Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Federal Writers' Project: Ella Bartlett, Brookfield, Massachusetts

In the 1930s, every fourth working-age American one met was likely to be unemployed, a victim of the crash of United States' economy and the ensuing country-wide cloud of the Great Depression. Those who were fortunate enough to have jobs were usually paid low wages. The pall of poverty hung upon the land.

Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt's inauguration in March, 1933, ushered in not only a new president but, "a new deal for the American people," as Roosevelt referred to it. Shortly after taking office, Roosevelt established the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federal jobs program which ultimately served to benefit 8,500,000 unemployed citizens by putting them to work for Uncle Sam. The Federal Writer's Project was one of the vehicles the WPA used to create jobs, hiring veteran and novice writers alike to record the life story of America and the people who built her. For about twenty dollars a week, over six-thousand wordsmiths across the country would scratch pencil to paper as ordinary, average folks told them their stories. Funny thing is, one is reminded with each salt-of-the-earth recollection and reminisce that Americans are anything but ordinary or average folks.

The following story and more can be found in the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writer's Project, 1936-1940 digitized collection on the American Memory web site maintained by the Library of Congress. Brookfield is located in west-Central Massachusetts, but hopefully readers will excuse the excursion out of the Western Massachusetts area for the gem of the story it is.

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TOPIC: Ella Bartlett

WRITER: Louise G. Bassett

ADDRESS: Brookfield, Massachusetts

DATE: December 23, 1939

TITLE: Living Lore

Miss Ella Bartlett does not call on people indiscriminately. When she "pays" a call, she has some purpose in mind. Formal calls are permissible without a purpose but they must be short and "formal." Therefore it is not always easy to catch Miss Bartlett. We had tried to coax her to come see us on one pretext or another to no avail. We knew better than to call on her without a purpose. Therefore we felt it a triumph when we met her at the Community Christmas Tree two days before Christmas and got her so interested in telling of old times, she came in and "sat" for over a half hour.

It was two days before Christmas and on my way home from the post-office I went around by the Common to see the town Christmas Tree and hear the church carolers welcome the Christmas season. As I stood looking and listening I thanked the good Lord that he had spared the Christmas Tree, planted three years ago by the local Parent-Teachers Association for a town Community Tree. When the September hurricane smashed and ripped and tore all before it, hundreds of our fine old elm and maples of which Brookfield is so proud, were destroyed, but "our" tree remained standing, tall and slim.

A voice beside me said, "It's a beautiful tree, isn't it? Perfectly shaped, jest right to hang lights on and not have them look higglety-pigglety, as most Christmas trees do."

It was Miss Ella Bartlett, her arms full of bundles, who had spoken.

We listened while the voices of the carolers came across the sharp clear cold in those glorious strains of "Silent Night, Holy Night," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing." I lingered on but the late afternoon was bitterly cold and the lure of my warm kitchen too strong. Miss Bartlett seemed to agree. We moved off slowly, listening and looking back. The singers had evidently gained full confidence in themselves and the "welkin was ringing" with the sound of their voices. They sounded heavenly to me, but not so to my companion.

"Humph," she snorted, if such a gentle lady can really snort, "that may be called singing by some but to my ears, it's jest noise. Land, but it makes me think back to the days when Brookfield really had some good Christmas sings. It was right over where the post office is today that the old Town Hall stood for years and years. Every Christmas Eve, the young and the old, why most everybody who was anybody in town,would go down to the Hall for the Christmas sing. There, right there is where the Hall stood."

Miss Bartlett was so excited in pointing she almost dropped her bundles. "I can't understand why they tore it down."

"Well, you know how it is. The old buildings, like the old people have to go, and the new ones replace them. That's life." My reply, made just to keep the conversation going, was a faux pas indeed.

"Maybe that's what some folks think," Miss Bartlett's voice had a cutting edge. "But I can tell you I cried myself sick the day they started tearing the old Town Hall down. It was like takin' off one of my arms. They didn't need to do it either, even if it was too old to use. Why not let it stand like a monument. Heavens known's we got plenty of room here in town to put up hundreds of buildings without takin' down any one of 'em that's standin'. It wasn't a bad lookin' building, neither - red brick, looked good on the outside, had a fountain and a nice one too." (I had seen the fountain but didn't recognize it as such until some one had said "That is a fountain.")

By this time I was hopping from one foot to the other to keep from becoming a solid piece of ice.

"Come in my house and get warm and tell me about the good times you used to have on Christmas Eve," I urged, and being half frozen herself, she came.

"Of course," she chattered on. "We used to have singin' school all during the winter but for Christmas we would have extra songs and hymns. We used to always look forward to our 'Christmas Sing,' that's what we called it. Only things that were appropriate would be chosen and we'd practice for weeks on 'em - then at last the night would come.

"First, the ladies would give a supper in the Congregational Church. That started at six o'clock sharp. Usually it was a turkey supper, that bein' a special occasion. We didn't have turkey those days like we do now. Turkey was a delicacy, let me tell you. Of course, we had lots of church suppers during the winter but they'd be baked bean suppers, chicken pie suppers or scalloped oysters. Only on Christmas Eve would there be a turkey supper, so that made it more like an 'occasion.'

"Everything was always so good. The supper was good and so were the speeches. Some of the men always had something to say, especially the ministers. Some of 'em were real cute, too, what they said. Anyway they seemed good to us. We always tried to sit by some boy we liked especially, so's he could sort-a look after us and let me tell you, men were much more polite those days then they are now. Much more.

"They used to take off their hats when they met you on the street, and they'd give you their arm or take yours and they'd help you across the street and always be on the outside of the walk, to protect you and they'd hold your coat for you and tuck in your sleeves." Miss Ella's sigh was long and gusty. "Well anyway, as I was sayin'. So many people would come to the Christmas supper that the tables would have to be set up two times, so, with everybody having their supper and the speeches, it was always at least eight o'clock before we'd get over to the Town Hall.

"The hall was always decorated with wreaths and American flags and it was all real gay and exciting. The girls always had extra nice dresses that night for it was the 'event' of the whole year and we girls would try to get a different color from what any other girl had. The older women would wear their best black grosgrain silk with mostly always some real lace around the neck and sleeves.

"We always had a piano - and a bass viol and as many violins as they could scare up. We used to have guests, too, that could sing fine. They'd come from the nearby towns and of course, we always had a choir master. He always had a baton and he'd lead us. When he raised it we was supposed to all rise at the same time; sometimes we'd practice rising for weeks and we'd get so that when he'd hold up his baton we'd get up jest as though we was one person.

"And then we'd sing- jest sing our very best and most always it was grand. We had one leader who'd stamp his feet and shake his baton at us and you'd think he would maybe jump on any one of us any second. Oh, he'd have an awful time. My father said he was sure he was only actin' but even so he made us sing better then any other leader I can remember.

"We did best, I think, with 'When shepherds watch their flocks at night,' at least I liked it best. We'd sing until ten or ten thirty, then we'd sing "When Marshaled on the Mighty Plains' - most all 'sings' ended that way - and then we'd finish with the Doxology. We were always so sorry when the 'sing' was over.

"We girls would generally come with our parents but we'd feel ashamed if some boy didn't take us home. We girls would put on our coats and fasinators and after we got fixed to go we'd try to look unconscious as we would sort-a saunter to the outside door. It was real excitin' to see all the people and the sleighs and see the horses shake their heads and hear 'em jingle their bells. The boys would be standin' outside by the door waitin' for some special girl and your heart'd be in your mouth 'till one of 'em would step up and say, 'Can I see you safe home tonight?'

"Lots of times couples would get engaged that night. The girls would look so pretty and the snow and the gaiety and all would make you like a boy even if you didn't.

