After immigrating from Newfoundland in 1899, Nicholas Parsons Sr. and his family of three sons, James Sr., Herbert and Cyrus, found a new home in Chelsea, Massachusetts. According to the 1900 census, the Nicholas Parsons family lived in and rented 163 Poplar Street in crowded tenement housing, just a block away from Union Park and the Central Church on Broadway living in a two-story, standard frame house.
Before the fire, much of the housing in Chelsea was two and two and a half story tenement homes including on Poplar, Matthews and Marlborough streets. After the fire, most the reconstructed homes or flats, were three floors. Photo from The City of Chelsea - Library of Congress
It must have been a shock moving from a small home neighborhood with wide open spaces in Newfoundland to a crowded city with multi-story buildings and smoky industry. Nonetheless, starting over, the family of fishermen would begin working in many of the local industries.
On 29 April, 1901, James T. Parsons Sr., now living at 111 Matthews in Chelsea married Bertha Davis who was close by at 417-1/2 Broadway in Chelsea, Massachusetts, living with her sister's family, Beatrice and Michael Tucker and their son Roy. Living as the Parsons family now at 111 Matthews, their daughter Livinia would be born on December 23, 1901 and in 1903, William their son. In 1907 at a new address, 75 Maverick (in 1904, the Tuckers and Beatrice were at 48 Maverick), another son Raymond was born and in 1913, James Jr. was born at 123 Marlboro which James Sr. owned a floor. Livinia, married in 1924, was still at 123 Marlboro. In 1920 James would also own 123 Grove, a home just a street over from 123 Marlboro.
On 6 May, 1905, Nicholas, now a grandfather died while living at 119 Matthews Street in Chelsea, just east of their first home on Poplar Street. According to the death certificate, his body was returned to Carbonear, Newfoundland for burial. His wife Lavinia Jane had died in Newfoundland in 1898 and was buried at the Old Freshwater Cemetery.
The start of the fire near Summer and Carter Streets (Cypruss St.) in Chelsea. From the 1908 book, The Burning of Chelsea from the Library of Congress.
On April 12, 1908, the massive Chelsea fire that started in the morning from sparking rags near the Everett line just off Summer Street would burn eastwards in 40 mph winds and consume their earlier home on Poplar Street. A few hours later the fire would reach and engulf the Matthews and Marlboro Street addresses which were built near a varnish factory. Almost a third of Chelsea would burn to the ground in one of the major fire events in Massachusetts history. 19 were killed and thousands were displaced with some finding shelter in Union Park tents after the destruction. "The fire traveled more rapidly than any other of the large fires. It reached its most distant point inside of five hours, and inside of ten hours all of the buildings burned were totally destroyed."
According to The Burning of Chelsea witness and author Walter Pratt, "The Chelsea fire swept the center of the city, covering a space a mile and a half long and three quarters of a mile wide. It destroyed practically all the business section, most of the municipal buildings, and twenty-eight hundred and twenty-two other buildings, making seventeen thousand four hundred and fifty people homeless. It burned thirteen churches, eight schools, twenty-three oil tanks, the City Hall, the Frost Hospital, the Board of Health building, the Young Men's Christian Association, the United States Post-office, four newspaper plants, the Masonic Temple, three fine bank buildings, two fire stations, and over three thousand shade trees, and ruined miles of granite curbing. There were over seven hundred business firms and professional men burned out. They included fifty grocery stores, twenty-nine barber shops, twenty-eight doctors, twenty-eight tailors and dressmakers, twenty-one real estate offices, seventeen insurance offices, thirteen apothecaries, and twelve bakers. The fire spread so rapidly that three engines were caught in its path and destroyed, one from Lynn and two from Boston."
Many left the city, but by 1910 the Parsons family had endured and stayed in Chelsea, moving just a street away to 123 Marlborough. By 1920, they were just across the next street at 123 Grove Street, again in Chelsea. This time, both structures, referred to as flats, were now three stories, iron clad frame homes presumably more resistant to fire. James Sr. no longer rented, but owned one of the three floors at the homes after the fire with his wife Bertha Davis and four kids. Perhaps after the fire with the area charred, James Sr. got a good price on one of the floors of the three story 123 Marlborough and Grove properties after the disaster.
Near the railroad and burned out Chelsea Bridge to East Boston, the power house also went up in flames leaving a skeleton of bricks.
Many other structures in the neighborhood standing as charred skeletons were rebuilt near their homes on Matthews, Marlborough and Grove. The Public Library, once "containing over eighty thousand volumes and many historical records and relics, caught and burned without an attempt being made to save it or its contents" was now on Library Street, renamed from Matthews Street. The Chelsea YMCA on Grove Street was rebuilt in 1909 as was the Mt. Bellingham Methodist Church.
During the fire as people were fleeing from the wall of flames, many were moving their prized possessions to what they considered a place of safety, only later to have to move them again and eventually have them burned. Likewise, it's interesting that just one photo of Nicholas survived, the cabinet photo taken about 1903 by Putnam Studios on 462 Broadway in Chelsea, just three blocks from their Poplar home - which also would have burned down with almost all of the businesses on Broadway. Another 1903 photo of Bertha and James with their son William taken by the same photographer also survived along with James' 1902 U.S. Citizenship and voting rights document from Chelsea and a record of his 1901 marriage to Bertha.
