History of Locust Lawn Club and the Locust Lawn property

The Locust Lawn Club was a recreational club intended to provide year-round activities using the land and facilities (e.g., a big 1856 barn) located on the former Locust Lawn estate, Nichols St, Danvers, MA. The Club was established in 1950.

Examples of L. L. Club activities: Skiing; square-dancing; barbeques; Halloween parties in the old barn; sledding on Cranmore hill. Skiing was by far the most popular activity. Thus the club was also called the Locust Lawn Ski Club.

Membership was capped at 100 paying adults; typically about 45-50 families belonged.

I think that the Club was a clever way to pay the taxes on the land and thus keep this 35-acre property open and undeveloped. My great aunts who owned the land probably had very limited income and would have been tempted to sell part or all of the land they were not using. My father, Nathan "Nick" Nichols, lived nearby and already had developed a few ski trails on the property. I think he started the Locust Lawn Club as a way to involve others in the skiing and to help his family pay the property taxes. I've never seen any of the financial statements or tax bills, however, so I can't say how well the economics worked. As a child who grew up with 35 acres of woods and fields to play in, I think this was a wonderful success. Another part of the success was the cows who grazed the grass and brush each summer, thereby maintaining open ski slopes and trails. (A Danvers farmer paid the family to rent this pasture space.)

Did the L. L. Club save the L. L. property? For about 20 years, yes, though some small parcels of the land were sold to family members for houselots. But in 1971 the construction of an extension of Rte 95 from Topsfield to Boston ran right through a portion of the property, removing most of the ski hill. The ski tow operation was relocated to Topsfield, but eventually ceased when liability insurance requirements became too onerous.

Much more could be written about the history of the Locust Lawn property. There are many stories to tell. For instance, my father's favorite climbing tree at the top of the hill allowed him to see Salem harbor to the south. Sugar maple trees along the "back avenue" were tapped by my mother every spring and we made our own maple syrup. Girl scout troops used to come and watch that process. My sister and I enjoyed the children's book Going on Nine, which is dedicated "TO ALL THE LITTLE GIRLS WHO PLAYED AT LOCUST LAWN." The author, Amy Wentworth Stone, grew up in the big Italianate mansion that used to be there. Her story seems to be autobiographical and has lovely sketches of the house and property. See Charles S. Tapley's book Country Estates of Old Danvers, page 43, for information about owners of "Locust Lawn" from 1856 to 1917. E.g., "In 1856, Edward D. Kimball of Salem, a prominent merchant and ship owner, built on the side of 'Dale's Hill' a fine residence." ..."In 1917, Dr. and Mrs. John Holyoke Nichols bought 'Locust Lawn' but they never occupied it, and the mansion was torn down several years ago." Tapley's book is undated, but I know the mansion was torn down in 1944. A school ran there for a while. Someone created a small golf course once; one of the "greens" was at the base of the best sliding hill, causing an exciting bump as you dropped over its edge. There used to be a dog kennel at the base of the hill east of the big barn; heavy snows in the winter of 1948 collapsed its roof.

In 1956 my parents bought about 2 acres (including the foundation of the old mansion) and built a new home overlooking the sloping lawns of the former estate. In 1965 my wedding reception was held there, with folkdancing on the front lawn. Our get-away car was "Oswald" -- the very same car that had been used as a ski-tow at Russell's about 25 years earlier!

Earlier history is even more interesting. In 1692 this property was part of a much larger piece owned by the Prince family, and the region was then called Salem Village. The very first victim in the 1692 witchcraft tragedy was Sarah (Warren) Prince Osborn, who lived on Spring Street. Sarah's house, moved to Maple Street, still exists. She was accused of being a witch, arrested, and taken to jail in Boston, where she died before the witchcraft trials finished. My sister and I discovered in 1992, as we prepared to attend the unveiling of the Danvers memorial commemorating the 300th anniversary, that we are descended from Sarah and this Prince family, and grew up on her land! Our connections to this Locust Lawn land go 'way back!

This webpage maintained by Sandy Nichols Ward.
Last updated 1/13/02; links revised 3/04.