Monday, August 31, 2009

Cranberry

The following poem entitled
"Cranberry" was originally published in the mid-19th century, and reflects a time when commercial cranberrying was in its infancy. As hinted at in the poem, children were involved in harvesting the berry and some local schools like that at South Middleborough were closed in September in order to free the children to work on the bogs or, as they were known in mid-19th century parlance, "swamps".


In Autumn, when weather is cool,
We'll join in a holiday romp;
Away from the school we will hie,
Away to the Cranberry swamp.

The Strawberry, Raspberry too,
And Blackberry, quickly gone;
The Blueberry cannot endure
When frost and the snow come on.

But Cranberries where they are grown,
Or put into family store,
Care nothing how cold it may be,
And last till the winter is o'er.

They last till the Strawberries spring
All lonely and ripe from the sod,
And berries thus circle the year
With proofs of the goodness of God.

Source:
Poem from untitled newspaper clipping, mid-19th century.

Illustration:
"Cranberry Harvest on Nantucket, MA", Rene S., photographer. October 6, 2007. Republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

"Womens' Work" in the Straw Industry

One of the few comments upon nineteenth century female labor history in Middleborough concerns the lot of women in the Bay State Straw Works, the firm which was located on Courtland Street and was once the world’s largest manufacturer of straw hats and bonnets. Of their work there, it was written of the firm’s female operatives: “The work was easy and pleasant; the girls’ tongues flew as fast as their fingers, and they said of their work, ‘It is just like going to a party.’”

There are reasons to doubt, however, the characterization that work in Middleborough’s straw industry for women always was either “easy” or “pleasant” as some have maintained.

Like other industries elsewhere, straw manufacturing (which was conducted in Middleborough between 1835 and 1896) relied heavily upon the labor of unskilled and semi-skilled female workers, and due to the extent of its business, the Bay State Straw Works was obliged to seek this labor both within and outside the community. In 1854-55, Pickens Brothers which operated as the predecessor firm to the Bay State Straw Works employed 150 females and but 8 men.

The demand for female employees to plait straw (a process never fully mechanized) would always be very great for the local straw works. In February, 1859, the firm advertised for an additional 100 girls to fill this need.

Though usually successful in engaging female employees both as rural outworkers engaged in their homes plaiting straw for hat and bonnet manufacturing and as sewers and trimmers within the factory, the company’s treatment of its female employees was frequently found wanting and the incentives held out to prospective employees unrealistic. In the summer of 1860, when the straw works (which had then been acquired by Albert Alden and William A. King) was recruiting female workers in Plymouth, the following missive was received by the Plymouth Rock. It was signed, “One of the Girls.”

We notice in the Old Colony Memorial a reference to these works. We hope that if Mr. Alden is a man possessing of so many good qualities, he will instruct his agent here, not to encourage girls to work for them by holding out inducements which cannot be realized by the most active, also to pay the Plymouth girls the same wages as the Maine girls for the same work unless engaged as overseers.

Clearly, there was feeling among at least a portion of the straw works’ workforce that they were being taken advantage of, if not directly by its owners, then certainly by their representatives.

As Middleborough’s straw manufacturing business expanded rapidly, particularly during the post-bellum period, the numbers of female operatives employed skyrocketed. At the start of the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the Bay State Straw Works was producing half a million hats and bonnets annually, or over 1,300 a day. To produce these goods, the plant employed nearly two hundred and seventy operatives, divided equally between men and young women, as well as some 1,200 women and girls as outworkers “who are engaged sewing hats and bonnets at their homes,” the company’s braid cart delivering straw to these women and collecting straw braid in return.

Straw manufacturing was always one of Middleborough’s most productive industries, the community in 1855 producing some $415,000 in hats and bonnets, $15,000 more than the local boot and shoe industry, a business which eventually would surpass straw manufacturing only following the Civil War. The role of the Bay State Straw Works’ female employees was, therefore, not inconsequential, as they provided the labor which promoted the industry’s success.

Like other industries, straw manufacturing preferred the use of female help wherever possible, largely due to the wage differential between men and women, as well as the presumed greater docility of female workers, though this latter view carried little import at this stage in Middleborough as labor remained disorganized and would remain so for some time. Men, however, were engaged by the straw works for the physically more demanding tasks at the manufactory, working as bleachers, dyers, blockers, printers, packers, teamsters, machinists, carpenters and firemen, among other occupations, and as the firm’s business increased, so too did the number of men on the payroll to support these functions.

The treatment of its female operatives would be a frequent source of potential conflict for the Bay State Straw Works, as it frequently was for other employers. In February, 1876, female employees’ wages were docked twenty-five percent, prompting sympathy from at least one journalist who opined that the reduction was “a heavy cut when they didn’t get too much before.” In December, 1885, shortly before Christmas, wages of sewing machine girls were similarly docked.

Nonetheless, women of talent were recognized by the firm and promoted to positions of authority as overseers and forewomen, supervising other women in areas such as the trimming department.

There were few alternatives for industrial employment for local women at the time, outside of the straw works with the exception of the Nemasket Cotton Mill and the Star Mill which manufactured woolen cloth. (Only later as the shoe industry became increasingly mechanized, would it attract large numbers of women workers, and the heavy nature of Middleborough’s other large industry at the time, shovel manufacturing, precluded the hiring of women). Arguably, employment in the Bay State Straw Works for women was assuredly safer than either of the two cloth mills as the straw hat making process was still carried on largely by hand. Yet this is not to say that it was immensely more enjoyable, and women in all three manufacturing establishments shared common concerns and had similar complaints.

While characterization of employment during the latter half of the nineteenth century for women in the local straw industry as “a party” is highly suspect, unquestionable was the role of these women, many whose names have long been forgotten, in helping build and sustain one of Middleborough’s historically most important industries.

Illustrations:
Female Operatives, Bay State Straw Works, Courtland Street, Middleborough, photograph, late 19th century.
Local women were largely responsible for the success of this firm, once the largest straw hat and bonnet maker in the world. And while their lot at the factory was undoubtedly better than their sisters who were engaged in the cotton and woolen mills in town, it can not be considered to have been either “pleasant” or “easy” as some have maintained.
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Bay State Straw Works, Courtland Street, Middleborough, photograph, c. 1900
The former Bay State Straw Works on Courtland Street is viewed from Oak Street. Under the ownership of Albert Alden, the firm became the largest straw manufacturer in the world following the Civil War, producing straw hats for an expanding national market. Much of the work was done by women who plaited straw by hand.
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Bay State Straw Works Operatives, photograph, late 19th century.
A number of female operatives of the Bay State Straw Works are joined by their male counterparts at the front of the factory complex on Courtland Street. The fact that nearly all those in the photograph wear some form of straw headwear explains the success of the firm during the post-bellum period. When the demand for straw hats declined precipitously in the 1890s, so too did the fortunes of the firm and its female workers.
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Source:
Published previously in the Middleboro Gazette, "Recollecting Nemasket", January 13, 2005.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Barnum's Circus Visits Middleborough, 1871

On June 7, 1871, Middleborough witnessed what was undoubtedly one of the largest and most unusual spectacles ever seen in the community – the arrival and performance of P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome in town.

