Alden house a ‘landmark’

Written by Administrator
 | Tuesday, 04 August 2009 22:25

John and Priscilla Alden have always been a part of Duxbury’s history. This weekend, they became part of America’s.

Saturday marked a historic day in the annals of the Alden family. The homestead of their progenitors, Pilgrims John and Priscilla Alden, was recognized as a National Historic Landmark, joining an elite company of sites.

For the small group of people who worked on obtaining the designation, John and Priscilla’s descendants known as the Alden “Kindred,” the application process was a labor of love, a project among “cousins,” as the Kindred are known to refer to each other.

Tom McCarthy, Alden descendant and history professor at the US Naval Academy, wrote the application that had to be submitted to the National Park Service. Although the site was already listed on the National Historic Register (a list of about 80,000 sites nationwide) the designation as a National Landmark, a group of less than 2,500 sites across the country, is a far more prestigious honor.

“It’s a promotion,” said McCarthy, who added that people often confuse the two distinctions.

The first steps to the honor were taken around 2003-2004, McCarthy said.

Jim Baker had just become curator of the house, and was doing some research on his own, along with another Alden descendent who has previously worked on colonial architecture at Williamsburg.

McCarthy, a kindred member himself, started to work on preparing an application for landmark status, at the urging of his friend and mentor, National parks advocate Robin Winks.

“He strongly encouraged me to get the process started,” McCarthy said. “It was a lucky confluence of people being involved.”

McCarthy spoke to the complication of the process, noting that the most visible aspect of the site, the circa 1700 house located on Alden Street, is perhaps the least important.

First and foremost is the cultural impact the Alden story has had on American culture. John Alden, the barrel maker on the Mayflower, decided to throw his lot in with the settlers and even –– as postulated by John Adams, an Alden descendent –– may have been the first man to set foot on Plymouth Rock. Another Alden descendent, poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, immortalized John and Priscilla in his work “The Courtship of Myles Standish,” Priscilla’s words to Alden, then acting as an intermediary for Pilgrim military leader Standish, “Speak for thyself John,” established the Aldens as the archetypical Pilgrim couple. Their names were taught in history classes and even graced the labels of cookies.

“They are the best known and most recognizable depiction of the Pilgrims as a whole,” said Baker.

“All Americans had that as part of their cultural back ground,” McCarthy added. “They’ve become the symbolic Pilgrims.”

Also included in the landmark designation is the site of the original Alden home, located several hundred feet away from the existing house behind the school athletic fields. The original site was excavated in 1960, and artifacts were found that shed light on how the original Pilgrims lived.

The site also serves as a sort of monument to genealogy, a testament to the dedication of the Alden Kindred to keeping their shared heritage alive. John and Priscilla had ten children, 70 grandchildren and 400 great-grandchildren. Their descendants include names like Adams and Longfellow, as well as New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger, actor Orson Welles, poet and newspaper editor William Cullen Bryant and former Vice President Dan Quayle.

All of these things together earned the site the historical honor.

“There’s no single site, outside of Plymouth Rock, that pulls it all together like this one,” said Baker.

Maryanne Peaks of the National Park Service came to Duxbury Saturday afternoon to bestow the honor at the Alden Kindred’s annual meeting.

“The federal government recognized what all of you have long appreciated,” she said.

Selectmen Betsy Sullivan also spoke at the ceremony on behalf of the town. She called the site “part of the fabric of what makes Duxbury such a wonderful place to live.”

“Thank you for being part of our history,” she told the crowd.