Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Assawompsett Pearls

On July 6, 1857, eleven fresh water pearls were taken from Lake Assawompsett and the Nemasket River, varying in size from “a pinhead to a large shot.” Two of the pearls were darkly colored but the remaining nine were “light, with beautiful tints.” Unfortunately, most were “not perfectly globular” and bore “slight indentations” detracting from their value.

Such fresh water pearls were not exactly an uncommon occurrence in New England, though the pearls were rarely of value. During July, 1857, the same month that the Assawompsett pearls were discovered, a correspondent of the Boston Herald examined over fifty collections of pearls found in different parts of New England “and, with but one exception, every one was of an inferior quality, being almost valueless.”

The Gazette responded that “there are fortunes in our waters for enterprising boys. Mind not get drowned.” To this day, no one has gotten rich on Assawompsett pearls.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Party Wagon

The "Nemasket" party wagon was a vehicle available for rent from William F. Keyes of Middleborough. In the days before 1899 (when trolleys arrived in Middleborough and Lakeville thereby making outings to local sites and events a possibility), conveyances like the party wagon could be hired to take groups to functions such as church picnics, dances, socials or seaside trips. Later, Carlton W. Maxim would operate a motorized version from his Middleboro Auto Exchange on Wareham Street. Keyes, himself, seems not to have operated his party wagon service for long. He is best known for having operated a floral business with his brother Samuel on Center Street opposite the Central Cemetery.

Nemasket Party Wagon advertising card, late 19th century, paper.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Brian H. Reynolds Local History Room

The Lakeville Library Trustees and the Lakeville Historical Commission invite the public to attend the dedication of the "Brian H. Reynolds Local History Room" of the Lakeville Public Library in honor of Brian H. Reynolds and in appreciation of his years of dedication to the preservation of Lakeville's history. For many years, Brian has guided both the Lakeville Historical Commission and the Lakeville Historical Society, and he continues to remain a wealth of information regarding Lakeville's history. The dedication takes place in the Local History Room of the Lakeville Public Library on Saturday, May 9, from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Refreshments will be served. Contact the Lakeville Public Library circulation desk at 508-947-9028 for further details.

School Street

The first portion of School Street in Middleborough developed was the stretch between Center and Peirce Streets beginning in mid-1851. On June 1, 1850, School District No. 18 acquired a landlocked parcel from Thatcher and Waterman behind Center Street for the construction of a new schoolhouse (the original School Street School). To provide access to the site, a 12 foot wide strip was included in the conveyance between the lot and Center Street. The deed stipulated that this “strip of land on the South Easterly side of the above mentioned premises twelve feet wide across said lot from the highway to the land of Elisha Tucker is to be forever kept open for public use as a Highway”. The following year, on May 14, 1851, Elisha Tucker himself extended the street northwards across his property to Peirce Street by conveying a 40 foot wide strip to the School District “to be forever kept open as a public highway”. Probably Tucker was concerned about controlling access across his remaining property and knew that in the absence of a roadway, people would be likely to create their own route across his land.

In September, 1852, the owners of the land to the north of Peirce Street – Tucker, Sylvanus Barrows, Thomas Barrows, William H. Vaughan and Elnathan W. Wilbur – agreed in essence to extend School Street by constructing a street 40 feet wide across their property to North Street. The construction of the street opened considerable development property, though Tucker appears to have been the sole partner to have availed himself of the opportunity presented, selling lots on the new street shortly after it was built. "School street leads from the Academy Green to the North, by the school house, Academy Grove &c. This street has lately been opened clear through parallel with Oak and Main streets and is midway between them, and opens another avenue to Namasket Village [Muttock]” announced the Gazette to those who might be unfamiliar with the newly developing neighborhood.

The property of Sylvanus Barrows along the new street appears not to have been developed until after his death in 1855. The administrator of Barrows’ estate, Attorney Everett Robinson of Middleborough, seems to have drafted a subdivision plan for Barrows’ School Street property at that time, as lots sold by Robinson from the Barrows estate in June, 1856, to Jonathan K. Peckham are referred to by Robinson as “no. 9 and 10 of the lots laid out on said street by me as administrator”.

