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Ben Albert and Potato Farming in Worthington

In 2016, the WHS Annual Meeting focused on the town’s farming history. Diane Brenner mounted an exhibit on Worthington farms. Once the business agenda was complete, we recorded a group discussion about Worthington’s potato farming heyday, and a transcription of this discussion is below. The key player in potatoes was Joseph Bernard Maurice Albert (1922-2011), better known as Ben Albert. The Albert family originally came from New Brunswick, Canada. The following transcript has been lightly edited for readability, with some context added in brackets.

Pat Nugent: I can tell you the memories I have of Ben Albert, of Albert Farms. When I moved to town, Ben Albert was the –

Bert Nugent: He was the king.

Springfield Sunday Republican, October 21, 1962.

Pat Nugent: He was the king of the town. And I have to say for Ben Albert there was never once, in my fifty-some-odd years knowing that man, that I ever went into his office, met him on the road, met him anywhere, where if I needed something – PTA, church, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts – and asked him, he was the most generous man alive. He would get potatoes for the schools, the church, potato chips. Anybody that was getting married, he’d bring up some potato chips. I have a lot of good memories of Ben Albert. He got a lot of people in trouble, because he had an MU-2 airplane, and he would start it up at the runway in the morning, anywhere from 7 to 9 –

Julia Sharron: Earlier sometimes. [laughter]

Pat Nugent: Earlier sometimes. And if there was any kid on that runway, they’d get in the plane and they’d go. [laughter] To Rhode Island, Maine, wherever he was going. Ben never called their parents. They’d get home and their mother wanted to know where they were. “Oh, I went to Maine with Ben.” [laughter] Kevin Porter, who’s lived in town his whole life, he did that quite often. You’d think your kid is in school and he’s off in Maine with Ben Albert. [laughter] Ben Albert employed a lot of people in this town. A lot of women got to pick potatoes. It was a dirty job, but it was a fun job. He always made sure everybody had something to drink, eat, whatever. If he didn’t, the guys running the harvester did. I can’t really say anything bad about Ben, other than some of the jokes he pulled on people that I won’t repeat. But he was a good man, his family were a good family, and they brought a lot to the town of Worthington. I had a close connection with him. I never had to go buy the potatoes. The only one person in this town that ever had to buy potatoes was Mrs. Frances Albert. [laughter] She bought her potatoes at Corners Grocery ’cause I worked there. [laughter] The rest of us, if you wanted potatoes, you went to the warehouse and you got potatoes. If you wanted potatoes and they weren’t quite ready, you could go to the fields and dig them up, way on the edge, where he would see it the next morning ’cause he followed all of his fields. He cleared a lot of fields in this town, and I think that appeals to a lot of people who move into town, or drive into town. You see a lot of open fields – not so many as you used to, but you see a lot of them.

?: The Jones lot, he made that whole field.

Pat Nugent: Right. He made the whole field in the Jones lot. Picked the rocks. There were a lot of rocks. Even picking potatoes there were a lot of rocks. It’s amazing, I think they grew as fast as the potatoes did. [laughter] But he did employ a lot of people, lot of good people and –

Bert Nugent: And a lot of bad people, he hired me. [laughter]

Pat Nugent: That’s right, he hired you. I do believe that Ben Albert’s grandson, Peter, is here. I know Peter worked in the potatoes, didn’t you, Peter?

Peter Kievett: A few years. [laughter]

Norm Stafford: I heard a story once about some non-Worthington harvesters that came up from the city on buses.

Pat Nugent: We called them migrant workers.

Norm Stafford: Yeah, and they were good workers and housed fairly. Other farmers in the area did the same thing, but Ben was known to treat them better than most everybody else.

Pat Nugent: Yes, he did. They would come up by buses and live in the Quonset huts. I worked at Corners Grocery, and Ben Albert had an open account for any of his migrant workers. When they were in the fields, they could come to the store and get whatever they wanted for lunch and Ben paid the bill. The only [migrant workers] that came [to Worthington], to my knowledge, [were with] a man whose name was John Durn. He was from Florida. He was the –

Bert Nugent: He was the head man of the migrant workers.

Pat Nugent: He gathered them up and brought them up here. He was good to his workers – very, very good. They always came back every year. And then when they had the big fire at the Quonset huts, the church and everybody in this town provided clothing and food for those migrant workers. They almost had to take a second bus back to take all the stuff back with them. The town of Worthington has been, and always probably will be, very generous when something like that happens.

Helen Sharron Pollard: I remember that. I remember kids in school collecting things, clothes and shoes and coats.

Norm Stafford: Those kids of the migrant workers would go to your school?

Helen Sharron Pollard: They went to school with us for a couple of weeks in September, October. And these kids, they were lucky to get into school. They went with their families from place to place, so they didn’t get much of an education. But Mrs. Porter, Ted Porter’s mom, was the third grade teacher and fifth grade teacher at the time. She told us to be kind to these kids because of the kind of life that they had. Peter, you may remember this – you were a little younger. But we did a count on the swing sets at recess – you get a 30-count, and then another kid could get your swing. But we always let the migrant worker kids swing as much as they wanted to, because we knew being in Worthington was a treat for them. People would bake cookies and do all kinds of things like that, because – what a life. You saw those people worked hard. And for the couple of weeks that we worked and made our 35 cents for a barrel this high – that was their life. For us, those couple of weeks were horrible and dirty and smelly and there were rats and rotten potato smells, and boys would pelt you with potatoes when the bosses were off the fields. We suffered through it for a couple weeks, but those people, that was their life.

Pat Nugent: And they usually started at Florida – Ben Albert had a lot of farms in Florida. They would go from Plant City [Florida] up to Morehead, get in the Carolinas, then come up into New Jersey. From New Jersey they usually came over to Mass[achusetts]. And they were pretty much the same crew. They probably gained some and lost some. They didn’t come with pedigree papers, but they were good. I never heard of one incident where they ever bothered anybody in the town of Worthington. Ben wouldn’t have stood for it for one thing.

Evan Johnson: Where did they live when the Quonset huts burned?

Julia Sharron: I think that’s when they lived at Lyceum Hall.

Pat Nugent: But they didn’t come up after that, right?

Julia Sharron: No, they only stayed for one year [at Lyceum Hall], I believe. It was that time, on weekends – I don’t know what happened, but they would come to my house, ’cause I lived near Lyceum Hall, in the morning for something to eat. And so a few came and it was fine, but then more came and I sort of ran out of food. And they were so, so polite. They were wonderful people.

Pat Nugent: They were very, very polite.

Sheila Kinney: How long was the season?

Pat Nugent: First frost to –

Bert Nugent: Ice.

Pat Nugent. Yes. Usually the first frost they would peel the potatoes off. When we’d get a first frost they’d burn the vines.

Sheila Kinney: So three to four weeks?

Bert Nugent: Four to five weeks.

Pat Nugent: He also had farms, not just in Worthington but –

Bert Nugent: Plainfield.

Pat Nugent: Cummington, Plainfield, Savoy. He harvested a lot of potatoes. Maine, Rhode Island, Long Island. We were in Maine once with Mr. Albert – we flew up there, heaven help us, and he took us around. He took us to the Catholic orphanage where he had lived, because his mother and father were busy doing potatoes, they would work the whole coastline. And he and his brother, Jerry, would stay in these orphanages, I don’t know for how many years. This [orphanage] was an old abandoned building, but probably one time it was nice. There was a tree where he used to go hide, he hated it so much. But there was much more to him than you saw. He could be a prankster. We were flying home – I don’t like to fly, but I had no choice. It was either walk or fly, and I figured I’d get home quicker if I flew. And I was sitting there looking around and I heard somebody say “MU-2 go to 11,000 feet” or something. Nothing. I said, “Well it can’t be us, right?” And I heard it a second time. Then I heard, “MU-2, I told you –” and that plane went like this, and my stomach stayed right down to the floor. I was so scared. [laughter] After that he paid more attention. Bert and all them guys thought it was a big joke, but I didn’t think it was very funny.

Norm Stafford: Clarence Witter has some great flying stories about the airplanes and Ben. He told me they didn’t have enough gas to fire the plane up, but they had gas over in the tractor. “Well, it’ll be alright, we’ll use that tractor gas.” So he put that tractor gas in the airplane and it goes “Boom-bang-boom,” backfiring and sputtering, but Ben took off anyway. It just barely cleared the trees. [laughter] They just needed enough to get down to Northampton.

Pat Nugent: Most people here remember the planes spraying the fields. For probably ten years or more it was okay, but then all of the sudden it wasn’t alright, because people realized what was going on. The people that lived in the house across from Lynn Newell called Bruce Homestead – he used to hang his sheets while his wife went to work, and the spray was yellow. And at most once, twice a week maybe, Bruce would be hanging his sheets, and down they’d go. This one day Bruce had had it, and he took his sheets down to Albert Farms and went in, and the first words out of Ben’s mouth were, “Boy, what pretty sheets you got!” [laughter] He knew it was air spray. So then they finally said, “You can’t go near Bruce’s house.” Then of course they stopped the spraying.

?: How about the time the plane took the canoe off a guy’s car at the end [of the runway]?

Pat Nugent: I think Ben told him [the owner of the car] that he shouldn’t have [the canoe] so high on his Jeep. [laughter] And Ben replaced them I’m sure – whatever happened he paid the freight for whatever. But he could find humor in things a lot of people didn’t.

Norm Stafford: I guess it was 1971 – and of course I wasn’t around there then – but George Humphrey had died and Ben was going to do the flyover with the ashes and dump the ashes. That’s a true story?

Peter Kievett: George Humphrey and my grandfather were very good friends, and George before passing away, he had requested, “Ben, there’s one thing I want you to do. I want you to scatter my ashes” – in what would be his backyard, down on Old Post Road in the Jones lot. So of course Ben says, “Not a problem, we can do that.” So they arranged it where the service was at the Congregational Church. Everybody went outside, and at the same time he flew over with Gale Donovan. Somebody that was standing outside said, “Well, okay, this is what they’re gonna do – they’ll make a turn, fly over and scatter the ashes.” So Ben slows down the plane, Gale opens the little window on the side of the plane. And he’s got the baggie of ashes in his hand. So then he goes up to the window and he’s gonna just – [tossing gesture] out the window. Simple, easy. Well, as he’s doing so, the pressure from the outside was a little different than the pressure on the inside, so the ashes are coming back, filling the cockpit. And as my grandfather was flying, Gale looks over and says, “George won’t jump! He won’t jump!” [laughter] So he ended up just completely throwing the bag out the window – forget about spreading ashes. But when they came back and they landed, the whole side of the plane – right from the little window down the whole side of the plane, was just wood ash, inside and out.

?: That is a true story.

Peter Kievett: Yeah, it’s true because I got volunteered to clean that. We got a free ride out of it, and as a kid, I would do anything for a ride in the plane.

Sheila Kinney: I always had the idea that he shipped the potatoes out by plane, but obviously – was it just to do business deals or marketing?

Peter Kievett: Well, he loved to combine hobbies with a career, and obviously farming was his career, but he loved to fly. He learned to fly, him and his brother, at a young age, when they lived in Rhode Island – that’s where they were from. It started with a little plane and evolved to a bigger plane, so as his business was growing his planes were growing also. Obviously it’s an expensive hobby, but there was also the work side of it. Yeah, he grew potatoes and everybody thought that was it. No, there’s more to it than that. He was a potato broker, so he bought and sold potatoes. Obviously he started out selling potatoes to markets for table stock. And in the early ’60s, this new fad was coming out called “potato chips.” Companies like Frito Lay came to him, because already he was a well-established potato grower here on the East Coast, and this is where the market is, where most people are anyways. So they came to him and said, “Can you grow these potatoes? We’ll give you the seed and everything, and then you give us back X tonnage of potatoes, you get to keep the rest.” So that’s basically how it all started. A potato chip potato is different than a potato you would normally eat, and Frito Lay was developing their own specific variety of potato exclusively for potato chips. So he changed his whole farming operation to grow potato chip stock potatoes. Of course here in Worthington, where harvests only last for so long, you can only put so much into storage. So what he ended up doing was, “Well, I know these guys up in Maine, I can buy potatoes,” and they were already doing this potato chip brand, and then eventually he’s like, “Well, I’ll buy and sell.” That’s how he became a broker. Then as his business was growing, he said, “Well, I need a fleet of trucks ’cause there’s a lot of potatoes to haul here.” And so eventually he had his own truck brokerage too.

Evan Spring: What was your role in this as it developed?

Peter Kievett: My role was grandson role. [laughter] My mother, Bonnie, was his eldest daughter. I was born and raised here in Worthington. And then as I got older I really became his chauffeur. The day I got my license, he said, “Get in the car, we’re going,” and we ended up in Florida. He just couldn’t wait. [laughter] Unofficially, I already was driving – you can get away with a lot up here in Worthington.

