Thursday, January 12, 2017

Babson Farm

It seems inevitable that the Babson name should be stamped on Halibut Point. Since 1632, when Isabel brought her midwifery service to Gloucester, Babson family members have prospered, multiplied, and initiated valued enterprises in all corners of Cape Ann.

Apparently Isabel lost her husband during the voyage from England. Her son James established the 32-acre farm and cooperage at Beaver Dam, as a result of a grant from the Town in 1658. It straddles the road to Sandy Bay Parish that formed Rockport when it was separately incorporated in 1840. James's son Ebenezer legendarily killed with his knife a bear that attacked his nephew and stretched its hide to dry on the shoreline at a place that came to be called Bearskin Neck. 1
The James Babson Cooperage, c. 1658
Five generations from James, David Wallis Babson entered the world in 1772. When David married Charlotte Wheeler of the Garrison (Witch) House in Pigeon Cove, her father Moses Wheeler presented the newlyweds in 1802 with a parcel of his land where they built a house at what is presently 231 Granite Street. 2
David and Charlotte purchased the land that became known as "The Babson Farm" from the estate of James Norwood in 1819. This is the same land that had devolved away from Samuel Gott's farm, as described previously when his sons Joseph and Benjamin split their inheritance down the middle of the house and land in 1748. For the remainder of the nineteenth century the Babson Farm abutted the Gott Farm.
A neighboring house to the Gott House (1702) has stood on the premises since 1705 when Captain William Woodbury lived there. His building was either enlarged into or replaced by the Babson residence, which was ultimately expanded further as the Old Farm Inn.
The 1824 deed conveying a sheep pasture
from Joshua Gott to David Wallis Babson,
still in the Gott House today
David Wallis Babson along with his sons and grandsons pursued various enterprises in addition to farming. By 1850 there were five family members bearing the name David in Rockport. Distinguishing their individual achievements takes some care. 3

David Wallis and several of his descendants worked in the fishing industry, both on the water and as retail merchants. The family extended its landholdings to Folly Cove in 1883 where they acquired fish houses and a pier. 4 Sons Gorham and Horatio invested successfully in shipping, merchandise, and real estate. One of their schooners carried the name David Babson on its transom.
The Babson fish houses, Folly Cove
The Picture History Committee, Rockport As It Was, 1975
After David Wallis' death in 1851 his son Joseph bought twelve of the Babson Farm acres from other family members to organize a stone cutting business. Small-scale granite quarrying operations had sprung up along the Folly Cove shoreline during the previous two decades.
Nascent granite shipping operation at the Folly Cove pier
The Picture History Committee, Rockport As It Was, 1975
The farm acquired a gentlemanly tone under the administration of grandson Horatio, Jr.  In 1884 the Cape Ann Evening Breeze congratulated him on "a fine plot of corn at the 'Babson Farm' ....It is estimated that the yield will be in the neighborhood of a hundred and fifty tons. He has two silos, the only ones in town, as far as I am aware. Since this property has come into Mr. Babson's hands, great improvements have been made, and the place bids fair to become one of our most beautiful summer resorts." 5
The property was  undergoing a transformation along the lines that Horatio's  first cousin George was helping to bring to the coastline down toward Pigeon Cove, as the local partner with Eben Phillips in the Ocean View development along Phillips Avenue.
The "farm house" at its finest
Photo from John and Betty Erkkila, Souvenirs of Pigeon Cove, 2014
The refinements drew praise from the newspaper."One of the most beautiful places about here is the 'Babson Farms.' The location is all that could be desired, its broad sloping lawns and magnificent trees are objects of beauty that cannot fail to call forth the admiration of the beholder. In the rear of the stately residence a very fine and extensive view may be had across Ipswich Bay and along the low coast line that stretches far away to the east.... the Honorable T. Kitto, Consul, and Mr. Kasahara of Japan [are current guests.]...This evening a "progressive leap frog party" takes place. Mr. Kitto will dress in the costume of his country. A recent hay-rack ride by moonlight was a most enjoyable occasion, and all who come to his delightful place have only pleasant things to say of it." 6
Four years later in the spring of 1894 readers learned that local quarryman Edwin Canney had purchased the entire 70-acre Babson Farm. Then in the fall they were informed that the Rockport Granite Company purchased all of Mr. Canney's assets. The Horatio Babson family moved to Boston on November 10.7 Industrial-scale mining and shipping would redefine Halibut Point over the next thirty years. Its major feature was the Babson Farm Quarry.

Plowing the Babson Farm fields, early 1900s
Charles Cleaves photograph, courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
On the opposite side of Granite Street the most arable acreage of Babson Farm attracted the attention of Antone Balzarini. Antone rented this portion along with the house to raise horses for hauling granite at the quarries. His daughter Mary has left us a charming account of her rustic girlhood with eleven siblings, self-sufficiency on the land, and driving twenty cows to pasture on Pigeon Hill. 8
The field as pasture.
Tinted photograph from the collection of Sarah Dunlap
After the granite industry faltered in 1932 the Balzarini family purchased and relocated down the street to the farmland that eventually became the Windhover Performing Arts Center.
John Balzarini reconstructing The Old Farm Inn, 1964
John Field photo, courtesy of the Sandy Bay Historical Society
Many years later John Balzarini and his wife Mabel were able to found the landmark Old Farm Inn at the place of his birth.

1. Babson Historical Association website.
2. Allen Chamberlain, Pigeon Cove, Its Early Settlers & Their Farms 1702-1840, 1940.
3. Ann Theopold Chaplin, The Babson Genealogy: 1606-1997.
4. Cape Ann Advertiser,  April 20, 1883.
5. Cape Ann Evening Breeze,  September 9, 1884.
6. Gloucester Daily Times, July 9, 1890.
7. Gloucester Daily Times, April 20, October 29, November 12, 1894.
8. Mary Balzarini Anderson, in Rockport Recollected, ed. Roger Martin, 2001.

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