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Dunham, Benjamin W.

Benjamin W. Dunham Papers, ca.1897-1907
1 box (0.25 linear feet)
Call no.: MS 573

Situated on a hill overlooking Quabbin Lake, the Quabbin Inn was a well known resort near Greenwich, Mass. During its peak years during the turn of the twentieth century, the Inn was owned by Otis Dunham, but it figured prominently in the lives of the entire Dunham family.

The Dunham papers contain family correspondence addressed to Benjamin W. Dunham during his service as a machinist with the U.S. Navy. In addition to discussions of the business of the Quabbin Inn, the collection includes news and gossip from the town of Greenwich, the attempted suicide and subsequent hospitalization of Benjamin’s brother Asa, and the migration west of another brother, Herbert.

Background on Benjamin W. Dunham

Benjamin West Dunham was born in Greenwich, Massachusetts, the son of Thomas H. and Helen M. Dunham. Dunham entered the military as an engineer during the Spanish-American War in 1898 and remained in the service as a Navy machinist for several years afterwards, including a berth aboard the Wilkes (1903-1905), when he was based at the Reserve Torpedo Flotilla in Norfolk, Virginia. He remained on duty in Norfolk until December 1906, when he returned to Holyoke and finally, to his hometown in Greenwich in Nov. 1907.

The Dunham family farm produced fresh vegetables, poultry, and milk, and was operated by the entire family, including at various points all four of Benjamin’s brothers — Herbert, Otis, Larkin, and Asa — although like Benjamin, the brothers left the Quabbin region for a variety of reasons as they grew into adulthood. Otis relocated to Boston in 1898 to become an attorney, and two years later, Herbert moved to Texas, where he was married and worked on a farm owned by his father-in-law. Larkin Dunham began his career as a carpenter, working in various cities in eastern Massachusetts. The youngest son, Asa, worked on the farm and at the Inn as a youngster, however while still in his teens, he attempted suicide. While his mother speculated that Asa’s emotional breakdown was triggered by a breakup with a girlfriend, Florence, the condition was both serious and long-lasting. Asa spent the remainder of his life as a patient in state asylums at Northampton and Gardner before dying in 1943.

Otis Dunham, the most financially successful member of the family, purchased the Quabbin Inn in Greenwich on June 22, 1903, and soon built it into one of the area’s premier tourist destinations. Perched on a hillside overlooking Quabbin Lake, the Inn flourished. After Thomas and Helen moved to Needham, Mass., in Nov. 1906, to assist Otis in his new law firm, and bought a farm there and small hotel, Otis began to hire outside the family to staff his hotel, able to afford the expense having seen his salary increased between $1200-1500 per year.

The Inn remained in Dunham family hands through at least 1907, but was later sold off, probably before 1910. It was operated by Robert L. Flanders for several years through at least 1920, and was later said to have been used as a YMCA summer camp.

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Contents of Collection

The Dunham papers include about 125 letters written to Benjamin W. Dunham him while he was an Engineer at Mount Holyoke College and later while he was on duty at the Navy Shipyard in Norfolk, Va. The letters reveal a caring mother who deeply misses her son and a father proud of his son’s service to his country while in the Navy. Helen’s letters nearly always begin with an expression of thanks for the money Benjamin sent home, and most include discussions of day to day domestic life: family matters, the weather, and the gossip and news from their Greenwich neighborhood.

Approximately eighty letters were written by Benjamin’s mother, Helen (September 1898-February 1907); fourteen by his father Thomas (September 1905-February 1907); sixteen by his brother, Otis (October 1898-April 1907); and eight by his brother, Larkin (April 1899-July 1907). The collection includes a handful of letters from friends and colleagues, as well as some from Benjamin’s nieces, Helen H. and Lois Rogers, along with a few newspaper clippings relating Greenwich news.

Collection inventory
Letters: Brazeale, Dora
1900
Box 1: 1
Letters: Dunham, Asa
1903
Box 1: 2
Letters: Dunham, Gaac
1904
Box 1: 3
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1898
Box 1: 4
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1898
Box 1: 5
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1898
Box 1: 6
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1900
Box 1: 7
Letters and Clippings: Dunham, Helen
1900
Box 1: 8
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1903
Box 1: 9
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1903
Box 1: 10
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1903
Box 1: 11
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1903-1904
Box 1: 12
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1904
Box 1: 13
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1904
Box 1: 14
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1904
Box 1: 15
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1904
Box 1: 16
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1904
Box 1: 17
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1904
Box 1: 18
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1905
Box 1: 19
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1905
Box 1: 20
Letters and Clippings: Dunham, Helen
1905
Box 1: 21
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1906
Box 1: 22
Letters: Dunham, Helen
1906-1907
Box 1: 23
Letters: Dunham, Herbert
1898
Box 1: 24
Letters: Dunham, Larkin
1899-1905
Box 1: 25
Letters: Dunham, Larkin
1905-1907
Box 1: 26
Letters: Dunham, Otis
1898-1903
Box 1: 27
Letters: Dunham, Otis
1903-1904
Box 1: 28
Letters: Dunham, Otis
1905
Box 1: 29
Letters: Dunham, Otis
1906-1907
Box 1: 30
Letters: Dunham, Thomas
1905
Box 1: 31
Letters: Dunham, Thomas
1906
Box 1: 32
Letters: Dunham, Thomas
1907
Box 1: 33
Letters: Heminghaun, J.R.
1905
Box 1: 34
Letters: Hermany, Gus
1903-1904
Box 1: 35
Letters: Holder, J.M.
1898
Box 1: 36
Letters: O’Neil, Gertrude
1898
Box 1: 37
Letters: O’Netting, Mary
1898
Box 1: 38
Letters: Overn, Charlotte
1903
Box 1: 39
Letters: Reed, J.T.
1898
Box 1: 40
Letters: Rogers, Helen and Lois
1907
Box 1: 41
Letters: Rogers, Mina
1903-1905
Box 1: 42
Letters: Scottie
1903
Box 1: 43
Letters: Unsigned Correspondents
1899-1904
Box 1: 44

Residue

Administrative information

Access

The collection is open for research.

Language:

English

Provenance

Acquired from Steve Finer, Oct. 2008 (2008-250).

Processing Information

Processed by H. D. Smith, 2017.

Copyright and Use (More informationConnect to publication information)

Cite as: Benjamin W. Dunham Papers (MS 573). Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries.

Subjects
  • Greenwich (Mass.)--Social life and customs
  • Machinists--Massachusetts
  • Quabbin Inn (Greenwich, Mass.)
  • Quabbin Reservoir Region (Mass.)--History
  • Spanish American War, 1898
  • United States. Navy
Contributors
  • Dunham, Benjamin W

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