Kewhew-Wright House, 24 Grampian Way

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No. 18701 Kew-Wright House, 24 Grampian Way from Boston Landmark Study Report.

The following is from the study report for the Kehew-Wright House from the Boston Landmarks Commission.  Although the Commission voted for Landmark Status, the Boston City Council vetoed the designation.

The Kehew-Wright House was built ca. 1871 as a single-family home. An outbuilding that was originally constructed as a stable was later used as a squash court, storage barn, and home workshop. From the time the house was constructed, the property has had five owners. It remained in residential use until 2012, and is presently unoccupied.

Physical Description

24 Grampian Way occupies a gently sloping site containing nearly three-quarters of an acre of land. At the back of the property, the land drops down sharply to Savin Hill Avenue, affording unobstructed views of the downtown Boston skyline and Dorchester Bay. The house is set well back from Grampian Way, slightly off-center within the parcel, while a large stable occupies the northwest corner. A semi-circular driveway bisects the 40-foot deep front setback. Landscaping consists primarily of lawn, with shrubbery along the front foundation and irregularly spaced, mature trees throughout the site. A remnant of an early metal fence survives at the northeast corner of the property.

Constructed in the early 1870s, both the house and stable are two stories high, with puddingstone foundations, mansard roofs, and wood-frame construction with wood clapboards and trim. The house contains 3,466 square feet of living space, while the stable is 1,400 square feet in size. Roofing material typically consists of slate shingles, uniformly rectangular in shape on the house and decoratively patterned on the stable.


The Kehew-Wright House is approximately 40 feet square and rises two stories above a fully exposed basement level at the back. The dominant mansard roof form is elaborated by two steep cross-gambrels, one centered on the south façade and one located at the north bay of the west elevation. Enlivening the simple rectangular volume of the main block are an assortment of three-dimensional projections: a large, square-shaped front entry porch; a linear porch wrapping around the north (back) and part of the east elevations; a small, one-story angled bay and a small projecting entrance vestibule on the east elevation; and a larger, two-story angled bay on the west elevation, which extends from the basement and first floor levels. In the late 20th century, a small angled bay window was added at the basement level of the north (back) elevation, under the porch, along with an enclosed sunroom over the front entrance porch.

Site plans and maps suggest that the building previously had other porch configurations. An 1873 survey shows a porch on the west side of the house only, following the contours of the straight wall and bay window. The 1904 and 1910 atlases indicate porches on all four sides of the house. The relatively rough stonework of the entire foundation suggests that it was likely not intended to be exposed. The present owners, whose family acquired the house 60 years ago, recall only the extant porches.

Exterior walls are sheathed with wood clapboards and trimmed with flat stock trim at the sill boards, corner boards, windows and doors, and fascia. Eaves are trimmed with a narrow cornice molding and with slender triangular braces at the south façade, east and west bay windows, and shed-roofed dormer windows. The flat band course that runs just above the window lintels on the main (first) floor of the building is prominently trimmed with a rick-rack edge with circular piercings. In the bay windows on the east and west elevations, panels above the windows contain vertical board sheathing and decorative X-shaped bracing. The cross gambrel on the west elevation is distinguished by a king-post truss and a small oculus window at the peak.

The side and back porches feature thick square posts, a low balustrade with delicately sawn fretwork and a thick molded handrail, and a frieze band with vertical boards articulated with a rick-rack bottom edge, similar to the band course on the main house.

Windows typically display 2/2 double-hung wood sash with plain flat trim; some have 6/6 wood storm sash. Wood doors feature horizontal panels surmounted by a large glass pane.

The formal south façade consists of three bays, with a center entrance flanked by single windows. The large entry porch is the dominant feature, with chamfered posts, a vertical board fascia with small chamfered brackets, and double-leaf doors with etched glass panes. The windows in the outer bays are framed with vertical boards suggesting structural members. The side and back elevations are asymmetrical in composition. On the main (first) floor, the north elevation contains double-leaf French doors in its westernmost bay, while a tall window opening in the south bay of the west elevation may once have contained a door to a former porch.

Relatively minor exterior changes are documented in building permits from 1915 and 1948. In 1915, George Wright and his builder, Peter F. Lamont, received permission to add a new room to the top of the roof (the northeast corner), for use as a bedroom. Peter F. and John J. Lamont constructed several other buildings on Savin Hill between 1914 and 1917, including a group of four Colonial Revival style, triple-decker houses on Bayside Street, and a Craftsman style commercial building on Denny Street. In 1948, a building permit authorized repairing fire damage to a “small portion” of the building, specifying a new floor timber on the second floor, new flooring, and new interior finishes.

