The Kindness of Strangers

Over the last few months as we have been all hunkered down, I’ve received quite a few inquiries from residents in town asking whether or not we had information on their individual houses. The sad truth is that for most homes we don’t—not because that information doesn’t exist—but simply because individual homeowners, after researching their own properties, never thought to share that information with the Society, and until now, we never thought to ask.

So this fall the Society is launching its “Discover Your Old House” program. To make things  easier, the Society has digitized and reorganized Southborough’s Historic Homes database so you can rapidly and easily find your home in a simple alphabetical list.  This will allow you to quickly see what we already know about the history of your property. The next step is up to you! Send us your research, tell us your stories, share with us pictures of your home, and we will add them to our collections, so that the next generation of owners won’t have to begin from scratch as I did.

And to start the ball rolling, I thought I would share with you some information about my own home on Cordaville Road. I moved here in 1992 when I was young (27) and foolish, thinking I could easily take on a derelict 150-year-old house. The property had been vacant for 4 years before I moved in, caught in the late 80s real estate bust. It had been under agreement several times, only to have the  potential buyers back out at the last minute over one issue or another. With each failed sale, however, the price came down. Finally, I came along, took one look, and jumped. I had no idea what I was in for.  Not a single bathroom was fully functional (the sink worked in one, the shower in another, the toilet in the third), the heating system turned out to be shot, and during one memorable diner early on during a wind storm, one of the windows literally blew out of the wall and crashed to the floor, shattering glass all over the dining room. But as I said I was 27 and it all seemed a glorious adventure in old-house living.

The adventure begins. My soon-to-be house in 1992, complete with for sale sign

Needless to say, major renovations started immediately, (with me as part of the crew) and one day as I went  across the street that first summer to get the mail, I saw a white minivan with three people in it, advancing at a snail’s pace down the road, obviously looking at my house. They pulled over. Curious, I went up to them and asked if I could be of service, and rather shyly they told me that they had lived in my house a long time ago. (More than sixty years earlier, as it turned out!) I said: “Do you want to come in? It’s a wreck, but I would be happy to show it to you!”  At first they didn’t want to impose, but I insisted it would be a pleasure if they were prepared to wade through the destruction. Finally they agreed, and thus began my wonderful relationship with E. Warren Ward, his wife Edith and their daughter Beverly.

Who needs a kitchen, or a fireplace, or for that matter, heating? From left to right:  the “debris pantry”; revealing the wide pine floors in the kitchen under tile and concrete; supporting the main chimney stack which had partially collapsed. For added enjoyment and in attempt to save money, I actually lived in the house during all this, moving my essentials from room to room as the construction chased me about.

As it happened, I had struck the jackpot, because Mr. Ward wasn’t merely a former resident, but a retired engineer with a prodigious memory—at 88! As we toured the house, recollections flooded back (they literally hadn’t been back to see the place in 60 years) and this chance encounter turned out to be a gratifying, and rather emotional, visit for the Wards. (Mrs. Ward was particularly distressed to note that the huge old elms along what was then a gravel Cordaville Road had disappeared. “We had such lovely Sunday picnics under those trees!” she said, a bit tearily) Warren promised to write if I had any questions, and boy, did I! What follows is the first of many letters we exchanged about life on Cordaville Road at the turn of the 20th century.

Dear Michael:

First, I must apologize for my delay in writing to you about “Bonnie Hurst” and to thank you for taking the time, while you were working, to show my wife, daughter and myself around the house, and the work of restoration! It is hard to describe the feelings after quite a few years since I have stopped into the place – even after the reasonably long time when we lived there, 1913 through 1935, and to see your bringing it (or most of it) back to life! Hope the winter weather didn’t hold you up too much.

I will now ramble on about things I can recall about the place – some of possible interest and probably most just reminiscence!

In 1913, my father moved us out to Southboro from 3 Perthshire Road, in Faneuil Mass (now part of Brighton) from the home he had built around 1900-01, and where all three of us “kids” were born (people used to be born at home, not in the hospital). My sister (Mable – 1903), myself (Ellwood – 1905) and my brother (Albert – 1908).

Our first approach was via the B & W Street Car Line – West on the “Turnpike” (now Route 9), to White’s Corner and then to the Cordaville Road stop – first one West of White’s Corner Junction and Marlboro and Westerly to Worcester, across Cordaville Road, Middle Road, Southville Road to Westboro, Grafton and Worcester. We were greeted by a horse and “buggy” for what I think must have been my first ride in that sort of conveyance (but it was not my last by any means).

My first recollection of “Bonnie Hurst” was the enormous American Chestnut Tree on a mound at the Southwesterly corner – in full working condition! (Like the one the “Village Smithy” stood under.)

My father was an “Interior Decorator” working as a salesman for “Irving & Casson; A.H. Davenport & Company”, with office in Copley Square, Boylston Street, and with very large manufacturing plant in Cambridge. They built nice furniture, including Church work, pews, wood carving, etc. for the “elite” of the time, so he would often go to the clients’ home and spend a week or so as their guest while they determined what furniture would be best! (Things have changed!!) As a fall-out of that, we obtained some nice old pieces of furniture which had outlived their usefulness to them and needed a new home, as they were replaced by new arrivals!

In the “Dining Room” we had a round mahogany table about 5 feet in diameter (I think) with 3 leaves about 16 inches wide – so when fully set up provided planty of dining space! This piece is presently in use by my granddaughter in Canada.

