The Mansion Inn holds a significant place in Wayland’s history and in the hearts of many residents who lived here during its heyday.
Built as a private home in 1882 by textile titan Michael Simpson, the grand Victorian home sat on a knoll overlooking Dudley Pond. Simpson died just two years after it was built, and his wife moved away. It was rumored that the home was used as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and it eventually became the Mansion Inn, an elegant dining and dancing venue with a lavish ballroom. On May 24, 1956, the Mansion Inn burned to the ground.
The tale of the Mansion Inn and the fire is told elsewhere in detail, with many colorful first-person accounts, including on the Wayland High School History Project website and on the Bryant Funeral Home website.
Here, we’ll focus on other aspects of the story that have gotten less attention: the story of Michael Simpson and Evangeline Marrs, the young woman who became his wife and whose life took several fascinating and important turns after Simpson died; and the sacred uses of the land long before the mansion was ever built.
Born in Newburyport in 1809, Michael Simpson was in his early twenties when he established a successful trading business with a partner. Among other things, they imported horns, hides and wool from Argentina. The dirty and raw condition of the wool prompted Simpson to design and patent a machine to remove burrs from the wool and turn it into usable fiber.
In the 1830s he set up shop in a Saxonville mill and eventually established his own highly successful company, The Saxonville Mills and Roxbury Carpet Company. In the 1850s, Simpson again helped to modernize the industry by patenting a wool combing machine, said to have increased wool production five-fold. The company thrived, with 475 workers in 1871 and a Boston office on Milk Street. Simpson also built a great deal of housing for his mill workers, and became their landlord.
During these years, Simpson and his wife Elizabeth Davies Kilham Simpson and their five children lived in Boston. In 1878, Elizabeth died unexpectedly.
In 1882, Simpson, age 72, married Evangeline Marrs, age 27. Her family owned farmland on Dudley Pond, and Simpson bought adjacent land. On a portion of Marrs land deeded to Evangeline by her mother, Simpson commissioned the construction of an enormous and ornate mansion, near what is today the intersection of West Plain Street and Old Connecticut Path. Pillars still standing at the entrance to Castle Gate Road mark the back entrance to the estate. The “H” and “Y” carved into the pillars represent Harvard and Yale: Simpson’s two sons attended Harvard , and a son-in-law attended Yale.
Referred to locally as “the Castle,” the mansion and grounds featured a covered entrance, extensively landscaped grounds, a stable, bridle paths where Evangeline could ride, servants’ quarters and a windmill to pump water from the Pond.
Simpson’s enjoyment of his new marriage and mansion was short-lived. He died of heart failure in 1884, just two years after moving into his masterpiece, leaving his young wife an estate estimated at $10 to $12 million. Evangeline moved away shortly thereafter, leaving the mansion to Simpson’s son Francis.
Her life was about to get much more interesting.
Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple
The 45-year age difference with Michael Simpson, and the opulent mansion he built for her, turned out to be among the least interesting things about Evangeline Marrs’ life. She went on to become an important champion and generous supporter of social justice for women, Native Americans, and war refugees, both in the U.S. and abroad. She bought and sold numerous pieces of real estate around the region even long after she moved away. And she also led a complicated personal life, shaped by the social norms of the times in which she lived.
After Simpson’s death, Evangeline left Wayland and in 1889 met and began a lifelong romantic relationship with Rose Elizabeth Cleveland, sister of president Grover Cleveland. In 1885-86, Rose had served as our nation’s acting First Lady for her then-unmarried brother, and later became a noted scholar, essayist, poet, and novelist. Letters between the women reveal their passionate love for one another.
Evangeline and Rose traveled together in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States. During their travels, they met Episcopal Bishop Henry Whipple, the first bishop of Minnesota, and his wife Cornelia. Whipple was a well-known advocate for Native American rights.
Cornelia Whipple died in 1890, and in 1896 Evangeline married the bishop, who was 35 years her senior. She moved to his home in Minnesota, where she took up his work as her own. She used her wealth to advocate for and uplift the lives of the poor, local Native American tribes, and women. She provided companionship and care to her husband and was well-regarded in the region.
Bishop Whipple died in 1901, and Evangeline remained committed to the humanitarian work they undertook together. She advocated for equal education for women and financed a school for girls in Minnesota that also housed and taught American Indian children.