The appearance of such a circus in a town like Middleborough created an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation little experienced today.
The advent of a circus or menagerie into a country town creates the greatest excitement among the citizens, and the day becomes a gala one, like unto the fourth of July or other national holidays. Business is suspended during the hours of exhibition, and the inhabitants give themselves up to recreation. People residing in the suburbs pour into the town in vehicles of every shape, while many perform the journey on foot. Unless the village schools grant their pupils a holiday the attendance is very light, as the boys will see the circus even if they play truant and crawl under the canvas so to do. [New York Clipper, "Circuses. The Tenting Season of '71", April 8, 1871].

The cause of such excitement was born in 1871, at Delavan, Wisconsin, when P. T. Barnum with William Cameron Coup and Dan Castello formed “P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome”. Barnum’s was the largest circus yet seen in America, a deliberate objective of the famous showman who wanted the operation to be on an enormous size. "We ought to have a big show. The public expects it, and will appreciate it," Barnum rightfully believed. While in its first year of operation (and when it came to Middleborough), the Barnum circus traveled by wagon, but the following year it would become the first circus to travel by train. Based upon its immediate success and incomparable size, within a few years the Barnum circus was billing itself as “The Greatest Show on Earth”, ultimately merging with James A. Bailey and James L. Hutchinson’s circus in 1881.

The 1871 Barnum circus in Middleborough was highly advertised locally, including in the pages of the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial, seemingly the sole advertisement from the event which has survived:

Coming. P. T. Barnum’s Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome. – This Is the title of a Mammoth Show, which only the prince of showmen, P. T. Barnum, Esq., can organize and effectually keep on its legs. Having been out of the menagerie arena for so long a time, Mr. Barnum has had ample time to select the very best of everything, and his name alone ought to be sufficient guarantee that the exhibition he manages is first-class. In the course of a few days the “advance guard” of this monster exhibition, will arrive in town, to make arrangements for performing here. This grand traveling Museum and Circus combined, consists of seventy-five wagons; two hundred horses; one hundred and seventy-five people. Three mammoth tents, each larger than those used by any circus company, are required o accommodate this monster show. All to be seen for ONE price of admission. With all the energy and unlimited means possessed by Mr. Barnum, it required three years to organize this monster show – which will exhibit during the Spring and Summer throughout the Eastern and Middle States.
At Middleboro’, June 7th. At Plymouth, June 8th.
[Old Colony Memorial, "Coming. P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome", May 18, 1871, p.2]

The atmosphere of feverish activity among the circus folk and intense anticipation on that of Middleborough and Lakeville residents was almost as entertaining as the show itself as residents gathered to watch the carefully orchestrated preparations carried out by the circus crew. It’s not recorded where the Barnum circus established its temporary home in Middleborough. While the site of a large field near Depot Grove at Everett Square was used by later circuses, Barnum’s may have, in fact, such up operations in the large fields on the south side of South Main Street near present-day Mayflower Avenue. Wherever the grounds were, the circus was no doubt met with enormous crowds as its wagon train paraded through town, and numerous spectators gathered to watch the raising of the three enormous tents with their towering poles, bewildering network of guy wires and acres of canvas. The entire arrival and set-up process was well characterized in an article published at the time in the New York Clipper:

When the day of exhibition arrives, for all the work above named has been accomplished some ten days or more in advance, the show starts at an early hour in the morning, in a procession, with the wagons arranged in the proper order; those that are first required, leading the van. The most rigorous discipline is here maintained, as every wagon must come upon the ground in precise order, place and time, so that there may be no confusion or delay. On arriving at the outskirts of the village, a halt is made, the wagons containing the tent, poles and other necessary apparatus proceed to the lot where the exhibition is to take place, and the remaining wagons are prepared for the grand procession or street parade; the glittering costumes are donned, the banners unfurled, the musicians are ready with their instruments in the chariot, and when all is prepared the procession moves through the principal streets to the place of exhibition and is there disbanded. The tent is so quickly raised that it almost seems like magic, but it is simply the result of perfect discipline. Under the direction of the boss canvas man, every man takes his assigned position; he has but little to do, but that must be perfectly done and at the proper moment. After the grounds are prepared for the coming exhibition, all hands partake of the noontide meal. Then comes the afternoon performance, at the close of which supper follows and an hour or two of rest. Then the evening exhibition takes place, and the moment it is over work again commences. The tents are struck, and every thing loaded into its proper wagon. The performers and workmen then partake of what is called breakfast, and the entire show starts upon its journey to the next town, traveling all night, a journey sometimes of thirty or forty miles, while, on the next and succeeding days, the same routine is gone through for a period of about twenty-eight weeks. Sunday is a day of rest, the route being generally so arranged that no travel is necessary until near midnight of that day. Upon the arrival in each town an attache, called the "layer out," assigns the rooms in the hotels to the various performers and employees. The treasurer, besides selling tickets and counting his receipts, pays the orders upon the treasury, which the agents in advance have left in payment of bills. [New York Clipper, op cit.]

The 1871 circus was highly anticipated, and given the scope of Barnum’s, the event was eagerly greeted by curious residents waiting to see the marvels on display. The name of Barnum’s circus, though long-winded, was indicative of exactly what visitors could be expected to see. The “museum” occupied one tent and was the fore-runner of the modern side show with physical curiosities such as little people, and the bearded lady. The “menagerie” featured a long list of animals, both strange and wonderful, while the “hippodrome” housed the main circus acts such as bareback riders and trapeze acts. Not missing a turn, Barnum also billed the “caravan” as part of the act as it assuredly was, the long line of wagon trains passing throughout the countryside a spectacle in and of itself.
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What Middleborough residents enjoyed that day is fairly well documented as the Barnum circus was described in advance of its Middleborough visit in detail in the pages of the New York Clipper on April 8, 1871:

