The SHS is delighted to announce that we will be hosting a Fancy Flea and Tag Sale on Heritage Day at the Museum this October, and we are looking for items to sell. So now’s the time to sort through that basement and overstuffed garage you’ve been meaning to clean out, and donate unwanted items to the Society. If you don’t use that old clock, send it to us. Grandma’s china not your favorite pattern? We’ll take it! Have a nice old table or two you don’t need? Donate it! You’ll feel better, and receive a valuable tax deduction to boot. We are looking for both genuine antiques and vintage collectibles.* Items can be dropped off at the Museum most Sunday’s between 12-2; or, for larger items, you can email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can arrange for pickup.
Plus, we are in discussions with a local antique car club to organize a Classic Automobile Show at the Museum as well!
So as you can see, we are pulling out all the stops this Heritage Day, and we need your help. It’s time to start that spring cleaning!
*Items we cannot except: clothing, computers, non-vintage electronics, large furniture. Any items we can not use/sell will be sent to the Town Swap Shop
The Southborough Historical Society is pleased to bring an “Immersive Living History” experience to the Museum and Archives on Thursday, February 28th.
Judith Kalaora, will portray Deborah Sampson, the first woman to fight in and be honorably discharged from the American Military. Deborah enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment of the Continental Army as “Robert Shurtlieff.” Come and learn how and why she disguised herself and fought alongside male soldiers.
Sampson’s story is the first in a series of three performances the SHS is offering this spring. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Click HERE to hold your place. Limited to 30.
For the first posting of 2019, I thought it would be fun to share this newspaper clipping from a scrapbook once owned by Mrs. Arlene Morrison, who ran the general store in the Sealey Block on Main Street across from the old train station. (Older residents will remember the Gulf station on the corner of Main and Newton street that replaced the block. Both buildings are now gone.)
As you can see, the article reveals that the Flagg school, which is now home to the Southborough Historical Society, and where I now sit writing this, was scheduled to be torn down for timber— a fate suffered by all the other clapboard one-room school houses in town about the same time. What saved the building is unclear. But for whatever reason, calmer minds (or more than likely, continued economic downturn) saved the structure for us to enjoy today.
Which brings me to my main point. Every time we allow pieces of our historic fabric to be destroyed, it has a ripple effect of unintended consequences. In this case, a precious part of our educational history would have been lost forever, and the Museum would be homeless. Think about the other missing buildings mentioned here, and what they might have been: the Sealey block converted into retail and living space on Main Street; the old train station made into a great pub; the Cordaville mills as condo and restaurant space. Loss is just that, loss, especially when these wonderful old buildings are torn down just to sit as vacant lots or parking spaces.
Finally, a quick reminder to those of you who haven’t sent in order forms for our new book, Lost Southborough or haven’t mailed your year-end contribution to the Society. Please do! Or even easier, donate online! Contributions so far are lagging last year’s tally and we’ve way too much programmed this year to slow down now!
The Southborough Historical Society is pleased to announce a day-long program of activities to celebrate Southborough History on Heritage Day!
The new Mysteries of the Past Game: Correctly identify all seven antique objects and win! First Prize: a $250 Amazon Gift Card! Second and Third Prizes will also be awarded. Entry Forms are $5, one per person and will be available both on the field and at the Museum. Play starts at 9:00 AM and ends at 1:00 PM. Winners wills be announced at 2:00 PM.
A self-guided tour of the recently restored Old Burial Ground, entitled What Lies Beneath, revealing the fascinating history of Southborough’s buried past. Tour booklets will be available at the Southborough Historical Society booth and also at the Museum at 25 Common Street. Volunteers will be present in the Burial Ground throughout the morning and early afternoon.
Brand new exhibits at the Museum, highlighting Deerfoot Farms, Southborough and the Railroad, and the History of Fayville, among others.
In keeping with its renewed mission of actively promoting historic preservation in Southborough, the Society today launches its list of historic structures that are threatened with demolition. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to various buildings around town, explaining the factors that threaten them with destruction, and offering some suggestions for their preservation.
#1 The Barn at 135 Deerfoot Road
Number one on our list of endangered structures is the barn at 135 Deerfoot Road., which Brendon Homes purchased earlier this year as part of a 25-acre agricultural parcel, and then almost immediately applied to demolish. It is currently subject to the Demolition Delay By-law, though these protections will shortly expire. Some of you will remember my criticism of the Board of Selectmen for choosing not to place this agricultural parcel in front of Town Meeting to debate its acquisition and preservation—despite the recommendation to the contrary of every relevant Town committee and commission. And in fact, my comments turned out to be exactly on point. Instead of keeping the land out of development, the former farm will now be carved up into six housing lots, the 1870s farmhouse will be destroyed, and more traffic and more school-age kids and more demands on our already overtaxed Town services will be a reality.
