Sometimes benefactors do their ‘work’ by stealth, sometimes their works are public; ocassionally, their charitable donations are a mixture of the two. Horatio Hollis Hunnewell (1810 – 1902), a railroad magnate, financier, botanist and philanthropist was the most prominent citizen in the section of Needham which wanted to break away from that Massachusetts community. After a very contentious public meeting, the citizens finally got their wish, and the town of Wellesley, Massachusetts came into being.
Horatio Hunnewell had married very well; his bride was Isabella Pratt Welles, an American heiress, living in France. On their marriage, Hunnewell became a partner in Welles & Co., of Paris, France, a private bank. This concern’s principal activity was the financing of Franco-American trade, a highly lucrative activity. The banker named his beautiful estate on Lake Waban, in Massachusetts, ‘Wellesley’, after his wife, and this was the name selected for the new town.
It was decided that the new community should have an imposing Town Hall, and Horatio Hunnewell donated both the land and the money necessary for the project. His involvement extended to design work, too, as the architectural practice of Russell & Hunnewell of Boston were engaged to design the new building, which it was decided would also house the new Free Library as well as the municipal offices. The choice of architects was predictable, I suppose, as Henry Sargent Hunnewell (1851-1931) was Horatio Hunnewell’s son, and had studied architecture after Harvard. He joined George Russell Shaw (1848 – 1937), who had studied architecture at Harvard and L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, forming a new architectural practice in 1873.
The style of the resulting Town Hall has been called ‘French Château’, and the distinctive turrets and stone cladding certainly give that impression. Work was begun in 1881 and completed in 1885, and it still graces a knoll in the centre of town, overlooking Washington Street (yes, in this case, George Washington actually did ride along this particular road, on his way to Boston!) The Free Library was moved into a new building on the opposite side of the street in 1959 (which was itself demolished and replaced by a new building in 2003). The Town Hall is now, deservedly, on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places (entered 1976, #76000295) and is an impressive piece of architecture.
Here we can see the southern aspect of the Town Hall, set on dominant position above the road. You cannot see, however, a memorial stone in front of the building, which commemorates Dr. William Thomas Green Morton (1819-1868), and his work to promote the use of ether as an anesthetic. The plaque attached to the stone reads, ‘Here lived Dr. W.T.G Morton. He gave to the world the use of ether in surgery, A.D. 1846′. A resident of Wellesley, Dr. Morton’s claim to be solely responsible for this boon to medicine was disputed by others, and he fought for the remainder of his life for a monetary award from the U.S. Government.
In case you are wondering, the tents you can see to the left of the Town Hall are not those of a Boy Scout Troop on a field trip, but belong to the Royal Irish Artillery, a local group of Revolutionary War re-enactors who regularly visit the Town Hall and put on artillery demonstrations!