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.
Working with a collection as rich and diverse as the Society’s has constant rewards. Take this letter for instance, written to Susie R. Ingalls, of Cambridge Massachusetts, by her daughter Mabel. It records an idyllic May Day long ago, in an age long past.
Southborough May 1, 1897
My dear Mamma
We arrived here Friday morning as half past eight after a very tiresome night. The boat arrived at New London at twelve o’clock but the train did not go until five minutes after four — arriving at Worcester at 6:55. We had no trouble at all changing cars as someone would show us right to the car even offering to carry our bundles. I like it here very much. Mr. Burnett’s house is very much after the style of Mr. Beecher’s house at Peekskill. Auntie was very excited when we came, rushing to the door and losing her cap as I have often heard you tell of. Friday afternoon I went for a drive with Mary and Charlie Jimmerson and we were caught in a heavy thunder shower and the horse was afraid so we drove into a barn and stayed about an hour; we had a box of candy and had a real nice time. Mary’s father has given them a row boat which was a great surprise so we thought that would be an idea for a name, so it will be named “The Surprise.” We are going out in it every day and yesterday I tried rowing. Saturday afternoon Susie Sawin and her cousin George came; you certainly would not take him for a teacher. He is an awful one to carry on — he plagues Auntie so gets she real angry in a good-natured way. He put the clock back and it got into about the shape our back parlor clock used to be and [he] did not get up until we were all through breakfast, so we put cayenne pepper in his oysters and coffee. Susie and Mary are both splendid, and so is Cousin Charlie’s wife; she looks young, not much over thirty, and goes around rowing and makes it just as pleasant as she can for everyone and she does not do any work except cooking; she calls Auntie “mother” and they all just love her. Last night we all went to an entertainment at the town hall. It was singers and a short play in which Mary was ‘Bridget’ and Mrs. Sawin took part. This is an awful place for clothes — the dog will run to meet us and jump up and get his dirty paws all over you. Alice stays at the mill all day and goes to ride with Harry a great deal. The Burnett’s were expecting the Vanderbilts but we did not see them come. Alice, Harry, Susie, Mary and I have just come home from church. George stayed home to shave. Alice and I sleep together in the front room. Mrs. Sawin is going to show us her room and all the things she got as presents. Auntie say she will be terribly disappointed if you do not come up and that we have to got to make a long visit at Riverside. She is going to give Alice money for a canary bird, and Susie Sawin has got a pair of shoes 4 1/2 and she wears a 5 so I guess that Auntie will send them to you. I guess I most close now as the table is set for dinner. So goodbye with much love to all, your loving daughter, Mabel
PS We are going to hang George a May basket tonight.
There are so many fascinating hints and clues about the times in this letter! The reference to taking the boat to New London, for instance, recalls an age when it was easier and far more comfortable to get to central Massachusetts from New York City by taking the night ferry than by taking the hodgepodge of competing rail lines. (The famed Boston consist of the 20th Century Limited wouldn’t arrive until 1902, for example.) And where precisely is Mabel staying? Obviously at one of the Burnett Houses, but which — the Burnett Mansion, or Edward Burnett’s house across Stony Brook? That would tell us who Auntie is.
And then there is that fascinating reference to “Mr. Beecher’s House in Peekskill.” It turns out Henry Ward Beecher, the famous abolitionist, had a summer house in Peekskill, New York, which was a famous stop on the underground railroad. The house, which was described in a 2001 New York Times article when the building was proposed for a museum, still exists, though the museum project never went forward. Take a look for yourself: it does rather look like a mini- Burnett mansion.
(NOTE 9.21/17 One of our board members, Deborah Costine, pointed out this probably wasn’t the house Mabel was referring too, but rather THIS ONE which makes more sense, due to its country setting and resemblance to the now destroyed Edward Burnett House.)
I often think as I get in my car to travel the three or four minutes from my home to the museum, how long this trip would have taken a hundred years ago. Granted, I might have had a car in 1917, but more likely for Southborough, I would have had a horse, and saddling a horse and riding those few miles is a half-hour operation at best. Walking is about the same (you save the time of saddling and unsaddling) and biking was (and is) about 10 minutes, with one major hill.
Imagine then how thrilling it must have been to go from Boston to Worcester in 2 hours by trolley! Now of course, train travel had been around since the 1830s, but with limited local service. The Boston & Albany’s tracks on the border with Hopkinton were a major freight line, as well the route of the named ‘varnish’ trains (the Boston end of the famed 20th Century Limited passed daily through Southborough, for instance) headed for New York, Chicago and all points west.
But on a trolley, all things were local. You could get on and off at will, plus, during the summer months the cars were open-air, and the route truly scenic. Speaking of the Southborough portion west to Worcester, the booklet below simply glows: “This portion of the road, running through woods and fields, with fleeting glimpses of all that makes the New England landscape famous, give the tourist a trip long to be remembered.” To the east of Southborough the route ran through the middle of today’s Rt 9, the old Boston Worcester turnpike, which by the time of the Airline’s construction in 1901, had been largely abandoned. It must have been an incredibly beautiful trip through the rolling hills of unspoiled countryside and quaint little villages, and in fact the Airline ran special cars for “Trolley Parties,” which were popular day-long excursions in the early 1900s.
