The last resident of the Spooner House at 27 North Street was James Spooner (1868–1954), a lifelong bachelor and patron of music, who bequeathed his home and family possessions to be a historical museum. This online exhibit includes letters written by some of the family members closest to James: his paternal grandparents, father, mother, aunt, and elder sister. The letters reveal a very close and affectionate family unit, despite the financial troubles and illnesses they often faced.
Mary Elizabeth Spooner (1804–1869)
Mary was the ninth child of Captain Nathaniel and Mary (Holmes) Spooner. She was born into a large and fairly well-off family. Mary married her second cousin, Ephraim Spooner, in 1830. (Her grandfather, Thomas, and Ephraim’s grandfather, Ephraim, were brothers.) The couple had two children who lived to adulthood: James Walter and Esther.
During her married life, Mary did not enjoy wealth or ease due to the family’s constantly shifting financial situation. She did what she could to help make ends meet. In 1840 she opened a millinery store in the front room of the family home. She also took care of the boarders in the household. Mary’s letters reveal that she often traveled with her brother, Bourne Spooner (1790–1870), his wife Hannah (1792–1868), and their sons Charles (1824–1882) and Edward (1830–1887). Bourne was the founder of the Plymouth Cordage Company, and his wealth enabled him to travel and to take Mary along with his family for company. Mary died in 1869, at the age of 65.
Ephraim Spooner (1804–1887)
Ephraim, son of James and Margaret Spooner, was born in Plymouth in 1804. He was the grandson of Deacon Ephraim Spooner (1735-1818), the first Spooner who lived at 27 North Street. He does not appear to have been as prominent or successful as his father and grandfather, both of whom established themselves as merchants and held political offices in Plymouth. Ephraim served as Postmaster in the 1840s and early 1850s, a period of financial stability for the family. His fortunes appear to have declined in the decades that followed and the family moved frequently within Plymouth. Ephraim died in Plymouth on April 10, 1887, at the age of 83.
Click here to see a photograph of Ephraim Spooner.
James Walter Spooner (1831–1888)
James Walter was born on Summer Street in Plymouth in 1831. He was sickly as a child, and had rheumatic fever, which interrupted his schooling. James Walter attended various schools from 1834 through the summer of 1848, when his doctor advised him to leave school due to ill health, and he took tutored classes after that point.
James Walter married Sophronia Smith in Concord, Massachusetts in November 1858. The couple’s first child, Maud, was born in Concord in 1860. He liked Concord so much that he urged his father to buy a farm there, and even looked at one for himself. James loved farming and writing, though he did not make a career out of either. They moved back to Plymouth and had two sons, Walter and James, while living in the house on North Street. In the 1860 Census, James Walter is listed in Plymouth as simply a “clerk.” The 1879 Census lists him as a “clerk in the registry of deeds.” There is some evidence that James Walter was sick for a few years before he died of Bright’s Disease, a kidney disorder, in 1888. He was 57.
Esther “Esta” Spooner (1835–1892)
Esther S. Spooner was born in Plymouth in 1835. She was the youngest of Mary and Ephraim’s surviving children. Esther received an expensive private education in her youth at a time when her father’s financial position was more secure. However, when the family’s fortunes changed, she did what she could to assist her parents. In the 1860 census her occupation was noted as seamstress. She also took care of her father while her mother was away from home.
Esther remained unmarried into her late twenties, and made teasing comments about becoming an “ancient maiden.” Despite this, she did eventually marry George Sawyer in 1862 at the age of 27. Their marriage record lists him as a jeweler, but he later appears in census records as a lumber agent when the couple are living in Boston. Even after Esther married, she felt a responsibility for her father, especially after the relatively early death of her mother in 1869. Esther and George had one daughter, Mary Esther Sawyer, in 1873. Esther’s health was fragile, and at times she was unwilling to travel as a result, though she continued writing letters to keep in touch with her family. She died of a brain disease in 1892 at the age of 57.
Sophronia “Frona” (Smith) Spooner (c. 1831–1917)
Frona was born in Randolph, Vermont to Phinneas and Maria Folsom Smith. She first met James Walter Spooner in 1855 while living in New Hampshire, after the two had exchanged letters. In 1858 they married in Concord, MA, where Frona was staying with her sister. They had their first child, Maud, in 1860. The birth was difficult, and Frona was very ill afterwards. She recovered, and the family moved to Plymouth, where they had two more sons: Walter Spooner (1867–1922) and James Walter Spooner (1868–1954). Her husband died in 1888, when Frona was 57. She lived the remainder of her life supported by her son James at 27 North Street, where she died in 1917 at the age of 86.
Click here to see a photograph of Frona Spooner.
Maud (Spooner) Elson (1860–1955)
Maud was the firstborn of James Walter and Sophronia Spooner. Though both she and her mother were sickly after her birth, both survived and returned to full health. Maud married Alfred W. Elson (c. 1859–c. 1944) in 1886. According to the 1900 census, the couple lived in Belmont, Massachusetts, where Alfred was a publisher and photographer. They do not appear to have had any children. She died at the age of 95.