Wash Room, Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts

The wash room at the laundry and machine shop building at Hancock Shaker Village in 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The room in 2023:

This room is located on the first floor of the laundry and machine shop at Hancock Shaker Village. It was here that women in the Shaker community would wash garments and other cloth items, which would then be brought upstairs to dry. From there, the dry clothes would be returned to the first floor, where other women would iron them in the adjacent ironing room.

Although today they are often conflated with the Amish, the Shakers were not opposed to technology. On the contrary, Shaker communities are generally credited with a number of important technological advances during the 19th century, including developing early washing machines. Part of this was because the communal nature of the Shaker villages. Because they all lived and worked together, they could take advantage of economies of scale and develop machinery that would not be practical for most individual families.

Here in Hancock, the laundry facilities were located on the west side of this building, which housed the machine shop on the east side. Both the laundry and the machine shop utilized the same water source, with a turbine that powered the machinery here. This made the laundry much more efficient than washing everything by hand, which helped keep up with the needs of the community that, during the mid-19th century, had several hundred members.

The first photo was taken in 1931, when the Shaker community was still active here. As shown in the photo, the floor of the room was marble, which slope upward at the walls. There are also several drain holes in the floor. The equipment in the first photo includes a washing machine in the distance against the far wall, which appears to have been powered by the water turbine via a belt.

The Shaker community here in Hancock ultimately closed in 1960 amid declining numbers, and many of the buildings have since been preserved Hancock Shaker Village, an open-air museum. The laundry and machine shop building is still standing, although the equipment here in the wash room is somewhat different from the first photo. This may have been done in order to interpret the room as it would have looked during an earlier time period, since most of the items here appear to date back to the 19th century. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the first photo, and it provides a good illustration of how the Shakers utilized technology in order to meet the needs of their communities.

Ironing Room, Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts (2)

The ironing room at the laundry and machine shop building at Hancock Shaker Village in 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The scene in 2023:

As with the previous post, these two photos show the ironing room, which is located on the western side of the laundry/machine shop at Hancock Shaker Village. It is probably the oldest surviving building at the village, dating back to about the time that the Shakers settled here around 1790. For many years, this half of the building was the laundry facility for the Shaker community here, and it included a wash room and an ironing room on the first floor, and drying rooms on the upper floors.

This Shaker community ultimately closed in 1960, and the property was subsequently preserved as Hancock Shaker Village. This open-air museum features a number of historic buildings, including the laundry/machine shop, as shown here. The first photo was taken more than 90 years ago, when the site was still an active Shaker community, and since then there has been some restoration work to this room, including different furnishings and a different stove. Overall, though, it is still easily recognizable from the first photo, and the current layout shows the stoves where the irons were heated, as well as the large tables where articles of clothing and other cloth items were ironed.

Ironing Room, Hancock Shaker Village, Hancock, Massachusetts

The ironing room at the laundry and machine shop building at Hancock Shaker Village in 1931. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The room in 2023:

Life in a Shaker community was not for everyone, as it involved giving up personal property and living a celibate lifestyle in a communal setting where hard work was seen as a core value. However, those who joined the community did enjoy some practical benefits, particularly when it came to economies of scale. Because of their size, the Shakers could utilize larger, more efficient facilities than what a typical family of the time period had.

Here at the Shaker village in Hancock, Massachusetts, this included a large laundry facility, which occupied three stories on the western side of the laundry/machine shop building. This is probably the oldest surviving building at the village, with the original portion of the building—here on the western side—likely dating back to around the time that the community was established in 1790. It was probably originally a dwelling, but it was subsequently used as a laundry and as a machine shop. These two facilities shared the same building and water power source, but they were otherwise separate. In keeping with Shaker beliefs, men and women had separate workspaces, with the men working in the machine shop and the women here in the laundry.

