For the first two centuries after settlement in the 1620s there wasn’t much to distinguish one fishing village from the next as they spread out along the North Shore from Boston. By the 1800s individual identities began to emerge and in the community of Swampscott, then part of the town of Lynn, large hotels and resorts began to appear alongside the fishing and lobstering docks. In 1852 a group of 97 Swampscott petitioners asserted to the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that: “1. They are situated somewhat remote from the central portion of Lynn; and 2. That their business is different from that of the principal part of Lynn; and 3. That their convenience and interests would be promoted by a separate government, especially after the citizens of Lynn opted to switch from a town to a city form of government.” The leaders of Lynn took $5,450 for the land it was losing and waved bye-bye.
By the late 1800s more and more of the summer visitors began to plan a permanent move to the Swampscott seashore and with the coming of the Eastern Railroad it became easier to commute to Boston and Salem where the new American professional class could find jobs. The migration did not go unnoticed by some of Swampscott’s wealthier residents.
After financier Enoch Redington Mudge died in 1881 his heirs looked to develop his 130-acre seaside estate in the heart of Swampscott into residential homesites. Their vision went beyond clearing some trees and pounding stakes in the ground. Instead they went to Brookline and hired the “Father of Landscape Architecture,” Frederick Law Olmsted. Olmsted’s resume included New York City’s Central Park, Boston’s “Emerald Necklace” park system and dozens of other influential projects.
Olmsted brought his philosophy of gently curving lines in harmony with nature to planning the 191 house lots for the new planned community. It was not intended as an enclave solely for the rich but included lots of varying sizes to attract a wide range of homeowners. In 1888 the serpentine streets began to be laid out among the rocky hillsides and verdant valleys. By 1917 the subdivision was largely complete with a rich diversity of houses that spanned the end of the ornamental Victorian Age and carried into the cleaner, unadorned styles of the Craftsman and Arts and Craft builders.
For this residential walking tour we will encounter a neighborhood that 100 years later looks as if it might have existed in Frederick Law Olmsted’s famous sketchbooks...
Burrill Street, Humphrey Street and Monument Avenue
Olmsted envisioned a grand public entrance to his subdivision with a roomy boulevard peppered with monuments and flowering trees and imaginative shrubbery. The reality is a landscaped island fronted by a single monument that was already in place - a 30-foot granite obelisk dedicated in 1883 to the 14 men from Swampscott who gave their lives in the Civil War. Olmsted used the names of Civil War generals on many of his streets.
WALK DOWN BURRILL STREET WITH THE OCEAN ON YOUR LEFT.
Swampscott Public Library
59 Burrill Street
This was the site of Professor Elihu Thomson’s tennis courts until 1915 when he donated a slice of his estate for the town library. The price tag for the Georgian Revival single story building was $25,000. When a northern addition was added in 1997 the final bill came in at $1.2 million.
Swampscott Church of Spiritualism
61 Burrill Street
This rare example of a Shingle Style church was executed in 1891 for the Swampscott Universalist Society. The Universalists worshiped here until 1982 when it was sold to the Swampscott Church of Spiritualism.
Swampscott Fire Department
76 Burrill Street
The Swampscott Fire Department started in 1824 while the community was still an annex of Lynn and a handtub was purchased. If it comes, you will build it so a small firehouse was constructed on Blaney Beach. A second wheeled handtub was acquired in 1845 as the town prepared for a break with Lynn. The department was manned by volunteers for decades until a spate of fires struck Swampscott, often with fishermen-volunteers unavailable. With small industries and deep-pocketed tourists beginning to arrive in the late 1800s the town hired paid firefighters and after fire destroyed two buildings of Jonathan Blaney the slow-to-fill handtubs were replaced by fire hydrants. The department expanded to two stations as Swampscott became primarily a residential town so no house was more than three-quarters of a mile from help to allay insurance rates but today this is the only firehouse.
TURN RIGHT ON PARADISE STREET.
Mary Baker Eddy House
23 Paradise Road
Mary Patterson, the future Mary Baker Eddy, was living in this house in February 1866 when, on her way to a temperance meeting, she slipped on the ice, crumbled to the pavement and crushed her insides. By the time she was returned she was barely able to move and her prospects grim. Friends and clergy arrived, prepared for what seemed like a terminal vigil. The 44-year old Patterson sought refuge in the Bible and one day pulled herself up from the cot and crossed the room without assistance and sat in a chair to the amazement of the others in the room. This spiritual healing would be the foundation for the Christian Science Church. The house would be sold shortly after her recover and her husband would soon desert her but Mary Baker Eddy would live another 45 years, becoming the only American woman to found a worldwide religion.
TURN RIGHT ON ELMWOOD ROAD.