"Those were the days when people enjoyed themselves - you never heard any lad say he was 'bored' as you do now. Do you 'spose those people goin' around tonight singin' carols are havin' any fun? Course they ain't, they're goin' round bein' froze and catchin' their deaths of cold, maybe." Miss Bartlett grasped her bundles more firmly and grimaced.

"You were a real community in those days, weren't you?" I asked.

"I should say so," she was really indignant at the question. "It's the automobile's fault, every stitch of it. Of course we can go more places and get there quicker, but what's the use of it all? Anyone can go to Worcester any time, any day, and it don't mean a thing.

"When I was a young girl, if we wanted to go to Worcester and were goin' to drive - as we most always did, goin' such a short distance on the train was looked upon as wicked extravagance - we'd begin makin' plans a week or two in advance. We would make a list of the things we wanted and what our neighbors wanted. Of course everybody in town knew we were goin' and almost everybody we knew would ask us to do some shopping for them. My, what a list we'd have when we finally got goin'.

"We'd start early in the mornin' and at almost every window or door that we passed as we drove on our way out of town, we'd see some one watchin' the 'Bartletts's goin' to Worcester.' It would take at least four hours to reach there for remember the roads were not what they are nowadays. But we wouldn't be tired, leastways, not us young folks, we'd be too excited.

"We always took a lunch and every now and then we'd take a sandwich and munch away on it as we went along. We'd shop, as we call it nowadays, it was 'tradin'' then, until it began to grow dark and then we'd start for home, more dead then alive, but at that, all kinda quivery inside from the excitement of it all.

"We'd get home and be dog tired for a day or two, but, oh, my dear woman, that trip would last us for weeks and weeks and of course, we'd be consulted as to the 'latest' styles until some one else made the trip.

"I was sayin' the other day to some one -- don't remember who it was -- that the clerks in the stores don't tell you anymore when you're buyin' something 'that's what they're wearin' in New York' or 'that's brand new, even the New Yorkers are just beginning to use them.' My father used to say 'You're a crazy lot of women to be following what those salesgirls tell you. Probably those things you been buyin' are old-fashioned by now in New York. How do you know what they're wearin' in New York? You haven't been there.' Maybe Father was right. He mostly always was, but anyway it gave you a wonderful feeling to have the girls all looking at your gloves or your new dress and envying you because you could say, 'It's what they're wearin' in New York.'" Miss Bartlett sighed once more. "But that's all gone now, for we can get the same thing that the New Yorkers are wearing at the very minute they're wearin' them. But what good does it do? We're not nearly so happy as we were in the 'old' days when things were slower and people had more time for good times. Take my word for it, you can blame the automobile for the whole thing. If people weren't running around in automobiles all the time spending all their time and money on 'em, we wouldn't be in such trouble all the time."

With this parting shot Miss Bartlett gathered her neatly wrapped bundles together, pulled her coat collar higher and announced she was leaving. Leave she did, after wishing me a dignified but certainly far from jovial "Merry Christmas."

* * *

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

More Federal Writers' Project on EWM.

(Photo: The "new" Brookfield Town Hall, dedicated 1904)

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Photographs: Blurred Lights and Christmas Thoughts

It's easy at Christmas to get caught up in the whirl, the perpetual-motion machine that blurs light and bends time in the quest for fuel for the spirit. Sometimes the whirl is the gift, for when we finally dizzy enough, we stop and see the positive constant, and know that they are our world.

These photographs were taken at Bright Nights, celebrating its 15th year in Springfield's Forest park. The amazing drive-through light display is open nightly through January 2. For more information visit or call 413-733-3800.

For some Western Massachusetts sons and daughters, Christmas morning will break in the mountains of Afghanistan or the sandy stretches of Iraq. Some will wake up on the divided Korean peninsula or at sea, water to the horizon. The gift of freedom, this precious thing they bring us everyday, makes Christmas possible.

The temptation for every curious child is to peek at what will be laid under the tree, to know what is are tucked away, hidden in closets and attics and nooks and crannies. It is no less a draw for the curious adult, to anticipate the future hidden in yet-unlived days. To look for the magic that may be.

Ah, Christmas! Packages and paper, bows and ribbons: Boxes of love exchanged with joy.

What makes your heart smile? Is it gatherings of family and friends? A hot cocoa on a cold winter night? A meeting under mistletoe? Is it wrapping gifts to Bing's serenade? Or perhaps the warmth that washes over you when you hear the laughter through frosted windows as you approach a house filled with the ones you love. Is it a decoration drawn from a box of memories to hang another year on the tree? Or a newborn in your arms? What makes your heart smile? That is Christmas.

And so the season ends, yes, but the spirit remains for us to call up at will throughout the year. Hope and happiness, consideration and generosity know no calendar, no day, no hour. They are gifts imbued in the human soul, gems to be taken out and handled everyday and admired for their beauty. Shared treasure sparkles brightest.

Merry Christmas everyone!

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Saturday, November 21, 2009

Western Massachusetts: A Home in Our Hearts

Here in Western Massachusetts we have much for which to be grateful.

Our landscape is an Eden of elements, carved by the hand of Mother Nature with her tools of glaciers and frosts and hot and cold and ever-erosive currents of wind and water. Indeed, 'tis nary a dwelling window here in the boondocks of the Bay State that doesn't frame a tree or brook, rolling hill or pleasant valley or field, whether that window be in the city, suburbs or sticks. Our streams and rivers run cold and clear and our lakes and ponds are clean and healthy. Our forests are strong and diverse, the represented species a blooming bouquet displayed in wild acres unbroken, tucked into urban parcels or gathered into parks lovingly tended. Moss and ferns, blade and brush: Like a warm, cozy blanket, the lush terrain of Western Massachusetts covers an unforgiving strata of stone, soft comfort atop a solid base ideal to build upon, a platform from which to reach for the stars. Autumn colors and spring scents, the nip of winter air...shouts of summer swimmers, to live here is to live in a layered tapestry that envelopes and delights the senses. It is easy to feel blessed.

The farms and forests of Western Massachusetts combine to form a habitat rich with animal life. Growing populations of moose and black bear are testament to the area's wealth of undeveloped land and fertile food sources. It's common to see long fields hosting gatherings of wild turkeys or red-tailed hawks soaring and circling high overhead. Bald eagles are here and here to stay. Shad push up the steady Connecticut river with the spring swell and year 'round native trout ply the deep pools of icy brooks flowing out of the blue Berkshire hills. Fur and feather, scale and skin: We share paradise.

And as Mother Nature shapes the landscape, the landscape shapes the inhabitant. From rocky soil and snow-deep winters, April floods and summer droughts (ah, the price of beauty) spring a hardy stock of folk, willing to hunker down and get the job done. Rising seven days a week, three-hundred and sixty-five days a year, well before the dappling first rays of the rising sun, Western Massachusetts' farming families have a long tradition of providing soul and sustenance to the communities gathered 'round their furrowed fields, hungry guests to a feast. From harvest to table, 'tis the tasty fruit of their labor that drives the heart of the collective body, provides the power that makes it soar.

Like living spokes from a hub, energy radiates throughout Western Massachusetts with a visible hum. It surges and swells and softens to the flowing amperage of informed and active minds allowed to expand without restrictions or biases, lest they be self-imposed. The energy is seen in our architecture and artwork, old and new. It is apparent in our church spires and town libraries and our thirst for knowledge and enlightenment. The energy is seen standing at bus stops in the rain or passed hiking remote narrow trails on a late fall day. It is VFWs and struck-up conversations in doctor's waiting rooms. It's a door held open or a smile offered to a stranger. The energy is a well-maintained garden, a task complete, a favor given without asking. It is a photograph, a painting, a story retold with mirth. This buzz of non-choreographed communal continuity makes Western Massachusetts more than a mere location. Just as a dwelling becomes more than a house once occupied, it is home, Western Massachusetts is, and we welcome each other into it with that knowledge. Family.

