Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Plunkett House

The way history works is through detective work. And here is the latest example of a fresh case. A few weeks ago I was working the afternoon shift at the Canton Historical Society, the "Histy" as it is affectionately known. It was a busy afternoon and the building was full of volunteers getting prepared for the historical house tour. Over at the corner was a couple from somewhere far away - poking through Canton while doing some family research. Jane, a descendant of the Plunkett Family was working through some family photographs and she shared this magnificent view of a grand old house believed to be in Canton. It was explained that this was a family house that belonged to her Grandfather by the name of Emerson Plunkett.

The search began in old street directories, and we dutifully checked our internal
database for any family references. All we could find was a few Plunkett's living on Rockland Street in the early 1920's. We sent them searching, and yet, the photo featured above turned out not to be on Rockland Street - where many modest homes abound. Instead, the photo to the right is most likely that small Plunkett home in a neighborhood more likely to allow for the survival of the perfect neighborly abode. Jane sent me this photo in an email and she believes this is Annie & John Plunkett's house. The search continues for the larger house featured above.

What more do we know? Well, Jane did find the final resting place of her Great Great Grandparents, Annie (Allen) and John Plunkett in the Canton Cemetery. They were there along with Jane's Great Grandparents, Alice (Smith) and John Plunkett. Yet, now she is searching for the next generation - Emerson, Ruth, Morris and Bill.

The photo at the top of the page is believed to be Emerson's home and such a grand old home would surely be recognized today. Look closely through the trees you can see a conical tower and on the side is a grand entrance portico. So many chimneys and wonderful field stone accents to the shingle style home. The eyebrow window in the roof and the crenelated tower accenting the bumped out round bay. Simply magnificent!!! The house would seem to date to the early 1890's and will certainly have been altered over time. (see the update at end of this article)
Yes, detectives are a big part of family genealogy, simply ask David Lambert at the Massachusetts Genealogical Society. David has been sniffing out history for his whole life. The intersection of family photos, letters, grave sites, and old fashioned footwork is what makes history real for families. History is not relegated to national events, instead, we all have a mystery in our family and we can all "track down" our ancestors.

Today, as you read this, you can assist in the search. Have you ever seen a house that looks like the one at the top of this page? Simply reply in the thread here and I will be sure to send out a detective to the location in the hopes of solving the mystery of the Emerson Plunkett House. Jane has scanned her photos, been to the graves, visited the same streets her grandparents walked and is hot on the trail. Let's see if we can find out what happened to the Emerson Plunkett Home. This is the power of history and detectives.

UPDATE: Jim Roach, Curator, Canton Historical Society writes:
Frank & Alice Plunkett lived at 447 Chapman St. the house known locally to some as the Spaulding house. The picture you have is a great photo that shows the house in all its glory. The house today is vastly different. The entire front of the house and carport are gone. Note in the attached photos that the small dormer near the front, turret at the center and the small hip at the rear are all the same. Some of the stone walls still seem the same but the property is very much over grown.

Here is how the house looks today...

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Blue Hill Street Railway

Blue Hill Street Railway
This is a very early and previously unpublished snapshot of a trolley car in Canton. A really superb glimpse at local travel at the turn of the Century. It all started in 1899 with the construction of a new power plant near the Bolivar Street Bridge. The Blue Hill Street Railway Company (BHSRC) which provided so many people with access to jobs and diversions would last less than 20 years and ultimately would fail as a result of the harsh New England winters and the advance of the automobile.

Vestiges of the Railway are all around us. The small pizza place at Canton Junction was once the waiting room and if memory serves me it was moved to the present location and was small gas station for many years. I remember the building as an antique shop and over the years it has been saved for many uses.

The original power plant is still standing and if you drive down the road just before Bolivar Tire you will see the power plant. This is the very same building that would later become the "chicken factory". More than 4000 chickens a day were handled at this location and sold locally before large conglomerates moved in to destroy this local industry. The firm of Furman-Meyers was well known for fresh slaughtered chickens and employed many Canton residents. Many local folks still remember the chicken factory and even to this day the power plant is a well known landmark.

Right down at the Viaduct is the Kessler Machine Shop, and if you look behind the front of the building you will see the original power plant that also supplied power to the BHSRC. This small brick building in the shadow of the Viaduct will deserve additional discussion in a later posting.

The designer of the BHSRC was Webster - of Stone & Webster, one of the nation's first electrical consulting companies. The ten year old company was one of the finest electrical design consultants, but overhead power for trolley service had distinct limitations in New Engalnd, and snowstorms would bring winds that would frequently damage the service that so many would rely upon. The Winter storm of 1920 was particularly unkind and dealt the death knell for the trolley system. Three cars were disabled by the storm and a shortage of coal and a cracked generator crippled the system. By April, 1920 the stock in the BHSRC was liquidated and the company ceased to exist.