By Normand Corbin, Vice Chair, Northborough Historic District Commission
Part 10 of a series of articles on the history of the Daniel B. Wesson “White Cliffs” mansion in Northborough, Mass.
Northborough – As earlier articles have mentioned, Daniel and Cynthia Wesson were very wealthy. They used their wealth for a variety of philanthropic projects. Of their many donations, they are best known for funding two hospitals in Springfield, Mass. The “Wesson Hospital” was started in their home after their $50,000 donation in 1895 to the Springfield Hospital was declined because the Wessons wanted the funding to be used for the controversial homeopathy method of treatment. This treatment was based on a “like-cures-like” doctrine, where a substance known to cause the symptoms of a disease in healthy people would cure a sick person when used on them. In 1906, they donated $100,000 for the construction of a 100-bed hospital focusing on homeopathy treatments. By 1923 the hospital switched from homeopathy to modern-day medicine. The original building is still in use as part of the Baystate Medical Center today.
The other hospital they founded was the “Wesson Maternity Hospital.” After a variety of mergers it is now known as the “Wesson Women and Infants’ Unit” and is also part of the Baystate Medical Center. This unit is devoted exclusively to women’s health needs, family-centered childbirth, and newborn care.
In 1887 the Wessons sponsored the building of the French Congregational Church in Springfield. Mr. Wesson wanted to provide a place of worship for the French Huguenots who were employed at Smith & Wesson. This building, like many Wesson-related buildings, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The building was in the news in April 2016 when it was relocated to make room for the new Springfield Casino. Moving a brick building weighing some 475 tons is quite an accomplishment. The Wessons also financially supported the construction of civic buildings and several fountains that still exist in Springfield today.
After the deaths of Mr. and Mrs. Wesson in 1906, their magnificent mansion was purchased by the Colony Club. This is a private dining and social club that still exists. It was purchased for a mere $16,000 more than Mr. Wesson had paid for the land several years earlier. For all intents and purposes the mansion was donated. Sadly, it was destroyed by fire in 1966.
Northborough was not excluded from the couple’s gift-giving. The Lion Fountain located in the center of town was donated in 1882. There is an interesting article in the April 23, 2014 Community Advocate by Jim Piotrowski about the fountain. (www.communityadvocate.com/2014/04/23/public-art-your-art-northboroughs-wesson-lion-fountain). The town was not very thankful, so it would be the only donation ever given by the Wessons to Northborough!