Oaks Lang Syne

I have one Christmas ornament that I love above all the others.    It is nothing more than a square of ceramic on a paper clip, made to look like a Christmas present.  The ribbon is painted on, and the package is dotted with glitter that somehow still survives even after all these years. For as long as I can remember, my eye and my hand have always gone to this ornament first.  I always put it near the top of the tree because it is my favorite, because it reminds me of being little, because it was made by my brother . . . and because this year marks the beginning of a lifetime of Christmases without him.

I started to think about the nature of ornaments.  Everyone has a box of them that makes its return from the attic or the basement each winter.    The collection changes every year.  Some get broken, others are added, but still the box persists as the years go by . . . a dizzying array of styles, trends, generations, and moments.   The ornaments tell the history of our lives with incredible breath even though they glitter in perfect silence on our trees.

It has been trendy in recent years to decorate a tree with a theme — maybe a single color or two, with uniform, repeating ornaments and sophisticated white lights.  Even the tree itself has been carefully grown and manicured.  I don’t see trees like I did in my youth — the scrawny, scrappy Charlie Brown kind, with colored lights and a mish-mash of ornaments ranging from plastic and glass to popsicle sticks and glitter.  To me, my Charlie Brown tree is the most beautiful of all, because the ornaments leave a trail that leads backwards through time, and my memory follows.   This trail of ornaments is a thread that weaves itself through my life, connecting all of my former lives into the present, and it will be waiting for me in the future.

In the same way, the chapter house for the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution in Worcester, Massachusetts is an eclectic home of historical worth.  Though born just prior to the American Revolution, “the Oaks” is not simply of the Revolution.  She has seen many Christmases.  She is Loyalist and Patriot.  She is Georgian and Greek Revival.  She has spent holidays as a soldiers barracks, a residence, a tea house, a war time Red Cross Headquarters, and as a DAR chapter house.    She even endured twenty Christmases alone as the world moved on without her.  She is old fashioned and modern, simple and chaotic,  youthful and decrepit, classy and kitschy.  She is history.

The Oaks’ Daughters understand and embrace the vast spectrum of  her life.  The tendency these days may to be to decorate an historical home in a strictly “Colonial Williamsburg” fashion.  This year at the Oaks, the decorating style changed from room to room, celebrating the eclectic nature of this historic home in every century.  There were modern teddy bears sitting on  antique spinning wheels,  a dinner table adorned with a 19th century epergné amid 21st century embellishments, plastic fruit (remember that? My grandma used to keep a bowl of it on her kitchen table) mixed in with boughs of fresh pines, and a fireplace decorated with a very 1960s “Mad Men” flavor.

The exhibit hall payed homage to generations of history.    Visitors admired  everything from Mrs. Paulauskas’ button collection to a musket fired at Lexington Green on April 19, 1775.  There were stories about the early days of the Chapter, when the Oaks was a tea house and a workplace for the Betsy Ross Squad during WWI; and a display that gave a nod to the Worcester Fire Society (predecessor of the WFD) with artifacts dating back to its inception in 1793.  Guests sang Christmas carols with us at the piano, then stood in awed silence in front of George Washington’s chair.  There was so much to see in every corner of the house.  It was a joyful celebration not just of the Oaks’ Revolutionary origin, but to the memory of all who have passed through her doors over the years.  The Oaks is unlike any museum house that you will ever see: she is beautifully imperfect, lived in, and real.

If you are interested in visiting the Oaks, or arranging for a private group tour, please contact us at col.timothybigelowchapter@gmail.com.

Part of the exhibit hall paying homage to the early history of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter.

Part of the exhibit hall paying homage to the early days of the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter.

Worcester directories dating back to the 1880s, located in the library.

Worcester directories dating back to the 1880s, located in the library.

Teddy bears in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee. Alice was the great-great-great granddaughter of Loyalist judge Timothy Paine, who built the Oaks in 1774. Roosevelt visited the city of Worcester in 1902.

Teddy bears in honor of Theodore Roosevelt and his first wife Alice Hathaway Lee. Alice was the great-great-great granddaughter of Loyalist judge Timothy Paine, who built the Oaks in 1774. Roosevelt visited the city of Worcester in 1902.

Fireplace mantle in the parlor at the Oaks.

Fireplace mantle in the parlor at the Oaks.

The boardroom for the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the DAR, all decked out in blue and silver.

The boardroom for the Col. Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the DAR, all decked out in blue and silver.

Fireplace mantle in the Paine room at the Oaks.

Fireplace mantle in the Paine room at the Oaks.

Silk dress circa 1854 next to the 25th anniversary DAR plaque, gifted to the chapter in 1923.

Silk dress circa 1854 next to the 25th anniversary DAR plaque, gifted to the chapter in 1923.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Oaks of Christmas Present

Abandoned Oaks.  She stood empty and silent for 20 years until the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the Paine Estate in 1914.

Abandoned Oaks. She stood empty and silent for 20 years until the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution purchased the Paine Estate in 1914.

The big yellow house at 140 Lincoln Street in Worcester, Massachusetts has lived many lives; she has endured many incarnations since her inception in 1774.  Originally owned by Loyalist Judge Timothy Paine, her construction was interrupted by the Revolutionary War as soldiers occupied her unfinished walls.   She was never actually able to be a sanctuary to her owner.  Timothy served his community in various roles as selectman, town clerk, and representative to the General Court.  His public service ended when three thousand Patriots from all around Worcester County stood outside his window in Lincoln Square and demanded that he rescind his authority and publicly read his resignation.