She remained in Minnesota for nine years after Whipple’s death. In 1910, she and Rose Cleveland moved to Italy where Evangeline’s brother was living. There they continued to support schools, hospitals, social services for the poor, and — during the war years of 1914-1918 — the Red Cross. Rose Cleveland died in 1918, a victim of the Spanish influenza epidemic.
Evangeline remained in Bagni di Lucca, the village where they had lived, and continued to serve the community. Today if you visit, you may drive on Via Evangeline Whipple, a central roadway named in her honor as a tribute to her good works.
Evangeline died in London at the age of 73. She is buried in Bagni di Lucca next to Rose Cleveland.
The Land’s Sacred History
Thousands of years before the Mansion Inn was built, the area was home to native peoples, and the Marrs land served as a sacred burial site.
In their book "Wayland A to Z: A Dictionary of Then and Now,” Wayland authors Evelyn Wolfson and Dick Hoyt tell the story of the land and how its ancient history was uncovered:
Three years after the fire, the property was sold and construction of 14 new houses began. In the process of lowering a portion of the knoll by 8 feet to level the land for houses and provide better vision for automobiles at the intersection, a bulldozer operator unearthed charcoal and a variety of stones that had clearly been shaped into axes, adzes and gouges. Word got around and before long neighborhood children and a few adults began to collect whatever they could find.
When amateur archaeologists from surrounding towns examined the site, they were astounded at the amount of material that had been uncovered. Children had discovered the most “finds” were located where the soil was black, i.e., charcoal. Eventually, the developer halted work on the area and the police placed a round-the-clock guard on the site until professional archaeologists arrived. Unfortunately, much of the important data had already been lost before representatives from the R. S. Peabody Foundation of Andover could collect scientific data. The soil had been turned over so many times it was impossible to reconstruct an actual picture.
Hundreds of stone axes, adzes, gouges, pestles, and a soapstone bowl had been unearthed.
Professional archaeologists determined the site was probably a 3,000- to 4,000-year-old cemetery site, dotted with pits of debris that had been burned elsewhere and one stone-lined crematory. Professional archaeologist Dena Ferran Dincause of Harvard University, who analyzed data from the site, said, “A period of from one to three centuries of use is considered reasonable for the cemetery; the longer span is favored.”
Dincause’s findings were published in “Papers of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology,” Harvard, University, Vol. 59, No. 1, by the Peabody Museum in Cambridge in 1968, in the article “Cremation Cemeteries in Eastern Massachusetts.” She concluded, “The available evidence from Mansion Inn supports at best a partial and uneven understanding of the site. A cemetery was located on the western, riverward, slope of a knoll. In an area at least 40 by 50 feet in extent, there was an intensive concentration of burial pits. To the south, separate from the pits, was a stone-lined crematory. One cannot even guess how much more there may have been.
Information about the Mansion Inn Blade, a style of projectile point named for the site, can be found here.
To say that local archaeological organizations were disappointed by what happened at the Mansion Inn site is a vast understatement. In January 1960, D.S. Byers of the Peabody Foundation published a strongly-worded piece in American Antiquity titled “The Rape of Wayland” in which he lamented all the learning that was lost:
With the looting of the Mansion Inn site has gone not only all chance of learning about a most unusual burial site, but also chances of obtaining radiocarbon dates for the occurrence of a whole array of tools. Quite possibly we shall never have a like opportunity again.
The Wayland Historical Commission is working with appropriate authorities including Native tribes to repatriate remains and culturally associated funerary objects found at the Mansion Inn site, in accordance with the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA).
Historic Framingham. Michael Simpson of Saxonville. Retrieved Nov. 9, 2018.
Framingham History Center. Michael Hodge. Simpson. Retrieved Jan. 8, 2019
Wikipedia. Evangeline Marrs Whipple. Retrieved Nov. 9, 2018.
Tilly Laskey (May 26, 2017). "Whipple, Evangeline Marrs Simpson (1857–1930)". MNOPEDIA, Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved July 21, 2017.
Evangeline Marrs Simpson Whipple (1930-09-01). "Evangeline Whipple". In honor of the people. Minnesota Historical Society. Retrieved 2016-09-07.
Wolfson, Evelyn and Hoyt, Dick. Wayland A to Z: A Dictionary of Then and Now. 2009. Wayland Historical Society.