My mother’s half-sister was married to Robert Adams – of “Adams Hard­wood Floors” in Boston – and he put in hardwood floors in the “library”, or South room. I remember seeing the workmen placing the individual strips, (about l½” x 6 or 8″) with a mouthful of nails!

I know that my father built (had built) an addition to the West end kitchen area with upstairs bedrooms. When we moved there, we were without electricity and used kerosene lamps for lights, and water was supplied at the   kitchen sink by a hand operated ”pitcher pump” connected to the well outside at the rear of the house, near a couple of Russett Apple Trees – which always supplied us with an ample supply of Apple Juice and then Vinegar which we had in two casks in the “Cold Cellar” located in the basement under the “library” with a bulkhead entrance at the West side of that part of the cellar. The house furnace was coal fired at the center of the    house – so this part of the basement was a “cold cellar”, shut off from the    rest, where we stored potatoes, apples, cider vinegar, eggs in “water glass” in crockery jars. (Things have changed!)

I am not too clear as to renovations and improvements to the house, but after considerable haggling, etc. at the ”Southboro Town Meeting” (a true representative body where everyone had a chance to speak) we obtained electric power on Cordaville Road, and we had one of the painters and decorators from Irving & Casson working for a while there, commuting from Boston via B & W Street Car! He was scared to death to walk down to the Cordaville Road stop at night – and my brother and I were not very helpful, scaring him whenever we could!

My father commuted to Boston (Copley Square) everyday – taking the B &A Train from Cordaville at 7:30 a.m. – generally walking the mile(+). We had a horse, named Jerry, and a nice rubber tired “buggy” (open), and we (my brother and I or one of us, or my sister) would drive down to meet th  6:00 p.m. return Train from Boston.

With the advent of electricity, we had an electric driven pump and pressure tank for water supply, along with the fixtures – so the hand sink pump was relegated to the past!    When we moved in, the house at the kitchen ha 1 area, was connected to the barn, to avoid going outdoors, the toilet (a 3-holer) was halfway out – disposal to the rear at the North end of the ban. Soon after the advent of electricity the shed section and toilets were removed between the barn and the house, a septic tank and drain were installed and  a retaining wall built from the kitchen porch to the barn.

The barn was a complete farm operating unit. Two double rolling doors (full size for “buggy and surrey”), basement stalls for the horse “Jerry” and the   Jersey cow “Daisy” who supplied milk and butter for quite a few years.

The barn yard was located to the South of the barn (lower area with big doors) fenced in – complete with manure pile, etc.

My mother’s father lived with us and did most of the farming for a number of years before he died. We hayed the field across the street – storing the hay through a dormer type doorway in the upper section of the barn (an itchy operation we did not particularly enjoy!) Hay was fed from there through a chute to the basement and the horse and cow stalls. A retaining wall ran along the driveway and to the barn, and was planted with Lombardi Poplars, for quite a while. The South side sloped down to the barnyard fence. Southwest of the barnyard was the chicken house, pigpen, etc. – we always had chickens, eggs came in a nest (not in a cardboard box). We grew two pigs every summer and ate them during the winter! We also grew all our vegetables and had an asparagus bed – a special soil with rock salt to prevent other growth except the asparagus.

To augment our income, my mother had a canning kitchen – South of the driveway along the stone wall, known as the “Southboro Canning Kitchen” where she put up fruits and vegetables and sold them locally. (Try that nowadays!)

I found this brochure a year or two later after I met the Wards under one of the floorboards in the attic. Mabel Ward must have been a VERY busy lady!  Note too the prices: quite high for the Depression, so Mrs. Ward’s clientele must have been the wealthy Bostonians who summered in Southborough during those years.

At the North side of the house there was a sort of drive where coal was delivered and block ice for the ice chest, which had a door opening thru the wall so a block of ice could be delivered without entering the house. A metal cage housed the ice so one could not reach the other goods – we had cream from the Jersey cow that ran ½ inch thick in a 2 inch pan, and we always made our own butter in a  hand churn. My mother liked buttermilk – but no one else did!

(click to enlarge)


From the doorway on the north side my father built a grape and rose arbor, and a wall with flower beds on each side, always with flowers except in winter.

We had fruit trees galore, 3 or 4 different types of Porter Apples (early) which were grafted on to one tree, at the South side; Russetts, Baldwin, early Sheep Nose, and enormous Northern Spy trees in the Northwest area. At the West side, near a large pine tree, which was a landmark more or less, we had 2 or 3 beehives, which supplied us with honey – and the bees to make things propagate! We were good at beekeeping – my brother the best!

As to the land, there were 2 parcels, the land on Cordaville Road, and a wood lot area (not connected) located on higher land – East of the neighbors land, bounded by stone walls. (Fences of Stone!)

The house lot extended along Cordaville Road with a stone wall – and the open area at the house extended from about 20 feet+/- North of the house to a stone wall at the driveway South – which was marked at the time we lived there with a stone post (marked “Bonnie Hurst”) by which name the place was known to us all. (It was there when we arrived and was there when we left!)

It is ironic that while living in Southboro and in Framingham I did some surveying of various properties in Southboro, including most of the Deerfoot Farms properties and buildings, and the Rural Cemetery on Cordaville Road, but I never surveyed our own land! But I will describe the original lots as best I can! You probably have more accurate dimensions and areas as presently divided – but here is a sketch.

(click to enlarge)

The wood lot was east, up on the high ground, all wooded, large boulders etc., but marked at corners by drill holes in the stone walls (5 or  six acres) My brother and I used this area for roaming around – hunting red squirrel with a .22 rifle, and always equipped with Boy Scout hatchet and hunting knife! No damage was ever done – to us or anyone else! At the house lot – there were 2 “ironwood” trees and a horse chestnut tree at the North driveway – I can’t remember just when they were removed!


I attended Peters High School in Southboro – starting at the Third Grade when we moved out from Faneuil, and we were transported via horse drawn barge. (A pair of horses and a barge equipped with 6-foot diameter wheels, since the road was unpaved and the mud in the spring was quite deep.) During the winter when snow was on the road, the barge was a low hung box type – with runners.

The roadway at that time was not plowed out from snow, they put a long pole on the runner and smoothed out the snow and it packed down firm – until the thaw and mud arrived. Later on the roadway was paved and more modern plowing was in vogue – but we still had sleigh rides, etc. before the auto­ mobile age required the plowing of the roads – and we had lots of fun!

The author in 1917 in back of my (our) house shoveling snow. The label “vent” indicates where the 3-seater was. This photo also shows the original size and orientation of the barn, which was damaged in the tornado of 1953 and unfortunately not rebuilt to its original height.

Of course, bicycling was our main means of getting around, and it seemed very reasonable at that time! After High School, Class of 1922, I attended Chauncey Hall School in Copley Square, Boston for 1 year in preparation for M.I.T. to cover some courses not taught at Peters High!

Then I entered M.I.T. – commuting to Boston via B & A Railroad from Cordaville a 1 mile jaunt in a.m., after milking the cow and other early a.m. farm chores – then the last 2 years I lived in Cambridge, except on weekends. (M.I.T. Class of 1927) The day after graduating I went to work for F.A. Barbour, Son & Hydraulic Engineers in Boston, specializing in Water Supply and Waste Water Treatment. Later, upon Mr. Barbours’ death, continued the business in partnership with Mr. Haley as “Haley and Ward, Engineers” in Boston at corner of Tremont Street and Park Street – then moving out to Waltham where the firm continues as Haley and Ward – but with new officers.

In 1930 my father died and later that year I married Edith McMaster of Southboro, whose father and mother lived in Southboro for many years, and her Grandfather McMaster ran the local grocery store and whose Grandmother (Mable Lincoln) known as “Grandma Lincoln” to everyone in town – was so well known and respected and loved in Southboro that on her 80th birthday the whole town turned out with a parade, all in respect and love for her.

My father was very active in the Congregational Church in Faneuil before moving to Southboro, where he continued in the Pilgrim Congregational Church, often preaching the sermon when occasion demanded – and was active in all activities – writing and directing Christmas Cantata’s, etc. He always wore a Derby Hat, fastidious, with a “Boston Bag” (before briefcases)!

Sometime in 1926-27 the MDC installed a pumping station in Cordaville, supplied from the Hopkinton Reservoir with the discharge pipe running Northerly along Cordaville Road and crossing the road about a quarter mile South of our land – then running to the West side of our land and continuing North across Mt. Vickery Road and farm land to discharge into the MDC Reservoir West of Cordaville Road at Route 9. So far as I know this was never put into operation but it caused a bump in the road and a guy riding a motorcycle was thrown by it – and I think seriously hurt.

We were active in Southboro affairs – my wife and I belonged to the “Grange” and I in the Mason’s – where I was Master of the St. Bernard’s Lodge (now in Southville). I was a member of the Water Board when the Town took over the Fayville Water District and extended it through the town.

After a few years we found that “Bonnie Hurst” was too much for us and my mother to handle, so she sold it – and we moved to Framingham. There were many things about “Bonnie Hurst” that were enjoyable – some of which we did not realize until later – and it is pleasing to us to see you bringing it back to life, and I hope we can visit you again soon!

**Special Note; After visiting with you our daughter drove us up to my wife’s grandmother’s house located on the North side of Route 9, West of Deerfoot Road and just East of the junction of Flagg Road and Route 9, seemingly abandoned – and we took some pictures. This was the “Lincoln” farm, and the focus at that time, of many family gatherings – a true setting of the song “to Grandmothers house we go – the horse knows the way, etc.” As a young girl my wife visited there often after school – riding the horse drawn barge from Peters High School – a good half-hour jaunt!

Thank You and Good Luck!

Fortunately this was only the first of several long letters Warren sent me about the house, and they proved invaluable in helping me to restore some of the long lost landscape features! (A farmers stone wall once again lines the front, for instance, and next to the well—which still flows into the stream—apple trees again groan with fruit in the orchard.)

I did get to see the Wards once more at a lunch I hosted for them in May of 1993, this time with brother Albert along with his wife Phyllis (another Southborough native.) The house still wasn’t finished, but my office in the old barn was, and we sat around a large table enjoying the food and tales of old Southborough. Later we took another house tour, and the Wards marveled at the slow but continual progress on the house and grounds. As we said our goodbyes in the drive, Warren mentioned that he and Edith hoped to return in the fall. They did return, but not in the way any of us had imagined. Warren died a few months later at their Florida home—still spry—and was buried in the Ward family plot in the Rural Cemetery. Edith joined him there in 2001.

On a crisp day, walking the dog, I will often stop to visit them, pulling the odd bit of grass away from the stone, ever and always so grateful for the kindness of strangers.


He Who Plants Trees….

Serit arbores, quae alteri saeclo prosint
Cicero, On Old Age, quoting the Roman playwright Caecilius Statius

“He who plants trees, does so for future generations,” noted Cicero over two thousand years ago, and what could be a better time than now to invest in the future?

Lyscom - New England Apples

We’re delighted to announce that our Lyscom apple trees are finally ready for sale. Thanks to the DPW’s Karen Galligan, 15 whips were grafted three years ago from the sole remaining Lyscom apple tree at the museum, (Southborough’s own native apple, and the oldest living tree in town) . The young saplings are now 3-4′ tall and branched. We received 15 bareroot trees this spring , and they have been carefully potted up, watered and staked, and ten of them are now ready for their “forever home.” (Three will be planted at the museum, and 2 somewhere else on Town property.)

Now truth be told, this experiment was repeated 40 years ago, and of the 30 trees distributed across town, none are left, principally because they were planted in poor locations, or in areas subject to development. To avoid a similar fate, we are seeking potential candidates who have a spot in a developed neighborhood well away from the house (to avoid death by renovation); in full sun (8 or more hours of sun a day), and well away from other competing trees. Candidates must agree to protect the young trees from mice and winter damage with a bark protector, and keep the young sapling watered for the first two seasons. If all goes well, the first apples will appear in a year or two’s time. If you meet these criteria, we would love to share with you this fascinating bit of Southborough history. The “adoption fee” is $250, to benefit the Society.

On another arboreal note, in a strange twist of fate, the flagpole outside the museum cracked off at the base sometime this summer. I’m unsure exactly what happened, but it seems providential, as we were already planning to return the flag pole to the exterior of the building as reflected in our new logo, designed by our own Patti Fiore last fall. The addition of the pole restores the facade to something close to its original 1860 appearance, and was originally proposed when the museum was renovated in 2000, but never carried out. It seemed a good time then to re-evaluate the tired strip of grass where the missing flagpole once stood, and while several of us were  contemplating just this a few weeks back on a 90º day, it occurred to us that what we really needed in front of the museum was some shade, as the entire area around the Town House has lost most of its venerable trees to storm and age. Thus we would like to plant two more disease-resistant American elms (here and at another spot along St Mark’s road) to match the one planted earlier this year. We’re looking for two $275 donations to make this happen, so hopefully there will be among you those who agree that now is indeed the time to plant for future generations.

Princeton Elms in Washington DC

If you are interested either in adopting a Lyscom for your home or helping reforest the Museum quadrangle, please email us at

The Flag Returns

After a year-long restoration, the Buck Civil War flag has finally returned to Southborough!

William E. Buck, for whom our flag was made, was born in 1841 in Westborough. He lived with his parents Edwin and Susan Rice Buck, and his younger brother Edgar, on a farm in Southborough. On December 2, 1861 William enlisted in company I, Massachusetts 20th Infantry Regiment, where he was recorded to be 5 feet 6 1/2 inches tall, with gray eyes and brown hair.  No other details or images exist.

What is known is that the 20th Massachusetts was involved in many battles throughout the Civil War and sustained the fifth highest number of casualties of all the regiments in the Union Army. William Buck saw action at the Battle of Fair Oaks and the Battle of Malvern Hill, before being shot in the head on September 17th, 1862 at the Battle of Antietam. He was taken to the Broad Street military hospital in Philadelphia where he succumbed to his wounds on September 28th, 1862, and was briefly interred. The Southborough recruiting agent traveled to Philadelphia to accompany William Buck’s body back to Southborough, where he was reburied with full military honors on November 3rd at the Rural Cemetery.

Dead bodies line the road in front of the Dunker Church during the battle of Antietam

William Buck was twenty-one years old when he died and had not married.  He had no direct descendants.

The newly restored Buck Flag returns to the reading & research area of the Museum

The flag came into the possession of the Southborough Historical Society in 2007 when the town library transferred a number of historical items to the  society. When one of the bags was opened, it was discovered to contain a flag in extremely poor condition. That the handmade flag with its 34 cut-out stars had the name Buck written in ink on the band, led to the conclusion that it was sewn in honor of William Buck in 1862,  probably by members of his own family. Its vertical alignment and size (9’x6′) suggests it was intended to cover Buck’s casket before burial. One can only imagine the agonizing mix of pride and despair that must have accompanied the creation of this flag.

But how did it end up at the library?

Edwin Buck, the father of William Buck, was one of three sons of Charles and Lucy Warren Buck. His niece, Francena (Fanny) Buck, was born in 1850 in Southborough.  She would have been twelve when her older cousin William’s body was returned to Southborough for burial and may have helped make the flag to honor him. Fanny Buck became the Southborough librarian in 1882 or 1883, serving in that position for thirty years. She died in 1928 and is also buried at the Rural Cemetery.  Given the flag’s wear, it is likely that it was hung for a while outside at the Buck homestead, which was taken down in the 1890s for the building of the reservoir. Perhaps when the flag was removed, Fanny took possession of her cousin’s flag and later displayed it at the library. Then after her death, its significance was forgotten. Someone stuffed the flag into an old paper bag and it lay buried at the bottom of a closet for nearly 90 years.

Today, thanks to monies from the Community Preservation Fund, and the skilled efforts of the team at Museum Textile Services, the Buck flag can be seen for the first time in almost a century, a moving memorial to a young man of 21, who gave his life to preserve the Union.

(Thanks to our new VP, Sally Watters, for the genealogical research above.)

Help Document These Difficult Times: A Photographic Portrait of Southborough

In the 1918 Spanish flu epidemic, Fayville Hall and the surrounding land were turned into a temporary field hospital.

