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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Saturday, April 07, 2012

Howe Explores the Durant-Kenrick House in Newton, 12 Apr.

On Thursday, 12 April, Historic Newton will sponsor a free lecture by Jeffery Howe, Professor of Fine Arts at Boston College, about the city’s Durant-Kenrick House. Howe created this digital archive of American architecture that I’ve periodically dived into.

The Durant-Kenrick House was built in 1732 by a blacksmith and merchant named Edward Durant (1695-1740), who moved out from Boston with his family and enslaved servants to enjoy the life of a country gentleman. Howe’s talk, titled “A New Refinement: the Durant-Kenrick House in the Context of Colonial Housing,” will examine it as a sign of domestic trends:

At its construction in 1734, the Durant-Kenrick house represented an important new stage in the evolution of colonial architecture, falling between the simplicity of 17th-century building and the social aspirations of later Georgian mansions.
During the Revolutionary War the house was the home of the merchant’s son, also named Edward Durant (1715–1782). He was a Harvard graduate and local political leader, moderating Newton town meetings and serving as selectman and legislator. Durant’s son Thomas was a militia lieutenant in 1775, and his son Edward became a doctor, serving as a regimental surgeon and dying on a privateer.

Edward Durant also provided space in his house for a grammar school in the early 1760s. Old Massachusetts law required towns of a certain size to have such a school to prepare boys for careers in the ministry, but rural towns usually tried to avoid the expense of an extra building for only a few scholars.

All that said, the site’s major importance came in the early republic after it passed to the Kenrick family, who developed the largest nursery in New England. The Kenricks supplied American estate owners with fruit trees, ornamental trees, and flowering plants, and eventually currants and currant wine.

The Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts–Boston has been excavating the Durant-Kenrick site, with periodic reports. Carl M. Cohen has also tracked activity at the house since its owners donated it Historic Newton (a city agency) in 2010.

Howe’s talk will begin at 7:00 P.M. in the Newton Free Library’s auditorium. It’s free and open to the public.

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