Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Parade, photographs, mid-20th century
Veterans parade down Center Street near Everett Square in the late 1940s on the occasion of Memorial Day. Parades such as this provided the community an opportunity to publicly recognize its veterans on the holiday once known as Decoration Day when local residents decorated the graves of family members and loved ones. Memorial Day observances with a parade and ceremonies at the Central Cemetery remain a Middleborough tradition.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Nemasket Hill: A Garden Cemetery

During the early and mid-19th century, a radical reassessment of the place of the cemetery in American society and the way in which cemeteries were viewed occurred. No longer was the burying ground considered to be a barren place of desolation; rather it became regarded as a peaceful place surrounded by and evocative of Nature. Death was no longer considered a dreaded end, but a spiritual beginning. William Cullen Bryant spoke to this new understanding in his masterly Thanatopsis:

By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave,
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.

While changes in the Victorian conception of death would rapidly alter the types and designs of monuments erected in cemeteries at this time, the rural cemetery movement (arising from the watershed development of Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1831) was also drastically transforming the physical shape and appearance of cemeteries during this era, providing broad paths and winding, curvilinear roads on larger parcels, and creating park-like environments of which Nemasket Hill Cemetery is the best noted local example.

Wrought iron fences erected around individual family plots created a sense of luxury, while fences installed about the perimeter of the cemetery as a whole defined a unified visual space as well as deterred straying livestock from entering and damaging the stones and plantings. Plantings, were in fact, the most notable addition to cemeteries at this time, helping transform them into rural parks. When plantings weren't possible, or to reflect deeper symbolic meanings, plants were frequently represented upon the stones themselves.

With the coming of the Victorian era, Nemasket Hill Cemetery was made over at this time, being transformed from an unornamented graveyard into a rural garden cemetery. The plots laid out at this time and during the subsequent half-century still reflect these developments, retaining many of the early plantings. The array of heirloom varieties and vintage landscaping is most notable in spring when the cemetery comes alive with color.

Lily of the Valley

Bridal Wreath with Obelisk


Rustic Chair


Denham Monument Rose


Japanese Azalea

Bridal Wreath


White Monument Lily


All photographs taken at Nemasket Hill Cemetery by Mike Maddigan, October 21, 2009, and May 13 and 16, 2010.

Michael J. Maddigan. Elysian Fields: An Illustrated History of Rock Cemetery. Middleborough, MA: Rock Cemetery Association, 2007

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Last of the Nemaskets, 1786

One of the last of the Nemasket tribe was Alice Anthony who died in Middleborough on December 2, 1786 at the age of 80. Little is known of her other than the fact that she presumably resided in a wetu located in the vicinity of the area now bounded by High, Oak and Southwick Streets. On January 24, 1742, she along with seven others was admitted as a member of the First Church of Middleborough. The following item which refers to her as "Else Antony" (the same name as was used in the record of her church admission) was published in the Nemasket Gazette in 1857.

[Just to the west of Oak Street is] an old well now in good repair. It marks the spot where lived one of the last of the Nemasket Indians, by the name of Else Antony, who died about the year 1790. The tract of land lying between [South] Main street and the Depot [on Station Street], formerly belonged to Mr. Silas Wood, grandfather of Mr. Abial Wood. He dug this well by the side of Else's wigwam, and gave her the privilege of cutting broom and basket stuff on this land, as a compensation for her watering his herds, the water being poured into a long trough which he handhewn out for the purpose. Else was a member of the church on the Green, and appears to have been conscientious. In those days Dick Thompson, a slave of Clerk Jacob, went to pay his addresses to Else, but she refused him admission with the declaration, that her first lover was dead and that must be the end of it. A second was not to be entertained.

Namasket Gazette, "Local Antiquities", July 24, 1857.

"Indian Corn Hanging on a Post", photograph taken October 15, 2008, by
Live♥Laugh♥Love. Reprinted under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Cotton Manufacturing at the Lower Factory Established, 1811

The honor of first establishing textile manufacturing in Middleborough must rightly lie with a family that receives very little mention in either of the two published town histories: the Shephard family of Wrentham, Massachusetts, who in 1811 established a cotton manufactory on the Nemasket River at the Lower Factory, later the site of the Star Mill.

Prior to the arrival of the Shepards, the Lower Factory was a relatively bustling industrial area. A dam just upstream from East Main Street had long harnessed the natural drop in the river and powered a grist mill, a carding mill and a fulling mill (which processed woollen cloth). On December 14, 1810, the owner of the grist mill, Jacob Bennett of Middleborough, sold to Captain Benjamin Shephard, Junior; Benjamin Shephard III; and Oliver Shephard, all of Wrentham, the land and water rights at Bennett's Mills "for the purpose of working a Cotton Mill or any other Factory or works." Excepted from the conveyance, however, were the right of the carding mill owners, the "Cloathing Mill" or fulling mill, and Bennett's own grist mill. At the time, the Shephards also purchased other nearby lands.

The Shephards who would prove the driving force behind the early textile-related industrialization of Middleborough, had been instrumental in the development of the textile industry in Southeastern Massachusetts. About 1793, Benjamin Shephard had built a cotton manufactory in an area of South Wrentham (now Plainville) later known as Shephardville. This factory, partially financed through a $300 loan from the Massachusetts General Court which sought to promote the cloth manufacturing industry, was "probably the third [cotton manufactory] to be operated by water power in this country," the historic Slater Mill in Pawtucket having been built only earlier that same year.

A series of embragoes beginning in 1807 and maintained throughout the War of 1812 provided protection from British competition for the nascent American textile industry, and prompted the establishment of cotton mills throughout Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts during this period.

While it is not readily clear what attracted the Shephards to Middleborough, there was a local connection in that Captain Shephard's daughter, Susanna, was married to Dr. Thomas Nelson of Middleborough, and the couple resided in that section of Middleborough that is now Lakeville until 1801. The Shephards may, therefore, have become acquainted with the industrial potential of the Nemasket River at that time.

Contrary to Weston's History of the Town of Middleboro, the Shepard's cotton manufactory at the Lower Factory was constructed in 1811 prior to the company's 1815 incorporation, built on the site of the old fulling mill, as indicated by deeds from that period. It therefore probably predates Washburn and Peirce's New Market cotton manufactory which was erected on the river at the Upper Factory at what is now Wareham Street sometime about 1812 or 1813.

Though there are no existing views of the Shephard's 1811 mill, the mill building would have been a two to three-story wood-frame building with large windows to illuminate the interior of the carding and spinning rooms and a waterwheel to power the machinery - a typical design for New England cotton mills during that era.

The Shephard family moved to formally establish the Middleboro Manufacturing Company on January 1, 1812, as a firm to manufacture cotton yarn and cloth, with Benjamin Shephard, Jr., Horatio G. Wood; Amos Cobb; and Alanson Witherell, all of Middleborough; Oliver Shephard of Wrentham; Thomas Nelson of Bristol, Rhode Island; and George Bicknell of Philadelphia. The Company assumed the liabilities incurred previously by the Shepards "in Erecting, and establishing a Cotton Maunfactory & other buildings," and took possession of these and the "Machinery, land, water privileges, ways and easements, and also the present manufactured & unmanufactured stock on hand," The Company was divided into thirty-six shares of $500 each, distributed to Benjamin Shephard (ten shares), Oliver Shephard (ten shares), Thomas Nelson (six shares), George Bicknell (six shares), Horatio G. Wood (two shares), Amos Cobb (one share) and Alanson Witherell (one share).

The Middleboro Manufacturing Company continued to purchase nearby land and houses for its needs, some of the land being used as a bleaching green or "whitening yard." The Company was eventually incorporated in 1815 by Benjamin Shephard, Jr.; Thomas Weston; Horatio G. Wood; Nancy Nelson; Sarah W. Shephard; and Alanson Witherall.

The Company's mill was run in accordance with the so-called Rhode Island system of operation whereby local families would be employed as mill operatives, as opposed to unmarried young women. Cotton yarn would be produced at the mill and the weaving, most likely, would have initially be done on hand looms in the workers own homes, and returned to the factory.

Sadly, little is yet known of the history of the Middleboro Manufacturing Company. It seems to have operated for a period before the Shephards eventually relinquished control of the mill to the business partnership of Peter H. Peirce and Horatio G. Wood, which added the manufacture of shovels to the business before yielding, in turn, to the larger Star Mill. The Shephards continued to operate their South Wrentham mill "until the business reverses of 1837, when they were forced into bankruptcy," a sad fate for such an enterprising family.

Replica of a Crompton Spinning Mule (detail), Slater Mill, Pawtucket Rhode Island, photograph by Mike Maddigan, July 24, 2005
Crompton's spinning mule revolutionized textile production and helped lay the foundation of the industrial revolution by permitting the large-scale production of high-quality yarn. Although centered in the Blackstone Valley of Rhode Island and south central Massachusetts and developed following 1793, America's early textile industry soon spread to nearby areas, including Middleborough which had two cotton manufactories in operation by 1813.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Industrious Middleborough, 1860

In the summer of 1860, the Hyannis Messenger visited Middleborough and remarked upon the industriousness of its residents:

The signs of industry were everywhere visible. Even the [Peirce] academy students ... were employed during their leisure hours in making shoes. We entered a great many private dwellings and found women and children busy - boys as well as girls - either binding shoes, or braiding straw for bonnets, or occupied in some other equally useful way.

Both shoe-making and straw braiding for the local straw hat industry were cottage industries pursued by Middleborough residents through the mid-19th century. Many farmers traditionally had been accustomed to producing shoes during the relatively slack winter months, and as the modern shoe industry developed in the mid-1800s, their skills were utilized to help produce rudimentary shoes and boots which were completed in local manufactories. Meanwhile, straw hat manufacturers established a similar system of rural outwork for local residents, primarily women, whereby straw would be provided for them to braid in their homes. The so-called "braid cart" would collect the completed plaits which were used to produce hats and bonnets in the local manufactory. Shortly after the Messenger's comment, the local production of both shoes and straw hats was centralized in large manufactories including Leonard & Barrows and the Bay State Straw Works.

Plaited Straw Bonnet, photograph by Michael Maddigan, April 30, 2007
Bonnets manufactured of braided straw such as this were typical of those produced in Middleborough in the early and mid-19th century. Rural outworkers produced straw plaits in their homes which were later used by manufacturers to produce such intricate head wear and which promoted Middleborough's reputation for industriousness.

Middleborough Gazette and Old Colony Advertiser, August 4, 1860.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Mr. Patstone's Chickens Disturb the Neighborhood, 1941

Not all matters that historically have come before the Middleborough Board of Selectmen have proven weighty. In October, 1941, the Middleborough Selectmen, acting as the Board of Health, were called upon to address a nuisance complaint regarding roosters being kept on School Street, an issue which the correspondent from the Brockton Enterprise clearly found entertaining. The poor neighbors were slightly less amused.

Although none of the echoes reached the selectmen's meeting last night, the fact that roosters' crowed was a matter for consideration at the board's session. William Patstone, 28½ School Street, appeared before the board and opened the matter, and had proceeded well along in his discussion before the board informed him that the matter was not officially before them.

He told about a complaint which had been lodged against his roosters, evidently a flock rated by the neighbors with having great vocal powers. Mr. Patstone declared "there are others," meaning other roosters, with good heavy voices. He said the board of health had warned him that complaints and a petition with several signatures had been filed against his roosters. The selectmen, under the charter, are the board of health, but they had not heard about the roosters, so that matter evidently had gotten as far as their agent.

"Have you disposed of them?" queried a selectman. "No," Patstone replied, "but I moved them, and soon they will be no more, as with the holidays coming, I plan to eat them." He declared that others in the neighborhood had roosters living nearer to the folks who signed the complaint than do his crowers and that they had kept them longer than he had.

Selectman W. J. MacDougall, a past member of the grange, and a man who could qualify in judging the fine points of these barnyard alarm clocks, suggested that it might be a good thing to delegate Town Manager E. C. Peterson to make an early morning trip and listen to the roosters to determine the extent of the nuisance. But on second thought it was decided to let the selectmen do the investigating. No action was taken against the activities of the roosters, pending the investigation. Then again their death sentence by the axe may come first.

What is perhaps most surprising is the number of School Street residents still presumably keeping chickens at the time.

Rooster, photograph by
travis warren123, November 29, 2009, reprinted under a Creative Commons license.

Brockton Enterprise, "A Bit of Axe-Swinging May Solve Problem of Middleboro Selectmen", October 21, 1941.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nemasket Hill Cemetery in the 1850s

In the 1850s, the Namasket Gazette featured a number of items about the Nemasket Hill Cemetery, then also commonly known as Burying Hill. Like other cemeteries of the era, Nemasket Hill was largely neglected, visited only infrequently when a body was interred. Consequently, it remained unkempt, and the lack of fencing invited livestock to roam the site. Increasingly calls were heard for an improvement in the cemetery as well as the erection of a well needed fence. The first published item making such demands appeared in the newspaper on March 18, 1853.

MR. PRINTER.- Please give this a place in your paper:- As I was going from Middleboro’ to T., in June last, I went by a grave yard in R., and as I passed it, I was much pleased to see that the lot was enclosed with a handsome stone wall, and also that handsome evergreen of the forest, the fir, ornamented, as it waved over, every mound, and with the addition of flowers of variegated hues, made it very pleasant to look upon. As I passed onward, I thought of the old Burying Hill in M.- for it is there my friends and kindred dwell.

This hill is situated on the north side of Namasket River, having a full view of the broad flowing stream below, and also of that flourishing village, the Four Corners. Here lay a large congregation of both old and young; among others, the remains of Rev. Mr. Fuller, who was the first minister settled in this town. Quite a portion of the hill is covered with graves, which are overgrown with brush and scrubby trees. The monuments now standing, are in danger of being rubbed down, as cattle, sheep and horses, patrol the hill at pleasure. Stone posts were erected two or more years ago, with eyes set in them for the purpose of receiving iron rods as I suppose – but nothing more was done.

R. Tinkham, Esq., has, as I learn, recently built a tomb, ornamental to the ground, and individuals have made considerable effort to get a permanent fence – but they appear to have retired, discouraged.

Now as the season is approaching, when the thing can and should be done, I hope those who have any regard for the memory of the dead, will put their shoulders to the wheel and help roll it forward that the ashes of our deceased friends may be protected from the beasts of the earth, and the living may not have the finger of scorn pointed at them for neglecting their duty.

Life is the time to do this. T.
Middleboro’, Feb. 25th, 1853.

Seven months later a similar appeal was published on September 9, 1853, by a Muttock resident known simply as "Warren". The September writer also called for a fence, and noted the decaying stones, many of which had been damaged by livestock as noted by the previous writer. In addition to the preservation of the existing stones, the placement of new memorials honoring the earliest residents interred in the cemetery was suggested. In addition to these practical measures, "Warren" also wrote idyllically of the site's beauty, though revealing a narrow mid-19th century conception of Native history. Ultimately, however, the piece became a rumination on life and death for the writer.

The spot familiarly known as “burying hill,” situated in the vicinity of Muttock, or to speak more modernly, Namasket Village, is rendered not less attractive for its natural beauty than its associations with the past.- Although but a few short years since first I knew this spot, it has become endeared to me by many pleasing recollections. There are some persons who are surprised that places with which they have been familiar from childhood and seemingly to them of but little importance, should prove interesting to any one: yet we would say, Old Colony, the land of the Pilgrims, has man attractions, and will long be remembered as a land settled by men who “know no pride but in duty, no ambition but sacrifice.”

The subject of this sketch, is the oldest burial place in this town: where, beneath the turf are mouldering back to dust, its first civilized inhabitants; those who first felled the trees, tilled the soil, reared habitations, sowed the seed of improvement and civilizations and to whose earnest endeavors we owe not a few of the many blessings which we now enjoy. Among the oldest stones, is one erected to the memory of GEORGE VAUGHAN, who died 1694 at the age of 73 years: also his wife, ELIZABETH, the same year; another to the memory of Lieut. JOHN TOMSON, who died in 1696, in his 80th year. There are a few apparently older, but it is impossible to distinguish the date or anything originally inscribed to the memory of those who lie beneath, as some have crumbled to pieces, and others lie broken on the ground. It would be a noble act of disinterestedness, and one which posterity would hold in kind remembrance, if the present generation should erect a suitable monument to the memory of the early settlers whose names are yet to be found in this hallowed spot. The stones that now mark their last resting places are crumbling, and soon there will be nothing to remind us of those men who, surrounded by Indians whose shrill war-whoop sounded through the forests, and the scarce more savage beasts that howled mightily around their dwellings, contributed to laying the foundation of this, then infant colony.

While standing amid the lonely tomb-stones of the departed ones of earth, our imagination carries us back to the time when all who lie buried here, moved in the busy throng of life. Again memory recalls the loved forms of those of our own times, which seem to throng around us once more, their familiar faces beaming with smiles, as in days gone by.

Now that imagination has had its flight, we will mark the beauties that surround the spot, where we have often rambled, and which we now review with emotions of pleasure. The hill ascends from the river side, in some parts gradually, and others abruptly, densely covered with pines and the sweeping birch, intermingled with brambles and gnarled oaks; nearer the river, forming a fine shade from the sun, are trees among whose leafy branches are heard the rich and mellow tones of the forest songsters; farther down even to the waters edge, overhanging the river, whose gurgling sound is heard as if grumbling with discontent as the rocky bed o’er which runs its shallow waters, are trees whose trunks and branches climb with grape vines whose fruit lies ripening in the summer’s sun.

Standing on this beautiful eminence we have a fine prospect of the surrounding country. On one hand is the “Four Corners,” its church spires rising, one on the east and another on the west part of the village, which is here presented to view. Farther to the south-east, partly hidden from our sight by the denseness of the surrounding foliage, are seen the villages, if they may be termed, of Upper and Lower Factory; then turning towards the west, while the eye follows the windings of the Namasket’s tranquil stream, until it rests upon a basin of water commonly termed the “pond,” which is however partly hid from view by “Oliver’s Walk.” At last, though not least, comes Namasket Village with its dwelling houses scattered here and there, while on a little eminence rising quite conspicuously the village school house; looking still farther to the westward, taking in with one sweep of the eye the gentle undulations of the wooded country, and in the distance as far as the eye can discern are seen the spires of neighboring towns and villages.
Namasket Village, 1853.

Three weeks later, on September 30, 1853, still yet another piece featured Nemasket Hill Cemetery, its author observing it from the south bank of the river.

Right opposite me is the “Hill Burying Ground,” as I can see by an occasional white head-stone among the thickening pines. A correspondent of yours has recently suggested that some self-sacrificing being, like the good “Old Mortality,” would confer a favor by putting some of the monuments into a better shape for perpetuating the records inscribed on them in the earliest days of the country’s history.

While little was done to preserve the gravestones as suggested by the last two writers, the proprietors of the cemetery ultimately did have the property fenced. As indicated by the first author, T, the proprietors had installed granite posts in the early 1850s, if not earlier, but did not complete the task of fencing the cemetery. On February 23, 1854, the proprietors met at the store of Philander Washburn at Muttock "to see what said proprietors will do in relation to Fencing and improving their Burying Hill." Once more, little action seems to have been taken for it is not until October, 1856, that it was reported that positive steps were to be undertaken to improve the cemetery.

At a meeting of the Proprietors of the Burying Hill, held at P. Washburn's store, on Wednesday last [October 15, 1856], it was voted to raise money by subscription for the purpose of fencing the grounds. A committee was chosen to lay out the grounds. A committee was also chosen to purchase the iron and build the fence forthwith.

The vote would mark the beginning of the transformation of Nemasket Hill Cemetery from a neglected burying ground to a modern landscaped cemetery. In the brief interlude between late 1856 and May, 1860, much improvement was made as indicated by the report of a visit made in the latter month.

We recently visited the grounds of the old cemetery that contains the dust of the first minister and first settlers of Middleboro. Its location is extremely fine, commanding an extensive view on either side and exhibiting every variety of scenery. The Namasket River makes a bend apparently to kiss the base of the hill which rises some two hundred feet from the glassy waters. The whole field including some twenty acres has been recently enclosed with stone posts and iron rods. Its massive granite posts at the entrance appear as though they might stand for ages. Mr. Abial Washburn's yard has been enclosed and adorned with trees, flowers, and elegant monuments.

Mr. Alexander Wood, Mr. Wm. Bourne Wood and Mr. Alfred Wood are now engaged in grading and fencing plats for family use, at an expense of some $200 each.

We are glad to learn that the Wood family intend soon to erect a monument, on the summit of the Hill, of such altitude as may be seen at a distance, to the memory of their ancestor [Henry Wood], who first settled at Middleboro, and built one of the first twohouses in this place. This will be a worthy undertaking and will doubtless inspire other families to do likewise.

The oldest stone in the yard, has on it the following inscription:

"Elizabeth Vaughan, aged 62 years or thereabout, departed this life June 24, 1693."

The next oldest is that of her husband and is thus inscribed:

"George Vaughan, aged 73, departed this life October the 20th, 1694."

The third in age is that of Rev. Samuel Fuller, first minister of the place, and the fourth is that of John Thompson. A visit to these grounds is well worth the time.

Some relics which have been found there in grading the lot of Mr. W. B. Wood, seem to indicate that this was probably an Indian Cemetery, when the pilgrims settled here.

Angel's Head, John Tomson Tombstone (detail), Nemasket Hill Cemetery, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, May 13, 2010
While the anonymous author of the appeal to the Namasket Gazette in March, 1853, urged those with "regard for the memory of the dead" to protect Nemasket Hill Cemetery's "crumbling" slate stones from damage, the monuments continued to decay and wear away. Many of the original stones are no longer present, with only a few remaining in a legible condition. Heeding the call of an earlier generation, the resting places of some of the most prominent among those interred in the cemetery, such as John Tomson, have been marked with recreated stones.

Burying Hill Proprietors' Meeting Notice, Namasket Gazette, February 17, 1854, page 2
Beginning with this meeting in early 1854, the proprietors of the Nemasket Hill Cemetery began to take a more proactive approach in their care of the cemetery. Within a few years, the cemetery would be enclosed within a granite and iron fence, and various other improvements would be made. The work inaugurated at this time was reflective of the rural cemetery movement and it would transform Nemasket Hill Cemetery from a relatively barren burying ground where livestock roamed, to a beautiful garden-like cemetery where Victorian families could enjoy an outing amidst beautiful natural surroundings.

Alexander Wood Obelisk with William Bourne Wood Mausoleum in Background, Nemasket Hill Cemetery, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, October 21, 2009
While the Wood family owned a number of lots at the summit of Nemasket Hill and intended to erect upon them a monument to their ancestor Henry Wood which would have been visible for a considerable distance, they never did. Instead, Alexander and Alfred Wood placed granite obelisks on their adjoining plots, while in 1906, the family of William Bourne Wood had a 16-crypt mausoleum constructed of Fall River granite across the carriageway from the two obelisks. The mausoleum, with an interior finished in marble, is one of Nemasket Hill Cemetery's most notable man-made features.

Middleborough Gazette and Old Colony Advertiser,
"Old Cemetery on the Hill", May 19, 1860, page 2.
Namasket Gazette, “The Old Burying Hill in Middleboro’.”, March 18, 1853, page 1; “Burying Hill”, September 9, 1853, page 1; “Letter Written on a Rock”, September 30, 1853, page 1; "Proprietors' Meeting", February 17, 1854, page 2 [advertisement]; "A Meeting of the Proprietors of the Burying Hill ...", October 10, 1856, p. 2 [advertisement]; October 17, 1856, page 2.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Middleborough's Baseball Grounds, 1885

“Dear Sir. Are you booked for May 16.85 p.m.? We open our grounds that day and would like to arrange Exibition game. Let me hear from you and oblige”, reads the innocuous-looking card with its slight misspelling and copper-plate script. Addressed to the manager of the Harvard B. B. Club at Cambridge, the card is signed by G. E. Wood, secretary of the Middleboro B. B. Association, whose signature appears alongside that of J. H. Willoughby, “Manager”. Though initially somewhat mysterious, the postal card is one of the pieces of ephemera relating to early baseball history in Middleborough.

While Willoughby and Wood were well-known Middleborough figures in their day, modern residents might be forgiven if their names are today slightly less familiar.

Willoughby, though manager of the “Middleboro Base Ball Association”, was more prominent in town in 1885 as the principal of Middleborough High School. Willoughby, in fact, was perhaps the most successful principal of the school prior to the long-tenured Walter Sampson. Through Willoughby’s efforts, the school, which previously had had a tenuous existence, was established on a firm footing and evolved into a well-respected institution within the community. The Baseball Association appears to have been just one of Willoughby’s many interests outside the high school.

Willoughby’s counterpart as secretary of the local Association was George E. Wood who resided first on Courtland Street and later in his father William Bourne Wood’s house on South Main Street in Middleborough. Wood, who was twenty-nine at the time he sent the postal card to the Cambridge club, had worked as a flour merchant with James F. Edmunds & Company of Boston before becoming a partner in the firm of Sands, Taylor and Wood which also dealt in flour. By the close of the 1880s, Wood had entered a new partnership with his brother Charles A. Wood, operating the boot and shoe retail firm of Wood Brothers on Center Street until 1895.

Wood, as secretary of the Association, would have been responsible for promoting its welfare and he was well-suited for this role, appearing to have been a natural-born booster. “As a salesman, he displayed a remarkable business ability and his rise in the commercial world was rapid,” wrote Mertie Romaine of Wood in her History of the Town of Middleboro. In addition to promoting the interests of the Middleboro Baseball Association, Wood was prominent as a promoter of the electrification of Middleborough’s streets and the business of the LeBaron Foundry Company on Vine Street. Additionally, Wood was influential in the physical relocation of the Unitarian Church building from Pearl Street to a much more visible location on South Main Street.

One of Wood’s earliest tasks as the Association secretary involved the promotion of an exhibition game for the opening of the club’s new grounds which were likely located on North Street. Previously, the town’s principal baseball field had been located at the corner of Center and Pearl Streets on the site now partly occupied by a Cumberland Farms. The growth of the immediate neighborhood, however, was not conducive to the continued presence of a baseball field. Reports from the era which record fly balls sent across Center Street crashing through the windows of Leonard & Barrows' shoe manufactory and line drives being hit into passing carriages hint that the field was probably seen as a growing nuisance in the increasingly congested district. As a consequence, new grounds removed from the immediate center of the town were secured.

Sadly, both the local newspapers of the era, the Middleboro Gazette and the Middleboro News, no longer survive for the period in question, and few records remain locally of the establishment of what was probably Middleborough’s second town baseball field. Fortunately, however, a dogged perusal of another local newspaper, the Old Colony Memorial of Plymouth reveals the pertinent article from April 23, 1885. “The Middleboro Base Ball Association have leased a field which they will enclose with a board fence and provide with seats, so that the public can comfortably witness the games.”

Clearly, the field seems to have been the first leased by the Association in hopes of establishing a permanent home for the club. Little else may be gleaned from the pithy news item, though the location of the grounds was likely on North Street where bleachers were proposed. (Previously, spectators had stood along the base lines to watch games). Certainly by the turn of the century, Middleborough’s semi-professional teams were using a location on North Street as their homefield.

While there is no further local record of the opening of the grounds, nor any record as to whether Harvard University’s prestigious baseball club ever “obliged”, the field’s opening day was undoubtedly surrounded by great public display. Particularly during the late nineteenth century, baseball was an integral part of holiday and other celebrations and was an avidly followed sport (which consequently earned for it its title as “America’s Pasttime”). The opening of the Baseball Association’s new grounds therefore was doubtless attended with much publicity and fanfare.

Middleboro Baseball Association, postal card, 1885
The simple postal card pictured above sent to the manager of the Harvard Baseball Club at Cambridge, is one of the few items dating from the late 19th century which relates to the establishment of baseball grounds by the Middleboro Base Ball Association. In it, the secretary of the local association, George E. Wood requests the presence of the Harvard team for the local field’s opening day on May 16, 1885.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Nemasket Hill Cemetery "Stroll Thru History"

On Sunday, May 30, the Nemasket Hill Cemetery Association will be sponsoring its second annual "Stroll Thru History" from 1pm to 3pm at the historic Nemasket Hill Cemetery on Plymouth Street in Middleborough.

Last year, "the stroll offered pamphlets that allowed visitors to walk a self guided route in the cemetery which noted types of gravestones, gravestone engravings and notable Middleboro residents. The stroll was well received with more than 100 visitors on a drizzly day".

This year looks to be equally popular. Mark your calendar so as not to forget to take part in what promises to be an informative and enjoyable stroll through Middleborough's oldest and arguably its most picturesque cemetery.

Visit to learn more about the cemetery.

"Nemasket Cemetery, the Main Drive, Middleboro, Mass.", New York: Leighton & Valentine, publishers, picture postcard, c. 1910.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Clifford Street Needle Works

The manufacture of sewing machine needles in Middleborough in the decade following 1875 has largely been forgotten. And though the industry was short-lived, it was significant in that it reflected in part Middleborough’s initiative in establishing a diverse industrial base, a development which would help the community weather economic fluctuations better then other communities dominated by a single industry.

The Domestic Needle Works

Middleborough's needle-making industry was established in the form of the Domestic Needle Works on Clifford Street. Established in 1875, the firm marked the successful culmination of an attempt by concerned citizens of the community to lure new business to town, business which was desperately desired given the economic depression at the time.

As early as July, 1875, it had been reported that Middleborough was attempting to establish a sewing machine needle manufactory. "The people of Middleboro are interesting themselves in a proposition to induce parties to start a needle factory in that town, hoping thereby to furnish employment to a hundred or more persons. The proprietors offer to relinquish the whole control of the business to stockholders, and guarantee a profit of fifteen percent."

Though efforts to locate a needle works in town encountered a number of difficulties along the way, following a series of community-wide meetings in the early fall of 1875, the final obstacles were cleared and by November the $40,000 required for the venture had been fully subscribed. A board of directors composed of J. Wallace Packard, John B. LeBaron, Dr. Ebenezer W. Drake, Albert Alden, and George L. Soule was named.

Packard was the sole non-Middleborough resident among the group, though he was also the only individual among them acquainted with needle-manufacturing. In March, 1858, Packard had begun the manufacture of stitching and sewing machine needles at North Bridgewater (now Brockton), Massachusetts, where the dominance of the shoe industry promoted ancillary industries such as awl and needle-making. Packard probably learned the trade from Charles Howard who had established a needle-making firm at North Bridgewater in 1857, and it was likely Packard who convinced the Middleborough group to establish a needle works.

The organization at this time of a number of sewing machine needle companies – including the Domestic Needle Works of Middleborough – marked an attempt by American manufacturers to break the stranglehold of British firms which then monopolized the world market for machine needles, including two-thirds of the American market. Entrepreneurs like Packard and investors like LeBaron, Drake, Alden and Soule no doubt saw financial reward in the opportunity of breaking the British monopoly.

Upon its formation, the Domestic Needle Works Company purchased from Philander Washburn an empty lot on the west side of Clifford Street for $800 whereupon a woodframe factory was erected. (The drive-up for the Mayflower Cooperative Bank now occupies the site).

The contract for constructing the three-story factory building was given to Joshua Sherman and Jairus H. Shaw of Middleborough, "at a price generally understood as somewhere about $3,000," and the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial marvelled at the fact that the building was to contain over one hundred windows. The needle-making machines were to be driven by steam power produced by a 20 horse-power “New York Safety” engine which was to be housed in a fire-proof engine and boiler room. Steam was carried throughout the building by means of a network of pipes which was installed by Cutts and Jordan, machinists from Taunton.

To provide the necessary water for the boiler, a deep well was driven on the property as Middleborough at that time was still without municipally-supplied water. Although the well began to fail in 1883, in December of that year “its failing supply of water [was] renewed through the agency of a charge of atlas powder exploded in the rock at the bottom. Water from a lower strata came up through the fissures created, giving an ample supply.”

The needle manufactory was reported as nearing completion in late December, 1875, not surprising since the contractors were given a 30-day window in which to complete construction. At this same time, or shortly thereafter, a small “oil house” was constructed at the southwest corner of the property. It was built as a separate facility in order to provide remove the flammable material used in the production of the needles away from the main plant.

The Needle-Making Process
At the time that the Domestic Needle Works was founded, mechanical production of sewing machine needles was a growing industry. In 1864, Orrin L. Hopson and Herman P. Brooks of Connecticut had developed a machine for compressing steel wire and patented it as “An Improvement in Pointing Wire for Pins”. The machine was promoted as a device which could produce sewing machine needle blanks of superior quality, and it became the foundation of the modern sewing machine needle industry.

Needles at the Domestic Needle Works were produced by the cold swaging or cold forging method wherein room temperature steel wire was compressed between a series of metal dies. The process of needle manufacturing at the time was described in 1886 by George Bleloch who left a carefully documented record of the process as conducted by the National Needle Company of Springfield, Massachusetts. It is likely that a very similar process, though on a smaller scale, was followed on Clifford Street.

The wire is drawn of suitable size for the shanks or but end of machine needles, and is received at the needle factory in coils weighing about 50 pounds each. The coil is placed on a reel, and fed through one of the straightening and cutting machines, four of which are in constant use. These machines are automatic, and deliver the wire, cut into uniform lengths, each piece containing sufficient stock for the needle which is to be made from it. The ends of the small pieces of wire being rough, they are next placed in the hopper of the butting machine, and are carried between two highly-speeded emery wheels, and come through with the ends ground to a conical shape, thus finishing one end, which is to be the shank, the part of the n that is held in the needle-bar of the sewing-machine, and preparing the other end to enter the dies of the compressing or swaging machines which perform the next important operation.

The compressing machine is a triumph of inventive genius and mechanical skill, and is purely automatic. It reduces the wire, by means of rapidly vibrating dies, to the size for the blade of the needle; the same operation elongating it to the length required for a needle-blank. Twenty-five of these compressing-machines are in use, each one having a capacity for swaging 3,000 [needle]-blanks a day.

Twenty-five pairs of dies, each pair coming in contact 4,000 times a minute, create a din that reconciles one to investigate in less-noisy quarters. We will, therefore, follow the blanks from the compressing-room to the pointing department, for soft-pointing, so-called to distinguish it from the finish-pointing that is done after the needles are tempered.

The self-pointing is performed automatically by means of an ingenious machine that takes the blanks from a magazine, clips them to a uniform length, and carries them across the face of an emery wheel, shaping the points, but not making them sharp, as sharp points would be injured in passing through succeeding operations. Grooving follows soft-pointing, and is an operation requiring precise yet strong machinery, susceptible of the finest adjustment. The n when grooved is held in a clamp between two parallel spindles, on the end of which are fine steel saws or cutters. The clamp is fastened to a sliding bed, and grips the n as it carries it between and in contact with the cutters. One groove is short; the opposite one is cut the full length of the n-blade, and is intended to hold and protect the thread while the n passes through the fabric in sewing. The grooving-machines are partly automatic, one person being able to attend three machines.

The eye-punching is next in order -- a delicate operation, bringing into play mechanical skill, and requiring nimble fingers. It is performed by young men of from 16 to 24 years of age, the most expert being able to punch 16,000 eyes a day. The needles are now ready to be stamped, which is done by an automatic machine which rolls the n over the face of steel type with sufficient pressure to impress the name and size on the shank.

Most modern sewing-machines use self-setting needles, and this feature is secured in different ways; some needles are notched at the end of the shank, others have the shanks slabbed or ground off on one side, while some have a groove cut through the shanks.

These devices prevent the needle entering the needle-bar of the sewing-machine in any but the correct position. Ingenious machines are used in each of these operations. Notching and grooving the shank precede tempering; slabbing is subsequently done with emery wheels. Sixty per cent of the total cost of making a needle is expended in material and labor before it is ready for hardening and tempering; and a mistake in either of these operations is not only vexations, but expensive.

The finest grade of steel is a sensitive and capricious metal, and requires the most delicate and patient treatment in bringing it to a tough and elastic temper. In the process of hardening, the needles are submitted to the blaze of a charcoal fire until they are heated to a cherry-red color, and they are then chilled in an oil bath. When taken from the oil, they are washed in hot water charged with sal-soda, to remove the oil, and are then ready for tempering, which is done by again heating, this time in an oven heated to about 500 degrees, where the needles do not come into direct contact with the fire. If all these operations have been successful, the needles are now as though and elastic as a Damascus blade; and the series of polishing operations which follow are intended to bring them to a high finish, especially the eyes and points.

The first of the polishing operations is called brass-brushing, and the needles are prepared for it by being fastened in clamps; the blades and grooves are exposed to the action of a brush made of fine brass wire, and revolving 6,000 times per minute. A paste of fine emery and oil is used with the brush, and a high polish and smooth surface is the result.

Without being released from the clamps the needles are taken to the threading-room, where girls 15 to 18 years of age thread each needle with half a yard of best Sea Island cotton, the size of the thread corresponding to the size of the needle.
They are now ready for the eye polishers, who stretch the threads on a frame, and draw them as tightly as the strings of a harp.

Oil and fine emery are freely applied; and the clamp, full of needles, is drawn rapidly back and forth on the threads, until by a keen sense of feeling the operator knows the eyes to be smoothly polished.

The needles are again polished, but this time on a brush made of horse-hair, after which they are sent to the inspecting-room, where every needle is closely examined, and all imperfect ones condemned and destroyed. This close special inspection is maintained to correct any oversight on the part of the inspectors stationed in each department of the factory to scrutinize the needles as they pass through the various operations.

The most expensive of all operations in needle-making, straightening, following the inspection. Hardening and tempering spring the needle more or less out of true; and, as straightness is an indispensable quality for a perfect needle, the greatest care and watchfulness are exercised in this department.

A steady hand, a correct eye, good judgment, and strong nerves, are the requisites of a successful needle-straightener, and not more than one person in 20 can learn the art; but, once learned, the man or woman who has mastered it is sure of steady employment and good pay.

Each needle is rolled on a block with the index finger on one hand of the operator, while the crooks and bends are hammered on with a light bronze mallet wielded by the other.

After the straightening operation the needles are again inspected, to make sure they are straight, and are then passed on to the finish-pointer. This operation is done entirely by hand, and requires great skill and care to make the points of uniform length and graceful taper. The workman rolls from 15 to 20 needles between the forefinger of the left hand and the thumb of his right, at the same time applying the point to a fine emery wheel or belt under rapid motion. The touch of the operator must be as light and delicate as a fairy's footstep, so easily is the temper drawn from the extreme points when they come in contact with the grinding surface.

The next operator handles the needles in the same manner as the finish-pointer, and presses the points lightly on the surface of a revolving buffing-belt made of the finest material, and having the qualities of a fine razor strop; this gives the points a brilliant finish, and sets them for use. The next process is the finishing one; the needles are placed in wide-jawed tongs holding 50 or more needles, and are polished on a fine and rapidly-revolving brush charged with crocus mixed in alcohol.

From the last brusher the needles are sent to the stock and shipping room, where they are put up in packages of various kinds and sizes, for transportation to all civilized and semi-civilized lands.

The successful prosecution of an enterprise of this peculiar character requires not only inventive skill, but suitable appliances at the command of a corps of expert tool-makers, with trained eyes and cunning hands, to work into form the new inventions in automatic machinery which contribute so much to the success of this company. The [machine]-shop, or tool-room, is complete in its equipment and appointments.

Needle manufacture by the Domestic Needle Works commenced early in the year in 1876 and during the autumn of that year production was planned at 25,000 needles per day. Though this level of production does not seem to have been reached, business was brisk enough to warrant an addition to the factory building that same fall. Additionally, the business had succeeded in attracting new families to town. The Old Colony Memorial reported in January, 1876, that the prospect of needle making had attracted eight families to Middleborough in mid-January alone.

Overseeing operations as superintendent initially was J. W. Packard. Packard relocated to Middleborough in late 1876, occupying the residence of A. C. Wood. In late October, 1878, he removed to the late residence of Colonel A. W. Cushman, then owned by Noah C. Perkins who had been added as the clerk and treasurer of the needle works in 1877. (Perkins resigned the following year and was temporarily replaced by Franklin S. Thompson and later by Clarence L. Hathaway). Packard was highly respected by the workers at the plant. In March, 1876, the operatives “turned out in a body … as a mark of respect for the superintendent.” This respect, nonetheless, was despite rather strict standards. “The workmen at the Domestic Needle Works, Middleboro’, who are not promptly at their places when the whistle blows, find themselves locked out.”

In 1877, it was reported that the company employed about fifty hands and produced 12,000 needles daily. In August of that year, the company began shipping 15,000 of these needles monthly to markets in Australia.

Business continued to prosper throughout 1878: "The Needle Works at Middleboro are reported as receiving large orders, and all hands are busy." In April, the plant was operating ten hours a day, leading the Middleboro Gazette to surmise that “probably orders are increasing”. Nonetheless, the plant was idle at the end of the year, though possibly for stock-taking purposes rather than lack of business.

By fall, 1879, the company had been able to increase production to a level between 15,000 and 17,000 needles per day, most of which were shipped west. The needles were packed 5,000 to a box for shipping. Production appears to have been maintained continuously with no shutdowns, save for those which purposely idled the plant for stock taking, such as that recorded in November, 1879. During the year ending in November, 1879, the plant manufactured some three million needles, and represented $18,000 worth in wages paid out during the course of the year, prompting the Old Colony Memorial to report that “the affairs of the concern are represented as in a prosperous condition.” (In comparison, one of the nation’s larger needle manufacturers, the Howard Needle Company at Brockton, Massachusetts, had produced some 7.2 million needles that same year).

Given the prosperity of the operation, the community was grateful that it did not succumb to a fire in mid-December, 1879. “The fire took, it is said, through the carelessness of the engineer. A steam fire pump connected with the works saved them from destruction and the damage was slight.”

Yet despite the seeming success of the firm, financial circumstances took a drastic turn for the worst in late 1879 or early 1880. "The stockholders of the Middleboro Domestic Needle Works, after running a year, find their property now worth one eighth what it was when they invested in it." The Middleboro Gazette reported in the fall of 1880 that the "stock in the domestic Needle Works is pretty well down. Five hundred dollars worth, at original cost, sold for one and a quarter cents." In the absence of financial records for the company, we may only speculate as to the causes of this disastrous financial turn.

With the value of the company at rock bottom, it was reorganized as the Union Needle Company which acquired the Domestic Needle Works’ plant and property in early October, 1880.

The Union Needle Company
The Union Needle Company had first been founded in Connecticut in 1858, making it one of the nation's oldest needle manufacturers, and this date was featured on the company's logo which included an eagle clasping a needle in its beak. While the role of the Connecticut company in the reorganization of the Domestic Needle Works is clouded, Albert Alden of the latter company was named as the president of the re-organized Union Needle Company in 1880, though responsibility for the day to day operation appears to have been vested in Millard F. Blaine who acted as the manager. Born in 1849, Blaine was an 1879 graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, and practiced in Rockford, Illinois, before coming to Middleborough where he was hired as the manager of the Union Needle Company in 1880. It is not clear what experience, if any, Blaine had in the field of needle-manufacturing. Regardless, the needle works revived under Blaine’s management and the superintendence of George Holbrook.

“The needle factory at Middleboro turns out 20,000 needles per day, the production last year according to the News exceeding that of the previous one by 100,250,000. A new machine for forming the blanks has just been placed in the factory which will greatly facilitate the manufacture.” For the subsequent two years, the firm prospered, continually running at a profit.
In order to secure its profitability, in March, 1883, the Union Needle Company entered into an agreement with a number of other American sewing machine needle manufacturers including the Charles T. Howard Company of Brockton, Massachusetts; I. T. & F. D. Smith, Mount Carmel, Connecticut; A. H. Smith, New Haven, Connecticut; National Needle Company, Springfield, Massachusetts; Waterbury Needle Company, Waterbury, Connecticut; and Excelsior Needle Company, Torrington, Connecticut. The associated firms established the Central Needle Company and included Millard S. Blaine of the Union Needle Company among its Directors. Ostensibly, “this company was organized … for the purpose of manufacturing sewing machine needles and supplies. Its capital stock was placed at $10,000, and it was soon taken up by a syndicate” composed of the previously mentioned firms.

It was later charged that the syndicate, in fact, was an illegal conspiracy in restraint of commerce, seeking to establish a monopoly over the production of sewing machine needles and sewing machine supplies. In 1885 it was revealed that the Central Needle Company’s “first act was to buy up all opposition needle companies and divide their plants up, thus preventing competition.” As part of this process, the Porter Company of Watertown, Massachusetts, a manufacturer of needles, had been acquired and its machinery disassembled, shipped to Middleborough, and re-installed in the Clifford Street plant where it was expected to increase the Union Needle Company’s production by some fifty percent.

“The syndicate then drew up and signed an ironclad agreement for the purpose of securing absolute control of all sewing machine supplies.” First president of the Central Needle Company Charles Alvord later testified that “the sole business of the company has been to regulate the prices, secure unrestricted monopoly of the market, collect royalties, and distribute them among the stockholders of the company.”

Alvord elaborated upon the methods employed by the Central Needle Company to further its domination of the sewing machine needle market:

The royalty was $1 on each thousand needles manufactured and sold and a proportionate amount on all other supplies. Each firm was obliged to admit an agent of the Central Company monthly, who examined the books and accounts and obtained full statements, and prices obtained. From these reports the Central Company dictated the goods to be manufactured by each firm, fixed prices, and determined what parties, if any, had forfeited the right to receive goods at the lowest prices.

If any firm was found to have violated the agreement into which all entered, or to have sold, directly or indirectly, for prices less than the sums authorized, it was fined $1,000. Every month the firms turned over their royalties to headquarters, where the proceeds were distributed in dividends to the stockholders.

By the ironclad agreement entered into by all no firm was permitted to sell, transfer, or lease, or in any manner dispose of, any plant or part thereof, or loan or allow any outside party to use the same or sell any patent or interest therein to dispose of any shop rights. In return the company protected its patrons from any competition, secured for them the highest prices that the public would stand, and agreed to crush any new manufactory that should attempt to start.

The syndicate agreement appears to have succeeded in its intention for a time, and the Union Needle Company certainly benefited from its terms. “The Needle Works, at Middleboro, which through competition in their line of manufacture, have had a hard time, are seeing brighter times, and are to continue the business, which at one time was doubtful.” Likely as a consequence of improved returns, “the proprietors of the needle works at Middleboro [in August, 1883] presented their superintendent with a sewing machine, elegantly finished in nickel and pearl, as a token of their appreciation.”

Appreciative of the protections the arrange-
ment afforded the business, in March, 1884, Millard Blaine purchased the firm. “The Union Needle Company at Middleboro has sold out its stock to Mr. Blaine, its late manager, who has taken a lease of the building and machinery for a term of years. He will run the concern until the material on hand is used up, and then be governed in continuance by the demand for needles. The company has paid off the indebtedness of the original concern amounting to $40,000, and during the three and a half years has made no loss in conducting the business.”

Continued financial success, however, would prove illusory, and the questionable control exercised by the Central Needle Company over the market would come under scrutiny within the year. Alvord, through his attorneys Hastings & Southworth, brought suit against the Central Needle Company, alleging that it had violated the terms of its charter and had acted in restraint of trade. Alvord’s application, however, was denied on a number of grounds, including the fact that it was not clear that the Central Needle Company had acted illegally and that Alvord was a party to the original acts of the company which he now sought to sue. Further it was alleged that Alvord had been motivated to bring legal suit against the company merely because it was injurious to another company (the Excelsior Needle Company) in which he held a greater interest. Not surprisingly, Alvord’s suit was dismissed.

Adding to the Union Needle Company’s woes at this time was its naming as the defendant in a patent infringement suit brought by the Excelsior Needle Company of Torrington, Connecticut, before the U. S. Circuit Court in New York City. Ironically Excelsior, which was asking $10,000 in damages, was one of Union’s partners in the Central Needle syndicate.

Excelsior alleged that the Union Company was employing patented Hopson and Brooks machines to produce sewing machine needles. In 1866, Hopson and Brooks had relinquished the patent rights to their machine to the newly organized Excelsior Needle Company which included Charles Alvord as secretary and treasurer.

As with the Alvord suit, the case was dismissed, the court finding that “the latter patent was void, as an attempt to patent the function of the machine, and thus extend the monopoly of the invention beyond the time allowed by law, and that an action could not be maintained against one manufacturing the same kind of needles by the use of the machine after the expiration of the patent thereon, when the right to use it had become vested in the public.”

Though the Union Needle Company fended off these two legal challenges in the mid-1880s, its success in doing so ultimately mattered little for by April, 1884, the company appears to have ceased production, the Old Colony Memorial remarking at the time that it “appears to have ‘gone up’”. It is not readily apparent as to why the firm closed, though a competitive market and the expense involved in defending the Excelsior suit may have been contributing factors. By August, 1884, the company had definitely concluded operations, and its loss contributed to a reduction in Middleborough’s tax base. “The valuation of Middleboro has fallen off slightly, since last year, in consequence of the burning of the shovel factory, failure of the needle works, and from other causes ...”

The vacant plant was suggested for other manufactures including tacks and tricycles, but remained unoccupied until 1890 when it was sold and occupied by the W. H. Schlueter box company. By late 1884, Blaine had removed to Geneva, New York, where he was manager of the Kirkwood Hotel. In 1904, when owned by Alden, Walker & Wilde, shoe manufacturers, the former plant burned down.

Ironically, though, the Domestic Needle Works allegedly was not historically the first manufacturer of needles in Middleborough. At the time of the Needle Works' establishment in 1875, the Old Colony Memorial reported that "Middleboro' people find that after all they are progressing backwards. The rejoicing over the establishment of a needle factory brings out the fact that needles, equal in finish in every respect, were manufactured in that town long ago."


Needle Works Manufactory, Clifford Street, Middleborough, MA, stereocard photograph, John Shaw, publisher, late 19th century
This photograph taken from a stereographic card published in the late 19th century depicts the Domestic Needle Works manufactory on Clifford Street as viewed from the southwest. While the date of the photograph is unknown, the view is believed to depict operatives of wither the Domestic Needle Works or the Union Needle Company.

Union Needle Company billhead, 1880
By late 1880, the Domestic Needle Works had been reorganized as the Union Needle Company, a business development indicated by the overstamping of the former Needle Works' billhead as seen on this November 12, 1880, statement.

Union Needle Company, detail from "Middleborough, Mass., 1881", Milwaukee, WI: Beck & Paull, Lithographers, 1881.
This view depicts the needle manufactory, then operated by the Union Needle Company, from the northeast. The brick engine room is seen on the rear of the manufactory, while the building's water closets were contained in the small ell protruding from the north wall. Presumably what is the "oil house" is seen at the far right. The manufactory's large number of windows at which the Old Colony Memorial marvelled is clearly indicated.

Union Needle Company billhead, 1881
The elaborate billhead used by the Union Needle Company in 1881 and after displays the company logo with the dates of establishment and reorganization, as well as the trademark bald eagle clasping a needle in its beak.
Union Needle Company pay receipt, 1881
This pay receipt dated January 10, 1882, is for $11.94 and is made out to Martina Callan. The needle industry in Middleborough employed women and girls in a number of capacities, including finish work. Miss Callan was the daughter of
Luke Callan and lived in the house on Clifford Street next door to the needle works. At the time the receipt was dated she was 12 years old.
Sources:Bleloch, George H. The Sewing Machine Advance, 1886.

Middleboro Gazette, “What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Years Ago”, October 30, 1925, p. 6; ibid., November 13, 1925, p. 7; ibid., November 27, 1925, p. 6; ibid., December 25, 1925, p. 3; ibid., November 5, 1926, p. 6; ibid., December 3, 1926, p. 6; ibid., November 25, 1927, p. 9; ibid., April 13, 1928, p. 7; ibid., October 12, 1928, p. 8; ibid., November 16, 1928, p. 7; ibid., December 14, 1928, p. 9; ibid., December 21, 1928, p. 6; ibid., October 11, 1929, p. 8; ibid., October 25, 1929, p. 4; ibid., November 22, 1929, p. 8; “What the Gazette Was Saying Fifty Five Years Ago”, November 7, 1930, p. 6; ibid., November 21, 1930, p. 8; ibid., January 2, 1931, p. 6; ibid., March 27, 1931, p. 9; ibid., October 30, 1931, p. 6; and ibid., November 20, 1931, p. 7.

“Middleboro, Mass.” New York: The Sanborn Map & Publishing Co. Limited, August 1885.

“Middleboro Plymouth Co. Mass.” New York: Sanborn-Perris Map Co., Limited, May 1891.

New York Times, “Monopolists Fall Out”, June 14, 1885, and “The Central Needle Company”, July 7, 1885.

Old Colony Memorial, “County and Elsewhere”, August 5, 1875, p. 4; ibid., October 14, 1875, p. 4; “Middleboro’”, November 25, 1875, p. 4; ibid., December 9, 1875, p. 4; “County and Elsewhere”, December 23, 1875, p. 4; “Middleboro’”, January 20, 1876, p. 5; “County and Elsewhere”, August 24, 1876, p. 4; ibid., November 30, 1876, p. 4; ibid., August 2, 1877, p. 4; ibid., December 27, 1877, p. 4; ibid., August 8, 1878, p. 4; ibid., October 30, 1879, p. 5; ibid., November 6, 1879, p. 5; ibid., November 27, 1879, p. 5; December 18, 1879, p. 4; ibid., January 29, 1880, p. 4; ibid., April 8, 1880, p. 4; ibid., June 3, 1880, p. 4; ibid., September 16, 1880, p. 4; ibid., January 11, 1883, p. 4; ibid., February 1, 1883, p. 4; ibid., March 29, 1883, p. 1; ibid., April 12, 1883, p. 4; ibid., August 9, 1883, p. 4; ibid., August 16, 1883, p. 4; ibid., December 6, 1883, p. 4; ibid., March 27, 1884, p. 4; ibid., April 7, 1884, p. 4; ibid., May 1, 1885, p. 5; ibid., August 14, 1884, p. 4; ibid., August 21, 1884, p. 4.

Plymouth Deeds, 426:78, 462:114, 462:151, 605:329 [The Torrington Company was the successor firm to the Excelsior Needle Company of Torrington, Connecticut].

32 Fed. Rep. 221 [Excelsior Needle Co. v. Union Needle Co., United States Circuit Court, Southern District of New York, February 23, 1885].

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The White Banks, c. 1910

Among Lake Assawompsett’s most prominent natural features are the White Banks, a large exposed bluff of fine light-colored sand on the lake’s northern shore between Lakeside and Owl Swamp in Middleborough. Centuries of wind have exposed these glacially-deposited sands, which throughout the historic era have been a noted landmark on the northern shore of the pond. Today, however, vegetation is encroaching upon the banks and the expanse visible from Lakeville is shrinking each year.

White Banks, photograph, c. 1910.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Paying the Electric Bill, 1913

In the past 100 years, little has changed in the manner in which the Middleborough Gas & Electric Department bills its customers. As early as April, 1912, the Middleborough Gas & Electric Department was urging the prompt payment of bills as each year a substantial amount had to be written off unnecessarily when those receiving electrical service failed to pay for it. In 1912, for instance, $352.21 "of long standing bills was charged off as uncollectable." To encourage the prompt payment of bills, the department implemented a prompt payment discount scheme whereby residents who paid within a prescribed time received a discount, a system still in practice today. The above bill for service in October, 1913, was received by Harriet ("Hattie") M. S. Washburn of Pearl Street, and it outlines the discount criteria on the reverse. At the time, Miss Washburn paid $3.44 for 23.6 kilowatt hours of electricity. Ironically, she would be paying less per kilowatt hour today, a fact which no doubt the present department would be pleased to promote.

Middleborough Gas & Electric Plant, Middleborough, MA, bill, October 1913

Miss Washburn (1844-1925) was the spinster daughter of Azel and Anna (Strobridge) Washburn of Middleborough and resided at what is now 36 Pearl Street.

Annual Report of the Town Officers of Middleboro, Mass. for the Year 1912. Middleborough, MA: Town of Middleborough, 1913.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Joyriding, 1883

Joyriding is not just a phenomenon of the automobile age as the following snippet from the May 10, 1883, edition of the Plymouth Old Colony Memorial indicates.

A little two year old at Middleboro, being refused a ride, got into the team in the temporary absence of the driver, and started off for his jaunt, giving the driver quite a long stern chase to catch him.

Best to lock up the car keys (or unhitch the horses).

Old Colony Memorial, May 10, 1883, "County and Elsewhere", page 4.