The area now known as Duxbury was inhabited by people as early as 12,000 to 9,000 B.C. By the time European settlers arrived here, the region was inhabited by the Wampanoags who called this place Mattakeesett, meaning “place of many fish.”
Situated on a thumb of land extending into Kingston Bay, Massachusetts, Standish Shore, the location of Cedar Hill Retreat Center looks out through Duxbury and Kingston Bays into Massachusetts Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Cedar Hill is a spiritual retreat center that offers solace and contemplation to people from around the world.
Native Americans once summered where Cedar Hill now offers restful views of Duxbury, Kingston and Plymouth Bays. In summer local Pokanokets fished the waters and dug clams and mussels where retreat visitors now enjoy the North Atlantic’s cooling breezes. In time the part of Duxbury we call Cedar Hill became the southwestern most section of Myles Standish’s farm, a one hundred acre English land grant given in acknowledgement of his achievements as Plymouth’s military leader.
The history of this Cedar Hill acreage between now and then is murky. At one point in its history a wealthy descendent of Miles Standish, Stephen Allen, Rosamond’s paternal grandfather, decided to recreate his family’s original homestead by purchasing as much of the original Standish land grant as possible. He also planned to build a hotel as well as a railroad spur to bring Boston guests to Duxbury. Much of the land rising behind the present Cedar Hill Retreat was part of what he purchased.
At some point in his life he gave 60 acres of land on Captains Hill, where Myles Standish’s statue now stands, to the state. He wanted to have Myles Standish’s monument made and erected on the highest spot on that hill. To his consternation however, he discovered that the highest point was not on the land he gave the state. To remedy this he hired laborers to haul a huge quantity of earth and stone by horse and wagon and create what is now the highest point on the hill, the large mound from which Myles Standish now looks out over the Atlantic Ocean towards his native England. Stephen Allen was the secretary of the Standish Monument Association when the cornerstone was laid in 1872.
Horace Allen, the owner in the early twentieth century, lived in Boston and for years he and his family summered on the Duxbury land. In his will, the Duxbury property, one part of which is now known as Cedar Hill Retreat Center, was left to his three daughters, Eleanor W. Allen, Beatrice L. Patten and Rosamond Allen. The daughters each inherited a 1/3 share of the total property which consisted of five parcels labeled 52 A, B, C, D, and E on the Duxbury property maps of that time.
Rosamond Allen ended up with the parcel known as 52D which was for many years her summer home. As Miss Allen aged, her summer visits from Boston and later from her St. Petersburg, Florida home to what she called “Cedar Hill” were of shorter duration, but she spent at least some of every year there from her childhood until her last stay during the summer of 1983. She once reminisced with friends that in the summer she would be driven down to Duxbury from Boston along with her servants in a carriage drawn by two horses with her pet pony trotting behind tied to the carriage.
Her sister Eleanor Wyllys Allen had owned the adjacent piece of land known as parcel 52 C and had made provisions for it in her will to become the property of the Duxbury Rural and Historical Society, Inc. upon her death. Rosamond Allen was unsure about how she wished to dispose of her “Cedar Hill”. She desired that it remain as she remembered it. She wanted the buildings and grounds to offer peace and harmony to others in the same way they had to her but could find no person or organization to guarantee her wishes.
The main building of the retreat center was once a carriage house which Stephen Allen had converted into what he called a Garden House and it stood then on adjacent property just to the northeast. Around 1939, Rosamond hired local help to have the entire building moved to a new foundation where it stands today. It took two weeks to transport the home about 1200 feet using log rollers and horses.
Rosamond had it done with nothing in the building removed! Books, china, furniture, lamps, knickknacks, pots and pans – everything in the house stayed right where it was as horses strained and logs rolled from the front to the back and then were returned to the front to begin rolling again. She was proud to tell everyone that only one plate was broken during the entire move!
Rosamond Allen was a member of her local Unitarian Church in Duxbury, the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church. The religious connection provided Miss Allen a way in which she could convey her property and protect it for use by future generations. She first offered her land to First Parish Church which decided regretfully that maintaining the property as she wished would be more than the congregation could responsibly promise.
At that time the Rev. Richard M. Fewkes of First Parish Church in Norwell was President of the Ballou Channing District (BCD) of the Unitarian Universalist Association. Rev. Fewkes and William A. Donovan of Weymouth, a member of the Weymouth Universalist Church and also a board member of the BCD, became aware of Miss Allen’s predicament and worked to create a behest of the property to the Ballou Channing District.