Other notable alterations, made by the Tomasini family in the late 20th century, include the following: changing portions of the porch roofs from pitched to flat; reinforcing part of the foundation on the west elevation with poured concrete and creating an adjacent patio; and adding the present front steps, the enclosed sunroom over the front porch, the bay window in the north elevation of the basement, and the lattice screens under the side and back porches. Lack of maintenance has resulted in widespread deterioration of wood elements on the porches and at the eaves of the house.


Measuring approximately 50 feet long by 28 feet deep, the stable is a simple rectangular structure. Its mansard roof is enlivened by a band of diamond-shaped shingles in the middle of the lower slope, shed-roofed dormers with scalloped slate shingles and small sawn brackets, and a rectangular center cupola with louvered sides and scalloped and diamond-shaped roof shingles. All elevations are asymmetrical. The south façade is accentuated by a center cross-gambrel with a pair of barn doors on the main floor surmounted by a diagonally-boarded hayloft door and a hoisting beam. A low stone retaining wall extends south from the southwest corner of the stable.

The stable walls are sheathed with wood clapboards and trimmed with plain flat stock at the corner boards, fenestration, and fascia. Most doors and windows have sawn lintel boards with an applied wood sphere on each decoratively shaped end. Windows are 2/2 double-hung wood sash in the dormers, with one 6/6 window on the west elevation of the main floor. Many of the window openings are presently filled with plywood or fixed louvered panels. Two double-leaf barn doors are located on the south façade, with standard single-leaf doors in the west bay of the façade and the north bay of the east elevation. The barn doors are constructed of vertical boards with X-braced panels at the bottom and glazing above, prominent strap hinges, and ornamental metal door knobs.

The original building permit for the stable is dated November 1873, with Robert T. Gliddon entered as the builder; no architect is noted. The form states that the purpose of the building was a stable, and that it was to be heated by stoves. The building inspector’s final report, issued in September 1874, lists the builder of the stable as Dwight J. and John F. Haines, who likely were brothers. The 1870 census shows a Robert T. Gliddon, carpenter, age 40, living in Boston. The city directories list both Gliddon and the Haineses as carpenters through the early 1870s.

Historic Significance

The Kehew-Wright House is notable for several historical and architectural qualities: as an early example of the fashionable, late 19th century suburban development of Savin Hill, retaining its relatively large lot and early stable; for the fanciful, Stick Style influence on the design of both structures; and for its associations with several prominent figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, in a wide range of fields: William Prescott Hunt, a wealthy industrialist; John Kehew, a maker of nautical instruments and oil merchant; and George Wright, an early baseball celebrity, sporting goods businessman, and sports promoter.

Suburban development of Savin Hill

In 1630, Savin Hill was the setting for the first permanent English settlement in Dorchester, chosen for its easily defensible topography. This attribute later contributed to the area’s use for barracks of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and for American fortifications during the War of 1812. The area was otherwise sparsely settled through the 18th and early 19th centuries, however, until new development was initiated by the nearby construction of the first seaside hotel in the Boston area, the Tuttle House, in 1822.

In 1844, the Old Colony Railroad constructed a new railroad line south from Boston that passed just west of Savin Hill, which acquired a station at the crossing of Savin Hill Avenue. Seeing a new development opportunity, entrepreneurs William Worthington and Edward B. Robinson bought nearly the entire Savin Hill peninsula and in 1845 laid out a subdivision that featured most of the existing street pattern and nearly 150 house lots. Only about 10 houses were constructed by 1850, and another dozen by 1870. These consisted largely of sizeable, architect-designed residences, many of them combining multiple original house lots. Another dozen high-style houses were built in the early 1870s, before the Panic of 1873 and subsequent financial depression halted growth for most of the following decade. Into the last decade of the 19th century, Savin Hill was a fashionable, upper middle class suburb, with successful Boston businessmen occupying elegant, picturesque homes. Three nearby yacht clubs (established in 1870, 1875, and 1891) completed the genteel atmosphere of the area.

In the 1890s, changing demographics and increasing land values led to an influx of lower-middle class and working class residents on Savin Hill. Many of the earlier estates were subdivided and re-developed. Architectural quality continued to be high, although two and three-family houses became more prevalent. About three-quarters of Savin Hill’s existing buildings were constructed after 1890.