There is much to be thankful for, much gratitude to be felt. We are the fortunate ones, honored by nature's palette. We live and work and love and rise or fall in one of the most magnificent locations on the planet. We pass along the heritage of our homesteads to the young ones and pass on, sinking roots into a deeper spiritual till, at last one with the land that had borne us to the spot, or return to the soil scattered as ashes in warm-favorite haunts, the sunny afternoons of our lives. For now, we have today. We have each other. We have our dreams. And no matter how far they may make us roam, we have Western Massachusetts.

Thank you, readers...friends. Your loyalty is humbling. May your Thanksgiving be filled with happiness and plenty.

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Saturday, October 3, 2009

Photographs: A Fall Farm Stand in Franklin County, October, 1941

Autumn in Western Massachusetts is bonfires and spiced cider, rake tines teased by the dance of leaves in a brisk October wind, cozy-windowed homes glowing warm in an early dusk and trees bursting blooms of breath-taking brilliance and beauty: Crowns afire in the season's attire. It is a time for sweaters and long, tight outdoor hugs; and families of jack 'o' lanterns lighting porch steps. It is when we hop into our cars and set off with no destination, the act itself entertainment aplenty. Autumn in Western Massachusetts is the harvest time of color and sustenance, farm stands edging winding, paved Indian trails, offering fruits of the fields bare in the distance.

One such farm stand near Greenfield caught the eye of photographer John Collier back in October of 1941. And rightly so, with its unique decorations and unusual gourdian arrangements. The Collier photographs below are from the America from the Great Depression to World War II: Black-and-White Photographs from the FSA-OWI, 1935-1945 collection, which is part of the American Memory project of the Library of Congress. Captions in quotes are from the LOC web site.

"Wayside harvest stand near Greenfield, Massachusetts."

Greenfield's position at the crossroads of Routes 2 (the Mohawk Trail) and 5 & 10 make the town an ideal leaf-peeper stop-over for food, fuel or fun. Here's a link to the town of Greenfield's official web site:

Sometimes you get passed by a carload of dummies on the road. One can't help but secretly admit to a smug sense of satisfaction when you pass them later and they're spun out up on somebody's lawn.

Western Massachusetts' farmers have long sought ways to attract potential customers' attention. Currently popular as a source of income for local laborers of the land are corn mazes, patterns of paths etched out of fields that challenge folks to maneuver their twists and turns from entry to exit. Close to Greenfield, Mike's Maze at Warner Farm in Sunderland has been creating magical mazes for nine years, growing from 4 acres of chunk-of-cheese-chasing fun in 2000 to 8 acres today. This year's maze: Charles Darwin, flowing beard and all. Here's a link to the Warner Farm web site with details and directions (and an aerial shot of this year's maze):

To find many other enjoyable open-air entertainment opportunities in the Bay State, visit the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources web site's list of agri-tourism farms compiled by county. Here's the link:

"Sales attention at a wayside harvest market near Greenfield, Massachusetts."

Whimsy on wheels, resourceful New England farmers find a myriad of ways to utilize resources at hand to earn their living from the land.

With faith in fruition, seeds sown in the rocky New England soil in spring become life affirmed as green shoots pierce the dusty crust of well-worked soil against unfavorable odds, poor results diverted by the patient tiller of the farmer's plough, guided by steady hands and strength of purpose. Finally, after days under the hot sun of Western Massachusetts summer and nights under the frosty, starry autumn sky, despite downpours and drought, the harvest is borne to table and we and our neighbors are fed the fruit of optimism. From field to family, harrow to home: Here is the land of milk and honey.

Pumpkin creatures greet farm stand patrons in front of a wall o' winter squash.

For maps of the area old and new to assist in your explorations, make sure to visit the EWM page, Trails, Rails & Roads: Western Mass. Maps.

And for outing ideas in the area, check out EWM's ever-expanding list, Things To Do In Western Massachusetts.

Autumn in Western Massachusetts is here, windows a'fog with the mist of baking pies and spirits snug and hunkering down for the long winter ahead. Days of corn-stalk tepees and the laughter of children awash in piles of dried leaves. A colorful reminder that life is a cycle, a circle with no beginning and no end. We orbit its crux, passengers on the human journey, the puzzle not for us to solve.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

For many more John Collier photographs of the Mohawk Trail, check out the EWM post Motoring the Mohawk, October, 1941.

Photo Sources - LOC Digital IDs:

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Map: Bird's-eye View of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, 1899

Pittsfield was eight years a city when this bird's-eye view map was published by A. M. Van de Carr in South Schodack, N. Y., in 1899. Printed by the Weed-Parsons Printing Co. of Albany, N. Y., the map is not drawn to scale, but does include a numbered directory of Pittsfield places of interest.

The city's distinctive Park Square, fed by a quartet of streets named sensibly after the four points of the compass is seen in the lower center-right of the map. For folks interested in learning a little more about the city, captioned images of the square captured over a century ago - just around the time this map was published - can be seen in the EWM post: Photographs: The Spokes of Park Square, Pittsfield, Massachusetts (c1900-1920).

For optimal viewing, you may prefer to save this image to your computer for perusal in your favorite photo program. This map (and many others) can also be found online at the Library of Congress, in the Map Collections section of the American Memory project. And, of course, there is the ever-available EWM page, Trails, Rails and Roads: Western Mass. Maps, where you will find links to this map and similar others, as well as current local maps and popular map sites like Google maps and Map Quest.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

Map source:

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The Federal Writers' Project: Adam Laboda, Pittsfield, Massachusetts

Pens struck idle during the Great Depression were set to scratching again courtesy of the U. S. government's Works Progress Administration and its Federal Writers' Project, vehicles designed to inject 5 billion dollars into the hurting country's economy in 1934's version of the current experiment, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Unemployed writers fanned out in search of the stories stored like treasure in the soul of America. Her people spoke and shared and went back to the business of living and dying, leaving a few breaths of words strung into sentences transcribed by authors happy to have the work...the thrill of a byline most likely usurped by the promise of a comfortable meal.

Here are the words of Polish-American mill-worker Adam Laboda of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, recorded by Clair Perry a couple of weeks before Christmas, 1938. Mr. Laboda's story and many others have been digitized by the Library of Congress and are presented at its American Memory web site, in the American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 section.

* * *

TITLE: Polish Textile Worker - Adam Laboda

WRITER: Clair Perry

ADDRESS: Pittsfield, Massachusetts

DATE: December 12, 1938

SUBJECT: Living Lore

Adam Laboda is a square faced genial man about fifty-five years old. Of Polish descent, he has been naturalized for many years. He is an expert spinner employed by the Berkshire Woolen and Worsted Company. About fifteen years ago, he purchased a five tenement wooden block on the Onota Street hill where he lives. His grown son and a daughter in her late teens live with their parents. Mrs. Laboda is a dark eyed, quiet woman evidently very proud of her family and particularly of her son although she is reluctant to be drawn into the conversation.

Both Mr. Laboda's children attended high school. The son who accompanied his father to Poland last summer works in the same factory as his father. The Labodas are known as a thrifty, hard-working family, well-liked by friends and neighbors. Mr. Laboda was dressed carefully in good street clothes when called upon following his work which ends at 3:15 p.m.

