Barbara Lawrence Schevill
379 Garfield Road
Interviewed January 5, 1995
Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer.
Sponsored by the ConcordLand Conservation Trust and supported by the Cultural Arts Council.
Present at the interview is Marion Thornton, President, Concord Land Conservation Trust.
The turn of the century was when my ancestors first decided to move here. They came from Roxbury, where since 1637 they had been farming until the beginning of the 1800s, and then the men of the Williams family moved into business in Boston. They did keep a place in Roxbury which was sort of a family gathering place until 1899 when my great-grandmother decided that they had better leave Roxbury and come to the country. They had still kept up some sort of farming on the land in Roxbury. They were looking for a place that was big enough to be a gentlemen's farm kind of thing. I think they picked this land partly because it was available and partly because my oldest uncle had a farm in Lincoln right near Baker Bridge and it would be near him.
So my great-grandmother came with her two unmarried sisters, the Miss Williams - Aunt Fanny and Aunt Lizzie. The house was never built or moved into before great-grandmother died in 1901. The place was always in the name of the two Williams sisters. Aunt Fanny was a very alive and energetic person and Aunt Lizzie was sort of a recluse, sometimes we saw her and sometimes we didn't. As children we used to go to the house and Aunt Fanny would say, "Would you like the fairies to bring you some presents?" Of course, we said yes and we had to sit very still on stools, and Aunt Lizzie would then play the piano while Aunt Fanny must have rigged wires in the background because sure enough the fairy would appear, and sure enough on the mantelpiece where the fairy had been flitting around and after the fairy had disappeared, there were little objects for us. The family first moved out to Concord in 1912. It was about that time that I think father got his first car. He had a 4640 plate and that's been the plate in the family for years.
In my younger years it was an adventure when mother would take us walking down along the edge of the Sudbury River. If you go back to the big house, there was a path through the woods from our house to the big house, and we were back and forth there all the time. We would often go down to the farmhouse where they continued farming, and John Bruce, who used to be called the "Mayor of Nine Acre Corner," managed the farm for them. They had milk cows, chickens, pigs underneath the cow and horse stalls so that the manure was all scraped down for the pigs to work. We used to bring our garbage over to feed the pigs, and in exchange we would get milk to take home, which would then get set in pans for the cream to rise. The cream had to be skimmed very carefully. The first skimming was always for father for his coffee in the morning in the special silver pitcher, then the rest went into the porridge for the children. If we were good and careful, we were allowed to do the second skimming, but not the first skimming. That was before the World War I and after that everything was different.
The ice, of course, was all put into an icehouse shed which was backed up to the woodshed in the winter. It was put in sawdust as usual as ice was in those days, and then as we got older, it was a great privilege to be allowed to go with tongs and lower the blocks down into a wheelbarrow. My big sister Lina achieved that. I never got beyond being at the foot of the post and guided it to the wheelbarrow and take the tongs off so she could get another one down. The icebox was on the back porch. There was room at the top for the ice and two little pans underneath. There wasn't much room for anything else except the milk and cream.
We used to canoe on Fairhaven Bay when we were about 8, 9 and 10. We used to keep our canoe under the barn at the farm during the winter and during the summer just at the edge of the river. I can remember one summer when we decided it would be nice to make perfume, if we gathered water lilies. So we came home with a whole canoe full of water lilies which we persuaded mother to let us leave in the bathtub. My brother and I spent a lot of time on the river. Not necessarily just going up and down a lot, but often going down to the island. That was a place where my cousin had built a small house. People at that time had camps up and down the river.
The Miss Williams' had a younger brother Henry Bigelow-Williams, whose wife died in a carriage accident. There were four Williams children and Henry was the youngest. His daughter became Mrs. Fessenden and was brought up a lot of the time by the Miss Williams, certainly until her father married again which was a while after. She really liked being here with Aunt Fanny and Aunt Lizzie better than being with her stepmother even though it was a very friendly relationship. So she grew up there and she would have been my mother's first cousin. She was the one to whom the place was left when Aunt Fanny died in 1928, and by then she was married and had children who also spent quite a lot of time there. Her husband had a lot to do with the care and running of the place. He liked the woods very much. Cousin Russell always wandered around with a wheelbarrow with evergreens that he tried to stick in the woods here and there. I can remember here we were privately in Concord, miles from Boston, and waking up the morning after the 1938 hurricane down there on the sleeping porch and seeing the glow of Boston on the sky and smelling the pitch pine. It was horrible. When the hurricane cleaned everything out, we were just married and looking for a place to build in Concord so Cousin Louisa thought it would be nice if the children had a bit of the land, and Cousin Russell didn't think it was at all nice because it was his wife's land. But he had lost his interest in the woods so we got some of the land.
Anyway mother and father got first 10 and ultimately 30 acres of the land which was against this northern boundary of the property, down to Garfield Road. That was where we grew up in the summer and that was where the bungalow was. A bungalow was what Mr. T. Mott Shaw decided he was building out here. We had some water piped to the house, but we also had in the well a special way to turn on a pump that brought water directly from the well to a drinking faucet in the pantry so that you didn't have to go up to the pressure tank under the eaves in the attic. When we would come out in the winter, which we very often did for the weekends, we would get water from the well in buckets, and in the summer until we got things started, we got water from the well in buckets. It was a good spring-fed well, and it never went dry on us. The families then around here had money but it wasn't conspicuous money.
