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. 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 an adventure.

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 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. 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 for 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 esssentials from room to room as the construction caught up with me.

As it turns out, I had struck the jackpot, because Mr. Ward wasn’t merely a former resident, but a retired engineer with a prodigious memory. As we toured the house, recollections flooded back (they literally hadn’t been back to see the place in 60 years) and it turned out to be a gratifying, and rather emotional, visit for the Wards. 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 1930++??, 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.) 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 (f 11 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 Framingha.m. 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.)

For several years , the Wards would stop here for lunch on their annual trip north from their home in Florida, marveling at the slow but continual progress on the house and grounds, until Warren’s death in the mid 90s. He and his lovely wife are buried in the Rural Cemetery, and I occasionally visit them there, always and ever so grateful for the kindness of strangers.


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.


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.



Remember: History like this doesn’t save itself.  Please consider donating to the Southborough Historical Society. It’s quick, secure and easy.


” 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….


The Intrepid Colonel Fay Takes a Trip to St. Louis, Autumn 1836, Part I

The first page of Fay’s account. The letter spans 12 pages written over the period of about a week on the return journey.

Among the Fay correspondence the Society is publishing for the first time ever this winter, we found a remarkable letter that chronicles the almost superhuman effort it took to travel by land before the railroad system linked the continent in the 1860s and 70s.  Although not stated in the account, it seems fairly clear that Fay took on this arduous 1836 journey from Boston to St. Louis to act as a business agent, looking for profitable investment opportunities for wealthy Boston clients.

In this first installment, our hero Colonel Francis B. Fay, late of Southborough, finds himself ill-housed, ill-used, battered about, and eventually, submerged in Lake Erie….

On board the steamboat Dayton, on the Ohio River between Mariette Ohio and Pittsburgh

November 2nd 1836

Dear Lori,

The time passing rather tedious—being penned up in a steamboat for 8 or 10 days without any relief, I made up my mind to give you a little history of my journey and adventures, although it is not very easy to write on a steamboat constantly shaking and trembling under the tremendous power of the engine and you may find some difficulty in deciphering all the [illegible} of the scroll.

I left Boston, as you know, September 12 at 1 PM and arrived at Providence at 4. [Presumably by the brand-new Boston and Providence Railroad, just finished the year before]. Went on board steamboat Massachusetts, had fog all the way through the [Long Island] sound which retarded out passage, arrived at New York the 13th at 7 AM, too late for the morning boat up the North [Hudson] River. Stayed in New York till five PM, took a boat for Albany and arrived there 6 AM; left there and arrived at Utica at 1 PM. 482 miles in 48 hours from home, having stopped 8 hours in Utica and 2 in Albany.

[This was breath-taking speed for 1836 and would have been a thing of wonder. Compare this to daily sums later in the letter.]

I there took a canal boat for Syracuse—61 miles where we arrived at 6 AM on the 15th. We there left the canal and took stage for Canandaigua passing through Auburn, Waterloo, and Geneva, and other beautiful towns to arrive at Canandaigua. Quarreled the stage agent for imposition, [unclear what this means, though presumably a disagreement about the fare] left that route and took the stage for Rochester and from there took stage for Buffalo through Lenox and Batavia, the last notorious for the scene of the Morgan abduction.

The route taken westbound by Francis Fay. Because there was as yet no train connection between Boston and Albany, the fastest route was by train and boat via Providence and New York. Incidentally, this poor connection to the interior, which would last another 20 years, was one of the principal reasons New York gained prominence over Boston.

[Fay’s reference to the “Morgan abduction” refers to one William Morgan,  a resident of Batavia, New York, whose disappearance and presumed murder in 1826 ignited a powerful movement against the Freemasons, a fraternal society that had become influential in the United States. After Morgan announced his intention to publish a book exposing Freemasonry’s secrets, he was arrested on trumped-up charges. He disappeared soon after, and was believed to have been kidnapped and killed by Masons from western New York. The allegations surrounding Morgan’s disappearance and presumed death sparked a public outcry.]

An early Great Lakes steamboat. Travel by steamboat was fraught with danger: Poor (or no) maps of underwater hazards, no indoor sanitation, and engine machinery that was liable to explode.

