Monday, June 29, 2009

Mrs Walker's School

Among the community histories recorded at the Jamaica Plain Historical Society web site is the Reminiscenses of Jamaica Plain, 1845-1875, by Miss Ellen Morse. In it is a passing mention of a Mrs. Walker's school house on Centre street. I've posted entries about some private schools (Stephen Minot, Mrs. McKeige, Mrs. Cranch) but others have been on hold for want of information. While doing a general search for new Jamaica Plain stories, I recently came upon the advertisement above. Not only are we given an address that is in accord with that described by Miss Morse in her memoir, but we also get Mrs. Walker's home address.

That home address, Elm and Walker streets, brings in another thread. I had noticed in the past that on the 1874 map below, a Mrs. Walker lived on the corner of Elm and what we now call Sedgwick street (see below). Directly opposite are a house and an empty lot owned by a G. Walker. The 1873 West Roxbury Directory tells us that Mrs. Mary A. Walker was the widow of Mr. James P. Walker, and Gideon Walker was a carpenter with a business at the Jamaica Plain train depot at Green street. There seems to be no family connection between Mary and Gideon, so we are left wondering whether the street was named for her or him. By 1881, Sedgwick street was extended to John A. Andrew street and Walker street was no more.

G.M. Hopkins, 1874 (JP Historical Society).

For more information about Mrs. Walker, we go to the 1880 census (available at Mary Walker was born in Massachusetts in 1832 of English-born parents. Unfortunately, the online archive says of her husband only that he was born in New Hampshire. Their oldest child, a son, was born in Ohio, followed by two girls, born in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The household in 1880 also included Mary's sister, Martha A. Matthews, and a Miss Hattie F. Seager, both teachers, presumably at Mrs. Walker's school. Also in the house were housekeeper Martha H. Stevens of Maine and servent Katherine Kelley from Ireland.

Regarding the school itself, I'll quote from Miss Morse's reminiscense, which starts at the Unitarian Church at Centre and Eliot streets: " Beyond the Parsonage was the fine house occupied by Mr. and Mrs. Nathaniel Curtis. Then came the house of Mr. Moses Williams, which is no doubt remembered by some of these present.Then came the Hallett House, which was originally a very pretty two-story house. Later with an additional story it was Mrs. Walker's schoolhouse. I associate it as being occupied for some years by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Horton and their handsome daughters and sons. " There may be some confusion as to the exact location of the school-house, but I suspect that it was at the location shown below. In fact, the Moses Williams house preceeded the Curtis house, so we can't rely entirely on memories when sorting these things out.

Edit: I've done some digging at the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds that should clarify the location of the school house. Miss Morse tells us that the school was in the Hallet house, which later housed the Horton family. No Hortons owned property on Centre street during those years, so they must have been renting. The map below shows a house on the corner of Centre and Orchard streets owned by a George Cox.

Mr. Cox was a builder, and in 1869 he bought a lot of land from Dr. Benjamin F. Wing and his wife Adelaide. The land had come to Adelaide from her father, George Hallett. He also bought land from Joseph W. Balch, who had inherited it from his late wife Maria, also a Hallett daughter.

In 1832, George Hallett of Boston had purchased from a Mr. Samuel Billings 10 acres of land between "the Great Road" (Centre street) and "the road to Newton" (Pond street, or today's Jamaicaway). Just five years earlier, Billings had obtained the land from Ellen Gibbs, daughter of Crowell Hatch. Hatch, a sea captain and ship owner, had purchased it in turn from Timothy Penny of Jamaica - the island, not the Plain - in 1799.

So we've traced Mrs. Walker's school house back through it's owners to 1799. Timothy Penny listed the island of Jamaica as his address when he sold the land, so he must have returned there after having spent time in Jamaica Plain. Crowell Hatch is deserving his own entry here, and one will come in time. I know nothing of George Hallett, but while he owned the property, he must have rented the house to the Hortons, who are mentioned by Miss Morse above and show up on the 1859 map below.

Centre and Orchard sts, 1874.

1859 - Centre street runs right to left.

And finally, we can see the old house disappearing in the twentieth century.

1905 - the house still present, but new lots are planned in its place.

1924 - the house is gone, replaced by two brick apartment buildings.

So the forgotten Mrs. Walker and her private school took us back to the turn of the 19th century. What was once a ten acre estate became much of Orchard, Aldworth and Dane streets and Dunster road. The house was one of three that lined Centre street throughout much of the 19th century between today's Soldier's Monument and the Arborway, and sadly all three were sacrificed to squeeze in as many residents as could fit into 20th century Jamaica Plain.

As an added bonus, I picked up another nugget while examining deeds for this entry. The Penny-Hatch deed of 1799 puts the north boundry of the estate on "the road to New Town," that being the road to Newton, or Pond street, also our Jamaicaway. The Boston street atlas lists the origin of Pond street as 1825, but notes that it may have been a public highway previously. Now we know that the public had access to Jamiaca Pond by way of Pond street by at least 1799 and probably earlier. We might speculate - in fact I will - that Governor Bernard's estate of decades earlier may have sat on the same road. So you never know what you'll find when you dig into the details of local history. Mrs. Walker got me back to Timothy Penny of Jamaica, and perhaps to a Royal Governor as well.

Norfolk Count Registry of Deeds:

379:198 5/21/1869 B.F & A. Wing to George D. Cox

382:78 7/22/1869 J. W. Balch to George D. Cox

97:98 8/13/1832 S. Billings to George Hallett.

83:291 11/23/1827 E.M. Gibbs to Samuel Billings

11:40 8/23/1799 T. Penny to Crowell Hatch.

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