First House on the Block
Tuesday, March 13, 2012 at 11:54AM
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Born a modest Greek Revival farmhouse, our home was the first on the block.   Francis Cooke, a mason, built this house in the “burbs” during the post Civil War building boom.  Heading west on Elm Street, he would have taken a right onto the new road and followed it about half way down, just past the freshly carved Arlington Street.  By 1873 thirteen more families joined him.

An archivist gave me an undated black and white photograph of the house taken by the Howes Brothers.  George and Walter Howes meandered the hills and valleys of western Massachusetts and New England from 1882 to 1907 capturing the vernacular on more than 23,000 glass plate negatives, hoping to sell the prints.  The brothers'  visit to Massasoit Street brought out the neighbors, including the woman in a simple dress and apron standing in front of our white clapboard house surrounded by trees, some barely a story high, others towering above the roof.   She looks straight into the camera, positioning her body at an angle leading the viewer to a small vestibule shielding the front door.

The front hall is now filled with briefcases, backpacks, gym bags and baskets of hats, gloves, ipods, cell phones, and myriad other small objects I cannot keep track of.  The woman in the picture would not recognize the accoutrements of our daily life, but the hall itself would  be familiar.  A staircase, set a few feet from the front door, with treads barely wider than my size nine foot, rises on the left to the second floor bedrooms.  Honey colored pine boards take us into the what was once the center of daily activity in a small house.  There was a kitchen, parlor (although we are not sure where), and perhaps a first floor bedroom.

I wish I could meet the woman in the photograph so I could hear the stories of the people who came before us, who wore the pine floors down as they walked through their lives, just as we do now.  There is some strange comfort in knowing that 140 years from now, somebody may be wondering the same thing about us.

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