Tag Archives: Massachusetts

The North Shore: Home of the Ayers and the Pattons

Made up of villages so small one doesn’t realize when one ends and the next begins, Massachusetts’ North Shore (and environs) was the home of the Ayers beginning in the eighteen-fifties.

Frederick Ayer moved from Syracuse, NY, to Lowell, MA, to join his brother in the patent medicine business and eventually became a major player in the textile industry along the Merrimack River. As his family grew, he built homes in Lowell, Pride’s Crossing, and Boston, creating a bond with the area that would last for generations.

The Pattons eventually settled in South Hamilton at Green Meadows, three miles from Beatrice’s brothers Chilly and Fred at Juniper Ridge and Ledyard Farm, respectively, and eight miles from her sister Kay at Avalon in Pride’s Crossing.

The North Shore is a great place to visit, and what’s more fun than visiting the places one has read (or written) about? Make sure to take along a copy of Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton to learn more about the Pattons’ connections to these beautiful places.

General George S. Patton Jr. was viewed by “his townspeople, neighbors and friends” as a “true gentleman, affable, warm-hearted, cheery in his greetings, popular with everyone.” Beatrice was equally loved in South Hamilton; the chief of police said she was “always law-abiding” with a pleasant word for everyone, while the owner of the local diner called her one of the best and often joined her fishing for pickerel in the Ipswich River at the back of Green Meadows. –Lady of the Army: The Life of Mrs. George S. Patton

South Hamilton

Green Meadows

Patton Homestead (Green Meadows) – 650 Asbury Street, South Hamilton

Purchased by the Pattons in 1927 so Beatrice would be surrounded by family when it was time for George to go to war, Green Meadows was home to the Patton family until about ten years ago. It is now open for tours, still filled with the spoils of war George sent home. Walk to the back of the property for a beautiful view of the Ipswich River, or join the Patton Homestead for movie or music night. In the backyard, near the cannon George sent home from North Africa, is Beatrice’s (unofficial) place of burial. Reservations are necessary for tours, but the grounds are open free-of-charge from sunrise to sunset.

Patton Park – Asbury St & MA-1A, South Hamilton

In 1946, the Myopia Hunt Club donated a piece of land along Route 1A to create Patton Park, and in 1947 Beatrice had a 67,000 pound Sherman tank donated from the Army. The tank proudly sits in Patton Park to this day, together with an artillery gun and two Liberty Road Markers in honor of the 83rd Division of the Third Army and the 4th Armored Division.

Sherman Tank in Patton Park
Polo game at Myopia

Myopia Club – 435 Bay Road, South Hamilton

Pick up a picnic at Appleton Farms a few miles up the road and head to Gibney Field on Sunday afternoons for an exciting game of polo with one of the oldest polo and hunt clubs in the country. The Pattons and Ayers were longstanding and enthusiastic members, and Beatrice died in 1953 not long after setting out on the hunt, across the road on Ledyard Farm.

Wenham Museum – 132 Main Street, Wenham

In charge of the Patton archives and the Patton tours at Green Meadows, the Wenham Museum focuses, among many other things, on the equine traditions of the North Shore. If you are hungry, try the steak tips at Post Hamilton, located in the old South Hamilton Post Office. Built in 1924, it isn’t hard to imagine Beatrice picking up her mail there and sending hundreds of letters to her husband during WWII.

Saddles shown at the Wenham Museum


View from Ocean Lawn

Coolidge Reservation – 15 Coolidge Point, Manchester-by-the-Sea

About a twenty-minute walk from the parking lot, Coolidge Reservation offers unparalleled views of Massachusetts Bay and the North Shore. The Ocean Lawn once housed the home of the Coolidge family—the foundation of the house can still be seen—and is reminiscent of the views the Ayers would have enjoyed from their country home Avalon.

Saint John’s Episcopal Church – 705 Hale Street, Beverly Farms

Built in 1902, St. John’s was the place of many Ayer and Patton family events, from Beatrice and George’s wedding in 1910—the area’s first military nuptials in decades—to Beatrice’s funeral in 1953.

St John's
The station as it appears now

Pride’s Crossing Station – 590 Hale Street, Beverly

Right across the road that lead to Avalon, Pride’s Crossing station was where Cadet Patton often arrived to visit his betrothed. It is now home to Pride’s Crossing Confections, a heavenly aroma of homemade chocolate filling the air.

Plum Cove – Route 127, Gloucester

Grab a lobster roll at the Blue Collar Lobster Company before taking the scenic route to Eastern Point Lighthouse. You will pass Plum Cove along the way, the location where Beatrice and George saved three boys from drowning during a sudden gale in August 1923.

Plum Cove


When and If in the harbor

When and If – 10 Blaney Street, Salem

“When the war is over, and if I live through it, Bea and I are going to sail her around the world.” The Pattons never had the chance to sail their 63-foot schooner built in 1938 around the world, but her current owners are working hard toward that goal. The When and If can be found in Salem Harbor during the summer (and Key West during the winter), available for sunset sails and private charters.


