The Dearest Spot On Earth: The Birthplace of Mary Baker Eddy
In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy’s seminal work, she wrote: “Home is the dearest spot on earth, and it should be the center, though not the boundary of the affections.”1
Mary Baker was born in the Baker family home in Bow, New Hampshire, on July 16, 1821. She spent the first 14 years of her life on this farm, the youngest of six children. Many recollections of her early years revolve around the Bow home and her family life – caring for the pigs, chicks, and lambs on the farm; attending school when her health allowed and being met by her youngest brother on her return; tutoring from her favorite brother, Albert; and listening to the adult discussions her father would have on religious topics.
One stretch of her adult life would find her moving repeatedly from place to place, at times homeless. In one year alone she moved over 10 times. It is not surprising then, when seeking out a residence in 1892, that she would move to a home with a view toward Bow and the Bow hills. She named this property Pleasant View. Eddy would reside here for nearly 16 years, her longest period of time in a single location. It was during this time that she and the church she founded would gain a worldwide audience.
By the late 1890s, because of her fame, there was a market for mementos associated with Eddy. As much as possible, she tried to direct these products away from her personality, and make them representative of her teachings. An example of this is the souvenir spoon produced in 1898. Neither Eddy herself, nor her Church, would take any profit from these ventures.
Rufus H. Baker, a Concord New Hampshire lawyer and a first cousin twice removed of Mary Baker Eddy, approached her in 1898 about creating a sketch of the Baker family farm. Rufus Baker’s father, John Baker, had also been owner of the property at one time, so Rufus was familiar with the buildings and the landscape—although much had changed since Eddy had lived there. Buildings had been moved and new ones added. He had almost completed his first sketches when he and his uncle visited the old homestead in July and found new information that required changes in his sketches.
Baker began new, larger, sketches. In the fall of 1898 he visited Eddy to review the sketches, and by March 1899, while still working on them, he asked Eddy for some clarification on her input. July 1899 found Baker asking Eddy for her preferences on the title of the finished picture. In September Baker wrote to Eddy: “I am having one of the best etchers in this country etch my drawing, and I expect the result will be a better and more artistic picture than my drawing, as the etcher is himself an artist and will remedy the crudities of my work. It is my present intention to sell no copies of the picture except the etchings.”2 True to his word, Baker engaged the services of an engraver with the American Bank Note Company’s Boston office. The company had been formed in 1858, by seven of the most prominent security printers, merging after the Panic of 1857. The firm was an international engraver of bonds, currency, and postage stamps.In December 1899 Baker gave Eddy the final product, and she was pleased:
Accept my thanks for the well executed engraving of the Baker homestead. Around the memory thereof clusters the golden days of my childhood. I hope you will have a good or rather a big demand for it. Affection craves legend and relic. Hundreds of thousands may seek this drawing of yours in future years. May it yield you a nice little income.3
Eddy also permitted the engraving to be advertised in both of her church’s magazines, The Christian Science Journal and The Christian Science Sentinel, stating that “it had been reproduced by the aid of Mrs. Eddy’s information, photographs of site, and authentic data.” The prints came in a choice of black or sepia and three levels of quality-artist’s proofs on India paper signed by Baker and limited in number ($7.50), India proofs printed on India paper ($5.00), and plain proofs printed on plain rice paper ($3.00). It is interesting to note that all other renditions of Eddy’s birthplace would be based on Rufus Baker’s drawing.