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….

TO BE CONTINUED….

 

 

An Election Year Message for 2020 from Southborough, 1830

Francis B. Fay while a member of Congress, 1852

Happy New Year, History Friends!

This winter we will be researching and digitizing the unpublished papers of Francis B. Fay in our collection, another SHS first.

This name may be familiar to you as the founder of our library (the second oldest public library in the nation, btw) but the industrious Col. Fay did more than that single good deed. Born at Southborough in 1793, this remarkable self-made man with little formal education was Southborough Postmaster, Colonel of the Militia, a drover, and a successful merchant, roughly in that order. Seeing an opportunity in what was then the entirely undeveloped area of Chelsea, he acquired the ferry rights from Boston, and was one of the earlier settlers of that area. There he founded a bank, became Chelsea’s first mayor, served in both the state legislature and Congress, and late in life became interested in education for women, helping found one of the first modern reform schools in Lancaster as an alternative to prison, all the while keeping an eye on events of his beloved Southborough.

To give some measure of the man, we present a fascinating letter Fay sent to Jubal Harrington of Worcester while still in Southborough. Harrington’s original letter to Fay is not in our collection, but we can get a pretty good sense of what it might have contained thanks to a fascinating piece in the Worcester Telegram and Gazette, detailing a 1850 bombing of Worcester city officials, of which Harrington was later accused:

Harrington was a lawyer, a former Worcester postmaster, a former state representative and a dedicated foe of the prohibition – temperance movement. He also had a newspaper career. He wrote for Liberty of the Press, a strongly anti-temperance sheet, and edited a weekly, The Worcester Republican, for a while. It was a supporter of Andrew Jackson.

During his term as postmaster, he was embroiled in a counterfeiting scheme, and disappeared from Worcester for a few years. Harrington also was opposed to the anti-slavery, Abolitionist movement that was centered in Worcester, where Eli Thayer was organizing the New England Emigrant Aid Society. It enlisted free men to go to the newly opened territory of Kansas and settle it as a free state in opposition to the slaveholders pouring in from the South.”

So given Harrington’s predilections and subsequent actions, it’s pretty safe to assume that Harrington had probably sent a fiery letter to Fay, trying to rally his fellow postmaster to the Jacksonian cause. Here is Fay’s reply:

Southborough January 30th 1830

Dear Sir,

Your esteemed favor the 22nd inst. came safe to hand and contents noticed.

(This is 19th-century speak for “your letter of the 22nd of this month duly received and read; “inst.” is an abbreviation for the Latin instante mense, meaning a date of the current month.)

It may be somewhat difficult for me in a few words to communicate to you my views upon the subject of your letter without being liable to be misunderstood or supposed to be laid under obligations express or implied which were not intended. But as I am at all times ready to give my opinion upon any subject within my comprehension freely and undisguised, I will endeavor to communicate to you my views and feelings upon the subject before us.

First, I am no partisan. I never have, nor do I yet think it my duty to attach myself to any party, religious, political, Masonic, anti-Masonic, so far as to approve measures because they belong to my party. I know no party but the nation, or any policy but national policy which I am bound to support. Thus if I belong to any party that must be named, that name must be American. Again, I am no “Fence Man.” My opinion upon any measure I am free to express. But one virtuous act of a man does not satisfy me that he cannot do wrong; neither does one error induce me to reject him altogether. Upon this principle I believe Adams and Jackson both have many virtues and both some vices, but either [is] qualified to discharge the duties of the office of the President of the United States.

(The election of 1828 had pitted Andrew Jackson against John Quincy Adams—essentially a repeat of the election of 1824, in which no candidate had received a majority of the electoral votes. Therefore the election was decided for Adams by the House of Representatives, according to the 12th Amendment. In 1828, after a bitterly fought rematch, Jackson clearly won the popular and electoral vote, to the disgust of the Federalists.)

The opening page of Fay’s letter to Harrington. This document is marked by Fay as a “copy of the letter sent to Harrington”, and given the numerous scratch-outs and revisions, is probably the first draft, with a far neater version the final product.

In short,  both are “more sinned against than sinner” and I am decidedly opposed to the violent measures frequently adopted to subserve the interests of men rather than the good of the nation. I understand that the remark of the illustrious Jefferson is yet good that “we are all Federalists, all Republicans.”

As an officer of the government (Fay was at the time the Soutborough Postmaster) I consider it my duty to support that government in all its “Republican Measures” tending to the welfare and happiness of the nation. With the policy of the present Administration (so far as I understand it) I am disposed generally (though not interminably) to cooperate.

The message of the President is the best I have seen—and the views and principles therein expressed are my own—with some few exceptions—and so long as the government is administered conformably to the principles there developed, I shall be “Friendly to the present Administration,” but whenever I may have occasion to disapprove any act of this or any other Administration, I reserve the right to express my disapprobation openly and decidedly though at all times respectfully and dispassionately.

I have thus hastily endeavored to give you some idea of my political creed— the polar star of which is: “measures are not men.”

In haste, I am respectfully your obedient servant

Francis B Fay

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all be inspired by Colonel Fay’s advice, and do what’s best for the country regardless of party in this election year?