As you can see from this photo of Fayville Hall from the 1918, pandemics are nothing new. Southborough has been struck by waves of disease, from cholera to scarlet fever. (This last was thought to be born by dogs, and resulted in the strict licensing and fee structure still in place today.)

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us in Southborough in many different ways and each of us is an eyewitness to this important time in our history. The Southborough Historical Society hopes to accurately preserve this moment in time by launching “Coronavirus Pandemic: A Photographic Portrait of Southborough.”

The goal is to preserve images of our daily lives during this crisis and to provide future historians, researchers and students with information on life in our community during this pandemic and how it affected our daily lives.

And, we need everyone’s help. SHS is seeking photographs that demonstrate the impact of coronavirus and COVID-19 on Southborough and its residents.

Are you keeping a COVID-19 journal? Have you taken a porch portrait of your family? Do you work on the front lines of the pandemic response or are deemed an essential worker? In what ways have you seen our community unite? Have you been personally affected by the illness or repercussions of the economic fallout? How does homeschooling and social distancing affect your children and their lives? Have you seen empty store shelves and other images symbolic of how things have changed? We encourage you to share photographs of pandemic experiences in the context of your daily lives.

It is a time when face masks, closed business, and working from home has become our new normal. For many of us, this may be the most historical moment of our lives and we need to preserve and archive this for posterity. By recording how the virus has changed our daily life, we will ensure the stories are available to provide valuable insight for future generations. Each contribution will help ensure evidence of this time for future research, reference and exhibits.

Please provide as many photographs as you feel are important. If you would prefer to send images directly through email, or have any questions, concerns, or thoughts about the project, please send an email to

The Southborough Historical Society is dedicated to discovering and safekeeping the stories of our community. Archived within our collections and entrusted to our care are stories of family, growth and perseverance. As we navigate through these difficult times, we must continue to collect and ensure that these experiences in our community are preserved for later generations.

Thank you for your contribution and your help in building history.


By submitting to the Southborough Historical Society collection, you are agreeing to the terms within this disclaimer document.

All submissions will be moderated before being made available publicly. The Southborough Historical Society reserves the right to not accept a submission should it not fit the theme and intent of the Coronavirus Pandemic: A Portrait of Southborough project, per the discretion of SHS staff.

Provide as much description as you can about each photo, including what it depicts, where and when it was taken, who is included, or any other relevant details
To upload multiple files, compress them into a single ZIP archive. If your file is larger than 20MB, please upload it to a file-sharing platform such as Google Drive or Dropbox and include the link to it in the description field or send as multiple files.

Please make sure to attach a file by clicking on the button below.

View the gallery of contributed images

Long Dead…

But certainly not forgotten!

Thanks to a two-year project spearheaded by SHS members Rebecca Dean-Rowe, Sally Watters, Molly Leavitt, and Jim Blaschke, you can now explore the Old Burial Ground virtually on our new interactive map.

Its sophisticated search mechanism lets you click on individual graves, read the inscriptions, and learn about the history of the people below. Best of all, the system is designed to be continually added to and expanded by both society members and outside contributors. This spring and summer, for example, we will be photographing and adding in pictures all the grave stones, and Sally Watters is busy researching the fascinating background stories of our founding residents to add to the collection. (Just click the image below to begin your explorations!)


If you have information you would like to share about any of the Old Burial Ground residents, please use the form below the map and we’ll add it to the database.

And finally, a shout out to Aidan Campbell, who designed the interactive and endured a thousand rounds of edits and changes!


In Memoriam: Eleanor Onthank Hamel

Dear Friends

It is with a very real sadness that I share the news of the death of Eleanor Hamel, a long-time best friend to the Southborough Historical Society, at age 98. I’ll let you read her obituary here, but I just wanted to share a few personal memories with you.

I  met Eleanor back in the early 90s during my first stint on the Historical Commission. I had gotten involved because one of our dismal cast of local developers, always ready to demolish, was planning to tear down the hugely historic Greek Revival house of Mary Finn on Route 9 to build a Wendy’s. (That’s Mary Finn of Mary Finn School, btw, and the current Wendy’s speaks to the result.) As usual, I was full of (then youthful) outraged indignation, and as usual, wise and calm Eleanor, who was an 11th generation Soutborough resident, saw the bigger picture. As she pointed out to me, while we’d lost the skirmish, we could still win the war, and with her guidance we raised enough public awareness to make sure there would be no more fast food restaurants blighting the Southborough streetscape. When I would get discouraged, and not attend meetings for a while, she would call me up with the gentle voice and say, “Now Michael, I know you are busy, but we need your energy and enthusiasm. Please try to come.” And I did, and working together we got the Town to spend 25K to do the 2001 Historical Properties Survey. That was the watershed. Many years later it led to the Demolition Delay By-Law, the preservation of 85 Main Street, and the Historic Adaptive Reuse By-law (which saved Fayville Hall, among others). By then Eleanor had long retired from the Historical Commission, but her imprint echoes through all these achievements.

I’m unclear if Eleanor was one of the founding members of the Historical Society, but if not, she was close. She worked assiduously at the Museum for decades, cataloguing the collections, urging people to contribute, sharing her vast personal knowledge of Southborough, or helping out in any way she could. I wasn’t active in the Society during this period, but it’s not hard to see hints of Eleanor around every corner. Just pick up a record, look at an object, read the caption on a photo. Her distinctive handwriting, which I came to know so well on the Commission, was, and still is, everywhere. Every time I see it, I smile. It’s like meeting a trusted old friend. If that blocky script states: “This the Brewer farm and the girls on ladders are picking cherries after school,” then you can rest assured that’s exactly what you’re looking at, for she was there, or knew someone who was.

