Concord Oral History Program
Renee Garrelick, Interviewer
My family history is rich and varied in the Concord area. I am probably related to every Wheeler that ever lived in Concord. My grandmother Blanchard's maiden name was Helen Wheeler and her family, for at least two generations, lived at 17 Sudbury Road and for many more at 15 Sudbury Road. Helen married Walter S. Blanchard of Cambridge. He was in the lumber business in Cambridge- port and later in Boston as well as the banking business in Boston. He lived to the age of 65; his wife, however, lived to be 83.
They brought up four children. The eldest was Herbert, who lived, after his marriage to Julia Wood of Concord, on Nashawtuc Hill, and three girls, Grace, Margaret and Helen. These girls all married three Smith brothers in Concord, who were the three oldest of the six children of Henry Francis Smith and his wife, Hannah Lincoln.
All six children were boys. My father, William Lincoln Smith, was the oldest who married Grace Blanchard. Henry F. Smith, Jr. was second and he married Margaret. The third son, Benjamin Farnham Smith, generally known as B. Farnham Smith, married Helen. All three families lived in Concord all their lives, and they all lived near one another.
Uncle Harry and Aunt Margaret lived at 17 Sudbuy Road, taking care of Grandmother Blanchard through the rest of her lifetime. That house and barn were operated as a farm. Indeed, many of the Wheeler families in Concord were farmers. Our branch of the Wheeler family owned a large piece of land bounded by Sudbury Road, Thoreau Street, Hubbard Street, Devens Street and back again to the corner of Sudbury Road. Over the years all but about one third of this land was sold for building lots, still leaving a good sized area for the farm adjoining the two old family houses. Across Sudbury Road was another farm owned by Wheeler cousins. This was the situation when I was a boy.
Cousin Isabelle Wheeler lived at 15 Sudbury Road in the red Wheeler house, one of the oldest in Concord and the original house on the Wheeler farm. Cousin Isabelle, who never married, spent considerable time in Germany. She left her money to the Town of Concord and I am sure the income from this fund is being put to good use by the town. The house itself and surrounding land remained in the family.
My father and Grace, who was my mother, had three children. She died of pneumonia when I was about a year old. My older sister, Hilda Blanchard Smith Hollis, lives on Thoreau Street in one of the new apartments. My brother Ben lives on Rollingwood Lane. I am the third and youngest of that part of the family.
Some years after my mother's death my father married his seventh cousin who lived in Bangor, Maine, Mary McRuer Farnham. She, like my father and grandfather, was a direct descendent of the Farnham family in North Andover. They had three more children, two boys and a girl, Philip, Donald and Elizabeth, all of whom have since died. They all married and Elizabeth and Donald raised families in Concord.
My older brother and sister were born in Concord. Father was building the house at 4 Academy Lane when I was born and since they were then living on Marlboro Street in Boston with his grandmother Lincoln, I was born there. Shortly after that we were able to move into the new house in Concord and I lived there until I was married.
B. Farnham Smith, who married Helen Blanchard, lived in a house he remodeled from a fine barn which my uncle had bought from the Munroe Estate, where my double cousin Eric Parkman Smith has lived all his life, No. 5 Academy Lane at the junction of Middle Street. He owns a number of other houses in that immediate area, some of which were former Wheeler houses.
There were three more boys in my grandfather and grandmother's family. The next was Theodore Lincoln Smith, then Herbert B. Smith and finally George Kirkham Smith, who was the only one of the Smith boys to leave Concord, and he moved to Portland, Oregon, and later to California.
All of these families lived very close together in the vicinity of Academy Lane, Middle Street and Sudbury Road. My grandfather and grandmother Smith lived at 61 Main Street, on the corner of Academy Lane. Uncle Farnham and Aunt Helen lived around the corner from them on adjacent land. Uncle Herbert lived two houses up Middle Street from our house which was at the corner of Middle Street and Academy Lane. With Uncle Harry and his family at 17 Sudbury Road we were all together in all manner of family gatherings, everyone within a stone's throw of each other. All of the families knew each other very very well.