24 Grampian Way

The Kehew-Wright House was associated with members of the inter-married Hunt and Kehew families for its first decade and a half (1871 to 1887), and members of the Wright family for the following sixty years (1887 to 1948). William Prescott Hunt owned the property from 1865 to 1873, when he sold it to his wife’s sister, Nancy Kehew. The Kehew family owned and occupied the house from 1873 to 1887, when it was acquired by Abbie A. Wright, the wife of George Wright. The Wright family lived here until 1948, when the property was bought by Joseph and Alice Repoff. The Repoffs, who appear not to have occupied the property themselves, sold to Raymond Tomasini three years later, in 1951. The Tomasini family continues to own 24 Grampian Way.

William Prescott Hunt

William P. Hunt (1827-1911) bought the undeveloped property here in 1865, mortgaged it with buildings thereon in 1871, and sold it to his sister-in-law in 1873. During the time he owned the Kehew-Wright House, Hunt lived next door in a mansion facing Savin Hill Avenue, and was distinguished for his management of a nationally-known iron goods factory and for his leading roles in a multitude of other industries and commercial businesses. (See photograph, Figure 12.)

Hunt began his career as a clerk to the treasurer of the South Boston Iron Company in 1847, rising to treasurer and then president of the company from 1863 through 1890. The business was founded in 1809 by Cyrus Alger, incorporated in 1827, and re-organized as the South Boston Iron Works in 1884. During the mid-19th century, it was the largest foundry in the United States. The firm was renowned for its work producing military weapons, ammunition, and equipment for the U.S. army and navy throughout the 19th century, from the War of 1812 through the Spanish American War of 1898. Most famously, the company helped outfit the ironclad Union battleship, the Monitor, during the Civil War. Hunt also had major business interests (as president, director, trustee, and/or investor) in a variety of other manufacturing companies, a bank, and an insurance company in Massachusetts; iron mines in New York; and three iron and coal companies in Ohio, one of which (the Standard Company) was backed by members of the Rockefeller and Ames families.

An early 20th century history of outstanding businessmen in Massachusetts extols Hunt’s significance during the Civil War—in contributing to the bombardments of Port Royal (South Carolina), Charleston, Mobile, New Orleans, Richmond, and Petersburg, and in battles at sea—along with his civic contributions as a life member of the Museum of Fine Arts and the YMCA.

Hunt owned and occupied a large, high style estate at the corner of Grampian Way and Savin Hill Avenue, which was built between 1860 and 1865. An early photograph shows a 2 1/2 story, wood-frame Italianate mansion facing west towards a semi-circular drive off Savin Hill Avenue, with a barn to its northeast. The buildings were demolished and the land subdivided after Hunt died, in the early 20th century.

In 1871, Hunt married his second wife, Helen Cummings, whose sister Nancy was married to John Kehew. A few months after his marriage, Hunt mortgaged a property that is now part of 24 Grampian Way, “with the buildings thereon”. (When Hunt purchased the land in 1865, there was no mention of buildings.) City directories first show John Kehew as living at Grampian Way in 1871, although the Kehews did not purchase this property until 1873— in Nancy Kehew’s name, and subject to Hunt’s 1871 mortgage.

No building permit has been found for the Kehew-Wright House. The preponderance of available evidence suggests that Hunt had the house built for his new sister-in-law and her husband ca. 1871. Interestingly but perhaps inaccurately, however, the genealogy for Helen Cummings Hunt’s family relates that Helen met William “while visiting her sister Nancy, as his place adjoined the Kehews’ at Savin Hill.” . Further research is needed to confirm the exact date and circumstances of construction of the house. In 1884, Hunt continued to own not only his estate to the west of 24 Grampian Way, but also five undeveloped parcels to the east. Most of these parcels were developed and all were owned by others by 1904.

The Cummings family genealogy contains a rare depiction of Hunt’s domestic life. The document reports that Hunt’s second wife, Helen Sumner Cummings (1841-1918),

“Married Sept. 28, 1871, William Prescott Hunt, a widower with young children – William Jr., Harry, Arthur, and Mary – whom she met while visiting her sister Nancy, as his place adjoined the Kehews’ at Savin Hill. Everyone apparently was aware of Mr. Hunt’s interest except Helen. (The small Hunts organized a society – “IHPMMC” – “I Hope Papa Marries Miss Cummings”). At the first evidence of his intentions – a large box of flowers – she fled back to Smiths Mills [part of the town of Dartmouth in southeastern Massachusetts], but he followed and won her. They went up the Nile on their wedding trip, guided by ‘Faraway Moses,’ Mark Twain’s dragoman. Their home at Savin Hill with its music-room and picture-gallery, was the main rendezvous of all the family, and headquarters of the boys while at Harvard. Helen had abundant charm as well as courage – radiantly young in spirit, intensely interested in others and devoted to her family.” 