Who knows—miracles can happen.

Happy New Year Everyone, and please don’t forget to contribute to our annual appeal if you haven’t already.




 

GO VOTE TOMORROW 5/14!

 

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Tomorrow is our Town election. We have four candidates on the ballot for two open Selectman slots. Each has distinct views. Read about them here, and GO VOTE! The election will depend on a handful of ballots, truly! Southborough is at a tipping point in terms of historic preservation,  open space and our quality of life. If you care, lend your voice! YOUR VOTE WILL COUNT!

Our thanks to all four candidates for running, and god bless us all, everyone!

Come Meet Sally Ride, America’s First Woman in Space 3/9

The Southborough Historical Society is excited to bring Sheryl Faye’s performance of “Sally Ride – America’s First Woman Astronaut” to the Museum and Archives on Saturday, March 9 at 2 pm. Sheryl Faye brings a powerful and inspiring message to anyone interested in space exploration and science.

Since 2003, Sheryl Faye has masterfully brought to life important historical women to both children and adults. In her one-woman shows, she immerses the audience in a multimedia learning experience that captivates viewers and sparks their interested to explore more.

This event is especially suitable for children, but people of all ages will enjoy the show! Sally Ride’s story is the second in a series of three performances the SHS is offering this spring.

RESERVATIONS REQUIRED: CLICK HERE

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.

 

The Ghosts of Main Street

As more and more of the Society’s collections come online, we can begin to show you some pretty amazing things. Take for instance this 3-minute trip down Main Street, put together using just a few of the historic photos in our collections.  In this video, I wanted to showcase the losses our Main Street has suffered over the last century. Once a vibrant small-town commercial and residential area, disastrous demolitions and total lack of urban planning has resulted in a broken architectural fabric without cohesion or purpose. It’s not too late though: the planned reconstruction of Main Street, plus thoughtful architectural additions that respect the style and scale of the area, could yet return Main Street to a viable, pedestrian friendly destination—exactly the result an effective historic district could provide. It’s time to get serious about restoring Main Street—not just the roadway—but the useful vibrancy of this important part of our heritage. Who among us wouldn’t benefit from that?

This video, by the way, is meant to be a trial-of-concept for a new book we are contemplating, Lost Southborough, that would show you then-and-now views of many spots around Town. If we can get the project launched this fall and winter, it would be our first new book in 40 years.

In the meantime, enjoy!

 

#2 on the List of Endangered Buildings: Fayville Village Hall


“The idea that you maintain the building, I think the value is not in maintaining the building. If someone could buy it and build something there or even knock it down, then there is more value.”
Selectman Brian Shifrin

Given recent comments like the one above by members of the Board of Selectmen, it’s not surprising that Number 2 on the list of endangered buildings in Southborough is Fayville Village Hall, which voters approved for sale at Town Meeting—after the Board of Selectmen promised that preservation of the structure would be integral to the sale. We’ve written about the distinctive history of this 1911 building before, and it seems pretty clear that the majority of voters in Southborough wish the hall preserved.

Yet after much hard work by the Fayville Hall Disposition Committee that created a Request for Proposal (RFP) which stressed the need for affordable housing in Southborough and the desire to preserve the historic facade of the building, the RFP only received a single bid, for $5000, from a local developer.

How could this be, when the property is assessed for more than $300,000 dollars?

Well, part of it could be the apparent low regard certain members of the BOS seem to have for historic preservation, as witnessed by Mr.  Shifrin’s comment above, and various other BOS quips like: “Well, we received one bid. That’s one more than I thought we would,” which reveal a real disrespect for the hard work the Disposition Committee and many other people have already put into preserving this architectural gem.

Another obvious reason for the bidding failure was the advertising method used—or in this case, not used. A notice was placed in the Central Register as required by the State, but the only other notice was a tiny ad placed in the Metro-west Daily News for 10 days.  Now I ask you. If your were a town looking to sell a valuable piece of property at a profit, increase your affordable housing stock, and preserve an historic structure all at the same time, wouldn’t it behoove you to solicit bids directly from contractors that specialize in just this type of construction? Or at the very least, advertise in publications geared to the contracting trade? A 10-second google search revealed dozens of potential firms that do projects just like this every day, including one right down the Pike in Waltham.

Fortunately, the BOS refused the low-ball $5000 offer, and is planning to send the RFP out again. This time I would urge the BOS to put some real effort into the solicitation process, if for no other reason than maximizing the financial return for us ratepayers.  We need affordable housing in Southborough, the voters have clearly stated we want the Fayville Village Hall preserved, and it’s time to get the next chapter in this remarkable building’s history moving!

 

Editor’s Note: Our Endangered Building List consists of structures that are actively threatened with demolition, demolition by neglect, or by changing patterns of use that would harm their architectural integrity. Buildings are added to the list in the order proposed, and their numeration does not necessarily indicate ranking or perceived  level of threat.

 

Southborough Historical Society Launches List of Endangered Historic Buildings

The barn at 135 Deerfoot Road

In keeping with its renewed mission of actively promoting historic preservation in Southborough, the Society today launches its list of historic structures that are threatened with demolition. Over the course of the next few weeks, we’ll be introducing you to various buildings around town,  explaining the factors that threaten them with destruction, and offering some suggestions for their preservation.

