Buckman Tavern Tap Room, Lexington, Massachusetts

The tap room at Buckman Tavern in Lexington, around 1928-1940. Image courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Samuel Chamberlain Photograph Negatives Collection.

The scene in 2023:

This room at Buckman Tavern is located directly adjacent to the kitchen, which was featured in the previous post. As explained in that post, this building is a prominent landmark in Lexington, due to its role in the start of the American Revolution. It was here in Buckman Tavern that many of the Lexington militiamen gathered in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775, before their confrontation with British redcoats outside the tavern on the Lexington Common. That skirmish marked the beginning of the American Revolution, and the day’s fighting ultimately led to the British retreat back to Boston, where they sustained heavy casualties along the way.

The tavern itself was built around 1710, and it was operated as a tavern and later a post office until the early 19th century. This room was the tap room, and it is located in the southwest corner of the building on the ground floor, directly to the right of the main entrance.

In 1913, the town of Lexington acquired the building and preserved it as a museum. The top photo was taken several decades later, and not much has changed since then. The tavern is still owned by the town, and it is operated by the Lexington Historical Society. Aside from a few modern features, such as pipes and electric lights, the tap room’s appearance reflects the way that it would have looked back in 1775.

Buckman Tavern Kitchen, Lexington, Massachusetts

The kitchen at Buckman Tavern in Lexington, Massachusetts, around 1928-1940. Image courtesy of Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Samuel Chamberlain Photograph Negatives Collection.

The scene in 2023:

These two photos show the kitchen at Buckman Tavern in Lexington. This building is perhaps the most famous landmark from the first day of the American Revolution, as it was here that the Lexington militiamen gathered in the early morning hours of April 19, 1775 prior to the arrival of the British forces from Boston. The opening shots of the war were subsequently fired outside on town common in front of the tavern, and at least one bullet pierced the front door of the building. Later in the day, as the fighting spread out along the road between Concord and Boston, two wounded British soldiers were brought to the tavern, and one of them died here.

The tavern itself was built around 1710, and for many years it was operated by John Muzzy. It was later acquired by John Buckman, who married Muzzy’s granddaughter Ruth in 1768, and he ran the tavern until his death in 1792. During the 19th century, the building was owned by Rufus Merriam and his descendants, and it was ultimately acquired by the town of Lexington in 1913.

Since then, the tavern has been preserved as a museum. The top photo shows the kitchen as it appeared during the first half of the 20th century. It is located behind the tap room, which is on the other side of the door on the left side of the photo. Today, the kitchen still looks much the same as it did more than 80 years ago, aside from some of the items being rearranged over the years. The building is still owned by the town, and it is leased to the Lexington Historical Society. Along with Munroe Tavern and the Hancock-Clarke House, it is one of three historic buildings in Lexington that are open to the public seasonally for tours.

Aaron Bascom House, Chester, Massachusetts (2)

The house across from the corner of Skyline Trail and Bromley Road in Chester, Massachusetts, in April 1938. Photo by Arthur C. Haskell, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The house in 2024:

As explained in more detail in the previous post, this house was built in 1769 as the home of the Reverend Aaron Bascom, the first pastor of the church in Chester. He lived here until his death in 1814, and then in 1832 it was purchased by Dr. Thaddeus DeWolf. It would remain in his family for over a century, and during this time several of his children went on to become prominent figures. His oldest son, Oscar DeWolf, became a physician and moved to Chicago, where he served as the city’s commissioner of health. Thaddeus’s youngest son, DeWitt C. DeWolf, was active in state politics during the early 20th century, including serving as executive secretary to Governor Joseph Ely in the early 1930s, and as the state commissioner of labor and industries.

DeWitt DeWolf died in 1935, and the top photo was taken three years later as part of the documentation of this house for the Historic American Buildings Survey. It was still owned by his family at the time, but a few months later the property was put up for auction. The house had several other owners during the 20th century, but it has been vacant for many years. All of the other outbuildings on the property are gone, and the land around the house is overgrown with trees. The historic house still has many of its original features, including the 12-over-8 windows on the second floor, but overall the house is in poor condition, as shown in the second photo.

