The longer I write this blog, the more I learn that seemingly every house in Rockport has a story to tell. The Clifford House — which still stands at 182 Granite St. in Pigeon Cove — is no exception. What makes this house so interesting is the woman who owned it — a woman so active in social, political and religious affairs that she was included in the 1914-1915 edition of Woman’s Who’s Who of America.
The Clifford House as it looks now.
The Clifford House was built in 1900 by Mrs. Caroline Wheeler Babson, who operated it for many years as a guest house. I do not know how long she kept it as a guest house, but I do know that she died in 1932.
Mrs. Babson, who was born on March 31, 1856, was the daughter of Addison Gilbert Wheeler and Isabella (Gilmore) Wheeler. As best as I can tell, Mr. Wheeler was no relation to the Addison Gilbert whose 1888 bequest established the Addison Gilbert Hospital. It is possible that Mr. Wheeler was named in honor of Mr. Gilbert, who was already a prominent banker by the time Mr. Wheeler was born.
I presume but cannot confirm that Mr. Wheeler was part of the Wheeler family that was long prominent in Pigeon Cove. Wheelers were among the earliest residents of Pigeon Cove and the Wheeler Tavern was long a popular stopping-off point in the Cove.
The young Caroline Wheeler graduated from Mt. Holyoke College in 1876 and, four years later, on Feb. 10, 1880, married David Clifford Babson. Babson was a direct descendant of James Babson, who in 1662 obtained the area’s earliest grant of land for the site along Nugent Stretch that now houses the Babson Cooperage Shop. It was another Babson, Ebenezer, who supposedly had the encounter with a bear that gave Bearskin Neck its name. And a Babson also owned the farm and quarry that is now Halibut Point State Park. David Babson’s father, David Babson Jr., became one of the original Rockport selectmen when the town was incorporated in 1840.
When Caroline and David married in 1880, it was Mr. Babson’s second marriage. Although she was just 24, he was nearly twice her age, 46. His first wife, Sarah Elizabeth Abbot, with whom he had eight children, died in 1878 at the age of 44. Well before 1880, Mr. Babson had established himself as a prominent businessman in the fishing industry. At various points over the years, he had been joint owner of several fishing schooners, including the Revenue, the Horatio Babson, the Abigail C. Woodbury (which was lost with all crew in a gale in 1869), the Urania, the Laura M. Mangam, the Flying Arrow and the Pocomtuck.
Mr. Babson died on June 17, 1897, at the age of 63. (He is buried at Locust Grove Cemetery in Lanesville.) He and Caroline had no children. Three years after his death, Mrs. Babson built the Clifford House. I have to presume she named it for her husband’s middle name. A 1910 newspaper article had this to say about the Clifford House:
The Clifford House, Pigeon Cove, Mass., is particular to give its guests every possible attention. It sets a good table and has the comforts and conveniences of a well-ordered home. Circulars and particulars regarding the house may be had by writing Mrs. C.W. Babson.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Babson was active in social, political and religious activities. In 1884, she was one of several Massachusetts residents who petitioned the state legislature to pass a law “enabling women to vote on all questions that may be submitted to the people relating to the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors.” In 1889, the minutes of the annual meeting of the Woman’s Universalist Missionary Society listed her as its “local agent” for the parish of Pigeon Cove.
Her Who’s Who listing (right) described her as “interested in abolition of death penalty and world’s peace movements” and as someone who “favors woman suffrage.” She was described as a Univeralist who was a member of the Massachusetts Prison Association, the Women’s Universalist Missionary Society, the American Association for Labor Legislation, the Anti-Death Penalty Society, the Prison Reform League, the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association, and other organizations. A 1916 publication, The Official Register of Women’s Clubs, listed her as president of the 20-member Pigeon Cove Reading Circle.
She was also an active ornithologist and was involved in various ornithology organizations. A 1914 publication of the American Ornithologists’ Union listed her as an associate member. In 1919, an Audubon Society ornithology publication listed her as having donated $1 towards building a memorial fountain in honor of Theodore Roosevelt for the inspiration he gave “to naturalists, bird-lovers, conservationists and sportsmen.”
Mrs. Babson died in 1932 at the age of 76. A news report said that, in her will, she left a sum of about $2,500 “to go towards building an annex to the town library at Rockport for children.” She also left bequests to the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Addison Gilbert Hospital and Mt. Holyoke College.
This postcard does not identify its publisher. It was postmarked from Pigeon Cove on Aug. 9, 1912.