"I was born in the village of Zowisezbie, near Tarnow. I was the oldest son of nine boys and two girls and we had a farm of what is about 20 acres, America; our acres equal 2 3/4 of those here. My family of eleven persons lived in a two room house, such as a log cabin that you have, with a straw thatched roof and a great brick stove for heat and an iron range for cooking. It was whitewashed up to the eaves, the logs chinked with clay to keep out cold and wind. Our older people lived in one room cabins but the law would not allow any less than two rooms to be built at that time. The roof is now shingled with clay made like bricks or tile. I was in Poland last summer and took more than 200 pictures. I will show you some."

Mr. Laboda brought out a fine collection of snapshots, including one of the neat, white cottage where he was born with its thatched roof and another showing it with the tile roof, still another was of the home of a brother who still lives nearby in a larger frame house with wood-shingled roof and trim chimneys.

"We worked the farm together and raised everything from wheat to vegetables and had cattle and pigs and geese and ducks and chickens. You can see the fence," pointing to one of the snapshots, "that we made by sticking posts in the ground and weaving slender willow saplings in and out to keep the poultry and pigs in their yards. Those white things are sheets drying on bushes and fences."

"We made our own butter and cheeses, threshed our own grain, slaughtered our own pigs. Here is a picture of a reaping machine in the field."

The photo showed a type of reaper used in America forty years ago. The grain had to be bound by hand into sheaves after being cut and withes of the straw were used to bind them. Mr. Laboda and the interviewer exchanged memories of farm work, such as the agonizing labor of 'shocking up' barley, with its sharp beards that cut the wrists to rawness and bleeding and dug into the skin wherever the clothing was tight, so that one must work with his shirt outside his trousers and preferably sockless.

"I went to school for eight years, two of them the same as junior high school in America. I studied German two years and could speak it but not much now. There are many Germans in Poland today."

"Our life on the farm was not easy but it was not too harsh. We lived comfortably by all working together, our family. But I had an uncle in Syracuse who wrote us about America and so a party of 14 boys from around our village was made up, with a man for a leader, to go to America. We took train and traveled two days to Bremen, there we took ship and voyaged for 12 days. The boys were all from 14 to 16 years of age. This was in the great emigration period from 1890 to 1902 about. I remember we landed in New York harbor on April 2, and then went up the river to Albany on another boat and took train to Gilbertsville, Massachusetts, where there are big woolen mills. I had a friend there and I got a job in the spinning room. I had worked in a mill in Germany about two weeks, one time, but had gone back to the farm before I came to America."

"The thing that seemed strangest to us boys when we came to America were the black people, you know, the Negroes. We saw many of them in New York and some on the river boat to Albany and we could not understand why there would be black people here."

"In Gilbertsville all we boys went to work and rented rooms from Polish people who lived in company houses. Four boys to a room at $3 each a month and we bought our own food and cooked it. We earned to start with $2.77 a week and worked 64 hours a week, then we got up to $4.76 a week and for a year it was $4.64. It cost only four cents a loaf for bread and four cents a pound for meat but we had no chance to go to shows or anything; we could just squeeze by as they say now. After nine years I was earning $8.12 a week and I had got ahead faster than some of the older men who got only $5.08 a week. Our best fun was dancing in the houses and then the company built a dance hall for us so that it cost nothing to dance. There were girls living there, working in the mills, too, Polish girls who were nice."

"In 1908 I went back to Poland to see my people. My father was very sick and he wanted me to marry and have the wedding before he died. Well, that did not look so good. I did not want to marry a girl in Poland for I wanted to go back to America and I was afraid I would be kept there but I knew a girl from Gilbertsville who had gone home to a place near our village before me and so I said to my father, 'All right I will get married then.' I went to see her, this girl, and she said 'Yes' because she knew me quite well and so on October 8, 1908, we were married and on November 12, we were back in America and glad of it. I had a good job and a good wife. I was 23 years old. I came to Pittsfield then and got work in the Berkshire Woolen and have been with them since, always as a spinner."

"I went back to Poland this last summer, leaving here June 22 and returning August 20. I visited four of my brothers and a sister. You see, it is the thing in Poland for a farmer's family to leave the youngest son at home to care for the old folks and when they die he gets the farm for his own. It is a sort of tradition, and my youngest brother now owns the farm. He has kept it up as well as you can see from the pictures. But I should not want to live there; I am more glad that I came to America. It is a great country."

"The greatest moment of my life was in Poland when I went to the first mass said by my godson, a nephew, in his church in Poland. I was the guest of honor, you see; everything was done for me to welcome me. I was not called a Polack, I was always called an American and it made me very proud. They had big banquet at the parish house and another, later, at the priest's home and little girls in costume sang songs and made speeches of welcome to me and then I visited the graves of my father and mother. I also went to see a man whom I had known in school who was now a member of Parliament. He had returned to school as a grown man to study German. His name is Jacob Bojho, and he is now 90 years old. He is called a Marshal or Senator. He wears many decorations and he sat in the first Parliament after Poland was restored. The country has been twice torn apart, once by the Russians and once by Germany. I found that the lower class people, the poor ones think that Hitler is all right. I talked with many German people in Poland about it and I had a two hours talk with a professor at Cracow University who told me that a man like Franklin D. Roosevelt is born only about every 50 years and that what Europe needs is a Roosevelt to join the nations peaceably and help them to get over their troubles. The poor German people have been given work so that they can eat and they like Hitler for that. They say he is a great man but the higher classes, the richer ones, the government classes (in Poland) do not like him. They are afraid of him and of the independence of Poland of which they are very jealous. The Poles are proud of their country. They are fighters, too, and will fight to preserve their autonomy."

"I traveled around Poland on an excursion train for 15 days. It cost but $19 for the whole trip and I visited Cracow and Warsaw and other large cities and talked with many persons. I found them all believing that Roosevelt is the sort of man that they should have if they could find one. They do not want a dictator there in Poland."

"We will come out of this depression here in America yes, indeed; things look very much better now. Our plant is running well and often night and day. It was not wiped out like those other textile mills here that went under, because the Berkshire Woolen turned quickly to making cheaper cloth which is in demand and many patterns. Then, too, Mr. Noonan (the present manager and chief owner) was a labor man, himself, from north Ireland and he knew how to treat his people. So did Mr. Savery, who is dead. He was a fine man. I knew him well."

"I do not belong to any union. I did not belong to the United Textile Workers which was here years ago. It has gone out of business here. The C.I.O. is trying to organize but I do not know how much they are getting ahead, not much. The company treats its workers well. No, they did not have any old age pension before the law. I like the Social Security law very well, indeed. But in Poland we have a different one that is for unemployment, there everyone gets paid when he cannot work, and they have government inspectors who inquire why one does not work and if he doesn't want to work he does not get anything, but if he cannot find it or is unable, he is paid. His case is studied by a committee of three, one from the Government, one from the workers and a neutral one."

"In that way everyone gets paid not for just a few weeks as here but so long as he cannot find work or is unable to work. It is a good law."

"I will tell you about what happened to those 14 Polish boys who came to America together. Four of them committed suicide, one shot himself, one hung himself, one took poison, one drowned himself. There is one who is a big contractor in Buffalo, another who has a large store in Boston. The four who killed themselves had left the church and took to drinking and that finished them. The rest are working something like me."

* * *

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

More local stories from the Federal Writer's Project on EWM:

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Saturday, August 8, 2009

Photographs: Forest Park at the Turn of the 20th Century

Springfield's Forest Park is truly a precious gem in the New England crown of beauty that is Western Massachusetts. Lakes and lotus, ball fields and brooks: Forest Park is a lush, alive, green-carpeted public playground with endless virtual trail heads ready to explore scattered throughout, all leading one into the magical pop-up book pages of recreation imagination. This is the place to see dinosaur tracks trapped in Holyoke shale tens of millions of years ago or to experience the sights and smells of a Victorian rose garden masterfully crafted in 19th century style. The spot for a train ride or a visit to the zoo. It is the setting for movable feasts in picnic groves alive with the voices of past and present. 'Tis a place to be proposed to, and a place to marry. Forest Park is indeed a jewel of many facets, each a joy to discover.

The following images were scanned from the 1905 book, Springfield Present and Prospective, which was written by several notable city residents, including Eugene C. Gardner, Edwin Dwight and Alfred M. Copeland, published by Springfield publishers, Pond & Campbell, and printed by the F. A. Bassette Company, which still does business in the city. Unfortunately, although the photographer is noted for each image in the book's list of illustrations, the date each photograph was shot is not. Circa 1905 or less than is what we'll have to go with for a blanket description. The captions in quotes below each photograph are from the book, the photographers in parentheses.

"Entering Forest Park." (Clifton Johnson)

Be it 1905 or 2005, a child's enthusiastic anticipation of an outing is timeless. Today, tomorrow, a mother will bring her children to Forest Park...and memories will be made.

"Drives and Promenades in Animal Section at Forest Park." (D. J. Bordeaux)

The Zoo at Forest Park has had a long and successful tradition of putting smiles on the faces of its visitors, young and old alike. According to the Park Commissioner's Report of 1894:

"Our Forest Park family has prospered abundantly throughout the year, and our zoological and ornithological departments have become one of the institutions of the park. As yet not a dollar has been expended in the purchase of birds or animals, but by the generous contributions of friends this department of the park has grown to pretentious proportions...[E]very donor may be assured that their thoughtfulness was thousands of children, who have been interested and instructed in these varied forms of animal life."

Presented by the Forest Park Zoological Society, the Zoo maintains that tradition to this day by offering informative and fun exotic and domestic animal exhibits lovingly sustained by volunteers, donors and a hard-working, dedicated zoo staff.

To learn more, visit the zoo's website at

"The Wading Pond at Forest Park." (Clifton Johnson)

Here's an interesting piece on the origin of Forest Park's old wading pond from the magazine American Gardening, Vol. XXIV, October 3, 1903:


Edited for American Gardening by G. A. PARKER, Hartford, Conn.

The First Wading Pool

Last Tuesday, September 29, was the twentieth anniversary of the organization of the Board of Commissioners of Springfield, Mass. Twenty years ago Forest Park was small as compared with its present size of nearly five hundred acres, and the beginnings were makings of that work which has since made it one of the noted parks of the United States.

Those days were the commencement of park making in the smaller cities, and money was not so liberally voted for park purposes as now. This commission found itself with a desire for a large park, but with the means for a small one. They obtained more acres by gift than they did by purchase, and adopted a unique method for further addition to their territory. Friends of the park bought and held in trust such lands as were needed and then let it be known, as an open secret, that these lands would be cut up into such sized lots as were wanted and sold at cost to those who desired to buy and give to the park. Each park report since includes a map showing by different colors and figures lands given by all the donors, making it, as it were, a monumental record to them.

Pioneers who would originate such a scheme as this could be depended upon to take advantage of the unusual and desirable in the development of their work, and so these men gave not only to Forest Park but to many another park the wading pool, which is the delight of many a youngster born since that time. It came about in this wise: In 1884, the year following the beginning of the work at Forest Park, a road was being built down through the valley, which required much filling material. To obtain this filling they carted off the top of a hill.

Now, away back in that time, when the glaciers were sliding down the Connecticut Valley, and later, when what is now Springfield was the bottom of a vast lake, whose waters flowed above the Holyoke dam, being held back by a ledge at Middletown, there was a small Niagara. In those far-back ages the ice and the water were making our beautiful Connecticut Valley, and among the things which they made then were pocket-holes, round and deep, and they made also clay hills and ridges in the valley, and on top of some of these hills they made pocket-holes, more or less deep, but the pocket-hole which they made on top of the hill in Forest Park was saucer-like in form, very broad and shallow and water-tight. This basin-like depression was afterward filled with sand and loam and acted like a great sponge.

It was on top of this saucer-topped clay hill, filled with an earth sponge, that the contractor began to take the sand for the filling of the valley road. He dug down below the rim of the saucer and the water from the remainder of the earth's sponge settled into the shallow hole and refused to soak away. Now, from pre-historic times children have delighted to paddle in pools, and the Springfield children were not slow in using the pool caused by the digging—a delight to them but a nuisance to the contractor, who would have drained out the water and destroyed the pool but for the sagacity of the Park Commissioners, who recognized the pleasure of the children in wading and playing in shallow water, and had the courage to give that simple childish act an official standing, and thus the wading pool was created, a gift not only to Forest Park, but to all parks throughout the world. How many wading pools have been made since I do not know. I have a record of about twenty, the last being at Watertown, N. Y. Their number is steadily increasing. Had the Park Commissioners of Springfield, nineteen years ago, said: "Drain off the water and make a lawn, as we have already planned," it is probable there would not be a wading pool in any park today.

"Baseball at Forest Park." (Clifton Johnson)

Besides boasting the country's first wading pool, Forest Park is also noted for hosting the first public boccie courts in the nation. Some of the other athletic activities available at the park are: basketball, tennis (including clay courts), shuffleboard, lawn bowling, an outdoor work-out area, an indoor ice-skating rink and, of course, baseball. There is also hiking, cycling and, when the snow flies, sledding and cross-country skiing.

This photograph - taken when Old Glory flapping overhead had just 45 stars - is amazing in so many different ways. Everyone wearing a hat, the parasols and fashion, the bicycles strewn around, the ballplayers. But what is most amazing is that the scene is not much different from what can be observed during a baseball game at the park in 2009. Change the outfits and lose the umbrellas and America's past-time enters the 21st century without missing a pitch. Indeed, many of the White Pine trees in the background of the photograph still stand as border and shade to the playing fields, planted by park benefactor and enthusiast Everett H. Barney himself over one-hundred years ago.

"Lakes in Forest Park." (D. J. Marsh)

Fed by Pecousic Brook, Forest Park contains more than thirty acres of lakes and ponds, including Fountain Lake (5.8 acres), Duck and Barney Ponds (around 2 acres each), the diminutive three-quarter of an acre Swan Pond, and the largest, man-made Porter Lake, itself nearly 24 acres.

Many times names are given to buildings and bridges, waterways and widgets, but memories fade with the turning of days and the footprints of those passed shadows cast fill with dust and lives are forgotten. Porter Lake is so-called in honor of Sherman D. Porter, a man whose life, though long and illustrious, ended tragically.

Porter was born August 4, 1833. At the age of twenty, in 1853, he began working for the Kibbe, Crane & Co., as a teamster delivering product for the Springfield, Mass., candy wholesaler. By 1864, Mr. Porter had become a partner in the firm - renamed Kibbe Brothers & Company - along with Edwin McElwain and George A. Kibbe. The Kibbe family's involvement in the concern ended in 1887 with the death of Horace Kibbe. Porter became company president in 1890, the same year the company moved from Main Street to its new five-story location on Harrison Avenue. Porter was also active in city affairs, serving as an alderman in 1888.

On the afternoon of August 26, 1913, Mr. Porter (now 80) and his wife, Elizabeth (73), were returning to Springfield after a trip to Greenfield, passengers in a Knox limousine piloted by chauffeur Fred W. Bennett. They would get as far as South Deerfield's Bryant's Crossing, the same distance that the White Mountain Express passenger train rumbling south on the Boston & Maine railroad tracks would travel that day before slamming at sixty miles-per-hour into the Porter's limousine, carrying the couple 250 to 275 feet before depositing their lifeless bodies next to each other track side. It was their 52nd wedding anniversary.