As children we were in and out of both Smith and Blanchard grandparents' houses and constantly in and out of each other's houses. Uncle Harry worked at the Middlesex Institution for Savings and eventually became its treasurer. His father, Henry F. Smith, Sr., was a member of the Social Circle and, according to the rules, only one member of a family can belong from each generation. Uncle Harry, well known to everybody in Concord as treasurer of the bank, was asked to join the Social Circle. My father and Uncle Farnham worked in Boston, my father teaching and Uncle Farnham as an officer in a Boston bank. Father was the first professor to work for Northeastern University and eventually became head of the Electrical Engineering Department. He was honored with a doctor's degree and worked there until he retired at the age of 78.
Uncle Farnham eventually became one of the vice presidents of the First National Bank of Boston and for a number of years he was moderator for the Town of Concord. Theodore worked for the American Locomotive Company in Canada after graduating from MIT. He married Alice Gage, who lived on Elm Street. They had three children and lived in Montreal. Eventually the steam locomotive business began to disappear as the diesel was built by General Motors and General Electric and others. He then returned to Concord to work for the Gillette Company and they moved into the 61 Main Street house where Grandmother and Grandfather Smith needed the care that Aunt Alice and Uncle Theodore could give them. Grandfather lived to be 96 and Grandmother 93. She survived Grandfather by about a month.
Uncle Theodore had a great many interests and friends in Concord. A short time after he returned a group of my uncle and his Concord friends got together and decided that they would start a club call The Boys Friendly, a dinner club that met on Tuesdays, very much like the Social Circle but including a group of Concord people who were not members of the Social Circle. The Boys Friendly has grown and is now in its third generation, even though the Social Circle is much older.
My first wife, Alice Chittenden, was a descendent of Colonel James Barrett of Concord. Her grandmother was Lucy Fay Barrett Chapman who many people will remember as living at the Colonial Inn for many years as she became older and after her husband had died.
It is essential, as I tell about my family, that I get back to the Lincoln side. My great, great, great grandfather was General Benjamin Lincoln, who was a member of the Order of the Cincinnati and one of the seven generals on George Washington's staff. These generals were presented by George Washington with sets of the so-called "Cincinnati China." Another member of that family was a man named Abner Lincoln. He had asked Simon Willard for a grandfather clock which is stamped on the face "Warranted for Mr. Abner Lincoln by Simon Willard." That clock has come down through the generations to me and is in my house in Carlisle now. In the same manner the Cincinnati china came down direct to my Grandmother Lincoln, to my father and thence to my brothers and sisters and me. My father had loaned the china to the Antiquarian Society in the last few years of his life and we have now officially given it to the Museum of the Concord Antiquarian Society as a permanent memorial to my father. It is on display at the museum in Concord and is well worth looking at. It is of simple design with the Cincinnati seal and General Lincoln's initials.
We lived, as I said, at 4 Academy Lane and that was on the corner where school children coming from the general area of the B&M station and from the many houses behind the station on their way to school would round our corner and sometimes pause to break off a few pickets from our fence and sometimes pick a fight with some of the neighborhood boys. Gradually, as we grew older, we became pretty good friends and we all went amicably to school together.
Uncle Harry, though he was lame, was a great walker. One of our delights was to go with him to hunt for chestnuts, either at Punkatasset Hill or Fairhaven Woods. We knew where the chestnuts were and many Sunday afternoons in the fall, walks were taken in just this manner and we all had a grand time. Uncle Harry was a great story teller. He always entertained us with tales about the Concord of his boyhood. We were a fascinated group of children listening to him.
There were two boys' clubs in Concord that flourished in my late grammar school days. One was called the BTC, Boys' Tuesday Club, and the other was the YBC, Young Boys' Club. The members were all friends and yet were competitors as both clubs had football and baseball teams, and they used to play each other and the neighboring small private schools. Mostly, however, the games were between the two clubs.
Brother Ben and our double cousin Whitney Smith belonged to the BTC. I belonged to the YBC. I can remember being asked to join the BTC but at that time some of my very close friends were members of the YBC, so I refused the BTC. The YBC was generally centered around the Hollis house on Sudbury Road as there were three Hollis boys, Tom, John and Howard, all of whom belonged to that club until Tom and John outgrew it.
