O’Neils. Work on the Hosmer House property uncovered old car parts; a few license plates and a decorative leaded glass insert will also be on display at the exhibit.
There is much more to learn about the house and its people, both the Hosmers and the later inhabitants. The O’Neils and Todds lived on the property for about 100 years; we would like to learn more about them in order to have a complete and balanced history of the house. We would be particularly interested in finding pictures of them and of the property while they were living there. An auction was held at their property after Ethel Todd’s death in 1969, we would be interested in finding out what items were still in the house at that time.
Aside from the Todds’ addition of electricity and plumbing and a few minor alterations that were reversed during the restoration, one of the unique features of the house is that it was left almost completely intact. The house has essentially maintained its shape since 1797. We are fortunate to be stewards of the property and to share its story. Please visit the house and view the wonderful items from Acton’s history that it contains. We’re always learning something new; we hope that you will, too. If you can add to our knowledge of the property and its occupants, we would be delighted to hear from you.
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