In further personal connections between the Hunt and Kehew families, William and Helen Hunt’s son, John, was married to Barbara Seccomb, who was likely related to John Kehew’s business partner, Eben Seccomb. In 1889, William Hunt was one of the pallbearers at Kehew’s funeral.

John Kehew

The first known occupant of 24 Grampian Way, John Kehew (1818-1889) bought the property in 1873 (although he seems to have moved here in 1871) and lived here until 1887. Before he occupied the Kehew-Wright House, Kehew was well-known in New England for his business in manufacturing and importing mathematical and nautical instruments in New Bedford, and for his partnership for several years with a nationally-prominent instrument maker, Edward Ritchie, in Boston. By the time he lived at Grampian Way, Kehew was partner in an oil business that supplied, among others customers, numerous textile mills in Massachusetts.

John Kehew came from a rich maritime heritage. He was born to John and Eunice Browne Kehew in Salem, Mass., which was one of America’s leading seaports for the international trade in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The elder John Kehew was a ship’s captain out of Salem; he is celebrated for commanding the America as a privateer in the War of 1812, during a four-month cruise in which she captured ten British vessels. The America— one of the largest and fastest American-built merchant ships of its time— was one of forty privateers that Salem contributed to that conflict, and is said to have been the most successful.

The younger John Kehew may have learned his trade in nautical instruments from an uncle, Samuel Emery of Salem, who was an instrument maker and silversmith there in the early 19th century. During that period, Salem was also home to Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), an internationally-recognized mathematician, navigator, and astronomer, who published what became a standard manual on maritime navigation, the American Practical Navigator (1802).

During his career in New Bedford in the 1840s and ‘50s, John Kehew advertised himself as an importer and manufacturer, selling nautical, optical, and mathematical instruments and “as complete an assortment of charts of all parts of the world visited by whalemen, as is required to make a complete navigation establishment.”3 Kehew’s business in compasses, octants, sextants, and nautical charts served New Bedford’s whaling industry in its golden age, spanning the early to mid-19th century. Kehew’s merchandise is represented today in the New Bedford Whaling Museum, Mystic Seaport, and private collections.

In the late 18th century, scientists made major advances in maritime navigation,

including accurately determining longitude at sea (through such devices as chronometers for celestial navigation, and octants and sextants for measuring altitude) and in the greater availability of printed guides and charts (including coastal surveys and data on winds and currents). During the early 19th century, these charts, publications, and instruments became far more accurate, available, and affordable, and contributed to the tremendous prosperity of the shipping, whaling, and fishing industries.

New Bedford’s whaling fleet peaked in 1857, with 329 vessels employing more than 10,000 men. Kehew left New Bedford ca. 1860 and next appears, in the Boston directories from 1863 through 1865, working for E. S. Ritchie & Co. (One historian claims that Ritchie and Kehew were collaborating by 1862.) Edward Samuel Ritchie (1814-1895) was the country’s foremost maker of scientific and navigational instruments in the 19th century. Ritchie and Kehew met in New Bedford, where Ritchie worked as a ship chandler in the 1840s. In 1850, Ritchie established a business of making and selling scientific instruments in Boston. When Kehew joined the firm it was renamed E.S. Ritchie & Co., selling both nautical and other “philosophical” (i.e., scientific) instruments.

In 1861, the U.S. Navy had solicited American-made navigational instruments, and Kehew is said to have joined Ritchie during development of the first successful liquid compass—called “the first major improvement in compass technology in several hundred years”.4 The Navy used this compass exclusively for the next 40 years, and tens of thousands were also sold to private merchant ships. Concurrently, Ritchie & Co. also invented a compass that could function aboard ironclad vessels, perhaps providing the connection between Kehew and William P. Hunt, whose iron works was simultaneously developing other equipment for ironclad war ships. More research is necessary to determine Kehew’s role in these two inventions, for which Ritchie received patents.

Kehew left Ritchie & Co. in 1866, at which time Ritchie’s sons joined the firm, which continues in business today. In 1866, Kehew established himself as an oil merchant, as a partner in the firm of Seccomb [also spelled Secomb], Kehew, & Thayer, where he remained until his death in 1889. The business was located near Boston Harbor (on Broad, India, and Purchase streets, consecutively) and sold a variety of oils for lighting, heating, and industrial applications. An 1867 directory shows the firm dealing in sperm and whale oil, curriers’ oil (used to turn animal hides into leather), and kerosene and coal oil, connecting the firm with several of New England’s leading industries in the late 19th century.