Chaisson’s Boat Yard
5,7,9 Elmwood Road
George L. Chaisson operated a boat yard on this location around the turn of the 20th century. His dories became so well known for their seaworthiness and craftsmanship that today the “Swampscott Dory” or the “Chaisson Dory” is a prized small boat. These structures were used in his operation that continued until 1954.
First Town Hall
13 Elmwood Street
This building was constructed in 1842 to serve as the Swampscott fire station and in 1852, the year Swampscott was incorporated, the first town meeting was held on the second floor. The building was moved in 1864 and again in 1873 and again in 1891. That year it ceased to operate as a fire station and was moved here. In the days before electrical wiring and plumbing it was not uncommon to move houses around a town - as long as you had enough sturdy oxen.
RETURN TO PARADISE ROAD AND TURN RIGHT.
The John Humphrey House
99 Paradise Road
The oldest parts of this house, the kitchen and a birthing room, are believed to have been constructed in 1637 which makes this the oldest house in Swampscott and among the earliest houses in America. Over the years the house, presumably built for Sir John Humphrey, deputy governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was considerably expanded. Constructed of wooden pegs, it features such novelties as “kings boards,” flooring that was wider than eight inches that only prominent members of the community were permitted to use since wide boards were reserved for the king’s ships. The building was originally located on what is now Elmwood Road but moved to its current location in 1891 as the Olmsted district was developed. When the Swampscott Historical Society formed in 1922, the Humphrey House was one of their first acquisitions.
TURN RIGHT ON ELLIS ROAD. TURN RIGHT ON FARRAGUT STREET AND FOLLOW IT AS IT WINDS TO THE LEFT TO MONUMENT AVENUE.
The Church of the Holy Name
60 Monument Avenue
The Church of the Holy Name was organized in 1891. Charles Henry Joy,adry goods merchant, donated the land for the church building. Shortly after he died in 1892, his widow, Marie Louise Joy, built the church as a memorial to her husband and to her father, Enoch Redington Mudge. The church was designed by Henry Vaughan, best remembered as the architect of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. Vaughan was an Englishman who came to America to bring the English Gothic style to the American branch of the Episcopal Church but here he delivered a sanctuary in the English Tudor style, highlighted by stained-glass windows from prominent artisans from Europe and America.
CONTINUE ACROSS MONUMENT AVENUE ONTO WALKER ROAD THAT CURVES TO THE LEFT.
16 Walker Road
This house from 1910 puts a Neoclassical structure inside an Arts and Crafts body. The walls are constructed of limestone blocks and feature fluted Doric columns and pilasters. The roof is covered in distinctive red tiles.
TURN RIGHT ON SHERIDAN ROAD. TURN RIGHT ON ELMWOOD ROAD.
148 Elmwood Road
This is a fine example of a Craftsman house from 1915, a time when residential architects were rejecting the over-ornamentation of the prior Victorian age. Its owner, William H. Perry, owned a printing business in Lynn.
Odd Fellows Hall
115 Elmwood Road
This was one of the first structures to be built in the new Olmsted District, a simple lodge for “secret and benevolent societies,” including the Odd Fellows, Rebekah Lodge, Improved Order of Redment, Nodwa Council, and the Masons.
94 Elmwood Road
With its broad porch and rounded edges, this is a splendid souvenir from the Shingle Style of the late 1880s. The onion-domed turret is an outstanding feature for this house that stands as the sentinel to the neighborhood.
First Church in Swampscott, Congregational
40 Monument Avenue at Elmwood Road
So named because it was the first church established in town, the first services were held in 1845 by Reverend Jonas Bowen Clarke in a schoolhouse on Redington Street. On July 1846, he organized First Church with 13 charter members and four years later dedicated the original Romanesque structure on Blaney Street. A Colonial Revival church on Burrill Street was dedicated in January, 1926. Development of the Monument Avenue site began with the Fellowship House, in 1955, and the present New England colonial church was completed in 1967. This was the site of Enoch Mudge’s grand home in the middle of the 19th century.
TURN LEFT ON MONUMENT AVENUE.
Elihu Thomson House/Town Hall
22 Monument Avenue
English-born Elihu Thomson was an engineer and inventor who was awarded over 700 patents in his lifetime. At the age of 27 in 1880 he established, with Edwin J. Houston, the Thomson-Houston Electric Company. In 1892 the firm merged with the Edison General Electric Company to become the General Electric Company. The centerpiece of his Swampscott estate was this Georgian Revival manor house with splashes of classicism sited at the crest of a hill. After he died here in 1937, the building lived on as the Swampscott town hall.
WALK A FEW MORE STEPS ALONG MONUMENT AVENUE TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT.