The Walton Family Legacy

20Oct13

Part 3 of a series on the Walton Family of Wakefield, Massachusetts
[Part 1 ; Part 2]
Mary E. Walton did not live to see her granddaughter, Mary C. Walton, marry Valentine Giamatti. But her husband, 82 year-old Arthur G. Walton did attend the elegant wedding in South Berwick, Maine on July 3, 1937, just one month before the wealthy shoe manufacturer died at his Lakeside Wakefield estate at 108 Main St.

There were almost certainly cultural differences to be overcome in 1937 when the daughter of an old New England Yankee family married the son of Italian immigrants. But the fact that the groom was a Yale man probably didn’t giamattihurt, and in any case there is no record of any objection to the union from either family.

The Waltons were a family of achievers, but Mr. and Mrs. Arthur G. Walton could hardly have imagined that their future great-grandson, A. Bartlett Giamatti, would one day be president of Yale University and later, as Commissioner of Major League Baseball, would ban Pete Rose for life for gambling on baseball. Nor could they have imagined that their great-great-grandson, actor Paul Giamatti, would emerge as one of the biggest Hollywood stars of his generation.

The flowers that were used to decorate the church and the house where the wedding reception was held came from gardens of the Lakeside estate of the bride’s grandfather, the July 6, 1937 Wakefield Daily Item reported. The bride, the Item added, was the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett Walton of Park Avenue in Wakefield. Mary C. Walton was a 1931 graduate of Wakefield High School, before graduating from Smith College in 1935.

Her new husband, Valentine Giamatti, was from New Haven, Connecticut and a 1932 Yale graduate. He was a professor of Romance languages at Vermont Junior College.

On the day of their wedding, the Item noted, “the weather was ideal, warm enough for everyone’s comfort and with brilliant sunshine during the entire afternoon.”

It was not a given that Mary’s elderly grandfather would attend the nuptials.

“It was a matter of general rejoicing,” the Daily Item said, “that Mr. Walton had so far recovered his health as to be present at the wedding of the first of his grandchildren to be married.”

But Mr. Walton’s health would suddenly desert him one month later, resulting in unexpected death at home on Aug. 6, 1937.

“The death of Mr. Walton comes as a great surprise to many,” the Item noted, “for he had attended to business as usual lately.”

Arthur G. Walton’s wife, Mary E. (Bartlett) Walton had also died unexpectedly 12 years earlier, while undergoing throat surgery. She had been an active member of the First Congregational Church and during World War I had chaired the local Liberty Loan drives.

old_high_schoolBoth Mr. and Mrs. Walton had been big supporters of the new Wakefield High School built on Main Street in 1923 and donated $10,000, a huge sum in those days, for the construction of an athletic field. The field was called “Walton Field” in honor of the donors. Walton Field is currently the site upon which the new Galvin Middle School is being built. It’s unclear whether the Walton name will be carried over in some fashion at the new Galvin complex.

There are numerous other ways in which names connected in taylor_block2some way to the Walton family appear in Wakefield. Walton Lane, Walton Place and Walton Street are easily recognized, as is the Walton School. The block in Wakefield Square that runs from Princess Street to Lincoln Street was once commonly referred to as “the Walton Block.”

Others are less obvious, like Aborn Ave. (Arthur G. Walton’s mother was Elizabeth Aborn.) As the Daily Item noted following his death, through marriages Arthur Gould Walton’s family was connected to the Aborns, the Bryants, the Greens, the Cowdreys, the Goulds and other Wakefield families for whom streets have been named. Cristofaro Street bears the name of the developer who purchased the Walton estate in 1938. One can’t help wondering if homophonous Walden Road, which runs through the former site of the Walton Mansion, is itself a sly reference to the Walton name.

But the Walton legacy is hardly limited to names of local streets, buildings and fields around Wakefield.

When A. Bartlett Giamatti became the youngest president in the history of Yale University in 1978, he could trace his maternal lineage back to Wakefield and his grandfather, Bartlett Walton, and his great grandfather, Arthur Gould Walton.

Giamatti presided over the university during the bitter 1985-86 strike by clerical and technical workers. He also resisted student and faculty demands that the University divest itself of investments in American corporations doing business in apartheid South Africa. Although he deplored the situation in South Africa, Giamatti did not believe that divestiture was an effective method for bringing about change.

Most people probably remember Bart Giamatti for another reason.

pete_roseIn September 1988, he became the Commissioner of Major League Baseball and the following year negotiated an agreement whereby Pete Rose was effectively banished from baseball. Rose agreed to accept the “permanently ineligible” status in exchange for Major League Baseball making no formal finding on accusations that he gambled on baseball.

Sadly, just eight days after banning Rose, Giamatti died suddenly of a heart attack on Sept. 1, 1989 while at home on Martha’s Vineyard.

Bart Giamatti’s son, Paul Giamatti has become one of the most ubiquitous actors of the late 20th and early 21st paul_giamatticenturies, appearing in such Hollywood films as Saving Private Ryan, American Splendor, Sideways and Cinderella Man. He also starred in the title role of HBO’s award-winning miniseries John Adams.

Arthur G. Walton and his wife Mary are buried in Lakeside Cemetery, almost directly across Lake Quannapowitt from the Main Street estate they called home for so many years. But the Walton legacy lives on, in Wakefield, in Hollywood and beyond.

[Read Part 1 ; Read Part 2]

[This story originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

Special thanks to Brian C. Coughlin for providing research and materials.

Photo of Pete Rose by Peter Bond.

Photo of Paul Giamatti by Justin Hoch.

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2 Responses to “The Walton Family Legacy”

  1. 1 Lennie Ogden

    The Waltons gave the money for the athletic field in memory of their younger son, Winship Walton, who died of scarlet fever in 1908 at the age of 18.

  2. 2 Lennie Ogden

    Sorry–rheumatic fever. Just as dead, however.


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