In the woods, if you started out as if you were walking to the big house, just before you get to where the cliffs are and drop down to a gate through the fence, my family put a playhouse for us. This was an interesting house because for years and years, there was somebody who moved around, not a tramp, but lived one place and another, and he had a house on the top of Mine Hill which was a nice grassy place. I don't remember ever seeing him. In the winter he would vanish and then one year he never came back. I'm not sure if they ever knew where he went to or knew about him at all. A tramp I suppose, but people have funny ideas about tramps being bad people. Anyway he was a little bit like old man Garfield, who was the only other resident on Garfield Road.
Old man Garfield, I suppose a part of the family that the road was named for, was an old man with a long white beard and he sat on the porch of a tiny, small house. We were allowed to talk to him as we went up and down the road, but we were not supposed to go into the house at all, and he was friendly. When we came out here in the winter, if mother and father had bread and things left over because we came out on the train, they would leave them with him. He courteously accepted them and I suppose he was happy to have them. That was when we would come up in the sleigh usually.
If you think again of where the house is and look across that field up toward the right, that row of pine trees was referred to as the upper grove and down at the bottom of that where one of the houses is, there was a rocky ledge which was a field just growing back. When we were 7 and 8, we were old enough to be allowed to go down there with butterfly nets and try to catch butterflies. That was a big excursion and it had to be checked out with mother before we went so she knew where we were. We were allowed to, as long as I can remember, go down the stone wall along the road to get to the mailbox that was at the intersection of Garfield Road and Rt. 117.
We built this house we are in now in 1940. It wasn't finished when we moved in. There was no trim around the doors or windows, garage construction, painted inside and out and a poured concrete ceiling. Bill said he wanted a house that was incombustible and indigestible on account of the carpenter ants. We had a small amount of water. People knew why Bill had a beard, we didn't have enough water to shave.
Outside our window here we see an island in Fairhaven Bay, which doesn't look like an island anymore. When we first built here, it was all like that strip of grass that you see on this side so you could see all the way across to the edge of the island. When I was growing up, I always remember there were four big pines on the island. It was open under the pines and not so grown up as it is now. At this end of the island there is a small sandy beach which is a nice spot to wade out from.
We didn't swim in Fairhaven Bay much, but later on I used to swim in the river. Mother couldn't swim so she would take us to White Pond, which was where she taught us to swim. We couldn't go out in water any deeper than up to a certain level on mother. She would hold one of the younger ones by the back of the swimsuit and let them kick until they got confident they could try it alone. But we always stayed at a level where mother could fish us out if she had to. I don't think mother ever learned to swim.
My mother and father were very outdoors people. So we grew up thinking that if you came out to Concord, you were outdoors and you did things outdoors. We could persuade mother to take us walking down by the stone boathouse and then around to the edge of the cliffs. There were cow paths around there. There weren't any cows by then but you could still see the paths. The house my parents built was called "The Pasture." We used to spend a lot of time at a certain climbing tree we had, playing games and climbing the tree.
When Cousin Louisa died, she had three grandchildren and her brother had three children, and the family was really determined that the land was going to be developed. My sister Theodora (Tee), who was sort of a recluse a lot of her life, was really very upset by this, and so she scrounged around and scraped up money to buy the place so that it couldn't be developed. I think that's when we really began to think how awful it would be if the place would ever be divided up into small bits. Loring had always wanted to have a house on top of Mine Hill. Loring was the cousin who was really with us so much, he used to come after Middlesex School when he was through teaching there, and help Cousin Louisa up the backstairs in her wheelchair because she would never live downstairs. These other cousins of mine were not that kind of people. So we helped a little and Tee and Edwin Brooke got the land. He loved the land really as much as Tee did. It was really interesting that my sister felt the way she did, because by the time they moved into the place, she really wasn't circulating very much. So she really didn't walk the land the way I used to walk the land and Edwin used to walk the land.
Marion Thornton - The Land Trust was formed in 1959. The first agreement signed by the people who lived along the river and on the edges of Fairhaven Bay putting restrictions on their land along the river was signed in the early 1960s before the wetland bill went through.
Barbara - Cousin Russell never wanted us to have part of the island so our land only went out to the island with just enough at the end of the island so that we could land a canoe there if we wanted. I think Cousin Russell was always afraid that things would happen to the land, which of course they nearly did.
Marion - The restrictions protecting frontage on the river were put on for thirty years and they have all expired a couple of years ago.
Barbara - One of the other things that made us think about preserving the land was we always had boy scouts asking us to use the island. We asked one scout master who came up from the Cape to use the island why he came so far. His answer was that all the little ponds on the Cape had houses around them, and this was the nearest place they could find that looked like wild country and it still does. So that was another push to keep it from getting built up. Seventeen miles from Cambridge is not very far. Elizabeth Lowell was sure that ultimately one of the big thruways was going to go along the edge of the river here.
