Mourning Kate Matison

It is with tremendous sadness that we announce the passing of Kate Matison, a longtime member of the Southborough Historical Society, the Southborough Historical Commission, and one of our most civic-minded citizens.

Born in Australia in 1948, Kate and her husband Peter Quirk immigrated to the United States in 1988. They settled in Southborough in 1993 with their two sons.

An exceptionally skilled and enthusiastic photographer, Kate lived in London for a period and worked at the renowned Photographer’s Gallery.

Her interest in preservation sprang from her studies in art history, and she went on to combine talent as a photographer with her preservation studies, which eventually included two Masters degrees from Boston University. Kate spent countless hours meticulously photographing historical structures, often providing a complete record of buildings that were later demolished. She was actively engaged in the Vernacular Architecture Forum, and she implemented and moderated their widely followed Facebook page.

A life-time member of the SHS, Kate brought her boundless energy and commitment to the Southborough Historical Commission in 2007. It is impossible to overstate her impact on the Commission and the Town of Southborough.  In 2012, she became the Vice Chair, and she held that position until she was unanimously voted Chair this past January to honor her decades-long commitment to preserving our shared past. Kate never recovered sufficiently to wield the actual gavel, but in truth she never had to—Kate had long ago commanded our respect through a staunch belief that there was indeed a right way and a wrong way, and that we owed it to our fellow citizens to follow the correct path.

It is extremely rare to find an individual who is willing to work tirelessly for the  good of her community for so many years. Kate was that person in spades. We have no doubt that future residents of Southborough will benefit from her dedication as they experience  the historical character of the adopted town Kate worked so arduously to preserve.

It is our hope that the public Kate Matison will be remembered as fondly as the charming Aussie we knew up close: dedicated, tireless, witty, wise, and, above all, a loyal friend.

She was truly one of a kind.

Fare thee well,  dear Kate.

We will miss you.

 


The Southborough Historical Society will host a memorial reception honoring Kate in the spring. Details will be announced as soon as they are available.

We have also just received the news that former SHS Treasurer and renowned Town Moderator John Wilson died yesterday. We’ll be commemorating John in a separate post.

Being Demolished

The Flagg School in 1936. The article lists it as Southborough’s first school, but it was in reality part of a second round of school buildings begun in the 1860s.

 

Dear Friends,

For the first posting of 2019, I thought it would be fun to share this newspaper clipping from a scrapbook once owned by Mrs. Arlene Morrison, who ran the general store in the Sealey Block on Main Street across from the old train station. (Older residents will remember the Gulf station on the corner of Main and Newton street that replaced the block. Both buildings are now gone.)

As you can see, the article reveals that the Flagg school, which is now home to the Southborough Historical Society, and where I now sit writing this, was scheduled to be torn down for timber— a fate suffered by all the other clapboard one-room school houses in town about the same time. What saved the building is unclear. But for whatever reason, calmer minds (or more than likely, continued economic downturn) saved the structure for us to enjoy today.

Which brings me to my main point. Every time we allow pieces of our historic fabric to be destroyed, it has a ripple effect of unintended consequences. In this case, a precious part of our educational history would have been lost forever, and the Museum would be homeless.  Think about the other missing buildings mentioned here, and what they might have been: the Sealey block converted into retail and living space on Main Street; the old train station made into a great pub; the Cordaville mills as condo and restaurant space. Loss is just that, loss, especially when these wonderful old buildings are torn down just to sit as vacant lots or parking spaces.

Finally, a quick reminder to those of you who haven’t sent in order forms for our new book, Lost Southborough or haven’t mailed your year-end contribution to the Society.  Please do! Or even easier, donate online! Contributions so far are lagging last year’s tally and we’ve way too much programmed this year to slow down now!

Happy New Year Everyone!

 

 

 

 

The Merriest of Merries

Boston Globe Cut-Out   1985      79.19.14      Gift of Priscilla Laird Lincoln

On behalf of the Board of the Southborough Historical Society, we wish you the Merriest of Merries and healthy and prosperous New Year.

