This is being written in 1977 by his son, Russell Leavitt. The idea is that one or another person in generations that succeed me may find it of interest--either entertaining or out of curiosity--to read about an ancestor who would otherwise be lost in the mists of time. Part (I) is a short biography which aims to help a reader of my actual recollection in Part (II) to identify times and places which otherwise may well become intermingled and confusing in the telling.
Part (I) Biographical sketch. RGL was born Sept. 28, 1865 and died in October 1942, both in North Parsonsfield, Maine where he lived much of his life in the big white four-chimneyed * house at Blazo's Corner. He was the only offspring of Susan Chapman Blazo and John Greenleaf Leavitt, a Congregational minister, who had been married in the early 1860s. The latter held pulpits in various parts of Maine before his most important one which was in Webster, Mass., where he became intimate friends with the town's principle dry goods merchant, William Towne Shumway. This is worth noting because one of the Shumway daughters was later the bride of RGL and the mother of Russell Leavitt. John G. Leavitt died in 1885; while the Leavitts continued to live in Webster my father attended Worcester [Academy], then went to Harvard College, living in Cambridge. While there he went in for athletics and became intercollegiate pole vault champion as well as a prize-winning jumper. He was graduated AB in June 1889. He taught school at DeVeaux School in Niagra Falls, N.Y., then at Williston Seminary in Easthampton, Mass. He and Janet Shumway were married in 1890. Their honeymoon trip was delayed (lack of funds?) until 1894 when they made a two-month trip to Europe (a diary kept by my mother tells of the embarking from Montreal on a cattle boat, of bed bugs, of running into ice bergs, of visiting England, Germany, Switzerland and Paris). RGL evidently studied for and took his M and PhD degrees at Harvard in the latter 1890s and the family lived in Cambridge. He wrote "Leavitt's Outlines of Botany," a standard text book at the time; it was published by the Harvard University Press. He probably did teaching as well for the family did not starve. Around 1900 he became a "partner" in botanical research with Oakes Ames whom he knew at Harvard and who was a wealthy person with his own greenhouse and laboratory (and staff) in North Easton, Mass. It was certainly a partnership so far as research goes but RGL was obviously paid a salary by Ames. Our family moved to Stoughton, Mass. (four miles from North Easton) and it was there in early 1902 that my mother died (pneumonia with tuberculosis in the background). I hardly remember her though I do recall being taken into her bedroom. Dad kept on working with Ames and my grandmother Leavitt was brought in to act as a substitute mother for the next several years. The botanical research centered on orchids. Ames and RGL made one trip to Holland and one to Cuba in pursuit of their subject. A definitive work on orchids was eventually published as the outcome.
In 1906 a marked change occurred in RGL's life. He married Ida Gertrude Ruggli of Cambridge (graduate of Radcliffe around, probably just before 1900 ) in October. A daughter Constance Ruggli Leavitt was born in 1907 (as it happened eleven years to the day after RL's birthday, on Dec. 19th.) He ended his Ames connection in 1908 and began a new career as head of the department of biology at the New Jersey State Normal School (teacher's college) in Trenton [New Jersey College], to which city the whole family moved in the late summer. This was a change from RGL's relatively closed life of Stoughton where his activities were on a small scale; he had been a member of the Town School Committee and somewhat active in the Congregational Church, but most of his duties were with his family. No social life. Now he became part of the broader, more worldly world. His mother (Grandma Leavitt) retired to Blazo Corner, to which the whole family migrated every summer both then and for years thereafter. [A note should be inserted here about the big house at Blazo's Corner. Grandma Leavitt died there early in 1920. She had owned half of the property and this went to her son under her will. The other half belonged to her sister, "Aunt Emily Browne" who died circa 1930 leaving it to daughter Mrs. Maude [Browne]Varney who in her turn at her death left her share equally to me and brother Bob. Both of us arranged to transfer our shares to RGL and Ida in the 1930s and 1940s.] RGL palpably enjoyed his life in Trenton. He took part in establishing a small Unitarian church there. About 1914 he and Ida bought land in Morrisville, PA, across the river from Trenton. They had a house planned and in due course built there. This was their residence until he retired from teaching in 1928 and perhaps after that. His two sons had, meantime, gone away to college, (Harvard), then to war and both had jobs in NY City from 1920 onward. Both were married in 1922 and RGL's grandchildren began to arrive on the scene in 1923-24. Constance was being educated; he, himself, was in good health into the 1930s. The three of them made an extensive tour of Europe in 1929. Constance was married in 1931  and she and her husband lived for the most part near RGL and Ida. RGL suffered painful losses in the stock market crash that began in October 1929 and his health declined during the 1930s--a mastoid operation in Greenwich in 1931 and deterioration of bone structure of the spine later. He continued his studies and in 1932 published a slender Forest Trees of New England." He and Ida lived in Maine and Cambridge, alternating with the seasons, and some of the time in Virginia where Constance's husband's work had moved. She had son Robert in 1936. Dad's summers continued at Blazo's Corner and there he died while walking on the nearby road in 1942, just after his birthday number 77. His body was buried in the near-at-hand family burial ground.
