House For Sale: Fitchburg, MA
The family’s grandfather, Brigham Newton Bullock, a successful railroad and banking executive, built this three-story brick Victorian in 1890 for his bride, Flora. He located it high enough on Prospect Street in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, to allow for views of the town from its curved porches and dramatic tower.
The couple’s only child, Richard, who grew up to be the administrator of the local hospital in Fitchburg, was born in this house and made it his home for his entire life. Even died there. His wife, Nancy, a nurse by profession, continued to live in the house, hosting family gatherings galore but otherwise by herself. Finally, four years ago, she, too, passed away, leaving the place to their four children–Richard, Bunny, Marjorie, and Flora–all of whom now live elsewhere, with children and grandchildren of their own.
So…what next? None of the four is inclined to buy out the other three. And none of the more than half-dozen grandchildren is in a position to take over the property, although one is living there temporarily. The obvious thing to do, of course, is to sell. But, obvious or not, that’s not easy in this case. All of the Bullocks’ childhood memories are within these brick walls (double brick walls, incidentally, with about five inches of space in between). Even all during their adult years, they’ve gathered here with their families for every Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, and so on–and, of course, every Fourth of July weekend.
In fact, that may be the most fun gathering of them all. Before dinner, they all stroll down to Main Street, closed to traffic for the day, and listen to music, see the antique cars, and enjoy the special displays in all of the shops. They might walk up Prospect Street, too, past Applewild School, which serves kindergarten through ninth grade, to the Audubon sanctuary on Flat Rock Road. (Speaking of walking, it’s only about a 10-minute walk to the railroad station, where daily trains head into Cambridge and Boston.) After their Fourth of July dinner (salmon and fresh peas, of course), they gather on the back lawn–part of the home’s half acre of property–to watch the fireworks show that the city puts on every year. “This house has kept us all very close,” says Richard, who, incidentally, heads up a company in nearby Princeton that leases out nine-passenger Learjets. (Want one? Call him at 800-247-6001; bullockcharter.com.) So it is that to the four Bullock children–and their children and grandchildren–this isn’t just a piece of property for sale. (They’ve decided to ask “about” $925,000.) It’s truly an integral part of even the current life of each family member.
It was a beautiful early-spring day when we turned up onto Prospect Street, prepared to drive very slowly until we recognized the Bullock house from the photos that Richard had sent us, along with his directions. Our search required about a second. Because there it was right away–an imposing, beautiful, towered structure up there on the hill to our left, with its two huge maple trees on one side and its red bricks shining in the sun. There could be no other house anywhere exactly like it.
After parking beyond a snug, two-car garage tucked neatly into the banking bordering the driveway, we were met by Richard and Bunny, one of his three sisters, on the expansive, wraparound, covered porch, with its nice view of Fitchburg below. As we went inside and walked to a large living room adorned with photos of past generations of Bullocks, we were particularly impressed by the handsome woodwork in the front entryway, the winding staircase, the dining room, and the library. We noticed a couple of gorgeous stained-glass windows along the way, too.
Once settled in comfortable chairs next to a cheery fire (there are a total of eight fireplaces–four on the first floor, four on the second), Bunny presented us with coffee and a platter of sugar donuts. We politely refused the latter. (Well, truth be told, we eventually had one.) Richard then showed us old photos of the house taken over the past 119 years, as well as a diary his grandfather kept, in which, in meticulously neat handwriting, he recorded every detail of the family’s life here over a period of years. It constitutes a fascinating window into the daily goings-on back in the late 19th century.
At some point, we asked whether we might see a couple of the historic items that Richard had mentioned in his letter to us, things they’d come across in the house while sorting through family possessions after their mother had died: namely, pencils made by Henry David Thoreau and a penholder made from a rail split by Abraham Lincoln. Alas, Richard said, the family had recently decided to part with those things. “We might have been a little hasty,” he added. Of course, even now the family hasn’t been through everything.
Our tour of all 12 rooms (five of them bedrooms), on three floors (including four bathrooms and those eight fireplaces), followed. Richard loved showing us the original coal-fired steam boiler down in the expansive cellar, which contains complete laundry facilities, a small “water closet,” and cleanouts for all the fireplaces. Don’t worry, that old heating system, although still intact and usable, has recently been replaced by a separate high-efficiency gas/oil unit.