89th Annual Tour of Historic Hingham Homes
The Hingham Historical Society’s 89th Annual Historic House tour includes seven homes, two churches and a Victorian Veteran’s Hall, all on Hingham’s iconic Main Street. How iconic? Eleanor Roosevelt, viewing Main Street’s snow draped elms on a visit to Hingham in January 1942, was inspired to note “there is nothing lovelier than a Main Street in winter.” Indeed, Hingham’s four and a half mile thoroughfare virtually embodies the American ideal of Main Street.
That ideal has deep roots. Hingham’s Main Street was first laid out by English yeomen who built small but sturdy timber frame farmsteads along its gentle hills and meadows. Among them was the builder of the oldest homestead on this year’s tour, Theophilus Cushing, the first of five Theophilus Cushings that would occupy the home later known as Brigadier Cushing’s Tavern. The third Theophilus Cushing, a Brigadier General in in the Revolutionary War, was a prominent Hingham citizen that also served in our town’s local government. In colonial days, tavern keepers were highly respected members of the community and taverns were de facto community centers, serving as post offices, libraries, business offices, and even occasionally courtrooms. There was no more effective way to gain standing in the community than to operate a tavern.
As the centuries progressed the descendants of those first Hingham settlers became prosperous tradesmen, shopkeepers and mariners. They continued to build along Main Street, adding Georgian and Federal style buildings to the original array of low slung Cape houses and Saltboxes. Each new style represented a different vision of the American ideal, one universal trend being that houses gradually grew bigger while barns grew smaller.
With the dawn of the Victorian Age and the streetcar suburbs, a new population arrived. Men who plied their pens in Boston during the day, and played gentleman farmer on the weekends began to build in the ever shrinking plots of land remaining along Main Street. Among them was a young doctor, J.E. Harlow, who built his family a picturesque Italianate and Greek Revival home in 1852 near a brook that meanders through several of Main Street’s back yards.
The doctor is long forgotten, but the home gained fame in 1890 when it was gifted, along with a carriage and two white horses, to Mike “King” Kelly, who was the best known player in America at the time. King Kelly only stayed in town for a year, but it was a thrilling and scandalous year for the Yankee locals: Kelly often strode around town in a fur coat and sported a pet monkey on his shoulder. Accompanied everywhere by a Japanese valet, he drank and spent money lavishly. When he left Boston and Hingham for Cincinnati in 1891, Kelly owed $2,000 in back taxes on the late doctor’s house.
Is Kelly’s story a digression from our nostalgic American ideal of Main Street, or is it a reflection of our departure from those original ideals, if they ever truly existed? Tourgoers can decide for themselves. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this year’s tour, and that you join with us in offering our most heartfelt thanks to the homeowners and organizations that have so graciously opened their doors to us to enjoy and appreciate the part each play in Hingham’s rich history.