Interviewed October 28, 2003
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Jay — 91 Liberty Street is actually a farmhouse built in 1862 by Simon Brown so that he could have a tenant farmer who could help him on his place. Farming was a big deal at that time. Simon Brown was the chief editor, and he owned the New England Farmer. Many improvements were taking place in agriculture at that time, so it was sort of like the high tech news magazine of its era.
This house was built in 1862. It was a little bit smaller than it is now. We're sitting in a wing that we built exactly 100 years later. It's probably the only property in Concord that has never, ever been through a sale. It is just simply passed from generation to generation and that's the way I owned it. My father basically made it possible for Judy and I to live here.
The house we grew up in is now occupied by Bill and Peggy Brace, which is 45 Liberty Street, affectionately known as River Cottage. It is a little smaller now than it was at one point because my father got upset with the high real estate taxes in Concord, and he tore half the house down in the 1950s to lower the taxes, which back then made some difference. I'm probably the fifth generation to live here in Concord and our son, Jared Keyes, who is now about 40, lives out off Monument Street at 147 Silver Hill Road and he'll be the sixth generation of our family to live in this town. And his son is the seventh.
Simon Brown was the original owner of River Cottage and then he built this farmhouse. Simon Brown moved to Concord in 1848. He had been a librarian at what was then the library of the House of Congress. Prior to that he had a printing business in Newburyport which was destroyed in the huge conflagration that took place in Newburyport relatively early in the 19th century. We don't know exactly when. His daughter married the first George Keyes. That George Keyes, to the best of my knowledge, had no middle initial. But at the time that Simon's daughter was growing up at 45 Liberty Street, there were no trees or growth whatever on either side of the river. She could see all the way to the John Keyes house which was down near Monument Square near the Colonial Inn. In fact, it is said that she and George Keyes signaled to one another with lanterns at the time which clearly is no longer possible. Simon Brown's wife was an aunt of the sculptor Dan French. The daughter and George Keyes had four children.
One of the four children was George Shephard Keyes. He married another Brown, a completely different Brown, Alice Monroe Brown, who was a member of the Little Brown family from Belmont. Her grandfather was the first Brown of Little Brown, and her father continued in that business, which was a very successful publishing house for many years acquired perhaps about 20-25 years ago by Time, Inc. She and George S. Keyes had four children, three of whom were very much residents of Concord. My father, Henry M. was the oldest. Stedman Buttrick's wife, Caroline Keyes, also lived in Concord for many years. The third child was Millicent, Millie, who lived in Wayland for many years but upon her husband's death she moved to Concord and lived here in several different places. And the youngest was Danny who really didn't spend much time in Concord. He happened to own the house that had belonged to Grace Keyes on Estabrook Road which was occupied for many, many years by David and Sida Emerson before David ended up moving down to his father's house at the very end of Estabrook Road where Anna Rasmussen now lives. Danny lived in New York and was a professional actor. He married Barbara Richardson, Lorry Richardson's daughter, and they lived down on Barrett's Mill Road.
Judy — What I think is an interesting fact is that each of the eldest sons ending up by living with their in-laws in River Cottage. You don't hear of this happening very often. The first George Keyes moved in with Mary Brown Keyes and raised all the children in that house. Then later his son, George Keyes moved in with him with his wife. The women married different people and moved away, but the sons seemed to stay at home and brought their wives in. Jay's grandmother also lived at River Cottage, and then made way for her son, Henry Keyes and turned it over to him and she moved out.
Jay — My grandfather, George, was a principal in what one of the finest security firms in Boston called Prentiss & Sangle. When the Great Depression hit, the firm was very badly hurt and ended up being liquidated, which at that point my grandfather was left in a very perilous financial condition and he and his wife, Alice, decided to let my father and mother move into the cottage. They moved up Estabrook Road to the house that I had mentioned had been owned by Danny Keyes which was owned at that time by my great Aunt Grace. Grace was my father's aunt. She was in the house and at the same time her sister Marian was in the house.
It's my feeling that Grace really provided the funds that ran the farm. Grace had been a great friend of a painter, Elsie Roberts, and that house on Estabrook Road was Elsie Roberts' house. Elsie Roberts had fits of depression and later in her life in her 50s she went into one of these depressions and her doctors felt that she shouldn't undergo the strain of painting. That was the final straw, and she hung herself in that house, but she left my Aunt Grace as the beneficiary a very substantial trust. She was quite a wealthy woman particularly in the dollars in those days.
