Thursday, December 31, 2009

Star Mill: History

Central Congregational Church

Chinese Sugar Cane

Roller Polo

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Voting Precincts, 1893

At the Middleborough town meeting in 1891, residents voted to divide the town into two voting precincts under the provisions of Chapter 423 of the Acts of 1890 (the "Election Act of 1890"). The action was taken upon the basis of a petition, presumably by residents of North Middleborough which was created Precinct One, with the remainder of the town, including Middleborough center, becoming Precinct Two. As part of their duties, the registrars of voters were required to interview those seeking registration as voters, a task which necessitated their appearance within each precinct. Apparently, the initial foray to North Middleborough following the creation of Precinct One was fraught with inconvenience. The following year's jaunt, in the depth of winter was no less successful as indicated by this clipping from the Middleboro Gazette believed to date from 1893.

Isn’t it possible that it was a mistake to have divided the town of Middleboro into two voting precincts? It at least appears to have been a mistake to mark the first precinct set off from the main territory number one. Having been set off and a precinct with all its paraphernalia established it soon began to be found that it was not so very convenient or useful as anticipated. On making their visit to precinct number one, the registrars found that they had a wearisome time of it; they could not get a meal of victuals anywhere in the precinct, and one of them, who had left his house without his usual breakfast, was quite ill from long fasting, and could not eat his supper, but was compelled to seek his couch for the night. This year, yesterday, the registrars, in compliance with the law, visited precinct number one again. After their first experience they have since carried their food with them, therefore they were well provided in that matter, but the roads were in bad shape, and travelling difficult. The four men, Nathan King, Charles T. Thatcher, Charles H. Carpenter, and Thomas C. Collins, started out with a stout horse and covered carriage from Otis Briggs’ stable. After crossing the railroad track and getting out on to the less frequented road where no carriages had preceded them, the horse had much hard work to draw his load, and, with frequent stops, made slow progress, until at last, Mr. Carpenter and Mr. Collins decided to relieve him by walking; the roadway was rough, uneven, and decidedly uncomfortable for walking. Mr. Collins pushed on ahead and was making better progress than the horse with his light load. Mr. Carpenter was behind the carriage, making such progress, as he could. It was not long before Mr. Collins was attracted by a shout, and looking back saw Mr. Carpenter needed his help. He returned and found him unable to walk farther alone, being ill. He helped him to the carriage and saw him comfortably fixed, and then trudged along again on foot. At twenty minutes to one o’clock the registrars arrived at their destination, took their seats and rested, got help for Mr. Carpenter, who soon somewhat recovered. After due sojourn, and finding no business to be transacted, they began to discuss ways and means of getting home. A kind resident came to their assistance and procured a two-seated sleigh, and they congratulated themselves over their probable easy journey home. They were all seated and had comfortably adjusted the lap-robes and started out, homeward bound. Not far had they proceed when the sleigh struck a deep cut in the snow, and one side went up while the other side went down, and the inmates went overboard rolling into the snow easily, and there they laid. The driver, Mr. Collins, hung to the reins, the horse behaved well, the capsized registrars recovered their equilibrium without injury, and righted the vehicle, and journeyed on, arriving home safely and glad to get here. So much for precinct number one; a full day for four registrars, a hired team, an expense of ten or fifteen dollars, and not an item of business!

Register & Vote stamp, United States Postal Service, designer V. S. McCloskey, engraver R. M. Bower, Scott catalog number 1249, 1964

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reverend Levi A. Abbott

Reverend Levi A. Abbott served as the pastor of the Central Baptist Church of Middleborough from 1863 through 1868 and "he and his wife were greatly beloved by their parishioners." As a Baptist, Abbott was not surprisingly a vocal advocate of temperance, and he frquently spoke to audiences on the topic. In 1868, he was elected to a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives from Middleborough. Though the results of the voting were contested and some local residents led by William N. Peirce opposed Abbott's election, the Baptist minister was finally seated and named to the house committee on the sale of alcohol. He later relocated to the Midwest where he passed away in 1919. Below is his obituary from the Alton Evening Telegraph of Alton, Illinois.

Rev. Levi A. Abbott, in his ninety-sixth year, entered into his eternal rest this morning at his home, 1608 Henry Street, after an illness of one week. The end came peacefully and members of his family say that while conscious to the last, he did not speak of the approaching change, but that he went out peacefully, quietly, just as he wished it could be. His death was no surprise to his close friends. They had feared that the sickness would prove fatal to the aged gentleman. He had been strong in body and mind for one of so great an age, but it was apparent for some time that he could not survive any serious sickness. His malady was similar to malaria, with fever on alternate days, but his friends thought it was just a wearing out of the old machine that had shown such lasting qualities as to cause all who knew Dr. Abbott to marvel. The funeral will be Sunday afternoon from his late home.

Dr. Abbott was a man who had rendered distinguished and lasting service to his fellow-man. For a man who, in boyhood, had very little chance to live because of a predisposition to tuberculosis, Dr. Abbott demonstrated the value of leading an outdoors life. Born at Beverly, Mass., April 19, 1824, he was left an orphan when a baby, and at the age of 14 left school. He became a member of the Baptist Church at the age of 15, and then he went to sea as cabin boy, and in twelve years he served on the sea, he became captain of his vessel. He educated himself, studying chiefly the Bible. He had been desirous of taking up the ministry from boyhood and he finally managed to get one year in the Worcester Academy. During the times he would be home from voyages he would take up the work of teaching and he was prevailed upon to take up the work of teacher in the school he had left at the age of 14. He was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature after entering the ministry, and he was a member of the celebrated War Legislature in Massachusetts. There he was associated with such men as George R. Hoar, Henry Dawes, N. P. Banks, Henry Wilson, and other men who became great in the country's history.

Dr. Abbott was ordained at Milford, Mass., in 1855, and was later pastor at Weymouth, Mass., and at Middleboro, Mass. After six and one half years at Middleboro, a trouble in his lungs forced him to leave that climate and he became pastor of the church at Rochester, Minn. With horse, gun, fishing tackle, and general open air work, in four years he got himself into better health. Later he served as pastor at LaCrosse, Wis., for seven years and then was called to the First Baptist Church at Alton, where he served for seventeen and one-half years. Then he served as a trustee, treasurer and comptroller of Shurtleff College for eighteen years. For many years he was a member of the Baptist State Board, and it was he who was entrusted with keeping the records of deaths of other Baptist pastors in the state.

One of the most remarkable facts about Dr. Abbott was the perfect preservation of his mental powers and his body. He was a frequent contributor to the Telegraph. He would write poems on patriotic occasions, and his poems at each of his last four or five birthday anniversaries were something for a man of his years to be proud of. He was a deeply religious man, possessed of a temper that made him beloved by all who knew him. It is a fact related by his friends and was admitted by Dr. Abbott, that he probably never uttered a prayer nor preached a sermon omitting some imagery of the sea. He used for his illustrations something about the sea, and he seemed at a loss to find anything that would so well fit into a discourse or a prayer as a figure of speech. He was one of the most ardent supporters of the Telegraph, and held this paper in the highest regard. As an illustration of his feeling for the paper he presented to the Telegraph one day a verse which, he said, he had read eighty years before, when a boy, in a newspaper office in the East. It was given a place of honor in the Telegraph, as he said that he believed it fitted this paper. It runs as follows: "Here shall the press, the people's rights maintain, Unawed by influence, unbribed by gain, And from the Truth our glorious precepts draw, Pledged to Religion, Liberty and Law." Dr. Abbott was one of the most regular visitors at the public library. He read much and he would come down town, even up to a few weeks ago, to get his regular allotment of the latest books. He kept up with every great movement, was conversant on all great questions. Few men are found entertaining, showed so much sprightliness, and such vigor of mind and body as he.

Dr. Abbott leaves his wife, Mrs. Mary Abbott, and three children: Augustus L. Abbott, Grace A. Blair, and Mary L. Epps.

Reverend and Mrs. Levi A. Abbott, photographic halftone, c. 1865

Alton Evening Telegraph, [Alton, Illinois], September 26, 1919

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sacred Heart Church

The following article was published on May 26, 1916, at the time plans for the present Church of the Sacred Heart in Middleborough were being finalized. The church took two years to complete and replaced an earlier woodframe church which stood nearby and which had served local Catholics since 1881. On June 19, 1918, the church was dedicated by Cardinal O'Connell.


Plans are nearing completion and work will soon be started on the new Church of the Sacred Heart, Middleboro, Rev. Timothy A. Curtin, pastor. The new church will face directly on Centre street, at the corner of Oak street, occupying the site of the present rectory, which will be removed to the west side of the present church, the use of which will not be interrupted by the new construction work.

