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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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Then & Now: Main Street, Springfield

For better or worse, things change. Some change occurs imperceptibly: trees grow in, stones weather. Other change is more 'in your face': a skyscraper in place of a tri-level, an empty lot where a skyscraper was. Nature's adjustments tend to be of the former, more subtle, imperceptible style. Man's style - well, we rip and tear and build and are never quite satisfied with the result - so we knock things down and rip and tear and build some more. In your face, Mother Nature.

Of course, Nature is not without her own wrecking crew: Tornadoes, floods and hurricanes at her disposal. It is a constant battle between flesh and Nature to control the rate at which the Earth is altered. Is either entity ever really in charge? Nature dances at the whim of the Gods, Man to his own perpetual dissatisfaction. 'Tis an interesting show, with an audience of billions.

Here, let me catch you up...

What does a century look like? This series of photographs gives one an idea. The black & white scans are from the book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' published in Springfield in 1905. The color photographs were snapped within the past couple of weeks.

The top photograph's caption readily gives up a clue of one change in the landscape of the city, referencing Main and Hillman Streets as the photographer's location at the time of the shot. Long cut off by the TD Banknorth building at 1441 Main, Hillman now right-angles to meet Bridge Street to the north instead. The corner of Main and Hillman is just a memory.

The bottom photograph was snapped from Main and Bridge Streets, a block or so north of where Hillman would have come out and the corner that the Fuller Block - in the top photo, the building's distinctive minarets drawing the appreciative eye - has occupied since 1887. Don't look for the minarets atop the building today though, they've been missing from the Springfield skyline for some time now. Ah, changes. The Worthy Hotel, opened in 1905, is the building just to the right in the bottom photo and what we'll all probably start calling the 'old' Federal Building (although it is as modern-looking as all get out: See photo at left), now that the 'new' Federal Building is up on State Street, is on the opposite corner. The first set of traffic lights you see is the intersection of Main and Worthington Streets, the next set, Taylor and Main. The railroad arch, a city stalwart, is in the northern distance.

The bottom photograph, taken a block north from the spot the top one was snapped, leaves this image to the imagination: All of the buildings in the top photograph - left and right, up to the Fuller Block - are many a day razed; pulled like props from the stage and replaced by the backdrop of the current scene. The Mass Mutual Building, the 'old' Federal Building, a park where Steiger's was...This is the organized disarray we act in now.

Again, the photographs don't perfectly line up, the photographer standing near the northwest corner of Worthington and Main Streets as he captured the top image over a century ago, the bottom photo snapped a block north, at the intersection of Main and Hampden Streets. I really have to start scanning (and printing) these old photographs before I go wandering around downtown. 'Course, then I'll have to actually remember to bring them with me. Sometimes I miss those brain cells I so easily sacrificed in my youthful quest for enlightenment.

The Worthy Hotel can be used as a landmark in each photograph. In the top photograph, it is the 8-story building on the left. In the bottom photograph, it is the tallest building - with just a corner of its roof peeking out - a block (or two traffic lights) down on the left. The Fuller Block is also represented. In the top photograph, the architecturally-adventurous crowns of the bustling hive of commerce serve as beacons of identification; in the bottom photograph, a sliver of the brick and sandstone structure can be seen just past the Worthy Hotel.

Streetcars and surreys, pedestrians and pedal bikes kick up the daily dust of living in turn-of-the-century Springfield, captured for the ages in the top image by photographer A. D. Copeland. In that photograph, The Phoenix Building, the six-story structure to the right of the Worthy Hotel, still stands: As real to Copeland in his day as the park that now occupies its footprint is in ours. The empty space where the Phoenix once stood is well-illustrated in the photograph to the right, with the Fuller Block in the left foreground and the Worthy Hotel just up the street a bit. The Post Office referred to in the caption can be seen two photographs below.

The three above photographs show how just one street corner can go from 'eh' to magnificent to 'eh' again in under a century. Which building do you prefer decorating the northwest corner of Main and Worthington Streets?

One thing that never changes is the graceful simplicity and stone solidity of 'The Arch,' the architecturally under-appreciated span that for decades has borne the burden of carrying the east-west railroad tracks that bi-sect the city across Springfield's Main Street. Walking under it today, one ponders limestone stalactites measuring time with their slow reach toward the pavement below. One feels admiration for the capable hands that laid the stone.

Witness to the upheavals and downturns of the passing population, the Massasoit House, established in 1843, is in each photograph on the left before the arch. The Massasoit House was run with considerable reputation for many years by the Chapin family, and is considered to be the oldest hotel established in Western Massachusetts, although it is presently not used as such.

Here is what J. Frank Drake, writing in the aforementioned book 'Springfield Present and Prospective,' had to say about the Massasoit House (ironically, as I read the passage, I see that the wistful reference to change is being made even back in 1905 - it's all been done - hasn't it?):

"The Massasoit House is the oldest and perhaps the most widely known hotel in western Massachusetts, and though time changes all things the spirit of change has not yet come over the reputation of this well-known hostelry. Travelers will come and go, but as of yore this house registers the most prominent families of those who make Springfield a brief sojourn. Erected in 1843, the hotel has since been considerably enlarged so that it is now more than three times its original size. The interior appointments have always been of luxurious character, and they have suffered no deterioration, while the cuisine maintains its old-time high reputation. The present proprietor, W. H. Chapin, is a nephew of M. and E. S. Chapin, and has been connected with the house about thirty years."

In 1929, the Massasoit House became home to the Paramount Theater, which became the Julia Sanderson Theater and is now the Hippodrome. For theater and old building buffs alike, there is an excellent web site called 'Cinema Treasures' that is chock-full of information on many local movie houses of historical significance. Here is a link to the site's Paramount/Hippodrome page: http://cinematreasures.org/theater/1261/.

The building on the left - just beyond the arch in the top two photographs - was home to the offices of the Boston & Albany Railroad. Today the spot is occupied by the much less decorative Peter Pan bus terminal.

And how about that banner in the second photograph? Brown taking the gridiron versus Dartmouth at Hampden Park on a crisp November Saturday the weekend before Thanksgiving. Anyone catch the score?

Back to square one, Court Square that is, where it all began. That is, after it all began on the Agawam side of the river first, before the settlers got their feet wet with the Spring floods on the low western plain along the Connecticut River, prompting the move east.

Trees now obscure the Old First Church, a bus shelter has sprung up, Main Street wears a skin of pavement 'stead of cobblestones. But the water keeps flowing through Leo, the soldier stares straight ahead and the kernel of a soul born on Saturday, July 15, 1636, with the purchase of a paradise keeps growing; and, for better or worse, keeps changing.

For more on Springfield 'then and now,' take a look at these past EWM posts:

Main and Elm: The Corner on Springfield History, June 21, 2008
Springfield's Court Square Theatre, March 28, 2008
A Century Apart: Photographs of a Building and a Statue December 24, 2007

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Scanned photo credits: 1, 5, 7, Clifton Johnson; 2, 6, A. D. Copeland; 3, E. J. Lazelle; 4, Unattributed; Springfield Present and Prospective; Eugene Gardner et al; 1905; Pond & Campbell Publishers; Springfield, Mass.

Top photo: The Fuller Block

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Crane Museum of Papermaking

At first glance, I figured these photographs of the Crane Museum of Papermaking to be pretty old. After all, the government-sponsored Historic American Buildings Survey that commissioned the shots began in 1933, the museum had opened three years before that - in a stone mill that had been around since 1844, and they are in black & white. Then I saw the dates photographer Jack E. Boucher snapped the images: May 6 & 7, 1988, and my first reaction was, 'that's not so long ago.' My second: 'Twenty years, yeah, that's actually kind of long ago.' Time flies when you least expect it.

As the Housatonic River flows by, the years too, whisper away their days and hours: The steadfast and sure Crane & Company began bearing witness to history astraddle the shifting banks of both in 1801, when Zenas Crane began making paper - and his own history - in Dalton, Massachusetts.

According to the company web site:

"In 1799... Zenas struck out to look for a suitable location for his own mill. He found the perfect spot on the banks of the Housatonic River in Dalton, Massachusetts. Two years later, after obtaining sufficient capital, he established the first mill west of the Connecticut River. It was a modest mill, but was recognized early on as producing papers of the finest quality. As early as 1806, local and regional banks began printing currency on Zenas Crane’s fine cotton papers. This was quickly followed by official government proclamations, permanent public records and stocks and bonds."

Oh boy, paper you say. But this is no ordinary paper. No. This paper touches all of our lives. This paper has been a part of just about every major and insignificant event within these glorious United States for 129 years now, whether stuffed in a pocket, wrapped in a wad or tucked in a shoe. Beginning in 1879 - the same year telephone service was introduced to Springfield - Crane & Company cotton paper became a part of every American's life. That was the year the company received its first government contract to produce the paper used for United States currency, a contract it has held since. On the beaches of Kitty Hawk and Normandy, in the trenches of World War I and the muddy fields of Woodstock, at the Watergate hearings and the Chicago World's Fair, under the pillows of children, one tooth shy: Crane & Company has been there, the firm's longevity a testament to its products' quality. Now if I could just transfer some of that Crane & Company longevity to the amount of time their paper stays in my wallet...

One way to collect Crane & Company cotton paper - or at least hold on to it for a little longer - is to find free stuff to do within the traveling range a few gallons of gas will get you. The Crane Museum of Papermaking, at 30 South Street in Dalton (map), fits that bill, with free admission and a reasonably close location for most Western Massachusetts folks. The museum is open weekdays only, from 1 to 5 pm, June to mid-October. For more information, visit the museum web site (link).

