House Stories – 296 High – The Frederick Smith House “The house built on love”

296 High Street

Some of the old timers have been raising their eyebrows at the faux historic mansions that have recently been popping up on High Street.      Surprisingly, this trend is not new.

Mr. Smith, the Newspaper Mogul, after admiring the historic Longfellow house in Cambridge, MA; decided to build a Neo-Georgian Colonial and then add a Palladium window in the front as well attach a Greek Revival vestibule.

He spared no expense in creating a gracious formal elegance that reflected a bygone era.   The house boasts sixteen spacious rooms, each one graced with outstanding architectural features, fine craftsmanship and attention to detail. The house features a glass-enclosed vestibule, which opens into a spacious reception hall with turned staircase and Palladian windows. It sits on a superbly landscaped acre of land and features English gardens, carriage house, manicured lawn, brick patio and magnificent trees and shrubbery.      He spared no expense and when the house was under construction Mr. Smith admired a clip_image001chandelier in the Victorian mansion on the corner that happened to be for sale. The owner wouldn’t sell the chandelier. Eventually, Mr. Smith bought the mansion so he could have the chandelier for the front hall of his house. It now resides safely in the dining room where guests can enjoy their breakfast and look out over the gardens.

The Birth of the Newburyport Daily News

To understand his ostentatious behavior, it is necessary to understand the precarious nature of local newspapers in the nineteenth century.     Competition was often very brutal with one paper losing out to another in the ever present push for advertisement contracts and subscribers.      While the Newburyport Daily Herald had a loyal following dating back to the Revolutionary War, there were aggressive competitive papers.     Today’s daily periodical can trace its origin back to 1879 when Michael C. Teel established and published the Semi Weekly Germ every Wednesday and Saturday morning at No 4 Merrimac street, Newburyport.    In 1882 the name of the paper was changed to the Newburyport Daily Germ and it was printed every day in the week, Sundays excepted, by Michael C. and Edwin L. Teel under the firm name of M.C. Teel & Son.   On the twenty sixth day of January, 1887 it was sold to Frederick E. Smith.   On February 1, 1887, the first number of the Newburyport Daily News was published in a small printing and newsroom area on Inn Street.    Frederick himself lived as a bachelor on Summit Street.      After a good run that saw subscribers ever increasingly being picked up, Mr. James H. Higgins became financially interested in the paper and united with Mr. Smith in forming the News Publishing Company on May 27th of 1888.      

It established itself as a Republican paper and started off with seven columns to the page.    But it was in two things that made it a formidable challenge to the Herald.     First, being new, the most advanced printing press was acquired saving labor and time.     Second, as it remains today; it circulated in Newburyport. Newbury, Amesbury, West Newbury, Salisbury, Merrimac, Georgetown, Ipswich and Byfield       With such a powerful marketing strategy, the Herald threw in the towel and was sold to Mr. Smith.

All of a sudden, instead of a bachelor in a boarding house making ends meet as an upstart editor, Mr. Smith found himself with a newspaper empire. (They also at this time acquired the Gloucester and Salem papers.)    In this new standing, you can see after his years of hard times to be well-deserving in pretentiousness!

The House built for love

But his real motive in moving from Summit Street was to build a house worthy of his beloved bride-to-be, Nellie.     It was all this attention to detail that was motivated by love.    While they were engaged, he built the house in 1918, moved in shortly thereafter and then married Nellie in 1923.      They lived happily together until his pre-mature death on February 25th, 1933.

It is interesting to note that for a researcher it is sometimes difficult to locate a building since house numbers were re-organized in 1918.    When Mr. Smith started to build his new place, it was at 268-1/2 High Street and by the time he finished it, it was re-numbered to its present-day 296.

After Nellie passed away, it changed hands several times until 1999, when Ken Irwin took possession.    He has turned it into one of the most popular Bed & Breakfast Inns in Newburyport.      

Frederick E. Smith may not have been as grand as William Randolph Hearst but I still envy our visitors who get to see the home of our itinerant Newspaper Mogul.

-P. Preservationist

PS.   I wanted to publish this house story in time for Valentines Day in February but couldn’t find, after all Mr. Smith’s efforts in love, any record of his wife’s name.      I give a special thanks to Jessica Gils, the Library Archivist, for her invaluable assistance in finding Nellie!

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