The plans, which are being prepared by the office of the well known architect, Charles R. Greco of Boston, show an imposing structure in the English Gothic style, the whole building to be of Quincy granite with limestone trimmings. The shape of the lot has been utilized to the greatest advantage in the location and design of the church, which has been so placed as to have an unusually generous set-back from the street and well away from the corner of oak street. The chief emphasis of the design has been drawn to the impressive square tower which rises to a height of over 70 feet, at the corner of the main front, towards Oak street. This not only emphasizes the splendid location of this corner, but gives a chance for an entrance through the base of the tower from both streets leaving the centre of the front open for a large traceried window with figures of saints in canopied niches on either side above the central entrance door. This large window is repeated at the other end of the nave, over the main altar, which with the smaller side windows, should make a very impressive interior.

The chapel is located on the west side of the main church and is connected with it in such a manner that both can be used together on special occasions. On either side of the chapel entrance door are the baptistry and a chamber for a small organ [to be used for] small services in the chapel. The large organ is located over the main entrance vestibule of the church in a spacious choir gallery. The sacristies are grouped at the back of the church and chapel in such a manner that the boys' sacristy is easily accessible from the side porch on Oak street, while the priests' sacristy connects directly with a porch on the side of the chapel, toward the re-located rectory.

The main body of the church has a seating capacity of 600 and can be augmented to 800 when the chapel and church are used together, which is made possible by the open arches between, the lower part being filled with open metal work grilles as in mediavial [sic] church work.

The new Church of the Sacred Heart, when completed, should be one of the most impressive and pleasing in the vicinity of Boston, by reason of its fine location, material and design, and, while by no means the largest, forms a worthy successor to the series of churches which have recently been constructed in the diocese.

For more on the history and architecture of Sacred Heart Church, click here to visit their website.

"Sacred Heart Church, Middleboro, Mass." C. T. American Art, postcard, c. 1920.

"An Imposing Edifice", Middleboro Gazette, May 26, 1916, page 1.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Wishing all the readers of Recollecting Nemasket a happy Christmas!

The Fairman Company, Cincinatti, OH, postcard, early 20th century
If Americans replaced their increasingly obsolete carriages and sleighs with sleek automobiles during the early 20th century, why, too, shouldn't Santa have a shiny new roadster? Although seemingly incongruous today, depictions of Santa Claus posed in automobiles of the era were particularly popular at the time, though they became rarer and rarer as the automobile became a ubiquitous part of American culture and sleighs became a nostalgic reminder of the past.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Central Methodist Church in Snow

Christmas, 1877:

Christmas and New Year's have passed without any unusual occurrence. The Methodist Society had a Christmas tree [gift exchange] in their vestry Monday evening, and on Tuesday evening the Congregational Society held their festivities in Town Hall. Both passed off very pleasantly.

On Sunday evening, Dec. 23, a Sunday School Concert was held in the Centre M[ethodist] E[piscopal] Church. The principal feature of the evening consisted of an allegorical representation of the Star in the East, or the birth of Christ. Over eight hundred persons were present at the close of the exercises, and many left before the close, and a large number were unable to gain admission to the audience room. It was, as are all the concerts gotten up by the Superintendent of the school, Mr. F. M. Sherman, a grand success.

School Street Schoolyard and Central Methodist Church in Winter, late 1890s, photograph
The photograph depicts at the left the facade of the original School Street School which was replaced by the present structure in 1907. Across the schoolyard is seen the Central Methodist Church. The church's unique bell tower was replaced in the mid-20th century.

Henry S. Sylvester, Middleboro News, excerpted in "Middleboro'", Old Colony Memorial, January 3, 1878, p. 4.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sledding on Indian Hill

Indian Hill in the rear of the former Star Mill was throughout much of the late 19th and early 20th centuries a noted location for sledding and toboganning in winter, attracting both neighborhood children and adults. Among those who enjoyed the recreation there were Rose Standish Pratt and her sister-in-law Louise Pratt seen here on the right pulling their sled back up the hill about 1913 or 1914. In the second photo, the two women (with Louise Pratt in front) speed down the hill, the delight on their faces evident in the view.

Louise Pratt who was noted for her love of winter sports is said to have owned the first pair of skis in Middleborough which she used on the gentler slopes of Pratt Hill on East Main Street. On several occasions, when winter roads were made impassable by snow, Louise Pratt would make her way from her home at the Pratt Farm to her job at the Middleborough Public Library on snow shoes.

Later, following 1928, the Indian Hill property was owned by the Maddigan family and the rocky pasture continued to be used in winter for sledding by members of the family, including the author who recalls the course as particularly fast and bone-jarring.

Rose Standish Pratt and Louise Pratt (and two unidentified girls), Indian Hill, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1913-14.
Rose Standish Pratt was an avid amateur photographer and it is likely that she brought her camera along on the sledding outing. It is also likely that it is her husband, Ernest S. Pratt, who took the photographs of his wife and sister.

Louise Pratt and Rose Standish Pratt, Indian Hill, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1913-14.
This photograph is unique for capturing the action of the sled down the slope of Indian Hill. A third photograph from the series depicting Louise and Rose Standish Pratt at the crest of the hill was previously posted and may be viewed here).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Snow-Bound Trolley, 1910

A severe winter storm in January, 1910, was responsible for temporarily disrupting the community's everyday activities. Here, a trolley car on the electric line to Onset is seen stalled midway up Barden Hill. At the left is the Caswell House which stands on the corner of Wareham and New Water Streets. A crew of men is busy clearing the tracks. Such crews were accustomed to keeping the street railways passable, but frequently winter storms forced the suspension of service on the electrics, and sometimes worse. In February, 1913, icing of the tracks caused the derailment of one of the Taunton and Buzzards Bay Street Railway Company's trolleys in Middleborough.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Center Street Snow Scene

Piles of plowed snow flanking the sides of Middleborough streets following this weekend's snowstorm call to mind past scenes of Center Street in winter. Here, one amateur photographer nearly three-quarters of a century ago captured the scene on Center Street from a window in the Savings Bank Building. While the number of automobiles is few, several pedestrians make their way along the sidewalk, undeterred from shopping by the heavy snow. Awnings have been unfurled to keep store entrances clear of snow, including those for Walk-Over Shoes, F. W. Woolworth's (in the building now occupied by Reedy's Archery), Stop & Shop, Jessie F. Morse's Rexall pharmacy, W. T. Grant, the First National and Whitman's department store. Those seeking to take a break from shopping could always rest for a moment or have a snack at the Park Cafe next to Woolworth's.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tripp's Holiday Candy

One of Middleborough's holiday traditions for over a hundred years (1864-1966) was Christmas candy from B. F. Tripp's, later known as Tripp's Candy Kitchen. While it competed locally in the candy business with other notable makers such as Pasztor & Klar at Middleborough Center and Lucy Braley's Candy Kitchen at South Middleborough, Tripp's was the longest-lived and the most fondly recalled of Middleborough's candy makers. Noted for its "Molasses Kisses" and "Nemasket Chocolates", Tripp's (which operated a store on Center Street near the Middleborough Savings Bank Building as well as a second shop in Brockton), also produced hand-pulled candy, particularly at Christmas when hard, sugary candy canes and ribbon candy were in great demand. While most people today recall the latter item as the frequently sticky and easily shattered candy from our grandmother's candy dish, with its satin-like gloss and colorful stripes ribbon candy was enormously popular as a gift item. (One indication of this popularity locally is the fact that in the week immediately preceding Christmas 1914, Tripp's sold over half a ton of ribbon candy).

Click on the above photo of the ribbon candy to see how ribbon candy would have been made by Tripp's. (Courtesy Oliver's Candies, Batavia, NY).


"Ribbons", photograph by Yvette Jorgens, republished under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

"Candy Canes", Tripp's Waiting Room, Middleborough, MA, advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, December 19, 1913.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Boston & Middleboro Retail Clothiers

Another winter advertising trade card scene from the Boston & Middleboro Retail Clothiers which operated on South Main Street following 1889. While "Boston" was included in the company's original name in order to add a certain cachet to the apparel which it retailed, it would later be known simply as the Middleboro Clothing Company.

Boston & Middleboro Retail Clothiers, lithographic advertising trade card, c. 1890

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Boston & Middleborough Clothing Company

The Boston & Middleborough Clothing Company, founded in 1889, was the forerunner of the Middleboro Clothing Company. Initially owned and managed by Frederick D. Martin and Thomas Ellis, the Clothing Company operated a store in the American Building on South Main Street near the Four Corners. Like many businesses of the period, the Boston & Middleborough Clothing Company advertised through means of colorful lithographic trade cards, including the seasonal one shown above.