Kehew’s familiarity with New Bedford and its whaling industry may have been influential in this career change. Whale oil was used for lamps, candles, and lubricating fine machinery. The latter application was not inconsequential: A discussion at the annual meeting of the New England Cotton Manufacturers Association in 1868 records that Secomb, Kehew & Thayer was an important supplier to this industry, which relied on the product to keep its textile machinery operating smoothly.

Kehew’s residence in Boston changed every year or two between 1863 and 1871, when the city directories first locate him at Grampian Way. The building permit for the stable, dated the month after the Kehews acquired the property in 1873, lists John Kehew as the property owner. The 1880 census shows John and Nancy Kehew living here with three servants— two young women and a young man, immigrants from Nova Scotia and Ireland. After selling 24 Grampian Way in 1887, the Kehews moved to the Back Bay section of Boston, where John died two years later.

Few details are known of John Kehew’s life. In a passport application dated 1868, he is described as nearly 5 feet 10 inches tall, with dark hazel eyes, “aquiline” nose, small mouth, black hair, and “dark” complexion.5 (See photo, Figure 13) Kehew was married first to Sarah Howland Allen (1825-1856), with whom he had two children who survived to adulthood. He was married second to Nancy Tucker Cummings (1829-1891), whose family had various mercantile businesses and invested in whaling vessels in New Bedford. (See photo, Figure 14) The Cummings family genealogy reports that Nancy

“Married July 27, 1858, John Kehew, a widower with two children, William and Elizabeth. They lived first in New Bedford, then at Savin Hill near Boston. She was of sterner stuff than her sisters. No children. Kehew was in the nautical instrument business, first for himself in New Bedford, then with E.S. Ritchie & Co., in Boston. (They called their stock ‘philosophical instruments’). He was later in [the] oil business in Boston.”

A publication called “Twenty Thousand Rich New Englanders; A List of Taxpayers Who Were Assessed in 1888 to Pay a Tax of One Hundred Dollars or More” includes business partners Eben Secomb and John Kehew. At Kehew’s death, obituaries were published in the Boston Weekly Journal and the Boston Daily Globe. The latter article noted that the funeral was held in St. Paul’s Church, Boston, with a half-dozen eminent pallbearers, and that a large cortege followed the remains by train to his burial in New Bedford.

George Wright

Best-known today of the occupants of 24 Grampian Way is George Wright (1847­1937), who bought the Kehew-Wright House in 1887 and lived here until his death in 1937. (The Wright family continued to occupy the property until 1948.) George Wright was one of the country’s first professional baseball celebrities, who parlayed his fame and talent into a successful sporting goods business and an

influential national role as a sports promoter. Wright was largely retired as an active baseball player by the time he occupied 24 Grampian Way, but his contributions to American sports history (including the popularization and organization of baseball, golf, and tennis as recreational and professional activities) were pivotal during his tenure here. Wright’s two sons, who were distinguished athletes in their own right, also occupied the house during the early parts of their careers.

Wright was the son of English immigrants Samuel and Ann Wright, who had moved to the United States ca. 1836. Samuel Wright was a professional cricket player, and his sons Harry, George, and Sam all played professional cricket as well as major league baseball. Both George and Harry were inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (in 1937 and 1953, respectively).

George Wright was a national figure in American sports from his appearance on the first acknowledged, all-professional baseball team, in 1869, until his death in 1937. In 1869 and 1870, Wright played for the Cincinnati Red Stockings— who were captained and managed by his brother Harry— and contributed to the team’s sensational winning streak of 81 games. At five feet, nine inches tall and 150 pounds, George Wright played shortstop and boasted a batting average of .633 for Cincinnati. Baseball histories observe that Wright established not only a standard for modern play of his position, but also a precedent for sports celebrities:

“He was the first of the ‘roving’ shortstops. While others played an almost stationary position to the right of the pitcher, George roamed the base line between second and third base. Crowds screamed with delight whenever he scampered in or out to snag the ‘bounding rock’ and fire it to first base to retire a runner.”

Fans also responded to Wright’s charisma. “Possessing dashing good looks, the 22-year-old George was particularly popular with female fans, who were known to scandalously lift their skirts to reveal their red-stockinged ankles in George’s presence.”