We wanted some agreement from the Concord Land Conservation Trust saying that we wanted it to be this way. A structure can't be any nearer to the island than this house is or any higher than this house is. We also wanted to be sure that anybody who lived here could see the water because twice since we've lived here, the foreground has grown up and Bill had to clear it. So it is set that we have a view corridor down to the river 50 feet from the stone wall. So anybody who lives here will have a view. There can't be a complete wall of trees shadowing off this house from the distant skyline and this with consultation with the Concord Land Conservation Trust.
Before we gave the land to the Land Trust, we set up a conservation in perpetuity the same as Mrs. Lowell. The land will stay in its natural condition except for certain permitted uses. This was all done early in the time of preserving land, and they were meant to be guidelines for people who had the land not hurdles for a developer to wonder how he could get over and around, which was what happened to Liz Lowell's land. They thought they could use it in order to get access to the river. So this gentlemen's agreement didn't work at all.
Our first conservation restriction went to the town so it was their business to make sure that things were abided by. It didn't do any good to say that if they were pulling trees up by the roots, not just cutting down. This is really land rather than house that people would be tempted to buy this for because the view is lovely, all times of the year, all conditions of weather.
Originally we had some "no build " agreements with Mrs. Lowell, I think it was for a 200 foot stretch along the river. We helped Mr. Brooke do the same kind of thing. In that era the line ran along the top of the cliffs where no building could be done on the river side of that line. The land is restricted to a single family house. Edwin put a lot of restrictions on the land that was the old Fessenden house. When they wanted to sell it, they wanted to be sure the field was protected for the canoeists, so obviously they had to make money off the land so that was when they made house lots along Garfield Road except for the piece that Mr. Brooke kept for himself for quite a long time that Barry Hershey now owns. Barry Hershey owns almost all of the old Williams land now. This land that was my family's is the only land that Barry Hershey doesn't own.
We've been members of the Concord Land Conservation Trust for years and we approached them with this land. Mrs. Lowell was the one who first brought it to the town to take advantage of a state ruling that a town can take so much of its money to acquire land for the town. Now the town does it all the time always voting at Town Meeting on the amount used.
Marion - The very generous gift that they gave us protects the island and is a gift to the Land Trust outright but with the ability for the person who lives here in the house to have a view. So we have an understanding with them that from time to time trees can be cut on our land to continue to preserve the view, as we've done with other people around the Bay as well. The Schevills went on to restrict their own house lot so that it can't overpower the land as well. Another gesture in restricting this land, which is nothing for us, does protect this whole part of the Bay here. It is a wonderful gift to add to our many other land holdings around here plus the corridor that hopefully comes up from Conantum and maybe can be continued and finalized in some way. This is approximately nine acres.
Barbara - The other thing that is important too, Marion, is that you were willing to agree that it would be bad if the island was ever approached from land. The Land Trust needed access to the land that is on top here. There is a right of way that the Fessenden house has always had. The west end of our land which is, because of land swaps and things, big enough to put an acceptable driveway across our drive over into that land. So they had use of that and ought to be able to get across the corner of this land with this house in order to get to the back land, but we didn't want that access to turn into an access for people who just wanted to picnic, and the island wouldn't be an island anymore.
Marion - It is a beautiful piece of land that comes along the edge here with the cliffs and with some of the biggest trees that I know of around here. There are spectacular oak trees and hemlock stands.
An important piece of this whole part of saving this land is knowing people like the Schevills who had this very important ethic of land being saved for the future. It is part of the fabric that is so important in Concord.
Barbara - Regarding the Estabrooks Woods Field Station, I am now speaking as Barbara Lawrence. When I was Associate and Acting Curator of the Mammal Department at the Museum of Comparative Zoology, it was the time when it was beginning to be important to study the how and why of mammals as well as the what and whence. A number of places had field stations where such work was going on, and it seemed important that if the Museum of Comparative Zoology was going to continue to be a leader in field studies in mammals, that Harvard should also have a field station. Talking about that around town, David Emerson suggested that the bit of land which is now Estabrook Woods was the only bit of land that he knew, I believe he said within a fifty mile radius of Boston, that was not crisscrossed with roads and held in large holdings. He felt that that would be a good place to try to get a field station. Monk Terry at Middlesex School was enthusiastic about the idea because he felt that the Middlesex land abutting Estabrook Woods would be a great benefit to biology at Middlesex if they had this larger expanse of empty country. The Hutchins family had big holdings on the other side and I remember particularly that they were very encouraging and interested in the project. The Emersons didn't want to sell any land at the time though they were interested and thought it might be a good project. I think we also got some Buttrick land because they were also willing to part with it for that purpose.
Tom Flint was a very helpful person. He thought it would be possible to get the Town of Concord interested in the project too because of what they might get out of it. He was the person who really shaped up the project in terms of how we should go around to raise money not just a handout from Harvard, and how one could get the Town really interested and see this as an asset to the Town.
Marion - That is really wonderful to think about the field station as a good place for field studies as the important part of saving that piece of land, and you were instrumental in getting that going.