Thursday, February 16, 2017

Thomas Gaffield

People on the Land at Halibut Point, Part 3

Thomas Gaffield (1825-1900) 1
Thomas Gaffield, a self-made innovator in the field of glass manufacture, turned his talents to real estate investment in the Boston suburbs and beyond. His success enabled him to fund both commercial ventures and generous philanthropy.

Gaffield bought an Ocean View lot in 1883 adjacent to John Stowell's Meadowcliff, for a personal seaside residence.2 How far he got with building there is not clear, because he sold the premises in 1887 to John Way, who put up the most architecturally lavish cottage on Andrews Point. None of these edifices survives today.

Halibut Point development plans
From the George W. Stadly Atlas, 1899
Thomas Gaffield took note of real estate opportunities on the north-westerly side of Halibut Point. In 1885 he took ownership of the twenty acre parcel that had lain dormant since Eben Phillips bought it from Mary Babson in 1873. He advertised his amenability to selling this "Sunset Hill" as a single lot or as multiple building sites.

Gaffield's Halibut Point real estate for sale 3
Gaffield worked closely with two grandsons of David Wallis Babson to construct a road network through their adjoining properties. Boating and bathing facilities were envisioned at Folly Cove. A newspaper reporter affirmed the prospects: The lots on the highland between the Fatting Pasture and Gott's Lane are especially desirable, on account of their elevated position, the fine view, and the rich soil; the latter condition rendering these capable of high improvement. Gott's Lane is undergoing a thorough transformation, the old walls being torn down to give place to new, or being rebuilt, and ledges blown out.4

Later in the summer of 1885 the reporter returned to admire the progress on Sunset Hill, and to verify rumors of a hotel in the offing. The report that Mr. Gaffield is to build a hotel here, which gained circulation, is without any foundation in fact. He, however, says that he will make a gift of a reasonable amount of land to any party who will put up a hotel on the property in which he is interested.5

A closer view of the Gaffield plan
Residential buyers did not materialize briskly. In 1894 the Babsons sold their entire seventy acre farm to quarrying interests, which soon consolidated with the Rockport Granite Company.6

The treeless skyline of Halibut Point c. 1890,
looking east from Mason Square, Lanesville.
Neither trolley lines nor major quarrying are yet in evidence.
One house sits just visible on the ridge, likely within the Gaffield realm.
Sandy Bay Historical Society photo.
Thomas Gaffield himself was able to come to terms with only four house lot buyers. He planted shade trees along Gaffield Avenue. Perhaps no more than one house was actually constructed, enhanced with a tennis court.7

Mr. Gaffield's public spirit was undaunted. In 1889 he presented the Pigeon Cove Free Library with fifty or more finely bound volumes, consisting of works of Carlyle, Emerson, Goethe, Geo. Elliot, Thackeray, and the Waverly Novels. Mr. Gaffield's timely gift is highly appreciated, and heaven, for such are its decrees, shall bless the hand that blesses.8

The blessings continued on to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, The Benevolent Fraternity of Churches, and the Perkins Institute for the Blind, which received "Sunset Hill" as a joint bequest from Gaffield upon his death. Several years later in 1907 the land passed rapidly through a straw owner, to George Rogers (an affiliate of the Rockport Granite Company), to the corporation itself. The transition of Halibut Point from agriculture to industry skipped over residential development which, even considering the drastic alterations by quarrying, would have generated greater long-term changes.

1. Arthur Wellington Brayley, Schools and Schoolboys of Old Boston, 1894.
2. These and other real estate transactions may be traced through the Salem Registry of Deeds.
3. Boston Daily Advertiser, May 6, 1886.
4. Cape Ann Evening Breeze, July 1, 1885.
5. Ibid, August 17, 1885.
6. See "Babson Farm", Notes from Halibut Point #173, January 12, 2017.
7. The Trustees of Reservations, "A Chronology Highlighting Settlement of Rockport, Massachusetts, and the Preservation of Land at Halibut Point", n.d. (courtesy of Les Bartlett).
8. Cape Ann Advertiser, May 17, 1889.

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