Join us next Monday at Heritage Day 2018

A recently re-discovered photo of McMaster’s Centre Store, which stood directly across from the Town House. This is the only known close-up view of the facade. Click to enlarge for a fascinating view of the goods on-hand. The building was sadly demolished by the Fay School for dining hall space.

 

The Southborough Historical Society is pleased to announce a day-long program of activities to celebrate Southborough History on Heritage Day!

  • The new Mysteries of the Past Game: Correctly identify all seven antique objects and win! First Prize: a $250 Amazon Gift Card!  Second and Third Prizes will also be awarded. Entry Forms are $5, one per person and will be available both on the field and at the Museum. Play starts at 9:00 AM and ends at 1:00 PM. Winners wills be announced at 2:00 PM.
  • A self-guided tour of the recently restored Old Burial Ground, entitled What Lies Beneath, revealing the fascinating history of Southborough’s buried past. Tour booklets will be available at the Southborough Historical Society booth and also at the Museum at 25 Common Street. Volunteers will be present in the Burial Ground throughout the morning and early afternoon.
  • Brand new exhibits at the Museum, highlighting Deerfoot Farms, Southborough and the Railroad, and the History of Fayville, among others.

 

The Ghosts of Main Street

As more and more of the Society’s collections come online, we can begin to show you some pretty amazing things. Take for instance this 3-minute trip down Main Street, put together using just a few of the historic photos in our collections.  In this video, I wanted to showcase the losses our Main Street has suffered over the last century. Once a vibrant small-town commercial and residential area, disastrous demolitions and total lack of urban planning has resulted in a broken architectural fabric without cohesion or purpose. It’s not too late though: the planned reconstruction of Main Street, plus thoughtful architectural additions that respect the style and scale of the area, could yet return Main Street to a viable, pedestrian friendly destination—exactly the result an effective historic district could provide. It’s time to get serious about restoring Main Street—not just the roadway—but the useful vibrancy of this important part of our heritage. Who among us wouldn’t benefit from that?

This video, by the way, is meant to be a trial-of-concept for a new book we are contemplating, Lost Southborough, that would show you then-and-now views of many spots around Town. If we can get the project launched this fall and winter, it would be our first new book in 40 years.

In the meantime, enjoy!

 

#2 on the List of Endangered Buildings: Fayville Village Hall


“The idea that you maintain the building, I think the value is not in maintaining the building. If someone could buy it and build something there or even knock it down, then there is more value.”
Selectman Brian Shifrin

Given recent comments like the one above by members of the Board of Selectmen, it’s not surprising that Number 2 on the list of endangered buildings in Southborough is Fayville Village Hall, which voters approved for sale at Town Meeting—after the Board of Selectmen promised that preservation of the structure would be integral to the sale. We’ve written about the distinctive history of this 1911 building before, and it seems pretty clear that the majority of voters in Southborough wish the hall preserved.

Yet after much hard work by the Fayville Hall Disposition Committee that created a Request for Proposal (RFP) which stressed the need for affordable housing in Southborough and the desire to preserve the historic facade of the building, the RFP only received a single bid, for $5000, from a local developer.

How could this be, when the property is assessed for more than $300,000 dollars?

Well, part of it could be the apparent low regard certain members of the BOS seem to have for historic preservation, as witnessed by Mr.  Shifrin’s comment above, and various other BOS quips like: “Well, we received one bid. That’s one more than I thought we would,” which reveal a real disrespect for the hard work the Disposition Committee and many other people have already put into preserving this architectural gem.

Another obvious reason for the bidding failure was the advertising method used—or in this case, not used. A notice was placed in the Central Register as required by the State, but the only other notice was a tiny ad placed in the Metro-west Daily News for 10 days.  Now I ask you. If your were a town looking to sell a valuable piece of property at a profit, increase your affordable housing stock, and preserve an historic structure all at the same time, wouldn’t it behoove you to solicit bids directly from contractors that specialize in just this type of construction? Or at the very least, advertise in publications geared to the contracting trade? A 10-second google search revealed dozens of potential firms that do projects just like this every day, including one right down the Pike in Waltham.