Boston & Middleborough Clothing Co., lithographic advertising trade card, E. P. Best Manufacturing Company, New Haven, CT, c. 1890.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"A Fresh Hold of Life": Skating on Great Quitticus

On January 15, 1860, Daniel Ricketson of New Bedford wrote his good friend Henry David Thoreau at Concord describing the skating he enjoyed on the day following Christmas, 1859, in the company of his sons Arthur and Walton Ricketson. The trio made a long but pleasurable circuit of the Middleborough ponds.

We've been having a good deal of wintry weather for our section of late, and skating by both sexes is a great fashion. On the 26th of last month, Arthur, Walton, and I skated about fifteen miles. We rode out to the south end of Long pond (Aponoquet), and leaving our horse at a farmer's barn, put on our skates, and went nearly in a straight line to the north end of said pond, up to the old herring weir of King Philip, where we were obliged to take off our skates, as the passage to Assawamset was not frozen. We stopped about an hour at the old [Sampson] tavern and had a good solid anti-slavery, and John Brown talk with some travellers....

After this scene we again assumed our skates from the Assawamset shore, near by, and skated down to the end of the East Quitticus pond, the extreme southern end of the ponds; thence crossing to West Quitticus, we skated around it, which with the return from the south end of the former pond to our crossing place, we estimated at something over 15 miles. Taking off our skates we took a path through the woods, and walking about a mile came out in some old fields near our starting point. We put on our skates at 10.30 o'clock A. M., and at 3 P. M. were eating dinner at the old farm-house of William A. Morton, near the south shore of Long Pond.

I, as well as my boys, enjoyed the excursion very much. We saw our favorite pond under entirely new aspects, and visited many nooks that we had never before seen - sometimes under the boughs of the old cedars, draped in long clusters of moss, like bearded veterans, and anon farther out on the bosom of the lake, with broad and refreshing views of wild nature, taking the imagination back to the times of the Indians and early settlers of these parts - shooting by little islands and rocky islets, among them the one called "Lewis Island." which you thought would do for a residence. I got a fresh hold of life that day, and hope to repeat the pleasure before winter closes his reign. I found myself not only not exhausted, as I had expected, but unusually fresh and cheerful on my arrival home about 5 P. M. The boys stood it equally well. So my friend we shall not allow you all the glory of the skating field, but must place our Aponoquet, Assawamset and Quitticas-et, in the skating account with your own beloved Musketaquid [Concord River] exploits....

I expect to be in Boston at the annual meeting of the Mass. A. S. Society, near at hand, and hope to see you there, and if agreeable should like to have you return home with me, when, D. V., we may try our skates on the Middleborough ponds.

We all spoke of you and wished you were with us on our late excursion there.

Currier & Ives, "Early Winter", lithograph, mid-19th century

Daniel Ricketson (1813-98), frontispiece from Daniel Ricketson and His Friends: Letters, Poems, Sketches, Etc. (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1902).

Ricketson, Anna and Walter Ricketson, eds. Daniel Ricketson and His Friends: Letters, Poems, Sketches, Etc. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1902, pp. 101-03

Friday, December 11, 2009

Precinct Church

The following brief history of the Lakeville United Church of Christ, better known historically as the "Precinct Church", is taken from a souvenir program published as part of the church's rededication on June 18, 1972. Originally situated near the intersection of Precinct Street and Rhode Island Road in the Precinct neighborhood of Lakeville, the church was moved in 1970 to its present location at Precinct and Bedford Streets where it was restored to its present appearance. The chapel which was once attached to the church remains at in its original location at Precinct, indicating the site whereon the church once stood.

In the year 1719 of this new and growing country, the Great and General Court of the Province of Massachusetts Bay granted to the inhabitants in the southerly part of Taunton and the westerly part of Middleborough a tract of land on which to erect a meeting-house. This was to be known as a Precinct and would carry on the business of such a Precinct, having all the powers and privileges by law to do so. On August 26, 1719, the Middleborough and Taunton Precinct was properly voted upon and established.

In October of 1719, it was decided that the meeting-house should stand on Thomas Joslen's land, twenty rods east from his fence on the road that leads to Rhode Island. It was voted that every man shall work three days each week towards building the church. Thus started the formation of the first church in Lakeville which was then a part of Middleborough.

In September of 1724, a committee of three was chosen to hire the Reverend Benjamin Ruggles as the first minister; and they voted to 'pay him seventy pounds a year-one-half in money and the other half in such pay as the Precinct could raise. His.ordination was held in November of 1725, and he served the parish for twenty-eight years.

The first meeting-house burned, and a second building was erected in 1759. At this time, the Reverend Caleb Turner was called to be the minister at a salary of sixty-six pounds, thirteen shillings, four pence lawful money as a yearly income. He remained with the Precinct congregation for forty years.

In 1795, there was a segregation problem within the church. Many of the church members owned black slaves who were not allowed in those days to attend worship services with white 'people. The compromise was the Precinct's purchase of the men's and women's pews in the galleries over the stairway for the use of black people. At this time, everyone owned his own pew and paid a rental of from ten to thirty-five shillings.

When it was voted in 1834 to build a new and improved house of worship, it was decided to sell sixty shares at $50.00 each and to auction the pews to the shareholders. The old building was sold at auction and razed, and in 1835 the new meeting-house was built at the same location. This is the same church building we are now rededicating. The Reverend Homer Barrows was called as minister at a salary of $550.00. In those days, each pew was furnished by the owner with stools, carpets and cushions; and 'each pew had a door which was closed and fastened after the family was seated. There is no accurate record of what became of these doors. The pews at each side of the pulpit were known as "free pews" to be used by the poor who could not afford to rent them or by the Indians who dared to venture to church services. During the winter, the meeting-house was heated by two wood stoves in the entry with long pipes extending the length of the sanctuary. Inevitably, these stoves smoked a great deal by the time the services ended at the evening of the sabbath day. There were no offering plates, as only occasionally would a collection be taken for some charity stated by the minister and the Deacons would then pass their hats to each person in the congregation. A pump organ was built in 1830 and was used until 1961. To the side of the 'building was a long carriage shed with stalls for the horses. Most families came long distances by horse and carriage and stayed at the church the entire sabbath day for several services of worship and prayer, classes for the entire family, noon meal and fellowship.

For some years, the Precinct Church was used for Lakeville Town Meetingsand for school graduations because it was the largest meeting place in town. In July of 1923, the 200th Anniversary was observed for which the church was filled to capacity.

In 1930, the Precinct Church voted to join the Rochester and Lakeville Larger Parish with three other churches, thus sharing the ministers and combining religious and social activities. This program continued for eight years; and since then, the parish has continued to offer its members and friends services of worship, a Church School, youth groups and a women's fellowship. In 1954, the Precinct Church was renovated and rededicated under the leadership of the Reverend T. Merton Rymph. Many dignitaries attended the services. In that same year, Hurricane Carol struck the church and destroyed the steeple. This disaster prompted a steeple fund drive; and through many generous contributors, the steeple was replaced in 1960.

In 1875, when the Precinct Church was changing its name to "Lakeville and Taunton Precinct Society", a group of people were dedicating another house of worship called "Union Grove Chapel". This church was built at a cost of $1,600.00. The land was given by Sidney Tucker and his wife Sarah of Middleborough. The building was constructed by men of the neighborhood, and the organ was presented by friends in New Bedford. The first pastor was the Reverend William Leonard who continued to serve the parish until 1881.

In April of 1927, on Easter Sunday, the church became the "Grove Chapel Congregational Church" and entered into fellowship with the Massachusetts Conference of Congregational Churches and was given standing in the Old 'Colony Association of Congregational Churches, as was the Precinct Church. In October of that same year, the bell was moved from the old Bell Schoolhouse to the church where it was consecrated. In 1929, this church also became a member of the Rochester and Lakeville Larger Parish. With the dissolution of the Larger Parish, the church called the Reverend John Hunt as minister in 1939.

For many years, this church was supported by an active Ladies' Group organized in 1919 called the "Comrades Club". These ladies worked to have a kitchen built at the back of the chapel and to have electric lights installed. The group was later known as the "Ladies' Aid".

For a period of about fifty years, the two churches struggled to continue their services of worship with part-time and shared ministers and with diminishing congregations until, on many Sundays there would be 'but four or five worshipers at Grove Chapel and one or two dozen worshipers at the Precinct Church. In the early and mid-1960's, with the inspiration of several church members and with increasingly convenient modes of transportation, the people of the two churches began to realize that they were neighbors and should join together. Then, in May of 1964, some of the "idle talk" became a reality; and meetings were held to discuss a united church. For some time, the results of these discussions led to union services of worship alternating monthly between the two churches. And on March 12, 1965, the two churches united to form the "Lakeville United Church of Christ". The new church was incorporated on June 19. 1966 with its constitution and by-laws being adopted. The new parsonage was built on land given by Mrs. A. Hamilton Gibbs; and nearly five acres of adjoining land were purchased from the City of Taunton as the location for a new church facility.  The Reverend Frederick W. Lyon was called as "pastor and teacher" and began his ministry in February of 1967.