In any case, my grandfather George and grandmother moved into that house and at the same time, in the early ‘30s, was when Alice got interested in the Old Manse which was then owned by a family who was named Ames. Mr. Ames had gotten ill and wasn't even able to come out and use it in the summer so the house was not being occupied in the early to mid-‘30s. My grandmother had a friend who ran a newspaper and they got together and talked Mrs. Ames into letting them open the house and let people tour it for the magnificent sum of ten cents because it was of such historical interest. My grandmother and grandfather lived at the Old Manse from the spring to the fall and took care of it all the way into the early years of World War II. At the fall they moved back with Aunt Grace into her house. When I was four I remember going over to visit with them and somehow managed to fall into this large fish pool in the garden and nearly drowned and got put into a bedroom upstairs heaped with blankets of which I nearly expired because it was a hot June or July day.
I was the oldest of four boys and we were raised at River Cottage. The things I remember were the farm was going. Martin Anderson and his wife Marie were basically the farmer and his wife. We had maybe 8 or 10 milking cows and three or four pigs for bacon. Even all during the war I can remember Marie would come down every other day with five pounds of hand churned butter and usually three or four little glass bottles of cream which you had to pull out with a fork it was so thick. My father was very involved with the farm. He always helped extensively with the haying. Later on in 1953 when the farmer, who had never been sick a day in his life went to take a nap after lunch and died, we sadly learned that they didn't make them like that any more. That was sort of the end of the operating farm. The cattle were sold. There wasn't any more asparagus that was raised for the market in Boston. But my father at that point kept the farm going in the sense that he decided he would raise Black Angus cows and have chickens. As the oldest boy, I was drafted to be of fairly significant help both in providing hay and grain to the cattle. I remember going up on freezing cold mornings and having to break the ice out of the water for the chickens and getting the eggs. That unfortunately is a way of life that's gone by. But my father was just a prodigious worker. Not only did he do a lot around the farm, but I remember we cut all our own firewood up on the woodlot which was off Strawberry Hill Road in Concord, which last February Judy and I gave to the Concord Land Trust. I think the farm was what kept him alive so long. He lived to be 85 and most of those years he was in extraordinarily good shape.
Judy — Nothing like a hot, hot summer day and be out there haying and covered with pieces of hay sticking every part of you. It was hard work but it was physically uncomfortable too. The cattle were right here in the yard between us and the barn, and inside was this big bathtub for the cattle's water. Coming up the driveway one time and there was Henry lying in the cow trough. He finally got too hot.
Jay — My father had been sort of a partner in the Shaw family cotton business which was E.A. Shaw. They were brokers. My father said it was really the most wonderful sort of existence. He'd be gone many weeks of the year. He took the train to various places in the South where he'd spend time with the families that grew the cotton. So we would make the arrangements to buy it for the mills up here. Then other times he would make calls on the families that owned the cotton mills around here and in Rhode Island. I went on many trips with him. Some of the trips were great fun because a lot of his great friends and fellow associate at E.A. Shaw was Paul ????., Paul had a couple of wonderful cars and among them that he kept in Concord was a 1938 Bugati and a 1933 Mercedes SK which was one heck of automobile. I got to ride in them as a passenger. My father was one of the few people that Paul trusted to operate that magnificent automobile. So we used to go call on some of these families that owned the mills, and of course they're all gone now. Not only did the textile business shift down to the southeast but now it's left the southeast and gone to China. In the meantime I was probably very lucky that I won a Navy scholarship to college. I really only wanted to go to Harvard, and initially I was told I couldn't. I didn't win the principal scholarship to Harvard but only the alternate. Then it turned out through some crazy reason that I'll never know why, the guy that had the principal appointment decided not to take it and went elsewhere. So I ended up getting it although I didn't anticipate it. It was at a time when the cotton business was beginning to really get hurt.
