"Within These Walls" Tracking Down The History Of Your House


"Within These Walls" Tracking Down The History Of Your House

His great-grandfather, also named Johnathan, started up many businesses, including the local store and the shovel factory that would eventually pass on to Gustavus. Johnathan achieved all of this despite being blind. He must have been a remarkable person.

In 1803, he sold the shovel business to his son Oliver, who on his death passed it on to his sons, Oliver Jr., and Ira. Oliver Jr. was Gustavus’ father. His mother was the very-Pilgrim Mary Bradford Standish. And, from names on an old map, I find that it was not his father, as neighbors thought, who lived across the street, but Uncle Ira. Now operating under the name O & I Parker, Wright says that the Parker shovel factory was the largest such factory in the country.

In 1860, financial disaster struck the shovel factory. Evidently the Civil War badly disrupted business, and trustees for the creditors took over. It was from this that I surmised that the sale from Gustavus to wife Harriett in 1860 was probably a means of protecting the house from creditors. In 1863, the trustees sold the business back to the Parkers, only now with Gustavus in partnership with his father. A few years later, Oliver sold his interest to Gustavus’ brother-in-law, and by the late 1860’s, Gustavus bought him out to be the sole owner.

This was short-lived. In 1869, there was a terrible fire. All of the buildings burnt to the ground. The factory was never rebuilt. And while Gustavus still had more than half of his life ahead of him, Wright tells us nothing more of what he did. I can imagine him relaxing in the parlour, living a life of luxurious early retirement, but more likely he moved on to some other line of work.

Not much remains from Parker’s era other than the house itself. During reconstruction of a newer section of the house, we found some old bottles on the ground underneath that appeared to date to the late 19th century. This had once been the family dumpsite, and Gustavus and Harriet must have emptied those bottles of whatever was in them.

I walked down the street to see if I could find remnants of the shovel factory and other mills that once anchored a bustling community. There is virtually nothing left, just residences and countryside. Only a part of the foundation of the “cotton factory” (which made thread) remains. The “cotton factory” was built in 1813 by John Avery Parker, another son of the blind Johnathan, and brother to Gustavus’ grandfather, the first Oliver. Most likely its remnants are still visible because of its stone foundation and the fact that it was the last business to close, surviving to the 1920’s. Looking back at the transformation from manufacturing center to rural farmland, one begins to see how the long decline in population could occur.

That’s enough time for my memory lane. As you might surmise, I have come away with a much greater understanding and appreciation for my own house and the people who called it home before me. If you have an older home, even modestly so, but know little about its history, you should put a little time aside for research. Your house will be far more interesting if you do. Anyone can be a sleuth. The Smithsonian exhibition “Within These Walls” will provide the guidance you need to get started. Go ahead and pay them a visit. The web address for this exhibition is americanhistory.si.edu/house/.