Sunday, November 2, 2014

Middleborough Town Hall under Snow, 1920s

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Conservative Middleborough

Middleborough has always been a conservative town. Its ban on public swearing in 2012 achieved fairly widespread notoriety, but was not the first action of its kind. One hundred years ago, in a similar act aimed at maintaining a semblance of decorum among its residents, Middleborough police were tasked with ensuring that the slits in women's skirts did not exceed what was considered proper - 15 inches to be exact. At the time, the action attracted the attention of Chicago's The Day Book  which published the following notice on January 19, 1914.

  How high may a slit skirt be slit?
   "Fifteen inches!"
   Such is the decree of those intelligent guardians of propriety, the police. Any longer breach in the skirt is considered a breach of the peace - at least in the puritanical minds of the good people of Middleboro, Mass.
   Chief of Police [Harry] Swift of more-than-moral Middleboro has shown that fifteen inches is the very ultimate maximum of leg that can be decently shown. And so he has turned loose on the streets the "slit-skirt censors" - a detachment of patrolmen armed with two-foot rules instead of clubs.
   But the rule is, in fact, unnecessary, for each censor has so delicate a sense of decency that he can tell at once, and infallibly, by the tingle of shame which passes over him that when he sees it, that a certain slit skirt is revealing a sixteenth of an inch more of limb than the first fifteen inches which alone can be gazed upon with perfect propriety.

It's not quite clear just how far the measure progressed or how long it lasted. The Boston Globe in February 1914 reported that the story had reached as far as the west coast where Chief Swift was the subject of at least one cartoon and news clipping.

The Day Book (Chicago), January 19, 1914, p. 9.
Boston Globe, "Middleboro Fame Reaches the Pacific", February 8, 1914, p. 16.

"See What's Here - A Slit-Skirt Censor" from The Day Book(Chicago), January 19, 1914, p. 9

Representative woman's walking suit from 1913 featuring a decorously-buttoned slitted skirt. Women in Middleborough showing an inappropriate amount of leg were subject to being cited for indecency.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Peirce Academy in Decline, 1876

The following letter, published in the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial in early 1876 was written in response to reports that Peirce Academy, Middleborough's noted college preparatory school located on Center Street where the Post Office now stands, was in decline. With the departure of Professor John Whipple Potter Jenks as the school's principal in 1872 and the establishment of Middleborough High School, enrollment in the once popular academy that had been founded in 1808 fell abruptly. Efforts were undertaken in the 1870s to establish an endowment fund for the school and though these met with some success the school was ultimately discontinued at the conclusion of the 1880 spring term in the face of declining enrollment.

Middleboro', March 31, 1876,

Mr. Editor: - As stated in your last issue, Peirce Academy began its Spring term with but twelve pupils. However, tall oaks from little acorns grow; and this little acorn is already assuming the proportions of a very small oak. This week closes with twenty names upon the roll. The school is equipped and ready to fit students for any college in the land, in the shortest possible time, and in the most thorough manner. Young ladies or gentlemen may find here the best of instruction, in any branch or branches, which they desire to pursue. French and German are taught by a competent instructor, a Frenchman, who was for some time a resident Professor in Germany. Excellent instruction is provided in music, piano or organ, in drawing, water colors, and in oil painting.
Peirce Academy is still alive and expects to be fully up to the times. The helping hand is always welcome.

You may hear from us again at some future time, meanwhile, if you hear of any who desire assistance in ascending the hill of knowledge, tell them that Peirce Academy stands ready to assist.

Yours truly,


Peirce Academy, stereocard, John Shaw, Middleborough, publisher, 1870s.
Peirce Academy is depicted from near the corner of Center Street and Thatcher's Row (which the columned front of the school building faces).

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Lakeville Public Library, 1914

Lakeville Public Library, real photo postcard, 1914.
The library is depicted shortly before its completion.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Who's This Guy?

“Alewife or Branch Herring,” by Sherman F. Denton, chromolithograph. From Fish and Game of the State of New York (Forest, Fish and Game Commission, 1901).

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Star Mill Herring Harvest, 1910

The manner in which herring were harvested from the Nemasket River changed radically over the course of the first half of the twentieth century and witnessed the disappearance of the picturesque scene of men using great hand nets to scoop vast numbers of up-running fish into waiting barrels. The image captured above was taken at the Star Mill by George Morse in 1910. Within a generation, seine nets would be employed to gather as many fish as possible with the harvest being deposited into waiting trucks rather than the crates and barrels seen here.

Image: Herring Harvesting at Muttock, George Morse, photographer, 1910.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Muttock Herring House, Late 19th Century

The taking of herring by the town of Middleborough inevitably required facilities to process and preserve the fish, either through smoking or salting. In time herring or fish-houses were established near the two principal fishing pools at Muttock and the Lower Factory. In these houses fish were smoked and salted, and kept there for distribution to town residents who were eligible for free fish. According to Muttock resident James A. Burgess his father “every year cured and dried 30,000 herring for the people of the town.”

The drying process involved first cleaning the fish by removing the scales and viscera, then pickling the eviscerated fish in brine. The longer the fish were pickled, the longer they could be preserved. Following brining, the fish would be rinsed in cold water and left to dry in a spot out of the sun where preferably there was a breeze. Then, the fish would be hung on sticks which were passed through the fishes’ eye sockets. Frequently, children would be engaged in the task of placing a dozen fish on a stick in preparation for smoking, earning a penny for each completed stick. The sticks would then be suspended in the herring house for curing. The length of curing varied, though generally five days was the rule for those fish intended to be preserved for a long period of time. Fish were smoked until they turned an even bronze color.

In 1807, Maria Eliza Rundell, in her A New System of Domestic Cookery, an early American cookbook, outlined the method for smoking herring.

Clean, and lay them in salt and a little saltpeter one night, then hang them on a stick, through the eyes, in a row. Have ready an old cask, on which put some sawdust, and in the midst of it a heater red-hot; fix the stick over the smoke, and let them remain 24 hours.

Alternatively, the fish could be salted, a process that consumed enormous quantities of salt. During 1857, the large fishery on Martha’s Vineyard utilized so much of the article processing herring for the southern market that “about all the salt on the Vineyard is used up”. In 1883, the Town of Middleborough paid grocer Matthew H. Cushing the then large sum of $44.10 for salt with which to preserve its catch that year (over three cents per hundred fish).

The Muttock herring house where herring were preserved was located on the right bank of the river where the parking lot for Oliver Mill Park is now located, and rent was paid annually to the Sproat family which owned the property wheron the house stood. Three dollars was the sum set by the Sproat family, an amount paid for a number of years by the town as “rent of land for fish house.” In 1889, the Town of Middleborough paid Henry H. Sproat $6.00 for two years’ rental but following her husband’s death, Katharine A. Sproat seems to have raised the rental price considerably. By 1897, the town was paying Mrs. Sproat $10 annually for the privilege of using her land. Additionally, the town was responsible for the upkeep of the herring house, and in 1876 it made repairs to the building.

There is little history of the final demise of the Muttock herring house. It was stated to have been destroyed by fire, and the fact that no rental payments were made by the town to the Sproat heirs following 1901 indicates that the building was likely destroyed about this time, a period when the entire Muttock site was falling into general disuse as a fishing pool.

Image: Nemasket River at Muttock showing the herring house where fish were processed on the right. Remains of the dam which are still extant today can be seen at the left.