The Southborough Historical Society is tremendously saddened to learn of the death of Paul Doucette earlier this week. Paul was a long time member of the Southborough Historical Society, having served on its Board of Directors for many years. Paul was especially interested in the history of the Burnett Family’s Deerfoot Farm, which at one time was the largest employer in Southborough. He wrote and published a history of both the Burnett family and Deerfoot Farm. In 2004 the society honored Paul by dedicating the Deerfoot Farm exhibit and Burnett family collection located at the Historical Society Museum to him. His vast knowledge of this part of Southborough’s history as well as his keen wit will be sorely missed.
Recently I set myself the task of rehousing and cataloging the Francis B. Fay papers in our collection. I’ll be telling you more about these documents another time, as Francis B. Fay was one of Southborough’s more remarkable native sons, who among other notable deeds donated the money to start our library, which for many decades bore his name. But, I digress… back to the papers.
Cataloguing is not exactly a mile-a-minute roller-coaster ride of fun. It can be tedious, because there is a lot of minutia involved, but it’s critical if we really intend to take effective stewardship of our Southborough history. Most of the Fay papers were pamphlets of one type or another — very early sermons (some dating back to 1820), political tracts, speeches, and various other bits and pieces saved during a productive life of public service spanning 7 decades. But tucked away in one of these pamphlets, carefully folded up but literally rotting away with age, was the auction notice you see above. These broadsheets were never intended to be preserved; they were printed on the cheapest of paper, and generally thrown away afterwards. But somehow this one survived, and despite its damaged state, caught my attention because of the line below “CONDITIONS OF SALE”:
“The property will be sold without reserve as the subscriber is about to leave for the seat of WAR.”
“The seat of WAR” Wow!
It’s not everyday you find a notice of someone auctioning their possessions in order to go fight in the Civil War. There are so many questions here. We know from the historical record that Marshall Whittemore lived on the corner of Boston Road and Framingham Road, in a Greek Revival cottage that is remarkably little changed. We know too he was married with children, and his profession was listed as farmer. So why was he selling his animals and farm equipment? To make provision for his family? How were they going to live while he was gone? What motivated him to enlist in the first place? He was not at all young — 41 — and the war had been raging for over two years. Something, though, prompted him to sell his precious goods the day after Christmas, and shortly thereafter, leave his home, wife, son, and daughter to fight for the Union.
Can you imagine how difficult that parting must have been? Heading off in a cold, dark December to god-knows-what fate?
Fortunately, thanks to other records in our collection, we know that our story has a happy ending. Marshall Whittemore, now a private in a heavy artillery regiment, survived the disastrous battle of Newport Barracks where Union troops were overwhelmed 3-1 by Confederate forces. At the conclusion of hostilities, he was mustered out of the Army, returning to farm and family in Southborough where he lived peaceably for decades. He died in 1902 and is buried in the Rural Cemetery.
So the historical record is all neatly tucked up, but it leads to a final nagging question: why did Francis B. Fay decide to save this seemingly random broadsheet? Were the two men friends? Friends of friends? Distantly related? Or did Francis Fay simply admire the courage of a man who sold his most precious possessions, left his family, and headed off to war with the courage of his convictions. We’ll never know, but it’s something to remember as we fuss with ribbons and wrappings, fret over last-minute shopping, fume over holiday traffic, and worry endlessly about menus and decorations, that once upon a time, in a Southborough long, long ago, a certain courageous man named Marshall Whittemore gave up his home and hearth at Christmas, so that we of future generations could enjoy ours.
Thank you, Marshall. Thank you indeed.
And Merry Christmas.
The more I get acquainted with the Society’s collection, the more astounded I become. Here in tiny little Southborough, we have a world-class collection of items! Take the above, for example. This wonderfully preserved tome contains the Massachusetts Charter of 1691 that formally established the Province of Massachusetts Bay. Issued during the reign of William III and Mary II, the charter defined the government of the colony, whose lands were drawn from those previously belonging to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Plymouth Colony, and portions of the Province of New York, and included all of present-day Maine, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia! The book also contains all the subsequent laws governing the province up to the date of its publication, 1742 — which makes surprisingly fascinating reading, with all the little do’s and don’ts of life in Colonial Massachusetts.