In 1910, with the Parsons on the 2nd floor, Bertha stayed close to her sister, Beatrice Davis Tucker, who lived on the third floor of 123 Marlboro with her two kids and husband Michael, who also worked as a firefighter at the local pumping station.
Rolling past the street trolley, a smoking "steamer" rushes to the initial start of the fire. From the 1908 book, The Burning of Chelsea from the Library of Congress.
Ironically, fighting fire with fire, residents like Michael used "fire powered steamers," or fire engines to battle the blaze. Many steamers were destroyed when fire fighters had to abandon their positions along with their rolling, horse drawn wagons with steam pressured water hoses due to the intensity and speed of the 1908 fire.
Despite any future threat of fire, the Tucker family would stay longer in Chelsea on Marlborough Street, through 1920 into 1930 when many of the Parsons decided to move to nearby Revere. However, as homes were passed down through the generations, Livinia Parsons Brown and her family stayed in Chelsea the longest, living at the 123 Marlborough address well into the 1950s after a stay in nearby Everett in the 1930s and back to Marlborough through the 1940s.
In addition, from their arrival in the U.S. in the late 1890s, twin sisters Bertha and Beatrice Davis stayed close and must have made a cooperative effort to find housing as the Parsons and Tucker families paralleled their moves so closely.
Both three story homes on 123 Marlboro and Grove remain today, however, according to real estate listings they were constructed in 1920 which is inaccurate, as they are both shown on the 1911 and 1955 Sanborn Fire maps, reconstructed after the 1908 fire which destroyed the original two story structures shown on the 1894 map. The two buildings even survived a second "Great Chelsea Fire of 1973" where 18 blocks were destroyed in nearly the same area and started in the same way, also burning in high winds.
The 1908 fire did make an impression on family members, as there were mentions of it well into the 1950's in the Parsons Family, who would occasionally visit Livinia and the Brown family, still at the 123 Marlboro address.
Flames were very effective in leveling the city. Learn more about the 1908 fire from a souvenir booklet published soon after the fire. Photo and pamphlet from the Library of Congress.
According to James and Bertha's Revere voter registration stamps, by August 29, 1926, the Parsons family had moved from the industrial Chelsea a few miles away to a two story house built in 1913 on the hill at 64 Howard Street in Revere. The 1930 Census also confirms the move. Now, as other families were not living on floors above or below them, they could enjoy a stand alone home which overlooked much of Everett, Massachusetts. A generation later, the kids added the fort sitting at the edge of the property along the fence line in 1958. An extended Parsons family lived in the home for decades, through the 1940s, 1950s, well into the 2000s.
A few miles away, downtown Boston would be a long time source of employment for family members. The Custom House Tower, originally completed in 1847 had the tower added in 1915. At 496 feet tall, it was the tallest skyscraper in downtown Boston on Sunday, May 6, 1934 when James Parsons Jr. photographed the view from a ship named the "Cameronia" cruising the harbor.
To the left of the Custom House Tower, the Art Deco designed United States Post Office, Courthouse, and Federal Building was completed in 1933. Now known as the John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse, the structure stands 331 feet tall. Another Art Deco building stands on the far left, the United Shoe Machinery Building with 24 stories and was completed in 1930.
James Jr. would have started working at John Hancock starting in 1932. His office was west of the clock tower past the Boston Commons at the 197 Clarendon Building constructed in 1922. Later, he would work at the 200 Berkeley Street location known as the Berkeley Building or Old Hancock Building constructed in 1947. He would work 43 years in downtown Boston at John Hancock.
According to the 1900 Census, Nicholas and James Parsons Sr. and his family lived at 163 Poplar Street in Chelsea, Mass. By 1910 the family moved to 123 Marlborough, Chelsea and by 1920 they were at 123 Grove Street in Chelsea. By 1930 they were in Revere at 64 Howard Street, where they would stay for decades.
His son, James Jr. would navigate through town riding his bicycle from Howard Street, crossing town on Broadway and pedal across the Lynn Marsh to visit his girlfriend, Margaret Watt, who went by the nickname Peg. No one called her Margaret - Peg, short for Peggy was a nickname from Meggy or Margaret. She lived at 65 Lawton Ave in Lynn. Peg's parents Tom and Amy Watt also lived in Lynn at 7 Houston Place.
Jim Jr. and Peg would be married at 65 Lawton Ave in 1937 and Jim would work in downtown Boston for 43 years at or near 200 Berkeley Street at John Hancock and eventually inherit the Howard Street home from his parents, James Parsons Sr. and Bertha Davis Parsons.
The framed artwork of Nicholas Nichole Parsons, drawn in the early 1900's probably after the 1908 Chelsea fire from the surviving photographs. Nicholas was born on 27 February, 1845 to Richard and Mary Parsons, planters or settler fishermen in Freshwater (Carbonear), Newfoundland. He had a Methodist Baptism in Carbonear on 31 December, 1845 and later married Lavinia Jane Parsons in Freshwater on January 15, 1874. They had five kids together including James Taylor Parsons in 1877. In Newfoundland, he was a fisherman and immigrated to the U.S. in 1899 a widow after Livinia died in 1898. He died on 6 May, 1905, in Chelsea, Mass. According to the 1900 U.S. Census he was a rubber goods salesman in Chelsea, Mass.