The booklet below has never to my knowledge been published online, and is here represented in full size: just click on the images to expand. The very rare fold-out birds-eye view map is truly one-of-a-kind. The booklet is not dated, but can be reasonably assigned to the very first years of the Airline, as the map doesn’t show the White City Amusement Park, which became a major attraction on Lake Quinsigamond by 1905.
This first-time publication is the product of the Society’s continuing efforts to share our history widely and make our collections accessible to all, and a perfect example of why we need and value your continued financial support. Donations are easy to make online: just click the button at the end of this post. More pictures of the Airline are available HERE.
In the meantime, enjoy this long-lost booklet, newly restored to view.
Click on any image below to expand
The fold-out map below is 30″ long and 24MB. But, you can browse to your heart’s content. Maximize your browser size to fully enjoy!
Won’t you make more wonderful finds like this possible?
Donating online is quick, easy and secure. Simply click the donate button below:
Recently rediscovered in our photographic collection: Fourth of July, 1902 in Southborough with Ruth Ladd, Marguerite Henderson, Veda Henderson, Alice Hammond, the aptly named Rose Liberty, Evelyn Henderson, James E Griffin, and Corrina Liberty. The dog’s name is lost to history, but for today he can be ‘Firecracker.’
Happy Fourth of July from all your friends at the Southborough Historical Society!
Ever wonder why Southborough lacks an historic railroad station, especially given the beauties that still exist in Framingham, Ashland, Westborough, and many other points along the old Boston and Albany line?
Well, in fact, we once had not one, but three!
The first, on the branch Agricultural Line to Marlborough, stood on Main Street, in the empty lot west of Lamy’s insurance:
It’s unclear what happened to this beautiful Queen Anne Structure after service was discontinued in the early 30s. Perhaps some of our older members might remember when this building was demolished? How we could use this building now as part of a revitalized main street! Wouldn’t it have made a fantastic pub?
My understanding was that Southville Station, seen below in its prime, was abandoned, vandalized and eventually demolished in the early 70s, the low-point of historical preservation in Southborough.
However, its near twin Cordaville Station had a different fate. I had heard tell that it had been moved to New Hampshire, but I was never able to confirm that.
Until now! Sorting through our files as we move back into our museum quarters, I discovered this remarkable clipping. Ho ho! A clue!
So now, do you suppose our once glorious station still exists somewhere in Dublin New Hampshire? I’ve contacted the Historical Society there, and hopefully we’ll soon find out.
Regardless, the sad lesson to be learned here is that if you don’t value your historical structures, there’s always someone else that does…. much to the detriment of your own surroundings.
Moving forward, we need to guard our historic heritage much more actively, Southborough friends!
Thanks to your financial support over the last year, we have been able to make many strides in bringing materials previously locked away in the archives online for public viewing. Here are just some of the most recent offerings:
Of course, we rely on you to help us make this happen. We have a number of volunteer positions open at the Society, and are always in need of ongoing financial support, so please keep those donations coming!
As part of our expanded mission to encourage historical preservation in Southborough, we wanted to make you aware that there are quite a number of questions at April 25th’s Town Meeting that have a direct effect on historical preservation in Southborough.
Articles 15 & 16 are requests from the Historical Society to finish the climate control work at the Flagg school, and to seek CPC funding for curatorial work on the collections. We’ve made vast strides since our flooding disaster, but we still have a long way to go. This year we will begin working with the Digital Commonwealth Project, digitizing the vast majority of our paper collections to make them widely available for the first time. The curatorial funds we are requesting are a critical step in this process.
Article 17 seeks funds to remove invasive species from the Breakneck Hill Conservation Land. These protected acres are an important part of our agricultural heritage, provide much needed recreational space, and deserve our active support.
Article 21 suggests raising the limit for tax support for our seniors from 1000 to 1500. This valuable program allows seniors to work off a part of their real estate taxes, and starting next year, the Historical Commission will open a slot for a senior to work on the Town’s Historical Records. This helps seniors, and helps the Town.
Article 24 opens the historic Fayville Town Hall to sale. The Historical Commission has voted to support this measure ONLY if the Town first approves Articles 26-30, Adaptive Reuse of Historic Buildings, proposed by the Historical Commission. The purpose of this bylaw is “to allow for and provide incentives for the adaptive reuse of Historical Buildings in a manner that ensures compatibility with their surroundings and that preserves their historical nature and appearance. This section is intended to promote the preservation of Historic Buildings by allowing Historic Buildings to be adapted for a purpose other than that for which they were originally built, thereby enhancing the community’s appearance and preserving Southborough’s architectural legacy for future generations.” The bylaw encourages reuse through various means, mainly by more ample interpretation of our existing zoning laws in order to support the reuse, rather than the demolition of historic structures. For example, if you have an old barn, you might consider installing a small rental unit to help pay the mortgage, or open that home-based business you’ve always dreamed of. Most importantly, this bylaw grants approval authority to the Planning Board (where it belongs) rather than to the Zoning Board of Appeals, which in previous years has proven capricious in its rulings. If Articles 26-30 pass, then the Fayville Town Hall (Article 24) can be converted into condos or retail or affordable housing. Without their passage, the Hall has no such protection.
