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Travel like a Historian in Massachusetts

History Stories August 04, 2017

Travel like a Historian in Massachusetts

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    Travel like a Historian in Massachusetts

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      Natalie Zarrelli

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      Travel like a Historian in Massachusetts

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      May 26, 2018

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      A+E Networks

Location: Forbes House Museum, in Milton, Massachusetts
Expert: Anthony Sammarco, Author and Lecturer at Boston University

Why It’s Worth a Visit
Just south of Boston, this 1833 Greek Revival mansion sits atop a hill, holding an intriguingly varied mix of historic objects. Contained therein are artifacts relating to 19th-century home life, early trade relations between the United States and China, and “one of the top four collections of Abraham Lincoln memorabilia in the country,” says author Anthony Sammarco, who has written more than 60 books on the city’s history.

The one-time summer house in Milton, Massachusetts, was built for the seafaring patriarch of the local Forbes family, who made a fortune in Chinese trade. “Not only is this an amazing historical house with intact furniture from 1834 right to the present, it has paintings, porcelain…and a Lincoln log cabin,” Sammarco notes. The home was designed by Isaiah Rodgers, who later became a celebrated hotel architect, and the grounds, which overlook Boston Harbor, are “magnificent.”

A bell inscribed in Chinese characters outside the Forbes House Museum. (Credit: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

Mary Forbes, the captain’s granddaughter, was eccentric for her time. She never married, but inherited the house and became the last family member to live there year-round. Mary collected Civil War and Lincoln memorabilia, which was rare in that era. In 1927 she had a Lincoln log cabin replica built on the property using the precise measurements of the cabin and tools from the 1812 period. “It was something that was done so authentically that people would come for miles to actually see this,” Sammarco says. The home was dedicated by the son of a couple who were at the theater where Lincoln was assassinated.

Forbes would hosts events at the house, and invited former enslaved workers and civil war nurses to visit and give talks. She opened the structure to the public each year on Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, and “would serve hot cocoa to the hundreds of people who would stand in line in February to see the Lincoln log cabin,” says Sammarco, with the beverages provided by her father’s chocolate company. “It was this kind of funky, personal-type thing,” Sammarco adds. “She was a very odd woman, who had dogs who would sit at the table.”

While the Forbes family had kept the home as a historic estate in memory of their adventurous ancestor, “Mary took it a step further,” Sammarco explains. “She took her family’s legacy, which was the China trade, and turned it on its head to actually start this Lincoln collection, and it’s still there.”

Parlor filled with Chinese artifacts in the Forbes House Museum. (Credit: The Library of Congress)

How to Get to the Forbes House Museum
Today this house, which is located at 215 Adams Street in Milton, Massachusetts, is known as the Forbes House Museum and is open to the public for tours and lectures.

This story is the third in a series about amazing historical travel destinations in America. Read expert recommendations on where to go in Ohio and Idaho here.

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