School Street was rapidly developed in the period between 1855 and 1870. Upon the purchase by Marcus Thompson of a house lot on School Street in 1876, the Middleboro Gazette noted: “Several new houses are to be built on School street soon. School street seems to be getting a little ahead”. Two months later, the newspaper wrote again: “Five years ago School street was considered out of the way and lots could not have been sold, hardly, at any price, but today this street is fully built up, not a house lot for sale. It is one of the best streets in town.”

The street was named for the schoolhouse built by District No. 18 on the southern end of the street and which was the first building erected there, and the name was used as early as October, 1853.
Top: "School Street Looking North, Middleboro, Mass." Leighton & Valentine, lithochrome postcard, c. 1900.
The view depicts the residential growth which occured on School Street in the course of the fifty years following 1850.
Bottom: Detail, Map of Plymouth County, Massachusetts, c. 1856.
This close-up view shows School Street before development had touched its northern end.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Rock School (1897)

For a number of years prior to 1897, the Middleborough School Committee had felt the need for a replacement for the school at Rock Village which had been constructed in 1856. Though the 1856 schoolhouse had been described as a "fine" one the year following its construction, forty years later it was found wanting.

"The demand for a new schoolhouse at Rock is imperative, the one now occupied being, in our judgement, not worth the expense required to put in a comfortable condition. Should it be thought best to repair it, even then it would be inadequate to the wants of the school, being too small for the comfort of those now in daily attendance.
"We would recommend a building with two rooms, large enough to accommodate all the children in that vicinity, for we are convinced that in every instance when a union of schools has been effected the results have been more satisfactory than under the former arrangement. "We feel assured that all interested in the educational welfare of our young people will join us in our efforts for their improvement - morally, intellectually and physically."

["Report of School Committee", Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1895].

Finally, in 1897, the School Committee was authorized to construct a new schoolhouse. Plans for the building were drafted by Warren Homer Southworth, and the building constructed by B. F. Phinney. Southworth (1835-1916), a former member of the Middleborough School Committee, was also a Middleborough builder, "at one time [being] one of the busiest of the craft in the vicinity.” A partial listing of Southworth’s Middleborough buildings include 43 houses, 13 barns, the Peirce Block, Middleborough Almshouse and four schoolhouses: Union Street (1875), South Middleborough (1882), Wappanucket (1885) and Rock (1897).

The new schoolhouse was thoroughly described in the Annual Report of the School Committee for 1897:
"The need of a new schoolhouse at Rock has been very apparent for some years. A new building was commenced and completed during the year, being ready for occupancy at the beginning of the fall term of school.
"It is a wooden structure, one story high, and contains a schoolroom 26 by 32 feet, a teacher's room, 8 by 8 feet, a fuel room, 8 by 9 feet, and two separate entrances, one being for the boys and the other for girls. The ceiling is 12 feet high.
"It is heated and ventilated by means of a "Banner" furnace placed in one comer of the schoolroom. Fresh air is admitted into the furnace by a duct from the outside. This air coming in contact with the hot furnace is heated, and rises, passing out into the room, while the vitiated air passes out of the room into and up a heated duct, or chimney. A complete circulation can thus be effected and the air kept pure.
"The light is admitted into the schoolroom from the right and left sides through six large windows, the supply being ample even on cloudy days. The quantity of light is regulated by shades, two at each window, one rolling from the bottom and one from the top. The color of the walls is a light gray, and the ceiling is white.

"The schoolroom is furnished with thirty-six 'Eclipse' adjustable seats and desks. Good black-board surface is provided.

"The building is a model country schoolhouse, and every resident of the town may well feel proud of it. All things considered, the heating, ventilation, and lighting of the schoolroom is superior to that of any other room in town. Much credit is due to Mr. Warren H. Southworth of the School Committee, who drew the plans and supervised its construction.

"The cut found on the opposite page [above illustration] will give an idea of the external appearance of the building. The photograph from which this cut was made was kindly furnished by Mr. B. F. Phinney, of the firm of Frank Phinney & Son, who had the building contract."

