Wakefield History

This edition of our quarterly journal aims to give readers a greater appreciation of the ten generations of one inter-related family that fashioned this land from wooded hillsides 300 years ago to the historic estate and grounds that it is today. In 2018, the estate was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places as the Davenport Estate Historic District. In addition, this journal provides a deeper understanding of the larger social and political context in which these families lived their daily lives. This historical and biographical overview is based on the scholarly research by students and professionals who combed through the archives of the estate, tax documents and census records to learn of those who called the estate home.

Setting the Context
Before the Davenport family established the family farm on what is now Brush Hill Road, the area around the Blue Hills was settled by native people for thousands of years. The Native
Americans around Blue Hills were the Neponset tribe of the Massachusetts who derived its
name from the Native American name for Great Blue Hill ‘Massadchuseuck.’ When Europeans migrated to this area in the early 1600s they brought with them novel diseases that had catastrophic impacts on native populations: by 1650, 90% of the native population in New England had been wiped out. In 1657, as the colonial population increased and the settlers occupied more land, they moved the remaining Neponset tribe to six thousand acres at Ponkapoag Pond in Canton. This settlement was the second ‘praying town’ in the colony, the first was in Natick. (1)
During King Phillips war in 1675, the remaining 12 native families were moved to Long Island in Boston Harbor where they lived without adequate housing, clothing, or food. After the war, the surviving tribe members moved back to Ponkapoag. (2)
Milton’s population was just under 400 residents by 1700, as the town’s agricultural and industrial bases expanded and townspeople established homesteads in the Blue Hills area near the present-day Milton-Canton line. ( Onto this landscape steps the family that occupied this land for more than 300 years. (3)
Map of Milton 1662
Davenport Farm, 1706 to 1794
In the early 18th century, John Davenport (1664-1725) and his wife Naomi Foster (1669-1739) purchased land and moved their family from Dorchester to the slopes of the Blue Hills. John’s name first appears on the Milton tax rolls in 1707. According to our research, John built the first iteration of the farmhouse soon after he and Naomi arrived, and settled in to the work of transforming the land from woodlands to farmland. Together they had seven children.
When John died in 1725, his property was passed down to his son Samuel Davenport (1697-1773), and then Samuel’s own son Samuel Davenport (1720-1794), John’s grandson, took ownership of the farm and began to increase the size of his homestead by accumulating land to its southwest in the neighboring town of Canton. Upon his death in 1794, Samuel Davenport left the farm to his youngest son, Isaac. (4) ( 4)
According to tax records, the first three generations of Davenports in Milton established themselves as a family of comfortable means. Their landholdings and value thereof exceeded many of their neighbors, and over time the family was able to not only maintain their holdings but to expand them, as well as provide inheritances for all of their many offspring. During this period, their physical living conditions also improved and expanded; analysis of the Davenport farmhouse suggests that the house was expanded in at least three campaigns in the eighteenth century. ( 5 )
Davenport farmhouse
Isaac Davenport (1753-1828)
Isaac Davenport was a young man in the years leading up to the American Revolution. Growing tensions between the colonists and the British troops occupying Boston were commonplace. By the time of the Boston Massacre in 1770, he was 17 years old, and his father Samuel was a juror in the infamous trial of the accused British soldiers, defended in court by future president, John Adams. To read more, click here.
