This past Saturday, before a trip back to the Berkshires, I biked down Cambridge’s Tory Row (the link is to another local blog, powered by a local writer strongly devoted to pre-revolutionary/revolutionary war local history).  If you will recall from my interview with Mr. Docent Tory Row was largely populated by, well, Tories loyal to the British Empire.  Want to hear (and see) more, for some masochistic reason I can’t fathom?  Click onward!

The Row extends largely down Brattle and Mt. Auburn streets, west from Harvard Square.  Today it looks like a particularly nice upscale suburban area with Georgian (and a few Federal-ish) houses galore and the odd local history plaque.  Back in the pre-Revolutionary days, however, there were only six or seven houses along a mile to two-mile stretch of road, with property extending all the way back to the Charles.  This was a place Bay State luminaries had their vacation estates when they wanted to retreat someplace mostly inaccessible to Boston while still cultivating an “enlightened” air by being near Harvard.  Think “resort town,” somewhat akin to Cape Cod or Emerald Isle.

Sewell House

Built by Judge Jonathan Sewell. The exterior has been altered a bit.

Vassall/Craigie/Longfellow House

The most famous occupant of this house? HW Longfellow

Told ya he lived there.

Hooper/Lee/Nichols House

Current location of the Cambridge Historical Society.

Hooper/Lee/Nichols House, other angle

These houses, all occupied (at least initially) by slave-owning colonists loyal to the crown sat on massive acres of property.  These Georgian mansions would quickly be seen to be outdated after the revolution, but they would continue to be emulated by Cambridge families who wanted to look “Washington-like” (Cambridge, as upscale as its residents could be, was fairly provincial and backwater-ish).

Still, even though the property isn’t nearly as sprawling today as it once was note how manicured the lawns are and remote the houses seem.  The owners obviously intended to be “above it all” in their “little slices of heaven.”  Also, they were seeming to ape the plantation style houses down in the Indies, where many of them likely knew people who owned and operated sugar plantations.  People like, say, Isaac Royall, whose house we will be visiting soon.

Either way, these homeowners definitely wanted to make a big splash through their property, architecture, etc.  Bear that in mind as we move on to Royall.  Which will hopefully be tomorrow morning.

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