In the early 1700’s, the Forster family had a house and farm buildings on this land. The buildings were later bought by the Tappan family in the mid 1800’s.
In 1881, Ida Agassiz Higginson bought the “old Forster homestead” and adjacent land to build the colonial-style house that currently stands at 131 Bridge Street, at the edge of what is now Winthrop Field. This neighborhood was then known as Newport or West Manchester. Mrs. Higginson was the daughter of naturalist Louis Agassiz and wife of Henry Higginson, founder of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The house was built for Joseph Clarke, the horticulturist that Mrs. Higginson employed to lay out and manage the extensive gardens on Sunset Hill estate.
Mr. Clarke was born in County Galway, Ireland and settled in the Boston area in 1854. His father was in the nursery business, so Joseph was raised to become a horticulturist. While in Canton, Joseph became famous as a grower of house plants and flowers, which he exhibited at the Mass. Horticultural Society’s Hall in Boston. From 1858 on, he would win the Society’s medals for his efforts; he was much admired for his talents.
In 1903, Mr. Clarke purchased the house from the Higginsons for $4,000. Upon his death in 1913, the house stayed in the family, eventually being owned by Joseph’s niece, Nellie Clarke. Nellie was a bookkeeper and used to walk to the West Manchester station to take the train to Salem each morning.
Around 1920, the kitchen addition was built on the north side of the house, along with a long brick garage behind the house. Around that time, Miss Clarke took in boarders. In 2006, the new garage, with a roofline mirroring the main house, was added to the east of the house along with a shed dormer on the room over the kitchen.
It’s interesting to note that, once the house was sold by the Higginsons, the surname of each owner has started with the letter “C”: Joseph Clarke, Nellie Clarke, Cresseys, Callahans, Ken and Judy Chapman, and Mike and Martha Chapman. In the mid-1960’s, the late Judy Chapman contacted Nellie Clarke who was living at Blueberry Hill in Beverly. Several times, Miss Clarke visited her old house for coffee. On one occasion, as she was getting ready to leave, Miss Clarke found that she had misplaced her purse. It was eventually found on the counter in the butler’s pantry, where she always put it when she owned the house.