When Leo Brown crawled under the porch of his Winter Hill home, he mostly found what he was expecting: cobwebs, discarded furniture, old rat poison. He was scoping out the crawl space to see if he could eventually install air conditioning on the all season porch above, and hoping to clear out some of the old junk in the meantime.
And then he noticed a chewed-up letter, written in another language, under a pile of dust and dirt.
The letter, which Brown realized was written in Russian upon closer inspection, had been lying near a Cold War-era Russian language textbook. Both caught Brown’s eye, as he had taken Russian classes in college.
This is what led Brown to keep digging around until he stumbled upon what seemed to be decades of a family’s history—he found dozens of documents, more letters (many of which are from Poland,) framed and unframed photographs, yearbooks from the Rindge Technical High School class of 1936 and the Cambridge High and Latin class of 1947, and a mirror. Some of the items are nearly a century old. Most of what he found is related to Cambridge.
His favorite find was a bank statement from an account at the Cambridgeport Savings Bank opened in 1935. The starting balance of the account was just $1 (which would be worth a little under $20 in 2020,) and the highest amount accrued was $10.56 (worth around $180 now) in 1939.
Many of the items, like a 1968 portrait addressed “To Grammy,” seem to be connected to a woman who a neighbor remembers living in the building until relatively recently. Her family lived in the house for a long time, until it was turned into condos a few years ago, Brown says.
Brown’s fiancé Alana Folsom bought the condo a few years ago, which is what brought him to Winter Hill.
So far, he hasn’t been able to paint a clear picture of the family—outside of the connection to the matriarch. Brown has reached out to the Somerville Public Library and the Cambridge Historical Society in hopes of donating some of the items or returning them to the family, and finding some answers about the previous owners of his home. For now, he is keeping the names of any people referenced in the items private out of respect for the family.
If the items are not all donated, Brown hopes to display them outside his house to allow others to view them as part of a Winter Hill walking tour one day. He imagines that his isn’t the only house with some history hidden inside.
“I think the real story is that this is just scratching the surface of what you might find if you dig around,” he says.
While he does not consider history to be a hobby, Brown says he has realized a new interest in learning about where he lives.
“I like to learn about where I am,” he says. “It makes me feel more at home there. […] It helps me feel more like part of the story of the house.”
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