HARVARD — The chronology that accompanied pictures Dianne Newton shared during a talk about the Hildreth family and its contributions to the town at the Harvard Historical Society began in the 1840’s, when Edwin and Stanley Hildreth’s uncle George Burt set up a machine shop on Ayer Road.
An inventor, Burt made big money from his designs, Newton said. His specialty was farm equipment. “He married a Hildreth,” she said. They lived in a center-entry colonial house beside a stream, where Burt built a dam to harness waterpower for his shop.
Abijah Hildreth’s branch of the family tree had roots in Groton, where he had a large farm and a family of 10 children, including Edwin and Stanley, who were so famously generous to the town of Harvard.
After graduating from Lawrence Academy, the brothers went to Harvard University and both got engineering degrees. When the family moved from Groton to Cambridge during the Civil War, the brothers went to work in their uncle George Burt’s machine shop in Harvard. They lived with George, his wife and three daughters in a “lovely house” the Burts didn’t have to do much to improve, Newton said, pointing out period features such as 12-over-12 windows, corner quoins and a distinctive tablature over the front entrance.
“It was a mill owner’s house,” she said. It has since burned down.
The Whitcomb-Reed mansion was another fine Harvard house with Hildreth connections. Located on the Common, it burned down in 1917. When Mrs. Reed lived there with her niece, Mary Hoyt, the younger woman was a teacher at the former Center School. Miss Hoyt would later become Mrs. Edwin Hildreth.
The school stood by the old General Store, which was moved from the site on rollers and replaced in 1891.The school building was moved to Ayer in 1905.
Once, footpaths laced across the Town Common, leading to places people used to go, such as the store, tavern, school and church. Long gone now, the pathways are dimly visible in old black and white photos but are clearly shown in a trio of primitive paintings of the Common as it looked in the 19th century. The Historical Society acquired the paintings in 1996. Attributed to Luke Pollard, who died in 1906 at 92, they were found in the carriage house of the Pollard family homestead on Fairbank Street in the 1950s.
When Edwin Hildreth married, he built a handsome house that his brother Stanley shared for 20 years before he was married himself. Built in the late 1870s, it had an Italianate porch with arched brackets, same as Town Hall, Newton said.
Stanley Hildreth married at 47 and built the mansion now known as Hildreth House. Called Joy House then, the rambling Victorian “summer cottage” was designed to resemble a house in Vermont that was modeled after Rudyard Kipling’s huge bungalow in India, circa 1892.
As was the norm then, the Hildreths enlarged and embellished their homes as their fortunes grew, adding wings, wrap-around porches and other stylish ornamentation.
To be continued.