"Of the $3,000 appropriated, $2,076.34 were spent, thus leaving a balance of $923.66. By a vote of the town this balance is covered into the treasury. The expenditures in detail were as follows: Lot, $150; fencing, $68.56; foundation and grading, $96.56; building contract, $1,348; furnishing, $182.59; furnace, etc., $67.73; extra painting, $15.28; plans, surveying and incidentals, $65; printing, $3.75; well, pump, platform, etc., $78.87."

[Asher J. Jacoby, "Annual Report of the Superintendent of Schools", Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1897.]

Besides the furnishings mentioned in 1897, the interior of the school was furnished with various other pieces over the course of its history, including a painting from James Whitcomb Riley, a bust of Sir Walter Scott, and an organ for which the students had raised the funds.

During the early years of the Rock School's existence, enrollment was maintained at close to the maximum level of pupils. Later, crowding became a problem, partially as a consequence of efforts to relocate pupils from the South Middleborough School which also suffered from lack of space. In 1919, grades 7 through 9 were transferred to the School Street School. Still, the number of pupils remained high. In 1921 it was reported that "the congestion at the Rock school this year - the membership now numbering 53 - has been relieved by having grade one attend afternoon session only and grade two the morning session only." In September, 1923, the school opened with its largest enrollment to date: 58 pupils.
Eventually, the school was operated in conjunction with the South Middleborough School, first as an expedient and later more formally as a separate elementary district, an arrangement required by the small, rural character of both schools which necessitated the sharing of resources. In the early 1920s, Rock teacher Carlton A. Burney twice a week switched classes with his South Middleborough counterpart Henry B. Burkland, in order that Burkland could teach music at Rock while Burney engaged the South Middleborough pupils in his own field of expertise. Later, in 1965, Middleboro Gazette editor Lorenzo Wood elaborated upon the logistics of the swap: “The obliging street cars made it possible for H. B. B. to take the Music at Rock twice weekly, while Mr. Burney did Coaching of three groups at South Middleboro. In the 15-minute interim one of our finest primary teachers (now) and a future hospital administrator were in charge.”

By the mid-20th century, the fifth and sixth graders had been shifted to Middleborough center and the lower grades remained split between Rock and South Middleborough. The Rock School was added to in 1951 which provided additional space as did the relocation of the area's fourth graders following the opening of the Burkland School addition in 1974. Following this reshuffling, South Middleborough housed the second and third grades while Rock concentrated on the first grade and later kindergarten. This division remained in place until 1990 when the Rock School was finally closed, primarily as a financial measure but one which finalized the centralization of Middleborough's schools, a process begun well over a century earlier.
Top: Rock School, 63 Miller Street, Middleborough, photograph, c. 1900.
Top Middle: Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleborough, Mass., for the Year 1895 (Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1895). The report was printed by the Middleboro Gazette.
Center: Rock School construction contract, June 17, 1897.
Bottom Middle: Rock School, 63 Miller Street, Middleborough, engraving, 1897. The flag in the engraving was donated the year the school opened by prominent Rock manufacturer Charles Atwood.
Bottom: Rock School pupils, photograph, 1897. Front row, left to right: Arlena Tinkham, Florence Pierce, Bertha Pierce, Carlton Dunham, Susie Tinkham, Walter Lakey, James Chace, Neal Kerr, Leslie Thomas. Middle row, left to right: Joe Westgate, Susie Merrihew, Lena Chace, Lottie Thomas, Winnie Lakey, Mabel Lakey, Hattie Westgate, Roland Tinkham, Clarence Shaw, Elsie MacKeen, Arthur Westgate, Clifford Dunham. Back row, left to right: Jennie Westgate, Francis Carver, Mary Harvey, Hattie Southworth, Oscar Westgate, ? Sherman, Helen S. Maxim teacher.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Postcards from the San

Though employees of the Lakeville State Sanatorium and many local residents may have held fond recollections of the state tubercular hospital, an equal number of patients treated there probably recalled their days in Lakeville less favorably, and for many the duration of their stay was frequently plagued by bouts of loneliness. Most were far from family and friends whom they saw only infrequently. Coupled with the rigors of their treatment (patients were out of doors in all but the wettest of weather) and the uncertainty of their fate (in a landmark 1940 study of 63 Lakeville Sanatorium children with tuberculosis of the spine, only 60% survived), the loneliness many felt was but another aspect of their stay.