Part II, Personal Recollections Concerning GRL and his doings.
My recollection of events in my father's life are many and varied. They often make good reading, I hope. All the same. recollections on a piecemeal basis miss something, i.e. the picture as a whole. Therefore I start with concise statements of what he was like as a whole person/ Three qualities shine through and surround the details of what he was and did.
(1) All along his persistent aim was to serve others rather than himself.
(2) He was imbued with a stubborn joie de viore of his own personal variety. It burst forth intermittently in what he planned and did, not in utterance. It continued as long as he was in good health.
(3) He was held in loving respect and was, throughout his life viewed as the head of his branch of the Leavitt clan.
His individual characteristics were those of a "loner;" he was a quiet person, inventive and creative, a leader only in certain times and under certain conditions. He seemed naive, sometimes unwise in worldly affairs, puritanical, not an easy social personality, conspicuously compassionate toward animals, a "liberal" in viewpoint, tempered by some real prejudices. Such traits are no more mixed or contradictory than one observes in almost any "normal" person.
Part II Personal Recollections etc. (cont.)
(B) Events and their surroundings
My first clear memories of my father come from the period after my mother's death and while Grandma Leavitt was, in effect, my "surrogate" mother. It was a time when people were feeling a clash between long accustomed life styles and the on-rushing modern world. RGL. born in the horse and buggy age, matured in the age of the Iron Horse. Railways were now threading the entire eastern U.S., running, it seemed, headlong, across streets and highways.
An early recollection is of my father making with his own hand-tools a pair of small, play "crossing gates" for brother Bob and me in our own back yard. In real life, crossing gates were placed where rail tracks crossed a busy street or main highway. They were barriers against collisions, lowered when trains were nearing, raised after passage. It is impossible to convey the drama in a small boy's soul if he happened to be at hand when the keeper cranked the gates down. For then came the whistling, bell ringing, steam hissing, altogether clamorous monster while the boy trembled safely behind the gates, both scared and thrilled.
To make a long story short, my father (who must have felt like vibrations in earlier years) placed his small gate models in our sand pile at home where one of us would play locomotive, the other the gate keeper. The locomotive made as much noise as a boy can and the young actor moved his arms back and forth like piston rods. The drama stamped itself on my memory with RGL back and, as it were, applauding.
It must have been about the same time that RGL and his confrere Ames went to Holland to do some work on orchids. He took brother Bob and me into Boston to see the Cunard liner "Saxonia" on which they were to cross the Atlantic. I cannot forget his showing us over the ship with its great red funnel. But I especially remember his return. It had been notified in advance and Bob and I were sent walking down Seaver Street in Stoughton to meet him who would be walking up from the station. I can feel his warm embrace and the bristle of his beard when he kissed me. He gave a package to each of us to carry. It turned out that there were colored prints of Holland, framed and destined for house decoration. I remember that these were discovered, on their being opened, to be marked "made in USA," and that he was taken aback. This is worth mentioning only because it shows so clearly his un-worldliness.
Life for young boys in the Leavitt household in those years was marked by Saturday or Sunday afternoon walks with father. In the spring it was searching for the Mayflower in swampy meadows or woods, in other seasons for odd insects or plants. RGL the naturalist, the lover of outdoors.
