Historic Wakefield Home Honored Nationally

Historic Greenwood Home, the Smith-Oliver House at 58 Oak Street

Like many of Wakefield’s old homes, this house has a long and colorful history.

It is difficult to pinpoint the definitive construction date of this old house, but historic maps show a house at this location as early as 1765. The land was owned at that time by James Smith, great grandson of first settler Francis Smith, who made his home around Main Street near Crystal Lake. So many of Smith’s descendants lived nearby that Crystal Lake was originally named “Smith’s Pond.”

The house was later owned by Revolutionary War veteran Jabez Carter (1748 – 1794). Carter was one of the town’s militia who marched to answer the alarm after the “shot heard round the world” in Concord on April 19, 1775. He was part of his neighbor John Walton’s company of the First Parish of Reading (now Wakefield), and then served from March 1777 to March 1780 in Col. Thomas Nixon’s Sixth Massachusetts regiment. The house was subsequently owned by another Revolutionary War veteran, Herbert Richardson, who was a private in Captain Nathan Sergeant’s company of guards.

In 1797, the house was sold to the Williams family. William Williams, (1768 – 1813), a shoemaker, lived here with his wife Susanna (Emerson), whom he married in 1793. The couple had three children. After his first wife’s death, William married Hannah Waitt of Malden, with whom he had 5 more children. Williams died in 1813, leaving his widow Hannah with eight children, all under the age of 17.

The bulk of Williams’ land was sold to Ezekiel Oliver in 1814, but Hannah Williams continued to live in the house until 1831.  It is likely that additions were made to the house during this time, allowing the widow to rent out a portion of her home.  The house contains two first-floor rooms that would have functioned as kitchens, both with beehive bake ovens beside the fireboxes on the chimneys.  Census records indicate that the house was used by multiple families, or multiple branches of the same family, for the next 150 years.

After Hannah Williams died in 1831 at the age of 56, the Oliver family purchased the house, and descendants of the family continued to own it until 1926.   The house was owned from 1926 to 1961 by the family of Gertrude Savary Decker, who established the “Greenwood Kindergarten” in the house. A generation of Wakefield children have happy memories of going to school in the old house.

While the house has seen some additions in the early to mid-twentieth century, it has remained remarkably well preserved. Its interior underwent very few changes over the years, and retains many late eighteenth and nineteenth century characteristics.

The house has recently been honored by placement on the National Register of Historic Places.

— Nancy Bertrand

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