Annals of Elm Bank: The Cheney Estate
About 175 years ago the greater part of this estate was owned by Thomas Fuller and Thomas Fuller, Jr. who were weavers of Dedham. This land was originally granted to Jonathan and John Fairbanks. The same day April 18, 1732 this Hezikiah Fuller bought off Thomas Fuller, Jr., adjoining land 20 1/2 acres and 10 pales for 69 £.
This estate with some additional land was owned and held by Hezikiah Fuller of Dedham until May 20, 1740, when he sold it to one John Jones, Jr., husbandman of Weston for the sum of £591.
John Jones is said to have built the first house and been the first settler on this estate. It remained in the Jones family for 64 years. The residence was a spacious 2 1/2 story building of the older style and finely placed on a gentle swell of land across the Charles River on Natick Plain.
Esquire Jones was an influential citizen, Justice of the Peace, under Royal and also under Republican rule, a Colonel in the Militia, conservative in his politics about the Revolutionary period. Mr. Jones was for many years a Deacon in Parson Lothrop's (Badger) church. He kept a chaise which was considered a sign of rank in those days. He died in 1801 at the age of 84.
John Jones, Jr., the eldest son, took command of a Company in "ye service of ye United American States" on April 19, 1775. While serving in his Company at Crown Point (New York State) he was taken ill with small pox and died July 4, 1776, the day the Colonies signed the Declaration of Independence. He left a widow and four children at Princeton.
On May 3, 1804 Adam Jones, son of John Jones, Jr., together with his wife Rebecca sold to Capt. Israel Loring from Hingham two parcels of land in Natick and Dover of about 20 acres for $865.00. Also, on the same date, the homestead consisting now of 102 acres in the District of Dedham and Dover. sold for $3000.00. This same deed included land, meadows etc. Capt. Loring was noted for his eccentric remarks. At one time a company of indignant citizens told Capt. Loring they would pull down his house if he continued to carry provisions to the British when they were quartered in Boston.
Loring retained possession of this place until 1832 when he deeded it to Martin Broad who was at that time in the slaughtering business, having his herd yards between the barns and the spring. A large number of names indicate purchases of small tracts, and holders of sections of the estate. There are over 43 names. There were 12 different adjacent owners before Mr. Broad, among them Eleazer Goulding.
Mr. Martin Broad carried on an extensive real estate business until he was driven to insolvency through the failure of many parties to make payments and the dishonesty of others for whom he had signed "to give them a start in life", as he expressed it.
Mr. Broad's early life was very successful and he gave employment to quite a force of men for a long term of years. His social standing was high and his house noted for its lavish hospitality. His daughter Elizabeth married Mr. Luther Kingsbury. The family moved to South Natick village and Mr. Broad bought the "Shepard House" on Eliot Street. By 1870 the Elm Bank homestead had increased to 147 acres. It was purchased by the Hon. Theodore Otis, one of the early mayors of Roxbury. He had large greenhouses built and other improvements made on the place.
At an auction in 1874, sometime after his death, the estate was sold to Benjamin P. Cheney, Esquire of Boston for the sum of $10,000. This marked an era of decided changes. In 1907 the estate of 230 acres and known as "Elm Bank" is noted among beautiful and exclusive county seats in Massachusetts.
Before his death he became the owner of the old Pelitiah Morse estate, known as the Gannett Place, situated on Eliot Street and remodeled the house. The old barn was burned by an incendiary (this must refer to Mr. Broad).
Mr. Cheney received the degree of M. A. from Dartmouth College. He entered the employ of the stage company, (The Adams Express) plying an express between Peterborough and East Harrisville, New Hampshire, as a poor boy, but so faithful did he prove that his advancement was constant, and when later an interest in the company was for sale, Mr. Whitcomb French, a staunch friend helped him to the required funds. This kindness Mr. Cheney never forgot, and in Mr. French's last years, he was remembered with a substantial check each month. It was reported he owned also a large farm on the Northern Pacific railroad in after years.
He purchased the fine country seat of 147 acres on the Charles River near South Natick from the Hon. Theodore Otis and made extensive alterations so the "Elm Bank" estate became famous throughout the country. Mr. Cheney died in 1895 and is buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery.
The house - a quaint, substantial 2 1/2 story building, had stood a century or more; near it beneath one of the great elms was formerly a deep brick well with well sweep and old oaken bucket of "ye early days." Both house and well were abandoned and a new and more commodious dwelling with every modern comfort built in 1876. The old greenhouses underwent the same transformation. After his death, his younger son Charles died in the West leaving a widow.
In 1897 an item in the newspaper says that Mrs. B. P. Cheney is building a steel bridge across the Charles River at a cost of $30,000.00.
Elm Bank became the property of the eldest daughter, Alice Steele Cheney Baltzell. Before Mr. Cheney's death, plans for the enlargement of several rooms, especially the library, and other alterations were to be made. Not wishing to mutilate the fine old elms it was decided to take down the old building and erect a new fire-proof house, some distance away and to lay out Italian gardens. The laying of the cornerstone took place August 12, 1907 in commemoration of Mr. Cheney's birthday.
Alice S. Cheney Baltzell died in 1938 and the estate was left to her nephew Arthur Davis of Dover, with the restriction that if he did not want the property it should be offered to Wellesley College. If the College did not want it, it was to go to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Since all three parties declined the property it was offered to Dartmouth College, where Mr. Cheney had taken his degree, for $40,000.00. They in turn sold acreage along Dover Road and the remaining 180 acres to the Stigmatine Fathers of Waltham in 1940.