While many picture postcards survive from the era to document the physical appearance of the institution, what is often overlooked is the reverse of these cards with their handwritten messages which frequently record the emotional state of the patients who wrote them. It is these brief messages written long ago by now forgotten patients which help give a poignant glimpse into the world inside the San. In late 1915, one such patient known to history only as Ray wrote to Miss Ethel Small of Somerville informing her that he was “feeling fine but near froze to death.” It is likely that he had been wheeled in one of the iron beds onto the veranda or the semi-enclosed pavilion for therapy, despite the frigid November weather. Olof experienced the sanatorium at a much pleasanter time of year. Writing to his nephew Ted Nelson at Atlantic in March, 1913, "Uncle Olof" was apparently overwhelmed at the natural setting in which he found himself, one which had initially attracted the state's attention when searching for a suitable site on which to erect the sanatorium. “Nice place here Ted: Bull Frogs is singing all night & the Robins in the morning won’t leave us sleep.” The postcard which Maud Lapham sent her friend, Mrs. Mary A. Howard of Randolph, however, was more revealing and spoke in September, 1911, of the difficulty of being alone in unfamiliar surroundings. “Dear Friend – Thank you very much for [your] card and wishes. I had as pleasant a time as I could among strangers. In the evening the nurses all came in and Mrs. Kelly (the matron) as guest of honor. She is a lovely woman.” In a similar vein, Rose who had recovered sufficiently to “be up” confided to Lucy Webster of Taunton, in April, 1915: “Am getting more used to my surroundings but there is no place like home to me” and she urged Miss Webster “Come over when you can”.

Without question, the most telling account of the Lakeville State Sanatorium from a patient’s perspective is The Baby’s Cross by C. Gale Perkins (2003) which chronicles the 12 years the author spent as a child in the institution between 1936 and 1948. Her story is one of great fortitude and perserverance in the face of adversity, and it undoubtedly captures many of the emotions and experiences of the patients who once sought treatment at Lakeville. Visit her webiste at for more information, links to photographs and videos of her talks and the sanatorium, or to purchase her book.
Top: "Lakeville State Sanatarium [sic], Middleboro, Mass.", H. A. Dickerman & Son, Taunton, MA, c. 1910, postcard.
The view depicts the side of one of the two adult ward buildings which were identical. It was on this card which the patient known only as Rose wrote Lucy Webster in April, 1915. "Come over when you can," it urged.
Middle: Reverse of the same postcard showing the complete message in pencil written by Rose. Hundreds of these cards were undoubtedly sent monthly to loved ones, relatives and friends, recording not only the physical but the emotional state of sanatorium patients.

Lakeville State Sanatorium

One of the most fondly recalled local institutions, the Lakeville State Hospital originated as a tubercular sanatorium in 1908 and 1909. Originally opposed by some local residents who feared the presence of a tubercular hospital in their midst, the state sanatorium came in time to be a welcome addition to the community, long afterwards referred to with some affection as the “San”.

Recognizing the need for hospitals where tubercular patients could be isolated and treated, as well as the inadequacy of the existing state sanatorium at Rutland and other state institutions to cope with the sheer number of tuberculosis patients, the 1907 Massachusetts legislature authorized the establishment of three new state sanatoria, including one for southern Massachusetts in yet undetermined location.

Sites for the three new sanatoria were quietly scouted under the direction of Dr. Sumner Coolidge of Watertown. A one-time public school music teacher, Coolidge had acquired his medical degree from Harvard in 1900 before embarking upon a career as a physician and medical officer with the Isthmian Canal Commission in Panama.

For the southern Massachusetts sanatorium of which he was to be appointed superintendent, Coolidge investigated a number of sites including one site in East Middleborough, Dr. Edward S. Hathaway's "Fairview" property (which at the time was open land between the Nemasket River and Fairview Street), and the Stetson Farm in Lakeville. Wary that Middleborough might eventually be chosen to play host to the institution, the Middleboro Business Men's Club, concerned about the infectious nature of tuberculosis and the presumed public health threat a sanatorium might pose, made it publicly known that it considered it "inadvisable" that a sanatorium be located in town.

Ultimately, however, it was in Lakeville that the sanatorium would be located when Coolidge settled upon a portion of the Doggett Farm on Main Street as the eventual site, its elevation, southern exposure, and dry soil recommending it for this use.

In order to stem any groundswell of opposition to the acquisition of the Doggett Farm, and to preclude any seller from taking advantage of the state by inflating their asking price, the Commonwealth did not purchase the property directly, but, rather through Coolidge as its agent. Sixty four acres of the farm, including the Doggett farmhouse, were purchased from Lakeville Selectman Fred A. Shockley who owned the property in conjunction with A. Davis Ashley of New Bedford. To Shockley, Coolidge represented "that he was buying a place on which to erect a massive country residence for himself, and outlined a series of improvements which would be carried out on the estate. He said the grounds would be handsomely laid out, and that there would be expansive lawns, shrubbery and the rest, and that water was needed on the property to keep them in shape." Reputedly, there was little haggling over the price, Coolidge (and the state) agreeing to Shockley's asking price. "He paid practically the first price asked, and was well satisfied apparently with his bargain." The purchase was made on the first of September, 1908, at which time an additional ten acres on Rhode Island Road which adjoined the rear of the Doggett Farm and which included the small Lily Pond were bought from Frances King of Middleborough.

Cooolidge dutifully conveyed the property to the Commonwealth that same day, and it was shortly following this that the state's proposed use for the property became common knowledge, creating in the words of the Middleboro Gazette, "considerable indignation among Lakeville residents." Undoubtedly, some of this ire was ascribable to Lakeville’s sense of having been "duped" by the Commonwealth. Accordingly, there was talk of initiating a petition opposing the location of the sanatorium in Lakeville, but this threat appears to have come to nothing. Part of the success for this must lie with Dr. Cooolidge, who surely relied upon public relations skills developed in Panama. Additionally, part of Coolidge's prescribed duties as superintendent of the sanatorium was public lecturing on the cause and treatment of tuberculosis. It was in his public capacity that he spoke at the opening of the Fall Brook Farm "automobile inn", on July 1, 1909, jokingly comparing the two institutions. Further the fact that Coolidge and his family were to make their home at the sanatorium (and, in fact, did so until the late 1920s), may have allayed the concerns of opponents.

Eventually, when the 150 patient sanatorium opened in January, 1910, the Gazette was able to report that "the misgivings which existed shortly after it was announced the structures would be located nearby have since passed, and there is a general good feeling, and no one seriously objects to the location of the institution." Over time, the sanatorium's role would evolve, and the positive work accomplished there would endear the institution to workers, patients and local residents, alike. Ironically, an institution which acquired its site in 1908 under veil of secrecy for fear of local opposition, half a century later had become so familiar and popular a landmark, that in 1964 when the Commonwealth formally reinvented the sanatorium as Lakeville Hospital, "many local people who worked there or had been associated in some other way, found it difficult to think of it other than as the Lakeville Sanatorium, or, 'the San.' "

Top:Detail, "General View of State Sanatarium [sic], Lakeville, Mass. Unidentified postcard, c. 1910, paper.
The view depicts the cupola-topped Administration Building at center with the smaller Dining Hall just to the left of it. Flanking the Administration Building are the Men's and Women's Ward Buildings. In the distance is Main Street.
Middle Top: "The Next to Go", American Red Cross, poster, 1919.
Middle Bottom: "Lakeville State Sanatarium, Men's Ward, Middleboro, Mass.", H. A. Dickerman & Son, Taunton, MA, postcard, c. 1910, paper.
The Men's and Women's Wards were identical wood-shingled buildings outfitted with expansive windows and skylights as both fresh air and sunlight were considered to aid in the cure of the disease. Patients would be wheeled in their beds directly onto the open porches. The Ward Buildings were constructed in 1909 and razed in the 1960s along with the other original sanatorium buildings. Note that the caption misidentifies the location as Middleborough.
Bottom: "Prevent Disease", Rensselaer County Tuberculosis Association, Troy, NY, poster, c. 1925.