In the past few years, a decision was made to sell Grove Chapel and to use the Precinct Church because of its larger size until a new church could be built. The proposed new facility being too expensive to construct, the congregation decided to move the Precinct Church to its present location for restoration and renovation. This momentous decision could not have become a reality without the determined efforts of the Restoration Committee and the members and friends of the church. We express our deep and lasting appreciation to the members of the Lakeville Church of the Nazarene for permitting us to use their church each week for the past two years.

Following the merger of Grove Chapel and Precinct Church and the decision to restore the Precinct Church building, a restoration committee was formed and they energetically began plans to move the church to a five acre lot on the corner of Precinct and Bedford streets.

Mr. George Church of Rochester was hired for the task of moving the one hundred ton 'building a distance of one and one half miles. Many church members and spectators were gathered at 7:30 A. M. on December 18, 1969 to watch the church begin its journey, but, unfortunately, after moving a mere eight feet, an axle broke on the specially built trailer on which the church was being hauled.

This and many other problems caused postponement of the move until April 13 1970. This second attempt was successful and the trip was completed in four days as planned. From the time the church began moving until it was safely "parked" next to its new foundation, the progress of the seventy-eight foot tall building was the chief topic of conversation in Lakeville.

For those four days, anyone with a few spare minutes would run down to Precinct Street to see how the church was doing. Mothers with babies in strollers, children of all ages, business men on coffee breaks or lunch hours, older folks seated beside the road in lawn chairs-all took advantage of the sunny spring weather to keep track of the move and inform newcomers of the latest happenings. School children from nearby Assawompset School were even allowed to leave their classes and walk to the Town Hall to watch the final leg of the historic journey.

Although residents of Precinct Street had a front row seat to view the proceedings, church members regretted the inconvenience caused them by the move. They had to put up with disrupted power and phone service, having trees and shrubs cut along the street in front of their homes, as well as the general confusion created by the passage of the church building.

The Middleboro Electric Company, who so capably handled the complicated job of removing and replacing the electric wires and poles, made the task of the movers possible and their cooperation was much appreciated.

When the church finally reached its destination, where excavation and grading had been done through the courtesy of Lakeville Sand and Gravel, it was placed on the foundation and the actual restoration work was begun.

The building was replastered, rewired and repainted and new carpeting and cushions were installed. Unusual arched fan like paintings were discovered when the old plaster was removed. Mr. Robert Bradshaw, an artist from Taunton, duplicated these paintings over each window. in the sanctuary. Also, antique chandeliers and side lights were refinished and a reed organ from Grove Chapel was repaired and moved to the church.

The large basement was panelled and carpeted and folding partitions were installed, providing much needed space for Sunday School Classes. A modern kitchen was also included in the basement, which will make it much easier for the women to serve their many suppers.

Also restored was the church bell, which hadn't been used for many years. It was dismantled and repaired and rang for the first time at its new location on Easter Sunday.

Outside work included retaining walls, provided by Brant Haworth; blacktop driveways and parking areas; new lawns; and floodlights which light the belfry each night.

Now the task is completed and the restoration committee members- Abraham Van Lenten, chairman, Mrs. Marguerite Mills, Frank Jenkins, Mansfield Whitney, Donald DeMoranville, Robert Mann, Neil Newton, Richard Williams and Wallace Wilkie-wish to thank all those members and friends who have worked so hard to help with the many tasks which were necessary for the restoration of this church which we are now dedicating.

Today, the struggles and dreams of former ministers and members and friends of this church are being realized. And it is with a real sense of appreciation for the past, of 'satisfaction with the present and of hope for the future that we now rededicate the people and the building to God. We know that this church will be of service to the community and area for many years to come. And we now invite all members and friends of the area to join with us in becoming the Church of Jesus Christ.

Lakeville United Church of Christ ("Precinct Church") (1835), Bedford Street, Lakeville, MA, photographed by Michael J. Maddigan, July 31, 2005
The photograph depicts the church in its current location facing Dickran Diran Square at Bedford and Precinct Streets in Lakeville.

Precinct Church (1835), Precinct Street, Lakeville, MA, photograph, 1916
The church was originally located in the neighborhood known as Precinct at the intersection of Rhode Island Road and Precinct Street. The chapel which was later built on the southwest side of the church is clearly visible in this view.
Precinct Church (1835), Precinct Street, Lakeville, MA, photograph, 1916
In 1970 when the church was moved to its present site, the chapel was left behind. It has since been restored and remains a notable landmark at Precinct.

"Rededication of the Lakeville United Church of Christ", program cover, June 18, 1972

Map Showing the Path Taken by the Precinct Church in 1970, Michael J. Maddigan, 2009

The map shows the route which the Precinct Church travelled during the course of its four-day relocation from Precinct to a site near the Lakeville Town House.

"Rededication of the Lakeville United Church of Christ" program, June 18, 1972

M. H. S. Faculty, June, 1936

Group photographs of the teaching faculty of the local schools were traditionally taken at the close of each school year. Here, the teachers and administrators of Middleborough Memorial High School have gathered in June, 1936, for just such a photograph in the original gymnasium of the high school building on North Main Street, now the Early Childhood Education Center.

Front Row: Ernest E. Thomas (Head History Department), Doris P. Chase (English), Leonard O. Tillson (Sub-Master/Science), Anna C. Erickson (Mathematics), Lindsay J. March (Principal), Mary Brier (French), J[oseph]. Raymond Hyman (Mathematics), Lillian M. O’Neil (Commercial), Herbert L. Wilber (Latin)

Back Row: Bessie M. Veazie (clerk), Chrystal M. Chase (English), Mrs. Alice D. Brawn (Social Studies), Abby Rugg Field (English), Henry Battis (Health Studies/Physical Training/Coach), Mr. Carlton Guild (English), Edwin A. Cox (Social Studies/Vocations), Walter G. Hicks (Head Commercial Department), Roland C. MacGown (Science), Helen M. Merselis (Social Studies), Ruth F. Jenkins (Physical Training/History), Mrs. Sylvia Matheson (Art), Mrs. Esther L. Moore (Commercial)

Faculty, Middleborough Memorial High School, Middleborough, MA, June, 1936

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Levi L. Peirce & 19th Century Mental Illness

Of any historical figure in Middleborough, more consideration has probably been given to Peter H. Peirce than any other save for Peter Oliver and Deborah Sampson. One aspect of Peirce’s history which is largely overlooked, however, is the sad story of his younger son, Levi L. Peirce (1825-54) who suffered from mental illness. Because little is known of Levi Peirce’s circumstances, even George Decas’ authoritative and compelling biography of Peter Peirce - Col. Peter H. Peirce (1788-1861): A Plymouth County Life - barely touches upon the tragedy of his son.

At the time of Levi L. Peirce’s birth, mental illness was much less well understood than at present. Those exhibiting signs of illness were most frequently considered to be in possession of the devil. Treatment consisted of confinement either at home or in public institutions such as almshouses and jails. Frequently, worse treatment was meted out. Not until the 1830s did Massachusetts state law prohibit the housing of the mentally ill with criminals in local jails, and it would take longer still for social convention to stop referring to the residents of mental health institutions as inmates rather than patents. Horace Mann, Dorothea Dix and Samuel Gridley Howe, all better known as advocates of other social causes, were champions during this period of a more humane approach to the caring and treatment of the mentally ill in Massachusetts, but their successes were frequently few and far between.

Virtually nothing is known of Levi Peirce’s illness, what prompted it or when signs of it first became visible. Named for his paternal uncle who was a benefactor of Middleborough's Central Baptist Church and the Peirce Academy, Levi L. Peirce was a student at the same academy from which he graduated in 1843 following which, as noted by Decas, “there is no indication of his occupation….” Apparently he did not attend Brown University as had his older brothers, and it may have been that signs of a serious illness had already manifested themselves. Numerous visits paid to the Peirce home during the mid-1840s by the Peirce family physician, Dr. William R. Wells are on record and some of these calls may have been made to attend Levi. Certainly at some point Wells and another local doctor were called in to assess Levi Peirce, and make the fateful certification regarding his sanity.

Not on record is Peter Peirce’s reaction to his son’s affliction, though undoubtedly it greatly aggrieved him. Also, unquestioned is the fact that Peirce presumably sought the best treatment for his son, though few options were then available. The closest specialized care was available only at the McLean Asylum in Somerville and the Worcester Insane Asylum in central Massachusetts. The Worcester Asylum, a state-operated institution, was notoriously overcrowded, in fact dangerously so, and had acquired a reputation for less than desirable conditions. Also, as a state institution it was enormously burdened and its consequent ability to provide the level of care sought by the Peirce family undoubtedly met with their skepticism. (The Taunton State Hospital for the Insane which was built to alleviate conditions at Worcester, did not open until 1853). Consequently, there was little choice and Peirce was brought to McLean Asylum in Somerville.