Fortunately, the BOS refused the low-ball $5000 offer, and is planning to send the RFP out again. This time I would urge the BOS to put some real effort into the solicitation process, if for no other reason than maximizing the financial return for us ratepayers.  We need affordable housing in Southborough, the voters have clearly stated we want the Fayville Village Hall preserved, and it’s time to get the next chapter in this remarkable building’s history moving!

 

Editor’s Note: Our Endangered Building List consists of structures that are actively threatened with demolition, demolition by neglect, or by changing patterns of use that would harm their architectural integrity. Buildings are added to the list in the order proposed, and their numeration does not necessarily indicate ranking or perceived  level of threat.

 

Southborough Historical Society Launches List of Endangered Historic Buildings

The barn at 135 Deerfoot Road

In keeping with its renewed mission of actively promoting historic preservation in Southborough, the Society today launches its list of historic structures that are threatened with demolition. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to various buildings around town,  explaining the factors that threaten them with destruction, and offering some suggestions for their preservation.

#1 The Barn at 135 Deerfoot Road

Number one on our list of endangered structures is the barn at 135 Deerfoot Road., which Brendon Homes purchased earlier this year as part of a 25-acre agricultural parcel, and then almost immediately applied to demolish. It is currently subject to the Demolition Delay By-law, though these protections will shortly expire. Some of you will remember my criticism of the Board of Selectmen for choosing not to place this agricultural parcel in front of Town Meeting to debate its acquisition and preservation—despite the recommendation to the contrary of every relevant Town committee and commission. And in fact, my comments turned out to be exactly on point. Instead of keeping the land out of development, the former farm will now be carved up into six housing lots,  the 1870s farmhouse will be destroyed, and more traffic and more school-age kids and more demands on our already overtaxed Town services will be a reality.

However, there is still hope for the magnificent barn.

This wonderful 19th century structure is in pristine shape. Made mostly of now-extinct American chestnut, the 3-story wooden barn is sound and almost entirely free of rot or pests.  Best of all, it is largely of mortise and tenon construction, meaning that it is put together with wooden pegs and fitted joints, much like Lincoln logs. This makes buildings like these very easy to disassemble and move—essentially you label the pieces and simply take them down in the reverse order they were put up.

Both the Historical Society and the Historical Commission have urged Brendon Homes to help move and preserve the structure, and there may be a glimmer of light here.  We have been investigating whether or not this magnificent barn might find a new home at Chestnut Hill Farm, where there is a need for  additional educational and meeting space.  What a fantastic act of civic responsibility it would be if Brendon Homes would subsidize the moving and preservation of this structure!


Let’s hope the agricultural gods hear our prayers, because it would be a crime to lose this very rare survivor of Southborough’s agricultural past.

 

Editor’s Note: Our Endangered Building List consists of structures that are actively threatened with demolition, demolition by neglect, or by changing patterns of use that would harm their architectural integrity. Buildings are added to the list in the order proposed, and their numeration does not necessarily indicate ranking or perceived  level of threat.

The Fighting Fourth

Dear Friends,

Today, on this our Independence Day, we are again reminded that it is often necessary to fight for what we believe in. Those of you who have been following the Historical Commission’s recent battles to slow the tide of development, prevent the destruction of Southborough’s historical fabric, and push back against blatant Board of Selectmen overreach, know that these efforts are not without cost. Still, failure to act means to surrender to the forces that threaten what remains of our shared heritage, and that is simply not an option. While the Southborough Historical Society still breathes, we will continue to support the efforts of the Historical Commission and historic preservation efforts generally, for we all benefit from tree-lined streets with storied homes, open land to walk and roam, uncongested roads and well-resourced schools—all outcomes that historic preservation can, and does, provide.

Among the many first-period documents the Society owns, perhaps the most famous is this original 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence — a very visible reminder of what we stand to lose by not treasuring our past.

In fact, this fall, the Society intends to double-down on our efforts. Our collection preservation efforts proceed apace. There will be exciting new history programming for our elementary schools. Plans are afoot to put more heritage back in Heritage Day, as well as a Winter Speakers Series. New online genealogy tools are also in the works.

