The General Tom Thumb House at Warrentown

One of Middleborough's most historically significant architectural treasures is the Charles Sherwood Stratton House on Plymouth Street at Warrentown. Constructed in 1869-70 by Charles Sherwood Stratton and Lavinia Warren (better known as General and Mrs. Tom Thumb), the house was built on the historic Warren Farm opposite Lavinia's birthplace and became a welcome retreat for the couple between grueling months of touring.

 

Stratton purchased the Warren Farm at Warrentown on which the house would be built from Nahum M. Tribou of Middleborough on October 1, 1864. The farm, situated between Plymouth Street and the Nemasket River, comprised the northern third of Tribou's own farm. Tribou had used the 80 acres of land which sloped westwards down to the Nemasket River for cultivation, and following his sale of the property to Stratton, he reserved the right to harvest the remaining crops on the land for the 1864 season.

 

At the close of the same month, the Strattons embarked upon a three-year European tour during which time the property was probably under cultivation by Lavinia's brothers. Upon their return, the Strattons retired to Warrentown and were reported as enjoying "summer at the old homestead" in August, 1867. It appears that for a time at least, the Strattons continued to use the Warrentown property as a farm, and Stratton was awarded a premium at the annual Plymouth County Fair in early fall, 1868.

 

Tom Thumb's Middleboro Massachusetts House - General Tom Thumb - Charles  Stratton

 

A year later, the couple began the construction of a large French Second Empire-style mansion on the farm property, and the construction of this house at Warrentown prompted Lavinia's brother, Sylvanus, to build his own home there, indicating the close ties which the family had. "Sylvanus Bump is putting up a neat cottage house near the residence of his father and brother-in-law 'Tom Thumb,' at Warrentown village." Sylvanus along with his brother George continued to farm the former Warren farm throughout the period, working alongside their father in this effort.

 

In September, 1869, the frame of the Stratton House at Warrentown was damaged by a severe storm in early September. "The most serious disaster occurred to the lately raised dwelling house of Charles Stratton (Tom Thumb) which had just been shingled. It seemed to have been taken up bodily and cast down, broken in fragments, into the cellar." The storm did severe damage throughout town, blowing over some fifty chimneys and damaging the steeples of the Central Congregational and Central Baptist Churches at Middleborough Four Corners. "The morning of Thursday was indeed a ragged looking morning; trees, many valuable ones, small wood sheds, old barns, blinds from houses, glass and sashes from the windows, fences &c., lay around promiscuously."

 

Despite the damage, the Strattons chose to rebuild. As a builder, the couple chose Alvin Crowell, who constructed the house with the couple's needs in mind. Windows were set 16 inches from the floor and stair risers were 6 inches high. To accommodate Lavinia, who enjoyed cooking, a small cast iron range was fitted in the kitchen.

 

 

Given the couple's considerable financial means, the home's exterior was surprisingly modest, though the interior was richly finished in black walnut. The inside was furnished with furniture much of which was scaled to the couple's small size and much of which had been received as gifts. The parlor featured a suite of small furniture which the couple used on the stage as well as a miniature grand piano with a case inlaid with pearl, so small that an average sized person was unable to play upon it. The furniture, in fact, was described as "the smallest practical furniture in use."

 

Somewhat ironically, the couple used normal-sized service china in the home, reportedly "because they had normal appetites," but more likely because they did much entertaining. For meals, Lavinia preferred meat and fruit. "I am fond of sweets, candies of all kinds, and especially peppermint. But I don't care for ice cream," she told a reporter later in life regarding her sweet tooth.

 

In one of the bedrooms was located the bedroom suite which Stratton had used when he first entered public life. The bed featured draperies and a golden crown surmounting the top, and the suite included a matching bureau, dressing table and chairs. Stratton maintained a billiard room on the third floor where the billiard table which the couple had received as a wedding gift was located.

 

Lavinia was inordinately found of domestic pursuits, including cooking, and she particularly enjoyed sewing, possessing a number of miniature machines. Her nephew Benjamin W. Bump later recalled: "My aunt " enjoyed nothing better than running her doll-like sewing machine. This had been one of her wedding presents."

 

Not surprisingly, given Stratton's penchant for horses, a commodious stable was built on the grounds of the Warrentown house in November, 1874, to accommodate not only the ponies but "the blooded horses that the General so enjoyed driving at a fast pace along the country roads"." Stratton's Shetland ponies were well known, it being reported in 1879 that "his Shetland ponies are twenty years old and have been in this country sixteen years. Together they weigh only five hundred pounds. They have trotted forty miles in eight hours." Lavinia, too, favored horses, and in June, 1875, she arrived home at Warrentown with a pony train.

 

The stable was also where "were placed the many little canes presented to the General, the riding whips and the saddle he used. Hanging over chairs were little coats and costumes used by him in the skits he presented on the stage."

 

The Strattons retained the Warrentown house until 1888 when five years after Tom's death, Lavinia sold the property to her brother, Sylvanus W. Bump.

 

Visit the Middleborough Historical Museum (open each Wednesday) to learn more about the Strattons and their Warrentown home life, and for more local history go to www.nemasket.blogspot.com.

 

Article from - Middleboro Gazette - August 05, 2010

 


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