Author: J. R. Theriault; Research: Susan Lee
Last revised: September 3, 2014
The Richard Whitney ( -May 4, 1798) house is located at present-day 77 Pinnacle Road. The house is an altered center-chimney Federal style architecture built in 1727 and is listed in our Local Register of Historic Places (HRV-169) as well as the Massachusetts Historical Commission’s MACRIS.
From our National Register of Historic Places Criteria Statement:
“The Whitney House is a well-preserved early house that underwent an important expansion early in the 19th century. The farm was established during the colonial period, the home of one of Harvard’s most accomplished citizens. The house was originally a center-chimney house which has been expanded and reoriented to its seven-bay, hip-roofed, Federal-style form in about 1812. The Whitney House meets criteria A and C at the local level. It retains integrity of location, setting, design, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.“
We begin with some excerpts from Nourse’s “History of Harvard” written in 1894 on Richard Whitney and his property in Harvard.
In 1731, Richard Whitney was one of nine petitioners from the area of Harvard known as “Stow Leg. ” Stow Leg was a horizontal band of land, located just north of Harvard’s mid-section, which ran from the Nashua River in the west to the Littleton border in the east. Richard owned a tract of two hundred acres which was incorporated into the newly created town of Harvard in 1732.
We begin with Nourse’s description of the ‘Petitions for a Township’ around 1731 wherein nine settlers including Richard Whitney of the then ‘Stow Leg’ asked to be included in the incorporation of the town of Harvard.
“In Stow Leg, estimated at 3740 acres, Jonathan Rand is set down as “nutor.” The petitioners were: John Daby, Jacob Gates, Shadrack Hapgood, Jonas Houghton, Samuel Mead, John Taylor, Thomas Wheeler, Jonas Whitney, Richard Whitney.” (ref: pg. 57)
In 1746, Richard and Hannah divided their land between their sons Richard, Jr. and Josiah. This structure, dated 1727, may have been constructed by Richard the elder. Several sources concur that Josiah Whitney (1731-1806) occupied this property following his first marriage to Sarah Farr in 1751. Following his wife’s death, he married Sarah Dwelly in 1774.
Here is Nourse: On September 2, 1746, as his family grew and matured, Richard Whitney “…divided a tract of two hundred acres between his sons Richard, Jr., and Josiah. The latter in Revolutionary days was Harvard’s most noted and influential citizen; colonel of a state regiment, brigadier-general after the war, and leader of the majority in town politics. The general’s dwelling stood nearly opposite the present alms house, until torn down in 1869, after it had served the town for forty-five years as a home for its paupers.” (ref: p. 95)
The Whitney house (shown in the map above with a red star) is located on the west side of Pinnacle Road, between Old Littleton Road and Park Lane . The internal rafter system reveals that this structure originated as a two-and-a-half-story, five-bay, center-chimney Colonial. This clapboard-sheathed structure faced west throughout the 18th century, since the road passed to the west of house.
Circa 1812, the house was reoriented towards the east, updated stylistically with Federal architectural ornamentation, and enlarged in the following manner: two bays were added to the right lateral wall; the gable roof was altered to a hip roof; and a gabled wall dormer was constructed above the center three bays. The repositioned center entry was accented with side lights and fronted by a flat-roofed porch.
The enlarged structure measures seven bays in width and two bays in depth; a new chimney was added to heat the new right bays. The symmetrically fenestrated facade is lit with shuttered 6/6 sash windows and an ocular window lights the central dormer. The side entry, located in the first pile of the left lateral wall, is sheltered beneath a Victorian-era, brace-supported door hood. Late-19th-century alterations include a polygonal bay window positioned in the right rear corner. A full-length shed dormer spans the rear slope.
In 1832, this property was held by an R. Whitney, who may have been responsible for the 1812 renovation. According to the current owner [in 1994], the house was used as a summer residence throughout the 19th century and it remained in the same family. Ownership passed from C. F. Stone in the 1870s to G. Pettingill during the turn of the century.
