The Artemas Ward House was built as a small salt-box between 1720 and 1730 in the new settlement of Shrewsbury. Though it was built for Nahum Ward on the farm that would remain in the Ward family for generations, it was not the family home. It served as a tenant home until Artemas Ward moved in with his family in 1763. It was expanded in 1785 and 1830 to accommodate two families at a time, as well as farm hands and domestic help.
The homestead also includes a number of outbuildings, including the enormous barn, the caretaker’s cottage, and the milk house. The outbuildings underwent as much change as the house, with smaller buildings being combined or converted into different uses.
Most interestingly, the barn was once two separate barns. In 1848 Thomas Walter Ward II had these barns moved together and expanded to bring much of the farm’s activities under one roof. The process was continued in 1850 with the addition of an old slaughterhouse and a shop repurposed as a corn house and vinegar room.
The flexible use and reuse of these buildings helped the family keep pace with different market conditions over the years. Nevertheless, the farm ceased to be profitable and in fact was nearly sold outside of the family toward the end of the 19th century. Fortunately for us, the house was purchased by Henry Galbraith Ward and subsequently maintained by a series of Ward family women.
First Elizabeth Ward and Harriet Ward, then their nieces, Ella, Clara, and Florence, served as caretakers of the house. In so doing, these women actively recorded the family stories surrounding the house and its contents, transforming it from a home into a family museum. The historical interests of these women extended beyond the house itself, and in 1892 Elizabeth Ward published a full history of the town of Shrewsbury, Old Times in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts: Gleanings from History and Tradition. Harriet was the last Ward to live in the house, and Florence was the last to live on the property, which was donated to Harvard University in 1925.
Artemas Ward, a great-grandson of General Artemas Ward and an advertising magnate, had purchased the house from Henry Galbraith Ward and built the caretaker’s cottage for Florence to live in. He revealed his deep interest in his family’s history both by publishing books related to the family and by providing for the house after his death. He donated the house along with a substantial endowment on the conditions that Harvard maintain the home as a “public patriotic museum” and shed more light on the service of Major General Artemas Ward. The Ward family’s enduring interest in its own heritage ensured the preservation of this unique piece of American history even as it passed out of their hands.