Sherman D. Porter was generous in his will, leaving significant sums to Springfield Hospital, the Mason-Wright Foundation and the town of East Longmeadow, among others. The $10,000 he bequeathed the city of Springfield "[T]o be expended...on public parks" was used to construct Porter Lake on land donated to the city in 1918 by James Burbank.

For some Lewis Hines' photographs documenting child labor at the Kibbe candy factory in 1910 Springfield, check out the past EWM post: Commerce & Industry: The Kibbe Candy Kids (1910).

"Forest Park Lily Ponds." (D. J. Bordeaux)

Although it was the generosity of Orick H. Greenleaf who inspired the creation of Forest Park with his original 65-acre land donation to the city of Springfield in 1884, Everett Hosmer Barney is the man most associated with the park today, and rightly so: Barney's interest in horticulture blessed the park grounds with an array of trees, shrubs and flowers unsurpassed in the nation and perhaps at one time, the world. Importing plants from all over the globe, Barney brought to Springfield beauty to be shared with all, including several varieties of lotus and a rainbow of water lilies presented for public pleasure in well-placed ponds and blooming with color all summer long. Still.

"A Shad Tree at Forest Park." (E. J. Lazelle)

Indigenous to the park, this Shad tree and thirty-eight other local tree species shared growing space throughout the 425 acres the park comprised in 1894 with one-hundred and eight other non-native species introduced by Everett H. Barney. Types of trees growing naturally included white birch, sugar maple, weeping willow and wild black cherry. Transplants, hailing from several different countries, made up a plethora of flora. Chinese white magnolia, European ash, Japanese cypress and English elm all could be found within the borders of the now 735-acre park courtesy of the work and funding of Mr. Barney.

For more on the plants of Forest Park, a list of animals in the zoo and wild birds that frequented the park at the turn of the twentieth century, the 1894 Park Commissioner's Report published online at Google books is a handy tool. Here's the link:

"The Winding Pecowsic." (E. J. Lazelle)

Spring-fed Pecousic Brook wanders and winds its way into Forest Park via a twisted, turning run through parts of East Longmeadow and Longmeadow, finally draining into the Connecticut River to join her waters on the journey south to Long Island Sound.

"Forest Park Sheep On Their Way to Pasture." (D. J. Bordeaux)

It's highly unlikely that a modern visitor to Forest Park will ever see a flock of sheep grazing in its fields. Indeed, when this photograph was taken over a hundred years ago, there was still an active bear den within the borders of the park.

Some of the quadrupedal animals that one might encounter on Forest Park trails are squirrels (red, grey, black and flying), fox, skunks, 'possums, raccoons, coyotes, chipmunks, porcupines, fishers and white-tailed deer. In the air, be on the lookout for cardinals, red-winged blackbirds, nuthatches, chickadees, goldfinch, woodpeckers, hawks, heron, turkey vultures, and even the occasional osprey or bald eagle. Oh, and ducks, lots of ducks: Bring bread. Speaking of water... The ponds and streams of the park are also teeming with life. Polliwogs, frogs, turtles, salamanders and several species of fish are all part of the soup. Even the triangle-floater mussel has found Forest Park favorable to call home.

So, while you might not see sheep or bears on your visit, you are bound to see an abundance of other furry, finned and feathered creatures as you traverse the park's hills and dales, fields and swales. But if you do see a bear, just remember this safety tip: It's not a good idea to try to outrun one. Outrunning the person you're with should be sufficient.

"Looking Across the Lily Ponds at Forest Park." (A. D. Copeland)

This photograph shows a sizable chunk of Everett Barney's estate laid out in all of its glory. Lily ponds, rolling hills, shrubs, flowers, trees and sweeping drives all served to complement Barney's home, Pecousic Villa. Barney continued to occupy and improve the 105-acre property for many years after donating the land to the city in 1890 and took great enjoyment in observing the pleasure of visitors to the park his beneficence and imagination helped build.

"E. H. Barney's Residence at Pecowsic." (D. J. Bordeaux)

Everett Barney purchased Pecousic Hill in the southwest corner of Springfield and much of the land around it in 1882 and began to build his grand home atop it shortly thereafter. Upon his death on May 31, 1916, the mansion became the property of the city, administered under the authority of the Park Commission. In 1922, the mansion was opened to visitors of the park after some interior "improvements" were made to accommodate them. According to the Parks Commission Report in the 1922 Municipal Register of the City of Springfield:

"The Trustees of the Estate of Everett H. Barney, upon the request of this board, paid to the city treasurer the sum of ten thousand ($10,000) dollars to be placed to the credit of the Park Commissioners and to be designated as the Everett H. Barney Fund. This being the first money to be received from the estate of Mr. Barney, it seemed very fitting and proper that a portion of it at least should be used to make such changes in the house as would make it available for the use of the public. Elaborate plans calling for very radical changes in the house were carefully considered, but, on account of the cost and the time it would require to make these changes, it was decided to postpone them for the present and that some less expensive plan be adopted. The carpets and rugs on the main floor were replaced with linoleum, a long counter was built in the dining room, and other conveniences were added so as to equip this room for the sale of ice cream, soda, candy, cigars, etc. Some minor changes were made on the second floor, including cutting a door from the balcony into the large room known as the sun parlor, and making this room suitable for societies and small gatherings to hold meetings."

Pecousic Villa was razed in the late 1950s to make way for Interstate 91. The estate's 1883-built carriage house was spared, and thanks to a seven-year restoration project undertaken by skilled students at Putnam Vocational High School, is now available to host weddings and other social functions. For more information, visit the Carriage House at the Barney Estate web site at:

And here's a link to the 908 page long 1922 Municipal Register of the City of Springfield digitized at Google books:

"The Barney Mausoleum on Laurel Hill." (E. J. Lazelle)

Inside this mausoleum lie the remains of one of the men whose fate was most responsible for the configuration of Forest Park as it stands today. George Murray Barney was born on March 27, 1863, the only child of Everett Barney and his wife, the former Eliza Jane Knowles. George meant the world to Everett, as related in the article, The Story of a Park, in The National Magazine, Vol XVII, Nov. 1892 - Apr. 1893:

"He had an only son, George M. Barney, in whom all his future plans were centered. There was a rare bond of sympathy between father and son. To the filial relationship was added another element, as though they had been brothers, and still another, as though they had been the most intimate friends and confidants."

Everett Barney's original intention when he purchased the land at Pecousic was to create a Summer haven for wealthy Springfield residents. His plan included sculpting part of the land into magnificent gardens and introducing game birds for the sport of the folks who would (he hoped) be clamoring to buy land within this exclusive paradise and to build homes as magnificent as Pecousic Villa. With 19-year old George at his side and just as involved in the project as he was, Barney began pursuing his vision, buying up surrounding parcels and building the family manse, quite possibly entering the happiest time of his life and pleased with the legacy he would someday leave his son.

As Burns warned, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men...Gang aft agley," and the Barneys were no exception. On May 29, 1889, Barney's beloved son George died at the age of 26 in California, where he had gone in a last ditch effort to recover from a long illness. Everett Barney was crushed by the loss of his only son and lost interest in the project that had been theirs together. Shortly after George's death, Everett Barney decided to memorialize his son by merging his estate with the 5-year old, growing Forest Park, reserving the right to live on the property until his and wife Eliza's passing. He threw himself into improving his property and Forest Park in general and, in working through his grief, left the city of Springfield with one of the most magnificent public parks in the nation.

Today, Everett, Eliza and George rest in peace in Pecowsic. Home. Together.

"A Commanding View of the River from Pecowsic." (E. J. Lazelle)

There is always a horizon, be it near or far. A swathe of river, a line of mountains, the future of a city: All loom in the distance. Forest Park's past was dependent on giving, so 'tis today, and yet in the 'morrow.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

For some neat old postcards of Forest Park, take a look at the past EWM post, Postcards: Forest Park Springfield, Massachusetts.