Darryl Smith: You go back to your trucks, they said Ben was up in Dexter, Maine, one time, and it was snowing pretty heavy. He happened to pull into a place and there’s two trucks out of Hatfield, Deerfield, trailer truck owner-operators. And he told them, “Who are you hauling for? Well, why don’t you work for me, sell some of my potatoes?” So Johnny Benoit said, “Well, I went to work for him.” He said, “Boy, he’s good to work for. Got your loads done, you went up and saw him, you got paid. We haul a lot of potatoes for him.”

Evan Spring: How current was the equipment and the method of farming? Bert, you would probably know? Was he using the latest stuff, or did Worthington’s environment require a special way of doing it?

Bert Nugent: No, it was the most modern equipment there was, Dahlman harvesters. You had to mount them on your own tractor, but he had quite a few of ’em over a time.

From Worthington’s Bicentennial Program, June 1968.

Peter Kievett: Ben could see how the market or even the actual industry was heading, and he always wanted to be ahead of the curve, so he actually had a dealership for this modern-day harvesting equipment. Prior to the Dahlman digger, which looks like a dinosaur on four wheels, if you all remember, it was nothing but digging potatoes by hand. It’s kind of funny, my grandfather was putting them in bags, but Joe Sena was putting them in barrels. Barrels is the most common thing, but bags – I don’t know why he did it. But he actually started this Dahlman harvester business up here. You’d see big farms down in the [Connecticut River] Valley – Hadley, Deerfield, all those areas – and they were still digging potatoes and picking them by hand. And back in the early ’60s, Ben Albert’s farm in Worthington was the show farm of New England. If anybody wanted to see a modern-day farming facility back then, it was, “Well, let’s go to Worthington.” I’ve met a lot of the old-time farmers in the Valley later on, and they can remember Albert Farms, Worthington, was the spot to bring and showpiece modern-day farming equipment. It would go back to my great-grandfather actually, he had employees that were with him for 40, 50 years driving trucks. He did business from Canada all the way to Homestead, Florida. And it always amazed me that we could be traveling down the highway – of course [Interstate] 95 was a new road, even when I was a kid – and we would get off the highway and there would be an old diner in some place in Georgia, way down there, and you’d go in and everybody knew Ben Albert’s trucks. Everybody knew who Ben Albert was, even that far away. He represented New England, and in a sense, Worthington, ’cause literally it said “Worthington, Mass” right on the [truck] door.

Pat Nugent: He was proud of Worthington, he loved Worthington.

Peter Kievett: Oh, yeah.

Pat Nugent: He loved the town, and if he’d see somebody having a hard time he found a way to help. Send somebody down with a tractor to help or something, he would do it.

Peter Kievett: How many times would somebody working for Ben go in and ask for an advance, and he would happily do it. And of course there was times where somebody just didn’t have money to buy gas. And I can remember as a kid my grandfather saying – ’cause we had the gas pumps right out front of the office – “Why don’t you go fill up his tank for him?” He was a giving person.

Pat Nugent: A very generous person, yeah.

George Coling: I’m new to Worthington. Can you tell us where the fields were? And the airport I think is down there on 112, right?

Peter Kievett: Well, through the years there was land that was bought and sold, but for the most part, up here in town, there was several pieces of land up off of Old North Road. You have the field that’s right next to the medical center, across the street, and down to what would be the cornfield, Joyner’s cornfield. And of course what Bert called the Jones lot – it was a big parcel of land.

Norm Stafford: Where all of them hay bales are right now.

Peter Kievett: Yeah, it’s all hay field. And then down Old Post Road, there’s two fields right there. And then if you go down by the airstrip, there’s another piece of land that’s off to the east side. You can’t see it, but it’s behind Mike Caputo’s house. Kinne Brook Road, there was several pieces of land down there – it’s called the White Rock Farm right now. I don’t know if you’ve been down on Prentice Road. And then if you go down Kinne Brook further, there’s Fisk Road, and if you go up Fisk Road, the first house on the left, you drive up through their dooryard and there was another farm down there. We called that the White Rock at the time.

Helen Sharron Pollard: And then the Senas had farms up at the top of Buffington Hill Road, and they also had farms on Starkweather Road, which is the road that goes by the school.

Darryl Smith: Well they had the Parson’s lot, out in the middle. Then I think Sena did Burr’s Field at one time, and then up on old Post Road up the Drascals. Joe Sena had that for a while.

George Coling: When did the business cease?

Sheila Kinney: What was the peak? When was peak potato?

Peter Kievett: Well, I think probably the early ’90s was the peak, and then after that the market really was terrible.

Norm Stafford: State Line Potato Chips reneged on a deal or something?

Peter Kievett: State Line was definitely a big player in the demise of my grandfather, because we were a broker also. We were shipping in three, four trailer loads a day to State Line, and the money was starting to add up. You wouldn’t get paid ’til 90 days for that particular load, and then 90 days turned about 120 days. And then everything was starting to compound, and they just never were paying. Eventually it got to the point where he was just supporting State Line Potato Chips with his own money, and then that didn’t work out right.

Pat Kennedy: Why did they come to Worthington to begin with?

Peter Kievett: This is unofficial, but Alberie Albert [1892-1959], my great-grandfather, is originally from Canada, and during the Prohibition he was bootlegging liquor down in New York City, Boston. And on his return trip they were catching onto him, and he had gotten picked up a few times, and of course he had a lot of cash because he had just gotten rid of the loot. So he figured out that land was dirt cheap at that time – we’re talking the ‘30s. So what happened was, he’d go down and get rid of all the alcohol, and then on his return trip he was buying land, paying out money. So then when he comes to the border, and they searched him, he had no cash.

?: Money laundering. [laughter]

Peter Kievett: I found a lot of his deeds in my house, in the attic, and I just couldn’t believe how many, all up and down the East Coast. Deeds to beachfront, like 3,000 feet of beach front at Bar Harbor. So now he had all this land. Well, he settled and wanted to raise his kids here in the States. They had purchased a big farm in Slocum, Rhode Island, and he had two boys, two girls. So meanwhile he went out here in Western Mass, where he found a lot of farms that were abandoned, and he got for a penny-a-dollar value. So he had purchased all this property here in this area, and he was growing potatoes also, ’cause World War II was ramping up, and he had government contracts. So his two sons were 16, 17-years-old, they needed to do something. And my grandfather’s brother, Jerry Albert, he was the first one that came to Worthington. He moved up here and was farming, but his girlfriend was back there [in Rhode Island], okay? You’ve gotta remember we’re talking teenagers, and he couldn’t take it. So the second year my grandfather came up here and just started working where Jerry left off. It wasn’t just fields, he was clearing land – like Bert said, he built the whole Jones lot. That Jones lot started out as like 15 acres [of field], but behind that was all blueberry fields.

?: Commercial?

Peter Kievett: No, they were wild blueberries, stretching from back of Elderberry Lane all the way up to Fort Champion.

Norm Stafford: How many acres is the Jones lot?

Peter Kievett: Cleared, it’s 176.

?: So he had thousands of acres in potatoes.

Peter Kievett: Yes.

Ben Brown: Almost every big field in town at one time was potatoes.

Evan Spring: So besides Ben Albert, Joe Sena, was that pretty much it for potato farms?

Helen Sharron Pollard: I think so.

Norm Stafford: I wanted to know more about the proposal to have a fly-in resort here, and have lots sold or condos or something like that, and people with airplanes would buy them and land at the airport. I don’t know what happened to that proposal – did it get nixed by the selectboard, or did it just not fly economically, or what?

Gloria Conwell: I thought it passed.

Helen Sharron Pollard: My mom was a selectman.

Julia Sharron: We went to town meeting, and the people thought the whole idea was preposterous and they would not vote for it at all. Even when Mr. Humphrey wanted to grow corn in the potato fields to make gas, nobody trusted Mr. Humphrey. Remember, Bert? And so nobody wanted to do this, and so it was voted down at Town Meeting.

Norm Stafford: Why was the town meeting involved I wonder?

Julia Sharron: Well, because it was going to be a different use of property for the town and people just didn’t want it, period.

Gloria Conwell: There was a fund drive to get enough money, and I forget exactly how it worked. Back in ’93, ’94, and people contributed money to donate the land to the Nature Conservancy, with an agricultural –

Evan Johnson: We did get the APR [Agricultural Preservation Restriction program] on that.

Gloria Conwell: That’s what I meant when I said I thought it passed, that it was protected by the town from becoming a condominium community.

Julia Sharron: Yeah, two different things, right. Chapter 61 is farm land, and they wanted to propose different use, like having an airstrip that planes could come and land on – and have all these condos so the air pilots could have a place, and it was really very big.

Evan Johnson: 120 units.

Ben Brown: They were talking about it as an “air park.”

Evan Johnson: You would land, and then taxi your plane to your house, and each house had its own individual plane.

Ben Brown: But subdivision laws come into it and so forth. You can’t grow private residences without roads, so then you have to bring roads up to standards. Subdivision laws really got in the way, and I think that was the biggest snag, if I understand it correctly.

Pat Nugent: From what I understand about the quote-unquote “airport,” if the town would have passed that, Mr. Albert would have gotten money from the government to continue his business. I think a lot of it started with Uncle Sam – it was one loan, after another loan, after another loan. I don’t believe you’d have found many people buying houses on the airstrip with airplanes and heliports, not in Worthington.

Evan Johnson: Maybe not in Worthington, but Ben’s plan was based on a place in Maine that is very much like what he proposed.

Darryl Smith: I was gonna say, how many potato farms – didn’t Sam Davis have one over there in Chesterfield?

?: A lot of those people sold their potatoes through Ben. And over in Savoy was an area.

?: Well, Ben brokered potatoes for a lot of farmers.

Ben Brown: Steve Sena had some in Granville – that was Joe Sena’s brother.

Helen Sharron Pollard: So who had the potato farm first, the Senas or the Alberts?

?: I’d say the Alberts.

Peter Kievett: I’d say the Alberts, yeah.

Norm Stafford: Was it still all that same seed stock that came from Frito Lay?

Peter Kievett: No, Joe [Sena] wasn’t growing potatoes for potato chips, it was table stock. You throw it in a bag and sell it in a market.

Darryl Smith: You go down in Easthampton, they had Sena’s apple orchards down there. They had the apple orchard over in Granville. They were a big family that stayed in farming. I think it was Larry Sena, he always sold all his apples down in Brooklyn, down to the projects down there. One year he didn’t get paid, and he said, “That’s the end of my business.” The broker never paid him for his apples. Wouldn’t take much to go under.

Ben Brown: All the other potato farmers, they were very small in comparison to Albert’s. There was no one at all to compare with Albert in size. Sena’s was basically a family business and so were all these other ones.

Sheila Kinney: So nobody tried to compete –

Peter Kievett: There was no competition, but yet, nobody had the opportunity that the Alberts had, especially where Albert came in and purchased all this land. Nobody had access to that kind of land. Again, Ben was in the right time, at the right place, at the right era. And of course he had the right personality. He was able to build a business and help out these other farmers, and it carried them along. I’ve heard so many stories that Ben would help local businesses. I’m not saying he was financially rich by any means, yet he loved to see anybody who’s attempting to make a go at it, and he would help ’em, anybody. Now if you’re gonna stand there with your hands in your pocket, he probably wouldn’t even talk to you. But he would just love people that were driven to move forward and succeed. For instance, the family that operated [Berkshire] Snow Basin [INSERT LINK] back in the day, over in Cummington – a ski area, family-operated business. They were very good friends. And there was years where we didn’t have much snow, and small family businesses like that, they felt the pinch. He would give them money just to keep open. That’s the way he was, he would would help out anybody that was in need.

Pat Kennedy: Can I ask a question about the workers? Did the same workers come every year? Did people get to know them?

Peter Kievett: Yeah, there was always the generations that progressed into it. I was farming right up to the end – it was 30-something years – so I heard all the stories of the older ones saying, “Well, my dad used to work here,” or “My grandparents used to work here.”

Ben Brown: Was John Durn there that whole time, the boss that brought them all up? Always the same guy?

Peter Kievett: Well, in my generation no, there was no boss. It was just people who maybe had worked last year or the year before, and they would come and apply. You’re talking about the time before me, where it was picking by hand, and the migrants. Even in the ’70s and ’80s, we didn’t have migrants at that point. It was a large group of local people who came, and they kind of liked being outside. They liked to have a little bit of income when everybody’s thinking “We need to get fuel for the house ’cause winter’s coming.”

Springfield Sunday Republican, October 21, 1962.

Julia Sharron: Peter, maybe you can expand on this. During the migrant season, many of the local women worked behind the tractor, and they did that for five or so many weeks. Can you explain a little bit what their job was? You’d have maybe six women behind a tractor doing picking or whatever.

Peter Kievett: Basically, in Worthington obviously we have rocks. We have a lot of rocks, and rocks of various sizes. But harvesting, it sifts the dirt out, and it also lifts up the rocks with the potatoes. So as it’s loading through the machine into the truck, the rocks need to get sorted out of the potatoes. So that’s what most of the employment would be on the harvesting equipment – trying to get the rocks out of the potatoes. There could be three, four maybe five people at a time per machine, and we ran two to three machines during the season.

