Hetty Green House, Bellows Falls, Vermont

The Hetty Green House at the corner of Church and Westminster Streets in Bellows Falls, around 1900-1910. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

It is hard to tell from its appearance, but this house was the home of the wealthiest woman in America when the first photo was taken at the turn of the 20th century. Throughout her life, even after she had amassed a fortune worth many millions of dollars, Wall Street financier Hetty Green lived a very frugal—and some would say miserly—lifestyle. She wore plain, old clothing, ate inexpensive meals, and shunned most luxuries, supposedly even heat and hot water.

Her house here in Bellows Falls was another example of her modest living. Although certainly a fine house in its own right, it was hardly befitting of a Gilded Age tycoon, especially considering the lavish mansions that many of her contemporaries, most notably the Vanderbilts, were constructing in New York, Newport, and other fashionable places.

The house itself was situated at the corner of Church and Westminster Streets, just to the south of the center of Bellows Falls. It was built in 1806 by William Hall, a wealthy local merchant in the firm of Hall & Green. Hall was also involved in politics, serving on the governor’s council, in the state legislature, and as Vermont’s sole delegate to the 1814-1815 Hartford Convention. He lived here in this house until his death in 1831, at the age of 57, and the house was subsequently purchased by Nathaniel Tucker, the owner of the nearby Tucker Toll Bridge over the Connecticut River.

Nathaniel Tucker had connections to William Hall, as his daughter Anna was married to Hall’s former business partner, Henry Atkinson Green. Their son, Edward Henry Green, would eventually become a successful Boston merchant, and in 1867 he married Henrietta “Hetty” Robinson, the wealthy heiress of a New Bedford whaling family. Then, in 1879 he purchased his grandfather’s old house here in Bellows Falls, and moved his family into it.

Hetty Green was 33 years old when she married Edward, and she was already extremely wealthy, having inherited about $6 million after her father’s death two years earlier. However, her fortune would continue to grow thanks to her shrewd investment strategies, and she came to be known as the “Witch of Wall Street”at a time when high finance was almost exclusively a male profession. By the time she died in 1916 at the age of 81, her estate was valued at over $100 million, equivalent to over $2 billion today, making her the richest woman in America at the time.

Hetty and Edward had two children, Ned and Sylvia, who were about 11 and 8 years old, respectively, when their father purchased this house. During his childhood, Ned became the subject of one of the most famous examples of his mother’s frugality after he injured his knee. Wanting to avoid paying for a doctor, Hetty instead tried to treat him herself. However, infection set in and the leg became gangrenous, and it ultimately had to be amputated.

In adulthood, Ned spent his money much more freely than his mother had. He owned a 225-foot steam yacht, and he built a mansion on Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts, which featured his own private airfield and radio station. In addition, he was an avid collector of coins and stamps, and at one point his collection included all five examples of the extremely rare 1913 Liberty Head nickel, along with the only known sheet of the famous Inverted Jenny postage stamp. Ned also played an important role in historic preservation when, in the 1920s, he purchased the former whaling ship Charles W. Morgan, which had once been a part of his maternal grandfather’s whaling fleet. He put it on display at Round Hill, and after his death it was acquired by Mystic Seaport in Connecticut, where it remains as the last surviving 19th century whaling ship.

Ned’s sister Sylvia, however, was much more like their mother when it came to saving money. In 1909 she married Matthew Wilks, a member of the Astor family who was 25 years her senior, although her mother insisted that they sign a prenuptial agreement to prevent Wilks from inheriting Sylvia’s money. Neither Sylvia nor her brother had any children, and after Ned’s death in 1936 Sylvia inherited his portion of the estate, as a result of a similar prenuptial agreement that he had signed with his wife, Mabel Harlow. Later in life, though, Sylvia became both miserly and reclusive, and her last public appearance was in 1937, when she testified in court to prevent Mabel from receiving a greater share of Ned’s fortune.