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Map: Hampshire County, Massachusetts, 1854

Looking at this map of Hampshire County circa 1854, one can't help but be impressed by the amount of labor of lithography and love that went into its cartographical creation. A treat to the eyes as well as the mind, the map represents a pairing of the artist's flowing hand with the surveyor's cold, honest line of fact: Homesteaders' names secured in bold town borders back-filled with pleasing yesterday colors. For a brief moment in time, all were accounted for in Hampshire County.

Map of

From Actual Surveys By Wm. J. Barker

Published By

James D. Scott & Owen McCleran
116 Chestnut Street

E. Herrlein's Lith. 116 Chestnut St. Phila.

Just for comparison's sake with the above list from 1854, here are Hampshire County town populations from the 2007 U. S. Census estimates, with the changes in population between the recorded years noted in parentheses:

Amherst: 34,275 (+31,298)

Belchertown: 13,971 (+11,310)

Chesterfield: 1,273 (+259)

Cummington: 974 (-190)

Easthampton: 16,064 (+14,724)

Enfield: 0* (-1,034)

Goshen: 956 (+444)

Greenwich: 0* (-1,104)

Granby: 6,285 (+5,447)

Hadley: 4,787 (+2,818)

Hatfield: 3,258 (+2,200)

Middlefield: 551 (-185)

Northampton: 28,411 (+23,291)

Norwich (Huntington): 2,193 (+1,443)

Pelham: 1,404 (+421)

Plainfield: 600 (-212)

Prescott: 0* (-737)

Southampton: 5,962 (+4,902)

South Hadley: 16,952 (+14,173)

Ware: 9,933 (+6,151)

Westhampton: 1,586 (+987)

Williamsburg: 2,440 (+903)

Worthington: 1.272 (+151)

Here's a link to a handy Boston Globe article at, "Census Releases 2007 Massachusetts Population Figures", a list of the Bay State's 351 towns and their populations in 2000, 2006 and 2007.

*Enfield, Greenwich, Prescott and the Worcester County town of Dana were all dismantled to make way for Quabbin Reservoir and were officially disincorporated on April 28, 1938.

Something seems a bit odd with a few of the figures in the above list. There are 235 teachers to 7,671 public school students, which seems to be a pretty reasonable ratio for the times, 1 teacher for every 33 students. What is strange is the number of public schools, meaning the buildings themselves: 218. This means that just about every teacher had their own little schoolhouse with a few dozen students way back in mid-19th century Hampshire County. Kind of cool, such snug local learning. Then again, consider the 8,885 polls listed for the county. That's one polling place for every four residents, going by total population (35,257). Talk about elbow room! Perchance a misprint?

Okay, let's do a little more numbers jumping between centuries. Here are some figures for Hampshire County from the 2007 Census of Agriculture from the USDA, followed by value changes in the intervening 153 years since the above "Agricultural Products" statistics were printed on the Hampshire County map in 1854:

Land in Farms: 52,756 acres (-245,446 acres, per total of both improved and unimproved land in 1854)

Horses: 1,495 (-2,487)

Cattle: 5,242 (-25,738, per 1854 total of milk cows, oxen and other cattle combined)

Sheep: 1,658 (-31,179)

Swine: 1,918 (-4,807)

For a bigger picture of the farming status of Hampshire County today, check out the 2007 Census of Agriculture County Profile PDF:

One has to wonder about the placement of the abbreviation for "Catholic Church" on this map legend. Was it an oversight on the copywriter's part, forgotten to be tucked in above with the other congregations and added hastily at the end of the list rather than going through the trouble of a rewrite? Or was it a reflection of the Catholic faith's status in 19th century Hampshire County? An intended inflection of the pecking order of Atlas importance, falling in behind the cemetery and saw mill, the blacksmith and the postmaster? It would be nice to conclude for the former, but events in neighboring Hampden County's town of Westfield in the hot summer of 1854 bear witness to the possibility of the latter being closer to the truth.

From about 1825 Westfield had seen a large influx of Irish-Catholic immigrants who had come to the area to build the Hampshire and Hampden Canal and then the railroads, and many long-time residents resented their presence. Under 1854's July sun, the rising - brick by brick, board by board - of Westfield's first Roman-Catholic House of Worship on the corner of Mechanic and Bartlett Streets (now St. Mary's) brought tensions to a fine pitch, finally drawing a bristling and angry crowd to the site, ready to burn the growing church to the ground. Were it not for the persuasive words of Hiram Hull, a Protestant and well-respected man in town, the church may have been destroyed that day. As it turned out, after almost thirty years of worshiping in homes and rented buildings and even outdoors, the first Mass was celebrated in the new church five months later, in December, 1854.

The proliferation of professors, doctors and Dickinsons (Emily included) crowded into 1854 Amherst - along with the presence of Amherst College - undoubtedly establishes that town as the intellectual center of Hampshire County for the time. A visit to the poet's home, now the Emily Dickinson Museum, on Main Street in Amherst will take you back there. Here's the museum's web address:

Belchertown center's layout hasn't changed much since 1854. Notable on the map are the carriage manufacturers clustered around the common area. Belchertown carriage-makers were considered to be in the top tier for quality in their trade. In his book, the History of Western Massachusetts (1855), historian Josiah Gilbert Holland identifies four carriage and sleigh manufacturers located in Belchertown, employing a total of 132 workers and producing over 1,000 carriages and sleighs annually. Holland reports that annual earnings from carriage manufacturing reached nearly $100,000 for all four companies combined. Industry competition led to the decline of Belchertown carriage-makers financial foundation and within a couple of decades of the publication of Holland's work, carriage production was no longer a prominent concern in Belchertown.

Belchertown's official web site has a great historical summary of the town (including more on carriage manufacturing), which, according to the page was "originally written in 1960 by Kenneth A. Dorey and revised in 2005 by Shirley Bock, Doris Dickinson and Dan Fitzpatrick." Great job, folks. Here's the link:

And a link to Holland's History of Western Massachusetts at Google Books:

The Western Railroad cleaves a prominent arc through Chester Village in this detail of the small hamlet nestled in the foothills of the Berkshires. Construction of the rail line between Springfield and Chester was completed in 1841, the first freight hauled between the tiny village and the bustling city on May 24th of that year.

Amherst wasn't the only Hampshire County town to lay claim to the roots of a great American wordsmith in the 19th century. Poet William Cullen Bryant was born in Cummington on November 3, 1794 and died in New York on June 12, 1878. Today, the Bryant Homestead in Cummington is maintained and operated by the Trustees of Reservations and is an excellent piece of Western Massachusetts literary history to have the opportunity to explore. Here is a link to the Homestead's web site:

And here's a web site with a brief biography and some of Bryant's poems:

Easthampton was enjoying an explosive era of growth and prosperity around the time this map was drawn. Samuel Williston was instrumental as a driving force behind this forward movement, opening Williston Seminary in 1841 and then, six years later, relocating his button-manufacturing operations from Williamsburg to Easthampton as the Williston, Knight & Company. One year after that, in 1848, Williston opened the Nashawannuck Manufacturing Company (next door to the button plant), whose business it was to make suspenders. From 1840 to 1850, Easthampton's total property value increased four-fold. The population took a dramatic turn upward as well, with a nearly 90% increase in souls living within the town borders between those same years. And the expansion was only beginning. As more factories opened, and Easthampton became renowned for its elastic thread mills, the town continued to grow exponentially. Easthampton's population in 1854 was 1,340, by 1870 it had more than doubled, to 3,620.