Taken by the studio photographer Putnam in Chelsea, Mass. about 1903, James T. Parsons Sr. (left) and Nicholas Nichole Parsons, son and father are side by side. The "X" was made above Nicholas and made by the artist marking the correct person to make the above drawing of.
Drawn from the studio photograph, the artwork shows James T. Parsons Sr. with his crooked tie, standing next to Bertha Davis, married on 9 April, 1901 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. In the photo, he sits next to his wife Bertha while holding his son William Davis Parsons, born in 7 April, 1903.
James Parsons Sr. immigrated to the U.S. in 1899 with his brothers and father. He was born 25 June, 1877 in Freshwater Newfoundland and christened 22 May 1878 in Freshwater. He died 14 March 1957 in Revere Mass. (Woodlawn Cemetary, Evertt, MA (Middlesex) P625)
Bertha Davis was born on 2 December 1878 to William Davis (1850 - 1937) and Jane Moores (1853-1919) in Freshwater, Newfoundland. She was one of ten children along with her twin sister Beatrice and immigrated to the U.S. in 1898. She died 13 February 1948 in Revere Mass. (Woodlawn Cemetary, Evertt, MA (Middlesex)
The 1900 census identifies James as a sailor and later in 1910 as a machine operator at a shoe factory, a rigger (sailing - fishing ships) in 1920 and shoe maker in 1930. Their son, William, was a helper on a 'milk team,' in 1920, a box maker and paper boy in 1930 and Bertha was listed as home maker. In 1910 James' younger 18 year old brother, Cyrus (born 1892) was also living with the family as well as their older daughter Livinia (born 1901) and younger son, Raymond (born 1907). Also in 1910 Bertha's twin sister, Beatrice was born in Freshwater, Carbonear, lived next door with her husband Michael Tucker and their kids in Chelsea. With the Newfoundland hard work ethic, an industrious James later owned three homes in the Boston area.
April 29, 1901 - Marriage of Bertha Davis and James Taylor Parsons Sr. in Chelsea, Massachusetts.
James T. Parsons Sr., formerly of Newfoundland becomes a U.S. Citizen in September, 1902 along with the right to vote with the corresponding 1902 Chelsea vote stamp. Stamped on the back of the Citizenship document, Bertha receives her seal of "Registrars of Voters" on August 29, 1926, as does James Jr and Cyrus as well as the rest of the family throughout the years.
James T. Parsons, his brothers Herbert (1874-1945), Cyrus Francis (1892-1968) and his father, Nicholas came to the U.S. in 1899 according to the census taken in 1900. In 1910 they were living on 123 Marlborough in the city of Chelsea. The kids mother and Nicholas' wife, Lavinia Jane Parsons (1846-1898) had died a just a year earlier in 1898, perhaps influencing the decision to come to the States.
About 1926, the Parsons family with Ray (1907-1975), Livinia (1901-1974), William (1903-1977), James Sr. (1877-1957), James Jr (1913-2005), and Bertha (1878-1948) sit for a portrait outside their home.
Senior portraits of Livinia Parsons (photo taken 1919) William Davis Parsons (1921) Raymond Nicholas Parsons (1925) and James Taylor Parsons Jr. (1931).
James and Bertha sit on a bench along the sunny side of the house in September of 1941.
Bertha Davis Parsons and her son James T. Parsons Jr. about 1923.
Bertha with baby James about 1913.
Livinia Parsons Brown with her own son, Henry in 1935.
Bertha and her daughter Lavinia in 1925.
Bertha and her son Ray dressed for graduation in 1925.
Bertha Davis Parsons behind the tree.
Relaxing and stretched out on the lawn, James Sr. and Bertha read the The Boston Herald newspaper. Jim Jr. would regularly bring home the Boston Globe from work where his son, Bob would quickly scoop it up - "hi Dad - where's the paper?"
Bertha Davis in the forest, perhaps in Newfoundland during their 1929 trip.
Made about 1921 by James Parsons Sr. for his son James Jr., who was about 8 years old at the time, a hand made toy boat named Harding, after president Warren Harding. The little boat, just over a foot long had a heavy lead weight at the base of the hull and was floated down Chelsea Creek (shown on today's maps as Chelsea River) in Chelsea, Massachusetts numerous times. The wooden sail boat looks similar to many of the small punts or single masted fishing boats that would have been numerous around Freshwater and Clown's Cove Newfoundland where he grew up in the 1880s and 90s.
Hand made wooden models Jim Sr. and Jim Jr. made when he was a boy in the late 1920s or early 1930s. The small Harding boat languished for decades on top of a cabinet in the basement (upper left of photo behind Frisky) and the schooner model sailed in front of the basement window above the glass storage jars among the sea of tools.