This immense combination, its first appearance on the road, is fully described in all its departments, as follows: Officers - P. T. Barnum, Proprietor; W. C. Coup, Manager; Ed. Buckley, Assistant; Dan Castello, Director of Hippodrome; J. J. Justice, Contracting Agent; W. C. Crum, Editor of Publications; J. N. Genin, Treasurer; J. L. Hutchinson, Barnum's Book Agent; W. B. Harrison, Expositor of Living Curiosities and Superintendent of Museum Department; W. L. Jukes, Automaton Mechanician and Superintendent of Statuary; D. K. Black, Assistant; Mons. Trepalier, Taxidermist; Prof. Allenshaw, Leader of Band; Dr. A. C. Berry, Veterinary Surgeon; Albemarie Wellington, Master of Horse; Joseph Baker, Master of Museum Pavilion; Geo. McDonald, Master of Menagerie; Thomas Marshall, Master of Hippodrome; Prof. Chas. White, Dominant Hero of Wild Beasts, assisted by Abdul Zid, Keri Shishak and Lial Zaldad, from the Zoological Gardens of King Theodorus of Abyssinia (the last three named, descendants from Ishael, assisted in the capture, and superintended the shipment of the great cargo of living wild animals recently imported from Asia and South Africa, and will themselves constitute no inconsiderable feature of the Great Exhibiton. The bareback riders and Equestrienne, embracing many well known in the profession, and many who will make their American debut with this show are: Pauline Hindley, Mrs. Dan Castello, Caroltta La Vinci, Maria Celeste Garnier, the Marion Sister, William Dutton, Master Dan Castello, Geo. North, Alexander Bliss and Chas. Simpson. Gynmasts, Leapers, Tumblers and Acrobats. Messrs. Burnell Runnells and two sons, Hawley and Miacco, English, Smith, Cook, Hastings, Cavendish, Fitzgerald, Don Biovanni, Pennington, Shuleberger, Horace and Vincent - all first class English, French, German and Italian artists, secured by special contract expressly for this establishment by Mr. Barnum's agents in Europe. Clowns. Messrs. Dan Castello, W. Wallett and Julien Forester. Trick Horses.
"Czar,"
"Floating
Island,"
and
"Senator." Ponies. "Tom Thumb," "Commodore Nutt," and "Admiral Dot." Trick Mules. "Artemus" and "Timothy." Number of men employed, 250; number of horses 245; number of wagons, carriages, cages, chariots and dens, 95; cages in Menagerie, Museum, &c., 35. Animals. Elephants, Rhinoceros, Eland, Gnu, Impfooo, Nylghau, White Camels, ten Arabian Camels and Dromedaries, two Asiatic Yaks, Horned Horse, Royal Abyssinian Lions, from the Zoological Gardens of King Theodorus - the largest and most magnificent specimens ever seen in captivity - Bengal Tigers, Gold Spotted Leopard. Among the collection is a beautiful black Leopard, the second ever seen in the United States, and the first one for more than twenty years - Panthers, Pumas, Cougars, Jaguars, pair of Zebras (trained to harness), two Giant Kangaroos, one of them eight feet high; two Black Varks or Abyssinian Wart Hogs, first and only ones ever imported; Egyptian Crocodiles and Alligators, Sea Lions, Walrus, White Polar Bears, Borean Sun Bears, Rocky Mountain Sheep. Anacondas and Boa Constrictors, twenty feet long. Apes, Monkeys, Baboons, and a long list of minor animals, besides endless numbers of birds of the rarest plumage from all parts of the earth, among which are Ostrich and Cassowary of gigantic proportions. In addition to this list of animals, &c., another cargo of rare animals is expected early in May with Malayan Tapirs, Hippopotami, Giraffes, White Elephants, a White Rhinoceros, and many other marvelous animals. This Mammoth Exhibition is composed of three separate and distinct departments, viz.: Museum, Menagerie and Hippodrome; all absolute, legitimate and complete in their several appointments, requiring three colossal tents, and three sets of men, so admirably arranged that a single ticket will secure admission to the three great shows. In the Museum Department, among the numerous curiosities, may be found the following - Admiral Dot, the renowned California dwarf; the French Giant, 8 feet 2 inches high; Miss Annie Leak, the young lady born without arms; the Infant Esau, or Bearded Child, a little girl five years old, and literally covered with hair several inches long; the life sized figures representing the Eucharist or Last Supper; the Automation Trumpeter, a marvel of mechanical skill; . . . automaton life size figures of the Sleeping Beauty, Dying Zouave, Drummer, etc.; Museum of Natural History; Curiosities from the Red Sea and the Holy Land; Monkey Violinist; Siamese Twins and Automaton Musicians; Automaton Lady Bell Ringers; a section of bark from the big tree in California; Japanese, Chinese, Esquimaux and Feejee curiosities; the Happy Family and Egyptian Mummy, 3,000 years old; Mechanical Singing Birds; . . . life sized figures of King William, Von Moltke, Bismark, Prince Charles, Napoleon III and Charles Dickens; "Tinseled Eden of the Fairies" and "Garden of Hesperides;" prize articles of patch-work and darning from Old Brewery Mission; Magic Looking Glasses; jaw bones and teeth of an Arctic whale, etc.; Digger Indians from the Yosemite Valley, California, besides many other curiosities not mentioned above. The wagons, carriages, cages, chariots and dens, which have been made on this side of the Atlantic, are all new, of the most exquisite workmanship and finish, no two being of the same color or design, while the massive and gorgeously decorated telescopic golden chariots, forty feet high, made in the city of London, Eng., will also appear in the street pageant. There will also be presented, for the first time, to public gaze on this continent, six royal chariots, mounted by golden Elephants, Lions and Tigers, with transparent crystal dens, in which will be seen monstrous reptile 20 feet long, handled and performed during the procession by the great snake charmer from South Africa. Abdul Zanid, presenting one of the most startling and sensational street exhibitions ever witnessed. This triune exhibition opens in Brooklyn for one week, April 10th, remains in the vicinity of New York three weeks, thence eastward the star of empire takes its way. Proprietor of Side Show - George W. Coup, who has engaged John H. and Mary J. Powers, whose combined weight amounts to 1,267 pounds.
[New York Clipper, op cit.]

Admission to the show was fifty cents. There is no record regarding the attendance that day, though it was likely enormous. Later in the month when the circus performed at Boston, demand for admittance was so high that a morning show had to be added. “We are authoritatively informed that the attendance at the first day's exhibition was never less than 5,000, while at the other performances people were turned from the doors, daily and nightly.” [New York Clipper, "Circuses", June 24, 1871, p. 95.]

The event attracted reputable people from many surrounding communities, as well as apparently a less savory element of pickpockets and petty thieves. The Old Colony Memorial reported on June 22, 1871, that “at Barnum’s menagerie at Middleboro’, last week, Seth Miller, Esq., of Wareham, hasd his pocket relieved by light fingers. They obtained thirteen cents. Squire Miller is too old a lawyer to be caught in that trap.” [Old Colony Memorial, "Middleboro'.", June 22, 1871,p. 2].

While other circuses would later perform in Middleborough, none would ever match the size or appeal of the original Barnum circus in 1871.

Illustrations:
Barnum & Bailey circus poster, no date.
While the Barnum & Bailey merger occurred ten years following the Barnum circus' appearance in Middleborough, the "Greatest Show on Earth" title was just a few years off. The size and scope of Barnum's Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome warranted the descriptor which it has since retained. The menacing Bengal tiger on the poster reflects the inclusion of the menagerie in Barnum's early circus, and those seen in Middleborough in 1871 were possibly the first of these animals to be seen by local residents.

Barnum & Bailey poster, late 19th century.
The poster depicts an aging B. T. Barnum and his later partner, James A. Bailey.
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Harper's Weekly, "The Circus Coming Into Town", October 4, 1873, hand-colored engraving.
The cover depicts the crowds and excitement which attended the arrival of the circus in small towns like Middleborough, as well as the outlandish costumes and decorated caravans of the circus itself.
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P. T. Barnum, photograph, c. 1870s
Barnum about the time of his formation of the Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome.
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Trapeze Artists, hand-colored engraving, late 19th century.
The engraving depicts typical trapeze acts as performed by circus acts in the late 19th century.
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Admiral Dot, carte de visite, E. and H. T. Anthony, New York, c. 1872.
Dot (1858-1918) was born Lewis Kahn in San Francisco, California. Discovered by Barnum and renamed Admiral Dot, Kahn became a prominent attraction in Barnum's circus, and was billed as a rival (in height at least) of General Tom Thumb,

Sources and Further Reading:
http://www.circushistory.org/index.htm

Barnum, P. T. Art of Money Getting, or, Golden Rules for Making Money. Originally published 1880. Reprint ed., Bedford, MA: Applewood, 1999.

Barnum, P. T. Struggles and Triumphs, or Forty Years' Recollections of P.T. Barnum. Originally published 1869. Reprint ed., Whitefish, MT: Kessinger, 2003.

