Author: J. R. Theriault; Research: Susan Lee
Our ‘Historic Place of the Month‘ is the “Capt Thaddeus Pollard House” located at present-day 327 Still River Road. Writing in 1894, local antiquarian Nourse described this Georgian colonial plantation estate as “a fine specimen of the architecture of Revolutionary days” (Nourse, 1894:75). The historic property is listed in our Local Register of Historic Places (HRV-76) as well as the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s MACRIS.
Captain Thaddeus Pollard built this house for his family when he came to Harvard from Bolton. He was a successful blacksmith, and a clear sign of his prosperity was the inclusion of a swinging wall on the second floor. This paneled section could be swung up and hung on iron rests allowing two rooms to be turned into one large one for parties and meetings. The two chimneys have separate flues for all eleven fireplaces, including two in the attic. The Pollard family lived in the house for almost a century. The house is a well-preserved specimen of the architecture of Revolutionary Days. It was at the American Sycamore* in front of the house that the Shaker Ahijah Worster was scourged by the mob in 1782. Both Thaddeus and his wife, Submit, are buried in Harvard Center Cemetery. This tree is the 4th oldest Sycamore in Massachusetts.
From our National Register of Historic Places Criteria Statement: The Pollard-Marshall House is a well-preserved residence that was originally a farm. It dates to the prosperous years of the late 18th century, constructed outside the the western village of Still River in the Nashua River valley. That it remained profitable as a farm during the 19th century years is evident in its mid-19th century remodelling. The house is rare in both its form, a large doublehouse, and its ornament, combining both Georgian and Greek Revival. The Pollard-Marshall House meets criteria A and C at the local level. It retains integrity of location, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.
Join us on a tour of the Pollard-Marshall House. The photos in this presentation are courtesy of HISTORIC NEW ENGLAND. Earlier known as the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities, Historic New England is the largest and oldest historic preservation organization in New England. Actually, the organization is a cultural museum with New England as their museum. They own hundreds of historic buildings, historic landscapes and objects. They mission is to keep New England history alive for us. One important aspect of their work is managing historic preservation restriction agreements. In these agreements, they team up with the owners of historic properties to preserve the owners properties. Many of the agreements are perpetual which means that our precious historic resources will be protected and preserved for a long time to come. The Pollard-Marshall House is one such property which is under a Preservation Restriction Agreement. We congratulate the owners of the Pollard-Marshall House in making this happen.
Video courtesy of Phil Wilson
Captain Thaddeus Pollard constructed this Georgian colonial plantation estate in 1782, one year after the combined forces of the French and American armies forced the British troops to surrender at Yorktown in 1781. Captain Pollard rose from the rank of private (Minuteman) and served for 4 years. He came from a family in Billerica, MA that had prominent military and Free Masonry backgrounds.
Captain Pollard operated a blacksmith operation / plantation. Research is currently underway to determine the plantation’s shape and size at that time which is currently believed to be well over 100 acres. The Pollard dwelling never served as a registered ordinary (tavern) or inn yet it’s grand proportions have been referred to as a “mansion house”. The dwelling has remnants of a pair of swinging ballroom walls on the second floor which may suggest the possible use as a meeting room, ballroom for dancing, or even an early period Masonic temple. Regarding this last conjecture, paint evidence has been found of a diamond-shaped black and white checkerboard patterned floor (in the west entryway) which may relate to the Masonic icon representing heaven and hell. This theory needs further research and validation. Anderson suggests that this estate was associated with “the Underground Railroad” with his statement; “Captain Thaddeus Pollard’s mansion in Still River was admirably suited for harboring refugees, since it’s largest room (the present day’s attic) was fitted with moveable partitions which provided fine hiding places.” (Anderson, 1976:125). The house was inhabited by Isaac H. Marshall at the close of the 19th century. He is credited as being one of the first scientific farmers in the area. His son, Norman, inhabited the house in the early 1900’s and was a well known electrical inventor who patented a number of electrical devices. Several of these were X-ray signaling devices and these patents were sold to the US Army for military applications prior to World War I.
Writing in 1894, local antiquarian Nourse described this Georgian colonial plantation estate as “a fine specimen of the architecture of Revolutionary days” (Nourse, 1894:75). The Captain Pollard dwelling house’s center hall gabled block measures five bays in width, two piles in depth, and two and a half stories in height: a classic double house. The flat, Georgian colonial clapboard fagade faces due south and is symmetrically fenestrated with twelve over twelve sash. The center entry is distinguished by a fluted pilaster supported entablature, and a multi-paned leaded transom. Two large chimney stacks are located on either side of the central hall and these pierce the roofs ridge in a pure symmetrical fashion. These support eleven fireplaces, two beehive ovens, and one smoke chamber. A third chimney stack was added in 1996 and is located at the end of an ell that runs north from the main house. The ell also houses an original well with colonial counter-balance wind-up device.
Of special interest in this example is the street-facing west side elevation. Here, an enclosed pedimented entry porch projects from the center bay of the fagade. The entry faces west toward Still River Road (Route #110) and it consists of two doors on the south and west sides and 1 six over six sash on the north side. Here the deep house betrays its plan of a secondary cross-passage by the presence of the second entry door (the first is on the south side elevation). This entire gable end of the house has been updated with late Greek Revival trim to resemble the five bay end houses that became popular in the town after 1800. Doric pilaster column trim is located on the west side of the porch and additional Greek Revival trim wraps around to encompass the south elevation of this enclosed entry porch. The Greek Revival trim includes an L-shaped set of double entry steps. When the enclosed porch is viewed from the southwest the Greek Revival style is reminiscent of a Parthenon-like temple structure especially when the two doors which face south and west are opened.
This property encompasses 2 parcels. The first is tax map parcel ID# 29/1 (8.16 acres). The second is parcel ID# 26 / 15.6 (8.25 acres). These are contiguous for a total of 16.41 acres. A vernal stream (Bare Hill Brook) runs through the first parcel and separates the colonial banked barn from the dwelling house. Bare Hill Brook is crossed by two bridges. These were both constructed as fieldstone culverts in colonial days and they are in good repair. The roadside parcel (29/1) has a narrow lawn directly in front of the Captain Pollard dwelling house. This separates the house from the road. It is here, directly in front of the house, that the heritage “Whipping Tree” is located. This registered American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), or Buttonwood, has been measured periodically by heritage tree consultant, Robert Leverett. He believes that the tree may be the fourth oldest Sycamore in the Commonwealth which places it’s age at 390 – 400 years. It has a height of 109 feet and a circumference of 20′ 6″ as measured five feet above ground level. These measurements were made in 2010. The Whipping Tree is the actual location of a well documented event of religious intolerance which took place in 1782. At that time the Harvard Board of Selectmen had ordered that the United Society of Believers in Christ’s Second Appearance, i.e. “The Shakers”, be evicted from town premises. During this eviction process a Shaker man was whipped by townspeople at this site. All major actors in this event are documented, by name, in Harvard town archives.
The lawn south of the roadside parcel has been recently restored through the removal of a cart path, tennis court, and failing apple orchard. A simple stone dust gravel driveway was added. This drive has a circular shape adjacent to the house and rolling grassy meadow expanse on both sides of the drive. The south lawn is flanked on the east by Bare Hill Brook and flanked on the west by a colonial style snake rail fence installed in 2010 along the road.
The lawn north of the house has been restored through the removal of large quantity of 1960’s era growth Red Pines and extensive scrub brush and saplings. A 200 foot long herb garden was installed in 2010. This consists mostly of winter-hardy Buxus (Boxwood) cultivars which the farm provides landscapers and the public as one of several current business operations.