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Hawthorne Hill, Lancaster, Massachusetts: Bayard and Ruth Thayer

House and garden created by Bayard Thayer

Bayard Thayer

BAYARD THAYER was born in Boston, Massachusetts, April 3rd, 1862; son of Nathaniel and Cornelia Van Rensselaer Thayer; grandson of the Reverend Doctor Nathaniel and Sarah Toppan Thayer; great grandson of the Reverend Ebenezer and Martha Cotton Thayer, and of the Honorable Christopher Toppan, of Hampton, Massachusetts, and a descendant of John Cotton and Richard Thayer, who came to America in 1640. Thomas and Margery Thayer came from Gloucestershire, England, and settled in Old Braintree about 1630.
His father, Nathaniel Thayer, was greatly interested in Harvard, contributing toward Thayer Commons, the dining hall before Memorial Hall, and to the Thayer Herbarium, and at his personal expense the so-called Thayer Expedition to Brazil was undertaken by Professor Agassiz, resulting in extensive and important additions to the college museum of comparative zoology. In 1870 he erected Thayer Hall at Harvard as a memorial to his father and to his brother, John Eliot Thayer. It was also largely through his munificence that the First Church (Unitarian) was built on the corner of Marlborough and Berkeley Streets, Boston, Massachusetts. He was an Overseer of Harvard, 1866-68, and a Fellow, 1868-75, receiving the honorary degree of A. M. from the college in 1866; a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Bayard Thayer was educated in private schools and then traveled abroad for a year by way of rounding out
his education and seeing a little of the world. As a young man he was much interested in all outdoor sports, was especially devoted to horse racing, yachting, and dogs (setters and pointers). For a number of years he led the quiet but useful life of a country squire, and spent considerable time developing his place in the country.
Mr. Thayer was an expert yachtsman. He owned three sailing yachts, the Constellation, Sayonara and Papoose. The Constellation won the golden galleon given by J.P. Morgan, in 1894, and the Papoose won thirty-one races.
Mr. Thayer was always very fond of travel, even as a youngster, and as he grew to manhood his avidity for it increased. To an observant and thoughtful individual, the invariable effect of travel is to teach respect for the opinions, the faith, or the worth of others, and to convince him that other civilizations than his own are worthy of consideration. At the same time he will find his love for his own institutions as strong as ever, and his admiration for his native land as warm as on the day of departure. As Mr. Thayer once remarked, with considerable truth: “I have found good among every people, and even where there was much to condemn there was much to admire. I have never returned from a journey without an increased respect for the countries I have visited, and a greater regard for my own land.”
Mr. Thayer’s great hobby was pheasants. He raised two thousand English pheasants yearly on his preserves, using two hundred selected breeding hens and cocks imported each year from the best English flocks. Mr. Thayer was a generous philanthropist to his fellow sportsmen, more than five thousand pheasants were liberated from his place during a period of five years. Hunting parties were invited during the shooting season, which begins in October and continues till December, and a succession of house parties ensued. The preserve is located in a circle of chestnuts, elms, maples and scrub pines, which gives the locality a forest primeval appearance, in the most important pheasant section of the United States.
Mr. Thayer had a real love of trees, and at the age of thirty-eight he began to plant trees on a large scale, selecting for his principal plantations white pine and hemlock, the two conifers best suited to New England. Each year these plantations were extended, and now contain several hundred thousand trees. As an object lesson for future generations of lovers and students of trees he made a pintum, which contains representatives of every coniferous plant which can grow in Massachusetts. Mr. Thayer’s pinetum occupies a picturesque position, protected by natural woods. Generous space has been allowed for the full and free development of the different trees, and no collection of conifers in the United States has such great promise of beauty and interest. This great plantation of pines will long keep green the memory of Bayard Thayer as an intelligent lover and industrious planter of trees.
In his nurseries are contained seedlings of all the new Chinese and Japanese conifers raised on his estate from seeds distributed by the Arnold Arboretum, and many of the best of Wilson’s deciduous-leaved Chinese trees and schrubs. The native laurel grows naturally and in great beauty in Lancaster, and it was his intention to make the laurel the great decorative feature of his property. For further decoration of his domain he raised all the handsomest species of American and Japanese azaleas, the flowering dogwood and other handsome flowering native trees and shrubs. The terrace garden, with its unsurpassed Japanese yews; the crab apple and lilac gardens, and the Dutch garden, with its brilliant display of tulips, were enjoyed by thousands of visitors from all parts of the country. It is doubtful if any American has displayed more good taste and imagination that Mr. Thayer, or has accomplished more for the uplift of American horticulture in so short a space of time.
He was a member of the A.D. Club and Harvard Varsity Club, Cambridge; the Somerset and Algonquin of Boston; the Racquet and Tennis and Union Clubs of New York City; Eastern Yacht, the Country Club, New Riding and Myopia Hunt Club in Hamilton.
He married, September 1st, 1896, Ruth Simpkins, daughter of John and Ruth Sears Simpkins, of “Mayflower” ancestry, and sister of Congressman John Simpkins, of Yarmouth. Her father was one of the founders of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company. Mr. and Mrs. Thayer had four children: Ruth, Constance Van Rensselaer, Mabel Bayard, and Nathaniel. Mrs. Thayer is an officer of the Society of Colonial Dames.
Mr. Thayer died in Lancaster, Massachusetts, November 29th, 1916. He was a man of the noblest quality and extraordinary combination of ability, intellectual power, unforgettable originality and individuality, with a depth of humor and the highest ideal. He was an ardent sportsman and a lover of trees and flowers, with an ever-increasing interest in State and National affairs. He had the frankness and openness that goes with courage and a great capacity for friendship and warmth of heart. In his social life he was delightful, and in his home life no man was more fortunate. He enjoyed that mutual confidence, love and affection which make the marriage relation ideal.

[The Historical Register by E.C. Hill; pub. Cornell University 1921; Digitized Feb. 7, 2014]

Vital Information

  Born  Apr 3, 1862 in Boston,  Suffolk, Massachusetts, the son of  Nathaniel and Cornelia (Van  Rensselaer) Thayer       Married Ruth Simpkins, daughter  of John and Ruth (Sears) Simpkins,  Sept. 1, 1896.              Died November 29th, 1916,  Lancaster, Massachusetts        Children:                                                Ruth Thayer 1864-1941      Nathaniel Thayer 1898-1927    Constance Van Rensselaer  Thayer 1900-1976                      Mabel Bayard Thayer 1908-1993

This guide provided by CBHL