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Davidson, Dr. Herman Elvas

View related Fitz Henry Lane catalog entries (3) »

Dr. Davidson (1815–90) was a close friend of Lane and his personal physician in Gloucester. He signed Lane’s death certificate. He and his wife received equal portions of Lane’s five-hundred-dollar legacy, and Dr. Davidson inherited Lane’s gold watch and chain.

The Davidsons lived in Gloucester from 1842 until 1878, and for most of that time inhabited the old Sanders house, now the Sawyer Free Library. Dr. and Mrs. Davidson were relatively wealthy, owning shares of gas, steamboat and railroad companies, “machinery used in manufacturing establishments,” a horse, a chaise, a large house with barn, an acre of land and two- to three-thousand-dollar “cash assets.” (1) Their land lay to the north of Middle Street along Mason Street, including what is now occupied by the Central Grammar apartments (the old high school). (2)

The house had been Beach’s house, with the rope walk behind, but Phebe Wilson Davidson (Dr. Herman’s mother) bought it from the Eastern Railroad Company on February 19, 1850. (3) It was bequeathed to Herman E. Davidson by Phebe’s will, dated November 12, 1859. This elegant house and the gardens were drastically disrupted by the laying out of Dale Avenue in 1866, a year after Lane’s death, and the anguished doctor sued the Town.

The Davidsons also had an unwanted ring-side seat for the 1866 construction, the 1869 fiery destruction, and the 1871 reconstruction of the Town Hall on that newly laid-out Dale Avenue. Dr. Joseph Garland wrote of his older contemporary: "Dr. Davidson, was a thoroughly educated physician. He was of studious habits and deeply interested in scholarly pursuits. He was a skilled physician of the modern school of medicine, and never believed in crowding drugs into his patients. His practice was expectant—watching and waiting upon nature, and ever ready to assist her efforts in repelling or subduing disease. He soon acquired a good practice and secured the confidence of the community." 

Edward Henry Lane wrote: “… Dr. Davidson … was one of his [uncle Lane’s] closest friends, and almost every Sunday, weather permitting, would find them together at the Doctor’s home.” (4) It was to the Davidson house that Lane fled and sought refuge during the time of unpleasantness with Ignatius Winter. It was in their upper bedroom that Lane slept and dreamt the famous dream of the painting on the wall. And it was to his hostess, Sarah M. Davidson, that Lane gave the sketch of this Dream Painting. Dr. Davidson was the first president of the Cape Ann Scientific & Literary Association, the predecessor to the Cape Ann Historical Association. 

On August 9, 1859, Dr. Herman Davidson was married to Mrs. Sarah M. (Bowker) Chamberlain in Boston by Gloucester’s Universalist minister, Rev. W. R. G. Mellen, who was Mary Mellen’s brother-in-law. Herman was forty-four and Sarah was thirty-two. (5) They continued to live in Gloucester until 1878—having traveled abroad from 1872 to 1875—when he left on account of his wife’s health, to reside in the milder climates of this country. She died at Washington, D.C. on May 16, 1880.  After traveling abroad for several years he died at Northeast Harbor, Mount Desert, Maine, in 1890.

Among the many inventions devised by the doctor was the Davidson Bulb Syringe now universally in use, and a meat press "that anyone can use to press all the juice from the beef into a dish for the use of invalids." (6) Still another invention was called “Davidson’s Method in Ichthytaxidermy” or the mounting of fish for use in the study of Natural History.

In Gloucester, Davidson was a member of the school committee for several years, the first President of the Cape Ann Scientific & Literary Association, Vice President of the Cape Ann Horticultural Society, one of the Corporators of Oak Grove Cemetery, and a member of the Board of Trustees until his departure from the City. 

Dr. Davidson was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery, not far from the Stevens plot and the grave of Fitz Henry Lane. (7) His and his wife Sarah’s remains were removed to the more outlying plot #283 on Jasmine Lane in 1947, when his original gravesite was sold back to the Oak Grove Cemetery by his daughter Alice Davidson Tilton. (8) The bronze plaque on the large boulder at plot #283 reads: Hamilton Davidson 1787–1848; Phebe Davidson 1785–1858; Herman E. Davidson M.D. 1815–90; Charles H. Davidson 1812–60; Mary Jane Davidson 1820–36; Eliza Ann Delano 1817–53.

Alice Davidson Tilton gave View of Coffin's Beach, 1862 (inv. 41) to the Cape Ann Museum.

– Stephanie Buck (March, 2015)

(1) Assessor’s Valuations, Harbor Parish East Ward, 1862-64. Gloucester Archives, CC223.

(2) D. G. Beers & Co., Map of the Built up Portion of the Town of Gloucester, Mass. 1872. Cape Ann Museum.

