The house was built between 1800 to 1810 as Ebenezer’s fortune grew in the West Indies trade. He purchased the land from an Ebenezer Stocker. His now famous son, William Wheelwright who became a steamship and railroad pioneer in South America actually grew up in this house. Once he had grown and established himself, he built the home next door but rarely ever lived in it. Ebenezer himself, as was customary at the time established a beautiful garden behind his home. Presently there are no descriptions or photographs of what it looked like. The usual composition in those days was to have a fruit orchard, a vegetable garden and some pastureland.
In later years, the home was purchased by Caleb Cushing’s Aunt Chickering, daughter of Eleazar Johnson. When Mrs. Chickering died the house was bought in 1872 by John James Currier, who was very prominent in the community at that time. He had just married Micajah’s niece, Susan Page, and it was he that made major revisions in the home by installing the Mansard roof and making the home into a Second Empire Mansion.
He was a member of the Currier shipbuilding family and he himself was involved in that industry at 2 Merrimac Court. He was also the treasurer of the BayIey Hat Company. Not only was he in shipbuilding but was a direct owner of a fleet that had been built by his firm of John J. Currier, Jr. These included the Blondel” built in 1855, the “Wanpan” built in 1861, and the “Winged Hunter”, built in 1864. Currier was also very active in politics. He signed the petition to annex a western portion of Newbury to Newburyport in 1851 and served on the Common Council in that year. He was elected alderman from Ward 6 in 1863 and 1864 and in 1879 was elected mayor of Newburyport. In 1887 he was elected state senator to serve in the General Court. If that wasn’t enough, he contributed to the Simpson Annex of the Newburyport Public Library and was one of the incorporators of the Historical Society of Old Newbury.
Being well-established, he had the time and the means to assemble four volumes on the history of Newburyport. For years James Currier would be seen driving daily in his horse-drawn gig to work on his histories in the little office of his father’s old shipyard off Merrimac Street. The office was just as it was in the early days, with stand-up desks and a low fence dividing the business part from the place where the people who came on business waited, sitting in wooden arm chairs characteristic of the 1830’s.
Years later, an Alice Higgins purchased the property from the Currier family and then sold it in 1974 to Sadruddin B. Hemani. Presently, his family’s three sons and one daughter have spent their childhood on this land just as William Wheelwright did so many years ago.
The Currier family ‘Victorianized’ the house and was responsible for its current landscaping. They used the famed landscape architect, William Shurcliff, who established the restoration of Williamsburg, Virginia. Mr. Shurcliff, under the guidance of Frederick Law Olmstead, landscaped the Crane Estate. It was believed that the Wheelwright garden and the Crane Estate helped to inspire much of present-day historic Williamsburg’s gardens and landscaping.
It was mentioned in an unidentified magazine article, “A shrub-bordered path leads from the prize-winning porch of Miss Alice Higgins…into the semi-formal garden. The perennial beds on the upper terrace are enclosed by an unusual yew hedge. Two flights of curving steps lead down from the parterre to the rose garden and pool.”
To the Hemani’s credit, they have largely sustained the historic garden leaving it for their posterity and making it one of the most favorite to visit during garden tours!
One of the most amazing things about this home is that only five individuals have owned this mansion since it was built – talk about historic continuity!
1851 Plan of Newburyport, Mass. H. Mclntire
1872 Map of the City of Newburyport, Mass. D.G. Beers and Co.
1851, 1871 City Directories
Assessor’s Records 1890-1980
J. J. Currier, History of Newburyport, 1764-1905, Volumes I and II, reprint.
J. M. Howells, The Architectural Heritage of the Merrimack, New York, 1941
Newburyport, 2011, City of Newburyport Vision Appraisal Online Records.
Newburyport Historic District, www.newburyporthistoricdistrict.org, Historic Survey of the National Register of Historic Places, 1984.
R. Cheney, History of Merrimac River Shipbuilding, Newburyport, 1964
The 29th Annual Garden Tour Book, The Historical Society of Old Newbury, 2008.