Upon her death in 1951 at the age of 80, Sylvia was described by Life magazine as “a friendless, childless, cheerless old woman, abjectly poor in everything but money and devoted only to the preservation of the great Green fortune.” Her net worth at the time was around $95 million, nearly $1 billion today, but with no children or other close relatives she left nearly all of her money to 63 different charities, including a variety of churches, libraries, and hospitals. Among these were the Rockingham Memorial Hospital and the Immanuel Episcopal Church, both of which are located here in Bellows Falls.

In the meantime, the old house here on Church Street in Bellows Falls remained in the Green family until 1940, when Sylvia gave the house to the town. She does not appear to have spent much time here in her later years, and the house was in need of repairs. Rather than restore it, the town demolished the house and replaced it with a parking lot and a park, which was named Hetty Green Park.

Today, park is still here, on the far right side of the scene, but the actual site of the house is now a bank, which was constructed in 1960. It was originally the Vermont Bank & Trust Company, but after a series of mergers in the late 20th century it is now owned by TD Bank, which continues to operate it as a branch. The bank building certainly does not have the same architectural or historic significance that the old house had, although in retrospect it seems only appropriate that Hetty Green’s former property would be used as a place where large amounts of money are kept.

Elisha Jones House, Concord, Mass

The house at 242 Monument Road in Concord, around 1908. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

The age of this house is somewhat of a mystery, with some sources claiming that it dates as far back as the mid-17th century. However, it was probably built sometime around 1740 as the home of Thomas Jones, a blacksmith who lived here until his death in 1774. His son Elisha then inherited the property, and he went on to become perhaps the most notable occupant of this house.

Elisha Jones was about 30 years old when inherited the house. Like his father and grandfather, he was also a blacksmith, and he was evidently a wealthy man, with an estate that was valued at 1,121 pounds 8 shillings in 1777. In addition, he served in the local militia, where he held the rank of lieutenant during the American Revolution, and prior to the war his house was reportedly one of the places in town where colonial military supplies were hidden from the British.

However, Elisha Jones and his house are best known for an incident that may or may not have occurred here on April 19, 1775, during the Battle of Concord. The house is located across the street from the Old North Bridge, where the famous “Shot heard round the world” was fired by the colonial minutemen, and according to legend Jones was standing at the door of his shed after the battle, watching the retreating soldiers. One of them is said to have fired at him, although the ball missed Jones by about three feet, and instead passed harmlessly through the wall.

This large shed, which was later attached directly to the main house on the left side of this scene, still has a hole in the wall, which is supposedly where the British musket ball struck the building. However, it is difficult to prove exactly what caused this hole, and there are no contemporary accounts of this incident. The earliest published description came many years later, and it was written by John Shepard Keyes, the late 19th century owner of this house. He heard the story from Elisha Jones’s oldest daughter Mary, who was four years old at the time of the battle, and he wrote the following description in his book, Story of an Old House:

Mr. Jones had prudently taken his wife and babies down cellar, where they cowered in fear and trembling in the dark corners, while he stood guard over the barrels of beef. Soon the clatter and noise of the Britishers ceased, and all was still. Then the silence was broken by the volleys of musketry at the bridge. He could stand it no longer, but rushing up from the cellar followed by his wife and crying children, they saw the regulars retreating in confusion back to the village, bearing their wounded, some with ghastly faces, supported by their comrades, others with bloody limbs hastily bandaged to stanch the flow. . . .

To her father it lent new excitement and patriotic rage; he pointed his gun out of the bedroom window on the north-west corner of the house, determined to have one raking shot at the foe. His wife clung to his arm, begging him not to risk their burning the house if he fired from it, and succeeded in preventing his purpose and getting the gun away. Then he went to the door of the shed, and stood there looking at the retreating soldiers in scorn and triumph. One of the rear guard who may have seen his attempt to shoot, or “misliked his look,” drew up as they passed the house, and fired a “British musket ball” at Elisha. It was a well pointed shot considering that the red coats fired from the hip, and not from the shoulder with a sight along the gun barrel, as the Yankees did. The ball struck at the height of Jones’ head about three feet to the right, and passing through the boarding, glanced from an oak joist, and out through the back side into the ground behind.