Aaron Bascom House, Chester, Massachusetts

The house across from the corner of Skyline Trail and Bromley Road in Chester, Massachusetts, in April 1938. Photo by Arthur C. Haskell, courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2024:

This house is one of the oldest surviving buildings in Chester, and it was built in 1769 as the home of the Reverend Aaron Bascom, the first pastor of the town’s church. The town had been incorporated several years earlier in 1765, but it was originally named Murrayfield, although it was later renamed Chester in 1783. At the time, this area on modern-day Skyline Trail was the town center. It was located along a ridgeline of rolling hills between the Middle Branch and West Branch of the Westfield River, and it was fairly close to the geographic center of the town. The center consisted of the meeting house, a schoolhouse, Rev. Bascom’s house, and several other nearby homes.

Aaron Bascom was originally from Warren, Massachusetts. He graduated from Harvard in 1768, and a year later he accepted the position as the pastor of the church here in Murrayfield. He was ordained on December 20, 1769, at the age of 23. According to the 1963 publication The First Congregational Church of Chester, his compensation included an initial settlement of 70 pounds, along with an annual salary of 40 pounds for three years, which would then increase five pounds per year until it reached 60 pounds. In addition, he was provided with firewood and, most significantly, a house, which is shown here in these two photos.

The house is typical for mid-18th century homes in Massachusetts. It features a front façade with four windows and a central door on the first floor, and five windows on the second floor. It originally had a large central chimney, but as was often the case, this chimney was later removed in order to create more space for a staircase and entry hall. Over the years, the exterior of the house also saw alterations and additions. The shutters in the top photo would not have been original to the house, and it seems likely that the Greek Revival style front entryway was probably a mid-19th century alteration.

Aaron Bascom lived here until his death in 1814, and the house was later purchased by Dr. Thaddeus Kingsley DeWolf in 1832. He was a noted local physician, and he lived here with his first wife Correlia Benham and their children Oscar, Homer, Sarah, and Martha. Correlia died of dysentery on August 7, 1847, and young Martha likewise died of dysentery five days later. However, Dr. DeWolf remarried rather quickly. Less than two months later, on September 28, the 46-year-old widower married 19-year-old Mary Phelps. They had two children together: Henry Clay DeWolf, who was born in 1850; and DeWitt Clinton DeWolf, who was born in 1864. DeWitt is known to have been born in this house, and the older children presumably were as well.

By the time the younger children were born, the town of Chester had undergone significant changes. In 1841 the Western Railroad was built along the West Branch of the Westfield River, in the southern and western part of the town. This spurred new developments in the valley, with the village of Chester Factories eventually becoming the town center, in place of the old town center here on Chester Hill, as it came to be called.

This shift was part of a broader trend in the rural hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. With more productive farmland available in the west, and new opportunities in the nation’s industrial cities, many towns and villages experienced population decline in the second half of the 19th century. Among those who left the area was Dr. DeWolf’s oldest son Oscar. He went to medical school, served as a surgeon in the U.S. Army during the Civil War, and then moved to Northampton before relocating to Chicago in 1873. There he became the city’s commissioner of health, a position that he held for 14 years.

During that time, Oscar’s younger half brother DeWitt joined him in Chicago, moving to the city around the late 1870s when he was 15. Rather than pursuing medicine like his father and brother, DeWitt went into business. He first worked for a shoe company, but then became involved in the coal industry, eventually serving as president of one coal company and vice president of another.

However, both brothers would eventually return home to Chester in their later years. Oscar left Chicago in 1891 and moved to London, where he practiced medicine for 12 years before retiring and moving back across the Atlantic to his old hometown. He had inherited the family home after his father’s death in 1890, and the 1894 county atlas indicated that he owned several other nearby homes. When he returned to Chester in 1903, he appears to have moved into the neighboring home at 346 Skyline Trail, which still stands just to the left of the old house, out of view in these photos.

Oscar DeWolf died in 1910, and then in 1915 his brother DeWitt moved back to Chester. Because DeWitt owned multiple properties, none of which had street numbers at the time, it is difficult to trace exactly where he lived, but it was apparently either his birthplace house here in these photos, or in the house next door that his brother had lived in. It seems that, over the course of his 20 years in Chester, he may have lived in both houses at different times.

The 1920 census does not indicate which house DeWitt DeWolf was living in, but it shows him in Chester with his wife Harriet and their daughters Elsie, Louise, and Virginia. Their household also included James H. Ellis, who was listed as a lodger. He later married their oldest daughter Elsie in 1926.

