Primus P. Mason
Primus Mason was a 19th Century adventurer, business man and philanthropist. He was born a freeman to African-American parents in 1817, and apprenticed at an early age to a Monson farmer. At age 20, after he was severely mistreated by the farmer, Primus left Monson and settled in Springfield, where he worked early on as a teamster.
Swept up in the excitement of the 1849 Gold rush, Mason moved to California to seek his fortune, returning a wealthy man. He continued to prosper through real estate investments, in part due to his foresight regarding Springfield’s potential for growth. Once, when he learned that the farmer who had mistreated him was about to buy a parcel of land for $40, Primus pre-empted the purchase with his own offer of $60, then sold it to the farmer for $100. His revenge was sweet.
One notable venture was Mason’s purchase of a plot of land at the junction of Wilbraham Road and State Street. In 1856 he sold the land to the city for $65, but on the condition that the land be used for public purposes. The City built a much-needed firehouse on that land; then eventually named the area Mason Square.
Primus Mason died in 1892, outliving three wives and an only child. In his will, he left approximately $2,000 in amounts ranging from $5 to $500 to a handful of relatives and made provisions for his sister-in-law, a widow, to remain securely in her home for life. The remainder of his estate, $25,000 he left for the sole purpose of “the establishment of a Home for Aged Men.” His expressed intent was to have his funds accumulate before a home was officially opened. By 1903, the available funds had grown to $45,000, at which time the trustees purchased the estate of Charles Barrows on Walnut Street. The Springfield Home for Aged Men was poised to become “one of the active and permanent institutions of the city” according to historical documents.
Horace P. Wright
Horace P. Wright died at the age of 87 in 1944. Although he retired wealthy, having headed the prosperous W. H. Wright Co—a cigar manufacturing company on Springfield’s Main Street, little written record of his life exists. To date, no photos or portraits of Wright have been found.
In fact, research in the Springfield newspapers of the twentieth century’s first four decades produced only two articles, the first noting his death and the second noting that the executor of his will had filed an inventory in probate court.
On July 21, 1944, two months after Wright’s death, the Springfield Union wrote, the following, under the headline “Wright Leaves $719,167 in Estate”: The late Horace P. Wright, retired businessman, who resided at 281 State Street up to the time of his death on May 28, 1944, left an estate of $719,167.78 in personal property and real estate valued at $62,500, according to the executor’s inventory filed in Probate Court yesterday….The Springfield Deposit and Trust Company was executor of the will.”
The article went on to say that Wright’s personal property was comprised largely of numerous stock holdings, U.S. Treasury bonds and bank deposits, concluding “The deceased was a patron of the arts and had a collection of famous paintings valued in the inventory at $13,980.”
By the time of Horace Wright’s death, the Springfield Home for Aged Men was a well-established and highly regarded institution. Its mission and effectiveness inspired Wright to make the home the major beneficiary of his estate. His will specified a number of individuals, primarily relatives, as beneficiaries of such personal effects as art and jewelry. Wright’s specific bequests to other charitable entities were to the Springfield Hospital, to which he designated $150,000, and to the City Library Association, to which he donated $100,000.
For seven beneficiaries, Wright established trusts of $25,000 each, designating that the net income from those trust be paid to the beneficiaries for life, and, at the end of their lives, that the remainder of the trusts be transferred to the Springfield Home for the Elderly. There is more to Wright’s generosity for the elderly than those seven trusts.
The thirty-fourth and final paragraph of Wright’s will reads as follows:
All the rest, residue and remainder of all my goods and estate, both personal and real, of every kind and description and wherever situated, I give, devise and bequeath to the Springfield Home for Aged Men of said Springfield.
On January 12, 1946, the executor of Wright’s will distributed the sum of $375,000 to the Springfield Home for Aged Men, in accordance with the directives of that paragraph. Therefore, a total of approximately $550,000 out of an estate totaling just over $700,000 was ultimately conveyed to the Home.
Although news articles following Wright’s death described him as a patron of the arts, it is clear today that Wright’s concern for the elderly poor was of paramount concern.