Article 34, which was also proposed by the Historical Commission, seeks funds to at last complete the National Register District for the Main Street area. This is the final piece of a project that has been going on for almost 20 years with considerable investment of time and funding. When complete, the area will receive its designation from the US Secretary of the Interior. This naming has proven a critical preservation step in other communities, fostering restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures in the area, while providing positive support for property values.
Whew! Quite a line-up!
If you care about historical preservation in Southborough, this is not a meeting to miss!
Come to the Museum for our “soft” re-opening Saturday, April 29th. We’ll host our annual meeting from 4:00-4:30 to discus renovations to date and our plans for the future; afterwards you can enjoy some delicious nibbles and a glass of wine as you view our newly renovated research area and gallery meeting rooms, decorated with images and objects from our collections — many never before on view!
It’ll be a fun introduction to both our new space and your fellow Southborough history buffs; plus you can learn about some engaging volunteer opportunities we’ll be offering over the next year.
If you’ve ever spent a moment in the parking lot behind Town Hall, or in the playground near the old Town Pound, you may have noticed a somewhat forlorn tree at the edge of the pavement. This battered survivor is the remaining testament to the Historical Society’s 1977 Lyscom Apple Project, which sought to return this historic variety to Southborough to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the town. Of the 32 trees specially grown and planted throughout Southborough, this (with perhaps one other) is the sole survivor, making it possibly the oldest living thing in Southborough. How can that be, you ask? Well, it has to do with how apple varieties are propagated. Apple trees are not native to North America. The first trees were grown from seed carried by early European settlers to this area. Each seed produced a different kind of apple. Most of these new varieties were inferior to their parents, but occasionally a grower would find a tree with particular merit, and name it. Then, through the process of grafting scions, or shoots, onto apple rootstock, exact duplicates of the plant could be created. “Duplicates” is not precisely the right word here, as really, each “new” plant is simply a part of the original. That’s how our friend behind the town hall is so old — it’s a living piece of the original tree grown by Samuel Lyscom 300 years ago.
The name Lyscom rings large in local history, as Samuel Lyscom was one of the signers of the petition to separate Southborough from Marlborough in 1727. During his lifetime he held every office in the new town and, and eventually became a judge. He was also Southborough’s second representative to the Colonial legislature. Lyscom married twice and had ten children. His eldest surviving son John sold the Lyscom farm (presumably with its orchard of Lyscom apples) in 1772 to Josiah Fay. The exact location of the property isn’t known, though it is assumed to have been in the vicinity of Chestnut Hill Road. Over the years, the original tree continued to be grafted, until the Lyscom apple became a common site in Southborough and the towns around Boston, as we learn from an 1889 book published by Deacon Peter Fay, who was a prominent farmer with an intense interest in fruit culture:
In the fall of 1834, at the Worcester Cattle Show, I carried 2 barrels of Lyscom’s apples and hired a boy to sell them in front of the Old South Church. They were very large and quite a throng of people collected around the boy. Some men from New Braintree call them Mathew’s Stripes, but the true name was Lyscom. The original tree stood on a farm owned by Samuel Lyscom 130 years ago. The reason they were called Mathew’s Stripes was because a man by the name of Mathews (John, I think) went from Southborough to New Braintree about 100 years ago and to with him scions of this variety.
The Lyscom apple – with its distinctive large fruit streaked with yellow – was last recorded as being grown in Southborough about 1917. Miss Mary Finn (of Finn school fame) remembered seeing a tree along Flagg Road, where the apples would fall into the path and be eaten by the cows. Probably others survived too, until a Depression era WPA program eradicated “wild” apple trees thought to be a source of disease for commercial growers. Fortunately, a few avid collectors in the 1950s began to rescue old varieties, and a Preservation Orchard was founded at Old Sturbridge Village in 1973, which is where the one sole surviving example of the Lyscom apple was discovered by members of the Southborough Historical Society. From this, 32 new trees were propagated, and carefully spread throughout the town to the celebrate the 250th. Unfortunately, rather than giving them to longer-lived institutions, they were mostly distributed among then-members of the Society, and over the years have fallen victim to development, disease, decay and destruction until now there is once again only one left. (Well, maybe two: the other may be in the courtyard of the Neary School.)
So to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Southborough in 2027, the Society has decided to try this project again, albeit a bit differently. In conjunction with our dedicated Director of Public Works, Karen Galligan, this spring we will take grafts from the Town Pound tree, but this time we will distribute them to organizations as well as individuals, with the goal of having bushels of Lyscom apples available for our 300th anniversary celebrations. If you are interested in adopting a tree, be in touch as we’re taking names for 2019 delivery. (Yes, 2019, things move very slowly in the tree world, but if you are Lyscom apple, you already have learned plenty of patience.)