Shortly after his return to Chester, DeWitt DeWolf became involved in politics. He served in a variety of town offices, but he was also active in the state’s Democratic Party. He was a delegate at the Democratic National Convention in 1924 and again in 1928, and both times he was a strong advocate for New York Governor Al Smith, who earned the party’s nomination in 1928 but ultimately lost to Herbert Hoover in the general election. During the 1930 state gubernatorial election, DeWitt campaigned on behalf of his friend Joseph B. Ely of Westfield. Ely won the election, and he served as governor from 1931 to 1935. Upon taking office, Ely appointed DeWitt as his executive secretary, and DeWitt later became the state commissioner of labor and industries.

Despite working on Beacon Hill, DeWitt DeWolf continued to live here in Chester. His wife Harriet had died in 1922, and by 1930 he was living alone, probably in the house next door to this one. A 1930 article in the Springfield Republican, written after his appointment as executive secretary to Governor-elect Ely, indicated that his daughter Elsie was living in the old house, and also implied that DeWitt was not living in it at the time. However, DeWitt died in 1935, and the newspaper coverage stated that he died in the house where he was born, suggesting that at some point before his death he moved back into the old house.

The top photo was taken in April 1938, a few years after DeWitt’s death. The family still owned the house at this point, and the outbuilding on the left even had a sign that said “DeWitt C. DeWolf.” The building was photographed as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey, a Depression-era federal program that documented historic resources across the country.

The property was evidently sold a few months after the photo was taken, based on an auction notice that was published in the Republican in September 1938. The house would subsequently change hands several more times over the course of the 20th century, and in 1988 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places as a contributing property in the Chester Center Historic District. This historic district is comprised of several other historic 18th and early 19th century buildings that all date back to when this small village was the town center.

The photographs that accompanied the National Register nomination form in the 1980s show the exterior of the house in reasonably good repair. However, the house has since been vacant for many years. All of the barns and other outbuildings are now gone, the property is overgrown, and the house itself is badly deteriorated. As shown in the second photo, the ground floor windows and doors are boarded up, and there is a sign next to the front door from the board of health, stating that it is unfit for human habitation. It is an important historic house, but in its current condition it is in danger of being permanently lost.

East Windsor Hill Post Office, South Windsor, Connecticut

The East Windsor Hill Post Office in South Windsor, around 1935-1942. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The scene in 2022:

These two photos show the post office at 1865 Main Street in the East Windsor Hill neighborhood of South Windsor. The building dates back to 1757, when Jeremiah Bullard constructed the one-story section on the left side. He operated a store there, and then in the 1760s David Bissell built the two-story section on the right side, where he likewise had a store.

The building was used by a variety of businesses during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but it is perhaps best known for its claim of being the oldest continuously-operating post office in the country. As indicated on the historical marker on the building, the store “received the first government post rider in 1783.” However, the building was not officially designated as a post office until 1837, so it seems questionable whether occasional post rider visits would qualify it as being a true post office, much less one that was in “continuous use.” A stronger contender for the oldest continuously-used post office would seem to be the one in Hinsdale, New Hampshire, which has been located in the same building since 1816.

Either way, though, the East Windsor Hill post office is definitely still among the oldest existing post offices in the country, and the building itself is a rare surviving example of a colonial-era commercial building. The top photo shows the building around the late 1930s, and it has seen only minor exterior changes since then. These include removing the shutters on the left side and installing new windows on the right side, both of which were likely done to improve the historical accuracy of the building. Today, the building remains in use as a post office, and it is part of the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.

Ebenezer Grant House, South Windsor, Connecticut

The Ebenezer Grant House on Main Street in South Windsor, Connecticut, around 1934-1937. Image courtesy of the Connecticut State Library.

The house in 2022:

The East Windsor Hill neighborhood of South Windsor has many well-preserved 18th and early 19th century homes along Main Street, but perhaps the most celebrated of these is the Ebenezer Grant House, shown here in these two photos. Long recognized as an architectural masterpiece, the house exemplifies the type of homes that were built for the upper class families of the Connecticut River Valley during the mid-18th century.

This house was built around 1757-1758 by Ebenezer Grant (1706-1797), a prosperous merchant who lived in what was, at the time, the eastern part of the town of Windsor. Although located many miles from the ocean, this area is near the head of navigation for oceangoing vessels on the Connecticut River, and Grant was heavily involved in the West Indies trade. He exported commodities such as horses, lumber, tobacco, staves, bricks, and barrel hoops to Barbados and other West Indies ports, and in return imported rum, molasses, sugar, and indigo.