(3) Essex County, Salem, Registry of Deeds, Bk. 436, 293; and Bk. 563, 19.

(4) Edward H. Lane, Cape Ann Scientific & Literary Association. Weekly Column on Matters of Local History, Gloucester Daily Times, March 23, 1916.

(5) Massachusetts Vital Records, Marriages, Boston, vol. 128, 77.

(6) An unpublished obituary by Rhodes Lockwood, handwritten manuscript from the Authors and Artists of Cape Ann, Cape Ann Historical Association Scrapbook #86, as in Sarah Dunlap and Stephanie BuckFitz Henry Lane: Family and Friends. (Gloucester, MAChurch & Mason Publishing; in association with the Cape Ann Historical Museum2007), 85.

(7) Plot #452, Hickory Avenue, Section 7.

(8) Oak Grove records, Gloucester Archives.

Related tables: Biographical information »  //  Davidson, Mrs. Herman Elvas »  //  Gloucester Lyceum »  //  Sawyer Free Library »

1862 Cape Ann Advertiser 1.31.1862
Newspaper clipping
Cape Ann Advertiser
Collection of Fred and Stephanie Buck

"MARINE PAINTING. – F. H. Lane, Esq., has recently completed a picture for Dr. H. E. Davidson of this town. The painting represents a sunset scene in our harbor, which is taken near the cut bridge, introducing the beach covered with rocks and pebbles, steep bank, and Stage Fort, with the surrounding scenery in the vicinity. . . It is impossible to give an adequate idea of this painting by any description of ours, for it must be seen to be appreciated. It is the largest painting the artist has yet finished, and, in our opinion, his best. The painting is now on exhibition at the Studio, for a short time, where those who are interested in works of art can have an opportunity of viewing it."

1862 Cape Ann Advertiser 10.31.1862
Newspaper clipping
Cape Ann Advertiser
Collection of Fred and Stephanie Buck

"MARINE PAINTING. – Mr. F. H. Lane has recently finished a splendid painting of Coffin's Beach, taken from the 'Loaf', which is one of the artist's happiest efforts. In the foreground is represented a ledge of cragged rocks over which the sea is tumbling in feathery foam; while stretching away to the right is the long sand beach and open bay. In the distance are seen the villages of Annisquam and Lanesville. The sun is just rising behind the hills, throwing his golden beams over the whole scene, forming a picture truly delightful to gaze upon. There is an air of solitary grandeur about the painting which we have seldom seen equalled, and we hope the artist will be induced to place it on exhibition for a few days."

1862 Cape Ann Advertiser 7.18.1862
Newspaper clipping
Cape Ann Advertiser
Collection of Fred and Stephanie Buck

"We learn that Dr. H.E. Davidson is shortly to exhibit to our citizens, some stereoscopic pictures on a large scale. The pictures are said to be truly magnificent, and are magnified to a great extent, showing every detail in a clear and life-like manner. The proceeds of the exhibition will be given to the Public Library, after paying the expense of the instrument. Due notice will be given of the the exhibition."

Dr. Herman E. Davidson
Edwin T. Billings
Oil on canvas
Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, Mass.
Lane death certificates, August 1865
Dr. Herman Davidson, City of Gloucester
Gloucester City Archives.
Letter on verso of Dream Painting
Fitz Henry Lane
Terra Foundation for American Art, Chicago

A letter affixed to the verso of Lane's Dream Painting of 1862 in which he describes how the idea for the painting came to him in a dream. Lane writes: "This picture, the Property of John S. Webber Esq, Collector of the Port and District of Gloucester, was (suggested) to the artist by a dream. Sometime last fall while asleep in bed, a richly furnished room was presented to my imagination. Upon the wall my attention was attracted to a picture which I have here endeavored to reproduce. The dream was very vivid and on awakening I retained it in memory for a long time. The effect was so beautiful in the dream that I determined to attempt its reproduction, and this picture is the result. The drawing is very correct, but the effect falls far short of what I saw, and it would be impossible to convey to canvas such gorgeous and brilliant colouring as was presented to me. This picture, however, will give to the beholder some faint idea of the ideal. /signed/ Fitz H. Lane."

view ]
Will of Fitz H. Lane
FItz. H. Lane
October 3, 1865
Essex County Probate Records, Volume 424, Leaves 34 & 35

The will disposed of Lane's property (including watch and diamond breast pin), his monetary assets, and gave to the city of Gloucester a painting of the Old Fort. Joseph Stevens, Jr. and T. Sewall Lancaster were named executors. It was signed by Lane on March 10, 1865.

Citation: "People." Fitz Henry Lane Online. Cape Ann Museum.§ion=Davidson%2C+Dr.+Herman+Elvas (accessed July 23, 2024).
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