Launched in 2005, WellesleyWeston Magazine is a quarterly publication tailored to Wellesley and Weston residents and edited to enrich the experience of living in two of Massachusetts' most desirable communities.
Issue link: http://wellesleywestonmagazine.epubxp.com/i/782418
If Cheney, too, sounds vaguely presidential, that's because the family descended from the same colonial ancestors as former vice presi- dent Dick Cheney. But the statesman who would matter most to Benjamin was Daniel Webster. At age 16, the lad took a job driving a stage coach, and the legendary lawmaker was among his regu- lar customers. Endorsed by Webster, Cheney developed his own express coach business that carried people and valuables through New England and into Canada. In 1879, his United States and Canada Express Company merged with others to form what became American Express, of which Cheney for decades was the largest stockholder. He was also a director of Wells Fargo. As stagecoaches gave way to railroads, Cheney hopped aboard. When he lost an arm in a train wreck, according to family lore, he used the insurance settlement to invest in what became the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe. As a director of that line and the Northern Pacific, among other railroads, he played an instrumental role in putting transcontinental travel on a sound footing. It wasn't until 1865, when he was 50, that Cheney finally settled down and married, to a woman half his age, Elizabeth Stickney Clapp. When the newlyweds returned to their new house at 32 Marlborough Street in Boston's Back Bay, they were greeted by the stench of smoke. Several days before, rags stored in the basement had ignited a fire. But while the house was saved and refurbished, the story of the fire may have had a profound effect on the Cheneys' daughter, Alice, but more on that later. Cheney, the one-time stagecoach driver, galloped through the ranks of Boston society, becom- ing prominent in philanthropic and horticultural circles. From 1866 to 1880—appropriately enough, as it would turn out—he served as a trustee of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. In 1874, he purchased a 182-acre Wellesley estate next door to the summer home of Horatio Hollis Hunnewell, a friend and fellow railroad magnate, philanthropist, and horticulturalist. That was at a time when Wellesley, Weston, and neighboring towns were becoming popular vacation retreats for Boston's elite. Cheney kept the property's name, Elm Bank, given to it by its previous owner—Theodore Otis, a former mayor of Roxbury—because of the elm trees that then lined the Charles River. Cheney built a Queen Anne mansion and laid out gardens, carriage ways, and trails befitting an English country estate. Of the Cheneys' five children, it was Alice who enjoyed Elm Bank the most. She was born in 1867 while her father was on emergency business in New York. In her family memoir, Alice's 87 s p r i n g 2 0 1 7 | W e l l e s l e y W e s t o n M a g a z i n e B A C K G R O U N D C O U R T E S Y O F M A S S A C H U S E T T S H O R T I C U L T U R A L S O C I E T Y