Today's History Highlights Archive

Writers, Firefighters and an Historic Farmhouse in Today’s History Highlights – 8.16.2013

Today’s Flashback Photo is a terrific picture of a horse drawn steam-powered fire pumper racing along the streets of Dorchester sometime in the 1800s, headed for a fire presumably. Though Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin is considered the father of the modern fire department, Massachusetts holds the distinction of having created the first fire brigade, in Boston in 1678. The innovation of the steam pumper afforded firefighters greater and steadier water pressure for use in fighting fires, replacing human-powered pumpers. Early in its use, the pumper itself was pulled by horses while the men travelled to the fire on foot (often arriving first). Later, running boards were added to the pumpers so some men could also arrive with the apparatus. Motorized fire engines, first built in 1906, marked the beginning of the end of the era of horse-drawn fire apparatus. This photo comes from the Dorchester, Mass. Historical Society’s Illustration of the Day series. Their website includes many other fascinating photos from Dorchester history.

The City of Boston has taken over a decaying property in Mattapan, with intentions of cleaning it up. The Fowler-Clark farmhouse, possibly the oldest remaining farmhouse in Boston, can trace its roots back to Revolutionary War veteran Stephen Fowler, whose descendants built the farm. The Boston Globe reports that:

The farmhouse appeared on Norfolk Street between 1786 and 1806, according to probate records, just a few decades into the country’s founding. Historians speculate the house was built earlier, however, and moved to Mattapan from another location. In any case, city officials say the Fowler-Clark residence is one of only four farmhouses built in the city prior to 1806; its central chimney, wood sash, and pedimented entry porch make it emblematic of late 18th-century Massachusetts architecture.

Initially, the city boarded up the seized property and cleared brush to make it more presentable. Long term plans for the property, which is on the city’s list of historic landmarks, have yet to emerge.

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Oh, the Horror! Maybe we’re biased, but it’s nice to see a writer get his day in the sun. Raven-ous, the blog of the Providence Athenaeum reports that H.P. Lovecraft, that city’s well-known science fiction and horror writer is getting some love from the city and there’s also a convention scheduled next week to look at his legacy.  Lovecraft’s image has taken a long time to rehabilitate. His work–pulp, horror fiction set in a host of New England locations–was not widely known or highly regarded in his day. He died young in 1937 at age 46 with no children to curate or promote his literary estate. And, perhaps most damaging to his cause, he was a screaming and unrepentant racist. Still, other writers have praised his story-telling and writing ability, crediting him as a significant influence on their work. And, over time his work has found its way into music and games as well as other fiction. With the rough edges knocked off him, he has reemerged as a well-regarded, if personally flawed, New England writer. For more on his life, visit here.

Speaking of individuals with a bad reputation, Karl Marx will be making an appearance in Vermont on Labor Day, attempting to clear his name. New York actor, teacher, and activist Brian Jones will perform historian Howard Zinn’s one-man play “Marx in Soho” at the Old Labor Hall, 46 Granite Street, Barre, on Saturday, August 31, at 7:30 pm. Tickets can be had here. And proceeds go to restore the Barre’s Socialist Labor Party Hall National Historic Landmark. If you aren’t in the neighborhood, you can still enjoy the play by visiting Jones’ website, and viewing it online.

Today’s Flashback Photo…

Fire engine

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