NORTHBOROUGH — Did you ever wonder why Daniel B. Wesson of Smith and Wesson fame decided to build a summer mansion in the little town of Northborough?
The story of the White Cliffs began in March of 1840, when Captain Cyrus Gale agreed to rent a shop near the Assabet River and Main Street in Northborough to a gunsmith who had been working in Grafton. This gunsmith was Edwin Wesson, Daniel’s older brother. At the time, Edwin was famous as being the best maker of target rifles and pistols. Three years later, 18-year-old Daniel became his apprentice.
While learning the trade, Daniel fell in love with Cynthia Hawes, who lived a bit further east on Main Street. We know that her father did not believe Daniel had much to offer. He is quoted to have said that “Daniel was a mere gunsmith with no future.” As a result, Cynthia and Daniel eloped and married on May 26, 1847 in Thompson, Conn. where Edwin had moved his business. Little did her father know the success he would have in later years.
Eventually Daniel and Cynthia resided with their children in Springfield Mass. near the Smith & Wesson factory.
After Cynthia’s parents’ deaths, (her father in 1852 and mother in 1870) she requested that they build a summer home partially on the land her parents owned in Northborough.
The mansion was completed in 1886 when Mr. Wesson was 61 years old. Construction costs were on the order of $300,000, a considerable price in those days. It contained elaborate carvings, stained glass windows, gas lit chandeliers, 17 fireplaces and 32 rooms. European craftsmen were brought in for the construction. It was said that each room was made of wood from a different part of the world with furniture to match. After the completion of the mansion the Wessons came to Northborough every summer until about 1901, when their health began to fail.
Thanks to Bob Ellis and Brian Smith for providing me with information on the Wessons.
White Cliffs is a longstanding feature in Northborough. Conversations regarding its future have continued after Town Meeting purchased the mansion in 2017.
To educate the community as to its history, the Community Advocate is republishing Normand Corbin’s series on White Cliffs in print and online. This is part 1 of a series of articles on the history of the Daniel B. Wesson “White Cliffs” mansion in Northborough.