Tom eventually married my older sister Hilda. John moved to New York and later Howard, too, moved to New York. The BTC had a large group of boys most of whom remained in Concord and became very well known in our town. I remember that Bubby (Walter K.) Shaw, Sted Buttrick, Russell Robb and Harold Cabot were all members. There were many others with familiar Concord names in both clubs. When the nucleus of their membership went elsewhere to school in their high-school years, the clubs just quietly disappeared.
A number of my close friends in our neighborhood were all interested in railroad trains and the names on Pullman cars and freight cars. Three of my best friends had collections of these various names. It was a great treat when we would have a chance to go to Boston on the train and pick up an additional large number of new names from both freight and Pullman cars in the B&M railroad yards. Railroading was a subject we were all interested in and it has stayed with me all my life. Some eighteen or twenty years ago I was elected a director of the Maine Central Railroad, which is one of the best small railroads in New England. My interest in that railroad is now one of my principal activities.
I was going to high school in 1917 when we had a serious influenza epidemic in the East. People were coming down right and left with it. The staff at the B&M station gradually got it, excluding the stationmaster, Mr. George W. Hunt, and the girls in the office. One of his daughters, Maude, much older than I, was a good friend and worked at the station. Mr. Hunt knew my family well and knew me because of my interest in trains and my hanging around the station. He asked me if I would like to try handling baggage and being baggage master while he was so shorthanded. As a result for almost four weeks I was the baggage master (the high school being closed), receiving pay in sums of money that seemed pretty big to me in those days, from the government who was then running the railroads.
I spent my summers in Maine. My father, grandfather, Uncle Harry, my mother, Aunt Margaret, Aunt Helen and their cousin, Emily B. Shepherd, made a couple of trips, 1896 -7, to a sporting camp called "West Branch Pond Camps" in Maine. One way to approach it was through the town of Katahdin Iron Works. There was a back-country hotel called the "Silver Lake Hotel" at Katahdin Iron Works. My stepmother, before she was married to father, used to go with a group of young women from Bangor, Maine, to the Silver Lake Hotel for a good part of the summer. It was there that father met her and they were subsequently married. She did a wonderful job in bringing up her three older stepchildren as well as their own children.
Father, being a professor, had the summer off and we would spend the summer at the Silver Lake Hotel from about 1906 until 1913 when, on the night of February 8, the hotel burned to the ground and people jumped out of the second and third floor windows into the snow. A temporary hotel was built to replace it and some of the male members of the family continued to go there for short trips. As a family we never went back but spent our summers at a farm on the Penobscot River, formerly owned by my stepmother's father, General Augustus B. Farnham of Bangor, who was a veteran of the Civil War and carried a bullet in his lung the rest of his life. Later on when Uncle Theodore came back to Concord to live, the first thing he did was to head for Katahdin Iron Works and there he built a camp on the shore of Silver Lake. The camp is now owned by his two sons, Steve and David Smith of Concord and Camden, Maine.
Later on, with my roots deep in Maine, I acquired a group of camps on B Pond, thirteen miles north of Katahdin Iron Works, and we go there at every opportunity.
As a young man I became interested in the Concord Players, which had been founded by Samuel Merwin. They usually had two plays a year, sometimes three, all amateur performers and they were really very good. They had an excellent reputation and were good enough to be invited to the Bryn Mawr area to present one of the plays at a private estate on the Main Line in the Philadelphia suburbs. I was fortunate enough to be a member of the cast and we had a wonderful time. My brother and I were in many of the plays with a great many other good Concord friends. The Concord Players are still flourishing and I know that my cousin Whitney and his wife Lydia are great supporters.
I was married in 1930 and lived in Concord with my family, first on Elm Street and then on River Street. I was active in many organizations but principally I was a Trustee at Concord Academy, where I was President for a number of years; became a selectman of the town, which I enjoyed very much indeed; and also during that period became a member of the Boys Friendly.
One Saturday afternoon at a cocktail party a friend of mine, Page Browne, and I were talking about hunting and fishing and rifles. I told him I was very upset because I had just found out that I could not use a .22 rifle for target practice in the Town of Concord since it was illegal.
