The Wakefield Estate Library
By Kimberly Hula
While Boston may be able to satisfy your wanderlust this summer
with the city’s endless activities, people and places, it never hurts to
look toward the road less traveled. Make a trip to Milton to visit the Wakefield Estate, a picturesque 21 acre property now operated by the Mary M.B. Wakefield Charitable Trust. Maintained to educate, the
Estate not only offers breathtaking views of lush horticulture and antiquated New England architecture, but also provides youth outdoor education programs and monthly classes and activities in bee keeping, woodworking, kite making, gardening, and more. For more information, please visit the Trust’s website at: http://www.wakefieldtrust.org/.
The Wakefield Estate is not your garden variety estate. Its 21 acres in Milton, MA, have been home to four generations of families. In addition to the lush grounds, large barn, home, and stables, the estate houses an impressive collection of Civil War correspondence, shipboard diaries, genealogical information, deeds, and material culture dating back to the 17th-century, and
photographs from the 19th-century and on. The inception of the Wakefield Charitable Trust, at the bequest of last living estate inhabitant Polly Wakefield, stipulates that the estate (grounds and holdings) be made available to the public as a place for education. As such, Simmons students have had the unique opportunity to work on site in the formation of the estate’s first archives.
The Wakefield Archival Project is novel in that it allows students direct participation in an organic lifecycle of archival discovery, survey, processing, and presentation. Starting with something as simple as an unidentified box, the students have worked collaboratively to instill order and make public the many historical treasures the estate holds. Project curator Mark Smith spoke to the students’ eagerness to make order of the estate.
“The students have a unique opportunity to assess the collection. Together we are trying to discern how to be good stewards of our resources,” Smith said. “While internships are opportune and a boon to any student's resume, these stewards have had the opportunity to weigh in on key decisions and draft recommendations on how to move forward.”
The multifaceted project calls on direct participation from students from a wide array of backgrounds and institutions. Known as Wakefield Fellows, these students come from Harvard University, BU, U Mass, and Simmons, among other institutions, with Simmons students working primarily on the archives and books projects. At present, former Fellow Alina Morris ’09LS continues to work part-time with the Wakefield Charitable Trust. Simmons GSLIS alums Mikki Simon McDonald, Elizabeth Galoozis ’08LS, and current students Gwen Fougy Henry and Moses Carr also worked as Fellows while attending Simmons.
“A good part of the project is to assess and review and to make informed decisions. And the students are involved in each step,” Smith said.
Current student Kelsey Sawyer has worked under project supervisor Rachel Salmond, on the Wakefield Books Project. This requires that Sawyer compile a list of all the books on site — a lengthy and thorough list. Salmond enthusiastically spoke of the students’ participation in the project and is “totally full of praise for their tolerance of dust and chaos and their ability to make sense of it all!”
However, for them to make sense of the scope of all the estate had to offer, an initial discovery phase was conducted. In this, Simmons alum (then student) Moses Carr assisted the consultant archivist, Jeff Miflin, in procuring a survey list of all the archival holdings on the estate. This was a daunting task and Carr and Mifflin braved dusty attics, rodent-ridden boxes and endless paperwork.
“It definitely made for dirty work at times,” said Carr.
While dirty work for the first man on the job, the survey was an indispensible frame for all the student work that followed. Carr said, “Despite the fact that the work was often dirty, it was an enriching experience, and I feel lucky to have been able to take part in it.”
The formation of the archives has been an involved process, according
to Mifflin. The estate housed items from 5 families interrelated since
the earliest recorded deed, dated 1707. Because ownership of the home was kept in the families, many papers were retained on site. Two family owners, the Binneys and the Wakefields, saved every receipt they had. Even more, the
organizational structure for the documents wasn’t always intuitive and didn’t always suggest original order. The complicated nature of the project allowed students many opportunities they are not always afforded in internships with established archives.
Said Galoozis, “It was really interesting to work on the site of the estate, instead of at an archives, and it was gratifying to finish what had been started.”
In addition to hands-on experience, the students also have had opportunities to work with the trust. Mifflin and the students routinely take stock of their progress and create reports to deliver to the Board of Trustees. This allows students exposure to funding concerns, time restraints, and approval processes.
And, according to Mifflin, “They have all done splendidly.”