Across from my desk at the museum there is a wonderful mid-19th century wooden box with original paper labels advertising Boston Baked Beans. The shipping address is the now long-destroyed Wright’s Store in Fayville. Inside on the cover there is a taped note that simply reads; “This box has been in our home as long as I can remember. E.H.”

Thank you, dear friend, for sharing your memories with us, and for becoming a huge part of ours. You will be sorely missed.


Ex Tenebris, Lux

Dear Friends,

I thought perhaps you would like a bit of good news for a change.

Just before the COVID crisis hit, the Board of the Southborough Historical Society purchased and donated to the town a 12′ tall Princeton elm. It was planted in the field beside the museum (with the kind assistance of DPW head Karen Galligan) to replace one of the huge sugar maples that recently failed. This new variety has been field tested over the last few decades and has proven resistant to the Dutch elm disease.  With any luck,  this tree will shortly grow into a sizable specimen, giving shade to grateful future generations. To our knowledge, it is the first new elm planted along the roadways of Southborough in half a century.

And also, we are delighted to announce that the first crop of our new Lyscom apple trees will be available for sale shortly. (You’ll perhaps remember that the Lyscom originated here in the 1730s) Again, thanks to Karen, grafts from the sole surviving tree were taken several years ago, and 15 or so are now ready to find new homes. More on that soon.

So from darkness, light! Be well, everyone!

Why Francis Fay Said No to an I-Phone 11: On Economy

Continuing our publication of Col. Francis Fay’s letters, I thought any of you with the experience of young charges might delight in knowing that things haven’t changed much in 170 years. Here, our hero writes to his two sons, Frank and Henry, explaining why he’ll never buy an I-Phone 11 (or the 1850s equivalent)—for himself, or for them.

To Frank and Henry

You think me absurd in my views of what I call unnecessary expenditure, that is, for that which is to gratify the taste [or] inclination of fancy, but affords no actual comfort, and is, when carefully examined, of no real benefit or utility.

Let us see how much you are indebted to this supposed absurdity.

Had I indulged in those things “very pleasant” “agreeable” or “convenient” etc. but not necessary to actual comfort, I should have “spent as I went” and been always poor, and been unable to give you an education, to furnish you with a comfortable home, with decent food and clothing, and to aid you, if necessary, with funds and credit to start in life. But for my economy, YOU would have been like myself—without education, without credit, or means to commence life, and like me at 21, been refused (by your own uncle, perhaps) a credit of fifty dollars, and had to struggle with hardships, privations, discouragements, embarrassments for 20 years before you got the wheels fairly moving. Why were you not obliged at 21 (and even before) to work upon a farm by the month, or in a stable, or drive a truck, and now a hand cart? If you’ll examine minutely cause and effect, you will find my habits of economy through life had much to do with it.

Let me illustrate.

Major Chase and Mr McFarland were much better off at 21, both for means of family influence, than myself. But they wanted things “convenient” and “comfortable” “customary” “gratifying” etc. They wished to “live while they did live” “to enjoy themselves” “to do as others do”, etc. And where are they? What have they been able to do for their families, what character, credit or aid can they afford them? What is their own condition for comfort and happiness in their old age? Now seeing, knowing these effects, these results, is it not my duty to warn my family against such evil consequences, to caution them not to be wrecked upon the same rocky shore— even though they laugh at my economy, are annoyed at my admonition and think they can take care of themselves?

Probably the last is true, but how will it be for their children? Shall they have parents who, by the practiced economy, are able to educate, bring them up comfortably, and start them in life with reasonable prospects, or shall through their parents’ indulgence, like Chase and McFarland, be obliged to start struggling with ignorance, poverty and destitution? These are questions for you to answer, and knowing their importance from actual experience and observation, I cannot allow myself to neglect to call your attention to them, though that warning voice may not always be received with satisfaction at the time.

All of us in youth need restraint; my restraint came from necessity. You have not that salutary, though disagreeable, check, and therefore it is more important [that] yours should come from some other source.

By what I have said I would not want to indicate that either of you are practically extravagant, and yet I think both to a certain extent are inclined or have a disposition to be so, but not to so great extent as myself when I was young. Had I been able, I should have gone ahead of either of you. I was compelled to economy and its effect, both in character and property, has proved to me it was the best policy, and that my former notions that I must conform to custom and keep up with the times were all imaginings, all moonshine.

I have said you are inclined, that is you have a pride be as good as others. Well, this desiring is highly praiseworthy, but to be as good, as popular, as much respected as others does not depend on fine clothes, fashionable furniture or ape-ing your neighbors, and if you believe what you often say to me, you have living proof of that constantly before you.

When you get to be forty years old, you will probably need no monitor but your own experience, observation and reflection—until then, one occasionally may do you know harm, and probably no one is more suitable, or will discharge that duty with more fidelity , and with a single eye to your benefit, than your own parents.

With these remarks I close this lecture.

Editors Aside: For anyone contemplating a phone upgrade, amusingly “that which is to gratify the taste [or] inclination of fancy, but affords no actual comfort, and is, when carefully examined, of no real benefit or utility” does in fact pretty much sum up the I-Phone 11 vs 10!

