The Historic Act of Saving the Loring Greenough House
By Dorothy A. Clark
Board member and chair of the Community Education Committee
It is difficult to imagine what the Loring Greenough House must have been like amid its original 60-acre rural landscape. It may be harder still to picture Jamaica Plain’s Monument Square without the big yellow Colonial-era mansion that sits at 12 South St. Fortunately, we don’t have to picture the neighborhood without it, thanks to the astute and historically forward-thinking members of the Jamaica Plain Tuesday Club (JPTC) of the 1920s.
Ninety-five years ago the JPTC took the bold step of acquiring the property, thus saving for eternity the last structure built during the Colonial period remaining in this part of the city. We recognize this anniversary and honor the legacy of community engagement that the JPTC left for today’s and future generations of members to carry on.
The property had already been sold when the club obtained the wherewithal to save it. Owner David Stoddard Greenough V, whose family had lived in the mansion for five generations, executed a deal in early 1924 with a group of developers headed by Thomas F. Ward. The group planned to tear down this piece of history and build triple-deckers and storefronts. Indeed, the property had seen quite a lot of history. It was built in 1760 by Joshua Loring, who, although born in Dorchester, sympathized with the British Crown on the subject of independence for the colonies. Loring, a Commodore in the Royal Navy as well as a privateer, was a stalwart Tory. His loyalties to Britain got him and his family run out of Jamaica Plain: they were forced to abandon the estate in 1774. They expected to return, but didn’t. Loring and his wife, the former Mary Curtis, lived out the rest of their days in England.
After interim use by the Continental forces and a couple of short-term ownerships, the estate came under Greenough ownership in 1784. David Stoddard Greenough I, a Harvard-trained lawyer and gentleman farmer, delighted in its “convenient out-houses, gardens planted with fruit trees, together with about sixty-five acres of mowing land,” as described in 1878 by historian Francis S. Drake, long gone or drastically modified. But the house is no less impressive edifice than it was when Loring had it constructed. At that time, the residence was, reportedly, located at the end of a lane near the town’s old pump station. During the Greenough family residence, the once 60-acre property was whittled down by subdivisions that expanded Jamaica Plain’s growth into one of Boston’s “streetcar suburbs” and its rural character became an urban one. By 1924, the property consisted of the 2 acres seen today.
When the JPTC learned of David Stoddard Greenough V’s business deal it sprang into action. Marguerite Souther interceded and persuaded Ward and his group of developers to allow the JPTC to purchase the property. Souther was the key figure in securing a mortgage for the estate on the club’s behalf (which was paid off in three years). Ward conveyed the property to Souther on July 30, 1924. She and her mother, Maria L. Souther, were instrumental in raising the funds needed to buy and restore the mansion. The elder Souther was JPTC president from 1912-1915. The younger Souther, who went by Rita, was well known in the community as an independent, upstanding woman who operated a dance school. She instructed boys and girls in the art of formal dance, an important part of a child’s cultural education at the time.
The JPTC’s act of saving the Loring Greenough House, known by some back then as the “famous revolutionary property,” received much praise. William Sumner Appleton, founder and secretary of the Society for the Preservation of New England Antiquities (now Historic New England), declared that the Georgian mansion was “a splendid civic asset.” With its very special brand of community engagement, Loring Greenough House continues to be a vital asset to the public. All are welcome to visit the grounds and explore the beautiful gardens, or go on a guided tour of the house interior to hear docents tell the stories of the Loring and Greenough families, as well as discuss the architecture and design of the house. A variety of events and programs are scheduled, from Thursdays on the Lawn to Sunday concerts to Tuesday in the Parlor lecture presentations. The mansion is also available for rentals, including weddings, showers and meetings.
When the JPTC filed incorporation papers with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, it stated as its purpose “to advance education, foster civic and community spirit, general philanthropy, and preserve for posterity the historic mansion known as the Loring-Greenough House” Members of the JPTC remain committed to executing this mission. Saving the Loring Greenough House was a historic act in 1924, an act that the JPTC is continuing today.