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.)

 

 

Southborough Historical Society By-Laws

Southborough Historical Society
By-Laws

Adopted 16 November 2016

 

Article One
Name and Object

The name of the Society shall be The Southborough Historical Society. The objective of this Society shall be to educate, study, collect and preserve for the Town historical records and antiquities relating to the history of Southborough and its people, to preserve items of current events that may have historical interest in the future; to interest and unite the townspeople in a finer public spirit, through a fuller understanding of the traditions and history, both past an in the make of our Town and its neighboring communities. Further, the Society will function as an active advocate for historic preservation in the Town.

 

Article Two
Officers and Directors

There will be a board of directors consisting of six people. Three of these will elected by the annual meeting. The terms of the elected members will be three years, so arranged that at least one member shall be elected at each annual meeting. Three members will be appointed by vote of the Southborough Historical Commission with a term of three years. These six members shall appoint from their number a president, vice-president, secretary and treasurer, with a term consistent with their remaining term on the board, not to exceed three years. Unless approved by a special vote of the board, no person shall serve more than two consecutive terms in any office.

 

Article Three
Duties of the Board

The Board of Directors shall have general control of the property and affairs of the Society; shall fix dates of meetings as provided in Article Four; and shall otherwise manage the affairs of the Society. Members of the board will be expected to actively work to maintain the the financial health of the Society and well-being of its collections. To that end, the board of directors shall hire an executive director who will oversee the day to day affairs of the Society and serve as curator of its collections. The executive director will will report to the board and serve at its discretion.

Article Four
Meetings

The annual meeting shall be held in April and other regular meetings as established by the Board of Directors.  Special meetings may be called at anytime by the president, the board of directors or upon petition by seven members of the society.

Article Five
Membership and Dues

Any person interested in the objectives of this society is eligible for membership. The annual dues for all classes of membership shall be set annually by the board of directors.

Article Six
Amendments

These by-laws may be altered or amended by a vote of two-thirds of the members present and voting thereon, at any meeting, provided notice of the proposed change shall have been given at a previous meeting and sent in writing to members who maintain a current email address with the secretary.

 

Article Seven
Removal

Members of the society whose dues are in arrears for two consecutive years will be considered to have voluntarily withdrawn from the Society. Members of the Board who miss four consecutive meetings of the board will be considered to have voluntarily resigned their office, unless such absence was approved by vote of the board. In such cases, the board shall have the power to appoint an acting member until a replacement can be found either by election at the annual meeting or appointment by the Historical Commission

Article Eight
Dissolution

The Society may be dissolved by majority vote of the board. After payment of all debts, the property of the Society shall be turned over to the Southborough Historical Commission.

Article Nine
Implementation of Revised by-laws

These by-laws shall take effect on January 1, 2017; for the one-time purpose of enacting these laws, all members of the current board will surrender their offices and be granted lifetime memberships with emeritus status as thanks for their service. The historical commission will appoint the first board from among those who express interest. three members will be appointed with  three-year terms; and an additional three members with terms that will expire respectively in April 2018,  April 2019, and April 2020. Henceforth elections will follow the regulations as set forth in Article Two.

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.)

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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.

 

The Outlaws of Cordaville

[It seems hard to think of Southborough as a wild-west kind of town, but for a while from 1860s-1890s the area around the Cordaville mill was a pretty rough place. The Kelly family, Irish immigrants who came to work in the mills, had settled around Oregon road and soon were running a protection racket (your house might suddenly go up in flames unless you agreed to pay up; a bootlegging operation; a widely notorious whorehouse; and another, Chattanooga, where women were also available. Needless to say, “proper folk” were appalled, but the gang was entrenched and enjoyed the support — loyal or otherwise — of the locals. It wasn’t until the coming of the reservoir system that this changed: As part of the deal to take the land for the reservoirs, the city of Boston was forced to supply and pay for 5 police officials — the beginnings of the Southborough Police Department — and the end of the Kelley gang. 

You can get some sense of the goings-on from this amusing article from the Westborough Chronotype dated Saturday Morning Jan 26, 1895, which was reprinted in the Boston Advertiser the next week. “License” by the way, is the right to sell liquor in a town. At the time, Southborough and the surrounding towns were ‘dry.’ Eds.]