My point in showing this to you today is to point that we have many volunteer opportunities that grant hands-on experience with incredibly historic material just like the charter. It’s a volunteer experience really unparalleled anywhere else, as most other institutions keep volunteers well away from the actual collections.
We are currently looking for volunteers to:
• help catalogue our book collection
• help organize and re-house our collection of objects
• help catalogue and re-house our paper and photo archives, and prepare this material for online presentation
No previous experience is necessary, other than a general knowledge of Mac operating systems, and a love of history. If you’re interested in helping out, let us know.
Dear Friends of the Society,
As the holidays draw near, almost inevitably I find myself re-watching Irving Berlin’s Holiday Inn, starring Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire. If you haven’t seen this 1942 classic, or haven’t seen it in a long time, you really should. Not only are Bing and Fred in their prime, but it’s also the film that launched the timeless carol “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” There’s nothing like Der Bingle boo-boo-booing his way through that soulful song, tree aglow and fire crackling in the hearth. There’s another tune, too, which I particularly like, though it’s far less known: “I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For.” And with only a slight change in the pronoun from “I” to “We,” this catchy melody could be the Historical Society’s anthem for 2017, for indeed we at the Society have so much to be thankful for! For example, over the past year:
• the Museum building reopened to the public after four months of flood remediation.
• work on rehousing and re-cataloguing the collections began in earnest.
• our brand-new website launched, continually updated with new material.
• our digitization program commenced, with hundreds of new images now available online.
• the voice of the Society began to be heard in real-time preservation advocacy for Southborough.
• our membership doubled, and we successfully competed for and won several funding grants designed to help stabilize our collections and expand the Society’s outreach.
Now, however, 2018 dawns and work begins in earnest: over half our paper collection is still not properly housed; thousands of historic photographs remain to be documented and digitized; and the renovated museum space is just yearning for new exhibits, all of which have to be researched, designed and constructed. Plus, we are determined in 2018 to expand our educational outreach to the Southborough Schools — as a start, this past September we hosted a specially designed afternoon for all seven of Southborough’s 3rd-grade classrooms, an event which received highly enthusiastic reviews from students, parents and teachers alike.
So, this is where you come in. For the second year in a row, we’ve received a 10K grant from the Southborough Community Fund designed in part as a challenge grant to spur outside giving. In essence, every dollar you contribute to the Southborough Historical Society before the end of the year is doubled in effectiveness. I so hope you’ll be able to help us. If you do, we promise to keep the chorus going, making sure we preserve the best of Southborough’s past for its future.
Michael Weishan, President
You donate safely and easily on line by clicking the button below.
Or, by check to the Southborough Historical Society, 25 Common Street, Southborough, Massachusetts 01772
The Southborough Historical Society is a 501(c)3 public charity and your donations are deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Despite recommendations to the contrary of every relevant board and commission — the Community Preservation Committee, the Historical Commission, the Open Space Committee, and the Planning Board (not to mention the Southborough Historical Society!) — the Southborough Board of Selectmen last night declined to allow Southborough voters the chance to decide whether to acquire the historic Moses and Elizabeth Fay House with its 27 acres in order to save it from demolition and development. The vote was 3-2, with Dan Kolenda, Brian Shea and Bonnie Phaneuf in the majority, and Lisa Braccio and Brian Shifrin dissenting.
Shame on Misters Kolenda, Shea and Ms Phaneuf!
Not only have these three decided of their own volition to doom one of the last remaining historic farm properties in town, but in a single vote they have raised our taxes, crowded our classrooms, and increased infrastructure congestion. If you are unclear why that’s the case, please read the full explanation here.
Otherwise, here’s the short review: Every new single-family home built on former agricultural land takes money right out of your pocket and degrades the quality of life in Southborough. It’s about time the voters, not three individuals, made those kind of decisions, particularly on 61A agricultural properties whose sellers have been receiving huge tax breaks for decades — funded by us, We-Who-Pay in Southborough.
