House Stories – Moulton House – 89-91 High Street
Rarely do you approach a house that has so much significance that the individuals inside and their histories are played out in front of a great backdrop. That background is silver. In fact, Newburyport has many firsts in America such as the birthplace of the Coast Guard, the birthplace of the Clipper Ship, the first naval ship for America and the first mint in America. In fact, we also have a first, the birthplace of American silver.
Newburyport is practically gilded in the stuff!
By the time Joseph Moulton and his son William purchased the land in 1809 and built the house, five generations had transpired from the first Moulton in Newburyport, William Moulton. It was he that plied being a silversmith in 1689 and was fast on the heels of Jeremiah Dummer, who from Newburyport became the first native-born silversmith. Mr. Dummer had sat at the feet of British-born John Hull of Boston as an apprentice. Mr. Hull was the first person who practiced being a silversmith in America. Mr. Dummer’s son went on to be the governor of the Province of Massachusetts and the founder of the Governor’s Academy in Newbury.
I can say with growing bravado that Newburyport was the birthplace of American Silver but the story doesn’t stop there!
After building the Moulton Mansion, Joseph prospered in Newburyport and as a silversmith opened a shop at 14 & 16 Merrimac Street in 1851. He specialized in making gold beads but largely concentrated in selling silverware. Later still, he moved uptown and had a jewelry store at the south corner of Essex and State. I wonder if the present shop at that location, Kaya Jewelers, realizes his place’s rich legacy.
William Moulton IV, Joseph’s son partnered up with John E. Lunt under the firm, Moulton & Lunt. He had two apprentices, Anthony Francis Towle and William P. Jones and he plied his trade from 1795 to 1845. Finally, his son Joseph Moulton (1814-1903) became the sixth and final silversmith and sold the entire line to his father’s two apprentices in 1857 to form Towle & Jones Co. In 1873, additional Towles joined the firm and the name was changed to A.F. Towle & Son. Later it was changed in 1882 to what we know today, the Towle Manufacturing Company and then changed to Towle Silversmiths.
The original Moulton dies from the colonial era were sold to Rogers, Lunt and Bowlen in 1902 which later became the famous Lunt Silversmiths. Therefore, buying silverware from Lunt is a direct link back to the Moultons!
We, of course, know Towle Manufacturing took over the Brown’s Munitions Factory and grew to represent the very epitome of quality. Regrettably as manufacturing domestically became untenable, the company closed its facility in Newburyport. The company of Syratech Inc. that also owned Wallace Silversmiths and International Silver Company moved its offices to East Boston. (www.towlesilver.com) In 2006, Lifetime Brands, Inc. purchased Syratech Inc. Most of Towle’s classic lines are in existence today and can still be obtained today though most are made overseas.
Though I won’t list them, many Moultons’ descendents have spread out over the width of America and the name Moulton is still known around the country to symbolize silverware.
But it doesn’t stop there. Another silversmith became internationally famous, Jacob Perkins. He became an owner and maker of silver goods at the young age of 15 in 1781 when the man he was apprenticed to died suddenly. He was enterprising and at age 22, he created the first mint in America. The Museum of Old Newbury is at this moment working to fully restore the mint building. Later, he began to concentrate on inventions and filed many patents at the very beginning of the industrial age. Since England was the prominent leader in industrial development, and buoyed by international renown; he moved to England. There he invented more devices and processes and was recognized by the Royal Society of Liberal Arts and awarded many medals.
This house has been wonderfully preserved and its formal gardens in the back, though not visible to a pedestrian were laid out in 1840 by an English gardener named Clifford. The garden and garden house were recorded by the Historic American Building Survey in 1936. (Forerunner of the National Register of Historic Places)
The Moultons kept the home in the family all the way to the 1940’s. At that time, Caroline M. Moulton left the property to a Mary E. Whiting. Her descendents sold it to Marc Cendron in 2005 that owns it to this day and is actually lovingly restoring the front fence as I write. (2009)
You should see the glint of silver the next time you look again at this home on the ridge!
-P. Preservationist http://www.ppreservationist.com
Assessor’s Records, Vision Appraisal, 2009, City of Newburyport Website.
Historical Surveys, City of Newburyport, Historical Commission, 1984.
History of Newburyport 1764-1905, by J. J. Currier, Volumes I & II, Reprinted Newburyport, 1977.
Old Newburyport Houses, by Albert Hale, W.B. Clarke Co., Boston, 1912.
The Architectural Heritage of the Merrimack, by J. M. Howells, New York, 1941.
The Colonial Book, by the Towle Manufacturing Company, 1898.