Historians of colonial New England architecture have traditionally viewed eighteenth century Plymouth County as a rural backwater of poor subsistence farmsteads and small vernacular dwelling houses. An analysis of the estate and ironworks constructed by the Oliver family in Middleborough contradicts this notion.
The sophisticated industrial and domestic structures that made up this industrial plantation illustrate the family’s economic prosperity and social position within their community. Developed between 1744 and 1775, the site originally incorporated a vast water powered ironworks and two mansion houses built by Judge Peter Oliver and his son, Peter Oliver Jr. This complex is significant for historical, technological and architectural reasons.
As one of colonial America's first industrial entrepreneurs, Judge Oliver used his influence in the provincial government of Massachusetts to garner royal contracts for his iron works and brought Middleborough’s economy into the international arena. The rolling and slitting mill built by the Judge in 1750 was one of only two similar works in the Province of Massachusetts.
The Olivers used the wealth generated by their ironworks to build two significant gentry mansions during the third quarter of the eighteenth century. These domestic structures exhibit a level of sophistication which set them apart from local and regional building traditions.
During the final, tumultuous years before the American Revolution, Oliver and his family were branded as loyalists and fled to Canada and then eventually to England. The family’s estate in Middleborough was confiscated and auctioned by the newly independent state of Massachusetts and two inventories of the family’s personal possessions and property were made.
Originally incorporating two dwelling houses laid out in a landscaped park, the estate was described by Governor Hutchinson as “one of the loveliest spots in all his majesty’s colony.” As it exists today, the property developed by the Oliver family in the eighteenth century is a mere shadow of its former glory. Oliver Hall, Judge Oliver's residence was burned by the patriot mob in 1778, and no trace of the magnificent mansion or its landscaped park survives. Thankfully, Peter Oliver Jr.’s house did not share the fate of the Hall. This elegant Georgian mansion remains as a symbol of the architectural legacy of the Oliver family.
Today, Middleborough’s Tourism Committee is in the process of trying to save this significant piece of Middleborough History. We are working with the following organizations to acquire the Oliver Estate, which includes 54 acres of Nemasket riverfront property, the original 1769 house, carriage house and barn:
- Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife
- Wildlands Trust
- Weston Forest
- Pond Fields Foundation
- NFWF Acres for America
- Middleborough’s Community Preservation Committee
The project will preserve open space, provide recreational land and preserve an historic home. The Tourism Committee will be going to the October 2014 Middleborough Town Meeting with a warrant article asking Middleborough voters to approve moving forward with the Oliver House project. The Oliver Estate Assessment Reuse Study can be found on Middleborough's town website at: http://www.middleborough.com/News.aspx?1391.
1.The Peter Oliver House, 1769. http://nemasket.blogspot.com/2011/09/peter-oliver-house-1769.html
2.Iron Bars and Genteel Culture in Southeastern Massachusetts: The Development of The Oliver Estate and Ironworks in Middleborough, Massachusetts 1745-1777. Walter Frederick Eayrs. May 2002
3.Oliver, Peter (1713-1791). American Eras. 1997. Retrieved September 07, 2014 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-2536600574.html.
4.Project – Peter Oliver House Project. Middleboro Community Preservation Committee. Retrieved September 07, 2014 from MiddleboroCPA.org: http://middleborocpa.org/2014-peter-oliver-house-project/.