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.
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.
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.
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.
At the Southborough Selectmen’s meeting last night it was announced that ca. 1810 Moses and Elizabeth H Fay House at 135 Deerfoot Road had been sold, and that the Town of Southborough had the right of first refusal to buy the property and its 35 acres under a program commonly known as 61A. The program gives a tax break to the owners of agricultural properties as long as they are kept in production. When the owner of a 61A property decides to sell, the municipality that has been granting the discounted tax rate is allowed first right of refusal. That time has now come for Southborough.
First, a little bit about the history of the house and land. The property, commonly called “Cedar Acres” for the large grove of pines located near the house, has been a farm since the early 1800’s, perhaps even the late 1700s, though its first recorded date is 1831. Three generations of Fays, one of Southborough’s founding families, farmed the property throughout the 1800’s. In the 1920s, the property was bought by Elgin John Rowe, an advertiser, as a gentleman’s farm. It is Rowe who updated the facade of the house in the Colonial Revival Style so popular in that era. Of the many original farm outbuildings, only the mid-19th century wooden gable front barn remains, a remarkable survivor of our agricultural past. (You can read the full historical report on the property HERE.)
Last night we learned that the property has been purchased by a developer, Brendon Homes, who builds perfectly nice and entirely banal developments all over New England in a style that has come to be derisively called “Contractor Palladian” on account of its many odd-shaped intersecting gables that violate traditional building proportions.
So let’s say, best case, the developer decides to preserve the historic structure on a tiny half acre or acre lot, and then do what they have done so many times in this area, which is to strand it among a sea of new single-family homes, the sole remaining testament to a once glorious agricultural past. Now my understanding from last night’s meeting is that some of the acreage may be wet and unbuildable, so for argument’s sake, let’s discount 15 acres, and presume 20 new homes on these 35 acres, each home costing $750,000. At our current assessment rate of $16.32 per thousand, that generates a tax return to the Town of Southborough of $12,240. If the houses go for a million dollars each, that amount would be $16,320; a million and half; $24, 480. You get the picture.
So if you do some simple math, it costs the Town $33,750.47 per year for those 1.9 students. This price tag does not include new buildings to accommodate more students, nor does it budget for the cost of increased fire, police or public service costs. The simple fact is that every new house built on this land will take money out of your wallet, my wallet, and the wallet of every other resident in Southborough, FOREVER, because you and I pay the difference between income and outlay. The developer builds, takes the profits, leaves town, and leaves US to foot the bill.
So what’s our recourse? Simple: the Town should exercise its right and buy the property for $1.9 million. That would cost us something as well, but with 20 homes costing us 34K or more a year (675K total per annum) the pay-back period is 2.8 years. That’s right folks. 2.8 years! After that, it’s 675K in savings per year, forever. Obviously the pay-back period changes depending on the cost of the home; it could be longer, it could be shorter — far shorter if some sort of massive cluster development is planned that floods our schools with new residents like the planned Park Central, which is a distinct possibility. By almost under any scenario, we win by exercising our 61A rights.
What would the Town do with the property? The simplest answer would be open space protection — this particular parcel has been flagged since at least the late 1990’s as critical wildlife habitat. (The house with 1 or 2 acres could be separated and sold as a private residence to recoup part of the cost.) Another option would be to use a small piece of the property (keeping the remainder as open space) to create affordable housing, something sorely lacking in Southborough. If there is no appetite for that, a further option would be to simply buy the property, place a conservation restriction on the land and a preservation restriction on the historic structures, and put the property back on the open market. The resale value would be less than the acquisition cost, but again we would gain that money back almost immediately by preventing development.
The morale of the story here for Southborough, in fact, for any community in Massachusetts, is that our open space is more valuable to us when open, for host of reasons. This particular parcel even more so, as it is one of the last intact gentleman’s farms from an era when Southborough was a center for agricultural pursuits. (Southborough was, in fact, the second most productive agricultural town in Massachusetts.) Let’s hope common sense prevails here, and we acquire this property within the 120 day window allowed by the 61A law. It’s a win for historic preservation, it’s a win for wildlife habitat and open space, it’s a win for the preserving the quality of life in Southborough, and most importantly, it’s a win for our wallets.
