| Known as Mount Ida, this was built in 1793 at the summit of Bird?s Hill, just west of Meeting House Hill. The house was owned by Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris who sold it in 1840. It became the home of the Nahum Capen family in whose hands it remained until 1916, when it was demolished and the estate became Ronan Park.
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The Edward A. Huebener collection of over 100 bricks originally collected by Mr. Huebener exhibits brick paintings of the houses from which the bricks came. The bricks have upon them painted scenes of (mostly) old Dorchester houses and landmarks. To see a list of all the bricks, choose the term Architecture in the list at the left of the screen and choose the first subsection -- the Edward A. Huebener Brick Collection and scroll to the bottom of that page to see icons for all the bricks.
| Reverend Thaddeus Mason Harris was known as ?weeping Harris? for the moving sermons he preached, and he was so well known that some maps show the First Parish Church in Dorchester with the caption ?Dr. Harris Church.?
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Thaddeus Mason Harris (1767-1842) was born in Charlestown. His father was a Revolutionary patriot who died during the war, leaving his family destitute. Thaddeus worked his way through Harvard College; then he returned to study theology. After receiving his M.A., he served as librarian of the University from 1791 to 1793 while waiting for an opening in the ministry, which came in 1793 as a call from the First Church in Dorchester. Though the church was considered to be Unitarian, Harris himself always rejected denominational labels.
| On January 28, 1795, he married Mary daughter of Elijah and Dorothy (Lynde) Dix of Worcester. Their son Thaddeus William Harris also served as Librarian of Harvard and was one of the first American economic entomologists. In 1795 and 1796 Rev. Thaddeus edited the Massachusetts Magazine. In 1802 he caught yellow fever, and to renew his strength made a four-month western tour with Seth Adams and John Dix; in 1803 he published a four-volume Minor Encyclopedia; in 1805 he published a Journal of a Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Alleghany Mountains. In 1820 he published a Natural History of the Bible, which was pirated in England, where it sold widely. In December 1833, after a long illness, he spent five months in Georgia; and gathered materials for his Biographical Memorials of James Oglethorpe (1841). He resigned his pastorate in 1836.
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From 1837 until his death he was librarian of the Massachusetts Historical Society. He was an overseer of Harvard, a superintendent of public schools, and a member of numerous learned and humanitarian societies. He was for many years chaplain to the grand lodge of Freemasons in Massachusetts, and he often spoke and wrote in defense of Masonry. In addition to the works already mentioned, he published forty-eight sermons and addresses and twelve other works, including several in verse.
Map detail from the 1874 Hopkins Atlas showing the Nahum Capen property, earlier the Thaddeus Mason Harris property.
| From American Series of Popular Biographies. Massachusetts Edition:
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NAHUM CAPEN, LL.D., publisher and writer, tireless student of natural science and of politics, counsellor of statesmen and authors, best remembered, perhaps, in Boston today as Postmaster of the city, 1857-61, and the originator of important improvements in the postal service, was a native of Canton, Norfolk County, this State. Born April 1, 1804, son of Andrew and Hannah (Richards) Capen, he was of the seventh generation in descent from Bernard Capen, an early settler of Dorchester.
Nahum Capen had an active mind, was fond of books, and early began to form opinions and judgments and to cultivate the art of expression. At the age of nineteen he devoted himself to rewriting Plutarch?s Lives, adding notes and comments. His choice for a profession was medicine; and he began the study with his brother, Dr. Robert Capen, but discontinued it by reason of ill health, retaining, however, through life his interest in medical science, and enjoying the friendship of eminent physicians and surgeons. An admirer of and follower of Franklin, he gave much attention from his youth onward to different branches of physics, experimenting in electricity, light, magnetism, and as a pioneer in the field of meteorology, keeping a weather journal as early as 1824. In 1825 he started in business as a bookseller and publisher, being one of the enterprising firm of Marsh, Capen & Lyon, of Boston, later Marsh, Capen, Lyon & Webb. In regard to manuscripts the firm adopted a high standard, Mr. Capen being, as was to be expected, ?an independent critic,? hesitating not ?candidly to advise authors according to his best judgment in respect to their merits and demerits.? Mr. Capen was selected by Nathaniel Hawthorne to read his first work, and it was published anonymously. To his credit it is recorded that he saw the genius of Hawthorne, ?and encouraged it.? Distinguished writers, both American and British, among them Judge Story, Dr. Jacob Bigelow, Edward Everett, Charles W. Upham, Mrs. Stowe, Miss Sedgwick, George Combe, Captain Marryat, and others, were represented in the publications of the firm; and, among the lions of literature of that memorable epoch whose works passed the hands of Mr. Capen, were Washington Irving, Bulwer Lytton, and Hawthorne. The regular visitors at ?Mount Ida,? the home of Mr. Capen, included Longfellow, Bryant, G.B.R. James, Horace Mann, Peter Cooper, and the younger Audubon. In 1837 Mr. Capen wrote letters favoring an international copyright law (his own firm being the first, it is said, to pay a premium to foreign authors); and in 1844 he sent Congress an eloquent memorial advocating the passage of such a law.