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig. Colonel Fay Returns to Boston, Part III

In this third and final installment, the illustrious Colonel Fay leaves St. Louis and heads back to Boston, though not without further misadventures and having witnessed a dreadful  accident. As we join this episode, our hero is still hugely weakened but slowly recovering from a bout of something akin to rheumatic fever…

November 3rd on the Ohio River at anchor near Beaver 32 miles from Pittsburgh.

I resume my story as we are now unable to run owing to the darkness of the night and the narrow and crooked river here. And I come now to write without the continual shake I was subjected to when the boat was underway. I left St. Louis October 26th 10 AM perhaps before my health would justify it but one gains strength so slow in this country and I was so anxious to get home and have a New England diet and New England nursing that I ventured although I was just able to set up through the day.

I left in the steamboat Swift Boy and paid $25 for passage to Pittsburgh. They brought us to Cincinnati Ohio 750 miles out of 1300 and refused to carry us any farther or make any provision for us and insisted in taking $18 out of the 25 which we had paid although the regular price from St. Louis to Cincinnati was $15.

The Ohio River, which flows into the Mississippi. The eastward journey by steamboat, had it been completed would have certainly been much faster and more comfortable than Col. Fay’s trip westward. The probable reason he went by such an arduous route west was to report as agent to a group looking for profitable western investments.

We quarreled awhile and I took the lead. I finally told the captain that I did not wish to quarrel, that he had undertook to carry us to Pittsburgh and we had paid him his price; he had not fulfilled his engagement and he was bound to carry us there or refund sufficient to carry us there, and that for one I should take no less, but should seek my [recourse] in some other way. He said we need not think to “scare him.” I answered that we had no idea of scaring; that I should not resort to a legal remedy although I supposed I had one. But that I should not spend 10 dollars to get 3; but that I had the right and should exercise that right of publishing the imposition to the world as a caution to the public not to travel on his boat. I then left him. In a few moments, the captain called us into the office and paid us back $10 each for the price of passage to Pittsburgh.

We then went immediately on board the Dayton where we have every accommodation [illegible]. We live like lords. My health is very much improved, my appetite good and I feel comfortable except that I want exercise. Being bound up 10 or 12 days in the cabin of a steamboat with 50 passengers is no pleasant affair. We shall probably arrive at Pittsburgh about noon tomorrow and and at 9 PM take the canal boat for Philadelphia.

Canal Boat Chesapeake on the Pennsylvania Canal near Mifflin, Juniata County Pennsylvania November 7th 1836

We arrived at Pittsburgh as I expected and found it one the most [illegible] unpleasant smoking towns I ever saw. It contains in its immediate suburbs about 40,000 inhabitants. It is situated at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers which here unite and form the Ohio. It is built on the spot where the French Fort Duquesne and afterward the English Fort Pitt was erected. It is surrounded by high mountains which almost completely enclose it on all sides.

An early view of Pittsburgh

[The town sits] upon a flat [and] is tolerably laid out and has many good buildings, but the numerous manufacturing establishments which are there erected and which burn coal, which is found in great abundance in the mountains within a half a mile of the town, means the town is covered with such a perpetual smoke that it completely prevents the atmosphere from being clean and all the buildings and inhabitants to carry the appearance of a smoke house. It is however a place of great business and considerable wealth and is fast increasing.

A network of east-west canals and connecting railroads spanned Pennsylvania from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. North-south canals connecting with this east-west canal ran between West Virginia and Lake Erie on the west, Maryland and New York in the center, and along the border with Delaware and New Jersey on the east. Many shorter canals connected cities such as York, Port Carbon, and Franklin to the larger network.
A map of the Pennsylvania Canal system, which was, as Colonel Fay describes, a mix of canals and railroad portages. It was assembled over several decades beginning in 1824 to link Pennsylvania with the west via Pittsburgh and the Ohio

We left Pittsburgh at 9 PM on the 4th in the canal boat
Niagara on the canal and on the 5th passed through a tunnel cut under the mountain through a solid rock nearly 1000 feet [long], sufficiently wide and deep for the canal boat—and the mountain some 200 feet over our heads.

Soon after passing through the tunnel we came to the end of this canal, 106 miles, and to the Portage Railroad at Johnstown and in the course of the 16 miles ascended 5 incline planes of about ½ mile each in length and a rise of about 15 degrees to the top of the Allegheny Mountain and through another tunnel under a mountain equal with the one encountered before on the canal. We there commenced descending and in the same distance descended 5 more times of about the same descent but somewhat longer, and there were carried 4 miles without any power down such a gentle plain that the cars were propelled by their own weight to Hollidaysburg. We were then towed up and down these plains by stationary engines on each.

A view of the portage railroad described by Colonel Fay.

At Hollidaysburg we again took the canal in the boat which I now am and shall go down the banks of the Juniata River and Susquehanna to Columbia, 172 miles passing through Harrisburg the capital of Pennsylvania. At Columbia, we shall again take the railroad for Philadelphia, 82 miles. 

Early railroad cars were open affairs based on stage coaches.

We arrived at Columbia at 9 Am and stayed until 2 PM and took the cars for Philadelphia. When about half way a passenger was standing on top of the car in which I was seated and being careless came in contact with a bridge across the railroad when we were going about 20 miles an hour which struck his head and he fell upon the car dreadfully mangled.

We carried him about three miles to a public house and laid him upon a settee, and let him down and carried him into the home alive but perfectly insensible where we left him and he probably lived but a few hours if he did so long.