Likely made in the late 1920's by James Sr., the schooner is the same model from the early black and white photo above. Once again, the ship, a two masted gaff schooner fishing or 'packet boat', would have cut through the waters of Freshwater Cove, Newfoundland just offshore from his childhood home delivering goods and fish. A fisherman into his early twenties, James Sr. likely knew the layout of the deck and sails intimately. The model was entirely constructed from hand made parts, not like the models today with their molded plastic pieces already constructed. The boat even has the same white stripe around the hull that adorns the smaller Harding boat. The model could have been constructed by James Jr. with the guidance of James Sr. Either way, the boat is a wonderful icon of a Newfoundland past.
In the 1930s, twin sisters, Beatrice Davis Tucker (1878 - 1943) and Bertha Davis Parsons stand with James T. Parsons at the Howard Street home with the Mcfarland house on the left and the Prendergast house on the right.
In an earlier studio photo, Beatrice sits with her husband Michael Tucker (b. 1876) a fireman and their son Roy (1901-1951). In 1910, the Tucker family lived in the same building, on the third floor, while the Parsons family lived on the second at the 123 Marlborough Street address in Chelsea for many years. Both Michael and Beatrice immigrated to the U.S. in 1887 from Newfoundland according to the 1910 census.
Harold (b. 1919), Norman (1922-1998), Raymond (b. 1927) and Earl Davis (1931-2014), George Davis' sons, line up for a studio portrait in the 1930s in Fall River, Massachusetts and Harold in his graduation photo a few years later in 1937.
George William Davis in office attire, talking on the rotary phone in 1965, Massachusetts and his daughter Janice Davis, born in 1934. George was born January 14, 1890 in Freshwater, Carbonear, NFLD and obtained his citizenship in the U.S. in 1898. He married Edith M. Benson on April 24, 1916 in Chelsea, Mass. According to the 1930 Fall River census, George was a carpenter/contractor and later in 1940, a carpenter at an electric plant.
Barbara Brown, daughter of Livinia Parsons Brown and grand daughter of James Taylor Sr. writes from Freshwater, Newfoundland while visiting relatives in 1948. Her senior portrait on the right was taken about 1944.
About 1923 Jim sits with his school classmates on the steps squinting in the sun on the bottom row on the far right. His hair is almost identical to his crayon inscribed photo below and to his class photo.
James T. Parsons Jr. rides a pony about 1918, close to 5 years old.
About 1925, James T. Parsons Jr. stands by a factory, perhaps even the shoe factory his father worked at in Massachusetts.
Always together, Jim and Peg stand close on May 15, 1932 at Saugus, Mass., goof off at the Silver Beach, Mass. May 14, 1935 and are dressed up at their wedding in Lynn, Mass. July 2, 1937.
Jim and Peg at 65 Lawton Avenue in Lynn Massachusetts October 6, 1935.
Jim and Peg were married July 2, 1937 at 65 Lawton Avenue in Lynn Massachusetts with their parents, family and a few friends.
Jim and Peg 50th Wedding Anniversary information page - 1937 to 1987.
Jim Jr. takes out the Ford Model A with the family on June, 1934 to Asbury Grove. Notice the open rumble seat in the back, a spot the mother-in-law would frequently travel in.
Jim Jr. with his mother-and-law Amy Turner Watt camping at the town Bronte, Ontario near Lake Ontario in Canada, August 14, 1935. Jim's future wife Peg, who was also on the trip took the photo.
On August 15, 1936, returning from a trip, they stopped at Lynn Marsh for a quick photo next to the railroad tracks with an unenthusiastic Peggy crammed in the middle next to her mother who usually sat in the rumble seat in back.
Another large model, Jim Jr.'s hand made wooden sailboat, almost eight feet tall with the mast and a massive lead weight bolted into the bottom of the hull, cruises on one of the many ponds at Manomet, Massachusetts south of Boston, by Cape Cod in August, 1937.
Later on July 2, 1941 on the Mohawk Trail near Mohawk Park in Charlemont, Massachusetts, Jim Jr. holds their daughter Carol on a camping trip loaded with the same trailer and canoe on top of the Chevy.
White Lake State Park was also a favorite with a beautiful and small lake to paddle and swim in. Occasionally, uninvited guests would also enjoy the area. Skunks would casually inspect their camp site while they sat on top of the picnic table or in their bunks, and watched the striped invaders while avoiding any potential contact.
James Sr. stands with his foot on the running board and the old Chevy outfitted for outdoor fun at the camp ground.
July 4, 1941, Carol enjoys the canoeing at Fish Creek, New York.
July, 1941, sitting at the picnic table, Carol wedges herself in between her grandparents, James Sr. and Bertha as Peg makes lunches in the nearby tent with the trailer bunks behind. Camping at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire was a regular weekend event. A small U.S. flag catches the breeze on top of the tent.
James Sr., always with his suspenders smoking a pipe and his wife Bertha camping with the family and back home in Revere in 1941.
Through the years, as vehicles morphed their chrome bumpers and fenders flared, Jim also adjusted his trailers, taking old vehicle frames, and having them bent to a point for a trailer hitch and then adding bunks, storage space and the pop-up tent and awning. An avid reader of Popular Science, Jim enjoyed implementing magazine ideas into his own designs.
At the campground, the homemade motorboat sits perched atop the 1952 Oldsmobile Delta 88 pulling the trailer with Mowhawk Trail Massachusetts, North Pole NY, and Franconia Notch New Hampshire bumper stickers. The same home constructed trailer and motorboat with registration numbers printed on the side is hauled by an updated Cadillac.