He asked me if I had ever seen the old Adams Mill property in Carlisle. I knew very little about Carlisle because that was really out of my orbit. I had gone to school with some of the well known citizens of Carlisle when they were high school age, principally Guy Clark and Waldo Wilson. Page Browne encouraged me to see the property which is in the north end of the town. I found it easily and stood at the site with my mouth wide open, looking at the gorgeous remains of the old dam, a beautiful little pond with wildflowers and tall pine trees all around me. I knew it would be a perfect spot to build a camp. It was the most appealing sight I had seen in a long time, and I made up my mind right there that whatever the rules were in Carlisle about shooting a .22 rifle, I had to do something about this property.
I found that it was owned by six widely distributed owners. It took me six months to get them all together by mail and agree to sell to me, and I eventually bought the old mill site and eight acres of land, including access to the road. I proceeded almost immediately to get a contract with Sidney Coolidge, a builder in Concord, to build a camp. The result was a beautiful log cabin which my family and I have enjoyed greatly for many years.
A few years later my first wife died leaving two girls, Susan Farnham and Lydia Barrett. I was a widower for about a year and a half when I met Susan Locke Senkler. She came from a large family and had grown up at Middlesex School where her father was a teacher and housemaster. Her father, Charles W. Locke, also coached the crew for many years and when a new boat- house was built some years ago, it was named in his honor. Sukey had lost her husband in the Midwest and returned to Concord to stay, with her family, her three children, George, Abigail and Susan. I had known her as a young girl with pigtails when I was first married. We found we had many things in common and shortly fell in love and were married, happily combining our two families.
She, with me, became very interested in the Carlisle property. Prior to our marriage I had acquired an old farm property adjacent to the original eight acres where I had built the camp. This property included some old farm buildings in questionable repair, eight nondescript cows, a few hens and some rather old farm equipment. The war had started by then and I felt it would be a good idea, because of food shortages, to own a farm provided I could find a good farm manager to look after it for me. The second manager I found was Stanley D. Wright, whom many people know, and he operated the farm with us for thirty years. From this small beginning Stan, Sukey and I built Great Brook Farms into one of the best known Holstein breeding and dairy farms in New England.
Even though we started with only eight acres, over a period of fifteen years or more we bought every adjacent piece of property that we could find. One piece included a lovely old farmhouse and barn and 75 acres of land. We moved there to live with our family in 1954. Sukey and I had been all over the woods; we had made maps of the woods; we knew where all the various lots were; we hunted out the owners and nobody seemed to be very interested in hanging onto the land.
Gradually we accumulated larger and larger tracts, always buying land that abutted what we already had, and eventually had 913 acres. This is a very sizeable piece to put together and, of course, would be totally impossible in any kind of a real estate market that we have seen in the last fifteen or twenty years, but in those days it was not a difficult matter at all. Land was readily available, and many people with back land with no first-class access to it, were happy to sell.
A few years ago this land became interesting to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Natural Resources, who had for a long time been looking for a large tract of land that could be used as a state forest or park in northern Middlesex County. Their master plan was on file with the federal government who put up half the money for purchases of this nature, and they were very enthusiastic when word was sent to them that land had been found. So half the money that was paid to us for the land was from the federal government and half from a fund that the state had accumulated over a period of years for just this purpose. It took many months of negotiation but was finally accomplished in 1974. I think now that it was one of the best moves I ever made because a tremendous number of houses could have been built on 900 acres of land if it ever were to come onto the market. It would have completely changed the complexion of the Town of Carlisle.
An accompanying letter (ALS, Farnham W. Smith to Mrs. Renee Garrelick, 1985 Jan. 10) reads,
My recollection is that in addition to the original
of the revised story taken from the tape, I believe I also
sent you a second copy...so you must have two at present. [maybe 3]
In reading it over I was well satisfied with the final
document except for two things, all fortunately on page 2.
One was the spelling of my brother Philip's name with two
l's and the second was about two lines having to do with the
Munroe barn which my uncle had purchased from the Munroe
Estate and I thought he had moved to its present site, but
on further investigation I do not believe it was moved.
I think it is presently sitting on exactly the same ground
and was remodeled where it is at present.
I therefore changed a couple of lines in the middle of
page 2 and I would ask you, as a favor to me, to see that
these copies of page 2 will be substituted for the ones that
you have in the document. I can do it with one or two
other copies and then I will know that it is all satisfactory.
Have you these in your possession or will you see that the
new page 2 is substituted for the old one?
Happy New Year!