We came the rest of the way in the night and arrived in Philadelphia about 9 PM after being let down another long inclined plane of 5/8 of a mile to the Schuylkill River. I left Philadelphia the next day at 10 AM and arrived at New York at 6 PM by steamboat to Bordentown; railroad to South Amboy; and then by boat from there to New York. I left New York at 4 PM the next day in the steamboat Massachusetts, arrived at Providence  a  quarter before eight the next morning and took cars for Boston where I arrived.



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” I Felt I Must Die Where I Was and Could Do No More Upon the Road” Part II

This is the second installment of the account of Colonel Francis B. Fay’s journey from Boston to St. Louis in the autumn of 1836. As we rejoin the story, our hero has already survived various and sundry vicissitudes, including being shipwrecked on Lake Erie….

The route described in this portion of the letter. By comparison, the modern traveler could drive this distance in a little more than 5 hours.


We left Logansport in the afternoon and went 6 miles to a small tavern on the banks of the Wabash and here my scene of troubles began. I rose in the morning with one of my most severe turns of headache. That house was no place for comfort [and with] my friends urging me on I consented to start and rode 20 miles in the most excruciating torture before I came to any house where we could get entertainment. Before we arrived it seemed I should be obliged to get down from my horse and sit down by the roadside. I however arrived at Delphi and put up at a miserable hotel; staid till next morning and although no better and having a high fever I again mounted my horse and rode 20 miles to Lafayette in search of better quarters. I staid their until the next morning but found no better entertainment and being unable to ride horseback my companions led on my horse and I to the stage to go 50 miles. I road 40 miles and was obliged to stop, unable to go any farther and stopped at Covington. I there stayed three days, had a physician to be X and other medicine. I sold my horse and took the stage for Terre Haute—50 miles. My companions had left a half a day before me in order that they might arrive at Terre Haute at the same time I did. They went 35 miles to Clinton and learning that they could save a few miles by not going to Terre Haute they very cooly left a line for me that they had taken a different route and presumed I should arrive at St. Louis now 200 miles distant before them.

Thus I was left alone among strangers scarcely able to sit up or walk. I however proceeded to Terre Haute and there found myself more feeble than ever with a high fever, my tongue coated to its very tip, my pulse up to 90, no appetite and parched with thirst. Add to this I was staying in a tavern with building, plastering, whitewashing and sawing going on, a horse race about to commence and the house filled with gamblers, [illegible] who appeared ready to rob me at every step and who occupied the next chamber to mine with a only a board partition and were gambling through the night. And added to all these the landlady an unaffecting brute with no disposition to contribute to or afford me any comfort or attention. The first night I took a severe sweat—rolling and tumbling and almost dying with thirst without anything to quench it but the water from my washbowl. I lay till 9 in the morning and no one appeared to see whether I was dead or alive. I got up, the sweat then rolling off my face, running down my bosom, my shirt wet with sweat. I stepped into the entry to go down, found them whitewashing one part and scouring up the other with soap and sand. I went down one flight of stairs out on a piazza, down another into another with a room with two Negroes plastering, clambering over the staging. I went out of doors round the corner of the house in a good northeast storm through the bar room into the sitting room which was also the eating room for some 40 or 50 each meal, which kept it in constant commotion through the day setting tables, eating, and clearing off—here I was obliged to stay through the day… [illegible]

I stayed here in this situation 4 days, had two Physicians, had [eaten] nothing for 10 days except once or twice a day a little sip of coffee or gruel. I got so reduced that I was scarcely able to sit in my chair or walk across the room with the greatest effort and no one to do anything for me. I made up my mind under all these circumstances that in all probability I should never again set my foot in Massachusetts, never again embrace my family and friends but that I must deposit my earthly remains in Indiana. Still my courage or resolution did not forsake me. I resolved to overcome all if possible. I was my own nurse while I stayed and after 4 days although very little better I resolved to leave that place and take the stage for St. Louis—180 miles—live or die, as I felt I must die where I was and could do no more on the road. I took the stage at 12 at noon and made 20 miles, stayed at a log house and was called at 4 in the morning,  but I bribed the driver to keep his eyes shut till 6… The 3rd night I stopped in Vandalia, the seat of government for Illinois and fared well.

Vandalia was the capital of Illinois from 1820-1839

(The stage goes here about 35 or 40 miles per day, one half before morning, the next in the fore noon and the last leg in the afternoon. The 4th night we stayed at a farm house upon the prairie (Log house of course with 11 of us stowed into a small room with a roaring fire all night) I (illegible) which routed me at 2 o’clock. The rain pouring down in torrents, I obliged to leave that afternoon and expose myself to the storm—exposure was inevitable although it seemed to me if it did not prove fatal it would be a miracle.

I however escaped [death] and the next day riding all day in the storm in a poor [open] carriage (they have no other in that country) I arrived at sunset at St Louis and put up at the same house where Lyman and his wife board—[about] as well as I left Terre Haute, but unable to sit up all day or walk a quarter mile without being completely exhausted, my tongue still coated all over, my neck stiff, my limbs paining me and no appetite. But I felt in a new world. I had got among civilized people and among some of my friends. My companions came to congratulate me on my arrival but they met with a cold reception and I gave them to understand that I considered their conduct in leaving me barbarous, little better than savage and an act which I could never overlook or forget. Their own conscience smote them and I think they did not feel very comfortable.

I stayed at St. Louis 11 days before I so far recovered as to dare to start home and even then, was unable to walk more than for a mile without exhaustion, so reduced was I on my arrival and so slow in my recovery. St. Louis is a beautiful location and a place of great business and fine advantages and when they root out the old French houses will be a charming place….