A connection made through social media has brought to light a trove of childhood memories of time spent in and around the William Prescott House – the five-story brownstone overlooking the Boston Common that is not only a living museum, but has also served as the Boston headquarters of the National Society of the Colonial Dames for nearly 75 years.
Paula Feurtado Rowell, a 69-year-old resident of Pinegrove, Penn., whose grandparents served as the building’s caretakers and managers circa the late 1950s and early 1960s, connected via Facebook with Becky Putnam, Prescott House communications volunteer, and Rowell recently shared some of her childhood memories of the Prescott House with Putnam and, now, readers of the Beacon Hill Times.
Rowell wrote that she was “raised in a small suburb of Boston, on the other side of the tracks” with her older sister, Ruth, and older brother, David. When Rowell was 6, her father died, but she and her siblings found respite with their grandparents at the Prescott House during their otherwise often-dreary childhoods.
“My grandparents lived in a small apartment in the back of the house that overlooked a pretty little terrace with a tiny table and two tiny chairs made of wrought iron, here I could roam around and play pretend,” Rowell wrote. “I had free reign of the house and would run up and down the red carpeted stairway from one floor to the next until I was at the top where I stared out the window and [the Common] was right across the street from where I was. It was magical!”
The Prescott House also boasts one of the largest costume collections in U.S., with garments dating back to the 18th century, and Rowell recalls her sister Ruth trying on a pair of gloves once owned by Martha Washington, as well as Dolly Madison’s pearls.
Other fond childhood memories of the Prescott House include Rowell going room to room with her grandfather to wind up the grandfather clocks at 8 p.m. each night and watching her grandmother make preparations for lunch with the Dames.
Rowell also warmly recalls Mrs. Jane (Covey) Webster, the wife of Edwin P. Webster, co-fonder of the Stoughton-based engineering firm Stone and Webster. Mrs. Webster served as a devoted Dame, Dame president and chair of the Prescott House Committee, among other key positions with the Colonial Dames of America, before her death in 1969 at age 99, and she was instrumental in the Dames acquiring the Prescott House at 55 Beacon St. in 1944 for their Boston headquarters, according to Putnam.
Rowell remembers visiting Mrs. Webster at her 50-room mansion on the corner of Dartmouth Street and Commonwealth Avenue and once watching as she and the other Dames sat at a long table in the Prescott House sewing American flags.
“Mrs. Webster was so wealthy, but she treated our grandparents and us just like every one else,” Rowell told this reporter.
Around the holidays, Rowell would walk with her grandfather and Queenie, his Boston terrier, on the Common, which she described as “magical place…with tree after tree laden with bright shining lights.” Live reindeer were kept in a fenced-in area at this time of year, much to the delight of children visiting the park.
“For the first time in my young life, I was standing next to live reindeer, not just one but many,” Rowell wrote. “Queenie would bark and Grampa would scoop her up to quiet her down while I was standing there, speechless.”
While Rowell left the Boston area long ago, she and her sister still try to return to the city at least twice each year just to stand in front of the Prescott House’s “big green door.”
“It makes us smile and remind us of those times with our grandparents and of happier times,” Rowell wrote. “I will forever be thankful that I’m one lucky lady who can tell these stories of a time gone by.”