Babson Historic Site Opens July 17

Historic Site of Babson Family Opens July 17

First Cape Ann Industry Began with Cooperage Shop at James Babson Place-300 Local Descendants Invited

A reverend drama of profound significance to Cape Ann’s history will be revealed next Friday, when the ancestors of James Babson, who with his mother Isabel, were the first of this famous name to set feet on American soil, will gather at the ancestral workshop, known for three centuries as the James Babson place, the first Cape Ann industry and first building erected in Rockport on the present site of Beaver Dam. Some 300 individuals on Cape Ann are privileged to claim kinship to the proud name of Babson, and it is expected that the glory of their tradition will urge their footsteps on that date to the sturdy shrine of their sire.

The one-room stone building preserved in its original state, will be open Friday from 10 o’clock in the morning until 5 o’clock in the afternoon, when all relatives of James Babson will be received by Miss Susan Babson and Mrs. Annie P. Alling, sisters, the latter’s daughter, Miss Elizabeth L. Alling, and Mr. and Mrs. Roger Babson. The place will be thrown open to the public on Saturday afternoon from 2 to 5 o’clock, when everybody is welcome.

Bought Place Ten Years Ago

Roger W. Babson and his cousin, Gustavus Babson of Oak Park, Chicago, Illinois, bought the property and building about two years ago, with the express purpose of preserving it in it’s original state, that all Cape Ann might treasure it for historical value. On a large boulder at the entrance, a bronze placque has been set, bearing an explanatory inscription.

James Babson and his mother, Isabel, landed at Salem in 1632, coming from England with their father and husband, who passed away on the sea voyage. Five years later they moved to Gloucester and took up residence in a humble “hut” on the seashore, next to the present site of the Strand theatre. The Atlantic ocean in those days washed up to the present day Main street. Isabela, according to history, proved the true pioneer type, eager to brave the hardships of the new country, and help to build the settlement. She earned the title of “Goodwoman” Babson, the only person of her sex to acquire this specific honor. She devoted the rest of her days to the welfare of her only son.

So firmly had they built themselves in the estimation of their people that in 1658, they received the first grant of land ever made by Sandy Bay as Cape Ann was then known. This property was designated as the Farms Village, and was comprised of 20 acres of upland and 12 acres of low land. In 1632, this section was named Beaver dam. James immediately set work and built the stone shop which stands today, and will be the object of public admiration.. The contrast that it forms with the highway nearby is rather starting, yet it’s strength of stolidity are features that have preserved it long after dwellings have crumbled into decay.

Built Well

James Babson built surely and well and this monument to his prowess is    great than the worthy inheritance of his name, fortunate beneficiaries of his character and fortitude. He lived on a tract of land at the corner of what is now Witham street and Eastern avenue. But at this first grant he earned his livelihood. He hauled large stones to form the outer wall of this small one-story building. The inner walls were rough-hewn boards taken as they were cut from the trees , while the beams overhead are logs chopped to the desired length. The walls were crudely plastered, but time had finally begin to cause this to crumble so that the present restorers have had sheet rock placed against it in all but one sector which they have glassed in to show the original construction. The feature of this building is the extensive fireplace on the rear. It is a beautiful piece of work, and in a remarkable state of preservation. It occupies nearly the entire side of the building,  the rest of the space being taken by a narrow door. Doors of equal width are on both of the longer sides of the building, while the side facing the highway was originally a double door.

In this building the restorers have placed various  antiques, such as a shoemaker’s equipment, reminiscent of a day when every citizen had to make his own footwear; a wooden spinning wheel, copper kettles, bellows, a huge bowl, a butter churn, a sea chest that belonged to John Babson, son of James, and a writing desk, besides the footstools and other rustic furniture. There are two layers of flooring, one of which shows the wear of three centuries graphically.

Farmer and Cooper

James Babson, besides being a farmer, was a cooper, founding the first industry on Cape Ann, and used the trees he hewed to clear his land for agriculture, then continued on through his extensive tract. A mile west of this building was the site of the dam by which was the mill where he sawed the lumber into staves. The remains of this mill are still standing along the old Rockport road. In an ox-cart he would haul these staves from the woodland to the path now known as Eastern avenue, thence to the double doors of the stone building which he utilized as his cooperage shop. Here he would heat water in the large bowl set in the fireplace, and then would dip the staves into the steaming water so as to bend them for use in making barrels. These barrels would then be hauled down Eastern avenue through to the path known today as Witham street, thence to the cove which lies just inside the present Good Harbor beach, in this harbor fishing craft would land their fares, which would be stored in these barrels for shipment to ports in England and elsewhere.

On November 16, 1647 he married Miss Elinor Hill, who bore him 10 children, James Jr., Elinor, Phillip, Sarah, Thomas, John, Richard, Elizabeth, Ebenezer and Abigail. Research has shown that all members of the Babson family are descended from one of these children. Those today whose name is “Babson” are descendants of Phillip, John or Richard, the Cape Ann “Babsons” presumably from John since the other two moved away rather early in life.

Renames Site “Beaver Dam”

James Babson’s mother passed away in 1661 soon after the cooperage shop was inaugurated. James’ industrious life was concluded on December 21, 1683, while his widow lived until March 14, 1714. The property was then left to Abigail, wife of Thomas Witham, since she had cared for her mother after James died.  Witham heirs held on to the estate until it was purchase a century later by Dr. Manning, who in 1832 re-named the site, “Beaver Dam.” He sold it in time to the Shenk family and thence it was acquired by the Nugents, the Dundas and finally a few years ago it returned by purchase to the Babson family.

Of John Babson, son of James, it may well be noted that he inaugurated the fishing business of Cape Ann. In 1695 this former mariner was granted three acres “at the cove” near the present site of Straitsmouth Life Saving Station, Rockport, as an encouragement to establishing a fishing industry. Four years later he had succeeded  so well that he received six acres more. He sold out in 1721.

One of his descendants, named for him, wrote the first and considered to be the most complete history of Gloucester. This was John Babson, who wrote his famous work in the ancestral home of his people, located at the corner of Witham street and Eastern avenue.

The genealogy of the family shows that Gustavus Babson, who co-operated in restoring the stone building is a direct descendant of the first John Babson.

History of Gloucester

The history of the Babson family is in reality a history of Gloucester, since from the time Isabel and James Babson, their people have been leaders in every civic activity, have been instrumental in the community’s progress from a settlement to the greatest fishing port in the world, and among them today are men and women of national fame. Theirs is a glorious heritage to which they have proven by their industry and ability they are most worthy. Therefore, it is fitting that the Cape Ann population pay its respects to a real monument, the James Babson place, which typifies the highest attributes of this section as no other shrine could.