The bloody massacre perpetrated on King Street, Boston, on Mar. 5, 1770
Isaac and Mary May Davenport
By the time of Samuel Davenport’s death in 1794, Isaac Davenport was 40 and well established as a Boston merchant. His commercial activities included real estate investments as well as interests in molasses, steel, iron, gunpowder, glass, and cattle. ( 6 ) In addition to these commercial activities and investments, Isaac Davenport aggressively expanded his family’s estate in Milton, more than doubling the size of his father’s land holdings in Milton and building a fashionable and sophisticated new house on the property. ( 7 )
Isaac maintained a distinctly different relationship to Milton and its rural landscape than his father. With the war over, many successful members of the gentry took an interest in farming, celebrating it for its “subtle joys” rather than “an occupation of brute survival.” Isaac Davenport established himself as one of these “gentlemen farmers,” and during this period the estate took on a secondary, recreational character, marked by the construction of the family’s grand mansion house at the edge of the estate and the transformation of the landscape from solely a farm to country seat. Despite its new function as a rural outpost for leisure for Isaac and his family, the estate retained its rural and agrarian character and agricultural function. Though Milton experienced slow growth and a continued agricultural base of which the Davenport Estate was a part, a significant number of high-style houses with sophisticated period detailing like that on the Davenport Estate appeared across Milton. ( 8 )
Haskell photo of Davenport mansion house
Isaac married Mary May (1769-1853), daughter of prominent Boston resident Samuel May, in 1787 and they had two daughters, Mary May Davenport (1795-1843) and Louisa Goddard Davenport (1807-1859). Isaac’s business partners included fellow Milton resident John McLean, best known as a benefactor of McLean Hospital. John McLean, assisted by Isaac Davenport, erected stone mile-markers from Boston to Milton, some still visible today. Isaac was a prominent Milton citizen, serving as one of the founders of Milton Academy, as well as owning a pew in the Milton meetinghouse and a plot in the Milton burial ground. 
John McLean
Stone marker erected by John McLean and Isaac Davenport
At the time of his death in 1828, Isaac had accumulated a substantial amount of wealth. His homestead included the Mansion house, real estate in other towns, his store number 8 on Long Wharf in Boston harbor, as well as a number of houses in the North End and on Beacon Hill. He also owned significant parcels of land in Bangor, Maine. Isaac’s personal estate was valued at $120,000 when he died in 1828. ( 9 ) After his death, his wife Mary assumed control of the property until her death in 1853.
Image of Long Wharf, Boston
According to research conducted by Erin Doherty: Given Isaac’s penchant for real estate speculation and his strong ties to Boston, his retention of the family estate in Milton and expansion of its contents may initially appear curious. In this dual impulse toward commercialism and rural life, however, Isaac was certainly not alone. As scholar Tamara Plakins Thornton suggests in her work Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite, 1750-1860 , it is a peculiar fact of New England’s Federal period that the same men who were responsible for shifting the Massachusetts economy away from agriculture and toward commercial and industrial pursuits, also self identified with the rural and agrarian in their personal lives. In the pursuits of these men and others, which ranged from breeding prize-winning livestock to pioneering new species of plants and flowers, the self-identification with the rural is evident. In the new Republic, where the farmer was considered the saving grace of the country, merchants and commercial leaders sought to create a new mode of citizenship, which melded the most valued aspects of both rural and urban worlds. ( 10 )
Louisa (1808-1859), who outlived Mary May (1795-1843), took over the Milton property after her mother’s death. The death of Louisa initiated a complex division of Isaac Davenport’s estate among his heirs, finally giving Isaac’s grandson and namesake, Isaac Davenport Hayward, control of the property.
Drawing of the Davenport mansion 1900
Rural Retreat, 1860-1901
Isaac Davenport(I.D.) Hayward (1828-1878) took over ownership of the core of the estate as the sixth generation of the family in Milton in 1862. Mirroring what was happening across Milton, the scale of farming diminished as the surrounding neighborhood took on the character of a suburban retreat. In the second half of the nineteenth century, Milton experienced significant changes in its population, industry, and in the density of development on its landscape. Better connected to the metropolis of Boston through the implementation of the streetcar system, Milton became more accessible as a residential and commuter town, and subsequently saw a sharp decline in industrial and agricultural activity.
I.D. remodeled the Mansion, adding the kitchen and third floor addition, and built an ornamental new carriage barn. During I.D. Hayward’s tenure at the property, the estate was transformed from its primarily agricultural function toward a more leisured representation of rural life.
