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Humphrey House Gets Unexpected Visitor on 4th of July

Each Fourth of July the Swampscott Historical Society opens the doors at the Sir John Humphrey House on Paradise Road for tours. One visitor this year was a descendent of a family with deep roots in Swampscott.

 

After Mary Cassidy heard the visitor's name at the Sir on Wednesday she hurried upstairs to the dig through Swampscott Historical Society folders.

She returned with the Widger file. The guest at the historical home's annual Fourth of July open house was a descendent of Thomas Widger.

Thomas was a staunch Republican and a political appointee, appointed the second lighthouse keeper of the Egg Rock Lighthouse in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, according to the Historical Society's Widger file.

The guest's name was Robert Widger, 62, of Plainfield, NH.

His grandfather — or maybe his great-grandfather — was Abraham Widger, born in 1865, the son of the lighthouse keeper and named after the assassinated president, Abraham Lincoln.

The Widger's historical ties to the area go back before the Civil War and connect to the present.

Thomas Widger Sr., born in 1790 in Marblehead, was the father of Thomas the lighthouse keeper. Thomas Sr. later moved to Swampscott but in his working days as a young man he sailed with fishing fleets and merchant vessels around the world.

In the War of 1812 he served on the brig Grand Turk, a privateering vessel out of Salem, whose crew captured a cannon from a British vessel.

That cannon now stands in the park by Fisherman's Beach near the boulder dedicated to Marine Corps Lieutenant General John C. Chaisson.

Historical Society members were excited by Robert Widger's visit.

They were as excited as the visitors were intrigued by the historical items on display in the unassuming brown clapboard house on Paradise Road.

Lou Gallo led tours upstairs, and other members of the society including Betty Holmes, Mary Cassidy and the Maitland boys, Douglas and Duncan, assisted at the open house in this the 375th anniversary of the Humphrey House.

Less than a month ago, the house had 63 third-graders from the Hadley School visit the Paradise Road home, again with Lou Gallo leading the tour.

The kids must have been interested in the children's room upstairs.

It includes an antique rocking horse, a tiny desk and an antique handmade children's furniture set from Heywood Wakefield, dating to about 1900, said the Maitland twins.

The set includes a settee, chair, rocking chair and table. All are hand-caned with seats woven from rush and displaying geometric designs that give ech of the flat surfaces a three-dimensional appearance.

On Wednesday, guest Judy Trujillo finally made it to the annual open house.

The Swampscott artist who specializes in sea glass art has lived in town six years and alwasy intended to go to the July 4, tour. 

She was glad she made it.

The school child's desk with the ink well and the wide floorboards are items she will remember.

Tour guide Lou Gallo said wide floor boards were a rarity in homes because the large trees that they came from were reserved for the king's navy.

A Humphrey House history by Lou Gallo:

 The Sir John Humphrey House is celebrating its 375th year. 

This building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sir John Humphrey came to Salem in 1634. Humphrey was the deputy governor under Governor John Winthrop.  Humphrey and his family moved into his “new” house in Swampscott in 1637. The old maps show the house on what later became Elmwood Road, but in 1891, the house was moved to 99 Paradise Road.

The  acquired the Humphrey House in 1902.  A section of the building is our museum and section is the residence of the caretakers.

Swampscott has one of the few 17th century buildings that remain in Essex County. 

Over the years many townspeople have donated Swampscott related articles to the museum. We need space for new show cases to properly display these historic items.  When the third grade children are shown through the house in the spring, they really like the old toaster that was used in a fireplace.  And they like the secret room on the second floor, where the residents could hide from the Indians, or pirates, if necessary. A third-floor room has children’s toys.

Local Indians painted designs on the wall with blueberry and red berry juice that are still visible. It is said that Daniel King was very friendly with local Indians and had asked them to decorate the room. There are a few Indian artifacts on the second floor. There is a six-foot wooden propeller from an airplane built on Puritan Road before World War I.  There is an early foot-powered dentist’s drill. 

A recent acquisition is a painting of cows serenely grazing in a field that is now Atlantic Avenue.  There are portrait paintings and old photographs and etchings of our town. 

The Swampscott Historical Society’s main mission is to keep this 17th century building in good repair.  This year the main downstairs rooms have been painted.  In recent years the furnace has been replaced and the chimney re-pointed. As with all old houses, the building always needs something.

The Swampscott Historical Society is in search of new members.  The Society needs to increase our membership. Some members become valued volunteers, sorting and listing our treasured items. We want to keep Swampscott history alive and cared for in the Humphrey House.

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