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Hingham historian’s work lives on in tour

Julian Loring spent years studying the history of Hingham’s buildings and homes.

Claire Loring Warren

Julian Loring spent years studying the history of Hingham’s buildings and homes.

A STUDENT OF HINGHAM: Julian Loring died in 1978 at the age of 79. But the man’s love of, and dedication to, the history of his beloved Hingham lives on.

Loring, longtime town historian, had a lifelong hobby of compiling detailed records about old Hingham homes. He crafted more than 150 notebooks, all of them held by the Hingham Historical Society, each one a detailed history of a neighborhood, said Suzanne Buchanan, the society’s executive director.

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“His work is still the basis for our research for our annual house tour,” Buchanan said.

The society’s 90th annual house tour is scheduled this year for Oct. 5. Seven historic Hingham homes, as well as the Old Ship Church, the Old Derby Academy, and The Old Ordinary, will be part of the tour.

Loring’s day job was as title examiner for the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds and Registry of Probate, and he found much of his information at those registries during his lunch hours over the decades. His records show ownership changes, plans, photos, deed information, and the wills of property owners, many going back centuries.

“For each section of a street, Julian made hand-drawn maps in red and blue of how the neighborhood changed through time so one map will show a section of South Street in, say, 1770, and the next map will show it in 1800, the next 1830, with the owner of each house marked out, and changing property lines delineated,” Buchanan said.

Loring left no historical stone unturned, she said.

“He transcribed it all by hand into notebooks,” she said. “He took pictures of each house. He went through Hingham Journals [the longtime local paper], and if he found a murder that was committed at a house, he wrote that, genealogical records, who married who, everything.”

The result of all that, plus the efforts over the years of hundreds of volunteers and a committee of 12 that works on the tour year-round, has made the Hingham house tour “one of the longest-running in the country,” Buchanan said.

This year’s theme is “Building Prosperity,” she said, about “how people who built these homes used them as expressions of their status, with stylish features and amenities.”

The tour this year will include a Burditt Street house, built in 1915 by Henry and Sophia Plimpton. The floor plan is a traditional Colonial with a library, a sun porch, and center hallway with a large living room and a dining room off either side.

But the Plimptons were rather untraditional in their use of the home, ushering in the Roaring Twenties with no thresholds, so guests wouldn’t trip as they danced the night away, she said. A communication system from the tennis courts to the servant’s quarters allowed for calls for refreshments to be brought outside.

Also of historical note is a Lincoln Street house, built in 1757, with its best-known residents being Frederic and Bertha Goudy, type designers and founders of The Village Press and publishers of “The Alphabet” and “Elements of Lettering” in the early 1900s.

And sometimes more questions than answers are raised, according to handouts that will be distributed to tour takers.

The owners of an East Street home, for example, once found leg irons in a secret room they discovered, leading to the possibility it could have been part of the Underground Railroad. Stationery from the Rocky Nook Tea Room was also found there; Rocky Nook was the name of that section of town, raising speculation that a former owner, opera singer Gertrude Edmands, ran a tearoom there.

The Industrial Revolution largely bypassed Hingham, Buchanan said, thus avoiding the destruction of homes to make way for factories and commercial districts, which “inadvertently preserved Hingham streetscapes.”

The house tour is the biggest fund-raiser for the nonprofit society, she said, with 500 to 700 people a year taking the self-guided tour, raising an average of $12,000 each year. This year, they hope to hit $20,000, Buchanan said, which will fund a variety of programs, including its popular vintage baseball game in June, fall candlelight tours, and children’s camps.

“One of the cool things about the tour is that most house tours cater to a female demographic,” Buchanan said. “But we have a lot of men and women on our tours due to the historical interest.”

Tour takers come from around the area and country, she said, including “builders interested in the bones of the houses. Last year, a Hingham builder loved some molding he saw and replicated it for his work. We get furniture people, history people, antique people, people interested in genealogy, and they come from as far away as California.”

And all of it that is in no small way the result of Loring’s efforts.

“Julian’s work is an indication of his level of detail and dedication,” she said, adding that through his work, and the society’s continuing efforts on the house tour, “you can track the life history of this community.”

Tickets, costing $30 in advance and $35 the day of the event, are available at various Hingham locations and through the society’s website, www.hinghamhistorical.org. A full listing of the houses on tour will be available on the website a couple of weeks before the event.

Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at pkandarian@aol.com.
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