I have mentioned that he was imaginative and creative. The words come close to describing what he did by way of transporting himself to and from the Ames Laboratory in North Easton, four miles away, where his daily work was. He bought himself the very latest thing in the way of bicycles, a "Columbia Chainless" (species now extinct). It was powered by pedals via a rod encased in metal tubing geared to the back wheel. It was admired in the neighborhood and, except in snowy or icy conditions, Dad covered the eight miles on it daily. He always carried a protection against possible attack by a dog a water pistol filled (i.e. loaded) with ammonia. While he was there in North Easton, it was arranged that Bob and I should go to see him there several times. He was always joyful to see us and took delight in showing us whatever there was to excite or interest young boys. Two men, Tim and Tom, who were staff aides, joined in the fun, demonstrating a monkey swimming in the greenhouse pool, parrots and other exotic birds, etc. with Dad always as an escort. These visits surely reflected him as, looking back now, the lonely widower. Family had more allure for him than botanical study.
In Stoughton my memory recalls sharply RGL as lover of music. He was conductor (and the tenor voice) of the small Congregational church choir. Preparing probably for the next Sunday's service, I can hear him singing in his bath at home: “Fear not! Fear not! For behold I bring you good tidings of great joy....” The choir members presented him, when we left Stoughton for Trenton, with a lovely black baton adorned with some silver.
Enjoyment of music ran right through his years. In Trenton we acquired one of those hand-powered phonographs. Its coil spring had to be left well wound up lest its pitch began to sag. And this was replaced in due time by a player piano, foot or leg powered. Recordings on slotted paper rolls produced lovely music as the pumped in air ran through the slots and controlled the keys in a manner still pretty mysterious to me. The pianist (if he could deserve that title) could control fff and ppp with levers at the keyboard. A good deal of what is called classical music came into Leavitt family ears by these crude mechanisms.
But I am getting ahead of my recollections—timing has become disordered in the telling. A great change in the whole family situation, which gave RGL and all of us new life in more senses than one.
The renewed family
In October 1906, Dad married again. And thenceforth a very considerable transformation in his mode of life, that is in his spirit, came forth. The event itself was before we left Stoughton. Indeed, Constance, who surely symbolizes the change, was born before we moved. But all credit must be given to Ida Ruggli the bride. She was nearly ten years younger than Dad. Her experience had been much more of the great world than was his (she had a job in the office of the widely known Boston law firm, a partner of which became Supreme Court Justice Brandeis). She was one of five sisters of whom only one had married. The arrival of Constance must have introduced a sense of urgency (might not the family increase still further) over and above Ida's realism. She must have made it clear that to continue with Ames would lead to a dead end and I have no doubt she set Dad on a path of a new occupation.
RGL's New Life as Teacher
When in due course, he got the job as head of the department of biology at the state teacher's college (Normal School, then) to start in September 1907, the situation became vivid in my mind through hearing (probably over-hearing) an intra-family conversation in Stoughton. In awestruck tones someone—probably my grandmother-- was being told of the enormous increase in pay which the new job would bring. He was to have a salary of $2,000 a year!
In my memory he obviously enjoyed involvement in the school life. Two small incidents are small illustrations: Here at age of about 45 he was playing baseball for the faculty against the alumni in an annual “fun” game. And what a kick he got out of being asked to be toastmaster at the annual dinner of a women students' sorority, “The Ionians.” This was held at Trenton's swank restaurant and the girls had a taxi cab to fetch him downtown and bring him home. He told the family afterward of a rhyme he composed on his way and had recited. About like this:
“Being your guest here my pride it doth tickle
The Ionian belles are certainly 'swells'
I usually come down for a nickel” * (streetcar fare circa 1911)
[*As recalled by my grandmother Ida : “The taxi's a stylish ve-hicle/To ride in it my pride it doth tickle/The Ionian bells are certainly swells/I usually come down for a nickel”]
Trenton and Blazo's Corner
City life was no barrier to his feeling for his friends of the animal world. A small instance: he somehow managed to trap a skunk in our back yard. Maybe it was a baby animal when caught. Anyhow it was given a home at the bottom of a large barrel that stood upright on the back porch where it was fed and tamed. The rest of the family was very much afraid of getting anywhere near, needlessly so. I don't know the fate of the small unattractive animal.
The connection with animals leads me to the story of what I still think was one of Dad's finer exploits. I should explain that our vacations were always at Blazo's corner and that part of his time there was given to what he regarded as in some sense “farming.” He bought perhaps 20 acres on the road to Porter, a place with a great barn close to the road near the foot of Churchill's hill, a mile from Blazo's corner. The foregoing will make it clear why a horse was needed—to plow, cut and rake hay, transport RGL, Bob and me, back and forth in a farm wagon.
