Thursday, August 4, 2016

More about Newton Centre, Mass., and the Samuel Francis Smith House

In a July 4th post, I wrote of the Samuel Francis Smith House, in Newton Centre, Mass., my hometown.  Smith, in 1831, wrote the words to "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."  He lived in Newton, a suburb of Boston, for several decades, until his death in 1895.

In the past few years I've bought a number of old postcards of Newton (one of which was a postcard of the Smith house, shown in the July 4th post). 

My family moved to the Newton Centre section of the city the month before I was born, in 1956; we lived two miles from the Newton Centre business district.  Twenty years later, while I was in college, my parents sold our house, and left the city for an apartment in a nearby town.

One of the postcards I've purchased, in recent years (below), shows the end of the main street of the Newton Centre business district--which included, to the right of the picture, an F.W. Woolworth store, a favorite destination in childhood. 

Postcard of Newton Centre, Mass.; date unknown.  F.W. Woolworth store, at right. 

I don't know what year the postcard is from, though the green car, near the center-right of the picture, looks like it might be from the early 1960s.  (If anyone knows the year the car was made--the image can be enlarged by clicking on it--please let me know, at

Though it is not seen in the postcard, there was, to the right of the Woolworth store (for at least a part of my childhood) a small (and, as I recall, very lovely) bookstore, The Langley Book Shop, named after a nearby street.  To the right of the bookstore--and separated from the store by a pathway, or driveway--was the Samuel Francis Smith House.

Here is a picture of the house, circa 1930, that I found online.

Samuel Francis Smith House, circa 1930.  Copyright (c) Leslie Jones (1886-1967), from the Leslie Jones Collection, at The Boston Public Library.

I mentioned in my post last month that when I was a young boy, the Smith house seemed to me to be somewhat scary. 

Below is a photo of the house from 1958, two years after I was born.  In the picture, the house, in its disrepair, does indeed look scary--though I don't remember it looking this run-down.  

Samuel Francis Smith House, 1958. Photo is from the Collection of the Watertown Free Public Library, Watertown, Mass., and is used by permission

In fact, according to the biography Samuel Francis Smith: My Country 'Tis of Thee, by Marguerite E. Fitch (Mott Media, 1987), restorative work was done on the house in the decade after the 1958 picture was taken.  Perhaps, by the early 1960s--by which time I would no doubt have been aware of the house--its exterior was in better shape than it had been in 1958. Yet I just don't know; I only know that a childhood memory of the house has been retained, that of being a little frightened by it.

Wrote Marguerite E. Fitch, in her book: "Smith descendants continued to live in the house on Center Street until 1954, when the property was left vacant. Soon it became shabby and needed repairs.  In 1958, a sign posted in the front yard announced that the Smith homestead would be sold at auction. Fifty concerned Newton residents immediately formed the Samuel Francis Smith Homestead Society, Incorporated.  They aimed to restore the property as a national landmark.  No federal funds could be used, however, since Samuel Smith had not been born in the house. It was up to the people of Newton to supply the money and manpower to restore the old house."  Fitch wrote that in 1958, on the 150th anniversary of Smith's birth, thousands of Newton school children took part in a fundraising effort.  (Fitch lived for many years in Newton Centre, and worked there as a school secretary. Her book about Smith is geared to children in grades 4 to 7.)

She wrote: "It took eleven years to restore the Smith home to some likeness of its original condition.  Then it served as a museum for Smith memorabilia, including copies of most of Samuel Smith's books and diaries, irreplaceable material."  Unfortunately, as noted in my prior post, a fire destroyed the home in 1969.

Here is a link to Fitch's book about Smith, on