Random Memories (About 1891)

By MARGARET D. STONE

 

[Waban evolved from a community of scattered farm-houses before 1886, to 300 families in 1917, to 1400 families by 1944, and it doesn't appear to have changed much since. What is gone forever is the sense of community that existed at the turn of the last century amongst the families that lived here, which is certainly what led Isabel Strong to the publication of "Waban Early Days," most of which provides anecdotal and nostalgic reminiscences of Waban in its pre-suburban condition, and when folks entertained each other instead of capitulating to the media. — J.M.]

Waban has grown from 4 to 1400 families. The Waban station was designed by the well-known architect, Henry H. Richardson.  [Moving on to less imposing works, HHR also designed Trinity Church in Copley Square — J.M.]  It was a gem of its kind, two tones of stone and handome brown-stained beams and doors, but, alas, today the green paint has spoiled its artistic appearance.

The general store and post office were back of the station. That building, too, was attractive, brown-stained shingles trimmed with cream color. The roof was interesting and there were three pleasant little bay windows in Collins Hall on the second floor. Inside these were cozy window seats, a favorite place between dances. The hall was the "center of civic life." There was a stage and two small dressing rooms, one on each side of the entrance. On Sunday the hall was the church and ministers came in the afternoon from the different Newtons to conduct services. Saturday night the hall was used for dances. Many young people from the other Newtons were invited to attend these parties. They were very popular. Helen Flint or Lizzie Harlow could usually be persuaded to furnish the piano music. Dancing classes were also held in the hall, children's classes in the afternoon and classes for young people and married couples in the evening. Mrs. Saville made quite a sensation when she appeared for the first time at Professor Sargent's dancing class. She was handsome and stately in a heavy dark blue brocade, patterned with pink roses. In her dark hair she wore a large comb of silver balls.

Around 1890 everyone in Waban went to everything in Collins Hall, some as entertainers and the rest as audience. Minstrel shows, church fairs and suppers, living pictures, theatricals and all kinds of entertainments were provided.

During the tennis season, when showers prevented games on the Seaver's tennis court located on the corner of Woodward and Chestnut Streets, eight or ten young people used to run over to the railroad station for shelter and there the station master, Mr. Strunach, would play dance tunes on his queer zither and they would dance and sing and have an hilarious time between trains.

Mr. Strunach ate some of his meals in the station and often the housewives of Waban would give him goodies from their well-stocked larders. One day Helen Flint, on her way to Boston, didn't have time to hand him a fine apple pie, so while the train waited for her she tucked the pie under the wooden platform. When she returned a few hours later she rescued the pie and presented it to Mr. Strunach, none the worse for the delay.

In 1891 stone walls bordered Beacon Street and there was a substantial plank walk on one side in front of the three Collins houses. On the other side fields stretched over to and beyond the railroad tracks and up Moffatt Hill. The three large Collins houses made an impressive row. First was the Edward Collins house, vacant after Mrs. Collins died, except for the servants who kept it ready for young Ed Collins and his friends who' often drove out from Boston with his tandem of lively horses or his much admired four-in-hand. This house was ornate in appearance, furnished in mid-Victorian style, the parlor being resplendent with gold and red satin upholstery, long sweeping lace draperies and red satin hangings. In the parlor hung a portrait of Mrs. Edward Collins sitting on one of the red sofas in this grand room. A huge conservatory added a luxurious note.

The Amasa Collins or Gould house was less pretentious but much more homelike. Here lived Mr. and Mrs. William Gould and their two children, Amasa and Jessie. The Goulds were prominent in all Waban affairs.

The Frederick Collins house is still standing, white with four Ionic columns, double entrances and double driveways with huge maple trees. Nine children lived here, George, Frederick, Minnie, Annie, Connie, Ida (who was the Supervisor of Art in the Newton schools and afterwards married Philip Dresser), Maynard, Lilly and Mabel. The doors were never locked in this house, a real sign of hospitality.

Opposite the Frederick Collins house was the City Poor Farm, a gray house set well back from Beacon Street, approached by an avenue of maple trees and surrounded by apple orchards. In the warm weather a few old people could be seen sitting under the trees near the house.

Far up Beacon Street in 1891 was a very small one-room house. Besides the family there was a huge pig which used to amble down the highway, root around the house and was often seen with its fore feet hanging over the window sill of the one front window, like a person of leisure enjoying the view!

 

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