He met this need in a way few would have considered possible. A Trenton family of some prominence had a Kentucky thoroughbred gelding that served as their coach horse. The time (circa 1909) had come for “Breeze,” the horse, to be replaced by an auto. Dad saw clearly that Breeze could become his not very hard worked draft animal in Maine. So he bought no longer young Breeze—and a nice buggy along with him—for that purpose. But this only begins the story.
Dad sent the rest of us on ahead to Parsonsfield and, by himself, drove Breeze and buggy all the way, some 400 or more miles, to join us at Blazo's corner. The journey took two weeks (perhaps more) and one job of horse shoeing en route. His track was northward to Bear Mt. Bridge across the Hudson below Poughkeepsie(just built), thence via the Berkshire Hills to Greenfield where he stopped a night with the Russell family. And so to Keene, N.H. and eventually, skirting Lake Winnepesaukee on the south, to Ossipee and Blazo's corner. Those were days when autos were becoming nearly commonplace and when longish horse-drawn travel was all but a thing of the past. No wonder RGL's exploit was the talk of the town, locally at least. Breeze was a gentle creature, beloved by us all.
Dad did plant young apple trees on his land, hoping to establish an orchard of “Machintosh Reds.” (This scheme never matured; it was aborted by gnawing mice, browsing deer, etc. But in any case it seems clear from another event that his “farming” was, as much as anything else, really an extension of his interest in laboratory work. A wild apple sapling had taken root near the barn. This kindled his imagination (and maybe his sense of fun—what I've called his own private brand of jore de livre). Anyhow, he sent off to Orono (Maine State Agricultural Station) for scions of a dozen different varieties of apples known to be hardy in Maine. These he grafted onto a dozen different branches of the young wild apple tree. When the grafts had “taken” and buds began to promise early blooms, still another step had to be taken. It was important, it seems, to make sure that each each newly grown blossom be pollenated (I hope that is the right word) by pollen from the same variety (ask me not why!) So he tied paper bags around each prospective producer of fruit and did the fertilizing himself, instead of leaving it to the random work of the bees, tying each one tight again after the work was done. In appearance, thus, the sapling became a tree full of “paper bag fruit and this attracted local farmers or just passers by on the road. RGL was an inventive person, an original thinker and courageous.
His feeling for the joy of life flourished in other ways. In 1909 he took Bob and me on a tramping trip to the White Mountains, indeed to the top of Mt. Washington and home again. The first leg was via Effingham Falls to West Ossipee on a hot summer day. All went well until, passing across the plain north of Lake Ossipee, a thunderstorm came upon us. Dad made us lie down, rods apart, amid low blueberry bushes as the most likely way to avoid lightening. We had just settled down when he jumped up with a shout that scared me. But the alarm went as suddenly as it had come. He had laid himself almost on top of a bee's nest and had taken a fast move to safety with his shout. After a night at an inn in West Ossipee we hiked to and climbed Mt. Chocorua, sleeping the night just below the peak. Thence, our course took us to North Conway where we were joined by Ida's sister Clara (spinster school teacher on vacation). We all took the train through the “notch,” left it at Crawfords and started up the trail to the “tip-top house” of Washington. It took us all day—in bright sunshine, mostly above the tree line. Clara was lucky enough to find that the house had one room with a bed available, but we “men folk” slept on what Dad called the “soft-pine” boards of the floor. In the morning, Clara went down by the cog-wheel train, and we three took the “carriage road” as it was then called to the Glen House, walked the 17 miles to Jackson, caught a train to Cornish (Maine) and so walked that 8 miles to Blazo's corner. A long day! RGL loved the whole venture as much as did we youngsters.
In a later year (1914) he and I did the thing over again by a different and wilder route. He was then all but 50 years old. The love of the outdoors, the closeness to nature were still abundantly in him.
Going backward a bit in time (the episode was in 1907) I recall vividly the same traits in Dad—his love of the outdoors, his persistent drive to enjoy life in his own way—also his “creativity.” We were at Blazo's Corner. Ida was pregnant with Constance. We had staying with us Clara and, I think, Eva—Ida's sisters. Dad planned a “camp-out” for all of us, including two of Ida's nephews, Leland and Fred Whitney, lads roughly the same age as Bob and me. Yards of unbleached cotton cloth were bought and the ladies spent days in making two large “wall tents.” one for the ladies, the other for us gents. The whole apparatus was carted to the Ossipee River bank just beyond the mouth of the South River. There we fished, swam, had cook-outs (by a great fire at night) for maybe four days. Great fun, designed by RGL.
