Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Cape Ann Granite Company, Part 5 - Colonel French and Rock Lawn

Rock Lawn, the estate of Colonel Jonas French 1
General Butler's summer residence Homestead is to the right.
On Wednesday, August 27, 1879, five hundred people attended a Field Meeting of the Essex Institute, co-sponsored by the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association at the Bay View home of Colonel Jonas French. Some came by stage from the Gloucester train depot, others by barge to the pier of the Cape Ann Granite Company. An appreciative scribe for the Institute wrote that Col. French "threw open his house to the visitors, his extensive lawns were at their disposal and his hospitality was unbounded." 2

Guests viewed quarries and finishing sheds from dressed-up platform cars of the granite train. Some descended almost to the bottom of the quarry to inspect a recently dislodged section of the ledge "weighing by actual computation 40,000 tons...This was accomplished by the drilling of twenty holes, each eight feet in depth, and the use of 425 pounds of powder. The fissure made is two hundred feet in length and eighty-five wide at the widest part, and enabled [foreman J. Henry] Jones to get a bottom to the solid mass from which to work upon." 2

The successful blast freed the monolith as an enormous block of source material, without shattering it or sending it crashing to the quarry floor. Hundreds of employees could cut up and finish the stone to meet demand.

The Cape Ann Granite Company
loading stone at Hodgkins Cove wharves3
The not-yet-formed Cape Ann Granite Company had received its defining contract in 1868 under the creative auspices of Congressman Benjamin Butler, to supply stone for construction of the Boston Post Office. The following year the Company was incorporated with Jonas French as President. During an  inquest regarding possible improprieties in the proceedings, "Mr. French...testified that he purchased the quarry upon the recommendation of Gen. Butler as a business investment, and that at the time of the purchase he did not know that any appropriation had been made for the Boston Post Office." 4

Cape Ann Granite Company quarry, Bay View 5
At the dedication of the Company's new railroad in 1870 Congressman Butler responded indignantly to accusations of undue influence. "After an investigation, in which the investigators got a good deal more investigated than the matter they were sent to investigate, and a good deal more found out about them than they found out against anybody else; after the Secretary of the Treasury came here to see if there was any granite here, and any water to carry it away on... the contract has been renewed." 6
 
The superintendent of construction for the Boston Post Office was none other than Gridley Bryant, whom we met in an earlier essay as builder of the first Granite Railway in Quincy. Concurrently with the Boston Post Office Gridley was supervising construction of Gloucester's monumental City Hall.

Gloucester City Hall
Gridley Bryant, architect 7
Colonel French engaged Bryant to design a seaside residence for his family adjacent to the granite company in Bay View.

Plan for Rock Lawn
Gridley Bryant, architect 7
General Butler sold to French a section of his land to build the house. Rock Lawn was completed by 1872 and finely landscaped with orchards, drives, terraces, gardens and greenhouses. Harriet Robey, a Butler descendant, recalls that "in these two houses everything possible is made of granite....I think it is from this that we get the sense of permanence, and the actual permanence, of the first two houses on the [estate] at Bay View." The walls and ceiling of the living room were "painted in jewel colors in some Eastern design." 8
 
The location of Rock Lawn estate 9
A village grew up around Bay View. The Cape Ann Granite Company maintained its own store and post office. Colonel French lent his support to the local Methodist Church and to the fire department. At various times he advocated for extension of the railroad to transport granite to both the Gloucester and Rockport train depots. He spoke to public gatherings occasionally, especially about  the  capture and occupation of New Orleans during the Civil War. The newspaper, anticipating his address to the Grand Army of the Republic, promised the people of Gloucester "a rich treat, which we know from having heard. The Colonel is a very interesting speaker." 10
 
Col. Jonas French, second from right,
beside ox team on Washington Street, Annisquam.
Granite step bound for the Gloucester Baptist Church, 1870 11
During the decades of the 1870s and 1880s Jonas French served prominently in the Massachusetts Democratic Party. He was for three years the chairman of its State Central Committee and was twice elected to the Legislature as Representative from Gloucester. He was invited to be a director of several railroad and land companies. "Colonel French is fairly entitled to be enrolled in the long list of those good citizens of old Essex whose record is the nobler and better for their having contributed to it." 12
 
--Next week, "Demise"-- 
Sources
1. An illustration in Harriet Robey, Bay View, 1979, from an engraving originally printed in The History of Essex County, vol. 2, 1887.
2. "A Day with Col. French," Essex Institute vol. 11, 1879.
3. Procter Brothers stereograph, 1871, courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum.
4. Gloucester Telegraph, March 30, 1870.
5. John S. E. Rogers stereograph, courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum.
6. Gloucester Telegraph, September 24, 1870.
7. Roger G. Reed, Building Victorian Houses: The Architecture of Gridley J. F. Bryant, 2007.
8. Bay View, ibid.
9. G. M. Hopkins, Atlas of City of Gloucester & Town of Rockport, 1884.
10. Cape Ann Advertiser, February 9, 1872. See also Nov 5, 1869; Dec 15, 1871; Oct 27, 1876; and Feb 1, 1878.
11. Photograph courtesy of the Cape Ann Museum.
12. History of Essex County, With Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men, C. Hamilton Hurd, 1888.

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