Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Postcards From a Lost Town: Enfield, Massachusetts

Before there was the Quabbin Reservoir, there was the Swift River Valley. There were the towns of Greenwich, Enfield, Prescott and Dana. There were the villages of Millington, Doubleday and Bobbinville. There were lives and people and parties and progress. There were farms and headstones, swimming holes and ice houses. Fields were tilled, palm hats were woven, game was hunted. The three branches of the Swift River were fished for their fruit and harnessed for their power. Largely settled by land grants awarded to the men who fought in the Indian Wars, this fertile Valley was home to some of the heartiest stock in New England.

Dave Robison of Chicopee is a descendant of that stock, that particular breed of Yankee who can tame a wild forest and make it a working farm, who can coax sustenance year after year from the rocky earth, who can build to withstand the ages and survive frigid and unforgiving Winters to see another Spring. Dave can trace his North American ancestry back to the settling of Plymouth and 22-year old English pilgrim William Bassett, who bravely dared to cast his fate to the winds and sail off to the New World from Europe, arriving on the Massachusetts coast aboard the 'Fortune' in 1621. One-hundred and fifty-two years later, in 1773, a descendant of William Bassett - also named William - moved his young family lock, stock and barrel to the central Massachusetts town of Hardwick from Norton. Perhaps the death of his son, Calven, just one week after the celebration of his second birthday in February of that year prompted the move to fresher pastures for 23-year old William, his 20-year old wife Anna (Lane) and his infant son, William. Tragedy is impetus for many changes.

William and Anna had four more children and lived to be 89 and 69, respectively. Remarkably long lives for the times and conditions they had to endure, including William's service in the Revolutionary war. One of William and Anna's children - the fifth one to be exact - Ephraim Lane Bassett, Sr., was Dave Robison's great-great-great-grandfather. He lived in Enfield for most of his life - including its ending - with his wife Tabitha (Newton). He was named after Anna's father, Ephraim Lane.

Ephraim, Sr. and Tabitha had nine children, all of whom stayed in the Enfield area and most of whom were disinterred from what were once thought to be their final resting spots and moved to Quabbin Park Cemetery in Ware prior to the flooding of the Valley, where they can be visited today. Their ninth and last child, Ralph Harmon Bassett, was Dave Robison's great-great-grandfather. The combination of long life-spans and prolific production of progeny blessing this old New England family ensured that pilgrim William Bassett's bloodline would feed the pulse of the New World and the West Central Massachusetts frontier for ages to come.

Dave has done extensive research on the Swift River Valley area as a by-product of tracing his family genealogy, the results of which can be seen at his awesome web site (link), and has graciously shared these old postcards that capture some of the never-again-to-be-seen sights of the town of Enfield with EWM to share with you. Thank you, Dave.

The church was the center of spiritual, social and political activity in nearly every early New England town. The Congregational Church was built on land donated by Captain Joseph Hooker in 1787 , the year that the precursor to the town of Enfield - the South Parish of Greenwich - was incorporated. Enfield would evolve from the South Parish, officially coming to life as a town February 18, 1816, on land carved from the acreage of neighbors Greenwich, Belchertown and Ware. Originally a somewhat mundane structure, the church wasn't crowned with a steeple until 1814, when it also received its belfry and bell. The same year, the building was turned so that its front door faced Enfield's Main Street. In 1873, the church got another face lift with the installation of the clock beneath the belfry, an improvement undertaken and underwritten by the town. The church fell to fire on August 2, 1936, a conflagration suspected to be arson that claimed the outlying chapel as well as the home of Mabel Haskell. The chapel bell survived the blaze, and in 1938 found a new home at the New Salem Central Congregational Church.

The Town Hall was the last building to be razed in the center of Enfield. On September 10, 1938, a final auction of goods and buildings acquired by the Massachusetts Water District Supply Commission (MWDSC) during property purchases and takeovers vital to the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir was held in this handsome building. Indeed, even the Town Hall itself was on the block, sold for the high bid of $550 to be hauled away forever, brick and beam. Enfield's last town meeting was held in the hall on April 8, 1938. Enfield's Town Hall is probably best remembered as the site of the April 27, 1938, Farewell Ball, "commemorating the passing of the Town of Enfield and Swift River Valley", held the evening before the town's dissolution and attended by as many 3,000 souls. At the stroke of midnight, McEnelly's Orchestra played Auld Lang Syne while weeping townsfolk held each other close on the dance floor. By the time the song was over, the town of Enfield had ceased to exist.

