Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 1945 Bridgham House

Dorchester Illustration of the Day no. 1945

The Bridgham House was lost in 1873.

A Landmark Gone

Demolition of the Bridgham House in Dorchester

Reminiscences of Two Hundred Years Ago

One of the most ancient houses in New England, and probably the oldest within the limits of the city of Boston, is now being taken to pieces in the Sixteenth Ward.  It is situated on Cottage Street, at the junction of Humphreys and Franklin streets, and has been known to the modern generation as the “Bridgham House,” having been occupied during the period covered by the  recollection of persons now living, by Mr. Jonathan Bridgham.  He died in the year 1869, at the age of ninety-one, having lived all his life in this house.  Previous to his ownership, the house appears to have been in the possession of the family of Birds, one of the old Dorchester families.  Still earlier, it was owned by Blackman, and is through John Blackman, who died in the year 1675 that the date of its erection can be pretty accurately fixed.  The present owner of the premises is Mr. Edward McKechnie.

To the original settlers of the town and their contemporaries it was no doubt known as the house of Robert Pond.  Those godly pilgrims who came from England in the year 1630 in the ship Mary and John and made the first settlement in Dorchester and their immediate followers in the next ship that came, or a considerable share of each of these emigrations, must have participaed in or witnessed the “raising” of the old house and no doubt shared in the toddy that was passed around to celebrate the event.  Precisely what year this raising took place cannot be determined, but it was doubtless previous to 1637.  The first owner of the house appears to have been Robert Pond.  He was an early settler and died in the year 1637.  His name is in the list of the second division of what was called the “cow-walk.”

The “cow-walk” was the quaint appellation given to the undivided lands of the settlement.  These lands do not seem to have been regarded as public property strictly, but the original settlers and such as they saw fit to add to their number were recognized as the owners.  The title of the association was changed at a later date and assumes a shape more conformable to modern ideas, to wit: “The Proprietors of Undivided Lands.”  This organization was kept up till the year 1750 or later.  The area of land thus held was not situated to any great extent in what is now known as Dorchester, but in Canton, Stoughton, Wrentham and other towns, for original Dorchester extended almost to the Rhode Island line.

That Robert Pond was admitted a proprietor in these lands indicates that he was a man of some property, and in good standing with his fellow citizens, a substantial sort of person, who in building a house, would make his calculations so that it would last about two hundred and thirty-five years.

The record shows that Robert Pond had two daughters.  One of these married John Blackman of Dorchester.  Mrs. Pond did not remain long a widow after the year 1637, but having found favor in the eyes of Edward Shepard, a seafaring man, who resided when at home in Cambridge, she married that ancient mariner.  The younger of Pond’s two daughters, now daughter-in-law [i.e. Step-daughter] of Shepard, was 11 years of age when her mother, having left the Dorchester Church, was united to the church in Cambridge.

These extracts from the fly-leaf of the old family Bible of Pond and Shepard seem to be pertinent as fixing the date of the building of the old house now being destroyed, for on or about the year 1654 it appears upon the registry of deeds that John Blackman of Dorchester bought a piece of land and half a house in that town of Edward Shepard of Cambridge.  There is hardly a doubt that this half house was the property, by inheritance, of Shepard’s daughter-in-law [i.e. step-daughter], and that Blackman , through his wife, already owned the other half, the two females being daughters of old Robert Pond.  John Blackman enjoyed the full possession of the premises for twenty-one years, having deceased in the year 1675.

The building stands upon a knoll of considerable height with its rear to Cottage Street or that part of it formerly called “New Lane,” and fronts according to the ancient style due south.  Its original dimensions were twenty-eight feet front by nineteen depth.  The lower story was finished at a height of six feet four and a half inches, and the upper story six feet and three inches.  Above this was an attic.  The front roof was similar to what is now called the Mansard and the rear roof sloped down to the height of the lower story, or, perhaps eight feet.  Oak timber was used in its construction, the largest being the timber spanning the centre of the chamber overhead, twelve by eleven inches.  There are other large timbers, one of which is fifteen by seven and a half inches.  The western end of the house, which is about fourteen by nineteen feet on the ground, is of somewhat later date, perhaps a century later, and in it similar timber is used.

The work of removal is rapidly going forward and but little now remains but the frame and the old chimney, which is of capacity for receiving cut wood of full length in its fire place.  Mr. Patrick Brannon, one of the useful citizens of the north part of the Sixteenth Ward, who works in town for everybody residing there, is doing the job.  He and his assistants have already found some old relics, including an English penny of the date of 1723, a pair of silver buckles, and a carved wooden image, representing a soldier with a musket at “support arms” and wearing a three cornered hat.  Mr. B. is hoping when the chimney comes down to find a pot of gold.

The principal reason for the removal of the building at the present time is the widening of Cottage Street by the City authorities.  The old edifice has been a landmark for many generations and is familiar to many not residents of the vicinity, as it has stood quaintly with its back to the principal thoroughfare overhung by a gigantic willow tree and showing from the street a broad roof covered with moss-grown shingles.  It has thus been a noticeable object to pleasure drivers.

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