It is impossible to conclusively prove or disprove this story, but in either case it has become a part of local legend, and it has contributed to the fame of the house, which is sometimes referred to as “The Bullet Hole House.” In the meantime, though, the property remained in the Jones family for many years, with Elisha’s son James Jones inheriting it after his death in 1810. James, like the previous three generations of his family, was also a blacksmith, and he owned this house until 1836, when he sold it to Nathan Barrett for $800.

Barrett evidently never lived here, instead using the house as a rental property, and over the years it fell into disrepair. He ultimately sold the house in 1863 to John Shepard Keyes, who soon set about restoring the house and documenting its history. Keyes was a Concord native who was about 42 years old at the time. He was a lawyer, and he had previously served as sheriff of Middlesex County from 1853 to 1859. In 1860, he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention, which nominated Abraham Lincoln to the presidency, and a year later he became a U. S. Marshal. He also served as a bodyguard for Lincoln, and he accompanied him during his inauguration and during the Gettysburg Address. Keyes went on to serve as a marshal until 1867, and in 1874 he became a judge on the Middlesex District Court.

After purchasing this property, Keyes soon oversaw dramatic alterations to the house. On the exterior, this included replacing the windows, installing a second-floor dormer window on the north side, and adding a portico to the front door. Keyes also moved the shed and attached it to the north side of the house, turning it into a large two-story wing. Overall, most of the house’s present-day appearance dates back to this mid-1860s renovation.

John Keyes lived here in this house with his wife Martha until her death in 1895, and he remarried three years later. He was still residing here when the first photo was taken around 1908, more than 40 years after he first moved in, and he remained here until his death in 1910 at the age of 88. His daughters, Alicia Keyes and Annie Emerson, then inherited it, although only Alicia appears to have actually lived here after her father’s death. Annie gained full ownership of the property after Alicia’s death in 1924, and a year later she sold it to Henry H. Fay.

Fay was the last private owner of the house, and he lived here until 1963, when he sold it to the National Park Service. It then became a part of the Minute Man National Historical Park, which had been established in 1959 to preserve the historic sites associated with the battles of Lexington and Concord. Since then, the house has been well-preserved in its post-1860s appearance, with hardly any changes from this view since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. However, because of these renovations it bears little resemblance to its appearance during the American Revolution, and it is not open to the public for tours, with the National Park Service instead using it as a rental property.

Lexington Common, Lexington, Mass

Looking north on the Lexington Common from near the corner of Bedford Street and Harrington Road, around 1900. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene around 1910-1915. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

These photos show a portion of the Lexington Common, which is also known as the Lexington Battle Green. Nearly every New England town has some sort of a common in the center of town, yet this one in Lexington is one of the most famous. It was here, just after dawn on April 19, 1775, that the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, and where eight Lexington militiamen were killed after a brief skirmish with British redcoats who were bound for Concord.

The British soldiers had departed Boston late in the previous evening, with the goal of seizing colonial military supplies that were being stored in Concord. This prompted Paul Revere and other messengers to make their famous midnight ride, alerting the militia companies in the outlying towns. Here in Lexington, a force of about 80 militiamen assembled on the Common. They were led by Captain John Parker, who is said to have instructed his men to “Stand your ground. Don’t fire unless fired upon, but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Upon arrival, the British ordered the militiamen to leave, with Major John Pitcairn supposedly shouting “Disperse, ye villains! Ye rebels, disperse!” Along with Parker’s earlier command, this would become one of the most famous quotes of the war, although it is hard to say exactly how accurate either of these lines really are. This uncertainty may be due, in part, to the fact that both men died within less than five months after the battle, leaving future historians with little opportunity to verify their battlefield statements.

In any case, Captain Parker recognized that his men were vastly outnumbered, and he ordered them to disperse. However, few evidently heard him. Then, in the midst of this standoff, a shot was fired. The identity of the shooter remains unknown, with both sides generally placing blame on the other, but both the redcoats and the militiamen then began exchanging fire.

The British proved to be far more effective in their fire. By the time the brief battle was over and the redcoats had resumed their march to Concord, they left behind eight dead militiamen and ten wounded, compared to just one wounded British soldier. Among the dead was Jonathan Harrington, who lived in the house that is visible in the distant center of all three photos. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded after the battle, but he managed to crawl back to his doorstep, where he died in his wife’s arms.

Despite how short and one-sided the battle was, it marked the first armed resistance to British aggression, and the Lexington Common has become an important symbol of American independence. The common is now marked by several monuments, including the one here in the foreground of this scene. Dedicated in 1884, this boulder marks the line where the militiamen stood, and it is inscribed with Captain Parker’s famous—if possibly apocryphal—command to his men to stand their ground.

The first photo was taken around the turn of the 20th century, and it shows the Harrington house as it appeared prior to a major renovation in 1910. This project, which was completed by the time the second photo was taken, involved the removal of a wing on the right side of the house, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. It was intended as a restoration, although the work appears to have been based more on early 20th century ideas about how a colonial house should look, rather than how the Harrington house actually looked during the colonial era.

Today, more than a century after the second photo was taken, very little has changed in this scene. The boulder is still here marking the line of militiamen during the battle, and the Harrington house remains standing in the distance, with few major exterior changes since the 1910 alterations. The other house in this scene, visible further in the distance, also survives today, although it is somewhat younger than the Harrington house, dating back to 1820. The Common itself has also been preserved, serving as both a public park and a historic site, and in 1961 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Jonathan Harrington House, Lexington, Mass

The house at the corner of Harrington Road and Bedford Street in Lexington, around 1896-1901. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house was built sometime around the first half of the 18th century, although it has been altered over the years. It stands at the northern end of the triangular Lexington Common, and it is most famous for having been the home of Jonathan Harrington, one of the eight Lexington militiamen who were killed in the opening shots of the American Revolution on April 19, 1775.

At the time of the battle, Harrington was about 30 years old, and lived here in this house with his wife Ruth and their son Jonathan. Just after dawn on April 19, Harrington and about 80 other militiamen assembled on the Common, less than a hundred yards directly in front of his house. Here, they confronted a much larger force of British redcoats who were on their way to Concord to seize supplies of colonial munitions. A standoff ensued until someone fired a shot on or near the Common, resulting in both sides opening fire.

The ensuing skirmish marked the beginning of the American Revolution, although it was largely one-sided. It failed to stop the British advance, and only one redcoat was wounded, compared to eight dead militiamen and ten who were wounded. Of the fatalities, Jonathan Harrington is perhaps the best-known. According to tradition, he was mortally wounded during the battle, but he managed to crawl back here to his house, where he died in his wife’s arms on the doorstep.

Subsequent owners of this house included John Augustus, a shoemaker who lived here during the 1820s. He eventually moved to Boston in 1827, where he continued his career as a shoemaker. However, he is remembered today for his role in criminal justice reform when, in 1841, he began bailing criminals out of jail and taking them under his care, including finding employment for them. This eventually led to the establishment of probation as an alternative to incarceration in Boston, and the practice later spread throughout the state and the rest of the country.

Later in the 19th century, the house was owned by James Gould, and it remained in his family until at least the early 1890s. By the end of the decade, though, it was owned by Dr. Bertha C. Downing, a physician who had her practice here in the house. A native of Kennebunkport, Maine, Dr. Downing attended public school in Boston before graduating from Radcliffe College and the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. The 1899 town directory shows her living in this house, and her office hours were listed as being from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. The first photo was taken at some point during her time here, as the sign above the two front windows on the left has her name on it.