#1 The Barn at 135 Deerfoot Road

Number one on our list of endangered structures is the barn at 135 Deerfoot Road., which Brendon Homes purchased earlier this year as part of a 25-acre agricultural parcel, and then almost immediately applied to demolish. It is currently subject to the Demolition Delay By-law, though these protections will shortly expire. Some of you will remember my criticism of the Board of Selectmen for choosing not to place this agricultural parcel in front of Town Meeting to debate its acquisition and preservation—despite the recommendation to the contrary of every relevant Town committee and commission. And in fact, my comments turned out to be exactly on point. Instead of keeping the land out of development, the former farm will now be carved up into six housing lots,  the 1870s farmhouse will be destroyed, and more traffic and more school-age kids and more demands on our already overtaxed Town services will be a reality.

However, there is still hope for the magnificent barn.

This wonderful 19th century structure is in pristine shape. Made mostly of now-extinct American chestnut, the 3-story wooden barn is sound and almost entirely free of rot or pests.  Best of all, it is largely of mortise and tenon construction, meaning that it is put together with wooden pegs and fitted joints, much like Lincoln logs. This makes buildings like these very easy to disassemble and move—essentially you label the pieces and simply take them down in the reverse order they were put up.

Both the Historical Society and the Historical Commission have urged Brendon Homes to help move and preserve the structure, and there may be a glimmer of light here.  We have been investigating whether or not this magnificent barn might find a new home at Chestnut Hill Farm, where there is a need for  additional educational and meeting space.  What a fantastic act of civic responsibility it would be if Brendon Homes would subsidize the moving and preservation of this structure!


Let’s hope the agricultural gods hear our prayers, because it would be a crime to lose this very rare survivor of Southborough’s agricultural past.

 

Editor’s Note: Our Endangered Building List consists of structures that are actively threatened with demolition, demolition by neglect, or by changing patterns of use that would harm their architectural integrity. Buildings are added to the list in the order proposed, and their numeration does not necessarily indicate ranking or perceived  level of threat.

The International Exposition: Southborough, 1876

Looking around for ideas to help heal the national trauma that was the Civil War, Philadelphia Mayor Morton McMichael floated the idea that the United States Centennial in 1876 be celebrated with an exposition in Philadelphia.  Philadelphia, after all, was the birthplace of American democracy. What better place to showcase the modern nation the United States had become?

Others were not so sure. They doubted the funding could be raised; they worried that other countries might not attend; or that American exhibitions might compare poorly to those of other nations, especially the magical Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851.  Still, the idea gained traction, and with millions of dollars raised, and a 450-acre site set aside for the Exposition, the stage was set for an event the likes of which America had never seen. The undertaking was enormous: over 200 buildings were constructed on the grounds, including the Main Building, seen in the colored engraving above, which enclosed 2.5 acres, making it the largest building in the world.

The arm of the still incomplete Statue of Liberty on display. For 50 cents, visitors could climb to the top of the torch to view the grounds.

Other huge halls were devoted to developments in agriculture, horticulture, and machinery. Individual American states each built typical houses. 16 foreign countries built national pavilions.  There was even a Women’s Hall, which showcased advances in domestic technology.

In today’s video age where almost any image or information bit is available at a key-stoke, it’s hard to appreciate the effect that a fair of this scale had on the  public imagination. This was many Americans first introduction to electricity. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone debuted here. As did the typewriter, Heinz Ketchup, and Hires root beer. In hindsight, there were a few advances that we could have done without, such as the introduction of kudzu to the US as a means of erosion control.

The German armaments manufacturer Krupps’ exhibit

Also present were many arms manufacturers, like Germany’s Krupps, that hinted at the world of mechanized warfare to come. But in general, the effect was dazzling, and marked the entry of the United States onto the modern world stage. Before the 6-month exhibition ended on November 10th, 1876, more than 10 million people had attended, or about a quarter of America’s then population of 40 million.

All fine and good, you may be thinking, but what’s this have to do with Southborough history?

Well, swept up by enthusiasm for the progress their country had achieved, and desirous not to be left out of the excitement, the students of Peter’s High School held an “International Exposition” of their own at the Town Hall on the day before the official Exposition closed in Philadelphia.

Unable to replicate the glories of the fair in exhibits, they instead chose to celebrate the event with song and words, with individual students portraying in verse the themes of the various halls and pavilions, others creating representations or tableaux vivants of the foreign countries that participated at Philadelphia. Tickets were 25 cents, no small amount in those days, and while no documentation exists describing the particulars of the show, it must have been charming, because even across 150 years,  the excitement these students evinced at the dawn of America’s second century  still echoes from this marvelous program—another of our recent discoveries from the basement

Unfortunately the 1970s remodeling of the Town Hall took out the large second floor stage, seating area and third floor balcony used for this celebration, but still it’s pleasant to remember an age when going to the Town Hall might mean something more than attending long public meetings or paying taxes.

If only!

To read more about the remarkable Centennial Exposition, click HERE

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