Brothers George and Charles Parsons each purchased large parcels of land at what we call Parsons Beach. George Parsons bought land with two connected eighteenth-century houses on it near the Mousam River from Sylvester Chick in 1885. He added a new structure onto the old ones in 1891 to create Riverhurst.
Charles Parsons and his wife, Sarah Shepley Parsons, who was a cousin of our own Celia Nott Perkins, bought Crescent Surf from Henry Hart in 1873. They built a small cottage on the point and several other cottages were built on the Beach. The ‘Big House’ at Crescent Surf was built in 1888. Three of those early beach cottages were combined to create Seven Gables around 1900.
Charles and Sarah Parsons had 9 children. Their eldest son, Charles Jr. soon built a house at Crescent Surf very near the ‘Big House’. Charles Jr. and his wife both died young, leaving three children: two sons, Carl and Humphrey, and a daughter Winifred. Charles Jr.’s single sister Llewellyn Parsons became the Grand Dame of Crescent Surf. She inherited the ‘Big House’ and looked after her brother’s children there. Sadly, Winifred took her own life in Paris in 1908. Her French fiancé died suddenly of consumption and the young woman couldn’t bear the loss of him.
It was Aunt Llewellyn who set the tone at Crescent Surf as well as most of the deed restrictions. She had the intelligence and the foresight to conserve that gorgeous stretch of shoreland for the many generations of Parsons to follow her. Around 1910 she had a playhouse built with a stage upon which Parsons of all ages performed. It was also a place where Carl and Humphrey could invite their friends to visit. Both boys went to Yale. Carl was in the class of 1912 and Humphrey was in the class of 1913.
At Yale, Humphrey was in the same year as Cole Porter, yes that Cole Porter. The young men were both in the glee club. They became friends and then roommates in their senior year. Cole Porter spent a lot of time during school vacations at Crescent Surf with Humphrey, Carl, and Aunt Llewellyn. He even wrote a song about Llewellyn.
On one of his visits to the ‘Big House’, Cole Porter left behind some 700 pages of school notes, manuscripts, sheet music, and lyric sketches in his own handwriting. Carl’s daughter, Mary Curry Liversidge found the treasure trove of documents after inheriting the house. She donated the collection to Yale University in 1992. Many thanks to Mary’s daughter, Beth Fluke who now summers at the renovated Playhouse, for her gracious assistance.