The Oldest Living Thing in Southborough

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The Lyscom Apple

 

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.)

 

 

Reminder about the Society General Meeting Tomorrow Night 11/16

Dear Friends,

There is a meeting tomorrow at 6PM at the Museum to discuss revisions to the bylaws that will affect how the Society is governed moving forward. You are encouraged to attend and see the progress we have had restoring the building to health. It looks (and is) empty, but it no longer smells of mold! We’ll also be discussing finances, grants, and plans for future exhibitions. Please do come if you are able.

Michael

 

Society Receives 10K Grant from the Southborough Community Fund, Plus a 5K Challenge Grant!

We are DEE-lighted, to quote Teddy Roosevelt, to announce that the Society has received a 10K grant from the Southborough Community Fund to further its preservation efforts. In addition, the Fund has offered a challenge grant of an additional 5K, if we can match that before the end of the year. So we are off, ladies and gentlemen, on the quest for funds. This letter will go out to every household in Southborough:

shs-fund-drive-letter-2016LET THE CHALLENGE BEGIN!

As always, we thank you for your kind support of our efforts!

 

Meeting to Update By-laws

Dear Friends of the Society,

As many of you know the Society has been going through some major challenges lately as we endeavor to adapt to the realities of the 21st century. As part of this renewal, the board has decided that major changes are required to the rules that govern how the society operates. Our by-laws date largely to 1965 when the Society was first conceived, and although they have been amended here and there, mostly they remain as they were written, mandating a large and costly committee structure that is no longer tenable. Therefore we invite all members in good standing to a meeting at the Museum Wednesday November 16th at 6PM where a new set of by-laws will be proposed and voted on.

Michael Weishan,
Treasurer

Lincoln’s Store and Post Office

Southville’s old depot has had a long and storied history, first as a train station, then as a store, and currently as a residence on the corner of Parkerville and Southville Roads. Rather than tell you the history myself, I thought I would let you read this charming account from an undated newspaper article from sometime in the late 40’s, judging by the clothes worn in the pictures. The simple serenity that once was Lincoln Square seems almost impossible to imagine today. To step back to another time, simply click the images below to enlarge and enjoy!

(Note: the file sizes are large, so be patient on slow connections.)

lincolnstore1-copy

lincolnstore2-copy lincolnstore3-copy

 

 

Disaster Relief

Dear Friends,

In advance of Heritage Day this Monday, I wanted to take a few minutes to update you on the health of the Society, and of the Museum.

As many of you know, membership numbers have been in decline for some time. Additionally, several key members have died or moved away, resulting in a loss of active leadership.  And finally, a flood two winters ago introduced mold into the basement of the Museum, which was not properly remediated. As a result, the building has been closed now for several months.

I would like to address the issues of membership and finance first, with an assurance that your new board — Joe, Deb, Mark and myself — have set a goal of 50 new members by the end of the year, and 100 new members the year after. Not all of these will be active in the Society, but that’s not necessarily our aim. What is our aim is to return the dues paying membership back to a sustaining number to cover running costs of the Society. Additionally, we have approached the Town to renegotiate the terms of the lease on the Museum, to relieve the Society of the expense of maintaining the 1860 structure. In return, we will be entirely re-envisioning the upstairs public portion of the Museum as a more user-friendly space, open for small Town meetings, functions and educational purposes, with a rotating series of exhibits that will highlight and interpret Southborough’s long and fascinating history. For too long the Museum has been closed off to public access, and that must change if the Society wishes to survive in the 21st century.

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The now stripped and sterilized basement

Regarding the mold issues, you will be relieved to learn that Town officials, in particular the ever-helpful John Parent, Facilities Manger, have been wonderfully accommodating, helping us file an insurance claim for mold remediation. As you can see from the above photo, the first phase of this process has been largely completed. Every object, box and document in the basement has been carefully packed up and moved to a 40′ storage container graciously donated by Eagle Leasing. Mold infested drywall has been removed, and each and every surface vacuumed and then wiped down with sterilizing agents. It has been an enormous, time consuming and hazardous task, and we are hugely grateful to the folks at Service Master who so professionally handled this emergency.

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A worker in full hazmat gear removes mold from the gutted basement area.

So now the real work begins. We are actively seeking funds to hire curatorial experts to assess the collection as it returns piece by piece to the building — this time, storing the fragile paper collection upstairs. We will be applying for CPC funds to complete the climate control,  to add additional anti-humidity measures in the basement, and to fund continuing curatorial work. We will be looking for financial help and guidance in order to re-envision the public space, with the intention of digitizing the majority of our collection for the widest possible educational use. And of course, we hope for and welcome the widest possible participation from our membership, old and new.

Yes, it’s a daunting task, but it can be done, and it will be done.

And so we begin this Heritage Day. Come and say hello, and introduce yourself if we haven’t met already. And send your friends — with their checkbooks! We won’t be hard to miss — I’ll be the guy with the huge red 20’s megaphone hawking for new members.