Barnum, P. T. The Colossal P.T. Barnum Reader: Nothing Else Like It in the Universe. James W. Cook, editor. Champaign, IL: Univeristy of Illinois Press, 2005.

Barnum, P. T. The Life of P.T. Barnum: Written By Himself. Originally published 1855. Reprint ed., Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

Kunhardt, Philip B., Jr., et al. P.T. Barnum: America's Greatest Showman. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.

New York Clipper, "Circuses. The Tenting Season of '71", April 8, 1871; "Circuses", June 24, 1871, p. 95.

Old Colony Memorial, "Coming. P. T. Barnum's Museum, Menagerie, Caravan and Hippodrome", May 18, 1871, p. 2; "Middleboro'.", June 22, 1871, p. 2.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Caveat Emptor

"A Middleboro woman, who bought a canary at the recent Brockton fair, had a shock the other day after her new acquisition, which didn't sing worth a cent, had finished his bath. The pretty yellow feathers faded when wet, and the 'critter' turned out to be a common brown sparrow."


Source:

Old Colony Memorial, November 10, 1900, p. 3.

Illustration:
"Song Sparrow", courtesy of The Graphics Fairy.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Recollecting Nemasket Featured on The Digital Scholar

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Recollecting Nemasket was recently featured on The Digital Scholar, a website forum designed "to discuss changes in the world of publishing and to help academics, independent scholars, and other thought leaders learn how to take advantage of new outlets for distributing their scholarship". Recognizing the revolutionary changes occurring in the manner in which scholarly information is both published and read, Dr. Anthony Vaver has created The Digital Scholar as a resource for academics, scholars and thought leaders. The goal of the website is to help such authors take control of their work and to help them learn and participate in the world of digital publishing. Recollecting Nemasket is honored to be included among Dr. Vaver's list of websites by digital scholars. Visit The Digital Scholar to learn more.

Monday, August 24, 2009

New History of Middleborough

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On October 26, Arcadia Publishing releases Images of America: Middleborough a new pictorial history of Middleborough which I have written as a project with the Middleborough Historical Association. Featuring over two hundred historic images drawn primarily from the collections of the Association, this new work captures the history of Middleborough through pictures and text, documenting the town's several villages and its growth through the early 1900s.

Copies of Middleborough may be reserved in advance of publication through the Middleborough Historical Association. All proceeds including author royalties are donated for the benefit of the Association's programs and by ordering early, not only do you guarantee yourself a copy, but a percentage of each sale goes to help the Association. To reserve your copy today or to read further details, simply click on and print the form below, complete the information, and mail with your check to the Middleborough Historical Association.

Arcadia Publishing is the leading local history publisher in the United States, with a catalog of more than 5,000 titles in print and hundreds of new titles released every year. Established in 1993, Arcadia has blended a visionary management approach with the innovative application of state-of-the-art technology to create high-quality historical publications in small local niches.

View from Middleborough Town Hall No. 5, c. 1902

. This view from the top of Middleborough Town Hall taken about 1902 depicts, most conspicuously, the Gothic Revival style Central Baptist Church constructed in 1888 to replace the previous church which was destroyed by fire. Behind the church, barely visible, is the white-painted Peirce Academy building with its distinctive cylindrical cupola. Across Union Street, the Church of Our Saviour is seen.

On the north side of Center Street are (from left to right): the Leonard & Barrows Shoe Manufactory, the Briggs building which was shortly to be replaced by the original School Street School, the Otis Briggs House half hidden behind the large tree, the smaller white-colored Weston House, and the Glidden Block. Behind the Glidden block, the roofs of the School Street School and Central Methodist Church are seen above the treeline. East of School Street, also on the north side of Center Street, are the T. W. Pierce Hardware Store (demolished in 1940 for the construction of a First National Store - now Benny's) and Whitman's department store (demolished in 1968 for the Plymouth-Home National Bank - now Sovereign Bank).

Saturday, August 22, 2009

The Decline of Muttock

While most sources, most notably Weston and Romaine, well cover the most significant period of Muttock's history through the 1830s, very little is recorded after that time, nor is Muttock's economic decline during that period considered.

The history of Muttock following the Revolution and the departure of the Olivers is one of irreversible decline. This decline, however, was neither foreseen nor immediate, and expectations were high at the start of the nineteenth century for the further development of Muttock. Previously, Muttock as the site of the Oliver iron works and its associated industries had been the one area "of greater enterprise and more numerous industries than any other in town, far surpassing what is now the business centre at the Four Corners"[Peirce:1022]. However, neither the Washburns nor the Weston and Sproat families which assumed control of the industrial works along the river at Muttock in the final years of the eighteenth century, were willing or able to long sustain the previous level of economic activity. The growth which led to the establishment of Middleborough Four Corners, bypassed Muttock (and led to a similar decline in importance of the Green area of Middleborough, as well), and the growth of Middleborough center only served to highlight the economic malaise into which Muttock was sliding. As commercial and industrial interests were drawn towards the new center of Middleborough which was experiencing a boom in the 1850s and where land near the Four Corners was then selling for the unheard of price of $2,000 an acre, residential development soon followed; Muttock became marginalized, relegated to the status of a peripheral village, devoid of any commercial or industrial activity of any consequence. The works on the river were shut, the stores in the area closed. All that remained to give the area an identity was its history, and the schoolhouse.
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While this process of marginalization was certainly not unique to Muttock (numerous villages throughout Massachusetts would similarly fall victim to rapidly changing economic and demographic circumstances in the nineteenth century), the change - at least for Middleborough - is seen most palpably at Muttock. The awareness of and dissatisfaction with the stalled growth at Muttock is keenly sensed in a series of editorial articles published during the first four months of 1853 in the Namasket Gazette which follow here under the heading "The Namasket Gazette Views Muttock, 1853." The underlying tone of these articles seems to be one of frustration born of unrealized economic expectations as the growth of Middleborough center and its industrial West Side began to eclipse Muttock.

Much of the blame for Muttock's lack of achievement during these years is unjustly pegged onto the Washburn family, particularly Philander Washburn, by these and subsequent articles. Certainly, the Washburn family, as owner of the Muttock water privilege, was better placed than any to nurture economic growth at Muttock, but it seems not to have been interested in doing so. (Washburn gave up his Muttock store and ceased operation of the shovel works to embark on a short-lived political career). Meanwhile, Middleborough Center had more vocal and numerous promoters, including ironically Philander Washburn who played a prominent role in the establishment of the Four Corners as the center of Middleborough through his associations with the Central Congregational Church, the Fall River Railroad, Middleborough High School and Middleborough Town Hall. However, the Washburns were not the only family which abetted the growth of Middleborough Four Corners at the expense of Muttock. Families such as the Wilders and Rounsevilles who resided at or near Muttock but began attending services at the Central rather than First Congregational Church, helped cement the Four Corners' primacy.

Additionally, as the nineteenth century progressed, riparian sites such as that at Muttock, became less important with the general introduction of steam power which freed industrial establishments from their dependence upon hydro-power and allowed them to relocate to sites close to new rail lines, such as the West Side of Middleborough which began to be developed at this time. Only small-scale operations such as a saw mill and grist mill remained at Muttock after 1850.