Springfield Sunday Republican, October 21, 1962.

Helen Sharron Pollard: I never picked for the Alberts, but I did pick for the Senas and my sister Ramona did as well. And I just have to tell this story, because Tim Sena had come home from the service. I don’t know what he was in…

Ben Brown: National Guard.

Helen Sharron Pollard: And before he married Catherine Rude Sena, he was up at the field. It was the first time I ever saw him, and I was probably somewhere between 12 and 14 years old. And you can imagine a young Tim Sena – Pat, you’ll remember. He was a handsome man.

?: He certainly was.

Helen Sharron Pollard: All muscles, and he’s shirtless on the back of his truck. [laughter] And all of us girls were like, “Who is that?” But Cathy was there too, with her beautiful long hair, queening over all of us – dirty, bedraggled, dead potatoes dripping off us from the boys throwing them at us – so he didn’t give us a second look. [laughter]

?: Did you tell him that story?

Helen Sharron Pollard: Tim? Well I don’t know, I guess I just did. [laughter]

Darryl Smith: I remember my mother, when I was a kid, she used to go up and pick for Joe Sena – yellow baskets and the barrels. And that was back in ’55.

Helen Sharron Pollard: Yep, those yellow wire baskets.

?: Literally by hand.

Helen Sharron Pollard: By hand. A machine would have come by to lift the potatoes up.

Ben Brown: A tractor would drag this digging machine. This is much more primitive than the Dahlman diggers Peter was talking about. The tractor would drag it, and it would basically just bring the potatoes up on a conveyor belt and then just leave them on the surface as well as everything else. But the potatoes kind of float up and the dirt would sink down.

Helen Sharron Pollard: So you’d be looking for the biggest potatoes you could get, ’cause you want to fill it up as fast as you can.

Ben Brown: You’d fill the basket and then you’d put the basket into a barrel. Then once the barrel was full, you put your number on it, and the field boss signs the numbers in the morning. So, in the time a kid like myself would pick a barrel, these migrant workers would pick six barrels. [laughter]

Helen Sharron Pollard: Oh, ten. Professionals.

Ben Brown: Absolutely, no comparison.

Peter Kievett: The digging equipment that Helen’s describing, it would come through and dig up potatoes, but it would put the potatoes right back on the ground.

Sheila Kinney: You must’ve worn gloves.

Helen Sharron Pollard: No, no.

Ramona Sharron: My fingernails still to this day – it’s like I don’t have nice nails because of picking potatoes. My sister said how dirty it was. My mother would give us some cotton diapers so that we could wrap them around our face –

Helen Sharron Pollard: Clean ones.

Ramona Sharron: – so that we didn’t get the dirt into our noses and teeth. I still to this day hate getting dirt on my teeth. We’d have to clean out our ears, and it was really quite a disgusting job. I think I did it in second grade, and every once in a while I would pick a potato that was about the size of a basketball. Mr. Sena would let me bring it home, because I think I was the littlest at that time. I would give it to my mother and she would be so excited, because that one potato would feed us all that night. I think I only did it for a year – did we do it more?

Helen Sharron Pollard: I did it more, but I was older and my friends were friends of the Sena boys, so we had a in. I had an in to go and get really dirty. And then you’d find mice, families of mice, in the fields.

Darryl Smith: You get back to how many people you had to have on your harvester. I was in the service and I had a job in Rhode Island, so every other day I’d go over to Slocum, Rhode Island, over to Jerry Albert’s place. And they said, “Well, we’re going out to harvest.” I didn’t know what I was gonna do. Well, two guys left in the truck, and I’m looking around – there’s no rocks. One drives a truck and one drives a harvester, and basically they’re throwing out weeds. You only had two guys on there. And the same thing down in the Valley, they only send out a truck and a driver, there’s no rocks. And then Benny [Albert Jr.] and I went up to Washburn, Maine, one time – we had to bring a camper trailer back. And I’m looking at the farm, and he’s got three flatbeds up there with his barrel hoops on ’em. And I said, “What do you need this for?” And he said, “Well, the kids all pick up here – they go to school in August, then they get out when the harvest comes in, and they pick for three or four weeks by hand. Up here they pick by hand a lot still, and that’s part of their economy.” This was back around the ’80s. I don’t know if he had the big [harvesters] up there or not, but I ain’t seen a barrel truck since Joe Sena’s. I didn’t think they existed anymore.

Ben Brown: A little barrel hoist behind the cab and an arm that swings out, and then picks up the barrel.

Darryl Smith: Yep. Had an extra transmission in there, so they go real slow. And probably one guy – you got your driver who’s doing the hoisting on the truck.

Ben Brown: And one guy on the back putting the barrels in order, towards the cab. Hard work.

Evan Spring: There were some environmental problems with well water – is any part of that story unique to Worthington, or to Ben Albert in particular?

Peter Kievett: It was definitely isolated to this particular farm, to the Alberts. But even down in Northampton, Hadley, it’s a common issue, because more people are aware of the runoff of pesticides that are applied to the farms down there. Here in Worthington, I’m sure Joe Sena probably had some issues with pesticides, yet Ben would take care of that for him, he probably went up and sprayed for him.

Evan Spring: Did it have to do with it being applied by planes, or did all potato farms do that?

Peter Kievett: No, just in general. There were multiple applications done. You had to apply it in the planter, and then it was applied aerially, and then of course applied with a piece of ground equipment.

Evan Johnson: But the problem with the water supply at Radiker Road was the result of the fire up at the farms [on March 28, 1983]. The whole barn was filled with Temik that had burned, and it flushed down into the soil right there. Within just a matter of years they started picking up odd tastes down in the houses on Radiker Road, and that’s when they extended the water line down to pick up those houses.

The 1983 fire, reflected in the windows of the Masons’ house. Photo by Althea Mason.

Julia Sharron: Yeah, it started with Mrs. Joslyn’s daughter one time. There was a puddle of water, and evidently her dog drinks from that puddle and died. So then the people on Radiker Road started to say their wells were contaminated and they couldn’t use the water. So the Board of Selectmen went to the State and wrote up a grant so that we could have town water go down to Radiker Road. So that’s how they got the town water down there. Every well was contaminated, and it was from that fire, but it was also runoff from the fields, and everything else as well.

Evan Spring: I know my neighbor Richard [Mansfield] was personally sprayed by a plane one time.

Richard Mansfield: I moved here in 1972 – we bought some land, a little pork-chop lot, and it abutted the Alexander lot, which is on Scott Road. We cut a nice driveway back to be near to the land. And for a couple of years I admired the potatoes growing there, and they looked beautiful – I thought, “Boy, this is where I wanna be.” And then one day – we were hippies, sitting around a campfire – and that orange airplane came over and it just sprayed us big time. And boy, I was hopping mad, I was really pissed off. So that began kind of a feud that a lot of people in town joined in, ’cause it was getting on peoples’ nerves. And I could hear the talk in the back room [at the Corners Grocery], like, “Look what’s happening to our farming life now that the hippies are coming to town.” [laughter] But really I think it was a legitimate complaint – that plane should not be spraying us. And on top of that, I’m pretty sure – one time at least – it did a defoliant from the air. Because I looked over from [Route] 112 I could see this yellow ring on my land, where all the leaves were falling off – in August, probably it was. Well, I went to the Pesticide Control Board, which is extremely naive, because they didn’t like hippies and they were run by the Agriculture Department. Anyway, to make a long story short, it’s a lot more peaceful without that airplane. [laughter] I’m really glad that airplane’s gone.

Springfield Union, January 9, 1984.

Pat Kennedy: Ted Porter told me a story about fishing in the stream behind the barns, I think. And he said, “I used to fish there and one day I went out and all of the fish were floating on top of the stream.” It turned out there was a storage tank for the pesticides out there and it would leak a little, or there would be a little run-off.

Darryl Smith: I’ll tell you what’s out back there. If you see the picture [on display] of the Hemlock tree [at Albert’s Pond], somebody went up and pegged two platforms and a rope. I think Danny Donovan did it. It was all mowed, ’cause that was a home-made pond. He made that pond for irrigation. You’d go down there and it was all mowed, and kids would be down there swimming. It was a 30-foot stepladder that somebody had down there, so you could really get out over the water, and you’d be almost 30 feet in the air. Lover’s Leap was 50 feet. The pond was 15 feet deep and you wouldn’t hit the bottom.

Ben Brown: It was that giant hemlock tree – this was a real hotspot for kids.

?: Everybody, the whole town.

Ben Brown: As a little kid, it was especially for the bigger kids – the scary place that you were absolutely not supposed to go, ’cause it was too fun and it was dangerous. [laughter] So this Hemlock tree had a giant Tarzan swing, and you would climb up this ladder, and then all the way up into the Hemlock tree if you really wanted the extra oomph. And it would bring you out so far above the pond, you would end up out towards the middle of the pond and you could release [the rope] at least 20 feet up, maybe more than that. For a little kid, it was a pretty good ride.

Peter Kievett: You had the diving board there.

Ben Brown: There was a little diving board towards the end a little bit.

Peter Kievett: And a floating dock.

Ben Brown: And there was a Lover’s Leap. A little sign at the 50-foot platform – just a board basically – that said “Lover’s Leap.” And at 35 feet there was a little platform, like a treehouse kind of thing, small. There were not too many male children that didn’t at least go off the platform once or twice.

Darryl Smith: I went up Lover’s Leap and I wasn’t gonna jump off that, either. Up come Peggy Shea, God bless her, and she said, “Are you gonna jump?” And I said, “Girls first!” She jumps. [laughter]

Evan Spring: And it had an inflow then, right? Now it’s kind of stagnant.

Ben Brown: That was kind of a ritual every spring. Mainly Benny [Albert Jr.] would go down there, and he’d open up the inlet and the outlet, ’cause they would always end up plugged by the time the whole season was done. As long as you kept both inlet and outlet free, it had some amount of circulation until late in the summer, and then it was swim at your own risk at that point.

Springfield Sunday Republican, December 1, 1985.

Darryl Smith: He built the pond down behind the fire house. That was a big one. He did get a lot of irrigation.

Peter Kievett: The thing about the irrigation is, in the ‘50s, the State was thinking about conservation at the time. On the Jones lot, Gale Donovan came up with the big bulldozers, and they actully contoured the land so you could control the runoff. Because obviously when you open up a section of land, you gotta have ways to retain the topsoil. So the State had come up and surveyed all the lands, and they terraced areas of the land, and of course irrigation was a big thing too. So that’s where all these ponds started popping up, because the State actually subsidized a lot of these ponds themselves. The Jones Lot, it’s got the one way in the back.

Darryl Smith: The one up on Scott Road was a big one.

?: Prentice Road, a big one there.

?: That’s where we got the fire hydrant, that’s a big pond.

Peter Kievett: Oh yeah, these were all state-funded projects.

Ben Brown: In the late ’50s, early ’60s, there were some really serious droughts, and farmers – especially Ben – were digging a whole bunch of ponds right around then. And I think they added wells at the town water supply, and they started digging experimental ponds on that part of town, thinking about trying to expand their water supply. Like behind Pete Packard’s there was one that they didn’t develop later on. But it was seriously dry, even drier than what we’ve had lately.

Sheila Kinney: Did you ever lose a crop to drought or bugs?

Peter Kievett: Reduced yields, that’s about it. No, there was never a devastation. Starting in the late ’80s, we were actually farming and renting land down in East Longmeadow; Bloomfield, Connecticut; Granby, Connecticut. These were farms that were old tobacco land, and virtually they came to us and said, “We have land that is really going fallow.” The tobacco industry in the ’80s was just declined. So they had land they wanted to keep open, they didn’t want it to grow to brush. So they came to us, and we rented land for like a dollar an acre. But we actually lost some crops in those areas because of Colorado potato beetles – completely chewed the plants to nothing. Overnight, we had like a hundred-plus acres just chewed up, gone. Nothing left of it – little stubs, and that was it. But up here, Worthington, was very unique. The quality of the potato – everybody said there’s no comparison to what you could buy in Hadley or anywhere else. The Worthington-Plainfield potatoes, by far, you just can’t beat the flavor.

Evan Spring: So even if they’re made for potato chips, everyone locally liked to eat them?

Peter Kievett: Well, here’s the thing. Even though these potatoes were genetically designed to fry for a potato chip, there was certain varieties that were the best baking potatoes ever – size-wise and just flavor. They were just wonderful.

Jim Dodge: Ben told me once that potatoes from the Hilltowns could be sliced thinner, and there was more iron in the soil. When they were processed and bagged, there was less breakage, and State Line just liked the performance of the potatoes out of here than from Maine or elsewhere.