Grant also built several merchant ships here in modern-day South Windsor, near the mouth of the Scantic River, and he was a part owner in many other ships. It does not seem clear as to whether Grant was directly involved in the slave trade, but most of the goods that he imported and exported were closely tied to the plantation economies of the Caribbean colonies.

Aside from trading bulk commodities and other raw materials, Grant also purchased wholesale consumer goods, which he then sold here in his hometown. He had accounts with many of the leading colonial-era merchants in Boston and New York, including John Hancock. Around 1767 he built a store just to the south of his house, and there he sold “dry goods, rum, groceries, hardware, and fancy articles,” according to Henry Reed Stiles in his book History and Genealogies of Ancient Windsor, Connecticut.

Ebenezer Grant’s wealth and social standing were reflected in his house, which was built when he was in his early 50s. Its overall form, with four windows and a door on the ground floor and five windows above them, was typical for houses of the period in this region. But, unlike many of the other mid-18th century houses, it has two chimneys in the main part of the house, rather than a single large chimney in the center. This design choice enabled the house to have a large front entrance hall and staircase, rather than a small entryway with a winding staircase that was typical for the center-chimney homes.

This house is also different from most of its contemporaries in its exterior detail. Most homes of this period were relatively plain on the exterior, but the Grant house included details such as pediments over the first floor windows on the front of the house, and similar pediments over the side doors, which are not visible in these photos. Overall, though, its most famous feature is the highly elaborate front doorway, as shown in these two photos. Often referred to as a “Connecticut Valley doorway,” this style of doorway was perhaps the single most important architectural innovation to be developed in western New England. There were many variations on the design, some with or without the scroll pediment above the door, but the one on the Grant house is among the finest in the region. It is also one of only a handful of scroll pediment doorways that are still on their original houses; many homes were demolished or altered over the years, and several similar doorways are now on display in museums.

As was often the case for 18th century New England homes, the Grant house also included a wing, or an “ell” on the back of the house. These were often added years or decades after the house was built, to accommodate growing families. However, the ell on the Grant house might be even older than the house itself. Some sources, including Stiles’s book, cite a tradition that say the ell was built by Ebenezer Grant’s father Samuel Grant in the late 17th century as a house, and was later moved and incorporated into the new house when it was built in the 1750s. Other sources, though, including the 1900 book Early Connecticut Houses: An Historical and Architectural Study, are skeptical of this theory. It seems more likely that the ell was built at the same time as the main house, perhaps using old timbers that had been repurposed from the previous house.

Ebenezer Grant and his first wife Ann (1712-1783) had six children, although four died young, including three who died within a month and a half of each other in the fall of 1747. By the time they moved into this house in the late 1750s they had two surviving children: a son Roswell (1745-1834) and a daughter Ann (1748-1838). As the only surviving son, Roswell would go on to become a partner in his father’s merchant firm, following his graduation from Yale in 1767. He went on to serve as an officer in the Continental Army during the American Revolution, and after the war he married Flavia Wolcott, whose uncle Oliver Wolcott Sr. had been one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

In the meantime, Ebenezer Grant’s wife Ann died in 1783, and a year later he remarried to Jemima Ellsworth. She was the widow of David Ellsworth, and she was also the mother of Oliver Ellsworth, a lawyer who later went on to become a U.S. Senator and Chief Justice of the United States. Jemima died in 1790 at the age of 67, and Ebenezer continued to live here in this house until hos own death in 1797 at the age of 91.

After his death, the house would remain in the Grant family for many years. His grandson Frederick W. Grant later inherited the house, and he lived here throughout most of the 19th century. In his book, Stiles credited Frederick with restoring and preserving the house, which was recognized as an important landmark even as early as the late 19th century. By this point the Grant family had also become famous, due to Ebenezer’s great-great-great nephew Ulysses S. Grant, who was descended from Ebenezer’s older brother Noah.

The top photo was taken sometime around the late 1930s, as part of an effort to document historic homes across Connecticut. By this point the house had seen some alterations, including the addition of an enclosed porch on the left side and the installation of shutters on the windows. Both the porch and shutters were apparently installed around the late 19th or early 20th centuries, since they were not present in a c.1890 photo of the house.

Those changes were later reversed, and today the exterior of the house better reflects its original 18th century design. It stands as an important architectural landmark in the Connecticut River Valley, and it is a contributing property in the East Windsor Hill Historic District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986.