By the late 1800s, the decline of Muttock had become an accepted fact, symbolized by the failure of the Plymouth & Middleboro Railroad, which was constructed through the heart of Muttock in the latter part of the century, to establish a station in this once-thriving village. Not only was there no perceived need for such a station at Muttock, but it is doubtful whether the establishment of one would have provided any impetus for economic renewal. However, as is often the case, the limitation of economic growth at Muttock was precisely what preserved the historic resources located there today.

The Namasket Gazette Views Muttock, 1853

Shortly following the inauguration of the Namasket Gazette in 1852, readers were introduced to an editorial column pseudonymously written under the name "Town Pump." The column presented editorial views on local issues and in its early columns supported such liberal causes as the beautification of Middleborough village through the planting of trees and support for a public library. One of the first topics, however, which it discussed and which seemingly generated some considerable controversy, was its opinion of Muttock. The initial column, and the fabricated responses which followed it, are reproduced below. Relative to the depiction of Muttock as an area of Middleborough in decline, this was undoubtedly the case. By the 1850s when these articles were written, development had bypassed Muttock in favor of Middleborough Four Corners, which was developing as the new town center, replacing the Green as the town's civic and religious center and Muttock as its industrial center. Despite their heavy sarcasm, these articles made a valid point and they contributed to Muttock becoming, within Middleborough, a symbol for a community without ambition, a view somewhat reflected in both Weston and Romaine's histories of Muttock.

Guide Board and Town Pump.
Namasket Gazette, January 21, 1853

Mr. Editor: - Listener was not alone at the colloquy with the Pump, the other night. I was listening, too, and want to tell your readers what I heard and saw after he left.

"Old neighbor," said the Guide Board, slowly waving his broad arms, as if to command attention, "I think you have done yourself no credit in what you have said of the enterprising and progressive people of this town, - plainly, you talked like an impudent fool. Do you think it becoming for you to stand here and abuse the liberality to which you own your own existence? Think what you have been saying to Mr. Listener! 'Other towns have their hotels, their town halls,' and what not; why don't you know, old wooden head, that an act of incorporation has been obtained, and they have already talked of building a splendid hotel, that should be considerably in advance of the times? How very stupid you are! 'Others have their town halls.' And pray, what have we got? Why, a town house of which we are all justly proud. Has it not lately been improved, without regard to expense, by an addition of two very aristocratic brick chimneys? Town halls, forsooth! Ours only needs a proper quantity of soap and hot water, - a thorough fumigation - and to have the ceiling frescoed to make it the pride of two or three such towns! talk to me of town halls!! - And let me ask you where you find the evidence of a want of enterprise or public spirit, on the part of our citizens?"

The old Pump had stood silent and trembling, and heard it all without daring to reply; but, being directly questioned, answered in a timid, hesitating tone, - "Look at Muttock."

Guide Board.- "And what of that? It is one of the most (if not the very most,) interesting places in the Old Colony. There is on the dam a manufacturing establishment of stone which gives steady, constant employment to a man and boy, for a considerable part of the time! Three new pine slabs have been put into the head of one of the flumes - and all within the past three years, as I have been informed by my brother, who stands on the end of the dam to tell people where not to go. I tell you they are doing all that enterprising men ought to make the most of advantages which nature has given them."

Pump.- "They won't sell to others who would do more."

G. Board. - "Now don't be a clear fool! If you had the first symptom of a refined taste, you would not talk so. These ruins are above all price! Will money buy the ruins of Persepolis? or the
Colesium? or even Plymouth Rock? When you talk to another Listener, try to talk reason. To think what you said about the herrings, too! They are proud to come up to a place like this, and it angers me to hear you talk so. Don't you see the benefits? - twenty-nine cents abated on every tax this year; think of that! poor men feel that - though I confess I don't think much of a man that has got no land. Nothing but an enlightened and genuine public spirit would have fostered this very important interest as it has been."

Again the old crest fallen pump ventured to speak, "compare your roads and bridges with those of other towns - every thing of a public nature is inferior, even the very Guide Boards" - "Hold, there! you infernal, mouldy old one-armed abortion." Here the Guide Board seemed worked up to the highest pitch of passion, - trembling with rage, he was "down" on the poor Pump with as much fury as a Guide Board could possibly manifest - the raps came thick and fast about the head of the Pump right and left - "Take that! and that!! and that!!! old obstinacy - and remember, never let me hear another word from you impeaching the character of our citizens for Public spirit or enterprise." The Pump dropped his arm to his side in the humble submission of conscious guilt, while the Guide Board raised himself "to his full height," as if conscious of duty discharged - while I looked on and received instruction.

TOTHER LISTENER.

Muttock's Reply to "Tother Listener."
Namasket Gazette, January 28, 1853

Mr. Editor - Middleboro' has long felt the necessity of a journal through which to disseminate her news, maintain her rights, and advocate her true interests, and the appearance of the Namasket Gazette could not have been met with otherwise than a hearty welcome from all of her numerous citizens, and that welcome made manifest to you, Mr. Editor, by having the pleasure of registering their names on your subscription book.

Among many interesting articles in your last issue, we noticed in particular, the colloquy between "Guide Board" and "Town Pump" and think they have a just cause for complaint. But "Look at Muttock!" "Guide Board" has not done it justice, for besides those "three new pine slabs put into the head of one of the flumes" there are other improvements, but as "Guide Board" says he obtained his information from his Brother "who stands on the end of the dam to tell people where not to go," we will forgive him, as that brother of his, absented himself from his "post of honor" nearly a year ago, and it is not to be presumed that he knows of one single improvement, of the many, which has been made during his absence. Look at that "manufacturing establishment of stone!" Has not the roof been newly shingled? and all that within a year? And then in the second place - never mind, we will leave the other improvements for a future article.
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"Guide Board" seems to have taken rather a narrow view of Muttock. Let us direct your attention to our new second-handed School House, and ask if it is not an improvement on that little old red building which answered the double purpose of school house and "Guide Post." In addition to our new four hundred dollar school house, we talk of having a Picket Fence to enclose the same. Then our roads are continually growing wider, and a "very beautiful" sidewalk was commenced last autumn and will probably be completed when that "manufacturing establishment" which you have all read about, has been thoroughly repaired. And, Mr. Editor, if you will step down this way next summer, we will show you some Farming on a new and improved principle.

Now "Guide Board," cast no more insinuations this way, for Muttock is bound to sprout, vegetate, and thrive.

MUTTOCK.
Muttock, January 24th, 1853.

Muttock.
Namasket Gazette, February 4, 1853.

MR. EDITOR: I have been listening to the stories these last few eeks, that have been told by Mr. Pump and Listeners, and I do think that Mr. Pump is rather severe. In the first place, Pump had no business down this way, and then when he did come, it was not fair in him to misrepresent our village.

Now 'Tother Listener did not get in all the life of the place, for besides that Stone Shop that employs one man and a boy, there is a stupendous Saw Mill that turns out a great many Slabs, besides those three that have been used to repair the flume, in the course of a year. The mere slabs from this mill, if well cut, and dried, are sufficient to keep a fire to steam all the shovel handles that are used in this place.

Then again we have a grist mill where the Miller means to do justice to every grist. Besides we are looking every day for the Cars, as the road was laid out some few years ago running directly through Muttock Lake. And we have numerous Stores, doing more or less business; but the most of them are doing less. More another time, if Pump is not still.