Peter Kievett: When you get into the science of a potato, especially big markets like Frito Lay, they’re looking for quality, but they’re looking for the quantity too, ’cause they just want a lot of these potatoes. And because we bought and sold potatoes, there was times where – let’s say in April, it was kind of a weird market in April. Florida really hasn’t started a harvest yet, but we still have potatoes in storage. So we’ll ship in a load of potatoes from Florida, and then maybe a couple of loads from Worthington-Plainfield. And they would call us up and say, “Hey, what are you guys doing to us? You had two different potatoes.” You think a potato is a potato, but a potato from Florida ended up being totally different than a potato from Worthington, in the way it would slice and the way it would fry, and the quality of chip.

?: And a big corporation needs it uniform.

Peter Kievett: Yeah, and they could see it. They have people, that’s all they do is just fry potato chips, and they would see the difference. They could adjust their fryers, and adjust the speeds and all that. And they were saying, “Look if you’re gonna ship, ship from one place,” because we were messing them up.

Darryl Smith: So how long did the potatoes stay good in the warehouse down here?

Peter Kievett: We would pretty well be done by April.

Darryl Smith: But the quality would stay the same pretty much?

Peter Kievett: Well, a potato that’s been stored for six months is not gonna be the same as a potato that was dug yesterday, but as far as the chip plants went, there was no difference, ’cause you’re frying it. You’re not worried about flavor, or texture for that matter. You don’t like to peel a soft potato.

Darryl Smith: I remember when the town shed needed something, they’d go down to Ben’s. They needed a part for a truck or something like that, it was just kind of a given, you go down to Ben’s and they’ll have something.

Peter Kievett: And harvest time was really a happening time for Worthington, with trucks up and down the roads, harvesting equipment up and down the road, the amount of people they employed. The store alone – I don’t know how many cups of coffee and donuts would come out of that place for break time.

Ben Brown: Before we wrap up I’d like to throw in a little anecdote that I remember from being a kid during the potato farming years. Like Peter was saying, kids back then could get away with a lot up here in the hills, and I grew up amongst the Albert siblings: Ben Albert’s children, Peter’s aunts and uncles. And Linda was the youngest daughter, the third youngest in the whole hierarchy. Linda was pretty spunky. They were all pretty spunky, but Linda was especially spunky, and –

Peter Kievett: Still is. [laughter]

Ben Brown: So she was a little kid – way below learner’s permit age, and nobody would give her a ride to Cummington Fair. She was not gonna be stopped that easily, so she went down to the farm and got in a five-ton flatbed and drove herself over to Cummington Fair. She had a good ‘ole time and was there for quite a while before anyone discovered she was there and how she got there. That was kind of typical of how the Albert children took matters into their own hands. I would guess she was maybe 13.

?: She’d been driving that potato truck in the field.

Ben Brown: Those are big trucks. If she could see over that steering wheel, I’d be very surprised. She was probably sitting on a half a dozen phone books, too. Those trucks, they weren’t easy to drive – no power steering, and manual shift, a split axle. They were not easy to drive, but I have a feeling Linda had a lot of practice.

Peter Kievett: We all did, at a young age.

Helen Sharron Pollard: Well, thank you all so much. [applause] It makes me feel good that we captured this. Thank you Peter so much.

Night of the Living Dead III at Ringville Cemetery

Ringville Cemetery.

by Pat Kennedy and Diane Brenner

At Worthington’s historic Ringville Cemetery – on Friday, September 16, 2016, under a full moon – onlookers gathered to meet some of the resident wraiths, who had awoken from their eternal slumber in a chatty humor. Their words are documented for posterity below.

Ringville Cemetery, on Witt Hill Road close to the Ringville hamlet in southern Worthington, was established in 1866 and gradually expanded to its present three acres. In 2004 the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Despite the 1866 establishment of the cemetery, the earliest stones are from the 1810s. These graves were apparently moved from a cemetery in Chesterfield, as our first resurrected speaker explained.

Madeleine Cahill as Rosanna Cole Cole Cowing.

Rosanna Cole Cole Cowing (1766-1818)

Good evening, dear visitors, and welcome to what I sincerely hope is my final final resting place. My name is Rosanna Cole Cole Cowing.

I was born in 1766 at Bridgewater, Massachusetts, over near the Atlantic Ocean coast, where the Coles had been settled since the 1620s. My parents, Samuel and Sarah Cole, desired to take advantage of the unspoiled wilderness out here in the western part of the state, so we came to the newly incorporated town of New Hingham – you know it now as Chesterfield. Several other Coles came as well, among them my cousin Consider, whom I married in 1782 when I was 17. So I became Rosanna Cole Cole. We farmed our 100 acres between Ireland Street and Norwich Lake – one of the first parts of town to be settled. My husband was a blacksmith during the winter months.

Consider and I produced thirteen children. The first babe arrived in 1785 when I was 19, and I had another every year or two until 1809, when I was 43. That’s a lot of birthing, and we weren’t especially lucky. My first namesake, Rosanna, died when she was but seven years old. My second Rosanna didn’t survive infancy. I guess the Lord didn’t intend for me to bear any more Rosannas. In all, five of my children died at birth or in early infancy. As if that wasn’t enough, my son Ansel died when he was 24. He’d been married only two years, and left his widow with a young daughter, Electa. My husband and I were fortunate to see six children survive. Life was mostly a hardship for us women back then.

Gravestone symbol at Ringville Cemetery.

So many other folks settled this area as part of the Congregregational Church, but the Coles were Baptists. Baptists were an important force in the Bridgewater area. Many were attracted to the teachings of Roger Williams, who preached a different kind of religious freedom – the freedom not to belong to an established church of any kind. We’d had quite enough of that in England, thank you very much. Congregrationalists believed that being baptized as an infant meant you were predestined to be part of the elect. But we Baptists felt strongly that adults should deliberately commit to their faith through adult baptism. Some saw us as heretics and dissenters, which was kind of ironic, given why so many folks came to New England in the first place.

There were Baptists in New Hingham as early as 1760. The meetinghouse I went to was built in 1779 at the corner of Partridge Road and Ireland Street. I don’t think you can see any traces of it anymore. The church was later moved to the center of Chesterfield, where it was easier to get to. Consider was proud to own his own pew which, at the time of his death in 1814, was worth $5.00 – that would be several hundred dollars today. It was filled every Sunday by our children who attended the local school when they weren’t working on the farm or in the blacksmith shop.

We lived here just after King George’s forces surrendered at Yorktown and the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1783. None of the Coles hereabouts served in Mr. Washington’s army, but many Cole cousins in Bridgeport did. After the American victory – thanks be to a providential God — the menfolk spent a lot of time discussing whether to ratify the new Constitution. Each town had a vote. The Cole men joined the rest of the folks in Chesterfield and voted yea. We had to learn to say dollars instead of pounds. But of course we still drank tea!

We womenfolk had little time for politicking. Our lives were focused on helping make ends meet. We didn’t really use cash money in those days – what there was changed value too much to count on it. What we couldn’t grow we mostly bought through trade or barter. We never felt isolated, as the community was strong, and a stage coach route ran from Northampton over the bridge down by the Gorge, and along the Post Road to Albany.

Newspaper ad for sale of Consider Cole’s assets.

Unfortunately my husband Consider was taken to a better life in April 1814, leaving me with two children still at home and $140 in debt, which we met by selling off a lot of our land in Chesterfield and bordering Norwich. It’s very difficult for a woman to run a farm on her own, so in November that same year, at the age of 54, I married the Captain Reuben Cowing, a widower with five children still at home –one just a child of four. I was Reuben’s third wife. After I passed in September 1818 the Captain did not remarry. By then, I had the enjoyment of several grandchildren.

The gravestone of Rosanna Cole Cole Cowing reads, “Farewell my friends / prepare to die / For die you must as / well as I”

So why am I here in the Ringville Cemetery, when I was buried in the Cole Cemetery off Ireland Street? Well, in 1930 the Commonwealth of Massachusetts took our eternal resting place for a dam project and moved the cemetery over here to Ringville! Can you imagine? One poor soul, Laura Ellis, was left behind, probably because they couldn’t locate any next of kin. Anyway, we Coles are gathered here again, resting peacefully with our Worthington friends and neighbors. As you can see, I have a beautiful stone with unusual decorations, and all our stones have recently been straightened and cleaned by a lovely young woman, Ricky Chick, who lives near where we Coles lived in Chesterfield. Fitting isn’t it?

Besides, we are all related here. My granddaughter Elisa, Consider Jr.’s daughter, married Elkanah Ring. The Rings have that big stone over there in the center. Why don’t you go on over there and meet Elkanah’s sister-in-law, Lucretia? It’s been lovely meeting you all.

Diane Brenner as Lucretia Clark Ring.

Lucretia Clark Ring (1814-1846)

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I am Lucretia Clark Ring. I was born in West Worthington in 1814, the youngest child of Spencer Clark and Hadassah Bardwell. We Clark children – Alonzo, Elvira, Electa and I, Lucretia (great names aren’t they?) – were a right tight bunch of ruffians.

My wise, hard-working father Clark established a tannery, the first successful business in Chester. He sold it and built a new one in West Worthington, on the river. Life on the River Road was harsh weather-wise but very pleasant. We went to the school near the edge of our property and helped out with farm chores and at the tannery. Have you ever smelled a tannery? Such a foul-smelling process!

And then – what were they thinking? – my brother and sisters went off and left me. Alonzo went to Williams College. Elvira married and skedaddled off to Ohio with the good Doctor Boise. It took them more than two weeks to get there. They smartly traveled ahead of the spring floods – if they’d waited it would have taken longer. And sister Electa, that sourpuss, went to teach in New York over by the new Erie Canal.

I spent my time studying and, of course, going to Methodist meeting. I wasn’t very religious, but at meeting I got to socialize. Our preachers were circuit riders so we had a welcome variety of preachings and teachings. I could tell you a lot about our neighbors – well, maybe another time.

I became a teacher, but wasn’t very successful. There were eleven schools in town, and each one hired its teachers anew each year, so we had to compete for the positions. My heart wasn’t really in it. But around here, pretty much all the young women either taught or married. I had plenty of suitors, including that simpering Mr. Stebbins who sidled when he walked. My father knew me well enough to send him packing!

Plow plane manufactured by the Rings.

In 1836, at the advanced age of 22, I married Mr. Thomas Ring. I am such a sloth – I barely got the bed quilt I started back in school ready in time. My husband and his brother, Elkanah Jr., made wooden tools, children’s sleds and other items from wood and metal. My parents moved out to Ohio to live with the Boise family, and I, properly married, moved to Ringville.

Was that ever a change! Husband and I lived in Thomas’s parents’ old house along with Elkanah, his wife, and around ten to fourteen workers. I had to work really hard – laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing up, laundry, cleaning, cooking, washing up, and farming a little, and milking and churning butter. Sounds awful but I liked it. Husband and I discussed moving to Ohio to join the others. Thomas even went out to see what it was like, but we decided we were better off on the “Worthington prairie.” Plus the Rings had a good business with ready water. In Ohio, water privileges were hard to come by and very costly. Thomas was a loving husband, and Father Ring was kind. Mother Ring especially liked me – some said better than her own daughter.

1845 letter from Lucretia Clark Ring to the Boise family.

Mary, my firstborn, arrived in early 1840. She was a quiet child, slow to talk, and well-behaved, as what child wouldn’t be in such a household? A second babe, George Spencer, arrived barely ten months later. I felt terribly unwell for the few weeks before he came. All I wanted to do was sit, but I managed to stay on my feet and do a little work. His delivery was hard and painful – fifteen hours. George was slow to thrive, and with Mary to care for and a long winter, I was aching and needed rest all the time. Plus the cough just wouldn’t go away. We tried many different remedies, including a trip to Saratoga for the waters. There I was forced to take in four large tumblers of that disgustingly bitter Congress mineral water and take two blue pills every day. Awful! I told people this helped, but all it did was loosen my bowels. Then, of course, I got pregnant again. Lyman was born in the spring of 1845. I never did get to enjoy the spring that year, and was too weak to nurse. As I got even sicker, Lyman and George went to stay with Mrs. Cowing, Thomas’s aunt down the road – a right blessing that was. Lyman, who was six months old, went from 11 pounds to 13½ pounds in less than five weeks. The tough part for me was that they considered Mrs. Cowing their mother.

I grew worse – I had pains everywhere, night sweats and day fevers, and a large abscess on my neck that wouldn’t stay drained and gave me a terrible sore throat. Though I could eat, I got thinner and thinner.

Alonzo Clark.

Brother Alonzo had become a doctor, a graduate of the College of Physicians and Surgeons that had just merged with Columbia College. He practiced in New York City and during the summers taught at the medical college in Pittsfield. He was a modern doctor, very well liked and credited with making stethoscopes common in diagnosis. My husband, more and more desperate, turned to him for help, and my brother prescribed the most modern remedy for conditions such as mine: three drops a day of spirits of naptha – you would know it now as paint thinner. I couldn’t take it for more than a few days. It was near the death of me. Actually, I did die about a month later. I had been consumed by consumption – you know it now as tuberculosis. Back then we thought it came from the bad air from the brook over near the factory.

It’s funny – my dear sisters were sad I was dying, but their greatest fear was that I wouldn’t show the proper faith or contrition. They said I was just too blunt. But I am blunt, and never could lie. I loved life too much, and wasn’t happy to face death.

