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Colonel Green’s Forgotten Labs

Barbara Bedell resurrects the story of Colonel Edward Green and the MIT labs that the eccentric millionaire supported.

Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green and the World He Created at Round Hill
By Barbara Fortin Bedell
Barbara Fortin Bedell, 2003, $39.95

In 1925, millionaire and technology enthusiast Col. Edward H. R. Green set up a home away from home for MIT researchers: he invited them to his Round Hill Estate in Dartmouth, MA, provided them with lodging and lab space, lent them the use of his radio towers, and hired a crew for a blimp that could be used as an aerial lab. In return, the colonel was allowed to drop in at any time in order to keep up with the latest advances in technology.

Though the shores of Buzzards Bay near New Bedford, MA, may seem an unlikely place for an MIT lab, the work done on Green’s estate was at the forefront of research in radio communication, aircraft navigation, high-voltage generators, and meteorology. The once dynamic estate is quiet now, with clusters of houses, a golf course, and tennis courts occupying land that changed hands several times after the colonel’s death in 1936 and was eventually sold to developers. Green’s mansion alone was converted into 16 condominiums.

But in every corner are reminders of the estate’s golden days: the crumbling foundation of an old bathhouse on the beach, the wooden beams left over from construction of Green’s seaplane ramp, and the indentations from railroad ties that led into the blimp hangar.

The estate’s physical remains may be slowly disappearing into the scenery, but Green’s story has been resurrected by Barbara Bedell in her book Colonel Edward Howland Robinson Green and the World He Created at Round Hill. A first-time author, Bedell weaves her narrative through photographs, letters, clippings, and blueprints, which she collected from friends of the colonel, museums, and archives around New England.

Bedell knew nothing of the colonel or his story when she and her husband first purchased their Round Hill house in 1991. But on bike rides and walks around the property, she kept finding bits and pieces of his world peeking out from the shrubbery. Slowly, she began to put this forgotten story together. “It was just like a big puzzle,” she says. Many of her questions remained unanswered until she came across a vast collection of glass-slide photographs and the unpublished memoirs of Green’s long-time secretary, Walter Marshall.

The glass negatives had survived for decades in the hands of Noel Hill, who lives at Round Hill and whose parents managed the colonel’s airport. Bedell, who was a freelance newspaper photographer and has a home darkroom, spent days developing the prints, unfolding the colonel’s world. “Once I had all these pictures, I had to do something with them,” she says. “Then when I found the memoirs, everything was there. It was just a matter of getting it organized and putting it together.”

Bedell’s next project is to edit and publish Marshall’s memoirs. In the meantime, for anyone who is curious about the colonel and this little-known corner of campus, Bedell’s book is sure to be a treat.

Recent Books from the MIT Community

Leonardo to the Internet: Technology and Culture from the Renaissance to the Present
By Thomas J. Misa ‘81
The Johns Hopkins University Press,
2004, $19.95 (paper)

It Takes a Lot More Attitude…to Lead a Stellar Organization
By Stever Robbins ‘86
Acanthus Publishing, 2004, $19.95

Obscene Gestures of an Invisible Hand: Financial Doom and the Death of Culture–the Lighter Side
By Jeffrey Trester ‘88
Lulu Press, 2004, $13.98

The Next Global Stage: The Challenges and Opportunities in Our Borderless World
By Kenichi Ohmae, PhD ‘70
Wharton School Publishing, 2005, $27.95

Rethinking the Welfare State: The Political Economy of Pension Reform
Edited by Martin Rein, professor,
Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Winfried Schmahl
Edward Elgar Publishing, 2004, $130.00

Perpetual Business Machines: Principles of Success for Technical Professionals
By Eric T.-S. Pan ‘86
MDC, 2005, $48.50

We invite you to submit the names of books and papers published in 2004 and 2005 to be considered for this column.

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