Friday, 14 November 2008

Ye Olde Ferncroft Inn, Middleton, Massachusetts

My friend Irene Savory sent me this image of a framed photograph that she recently acquired, asking for an approximate date.

Image © and courtesy of Irene Savory
We found the picture at a yard sale in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. They said the items were part of their great aunt's estate. The woman on the right is our grandmother. We are 98% sure unless she had a twin. The Ye Olde Ferncroft Inn was in Danvers, Massachusetts we think. Our grandmother lived in Lynn, Massachusetts. Danvers from Lynn is about 10 miles and probably 25 miles or so due south ... From all other photos of our grandmother, it certainly looks like the same person ... Can you tell us anything about when it was taken?
Image © and courtesy of Irene Savory

Responding to some questions about nature and dimensions of the frame and print, Irene sent a more detailed scan, and provided the following:
The frame is metal, even the back and the stand. It is 92 mm wide and 83 mm high to the top of the curve. If you measure along the straight side, it is 76 mm. The photo is 70 mm square. I think it is paper, rather than card. It has started to curl.
She also sent a couple of photographs of her grandmother, and some information about her life.

Image © and courtesy of Irene Savory

[My grandmother] Irene A. Lennon was born on 15 August 1891 in Lynn, Massachusetts to James F. Lennon and Mary Elizbeth Cunningham. She had three older sisters, all born in Lynn. [with whom she is shown in the photograph above, presumably taken in the late 1890s] They were Mildred M., born 8 February 1886; Lizzie, born 5 December 1887; and Mary Bridget, born 23 March 1890. Their mother died of acute fever on 7 August 1892, just a week before Irene's first birthday. James remarried and the girls were sent to convent school.
Image © and courtesy of Irene Savory

This photograph was taken in 1918, when Irene was aged 27.
Irene worked as an operative in the shoe industry, as did many members of her family and at least half of the city of Lynn. On 12 April 1913 she married Lionel Percy Pope in Lynn, where they resided until my mother was about two. They had three children, but only my mother survived. Paul died at age four of diptheria, Mary was stillborn, and my mother, who was born in 1925. They moved to Bradford/Haverhill when she was very young. Irene had rheumatoid arthritis which was so bad that she opted to have nerves cut to relieve the pain. From that point on she was totally bedridden.

My parents married during WWII, and my mother continued to live with her parents. After the war they moved to Kittery, Maine, where my father was working, taking Irene and Lionel with them. Irene died there in 1946.
I managed to track Irene through Federal Census records, using the indexed images available on the Ancestry subscription service. In 1900, she was with her sisters Mary and Elizabeth, wards of the City Orphan Asylum in Lafayette Street, Salem City, Massachusetts. I was unable to locate her in 1910, but in 1920, Lionel and Irene were in a lodging house at 26 Ireson Street, Lynn, and in 1930, they were living at 131 Colby Street, Haverhill - Irene, her husband Lionel, four year old daughter were there, together with Irene's unmarried sister Mary.

Back to the framed photograph. The frame itself is very definitely in the art deco style, which developed partly as a response to the forced austerity imposed by the Great War, and is unlikely to have been manufactured and sold prior to the 1920s.

The Ferncroft (or Fern Croft) Inn appears to have been in existence from the early 1900s until well after the Second World War, on a location where the Radisson Ferncroft hotel is now. I found images of several pre-Great War postcards itemised on eBay, ranging in date of use from 1906 to 1910.

It also turns out that the inn was a favourite watering hole for Boston politicians prior to the First World War, mentioned in relation to an event that happened in 1913 in this article from the Marshfield Mariner. An extract from The Lowell Sun dated 9 January 1915 (in the Newspaper Archive)describes one Henry K. Mansfield as the proprietor of the Ferncroft Inn. The book "Hidden History of the Boston Irish" by Peter F. Stevens (GoogleBooks) refers to the not so salubrious reputation of the Ferncroft during that era as "a saloon and gambling den on the Newburyport Turnpike. Cards, booze, sex - all could be had at the Ferncroft." On 9 May 1922, the New York Times reported the sale of the "famous New Croft Inn, on the Boston Post Road, New Rochelle," to a James Colville.

Of course, the photograph does not have to be contemporary with the frame, and could easily have been inserted by a previous owner at any time. My impression, however, is that it could easily have been taken in the 1920s or 1930s. The vertical stripes on the skirt of the young woman would also fit with this period between the wars. The style of the wooden building in the background, does not really fit with the photographs that I have seen of the Ferncroft Inn, and I suspect it is not the same one.

Image © and courtesy of Irene Savory

With regard to the likeness between the young woman in the Ferncroft Inn portrait and Irene Lennon Pope, I am always a little wary of such comparisons. I agree that their faces are very similar indeed, but if the Ferncroft Inn portrait was taken in the 1920s at the earliest, as I have suggested, Irene would then have been in her thirties. Although the image is not very clear, the young woman in the striped skirt, however, looks to me to be in her late teens.

Image © and courtesy of Irene Savory

Although I hesitate to provide a definitive answer on the date of the Ferncroft Inn photograph, my feeling is that it is from the 1920s, and that it is unlikely to include Irene's grandmother.

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