On the ground floor, the laundry included two main rooms. One room was for washing, where the equipment was powered by a water turbine. From there, the laundry went upstairs to dry on drying racks, and then came back downstairs to this room, where it was ironed. Here, the clothing and other items were ironed on the large tables, using irons that were heated on the stoves in the room.

The Shaker community was still active when the first photo was taken in 1931, although its numbers were much smaller compared to a century earlier. They eventually closed in 1960, but the site subsequently became Hancock Shaker Village, an open-air museum. It features a number of restored Shaker buildings that are open to the public, including the laundry and machine shop, as shown here in the second photo.

Laundry and Machine Shop, Hancock, Massachusetts (2)

The Laundry and Machine Shop at Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts, in 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The building in 2023:

These two photos show the same building as the ones in the previous post, but from the opposite side of the building. This is probably the oldest surviving building at Hancock Shaker Village, dating back to about 1790, around the same time that the Shaker community was established here. It had a variety of uses over the years, but it was primarily a machine shop on the east side (in the foreground in this scene), and a laundry on the west side. These workspaces, like other aspects of Shaker society, were segregated by gender. As a result, while the two facilities shared the same building and water source, the men worked only in the machine shop, and the women in the laundry.

The Shaker community was still active when the first photo was taken in 1939, although its numbers were much smaller than they had been a century earlier. The community eventually closed in 1960, and in 1961 the property became Hancock Shaker Village, an open-air museum featuring many historic buildings, including this. Aside from a different paint color and the open area on the ground floor in the foreground, this building has not changed much in appearance since the first photo was taken.

Laundry and Machine Shop, Hancock, Massachusetts

The Laundry and Machine Shop at Hancock Shaker Village in Hancock, Massachusetts, in 1939. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress, Historic American Buildings Survey Collection.

The building in 2023:

This building is probably the oldest surviving building here at the Hancock Shaker Village. The earliest portion of the building, here in the foreground on the northwestern side, is said to date back to about 1790, around the same time that the Shaker community was established here. It may have originally been used as a dwelling, but it has seen a number of alterations and changes in use over the years. By the 1830s the east side of the ground floor, on the left side of the building from this angle, was a machine shop, which was powered by an overshot water wheel. This was later improved with the installation of a water turbine, and at some point in the 19th century the west side of the building was used for laundry.

Shaker communities were segregated by gender, and this included not only separate living areas but also separate workspaces. In this case, both men and women worked in this building, where the machine shop and laundry equipment were both powered by the same water power source. However, these two facilities were otherwise separate, with men working in the machine shop and women in the laundry.

When the first photo was taken in 1939, this site was still an active Shaker community, although its numbers had seen significant decline since its peak of around 300 members in the 1840s. The photo was taken as part of the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS), a federal program that began during the Great Depression as a way of providing work for unemployed people while also documenting historic properties around the country. According to the written documentation that accompanied the photo, the machine shop on the east side was not restored, but that the west side was in the process of being restored to its use as a laundry facility. The survey also included line drawings, which indicate that the ground floor of the west side was used for washing laundry, while the two upper floors were for drying.

The Shaker community here ultimately closed in 1960, and a year later the site became Hancock Shaker Village, an open-air museum that has preserved many of the historic buildings on the property. Today, the laundry and machine shop building is still standing here, and the only significant difference is the paint color. It was white in the first photo, but it is now painted a more traditional red color, which was commonly used by Shakers during their heyday in the 19th century.

Edgar Allan Poe Birthplace, Boston

The birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe at 62 Carver Street (modern-day Charles Street South) in Boston, around 1931-1932. Image courtesy of the Boston Public Library.

The scene in 2021:

Boston was the literary center of the country during the mid-19th century, and many of the leading writers of this period were born in Boston or the vicinity. Perhaps the most famous of these was Edgar Allan Poe, although ironically he spent only short periods of his life in Boston, and he tended to have a dim view of his native city and the literary luminaries who lived here.

