Saturday, August 28, 2010

Middleborough's Chinese Laundries

Early Chinese Immigrants in Middleborough

One of the earliest immigrant groups to settle in Middleborough was the Chinese, who first arrived in the community during the mid-1880s. The town’s first Chinese residents were exclusively male and found occupation operating a number of hand laundries in the center of town, providing themselves with the opportunity for economic advancement.

The first Chinese recorded in Middleborough appeared in January, during the dead of winter, 1876, and created quite a stir. “The natives have been astonished the past week upon the appearance of a Chinaman in full costume, ‘pig tail’ and all, whose cognomen was Wong Chinfoo, lecturing upon the manners and customs of the Chinese. Middleboro seemed to have no especial interest in China, excepting to find out whether this representative was a man or a woman.”

This item, undoubtedly taken from the Middleboro News, reflected the community’s insularity at the time, as well as its bewilderment, and is indicative of both the curiosity and prejudice which the alien Chinese would face. Only in the previous three decades had Middleborough begun experiencing any large-scale influx of immigrants, with most coming from northern European nations such as Ireland and Germany. The appearance, therefore, of an educated Asian lecturer with a queue (symbolizing his fidelity to the Manchu emperors), was not surprisingly cause for wonderment.

Eventually, a number of Chinese would locate permanently in Middleborough, engaging in the laundry business, one of the few occupations open to them. Laundering was a menial task formerly conducted by earlier immigrant groups, and was a chore which had previously and most frequently been associated with the Irish. In 1872, the Middleboro Gazette lamented that “our town is much in need of a laundry; people can send their clothing to Boston and get it washed and ironed cheaper than they can get it done in town. We hear of fearful prices being charged for work in that line.” Anglo-Americans looked down upon laundering as a menial task and while Irish women initially supplied the need for launderers in the 1870s and early 1880s, that task would later devolve upon Chinese men.

Operating a hand laundry was a business which required only small capital, no skills and little English. Chinese men, excluded from most other occupations, therefore naturally saw laundering as a means of economic and social advancement. The first Chinese laundry in America is believed to have been established in San Francisco in 1851 by a Chinese immigrant named Wah Lee. Despite the later stereotypical associations of early immigrant Chinese with laundries, the laundries did provide the Chinese with the opportunity to own and operate their own businesses, to engage somewhat more fully in the economic life of the community, albeit on a small scale, and to have hope for a better future beyond the heat, steam, toil and drudgery of the laundry.

The earliest Chinese laundries in Middle-
borough appeared in the mid-1880s. As early as 1882, it was reported that an unnamed Chinese man was looking to establish a laundry in town, though whether he did so or not is unclear. Certainly by late February, 1886, a Chinese laundry was in operation in Middleborough, conducted by Ye Check and Ye Lao, whose business was described in the local newspaper as “promising”. At the time, the two men were reported as “having handled one thousand pieces in two weeks.” Two months later, another Chinese laundryman by the name of Ye Dan was noted, although he may have been associated with the other two previously mentioned.

The location of this first Chinese laundry is unknown, though it was likely in the basement of the American Building on South Main Street near Four Corners where a Chinese laundry was in operation by 1891. Lending credence to this supposition is the fact that when Michael Toole’s clothing shop on the corner of Wareham and Main Streets caught fire in mid-September 1888, it was “some Chinamen who run a laundry near by … [who] gave the alarm”.

In 1892, the Central Congregational Church rented its former chapel building on South Main Street to “some Chinamen, who will open a laundry there”, prompting the local newspaper to remark, “Who said ‘cleanliness is next to godliness?’” If indeed this laundry was established, it was short-lived for there is no record of it and the chapel was being occupied by an undertaking establishment by 1896. In early 1895, two additional Chinese immigrants were reported as having established a laundry, though again the details are not specified.

During this time, Chinese hand laundries competed with non-Chinese laundries, many of them increasingly mechanized. In Middleborough, Stegmaier Brothers operated a laundry on Clifford Street in the late 1890s, to be succeeded by the Middleboro Steam Laundry which would be established on Center Street near Pearl Street. In addition, apparel retailers frequently acted as laundry agents, not actually performing the work themselves, but sending it out to be done. Both men’s clothiers Sparrow Brothers, and shoe dealer D. B. Monroe acted in such a capacity around the turn of the last century, catering to Middleborough residents.

It has been estimated that one in four Chinese men at the turn of the century was engaged in the laundry trade. In Middleborough, the proportion was considerably higher. In fact, it appears that 100% of the Chinese population was engaged as hand launderers. The local Chinese community as elsewhere was exclusively male through the early 1900s and was composed of both single men and married men whose wives were forced to stay behind in China because of restrictive American immigration policies. Many of these men sought only to make enough money in order to return to China and lead what they hoped would be a better life. Consequently, the local community was largely transitory with only a few Chinese such as Wah Lee and Low Hen staying for an extended period of time and making their home in Middleborough.

Wah Lee (c. 1895-c. 1930)

The best remembered of Middle-
borough’s Chinese laundrymen was Wah Lee who operated a laundry in the Cushing Block (today occupied by the Central CafĂ©) on Center Street near Oak Street and who fatefully shared the name of the progenitor of American Chinese laundries. Lee’s laundry was established probably about February, 1895, at which time the Middleboro Gazette reported that two additional Chinamen had “embarked in the laundry business during the past week”. (The other was possibly Lee Toy who assumed ownership of the Four Corners laundry at about this time). Wah Lee’s laundry occupied the southernmost of the two stores (closest to the Four Corners) in the Cushing Block, and it appears to have been known as the Christian Hill Laundry, sharing the building over the years with a number of other tenants including Anders Martenson’s tailor shop.

Lee was born in China in 1855. Like many Chinamen, he was married, though his wife presumably remained behind in China, barred by the Exclusion Acts which prohibited the admission of Chinese to the United States. Rather than being an anomaly, such cases of wives being separated from husbands were common in the Chinese-American experience due to restrictions upon immigration which barred most Chinese from entering the country, creating a bachelor-dominated society. It was likely to this absent family that Lee returned in 1896, it being reported in the Gazette at the time that “Wah Lee, the Christian Hill laundryman, returned Tuesday morning from China, where he has been visiting relatives.”

Because the operation of a hand laundry was a relatively simple affair, despite the grueling nature of the work, it could be left in the hands of others, a circumstance which allowed Lee and other Chinese laundrymen to periodically return to China. In 1900, Lee was assisted by a 36-year-old bachelor, Tung Tay, and Lee Hong, a 38-year-old married man whose wife, like his boss’ was probably in China. All three appear to have lived at the laundry.

Besides laundering, Lee’s operation offered Chinese and Japanese fancy goods, as well as Chinese teas and fireworks. Lee appears to have relocated his operation to North Main Street in the 1920s. A 1929 news item describes him as being located there (possibly in the premises vacated by George Leong) conducting business with a washing machine, electric laundry stove, three electric flat irons and, unsurprisingly, a fan.

Lee seems to have concluded his long career as a laundryman in the early 1930s at which time he would have been in his seventies. The Middleborough business directory for 1934 lists the laundry location on North Main Street as vacant, indicating that Lee’s business had closed by that time.

Lee Toy (c. 1885-1901)

By 1895, the American Building laundry at the Four Corners which probably dated from the mid-1880s was under the ownership of Lee Toy, and it is listed in directories of the era as Lee Toy Co.

Lee Toy appears to have been succeeded by laundryman Cring Chin by 1900. The federal census record of that year is not clear concerning Chin, though it records him as arriving in the United States in 1892, and being married for 15 years. Like Wah Lee’s wife, Chin’s was also absent, again most likely having had to remain in China. Chin at the time resided in a rooming house at 2 Wareham Street with a number of other American families, the location being just across Wareham Street from the laundry in the basement of the American Building.

