WILMINGTON - A Beacon Hill church has received considerable attention this month after a raid by agents of the FBI and the IRS.
The Boston Society of New Jerusalem, a Swedenborgian church, owns an apartment building on Bowdoin Street, across the street from the Massachusetts State House. The church once had a Greek-revival building, but about 1960, that was torn down. In its place, they built an 18-story apartment building now valued at $30 million. On the first floor is the church.
About 10 years ago, Edward MacKenzie, Jr., who claims to have been an enforcer for Whitey Bulger, began attending services at the church and sweet-talking elderly members. Before long, he was on the board of directors and a trustee of the church. Then he was hired as the $200,000 a year manager of the church real estate property.
He has been charged with extortion, bribery, mail fraud and money laundering. It is alleged that he has been engaging in kickback schemes, hiring favored contractors at lucrative prices.
A parallel case at the same church about 70 years ago involved a prominent Wilmington lawyer.
Attorney John W. Hathaway was a member of the family that owned the Harnden Tavern for 125 years, and he was the last in the family to own it. He served on the Sarah D.J. Carter Lecture Committee for about 40 years and on the Wilmington School Committee for 12 years in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He also served as treasurer of the Boston church for decades, where he was a lifelong member.
It was during the 1940’s that his house of cards began to fall. Exact dates are not yet known, but he was convicted of embezzling $30,000 from the church. There is a Jan. 15, 1945 newspaper clipping reporting that Hathaway, then 66, was disbarred. He died on July 30, 1948 at age 70.
For him to have embezzled $30,000, it is probable that the theft took place over several years.
The Harnden Tavern was once known as the Maria Hathaway house. Maria was a granddaughter of Dr. Silas Brown, who bought the tavern in 1818. He was the town doctor for nearly 45 years.
Maria was the second wife of Francis E. Hathaway, a Boston shoe merchant. F.E. Hathaway & Son was Boston’s oldest shoe store when it closed in the 1930’s. The Hathaways invented the first arch-preserver shoe. The store also provided footwear for the Boston Police Department.
The Brown - Hathaway involvement with the Swedenborgian church began in the 1840’s. It is explained in detail in “Harnden Tavern Tales” by Alice Hathaway Dillaway, John Hathaway’s daughter.
The Swedenborgians are a liberal Protestant church that follows a philosophy set down by Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a Swedish physicist, philosopher and theologian.
Dr. Brown’s family became friendly with a shoe merchant from Woburn, Hiram Colburn, who introduced them to the religion. Eventually, Colburn married Anna “Nancy” Brown, and they settled in South Boston.
The Brown family remained members of the Congregational Church, but also joined the Swedenborgians. In the days before the Civil War, the Boston church was heavily involved with the Abolitionist movement. It was this connection that led to the Harnden Tavern becoming a stopover point in the Underground Railroad.
Francis E. Hathaway came from Enfield, Mass., a town later taken for the Quabbin Reservoir. In the early 1850’s, he happened into Colburn’s shoe store, and was hired as a clerk. Colburn introduced him to the Swedenborgian church. He also encouraged him to go into business for himself, which he did.
Francis married Lydia Carter, daughter of Eldad Carter, who lived on Shawsheen Avenue. Her sister Olive was the wife of Dr. Brown’s son, Dr. Jonathan Brown of Tewksbury. Dr. Jonathan Brown died in 1867.
Francis and Lydia had two children, Francis T. and Hattie. During the great Boston fire in 1873, the Hathaways packed up and fled to Olive’s home in Tewksbury. Lydia was quite ill, and in spite of loving care from her sister, she died.
It was then that Francis married Maria Brown, a niece of Dr. Jonathan Brown. Francis and Maria had two sons, John and George, both of whom went to Harvard. John became an attorney, and George a Navy medic. Francis T. Hathaway went into the family shoe business and continued it after his father’s death.
Maria Hathaway died in September 1929, less than a month before the stock market crash that triggered the Depression of the 1930’s.
John and Sarah Hathaway had lived in the Harnden Tavern, and it was there that they raised their two daughters, Alice and Charlotte. By 1930, Alice was a student at Radcliffe, and Charlotte was also in college.
With the onset of the Depression, John Hathaway, like most everyone else, faced hard times. It is probable that this is when the church funds began to leak.
The Hathaways had moved to 31 High St., although it is not clear exactly when. The persons listed book has John Hathaway at High Street in 1930, and back on Salem Street in 1933.
He was chairman of the School Committee during much of the 1930’s. This writer’s grandfather, Peter Neilson, also served on the committee at that time. Sylvia Neilson wrote that her father, Peter, was shocked and hurt to learn that the chairman had been convicted of embezzlement.
It is probable the scandal that cost the family the ownership of the Harnden Tavern. Mrs. Dillaway never mentioned this in her Harnden Tavern Tales, although she does say that the tavern was sold in 1943. But the sale took place during the time when John Hathaway found himself in trouble. One of the last family events in the tavern was the 1940 wedding of Alice Hathaway and Manson Dillaway.
When John Hathaway died, he still owned a large parcel of land on the east side of Woburn Street. After his death, it was sold to a developer, A.P. Rounds, who built a subdivision. It was named Hathaway Acres.
The scandal of the embezzlement does not reflect the heritage left by the family. At the time of his death in 1864, Dr. Silas Brown was a much-loved physician, known as “the iron man up Nod way,” Nod being the northern part of Wilmington where the tavern is located.
(Disclosure: This writer’s parents were long-time friends of Alice and Charlotte Hathaway.)