We-Who-Pay need to make it clear to our Selectmen that we want to PRESERVE our historic structures and open spaces, not DESTROY them. At the very least, We-Who-Pay want a chance to decide their fate.
To that end, I think it’s time We-Who-Pay make ourselves heard.
First of all, please email the selectmen and tell them how disappointed you are with their decision. They need to hear from you, the voters.
Then, help us place a referendum on the upcoming April Town Meeting docket that makes it clear to the Selectmen how the people of Southborough feel about preserving our remaining open space and historic fabric.
As you know, we have a special election tomorrow for Selectman, and as is now our custom, the Southborough Historical Society asks the candidates questions relevant to historical preservation in Southborough. Two responded: Sam Stivers and Doriann Jasinski.
NB: Tomorrow’s voting is at Trottier gym only.
Responses from Sam Stivers:
What is your position on the 61A parcel on Deerfoot Road? Should the voters be allowed to decide whether or not to acquire the parcel at town meeting?
Would you support placing the decision on acquiring all future 61A parcels automatically in front of the voters?
I support the preservation of open space in the Town. I believe that there should be a process for consideration of all Chapter 61 parcels (including not just 61A parcels) when the Town has the option to exercise a Right of First Refusal (ROFR). This process could include the Open Space Preservation Commission (OSPC), the Planning Board, the Conservation Commission, the Historical Commission and other Town committees with interests related to this issue, to assess the value of such parcels and determine if the limited resources available for such purchases are aligned with the Town’s prioritization of available properties. In fact, such a process is in the final development stage by the “Chapter 61 Working Group”, and I support this. I do not support “automatic” Town Meeting consideration of purchase of such parcels, as the new Chapter 61 process will provide broadly based expert input to determine which possible acquisitions should go to the voters. Additionally, I support the preservation of open space in the Town via methods other than Chapter 61 ROFR—such as outright purchase of development rights as we did for the Chestnut Hill Farm. The challenge is to find ways to fund these acquisitions.
Study after study has shown that taxes on single family homes don’t cover their cost to the Town, and each new build actually contributes to higher rates for everyone. Given that, what would you propose to limit further development and increase the quality of life for current residents?
The Advisory Committee did such a study several years ago, confirming that additional residential development likely results in a net cost to the Town. Because development is largely controlled by the Town’s zoning bylaws (managed by the Planning Board), modification of the development process is something that starts with the Planning Board. I support a Planning Board initiative to update the zoning bylaws, which can address growth and other issues. The Selectmen can collaborate with the Planning Board on such an initiative. However, I do not support outright restricting or limiting development. We need to find a balance between preserving what we value in Town – open space and historic resources – while allowing appropriate new development for both residential and commercial uses at a scale and rate that the Town can support. Our Master Plan can provide guidance relative to these questions, and our Master Plan should be revisited and updated as necessary.
Additionally, the Selectmen can help manage the Town’s exposure to “unfriendly” 40B housing projects by smart planning to meet our Housing Plan objectives. Using funds in the Housing Trust Fund and CPA housing reserve accounts (which currently total over a half-million dollars) we can work with developers and/or nonprofits to create “neighborhood friendly” small-scale 40B housing projects so we can meet our housing obligations through a process the Town controls, instead of reacting to developer proposals.
If the majority of home-owners in a particular area of Town favored the creation of an historic district, would this have your support?
I support this concept. I would need to see the specific details before I can support a particular proposal. I strongly favor preserving the Town’s historical qualities that make us uniquely Southborough. That identity adds value to our homes, our community and our businesses.
What other ideas do you have to promote and protect the historic nature of Southborough?
As a Selectmen I will support the Historical Commission and the Planning Board as they develop a plan for historic preservation and priorities.
What plans might you suggest to revitalize the Main Street area economically and aesthetically once the road improvements are done?
The Town could consider creating a zoning overlay district to permit mixed-use structures in the downtown area. This could provide additional commercial/professional space as well as residential use. A key issue related to this process is transportation and parking. If we want to have more businesses and residential development in the downtown area we must consider parking. Towns with vibrant downtowns typically have municipal parking capacity out of the public view but within easy walking distance to downtown businesses. We need to address this issue as part of downtown development.
The Selectmen can also work with the Economic Development Committee to leverage the downtown development work they are doing.
Finally, with St. Mark’s School becoming an owner (through the Golf Course land arrangement) of property with frontage on Main Street, planning and coordination with St. Mark’s development plan is desirable.
If plans were developed for a cultural corridor linking the Library, the Old Burial Ground, the Museum, the Town House, St Marks church and the cemetery, would you be generally supportive of such an idea?
I support of this concept. I would need to see the specific details of such a proposal before I can support a particular proposal.
The office of selectman is a low-paid, demanding, and time-consuming position, which often requires attendance not only at selectmen’s meetings, but also at meetings of other boards and committees. Recently, it has been noticed that a certain member of the Board has had an unusually high absentee rate, which obviously is not ideal. Are there any factors that would limit your commitment of time and energy to the Board of Selectmen?
No. My record of attendance at over 100 Town committee meetings each year demonstrates my commitment to devote the time necessary to fulfill my Town obligations. I will continue to devote the time to meet my responsibilities as a Selectman.
Responses from Doriann Jasinski:
What is your position on the 61A parcel on Deerfoot Road? Should the voters be allowed to decide whether to acquire the parcel at town meeting?
My position on the Deerfoot property is simply this: the voters should decide whether they want to purchase the property. I would also hope that the voters take into thoughtful consideration how the neighbors feel about the purchase by the Town.
Would you support placing the decision on acquiring all future 61A parcels automatically in front of voters?
I don’t believe that placing any restriction on future 61A properties is a good idea. I do believe that the taxpayers have the right to vote on whether they want to assume the tax liability for the purchases. The value of all 61A properties are not the same and need to be looked at on an individual basis.
Study after study has shown that taxes on single family homes don’t cover their cost to the Town and each new build contributes to higher taxes for everyone. Given that, what would you propose to limit further development and increase the quality of life for current residents?
I would not limit development for several reasons. First, development helps us meet our future needs as a community. It provides jobs which help boost our economy. Property owners have the right to develop their land as they wish, providing they follow our town by-laws. I am against taking away property owner rights or stopping development.
Southborough loves its Open Space. One way to increase the quality of life for current residents is to value our Open Space. Communities need open space to provide passive recreational areas such as walking trails. I am in favor of protecting our Open Space and purchasing more as time goes on to help enhance the charm and character of our Town. Our Open Space Commission is a very productive group of individuals who have a prioritized list of parcels for future purchases which would enhance our community.
If the majority of home owners in a particular area of town favored the creation of an historic district, would this have your support?
I would absolutely be in favor in the creation of a historic district in our Town.
What other ideas do you have to promote and protect the historic nature of Southborough?
First, I believe we need to educate the residents about the rich history of our Town. Many people don’t know the history of Southborough. When we were considering the details of the Burnett House purchase, that is when the history was given. I would suggest having an annual town wide get together to promote the rich history of Southborough. Having interactive games and maybe have the children do a play of some sort would make it fun for people of all ages to attend.
What plans might you suggest to revitalize the Main Street area economically and aesthetically once the road improvements are done?
We do need to revitalize our downtown to help promote business for the existing businesses there. The Economic Development Committee just completed a survey to ask people what they wanted in their downtown area. The results are detailed as listed below:
90% want more restaurants; 67% want more retail shops. Aesthetics are important and the Downtown “feel” is essential. Historic buildings, signage and markers are highly valued. People want more “public spaces”.
Personally, I would agree that all the above are important and needs a closer look at how to get this done without a major impact on all our taxes. Better landscaping, benches, adding flowers and containers with plantings is also an idea to add charm to the downtown. The Southborough Gardeners may be able to help with this idea.
If plans were developed for a cultural corridor linking the Library, the Old Burial Ground, the Museum, the Town House, St Marks Church and the Cemetery, would you be generally supportive of such an idea?
Yes, I would be supportive of that idea. The area is such an important piece of “Southborough Charm” which we all love and appreciate.
The Office of Selectmen is a low-paid, demanding and time-consuming position, which often requires attendance not only at Selectmen’s meetings, but also at meetings of other boards and committees. Recently, it has been noticed that a certain member of the Board has had an unusually high absentee rate, which obviously is not ideal. Are there any factors that would limit your commitment of time and energy to the Board of Selectmen?
I have both the time and the energy to get the job done. I can’t speak for other members of the Board, but I personally have attended the Selectmen’s meetings, a few Conservation, Planning Board, Zoning Board, Personnel Board, Personnel Board Working Group, Public Safety Building, Golf meetings (just to name a few!)
There are no factors which limit my commitment to getting the job done.
In preparation for expanding the Native American presence at the Museum, I’ve been reading a wonderful book Indian New England before the Mayflower and I came across a very interesting map: “A compilation of certain recorded northern New England Indian trails and villages of the 17th and 18th centuries.” Something about this looked really familiar, so using one of the online map overlay services, I decided to place the Indian trail map over the modern road grid in Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island.
Now I have long known that Main Street and Cordaville Roads in Southborough follow Indian trails, but I didn’t realize so did most of our existing major highways. It’s like the Roman roads in Italy!
Some examples from a cursory review:
Rt 1A its entire length
Rt 2 west of Worcester to the NY border
Rt 3 all the way to the Cape, and from Lowell to Nashua NH
Rt 6A entire length
Rts 7 and 8 (in western Mass) their entire length
Rt 10 from Vermont to Connecticut
Rt. 16 between Webster and Watertown
Rt 20 its entire length
Rt 30 most of its length
Rt 44 entire length
Rt 84 to Hartford and New York
Rt 91 through Springfield
Rt 95 all the way to NYC
Rts 110 and 117 majority of route
Rt 126/135 between Hopkinton and Wayland
I am sure there are others. Take a minute and explore for yourself; just click on any map below to expand. (Or, you can try the slider version of the map, HERE, using the slider in the upper right hand corner labeled “Indian Map” CAREFUL: IT GETS ADDICTIVE)
I suppose in many ways this should have been self-intuitive, as foot paths became cart-paths that became roads that became highways. But somehow, in our European bias, I think many of us (including me) always imagined the first Pilgrims hacking their way through virgin woodland, creating those paths. But the reality is that the Pilgrims and their successors had stepped into a land that had been tended, cultivated and very much altered by Native Americans for thousands of years. The cleared planting fields were already there, as were the fishing camps and weirs, the tended hunting grounds, even the settlement places. But most fatally for the Indian, the well marked land routes were there too, leading the Europeans ever westward with relative ease — to the eventual doom of their civilization.
Something to think about next time you are stuck in traffic…
Ladies and Gentlemen,
History waits for no weather.
Heritage Day is officially on! Come to the Museum tomorrow October 9 2017 at noon to see the 1868 Falcon fire engine do its stuff, plus view recent acquisitions.
The fun starts at noon!
More than a century ago, Southborough’s fires were fought by a handtub named the Falcon. A handtub is a hand pumped fire engine that shoots water over 200 feet — a major improvement over water tossed from a bucket! The Falcon was built in 1868, and purchased by the town of Southborough for $150 in 1896 after a series of deadly fires.
This coming Heritage Day, October 9th, residents will be able to see the Falcon in the parade, as well as watch a live demonstration — thanks to our firefighters — in front of the Southborough Historical Society Museum at noon. The Museum, which is half-way through its renewal process, will be open until 2, displaying its first two new exhibits in a decade: The Printed Word in Southborough: 1847 – the Present; and the 17th Century Sawin Family Papers
Michael Weishan, current President of the Society, is working with board members to expand the Society’s mission and promote the educational and cultural value of the museum’s collection. “We have one of the most spectacular collections in the area, and it’s high time we put it to work showcasing the almost 4000 years of habitation in the place we now call Southborough.”
The Society invites all residents to stop by and watch the Falcon demonstration and learn something new about our town.
Find out more about Southborough’s history at www.southboroughhistory.org.