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Brass Button Ave

David Wadsworth

Reprinted with permission from the Cohasset Historical Society, Cohasset, MA (Town of Cohasset, Mass., 2005), pp, 136-138.

Among the groups of people who found latter nineteenth-century Cohasset's cool ocean breezes and warm summer sun to be enjoyable were a number of prominent theater personalities who established summer residences near the edge of the water at Cohasset Harbor. The tragedian actor Lawrence Barrett and his family were the first to locate here; other eminent actors soon followed, to reside along Margin Street at the north side of the Cove. William Crane, Charles Thorn, and Stuart Robson, all well-known actors, were among them. Some were enthusiastic yachtsmen, and their large yachts, such as Crane's Senator and Barrett's Lucille, frequently could be seen moored in the harbor.

By the 1870s Margin Street was known as Actors' Row, and sometimes . . . Brass Button Avenue due to the presence of promenading yachtsmen wearing their yachting uniforms. Lawrence Barrett resided in a large Victorian house bought from Cohasseter Richard Bourne after 1851, where Margin Street makes its sharp turn. Later that property, called The Oaks, would be owned by financier Clarence W. Barron, then by Barron's granddaughter Mrs. William Cox. Further along Margin Street, where Margin intersects Atlantic Avenue, at that part now named Howard Gleason Road, William Crane lived in another Victorian home. Almost next door was the residence (no longer there but moved to Stevens Lane) of Charles Thorn, and adjacent was Stuart Robson's summer house.

Of the three best-known actors residing at Actors' Row, Lawrence Barrett was perhaps the nation's leading tragedian. [Around] 1870 he formed an acting partnership with fellow tragedian actor Edwin Thomas Booth and appeared in numerous New York productions, particularly in Shakespearean roles. While Barrett was in Cohasset, Booth visited the Barrett family, and a photograph exists showing the two men seated in Barrett's Margin Street study. Booth . . . became most famous for his portrayal of Shakespeare's Hamlet. The acting and production association of Barrett and Booth lasted for some years before each again pursued an indvidual direction. Lawrence Barrett died in 1891; he and family members are buried in Cohasset's Central Cemetery.

Also members of Actors' Row were the two eminent comic actors Stuart Robson (his real name, Henry Robson Stuart) and his associate William Henry Crane . . . Robson teamed with Crane in 1877 in a partnership that lasted until 1889. Robson has been described as having "a prodigious comic personality." The Robsons’ daughter Alice Virginia . . . married . . . Cohasset resident Morton Stimson Crehore, also of Margin Street. Stuart Robson died in 1903. He and family members are buried in Central Cemetery, as are members of the Crehore family.

William Crane's acting debut had been in 1863, and he soon became well regarded in the field of "low comedy.” His most illustrious stage role was that of Senator Hannibal Rivers in David Lloyd's play titled The Senator. Crane was one of the founders of the Cohasset Yacht Club in the mid-1890s. Following a long theatrical career, [he] died in 1928. Among other well-known visitors to Brass Button Avenue was the author Bret Harte, whose works were being performed on stage at that time.

The active theatrical neighborhood of Brass Button Avenue has been credited with [attracting] a theatrical venture [to] Cohasset [that] would profoundly affect the course of American comedic theater for years to come. In 1878 six brothers from England, named Hanlon, brought a type of traveling pantomime theater from Europe to the New World and made Cohasset their headquarters. The Hanlons' Scenic Studio would be constructed on Ripley Road near today's Smith Place, and Hanlon pantomime spectaculars produced and rehearsed in Cohasset would go on the road to be seen by audiences in many corners of the nation. If it is indeed true that Brass Button Avenue drew the Hanlons to the town, then Cohasset's own nineteenth-century Actors' Row itself made a lasting contribution to the world of American theater entertainment.

From David Wadsworth, “Brass Button Avenue: A Feature of the Late Nineteenth-Century Cohasset Shore,” Cohasset Historical Society pamphlet. Reprinted by permission of the author. For more information on theater in Cohasset, see Pratt, Narrative History, Vol. II, pp. 63-66, 208-213, and Dormitzer, Narrative History, Vol. III, pp. 52-55, 345-347.