In June of 1970, the 1964 Cadillac had a flashy fin, and the trailer had finally been upgraded to a hard side camper, which today, is a requirement at Yellowstone National Park's Fishing Bridge Campground because of the quantity of grizzly bears roaming through the area. The well worn Coleman stove burnished with polishing scrapes from years of sliding in and out of storage sat on the picnic table covered with a handy table cloth with a rock holding it down from any breeze. A happy camper, Jim relaxed in the sun sitting on a folding aluminum chair with his feet on a log foot rest which also doubled as firewood - have to be practical.
Jim saved everything, including the receipts for the bicycles. Dated 1-3-1942 - Schwinn receipt
1942 - Schwinn guarantee
Peg's bicycle receipt- 1941 for "ladies bicycle."
March, 1942 - Jim's new Schwinn
March, 1942- Peg's new bike
James T. Parsons Jr. and his U.S. Coast Guard graduating class in September 4, 1943.
James T. Parsons Jr. in his Coast Guard uniform about 1944.
During WWII in 1943, Jim trained in the Coast Guard patrolling for German subs near Boston. His letter to Peg and the kids describes a bit of the training, shooting 120 to 160 rounds on the gun range.
1943 - Enrolls in the Coast Guard
Jim's Coast Guard award for 600 Hours served in 1944.
James Patriotic Contribution - Air raid warden in 1944.
1945 Citation while serving in the Coast Guard.
Jim's 25 years award at John Hancock in 1957. He worked as the Assistant Manager in the servicing division of the city mortgage and real estate department and remained at the company for a total of 43 years.
On his daily drive, Jim would carpool with four or five ladies from the neighborhood. With the advantage of having a parking spot downtown close to John Hancock, they would pay for their ride, and he would drop them off close to their jobs. On the route home they would play driving games, one of which was to guess the temperature posted on one of the office buildings before it came into view.
In 1944 Bob, Peggy and Carol paddle around in a rowboat - tough to get the kids to sit still for a photo!
From two kids to three the family grows through 1946 as Bob and Carol guide their brother Kenny through family outings.
Jim with the kids, Bob, Carol, Kenny and Tippy the dog out for a hike. Three generations stand together. Amy Turner Watt stands next to her daughter, Margaret Watt Parsons and her husband James Parsons Jr. and their two sons, Robert and Kenny and Tippy. Both photos were taken about 1950.
Jim's post cards to Peg from a 1943 New York trip and a 1946 trip to New Hampshire with the kids.
The family would save for trips, putting any extra money into a jar in the kitchen, so they could take cable car rides and similar adventures.
In July, 1948 Jim, the kids and the dog make the long climb up to Mt. Chocorua in New Hampshire. The journey required a bit of carrying each other, but were successful in the end, despite the poor review from Carol.
In a much different age, Peg's home office was the entire home, where the hard work of cooking, cleaning and ironing for an entire family of overgrown children would take up the day and much of the night. However, there were times to visit with family and friends. Peg would snack and socialize with lifelong friends at "Kings Daughters" meetings, held a various home locations.
Extended family were always close by and would drop in for cup of coffee and a chat. Her husband's sister, Livinia Parsons Brown talks with Peg as she irons clothes.
In 1943, Livinia Parsons Brown, a busy mother herself writes her own distressed mother, Bertha Davis Parsons after her twin, Beatrice had recently passed, leaving her the last Davis sister living.
In answer to your note that Bill brought out, I don’t know whether I can go out this afternoon or not. I went in to Boston yesterday to a dress sale in Filene’s to get Dottie and Barbara a dress. There wasn’t any good bargains. You can’t get a decent cotton dress under 3 or 4 dollars. But I got 2 which I didn’t like very much but the girls like them.
I got a lot of washing to do today and if I don’t go today, I’ll go tomorrow.
I’ll speak to Henry tonight and, if he is too stubborn to come out, I’ll be out alone. We won’t bother about him.
I’m sorry you ain’t so well but I guess all of us have something the matter with us.
I hope you are well and you mustn’t grieve so much for Aunt Beatrice. I’m so sorry she had to go but it’s for the best. So cheer up and try to be happy for her sake -
I’m sorry you are so lonesome. Myself, I don’t have time to get that way. You can remember back when we were small and understand.
Come out as often as you can, we all love to see you when you do.
Love to you & dad. From your only loving daughter who really loves you.
In a black and white photo taken about 1963, Peg and her daughter, Carol talk and have coffee in the warm kitchen with a snowy scene out the window.
Later, in 1967, Peggy, sitting next to the black and white "Admiral" TV talked and knitted with friends from church in the living room. A neighbor, Esther Owler, whose husband carpooled with Jim sits on the far left with Emma Chin on the couch with others.
Amy Watt's painting of Mt. Chocorua hangs on the wall over the TV. She painted dozens of landscapes and rural scenes for many family and friends. She was quite a talented painter and even a local bank displayed her paintings, calling her the "Grandma Moses of Revere" which she didn't appreciate, saying "it was my painting, not Grandma Moses!" After her husband died, she would live with the family and live on her own, and would not drive a car. She would accompany the family on numerous vacations and outings before and after Jim and Peg were married.