However, there is still hope for the magnificent barn.
This wonderful 19th century structure is in pristine shape. Made mostly of now-extinct American chestnut, the 3-story wooden barn is sound and almost entirely free of rot or pests. Best of all, it is largely of mortise and tenon construction, meaning that it is put together with wooden pegs and fitted joints, much like Lincoln logs. This makes buildings like these very easy to disassemble and move—essentially you label the pieces and simply take them down in the reverse order they were put up.
Both the Historical Society and the Historical Commission have urged Brendon Homes to help move and preserve the structure, and there may be a glimmer of light here. We have been investigating whether or not this magnificent barn might find a new home at Chestnut Hill Farm, where there is a need for additional educational and meeting space. What a fantastic act of civic responsibility it would be if Brendon Homes would subsidize the moving and preservation of this structure!
Let’s hope the agricultural gods hear our prayers, because it would be a crime to lose this very rare survivor of Southborough’s agricultural past.
Editor’s Note: Our Endangered Building List consists of structures that are actively threatened with demolition, demolition by neglect, or by changing patterns of use that would harm their architectural integrity. Buildings are added to the list in the order proposed, and their numeration does not necessarily indicate ranking or perceived level of threat.
Looking around for ideas to help heal the national trauma that was the Civil War, Philadelphia Mayor Morton McMichael floated the idea that the United States Centennial in 1876 be celebrated with an exposition in Philadelphia. Philadelphia, after all, was the birthplace of American democracy. What better place to showcase the modern nation the United States had become?
Others were not so sure. They doubted the funding could be raised; they worried that other countries might not attend; or that American exhibitions might compare poorly to those of other nations, especially the magical Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. Still, the idea gained traction, and with millions of dollars raised, and a 450-acre site set aside for the Exposition, the stage was set for an event the likes of which America had never seen. The undertaking was enormous: over 200 buildings were constructed on the grounds, including the Main Building, seen in the colored engraving above, which enclosed 2.5 acres, making it the largest building in the world.
Other huge halls were devoted to developments in agriculture, horticulture, and machinery. Individual American states each built typical houses. 16 foreign countries built national pavilions. There was even a Women’s Hall, which showcased advances in domestic technology.
In today’s video age where almost any image or information bit is available at a key-stoke, it’s hard to appreciate the effect that a fair of this scale had on the public imagination. This was many Americans first introduction to electricity. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone debuted here. As did the typewriter, Heinz Ketchup, and Hires root beer. In hindsight, there were a few advances that we could have done without, such as the introduction of kudzu to the US as a means of erosion control.
Also present were many arms manufacturers, like Germany’s Krupps, that hinted at the world of mechanized warfare to come. But in general, the effect was dazzling, and marked the entry of the United States onto the modern world stage. Before the 6-month exhibition ended on November 10th, 1876, more than 10 million people had attended, or about a quarter of America’s then population of 40 million.
All fine and good, you may be thinking, but what’s this have to do with Southborough history?
Well, swept up by enthusiasm for the progress their country had achieved, and desirous not to be left out of the excitement, the students of Peter’s High School held an “International Exposition” of their own at the Town Hall on the day before the official Exposition closed in Philadelphia.
Unable to replicate the glories of the fair in exhibits, they instead chose to celebrate the event with song and words, with individual students portraying in verse the themes of the various halls and pavilions, others creating representations or tableaux vivants of the foreign countries that participated at Philadelphia. Tickets were 25 cents, no small amount in those days, and while no documentation exists describing the particulars of the show, it must have been charming, because even across 150 years, the excitement these students evinced at the dawn of America’s second century still echoes from this marvelous program—another of our recent discoveries from the basement
Unfortunately the 1970s remodeling of the Town Hall took out the large second floor stage, seating area and third floor balcony used for this celebration, but still it’s pleasant to remember an age when going to the Town Hall might mean something more than attending long public meetings or paying taxes.
To read more about the remarkable Centennial Exposition, click HERE
Here’s a new discovery, fresh from our photo files: a previously unpublished picture of Fayville Village Hall. This marvelous structure, the only example of the popular Dutch Colonial Revival style in Southborough, was built in 1911 to give the population of Fayville a venue for meetings, dances, lectures and other social functions. In an era when it took a half-hour to saddle up a horse to ride to the center of Southborough, this was a big deal. The hall proved a popular gathering spot for generations, but fell into gradual disuse as social norms changed . Underutilized, the building was tagged many times by the selectmen for potential sale. However, the community resisted, fearful that the building would be town down. The 2016 Town Meeting finally granted permission to the selectmen to sell the hall, but only after the Historical Commission demanded and won hard-fought promises from all concerned that the building would only be sold to a buyer interested in adaptive reuse, and that the exterior facade would be preserved and restored as part of the renovation process. Currently, the Town is seeking requests for redevelopment proposals. One likely outcome is several units of senior housing.