Thomas remarried, moved to Huntington, and lived another 20 years. George, never thrifty, died before reaching thirty. And Mary went to live with Alonzo, who remained a bachelor – married to his work, as they say. Mary took care of him until he died in 1887, then she married his longtime secretary.

Well perhaps you’d like to hear some happier stories. Why not head over there and meet Mr. and Mrs. Conwell? Our Lyman married their daughter, Hattie. They played together as children.

Sheila Kinney and Christopher Marzec as Maranda and Martin Conwell.

Martin Conwell (1812-1874)

Welcome neighbors, my name is Martin Conwell. I used to live on Ireland Street in the South Worthington village. You’ve probably heard of my son Russell H. Conwell, the famous orator and founder of Temple University – but there wouldn’t have been any Russell without me and my wife Maranda.

Like so many other residents of Worthington, I was born elsewhere – in my case, Maryland in 1812. In 1836, not long after I married my childhood friend Maranda, we bought a farm and some land from John Pomeroy, one of the early pioneers. Before the 1760s Worthington was an unsettled wilderness, and we either carved farms from the woods and stony ground or bought farms from the earliest settlers. I soon discovered that raising sheep and cows was more practical than farming the rocky land or selling eggs. But I never suspected the cotton fabric produced in those huge factory looms over to the east would send our flourishing wool business into a depression. Like so many other people in Worthington, I practiced several trades. I sold wool, meat, and produce as far as Springfield, and worked as a stonemason from time to time. We knew how to make do. My family had meat to eat, and our children dressed warmly and wore fine calf shoes.

I joined my South Worthington neighbors in the Methodist meeting that formed once the Baptists moved their meeting house to West Chesterfield. We met in a small building on the site of what became Russell’s grand academy. We followed the teachings of John Wesley and believed each man and woman has a personal relationship with God. As devout Wesleyans, we raised our children to recognize that no one was simply entitled to salvation – we needed to achieve it through good behavior and good works.

We also believed the enslavement of our fellow humans was an abomination to the Lord and called for the abolition of slavery. The Methodist Episcopal Church was slow to move on this, so in 1843 – the year Russell was born – our Worthington group split off and joined the newly founded Wesleyan-Methodist Connection, where we could advocate for abolition more openly. We Wesleyans also supported equal rights for women as expressed at the Seneca Falls Convention, hosted in 1848 by one of our member chapters.

Around that time we built our own permanent meeting house. Local notables formed a committee, and we bought some land for $45. Rosanna’s son Consider Cole Jr. and I were the main financial contributors. Five years later, on May 18, 1848, the new South Worthington Church was dedicated. We roasted a calf and a sheep in the Reverend Niles’ oven, but there was no room for potatoes, so I built a fire to roast them outside. It was a grand celebration.

The Methodist Episcopal Church in South Worthington.

As both an abolitionist and a wool merchant, I had a chance to meet the famous John Brown, who tried his hand for a few years as a wool merchant in Springfield. Mr. Brown had gone to school for a spell in Plainfield, and knew the area well enough to visit us at our farm. Russell told stories about our involvement in what you now call the Underground Railroad, but our Russell knew how to embroider a tale. Whatever Russell said, I don’t recollect ever seeing Frederick Douglass here. And Russell’s story of my weekly wagon trips to help slaves escape north was wildly exaggerated. Nonetheless, I did contribute $10 to John Brown’s cause and kept sad vigil on that dark day he was hanged.

Our first child, Charles, was born in 1840. He and Russell were both educated at Wilbraham Academy and then at Yale. Russell later complained that he had to work for his tuition and resented being bullied by the richer students. And when he started to teach here in Worthington, he felt the need to build a grand academy to house his ambitions. But Charles was not a complainer, and he was happy to teach at the little school he had attended in South Worthington. I’m told he was considered the best teacher the district ever had. When the Civil War broke out he enlisted with his brother in the Massachusetts 46th Volunteer Infantry. He survived the war, and afterwards took work as a surveyor, participating in the survey of the Mississippi Basin. But the war left him with weak lungs, and he died of pneumonia in 1869, leaving his wife Eliza.

Russell was born in 1843, and Maranda here will tell you some more about him. Our daughter, Hattie (named Harriet, after Harriet Beecher Stowe) was born in 1846. She married Lyman Ring, the son of Lucretia and Thomas Ring, and had one child, our granddaughter Flora. After Hattie married, we moved with her five miles down the road to Huntington, where I partnered with Lyman in a dry goods store. Ironically we were selling that cotton that had become so popular.

Our last child, Arthur, was born in 1854 but lived only seven months. That broke my Maranda’s heart. We’re surrounded here by all our children, except Russell, who is buried in Philadelphia near his college.

I died in 1874, but that’s ancient history now. Ah, I guess I’m rambling again. Maranda would like a word – or two.

Sheila Kinney and Christopher Marzec as Maranda and Martin Conwell.

Maranda Wickham Conwell (1817- 1877)

Well, you’ve met Martin, but I’ll let you know something about me. I’m Maranda Wickham Conwell. It’s “MAh-randa” spelled with an “a” – people usually get it wrong. Don’t you just hate that?

I was born in New York State, married my friend Martin, and settled here in Worthington. I passed away in Somerville, at the home of Russell’s son Leon and his sweet wife, Sarah. I am so proud of Leon. He became the mayor of Somerville, and served a term in the U.S. House of Representatives. But make no mistake, I am happy to be home again in Worthington.

My son Russell made much of his impoverished beginnings, but his was a rich and healthy country life where wealth was not measured in material blessings. As upstanding and prominent Methodists, we valued hard work and supported our church and minister as best we could.

Martin and I were well-educated and cultured people. We took several newspapers to keep up with events of the day, and I loved to read for my own enjoyment as well as my children’s edification. I shared with them the works of Harriet Beecher Stowe and John Greenleaf Whittier’s abolitionist editorials from the New York Tribune.

Let me tell you a little more about Russell. We loved his first wife, Jennie Hayden. He met her at Wilbraham Academy, and they married when she was very young. Russell then served in the Civil War, but didn’t exactly distinguish himself, whatever he said later – he was court-martialed, you know. After the war Russell and Jennie went out to Minnesota, while Russell worked at lawyering. He traveled around the world, writing articles for a Boston newspaper and then lecturing when he returned. Jennie was often left alone and developed an interest in weaving, especially the newly invented Jacquard technique. But like so many women she died too young, at 27. She left behind my dear grandchildren, Nima Harriet and Leon. At that time Russell was living in Somervillle, where he tried unsuccessfully to run for office. Just a year later he remarried Sarah Sanborn, from a wealthy family in Maine. She prompted Russell to follow his divine calling, and he took a position at a Baptist temple in Lexington, Massachusetts. This eventually led his family to Philadelphia, where he established the Baptist Temple and eventually founded the college that became Temple University. Russell accomplished great things, but you can’t believe everything he said, especially about himself. Even as a boy he was a storyteller. God gave him a gift for storytelling, and he used it to great advantage. But his tales got taller every time he told them!

Once he left for the war, he never really returned to Worthington to live. He did come as a summer visitor with his followers, which brought some fame to the town and some money into local pockets. But don’t forget my other children here, the ones who stayed behind. They were good Christians and kindly neighbors.

My own life was a hard one, full of worry and hard work, but blessed all the same. I lost my baby Arthur, as my husband said. In those days we lost so many babies that we were afraid to count them among our children until they were five or six.

The Conwell homestead in South Worthington.

We enjoyed living in a tight community of like-minded neighbors in South Worthington, who helped each other whenever there was a need. For a new bride we would weave blankets and linens and construct quilt tops, either pieced or whole cloth. All the women and young ladies would gather, sometimes for two or three days, to quilt the tops onto the batting and a back piece. Occasionally we made a memory quilt for the bride, with each woman contributing an “autographed” square. We also worked together at haying and harvesting season. I wonder, do the ladies of the town still get together to make quilts?

Well, now I’ve had my say. I’ve been very glad to meet you all. Why don’t you head on over to the other end of the cemetery there and meet Johnny Ring. He grew up with my Russell and served with him in that terrible war. He has a lot to tell you.

Casey Pease as John Quincy Ring.

John Quincy Ring (1843-1864)

Hello friends and neighbors. Gather around the stone here. If I could, I’d have a campfire ready for you.

I am John Quincy Ring, but thanks to my neighbor Russell H. Conwell, I’m better known to history as “Little Johnny Ring.” As you can see, I’m hardly little. I stand tall at five feet and nine-and-a-quarter inches. Perhaps I seemed little to Russell – he was always good at seeing what he wanted to see.

Ethan Ring and Fanny Murdock.

I was born in what was known then as Ringville. Is it still Ringville? Oh, good! I was the oldest son of Ethan Ring from Chesterfield and Fanny Murdock from South Hadley. We were cousins of those grander Rings buried over there, where I’m pointing. From 1851 on, my dad was postmaster at the Ringville post office and he was mighty proud of his work for the U.S. government. In our day there were five post offices in town, and we delivered mail twice each day. My mother was a beautiful, kind and gentle woman, but she took sick with a wasting disease, so I spent time caring for her and my younger brother and sister.

At the South Worthington school I was in the same class as Russell, who was only four months older than me. I had to leave school early, and by age 18 I was a salesman in Westfield. I think I was in the audience when Russell gave his first big speech about the evils of drink at the Methodist Church there. He was always good at speechifying, and ambitious, too, hankering after a college education and more. I was smart too, and good with numbers, but had to work and help look after things at home. Our family were devoted Methodists and I followed my faith as best I could.

After the War with the South started, Russell became a recruiting agent, paid to organize a company out of Hamden County – Company F of the 46th Mass. Volunteers. Russell was always good at bringing in a penny for a good cause. Because he formed the unit, he was of course named its Captain, and his “Mountain Boys” (his name for them) gave him a ceremonial sword to mark the occasion. The 46th didn’t see much action before disbanding, so Russell re-upped and became Captain of Company D of the Massachusetts 2nd Heavy Artillery, stationed in New Bern, North Carolina.

War fever was raging at that time. I wanted to enlist as soon as I turned 18, but I couldn’t with my mother so sick. I enlisted soon after she died and joined up with Russell and his new company. That was in August, 1863, and by September I had become the Company Clerk. The following January I was promoted to Corporal. But in the fanciful stories Russell told about me, I was too young to enlist and joined him as his dutiful servant, following him into battle like a puppy dog.

Death certificate for John Quincy Ring.

I served faithfully until I died on March 13, 1864. Russell claimed I died running across a burning bridge to rescue his sword, but actually I died at Hammond Hospital in Beaufort, North Carolina, from phthisis – you know it now as tuberculosis. My mother had the same disease, and we caught it from breathing the bad air near our house. There are stories of other soldiers running back into the fire at the battle of Newport Barracks to save the wounded, but I didn’t do anything like that. In fact Russell wasn’t even there at the time. He was in jail awaiting trial for leaving camp without permission just before the attack – AWOL I think it’s called now.

Russell H. Conwell at the gravestone of John Quincy Ring, 1921.

That sword was only ceremonial, useless in a battle. But in another version of Russell’s story, I suffered burns from running back to his burning tent and died in his arms. As the story goes, he was a cynic who mocked my avid Bible reading, but then my death revived his religious faith, and he determined he would work twice as hard for God – for both of us. It made such a good story I guess he couldn’t resist.

Not to boast, but Russell owes some of his fame and influence to me. There’s even a statue of me at Temple University, with my right hand resting on that sword and my left hand carrying an enormous Bible. I hear a young girl was the model. And those college professors who put up that statue think they are so smart!

Statue of “Little Johnny Ring” at Temple University.

Most of the military hospitals were filthy, and the soldiers taken there went through horrible surgeries or ended up sicker than before. But Hammond Hospital, where I died, was special and different. Hammond was the first hospital designed to help soldiers recuperate in a sanitary environment through rest and kind treatment. It was nicely located on the ocean in an old hotel, though I didn’t get to enjoy it long. I was buried quickly in the cemetery on the hospital grounds. My father made his slow way down to North Carolina and arranged to have my body carried home and buried with my family. I was glad my mother was already here, as I had to wait a long time to join my father, brother and sister – they never got the bad air and, like Russell, lived long, long lives.

I’m glad to be home but regret not seeing the world or having a wife and children. But as with many other Worthington boys, it was not meant to be.

I see we’ve reached the end of tonight’s visits, so speaking for all the resident wraiths, I want to thank you for coming, bid you farewell, and wish you a safe trip home. Be mindful of the roots and stones on your way out.

Old postcard of Ringville Cemetery.


Pat Kennedy teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. She came by her interest in cemetery care and preservation by way of genealogical research. Most of the information about burials in Worthington was not online, so she started producing burial lists with the help of Diane Brenner and Ed Lewis of the Worthington Historical Society. The Worthington Cemetery Commission has undertaken the task of repairing and cleaning stones in our cemeteries and has made significant progress over the last few years, thanks to the generosity of the Rolland Cemetery Fund.

Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington with her spouse, Jan Roby, since 1994 and has been a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society, serving on its board and as one of its archivists. As someone who loves the mystery and adventure of historical research, she has curated several exhibits and contributed articles and photographs to The Corners. In her spare time she works at her day job as a book indexer:

Warm thanks to Madeleine Cahill, Diane Brenner, Sheila Kinney, Christopher Marzec, and Casey Pease for their sterling impersonations of the dead.

Dramatis Personae at the Kinne Brook Cemetery

by George H. Bresnick

Excerpt from 1866 letter from Nellie W. Smith to Edward L. Higgins.

“Now I would ask you in the presence of the living, made solemn by the silence of the dead;- How could you! Oh!…How could you sit there and give uterance [sic] to such expressions as those which fel [sic] from your lips, under such circumstances, and your tongue not cleve [sic] to the roots of your mouth!”

This startling condemnation is contained in a letter dated May 28, 1866, from North Chester, Massachusetts, addressed to Edward L. Higgins, Esq., also of North Chester, and written by Nellie W. Smith, an aggrieved woman who could no longer hold her tongue or stay her hand in the face of an awful prior affront. I discovered the letter in a trove of documents kept in a trunk in the attic of the Old Methodist Episcopal Parsonage in South Worthington, Massachusetts.

Though the letter never specifies what Edward did to warrant this condemnation, the following article investigates the main characters and content in this explosive missive. The original letter is pictured below.


Standing on a small hillside cemetery near Kinne Brook Road at the eastern edge of Chester, Massachusetts, in May of 1861, Ellen (Nellie) Wise Smith was shaking to the core from what she had just witnessed. Her neighbor and primary school friend, Edward L. Higgins, had just buried his mother, Phebe, and turning to the nearby grave of Nellie’s recently interred little sister Addie, he uttered a falsehood that wrenched at Nellie’s heart. She could not bring herself to speak of this, and only years later, in May of 1866, did she finally write a letter to Edward, filled with anger and pathos, condemning him for his dastardly words, and beseeching him to repent for his duplicity. I now commence the important, although unpleasant task of addressing you,” she wrote. “Receive it not as an Instrument of retaliation, but rather, as a subject of contemplation…for I have meditated long & fervently on the efficacy of informing you, in this manner, of your duplicity.”

Cemetery off Kinne Brook Road in Chester, MA, containing the graves of Phebe Higgins and Addie Smith.

Indeed five years had passed before Nellie, then 23 years of age, summoned up the courage to address a matter that traumatized her so deeply. Much had transpired in that five-year interim. A bloody war had been fought across the southern and western parts of the country, and virtually every New England family had young men in the War, losing lives and limbs in the pursuit of Union and justice. Edward Higgins was among the enlistees, serving in Company K, Massachusetts 46th Infantry Regiment, from October 1862 to July 1863.

The 46th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Militia was raised largely in Hampden and Hampshire Counties in response to President Lincoln’s call for short-term troops in August 1862. Company K was sent to New Bern, North Carolina, along with Company A, which was under the command of Russell H. Conwell of South Worthington. The 46th saw limited action during its assignment, losing 36 men, all but one to disease. Edward spent two weeks in the military hospital at Bern in the spring of 1863, most likely due to disease rather than war wounds. By the summer of 1863 the Regiment was back in Massachusetts, where Edward mustered out on July 29, 1863, at Hampden Park, Springfield.

The Smith and Higgins families lived on nearby farms along Kinney Brook (as it was spelled on an 1870 map) north of Chester Center. Nellie’s father, Amok Clinton Smith, came from a long line of Chester farmers. Her great-great-grandfather Captain Abner Smith emigrated from New Haven to Chester before the Revolutionary War, probably in the 1770s. Her mother, Sarah L. Belden, was also born in Chester and came from similar stock. Amok and Sarah married in 1839 and had a son, Henry, in 1841, two years before Nellie was born. Addie, Mary E., Marshall C., and Jennie followed over the next twenty years.

The setting for the drama in the letter of May 1861 centers on Nellie’s little sister Addie, who died from diphtheria in March 1861 at the age of 12. Just two months later, on May 22, Edward Higgins’ mother Phebe died. His father Barney predeceased her by six years. Both the Higgins and Smith families maintained burial plots in a cemetery off Kinne Brook Road in Littleville, Chester Township.

Nellie’s 1866 letter to Edward recalls the terrible events in the cemetery five years earlier. “How could you! Oh! How could you, sit there, where you were so recently seated beside the remains of that Dear Sister, whom memory made, & still makes, dear to us all;- How could you sit there and give uterance [sic] to such expressions as those that fel [sic] from your lips, under such circumstances, and your tongue not cleve [sic] to the roots of your mouth! …Standing by the grave of her [Edward’s mother], whom we all loved so well, and watching clod, after clod, falling into the narrow house, hiding her forever from mortal view – Then turning from the resting place, of Father,- mother, & Sisters, to speak premeditated falsehoods…” [underlining in original]

Gravestone of Addie Smith, with the gravestone of Phebe Higgins visible in the background (two stones back).

The “Dear Sister” is Addie Smith, and during her March burial Edward was seated close to her remains. Now, in May, he was standing next to the coffin of his mother Phebe, who was being buried in the family plot, which also contained his father Barney; his older sister, Martha Maria Higgins, who died at the age of 19 in 1848; and an infant sister, Nancy, who died in 1843. For Nellie, the cemetery was hallowed ground, from which both families would ultimately enter their eternal rewards or punishments. Her sense of shared fate was heightened by the intimacy of the cemetery, which had only 57 graves, of which one quarter belonged to Smith or Higgins family members. A place of transition from the earthly to the heavenly state was no place for “duplicity.”

Why did it take Nellie five years to come forward and confront Edward? Perhaps it was partly her youth at the time of the affront (18 years old) and her gender. Perhaps the intense pressures of the lead-up to the Civil War, followed by the disruptions of the War itself, also figured in. Edward’s having served in the War clearly earned her respect, and perhaps even heightened her concern for him and his eternal fate. She repeatedly affirms that her letter is inspired by concern, not vengeance. “Know, therefore, that I would not cause you that anguish of soul, more bitter than the grave, even, were it in my power;… Nevertheless, I am compelled by the imperative calling of duty, to perform this act. Thinking, perchance, you may yet listen to the exortations [sic] of a friend of former years;- that you may yet reflect on your double-dealings; that you may yet repent, & turn from the error of your ways, ere the star of your honor, sits in blackness of darkness forever.”


As an ardent churchgoer, Nellie believed in the salvation of repentant souls. Her family were prominent members of the First Chester Congregational Church. In 1772, her great-great-grandfather Abner Smith and his family held a pew in the front row next to the pulpit, a position reserved by tradition for congregants of the highest “dignity.” Repentance was the only route to salvation for sinners. Nellie ends her accusations thus: “A young man of your years, of your attachments, & your refined sensibilities, which, in your situation, God most generously bestowed upon you: Taking into consideration all these qualities, together with love of Character, which no one doubts, you in common with every true son of America, passes [sic]…to speak premeditated falsehoods, such as no villain would dare to speak, unles [sic] his honor was trampled in the dust, his tongue the avowed instrument of deceit – his heart the abode of universal wicked, while his dark, contaminate, feindis [sic] opperations [sic] were preparing him for an honorable situation, if not a crown in Ston’s [Satan’s?] infernal kingdom. Then, and not till then, let the act be forgotten and forgiven.”

Detail of carving in Addie Smith’s gravestone.

There is a distinctly biblical tone to Nellie’s letter, suggesting inspiration or even borrowing from Bible passages. Consider the underlined in the following segment:

that you may yet repent, & turn from the error of your ways, ere the star of your honor, sits in blackness of darkness forever.

and compare to Jude 1:13 in the King James Bible:

Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame; wandering stars, to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.

Another excerpt from the letter:

How could you sit there and give uterance [sic] to such expressions as those that fel [sic] from your lips, under such circumstances, and your tongue not cleve [sic] to the roots of your mouth!

can be compared to Ezekiel 3:2:

And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house.

Perhaps the borrowing was not conscious, but simply reflected the vernacular of the day, colored by the Bible’s ever-presence in the people’s daily lives and ministers’ exhortations.

By contrast, another passage in the letter suggests Nellie’s schooling in classic poetry. She writes of Edward observing his mother’s coffin as it was buried in the ground:

watching clod, after clod,
falling into the narrow house, hiding her forever from mortal view.

These lines evoke one of the most famous and revered poems of the English language: Thomas Gray’s Elegy in a Country Churchyard, first published in England in 1771:

Each in his narrow cell forever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.

The Elegy was included among other poems and classical texts in the Sixth McGuffey Reader, part of a series of textbooks widely used by grammar and secondary schools in New England and elsewhere during the 19th Century. It is likely that both Nellie and Edward read the poem in their little Chester schoolhouse. The rural setting of the Kinne Brook cemetery, although not attached to a church, may also have evoked Gray’s country churchyard burial ground for Nellie as she penned her jeremiad.

Portrait of John Hampden.

Another couplet in the Elegy reminds one of the context of this affair:

Some village Hampden, that, with
     dauntless breast,
The little tyrant of his fields withstood.

This reference is to John Hampden (ca. 1595-1643), one of the leading Puritan parliamentarians in England who challenged the authority of King Charles I. He and four other Opposition members of Parliament were unconstitutionally designated for arrest by the King, but the Commons refused to hand them over to the monarch’s henchmen. This was one of the signal acts that led directly to the English Civil War, and ultimately to the trial and execution of Charles I. (Hampden’s cousin Oliver Cromwell became the Lord Protector of England after the overthrow of the monarchy.) Hampden was killed during the English Civil War, and his life so inspired the Puritans of New England that they named a county of Western Massachusetts County after him – and the Town of Chester belongs to Hampden County.

Nellie Smith’s Puritan forbears were among those early settlers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, most of whom migrated from England in the wake of the Puritan upheavals in the 1630s and 1640s. One of those migrants, George Smith, by 1644 had settled in New Haven, Connecticut, as part of a religious splinter group that moved from the Bay Colony up the Connecticut River to establish new communities. George Smith’s great-grandson, Captain Abner Smith, as we saw earlier, left New Haven for Chester, Massachusetts, in the 1770s, and Nellie Smith was a scion of that line.


Before writing the letter, Nellie was for a time a factory worker in Chester, where industries in the 1860s included the manufacture of bedsteads and emery grinding wheels, as well as mills for cotton and a carding factory for local wool. At the wool factory Nellie probably met the overseer, Robert Billings, who had moved to Chester with his wife, Hannah Gorton Billings, and their children around 1865 from East Providence, Rhode Island. Presumably Robert was recruited because of his experience in the mills of Rhode Island. Apparently the Billings moved back to the Providence area (Rehoboth, MA) a year or two later. In 1868 Hannah Billings died, leaving Robert a widower with three young children. One year later Robert married Nellie Smith, 12 years his junior, in Rehoboth where the family remained. Robert worked in a nearby factory as a wool carder. Robert and Nellie had no children together.

Robert Billings died in 1910, and Nellie moved back to Hampden County, living with her younger sister, Mary E. Smith, in West Springfield by 1920. Nellie died in South Worthington in 1927, apparently at the home of her youngest sister, Jennie Smith Freeman, who reported Nellie’s death for the town records. Anson and Jennie Freeman lived in what is now the Schrade/James house at 17 Ireland Street behind the Conwell Academy building in South Worthington.

Mary Smith had married Ptolemy Smith (a cousin) of West Chesterfield in 1866, and they lived for many years on what is now Ireland Street in South Worthington. Ptolemy and Mary were active members of the South Worthington Methodist Church, as were Ptolemy’s parents, Lucy Cole Smith and Warham Smith. Ptolemy and Mary had a daughter, Idella, and a son, Howard Clayton. Idella married Wilbur T. Hale, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal New England Conference, in 1896. They lived in many places around Massachusetts, settling finally in West Springfield after Wilbur’s retirement. Wilbur and Idella died in 1955 and 1959, respectively, leaving no immediate heirs. Howard Clayton Smith also moved to West Springfield as a young man, and had two sons: Rexford and Wayne C. Smith. In Idella’s obituary, printed in the Springfield Union newspaper, Wayne C. Smith is listed as executor of her estate. Nellie Smith’s letter must have come into his possession at that time. Wayne C. Smith bought the Old Parsonage in South Worthington from the Trustees of the New England Conference of the Methodist Church in 1960 for $1. In 1968 he sold the old Parsonage to Beatrice Mercer, who kept the letter along with other Smith/Cole family papers in a trunk in her attic. I acquired the papers from a local antique dealer who had recently purchased them from Bea Mercer’s estate.