Dr. Downing moved out of here by 1902, and in 1910 the house underwent a major renovation that ostensibly “restored” it to its colonial-era appearance. The owner at the time was Leroy S. Brown, and he hired local architect Willard D. Brown (evidently no close relation) for the project. Part of the work involved removing the wing on the right side of the house, which does not appear to have been original anyway, along with the replacement of the large central chimney with two smaller ones. Other less significant changes included the addition of a pediment above the front door, as shown in the present-day scene.

In retrospect, this restoration probably did more harm to the historic character of the house than if it had simply been left alone, but it did help to ensure its long-term preservation. Today, despite the early 20th century alterations, the house still stands as an important landmark in the center of Lexington. It is one of several surviving buildings on the Common that date back to the famous battle, and the house features two signs that attest to its historic significance. The one on the right tells the story of Jonathan Harrington’s death, while the one on the left identifies the building as having been the home of John Augustus.

Orchard House, Concord, Mass

Orchard House, at 399 Lexington Road in Concord, around 1900-1906. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The scene in 2018:

The earliest portion of this house dates back to sometime around the early 18th century, but its present-day appearance was the result of an extensive expansion and renovation that occurred in 1857. In that year, the property was purchased by Amos Bronson Alcott, a teacher, writer, and philosopher who is best remembered today as the father of author Louisa May Alcott. He was a part of Concord’s Transcendentalist movement, and during the early 1840s he was one of the founders of Fruitlands, a short-lived utopian commune in Harvard, Massachusetts. However, this experiment failed in just seven months, and in 1845 the Alcott family moved to Concord, where they lived in a house on Lexington Road that they named Hillside.

At the time, the family consisted of Bronson Alcott, his wife Abigail, and their four daughters: Anna, Louisa, Elizabeth, and Abigail. They lived at Hillside for several years before moving to Boston in 1848, but they ultimately returned to Concord in 1857 and purchased this house. It was located immediately to the west of their old house, which had been acquired by Nathaniel Hawthorne five years earlier and renamed The Wayside. Bronson Alcott soon began renovating his house, which he named Orchard House after the large apple orchard that was located on the property. The work was completed the following year, and the Alcotts moved in during the spring of 1858, only a few weeks after the death of their 22-year-old daughter Elizabeth.

Louisa May Alcott was 25 years old when she moved into this house with her parents and sisters, and she went on to reside here for much of her early literary career. She was already a published author at the time, following the 1854 publication of her first work, Flower Fables, but she had not yet become widely known. Over the next few years, she wrote several novels and short stories, including Hospital Sketches, which was published in 1863. It was based on her own experiences as a Civil War nurse in Georgetown, where she served for six weeks during the war before falling ill with typhoid fever.

However, Alcott’s literary breakthrough came in 1868 with the publication of Little Women, which she wrote here in this house. This novel was largely autobiographical, with the March sisters in the book representing the four Alcott girls, and much of the plot was inspired by her own experiences. The book is set at a fictional version of Orchard House, although most of the real-life events in the book had actually occurred at Hillside, where Alcott lived during her teenage years.

Aside from the improvements to the main house, the Alcotts also built the structure on the left side of the scene. Originally known as the Hillside Chapel, it was later renamed the Concord School of Philosophy. Here, Bronson Alcott ran a school that was modeled on Plato’s Academy, with a series of lectures and readings that were based on Transcendentalism and other contemporary philosophies. Bronson was nearly 80 years old when he started the school, but he continued to oversee it for the next nine years, giving lectures here while also inviting guest speakers

In the meantime, Louisa May Alcott continued to live here until 1869, when she moved to Boston, but she continued to visit her family here in Concord. Then, in 1877 she purchased Henry David Thoreau’s former house on Main Street, and both she and her father subsequently lived there. Bronson sold Orchard House in the early 1880s, and he eventually moved to a house on Louisburg Square in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood, where he died on March 4, 1888 at the age of 88. Only two days later, Louisa suffered a stroke—possibly a long-term effect of mercury medication that she had taken to treat her typhoid fever some 25 years earlier—and she died at the age of 55.