Frederick Fanning Ayer House – 357 Pawtucket Street, Lowell

Now an apartment complex with renovated condominiums, the house was once the home of Frederick Ayer and his family. Part of the Spindle City Exploration route, a plaque near the front door reads: “Frederick Ayer joined his brother, the patent medicine manufacturer J. C. Ayer, in Lowell. In time he managed to gain control of several companies and in the 1870s built this magnificent Second Empire style house to reflect his new position and wealth. Beatrice Ayer, the wife of General Patton, was born here.”

Outside view of the Frederick Fanning Ayer House
The clocktower of the Ayer Mill

Ayer Mill – 67 Kirk Street, Lowell

At one point one of the largest mills in the world—a part of the American Woolen Company—the Ayer Mill was completed in 1910 and measured close to half-a-mile long. The Ayer Clock, with a face just six inches smaller than Big Ben, still towers over Lawrence, and was recently restored with the help of the Wood and Ayer families, as was the building, which are now offices and residences. If you want to learn the history of the mills along the Merrimack River, check out the Boott Cotton Mills Museum.

Lowell Cemetery – 77 Knapp Avenue, Lowell

Frederick Ayer (1822 – 1918) is buried underneath the tallest monument of the cemetery, together with his wives—Cornelia Wheaton (1835 – 1878) and Ellen Barrows Banning (1853 – 1918)—son, daughter, and son-in-law—Charles Fanning Ayer (1865 – 1956), Katharine Ayer Merrill (1890 – 1981) and Keith Merrill (1887 – 1958). Just a few paces away stands the Ayer Lion, marking the J.C. Ayer lot, where Frederick’s brother James is buried with his family.

Frederick Ayer monument at Lowell Cemetery


Shawsheen Village building

Shawsheen Village Historic District – 342 North Main Street, Andover

William Wood—president of the American Woolen Company and Frederick Ayer’s son-in-law—began purchasing property in Frye Village in the twenties. He turned the area into a self-sufficient town to house the managers and office employees of the American Woolen Company. Download the Virtual Andover app and step back into time as you explore the history of Shawsheen Village and the American Woolen Company.


Drumlin Farm – 208 South Great Road, Lincoln

After her marriage to Donald Gordon in 1900, Louise Ayer Gordon Hatheway, Beatrice’s sister, began purchasing land in Lincoln. Ahead of her time with a focus on organic and sustainable food, Louise wanted Drumlin Farm to be “a place to help educate the public, especially children, about the source of their food as well as the wonders of the natural world.” She left Drumlin Farm, totaling 232 acres, to the Massachusetts Audubon Society which continues to run it as part animal refuge, part organic farm, and part livestock operation.

Cows at Drumlin Farm


Outside view of the Tiffany Mansion

Tiffany – Ayer Mansion – 395 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston

The Ayer Mansion was unusually progressive when it was commissioned by Frederick and Ellie Banning, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Completed in 1902, it was the home where George admitted to Beatrice that he loved her, and where she went on hunger strike to convince her father to let her marry the only man she ever loved. Tours are no longer offered since the house has been put up for sale, but just walking past the last fully Tiffany designed house in the world is worth it.

Hatch Shell – 47 David G Mugar Way, Boston

Created by famed sculptor James Earle Fraser with the input of Beatrice, this statue—a copy of the one at West Point—was unveiled in 1953 along the Charles River Esplanade where George gave his first speech upon his return from WWII on June 7, 1945.

Patton statue at the Hatch Shell

Other places of interest

Flowers in the garden at Long Hill

Long Hill – 576 Essex Street, Beverly

Once the home of the Sedgwick family, Long Hill’s beauty lies in its exquisite gardens surrounded by acres of woodland. The gardens and home are open from April until October.

Castle Hill on the Crane Estate – 290 Argilla Road, Ipswich

The majestic estate of the Crane family, with a lawn leading to the ocean and spectacular views of the Ipswich River, is reminiscent of Avalon. Make sure to drive down to Crane Beach for a refreshing walk along the water.

The lawn at Castle Hill

Stevens-Coolidge House & Gardens – 153 Chickering Road, North Andover

This gentleman’s farm was once the summer home of Helen Stevens and John Gardner Coolidge, a nephew to Isabella Stewart Gardner. The gardens and home are open from May until October.

AnnTiques – 47 South Main Street, Ipswich

Just one example of the exquisite antique shops dotting the area; another recommendation is David Neligan Antiques. Make sure to check opening times or call ahead to make sure you don’t end up in front of a locked door.

Antique offerings
The hotel

Briar Barn Inn101 Main Street, Rowley

My favorite spot to stay in the area, Briar Barn Inn not only offers exceptional service and beautiful rooms with fireplaces, but also one of the best restaurants around. Other good places to eat are the Clam Box of Ipswich and the Boat House Grille.