9/20/17: Editor’s Note: Due to an unintentional misstatement by one of the speakers at the Selectmen’s meeting, the Moses and Elizabeth Fay House property was described as 35 acres – 27 on the west side of Deerfoot Road, and 7 across, which we duly relayed. However, we were informed today by a member of the Open Space Committee that the actual figure is 20 acres on the west side, and 7 acres across the road, which has been verified by plot plan. Additionally, the wetland area seems far less than predicted, so increased development may be possible. For editorial integrity, I have not altered the original post.
The Southborough Historical Society is absolutely thrilled to announce the discovery of 13 exceedingly rare early 17th-century documents relating to the Sawin family of Southborough. The items record, among other matters, the 1656 layout of the village of Praying Indians at Natick, the 1686 sale of 5 acres of land there for the construction of a mill by Thomas Sawin, and subsequent grants and transactions. These documents are critically important to our local area history, as they detail the early interactions between the newly arrived settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the native peoples of this region, the Nipmuc tribe. The Nipmuc, almost entirely forgotten today, had lived throughout central Massachusetts for thousands of years, including sites in Southborough. In fact, the basic layout of Southborough along the lines of Route 30 and Cordaville Road follows the fishing and hunting trails, farming fields and camps sites established by the Nipmuc people many centuries ago.
The Nipmuc initially welcomed the English to the area, believing there was “enough land for all.” However, tensions rose quickly, as English settlers began proselytize the natives, as well as impose their rigid system of land division on the formerly nomadic tribe. The English held the view that any “empty” land could be assigned to specific owners and enclosed for cattle and other grazing animals, while the itinerant Nipmuc felt that the land must remain open for the common good. Add to the mix the Europeans’ introduction of firearms and alcohol to the native peoples, and an already difficult situation became highly volatile. Our 1656 document is witness to this growing conflict, as it defines the borders of the Natick Village of “Praying Indians”— members of the Nipmuc tribe who had adopted Christianity and European ways — while conveniently and simultaneously opening up surrounding areas for English settlement. Eventually there were a dozen or so of these Praying Indian villages, including at Marlborough, which led directly to the founding of Southborough. Needless to say, this quasi-coerced religious conversion and assignment to specific “villages” (which the white peoples would later term “reservations”) was resented by the majority of Nipmuc who remained faithful to their traditional ways. The inevitable conflict came in 1675, when the Nipmuc and their allies rose up against the English. The subsequent bloody conflict, essentially a battle fought to determine supremacy between two conflicting cultures, came to be called King Phillips War and marks the birth of one nation, and the death of another.
For the English, who were fighting for their vision of a Christianized New World, the war meant the loss of 1 out of every 10 military age men; 1000 civilian casualties; the complete destruction of 12 of the region’s towns; attacks on half the others; (including Marlborough and Sudbury) and damage to farms, mills and other property sufficient to set the colony’s economy back two decades. Fought entirely without English aid, King Philip’s War also marked the beginning of an American identity separate to that of Europe.
For the Nipmuc and their regional allies, it meant not only the extermination of their way of life, but their virtual extinction. Those who didn’t flee were slaughtered by the thousands, and at the end of the conflict the remaining native survivors of the area were rounded up by the English — including the Christianized Indians of Natick and the other Praying Towns — and interned on Deer Island in Boston Harbor where they were left to die of starvation and disease. Hundreds of others were sold into slavery. Eventually, a small number returned to their former homes to live under English rule, but the viability of their culture had been destroyed. Our 1685 document, the Thomas Sawin deed, is an extremely rare survivor of this postwar period, and gives a rare glimpse of what life was like at Natick ten years after King Phillip’s War. The diminished Nipmuc, who had since become accustomed to eating ground corn, were desirous of a mill in their village. So they invited Thomas Sawin, who had already built a mill at Sherbourne, to come live among them and set up a mill. Their offer was 50 acres of land on the stipulation that he and his heirs and assigns were to maintain the mill forever, and that there was to be no other corn-mill built in town without the consent of Thomas Sawin, his heirs and assigns. Thomas Sawin kept his word, built the mill, and lived peaceably among the natives for the rest of his life, but even more importantly, he became an advocate for native rights at the Massachusetts General Court. This progressive stance would remain the hallmark of the Sawin family, as we shall see.