Education was important in Enfield. In 1854, the town had 271 students ages 4 - 16 attending class in eight districts. By 1890, the town's public library boasted a collection of 2,000 volumes. By 1892, Dave Robison's great-grandfather, Edward Bassett, had won Emma Tuggey's heart. The two were married on July 16th of that year. Tragically, Emma died of cancer in 1916 at the age of 45, taken too soon from her husband and children, including Dave's grandmother, Hazel Bassett, the second of six.

A picturesque hotel along the main drag completes many a small town in rural Massachusetts and the small town of Enfield was no exception, the Swift River Valley Hotel settling on its foundation across the street from the Post Office for many a year, playing host to the weary traveler. William Galvin was Proprietor of the establishment when the Quabbin construction came.

The Enfield Manufacturing Company was established in the late 19th century and located near the center of town. With the use of hydro-power, the mill produced wool products and employed many local folks, including some of Dave Robison's ancestors.

The Swift River Company was the dominant business in Smith's Village, which was about a mile north of Enfield Village (the two of which comprised the Town of Enfield). Smith's was indeed a company-store type of arrangement, with most of the village's buildings and property - including tenement dwellings and houses occupied by company employees - owned by the Swift River Company. Expanded from property acquired from Packard Ford in 1822, founder David Smith included relatives Alvin and Alfred Smith in the mill's ownership in 1845, selling each partial interests. In 1852, the Smith's formed the Swift River Company, which continued under family control until 1913, when the property was sold. The mill was owned by the Federal Fabrics Corporation when it was sold to the MWDSC in 1926.

Known by locals as the "Rabbit Run" because of its frequent starts and stops at the multiple railroad stations along its trek through the Swift River Valley, the Athol Branch of the Boston & Albany railroad brought the world to Enfield and Enfield to the world on singing rails for more than six decades. The opening of the railroad in 1871 was a boon to Valley icemen, farmers and manufacturers, giving them access to consumers in Boston, Springfield, New York and beyond. Folks from the cities built summer camps and clubs in the newly accessible paradise and many local students took the train to school each day. Stations were located in: New Salem, North Dana, Morgan's, Greenwich Village, Greenwich, Smith's Village and Enfield. The railroad was dismantled in 1935.

Dave Robison's relatives were probably down there in town when this photo-postcard was taken from Quabbin Mountain. Before the flood. Before the drive of a Metro's unquenchable thirst - heartless in its need - turned a valley to a lake, homesteaders to gypsies.

Today, Enfield's voices whisper as ghosts beneath blue water. Go and listen...You will hear them.

Thanks again, Dave, for giving EWM a chance to share these images.

For more Quabbin history, check out the EWM exclusive feature, The Quabbin Page.

Thinking about visiting Quabbin? Take a look at the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation's Quabbin page: http://www.mass.gov/dcr/parks/central/quabbin.htm for directions and more information.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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Jacqueline T Lynch said...

Great piece, and terrific photos. Nicely done.

sojourner said...

Those post card views are gems! Thanks for sharing them.

Concord Carpenter said...

Great Post!

Ben Ide said...

A wonderful post. This really struck home:

"Education was important in Enfield. In 1854, the town had 271 students ages 4 - 16 attending class in eight districts."

God, I wish education was as valued in Enfield, CT today!


We have 380 kids in my neighborhood school alone and I already feel like it's been buried at the bottom of a lake.

Jean B. Duncan said...

Thank you for posting these cards and for the history. The town of Enfield is where my great-grandfather was born.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your post cards. My grandmother was born in Enfield and remembers the day they had to move so that the Quabbin resevoir could be made. I noticed on the postcard of the railroad station a sign, does it say Smiths? I have seen one like it before and I am wondering if it is the same one?

Dave R said...

Smith's was a small village just north of Enfield, MA. I have a collection of books that were my great grandfather's which are all stamped "Joseph B Tuggey, Smiths, Mass" on the inside cover. Most are classics from James Fenimore Cooper, Mark Twain and others. Most of the post cards posted here are from him which I received through my grandmother, Hazel (Bassett) Dickson. The Tuggey's were her grandparents. Anyone can feel free to contact me at drr45@msn.com.

Anonymous said...

My dad was born in Enfield,ma

Mike said...

My Father was born in Enfield Mass in 1922. Wish I could have been able to see his birthplace.