The building was recently expanded via a two-story addition which projects from the left half of the rear facade. Federal-era architectural ornament consists of the ornate tracery of the ocular window and side lights, and the Doric columns and modillioned cornice of the entry porch.
A three-bay, clapboard-sheathed carriage house with a salt-box profile stands independently to the left of the house. Each of the three segmented arch openings contains a double batten door. The property’ s narrow set back is fronted by a post-and-rail fence and a mature deciduous tree stands to the left of the house. As the property slopes to the rear, the rear lawn is contained by a field stone retaining wall.
SOME BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES.
According to a May 21 1750 report of the “…Committee to Seat the meeting house, each man and wife in following order….In the fourth seat in the front. William Whetcombe, Lemuel Willard, Phineh Brown, Richard Whitney, John Peirce, Jeremiah Priest. …gives us a reasonably complete report of the taxpayers of Harvard at the middle of the eighteenth century.” …and of Richard Whitney’s place in that society.
And, similarly in 1766, “…The Second Seat of the Front. Solomon Samson, Ens. Gordon Hutchins, Richard Whitney, Josiah Whitney, Jonathan Clark, Silas Rand, Joseph Willard.”
In January 1775, we find Richard in the Fore Seat, Front Gallery and his son, Richard, Jr., in the Side Gallery Pew.
Other than some notes involving Richard, Jr., in the operation of the new Evangelical Congregational Church, Nourse notes the two brothers: Richard, Jr., and Josiah serving in the Second Worcester regiment of militia. Colonel Josiah as the commander and his brother serving with 13 other men from Harvard in the battle of Quaker’s Hill in Rhode Island in the summer of 1778.
“The first meeting of the promoters of the Social Library was at the centre school-house, and the signers of the call were: Edmund Foster, Joseph Fairbank, Manasseh Sawyer, Amos Fairbank. Elijah Dwinnel, Francis Farr, Alexander Dustin, Joseph Willard, Jr., Richard Whitney, Ephraim Warner. Their organization was effected under the provisions of the act passed March 3, 1798, giving library associations authority to acquire and manage property.” (ref: pg. 384) This was Richard, Senior in 1793, just five years before he was deceased.
Richard, Jr., served on the Board of Selectmen in 1799 and 1800.
Josiah had a distinguished military career during the Revolutionary War, rising to the rank of brigadier general in 1783. He enlisted in 1755 and was a member of a company that marched against the French and Indians at Crown Point. He attained the rank of lieutenant-colonel in 1775, commanding eleven companies, containing 560 volunteers. The following year he was placed in command of the defense of Boston Harbor, where he was stationed in Hull, Mass.
Following his military career, the governor appointed him a justice of the peace for Worcester County. He served Harvard as a town moderator and as a member of the board of selectmen in 1783, ’84, and ’87-9. In 1788, he was named a delegate from Harvard to the convention for the ratification of the Federal Constitution. He voted with the minority, opposing the Constitution. He also served as a state representative in 1780, ’81, and ’87-89. None of Josiah’s sons remained in Harvard.
GENERAL JOSIAH WHITNEY (Richard, Richard, Richard, John), born in Stow, Mass., Oct. 12, 1731; married in Stow, Sept. 9, 1751 to Sarah FARR, who was born Jan. 19, 1735 and died in Harvard, Mass., Apr. 21, 1773; He married a 2d time in Harvard, Feb. 3, 1774, to Sarah DWELLY, of Bridgewater. He died in Whitingham, Vt. on Feb. 18, 1817.
The citizen of Harvard who held the highest military rank during the Revolutionary war was Col. Josiah WHITNEY. He was at that time the town’s most noted and influential citizen and the leader of the majority in town politics.
He was born in Stow, the youngest son of Richard and Hannah (WHITCOMB) WHITNEY, his mother being a near relative of the veteran military leaders Col. Asa and Gen. John WHITCOMB. Sept. 2, 1746, his parents deeded to him land in Harvard, which he occupied soon after marriage. He inherited a fondness for military affairs, and when about his majority he entered upon what later proved a most brilliant military record. (ref: “The Decendents of John Whitney” by Frederick Clifton Pierce, Chicago 1895)