Judy — He was land poor. He had so much land and no income, which was really why he left. He just couldn't afford to stay here. And that's happening today. You can see the parallels. That's probably gone on since Concord was started but in our family it was very hard. He probably could have broken this property up into lots of tiny pieces, but he knew we wanted to stay here. He hoped we would move to River Cottage, of course. But River Cottage is getting more and more touristy and big busses are going up Liberty Street with loud speakers and talking all the time. We love it back up here off the road because nobody can see it. We just feel it's uniquely quiet and we love it. But Henry had to figure out how to maximize what he could get for the property and he had it all laid out with 11 or 12 houses. But he was fortunate to find somebody to buy 19 acres so he could shelve the development plan. It would have been ghastly, but what do you do? I sympathize with these people who are developing things densely because if you don't have the money, you don't have it.
Jay — My mother who was a stalwart around here worked for The Wool Shop for many years. Many, many women learned how to knit from my mother. She had been left a small stipend from her aunt and she and my father took a trip to Brussels where they had lived for a number of years when my father ran the U.S. Pavilion for the World's Fair which was back in 1958. Unfortunately on that later trip in 1972, there was an automobile accident in the streets of Brussels, and one of the cars went out of control up onto the sidewalk and knocked her down and she suffered a hematoma. It was a Friday night in a strange country. Although I think it never should have happened, she died. My father was obviously quite bereft. Several years later he decided to leave Concord and he moved to Sheepscot, Maine where actually he had roots in the sense that his aunt Grace Keyes owned a property up there, and she left interest in it to him. He went up on a shooting trip and in the course of which he renewed an acquaintance with a very nice lady who became my stepmother. That was perhaps 1974.
My cousin, Steddy Buttrick, says it's not the case the Aunt Grace Keyes drove an electric car. Somebody had an electric car. She was the first woman to get a driver's license in the state of Massachusetts. She was the one who established the Grace Keyes cup which was the lady's golf championship in Massachusetts. She was a terrific athlete.
I was chairman of the Old Manse Friends Committee for so many years they finally had to alter the bylaws to get me out of there, over a dozen years. The Trustees of Reservations actually bought the Old Manse in 1939. They bought it from the Ames family, and it's probably in our view, Judy's and my view, probably the most interesting historic house they own. They own many houses, but it's by far the oldest.
Judy — Yes, we got involved. Aunt Cal was involved in the beginning but she was a very strong minded lady. The Old Manse is a wonderful place. It's evolved dramatically and it's fun to watch it. I'm not involved any more and nor is he. I was involved for years and years and they changed the bylaws so we could rotate people. Now it is in very good hands and turning over and new people are getting involved.
Jay — I always thought the best thing I did as chairman was to get Ned Perry involved. Ned eventually became chairman. Ned was behind a lot of very good things that happened at the Old Manse. They put the garden in with Gaining Ground. They really made the place sort of come to life.
Growing up here in Concord, when you're young you don't appreciate the aspect of what life was like. It was a very different town then compared to now. It was a very small town. Even as a boy I doubt the population was more than 6000 people. And it is now 16000. The town was a real town with the Economy grocery store, Woolworth 5 & 10, and other stores you normally go to every day, which doesn't have many of those any more. Downtown Concord has gotten very touristy, boutiquey. It's too bad but that's the way it is. That's probably why we do business with Vanderhoof because they're still there because they own the building. If they didn't own the building, I don't think they would be there.
Judy — I've only been here 45 years but I used to know every third person walking down the street, and I was in Concord all the time because I was an at-home mother. It wasn't all these families that are working so hard, they're both working and I don't know hardly anybody any more. It was really different that way back then. You don't need to be in downtown Concord any more except for the post office, you don't need anything that's for sale there, in a way. It's a shame. It's still beautiful and attractive and we love it, but you don't rely on it.
Jay — As a boy, we did roam around. I can remember many years ago a friend of my family was Harris Farnstock who lived on Nashawtuc Hill. I remember when Harris bought a brand new Jacquar XK120 sports car and he asked if I would like to go for a ride. I was 12 years and at that age you sure as heck want to go for a ride. We went down Barrett's Mill Road and back and there were hardly any houses on Barrett's Mill Road.
Judy — You could sled down Liberty Street to Lowell Road. You didn't have to worry because if somebody was coming they weren't coming that fast. Now they would hit you. Life wasn't filled with so many little dangers around every corner then.
