The ballon/air ship being filled – The Griffin Fair, The Snow Collection, The Museum of Old Newbury
Eliphalet Griffin (1824 – 1899) was born in Newburyport in 1824. He started out as a clerk for a dry goods store and then opened his own store downtown. The Newburyport Daily News reported that in the early 1850s he went to California, which would have been during the California Gold Rush and opened a successful and prosperous wholesale clothing house. When he returned to Massachusetts he worked for a firm in Boston that had a large contract during the Civil War that sold uniforms for the United States government. Eliphalet Griffin returned to Newburyport in the 1860s a wealthy man.*
5 Columbus Avenue today
In 1863 he married Elizabeth Balch of Newburyport and they had two children. The City Directories show Eliphalet living at 31 Tyng Street, however in 1869 he built a Second Empire-style house on what was then the corner of High Street and Columbus Avenue, and upon completion, it was reported in the Newburyport Herald that it was “one of the best Newburyport houses in modern times.”** The 1870 Census shows that Eliphalet is 44, Elizabeth is 40, their daughter Hannah is 5 and their son Eliphalet is 3.
Eliphalet built a beautiful three-story, Queen Anne/Panel Brick style building on Pleasant Street, now 31-35 Pleasant Street, completed in 1889 which still stands today. The first floor contained two storefronts, a series of offices on the second floor and a large hall on the third floor. The hall was known as Griffin Hall and was the scene of many dances in the 1950s, it also showed moving pictures before a law was passed that movie theaters must be on the ground floor. In 1890 the ground floor was occupied by the Boston Boot & Shoe Company and Kent & Bolton clothiers and finishers. Later it was leased to Woolworth’s and to Boxer’s Furniture among other establishments. ***
Eliphalet’s great passion, however, was building the Griffin House, the Home for Aged Men at 363 High Street across from Atkinson Common. In 1886 along with Albert W. Greenleaf and Lawrence B. Cushing, Epliphet created the Newburyport Society for the Relief of Aged Men. Eliphalet gave the society the lot of land and built the foundation of the brick building at his own expense in 1896. The building was completed two or three years later. Mr. Griffin died in 1899. Due to lack of funds, the home remained unfurnished and unoccupied until 1902. ^* Much of the original furniture and woodwork remains in the house today. The Griffin House contains 9 rooms, the men must be 65 and able to take care of themselves. Some of the staff have been there for over 3 decades, the home is a family and the inside feels and looks very much like it must have looked in 1906. It is a wonderful place.
Eliphalet Griffin organized the most amazing fairs at his home on High Street to raise funds for the Home for Aged Men. One fair is described in the Newburyport Herald, Sept 21, 1887 in which 5000 - 6000 people attended. The main attraction was a “great air ship” 126 feet in circumference and 42 feet in diameter. Ultimately the balloon did not ascend, it was not able to be filled with the 150,000 feet of gas that was required. The Museum of Old Newbury has three photographs of the balloon.
There were many attractions, however, beside the balloon – a concert, various booths and tents, dancing, ice cream, candy, soda and fruit; a supper that provided cold roast chicken, ham, corned beef, lamb, baked beans, rolls, bread, oysters, chicken and lobster salad, many kinds of cake, cream cakes and pies. The large barn was filled to overflowing for the dances, there were floral processions by 500 children, and a band played both in the afternoon and evening. ^** Eliphalet Griffin knew how to throw a great party and raised a great deal of money for the Home for Aged Men. How wonderful that the Griffin House still exists today, basically unchanged.
* Newburyport Daily News, July 11, 1899
** The Historical Society of Old Newburyport
*** City of Newburyport Historical Property Surveys
^* John J. Currier, History of Newburyport, Vol II
^** Newburyport Herald, Sept 21, 1887
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Solve The Griffin House Puzzle
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