So how did these remarkable documents wind up in Southborough? Well, long story short, the answer was the response to another epic battle in American history, the fight against slavery. Fast forward 148 years to 1833 where Moses Sawin is still running his grandfather Thomas’ mill at Natick:
To quote the 1876 History of Southborough by Dexter Newton:
“When the clarion notes of William Lloyd Garrison rang through the land calling the nation to repentance for supporting and maintaining chattel slavery, Mr. Moses Sawin did not hesitate to enlist in the great cause of humanity. He was convinced it was a sin against God and a crime against his brother man.
He had the courage to ask the members of the church to which he belonged to testify against the sin; when his request was rejected he refused to commune with them as a church of Christ, and when, for this refusal, they cast him out of the church, he exultantly quoted to them the words of Christ, viz.: “Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye did it unto me.” He was especially gratified that he had lived to see slavery entirely abolished; it was what he had long labored for and sought. But the crowning glory of his latter days was in hearing his former opponents acknowledge the righteousness of his cause, and labor earnestly with him in the overthrow of American slavery.”
So translated to the modern vernacular: Moses Sawin became such an vocal abolitionist that when his fellow Natick church members tired of him and tossed him out, he picked up stakes and moved to Southborough. As Newton relates:
Moses Sawin purchased the grist and saw-mill and a small lot of land situate one-half mile west of Town Hall, in Southborough, of Deacon Gabriel Parker, in 1833. The year following he bought of said Parker seven acres of land adjoining same, and on south side of Mill Pond, and built thereon a spacious dwelling-house, barn and other buildings. The estate is now owned and occupied by Charles B. Sawin, youngest of his three surviving sons. (The sawmill and house are long gone, but were located just south of the MDC damn on Deerfoot Road, which in many ways mimics the Sawin damn and mill pond of old.)
And then comes the kicker:
Said Moses Sawin possessed and carefully preserved through life the curious old deed, signed and sealed by the Indian chiefs of whom his said ancestor purchased the land. They are now in possession of said C. B. Sawin, at the old home-stead, where antiquarians and others interested in curious legal documents can examine them.
And thus, our amazing trove of documents!
The Sawin family remained active in Southborough right up until the 1960s, owning the still extant brick building on Boston Road, now home to Falconi Oil, which was once their feed store. They owned too a large house at 10 Latisquama Road. It seems that when the last Sawin descendants left Southborough sometime in the 70s, they donated their precious family papers to the Southborough Historical Society. The various documents had by then been bound into an innocuous leather volume appropriately labeled Sawin Family Documents, but without any text or explanation. As such, it was dutifully placed on a basement storage shelf, and promptly forgotten. Then came the 2015 flood, and these priceless documents narrowly missed inundation. Returned to the Museum from temporary storage this spring, it wasn’t until we began the arduous process of unpacking, rehousing and cataloguing the material did we discover the true value of what had been sitting on our shelves for 50 years. Today, the 13 documents have been carefully removed from their leather binding, which was showing signs of mold, carefully rehoused in archival envelopes, and stored in our new climate-controlled safe.
So what’s next? Well, first of all we will digitize these documents and share them with the world. We’ve already been in touch George Sawin, who leads the Sawin Family Association, who’s come to see documents at the Museum, and who, coincidentally, is spearheading the preservation of Thomas Sawin’s endangered 18th century homestead, which still graces the banks of the Charles River at Natick. Next, partially based on this amazing trove, we’ve applied for funding for a new traveling exhibit, “The Nipmuc, the English, and New England’s First Forgotten War” which will debut at the museum in the fall of 2018 and then travel to local area schools and institutions.
The importance of this find can’t be understated. The documents are of Smithsonian-level quality and importance, incredibly rare paper survivors from the earliest days of our nation. We are honored to be their conservators — which we can only do with your continued help and generous support.
Your donations make discoveries like this possible. Please help support the Southborough Historical Society!
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!