In 1871, George and Harry Wright moved to Boston, where they established the Boston Red Stockings team.9

“With George maintaining his exemplary play, the Boston Red Stockings dominated the nascent National Association [the first professional baseball league], winning pennants in four of the Association’s first five years. The club’s success continued in the new National League [NL], which began play in 1876 and counted the Boston club as its champion in two of its first three years of operation. Appropriately, George was the first player to bat in the NL’s first game”

After brief detours as a player/manager with the Providence Grays team in 1879 and 1882, Wright retired as an active baseball player in 1882. In his obituary in 1937, The New York Times reported that “Mr. Wright established himself as one of the outstanding baseball players of his time. By many he was regarded as the best all-around performer on the diamond in the late Sixties and through the Seventies.” (See photo, Figure 15.) The Boston Globe wrote in its obituary that “He was a wonderful shortstop, covering a wide range of territory; was a fast base runner and heavy hitter. There probably has never been a faster or more accurate thrower. The writer recalls his curly hair, his gleaming white teeth and his ever-present smile, denoting his evident enjoyment in the game.”

Throughout his retirement, Wright remained an active fan. He regularly and frequently attended games at Fenway Park and Braves Field in Boston until shortly before his death, and returned to Cincinnati for the 1919 World Series between the Cincinnati Reds and Chicago White Sox. Wright was a member of the second group of inductees into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in 1937, along with pitcher Cy Young and manager Connie Mack. The honor was given the year after Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth were inducted, and two years before Lou Gehrig and Wright’s former teammate and business associate, A.G. Spalding, were elevated.

Soon after arriving in Boston in 1871, Wright established a lucrative sideline selling baseball goods: with Wright & Gould (C. Harvey Gould) in 1871 and 1872; under just his own name from 1873 through 1879; and as part of Wright & Ditson beginning in 1880. (See photo, Figure 16.) Wright began manufacturing his own equipment in 1875, after buying the patent for the first catcher’s mask from a Harvard University player.

Located in downtown Boston (with a factory in Wakefield, Mass.), Wright & Ditson went on to become the city’s pre-eminent sporting goods business, and a nationally-known company. Harry Ditson, the junior partner in the firm, died in 1891. The business formed a “silent partnership”12 that year with the sporting goods conglomerate of A.G. Spalding and Brothers, which bought out Ditson’s interest at Wright’s request.13 The name of Wright & Ditson was maintained, as an independent division, and Wright continued as its active president through at least 1926. (See photo, Figure 17.)

Wright was one of a handful of former baseball players to enter the sporting goods business, along with his former teammate, pitcher Albert Goodwill (A.G.) Spalding in Chicago, and Alfred James (A.J.) Reach in Philadelphia. In the late 19th century, athletes had low social status, and most retired players slipped into low-status, low-paying obscurity. Less than 15% found high-paying, white-collar jobs, most of these as businessmen in sports-related enterprises.14 With baseball evolving into the national pastime after the Civil War, as both a popular and professional sport, the growing demand for athletic equipment led to the proliferation of sporting goods merchandisers by the 1870s.

Wright & Ditson capitalized on this opportunity by selling and manufacturing equipment and uniforms not only for baseball but also for lawn tennis, golf, cricket, and hockey. (See Figure 18.) By the early 1900s, the company was known for the precision craftsmanship of its products, which were purchased by both professionals and recreational athletes. Advertisements for Wright & Ditson were placed in leading sporting publications nationwide, and celebrity players were often hired to consult on and promote new products. (See Figure 19.)

The firm also published its own guidebooks (on baseball, golf, tennis, polo, and home exercise), which served as important sources of information on sporting organizations, official rules, game and tournament schedules, and athletes’ and team records. The guides also had vital commercial functions in promoting company products, associating the company name with various sports, and generating revenue from advertisements. Examples of Wright & Ditson’s guidebooks are found today in the Baker Library of Harvard’s business school and in the archives of Historic New England.

Not coincidentally, advancing popular interest and participation in sports also promoted sporting-goods businesses. Described as “strong willed and opportunistic” as a ballplayer,15 Wright brought the same qualities to his business activities, embroidered with a heightened sense of showmanship. He traveled the country and the world in support of baseball and tennis; was instrumental in popularizing golf in the United States; participated in demonstration games, organized tours, and sponsored tournaments; and raised awareness of ice hockey, curling, and squash. Wright also continued to play cricket into the late 1890s, at the Longwood Cricket Club in Chestnut Hill, and is said to have been one of the best players in the country.16

During the late 19th century, America was dramatically transformed by industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. Concurrently, increased attention was paid to health and recreation, and both leisure time and disposable income increased. Sports became available to more than just the elite and appealed to the cultural ideals of the pastoral landscape, individualism, and democracy. Development of new forms of transportation (trains and streetcars) and communication (telegraph, magazines, newspapers, and photography) made it easy to stage and attend events, and to distribute sports news quickly to a broad audience.