This may have been, at least in part, because of a very different family situation. While most of the other prominent Boston writers came from affluent, respectable families, Poe’s parents had been actors, a profession that, in early 19th century Boston, was seen as a lowly, possibly immoral profession. Orphaned as a young child, Poe would go on to lead a rather nomadic life, frequently moving between different cities on the east coast and eventually culminating with his mysterious death in Baltimore at the age of 40.

Poe was the second child of David and Eliza Poe, who lived in Boston from the fall of 1806 until the spring of 1809. Although they were both actors, Eliza was evidently the more talented of the two. She had begun her acting career at the age of nine, and by fifteen she was married to fellow actor Charles Hopkins. However, he died three years later in 1805, and Eliza remarried to David Poe in April 1806. Compared to Eliza, David was relatively new to acting. He had been studying to become a lawyer, but in 1803, at the age of 19, he abandoned it for the stage. Contemporary accounts indicate that he did seem to have some natural talent, but he also suffered from debilitating stage fright, which often caused him to speak his lines too rapidly, or forget them altogether.

The Poes moved to Boston a few months after their marriage, and their first appearance here was on October 13, 1806 at the Federal Street Theatre, in the comedy Speed the Plough by Thomas Morton. By this point Eliza was about six months pregnant, but she did not let this slow her down. She continued to perform in a variety of plays until about two weeks until the birth of her first child, William Henry Poe, on January 30, 1807. David continued to act during this time, including several supporting roles in Shakespearean plays, such as Laertes in Hamlet and Malcolm in Macbeth. However, Eliza’s maternity leave was short, and she was back on stage within less than a month.

During their time in Boston, the Poes performed alongside some of the most prominent actors of the era, including Thomas Abthorpe Cooper and James Fennell. During Cooper’s visit to Boston in early 1808, the Poes had a variety of supporting roles in his Shakespearean performances. Among other roles, David was cast as Malcolm in Macbeth, and Eliza played Ophelia in Hamlet, with Cooper as Hamlet. David and Eliza also performed together alongside Cooper, appearing as the Duke of Albany and Cordelia, respectively, in King Lear.

However, despite their successes on the stage, the Poes evidently struggled financially. They had to sustain an busy schedule of performances in order to make ends meet, and in the spring of 1808 they were the subject of several benefit performances. As noted by Arthur Hobson Quinn in Edgar Allan Poe: A Critical Biography, these were special performances where the recipients would keep all of the profits, after the expenses from the performance were paid. The first benefit was held on March 21, with the Poes starring in The Virgin of the Sun. In advertising for the event, the Boston Commercial Gazette emphasized Eliza’s talents and work ethic, writing:

She has supported and maintained a course of characters, more numerous and arduous than can be paralleled on our boards, during any one season. Often she has been obliged to perform three characters on the same evening, and she has always been perfect in the text, and has well comprehended the intention of her author.

After reminding the readers of the many roles that she had preformed with such proficiency, the article concluded with:

We hope, therefore, that when the united recommendations of the talents of both Mr. & Mrs. Poe, are put up for public approbation, that the public will not only not discountenance virtuous industry and exertion to please, but will stretch forth the arm of encouragement to cheer, to support and to save.

However, with benefit performances such as this one, the intended recipients would earn the profits, but they would also be on the hook for making up the difference in the event that the proceeds did not cover the expenses. This was evidently the case for their March 21 performance, because a second benefit was subsequently scheduled for April 18. In advance of this, the Boston Democrat published an advertisement that noted:

[F]rom the great failure and severe losses sustained by their former attempts, they have been induced, by the persuasion of friends, to make a joint effort for public favor, in hopes of that sanction, influence, and liberal support, which has ever yet distinguished a Boston audience.

For this second benefit, they chose Friedrich von Schiller’s melodrama The Robbers, with David playing the role of Francis de Moor and Elizabeth playing Amelia. In organizing the benefit, they were assisted by their friends and fellow actors, Mr. and Mrs. Usher. The Poes and Ushers frequently performed together, and this would later lead to speculation about whether the Ushers were, many years later, the namesakes for one of Edgar Allan Poe’s most famous short stories.

