Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Old and the New

People on the Land at Halibut Point, Part 1
Halibut Point, 1851
From the Henry F. Walling Map
Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, Boston Public Library
In the century and a half after Samuel Gott's 1702 settlement relatively little changed in land use at Halibut Point. Babsons replaced Woodburys. Subsistence farming supported families. Pockets of arable fields intermingled with meadows and pastures. Fishing supplemented agriculture.

The large number of children born to many of the early families may have provided additional hands for the chores, but they also presented more mouths to feed. As the children grew up they needed supporting ventures of their own. Whether or not subsistence farming appealed to them, there wasn't much room on the small farm. And when the time came to bequeath their estates equitably among their children, land holders without other resources faced the problem of having to divide their parcels into fractions.
Outside forces caught up with the undeveloped areas adjacent to Halibut Point in the mid-nineteenth century. Fish oil tycoon Eben Phillips witnessed the transformation of his native Swampscott by the railroad. He recognized that modern transportation would make the sleepy seaside neighborhood north of Pigeon Cove very valuable. Along with local partner George Babson he bought and gentrified an extensive tract reaching almost to Halibut Point, marketing the lots as Ocean View. 1
Gentlemen at Cathedral Rocks, Ocean View
From a Moulton stereograph, Cape Ann Museum
Twenty years after the passing of David Wallis Babson in 1851 three of his sons still figured prominently in the ownership of Babson Farm, although the land had been much divided. When one of these sons Gorham died, his widow Mary sold her twenty-acre parcel to Eben Phillips in 1873. Thereby the Phillips dominion crossed Gott Lane and Halibut Point to the Ipswich Bay, by the route of present-day Gaffield Avenue, bisecting Babson Farm.
Bostonian Thomas Gaffield had discovered Cape Ann as an investor in Ocean View lots. He began his own estate on one of them at Andrews Point. After the deaths of Eben and Maria Phillips he acquired that twenty-acre parcel formerly held by Mary Babson. With the assistance of George Babson's first cousins David C. and Horatio Jr., Mr. Gaffield proceeded in 1884 with plans for a subdivision and road network.2
Local citizens complained about the hiring of low-wage immigrants for the project when the newspaper reported that "a band of about thirty Italians have arrived to labor on the new road to be built by Mssrs. Gaffield and Babson on the Halibut Point estate. They have taken up their abode in one of the fish houses at Folly Cove where they have formed a community of their own. It is said they receive $1.25 a day." 3 Most likely the Babsons owned the fish house.
At about this same time Gabrielle DeVeaux Clements, a forerunner of another immigrant group - the artists - took up residence in Folly Cove. Some years later in 1901 she photographed laborers installing trolley tracks on Granite Street, within a stone's throw of the Bay View Avenue that Gaffield and Babson had commissioned from Folly Cove up through The Fatting Pasture into Halibut Point. The construction methods were essentially the same.4

Splitting boulders for road material on Granite Street, Folly Cove
Crushing stone into gravel with sledgehammers
Rolling a boulder onto a horse-drawn cart
Several Italian immigrant families made a life on the land around Halibut Point in the early twentieth century. The Puccis farmed property across Gott Avenue from the Gott House. Their daughter Maria came to be known as Mary during her school years. One of Mary's special inspirations was Lizzie McLellan, a natural teacher and ecologist, daughter-in-law of Phebe Gott McLellan.5
Mary Pucci (left) with Howard and Phoebe McLellan
(two of Lizzie's children) on the steps of the Gott House, c. 1929
Precocious Mary came to the attention of artist/photographer Clements, who sponsored the girl's studies at Simmons College. Knowing the pride Mary took in her Italian heritage Ms. Clements presented her with a set of Dante's Divine Comedy. Mary went on to graduate from medical school.
The set of Dante's Divine Comedy presented to Mary Pucci in 1943
The inscription to Mary Pucci, from Gabrielle DeVeaux Clements
Dr. Mary Pucci Couchman treasuring the Dante works
and wearing her Italian grandmother's ring, 2014
Dr. Mary Pucci Couchman's marriage and medical practice took her to the Midwest. She maintained a lifelong connection to her roots through a summer home on Granite Street across from Halibut Point, in one of the houses carved out of Babson Farm for its progeny.
1. See Notes from Halibut Point "The Avenues", December 12, 2014.
2. Cape Ann Evening Breeze, October 31, 1884.
3. Ibid, April 10, 1885.
4. Glass plate negatives from the Hale/Clements Collection, Sandy Bay Historical Society.
5. Interview with Mary Couchman, June 2014.

No comments:

Post a Comment