Mendon’s “Gem” Stone House
The Nathan C. Aldrich House and Resthaven Chapel
The Nathan Aldrich House and Resthaven Chapel, a distinctive farmhouse built in the Greek Revival style in the
town of Mendon, Massachusetts, is historically significant for its association with Catherine Regina Seabury, who
used the property to the benefit of female factory workers in Boston. Constructed around 1830 with dressed
granite masonry walls, the house is notable among the town’s distinguished collection of early 19th-century
public and domestic architecture.
A descendent of George Aldrich, one of the founding fathers of Mendon, Nathan C. Aldrich (1799-1866) was a
Quaker born in N. Smithfield, RI. Aldrich was the fifth generation of his family to reside in Mendon. In 1821 he
purchased 140 acres from his brother, Luke Jr., and set out to reputedly build "the biggest stone house in
Worcester County". He employed highly skilled Quaker stone masons to construct the dressed granite house
with stone from local quarries. It is speculated that the tight-knit, self-supporting Society of Friends would have
helped Nathan find good masons. The restrained design and ornamentation of the house aptly reflects the
Friends’ principle of plainness. When his new large and distinctive residence was completed in 1830, along with
its 130 acre farm, it reflected the wealth and status of its owner. Stone houses are rare in the region, although
there were stone masons in neighboring villages.
In 1824, the house was completed, along with its enormous dairy barn, and he began farming the land. He
married his wife, Dianna, in 1825 and they had one child, Elizabeth, born in 1830. Nathan died of cholera 36
years later in 1866. His brief will conveyed one-half of his real and personal estate to his widow and the other
half to his daughter and grandson. The house passed from family to friends until Catherine Regina Seabury
purchased the house.
Resthaven which is likely how it looked when built.
Catherine Regina Seabury came from one of the most distinguished American Episcopal families, her great-
grandfather being Samuel Seabury, the first appointed Bishop of the American Episcopal Church in 1789. Her
father, Samuel Seabury, was an ordained Episcopal minister and was rector of the Church of the Annunciation on
14th Street in Manhattan from 1838 to 1863. He married for the third time on October 17, 1854 (his 2 previous
wives were deceased), Mary Anna Schuyler, daughter of Hon. Samuel and Catherine (Schuyler) Jones, of which
marriage was one daughter, Catherine Regina Seabury. He had several sons and daughters from his previous
Catherine was consecrated into “religious life” in 1846* at the Parish of the Holy Communion in New York City
and was received as full Sister of the Holy Communion in 1854. She attended to the sick and the poor and
served in the parish infirmary, which became St. Luke’s hospital in 1858. Through her efforts, a Shelter for
Respectable Girls and a Babies’ Shelter were established in the parish.
She was a special student at Bryn Mawr College, N. Y. (1897-1898) and at Radcliffe College (1898-1890). She
was a reader in the English Department at Wellesley College (1900-1901). During her time in Massachusetts,
Seabury established the Women's Mutual Improvement Society in East Cambridge, Mass. in 1889 to improve the
spiritual and recreational opportunities for working women, a time when organizations to aid female workers
were uncommon. She also taught Sunday school at the Church of the Ascension in East Cambridge. After this
time she became head of St. Agnes’ School of the Episcopal Diocese back in Albany, New York from 1901-1912.
* According to the Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York published by New York Lewis
Historical Publishing Company, Volume One -1913; Rev. Samuel Seabury married (third) October 17, 1854,
Mary Anna Schuyler, daughter of Hon. Samuel and Catherine (Schuyler) Jones, of which marriage was one
daughter, Catherine Regina Seabury. If their marriage date is reported correctly in their 1913 genealogical
history and her parents did not marry until 1854, the date of her being consecrated into religious life in 1846 must
be in error.
Catherine R. Seabury and the Rev. Henry A. Parker family.
Gurdon S. Parker (the architect of the chapel) is the young man sitting quite upright in the front row.
Ms. Seabury is probably the woman at the center of the photograph.
