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@ElizaBTweetin: May 7, 1873: Jackson Lots

Posted on May 5, 2014

Over the last few weeks, Eliza Wheaton has mentioned working on the deeds to the “Jackson Lots”, property that she gave to the Trustees of Wheaton Female Seminary on April 28. The deed was accepted at the Registry of Deeds on May 9.  This property had a checkered career of ownership and division, almost as difficult to follow as a family genealogy!

When the estate of Nathaniel Jackson was divided, it included a house and land on the south side of Norton’s West Main St. (described as “the road from Norton Meeting House [Unitarian Church] to Norton Common [Common Cemetery]”. Half of the house and land was settled on his daughter Martha, who had married Wheaton Wheeler in 1815.  Actual ownership of even half a house made her a considerable “catch”.  Wheaton Wheeler appears several times in Eliza B. Wheaton’s diaries, as does his daughter Eliza Wheaton Wheeler, who was born in 1825, thus probably named for Eliza F. Wheaton Strong, whose death in 1834 prompted the founding of Wheaton Female Seminary.

Anna Lincoln deeds house to Nancy Smith, 1837.

Anna Lincoln deeds house to Nancy Smith, 1837.

In 1820, this half-portion of the Jackson Lots was sold by the Wheelers to Judge Laban Wheaton, who already owned the other half.  He then conveyed it to the widow Anna Lincoln. Anna Lincoln sold her half of the house to Nancy Smith for $125 in 1837, although Anna lived until 1843 and the age of 81. Nancy (1791-1884) was the daughter of Dr. Timothy and Anna Morey Smith (who was the daughter of Samuel Morey, and thus a cousin of the Laban Morey Wheaton).  That same year, 1837, Nancy Smith married Thompson Tripp (1791-1874), probably because they now had a home. Are you still following this?

In 1862, the Tripps sold the eastern half of the house and its cellar rights to Laban Morey Wheaton for the same $125, which tells us either that the center of Norton had not developed sufficiently in 25 years to warrant a higher price, or that the house had not been well maintained. In fact, Eliza Baylies Wheaton wrote on this deed, “This was a part of the old Jackson House afterwards pulld down + land given by E.B. Wheaton to the Seminary with several acres beside”.  She does not mention the date at which the house was demolished, but on April 28, 1873, Eliza gave ca. 11.75 acres of the Jackson lots to the Seminary. The land was bounded largely by land she owned, and partly by Schuyler Freeman’s land. Eliza's "Repairs & Gifts to Wheaton Female Seminary" account book valued the land at $800 (p. 50).

Jackson Lot Plot Plan, 1862

Jackson Lot Plot Plan, 1862

It is not clear how the Seminary “profited” from this gift.  Indeed, it seems that Mrs. Wheaton received some advantage from the deal! She told the Seminary Trustees at their 15 April 1873 meeting that she would give them the Jackson Lots "on condition they repair & hereafter maintain the fence that separates this land from other land I own during my lifetime." However the Seminary may have used the property, its value rose over the ensuing 15 years: in 1889 the Seminary sold one acre of this property to Thomas Gale for $100. The rest of the property remained in the institution’s hands until 1938. Professor of History Emeritus Paul C. Helmreich picks up the tale in Wheaton College, 1834-1957: A Family Affair

 “In 1938, the College had agreed to donate for school purposes the ten-acre Jackson Lot near Norton Center on the road to Attleboro, which it had received in 1873 from Eliza Baylies Wheaton. In 1946, when the Board of Selectmen approached President Meneely to find out if the offer still stood, the College replied in the affirmative. However, there were doubts raised as to whether under the terms of Mrs. Wheaton’s gift of the land to the Seminary, the College had the authority to give the land away outright. Ultimately, in order to avoid having to get a land court judgment on this issue, it was agreed that the town would formally take the land by eminent domain, compensating the College with the nominal sum of $100.

Eliza B. Wheaton's draft of deed to Wheaton Female Seminary Trustees, 1873

Eliza B. Wheaton's draft of deed to Wheaton Female Seminary Trustees, 1873

            “In order to facilitate passage of this measure on the Town Meeting floor, the College also agreed to waive a “right of reversion” clause that existed in the deed by which Mrs. Wheaton had given land to the town in 1902 for the High School. Although the proposed new school would be for elementary level students, it was obvious that a new High School would have to be constructed in the near future. Once it was built, Norton would no longer be using the old site for educational purposes, and it would therefore revert to the College. However, many people in Norton saw such a potential “land swap” as favoring the College, for the old lot, though too small for a modern school, was located centrally and theoretically could be used for other forms of municipal or private development.

            “Writing privately to the President, Professor Knapton, who was also Secretary of the School Planning Committee, pleaded that the College both give up its right to the old school land and not insert a similar clause in any agreement regarding the new land that the town would acquire. Given the suspicious, even hostile attitude of many townspeople toward the College, it was imperative that Wheaton make clear that it sought no present or future gain from the transaction. Without such a quarantee, Professor Knapton maintained, “I, along with others, have grave fears that the old attacks on the college will reappear and make our project in its present form almost impossible to achieve.” After considerable discussion, the Board of Trustees accepted.” (p. 481-482)

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