The list of George Wright’s activities as sports promoter and enthusiast is long. In baseball, he participated as an active player in tours of the western U.S. in 1869 and England in 1874 (where the Americans also played cricket against, and beat, the local teams); joined a promotional trip of American all-stars around the world in 1888-89, after his retirement (visiting Australia, Egypt, Italy, and England); coached the American team in an exhibition baseball game at the summer Olympic Games in Sweden in 1912; and from 1905 to 1907 served on the Mills Commission, which famously and incorrectly identified the origin of American baseball, attributing it Abner Doubleday of Cooperstown, New York.

Wright was only a recreational golfer himself, but he was a pioneer in popularizing golf in the United States. Obituaries in both The New York Times and Boston Globe, among other historical sources, called him the father of the game in this country. Legend claims that Wright was intrigued by a set of golf clubs he saw in a British catalogue and placed an order for his store. They arrived without instructions, however, and were displayed without fanfare. A Scotsman who fortuitously visited the store inquired about the clubs, described how the game was played, and later sent the owners a rulebook.

After familiarizing himself with the rules, in the fall of 1890 Wright gained permission to lay out a nine-hole course—the first in New England—in Franklin Park, and led a foursome of friends in a game. A Boston Herald reporter, invited by Wright, was there to record the game’s debut, which utilized tomato cans set in the ground as cups. Wright & Ditson became a leading supplier of golfing equipment in the United States in the 1890s, and soon began manufacturing its own products. In 1897, Wright hired the Scottish golf professional Alexander Findlay to create a line of clubs, design golf courses, and promote golf nationwide.

Modern golf was first played in this country in the 1880s, and the first permanent golf club is believed to have opened in 1888. The Country Club, established in Brookline in 1882, was one of the first such private clubs in America to adopt golf, adding a course in 1893. An official, public golf course, only the second in the country, was established in Franklin Park in 1896. Boston’s second municipal golf course, now known as the George Wright Golf Course (in the Hyde Park neighborhood), was completed in 1938 on land that Wright donated for the purpose in the 1920s.

In 1913, The Country Club hosted a U.S. Open Golf Tournament in which two visiting English golf champions were defeated by 20-year old Francis Ouimet of Brookline, the first amateur to win this competition. Ouimet, the son of an immigrant family, worked as a sales clerk at Wright & Ditson. George Wright took a personal interest in Ouimet and gave him extra vacation time to play in the tournament. Ouimet’s victory dramatically changed the prevailing image of golf as a sport for the old and wealthy, and the number of players in America tripled in the following ten years. Wright & Ditson positioned itself as a major source for golf equipment during this wave of popularity.

In tennis, Wright & Ditson was the first company to import rackets and tennis equipment to the United States. The firm sponsored tournaments around New England for most of the 1880s, and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate an international tournament with Great Britain’s top players around 1890. In 1898, Wright sponsored (and accompanied) the first tour of a team of top East Coast players to the West Coast. The players included national champion Dwight Davis (namesake of the Davis Cup) and Wright’s own son, Beals, who was a national collegiate champion at the time. This successful event was followed by a similar tour in 1908 that featured George’s son Irving. Outing magazine noted as early as 1891 that “In this country no one has given more enthusiastic support to lawn tennis than the great sporting goods manufacturers, Messrs. Wright & Ditson, of Boston, Mass.”17

Wright’s panoramic interest in sports also led him to ice hockey, ice polo, curling, and squash. At a college tennis tournament in 1895, Wright witnessed a discussion among some of the players, comparing ice hockey (popular in Canada) and ice polo (favored in the U.S.). Wright subsequently took a team of college players from the northeastern U.S. to Montreal to play Canadian athletes in both games.

“After watching a few contests, George recognized that hockey was the superior game, so he set his company to work promoting the Canadian sport and manufacturing its equipment. By the dawn of the 20th century, hockey had supplanted ice polo in popularity, with George Wright providing a major impetus to its growth in the United States.”18

In another winter sport, Wright was a member of the United States team that competed in an international curling match in Montreal in 1907. Back indoors in Massachusetts, “squash tennis”, which was invented in the 1880s, quickly became a favorite sport of members of the Boston Athletic Association, several of whom built their own private courts. Hollis Hunnewell built an elegant squash tennis court at his estate in Wellesley first, and gave his elite friends copies of the architectural drawings. George Wright installed a court in the stable of his

Dorchester house (date unknown), and “outdid Hunnewell with a thirty-four-by-nineteen-foot court that boasted a prism glass skylight.”19 George’s son Beals, in addition to playing tennis, was a leading squash player in the Boston area during the first decades of the 20th century. The new squash court in the stable may have been built for Beals’s practice.

