Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15, 2009 - Dreamwold, Scituate, Massachusetts

Dreamwold no longer exists, at least not as one complete entity. A hundred years ago it was in its heyday, the sprawling and rambling private estate owned by one man with a dream and a humongous pile of money.

Tom Lawson was a classic self-made man of the nineteenth century. His father died of wounds received in the Civil War when Tom was a young boy. He dropped out of school to work in a bank, and by the time he was 30 years old he was making millions. At his richest, estimates say he would have been worth as much as $1.2 billion in today's money. He was Ted Turner. He was Vince McMahon.

His estate is in pieces today. The brilliance that drove the creation of his fortune was itself driven by cantankerousness and intractability. In the end, that's what tore it apart. His stubbornness forced him to sell his massive property in lots, breaking apart the estate he had built and marketed to the world as the breeding place of champion horses and dogs.

The kennel stands today, down Bossy Lane, past the Lawson Gates. There's supposedly a giraffe buried in the backyard, a remnant from the days of the wild animal farm that briefly inhabited the land after Lawson was gone. Today, a Cooper's hawk watched over the area.

Many of the original houses from the estate still stand - the homes he gave to his daughters, the manager's house, the Nest (the home he built as a getaway from the manor house), all noticeable for their Dutch gambrel style roofs. There's even a remnant of the five-mile run of Kentucky fencing he put up to mark his boundaries. The water tower he built looks down on the rear of the manor house.

There's even an audio echo from the days of Lawson. The recent re-opening of the Greenbush train line, which ran alongside his estate - in those days, quick access to the rail was an indication of opulence - brings back the days of the Lawson Flyer, the train that he paid to whisk him directly into Boston from his estate in 37 minutes. The Greenbush line roared by today, but did not stop to pick up the man once known as the Copper King. He's been gone a long time.

Time: 40 minutes.

New species: None.

Stranger hellos: 2 (143).

And the rest of the day: gave a lecture on conservation as part of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church mass; took a long walk with Michelle and our baby boy; magazine and nonprofit work.


  1. Wow - great story, one I hadn't heard before! How sad that Lawson chose to break up his estate and sell it in separate lots... there seems to be some underlying symbolism there.

  2. I wrote a book about him with a coauthor a few years ago. He had lost all his money in stock dealings - the rest of the market getting back at him for what he had done to them - and was so enraged that he decided that when he went, Dreamwold would go with him. He died as they were dismantling the place.

  3. I've been trying to find someone who can remember Chase's Wild Animal Farm, the one mentioned in the above piece. I vaguely remember the dirt road between Dreamwold and Sunlight for the Blind during the early '50s. I have Googled it but there is really nothing there. Are there any photos that still exist? Does anyone remember going there?

  4. Martha, I remember Chase Wild Animal Farm from the early 50s down behind Dreamwold, on a slope under the trees. I recall a monkeys' enclosure, maybe 7 or 8 feet tall, and feeling sorry for the animals. I think they moved to southern NH - did it become Benson's Wild Animal Park or the like?

  5. I'm Leroy Legasey, I know all about Chase's Wild Animal Farm and when it started. Can you please contact me at Home(760)-323-2629. Cell (760)-641-4101 Thank you.

  6. My parents had their wedding reception at Dreamwold in 1962.

  7. In the early 1970's, Dreamwold was a nightclub of local Rock n Roll bands. You could dance around room to room with colorful walls and crazy black lights.