Arrived at Buffalo on Saturday noon Sept 17th and remained there over Sunday and Monday. At 10 AM started in the steamboat General Porter up Lake Erie. Went for 45 miles, [before we] struck a rock near Dunkirk and stove a hole through her bottom, ran her into the harbor where she sank a few feet from the wharf with 3 feet of water in her cabin, and 700 passengers on board, men, women and children of all sorts of sizes, ages, conditions making one little world by ourselves. What may seem incredible too is that boats leave daily from Buffalo with an average of 700 or 800 passengers, mostly immigrants moving to the west. Here we were—700 of us—shipwrecked in a little village of some 30 to 50 houses. Our company consisted of 7 men on shore while the others got out our baggage near up the wharf. [We] chartered a wagon to carry us 3 miles to the stage road at Fredonia. We got there and chartered the only stage there for $20 to take us to Erie PA—50 miles. Before our stage was ready, swarms of passengers arrived from the boat wanting conveyance but they arrived “just in season to be too late.” We went on to Erie and from there by stage to Cleveland Ohio, about 110 miles. We there got on board the steamboat Thomas Jefferson and arrived at Detroit Michigan in about 24 hours. We there breakfasted and took another boat, came back down the Detroit River across the westerly shore of Lake Erie to Toledo at the mouth of the Maumee River. Again took a steamboat and went 8 miles up the Maumee to Perrysburg, the head of navigation on that river. This was Friday evening.

On Saturday we purchased horses, saddles, bridles, portmanteaus, leggings etc and on Sunday at 2 PM commenced our tour up the Maumee River through the woods on horseback to Fort Defiance at the conjunction of the St. Josephs River and the Auglaize River, whose junction forms the Maumee. We made 18 miles and put up at a house (a tavern it could not be called) kept by a man, half-French, half-Indian. We had a comical supper and were put to bed in a chamber— 8 beds, or more properly, substitutes for beds, where we stowed away, 18 of us men women and children, windows with more than half the glass out, and we had to put in our hats and coats to fill in the gaps. The next day we reached Ft. Defiance after a 38 miles ride through mud & ravines almost perpendicular—down and up through mud sloughs, fording rivers, etc. etc.

Fort Defiance

There is a little village at Defiance and a tolerable tavern where we fared comfortably. Fort Defiance is well named, it’s situation is most commanding being directly up the point where the two rivers meet, with the guns so arranged as to point down the Maumee and up the St. Joseph and Auglaize, with a high embankement and a deep ditch in the rear from river to river. I think troops stationed there might well defy an enemy. The village is situated directly in the rear of the fort and is very pleasant.

In leaving Ft. Defiance we commenced a journey of 50 miles through the forest where there was no road but for a path for man and horse through swamps [and] deep ravines. We would descend 50-75 feet almost perpendicular, the horses sometimes sliding from top to bottom unable to keep a foothold. At the bottom there were mud sloughs and water up to our horses bellies and immediately afterwards we would ascend almost perpendicular, obliged to hold onto the horses’ manes and let our horse keep prone step to step and with the greatest effort reach the top. The first night we put up at a log cabin of two rooms (about half a dozen of which were all the inhabitants there were between Ft Defiance and Ft Wayne—50 miles)


The Ohio and Indiana portions of Fay’s journey.

We had a supper I believe such as never before ate—meat that had been cooked some 8 or 10 times and fish which was not cooked without salt or butter. We were sent to bed under the roof (if roof it might be called) by a flight of stairs outside with no door and the logs so far apart that it appeared more of a cob house than a dwelling, stowed in with corn, oats, boxes, herbs, etc with 4 (what were called) beds. We stayed there till morning during a raging[?] night and had the same provision for breakfast and it was again set before 5 others travelers who came up just as we left.

The next day we passed Fort Wayne, a small little town, and commenced descending the Wabash River on a tow path of the Wabash Canal. That night we put up at a log house and had a splendid entertainment [the word here means “food and lodging”] as good as could be had in Boston. The next night we put up at another log house and fared comfortably. The owner was formerly from Massachusetts.

The next day we came to Logansport, a fine town in Indiana at the junction of the Wabash and Eel Rivers. In the meantime, I saw plenty of Indians and among them the head chief of the Miami Tribe who dresses and appears like a gentleman. He is said to be the richest man in Indiana, supposed to be worth $400,000. There was a collection of 11,000 Indians near Logansport to receive their pensions from government. But a quarrel ensued between them, and the whites and the militia [were] call out and two or three [Indians] killed before order was restored. We saw the troops just returning as we entered Logansport.

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….




Calling All Collectibles and Antiques in Time for Spring Cleaning!


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 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


New Spring Programming!

Dear Friends,

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.




Being Demolished

The Flagg School in 1936. The article lists it as Southborough’s first school, but it was in reality part of a second round of school buildings begun in the 1860s.


Dear Friends,

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!

Happy New Year Everyone!





The Merriest of Merries

Boston Globe Cut-Out   1985      79.19.14      Gift of Priscilla Laird Lincoln

On behalf of the Board of the Southborough Historical Society, we wish you the Merriest of Merries and healthy and prosperous New Year.

Join us next Monday at Heritage Day 2018

A recently re-discovered photo of McMaster’s Centre Store, which stood directly across from the Town House. This is the only known close-up view of the facade. Click to enlarge for a fascinating view of the goods on-hand. The building was sadly demolished by the Fay School for dining hall space.


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.