MUTTOCK BRIDGE.
Muttock, February 2, 1853.

Muttock
Namasket Gazette, February 18, 1853

[MUTTOCK] is indignant; the old forge has turned black with disgust; that "manufacturing establishment of stone" is quite pale with anger; the ever peaceful lake, as if ashamed of its companionship is creeping thro' the many holes in the dam, and, as if joyous for its release, is running with lightning speed towards the ocean, to mingle with its mother waters; that "stupendous saw mill" groans at the insinuations cast upon it by the ungrateful "Bridge," who seems to have forgotten that besides those numerous slabs which are used for steaming shovel handles - to say nothing of those three used in the flume - there are several used yearly for keeping himself in repair. O! ungrateful "Bridge," indeed! What will be his destiny? What in the world does he mean, thus to slander his benefactor! The old Guide Board too, who remained so long at his post, and performed his duty so manfully in directing people where "not to go," is now reclining with an aged and venerable building for its support, with its hand pointed upwards and bearing this inscription: "This is not a public road!" ....

SLAB
Muttock, February 15, 1853

Muttock.
Namasket Gazette, April 8, 1853

I have seen a number of your very interesting papers, and notice in some of the latest ones, several communications purporting to be from Muttock: but I cannot believe any one residing within its borders would write such infamous articles in relation to a place which has not only kept up, but in some things gone ahead of the rest of the town.

The name of Muttock is dear to me, for with it are associated ancestrial venerations. At the sound of its name the emotions of my heart rise uncontrolably: because connected with it were the morning hours of my existence. Dear and beautiful indeed is the place to me. It is there that I can review the scenes of my earliest and purest joys; there on a fertile soil which has been long and abundantly watered by the Namasket can I return in prosperity and adversity and "banquet unsated" on the recollections of youth.

Namasket! here too is a name never to be forgotten by me, for on its moving bosom I have floated for hours; in its waters I have bathed times without number; and on its sunny banks, under the old oak trees I have basked for hours with the loved companions of my boyhood. For then we were unconscious of the busy scenes and burdensome cares of the world; we knew not of the troubles that beset the path of every mature mind. But to us, everything was bright with the light of hope.

I am informed through your paper, that the "old red school house" has been exchanged for another, supposed to be better. I knew that a change had been proposed and when on a visit recently made to my native village, I thought one day to retire in the spot and once more behold the school room of my youthful days - where for many successive years I was placed to acquire useful learning adequate to my after wants. There the building stood on the same spot of ground and looking nearly as it did in the days of my childhood. As I approached its time honored walls, a feeling of reverential admiration came over me. With solemn steps I approached the window in the rear of the seat I last occupied, and there through a broken pane of glass I had a view of the room in which I had thoughtlessly spent so many of those golden hours. At last my eyes caught and rested on the initials of my name which I had thoughtlessly cut in my idleness. Although a long time had elapsed since these scenes were familiar to me, and I had ceased to be a babe and grown to the full stature of a man, as I turned from this interesting interview with old and loved objects, big drops of briney dew would trickle down my cheeks in spite of myself because I thought I might never behold it again as it was in the days of yore. But methinks I could not relinquish my affection for the old one whose timbers have been witnesses to so many pranks of youth and the sharp reproof of the village pedagogue.

A NATIVE.

Illustrations:

Muttock, stereocard, late 19th century
This view reproduced from a stereographic card published in Middleborough in the late 1800s depicts the ruins of the former Oliver and Washburn industrial works at Muttock. As early as the 1840s, the enterprises along the Nemasket River at Muttock had begun to decline, and eventually the area was surpassed as an industrial center by Middleborough Four Corners and the West Side. During the latter half of the 19th century, the works were simply abandoned and allowed to decay. Note the large horizontal beam in the foreground. A beam very similar to this (perhaps this beam itself) was unearthed from the muck at the bottom of the river bed nearly a decade ago and may presently be seen at Oliver Mill Park.

Muttock and Burgess House, stereocard, late 19th century
The continuing decay at Muttock is evident in this view which captures one of the sites several waterwheels. In the background is the house owned by the Sproat family and occupied in the 19th century by the Burgess family. It was last owned by the Gabrey family in the 1960s, at which time it was levelled for the construction of Route 44.

Muttock Ruins, stereocard, late 19th century
Despite the shafts of sunlight in the original photograph and the later age spotting, the wreckage of the Muttock works can clearly be seen in the pile of machinery and timber framing in the left-hand side of the view. The slow process of decay continued for nearly a century until the late 1950s and 1960s when the site was "rediscovered", archaeologically excavated and remade as Oliver Mill Park.
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Sources:
Namsket Gazette, "Guide Board and Town Pump.", January 21, 1853; "Muttock's Reply to 'Tother Listener'", January 28, 1853; "Muttock", February 4, 1853; ibid., February 18, 1853; ibid., April 8, 1853.

Peirce, Ebenezer W. "History of Middleboro" in D. Hamilton Hurd. History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, PA: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884.

Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume II. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1969.

Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1906.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Battis Field

On Saturday, November eighth [1941], the School Committee dedicated the lower football field with appropriate exercises and a football victory over the visiting Dartmouth High School team.

A brief history of the field shows that in response to a request the Board of Selectmen of Middleboro, on September 20, 1939, granted a twenty year permit to the local School Committee to enclose, with the exclusive right and privilege to use, a portion of the premises leased to the town by the Trustees under the will of Thomas S. Peirce.

Construction of the playing surface was started with NYA and student labor under the supervision of Mr. [Henry] Battis. An enclosing fence was made possible by the Trustees of the Peirce estate and all home games were played on the field during the season of 1940.

During the summer of 1941 the field house was moved to the area from the hockey rink and will be developed for the serving of refreshments and the convenience of patrons at the games.
Also during the summer of 1941, with some lumber from the old Union Street School, and some financial help from the Trustees, the bleachers on the west side of the field were constructed by Mr. Battis. A press box has been built above the top row of bleachers for the accommodation of the press and the operation of the public address system in assisting patrons in following the progress of the games.

Future plans call for moving the present gridiron about six yards east and about ten yards toward the Nemasket River. Extensive filling on the visitor's side of the field will make ample room for more bleachers to be constructed later.

When completed Middleboro High School can be proud of one of the finest football fields in our section of Massachusetts, made possible mainly through the effort of one individual, Henry E. Battis.

At the dedication a flag pole and flag were presented by the Kiwanis Club and Mr. Battis was the recipient of a wrist watch from the student body and faculty of the school.

These words of dedication, I believe, express the sentiment of the citizens of our town.

"In appreciation of his devotion to his work with the youth of Middleboro, his efficient and enlarged program of Physical Education, his high standard of true sportsmanship, and his vision and untiring personal effort in planning and building the football field, the School Committee of Middleboro do this day dedicate this field as Battis Field."

Illustration:
Henry E. Battis, 1965
Battis (1907-83) joined the staff of Middleborough High School in 1933 as coach and teacher of physical training, later becoming Director of Athletics and a teacher of industrial arts. Battis retired in September, 1968.
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Source:
"Annual Report of the Superintendent of Schools" in Annual Report of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts, for the Year Ending December 31, 1941. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1942.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Myth of George Danson

Often, it is difficult to determine where myth ends and history begins. One of the most fertile sources of local myth has been King Philip's War (1675-76), partly due to the lack of any comprehensive contemporary sources documenting Middleborough's experience during that conflict. And among the most persistent myths to have emerged from that war has been the legend of George Danson, which has come to be accepted as an historical fact.

