HIGH ROCK TOWER HISTORY
High Rock was unavailable to the public until 2002, when this great hidden resource was opened to the community. Community Development staff now volunteer their time and take a variety of groups – girl scouts, cub scouts, church groups, families, civic groups, etc. up for tours at night. You can see nebulae, star clusters, the rings of Saturn, details of moon craters and many more aspects of the night sky. The telescope is a 12 inch Meade telescope, with a computerized tracking system that maps the entire night sky.
The original area of High Rock Reservation consisted of approximately four-and-one-half acres located at the summit and along the south slope of High Rock. The area is a steeply sloping hillside which is studded with large outcroppings of porphyry and views of Boston, Nahant, and Salem. High Rock Tower and the Stone Cottage possess integrity of location, design, setting and for the most part materials.
Rising to a height of 170 feet, High Rock is less than three quarters of a mile from the ocean and commands unobstructed views of Boston, Nahant, and Swampscott. Although local historians suggest that the hill’s summit was used as a look-out point by Indians and early settlers, the site’s major fame dates from the mid-nineteenth century when High Rock and its porphyry outcroppings became appreciated for their “Romantic” qualities. During the 1840’s, a parcel of five and one-half acres, including the summit of High Rock, was purchased by Jesse Hutchinson, who, together with other members of his family, built two Gothic cottages, an auditorium and an observation tower on the property. Both the fame of the Hutchinson Family, who lived there until the early twentieth century, and the “picturesque” qualities of the property made up of High Rock Stone Cottage, Daisy Cottage and the first High Rock Tower, frequent illustrations in wood-cut, lithographic and stereoptic views of nineteenth-century Lynn. These structures are significant for their associations with the Hutchinson family, a group immersed in many radical nineteenth century causes such as the temperance, abolitionist and women’s movements and are unusual physical representatives of this important phase of nineteenth censure culture.
Born in Milford, New Hampshire, John, Jesse, Asa and Judson Hutchinson are believed to have come to Lynn by 1839 and to have been performing locally as a quartette of singers by 1840. With addition of their sister, Abby, in the early 1840’s the group became known as the Hutchinson Family Singers and was active in many of the “radical” causes of their time. From its formation, the group was associated with the temperance movement and, after an 1843 rally at Faneuil Hall, became increasingly active in the abolitionist movement which enjoyed wide support among Lynn’s large Quaker population. In singing at abolitionist rallies, the Family became associated with Frederick Douglas ( a one-time resident of Lynn), William Lloyd Garrison, Abraham Lincoln and John Greenleaf Whittier. Moved by a lecture on “bleeding Kansas,” John and Asa Hutchinson traveled west in 1855 and founded Hutchinson, Minnesota.
During the Civil War, the Hutchinson Family Singers (without Jesse, who had died in 1853 and Hudson who had committed suicide in 1859) performed for Union Soldiers until a dispute arose over their singing of Whittier’s “Furnace Blast.” Forbidden by General McClellan to carry out further performances because of the “incendiary” rendering of the song, the Hutchinson’s appealed to President Lincoln and his cabinet to overturn McClellan’s decision, the cabinet agreed and described the Hutchinson’s performances as the “right kind” of music for the soldiers.
After the Civil War, in 1868, the Hutchinson’s traveled west with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton to Kansas as a part of the “Women’s Suffrage Campaign” at which time they founded Hutchinson, Kansas. In addition, John Hutchinson was active in the “World Peace Union” and was desirous of founding “a sect for furthering the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of man”, to this end, he built an auditorium on the High Rock property in 1892 where services were held. During the 1860’s, the Hutchinson’s toured Great Britain and either made or rendered their acquaintance with Charles Dickens. Although members of the family had been added to the group over the years, the Hutchinson Family Singers seem to have passed out of existence around 1880.
After the purchase of High Rock, Jesse Hutchinson, the group’s writer, hired a “clairvoyant” to locate a well after which High Rock Cottage was begun, probably in 1847. Constructed of locally quarried porphyry with granite quoins and window trim, High Rock Cottage is s unique example of Gothic Revival architecture. The house may have been designed by Alonzo Lewis (a local surveyor, architect, poet and historian), whom the Hutchinson’s hired to prepare plans for the first High Rock Tower of 1847-48 or by Lewis’s student, G.E. Harney who published plans for a nearly identical building in 1859 (Architects’ & Mechanics’ Journal, Dec. 24, 1859, pp. 78 & 79). Set on a high basement, High Rock Cottage has a “T” shaped floor plan, which was originally surrounded on three sides by a porch. Although the bargeboards which decorated the house’s steep gables have also been removed, the cottage retains its basic plan, fine stone construction and integrity of site. Prior to 1851 (perhaps in 1847), a second cottage of wood construction, named Daisy Cottage, was built west of High Rock Cottage.
As early as 1847, Jesse Hutchinson had traced out plans for the original conical tower, which was built between 1847 and 1848 from final plans drawn by Alonzo Lewis. Shortly after completion, the tower had a two-story “piazza” added to it. Continuing a long-standing local tradition, High Rock was used for public celebrations. A gathering of 8,000 celebrated the laying of the Atlantic Cable and, during the first years of the Civil War, nightly rallies and concerts were held here. Also, during the Civil War, the tower was leased to a group carrying on “electrical experiments” and, later, to Andrew Harris of Swampscott, who maintained a refreshment stand in the tower. Soon after the fall of Richmond, the tower was burned by vandals, presumably to celebrate the victory.
The Hutchinson’s had a strong sense of duty in making High Rock open to the public. Among the various ideas that John Hutchinson had for its uses was that it should become an “Institute of Advanced Thought,” a “free rostrum for the decision of all the great questions of the day.” Finally, toward the end of his life, Hutchinson decided to give the summit of High Rock to the City for the construction of an observatory. By 1904, the City has purchased additional land for High Rock Park and the present tower, designed by H.K. Wheeler and C. Betton of Lynn, had been built. Originally the 1904 granite tower had a domed observatory on its top landing, which was removed and has since been replaced. The tower remains in original condition, an excellent local example of Romanesque Revival architecture.
HIGH ROCK TOWER: The present High Rock Tower is the second observation tower to occupy its site. The structure is square in plan and rises in three stages, its walls tapering inward. The body of the tower is constructed of reddish granite rubble set on a base of rock-faced gray granite ashlar. Corner quoins, quoined window and door trim, and crenellations are all made of rock-faced gray granite. Set in the center of the structure is a brick cylinder which contains a stairway leading to the tower’s roof observation deck. The north elevation contains the tower’s entry, centered on the first story. The entry is framed by an arched opening with granite voussoirs and an extrados of three projecting courses by gray granite. At the second story are two arched openings which rise from a continuous granite course. Framed by granite quoining, these openings have railings which are supported by square granite balusters. At the third story is a group of four small arched openings set on a single granite sill and forming an arcade. Above the third story projects an undecorated granite cornice above which are crenellations. All other elevations (east, west, & south) are identical to the north, except that each has a semi-circular light at the first story instead of a doorway. Framing of these lights is identical to that of the entry arch. All upper openings and the deck are enclosed by an undecorated iron railing.