It is not readily clear as to how long Peirce remained at McLean, but apparently long enough for Peter Peirce to become disillusioned with its treatment of his son. Ultimately, in 1853 or a few years earlier, Levi Peirce was moved from McLean and brought to the Brattleboro Retreat (originally known as the Vermont Asylum for the Insane) in that Vermont town. What specifically prompted the decision to relocate him to Brattleboro is not known. Certainly however, Colonel Peirce had become familiar with Brattleboro’s high reputation as an institution well regarded for the level of its treatment which differentiated it from other institutions, and with the family’s wealth, money would have proven no object in obtaining a place for their son there.

During the mid-19th century, the Brattleboro Retreat was noted for the humanity of its care and "moral treatment" of patients. Initially founded in 1834 for care of the “insane poor”, the Brattleboro Retreat was one the few institutions in New England catering to the mentally ill, and it was noted for the nature of its treatment, based upon the same Quaker precepts which had led to the establishment of the York Retreat in England in 1798 and the Connecticut Retreat in 1824. “This was a humanistic concept that the mentally ill could be cured by rebuilding self-esteem in a wholesome, regulated environment of parental-like kindness, protection, cultural and social activities, and meaningful work.”

Brattleboro stood diametrically opposed to the inhumane view of mental illness and its treatment then prevalent, and it drew upon the insights of European physicians and social thinkers to develop a dignified method of treatment. “It defined mental illness as physical disease which could be cured in a caring, structured environment which included useful employment, cultural and recreational pursuits, and wholesome nutrition in a simulated family setting, with the physician as ‘father.’”

By the time that Levi Peirce came to Brattleboro, the Retreat had fifteen years of practical operation behind it and had become one of the more popular institutions for treatment, serving both as the state facility for Vermont as well as accepting private patients, such as Peirce, on a fee paying basis. Certainly the Peirce family could well afford the cost associated with the treatment, and for its part, the institution would have welcomed Peirce as a fee-paying patient of some social standing. (Following 1857, the Retreat added a number of suites for patients of “superior social position” suffering from alcoholism, who would take their meals with the head of the institution).

Peirce would have been brought from Somerville to Brattleboro by train which had only reached the Vermont town in 1849 when the Vermont and Massachusetts Railroad constructed its line through that place. Nonetheless, it still would have been a long and tiring journey. Upon arrival, Peirce would have been provided with a private room with bed, a fixed seat, chair, work table and mirror. The room would have been painted white and been provided with a window in contrast to the cell-like accommodations of other institutions. Depending upon the severity of his condition, he would have engaged in some form of occupational therapy perhaps in the garden or attending to duties on the adjacent dairy farm, and he would have been encouraged to attend the lectures, dances and theater sponsored by the Retreat, as well as to partake of daily walks in the open air, activities similar to those he would have enjoyed at Middleborough. By 1853, Peirce would have been one of about 360 patients at the Retreat.

Ultimately, however, Brattleboro could not cure Levi Peirce, though one hopes it eased his final years. He succumbed to his travail at the age of 29 on August 7, 1854, at which time the cause of death was noted somewhat obscurely as “Mania Tranquil”. Nor is it known how greatly a smallpox epidemic at the Retreat in 1853 or a subsequent dysentery outbreak the following year may have affected him and contributed to his decline and ultimate demise.

The impact of Peirce’s situation upon his family, particularly his brothers, may only be guessed, but their failure (with the exception of the oldest Charles and the youngest James) to marry, might be attributable to the circumstances of their unfortunate brother. Mid-19th century thinking greatly feared the hereditary nature of mental illness and Levi’s illness may only have served as a deterrent to matrimony for Peirce family members, some of whom were even at that time characterized as peculiar. Though whether the Peirces saw shades of their brother’s illness in themselves, will never be known.

Peter H. Peirce House, North Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan, August 9, 2006
It was here in the Peirce House that Levi L. Peirce spent the first two-thirds of his life and where, undoubtedly, his illness first manifested itself and was initially diagnosed.

McLean Asylum, Charlestown (now Somerville), MA, engraving, c. 1845

The engraving depicts the McLean Asylum in the mid-1840s, about the time that Levi L. Peirce was admitted as a patient there. The institution relocated to Belmont in 1895 where it operates as McLean Hospital.

Vermont Asylum for the Insane, Brattleboro, VT, engraving, 1854

The "Brattleboro Retreat" was situated in a serene natural setting. The main building, known as the "White House", was designed in a refined Greek Revival architectural style which may have reminded Levi Peirce of the store which his father operated at Middleborough.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Old Colony Railroad Freight House

The following post is from a revised version of A Report on the Old Colony Railroad Freight House (1887) which I prepared for the Washburn Site Reuse Committee in March, 2006, detailing the history of the former Old Colony Railroad Freight House located on Station Street in Middleborough. The freight house is presently owned by the Town of Middleborough. While some may view the Old Colony Freight House as simply an abandoned and decaying building, the structure is an important cultural resource which speaks to the town's as well as the region's transportation past, and it is listed as a contributing resource within the Downtown Middleborough National Register Historic District. The Freight House's architectural significance (as a building designed by noted regional architect Earl E. Rider and as a relatively intact surviving in situ example of a Victorian wood-frame freight house) and historical significance (as a reminder of Middleborough's economic past and the sole extant unaltered structure related to the town's railroading past) prompted the inclusion of the freight house in the Downtown Middleborough National Register Historic District.

At the time that the district nomination was being prepared in 1999, architectural historian and consultant William MacKenzie Woodward commented: “Middleborough’s distinguished industrial and commercial success arose largely through its superior rail connections; this building is all that remains to document that once-vital link.” For these reasons, the boundaries of the district were expanded specifically to incorporate the building within them and the request for proposals which sought to rehabilitate the building and which was issued on May 28, 1999, was written with the view that the “Town would encourage restoration of the Freight House building, if financially feasible. The building should be restored to its original exterior finish as allowed by code. The timber roof trusses would also be restored and incorporated into the interior design.”

The structure still awaits restoration.

Early Railroad Freighting in Middleborough

While Middleborough's early role as an important railroad junction is often recognized, what is not sometimes realized is that three separate railroad companies were responsible for this development: the Fall River Railroad (1846), the Cape Cod Branch Railroad (1848), and the Middleboro & Taunton Railroad (1856). The location at Middleborough center of three individual railroads operating contemporaneously, each with their attendant depots, freight houses, rail lines and subsidiary structures, created a confusing nexus of tracks and buildings, and competing services. The original freight houses for each of these three railroads were located on the west side of the railroad tracks along Vine Street, a not particularly thoughtful situation since nearly all the freight passing through these buildings either originated from or was destined for Middleborough center - on the opposite (east) side of the tracks.

Walling’s 1855 map of Middleborough clearly shows the situation of the Middleborough “Freight Station” located between the Old Colony line and that of the Middleborough and Taunton just southeast of the intersection of Vine and May Streets. In 1859, the inconvenience of this arrangement was eliminated when the railroads' freight buildings were relocated to the east side of the tracks, thereby obviating the need for freight-laden wagons to continually cross the tracks in a ceaseless parade. Middleborough’s early railroad freight situation was also deficient for other reasons, particularly the express freight as described in the pages of the Namasket Gazette in January, 1854.

Mr. Washburn, the carrier of express freight in this village, says a considerable portion of the time, the evening train from Boston, and the one by which the most express freight is expected here, does not make the stop here necessary for delivering parcels from the cars. Consequently, he runs alongside the train, catching such bundles [as] are tossed out to him, dropping them on the ground, and catching more, until the train has arrived at a speed which he can keep pace with no longer, when perhaps half the packages intended for this place are still in the express car. The next morning they may be brought back from Fall River, perhaps.
The conductor of the train accommodates as well as he can: but a sense of the danger he will be in from the approaching steamboat train, impels him to the necessity of driving on.

One positive development during this era, however, was the development of sidings for those enterprises located directly adjacent to the tracks. During the summer of 1863, a side track was constructed to I. H. Harlow & Company’s steam mill located nearly opposite the depot on Vine Street, and the possibility of similar arrangements would continue to attract industrial enterprises to the immediate neighborhood throughout the remainder of the century.

Though initially supported by local business concerns as a welcome incentive for economic growth, the unnecessary and inconvenient duplication of railroad services offered by three competing railroads (and their higgledy-piggledy arrangement at the Middleborough rail yard) was later regarded with dissatisfaction. By 1867, the Middleboro Gazette was advocating the establishment of a union depot to house the three roads under one roof. Though this never materialized, consolidation did come (though perhaps not as expected) as each of the three railroads was absorbed into the Old Colony system, a process completed by 1874.

