J. Gough Collection

John Bartholomew Gough
1817 - 1886


Born in Sandgate, Kent, England in 1817, John Gough immigrated to the United States when he was only twelve years old. He learned the bookbinder’s trade and later took to the stage. Neither career was totally satisfying nor lucrative.

His mother and sister also came to America. His mother died of a stroke and Gough, despondent, began to drink. He married in 1838. The couple had a daughter but unfortunately, both mother and child died within days of each other.

By the age of 25, Gough was unemployed, homeless, and a confirmed drunkard. In 1842 he attended a temperance meeting in Worcester, Massachusetts where he took a pledge to totally abstain from liquor. He began to tell his story to eager audiences and soon embarked on a career of lecturing against the evils of drink.

During his career, Gough delivered some 9,600 lectures to more than nine million people in America, Canada, England, Scotland, and Ireland.

He married a second time to Mary Whitcomb whom he met in Boylston. In 1848, he built his home, "Hillside," in the Morningdale section of Boylston.

Gough made three overseas tours and traveled extensively throughout the United States becoming the most sought-after temperance lecturer in the country.

When he died in 1886, the New York Times wrote that he "was probably better known in this country and in Great Britain than any other public speaker." Mr. Gough was one of this country’s most influential social reformers who helped to solve one of America’s most pressing problems.


"Hillside," the mansion house of John B. Gough, was built in 1848 in what is now called the "Morningdale" section of Boylston. Contemporaries regarded the house as one of the three loveliest mansions in the Commonwealth along with The Wesson Mansion ("White Cliffs") in Northborough, and Daniel Webster’s home in Marshfield.

The house is a spacious New England frame house, two stories tall with a single story bay on each side. It is done in an Italianate style with a large front porch and cupola. There were twenty rooms, some of which were added on in the early 1860’s. Downstairs rooms included a parlor, conservatory, library, and dining room.

Vast amounts of time and money were spent to grade the lawns and in developing a spring which supplied water to the house. Farm buildings included several barns, three hen houses, a carriage house, and a gymnasium with a bowling alley. 

"Hillside" was a working farm. Gough kept 1000 chickens, numerous riding horses, cows, swine, sheep, and oxen. The land yielded grain, hay, vegetables, and fruit in abundance.

The scenic roadway leading to the house was lined with elm trees interspersed with syringa bushes that exuded a lovely fragrance.

The interior was tastefully decorated with paintings and engravings covering the walls. The library held 3000 books, many of which were exquisitely bound.

The famous and near famous visited "Hillside" including a former U.S. president, clergymen, artists, politicians, and temperance leaders.

"Hillside" is one of Boylston’s greatest treasures. It faces an uncertain future unless we band together to preserve it for future generations. We can not forget that its importance is not only local but that it figures prominently in American history. In 1975, it was placed on the National Register of Historic Sites.


The first John Gough exhibit took place on October 5, 1980. The Society had obtained a number of Gough possessions from Arthur and Helen Knight of Lower Waterford, Vermont. Mrs. Knight obtained the items through inheritance. She was the grand-niece of May Gough Allen, a niece of John Gough. 

May Gough Allen was the daughter of Herbert D. Gough, John’s half brother. May, along with her parents, lived for a time at Hillside.

The exhibit opened with some fanfare with area newspaper coverage. The Society proudly announced that it had the largest Gough collection in America, a boast that was even then probably true. It was subsequently decided to make the Gough exhibit a permanent one in the museum, and so it has been for nearly twenty years.

In 1998, the Society became involved in a move to save and restore the Gough mansion, "Hillside," after it was acquired by the town of Boylston. Additional Goughiana was obtained on loan from Mrs. Elizabeth Marble of Ashburnham, the daughter of Arthur and Helen Knight.

The museum staff decided to recreate the exhibit using a different concept and adding period pieces that, although not belonging to the Gough family, did serve to enhance the scenes.

The new exhibit was opened on May 2, 1999 to coincide with "The John B. Gough Day" celebrations. This exhibit will also be permanent and will remain on display indefinitely at the museum.            

The staff members who took part in creating this new display include William O. Dupuis, Frederick G. Brown, Betty Thomas, Judith Haynes, Norman H. French and Pamela Mackenzie.