Built in 1844 and listed on the National Register of Historic places July 1, 1983, this building once served as a mill for Crane & Company paper makers. It has been home to the company's museum since 1930.

The rocky soil of Western Massachusetts is the bane of farmers and the boon of builders. Stone has long been a popular construction medium for the craftsman with an eye on the centuries ahead.

The interior of the museum gives one the illusion of being in an upturned hull, and indeed, the museum web site reveals that the design "...resembles the Old Ship Church in Hingham, Mass."

The Crane & Company factory on South Street in Dalton, as photographer Jack E. Boucher saw it in 1988. Western Massachusetts - especially the town of Dalton - can be proud of this red, white & blue business: All Crane paper is still made in the USA, right on the riverbank in Dalton, where Zenas Crane first planted the roots of quality and pride in craftsmanship 207 years ago.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

More information: http://www.crane.com/
More local museums: Museums of Western Massachusetts

Photo sources: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, Historic American Building Survey, 1-4 Digital ID: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ma1394; 5 Digital ID: http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hhh.ma1393

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Friday, July 4, 2008

The Morning Commute

If you happened to be driving down North Elm Street in Westfield during yesterday afternoon's torrential downpour and saw a smiling and soaking-wet middle-aged man walking with his face upturned to the pelting drops, his ready umbrella unused, still rolled up in his hand at his side...Well, that was me. Maybe you thought, "That guy is crazy." Or maybe you thought, "That looks like fun."

You'd be right on both counts.

Changes taking place in my once 'same-old same-old' life have prompted me to rethink the road I choose, the direction that I'm headed. Some factors are out of my control, but much of the future can be wrought by my own hand, and fresh eyes cast on a stale existence can yield results beneficial to mind and soul. One change: I have begun to commute to work via bus, Westfield to Springfield and back again. I set off from Lockhouse Road.

Is there any man who doesn't feel the tug of the tracks in passing? The yen for an unknown horizon? Perhaps it is the blood of gypsy ancestors flowing through my heart that stirs this unremitting desire to discover the dream of lives unknown.

As a child, my father fished in Powder Mill Brook, so named because of the old gunpowder manufactory located upstream. Native trout were plentiful then and gunpowder was too, World War II raging in the background of his young life.

Memories can be misty or clear as a chiming bell. They are creeping ivy climbing garden walls.

Sometimes we wait until the foundation of our lives implodes before we begin to sort through the rubble that had long been waiting to be. Often we discover what we have known all along.

Prospect Street Hill soars skyward toward blur. Early Westfield mornings are peace for a loner of a soul. The occasional passerby. The pleasant, "Good morning!" And then the welcome envelope of solitude returned.

We all must find our niche.

Dawn. Independence Day. Light from darkness. The symbolism is deafening.

The bridge construction continues on in Westfield, the river a formidable opponent to those who would tame it with a span.

Some photographs - like memories and mornings - are blurrier than others. When I was in high school a friend of my brother's worked here afternoons, making whips on the old machines. This building, once home to the Westfield Whip Manufacturing company, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Any folks remember this wall from the 60s and 70s and the message that was spray-painted down its length? I do. It read, "Support our boys in Viet Nam." My cousin Billy and my Aunt Mary Lou Vinisko served. The war took them both, one quicker than the other.

The corner of Westfield's Main and Elm Streets against the backdrop of a new day.

When I was a kid, communist Russia was the enemy that threatened us. Some Westfield folks even built their own personal bomb shelters. How I long for those simpler times.

Good news and bad. Winnings and summonses, wedding invitations and death notices. The old post office is a repository of posted ghosts of words and dead letters.

When workmen were allowed to take pride in the result, beautiful buildings emerged from empty earth. Today all is cost and efficiency, no room for doodads and details.

Main Street, Springfield, on a crisp summer morning washes the local soul in a flood of nostalgia and fills the heart with a sense of purpose.

When I was a boy, this was Bay State West, the tallest building in downtown Springfield. My best friend and I would take the bus from Westfield to Springfield and wander through the structures and streets. Johnson's bookstore, once south of here, was always part of the journey.

The Hotel Worthy facade: Art in architecture.

Springfield has more to offer than to fear. I lived in the city for twenty years and have worked here for almost twenty-three. Just keep a wary eye on her politicians and you should be okay.

Call me a fool, but I love Springfield. The streaming sun shines, highlights all of the promised possibilities of a fresh morning in the city. Now that I am a man alone again, I think about moving back. I have choices now. We all do. I will savor the mulling of mine, long denied.

"Now I don't know what it always was with us
We chose the words, and yeah, we drew the lines
There was just no way this house could hold the two of us
I guess that we were just too much of the same kind

Well say goodbye it's Independence Day
It's Independence Day all boys must run away
So say goodbye it's Independence Day
All men must make their way come Independence Day"

-Bruce Springsteen, 'Independence Day'

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

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