Spool Manufacturing in Middleborough

One of the shortest-lived industries in Middleborough was the manufacture of wooden thread spools which engaged a number of companies between 1857 and 1878 or sometime just thereafter. The manufacture of spools was a natural outgrowth of Middleborough’s lumber and milling industries which were expanding rapidly following the application of steam power to lumber milling in the mid-nineteenth century.

The first firm to engage in spool manufacturing appears to have been Richmond, Pickens & Company at Middleborough Center where they were located on Vine Street in the former Middleboro’ Steam Mill building. In an effort to expand upon the Steam Mill’s former business, Richmond, Pickens & Company in 1857 began the production of thread spools from birch, a wood noted for its resiliency to stains. Though there is no record concerning for whom the firm produced its spools, one client required six hundred gross a week.

For this work, the company specifically solicited birch from local sources by advertising in the pages of the Nemasket Gazette: “Birch poles, from 1 to 2½ inches in diameter, wanted, for which the highest price will be paid at the Steam Mill, if delivered immediately.” The finished spools were packed in wooden shipping cases, also produced at the mill, though undoubtedly not from birch which was reserved specifically for spool manufacture. The Richmond, Pickens & Company’s manufacture of spools, however, was soon afterwards overtaken by the more lucrative production of trunk bodies, at which point the making of spools was discontinued.

At South Middleborough, Benson & Smith were producing four hundred gross thread spools per week in September, 1858, a business which they entered into probably following its introduction at Middleborough Center. The South Middleborough mill was destroyed by fire on May 27, 1859, and destroyed along with the mill were its engine, spool machinery, and 1,400 gross of spools awaiting shipment. The firm was completely uninsured. Later, when Stillman Benson rebuilt the mill at a new location, the production of spools seems not to have been resumed.

On April 5, 1859, Isaac Clark and J. W. King established a co-partnership known as Clark & King for the manufacture of thread spools at Middleborough Center. Shortly after its foundation, Clark’s brother, Ansel Clark, was taken into the firm which subsequently became known as Clark, King & Company. In May of that same year, the newly-renamed firm relocated its manufactory into the furnace buildings formerly occupied by Tinkham & Thompson on Vine Street near the former Middleboro’ Steam Mill.

King’s association with the Clarks was short-lived. He departed the business on May 18, 1859, and the firm continued to operate as Clark Brothers. In October, 1859, the Clark’s spool manufactory burned to the ground and was not rebuilt, marking the end of spool production at Middleborough Center.

Following 1859, spool manufacturing locally appears to have gone into abeyance. A decade later, however, in spring, 1867, it was revived when Abishai Miller added the manufacture of spools to his milling business at Fall Brook in a mill located on Wareham Street between Cherry and Sachem Streets. Miller engaged C. M. Lockwood of Fall River as the manager for the factory.

“C. M. Lockwood formerly of Fall River is doing quite a business at Abisha Miller’s new mill, Fall Brook, in the manufacture of thread spools. He is now making about five hundred gross per week. Our farmers who own birch wood land, will find here a good market for that kind of wood.”

Also employed at Miller's spool mill was Eldred R. Waters. Waters had initially learned the spool manufacturing business at Fall River before entering the employ of Stillman Benson at South Middleborough in 1859 where he had charge of the spool manufacturing operation for two years. Though Waters left Benson in order to establish his own spool manufactory, the business was destroyed by fire just eight months after it commenced, prompting Waters to join Miller's firm. Waters remained with Miller for 24 years "until modern machinery forced the old-timers out of business. In the old-fashioned machinery one operator had charge of two lathes, and could turn out about 65 spools a minute. [By 1902] a practical man [could] tend four machines and turn out 300 a minute". [Brockton Times, "Bad Start. Good Ending", October 13, 1902]

It is not clear just how long Miller operated the thread spool manufactory. Lockwood died the following spring, but the business appears to have survived through the 1890s.