The 1887 Old Colony Freight House

Under the direction of the Old Colony, proposals for the redevelopment of the entire Middleborough rail yard were implemented in the latter half of the 1880s. A new brick depot was built and opened in July, 1887, and a 50,000 gallon water tank for "outward" trains was erected at the south end of the yard. The grounds were landscaped to create an inviting, park-like atmosphere.

At this time, as well, the existing freight facilities were upgraded and the present freight house between Station and Cambridge Streets was built, being completed in June, 1887, with reminders of the old rail yard being removed. The old freight house dating from the mid-1850s was purchased by Eugene P. LeBaron of Middleborough and dismantled, and its site utilized for the construction of a newer, larger freight facility.

The Old Colony’s new Middleborough freight depot was constructed in 1887 - not 1886 as is usually stated. In its issue of May 5, 1887, the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial reported: "Last Thursday the ground was staked for Middleboro's new freight depot. The building will be 156 x 35 feet with a platform ten feet wide facing the tracks. It will be placed near the site of the present freight house."

The freight house, a long rectangularly-shaped and cavernous building, with a long overhanging eave on its west side (which created a canopy over the freight platform), was designed by Earl E. Rider of Middleborough. Rider was a noted architect for the Old Colony Railroad, who, by 1876, had designed over one hundred depots for that company. In the years between 1876 and construction of the freight depot in 1887, Rider continued to design both passenger and freight depots for the Old Colony, in addition to other projects. The mansard-roofed residence which he built for himself still stands on Elm Street near the Middleborough rail yard.

Victorian Era Railroad Freighting in Middleborough

“In the 1892 issue of the Middleboro Directory, in an interesting survey of the town as it was then, is the statement ‘It is as a railroad center that Middleboro can claim distinction of fortunate and providential location.’ At that time, Middleboro was also a junction for freight from all points.” So wrote Mertie Romaine in her History of the Town of Middleboro of the importance of Middleborough’s freighting business. Clearly, the size of the existing Old Colony
Freight House in contrast to other freight depots of the era is indicative of the level of freighting which occurred at Middleborough Center. In 1904, the freight house was valued for tax purposes at $4,000, a further indication of the building’s substantial nature in handling the bulk of the community’s freight.

Unless a company operated its own rail siding, its freight business passed through the freight house where it would be handled by the freight agent who was responsible for arranging its delivery. While some Middleborough companies such as W. M. Haskins & Company, J. K. & B. Sears & Company, and J. L. Jenney on Vine Street, and the George E. Keith and C. P. Washburn Companies on Cambridge Street were able to construct sidings to accommodate their shipping needs, all others had to make use of the Old Colony Freight House for the shipment and receipt of their goods. Consequently, large quantities of raw wool, leather, straw, cranberries, shoes, straw hats, lumber, boxes, woolen cloth and other materials, manufactured goods and produce continually flowed through the building.

Agricultural goods shipped through the Middleborough freight house included produce ranging from cranberries, to milk, to garden crops and it frequently warranted additional freight cars. In 1888, the Old Colony was compelled to add a so-called “potato train as one of the night freights. It is loaded principally at Middleboro, Portsmouth and Tiverton.” Raw fluid milk was also an increasingly important item shipped through Middleborough. In 1876, Middleborough and Lakeville farmers began "exporting" raw milk to Boston, and by January, 1877, they were shipping 800 quarts daily into the Boston market, sealed in 8 quart cans. During the mid-1880s, the Old Colony Milk Producers Association, successor to the Middleboro and Lakeville Milk Association, oversaw the incipient growth of local dairying and the consequent increase in milk shipments, sending some 38,361 cans of milk to Boston alone for the year ending October 1, 1883. However, by in large the most important agricultural crop shipped on the Old Colony from Middleborough was each autumn’s shipment of cranberries. Bumper crops could effectively tie up freight operations at the depot for weeks.

The expansive residential growth of Middleborough center during this same period further facilitated the freight business as commercial enterprise expanded and consumerism increased. The vast majority of merchandise retailed in Middleborough’s stores was received through the Old Colony Freight House. Just a single firm, that of M. H. Cushing & Co. at Middleborough Four Corners, was stated to handle “two hundred carloads of merchandise” annually, all of which passed through the freight house.

To coordinate the flow of freight through the Middleborough freight house, the Old Colony employed freight agents whose job was to expedite shipments as efficiently as possible. In 1889, two were engaged for Middleborough, Ira M. Thomas who resided on Center Street, and Ezra B. Ellis who lived on Southwick Street. Like many railroad employees at the time, both men lived within a short walk of their place of employment. To further aid with the flow of freight through Middleborough, Michael Cronan of Vine Street was engaged as yard master.

Freighting was particularly heavy during the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th, leading to considerable congestion in the Middleborough rail yard. Aggravating the freight situation was the fact that as an important rail junction, Middleborough had developed as a transfer point where goods from one train were transferred to other trains bound for different destinations, most frequently Cape Cod. “The transfer office … is much doing, as the smaller stations on the Cape ship mixed carloads of cranberries and other stuff which have to be sorted at the transfer station to make carload lots and then hurried to their destination.” While this task was earlier accomplished at the freight house, by the 1890s, a one story transfer station had been erected between the tracks immediately southwest of the 1887 depot to facilitate this process. The freight house remained for the receipt of goods designated for Middleborough as well as the shipment of goods and products originating there.

Railroad freighting through Middleborough remained unhampered by the relatively high fares charged by the Old Colony and its successor, the New York, New Haven & Hartford which leased the Old Colony beginning March 1, 1893. Though freight rates continued to fall during the era, the New Haven’s were among the highest in the region, in contrast to its passenger rates. Whereas the average freight rate per ton-mile for the Boston & Albany was 87 cents and that for the Boston & Maine was $1.04, the New Haven’s was $1.42. Nonetheless, because of the virtual regional monopoly held by the New Haven, freight rates did not deter activity at the freight house which remained constant throughout the era, though with the occasional downturn. In fact, so steady was freight business in the Middleborough rail yard that problems of congestion eventually prompted calls for improvement in the community’s freight facilities during the first years of the new century.

In September, 1906, station agent Elijah A. Small of Middleborough reported the rapid increase in the local freight business and the amount of goods passing through the freight house:

During July the local business jumped 30 per cent, and at present it is about 50 per cent greater than a year ago. The many cars of lumber arriving for new buildings, together with the brick conduits for the underground telephone construction, as well as regular goods, which have also increased, have kept the men on the jump…. With the cranberry shipments now coming on the yard will be still more congested.

The heavy amount of freight passing through both the Middleborough freight house and the transfer station entailed a number of concerns. One was that expansion of freight facilities was not keeping pace with the increase in freight traffic through the yard. “The yard here, it is stated, is becoming outgrown by the increasing volume of business, but nothing definite appears in regard to plans for an improvement in the facilities.” Consequently, the transfer station, particularly, was forced to operate both day and night crews. Plans to remedy this situation which affected the operation of the freight house were not proposed until 1909, and a somewhat more permanent solution which would have more seriously impacted the freight house and which was mooted in 1911 was never implemented. Instead, local residents took it upon themselves to help eliminate deficiencies in local freight service. In June, 1910, Thomas G. Sisson applied for and was granted a license as agent of the Eagle Express Company to charter a private freight car to run daily between Middleborough and Boston. “In this manner the freight from Boston can be handled more expeditiously, as the car would not have to go through the transfer house.”

The freight congestion in the yard also demanded the appointment of a yard master to better coordinate the handling of freight so that “consignees may get better service.” For several years, Middleborough had been without such a yardmaster, and though a request was made for the appointment of one in 1906, the railroad did not act upon it for another year.

Heavy freight traffic, both in terms of transfers and receipts at the Middleborough freight house inevitably led to mis-shipped goods. In late 1905, the Middleborough shoe manufacturing concern of Leonard & Barrows brought legal suit against the New Haven Railroad Company, alleging the loss of a number of bundles of sole leather which were consigned to the railroad for shipment to the firm’s plant at Middleborough. Leonard & Barrows subsequently received a judgment for $523. As late as May, 1907, when Ira Thomas accepted a position in the Tracing Department of the Middleborough freight office, work tracking freight was described as “badly congested.”

Freight congestion on the tracks of the Middleborough yard frequently confined passenger traffic to but two lines passing through the yard, as was the case in 1907 when the Fall River and Plymouth trains were forced to share one line, and later again in 1909 and 1912, a development which had the potential for inconveniencing passengers and disrupting passenger traffic, a most important business for the New Haven. Additionally, conditions among freight handlers were such that in May, 1903 they went on strike, exacerbating the local situation and inconveniencing freight customers. "The strike of the freight handlers of the railroad has been felt by local marketmen and provision dealers, as much meat and perishable material has had to be forwarded by express, instead of freight, thereby entailing a considerable increase in expense. One marketman was taxed $5 for a consignment of meat that arrived by express, Thursday, when ordinarily the bill for its transportation would have been about one-tenth of that sum."

Most seriously of all, however, the ever increasing number of freight trains passing through or idling in the Middleborough yard increased the likelihood of serious accidents. On November 5, 1906, one of the worst freight disasters to have occurred to date on the Middleborough line occurred at the station when an express freight drawn by two engines barreled into the up Cape local freight which was idling in the yard. The first engine, number 610, of the express collided with such force with the rear of the local freight train that the caboose of the latter was forced into and virtually on top of the refrigerator car in front of it which was packed with cranberries.

Following this incident, accidents involving freight trains became more frequent at Middleborough. Delays in moving the down Cape trains from Middleborough which were compelled to utilize the northbound track between Middleborough and Rock may have contributed to a second freight collision when a heavy freight train bound for Provincetown was struck by a small passenger train from Boston near the Middleborough yard in July, 1907. On June 19, 1908, an oil car attached to a freight train caught fire and exploded in the Middleborough yard, while “a coal car attached to an engine bumped a string of cars, demolishing one, and damaging three others badly”, on July 5, 1910.

Additionally, the heaviness of freight trains could cause accidents as well. In October, 1910, the Fairhaven extra freight train was so heavily loaded that it was unable to get up a steep grade on its approach to the Middleborough rail yard.

It became necessary to part it and double it into the yard, the rear section being left on the main line [about a mile south of the station] in charge of a flagman, while the forward end of the train was on its way to the Middleboro yard. While the rear section was on the main line, the light engine came bowling along the rails and smashed into the caboose [of the parked train} before the engineer could slow down…. The engine smashed through the caboose, reducing it to kindling wood and setting it on fire. Two large steel coal cars, just out of the shop at Sagamore, were also derailed and badly twisted…. The rails were somewhat warped because of the intense heat.

Fortunately, there were few injuries in all these accidents.

Freight remained heavy, and despite the spate of accidents and near accidents, it was not until September 14, 1907, that a yard master finally was appointed in the person of William Murphy to help regulate the passage of freight through the Middleborough yard.

The Panic of August, 1907, however, brought with it a downturn in business and a consequent drop in freight traffic, so much so that a number of employees in the freight department were laid off at Middleborough in late January, 1908. Business, continued to remain light through the year, “especially the through western business”, and lay offs continued.

Proposed Changes
During the last years of the 1890s, New Haven Railroad officials had looked towards expanding Middleborough's freight facilities to better facilitate handling in the Middleborough yard. In January and early February, 1900, a survey was conducted in the vicinity of what was known as Depot Grove or Depot Park, the land now occupied by the local V. F. W. Post on the east side of Station Street. At the time the survey was undertaken, it was noted that "the need of a new transfer station has been felt for the past 5 years, the old building on the westerly side of the tracks proving inadequate to this constantly increasing portion of the freight business." Ultimately, the proposed plan called for Station and Courtland Streets to be closed to through traffic with a new street along the railroad's easternmost property line being constructed to connect the two, as well as creating an intersection with the western end of Southwick Street. The land to the west of this new street would be devoted to a new "mammoth" freight yard in the center of which would be located a new freight house. Among townspeople, "there was a sentiment that it would not be advisable to block the railroad company's large plans for making Middleboro one of its most important freight transfer centres in this section."

In 1909, a proposal was mooted for improvements in the Middleborough rail yard, including substantial changes to the freight operation. While the public was drawn most to proposed changes in the alignment of Station Street which would have created a new more direct approach to the passenger station, as well as the proposed aesthetic enhancements to the immediate vicinity of the existing station, important changes were to be made to upgrade the existing freight facilities which pleased local users.

For years, the muddy ground about the freight house had been noted as both an annoyance and an impediment to freighting. “The faults which the present situation presents are too obvious to require discussion: insufficient drainage, resulting in muddy approaches … and difficulties in teaming about the freight house; poor street lighting, [and] a large and unsightly area of vacant land…”

Also problematic was the fact that Middleborough’s transfer business had outgrown the existing transfer station which was located southwest of the depot between the tracks. In 1903, a 103 by 20 foot addition had been constructed onto the easterly end of the transfer station "to accomodate three ordinary sized freight cars on each side" and in April, 1910, the transfer station was again increased in size, although only through means of a temporary expedient. “Two freight cars have been placed at each end and have been planked over to make more platform room to handle that big business.” The arrangement, however, was intended merely as a temporary expedient, as plans for a more permanent solution had been drafted by the New Haven. “The company contemplates the removal of their present freight house to a point nearer the passenger station, and the combination of the transfer and freight facilities. This is especially pleasing to the merchants, as it means not only more prompt freighting, but a more desirable location for hauling.” The transfer station was to be relocated just to the south of the freight house (“to make the handling of freight more expeditious”), replacing the derrick which stood on the site.

Hopes for an improvement in Middleborough’s freight facilities lingered for a number of years, but ultimately nothing ever came of the plan which was apparently killed by the bureaucracy of the New Haven Railroad. In March, 1911, it was reported that “it is understood that the contract for moving the transfer station has been let to a Boston firm”, though the report acknowledged that the work had been expected to have been completed previously.

When the town officials and the railroad company agreed that the plans were O. K. it was thought something soon would transpire, and that the road would have been finished long ago. But when the plans got out of town they were evidently lost. Some months ago, when a town official asked about them he was informed that they were in New Haven, awaiting the approval of some one higher up. Later the same official again asked about them, and he was advised that the contract had been let and that the job had been completed, and the railroad officials were much surprised when the town officer informed them that Middleboreans were still wading through the same puddles and mud banks in wet weather….

One change which was implemented, however, was the replacement of the existing rails between Middleborough and Campello in late November and early December 1910 with heavier steel rails in preparation for the railroad’s plan to run heavier trains over the line during the subsequent summer.


Eventually, railroad freighting entered into a decline during the first decades of the 20th century, a victim of motor transport which was increasingly utilized for regional freighting, given its greater utility and lesser expense. On April 27, 1924, Middleborough ceased to be a terminal station and its change to the status of mainline station had far-reaching consequences. As reported at the time:

The change does away with Middleboro as a terminal, both on freight and passenger trains. It does away with the engine house, transfer house, three yard crews, one freight crew and three passenger crews.... The work of the transfer house is now absorbed by the Plymouth, Brockton and Boston stations, and a traveling switcher from campello cares for the local yard work. Middleboro was one of the large terminals and the five lines merging here made it the logical junction for this section.

Although "the passenger and local freight station conditions are left intact" by the change, the result of the status change was "that the yard, with the exception of a few freight cars for local service, looks as barren as a desert." Editor Lorenzo Wood of the Middleboro Gazette, hinting at the New Haven's increasing notoriety for making what were publicly perceived as bad decisions, was sarcastically critical of the railroad's decision to downgrade the Middleborough station, writing

from all that we are able to learn the New Haven railroad is not making a howling success of its new plan for cutting out the freight and transfer business from Middleboro. The fact is that Middleboro is a natural junction and so situated that it is very difficult to unmake it. Junctions like poets, are born, not made and unless the railroad is able to unhitch cape Cod and fit it on some other spot on the Atlantic coast, middleboro will still be a vantage point worth much consideration.

The concern expressed by Wood was not merely a point of pride. By the New Haven's decision, some 100 plus employees based in Middleborough lost their jobs.

By 1930, local freight traffic had dropped drastically, and in 1935 the New Haven filed for bankruptcy. Between 1934 and 1937, the former Plymouth & Middleboro line operated strictly as a branch line to North Carver to accommodate cranberry growers there, and in 1937 that branch was abandoned along with the line between Middleborough and Myricks.

The Old Colony Freight House, however, itself had been abandoned for freight purposes a number of years earlier. With the decline of freight received through the railroad yard, and mounting financial difficulties for the Old Colony Division of the N. Y., N. H. & H., a decision was made to lease this building. As early as 1932, the C. P. Washburn Company occupied the building, utilizing it for the storage of “lime, cement, pipe & insulation” ancillary to its building supply business. In February, 1940, the railroad formally sold the property to the C. P. Washburn Company which utilized it for the following fifty plus years as part of its building supply business.

No Trespassing Sign, Old Colony Railroad Freight House, Middleborough, MA, photographed by Michael J. Maddigan, May 21, 2006
Old Colony Railroad Freight House, north side, Middleborough, MA, photographed by Michael J. Maddigan, May 21, 2006

Map of the Town of Middleborough, Plymouth County, Mass. (detail). H. F. Walling, 1855.
Walling’s 1855 map of Middleborough clearly shows the original freight station which stood on the west side of the Middleborough rail yard between 1848 and 1859 when a new freight house was raised east of the tracks.

Middleborough, Plymouth County, Mass. (detail). New York: J. B. Beers & Co., 1874.
By 1874 when Beers & Company published a new map of Middleborough (a portion of which is shown above), the Middleborough freight facilities had been relocated to the east side of the tracks to a site near the one presently occupied by the Old Colony Freight House. The rapid growth of Middleborough as a rail center was clearly depicted in the nexus of tracks which formed the Middleborough rail yard, an outcome of the town’s position as an important transfer site.

Middleboro, Mass. 1881. (detail) Framingham, MA: E. H. Bigelow, 1881.
The sole extant visual record of the 1859 freight station which immediately preceded the 1887 Old Colony Freight House appears to be Bigelow’s 1881 pictorial map of Middleborough which shows a relatively small structure. Undoubtedly, the capacity of the building failed to keep pace with the community’s freight requirements. It was sold to Eugene P. LeBaron and replaced with the current structure.

Old Colony Railroad Freight House, Middleborough, MA, photograph c. 1888.
This is the earliest known view of the 1887 Old Colony Freight House taken sometime shortly after its construction. The building was designed by Earl E. Rider of Middleborough, architect for the Old Colony Railroad, as a simple gable-roofed structure with six bays on either side. The freight office was located in the south end of the building with windows facing the rail yard. Access to the freight platform was also from this end of the building. Here a team waits to offload its freight.

Old Colony Railroad Freight House, detail of bracketing under platform eave, photographed by Michael J. Maddigan, May 21, 2006
The extension of the freight house roofline created a covered platform to shelter freight workers during inclement weather. To support the roof fourteen turned posts were used, their design adding a degree of architectural detail lacking from most utilitarian structures of this type.

Middleborough, Massachusetts. 1889. (detail). Boston: O. H. Bailay, 1889.
In 1889, a second pictorial map of Middleborough was published, this time depicting the 1887 Old Colony Freight House just two years after its construction. It was, by far, the largest structure in the vicinity, its size an indication of Middleborough’s importance as a freight center. Today’s structure is little changed from that depicted over a century ago. Clearly visible are the six large bays which opened onto the freight platform.

"Railway Station, Middleboro, Mass." (detail). New York: The Leighton & Valentine Co., c. 1900, lithochrome postcard.
The relative situation of the Old Colony Freight House (the buff-colored building just right of center in this view) to both the Old Colony’s brick passenger depot (seen on the left), as well as the C. P. Washburn Grain Mill (above the boxcar) is clearly depicted in this view taken in the first decade of the 20th century. The earthen area surrounding both the freight house and passenger depot was notoriously muddy in wet weather, making teaming difficult in the area surrounding the freight house.

Railyard, Middleborough, MA, photograph, c. 1900.
This view of the southern portion of the Middleborough railyard clearly depicts the freight congestion that could be experienced there. In the middle distance, above the third boxcar from the left, can be seen the freight transfer station on either side of which are a cluster of freight box cars awaiting handling. Further in the distance, behind the second smokestack from the left, the roof of the 1887 freight house may be glimpsed. The passenger station is recognizable just beyond and to the right of the transfer station.

Plate 26, "Middleboro" (detail) from Atlas of Surveys: Plymouth County and the Town of Cohasset, Norfolk County, Mass. Np: The L. J. Richards Company, 1903.

The 1903 map of Middleborough (with the town-owned Washburn site outlined in red), clearly shows the 1887 Old Colony Freight House. The structure on the present Washburn site on Center Avenue just north of the freight house is the Swift & Company cold storage warehouse. North of Center Avenue on the Washburn site appear the footprints of a long coal shed abutting the tracks and the C. P. Washburn Grain Mill at the intersection of Center and Cambridge Streets. The further development of the Middleborough rail yard since 1874 may be seen by comparing the maps of those two years. The large number of tracks in the Middleborough yard facilitated the sorting of freight.

Freight Train Accident, Middleborough Railyard, Walter L. Beals, photographer, November 5, 1906

Walter L. Beals of Middleborough photographed the results of the November 5, 1906, collision in the Middleborough rail yard, a decided result of the heavy freight congestion the yard witnessed in the early years of the century. Here, the caboose of the first freight train has been pushed into and on top of the refrigerated car in front of it which was filled with cranberries, barrels of which may be seen at the front of the car. Though the photograph depicts what was clearly a devastating accident, it had actually been much worse. Beals photographed the scene only after the New Haven’s wrecker had removed the engine of the second train which had caused the accident.

C. P. Washburn Grain Mill and former Old Colony Freight House, Middleborough, MA, photographic halftone, c. 1970
As early as 1932, the C. P. Washburn Company was making use of the former Old Colony Freight House to house a portion of its building supply business. The Company made minimal changes in the building, sheathing the south end of the structure, and closing off some of the former freight bays.

Architectural Models, Old Colony Freight House, looking from the northeast, southwest and southeast, designed by Michael J. Maddigan
The original appearance of the Old Colony Freight House is shown in these computerized architectural renderings. The building was a simple wood frame six-bay two-story gable-roofed structure. As such, it was typical of similar freight houses designed and constructed throughout the region during the latter half of the 19th century. What made the Middleborough freight house somewhat unique, however, was its large size, designed to accommodate the heavy freight business of the community. Freight would be received from trains which would draw along the freight platform. Freight agents would be responsible for receipt of goods which would be conveyed to their ultimate destination by local teamsters. The depot freight contract was a lucrative proposition for which local teamsters would vie with one another. Goods shipped through the freight house including manufactured goods such as straw hats, woolen cloth, bricks, varnish and shoes; agricultural produce such as milk, cranberries, lumber and potatoes, were also diligently handled by the freight agent and the yard master who was responsible for the organization of freight cars within the yard. The transference of goods between trains was conducted at the transfer station which was located between the tracks just southwest of the passenger depot.


Archival Sources
Middleborough Public Library
Thompson Collection
Plymouth County Registry of Deeds
Land records pertaining to the Washburn properties

Unpublished Sources
C. P. Washburn Company Records
John D. Rockwell papers
Request for Proposals: C. P. Washburn Grain Mill, Middleborough,
Massachusetts. Middleborough, MA: Middleborough Office of Economic and Community Development, May, 1999.
Woodward, William McKenzie. Middleborough Center Historic District National
Register Nomination. 1999.

The Middleborough Antiquarian, Middleborough, MA
Middleboro Gazette, Middleborough, MA
The Middleborough Gazette and Old Colony Advertiser, Middleborough, MA
The Namasket Gazette, Middleborough, MA
Old Colony Memorial, Plymouth, MA

Map of the Town of Middleborough, Plymouth County, Mass. H. F. Walling,
Middleborough, Plymouth Co., Mass. New York: J. B. Beers & Company, 1874.
“Village of Middleborough, Mass.” Atlas of Plymouth County, Mass. Boston:
George H. Walker & Company, 1879.
Middleboro, Mass. 1881. Framingham, MA: E. H. Bigelow, 1881.
Middleboro. New York: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co. Limited, August, 1885.
Middleborough, Massachusetts, 1889. Boston: O. H. Bailay, 1889.
Middleboro, Plymouth County, Mass. New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co.,
Limited, May, 1891.
Middleboro, Plymouth County, Mass. New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co.,
Limited, June, 1896.
Middleboro, Plymouth County, Mass. New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co.,
Limited, April, 1901.
Atlas of Surveys: Plymouth County and Town of Cohasset, Norfolk County,
. N. p.: The L. J. Richards Co., 1903.
Insurance Maps of Middleboro Plymouth County Massachusetts. New York:
Sanborn Map Company, March, 1906.
Insurance Maps of Middleboro Plymouth County Massachusetts. New York:
Sanborn Map Company, January, 1912.
Middleboro Including Waterville, Rock, Lakeville and North Middleboro, Plymouth
County, Massachusetts
. New York: Sanborn Map Company, January, 1925.
Middleboro Including Waterville, Rock, Lakeville and North Middleboro, Plymouth
County, Massachusetts: New Report, September, 1932
. New York: Sanborn Map Company, September, 1932.

“Valuations for the Town of Middleborough for the Year 1904”, in Annual Report
of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1904
. Middleborough: The Middleboro Gazette, 1905.

Published Histories
History of the Old Colony Railroad: A Complete History of the Old Colony
Railroad from 1844 to the Present Time in Two Parts
. Boston: Hager and Handy, n. d.
Romaine, Mertie E. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Volume
II. New Bedford, MA: Reynolds-DeWalt Printing, Inc., 1969.
Weston, Thomas. History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Boston:
Houghton, Mifflin and Company, 1906.