Dad neither smoked nor drank alcohol. But I recall an occasion about 1912 when his high principles were slightly derailed—an accident. He was driving Breeze back from Kezar Falls on a sunny afternoon and passing George Young's house, perhaps half a mile from the Porter Bridge, was hailed by old George who wanted him to come sit on the porch and pass the time of day. Dad did so and gladly sipped some of George's home-made cider as they talked. Delicious it evidently was, with no hint to Dad of its hardness. Anyhow, in due course he arrived at Blazo's Corner red in the face and finding everything pretty funny. Bob and I took care of Breeze. Dad slept it off. It was never spoken of within the family circle.
It wasn't long after that time when Dad, with his persistent vitality, bought some acreage in Morrisville, Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River from Trenton. He and Ida had a house designed in accord with their dreams and, after some delay had a house built there in which they lived for the next ten or fifteen years. t is not easy to fix the dates of the move to Pennsylvania but it had been accomplished by the time Bob and I had gone off to college, i.e. in the autumn of 1913.
These recollections become less ruled by the calendar as my absence at college (and thereafter) inevitably reduced or made more intermittent my direct contact with Dad and the others. RGL had sought (and I am anxious to record this, to instill in me (and Bob) a sense of self reliance and to push us toward maturity. I keenly remember how in September 1911, he encouraged me to apply for and get a day off from school in order to go off alone to Philadelphia (by train, of course) to stand in line and get into the ball park to see a World Series baseball game, the first pro-baseball game I had ever seen. I can still name most of the players on those two famous teams!) Dad's efforts along these lines were persistent. Bob went to N.Y. to work in Uncle Will Russell's office in the summer of 1915 and in the same year I was dispatched to work picking peaches in the renowned peach farm near Waterbury, Connecticut. Then in the 1916 summer I was encourage to work in New York, again with the help of Uncle Will Russell, in whose apartment I lived. I cite these episodes merely to show RGL's unremitting sense of responsibility to get his offspring started in adulthood. With me, I had to be pushed because at that stage I was indeed immature.
1916 was the year of a considerable polio epidemic in the U.S. At the summer's end when Bob and I came to spend a week or so at Blazo's corner, we were met by Dad who, before we were allowed to come inside, made us shed our clothes in the field back of the house, there to bathe and put on something tat hadn't been near the cities. We were thus decontaminated. RGL the family's guardian against peril! RGL the scientist at work!
Trenton and the later years
(Here seems to be the place for some speculative thought about R.G.L. I wondered at the time and have ever since about Dad's inner feelings relative to Uncle Will Russell. I was named after him. He had married my mother's elder sister, Kate Shumway (Aunt Kate). Their marriage had only one offspring, a girl (Cousin Janet Russell of Greenfield, at this writing in her 92nd year. In the light of some of the facts below, he must have yearned for a son for he treated me more or less like a son. Dad had hoped I would be a scientist, perhaps a teacher, possibly a scientific farmer. He suggested going to Cornell and, at another time, to Wisconsin. But Uncle Will's high success as business man acted as a magnet on me and I veered in the business direction. Though not the first of his favors to me, he got me a summer job (1916) in his N.Y. office ( International Paper Co.) and for that period I lived in his apartment on West 85th St. The next year he helped me get a discharge from the U.S. Navy (pulling strings with a relative of his) and financed my passage to Europe to join the American Ambulance [Service] with the French Army (I had only one eye and was ineligible for U.S. Army draft—I'd got in the Naval Reserve as an ordinary seaman by a kind of fluke *.) Uncle Will bought clothes, etc. for me for overseas warmth. In postwar years he helped me in both large and small ways. Dad never showed a sign that he might feel badly, that I was being “alienated.” I think he had too big a viewpoint for such sentiments. But there was room for some possibly ill feelings on the part of a less honest and generous a person than Dad was. My speculative thoughts were speculative, not engendered by any clear facts.)