Upon Timothy Paine’s death in 1793, his son Dr. William Paine, after serving abroad with the British Army in England and Nova Scotia, returned to Worcester to live at the Oaks for the rest of his days. A Loyalist like his father, Dr. Paine became an American citizen during the War of 1812 when he resigned his British commission and chose to stand with his countrymen.   He was a well respected member of his community, and is credited with having owned Worcester’s first apothecary shop.

The Oaks’ Georgian style was transformed and expanded in 1836 to Greek Revival by her next owner, Dr. William Paine’s son Frederick.  Frederick was a member of Worcester’s Horticultural Society,  and his gardens on the Paine estate were well known for their beauty and variety.  Ever a scholar, he gave generously to the American Antiquarian Society, and his own private library was said to have been one of the best in the state.  After the death of Frederick’s widow Ann Cushing Sturgis Paine in 1892,  the Oaks stood empty and silent for nearly 20 years through the turn of the 20th century, until she was purchased by the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Upon her rebirth in 1914, the Oaks welcomed visitors to her tea room She grieved within her own walls the funeral of the Chapter’s founder Caroline Van Deusen Chenoweth in 1917.   She served as the workplace of the Betsy Ross Squad during WWI.   During WWII she was offered as a headquarters to the Red Cross.   She has known decades of ceremonies, bazaars, and fundraisers as her Daughters worked tirelessly to promote historic preservation, patriotism, and education.   Her body has known renovation and her body once more knows decay.   She has been forgotten and remembered again and again. Her secrets are discovered and lost through succeeding generations of Daughters as they struggle to secure the Oaks a permanent place in Worcester’s memory.

On December 14, 2014, the endeavor was made anew to move the Oaks from the shadows into the light.  The Daughters decked her halls with greens and fruits, and opened her doors to welcome the public inside.  If the Oaks could speak, she would say, I am your local history.  Remember me.

This room served as the original entrance to the Oaks, prior to its expansion in the 1830s.

This room served as the original entrance to the Oaks, prior to its expansion in the 1830s.

A view into the library.

A view into the library.

Christmas tree reflected in the parlor mirror.

Christmas tree reflected in the parlor mirror.

The library at the Oaks, originally started by Frederick Paine.  The six matching double door floor-to-ceiling bookcases contain books on Massachusetts history, early American writings, genealogy, and history of the DAR and Worcester.

The library at the Oaks, originally started by Frederick Paine. The six matching double door floor-to-ceiling bookcases contain books on Massachusetts history, early American writings, genealogy, and history of the DAR and Worcester.

This kneehole desk in the library  belonged to Frederick and Ann Paine, circa 1822.

This kneehole desk in the library belonged to Frederick and Ann Paine, circa 1822.

Greek revival sofa.

Greek revival sofa.

Victorian Lincoln style rockers, c. 1790-1890 with red velvet upholstery. The needlepoint fire screen in front of the marble fireplace was made by Emily Baker Paine (1808 - 1888).

Victorian Lincoln style rockers, c. 1790-1890 with red velvet upholstery. The needlepoint fire screen in front of the marble fireplace was made by Emily Baker Paine (1808 – 1888).

Prior to the expansion of the Oaks in 1836, this room was likely the original kitchen.  The Hepplewhite table (c. 1770-1790) was in the original home of Judge Timothy Paine located in the Lincoln Square area of Worcester.  It was passed down to his son, Dr. William Paine, who was a former student of John Adams when he taught school in Worcester (1756-1758).  John Adams himself dined at this table when he was a guest of the Paine family.

Prior to the expansion of the Oaks in 1836, this room was likely the original kitchen. The Hepplewhite table (c. 1770-1790) was in the original home of Judge Timothy Paine located in the Lincoln Square area of Worcester. It was passed down to his son, Dr. William Paine, who was a former student of John Adams when he taught school in Worcester (1756-1758). John Adams himself dined at this table when he was a guest of the Paine family.

19th century seraphine  made by William M. Morse Co.

19th century seraphine made by William M. Morse Co.

Antique beauty in the dining room.

Antique beauty in the dining room.

Now used as the DAR boardroom, this was the former Paine family dining room.

Now used as the DAR boardroom, this was the former Paine family dining room.

The cabinets in the breakfast room at the Oaks contain a variety of quaint colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War era items.

The cabinets in the breakfast room at the Oaks contain a variety of quaint colonial, Revolutionary, and Civil War era items.

Grandfather clock made by the Nathaniel Adams company.

Grandfather clock made by the Nathaniel Adams company.

Looking down the spiral staircase at the Oaks.

Looking down the spiral staircase at the Oaks.

Early Victorian bed (c. 1830-1850).

Early Victorian bed (c. 1830-1850).

The second floor meeting hall was transformed into an exhibit hall for A Centennial Oaks Christmas Open House.  Some of the items on display included 19th c. paintings,  a tea kettle made by local Revolutionary War hero Col. Timothy Bigelow, a chair once owned by George Washington,  Civil War era clothing, and the fire bucket and fire hat of Worcester firefighter Cyrus Stockwell, circa 1840s.

The second floor meeting hall was transformed into an exhibit hall for A Centennial Oaks Christmas Open House. Some of the items on display included 19th c. paintings, a tea kettle made by local Revolutionary War hero Col. Timothy Bigelow, a chair once owned by George Washington, Civil War era clothing, and the fire bucket and fire hat of Worcester firefighter Cyrus Stockwell, circa 1840s.

Betsy Ross Squad and spinning wheel exhibit.

Betsy Ross Squad and spinning wheel exhibit.