Sometime about April 1901, the Four Corners laundry appears to have become defunct, closing up shop, and being replaced by a fish market.

Soo Wok and Low Hen (c. 1898-1915)

Yet another long standing Chinese laundry operation was conducted on Academy Green, what is today known as Thatcher’s Row, facing Peirce Academy. The laundry appears to have been first operated by a man recorded variously as Soo Wok and Wah Soo.

The building which housed the laundry and now numbered 2 Thatcher’s Row was built in 1895 on the northern end of the Thatcher greenhouses and initially housed a tobacconist’s shop. Shortly thereafter, but certainly by 1899, it was occupied by Soo Wok who opened a Chinese laundry.

Soo operated the laundry for only a short period of time, apparently giving up the business and temporarily returning to China. In December, 1901, a local newspaper reported that “Soo Wok, who formerly conducted a laundry and store in Middleboro was lately in that town on a visit to his fellow countrymen, thus effectually disposing of the story that he had been drowned while on the trip between China and America.”

Soo’s successor, Low Hen, would conduct the laundry intermittently through 1915. In early 1906, Low Hen reportedly sold the Academy Green laundry, and returned to China, the Gazette remarking at the time that “Low had made a success of the business, and was a young man who had many friends in town.”

Low appears to have been succeeded successively by Ham Tom who is noted in 1908 as the laundryman on Thatcher’s Row, and later by Yin Yin, recorded as the owner in 1910. Yin, like several other Middleborough Chinese laundrymen was married. Having emigrated in 1892 he likely was forced to leave his wife behind in China.

Whether Low ever actually sold the laundry and left Middleborough is not clear, for he reappears on the scene in 1914, being listed in the Middleboro business directory for that year, and again in mid-1915 at which time the Gazette reported that he was having an establishment built for laundry purposes on Pearl Street and was proposing moving his operation there from Thatcher’s Row. Whatever his ultimate destination, Low did vacate the laundry building on Thatcher’s Row which was subsequently occupied by the Middleborough Water Department in the summer of 1915.

Kee Hop (c. 1898-1906)

A short-lived Chinese laundry operated near the corner of Center and Pearl Streets around 1900. The 1900 census lists 26-year-old Kee Hop as a laundryman residing at the location of the laundry. He is probably identical with Sam Kee who is listed in the Middleborough business directory as the proprietor of a laundry at the same location the following year. Kee, born in China in 1873, was a naturalized citizen, having emigrated in 1887.

This laundry occupied one of a row of three small stores which were located in an addition constructed on the front of the brick steam laundry building which had been built about 1897. The steam laundry which had been located earlier on Clifford Street and was known as the Middleboro Steam Laundry was operated on Center Street by Clark & Keith and later by Capen & Dunham. The steam laundry building (long since demolished) was conspicuous for its 80-foot chimney.

The Chinese laundry may initially have been run independently by Kee, though it may also have had some business connection with the steam laundry. By March, 1906, however, the Chinese laundry premises were absorbed into the operation of the Union Steam Laundry which had succeeded the Middleboro Steam Laundry, and the Chinese laundry forced to remove elsewhere.

Kee relocated his operation to Wareham Street near the Four Corners where he is listed as being in operation in 1906. By 1909, Kee was no longer in business.

Prejudice and the Early Chinese in Middleborough

In the perception of the non-Chinese residents of Middleborough, the Chinese, like other immigrant groups before them, alternated between being objects of fun and genuinely respected members of the community if we can judge by the contents of the local Middleborough newspapers. Frequently, what we today would consider among the most derogatory of racial epithets was used to describe the Chinese, though these seem to have been used with no overt malicious intent. Instead, use of terminology such as “Celestials”, “Mongolians”, “Asiatics” and much worse reflected the non-Asian community’s perception of what was permissible at the time, though it nevertheless reinforced negative racial stereotypes and impeded assimilation of the Chinese within the community.

Many Chinese were hampered by their lack of proficiency in English, and the resulting Pidgin English to which they were forced to resort became an object of ridicule. In its edition of May 16, 1913, the Middleboro Gazette noted a sign hung in the window of a local Chinese laundry adjoining a cobbler shop which allegedly read: “People bring shoe come fix different doorway. Admit you, want see him go side door.” Sadly, while this item was published with no other purpose than to elicit laughter from local readers, it is indicative of the struggles Chinese immigrants had in being able to communicate and being understood in a largely alien world, as well as being treated with respect.

Some Chinese did acquire proficiency in the language, however, though census records in some cases may be suspect. Wah Lee and his lodgers-employees Tung Tay and Lee Hong, as well as Hop Kee, were all listed as able to read, write and speak English in 1900, as was Joe Yap in 1910. During the court proceedings against Yap, however, in 1901, a Boston merchant had to be sent for to act as interpreter, although this may simply indicate that Yap at the time was either not fully comfortable with English or had learned the language later.

While poking fun of Chinese immigrants for the lack of fluency in English was regarded at the time as harmless, taken more seriously were the two recorded incidences of physical harassment to which the local Chinese were subjected. Both involved the operator of the Academy Green laundry.

In September, 1908, Ham Tom, the operator of the laundry, was subjected to the taunting of several young boys who began bothering the laundryman. “The boys were fooling when [Ham’s] sense of humor became exhausted, and he is said to have tried to polish one fellow with a flatiron.” Ham chased the boys, capturing one, Fritz Kraus, who was rescued by his compatriots. “The police investigated the affair, but no action was taken.” Six years later, the operator of the same laundry became “the object of malicious attack by youths of late.” The screen door at the laundry was kicked in and the Chinese laundryman doused with water. In the wake of the attack, the Gazette reported that “the police are looking into the matter with court proceedings to follow unless these attacks cease.” The harassment appears to have stopped following the publication of the news item.

Legalized Discrimination and Joe Yap’s “Paper Son”

While these two incidences reflected random and fortunately rare harassment of Chinese aliens in an otherwise tolerant community, official anti-Chinese discrimination was institutionalized in the Page Act of 1875, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and subsequent laws which placed severe restrictions upon the emigration, residence and naturalization of Chinese in America. Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts lambasted the Exclusion Act as “nothing less than the legalization of racial discrimination.” Few Chinese escaped the pervasiveness of these laws, including a Middleborough Chinese laundryman known alternatively as Joe Yap and Joe Wong who would experience the consequences of this discrimination first hand in 1901.

Yap’s story began in late 1900, when a young boy by the name of Joe Wing Shay, understood in Middleborough to be Yap’s nephew, came to reside with Yap at Wah Lee’s Center Street laundry. No doubt, this is the boy about whom the following news account was written: “The Chinese colony in this town has been supplemented by a 13-year-old Celestial who has been in this country about two weeks. His guardians are very proud of him, and are anxious to have him enter the public schools.”

Despite these intentions, Shay attended school only part time, presumably working the remainder of the time in the laundry (though his uncle later denied this). Apparently dismayed by the likelihood of a life engaged in laundering and alleging mistreatment on the part of his uncle, Shay absconded with $25 belonging to Yap in the spring of 1901. “He was traced to Brockton and thence to Providence, where he was captured in a laundry. Officer Frank King brought him home much against his wishes. In police court yesterday he appeared to answer the charge of larceny of $25, and the case was put over till the juvenile court session Saturday. Joe is about 12 years old. It is probable that the case will be dropped.”