The Years of Decline
As for speculation in a different sense, Dad was lured into the stock market in the great boom of 1917-29—just like millions of other people. He was retiring from teaching in 1928 and no doubt did see every reason to fortify his coming years of retirement. I, myself, knew all that seemed to be happening because investment had become my business. But I was living in London where the atmosphere was somewhat less crazy. Letters from a young son couldn't compete with the thrill of joining the crowd that was making fortunes (on paper, at least) at home. Also I was just plain lucky. I had to sell out much in 1928 to get cash to buy an interest in Moody's—in effect a partnership. And when I was moved back to the U.S. in early September 1929, I had to sell all the rest to buy a house in Greenwich. (No rents available, thank goodness.) RGL all but went broke in 1930-31-32. He did have his teacher's pension, and some good, though not many securities. And at some point he sold*the Morrisville house and land. [*The house was actually sold by his widow, my grandmother Ida, in the fall 1948 when we moved to Charlottesville, VA so my mother could attend UVA. The house in Morrisville was my first home, along with Parsonsfield every summer, from 1943 until 1948, and I still remember it in every detail. ] Depending on the season, he and Ida and Constance lived in Maine and Cambridge where an apartment was rented. RL made regular contributions, by way of easing their circumstances. At all events they lived without any severe hardship in the thirties.
Meanwhile Dad interested himself in work of the kind he was so well fitted for, writing botanical piece and the “Forest Trees of New England” book. In two summers in the mid-thirties he had grandsons Keith (RKL's eldest) and Scot (RL's eldest), both around 12, as summer “pupils” as well as helpers at Blazo's corner. Constance was married in 1931 [May 12, 1934] in Cambridge. They had son Robert in 1936. She and family lived near to Dad and Ida in Cambridge [and still in the house in Morrisville] and a good deal of time in Maine in the summer.
The one blight in his life—illness--began to develop during the 1930s. Dad had always talked zestfully of living to be 100! In 1931 he had to have a mastoid operation and came to Greenwich where a surgeon friend of RL's did the job—Ida staying in RL's house during the crisis. (Sulfur drugs and antibiotics have since done away with such operations.) Somewhat later Dad began to suffer from deterioration of the bone structure of the spine which to an extent crippled him. Inevitably he was losing his spirits, but he was never in my presence a depressed personality. RL and family, who summered on Lake Kezar, fifty miles or so to the north, drove down to visit him several times and always found him joyful on these occasions.
Close touch tended to fade as the war came on. RL worked in Washington with the War Shipping Administration; RKL was in Maryland, a major in the army. That is where we got word of RGL's death. He was walking on the road between the old house at Blazo's Corner and Maude Varney's, a few hundred feet away when life left him, one might say in a way characteristic of him, quietly and without bothering anyone.. His sons came hastily from Washington to join Ida, Constance and young Robert. His body was put to rest in the family graveyard near at hand. During the outdoor service a great flight of war planes passed low overhead on their way to Europe*.
[*Five months later I was conceived, and my infant ears met with stories about him, stories which elaborated on all of the above from my mother Constance and grandmother Ida for years to come—all their lives really; and I heard from others in Parsonsfield, relatives, workmen, selectmen—many who had known him and who made a deliberate effort to relate what they thought about him to me, always in respect, admiration, praise and with real affection. Eventually,having finally read his works and his words and thoughts myself throughout my life, I came to feel I had known him as well as anyone. And what a great and remarkable person he was in every way! Someone, indeed, to emulate; as my mother surely did, and I still attempt to do.]
[Editor's note--Robert Greenleaf Leavitt was born September 28, 1865 in North Parsonsfield and died there while walking in 1942. He was born, as is mentioned in the article below, in the southeast sitting room of the house (above) built by his grandfather's uncle, William Blazo. Located directly across the road from Parsonsfield Seminary, Robert Tibbetts Blazo (RGL's grandfather) actually helped with its construction as a young man. The ell was built in 1812, the main part being added in 1817. The grandson mentioned at the end of the article below is Robert Jackson Hanson, my brother.--Mary ("Mimi") Freeman, Editor (Mary "Polly" Freeman's great, great granddaughter)]
The article about Robert Greenleaf Leavitt is from the Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine Section, Saturday, August 7, 1937, Magazine Section A--40.
By Mary Carpenter Kelley
On an elm-shaded corner near the seminary in the beautiful upland village of North Parsonsfield, York County, stands an imposing white house. Its square frame of generous size and good proportions, its five great chimneys, its exquisitely carved and pillared entrances with their leaded glass fans and sidelights, its paneled doors, its small paned windows and its long ell with arched sheds mark it as of that period when wealth and good taste combined to produce the best in colonial architecture.