Amy, despite living in the Boston area over 60 years, would always be the proud Londoner, constantly questioning her young grand kids as they endlessly chauffeured her around town rhetorically asking "is that how do you do things out here (in the U.S.)?" Like a rite of passage, as each Parsons child obtained their drivers license they would inherit the chauffeur job, picking up their quarrelsome grandmother from her apartment to retrieve her painting canvases and art supplies and well as other odds and ends. Her nickname in the family was "the ol' lady" and she was very particular, opinionated, difficult at times and wanted things her own way. Even at Sunday dinner with the family she required her dining area clear of any distractions or vegetable plates and her meat clear of any fat. The growing joke to get her out of everyone's hair was "take her out for a Sunday drive!"
In April of 1960, Amy Turner Watt at 80 years old enjoyed reading on the front porch of the Parsons home on 64 Howard Street.
Being confrontational got her kicked out of her apartment, but living to over 95 years old, she was a force to be reckoned with. (Obituaries stated she was 93 years old, but she was actually over 95 years old. On her marriage certificate, she took two years off her true age and Tom took five years off, which also complicated social security benefits). She briefly lived with her her son, William or Bill Watt, who she did not get along with and who would hide out in the cellar when she was home. She would even sleep in a roll away bed in the already crowded Parsons family household. Eventually, she was too much for every one and lived in a nursing home her last few years.
She knitted clothes supporting the British war effort, was employed as a social service worker in Boston's South End and was an accomplished musician who performed a violin solo in London for King Edward VII. Amy was an appreciated painter and artist. She made such an impression, the family even received a condolence letter from a sitting Massachusetts State Senate Majority Leader after her death. She was a dichotomy, helpful to those whom she didn't know, but harsh to those she did. Perhaps the old adage "we hurt the ones we love the most" applies.
In the Parsons' open lot next to the house, Bob an Kenny rough-house with the neighborhood kids on a makeshift seesaw balanced on a trash burning drum on a chilly day. Nearby in the back yard, the Parsons kids had constructed a fort using scraps and old scavenged housing supplies. The flag on top was a nice addition!
On a warm day, with the laundry blowing in the breeze, Kenny and a friend hang out in the trees. No electronic devices here!
Portraits of the kids beside the house on Howard Street in Revere in the 1950s. Bob and Tippy out for a roll in 1953.
Jim Jr. at the far left, joins the Masons at the Revere, Massachusetts Seaview Lodge in 1950 and years later becomes master in 1958. Keeping his memory sharp, he would memorize and recite lines in preparation for meetings for over 50 years.
Church was a large part of the family as they attended Sunday school and church every Sunday at the First Baptist Church in Revere. Jim also taught the choir, even receiving recognition in 1952. Peg wrote up the weekly Church Calendar with what hymns would be sung, what songs the choir would sing, weekly meeting topics and what sermon would be preached. The "Parsons Pew" in the church was on the left side, five rows back.
Jim even went as far as to sing songs on their yearly vacation road trips, leading the family to lively songs while rolling down the road.
James Jr. remained a member of the Seaview Lodge for over 50 years receiving his service and master medals.
James Jr. becomes Worshipful Master of the Seaview Lodge in 1958 with his colorful Masonic apron.
According to the 1930 census, the family of James T. Parsons Sr. was at the home on 64 Howard Street in Revere, initially renting the space for $32 a month. The family stayed in the home well into the 2000's. In January of 1961, a heavy snow blanketed the neighborhood after the Christmas holiday.
Many times, when buying a Christmas tree, they would purchase an inexpensive "Charlie Brown" tree and pick up a few extra branches laying around the tree lot. At home they would set up the tree and drill holes into the trunk and plug in the extra branches, filling out their cheap purchase! At the end of the holiday, they would put the tree out in the back yard along with the neighbors tree and light them up for a big new years bon fire - now illegal today!
A constant location of repair and construction, the basement was filled with work benches, hand tools, levels, saws, cords, nuts and bolts as well as drawers filled to the brim with various household items needed to repair doors, sinks, drains, - anything an everything. In 1988 Jim Jr. stands among the useful detritus collected from generations of Parsons.
The jigsaw next to Jim was purchased for his son, Bob when he was in the first grade. After classes, Bob would retrieve wood scraps dumped in the ditch by the wood shop across from his school on Park Ave. The belt driven saw would "chug, chug, chug" through years of wood construction projects supplied by salvaged wood. One project was constructing the rotating bird feeder in the back yard, the rotation preventing the bird seed from blowing out.
Notice the jars behind Jim. Through the years, he collected a variety of nails, nuts, bolts and odds and ends and contained them in jars with lids screwed into the bottom of the shelf next the basement window. One jar held old spark plugs, good for fishing weights, and another held fuses and another a variety of washers. A longtime resident in Freshwater, Newfoundland also remembered a Parsons family there living under the Clown's Cove Tolt using the same nuts and bolts storage technique with attached jar lids - apparently a frugal Parsons tradition of using what you have - and a common storage technique for anybody with a work shop!