Census records provide another view into the Davenport Estate under I.D. Hayward, showing the delegation of manual and domestic labor to full-time help. In 1860, after the death of his first wife, I.D. is listed as living in the mansion house with his first-born son, George. Three Irish immigrants are also listed in his household: Catherine Grey (age 20), Mary Grey (age 23), and Ferdinand Kelly (age 32). Catherine and Mary’s occupations are listed as “Domestic,” Kelly as “Laborer.” In 1870, the final census taken during I.D.’s lifetime, the household shows greater expansion. In addition to I.D., his wife and their three children, three females are listed as domestic servants and two more men are listed as working on the farm. A woman aged 30, Margaret Welsh, and a girl aged 9, Delia Welsh, are enumerated. These appear to be family members of one of the male farm workers, Bartholomew Welsh, and are listed as “Keeping House” and “Attending School,” respectively. ( 11 )
I.D. Hayward died on 12 May 1878 at age fifty, leaving the property and several properties in Boston and Maine to his widow, Mary B.Vose Hayward, and his three children. Mary lived until 1901, dying at age 71. The property then passed to I.D. Hayward’s three children, George Griswold Hayward, son of I.D. and his first wife, Mary Griswold; and Mary and Roland, children of I.D. and his second wife, Mary.
Letter signed by confederate officer describing the release of John McClean
One of the fascinating stories found in the archives is the account of the arrest and release of I.D. Hayward’s cousin, John McLean Hayward, during the Civil War. A surgeon with the 12th Massachusetts Infantry, he was captured in Warrenton, VA by the Confederate Army. The letter, signed by the Confederate commanding officer, describes his capture and release as it related to the treatment of non-combatants- the rules of engagement forbid the capture of medical personnel.
Three generations of Davenport descendants
Twentieth Century Stewards, 1901-2004
Three generations of Davenport descendants occupied this property during the 20 th century, the chief property owners and occupants being first Mary Hayward Cunningham, then her cousin Henry P. Binney, and finally his daughter Mary May (“Polly”) Binney Wakefield.
Mary Hayward Cunningham (1863-1929), daughter of I.D. Hayward, owned the property from 1901, when her mother died until her own death. Mary had married Henry Winchester Cunningham (1860-1930) in 1899. The two had no children. An avid genealogist and historian, Henry Cunningham was very interested in local history and genealogy, and involved in many organizations of this nature, including the New England Historic Genealogical Society, and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
Mary Hayward and Henry Winchester Cunningham
During their years of ownership of the property, the Cunninghams executed a number of renovations to the Mansion with Colonial Revival finishes. They also added the Front Garden between the Mansion and the Carriage Barn that still exists in its original design. Additionally, Mary and Henry are believed to have split their time between a residence in Boston and their estate in Milton, though they are recorded as residents in Milton in the 1910 census.
Mary Cunningham died in Milton in 1929 at the age of 66. The estate was left to her husband Henry who passed away in 1930. According to Henry Cunningham’s obituary, for the last 23 years of his life he spent his summers at “the old estate on Brush Hill, Milton.” [ 12 ]  Mary’s cousin, Henry P. Binney (1863-1940) and his wife, Alberta Elliott Sturtevant (1880-1963), assumed control of the estate. Henry and Alberta had two children, Henry P. Binney (Jr., 1911-1995), known as Hal, and Mary May Binney (1914-2004), known as Polly. (12)
According to our research, Alberta Binney made a large contribution on the design and management of the landscape. Alberta had a number of connections to trained landscape architects, including her sister-in-law Mary Brown Sturdevant (1885-1982), who attended the Lowthorpe School of Landscape Architecture for Women. The Front Garden was created at this time.
It is likely that Alberta’s interest and contacts in the horticultural world had a significant impact on her daughter Polly. After attending The Winsor School, Polly enrolled in classes at the Cambridge School of Landscape Architecture and later becoming a full-time student at the Lowthorpe School in Groton, taking courses in landscape architecture and horticultural design.
Mary "Polly" Wakefield in the garden
Polly’s training was interrupted by her father’s illness, which delayed her graduation until 1938. In 1941, after her father’s death, instead of practicing professionally, Polly and her mother Alberta focused on making improvements to the estate. In 1952, Polly married Kennard Wakefield (1900-1988), when she was 38. After Alberta died in 1963, Polly and Kennard moved into the Mansion house and assumed control of the estate. 