On August 27th, 1980, Rosamond Allen signed her Deed of Gift conveying Cedar Hill to the Ballou Channing District (The BCD). On April 11th of 1981 at a dedication ceremony at Cedar Hill, Rev. Fewkes said, “Today Rosamond Allen’s dream becomes a reality as we dedicate this place to be used for the religious, educational, scientific and aesthetic purposes for which she intended. May the peace and beauty of these natural surroundings etch themselves deeply into our souls and become part of the warp and woof of our lives and our children’s lives for generations to come.”
The BCD created a Cedar Hill Committee to oversee day to day management of the property. Volunteers came together from all over the Ballou Channing District to transform the property and buildings into a viable Retreat Center. Donations trickled in as more and more people came to appreciate the beauty and historic tranquility of Rosamond’s gift.
A contractor from the Weymouth Unitarian Church, Louis Pompeo, volunteered men and machines to provide long overlooked maintenance to the buildings and systems and local surveyor Bob Delano volunteered his expertise. Caretakers were installed in what Rosamond had called her Garicott, the garage which had become her summer cottage.
The BCD adapted the property for use as an overnight retreat center and a place of contemplation. The main building was insulated and fitted out with bunk beds to accommodate a steady stream of youth, retreat and family groups. There was always vibrancy to the activities at Cedar Hill that encouraged volunteerism and valued dedication.
Over the years a number of people served as caretakers and lived on site both to care for guests and to maintain the property and grounds. The first couple who volunteered to become caretakers was the Donovan’s: Carol and Bill. The main building needed many upgrades in order to become a year round home and the Donovan’s were willing to put up money of their own for those upgrades.
Bill invited many other Unitarian Universalists to volunteer time, money and expertise to get Cedar Hill up and running as a Retreat Center. Many willingly pitched in and soon the main building was insulated, had new storm windows and the furnace needed to make it into a four season home.
The first full time caretakers moved in during the second summer after Rosamond gave Cedar Hill to the BCD. They were Erdine and Willard Winegar from the Norwell Unitarian Church. During the early years Rosamond Allen would also spend a few weeks each summer living on the property. Miss Allen finally passed away early in the year 2000 in a senior rest home in St. Petersburg, Florida, at the age of 101, content in the knowledge that her beautiful Cedar Hill was being well cared for.
Following Erdine and Willard were Donna and Phil Berry, both members of the Rockland Unitarian Church. They took the caretaker position in 1983 and spent six years greeting and hosting groups from all over the country. They would even break out their aprons and provide meals when asked.
The next couple to serve as caretakers was Deb and David Walsh who were soon followed by Miss Alida Balboni and Jonathan Nickerson of the Kingston UU Church for a brief time.
Eric Swanson served as caretaker from 1995 to 2009. He and his wife Wendy were members of the Duxbury First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, and did a phenomenal job of caring for guests while building personal relationships that continued long after they left.
Over time Cedar Hill had become less central to the mission of the Ballou Channing District which is an association of congregations. The old buildings needed upgrades and deferred maintenance. The district was exploring ways to extricate itself from the business of running a retreat center. Even closure of the retreat center was considered.
A solution was found whereby a neighbor would donate the money to buy the development rights of the property. The money was conveyed by a local land conservancy, The Wildlands Trust. The gift amount was conveyed to the Ballou Channing District and the district set into motion a plan to spin off the retreat center and a portion of the development rights payment.
Cedar Hill Retreat Center Inc. was incorporated and on the 31st of December, 2009 the BCD registered with the Plymouth County Registry of Deeds a conveyance of the property and funds in a quitclaim deed to the Cedar Hill Retreat Center, Inc. As a part of the agreement with the BCD, a Conservation Restriction, held by Wildlands Trust, was created and placed upon the property, assuring that the lands around Cedar Hill can never be developed.
The new Cedar Hill Retreat Center Inc. board created a plan to upgrade the facility in two major phases while continuing to operate as a retreat center. Guiding principles of the rehabilitation included:
- Incorporate the best practices of energy efficiency;
- Honor continuity with place;
- Continue to serve our youth and transition group use;
- Pursue options that would retain the look and feel of the property as it was known in Rosamond’s time.
At times workmen seemed to be working around the guests but in that first winter of 2009-10 a transformation was made to the main part of the structure. The second phase in 2010-11 added some needed space in the public reception areas of the house.
It has been an exciting, rewarding journey bringing the Cedar Hill Retreat Center into the 21st century while retaining its 20th century charm. It truly reflects our mission of operating an intimate retreat and meeting space in a unique natural setting.
Miss Allen’s photograph hangs on the dining room wall in the Cedar Hill Retreat Center. She smiles happily; her beautiful summer retreat has been preserved and she would be immensely pleased with the results. We on the Cedar Hill Board of Directors hope that you too are pleased!