In March and April, 1958 Kenny photographed his father, James Jr. as he worked in the Howard Street home basement building a motorboat from plans (behind Frisky the cat), using boiling water held in the sink behind the boat and steamed 1/4 inch plywood boards, bending them into place. Working on the bow was the most difficult. During construction the neighbors would invariably ask "how are you going to get the boat out?" Having taken careful measurements, Bob and Jim simply carried it right out! - No problems. According to Bob, "he knew what he was doing!"
A small, hand made schooner model sat in the background over the nuts and bolts storage jars. James Sr. built the model from his son in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Also, notice the small basketball hoop with a chain net on the back of the door, often used by the kids. Replacement vehicle hubcaps hang from the rafters above the ship model.
Nearing completion, C-clamps hold together the gunwale on the bow. Again, hubcaps hang from the rafters and the old piano sits in the background next to furnace pipes. With a coat of red and cream colored paint and a motor on the stern, Jim finally floats his boat!
The Parsons family with Jim, Margaret, Robert and Kenny unload and take out the newly constructed boat and home made cantilevered or tilting trailer.
While bottom fishing in the open ocean with spark plugs for weights, a sand shark would eat their catch before reeling it in.
Many times, they would launch from the ramp at the Saugus River, down the street in Lynn, Massachusetts. They would motor past the GE plant while they were test firing extremely loud jet engines in the 1950’s and 1960s and pass under the General Edwards bridge and motor into the open ocean. Past the Point of Pines and cruising through Lynn Harbor they would fish in the waters off Nanhant Peninsula's East Point. There, while tossing lines out, would occasionally watch the Nike missile batteries raise their underground launchers in drills during the Cold War years through the 50s and 60s. Spooling out line, they would bottom fish using spark plugs for weights and drop their lines to the ocean floor with a lead a couple of feet long. The short lead would drift in the currents with a squirming worm as bait and lure a catch of cod, pollack and flounder. Many times, sand sharks would tangle their lines or eat part of their catch before they reeled it into the boat. As for using spark plugs for weights, "it was an economy system," keeping it cheap according to Bob.
They also loaded the motor boat on top of the car and took trips throughout the New England states. With just enough power to pull a person they would ride water skis, starting off while sitting on the beach, wharf or standing in shallow water. They would also test their balance on a three foot diameter, round wooden disk which would pull a lot faster and was much more difficult to ride.
In the 1960's at Lake George, New York near Rodger's Rock, Kenny, Bob and Jim were out for a day of water skiing with new boat modifications. A front deck, steering wheel and larger horsepower motor were added to the the boat. Initially, a 5 HP motor was installed and later 18 horsepower Evenrude motor upgraded the efficiency. Notice the small flag on the bow with a "P." In a play on words, Jim painted the boat name on the transom or stern of the boat, with "PA" on one side of the motor and "SONS" on the other, conveniently naming both him and his boys separately with the family name, PARSONS.
In July 1961 at Fish Creek, a family friend, Nancy Ellis tried water skiing with the family. Initially, Jim held her up in the shallows, but as soon as Bob powered the boat, she quickly submerged, diving under water to Jim's surprise! Gaining balance, she was soon upright as Bob navigated the boat.
In 1961 Kenny cruises by the shoreline on water skis and later Bob and Kenny water ski together using a friends boat with a larger 35 horse power motor.
On July 13, 1936, Peggy rides along Lynn Beach and in the the 1950's Peg and Bob ride their bikes as Kenny walks in the background and later in the 1970's Peggy enjoys the stability of a three wheeler with their Shasta RV in the background.
Carrying on the Newfoundland tradition of catching cod on the open ocean, in June of 1966, Jim holds a pair of cod fish while standing outside the small boat storage garage, with his brother Ray standing in the background. Jim's son, Robert earlier in about 1965, also holds a pair of codfish on the driveway with the boat in the background beside the house in Revere.
December 1958, Kenny and a friend enjoyed the model train in front of the tree at the Howard Street home.
In 1958, the huge 'PHILCO' radio behind the train set would bring hours of entertainment for Bob as he would tune in Radio Moscow propaganda spoken in English and even Radio Free Europe during the Cold War years.
In April of 1960 Bob visited the Mayflower ship at Plymouth. With good grades in his senior year at Revere High School in 1960 and 1961, he went on to study engineering at university.
Writing to his grandmother "Nana" in 1965, Bob escapes Boston and explores much of Europe during a college excursion.
Later in 1966, he would drive across the U.S. and take a flight over the Grand Canyon during a cross country road trip with his brother Kenny and cousin in his 1958 Chevy Bel Air. They would travel across Texas were the police would pull them over not for any traffic violation, but "just to see what they were up to." Sending a Grand Canyon post card from Sequoia National Park in California, the trio would eventually reach Seattle where Bob would start a new life and the other two would fly home.
Bob had purchased the Chevy for $395 while in college. It had a 283 engine and a broken motor mount which would cause the motor to jump. Bob and his father would fix the mount and eventually after years of use transporting himself and his family, Bob would sell it in Seattle for $50.
Cars required never-ending maintenance and were a good source of automotive education. In 1962, Jim Jr. worked on his Cadillac. A few years earlier, Bob having just received his license, sat in the family car, a 1936 Oldsmobile parked in front of the garage. A few years later, Bob would purchase his first car for $50, a 1951 Pontiac, which sat in the driveway in 1963.