Spool manufacturing failed to become a long-lived industry in Middleborough for a couple of reasons. First, the simultaneous introduction of spool manufacturing at both Middleborough Center and South Middleborough undoubtedly rapidly depleted the already small local supply of birch which was required in quantity to satisfy the demands of the local spool mills. With the depletion of the local birch supply, Middleborough mills turned to milling those woods which grew in abundance in the vicinity, foremost among which was the white pine. Secondly, the various firms engaged in the production of spools discovered that the manufacture of trunks, trunk bodies and packing cases, as well as the simple milling of lumber, proved financially more remunerative than spool manufacturing which required an investment in machinery designed specifically to turn spools. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, spool manufacturing would ultimately relocate to the larger lumber centers, such as Maine, where the supply of birch (and the profit motive) was much greater, leaving behind former centers of production like Middleborough.

Middle: Abishai Miller billhead, 1878, paper
Bottom: Willimantic Thread Company trade card, late 19th century, paper, left (front) and right (reverse). This Victorian trade card advertised spooled thread produced by the Willimantic Linen Company and for sale at George T. Ryder’s store in Middleborough. The mid-19th century thread industry required massive numbers of wooden spools for their product, and a number of Middleborough firms supplied that need for the quarter century following 1857 at a time when thread manufacturing was expanding rapidly. It is likely that Middleborough spool makers supplied only the smaller thread manufacturers as large firms like Willimantic produced their own spools.

Updated September 17, 2009, at 7:12 PM

"Queen of Lakes"

Sometimes called the “Queen of Lakes”, Great Quitticus Pond between Middleborough and Lakeville covers 1,128 acres. Henry David Thoreau wrote of the pond: “Passed over a narrow neck between the two Quitticus ponds after first visiting Great Quitticus on the right of road and gathering clamshells there, as I had done at Long Pond and intend to do at Assawampsett. These shells labelled will be good mementos of the ponds. It was a great, wild pond, with large islands in it."

The depth of Great Quitticus was long a matter of dispute. Some years prior to 1877, an anonymous gentleman “took some pains to find the greatest depth” which he found to be 80 feet at a point between Williams’ Island and the farm of Austin Roberts on Bedford Street.
A contemporary panorama of Great Quitticus Pond taken from Long Point Road between Middleborough and Lakeville, the "narrow neck" described by Thoreau. Photograph by Mike Maddigan.

Zachariah Eddy

Zachariah Eddy (1780-1860) must be accorded the title of Middleborough’s first historian. Though a noted attorney by profession who was recognized throughout the Commonwealth for his knowledge in that field, Eddy also “was an authority on the history and polity of the church of the Pilgrims of Plymouth” and a contributor to several historical and religious publications. Although brief historical items regarding Middleborough previously had appeared in Baylies’ An Historical Memoir of the Colony of New Plymouth (1830) and Barber’s Historical Collections (1839), neither could be construed as a formal history of the town. Eddy’s “Sketches of the Early History of the Town of Middleborough, in the County of Plymouth” appeared in the prestigious New England Historic and Genealogical Register in July and October, 1849. Running to some 22 pages, it was the first scholarly attempt at a history of Middleborough. Much of Eddy’s material was garnered from items published in the Massachusetts Historical Society Collections, a source from which many early town histories of the mid and late-nineteenth centuries would inevitably draw.
Zachariah Eddy
Engraving, mid-19th century, reproduced from Thomas Weston's History of the Town of Middleboro, Massachusetts (Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Company, 1906).

Friday, April 24, 2009


Welcome to a new blog that will focus upon the local history of Middleborough and Lakeville, two special places in southeastern Massachusetts. Once known as Nemasket, meaning "place of fish", Middleborough and Lakeville have a rich and varied history, much of which I hope to share with others through this blog. I encourage readers to contribute their own comments, memories and photographs as well, so that we all might gain a better mutual appreciation for the place once known as Nemasket. In time, I hope that Recollecting Nemasket may become a resource for local history and an example of interactive local history at its best.

Unknown photographer, Nemasket River, late 19th century, silver gelatin print.
Swale grass is being cut from the banks of the Nemasket River. Such low-lying land which adjoined the river produced lush grass which locals harvested as animal fodder well into the late 19th century. While the farmer works, three boats of excursionists are being poled along the shallow waters.