The case, in fact, wasn’t dropped. Shay who was listed in various news accounts of the period as ranging in age from 11 to 13 and who was rather callously termed “a star actor in an embezzlement matter”, was placed under the guardianship of Superintendent Nickerson of the Middleborough Poor Farm. At his trial, Shay stated that he wished to remain at the Town Farm, and that he had been mistreated by Yap. Yap “said he did not make him work. He considered he was getting schooling enough, as he went half the time. He did not want to have him sent back to China.” The court ordered that Shay be turned over to a "state charitable institution", Tewksbury State Hospital.

The trial alerted immigration authorities to Yap’s presence in Middleborough and raised doubts about the legality of Shay’s residence. In late summer, 1901, Yap was arrested by United States Deputy Marshall Pickering on a charge of perjury. At the time of Yap’s emigration to the United States through Newport, Vermont, he had testified to his right to be in the country, and further swore that Joe Wing Shay “was his own son, born in the country.” During Shay’s April trial, however, Shay (who was known about Middleborough as Yap’s nephew) attested to having been born in China “which conflicts with Yap’s sworn declaration". Such instances of “paper sons”- Chinese boys who claimed a naturalized Chinese resident as a father in order to gain admittance to the country - were commonplace, as the Chinese sought to circumvent discriminatory immigration restrictions. "Yap was held in $1500 bonds for a hearing before the U. S. Commissioner in Vermont.”

Despite the fact that the two may have acted without regard for the law, the tale indicates the harshness of the punishment meted out to Chinese immigrants at the time as well as the stringent restrictions designed to limit Chinese immigration into the country. Yap’s alleged perjury can today be better understood as a likely attempt to circumvent what was a racist and discriminatory law, the impact of which frequently has been overlooked relative to East Coast Chinese immigrants.

It is not recorded what punishment, if any, Yap was given in 1901. He remained in Middleborough through at least 1910 at which time he is listed as a laundryman living on Center Street along with another 12-year-old nephew, Joe Wah, and a 21-year-old “cousin”, Look Lee, both of whom were engaged in the laundry with Yap. While Look Lee is listed in the census record as “cousin” to Yap, he may in fact have been Yap’s business partner, the term “cousin” being in frequent use by the Chinese to connote this type of business relationship.


In 1918, the Middleboro Gazette reported that Wah Lee had purchased the Cushing Building from its owner, Dr. C. S. Cummings. Land records, however, indicate that the purchase was made at the time by Wong You who appears to have been a relative of Lee’s. The Yous – Wong, his wife Joe Sue [Jew She], and six children – resided over the Center Street laundry. The Yous appear to have been the first Chinese family to reside in Middleborough which previously had been dominated by a bachelor society. Additionally, the Yous, while maintianing cultural ties to China, displayed a remarkable degree of assimilation by 1920. The youngest four You children, all born in Massachusetts, were each given distinctly Anglo names – Elizabeth, Robert, Philip and Florence. In 1920, the two oldest children, daughters Sue You, aged 11, and Elizabeth You, aged 6, were attending public school. At the time, the Yous also employed a live in housekeeper, Myrtle B. L. Revallion, a 19-year-old African American woman

Included in the family in 1920 was a 13-year-old boy, Ee Wah, who is listed as the nephew of Wong You. The boy is probably the same as E. Wah Lee whom Lyman Butler long afterwards recalled in one of his columns in the Middleboro Gazette in 1968. Butler believed Lee to be the son of Wah Lee.

Perhaps the presence of the Yous and the sale of the Cushing Block on June 27, 1921, to Dr. Daniel H. Holmes confused Middleborough residents in need of laundering services, for Wah Lee felt compelled to place an ad in the July 29, 1921 edition of the Middleboro Gazette: “To my patrons I wish to say that I have no intentions of discontinuing my laundry business, but instead shall continue it at the same place. I thank you for past patronage, and solicit your work for the future.”

The Last of the Chinese Laundries

The longevity of both the Center Street and Thatcher’s Row Chinese laundries indicates the continuing demand for such services. Business, in fact, for Chinese hand launderers remained brisk enough to warrant the opening of another laundry in 1921 by Tom Ying at 69A Center Street.

As non-Chinese laundries like the Union Steam Laundry and the Middleboro Laundry increasingly became mechanized, Chinese laundries where work was done by hand either succumbed to competition, or survived by advertising the “hand” nature of their work, hand laundering presumably connoting a higher quality of work. Indicative of this trend, on March 14, 1925, George Leong of Boston opened a “first class Chinese hand laundry” on North Main Street. The Middleborough directory of 1928-29 made a distinction in the business listings between “laundries” and “laundries (Chinese)”, which hinted at the mechanized nature of the first and the hand nature of the second.

Not all welcomed yet another Chinese laundry in town, though it was surprisingly members of the small Chinese community which objected, looking unfavorably upon the competition offered by their countrymen. Competition between local Chinese launderers was nothing new. In 1903, when there were three Chinese laundries in town (Wah Lee, Low Hen and Sam Kee), the local newspaper made note of a “rate war” between them. “Prices have gone down to six cents. Now is the time to have your shirt washed”, urged the Gazette. All three survived this rate war, though Kee closed his doors a number of years later.

Competition between the laundries in 1925 took a more violent turn. Just one month after opening, Leong’s operation was targeted by Yee Jung Let, who was associated with Lee’s laundry which objected to Leong’s competition.

Since the opening of another laundry on North Main street a short time ago by George Leong of Boston there has been “something brewing” in laundry circles. It is alleged that members of the Center street laundry have been jealous of another laundry coming to town and have been giving the Leong establishment the “once over,” trying to “get” a line on how much business the latter has been doing, and have been bothering the Leong outfit in the rear of his establishment both day and night at various times.

In April, Yee was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace. While the Gazette rather melodramatically speculated that the incident was the possible start of a tong war, it was more likely an incidence of an improper (and illegal) response to unwanted competition. Nonetheless, it does appear to have convinced potential competitors not to open operations in Middleborough since Lee’s laundry seems to have been the sole Chinese laundry operating in Middleborough through the remainder of its existence. Only after Wah Lee retired from hand laundering did other Chinese laundries appear upon the scene. In 1933, the Middleboro Gazette published an advertisement announcing the opening of a new Chinese laundry at 33 Pearl Street, while in 1937, the Wah Kee laundry was opened at 225 Center Street.

Eventually, Middleborough’s Chinese laundrymen either retired or moved into other spheres of business and the business of laundering was no longer restricted nearly exclusively to the Chinese. In 1937, Park J. Huie became what was probably Middleborough’s first Chinese owner of a business other than a laundry, opening the Nan Tung American and Chinese Restaurant in the Pasztor & Klar Building on Center Street. Fortunately, the decline in the number of Chinese laundries in Middleborough signaled a broader range of opportunities for the community’s Chinese immigrants who increasingly were no longer limited in their choice of occupation. In September, 1942, Middleborough’s last Chinese laundry, operated by James Gee closed. Gee relocated to South Portland, Maine, to take part in the war effort, engaging in shipbuilding work. A year later, the notorious Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed.


"New Chinese Laundry", advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, June 23, 1933, p. 8.
Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, local Chinese laundrymen advertised the hand nature of their work, their advertisements connoting that higher quality work could be had than at mechanized laundries. In truth, residents saw little difference, one factor which contributed to the decline of Chinese laundries locally.

Man Seated in Chinese Laundry, photograph, early 20th century, Ethnic Studies Library, University of California, Berkeley
The photograph depicts the shabby appearance of the interior of a Chinese laundry. Given that many Chinese laundrymen had little capital with which to start a business, many fixtures within the laundry were improvised. While the photograph captures how many such laundries undoubtedly appeared, it is likely that Middleborough's Chinese laundries were better kept, though still confined to similarly cramped spaces.

