J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

Remembering and Restoring the Edmund Fowle House

Last month the Boston Globe ran a story on the restoration and opening of the Edmund Fowle House, funded by the Historical Society of Watertown. In 1775 the Massachusetts Provincial Congress used this building as the headquarters of the Council it had set up to serve as the executive wing of its government, Gov. Thomas Gage having lost the loyalty of the people and being otherwise engaged.

Why Watertown? It was far enough away from Boston to be safe, near enough to the lines for news to travel quickly, and about equidistant between the northern and southern ends of the siege lines. Henry Knox and the printer Peter Edes also set themselves up in Watertown after escaping from Boston.

Why the Fowle house? Apparently it had an unusually large room for a private dwelling. According to the Globe:

The second floor was still unfinished—mostly because Fowle’s wife had died in childbirth before it was completed—when the Provincial Congress took over the house in 1775; at the time, it sat barely 3 miles from the Continental Army’s encampment on Cambridge Common.
The New England army actually occupied many camps ringing Boston, but Cambridge housed the headquarters of its commanding generals, Ward and Washington. The Fowle house was moved off Mount Auburn Street in 1871, but it’s still near the old center of Watertown.

The memory of the Fowle house’s use in 1775-76 didn’t last long.
“Within a decade after the Revolution,” said preservation architect Wendall C. Kalsow, “nobody would have known where the council’s meeting room was. By the 1780s, this was no longer a house of national historical significance.”

By then, he explained during an interview at the house, bedrooms had been constructed on the second floor, cutting up the space used for the meeting room.
Which helps to remind us that historic preservation is a relatively newfangled value. Our Revolutionary ancestors cared more about the usefulness of land and buildings than about what had happened in them many years before.

1 comment:

Karl H. Neugebauer said...

Many other interesting events occured in the Edmund Fowle House during the early part of the American Revolution, the signing of the first Treaty on July 19, 1776 and the reading of the the Declaration of Independence from the second floor window of the council chambers on July 18, 1776. Which leads me to invite One & All to:
18 JULY 1776

Watertown, 18 July 1776 - A copy of the Declaration of Independence, having been sent by John Hancock from Philadelphia, is proclaimed to the populace from a window of the Council Chamber followed by rousing cheers and hearty toasts.
“We like it well,” observed Ambrose Var, delegate from the Mikmaq of Nova Scotia in town to negotiate a treaty of alliance with the new United States.

Watertown, 18 July 2008 - Now that the Historical Society of Watertown has succeeded in the restoration of the Edmund Fowle House, once the seat of Massachusetts’s executive branch at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Declaration of Independence will once again be read from a window of the newly re-discovered Council Chamber. The ceremony will begin at 6:30 Friday the 18th of July in front of the Fowle House, 28 Marshall St. Watertown. Local colonial re-enactors and Native American guests will be on hand and the public is welcome to attend this anniversary of Watertown’s first Independence Day.

Light refreshments will follow the ceremony plus a look at the
Council Chamber (as long as daylight lasts).