It does not seem clear whether or not this second benefit was more successful than the first one. However, another source of speculation for later biographers was the fact that their second son, Edgar, was born exactly nine months and one day after this performance.

Because of incomplete records, it is hard to determine how many different houses the Poes lived in during their time in Boston. Their only confirmed place of residence was the house shown in the first photo, at what would become 62 Carver Street. They were definitely living here in the spring of 1808, when David Poe was listed here on tax records. And, although it is impossible to say for certain, the house is the most likely candidate for having been the birthplace of Edgar Allan Poe, who was born on January 19, 1809. Various sources have, at times, proposed 33 Hollis Street as his birthplace, but this conclusion was based on a faulty interpretation of city records.

The brick, Federal-style rowhouse at 62 Carver Street was built sometime after 1801 by Henry Haviland, a stucco worker who also ran a boarding house here. Haviland was living here in 1808, and his tenants included the Poes, John Hildreth, actor Daniel Grover, and ropemakers Joshua Barrett and Moses Andrew.

As was the case with her first pregnancy, Eliza Poe continued her busy acting schedule until shortly before Edgar was born. On January 13, just six days before he was born, she was playing the role of a peasant in The Brazen Mask, and she was back on stage just three weeks after his birth, appearing as Rosamonda in Abaellino, the Great Bandit on February 10.

Poe’s childhood in Boston proved to be very short-lived, with he and his family departing at the end of the season. David’s final role in Boston appears to have been Laertes in Hamlet on April 21, with Eliza playing the role of his sister Ophelia. Eliza would continue to appear in plays over the next few weeks, before concluding her time in Boston as Miss Marchmont in False Delicacy on May 12. The Poes subsequently departed Boston, and they were performing in New York by early September.

Unfortunately, life did not get any easier for the Poes after leaving Boston. David received negative reviews from some of the New York critics, and his final performance was on October 18, in Grieving’s a Folly. He was supposed to appear in the same play again two nights later, but a different play had top be substituted at the last minute, with contemporary accounts citing Poe’s “sudden indisposition” as the reason. This was often a euphemism for intoxication, leading some to suggest that Edgar Allan Poe may have inherited his alcoholism from his father. Either way, it marked the end of David’s acting career.

Eliza continued to act, and in December 1810 she gave birth to her third child, Rosalie, whose paternity is sometimes questioned. Eliza died a year later, likely from tuberculosis, at the age of 24, and David appears to have died around the same time. The three children were then split up, with young Edgar ending up with John and Frances Allan in Richmond, Virginia.

Edgar Allan Poe would eventually return to Boston several times over the course of his life. In 1827, while in the army, he was stationed at Fort Independence on Castle Island. It was during this time that Poe published his first work, Tamerlane and Other Poems. This 40-page pamphlet was printed in Boston by Calvin F. S. Thomas, although Poe’s name did not appear on it. Instead, the title page only indicated that it was “by a Bostonian.” However, only 50 copies were printed, and it received little attention. Today, only 12 copies are known to survive, making it one of the rarest books in the history of American literature.

Poe returned to Boston again in October 1845. By this point, he was a well-established author, and the Boston Lyceum invited him to speak at the Odeon Theatre. Although renamed, this was the same theater where, nearly 40 years earlier, Poe’s parents had regularly performed during their three seasons in Boston. Poe drew a sell-out crowd for the event, with the expectation that he would be presenting a new poem. Instead, however, he recited one of his early, obscure poems, “Al Aaraaf.” Written when he was a teenager, this was his longest poem, and it was particularly difficult to understand. Many in Boston saw this performance as an insult to the city, and Poe’s later remarks did little to mollify Bostonians.