Jay — My father was somewhat a hellion in his youth. I got into some trouble myself and I was amazed how sympathetic my father was to his son getting into trouble. He said, "One of the problems for you and your friends is there are too many cops." It certainly is a very different fabric that we live in.
I was in kind of a war with the people running the town over the issue of assessment and it wasn't so much the assessment as really the shoddy way in which I felt I and other people were being treated in the process. I think this is unfortunate, and I doubt in the earlier years it would have happened because it just seemed to me to be a more communal sense. I can remember my dad being involved in the public works and everything was sort of manageable and more personal. One institution, believe or not, I thought was a wonderful institution was the dump. You would go to the dump and people would run for office at the dump. You would see a lot of people at the dump.
Judy - I went to the dump every Saturday for years and I looked forward to going to the dump. It was just wonderful. You knew what was going on. You got a chance to meet everybody running for office. It was just a place where everybody went no matter what age, what .... You had to go to the dump.
Jay - I have been involved in the Conservation Land Trust. I think one of the things that got me interested in getting involved was that my dad had given a chunk of woodland, and a neighbor didn't like the tall pine trees on one side of his house that blocked the sun at some point so he just went in there and cut them all down. I was furious that immediate action wasn't taken. So I found myself becoming a trustee of the Land Trust. I really think we have an obligation to do things rapidly. It was a tragedy what Mr. Hill out on Estabrook Road tried to do among other things on conversation land that he wasn't allowed to. Unfortunately, a great deal of time transpired before any substantial effort was made to stop him. He unfortunately spent a great deal of money to no avail at all. It really shouldn't have happened.
I remember watching a presentation by the Walden people over there in Lincoln, a young man associated with the Trust for Public Land talked about what wonderful things they were doing out West to put an Indian tribe back on some 10,000 acres. I felt as interesting as it was it was way over the heads of people who had worked on conservation efforts here, and he didn't seem to appreciate the irony we were running into now where by preserving land and making the town basically attractive, we turned it into a sort of destination for people who wanted to buy property and build big houses, and the net result of the conservation efforts was a major contribution to pricing many, many good Concord people out of the town.
Judy - We have been involved in the Concord Museum for many years. It has changed. It was really run by very local people who made all the curtains and polished the brasses and the furniture, and we felt a sense of ownership. But then, it became much more professional and as well it should be. It should be a place where people really learn what life was like in a given point of time. So it did change, and I was very involved when it was changing. At that point it was called the Ladies Association. So we changed the name to the Museum Guild. It was a major thing, but I think it has worked quite well. We lost some people who stopped being interested because they couldn't be more hands on which was sad. On the other hand, a lot of new blood came in. I love going there now and seeing people's faces I have never seen before. A lot of young faces and a lot of energy going in there now. It's not just the old guard going in there year after year rolling up their sleeves and trying to do the fundraising and trying to do this and that. It's new people and that's what it should be. I like the changes in lots of ways. I feel distant from it a little bit but that's all right.
I was head of the board for a couple of years when we were going through that building permit business and that was an interesting process. Historic Districts really didn't want any building not to be Georgian looking, and I always felt they lost a great opportunity to have a very small, very modest but to have Graham Gund do his best. He designed a fascinating building. The exterior was going to be marvelous looking, but they just couldn't take that much change.
Jay - You know the Lincoln Library new wing. It's not old to match the old building perfectly, but it doesn't look like disparity either.
Judy - I think it's important for a town to be aware of what century it's in and be proud of being in the 21st century and reflect it especially with a museum, if it has the time and the money to build a building that's a handsome building. That was a real loss. I notice that Graham Gund has had Christmas cards every year where he has five of his favorite designs for that year, and he never put the Concord Museum on that because he had to compromise over and over again.
Jay - He has a sales brochure that talked about some of the finest things he did. He would not include the Concord Museum in it because he felt he was so restrained and cut back. I think the town made life very difficult for the Concord Museum at that time, not only in the design but in delays in permitting. They must have rung up several hundreds of thousands of dollars more in expenses that were never anticipated. I thought it was a very unfortunate thing that the town did that.
