Over the River
was once the pride of Medford. The Mystic River, located close to
the Middlesex Canal, brought low-cost timber to town, and, at full
tide, its bed was deep enough "to float an empty ship of twenty-five
hundred tons." During the 19th century, more than 500 ships
were built on the banks of the Mystic. From China to California,
the name "Medford-made" became synonymous with speed and
Paul Curtis ranks among those early shipbuilders who found success
on the sea. In 1839 he established a shipyard and displayed his
prosperity by building a house on the river in the Greek Revival
style, incorporating an older farmhouse at the back. This site is
believed to be the same referred to in Lydia Maria Child's poem
"Boy's Thanksgiving" which begins with the familiar "Over
the river and through the woods," published in 1844.
That beloved tradition, combined with the house's stately character,
led Tufts to take an interest in 114 South Street, less than a mile
east of campus. Back in 1976, when it was about to be torn down
for an apartment complex, the university, through its Walnut Hill
Properties affiliate, stepped in. It seemed a good idea to ensure
the preservation of the house for future generations. A wise move,
and one that seems to have presaged the arrival of the future dean
of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. John Galvin, former
NATO Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and Commander in Chief of
the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Forces in Europe, and his wife, Ginny,
had lived the peripatetic life that comes with a military career.
Homes have included historical residences such as a 19th-century
chateau in Belgium. When Galvin first saw the Greek Revival in 1995,
which was by then on the National Register of Historic Places, he
was intrigued, though Ginny was not so impressed.
"Her first comment was 'No way!' says Galvin. "I thought
it had a lot of possibilities, but it had a lot of problems, too.
But I thinkthat you preserve old houses by making them livable today.
So we did what anyone should do:we improved the kitchen, bathrooms,
wiring and plumbing." No doubt Curtis would have given an approving
nod to the Galvins' restraint in modernizing. With help from Tufts
and the guiding hand of an architect, the Galvins upgraded while
preserving the many fine original details that Curtis' carpenters
took pains to get right: pumpkin pine floors, inside "pocket"
shutters that fold ingeniously into the molding, lidded window seats,
and brass fixtures.
A respected scholar of early American history who once worked alongside
his father in the building trade, Galvin says he and his wife grew
to admire how each detail added up. "I can stand at the top
of the stairs in the morning looking east and see how the sun comes
up and falls on the wood floors," Galvin says. "It is
a wonderful feeling."
This summer Dean Galvin retires from Tufts, and house "number
35" is a ranch on a lake outside Atlanta. The Galvins take
with them many fond memories, among them planting perennial gardens
and entertaining countless guests with ease. Foreign dignitaries
have found generous accommodation here, and Galvin always invited
each of his students for dinner. Many international students also
had their first taste of American holidays around the dining-room
table. With its "Thanksgiving song" connections, the house
has also been open to schoolchildren for field trips and to local
citizens during the Jingle Bell Holiday Festival. (Medford has the
unique distinction of being famous for not just one popular holiday
song but two: "Jingle Bells" was written by James Pierpont
in downtown Medford.) That hospitality, says Galvin, is a natural
responsibility of living where historic industry, literature and
sentiment remarkably converge. "The house belongs to us as
tenants, to the university as owners, but to all of us as history,"
he says. "It would be a shame not to share it." -L.F.