Fort Hill resident Colin T. told me about a story a friend of his had come across in a back issue of the quarterly magazine of the Reed Organ Society. Reed organs, also known as pump organs, were small organs commonly found in the 19th century in better homes and small churches that couldn’t afford full pipe organs. This story was about a seraphine made by Adam Stewart of Roxbury. Seraphines were early versions of reed organs.
The story is an amazingly well-researched history of an unusual seraphine that the authors found in Portsmouth, NH. The organ had a plate that identified it as made by Adam Stewart of Roxbury in December, 1838. The authors were able to track down Mr. Stewart’s entire history from his birth in Scotland in 1776, to his immigration to Baltimore in 1810, to his leaving his first wife and children and heading to Boston, where he fell in love with a woman he could not marry and had many more children with her. It must have been quite scandalous at the time.
Dr. Stewart was a machinist, piano-maker, inventor, and something of a physician, hence his title. He was apparently successful in at least one of his trades, as he was able to build the mansion that still stands at 48 Centre Street, along with a barn and outbuildings. After his death in 1842, his illegitimate family stayed on in the property until 1860. You can see the house and outbuildings listed as belonging to his son Edward on the 1852 map, and then see that it had been sold and the land subdivided by 1873.
I contacted the Reed Organ Society and they’ve graciously provided a PDF of the entire story of the seraphine, Dr. Stewart, and a bit of Fort Hill history. It’s a great story worth reading, and it contains plenty of hard-to-find details about the good doctor and his family that must have taken absolutely forever to put together, so head over to this link and download the PDF.
After you visit that link, you can read more about the house itself on a website put together by current owners Ed and Lisa, who did a marvelous job restoring it before moving to their current house on Highland St. I was lucky enough to get a tour of the house from some friends of mine who briefly lived there, and I can say that it’s both a magnificent property and that Dr. Stewart must have been quite wealthy to live in such a place. There are some differences about the original owners and builders in Ed and Lisa’s version, but both stories put the house at about 1835 and have Adam Stewart as the eventual owner by the time of his death in 1842.
Legend has it that Aerosmith used the large upstairs room as a practice space in the 1970s, continuing its musical heritage.
Thanks to Colin for the tip and a very big thanks to the board at the Reed Organ Society for allowing me to repost their PDF.