In the picture above you can see the building in all its glory, sometime in the 1930s. Note the entrance portal with its beautiful columns and pediment (only a portion of which survives today and is to be restored) and the distinctive heart-shaped cutouts in the shutters (also currently largely missing) — a deliberate look-back to Colonial-era designs. In the days before air conditioning, these shutters provided critical cooling by blocking out intense sunlight, while the small heart-shaped cut-outs insured that even when closed the rooms weren’t totally dark and unventilated. Notice too the elaborate cast-iron horse trough out front — could it be that this long-removed masterpiece still lingers in the hall basement or some other Town storage facility? Stranger things have happened. Regardless, the active preservation efforts by the Southborough Historical Commission and the Society regarding the Fayville Village Hall showcase the best of what adaptive reuse is all about, and clearly demonstrate the value that our current residents place on preserving the architectural fabric of historic Southborough.
Of course it’s never over til it’s over, so rest assured we will continue to monitor Fayville Hall’s progress, and report back as the next stage in the life of this remarkable building commences.
As we’ve been sorting through the Society’s collections, duplicates keep appearing again and again, and one of most notorious repeat offenders was the map above, an 1831 version drawn by Southborough’s own Larkin Newton, whose mathematical schoolbooks are coincidentally part of our holdings. But the funny thing was, all the examples I found were poor photo-copies. So into the recycling here, into the recycling there. But where, oh where was the original? As the end of the bulk sorting loomed, I became a bit panicked. Had we lost an 1831 map somewhere amidst the hundreds of cardboard boxes?
It turns out we had not, because we never had the original in the first place. (Whew!) In fact, the map forms part of the Massachusetts State Archives, and our bad copies were just that, copies. However the folks in Boston were kind enough to supply a digital version, which we have substantially cleaned up and enhanced for your viewing. For the very first time it is presented here, online.
Of the many fascinating things about this map, the tree indications are perhaps the most strange to modern eyes. Living in today’s Southborough crowded with woods and houses, it seems almost impossible to imagine the vast open spaces that this map indicates, but open they were. By the 1830s, Massachusetts had been largely deforested through settlement and agriculture, and trees for timber and heating were becoming increasingly hard to find. Thus, the wooded crests of the hills shown on the map were carefully tended as woodlots, and wood ashes, critical to the soap-making process, were a highly guarded commodity. According to this map, you could have stood in front of Pilgrim Church (or better yet, climbed its steeple) and seen for miles around. And it’s true, as this very early (1850s) photograph attests:
If you’ve ever been in the southern part of England and looked down from those gentle hills upon the magical patchwork of villages and farms, then you know what Southborough of the period must have been like, and why it was called “the most English of all New England towns.”
Unfortunately, due to poor planning and developer-biased zoning, most of these wonderful agricultural vistas were largely lost by the 1980s, and the incredible reforestation that has occurred has closed in the remainder. But there are still a few places you can catch a hint of these once glorious views, at the Breakneck Hill and Chestnut Hill Farm Conservation lands, for example. And if these inspire you — and how can they not — we hope you will stand with the Southborough Historical Society as well as the Historical Commission as we work to ensure that all remaining agricultural parcels that come out of 61A protection get a Town Meeting vote before being sold. We just lost another 30-acre parcel this past winter as 135 Deerfoot was sold to developer Brendan Homes, which has since applied for permission to demolish the historic 1870 house and barn. Result: more houses, more traffic, higher taxes, another lost vista.
As I write this, half the Town is still without power after last night’s 15″ dump of the wettest snow I have ever seen. Trees are down everywhere, and the cleanup will take weeks. Last night I listened in horror as major specimen trees in my garden, including several of those I planted here 25 years ago, collapsed amidst bursts of snow thunder and lightening.
Let’s all agree that it wasn’t a fun night.
However, we have seen worse. Take for example the picture above. This is probably the most damaging ice storm ever to hit the region, November 29th, 1921. This is the view from the center of 85 looking down Cordaville Road towards the south. To the right, you can just see the house at 3 Cordaville Road, which still stands. The first Woodward school would arise to the left in another 30 years.
We at the Society are privileged to house 10 historical images of this incredible storm, which reside safe and sound in our archives, despite the current weather!
From all of us at the Historical Society, our best wishes to you and yours for a safe and speedy recovery!