Polly's outstanding contribution to the estate was her work on its landscape. Polly continued pursuing her interest in landscape architecture and horticulture, and developed a close relationship with the Arnold Arboretum in Jamaica Plain and its plant propagation staff, notably Donald Wyman, Alfred Fordham, Roger Coggeshall, with whom she collected her first Kousa dogwood seeds in 1956. Polly’s plant inventory of 1998 found nearly seventy species, with many still labeled as sourced from the Arnold Arboretum.
Polly Wakefield's kousa dogwoods
Polly was keenly interested in woody plants, and her work was especially focused on kousa dogwoods for more than forty years. Polly gathered seeds at the Arnold Arboretum in each year’s propagation classes, all from the same three trees, and grew specimens that expressed particular characteristics of bracts, fruit, bark, and growth habit. Polly hoped to develop cultivars that would allow gardeners to select for the unique conditions of their gardens, as well as how and where the trees would be viewed. By 1990, Polly estimated that there were over 600 kousa dogwoods on her property.
During her life, Polly was active in a wide variety of civic, garden and volunteer organizations. She was a founding member of the Friends of the Public Garden (Boston) in 1971 and chaired the horticulture planning committee for a number of years, writing about the park for Arnoldia in 1988. She was the first woman chair of the Massachusetts Conservation Council in 1972. For her work with dogwoods, and her considerable efforts to beautify public roads and parks, and to protect endangered species, Polly received the Amy Angell Collier Montague Medal for civic achievement from the Garden Club of America in 1983.
Before her death in 2004, Polly created the Mary M. B. Wakefield Charitable Trust to hold the property in perpetuity and use the landscape for learning and enjoyment. Since its creation in 2004, the Trust has developed a wide variety of educational programs for learners of all ages. For example, each year 2000 Boston-area school children enjoy a full day of outdoor environmental learning on the estate’s grounds. All of these programs follow Polly’s wish: “Let us all organize to establish contact between the land and the people.”   
In the years following Polly’s death in 2004, the estate’s trustees and staff have cemented the legacy of the ten generations who called this place home, gaining approval for the inclusion of the estate on the National Register of Historic Places, as well as gaining certification as an arboretum though Arbnet, and as a reference garden for the American Conifer Society. The estate hosts dozens of events and workshop throughout the year, and hundreds of visitors attend the estate’s signature event - Dogwood Days - held each June and timed with the bloom of Polly’s beloved collection of kousa dogwoods.
1. In Massachusetts, the Puritan approach to bringing Christianity to the Indians focused on segregation. Indians would be segregated into their own Christian villages, known as praying towns, where they would acquire both Christian faith and English culture. One of the first praying towns was Natick.
2. Albert K. Teele, The History of Milton 1640-ˇ1887, (Milton, 1887), Edward P. Hamilton, A History of Milton (Milton: Milton Historical Society, 1957).
3. Massachusetts Historical Commission. Reconnaissance Survey Town Report: Milton (1981).
4. Shelby Graham, Annie Rotner and Claire Dempsey, “Biographies of Wakefield Property Owners.”
5. Graham et al.
6. Zachary Violette, “Isaac Davenport House, Milton, Mass.,” (draft, Boston University, June 2008).
7. Ibid.
8. As quoted by Erin Doherty, "The Davenport Estate Land Use, Agriculture, and Architectural Display," Sept 2011.
9. Shelby Graham “Probate Summaries for Owners of the Wakefield Property, Milton, MA,” (September 2006)(Massachusetts Historical Commission. Reconnaissance Survey Town Report: Milton (1981).
10. Tamara Plakins Thornton. Cultivating Gentlemen: The Meaning of Country Life among the Boston Elite 1785-1860 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 1-6.
11. Erin Doherty, " The Davenport Estate Land Use, Agriculture, and Architectural Display," Sept 2011.
12. Graham et al. “Biographies,” 9.