Despite having been born in Boston, Poe had little regard for the city. This was particular true for its literary figures, whom he generally saw as overly moralistic in their writings, and he often referred to Bostonians as “Frogpondians,” after the frog pond on Boston Common. In responding to criticism of the Lyceum event, Poe published an essay in the Broadway Journal on November 1. In it, he acknowledged that he was born in Boston, writing:

We like Boston. We were born there—and perhaps it is just as well not to mention that we are heartily ashamed of the fact. The Bostonians are very well liked in their way. Their hotels are bad. Their pumpkin pies are delicious. Their poetry is not so good. Their Common is no common thing—and the duck-pond might answer—if its answer could be heard for the frogs.

Poe would make at least one more notable visit to Boston, in the fall of 1848. It was a little less than two years since the death of his wife Virginia, and he was in love with a married woman, Nancy “Annie” Richmond. Apparently out of desperation, he attempted suicided by overdosing on laudanum while he was in Boston. He was unsuccessful, but he ultimately died less than a year later in Baltimore, under mysterious circumstances.

In the meantime, Poe’s birthplace here in Boston would outlive him by more than a century, although given his disdain for Boston it seems unlikely that he would have been particularly concerned about its fate. And, Bostonians seemed similarly apathetic about it. While the homes of Poe’s Boston-area contemporaries like Emerson, Hawthorne, Alcott, and Longfellow have been preserved as museums, this was not to be the case for Poe’s birthplace.

By the early 20th century, this house was widely recognized as having been Poe’s birthplace, and a photograph and short article even appeared in the Boston Globe in 1924. At the time, the house was one in a long row of three-story brick buildings on the east side of Carver Street. The house on the right side of it, at 64 Carver Street, was still standing at that point, but it was demolished by the early 1930s, as shown by the parking area on the right side of the first photo in this post.

As for Poe’s birthplace at 62 Carver Street, its appearance likely had not changed much by the time the first photo was taken in the early 1930s. And, for that matter, its use had not changed much in the intervening years either. As was the case when Poe’s parents lived here in the early 1800s, it was likewise being used as a boardinghouse when the 1930 census was conducted several years before the photo was taken. According to the census, the boardinghouse was run by Margaret Trauvetter, a 53-year-old widow who lived here with her brother and seven boarders, all of whom were either single or widowed men. Most had working-class jobs, including a sailor, two clerks, a janitor, a storekeeper, and a stableman.

The house would remain here for several more decades, but in 1959 it was acquired by Boston Edison, which operated the adjacent Carver Street Substation. The house was demolished soon after, in order to expand the parking area for the substation. Today, the site is still a parking area, hidden behind a tall chain link fence with a privacy screen and barbed wire.

Although Poe’s birthplace at 62 Carver Street is gone, the two adjacent houses to the left are still standing, although because of street realignments this is now Charles Street South, rather than Carver Street. These two houses are the last survivors of the many three-story brick houses that once stood on this block, but they were built sometime in the late 1800s, so they would not have been here when Poe was born. However, there might still be one surviving remnant of Poe’s birthplace. The brick wall on the right side of the building in the present-day scene is a party wall that it once shared with its long-demolished neighbor. Because this was a shared wall, and because 62 Carver Street was much older, it is entirely possible that this was the original north wall of Poe’s birthplace, dating back to when it was built in 1801.

Overall, because his short childhood in Boston, and likely because of the mutual hostility between Poe and his native city, his origins here in Boston are often overlooked. However, he is not entirely forgotten here. While there are no markers here at this site to indicate that it was his birthplace, Poe is memorialized by a statue a few blocks to the north of here, at the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street South. Unveiled in 2014, it features Poe, accompanied by a raven, walking with a partially-open briefcase, with papers spilling out of it. It is located only a short walk away from the frog pond on the Common that he was so fond of mocking, although—perhaps fittingly—the statue shows him walking away from the Common, with his back turned to Beacon Hill, where many of Boston’s elite had lived during his lifetime.