The House Where Jennie Copeland Lived

From “This Old Town” articles first published in the Mansfield News

One of the saddest sights is the cutting down of a majestic tree that took a century to grow and is destroyed in a quarter hour.
Even sadder is the tearing down of a 125-year-old historically significant house to make way for a high-speed highway.
That can take a day.
I’m looking at 1977 photos by Mansfield News editor David Benjamin. They portray the wrecking of the Victorian manse where this old town’s premier historian Jennie Copeland was born.
Benjamin called his pictures “Death of a landmark.”
The rooftop cupola, which survived until a bulldozer toppled the whole house, reminds me that, from a ridge far back in the Great Woods at a certain hour in the afternoon, I could see the sun reflecting from its windows.
By then, four decades had passed since Miss Copeland lived there.
In 1910, she and her widowed mother moved into a new home at 53 Rumford Avenue, which Jennie, at her death, willed to the Mansfield Historical
Society. Jennie’s father Elijah Copeland was born in Mansfield in 1822, the grandson of a Revolutionary War lieutenant, William Copeland of Norton, and his wife Martha White.
West Mansfield historian Robert Saquet, who has extensively researched the background of the Copeland family and their dwellings, wrote in 1977 that Elijah built the grand house in the early 1850s.
It was, Bob stated, “probably the most fashionable farmhouse in its day. It had all the necessary Victorian gingerbread trim and a prominent cupola.”
In 1876 at age 54, Elijah married - probably as his second wife - Abbie Jane Freeman. Three years later their only child, Jennie Freeman Copeland, was born under her parents’ roof.

Elijah, described by an 1895 contemporary as a “progressive farmer,” owned “a fine residence in a beautiful location and is the grower of cranberries in town.”
In addition to his home, he possessed a small tenement house, probably for his wood chopper or other hired hands, a barn, corn bin, ice house, hen houses and 226 acres mostly in pasture and woodland that extended deep into the Great Woods.
For livestock, he owned two horses, eight cows, two oxen (the farm tractors of their day) and numerous fowls.

In 1899, while Jennie was at Mount Holyoke College, Elijah died of a heart attack, leaving her all his historical memorabilia including his grandfather’s Revolutionary War uniform.
Next year, the Copeland heirs sold the house and farm to New Hampshire native William Barker. In the 1920s, it was sold again to Leon Barre of Whitinsville, Mass.
I remember Leon and my mother, who formerly lived in neighboring Uxbridge, laughing as they talked of old days in their Blackstone River Valley towns.
By 1935, Barre owned 118 acres of gravel pits, hay fields, meadow, pasture and woodland, plus a small store along with a gas tank and pump where he fueled the cars of South Main Street motorists as well as his farm vehicles.
He, too, owned cows and it was not unusual, as I explored the woods, to come face to face with one of his bovines wandering amid the wild roses and sweet fern.
Some of the Boy Scouts in my troop helped Barre round up a cow that had managed to bypass a barred gate in a stone wall at the northernmost limit of his property.
Jennie Copeland was fatally injured in 1956 when the car in which she was a passenger was struck by another vehicle. The accident occurred a quarter mile from her Rumford Avenue home.
It seems ironic that Jennie, born long before the automobile age, should die as the result of a highway crash.
Her death took place 21 years before she could witness the home of her family, her childhood and her youth sacrificed for another highway.


The House Where Jennie Copeland Lived

Mansfield Historical Society
dba Mansfield History Center
53 Rumford Avenues
Mansfield, Massachusetts 02048
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