But most importantly, rest assured that we will continue our active and vocal public advocacy for historic preservation in our Town,  reminding  the citizenry of Southborough—and especially our elected officials— that while we have lost much, we have much more left to lose. Over 65% of Southborough voters supported spending over a million dollars to save the Burnett House; over 65% supported the Demolition Delay By-Law; and an equal number supported the recent Adaptive Re-use By-Law for Historic Structures. It’s evident that rate-payers want, need, and require historic preservation in Southborough. For those who disagree, fair enough: Gloves on, and Queensberry Rules.

A Happy Fighting-Fourth to All!

Michael Weishan,
President, Southborough Historical Society

The International Exposition: Southborough, 1876

Looking around for ideas to help heal the national trauma that was the Civil War, Philadelphia Mayor Morton McMichael floated the idea that the United States Centennial in 1876 be celebrated with an exposition in Philadelphia.  Philadelphia, after all, was the birthplace of American democracy. What better place to showcase the modern nation the United States had become?

Others were not so sure. They doubted the funding could be raised; they worried that other countries might not attend; or that American exhibitions might compare poorly to those of other nations, especially the magical Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.  Still, the idea gained traction, and with millions of dollars raised, and a 450-acre site set aside for the Exposition, the stage was set for an event the likes of which America had never seen. The undertaking was enormous: over 200 buildings were constructed on the grounds, including the Main Building, seen in the colored engraving above, which enclosed 2.5 acres, making it the largest building in the world.

The arm of the still incomplete Statue of Liberty on display. For 50 cents, visitors could climb to the top of the torch to view the grounds.

Other huge halls were devoted to developments in agriculture, horticulture, and machinery. Individual American states each built typical houses. 16 foreign countries built national pavilions.  There was even a Women’s Hall, which showcased advances in domestic technology.

In today’s video age where almost any image or information bit is available at a key-stoke, it’s hard to appreciate the effect that a fair of this scale had on the  public imagination. This was many Americans first introduction to electricity. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone debuted here. As did the typewriter, Heinz Ketchup, and Hires root beer. In hindsight, there were a few advances that we could have done without, such as the introduction of kudzu to the US as a means of erosion control.

The German armaments manufacturer Krupps’ exhibit

Also present were many arms manufacturers, like Germany’s Krupps, that hinted at the world of mechanized warfare to come. But in general, the effect was dazzling, and marked the entry of the United States onto the modern world stage. Before the 6-month exhibition ended on November 10th, 1876, more than 10 million people had attended, or about a quarter of America’s then population of 40 million.

All fine and good, you may be thinking, but what’s this have to do with Southborough history?

Well, swept up by enthusiasm for the progress their country had achieved, and desirous not to be left out of the excitement, the students of Peter’s High School held an “International Exposition” of their own at the Town Hall on the day before the official Exposition closed in Philadelphia.

Unable to replicate the glories of the fair in exhibits, they instead chose to celebrate the event with song and words, with individual students portraying in verse the themes of the various halls and pavilions, others creating representations or tableaux vivants of the foreign countries that participated at Philadelphia. Tickets were 25 cents, no small amount in those days, and while no documentation exists describing the particulars of the show, it must have been charming, because even across 150 years,  the excitement these students evinced at the dawn of America’s second century  still echoes from this marvelous program—another of our recent discoveries from the basement

Unfortunately the 1970s remodeling of the Town Hall took out the large second floor stage, seating area and third floor balcony used for this celebration, but still it’s pleasant to remember an age when going to the Town Hall might mean something more than attending long public meetings or paying taxes.

If only!

To read more about the remarkable Centennial Exposition, click HERE

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Come Join Us for the SHS Annual Meeting: Monday 4 June

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Board of the Southborough Historical Society will be meeting at the Archives & Museum Monday June 4 at 6:30 PM to plan our programming for the next year.  This will also function as the Society’s annual meeting. We’ll be reviewing progress over the past 12 months (considerable!),  outlining plans to develop new social initiatives for members, create new educational units for the schools, as well as elect Society officers.

Come engage in your history!