Spotlight: The Ayer-Tiffany Mansion on Boston’s Commonwealth Avenue

It was said that men who came face-to-face with the Tiffany Chapel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair (a.k.a. the World’s Columbian Exposition) doffed their hats in reverence. Whether the chapel’s mosaic columns and stained glass windows had that effect on Frederick Ayer is unknown, but his wife Ellie–a famed horticulturalist in the Boston area–undoubtedly would have been equally impressed with Tiffany’s ability to showcase the diverse flora of the United States in a vase. The Magnolia Vase, also shown at the World’s Columbian Exposition, depicted pinecones and needles to symbolize the North and East, cacti to symbolize the Southwest, and magnolias to symbolize the South and West.

When the Ayers moved from Lowell to Boston at the turn of the century, they commissioned Alfred John Manning and Louis Comfort Tiffany to build their dream home at 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Neither Frederick nor Ellie “made any pretense of being ‘Proper Bostonians,’” and the five-story mansion was a slap in the face of the Boston Brahmins, the traditional upper class who ruled Commonwealth Avenue. The home was “unusually progressive for turn-of-the-century Boston,” not surprising since Frederick’s “thoughts were always of the future.” Commissioning Manning and Tiffany to build an Art Nouveau-influenced home inspired by the family’s recent travels to Europe and the Orient came as easy to him as investing in Alexander Bell’s telephone and the New York subway.

The Ayer-Tiffany Mansion lies west of Massachusetts Avenue, and its white-marbled exterior with colorful mosaics and stained glass windows still stands out among the red brick townhouses prevalent along Commonwealth Avenue. Tiffany specified almost every detail of the house, from walls to light fixtures, and even designed custom furniture. His favorite motif throughout the house was the lotus, a detail that blended well with the Ayers’ exotic decorations they brought back from their grand tour. Ellie’s style and personality were reflected throughout the house, nowhere more so than in the foyer staircase, which doubled as a stage. The wall was a mosaic trompe l’oeil of an ancient Greek temple, the columns “composed of semi-transparent glass backed by gold foil.”

Forty-three years later–on the day General Patton returned victorious from the war in Europe and Boston welcomed him as a hero–Beatrice Ayer Patton’s mind filled with memories as the motorcade drove by 395 Commonwealth Avenue. Her family had sold the home a long time ago, but the memories remained: the living room with the grand piano she played with remarkable skill; the foyer, which acted like a stage; the library where George had finally admitted his love; and the third-floor bedroom in which she had locked herself when her father was reluctant to give his permission to marry.

Snippet – A Magical Place Called Avalon

Thirty miles from Boston, in the Pride’s Crossing section of Beverly, stood the Ayer family’s majestic country home. Avalon was a magical place along the rocky Massachusetts’ North Shore George Patton described as “almost more beautiful than it is possible to imagine.” Completed in 1906 in a mere eight months, Avalon was named after the little town on Catalina Island, California, and the mythological place where King Arthur’s legendary sword, Excalibur, was forged.

The entrance foyer of Avalon – Beverly Public Library

The ten thousand square foot Renaissance Revival mansion featured a three-story main building flanked by two-story wings. The elliptical hallway was three stories high with a striking spiral staircase, its black-and-white marbled tiles leading to the living room which faced the ocean and measured 65ft in length and 30ft in width. A mezzanine gallery, where musicians would play regular afternoon concerts and dances, flanked the walls of the living room which contained a fireplace big enough to roast an ox. There was a library with “handsomely finished bookcases… their shelves filled with numerous rare volumes” and a room for flower arranging which included a trash-chute leading down to the basement for dead flowers.

The grounds were designed by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted and included a rose garden, two greenhouses, three vegetable gardens, a garage, and stables. Avalon’s most striking feature was the terrace which ran from one side of the building to the other, flanked on either side by covered verandas. When the living room windows were opened, guests were treated to unobstructed views of the Atlantic Ocean, which could be reached by walking down the terrace’s set of stairs and down the grassy hill.

A Garden Party at Avalon – Banning Family Collection of Photographs at the Huntington Library

In the summer of 1909, Beatrice and her family would be on the terrace breathing in the salty air when they noticed a horse approach in the distance. It was a beautiful white charger, the kind of horse the cavalry would ride into battle, mounted by Second Lieutenant George S. Patton Jr. Already a master horseman who often advised Beatrice on her riding skills, he rode up the twenty-six steps to the terrace, stopped in front of his sweetheart, and doffed his cap as he made his horse bow in front of her. 

Family holidays were spent at Avalon, where Uncle George and his brother-in-law Keith Merrill enjoyed setting off fireworks on July 4. George’s first attempt at teaching his daughter Ruth Ellen to swim was at Avalon when she was four years old. He threw her into Salem Harbor, exclaiming to an enraged Beatrice that “all little animals” swim naturally. It soon became obvious that his daughter was one little animal who did not swim naturally, so he was obliged to jump after her, ruining his new flannel pants, a horror he lamented for years to come. He repeated his performance a few years later when he threw four-year-old George into the water in front of the shocked Merrills, but his son calmly swam to shore, having learned to swim while in Hawaii.

Rear view of Avalon – Beverly Public Library.