Jacob E. Spring, a native of Maine, was born in 1833. At the age of twelve he moved to Buenos Aires where his family was raising sheep. They would ship hides back to the United States, and in exchange, relatives would ship lumber down to Argentina. While in Buenos Aires, Spring met and married a young woman from Pennsylvania; they had seven children. In 1872 he bought property in Danvers, Massachusetts and moved his entire family there with the exception of his two eldest daughters, who were in school in Germany.
He eventually built Porphyry Hall, a magnificent stone mansion made of over forty different types of stone in a range of colors. This effect proved impressive. Spring was a successful wool merchant, but it is thought that he lost his fortune when some of his ships were wrecked off the coast of South America. The Xaverian Brothers bought Porphyry Hall where they founded St. John’s Normal College, which became St. John’s Preparatory School in 1907. The school has since expanded, adding many buildings to the campus, but Porphyry Hall remains standing and is used as the Administration Building.