George Wright married Abbraria (Abbie) Anna Coleman in Boston in 1873. Abbie Wright (1849 ca. – 1913) was the daughter of Jeremiah and Mary Ann Coleman, who had immigrated from Ireland ca. 1831; Jeremiah was a stone mason. George and Abbie had four children together, all born on Sagamore Street in Dorchester, where the family lived for ten years before moving to Grampian Way.

24 Grampian Way was purchased in Abbie’s name from Nancy Kehew in 1887, with about 25,000 square feet of land and the buildings thereon. On the same date, George and Abbie Wright sold to Nancy Kehew a property on Sagamore Street with about 5,600 square feet of land and the buildings thereon. Both transactions were for “one dollar and other good and valuable considerations”. In 1892, Abbie Wright acquired a small, adjacent piece of land to the east of the original property, containing 5,550 square feet; no buildings are mentioned. The combined parcels make up the present property at 24 Grampian Way.

George and Abbie Wright lived at 24 Grampian Way until their deaths in 1937 and 1913, respectively. Their four children lived at the Wright House for various lengths of time: Elizabeth Wright (1875-1965), who never married, occupied the house until 1948. Georgiana Wright (1877-1958) moved away between 1900 and 1910, probably upon her marriage to Oliver Hall.

Beals Wright (1879-1961) lived at 24 Grampian Way until 1915, when he was about 36 years old. During his residency here, Beals worked at Wright & Ditson, graduating from clerk to vice president; he was a partner in the company until the mid-1940s. A graduate of Harvard University, Beals Wright was an accomplished tennis player, winning gold medals in men’s singles and doubles at the 1904 St. Louis Olympic Games, U.S. championships in men’s doubles in 1904, 1905, and 1906, and the men’s singles in 1905. Beals was a member of the Davis Cup team for five years between 1905 and 1912, and was ranked in the top ten U.S. tennis players for ten years. After his playing days ended, he continued in the sport as a referee and as a promoter of tennis tournaments. Beals Wright was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame (then called the Lawn Tennis Hall of Fame) in 1956. Beals moved to Washington State in 1915, lived in New York for a time, and died in Illinois.

Irving Wright (1882-1953) lived at 24 Grampian Way until 1916, when he married and moved to Hingham. Irving also worked at Wright & Ditson, rising from clerk to salesman to vice president, and succeeded his father in the active management of the business. A nationally-ranked tennis player like his older brother, Irving “twice won the National Mixed Doubles Championships, served on the executive committee of the United States Lawn Tennis Association for over twenty years, and was president of Longwood Cricket Club from 1935 to 1940.”

After he was widowed in 1913, George Wright spent summers in Boston and winters in Florida, and remained active in running Wright & Ditson. He occupied the house with his daughter, Elizabeth. Two servants (usually Irish immigrants) lived with the family from at least 1880 (on Sagamore Street) through 1940.

In 1948, Elizabeth Wright sold 24 Grampian Way to Joseph Repoff, a machinist, and his wife Alice. The Repoffs seem to have rented out this property, as city directories show that they lived at 62 Grampian Way until 1951, when Raymond Tomasini of Boston purchased number 24. Tomasini, a carpenter, occupied the house with his wife Rita and their children until his death in 2007.

Architectural Significance

The house and stable at 24 Grampian Way combine the sober massing and roof form of the Second Empire style with simple but fanciful Stick Style elements. Especially notable features are the surface detail on both buildings and the ornamentation of the porches and eaves of the house. The architectural design of this property is representative of fashionable suburban housing built for the upper middle class in late 19th century Boston, and character-defining features remain largely intact.

The Kehew-Wright House is one of the earliest extant residences in the Savin Hill Historic District, and one of its few displays of the Stick Style, although its articulation is restrained within the general context of this style. The stable is remarkable as an increasingly rare survivor of its building type, and is significant for its size and its attention to architectural detail. Despite deferred maintenance and the apparent partial loss of porches on the house, both buildings retain their architectural integrity. The site is distinctive for its large size, deep setbacks at the front and sides, semi-circular drive, and spectacular views of Boston and Dorchester Bay.


Posted on

March 23, 2020