•••••••

Cordaville is a village, lying partly in Hopkinton township, partly in Southborough, and partly in Ashland. Southborough is in Worcester County; the other two towns are in Middlesex County. The Kelly wine place is in Hopkinton; but it lies within 160 rods of the Southborough line and for this reason may be legally raided by officers of Worcester County.

The three towns have generally voted no license; and when license has received the popular vote Kelly has always been refused a license because of his reputation. “But men may come and men may go, but I go on forever.” License or no license, Kelly’s is always open.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men can’t keep Kelly from selling gin. Middlesex has about 17 deputy sheriffs, Worcester 28; Hopkinton has 5 constables, Ashland 3, Southborough 6; Yet even with the State Police added the army isn’t enough to eject Kelly.

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In addition to the dangers of the Kelly gang, Cordaville residents faced other threats, such as the not-so-infrequent wrecks on the B&A line, such as this on in 1912, which happened to be a deliberate derailment in order to rob the train.

“Yes,” said Constable Tidsbury of Ashland, “no license was voted in all three towns, except Hopkinton, and there the vote was so close that the selectmen refused to sign any licenses; but for all that liquor is sold in all three places.”

Then he related the same tale as before, that if Hopkinton selectmen gave him authority he would proceed to raid the Kelly mansion.

Driving over to Southborough from Ashland, I asked my driver why it was that at the Central House, Ashland, it was necessary to go up stairs to get a drink. “Oh” he answered, “they’re ‘fraid to let the girls serve it at the dinner table ‘fraid they’ll drink it themselves. They’re of no count; they come over from Worcester County, them girls did.” (This illustrates the unhappy feeling between the citizens of the two counties in juxtaposition, and it is largely because of this feeling that the Kelly’s et al.  are suffered to maintain themselves). “At our hotel,” my driver continued, “yer don’t have to go upstars. Matt Tierney does the biggest business, though. He’s wholesale as well as retail. He’s got bar’ls an’ bar’ls ‘er larger, ‘en whiskey, and he’s got a re’lar rowte through 5 ‘er 6 towns.”

“Why does the town vote no license and then allow liquor selling?”

“Oh, I guess there’s some sort of deal.”

The road leads through “Chattanooga.” The name is appropriate, for the place is evidently a battlefield. In some houses even the doors are gone; none have their windows entire. This is the habitat of the “hoboes” who labored on the water works, when they labored at all. Cordaville has a new lockup since “der gang” smashed the old one.

In the two counties of Middlesex and Worcester there is one brave officer of the law: Constable Dorr. For 35 years he has fought the Kelly gang. He it was who looked down the barrel of a revolver in the hand of desperate Jim Rafferty. Jim tried to prevent Mr. Dorr from making an arrest, but the old man said shoot away! I intend to arrest this man.” Jim fired, but by some miracle the bullet glanced along the side of the old hero’s head, and Jim didn’t got a chance to fire again! For this playful act on Jim’s part the court gave him 18 month’s vacation. The short sentence was doubtless due to his reputation as a man of war.

But even Mr. Dorr has declared a truce against the Kelly gang. Since the loss of all his property by fire last July he has been living with his daughter; his wife is an invalid and for the sake of his family the valiant and venerable old man has relinquished the war.

Since the burning of Mr. Dorr’s buildings and the attempted burning of the mills, (Mr. Wilson, the manager, is also an uncompromising enemy of the Kelly’s,) the gang is held in greater awe than ever. More than one who talked with me said; “Don’t print my name in the paper, I beg you, else we shall feel the vengeance of the Kelly!

I asked Selectmen Morse of Hopkinton why such a set of outlaws was allowed to remain in town. “We’ll we’ve raided them 15 or 16 times but we don’t seem to get anything. You see Mr. Chaflin, he’s chairman of the selectmen. He said he was going to drive them out.”

