Rare Photos of Boston’s Metropolitan Works, 1893

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

As our very large Bradford Family Collection continues to be processed, unexpected items come to light.  Today, as I was organizing the many photographs in the collection, I came across an envelope addressed to Laurence Bradford (1842-1909) containing twenty-five images depicting the building of a portion of the early sewage system on Deer Island. Many of the photographs are of the dredging of Shirley Gut.  As a civil engineer, Laurence Bradford worked on the project. He was part of the initial planning phase as early as 1888 and conducted hydrographic surveys around Deer Island.  He was also in charge of building the bulkhead and “of dredging and preparing the channel across the Gut for reception of the sewer pipe.”[1]

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Diver H.W. Phillips at Shirley Gut with the Deer Island Alms House in background, Oct. 1893.

Deer Island, so called because of the deers that swam to safety on its shores when pursued by wolves, is actually no longer an island. It is a peninsula stretching into Boston Harbor from Winthrop. The Shirley Gut that had separated the island from the mainland was filled in by beach erosion during the devastating hurricane of 1938. Today it is home to the Deer Island Waste Water Treatment Plant. In 1893, however, when these photographs were taken, it was still best known for the large gothic-looking Alms House that loomed over the shoreline. The “deserving poor” of Boston began being ferried out to the island in 1853.  In 1896 the Alms House became Deer Island House of Correction (the prison was closed in 1991).

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

Center Section of Siphon at Shirley Gut, Oct. 1893

In April, 1893 the Board of Metropolitan Sewerage Commissioners received approval for plans to construct a sewer and siphon across the Shirley Gut between Point Shirley and Deer Island.  The photographs of this work are wonderful. It was obviously no small task to dredge and create this system. The image of the diver, H.W. Phillips, suited up in his primitive (and heavy) equipment, about to don his helmet, with the Alms House in the background, is particularly interesting. Of equal note are the workers and children sitting in the large center section of the siphon.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Mason lining the siphon pipes with brickwork before launching, Shirley Gut, July 1893.

Laurence Bradford, the son of Rev. Claudius Bradford and Maria Weston Bradford, was one of the owners of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society’s Bradford House, located at 931 Tremont Street, Duxbury.  He inherited the house after his aunts, Lucia and Charlotte Bradford, passed away in 1893 – coincidentally, the same year these photographs were taken.  Laurence and his wife, Hattie Phipps Bradford, used the family homestead only during the summer months. Their sons, Gershom and Edward Bradford, donated the home, its contents and its vast archival collection to the DRHS in 1968.

[1] Letter from H. A. Carson, Chief Engineer of Metropolitan Sewerage Commission to “Whom it May Concern,” Feb. 28, 1894. Bradford Family Collection, Drew Archival Library.

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The Photographic Record of the Delano Triplets

Delano Triplets, 1868 Photographer: Baxter & Adams, Chelsea, MA

Delano Triplets, 1868
Photographer: Baxter & Adams, Chelsea, MA

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

The survival rate of triplets in the mid-19th century was not high – neither for mother nor children. A home-birth with the assistance of the local doctor was dicey at best. Medicine of the day was also woefully inadequate to assist these undersized or premature babies once they were born.  So, it is surprising that Catherine Drew Delano (1833-1919) was able to produce three healthy babies on a cold winter’s day in January, 1868.  The children – two girls and a boy – were Caroline S. Delano (1868-1955), Grace T. Delano (1868-1935) and Benjamin Franklin Delano (1868-1920).  What makes their coming into the world even more special, are the four photographs that follow them from infancy to their teenage years. A remarkable record of their early life.

The triplets were born in Chelsea, MA but they are from Duxbury stock and spent much of their lives here.  Their father, Winslow T. Delano, was the son of Capt. Samuel Delano and the nephew of Capt. Amasa Delano. After a short stint following the California Gold Rush, Winslow returned east and entered is brother’s shipbuilding firm on Lincoln’s Wharf in Boston – B. F. Delano & Co. In 1855 he married Catherine D. Winslow of Duxbury.  Two sets of twins came in quick succession – Fanny and Emily in 1857 and George and Arthur in 1859. In each of these cases, a twin sadly died within three months. When the triplets arrived, therefore, they were greeted not only by their grateful parents, but also only two older siblings.  But, in a cruel twist of fate, while the triplets thrived, it was their father who did not live past three months of their birth. On April 23, 1868 Winslow died of “softening of the brain.”  This diagnosis could indicate a variety of causes, but it was most likely a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 47 years old.  Catherine was now the widowed mother of five young children.

Delano Triplets, c. 1870 Photographer: M. Chandler [Marshfield, MA]

Delano Triplets, c. 1870
Photographer: M. Chandler [Marshfield, MA]

The 1870 census shows the family having left Chelsea and living on St. George Street in Duxbury next to the home of Catherine’s parents – George Winslow and Hannah Drew Winslow. This move ensured that Catherine had the help of not only her mother and younger sister, Georgianna Winslow, but also of a number of aunts, cousins and friends.  By 1880, however, the family had moved back to Boston and was living at 81 St. Botoloph Street. They divided their time between the city and the seaside, maintaining ownership of their St. George Street property throughout their lives.  The Delanos were active in Duxbury’s civic and social affairs of the day – Caroline S. Delano, also called “Carrie,” was one of the founding members of the Duxbury Rural & Historical Society.  Grace and Carrie never married and it does not appear that their brother did either – all are buried in their family’s plot in Duxbury’s Mayflower Cemetery.

Delano Triplets, c. 1888 Photographer: Notman, Boston, MA

Delano Triplets: Carrie, Frank & Grace, c. 1888
Photographer: Notman, Boston, MA

Delano Triplets, c. 1874 Photographer: Unknown

Delano Triplets, c. 1874
Photographer: Unknown

The Accounts of Ardelia E. Ripley Hall

Page of Ardelia E. Ripley's Practice Account Book, 1856.

Page of Ardelia E. Ripley’s Practice Account Book, 1856.

Carolyn Ravenscroft, Archivist

In 1856 seventeen-year-old Ardelia E.Ripley (1839-1899), the daughter of Samuel E. Ripley and Sarah Cushman[1], was a student at Partridge Academy in Duxbury. Her Common School Book-Keeping Being a Practical System by Single Entry; Designed for the use of Public Schools by Charles Northend (1853) can be found at the Drew Archives. It is a wonderful example of how students learned the art of basic accounting. While we have numerous day-books and journals used by adults of the period, it is unusual to see one that demonstrates the learning process. Practice books are often thrown away long before they make it into an archival collection.

What I find fascinating about the book is what it tells us about society in the 1850’s. Here, in neat script, is a full listing of all the items a person might consider purchasing along with their cost. Duxbury was no longer the prosperous shipbuilding mecca it had once been, but that did not mean its inhabitants didn’t still pine for kid gloves and cashmere. Using her classmates and relations as fictitious “customers” Ardelia itemized a veritable Ante-bellum wish-list. Classmate Frederick Bryant, for example, lavishly spent $6.00 on “1 pair of pantaloons for my hired man” but also more sensibly required coarse salt at 1 ¾ per pound, and even a “white wash brush” for $.63. Girlfriends like Josephine Thomas bought “muslin de laine ($.31 per yard), 2 skeins of silk ($.08).” Ardelia’s young cousin, Walter F. Cushman, required a “silk handkerchief ($.50) and a cravat ($1.50).” Older family acquaintances also made it into her accounts, Capt. George P. Richardson was a regular customer, buying “kid gloves ($.75), 29 yards of carpeting ($21.00), a satin vest ($3.25), 1 yard cambric ($.10) and ½ dozen buttons ($.03)” all in one day. In total Ardelia kept her account book for four months, had eleven customers and over 150 entries with hundreds of line-items. While I have not vetted the prices she ascribed to them, the items themselves are a boon to any researcher interested in knowing what was available to purchase in America at that time.

Ardelia E. Ripley (1839-1899)

Ardelia E. Ripley Hall (1839-1899)

Almost equally as fascinating to me are the people Ardelia Ripley chose to include in her assignment and how they fit into Duxbury history. For example, friend Joseph E. Simmons, who’s name is one of the most prominent in the accounts, would one day die in the Civil War at the Second Battle of Bull Run (see the Duxbury in the Civil War article). Captains George P. Richardson and Daniel L. Winsor were prominent civic leaders. Walter F. Cushman grew up to marry Ardelia’s daughter, Lucie. In 1860, Ardelia herself would marry the keeper of the Gurnet Light House, George H. Hall, and have six children. Her son, Captain Parker J. Hall, was one of the most colorful people to ever live in Duxbury (more on him in a future post).


[1] The home of Samuel E. and Sarah Ripley was described in a 1925 The House Beautiful article entitled “The Little Gray House with the Pale-Green Door: One of the Aristocrats of the Cape Cod House.” Ardelia inherited this house and passed it on to her youngest daughter, Lura Cushman Hall.