"Wah Lee Chinese Laundry", advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, October 27, 1905, p. 1.
Of all Middleborough's Chinese laundrymen, Lee was the best remembered and his business was the longest lived operating for over thirty years. Originally conducting business in the Cushing Block on Center Street, Lee relocated to North Main Street in his final years.

Cushing Block, photograph, early 20th century.
Wah Lee's laundry occupied the southernmost of the two ground floor stores in the Cushing Block. Lee's sign bearing the simple word "LAUNDRY" is barely discernible at the far left of the photograph.

"Wah Lee Chinese Laundry", advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, May 10, 1912, p. 8.
In addition to laundering, Lee acted as a purveyor of Chinese culture locally, retailing Chinese fancy goods, teas and firecrackers.

Low Hen Laundry Building, 2 Thatcher's Row, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Mike Maddigan, August, 2009.
Originally occupied by a tobacconist's shop, this building was the location of the Chinese laundry operated by Soo Wok and later Low Hen until 1915. The building later had a succession of occupants including the Middleborough Water Department and later Rainbows on the Row restaurant.

Wing Chong Laundry, Heritage Park, Calgary, AB, Canada, photograph by oscailte, September 20, 2009, republished under a Creative Commons license.
This recreation of a Chinese laundryman's living quarters in 1906 gives a good idea of what conditions were like for immigrant Chinese at the turn of the last century. Middleborough's Chinese laundrymen typically lived at the laundries in small rooms such as this, surrounded by a few personal possessions and makeshift furniture.

"The Chinese Question Again", The Wasp, volume 23, July-December, 1889.
This cartoon depicts what many, particularly in the western United States, regarded as an especially vexing problem - Chinese immigration. Here Uncle Sam is no match for the wave of Chinese immigrants who swarm into the country, despite barriers such as the various Exclusion Acts which effectively barred immigration from China. With fewer Chinese, eastern communities like Middleborough for the most part remained relatively untroubled by the issue, though local Chinese were still affected by immigration restrictions.

"New Laundry", advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, November 4, 1921, p. 5.
A relative new comer to the Chinese laundry business, Tom Ying established a laundry in the Pasztor & Klar Building on Center Street. Ying's laundry was short-lived and this advertisement appears to be one of the few records of its existence.

"First Class Chinese Hand Laundry", advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, March 13, 1925, p. 10.
The opening of a new Chinese laundry by George Leong of Boston on North Main Street in 1925, though welcomed by non-Chinese residents, was allegedly targeted by associates of the Wah Lee laundry which objected to the competition. Though the conflict beween the two laundries was rather melodramatically depicted as the start of a potential local tong war by the Middleboro Gazette, in reality it was an unfortunate conflict between two businesses caught in a changing and shrinking market.

"Wah Kee Hand Laundry", advertisement, Middleboro Gazette, January 8, 1937, p. 12.
Wah Kee's was one of the last Chinese laundries to operate in Middleborough. With the falling out of fashion of men's shirt collars and cuffs which previously constituted a sizeable portion of the laundryman's business, Kee focused his attention on other items such as uniforms in order to solicit business.

Boston Globe
, September 9, 1900; April 15, 1901

Brockton Enterprise, “War Closes Last Chinese Laundry”, September 21, 1942

Brockton Times, April 13, 1901; April 15, 1901

Middleboro Gazette, June 16, 1905:1 (advertisement); June 30, 1905:1 (advertisement); August 4, 1905 (advertisement); October 27, 1905:1 (advertisement); “Middleboro”, January 19, 1906:4; ibid., September 25, 1908:4; May 10, 1912:8 (advertisement); “Middleboro”, May 16, 1913:5; ibid., September 11, 1914:5; ibid., May 14, 1915:1; ibid., June 21, 1918:8; “What the Gazette Was Saying Twenty Five Years Ago”, February 27, 1920; “Middleboro”, July 15, 1921:1; July 29, 1921:5 (advertisement); “What the Gazette Was Saying Twenty Five Years Ago”, August 5, 1921; November 4, 1921:5 (advertisement); March 13, 1925:10 (advertisement); “District Court”, April 10, 1925:9; “What the Gazette Was Saying Twenty Five Years Ago”, April 13, 1928:7; “District Court”, August 16, 1929:1; ibid., December 20, 1929:1; ibid., January 3, 1930:7; June 23, 1933:8 (advertisement); January 8, 1937:12 (advertisement); Lyman Butler, “Down Memory Lane”, February 1, 1968; Michael Maddigan, “Recollecting Nemasket: Middleborough’s Chinese Laundries”, November 4, 2004:5

Old Colony Memorial, “County and Elsewhere”, January 27, 1876; ibid., October 5, 1882; ibid., March 4, 1886:4; ibid., April 22, 1886:4; ibid., September 20, 1888; ibid., May 14, 1892; September 7, 1901; December 7, 1901; April 25, 1903; May 16, 1903

Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Mass., for 1895. (Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1895), pp. 125, 160, 180.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Massachusetts for 1897. (Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1897), pp. 86, 119.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro’ and Lakeville, Massachusetts for 1899. (Needham, MA: A. E. Foss & Co., 1899), pp. 85, 143.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Mass. 1901. (No. Cambridge, MA: Edward A. Jones, 1901), p. 130.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Mass. 1904-5. (Boston, MA: Edward A. Jones, 1904), p. 126.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Mass. 1906-07. (Boston: Boston Suburban Book Company, 1906).
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro and Lakeville, Massachusetts. 1909. (Boston, MA: Boston Suburban Book Company, 1908), p. 130.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Massachusetts. 1913. (Boston, MA: Union Publishing Co., 1913), p. 132.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Massachusetts. 1914-15. (Boston, MA: Union Publishing Co., 1914), p. 133.
Resident and Business Directory of Middleboro, Massachusetts. 1921-23. (Boston, MA: Union Publishing Company [Inc.]), p. 116.
Crosby’s Middleboro, Massachusetts Directory. (Wollaston, MA: Crosby Publishing Company, 1928), pp. 117, 193.
Middleboro and Carver, Massachusetts, Directory. North Hampton, NH: Crosby Publishing Co., Inc., 1934), pp. 29, 31.

Middleboro. New York, NY: Sanborn Map & Publishing Co. Limited. August, 1885.
Middleboro, Plymouth County, Mass. New York, NY: Sanborn-Peris Map Co., Limited. May, 1891.
Middleboro, Plymouth County, Mass. New York, NY: Sanborn-Peris Map Co., Limited. June, 1896.
Middleboro, Plymouth County, Mass. New York, NY: Sanborn-Peris Map Co., Limited. April, 1901.
Insurance Maps of Middleboro Plymouth County Massachusetts. New York, NY: Sanborn Map Company. March, 1906.
Insurance Maps of Middleboro Plymouth County Massachusetts. New York, NY: Sanborn Map Company. January, 1912.
Middleboro Including Waterville, Rock, Lakeville and North Middleboro, Plymouth County, Massachusetts. New York, NY: Sanborn Map Company. January, 1925.
Middleboro Including Waterville, Rock, Lakeville and North Middleboro, Plymouth County, Massachusetts: New Report September 1932. New York, NY: Sanborn Map Company. September, 1932.

Twelfth Census of the United States, Middleborough, Plymouth County, MA. Washington, D. C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1900.
Thirteenth Census of the United States, Middleborough, Plymouth County, MA. Washington, D. C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1910.
Fourteenth Census of the United States, Middleborough, Plymouth County, MA. Washington, D. C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1920.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tom Sisson's Bay Collects Its Mail, 1907

While cars driving into buildings is a relatively rare phenomenon today, prior to automobiles incidences of horses entering buildings were even rarer. Consequently, when they happened, they typically received some sort of notice. When Thomas Sisson's bay walked into the Middleborough Post Office which was then housed in the Peirce Block at the Four Corners on September 7, 1907, it not surprisingly created a considerable stir. Fortunately, James H. Creedon documented the now humorous episode for posterity. Clearly amused by the entire affair, Creedon made much of the incident, revealing in the process not only his ability as a correspondent but his skill as a humorist.

Big Bay Walks Into Postoffice
Tom Sisson's Horse Makes Excitement in Middleboro

Thomas Sisson's big gray horse, hitched to a heavy truck, was left standing on the street in front of the Middleboro postoffice today at 11.30 a. m., and when it saw people going in and out of Uncle Sam's depot decided that there ought to be something inside of interest to the equine world. The big bay, without any intimation of its wish to look over the stamp bureau, straightaway marched across the sidewalk and up the three steps to the floor of the postoffice. Immediately there was excitement on the street and in the office. The oldest resident, the postmaster and his assistants, the town constable and the guardian of the Peirce fund averred that in all their lives they had never known a horse to have called in person for his mail. They insisted it was proper for horses to get their mail and souvenir postal cards, especially Tom Sisson's big bay, by rural free delivery.

The bay didn't take much notice of the excitement its appearance in the postoffice created. But before it could get to the stamp window or the general delivery pigeon hole, it was brought up short, not on all fours, exactly, but so surely that it wasn't permitted to conduct a personal interview with the salaried officials in the office. This interruption was due to the fact that the main entrance to the postoffice is a common every-day sort of single doorway. The big bay got mostly through, but when it came to the big truck there was trouble.

The front gig, neither at an angle of 42 degrees or headon would pass through the portal. The horse shifted, side-stepped and squirmed, but could not get the wagon inside the door. The wheels braced against the doorposts and squeaked in remonstrance at the big bay's efforts to do the postoffice circuit. Fearing that it might pull the front of the postoffice through the store and out into the backyard it gave up the struggle and rested. Then the populace appreciated the humor of the situation.

The horse didn't appreciate the humor of the situation now. The animal couldn't get in to find whether a letter had come from home with money in it or not; neither could it back out. The crowd got busy and finally the animal was unharnessed, and led into the vestibule. Strong men then rolled the big truck into the street. The bay blinked approvingly at these proceedings, and didn't offer a word of remonstrance, even when it was led quietly out of the door down the same three steps and back to the cart. The office suffered no material damage.

Farming in the West, 2 cents, Trans Mississippi Exposition Issue, United States Postal Service, 1898
While the more traditional way for horses to enter U. S. post offices was through appearing on stamps such as this 1898 issue commemorating farming in the west, in 1907 Thomas Sisson's bay walked into the Middleborough post office and created a considerable stir.

Source:Brockton Times, "Big Bay Walks Into Postoffice", September 7, 1907.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Central Baptist Church Centennial, 1928

In 1928, the Central Baptist Church celebrated its 100th anniversary with a week of services, ceremonies and a youth rally. Accompanying the celebration of the landmark year was the following program which outlined the week and provided a brief historical background on the church.

"The One Hundreth Anniversary of the Central Baptist Church", Middleborough, MA, program, May, 1928

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Central Baptist Church History

The following history of the Central Baptist Church of Middleborough was written by G. Ward Stetson in April, 1966, and furnished to Recollecting Nemasket through the courtesy of Evelyn R. Carver of Middleborough.

Major Levi Peirce the founder of Central Baptist Church and Peirce Academy was born in 1773. He was one of thirteen children, including Peter H. Peirce, born to Captain Job and Elizabeth Rounsville Peirce. His boyhood home was situated at the corner of Main and Stetson Streets in what is now Lakeville. Captain Job Peirce, a veteran of the French & Indian and the Revolutionary Wars, was a man of deep and abiding faith in God. He was seldom absent from his pew in the Meeting House. Each day he arose early in the morning, before his household was awake, for his own private half-hour of prayer. He led family devotions daily and by example and teachings, instilled the same faith and devotion to his Maker into the lives of his large family. This devoted belief in Christ and His salvation was the firm foundation upon which this church was constructed.

Levi's brother, Capt. Job Peirce Jr., inherited many of his father's fine qualities. An exceptionally fine business man, he conducted a store in Assonet Village, built sea going vessels and engaged in the West Indian trade. He died a young man and with Levi as administrator of his estate and wit his father to guide him, the resolve was reached to use some of the money to build Peirce Academy - completed in 1808. Here hundred of young men received their education during a period of seventy years. Here also Baptists held services on the second floor.

As a youngster, Levi served as clerk in the store of his brother-in-law, General Abiel Washburn at Muttock. When he became of age his father gave him $1000 to start a business in the old Morton House at the junction of Prospect and South Main Streets. His store was located on the first floor, with the family living on the second floor. Levi Peirce held many public offices of trust in the town and served his country as a Major in the War of 1812. In 1824, Levi and his wife Sally were baptised as members of the Fourth Calvanistic Church of Middleboro, - now Lakeville. He was made a deacon in 1826. They were dismissed to Central Baptist Church on August 10, 1828 where they continued through life.

Central Baptist is the fifth of this denomination to be organized within the bounds of the town as known in 1828. The first, Backus Memorial Church in North Middleboro was organized in 1756 with a possibility of earlier date through documents of 1749. While the Fourth Church (or Pond Meeting House) does not now exist, its life continued in this church, for eight of the original ten members were of that old church on the shores of Assawompsett Pond. The other two members came from the Third or Rock Church.

These ten constituent members forming Central Baptist Church with Levi Peirce as their leader, recognized the need of a new church building at the so-called "Lower Four Corners" - as the Academy rooms were inadequate for the growing congregation. They met on the evening of August 9, 1828 at the home of Levi Peirce on South Main Street, just east of this church's present location. Each related his Christian experiences and decided to form a new and distinct church. Here a declaration of purpose, articles of faith and the church covenant used today were adopted. Material provision had already been provided, with Levi Peirce as the donor, by the erection of a beautiful colonial type Meeting House in 1827, - built the same year as the First Congregational Church at the Green and with the same architect, Deacon James Sproat. The cost of the Meeting House as recorded in Major Levi Peirce's treasurers book was $4,575.55.

By 1834 it was necessary to add twenty feet to the length of the building and in 1851 it was raised seven feet, a new front was added and the steeple increased in height, at a cost of $3,000. On Sunday morning, January 22, 1888 just as Rev. William H. Bowen had completed his sermon and as Sunday School was in session, the beautiful colonial church was found to be on fire - the result of a defective chimney. Within a few hours the first church was utterly destroyed except for movable furniture and the organ, which suffered some water damage.

The second house of worship copied after an English Gothic church, of wood rather than stone, was erected at a cost of $24,000. The corner stone was laid May 6, 1889 and the dedication was on January 22, 1890 - just two years after the burning of the first church. William Rounsville Peirce, not a member of the church, but a regular attendant and member of the "Society", gave as his contribution to the community the "Town Clock", and the "sweet toned bell" that rang from the belfry.

A most difficult decision was reached in 1962. Because of the wear and tear of time, disintegration through dry rot and in a few instances questionable construction - experts advised church authorities that extensive repairs would be neither advisable nor practical.

With heavy hearts, for many cherished memories centered around that church building, the decision was made to demolish the structure and erect a brick colonial type edifice. Demolition started in August of 1963 and in September of the same year construction of the new church was begun. The firm of Broker, McKay & Associates, Inc. of Concord, New Hampshire was selected as the architects and DeLoid & Gomes, of Acushnet, Mass. as the general contractors. The weather assisted materially in the progress of work through the winter months, permitting the corner stone laying service to be held on Sunday, April 26, 1964 - "to the Glory of God."

The Services of Dedication were held on June 14, 17, 18, 19 and 21, 1964 with prominent ministers bringing messages appropriate for the occasion. Dr. Gordon C. Brownville, Pastor of Tremont Temple, Boston brought the sermon of Dedication on Sunday June 14, 1964. At the same time the ceremony of presenting the keys of the new church from the Architect and Builder to the officials of the church signified that the end of a long and prayerful endeavor was consummated. The building was completed at an approximate cost of $241,000.

It is of interest that during the period of demolition and construction, services were held in the Town Hall and the old Episcopal Parish house. The bell in the steeple now announcing the hours of day and night is the one which hung in the tower of the old Peirce Academy (built by Levi Peirce in 1808 and demolished in the 1930's for the Post Office) and summoned students to classes just a few feet from where it once again rings out its message.

Townsfolk aided generously by contributing toward the new "Town Clock" in the steeple. Two of the stained-glass window motifs from the former building add beauty and sentiment to the decor of the auditorium and narthex. Four antique chairs closely associated with the first and second churches have taken their rightful places in the auditorium and chapel.

In the 138 years of ministry the church has had but twenty Pastors, all of whom have contributed their rightful part to its success in bringing God's message to the people.

Rev. Avery Briggs, one who was instrumental in helping form the first church, was offered the first pastorate but declined to accept. In Levi Peirce's treasurers book Rev. A. Briggs was paid $40 in 1828 for "8 Sabbath preachings", which might indicate that he supplied as Pastor prior to Rev. Nicholas Medberry's acceptance as first Pastor. Rev. Medberry was paid the munificent sum of $475 per year as his salary and he received it but once a year. The story is told that in prayer meeting, while thinking f good Pastor Medberry, one worthy deacon prayed, "Lord, you keep him humble and we will keep him poor."

Much time could easily be devoted to the Pastorates of those who have served this church and community so fully and so well over the years. Looking backwards over these many years, it is known there have been many hundreds who found Christ within this fellowship of believers. Many of them went out into full time Christian service, as Pastors, as Missionaries and Christian workers - so their lives were not only saved in this place but because of their dedicated efforts countless others have found Christ as their personal Saviour.

Central Baptist is grateful for those who in recent years have taken their rightful places within the church family and are aiding in carrying out the hopes and desires of the founding fathers for a Gospel Witness here in Middleborough. During this period the most notable step forward in the church has been its spiritual growth. In a day of weakening standards, of winking at the Ten Commandments, of liberal religion, of shocking Court decisions, desecration of the Lord Day and of church apathy - we find Central Baptist still a lighthouse in the fog - remaining true to her trust as a Bible believing, Bible practicing church. This spiritual growth has not only resulted in increased membership but shows also by a recognized devotion to missions and missionary giving, in the sustained radio ministry, in more practicing tithers and by a growing interest in prayer meeting attendance.

It is sincerely believed that Central Baptist Church has carried out the wishes and desires of the founders and that Major Levi Peirce and his father Captain Job Peirce would approve the endeavors of the past and of the present. Because of the consecrated lives of these men back in 1828, the lives and careers of hundreds of men and women have been altered and saved - a glowing tribute to real Christian men of action. May this church lift high the banner of the Cross and faithfully continue preaching The Gospel - Gods' "good news of Salvation" - to all generations.


Nicholas Medberry, 1828-1832
Hervey Fittz, 1832-1836
Ebenezer Nelson, 1837-1851
Jonathan Aldrich, 1851-1853
John B. Burke, 1854-1855
John F. Bigelow, D. D., 1856-1859
Alexander M. Averill, 1859-1862
Levi A. Abbott, D. D., 1863-1868
George G. Fairbanks, D. D., 1869-1883
William H. Bowen, D. D., 1884-1888
Millard F. Johnson, 1889-1898
J. Herbert Foshay, Jan. 1, 1899. Died March, 1899
Elmer E. Williams, 1899-1906
William D. Goble, 1907-1912
Charles Percy Christopher, 1912-1919
C. Raymond Chappell, 1919-1926
V. Broderick, 1927-1933
James L. Hynes, 1933-1945
George S. McNeill, 1946-1949
Paul J. West, 1950-

Central Baptist Church (1889), Nickerson Avenue, Middleborough, MA, photograph, early 20th century.
The second home of Middleborough's Central Baptist Church was this expressive English Gothic church built in 1888-89. The structure was one of the most widely photographed in town, appearing in numerous photographs and picture postcards. In 1963, the church was demolished and replaced with the present structure on Nickerson Avenue.


G. Ward Stetson. Central Baptist Church, Middleboro, Massachusetts: History. Unpublished manuscript, April, 1966.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Middleborough Opposes Gag Rules

In the 1830s and 1840s, the development of a new political party, the Whigs, was in part influenced by local opposition to the “gag rule”, an 1836 resolution adopted by the United States House of Representatives which suppressed Americans’ freedom of petition.

Beginning in 1836, Southern representation in the House of Representatives sought to reduce if not eliminate altogether the number of anti-slavery petitions which were received by Congress from American citizens each year. Frustrated (and frankly inconvenienced) by these petitions which they regarded as an attack upon the rights and privileges of the South as well as an impediment to the smooth conduct of House business, southern representatives were successful in passing a resolution which permanently tabled all such petitions relative to slavery. Petitions received were prohibited from being printed, considered, debated or discussed.

Renewed during each subsequent Congressional session, the resolution was given renewed force when it was adopted as Rule XXI in 1840 and made a permanent part of House procedure.

Several legislators, foremost among whom was former President and then Massachusetts Representative John Quincy Adams, were deeply disturbed by the resolution which they considered an abridgement of American civil liberties. Adams stated as much during the roll call vote on the original resolution on May 18, 1836. Adams and his supporters maintained that what they and their supporters would come to know as the “gag rule” effectively stifled political debate and arbitrarily denied American citizens their right of petition guaranteed under the First Amendment. “Nip the shoots of arbitrary power in the bud, is the only maxim which can ever preserve the liberties of any people,” Adams counseled.

The First Amendment protection afforded to the right of petition was firmly grounded in the American colonial experience when petitions to King George III for a redress of grievances by American colonists went ignored or the right of petition denied outright. The Declaration of Independence articulated the basis for this protection when it stated:

“In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated petitions have been answered only be repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Adams would spend eight years effort challenging the gag rule, increasingly undermining it through the same parliamentary procedure its supporters had used to implement it. Threatened with both censure by and expulsion from the House, Adams’ perseverance, integrity, persuasiveness, and stand for political freedom would ultimately win over the majority of his colleagues. "Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish", Adams once admitted. In December 1844, the House of Representatives rescinded the notorious gag rule and fully restored to the American people their right of petition.

Contemporaneous with the challenge which Adams mounted to the gag rule was the development of a new political party, the Whigs. Originally arising out of disaffection with Adams’ political nemesis, Andrew Jackson, and driven by an opposition to Jacksonian policies, the Whig party was a disparate group which ultimately found common ground on a number of issues. At the time, the Whigs, in contrast to the Democrats were the more liberal of the two parties, favoring a number of social and economic reforms, opposing (for the most part slavery), and challenging the gag rule.

Locally, the Whigs got off to a slow start, not surprisingly as Middleborough was a bastion of conservatism, known at the time as the “Gibraltar of Democracy” in Plymouth County. Local Democratic politics (and by extension all local politics) were dominated in the 1830s by local political leader and merchant Peter H. Peirce.

Throughout the late 1830s and early 1840s, however, Peirce’s influence along with that of the local Democratic Party waned for a number of reasons among which was the controversy stirred up by implementation of the gag rule. Democrats were caught between their loyalty to a party which by in large insisted upon the rule, and their political conscience which knew the rule to be unconstitutional combined with a New England heritage which had always promoted citizen access to government. Given this tension, they were consequently deeply divided.

Meanwhile, the Middleborough electorate, which had for several years been told that increasing control of the Federal government by southern interests would lead to an erosion of civil liberties and a suppression of democracy, could only regard the gag rule and see their worst fears confirmed. As a result, support began to shift towards the Whigs locally during the 1840s, accelerating with the defeat of the gag rule in 1844.

Local Whig political success was consolidated in the mid and late 1840s with a series of elections which saw the Whigs victorious. In 1847, Whig William H. Wood who was elected as a state senator also defeated Democrat Eliab Ward for the position of Middleborough Town Moderator, sending a signal that perhaps the Democratic dominance of town affairs was in jeopardy. The following year, in 1849, Middleborough in a Congressional election voted Whig for the first time in its history. The Whig success culminated with the election of Philander Washburn (ironically the nephew of Democratic war horse Peter Peirce) as a state senator in 1849 and 1850.

While the Whigs (or at least the northern branch of the party) would within a decade be subsumed within the emergent Republican Party, their initial success, though brief, was in part directly attributable to opposition to Congress’ infamous attempt to deny the right of petition.

“The right of petition … is essential to the very existence of government; it is the right of the people over the government; it is their right, and they may not be deprived of it.” – John Quincy Adams

John Quincy Adams, photograph by Philip Haas, 1843 (detail)

Adams was photographed by Haas the year prior to his political victory in repealing the notorious gag rule implemented by the House of Representatives in 1836. Though never overwhelmingly popular locally, Adams and his formidable opposition to the curtailment of American civil liberties contributed to the rise of the Whig party locally.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Watering Troughs

One frequently overlooked component of the Middleborough municipal waterworks system were the watering troughs which were installed in 1886 in key locations in the district a year following construction of the waterworks. Troughs varying in construction were established at the intersections of North and Oak Streets, East Main and Montello Streets, Center and Stations Streets, Wareham Street and Barden Hill Road, and on South Main Street near the Town Hall. The South Main Street trough was the most elaborate. Built of a solid block of granite with a hollowed out basin at the top for horses, it also featured a niche at the front “into which water trickled at a lower point so that passing dogs could lap up some nice, cool running water.” The two troughs at North and Station Streets were also cut from solid blocks of granite, but were less finished than the South Main Street one. The trough at Montello Street was built of iron, later being replaced by the present concrete version, while the Barden Hill trough was also “of metal, shaped like a huge saucer.” All were fed with water from the municipal system.

The Middleborough Fire District which operated Middleborough’s water department independently of the town until 1919 was paid by the town for the provision of water in these troughs which was supplied by means of an iron pipe fed from the street mains. The troughs operated seasonally with water being turned on each spring and shut off for the season in fall.

In addition to the Fire District, the Board of Health was also involved with the operation of the troughs in order to ensure a supply of pure water, the maintenance of sanitary conditions and the prevention of disease. In late 1908, the board was engaged in improving sanitary conditions about the trough at North Street, and was “laying a pipe of sufficient size to carry off the overflow.” In July, 1914, Dr. T. F. Conway was busily engaged in cleaning and disinfecting the town troughs.

Increasingly, debates over the control of the troughs and which board ultimately had authority over their operation led to water being supplied inconsistently, much to the detriment of the horses which they served.

About 1913, the Board of Health had ordered the water to the troughs shut off due to the prevalence of glanders, a bacterial disease of horses caused by ingesting contaminated water or food. The water department refused to resume the supply in 1914 until the town paid $670.99, the sum for water supplied in 1912 and 1913. Though the town acquiesced to paying the sum, water was not immediately turned on. In early May, 1914, teamsters and nearby residents complained that the water supply to the troughs had yet to be resumed. At the time, the Gazette blamed the fact on the recent assumption of control over the troughs by the Middleborough highway department, the superintendent of which was proposing the erection of cranes as a more sanitary means of watering horses than the troughs. While such devices were no doubt more hygienic, the delay in installing them or resuming water to the troughs that spring was inexcusable. “When the horse is in want of water it is rather tough to have to beg it from somebody’s house”, remarked the local paper. Ultimately, the water appears to have been turned on.

Five years later, failure to once again turn on the water in the town troughs in the spring of 1918 led to the intervention of the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and a political argument between the Board of Selectmen and the water department, still operating independently of the town. On April 25, 1918, the Board of Selectmen ordered that water be supplied solely to the town barn and the Center Street drinking fountain, and not the troughs which remained bone dry. “Many a horse with tongue protruding was seen driven to the troughs [in mid-July] only to find that these were dry”, recorded the Gazette which suggested that the matter was one for possible legal action by the M. S. P. C. A. Taking his cue from the newspaper, Francis H. Rowley, president of the M. S. P. C. A. wrote the town stating that “this is the first instance that I have ever known in the history of Massachusetts, where a town has felt that it could not afford to supply water for its faithful servants, the horses.” Though the Gazette doubted that “the town is in such poor financial condition that it cannot afford to provide water for the thirsty equines”, Rowley proposed soliciting funds himself.

Alvin C. Howes, superintendent of the Middleborough Water Department responded to Rowley: “It is rather difficult to reply to the communication, owing to the complication of statement that it contains, without creating a controversy that should not be created.” Howes then proceeded to create that controversy after dismissing Rowley’s well-intended intervention by placing the blame squarely upon the Board of Selectmen who ordered the water shut off in April.

"If this order, which I do not question the right of the selectmen to issue, had not been received, there would now be water in the troughs, as it would not have been shut off, but having been shut off what is the remedy? … I can suggest a remedy, a very simple and quick one. If the selectmen, who alone have authority to do so, instruct me to turn on the water, it would at once be done, as I know the public spirited citizens of this town will see that it is paid for when the time comes, that it should be attended to without any outside assistance and all that is required is the authority to turn on the water."

The order appears to have been rescinded and the water supply resumed, for little else is heard on the matter. Nonetheless, annual resumption of the supply remained a topic of controversy for a number of years until the troughs were discontinued. In April 1921, teamsters were complaining that the troughs had yet been filled arguing “with good reason that they pay good tax money and should have the privilege of refreshing their horses at these public troughs.”

With the increasing use of the automobile and the decreasing numbers of horses on the roads, the troughs in time became obsolete and their use abandoned. Despite their somewhat obtrusive presence in the intersections where they were located, the troughs remained in place. (As early as 1914, an automobile struck a trough. On July 5 of that year, an auto collided into the Barden Hill trough, tilting it to one side and “causing the water to flood the street”).

On various occasions, however, efforts have been made to remove the troughs from their locations. In 1953, antique dealer and auctioneer William L. Tallman sought to purchase the South Main Street trough from the town. At the time, the Station Street trough was still in place, but described as “cracked”, while the North Street trough was being used as a bird bath. The Barden Hill trough at that point seems to have been long gone. Apparently in view of the South Main Street trough’s obsolescence, “he figured the watering trough might be for sale.” Tallman suggested that the selectmen name a price (“I do not want to dicker”, he told them), but his refusal to indicate precisely why he wished to purchase a trough coupled with the Middleborough troughs’ landmark status, prompted the selectmen to table the matter indefinitely. Brockton newspaperman James H. Creedon later revealed that Tallman wanted the trough to sell to a client for use as a grave marker.

While the South Main Street trough was saved in 1953, it once again came under threat during the 1960s reconstruction of South Main Street. Efforts by the Floral Beautification Committee, however, saved the trough which was relocated to the lawn of the Town and subsequently as a planter.

In 1965, a suggestion was made that the North Street trough be removed to the grounds of the Middleborough Historical Museum on Jackson Street, a proposal which raised the hackles of both the Middleboro Garden Club and the Nemasket Community Club, an organization of neighbors from Oak, North and Nemasket Streets. Writing the Middleborough selectmen on behalf of the latter group, Mrs. Lillian Cassidy said of the North Street trough, “It is one of the few reminders of the past and in no way disturbs the progress of the town.” The trough was permitted to stay and like the South Main Street trough was subsequently used for planting by the garden club.

Today three of Middleborough’s troughs are still extant in or near their original locations - North and Oak Streets, East Main and Montello Streets, and on the Town Hall lawn – where they may still be seen.

"Old Watering Trough, Cor. North & Oak Streets, Middleboro, Mass.", picture postcard, c. 1910.

Ironically, though the watering trough at the intersection of North and Oak Streets was only about 25 years old at the time this postcard was published, it was captioned as "old." The characterization of the troughs as ancient relics is fairly widespread, and there is a long-standing misperception regarding their age, many people believing them to be much older than they are.

Watering Trough, North and Oak Streets, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Clint Clark, 1968. The same trough is captured in this photograph by Clint Clark dating from the late 1960s when the Middleboro Garden Club had found a new use for the troughs. Previously, it had been used as a bird bath. The iron service pipe which fed the trough is visible on the right side.

Watering Trough, East Main and Montello Streets, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan, August 11, 2010
This trough was placed to serve residents of the Star Mill neighborhood as well as travellers to and from the Green and East Middleborough. Though the original trough was constructed of iron, it has since been replaced by the present concrete structure.

Watering Trough, South Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan, August 11, 2010
Originally this trough was situated closer to the street and further south. When South Main Street was widened in the 1960s, the Floral Beautification Committee saved it by relocating it on the Town Hall lawn and finding a new use for it as a floral planter.

Detail, Watering Trough, South Main Street, Middleborough, MA, photograph by Michael J. Maddigan, August 11, 2010
The basin at the base of the small niche in the front of the South Main Street trough was filled by a narrow pipe and was for the benefit of dogs.

Brockton Enterprise, “Seeks to Buy Water Trough”, January 10, 1953; “Odd Use for Old Fountain”, May 5, 1954

Clint Clark, "The Water-Trough Crisis of 1918", The Middleborough Antiquarian, Volume X, Numer 2, September, 1968.

Middleboro Gazette, “Middleboro”, November 20, 1908:4; “Adjourned Town Meeting”, March 20, 1914:1; “Middleboro”, May 8, 1914:5; “Automobile Accidents”, July 10, 1914:1; “Middleboro”, July 24, 1914:1; “Middleboro”, July 26, 1918; “Those Watering Troughs”, August 2, 1918:1; “Middleboro”, April 8, 1921:1; “Watering Troughs to Stay in Place”, April 22, 1965:1

Friday, August 6, 2010

King Philip Park

The Lakeville Park Commission, first established in 1904, is unique in that it was created at an early time when many towns and cities, including those much larger in size like Middleborough, had yet to establish such bodies.

Lakeville’s initial Park Commission originated in a dispute over a parcel of land which would later become the first public park in Lakeville. Originally, the land in question (now the site of the former Lakeville Public Library at Bedford and Main Streets) had been given to the Town of Middleborough (when Lakeville was still part of that town) as a ¾ acre lot during the first half of the nineteenth century by owners Amos and Luther Washburn with the stipulation that it be utilized for the construction of a schoolhouse for what was then Middleborough school district 31. In the event that the property failed to be used for the prescribed purpose, the Washburn family or its heirs were entitled to repurchase the land for the sum of $54.

A schoolhouse was, in fact, built upon the lot and stood there for a number of years until 1883 when it was closed for lack of pupils. It was reputedly moved to Highland Road in 1885, later moved back to the Washburn lot and, finally in 1896 moved to Precinct.

Following 1896, the property remained vacant and was not used for the educational purpose its grantors had desired. Consequently, in 1900 Fred C. Hinds of Newton, a Washburn family relative and summer resident of Lakeville who resided in the home later known as the King Philip Tavern, paid Town Clerk Orrin Haskins $54 to redeem the lot under the terms of the original agreement.

The Board of Selectmen at the time, however, refused to forfeit title to the property and refused to acknowledge Hinds’ payment, while “strenuously” asserting the town’s claim to the property. Undoubtedly miffed, Hinds petitioned Selectmen for a special town meeting to consider the matter of ownership of the parcel, but the Selectmen ignored the petition. Hinds subsequently petitioned a justice of the peace at Middleborough for such a meeting and obtained a warrant for a special Lakeville town meeting to be held in Middleborough.

The Selectmen appear to have relented in the face of this embarrassing situation and on January 30, 1901, a special town meeting was held in the Lakeville Town House to consider the matter of turning the property over to Hinds’ wife, Emma. The tussle between Hinds and the Selectmen clearly piqued the interest of Lakeville voters for they attended the meeting in numbers “far in excess of the number who attended the annual town meeting.”

The purpose of the meeting was “to see if the town will authorize the selectmen for the consideration of $54, already paid to the selectmen, to execute to Emma R. Hines [sic] of Newton in the county of Middlesex, the schoolhouse lot.” What was described as “a lively debate” (assuredly an understatement) ensued. Selectman Nathaniel Staples won the approval of the assembly when he declared that upon the advice of counsel Lakeville would hold the land.

Town moderator Nelson took the floor and, “in vigorous terms, censured the town officials, and also addressed many sharp personals toward Mr. Hinds, who did not seem to notice his statements.” Following this chastisement, Nelson proceeded to announce that the town, in fact, proposed erecting a new schoolhouse on the lot sometime in the future.

While the meeting was a decidedly heated one, it was also unproductive and failed to act, postponing action by a unanimous vote of 46-0.

The matter, in fact, continued to drag on, with both Hinds and the Town of Lakeville claiming title to the property. Ultimately, supporters of Lakeville’s claim argued in favor of securing the town’s title by acting upon the first fourteen sections of Chapter 28 of Massachusetts revised laws which permitted communities to establish park commissions and take land for the purpose of establishing public parks. The proposal was well supported within town and elicited much discussion throughout the region, largely due to the small population of the community. “The probable establishment of a park commission in this town, one of the smallest in Plymouth county, is causing much comment.”

The matter was brought before the Lakeville Town meeting of March 7, 1904, and not surprisingly was approved. James P. Peirce, Sidney T. Nelson and Fred A. Shaw were named as Lakeville’s first park commissioners and $100 appropriated for improvement of the property which was to be known as King Philip Park.

The Hinds, for their part, continued to maintain that they owned the property and the matter was only finally resolved in 1912 when Hinds signed over his rights to the property to the Town, thereby confirming the town’s ownership and laying to rest the dispute which resulted in the creation of Lakeville’s first Park Commission. In 1914, the former Lakeville Public Library was constructed upon the site.

Former Lakeville Public Library, 241 Main Street, Lakeville, MA, photograph Vision Appraisal Technology
What is now the former public library in Lakeville was constructed in 1914 upon the site of King Philip Park, Lakeville's first public park. The establishment of the park led to the organization of the Lakeville Park Commission, one of the earliest park commissions in Plymouth County.

King Philip, engraving from Samuel Gardner Drake, History and Antiquities of Boston (1856).
Lakeville's first park was named for the Wampanoag sachem as were a number of other physical sites and establishments in Lakeville including King Philip's Lookout and the King Philip Tavern.