 

When Southborough Was a Mill Town

A circa 1900 advertisement for Cordaville Woolen Mills
A circa 1900 advertisement for Cordaville Woolen Mills

In 1847 Milton H. Sanford of Medford purchased several parcels of farm land along the Sudbury (then Concord) river in Southborough, Ashland and Hopkinton. One of them conveyed the mill privilege – the right to dam and use the water of the river. In addition to this ample power source, the area was attractive for milling because of the proximity to the new Boston & Worcester railroad, which ran through the site. Not only would transport to far-away markets be assured, but the railroad would supply the workforce needed for the new facility. Sanford began building workers’ houses on Parker and Cottage Streets, and by 1850, a company store on Main Street, later named Fitzgerald’s, which still stands. The village he named for his wife Cordelia.

By 1854 the Cordaville Manufacturing Company consisted of a cotton factory and a building that housed a machine shop and planing mill. The company produced a rough fabric for use by slaves on the Southern plantations, as well as woolens. (For reasons of culture and geography the South had few manufacturing centers of its own, and most industrial mill production was carried out in the the Northeast with its abundance of river power and ample immigrant work force, then shipped southward.)

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The mill pond with the mill buildings, looking east

The workers for Sanford’s mill were largely newly arrived Irish immigrants, who had fled the devastating potato famine that had begun in 1847 and would eventually lead to the emigration of almost 2 million souls. Approximately sixty workers were employed at the mill; two-thirds were women, and paid only half that of their male counterparts.  The influx of Irish to the mill caused the first Catholic mass to be said in Southborough, on Easter Day 1849, in Wilson’s Hall above the company store.

A fire — a very common occurrence in mills with their highly flammable cotton dust — destroyed the original mill complex and killed three workers in 1855. It was rebuilt, this time including both water and steam-powered apparatus. With the outbreak of war, Sanford quickly abandoned the manufacture of plantation goods, and instead manufactured woolen blankets for Northern troops. This quick response allowed his Cordaville mill to survive when many competing mills failed due to the loss of the Southern market. The mill’s location on the principal rail line between Boston and points West also helped; it was a major transport line for the Federal army.

In 1864, the complex was sold and the business converted to a joint stock venture, the Cordaville Mills Company. By 1870, the mill had grown considerably. There were now two mill buildings, an office, three freight houses, a waste house, a picker house and factory store, now operated by the Wright brothers, which also housed the post office. The village of Cordaville grew with the addition of its own train station, school, and in 1872, St. Matthews Church; and in 1876, a jail. That same year, the company was reorganized as the Cordaville Woolen Company, and the shift to steam power, already underway, accelerated — aided by a prolonged period of drought in the 1880s that dried up many mill ponds. Once again, this timely shift to steam allowed The Cordaville Woolen Company to remain a profitable concern well into the next century.

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Cordaville Station with Fitzgerald’s visible behind

By 1928 however, the corporate model of a company owning an entire village seemed out-dated and unprofitable, and the Cordaville Woolen Company was sold off in pieces. Individual workers were allowed to buy their homes if they wished, and the owner of the company store, a certain Mr. Fitzgerald, purchased it as well. Under various owners the mill buildings continued in one industrial capacity or another until 1957. After that, the buildings sat abandoned; by 1974 the complex was deemed unsafe, and was torn down by the Town of Southborough, which sold off the bricks of the once proud buildings. (The fate of the mill buildings much resembled that of Cordaville’s H.H. Richardson-designed train station, which the Selectmen voted to demolish in the 70s with seemingly little public opposition. The stone was sold to a builder in New Hampshire.)

The loss of the Cordaville Mills is but one of Southborough’s many historical “if-onlys”.  If only the buildings had been allowed to survive a little longer, the nascent historical protection movement would have realized their incredible value as a mixed commercial, office or residential site. Can you imagine how handy a condo complex with a hip restaurant and bar right next to the commuter rail station would be viewed by today’s consumers? Or how much land might have been preserved from controversial state-mandated 40B projects if we had converted the complex to affordable housing and filled Southborough’s quota of units? Of course hindsight is 20-20, but Southborough needs to be far more vigilant these days in protecting its remaining architectural heritage.

More images of industrial Cordaville and Southville: