If the Oaks could talk, she would have a lot to say. She was born in 1774 to loyalist Judge Timothy Paine (1730 – 1793) of Worcester, Massachusetts. She housed soldiers during the Revolution. She was home to Dr. William Paine (1750 – 1833) who is credited with opening Worcester’s first apothecary and was one of the founding fathers of the American Antiquarian Society. The Oaks was subsequently home to William’s son, Frederick William Paine (1788 – 1869) who served his community as representative to the General Court, selectman, and community assessor. He was a perpetual scholar and gave generously to the American Antiquarian Society’s library. When Frederick’s widow died in 1892, the Oaks almost died along with her. She stood abandoned for over 20 years until the Colonel Timothy Bigelow Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution saw her historical value and breathed life back into her rooms. The Oaks made her debut as a tea house in 1914. She served as the workplace for the Betsy Ross Squad during World War I. She was a local Red Cross headquarters during World War II. She has been the chapter house for 100 years of Daughters with the desire to preserve and promote local history, and to honor and remember soldiers of all generations. Before the Oaks was sealed up for her two-decade slumber through the turn of the 20th century, someone had the foresight to photograph some of her rooms. The black and white photos were taken around 1890, and the ones in color were taken from the same angle on an ordinary day in January of 2015.
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.