In 1874 it became known that Mr. Capen was the author of a book published nearly fifty years before that date, entitled ?The Mental Guide, being a Compend of the First Principles of Metaphysics and a System of Attaining an Easy and Correct Mode of Thought and Style in Composition, based on the Analysis of the Human Mind,? a book highly spoken of by eminent scholars of its day.
While preparing a ?History of Man,? Mr. Capen had his attention directed to phrenology; and, taking an interest in the subject, he became the confidential friend of Spurzheim, then popular as a lecturer in Boston. And after the death of that philosopher, in 1832, he wrote a biography of him, and edited some of his works. He also wrote a Life of Dr. Gall, and edited his works and some of Dr. Combe?s. Of the Boston Phrenological Society, organized in 1833, the Rev. John Pierpont was the first president, Dr. Samuel G. Howe corresponding secretary, and Mr. Capen recording secretary.
Retiring from the publishing business in 1845, Mr. Capen continued to work with his pen, compiling records, contributing to newspapers and magazines, and issuing pamphlets on political and other topics. A Democrat, firm in the faith, he wrote on Free Trade and Usury and ?The Indissoluble Nature of the Union,? edited in 1851 the writings of Judge Levi Woodbury, in 1850 beginning his greatest undertaking, the ?History of Democracy.?
Appointed Postmaster at Boston in 1857 by President Buchanan, in recognition of his eminent services to his party, Mr. Capen entered upon the duties of that office on October 1. His zealous efficiency as a public servant at once made itself felt. Many improvements in the postal service date their origin from his official term, and were adopted at his suggestion. One of the oldest and most efficient officers of the department at Washington, writing the Boston Post on the occasion of Mr. Capen?s death, gave him credit for more improvements than had been adopted during the century up to that time, among them being the street letter boxes, stations of delivery in large cities, and free delivery.
In 1874 appeared the first volume (seven hundred pages) of the ?History of Democracy; or, Political Progress historically illustrated from the Earliest to the Latest Period.? This crowning work was undertaken at the urgent request of President Polk, Governor Marcy, James Buchanan, General Cass, Vice-President Dallas, Professor Henry, and other Democratic leaders of that day. Undeterred by the magnitude of his task, the completion of a work of four volumes, Mr. Capen at eighty was ?thinking vigorously and writing pointedly as ever.? At his death, January 8, 1886, the second and third volumes existed in manuscript, the fourth remaining unfinished. As far as completed, it represented the unremitting labors of thirty-five years. Mr. Capen?s ?Reminiscences of Dr. Spurzheim and George Combe? were published in 1881.
Liberal in religious faith, Mr. Capen attended in his later years the Unitarian church. He married in 1830 Miss Elizabeth A. Moore, of Boston, Mass., and had four children.
He resides  in Dorchester, on the Capen estate, Mount Ida, purchased by his father in 1840, formerly the residence of the Rev. Dr. Thaddeus M. Harris.
Description of Nahum Capen property:
Dorchester Beacon Nov. 18, 1916
Editor of the Beacon: --
In the passing of the old Capen estate on Percival street, ?Mt. Ida,? the deed of which went on record last Friday?Dorchester loses one of her few remaining old landmarks dear to the memory of many Dorchestrians. This old mansion, crowning the top of Mt. Ida, was erected in 1794 by the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, then pastor of the First Church, Meeting House Hill and used as the ?Parsonage? till 1840, when the title passed to Nahum Capen, and it has been held since that date by the Capen family.
Nahum Capen was a man of scholarly attainments and one of the old publishers and booksellers of Boston, and postmaster of Boston, (1856 to 1860). He was the first publisher in this country to publish the first works of Hawthorne, Dickens, and Poe, and was on very intimate terms with many famous men of his generation, and among them many visitors at ?Mt. Ida? (the name first given by Mr. Capen to his own place and afterwards applied to the whole hill) were Longfellow, W.C. Brant, James Audubon, Peter Cooper and others of equal fame.
The old estate was first encroached on about 17 years ago when 9 acres were sold to a syndicate, who put Mr. Ida road, Draper and other streets through the property.
Before this time part of the estate was for many years used as one of the show farms of the good old town of Dorchester. Edward Nahum Capen, who succeeded his father, wa on of dorchester?s most respected citizens and one of the head officials of the Standard Oil co., till his death in 1915 at the old house.
Thus passes out forever, one of its oldest landmarks long-linked with its history and associations as the old buildings are eon to be taken down and the land to be cut up into house lots.
An Old Dorchestrian
Woodcut in the collection of the Dorchester Historical Society showing the estate known as Mount Ida or Mount Potosi, owned by Thaddeus Mason Harris.
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Created: May 24, 2008 Modified: April 14, 2011