Judy - But, I think the institution does serve the town well. Let me tell you about the Simpson sisters. There were three to start with that came to Concord. They rented River Cottage in 1938. Two of them were maiden ladies and one of them had a husband who died at their wedding reception after eating a bad oyster. It turned out the middle sister was a very talented artist in a most unusual medium. Because her elder sister got multiple sclerosis and was very ill and very bedridden, she would make for this sister little seasonal scenes that her sister could look at without getting out of bed. That expanded into something much more interesting which were dioramas that she made. She was commissioned by the Boston Public Library and the Concord Library and the Orchard House. They are extraordinary dioramas. They are hard to describe but everybody should see them. The first she was ever paid for was the Wiggins collection. He gave a huge print collection to the Boston Public Library and he wanted to have dioramas accompanying 12 of his favorite prints. Louise Simpson made these little boxes and make the scenes that are in the prints but the artist is included in the right period wearing the right clothes at the right age sitting in the corner doing the sketching. I think there are six of them at the Orchard House. Concord Library has only three on view right now, one of the center of town in 1842. It shows Thoreau coming down the street having been called by children and the buildings aren't exactly where people think of them now. Then there's an Old Manse scene both inside and out. And there's another that I hope the Library will pull out after the renovation and that's of Alice in the Looking Glass. So it gave people a chance to access images in a very different way. She made it all of out thimbles, teeth of combs, etc., everything that was found.
They were dear wonderful ladies. The surviving sisters lived right up into the 1970s. Their last home was on Windmill Hill, the section on the left. We were lucky enough to get to know them because Jay was asked to help them with their finances. Louise ended up passing away at St. Benedict Center in Still River in Harvard with the monks.
The mother took the girls to Europe after the eldest one's husband died and they were there for a year. They kept a diary every single day. Every day after that for seventy years they read aloud that day of that year they were in Europe, every year. They knew that trip inside out. I think Louise was 12 when she had her fortune told by a gypsy and she said she would end her days with many, many men. Everyone thought that was such a hoot since she never married and lived with her sisters. And then she ended her days surrounded by the monks.
233 Lexington Road going east bound is a greenhouse with sort of an addition on the right side of it which I think was a hen coop and they lived there for a while. Before that they rented the house the Clymer's live in on Main Street. They were so old fashioned. Louise thought an airplane was amazing. For her 80th birthday, Father Gabriel up at the center chartered a little plane and took her up so she could look down on everything. She loved it.
I wanted to add something about Simon Brown. He moved to Concord when he was about 48 or 49, so he was not a young man. He had already lived in Newburyport and then down in Cohasset where his publishing business was started. All the New England Farmers that he published are at the Concord Library. He gave them to the library. He'd go to Boston every morning and be out here every afternoon farming. He could get to his office on Commercial Ave. from River Cottage, taking a horse and buggy to the train, the train into Boston to North Shore and on to Commercial Avenue in something like 35 minutes. He'd time it quite often. That was amazingly fast.
He kept a diary every single day of his life and some days his eyes would pain him from his diabetes so it was always filled in by his son-in-law George. He recorded everything and Concord was quite a place then. Louis Aggasis was coming out here to speak, and other amazing people came to Concord. He heard while he was in his cornfield that Lincoln had been shot. He got himself immediately to Boston where he met with Louie Prang and went right to Washington D.C. And, I believe he was there when they took a death mask of Lincoln.
He cut everything out of the newspaper about what was happening in Concord. This bank down here had a robbery and all the clippings are in the diary too. This farming business was so contemporary. He traveled all over New England and looked at ways of doing things. Unfortunately some of them were using phosphates. You put a little phosphate down and wow, grass will grow like really fast. Now we know how bad phosphates are for polluting. But, you can't look back. At that moment in time, that was the wonder. Under this farm, he put drainage all over this land, all tiled with drainage. He was a very up-to-date guy. His diaries are at the Concord Museum.
He had the very first house in Concord that installed central heating, an aquatherm. He spent the next two days going from room to room with a thermometer taking the temperature of each room.
He described walking at night to dinner at somebody's house at Nine Acre Corner from Liberty Street walking in the snow so deep that it was six feet on either side of him. They pack the snow down and they rolled the snow. They didn't plow it.
They would take a horse and buggy way up to New Hampshire for the day. His diaries are fascinating.