The myth of George Danson was given widespread credibility with the 1906 publication of Thomas Weston's redoubtable History of the Town of Middleboro. Weston relates that Danson "was shot by the Indians upon the breaking out of King Philip's war, at the brook which bears his name [in East Middleborough]. He had been urged by John Tomson the night before to go to the garrison, but waited until morning. After starting, he stopped for his horse to drink when he was shot."

Weston seems to have culled this information from Samuel G. Drake's 1865 notated edition of Reverend William Hubbard's The History of the Indian Wars in New England, originally published in 1677. Drake, in turn, took the tradition from an earlier genealogy of the Thompson family which recorded: "The house of John Thomson was burnt by the Indians a certain evening. On the same evening a Mr. Danson, his neighbor, was shot on his horse and killed as he was letting his horse drink at a brook." This information, itself, is said to have been based upon a letter from John Thompson to Governor Winslow of Plymouth written about the time of the original incident in July, 1675.

Though Drake states that he is uncertain whether the Mr. Danson reportedly killed in 1675 is the same person as George Danson, Weston clearly believed them to be one and the same. Weston was untroubled by the fact that George Danson's name appeared on a list of Middleborough proprietors dated June 28, 1677 (nearly two years after Danson's presumed death in July, 1675), and he dismissed this inconsistency simply as carelessness on the part of the clerk who failed to make a timely record of the death.

Yet, there is one piece of information which completely subverts the Danson myth. It is an innocuous notice dated November 25, 1675, which originally was recorded in the Boston town records, and later was reprinted in Incidents of the First and Second Settlements of Worcester (1884) and the genealogical column of the Boston Evening Transcript in 1912. It reads: "George Danson & his wife quakers, haveinge a house burnt at Midleborowe in Plymouth patent lodgeth at John Warrens."

Clearly, George Danson was not killed during that early summer of 1675, and he removed to Boston with his wife following the evacuation of Middleborough, seeking refuge with John Warren. Later Boston records indicate that Danson engaged in trade as a "loaf-bread baker", petitioning with two other bakers for a loosening of the regulations governing the baking trade. Danson also appears in later records, being an early proprietor of Worcester where he became involved in a legal dispute in the mid-1680s over the control of certain property.

Who then, if anyone, was killed at Danson's Brook in July, 1675? Middleborough histories predating Weston, such as E. W. Peirce (1884) and Pratt & Eddy (1867), state uncategorically that the victim was Robert Danson. Pratt & Eddy write that "but one man was killed from Middleboro, in King Philip's War. His name was Robert Danson." Later, Ebenezer W. Peirce in his own History of Middleboro repeats Eddy’s claim. “Middleboro’ is said to have lost only one man, slain in King Philip’s war, and whose name was Robert Dauson [sic]. (Unfortunately, this statement fails to jibe with Hubbard's 1677 assertion that a J. Marks of Middleborough died at the outset of the war of complications resulting from a broken thigh bone, the result of a shot from a Native marksman).

Probably, we will never know the full truth behind the Danson myth. However, as is the case with many myths, the story behind George Danson's legend is equally fascinating and illuminating.

Most revealing is the fact that Danson and his wife were Quakers. At the time, Quakers in Plymouth Colony, and generally throughout New England, were reviled and rabidly persecuted. A 1658 meeting of the Commissioners of the United Colonies (which included Plymouth) labelled the Quakers "an accursed and pernicious sect of heretics," and proposed a range of punishments for various Quaker transgressions, including corporal punishment, imprisonment, branding, banishment and death. Though the laws against Quakers were rarely prosecuted to their full extent, being a Quaker meant almost always being an unwelcome outsider in a hostile Congragationalist-dominated society.

Danson seems to have spent only a short time in Middleborough - no more than two years - though records are scant. At the time he was elderly, describing himself in 1677 as "antient". What brought Danson to Middleborough, and what the reaction of his Congregational neighbors was to this Quaker are not known, but their attitude was probably not a disposing one. In October, 1674, Danson was fined forty shillings by the court at Plymouth for failing to keep the Sabbath, an offense which must have been reported by one of his Middleborough neighbors. Later, despite his age, in 1677 he would be twice whipped at Boston (where he died about 1692) for attending Quaker services.

Quakers never figured in Middleborough history as they did in such other towns as Rochester and Dartmouth. However, the history underlying the myth of George Danson reveals the forgotten presence of Quakers in Middleborough, prompting us not only to question the previously assumed religious homogeneity of the 17th century community of Middleborough, but to confront the community's capacity for religious tolerance, as well.

The folklore generally states that Danson failed to heed his neighbor John Thompson’s urgings to take refuge in the garrison house at what is now Middleborough center. Equally noted is the fact that Danson also remained behind when the Thompsons made the weekly journey to Plymouth on the Sabbath. Given Danson’s Quakerism, it is not surprising that he failed to accompany the Thompsons to Congregational worship at Plymouth and remained behind in Middleborough.

Quakers and Puritans held conflicting world views at the time. While many Quakers saw the hostility of the Natives as a consequence of Puritanical persecution of Quakers and other Dissenters who failed to fall in line with the Puritan orthodoxy, Puritans contrarily regarded Quakers as heretics who provoked the wrath of God Whose punishment came in the form of Native violence.

Seen in such a context, Thompson’s encouragement of Danson to seek shelter in the Middleborough garrison reflects a more realistic world view on the part of Thompson who clearly understood that the coming conflict would be one largely drawn upon racial lines between English and Native, with the English Dansons being regarded as enemies to the Natives despite their Quaker leanings. Further, Thompson’s petitions indicate a compassion and moral responsibility on his part that would not permit him to abandon a neighbor in danger, despite his holding views likely to have been deemed heretical.

Additionally, the Dansons’ adherence to Quakerism also explains their delayed decision to join the remainder of the town at the Middleborough garrison. Quakers, at the time, tended to take a relatively benign view of local Natives, refusing to regard them as threatening or hostile, and in the Quaker world view, the English (or at least the English Quakers) had little to fear from the Native people. Unfortunately, this view was perhaps na├»ve, given the rapid deterioration in relations between the English and the Natives. By 1675, this faith on the part of Danson may have appeared misplaced, seemingly culminating in his son’s death, and leading inevitably to the creation of the Danson myth.


Illustrations:
Burning of Brookfield, Massachusetts, engraving, date unknown.
Both before and particularly after King Philip's War (1675-76), the vast majority of English regarded the Native peoples as savages, depicting them as such in engravings like the one above meant to document the war. Holding a contrary view were Quakers like George Danson who undoubtedly sympathized with the Natives as a fellow persecuted minority.
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Danson's Brook and Thompson Street, Middleborough, photograph, c. 1904
The scene captures Thompson Street looking north from Danson's Brook, the course of which is marked in the foreground by the wooden railings on either side of the roadway. It is reputedly at this spot that Robert Danson was killed by Natives while watering his horse at the start of King Philip's War.

Title Page, A Declaration of the Sad and Great Persecution and Martyrdom of the People of God, Called Quakers, in New-England, for the Worshipping of God, 1661.
Edward Burrough's 1661 work was written as a rebuttal of the Massachusetts General Court's defense of its persecution of Quakers. The pamphlet constitutes a stark expose of the harsh treatment meted out to religious minorities by the Massachusetts Bay Colony up to 1661, with punishments including death.

