Nicholson Cousins of Lynn, Massachusetts


The Thomas Nicholson House, 60 North Federal St. Lynn, MA

Grace Edna Dorman (Mrs. Frederick Raynes), daughter of James Dorman and Sarah Louise Nicholson was born at 60 North Federal St. in Lynn, Massachusetts on October 6 1904. Her grandfather was immigrant ancestor Thomas Nicholson who purchased the house after immigrating from Ireland.

Mrs. Raynes lived in the erratic 17-room residence built by Decatur Poole (named after Stephen Decatur) about 1800. It boasted of five fireplaces, two Dutch ovens, four outside doors and 45 windows consisting of those tiny old-fashioned panes which are fascinating to behold but anethma to the conscientious home-maker come Spring and house-cleaning time.

The Raynes home was once owned by Grace's grandfather, Thomas Nicholson, who bought it from a Judge Holmes and wore the soil out planting corn in its environs for 40 years and ran a grocery store in Raynes garage where he featured home-grown corn and a few barrels of apples along with other Nicholson specialties.

Grandpop fathered 16 children and made a practice of adding another room almost every time a new child squalled its way into West Lynn. He seldom hired a professional carpenter for the job, but gave the work to anyone who owed him a grocery bill at the time.

Consequently, the rooms always refused to line up plumb and the house was full of surprising step-ups and step-downs so that a stranger must watch his step or he was likely to sprain an ankle if he took the house for granted. And because of this same casual attitude toward home construction, no two windows in the house were of the same dimensions with special tailoring projects required when a repair job arose. Grandpop's original house, before his expanding family required additional facilities, consisted of four rooms upstairs and four down, a bake oven and a central chimney. The summer kitchen downstairs dated traditionally from the 1700's and exhibited beamed ceilings and wide pumpkin pine boards.

Grandpa's chief claim to fame was not as a grocer, but as the first man in Lynn to acquire a flush toilet, hinting of modern plumbing. His fashionable pull-the-chain model was built in the ell off the summer kitchen and called for an entire new plumbing system which proved very efficient down through the years. But the location of his much-envied "flush" off the kitchen was considered by the neighbors as shameless. In fact, its predecessor, the little house with the trellis and the half-moons, was responsible for there being no windows at all in one entire end of the Raynes home when the Raynes family moved there, for Grandfather himself felt it indelicate for a view to give forth on the outhouse.

There were three or four different heating plants in the house, including a parlor stove in her bedroom and a gas bar in the kitchen. Three stairways, two of which, are boxed and lined up side by each and the prevalence of old wooden pegs, hand locks and hand-made nails here and there made the old house even more interesting. Mrs. Raynes claimed, however, that there is one big disadvantage in her charming old home: it attracted tons and tons of books and tons and tons of old furniture that she couldn't get rid of, no matter how many rummage sales she ran.

Mrs. Raynes was a very busy lady with a gift for organization which various "causes" frequently made use of. She was a psychiatric social worker for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in Boston and at the same time kept up her work of a home and a guiding hand on two well - behaved children of school age. To do this she would arise at 5:30 am and schedule her early morning homework by the day-break radio programs.

Many well-known people had been born in the house through the years including William Hennessey, formerly of the Governor's Council. When Mrs. Raynes moved there she was concerned with growing plants which she could raise in a hurry on arid mean soil. So, despite the fact that she was a strong rooter for democracy, the Russians moved in and she found Russian mulberries, Russian olives, Siberiannis, and Siberian Crab hardy and prolific. She had a thriving gardenia plant in an old ice-cream freezer and she had fun with a rubber plant which "positively shivers in appreciation when I wet-washcloth it on Saturdays." The back yard, nearly an acre, became a private jungle despite the fact that she had 12 immediate contiguous neighbors.

The house was completely destroyed by fire in the early 1960's.

This story appeared in an unidentified Lynn newspaper. The original clipping does not have a date. The title of the column by Virginia Benton is "Virginia Says Today". There are some partial advertisements which show references to Lynn telephone numbers starting with "LY" instead of today's "59". A Salem phone number is shown as "Salem 6260".