In her desire to find a vacation place for the members of the Women’s Mutual Improvement Society, Catherine
Regina Seabury traveled throughout eastern Massachusetts. When she discovered Nathan C. Aldrich’s old farm
in Mendon, her search ended. It had the unusual feature of a large and elegant stone house that would provide a
comfortable residence for her and her family, as well as provide housing for the visiting women. Catherine
Regina Seabury named the retreat Resthaven, and for the next ten summers she welcomed female factory
workers for rest and recreation. Renovations to the house were needed for the Boston workers, with attic bed
chambers and dormers. The women of Boston that came to Resthaven could not have afforded the luxury of the
location without the Society. Her brother-in-law, The Rev. Henry A. Parker and his family, came to Mendon from
Cambridge on Sundays to provide religious services. In 1899, Rev. Parker's sons designed and built Resthaven
Chapel on the grounds from local field stone. The architect was Gurdon Saltonstall Parker, the eldest son, who
was a student at Harvard Scientific School. Alas, Gurdon was called back to Harvard for football camp before the
chapel could be completed, and so that first year the celebrants held services with only a roof of branches over
their heads. Gurdon eventually went on to become an architect in Manhattan, and married Julia Deforest Tiffany,
the daughter of Louis Comfort Tiffany.
The Chapel built at Resthaven
Catherine Seabury left her position at St. Agnes’ School in 1912 and opened a school of her own in the stone
house at Resthaven. She was assisted in this effort by her aunt, Sister Catherine, who had retired to Resthaven
after over 50 years of service in New York, and other friends who had worked with her in the past. An addition
was built to the small chapel and much of the large house was also renovated during this time.
The above ads are from A Handbook of American Private Schools by Porter E. Sargent, Boston – 1916.
The girls' day began with breakfast at 7:45 am, followed by Morning Prayer in the chapel, Swedish gymnastics,
singing, lessons, and school duties, so that by 3:00, everyone was out of doors. Then some of the girls would
drive down to the village to the tiny post office, play games, or walk the fields and woods, collecting whatever was
in season, be it blueberries, grapes, or ferns with which to decorate the chapel. The academic schedule included
typical subject matter such as Literature, English Composition, History, and Mathematics, as well as Latin and
French, Biology or Physics, Music (including weekly forays to the Symphony in Boston, and occasionally to the
Opera House), and Bible study. Meals were also a source of instruction, so that the girls would naturally develop
a talent for polite and "earnest discussion of worthwhile things". Each day ended with an early supper, study time,
and story-telling before bed. According to the brochure, the Resthaven School for Girls charged $1000 for tuition,
room and board, and incidentals for the 1916-1917 school year.
The beautiful fields and woods of Resthaven where the students could roam and pick
fruits and plants to decorate the chapel and, no doubt, for a little afternoon snack.
Resthaven's 130 acres, delineated not by the straight lines of a ruler, but by drawings of stone walls, was
punctuated with landmarks such as The Red Oak, The Skating Pond, and Indian Rock. One of the outdoor winter
pleasures of old Resthaven was ice skating on the pond created by a dam at Spring Brook. One can see the
remnants of the old dam, and where it once stood, as well as a nearby dug-out area which once served as the
ice house, in which blocks of ice were cut and stored to last through-out the summer. Ice skating on the pond is
mentioned as a winter activity in both the 1916 Resthaven School for Girls brochure.
The old dam around 1918
The war forced the closing of the school in 1918, and while Catherine Regina Seabury always intended to reopen
it, she was unable to achieve that goal. Efforts in 1924 were frustrated by a temporary bout of blindness. Before
her death in 1929, she willed the property to her nephew Reginald S. Parker with a $2,000 trust for the
preservation of the chapel.
Dr. Joseph Ashkins (1902-1994) was a prominent local surgeon, a man who knew what he wanted, and set out
to get it. He purchased Resthaven in 1940 from the Resthaven Trust established after the death of Catherine R.
Seabury, and took two years to painstakingly renovate the house back into a single family home. He and his
family lived almost a life of celebrity in the small town of Mendon, in which their every vacation, personal
achievement, and party held at their estate was documented in the local newspaper.
Resthaven after renovations by Dr. Ashkins.
