Reconstructing My Paternal Grandfather

 

Beardsley Lawrence left a trail, I followed it

Family photo of Beardsley Lawrence Senior with his sister Marianna
Beardsley Lawrence Senior with his sister Marianna

References and citations are at the bottom of this story.

Beardsley Lawrence Sr. was my paternal grandfather. I met him only once, when he was dying in a Boston Hospital. I was five years old or younger. I cannot remember much more than my father introducing us. I took his hand and he said something like “Good to meet you, young man.”

Was that visit from a dying man’s wish to see his only grandson or simply something my father felt he should do on what may have been his last visit with his father? I do not know.

My Aunt Ann told me that when her father was diagnosed with spinal cancer his doctor prescribed a strict vegetarian diet. Although he never recovered, she claimed that he was free of cancer when he died. I do not recall her advocating a vegetarian diet in her own life; my impression was that she was telling me this just as a curious bit of family history.

I don’t know if there was tension between my father and his own. Beardsley Senior had abandoned his family when my father was twenty-five years old, leaving his wife Helen and twenty year old daughter Ann with few resources. I do know that there was long enmity between my father and his sister, at least partially because (as Ann told it) he refused to help her finish college. Those wounds remained unpatched until I was around the age of that visit when I met my grandfather.

Beardsley ran off with a local woman (Hilda Kay Heavens) who worked at the Sharon Post Office. Ann married E.J. Dann before her father divorced Helen. E.J. supported Helen and her mother, Adelaide Isabelle McDewell (formerly Crowell) from that time on. My older cousin (born 1939) believes that Hilda influenced Beardsley and inherited his many patents.

What could a five year old have understood about all that? It was shortly after that when my father gave me the coin collection I have written about at Coin Collecting and Genealogy. If he explained that collection’s provenance, I didn’t give enough attention to remember it.

Sharon Massachusetts

We lived in Sharon, Massachusetts, an upscale suburb of Boston. From an early age, I was aware that my grandfather had lived there since 1920 and that he had built a house at 67 Moose Hill Parkway. I have never been in that house and have only looked at it from the street. It’s a large house, but my sister says it was not that large when Beardsley Senior built it.

Screenshot from Google Earth
67 Moose Hill Parkway

My father told me that as a teenager he ran a business out of the barn on Moose Hill Parkway selling counterfeit antiques to unsuspecting tourists. He didn’t seem to have any guilt about that and was quite descriptive about how he would build and artificially age the furniture he sold.

“When Beardsley Senior built it”. As a young child, I took that literally. Beardsley Senior had also built a house at 200 East Street and at some later point, my father had built a home next door. That was the story as my father told me and I had been inside both houses on East Street. My father told me about dragging the fireplace hearthstone out of the woods for the home he built.

I watched my father build a barn by himself after tearing down the one that had come with our house on Summit Avenue. He rigged timber and framed it all without any other help. I knew that my father certainly could have physically built a house; I assumed his father had done the same at Moose Hill Parkway.

That is unlikely. Beardsley Senior was well off financially and a very busy man. He had been Chief Engineer for T. Stuart Company of Boston. He had patents for weaving machines and other devices. He and his wife traveled as he designed and supervised construction of projects in other countries.

Many people in my family have told me the tale of Beardsley falling from an 8 story building into a cement bucket that was being hauled up. I suppose that the actual distance he fell could not have been much as even wet cement is not compressible to any noticeable degree.

My grandmother Helen told a story of fleeing one such project on horseback being pursued by either the rebel army or Santo Domingan soldiers. I assume that incident was related to what we now call the Santo Domingo Affair. I also assume that the work was a water project as that seemed to be much of his expertise, although he was also involved with bridge design.

My father told me the story of watching his father work for days on calculations to ensure that a newly built ship could safely slide down from its slipway.

I know that they were quite well off because my father once showed me a tax return her husband filed in 1930. If I remember correctly, he reported more than 10 times the average income of the time.

Image from U.S. Patent Office

From all that, I assume that he almost certainly designed those homes, but contracted the construction to others. That is an assumption; he also could have actually hammered nails. As my father was building fake antiques as a teenager, he likely learned carpentry from his father.

While researching something unrelated, I accidentally came across “Clark’s Boston blue book : the élite private address, carriage and club directory, ladies’ visiting list and shopping guide”. Published in 1914, it claimed to contain the names “of over Twenty -two Thousand Residents from Selected Districts in BOSTON, BROOKLINE AND CAMBRIDGE”.

At number 12 Westmoreland Street I found the listing for Mr. & Mrs. F R S McDewell and Mr. & Mrs. Beardsley Lawrence.

Why had they come to Sharon from Boston? Sharon was a resort town in the early 1900’s. Hotels dotted the streets around Lake Massapoag. It was easy to get to as it had been a Boston and Providence Railroad stop since 1835.

There was also a trolley that ran from Boston through Canton and to Sharon. It was defunct by 1920, but it could be a reasonable assumption that Beardsley brought his family there for a summer outing before deciding to move there. My father spoke of that trolley; the tracks were torn up when he was just eight, but he could have ridden it with his family earlier.

Did he or his family stay at one of the many resorts? Some were quite luxurious. The population of Sharon was only about 2,000 people then, but the sheer number of lodging places offered indicates it was a very busy place for at least part of the year. The Massapoag Lake Hotel was described as having a hundred rooms with “ good boarding, livery stables, tennis courts, croquet, billiards, pool, boating, bathing, bowling, hunting and fishing,”

Perhaps they stayed at the Ston-Holm Inn, which had been a summer camp for children in earlier times. Had young Beardsley been sent there by his parents? There is no one alive now that could even guess at that. His father, Herbert Myron Lawrence, was wealthy enough to afford it and knew Massachusetts well, so that is at least possible.

My aunt Ann told me that Herbert Myron was a bit of a tyrant at family dinners. Her memory may be correct, but as she was only 18 when he died, she may have been a bratty child at those remembered dinners.

Image of Ston-Holm menu 1920’s (Sharon Historical Society)
Image of Ston-Holm children’s camp (Sharon Historical Society)

Whatever brought them to Sharon, they became an active part of the community. The Wikitree biographic entry that my cousin prepared says:

“Beardsley was an accomplished actor, and was instrumental in starting, with Helen, the Sharon Players (Sharon, Massachusetts). Beardsley was on the Sharon Planning Board in the early 1920’s, and was seriously interested in politics — socialism, especially. He was interested in wood carving, oil painting, garden design. He was a mountain climber, good tennis player, and excellent horseman.”

I know little more. Snatches of conversations come back to me, but they aren’t enough to say anything definite. One thing I do recall well was my shock when my grandmother Helen told me that she had thrown away all her diaries. I asked why; she told me “Nobody would want to read them.”

I would have wanted to read them and wish I had them now. I wish I had asked her more questions when I was younger. We did have many conversations, but she was always a very curious woman who wanted to understand the modern world more than she wanted to reminisce past times. Many times when I would sit down with her, she would begin with “Tony, tell me more about computers.” I do intend to write more about her another day.

My oldest sister added this:

He was an artist, drawings rendered in pastel chalks. Delicate landscapes. I once had drawings he made but the years of exposure to light rendered them pale ghosts that you could not decipher. We did not “fix” them with a protective coating.

It’s a bit sad that everything I know about this man fits in so few words. He was flawed and selfish, but he was also brilliant and talented. I wish I could have had the opportunity to talk to him, adult to adult. I wish I had thought to ask my father about him when he was still alive. But everyone who could tell me more about him is gone. Like his pastels, memories of Beardsley Lawrence Senior have faded. I hope that this story will help save what little I know.

References:

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