The first photo shows the front of the house at some point around the turn of the 20th century. It was already recognized as an important landmark, as this photo was taken by a major postcard company, but at the time it was still a private residence. However, in 1911 the Concord Woman’s Club formed the Louisa May Alcott Memorial Association, which purchased the property and, starting in 1912, opened it to the public as a museum.

The house has remained as a museum ever since, and it continues to be open for guided tours, with hardly any exterior changes since the first photo was taken more than a century ago. It is one of the many important literary sites in Concord, and in 1962 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark. More recently, the house gained attention with the release of the 2019 film adaptation of Little Women, much of which was filmed in Concord. However, this house itself was not included in the movie; instead, the producers constructed a replica home elsewhere in Concord, which was used for filming and subsequently dismantled.

Ephraim Wales Bull House, Concord, Mass

The house at 491 Lexington Road in Concord, around 1910-1920. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Collection.

The house in 2018:

This house is famous for being the place where the Concord grape was developed in 1849, although the house itself is actually much older than that. It was built sometime in the late 17th or early 18th centuries, making it among the oldest surviving buildings in Concord. The main section of the house, in the center-left of this scene, is the oldest portion, and it was standing here by 1716, when it was the home of blacksmith Thomas Ball. For more than a century afterward, the house was occupied by a succession of blacksmiths, the last of whom was Nathaniel French, who rented the property until his death in 1834.

Two years later, another metalworker moved into this house. Ephraim Wales Bull was a goldbeater, which involved hammering gold into thin sheets of gold leaf. He was originally from Boston, but by the 1830s he had begun to experience lung problems, so his doctor recommended that he leave the polluted city and move to the countryside. Here in Concord, he continued to work as a goldbeater in a shop behind his house, but he was also an amateur horticulturalist, so he spent a significant amount of time growing plants in his garden.

One of Bull’s goals was to create a grape cultivar that would ripen early and could withstand the cold New England climate. In 1843, he found a wild grapevine—the fox grape—growing on his property, and he planted the seeds from this vine in his garden, alongside cultivated Catawba vines. The resulting hybrid seedlings grew for the next six years, and in the fall of 1849 one of the vines produced satisfactory grapes. He named this cultivar Concord, and in 1853 he exhibited it at the Massachusetts Horticultural Society, where it received high praise. Concord grapes became commercially available the next year, and they have remained popular ever since.

Bull subsequently had success in state and local politics, serving in both houses of the state legislature, on the state board of agriculture, and on Concord’s board of selectmen and school committee. However, despite the widespread recognition that he received for having developed the Concord grape, he received little financial benefit from it. He earned about $3,200 from selling seedlings during the first year, but commercial nurseries subsequently began growing and selling their own plants, without paying any royalties to Bull. By the end of his long life, he was in extreme poverty and his house had become badly deteriorated, and he died in 1895 at the age of 89.

After Bull’s death, his neighbor Harriett Lothrop purchased the house. She lived a few houses down at Nathaniel Hawthorne’s former home, The Wayside, and she was a noted children’s book author, best known for her Five Little Peppers series, which were written under the pen name of Margaret Sidney. Aside from her writing, she was also interested in historic preservation, so she soon began restoring the old house. By the time the first photo was taken around the 1910s, Lothrop had named the house “Grapevine Cottage,” and she owned it as a rental property. The original Concord grapevine was still growing here at the time, although it is not visible in this photo.

Today, more than a century after the first photo was taken, the house is still standing. It has seen some changes, most notably the addition of an enclosed second-story porch on the right side, but otherwise it looks much the same as it did in the first photo. It has recently undergone another restoration, including remodeling the interior, and it stands as a rare surviving example of an early colonial-era house in Concord, in addition to its historical significance as the birthplace of the Concord grape.