At Resthaven, it is fortunate to have picturesque Spring Brook flow through both the western and northern
portions of the property, providing a wonderful and natural buffer of privacy. Its clear, rushing waters provide a
soothing backdrop to the ears, and its coolness prevails throughout the summer, so that one can notice a
significant temperature difference when sitting by the mossy stone covered banks. Ferns and spruce trees
abound, and it's location down a small ravine creates an atmosphere in which one could imagine being out in
the middle of the wilderness. Because the brook's water is clear and cold and its topography such that it is fast-
running, combined with areas of calm, dark pools, it is the perfect environment for fish, and in particular, trout. Dr.
Ashkins would frequently wake up early in the morning and go down to the brook to catch trout for his girls'
Dr. Ashkins always had cats and dogs (the dogs often named Bo), and the area where the "headstone" is located
is the Pet Cemetery, where generations of Resthaven's pets were buried. The Pet Cemetery dates back before
the Ashkins' ownership of the property, although how far back, we'll probably never know. Nonetheless, it is
another unique little part of the history of Resthaven.
Daring and adventurous, Dr. Ashkins was an avid pilot who owned several small airplanes throughout his
lifetime. His last flight was a solo trip to Clearwater, FL at age 71, with his faithful dog, Bo III by his side. It was
December, and as he flew off the coast of New Jersey, both engines on his Cessna-310 quit without warning.
When he crash landed into the heavy surf about 250 yards off of the beach, he became trapped inside by the
pressure of the mounting water as the plane sank. "I never thought I'd get out", he told his friends. "I wasn't so
much afraid to die, but I thought to myself- what a way to go." He managed to get out, but was unable to save his
Labrador retriever, which was afraid of the water. He then swam the 250 yards to shore, where a local judge who
had seen the plane go down was able to assist him.
Dr. Ashkins from a newspaper photo
from the time of his plane crash (1973).
It was the second time that he narrowly escaped death. More than 15 years before, while enroute to his home
from Milford Hospital after operating until late at night, he dozed off and flipped his car into a gully, severing an
artery. The doctor took off his belt and applied a tourniquet around his leg, and then dragged himself up the
embankment to the highway, where a passing motorist found him.
From The Milford Daily News
Despite Dr. Ashkins brushes with death, he lived well into his 90s dying on May 4, 1994, and is now buried near
his beloved Resthaven in Mendon’s Swan Dale Cemetery.
The property has had several owners since his death. Most of the former acreage has been developed into
private residences. The Resthaven currently contains 4.9 acres.
A satellite view from “Google Earth” of the area around Resthaven.
Nathan C. Aldrich House/Resthaven Chapel is located at 111 Providence Street in Mendon, Massachusetts. It
was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on May 17, 2006 as NHRP reference # 06000399.
A member of the Massachusetts Historical Commission commented that they believed that this was the only
chapel on private residential property in the state. So it comes as no surprise that owners of the property have
often used the estate to host weddings throughout the years. I can't imagine a more idyllic spot, particularly for
those who prefer a more intimate ceremony, to share such an important day with their closest loved ones.
A wedding at Resthaven Chapel
The beauty of the house and chapel today is reflected in images taken during two colorful seasons.
Resthaven Over The Years
The house at Resthaven at bit later than the photo at the top of this article.
Note the ivy has grown to the roof line.
The chapel. It is difficult to clearly see, but the photo
may have been taken before the addition was built.
The scenic entrance to Resthaven.
The chapel as it appears in the summer. You can see the chapel’s bell over the entrance.
Another view of the chapel. This time during the winter. You can see the chapel’s addition added
after Resthaven became a school for girls.
For the information about Resthaven and its owners, plus photos not from our archives, our thanks to:
National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places. U. S. Department of the Interior. http://www.nps.
American Education, A New Series of New York Education by C. E. Franklin, Editor, Vol. 5, Page 170, published
by the New York Education Company of Albany, 1902
Genealogical and Family History of Southern New York published by New York Lewis Historical Publishing
Company, Volume One -1913
A Handbook of American Private Schools by Porter E. Sargent, Boston – 1916.
Woman's Who's Who of America: A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporary Women of the United States and
Canada 1914-1915 by John William Leonard, Published by the American Commonwealth Company of New York
Google Earth: earth.google.com
Paul Doucette, Mendon Historian