Portrait of James standing by the rose bush at his Revere home.
The family would keep their vehicles clean, so clean in fact, while Jim Sr. was driving his 1936 Oldsmobile to the store for more pipe tobacco, he spat his chewing tobacco on the clean, rolled up, driver's side window which he thought was open at the time. Bob, in the passenger seat at the time, witnessed the memorable event unfold.
At times the older vehicles would overheat on the steep mountain passes especially hauling a motor boat and trailer. During one trip, their old, red, over polished 1950 Chevy boiled over at the roadside and there was no water available to pour into the radiator, so the family used an alternative coolant, pouring their lemonade into the radiator to cool it down.
Back at home in Revere, before the motor boat was housed in the small garage, a wooden canoe hung in the rafters and their 1936 Oldsmobile was parked below. During one hot summer day, a pile of rags burst into flames, spontaneously combusting with the fire quickly climbing into the rafters. Construction workers building the house next door noticed the smoke and flames and quickly reacted, pushing out the car through the heat and smoke. Firemen arrived afterwards and poured water on the flames. In the end the roof of the garage was gone, the canoe was a total loss, however the car escaped, scorched only a bit.
In the 1960s, the family enjoys the view on top of Whiteface Mountain in New York and camping with his brother, Ray and his family.
Christmas at the Howard Street household where the piano was often played by Jim and Peg as well as Carol with a variety of songs including many church hymns. Carol even had a sheet of music from her grandmother in London, Amy Watt and would play and sing it at home and church.
In 1979 Jim goofs off in the snow and kneels down for dramatic effect, always a good prank for photos!
A year later in July of 1980, Jim and Peg visit the Parsons family in Colorado, Peggy flying in an airplane for the first time in her life. Listen below as their son, Robert interviews them about their flight and their visit to a stormy Mount Falcon in the Colorado Front Range.
Seven family members representing three generations of Parsons were living at the Howard Street home in the 1950s. James Sr., almost 80 years old was living on the second floor with one of his son’s, William (Bill). His other son, James Jr. had built a little kitchen, bathroom and two small bedrooms on the second floor to house his brother and father.
James Sr. and his son, William, who went by Bill, in front of their Howard Street home. A bit socially awkward, Bill never married. He detailed cars at Fenway Park at a garage in downtown Boston and was a hard worker living with his extended family off and on. Older in his age, he remained at Howard Street with his father on the second floor. The worn photograph, with tack holes most likely hung on a wall for many years.
In 1978, smoke billows off the roof during a fire at Dick Segee's nearby house in Revere. Firemen walk the roof as a crowd of people assembles below with emergency services.
July 19, 1942, James Sr. with his pipe camping with the family.
One day, James Sr. was rummaging around in the kitchen closet and as always, smoking his pipe. Apparently, he bent over and inadvertently dumped out some hot ashes from his pipe onto the mop which soon ignited and engulfed the closet with flames. His grandson, Robert about 12 years old, smelled the smoke and ran upstairs to see the rapidly expanding flames erupting from the top of the closet in the kitchen. He ran down the two stories to the basement and lugged back up the stairs a large, heavy water filled pumper fire extinguisher. By the time he returned to kitchen, he quickly realized the fire was too much for the extinguisher. He then saw his grandfather crawling out of the kitchen into the hall on the floor with flames overhead. Abandoning the growing fire, Robert and his grandfather left the extinguisher behind to escape the smoke and heat. Robert ran back down the steps and up the street past five homes where he pulled the fire alarm next to the street. By this time James Jr. had received a call most likely from his wife while he was at work in downtown Boston at John Hancock, informing him his house was burning down.
Now standing outside with a growing group of gawking neighbors, Robert and his grandfather watched as firemen broke windows and tore holes in the roof while spraying water, dousing the smoke and flames. Uncle Bill’s window was broken in and smoldering piles of clothes were tossed out as they sprayed more water. Unfortunately, water continued to flow down through the ceiling and eventually to the first floor, even filling the fish tank housing guppies with dirty ash filled water. Bill’s black and white TV took a direct hit of water. Charred ceilings and burnt walls held destroyed light switch plates, now hanging draperies of melted goo. The fire, smoke and water damage was extensive and made the house unlivable until it was repaired with another round of renovations from James Junior. Despite the rapid spread of flames, nobody was hurt and the house was saved. James Sr. inhaled more than pipe smoke and Robert received a greater variety of second hand smoke. Bill’s television even survived the conflagration after a thorough drying in the warm outdoor sun.
The 1957 funeral register for James Taylor Parsons Sr. listing family and friends from the Boston area gives a interesting look into the family connections and of who was living nearby at the time. The obituary states he was a resident of Chelsea for 26 years and Revere for 31 years.
Hundreds of years lead back to the Middle Ages and to kings and queens and rulers of distant countries. Bouncing back through family names leads to William the Conqueror, Henry II the King of England, Malcolm III King of Scotland and many others. Parts of the tree are properly sourced, but without chasing all the births, marriages, deaths, baptisms, it hard to know if the tree is completely accurate. However it's interesting to see how many generations of humans make up you - and this is just a sliver of history, imagine going back thousands of years!
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