It is the mansion built by William Blazo early in the nineteenth century and now occupied by his brother Daniel's great-grandson, Dr.Robert Greeenleaf Leavitt of Morrisville, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C.
Dr. Leavitt was born in that mansion in the very room on the front corner of the first floor in which he told me the other day about his family, his work and the many worthwhile accomplishments of a long, busy life. Perhaps the two things for which he is best known are the books written at the request of Harvard College, a revision of Asa Gray's Lessons in Botany called "Outlines of Botany," and in 1933, "The Forest Trees of New England" to be used as a handbook for the Arnold Arboretum. The latter is a volumn of fifty-one short chapters with descriptions of all the native New England trees, many introduced trees, and illustrations of the leaves of the diciduous trees and of the conifers. It has been printed inn a special edition on permanent paper and has been placed in the Widener Library at Harvard, the Congressional Library in Washington in Washington, the Piermont Morgan Library for Classics in New York City, in the British Museum and in many other important libraries besides.
It was the noted Dr. George Lincol Coedale (born in Saco,by the way), for many years head of the the Department of Botany at Harvard, who first asked Dr. Leavitt Leavitt to revise Gray's Lessons in Botany. This was while Dr. Leavitt was acting as director of summer courses in botany. For nine years previous to 1908 he was assistant with Professor Oakes Ames of Harvard, the greatest orchidologist in the world, and worked in the Ames private research laboratory in North Easton. During this period he wrote the National Herbarium in Washington, which was receiving the government collections of orchids, that the Ames laboratory was the place where they could best be studied, and from then on the orchids were sent to North Easton. While working with them, Dr. Leavitt, at Prof. Ames' suggestion, wrote a monograph on the genus Aeria, a highly scientific paper of great value.
In 1908 he went to the New Jersey State Normal School, as head of the Biological Department, remaining there twenty years. Since 1928, when he retired, Dr. Leavitt has spent his time in travel and study and in writing his "Forest Trees of New England." Other publications by him are "Roots of Vascular Cryptogams, Monocotyledons and Angiosperms," and "Absorption of Water Vapor by Plants" which has been translated into French and re-published by the principal horticultural journal of Belgium and re-printed in India and Australia.
"Health Training for Teachers," written for and published by the Bureau of Education of the United States, is considered by Dr. Leavitt his most important work, although he says that in his own eyes his most artistic production is "Effects of Success and Failure on the School Child," which was published in the Journal of Education. "Yes," said he, "the things I have done in education have afforded me the most satisfaction. New Jersey was the first state to have an adequate health law for the schools and I wrote the bill that set up the commission that framed the law." These are only a few of the achievements that led to Dr. Leavitt's being made a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, an honor which the members of the association conferred upon him in recognition of contributions to science.
Romance of Blazo Mansion
After his marriage Mr. Blazo, who had been admitted to the Strafford County bar in 1830, and had practiced in Moultonborough and Sandwich, moved back to Parsonsfield and bought the family homestead which his uncle William Blazo had built. He and Polly became the parents of four children, one of whom was Susan Blazo. Susan attended the seminary [Parsonsfield Seminary] across the road and there met a young student from Buckfield, J.G. Leavitt, who had come to North Parsonsfield to prepare for Waterville College, now Colby. They fell in love just as Robert and Polly had done, got married and lived in the Blazo mansion with Susan's parents. After a time our Dr. Leavitt was born and now the old house has come to him and he returns from wherever he may be early each summer to spend long restful months in its quiet rooms, filled with books and pictures and rare antiques.
He has always considered North Parsonsfield his home because he was born there and because his family were among the first settlers.
It is his legal residence just as it has been of generations of Blazo men before him. First, Amos Blazo, son of William Blazo of Bordeaux, France, who came to this country in 1735 and settled in Greenland, N.H., pioneered in Parsonsfield in 1778. Then Amos's five sons, all of whom settled on nearby farms, William building the mansion which afterward was purchased by the young lawyer, "Mr. Blazo," as Polly Freeman always called him, even after they were married.
And now Dr. Leavitt, with a grandson of his own growing up in the very house in which he spent his own childhood, the Blazo mansion, facing the Sandwich mountains of New Hampshire from beyond whose blue summits came Polly, the bride, close to a century ago.
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