Enfield was one of four Swift River Valley towns and several villages that were disincorporated and dismantled to make way for Quabbin Reservoir, a major component in the fresh water supply system for the Eastern part of the state, including Boston and the surrounding metro area. Enfield began its existence in June, 1787, and was originally known as the South Parish of Greenwich. It officially became Enfield about three decades later, on February 18, 1816, ultimately being cobbled out of parts of Greenwich, Belchertown and Ware. The last town meeting was held in Enfield, Massachusetts, in the Enfield Town Hall, on April 8, 1938. Twenty days later, on April 28, 1938, per Chapter 240 of the Acts and Resolves of April 26, 1938, passed earlier by the Massachusetts General Court, and signed into law by Governor Charles F. Hurley, Enfield was gone from the map.

For more on Enfield, check out these EWM posts:

Postcards From a Lost Town: Enfield, Massachusetts

Quabbin History: Enfield's Last Town Meeting, April 28, 1938

And for lots more on Quabbin Reservoir, take a look at EWM's The Quabbin Page

When I first found this map at the Library of Congress Map Collections, I was excited because of the details of the Swift River Valley towns of Enfield and Greenwich, both erased from existence for seven decades now. Then I looked at this detail of Florence and I saw the name S. J. Truth. Sojourner Truth, the freed New York slave who devoted her freedom to advancing the rights and freedom of others, especially women, working in partnership with a God she graced with her faith. Truth lived on Park Street in Florence from 1846 to 1857, when she moved to Michigan. Truth's 1851 "Ain't I A Woman?" speech may be her most memorable. There is a memorial site, with a fine statue of Sojourner Truth located on the corner of Park and Pine Streets in Florence.

Here's a link to the memorial's excellent and informative web site:

And to the text of "Ain't I A Woman?":

The town of Hadley reached an important milestone this year. Settled in 1659, 2009 marks 350 years of perseverance and prosperity for this New England gem along the Connecticut river. Events organized by the Hadley 350th Committee and volunteers are being held throughout the year to celebrate this auspicious anniversary, including a decorating contest, nature walks, plays, polka and feasts of fresh farm produce. The ambitious and interesting calendar of activities offered presents opportunities for everyone to participate and lots of close-to-home options for summer fun. Happy Birthday, Hadley!

For more information, check out the Hadley 35oth web site:

And here's a great new blog focusing on Hadley:

Save Hadley!

Hatfield's Main Street, with its well-appointed homes and welcoming charm, is one of the most beautiful scenic rural thoroughfares in Western Massachusetts. Founded in 1670 on land settled in 1660 as part of Hadley, Hatfield folks have managed to maintain small town values rooted in a love for the land and a sense of community that is laced through centuries.

For more on Hatfield, visit the town's web site:

And here are a couple of links to previous EWM posts with photographs of the devastation Hatfield experienced as a result of the Great Flood of 1936:

The Great Flood of 1936: Hatfield House and Barns

The Great Flood of 1936: Hatfield Tobacco Fields

On May 16, 1874, two decades after this map was published, the village of Haydenville, in southern Williamsburg, was decimated by a flood caused by the failure of the Williamsburg reservoir dam on the Mill River. The reservoir was used to store and regulate water to power the many mills and factories downstream, most of which were destroyed or damaged in the breach, including Joel Hayden Sr.'s brass works, cotton factory and foundry. Hayden was one of the local industrialists who spearheaded construction of the dam. Ironically, Hayden, who had been concerned for years about the dam's strength and ability to withstand heavy rains -to the point of monitoring the structure himself during downpours - had satisfied himself in the Spring of 1873 that the dam would last after all. 139 people perished in the devastating flood, 27 of them residents of Haydenville.

There are three broom-making firms shown on this detail of the village of North Hadley. At the turn of the 19th century, broomcorn was the most prolific cultivated plant in Hadley and the town led the nation in the manufacture and export of corn brooms. By 1854, when this map was published, tobacco had risen to the top of the farmer's planting list and the broomcorn industry was fading away.

Northampton marks 225 years as a city in 2009, having been incorporated in 1884, 230 years after being granted its charter as the town of Nonotuck (in 1654), and 30 years after this map was produced. One of the nicest features of this map detail is that the names of the streets are indicated. Inexplicably, most of the featured map's town details have omitted this important function.

Prominent in the upper left quadrant of this map is Dr. Halsted's Water Cure treatment facility. Dr. Halsted offered to cure patients suffering from nervous afflictions, curvatures, low spirits, paralysis and even constipation using a method of combined hydropathy and electrical shock treatments. This method was touted by Dr. Halsted as "magical in its efficacy" and "always sure to cure." For more on water cure spas, including Halsted's, take a look at the Worcester Women's History Project web page:

And here is a link to a previous EWM post featuring old and somewhat amusing medical advertisements:

Advertisements: Hope in a Bottle, Circa 1885

And a past post on Northampton from EWM:

Of Icemen and Presidents: Photos of Northampton at the Dawn of the 20th Century

When the ink of this map was laid to paper, Mt. Holyoke Female Seminary, founded by Mary Lyon in 1837, was nearing the end of its second decade of dedication to the pursuit of higher education for women. Today, Lyon's dream - now known as Mount Holyoke College - is still going strong in South Hadley. For more on South Hadley history, visit the informative and excellent blog of the South Hadley Historical Society at:

The Connecticut River was both partner and obstacle to settlers along her banks as witnessed by the existence of both dam and ferry in this detail.

The village of Southampton was carved out of Northampton in 1730 and was duly incorporated as a town in 1753. One of the earliest capitalizations of Southampton's natural resources came in the late 1600s, when investors formed an outfit that began mining the lead running in veins beneath the town. The original mining enterprise was short-lived, but in the mid-1700s the digging began anew under fresh investors and by 1770 the gamble was paying off. The shot heard 'round the world and the beginning of the American Revolution in 1776 brought operations to a standstill for two decades and it wasn't until 1807 that the mining of lead recommenced in Southampton. Throughout its life, the mine invariably seemed to suffer the fate of an industrial toy easily grown tired of by investors and was closed again around 1820. Midway through the 19th century another attempt was made to recharge the mining business in town. After about 15 years of operations, lead mining in Southampton ended for good in 1865. Here's a link to the Town of Southampton's web site:

Ware was at the dawn of its most prosperous era in when this map was drawn in 1854. The Otis Company Cotton Mills and the Gilbert and Steven Woolen Mills saw the height of their firms' prosperity from around 1850 until the early 20th century when industry competition operating more efficiently began driving the companies under, despite the best efforts of the workers to keep the companies profitable.

Williamsburg was also seriously affected by the aforementioned Williamsburg reservoir dam collapse on the Mill River that destroyed Haydenville and the resulting loss of life and property caused by the disaster took years for the town to recover from. Many river-side mills were never rebuilt, erased by the flood permanently. An excellent book on the devastating flood is 2004's In The Shadow of the Dam by Elizabeth M. Sharpe. Today, Williamsburg is one of the most beautiful and peaceful towns to live in or visit in Western Massachusetts. To explore more, here's the web address of the Town of Williamsburg:

And a link to a preview of Sharpe's book at Google Books:

And here is the outline of Hampshire County as it looks today. The most noticeable map changes between 1854 and 2009 are the renaming of Norwich to Huntington and the disappearance of Enfield, Prescott and Greenwich from the eastern part of Hampshire County to make way for the Quabbin Reservoir. Unless you consider the delivery system's changes as well...from 19th century ink and paper to 21st century captured crop of digitized PDF. Time illustrates the fluidity of a border, the stretching of an idea.

As always, thanks for stopping by and take care.

For more maps, new and old, on EWM and beyond, check out the exclusive EWM feature page, Trails, Rails and Roads: Maps.

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