Little Stories from a Small Town
by Mabel Hoyle Knipe
TO MAKE A HOME
Minna L. Thomas arrived in Fairhaven in 1887. She was looking for a comfortable home of spacious proportions that might be especially suitable for summer living. She was a handsome woman with fine intellectual attainments, having had a strong classical education. As a young woman, she had been a teacher in Miss Porter’s prestigious school in Connecticut. While there, she had met and married an accomplished musician who was a lecturer at the same institution. His name was Theodore Thomas, and from the time of their meeting, she forsook any intellectual objectives of her own to foster his attainments, and to make his life attractive and comfortable. Thus, she was searching for a pleasant summer residence where he might find rest and quiet.
Theodore Thomas, indeed, had ability and promise worthy of his wife’s every hope. When young, he had emigrated from Friesland, where his father was a local bandmaster, and had progressed from one honor to another in the musical annals of both America and Europe. He made Wagnerian music popular in the U.S.A., and was conductor of the Brooklyn and New York Philharmonic Orchestras. Ultimately, he became director of the great Chicago Orchestra, of which Chicagoans were so proud that they voluntarily raised $750,000 to make it a permanent feature of the city.
It is clear, then that Theodore Thomas was one of the “great and gifted” and that Minna Thomas’ affection and concern for his comfort were not ill placed. In Fairhaven, she set to work to do her very best for him, and found in that town just what she was looking for – a spacious home on the corner of Spring and Adams Streets which had been the property of S. B. Rogers, and which had extensive grounds surrounding it. She bought the place in 1887 for $9,000, and announced that she would spend another $5,000 in improvements.
From that time on, the editor of the FAIRHAVEN STAR – apparently fascinated by her energetic accomplishments – carried weekly comment on her doings. Trees were pruned and removed where necessary, gutters were replaced, and an elaborate addition to the house on the north side was constructed with F. M. Bates as contractor.
Mrs. S. B. Rogers sold more of the surrounding land so that fine gardens might be laid out. There was considerable correspondence with the town fathers about the intolerable side-walks which were little better than rough dirt paths. Mrs. Thomas asked the town to contribute $50 and she would contribute $200 to this enterprise. Happy acquiescence to this plan was accorded, and tidy side-walks resulted.
But then – the euphoric situation drastically altered! The town stone crusher was situated just across the street from Minna’s new house! Suddenly, with spring road mending in plan, the crusher was set to working full time! The noise was excruciating! No one had thought of this catastrophe, and Minna was appropriately appalled. Indeed, this was not the first set-back to her plans for country living. The last Thomas summer home in Connecticut had been situated just across the street from the rehearsal hall of the town drum and bugle corps! Their efforts had left the nerves of the musical family in chaos – finally driving them out of town!
Yet, Minna Thomas was not discouraged. Again she approached the Fairhaven dignitaries, and explained her problem and her disappointment. The Selectmen were appropriately impressed – and the record of their considerable involvement is spread on the pages of THE FAIRHAVEN
Selectman John I. Bryant expressed the common sentiment of all three of the gentlemen when he stated that when a lady would make the improvements Mrs. Thomas had done about her house, he didn’t wish to place any obstacles in the way of making the town attractive to her. He would rather have the stone crusher placed under his own bay window, he declared – than have it remain an annoyance to a lady who was willing to pay the taxes on $10,000! She had been driven out of Connecticut, he said. He hoped she would not be “crushed” out of Fairhaven! The stone crusher was moved to another location, and the Thomas family became long-time summer residents of the little town.
Thus, Minna Thomas made their vacation home tranquilly beautiful for her husband. They enjoyed it together for two summers, when Mrs. Thomas became ill, and in 1889, after a long, painful sickness, tragically died. Mr. Thomas later married again, Rose Fay, daughter of the Rev. Charles Fay of Cambridge. The family continued to come to Fairhaven for fifteen summers. Indeed, Minna’s son and daughters celebrated their wedding festivities in the house, and the daughter, Minnie Thomas, was married from the comfortable home on Adams Street.
So it was that the small town of Fairhaven became home to perhaps the greatest American orchestral director of all time. In 1900, Mr. Thomas announced that although he had come to care greatly for the town the salt water air was seriously affecting his hearing, and he planned to put the place on the market. Minna’s lovely home was to remain open during the following two summers for the pleasure and comfort of the young family members, but Mr. and Mrs. Thomas moved to New Hampshire, where they jointly constructed a cottage called Felsengarten.
Mr. Thomas died in 1904 – replete with fame, fortunate in accomplishment – having been particularly blessed by the love and devotion of his good wife, Minna.
In 1905, the Fathers of the Sacred Heart, coming from Belgium, bought the vacant Thomas home on the corner of Spring and Adams Streets, and began the formation of the fine ecclesiastical complex in that locality which so usefully serves the Catholic community today.
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These pages and their contents are the property of the Millicent Library,
Fairhaven, Massachusetts U. S.A.
Created by Carolyn Longworth, Library Director
Monday November 11, 1996