Sources:
Blake, Francis E. Incidents of the First and Second Settlements of Worcester. Worcester, MA; Franklin P. Rice, 1884.
Celebration of the Two Hundreth Anniversary of the Naming of Worcester, October 14 and 15, 1884. Worcester, MA: City of Worcester, 1885.
Hubbard, William. The History of the Indian Wars in New England. Boston: Samuel G. Drake, 1845.
Peirce, Ebenezer W. "History of Middleboro'" in D. Hamilton Hurd. History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men. Philadelphia, PA: J. W. Lewis & Co., 1884.
Pratt, Stillman B. and Zachariah Eddy. "Middleboro." in The Plymouth County Directory and Historical Register of the Old Colony. Middleborough, MA: Stillman B. Pratt & Co., 1867.
Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleborough, Massachusetts. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1906.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

View from Middleborough Town Hall No. 4, c. 1902

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This view from the top of Middleborough Town Hall clearly shows Union Street in the foreground. In the center is a light-colored frame building with dark trim - the original Union Street School (1875). Throughout its history, the schoolhouse was never held in high public esteem. It was demolished to make way for a replacement (1937), following which lumber from this building is believed to have been used to construct the bleachers at Battis Field. To the right of the school is the French Gothic style Church of Our Saviour (1897) by noted Boston architect Ralph Adams Cram. Above the nave of the church is seen the Leonard & Barrows shoe manufactory (the U-shaped flat-roofed building with water tower and smokestack) which stood on the corner of Center and Pearl Streets and was later occupied by Plymouth Shoe. The most notable feature in the picture, however, is the Forest Street standpipe which interrupts the horizon line at the center of the picture. Constructed in 1884-85 on the highest point of land in the center of town, the standpipe provided a store for the community's water which was pumped from the well at the East Grove Street pumping station. The standpipe was a local landmark until 1915 when it was replaced by the concrete water tower on Barden Hill. At that time, the Forest Street standpipe was disassembled and sold for scrap, reportedly being made into barrels for sugar cane syrup in Puerto Rico.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ted Williams Camp

The Ted Williams Baseball Camp was established in 1958 in Lakeville for boys ages 7 to 17 by the legendary Ted Williams who spent his entire major league career as a player with the Boston Red Sox. Williams, arguably the greatest hitter ever, explained his rationale for founding the camp when he stated "One of the bright spots of my life was the first time I attended a boys camp. A strong body has been one of my greatest assets, and I attribute its beginning to this early camping experience."

The camp offered instruction in baseball daily both to overnight and day campers, and later added basketball to program. Sessions varied in length from two to several weeks and campers' skills were evaluated throughout the period, at the close of which their parents would be provided with a report. Traditional summer camp activities including swimming in Loon Pond as well as canoeing and rowing were also a staple of the program, though the highlight most frequently recalled by campers was the inevitible visit of Williams himself.

The Ted Williams Camp remained in operation at Lakeville through the early 1980s, and in 1986 the property was acquired by the Town of Lakeville.

For recollections and photographs of the camp, visit Ted Williams Camp Alumni and Sons of Sam Horn.

Illustration:
"The Ted Williams Camp, Lakeville, Massachusetts", paper
This small card accompanied the reports which were sent to parents at the conclusion of each camp season. Campers were evaluated "in all major camping areas" by at least six different camp personnel, and were graded on a system from 1 to 5.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

George E. Keith Shoe Factory Fire, 1974

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Undoubtedly, the worst fire in Midddleborough's long history was the fire of mid-December, 1974, which burned for nearly four days, and which consumed three large factory buildings in the process.

The fire began in the early morning hours of Friday, December 13, 1974, in the abandoned George E. Keith shoe factory on Sumner Avenue on Middleborough's West Side. The factory had been constructed in 1905 as a result of efforts by a group of concerned citizens intent upon luring new manufacturing interests to Town. Following the post-World War II decline in New England shoe manufacturing, the Keith factory was utilized as a warehouse by the Plymouth Shoe Company which had purchased the building. Winthrop-Atkins for a time also used a portion of the factory for storage purposes.

Eventually, in 1972, the Town took the property for $24,000 in unpaid taxes with the Middleboro Development and Industrial Corporation taking ultimate ownership. Though the Corporation did see some interest expressed in the building by outside manufacturing concerns, it remained unoccupied. Meanwhile, the factory's windows remained unboarded, leaving it a target for vandalism and, on the night of December 13, arson.

The fire originated in the four-story factory and quickly spread through its 300 foot length. Within minutes, the Keith factory was a raging inferno. Despite the windless night, the fire soon crossed the railroad tracks towards Cambridge Street, prompting a general alarm call which was responded to by every piece of Middleborough equipment, as well as 14 surrounding communities. For miles around, a great orange glow could be seen in the sky.

On Cambridge Street, two factories which stood directly across the railroad from the Keith plant were soon on fire. The old Lobl manufactory (ironically built to replace an earlier factory which had succumbed to fire in July, 1919) which then housed the Middleboro Plating Company was completely engulfed. The neighboring factory, known as the Alberts Shoe Company factory from the firm which had occupied it between 1933 and 1965, in 1974 housed Stav, Inc., a plastics recycling company, and it, too, was soon ablaze.

With all three factories engulfed in flames, the focus of the nearly 200 firefighters present was preventing the conflagration from spreading further. A constant stream of water was kept on the oil tanks of the Standish Oil Company on Cambridge Street, and residences along Cambridge Street were continually hosed down to prevent their catching fire. Residences between Cambridge and Everett Streets were evacuated, as were houses along Lane Street, and the Fourth District Court on North Main Street was opened as a shelter.

Nearly 3.25 million gallons of water were used in quenching the fire, at one point lowering the Barden Hill standpipe to a dangerously low level. Additionally, so much water was drawn from Nevertouch Pond that its level fell some eight inches in the course of Friday morning.
By dawn Friday, the fire had been brought under control, but the process of extinquishing the smoldering rubble would continue for days. Poultry feed at G. D. Poultry on Cambridge Street continued to burn for days, as did the melted plastic from Stav, Inc. Four Cambridge Street businesses - Stav, Inc.; D & A Electroplating; Middleboro Printing Co.; and Middleboro Plating Corp. were completely destroyed, while a fifth - G. D. Poultry - was severely damaged.

In the aftermath of the fire, the Board of Selectmen declared the neighborhood a disaster area, partly in order to make the five businesses destroyed or damaged in the blaze eligible for Small Business Administration loans for rebuilding.
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Illustrations;
"George E. Keith Co. Shoe Factory No. 4 Middleboro, Mass.", Leighton & Valentine, postcard, c. 1910
This postcard depicts the George E. Keith factory on Sumner Avenue in Middleborough sometime in the decade following its construction. At the time the factory was destroyed in December, 1974, a second two-story ell stood between the main four-story block and the railroad line.
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Map of the Burned District, Michael J. Maddigan, 2009
The map shows the extent of the fire. Though the night was windless, the conflagration spread to the east side of the railroad line, destroying an additional two factory buildings. Lane Street as well as the blocks between Cambridge and Everett Streets were evacuated as a precaution.