Edward Higgins remained in Chester and farmed his father Barney’s land. He raised a family of four children, and, as far as we know, led a respectable life. Yet for some reason Nellie kept the letter for the rest of her life, and passed it on to her sister Mary. There is no proof she sent the letter, unless another copy turns up in the possession of Edward’s family. I suspect the letter below is Nellie’s original copy, with corrections and insertions, and from this original she copied a clean draft to send to Edward. In any case, one could imagine she was saving the evidence for some final Day of Judgment. Perhaps Mary felt the same, as did Mary’s daughter, Idella, who also retained the letter. I suspect that by the time it came into the hands of Nellie’s grand-nephew Wayne Smith, it had become part of the family legend, too memory-laden to discard.

The other retained papers in the Smith/Cole trove, aside from legal papers (deeds, wills, and a fire insurance policy), consisted of a Cole family genealogy; a copied treatise entitled The Political Struggle, originally published by Horace Greeley just prior to the presidency of Abraham Lincoln; two 18th-century documents apparently stolen during the Civil War from the courthouse in Union-occupied Stafford, Virginia; and a somewhat bawdy poem, entitled “The character of a young gentleman,” about a man from “Chestertown” who goes on a tryst to Sandersfield, losing his pants in the process. Nothing else in the collection compared in drama and gravity to Nellie’s letter to Edward Higgins.

Gravestone of four Smith siblings, Ringville Cemtery, Worthington, MA.


We will probably never know the content of Nellie’s accusation, nor its veracity. One can only assume that Edward’s “premeditated falsehoods” were directed at either Nellie or her dear departed sister Addie. Did Edward ever respond to the letter, in writing or in person? Given the proximity of their properties, they must have run into each other on occasion. Did Nellie leave Chester to marry Robert Billings a few years after writing the letter in part to escape the discomfort of her surroundings? Did Edward spread rumors about Nellie that could have been grist for the likes of a Hawthorne short story concerning the mores of a small New England town? Any suggested answers – or further research – would be welcome in the comments section below.

Nellie’s gravestone in Ringville Cemetery, Worthington, is shared with three of her siblings: Henry (H. H.), Fitch (who died in infancy), and Adda. Their other siblings Marshall, Mary, and Jennie are also buried at Ringville. Thus Adda and Fitch Smith each have two gravestones: one by Kinne Brook Road in Chester, and another at Ringville Cemetery, where their names remain united with their fiercely protective sister.


George Bresnick has been researching Worthington history since moving to the village of South Worthington in 1999, and has continued his interest in the area even after relocating to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2010. During his tenure as Chairman of the Worthington Historical Commission, the South Worthington Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. As founding director of the H. Stanley Bresnick Foundation, George reconnects material objects of historical significance with people or organizations closely associated with those objects. In recent years he has returned stolen Civil War papers (found in the attic of the former Methodist Parsonage in South Worthington) to the Stafford, Virginia, Courthouse; an 1886 letter (written by a young Yankee steamboat traveler cum patent medicine salesman on Florida’s longest inland waterway) to the Florida Historical Society; and a Boston lady’s diary (1887-1893) to the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Worthington’s 1968 Bicentennial celebrations

by Evan Spring

Parade float by the Drummers Club.

The upcoming celebrations for Worthington’s 250th anniversary may seem a bit extravagant. Festivities will continue five days, from June 29 to July 3, with a pot luck dinner and dance, outdoor music, exhibits, art shows, a parade, fireworks. Are we dreaming too big for a small town? Not if we look back fifty years to the grandest celebration in Worthington’s history: the 1968 bicentennial.

Guidelines for sprucing up the town were officially posted.

The bicentennial celebrations lasted no less than eight days. (The 1868 centennial event was just a single day.) Planning began two years in advance, with Henry H. Snyder, age 73, as general chairman of the steering committee. Fundraisers included a dance, barbecue, benefit auction, two talent shows, and a fashion show. Renovations to spruce up Town Hall included refinishing the floors and stairs, paneling the town officers’ room on the second floor in mahogany, and installing new furniture, fire exits, fire escapes, and wall-to-wall carpet. Town residents were browbeaten to make their houses presentable. The town never had to appropriate public funds, though most events had admission prices and questions were raised about spending, accounting, and overcharging.

In any case, what was the payoff for all this effort? Let’s take a look, day by day.

Leaflet with bicentennial schedule.


Saturday, June 29: Anniversary Ball and coronation of the Queen

Ticket for the Anniversary Ball.

For the bicentennial’s opening gala, Town Hall was decorated in homage to the Lafayette Inn, the 75-room resort at Worthington Corners that burned down in 1931. A large mirrored ball was suspended from the ceiling. The side lawn held tables under a tent, with plant arrangements in sap buckets to be sold afterwards. Emerson “Emmy” Davis, the caretaker of Town Hall, played the part of innkeeper and asked guests to sign the register. Because of space restrictions, only 150 pairs of tickets were sold, plus a few single tickets. Dress was in period costume or semi formal. A posted notice warned that violators of decency, decorum and upright conduct were liable to be “visited with Stocking, Pillow, Whipping” for crimes including burglary, drunkenness, profaning the Sabbath, disorderliness, singing profane songs, blasphemy, idleness, malicious gossip, or unbecoming carriage in children, servants and apprentices.

At the Anniversary Ball. L-R: Peg Rolland, Fred Emerson, Betty Green.

Emmy Davis as innkeeper at the Anniversary Ball.






At 9:30pm the five nominees for Bicentennial Queen, all just graduated from Gateway high school, each made their grand entrance with an escort. They carried nosegays of rosebuds across the stage and took their place on the red carpet. Emcee Chet Dragon detailed their interests and aspirations. A sealed envelope was opened and the Queen was announced. The judges, all from out-of-town to avoid favoritism, had chosen 17-year-old Kristin Majkowski. The runner-ups would serve as her “court” throughout the week.

Ernestine and Bill Laflamme of Huntington at the Anniversary Ball. Bill delivered milk to Worthington for many years.

Unidentified couple at the Anniversary Ball.

The Bicentennial Queen and her court.

Sunday, June 30: Church services, art exhibit, flea market, barbecue, game supper

A special commemorative service at the Congregational Church in Worthington Center brought three former pastors back to the fold. An additional service honoring Russell H. Conwell took place later at the Methodist Episcopal Church in South Worthington. An electric organ was brought in, and Conwell’s granddaughter Jane Conwell Tuttle introduced hymns sung by contralto Edith Hathaway and her daughter, soprano Charlotte Hathaway. Many attendees came in historic costume, and ushers took the collection wearing swallow-tail coats.

The art exhibit, antique flea market, and barbecue took place at Sena’s Sales Barn, with 40 local artists exhibiting over 200 paintings. The gate prize was airfare for two to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. The game supper at the Drummers Club in South Worthington had a disappointing turnout, with only 32 of 100 tickets sold.

The Drummers Club in South Worthington.

Ribbon cutting at the Drummers Club. L-R: Unidentified man, bicentennial committee chairman Henry Snyder, Joan Emerson, parade chairman Fred Emerson, unidentified man.

Monday, July 1: Conwell School exhibit and Bicentennial Concert

In the afternoon the Conwell School unveiled an exhibit of photographs, arts and crafts of old Worthington, and the evening event was a Bicentennial Concert directed by Robert and Rolande Young Schrade in Sena’s Sales Barn. Later that year the Shrades would inaugurate their renowned summer music festival, Sevenars, in South Worthington’s Methodist Episcopal Church.

Sena’s Sales Barn was used for auctions (and potato storage in winter) but the walls were freshly painted and the acoustics were reportedly good. The evening was hot, but a ceiling fan had been installed. A Steinway grand piano was loaned by Jane Conwell Tuttle, and the Queen and her court served as ushers. The program included works by Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Grieg, Edward MacDowell, and Debussy. At the intermission Rolande Young Schrade introduced her new composition The Worthington Bi-centennial March as a sing-along. Proceeds benefited the bicentennial steering committee.

Sheet music cover for The Worthington Bi-centennial March. Rolande Young Schrade, an ASCAP member, published over a thousand compositions, including popular songs recorded by Teresa Brewer and Bobby Scott. Earlier in 1968, her song “The G.O.P. Can Save the U.S.A.” was introduced by the Women’s National Republican Club at the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York.

Ticket for The Quilting Party.


Tuesday, July 2: House tour and theatrical presentation, The Quilting Party

A booklet with map was sold for a self-guided tour of 35 Worthington homes of historical and architectural interest. According to a newspaper preview, “many homeowners were reluctant to open their homes for public tours in view of the number of house-breaks here in recent years. None of the houses described in the book will be open and all will be viewed from the road.”

The Quilting Party, staged at Town Hall, was a three-act play written and directed by Eva Fairman, the 82-year-old chairman of the Worthington Historical Society, who also played the lead role of Dinah. The play imagines the backstory of an actual keepsake quilt made in 1917 by members and friends of the Worthington Grange and exhibited at the Conwell School during the bicentennial. Each block in the “autograph” quilt was embroidered with the name of its maker, except for one “mystery block.” In the play, a group of ladies convene in Dinah’s home to complete the quilt in a log cabin pattern. In the climactic scene, the maker of the mystery block is revealed as young Cora Bligh, an actual person. (In 1968 Bligh was living in Los Angeles and could not attend the bicentennial.) Nostalgic musical numbers were worked in, and according to one account, “The highlight of the evening came when Harry Bates, 83 years old, the last member of the old Worthington orchestra that played for so many dances here, sat down at the piano to accompany Jerry Robinson [on] ‘Yes, Sir, She’s My Baby.’”Attendance was standing room only, and afterwards Mrs. Fairman was presented with a bouquet of red roses.

Cast members of The Quilting Party. L-R: Eva G. Fairman, Edith Hathaway, Gwendolyn Robinson, Lucy Mollison, Eleanor Porter, Alice Whittaker, Beverly Smith, Shirley Rida, Winifred Arcouette.

The Modestow children (Larry, Keith, Jeannine, and Shelly) took the grand prize at the children’s parade for their miniature “Old Post Stage.”


Wednesday, July 3: Youth Day and Musical Revue

The children’s parade included the boy scouts, the girl scouts, the 4-H Club, and other youth groups. Children under six dressed as storybook characters, and children six to twelve dressed as historical figures, with prizes in each category.

Kevin Porter in costume on Youth Day.

The Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue at Town Hall also went by “The Variety Show” or “Appearing Soon at the Casino,” a reference to the Casino dining and dancing hall that burned down in 1931. Pat Nugent and her committee supervised 22 acts, starting with a grand march to Rolande Young Schrade’s aforementioned Worthington Bi-centennial March. Jean Humphrey featured her ballet pupils. Sally Wood directed a minuet by girls in formal gowns. Adults joined in with a “can-can by some of the village matrons” and a “men’s ballet including some of the town’s leading citizens.” Demand for tickets was so intense that a second show was added on short notice.

Program for the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

Scene from the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

Scene from the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

Musical performance from the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

The beard contestants. Standing, L-R: Courtney Wheeler, Henry Payson, Larry Mason, Harley Mason, Alan Rida, Win Donovan, Emerson Davis, Bobby Waryjasz, Arthur Rolland, Gary Granger. Kneeling, L-R: Dr. John Modestow, Bert Nugent, Ernie Nugent, Joe Sena.

Thursday, July 4: Beard contest, chicken barbecue, baseball game, fireworks

Card issued to beard contestants to protect their reputations.

The beard contest, chicken barbecue, and baseball game were hosted by Worthington’s Rod and Gun club. 500 meals were served. Emmy Davis took home the statuette for best beard, while best trimmed beard went to Laurence L. Mason, longest beard went to Joseph W. Sena, and scantiest beard went to Arthur Q. Smith. For the baseball game, the bearded ones formed a team and handily defeated the clean-shaven.

Baseball team fielded by beard contestants.

Bicentennial Queen Kristin Majkowski presents Emerson Davis with his beard trophy. Photo by Art Smith.

Harley Mason, Kristin Majkowski, and Bert Nugent.

The fireworks, described by a newspaper as “one of the largest fireworks displays in the history of Western New England,” attracted an estimated 10,000 spectators.

Friday, July 5: Horse draw and two dances

The horse draw (also known as a “horse pull”) took place at “Golden Horse Meadows” (near the Golden Horse restaurant) on Route 112 below Sam Hill Road. The event drew 23 teams from five states, though some teams were mired in soft ground. Generations divided for two dances that evening: an “Old Fashioned Square Dance” at Town Hall, and a “Teen Agers Dance” with rock ’n’ roll at Sena’s Sales Barn.

The Melodares perform at the dance. Fred Emerson is on trombone, and Bill Mason is holding the mike.

Paraders in colonial garb.

Grand Parade scene.

Boy scouts marching in the parade.

Brownies on parade.

Saturday, July 6: Grand parade

Attendance at the Grand Parade was estimated by police at 18,000 to 20,000 people – more than 27 times the entire population of Worthington. The parade lasted more than two hours, with around 45 floats, several antique cars, and 17 bands, including the Westover Air Force Band. The route extended from the health center on Old North Road past the Corners to the junction of Route 112 and Radiker Road.

Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor Francis Sargent headed the state delegation, which also included Secretary of State John Davoren. Other dignitaries included U.S. Representative Silvio O. Conte and Northampton Mayor Wallace Puchalski. Worthington’s three selectmen and Emmy Davis rode in a shiny black stagecoach pulled by two horses. Many viewers were impressed with the Connecticut governor’s high-stepping horse guard.

Scenes depicted on the floats included a smithy at his forge, women braiding rugs, an auction (Sena’s Sales Barn), a sugar house (Windy Hill Farm), an old schoolhouse, and a church with a marrying parson. Parade-watchers could choose between buffet lunches at the Drummers Club, the Golden Horse restaurant, and the Worthington Golf Club.

Danny Tucker hauling the Worthington Grange float with a replica of the South Worthington post office in Ringville.

Stagecoach with Stanley Nash leading the oxen.

The Bicentennial Queen’s float with her official court in white gowns.

The Queen’s float.

Float by the Texon company in Russell, Massachusetts.

Rustic parade float, likely a smithy.

Joyce Mollison driving the post office float. The arrow behind her reads, “Hi Folks, I’M MR. ZIP TO SPEED YOUR MAIL.” Zip codes were introduced in 1963.

The Shriners paraded in their miniature antique cars.

Parade offering from the Huntington selectmen.

The Worthington Historical Society float recreated the Pearce (or Pierce, or Pearse) Tavern, where Lafayette spent the night in 1825. L-R: Toni Diamond, Barbara Fairman, Rich Fairman (in Barbara’s lap), Lynn Fairman (now Lynn Fairman Garland, at Barbara’s feet), Carol (Dee Dee) Diamond, Wayne Diamond (with back turned), Dick Fairman, Kenny Beach, Susan Fairman.

This float from the town of Northampton was set on fire after the parade by a teenage vandal.

This marcher painted his donkey with zebra stripes.

According to a newspaper account, “One neighbor of Mrs. Harry W. Mollison reports that the Mollison cows were quite moved by the music of the bands in Saturday’s parade. She tells of how they would kick up their heels and carry their tails high each time a band passed by.”

Sunday, July 7: The shave-off

Matchbook for the Worthington bicentennial. Other official merchandise included stationery, hats, and bumper stickers. 

The bicentennial officially concluded with the Saturday parade, but a Sunday “shave-off” for the beard contestants at the Drummers Club served as the epilogue. John Penn, a barber from Huntington, gave the beards a preliminary clipping, with Brooks Carpenter as timekeeper. Safety razors were furnished by Fred Emerson, and awards for cleanest shave in the shortest time went to Arthur Rolland (first), Ernest Nugent (second), and Albert Nugent Jr. and Courtney Wheeler (tied for third). Meanwhile, the townspeople turned to disassembling bleachers, returning the portable toilets, and picking up litter.

All of this was accomplished fifty years ago, when Worthington’s population was just 658, half what it is today. Surely this year, for Worthington’s 250th anniversary, we can once again rise to the occasion. After all, the next parade will probably have to wait until Worthington’s 2068 Tercentenary. I was born in 1968, and don’t plan to stick around that long.


Evan Spring, a jazz historian and freelance editor serving as WHS president, lives on West Street with his wife Zoë and son Perry. He was an editor of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies and Journal of Jazz Studies, and for 23 years hosted a jazz radio program on WKCR-FM New York. His research focus is the New York jazz scene of 1955 to 1964.


Official recognition of the Worthington bicentennial from the Massachusetts legislature.


Florence Berry Bates and the Worthington Health Center

Harry and Florence Bates in the 1950s.

The following transcript, from the WHS Annual Meeting of 2014, has been lightly edited for readability, with some contextual information added in brackets. We thank Pat Kerouac and Jared Jordan for their help assembling materials for the accompanying exhibit, which was prepared by WHS board member Diane Brenner.

Diane Brenner: Florence Berry was born in 1892 in Abington, Massachusetts, which is near Plymouth. Her family were shoemakers, they worked in shoe factories. And her mother, of the Moseley family, had been born in Brazil, of all places. I have a suspicion they were missionaries, but I’m not sure. But she went to nursing school at Cooley Dickinson Hospital [in Northampton, MA] by 1917, and then her life morphs into the life of the Health Center. She was in school during World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and she became very involved with the Red Cross right after she graduated. In the 1920s she had a number of jobs, but her main commitment was to the Red Cross.

Florence Berry (far left) in 1919 with the Northampton Ambulance crew. Photo courtesy of Forbes Library.

Nurse Berry (center), ready for an emergency call.

At first nurses had to rely on local transportation, often horse and buggy. In 1924 a Model T Ford was provided, and by 1928, it was upgraded to a Model A (pictured). The roads could be treacherous.

After the war, in 1922, the Red Cross set up rural health programs. Their mission of taking care of the war-wounded had wound down, and they rededicated themselves to providing services in underserved areas, including our area, the Hilltowns. They set up a rural nursing service, with one nurse serving Cummington, Goshen, Plainfield, Chesterfield, and Worthington. Actual practice extended to Peru and Ashfield as well.

Anna Cole (Mrs. Horace, 1867-1950) c. 1940. Florence Bates wrote, “The greatest asset to the nursing service was the local telephone office in the home of Horace Cole. Each morning I called and gave them my itinerary for the day, they could locate me in a matter of minutes…If I had been out all night and needed to get some day-time sleep, they took messages but never called me except for emergencies. It was always a joy to talk to Anna Cole, she was such a happy, good natured person. I never knew her to be ruffled or upset.”

And the job of that one nurse was – everything. She traveled around, she provided help with prenatal care, postnatal care, deliveries. There were doctors in every town, and she would assist the doctors. She would educate people on home care, chronic illness. She would help people who were dying. Nurses received a small stipend, but often were paid in produce or other forms of barter. No one nurse lasted more than two years at this job. Florence was the tenth nurse, and she also lasted two years. She came in 1930, and she soon recognized this was really an impossible task. And in 1932 she convinced the town of Worthington to get out of the Red Cross nurse service and hire her as the town and school nurse for a stipend of $500 per year.

The town nurse was also the school nurse. But there wasn’t one school, there were five. Lyceum Hall was the big school, with two classes in it, and it was the only school with running water and electricity. Florence served as town nurse for twenty years basically, and she hooked up with somebody named Dr. Mary Snook. Dr. Modestow, did you know Dr. Mary Snook?

Dr. Mary Snook, c. 1930. Photo courtesy of George Snook and Deen Nugent.


Dr. Modestow: Yes.

Diane Brenner: She sounds like quite an important and interesting person. She was the town doctor for Chesterfield-Worthington. She lived first in Chesterfield, then in 1943 she and her family moved into the Rice house here on the corner [1 Old Post Road], and she was Worthington’s doctor. She and Florence Bates were kind of a partnership. They worked very well together, they admired each other, and they essentially provided the medical and nursing care for the town.

Mary Snook was also the first female medical examiner for Hampshire County in 1932. In 1948 she left to work with the Northampton Hospital – the mental hospital – leaving Worthington without a doctor [for the first time since its incorporation in 1768]. And that was the impetus for the founding of what was called, at that time, the Worthington Health Association. That was established in 1950, and Florence was the spearhead for that. There was a town meeting, and the need for a doctor was brought up. The town said, “Well, we can’t authorize this at town meeting,” so they set up a committee. And that committee basically established the Worthington Health Association, which was located in the Lyceum Hall.

Hampshire Gazette, December 11, 1950.

They took over a former classroom and fitted it through as doctors’ offices, and they had arrangements with a doctor to come up from Northampton from time to time. But most importantly, there were two principal ideas behind the new Health Center. One was that everybody would be served, no matter what their ability to pay was. And the second idea was to attract young doctors, dentists and practitioners to the area by providing the overhead, paying the administrative costs, and providing an office and equipment – because this was not an easy place to bring doctors to.

Folder circulated by the Worthington Health Association in December, 1950. The focus was on creating an environment that would attract young doctors and dentists by allowing them to practice without the added expense of setting up or running an office. This was a unique, even revolutionary concept at the time. Support would come from members and donors and no outside funding was expected or desired.

That model kind of worked for a while, though there was quite a bit of turnover. They renovated Lyceum Hall, but by 1964 it had outgrown its capacity. The idea was to expand into the second floor, but this was too expensive, and the building was falling down. Then an opportunity arose, courtesy of the McCann family. The McCanns owned The Worthington Inn [27 Old North Road], which was called Elmsted at the time, and huge amounts of land. They donated the land as well as money, and in 1964 construction started on a building that opened in 1966. And that became the Worthington Health Center. The McCanns also donated land and money for The Maples [48 Old North Road].

As the program expanded, the original conception started to fray. Membership around that time was $2.50 per person, and even with the goal of a thousand members, the operating costs mounted.

Arlo Guthrie gave a fundraising concert in 1975, and that was an important source of income, but donations and memberships were not sustaining the Center. So they had to go back on their promise to the doctors and dentists, and asked them to contribute to the operations at the rate of $1 per patient visit. There was some agreement to that, and some reluctance. But again, it wasn’t enough. Florence Bates was very much against any kind of state, federal, or other outside money – she felt extremely strongly that the people had an obligation to pay for their services. But the people paid the doctors, and the doctors kept the money, and the Health Center maintenance was mostly based on outside contributions. And this just wasn’t sustainable as time went on.

Eventually various people quit, various people were hired, the board fell apart. There was an “insurrection” with lots of drama, where new people in town basically ousted some older board members by packing the annual meeting [of the WHA]. Pete Packard was the President of the Board at that time, and he was ousted by a vote that he felt was unfair. He went to court to stop the new board members from being placed, and in the end he partly won his court case.

In 1973-1974 the headlines became dramatic and frequent. “Insurgents” stacked the WHA annual meeting, ousting four board members including the president, Pete Packard. Packard fought back, charging conflict of interest, and went to court to stop the newcomers. Emergency aid was solicited from the towns. The conflict of interest case was thrown out of court, but by-law changes were proposed to prevent stacking of members and limit board participation by staff.

By 1978 the original concept had changed significantly. There was an application to the HEW – The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, now Health and Human Services – for a grant to fund operations and expand. The grant was received, which required the hiring of an administrator and extensive financial changes.

As required under the HEW grant, the first administrator, Clifford Bennett, began his job in February 1977. Two months later the head of the Worthington Health Association resigned, citing the changed administrative and financial structure under Bennett’s directorship. He also complained about the failure of doctors to continue cost-sharing, as previously agreed to. Meanwhile, Bennett announced the Health Center had been approved to receive Medicare reimbursements. James Beplat assumed the presidency.

Dr. Modestow resigned around that time. He had come to the Health Center in 1957, so he remains the longest-serving provider (doctor or dentist) at the Health Center, I believe – administrative people have served there much longer. But the real goal here is to hear from Dr. Modestow, and to hear everyone’s reminiscences of both Florence Bates and the Health Center. So, I will turn it over to you. [applause.]

Dr. John Modestow at the WHS Annual Meeting, October 19, 2014.

Dr. Modestow: It’s very true what she was talking about. In the army there’s a saying that the generals are the head of the army, and the colonels run the army. It’s the same thing here. The Worthington Health Association was the spearhead, but Mrs. Bates was the colonel. She was always there promoting the whole health concept which you discussed – the basic health of the school, the children, individuals. That was her goal, and it was instilled into her at an early time.

She was educated at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital, and at that time nurses were trained 12 hours on, 12 hours off. First they had to wash the floors of the entrance to the hospital, then they had to do the regular duty in taking care of patients and their bedding, the regular nursing things. But it was 12 hours straight.

She said we had to wash those floors every day, because that’s the entranceway where people walk through. There couldn’t be anything out of order. These days we have people that are specialized. They just wash the floors of those patients. Other ones specialize in caring for the patient rooms. Then you have assistant nurses taking care of patients. And then the nurses have secretaries, they don’t have to do the charts. Back then Mrs. Bates did everything, and when she came here, she did the same thing at the Health Center. When I got there she did all the sterilizations, all the cleaning of instruments.

Hampshire Gazette, 1955.

At that time the needles were reused and had to be sharpened and cleaned in the autoclave. Now you would never reuse a needle. They’re thrown away, and addicts are out there ready to grab one because they like to have a good, clean needle that’s not dull. And sharpening a needle is rough. Us oldsters remember getting shots with big needles, because they didn’t know how to make real fine needles. I had some blood drawn the other day, and gee, you could hardly see the needle. They reach in, they draw your blood, and there’s nothing to it. But they used to use a 20-gauge needle. You had to give shots that way, and I had to give novocaine that way. The instruments were sterilized, and you had to use it for the next patient after it’s sterilized. Now you’d never do that.

Things used to be wrapped in cloths and put in the sterilizer. I remember we had the sterilizing area in the Lyceum building – sort of like the old kitchen or something. I would go back there and she was doing gloves. Gloves were reused, so they had to be washed and sterilized. Then you had to put talc on them so that you could put them on, because rubber when it’s washed becomes very sticky, and you couldn’t get your hands into it. So this she had to do in that back room, which I’d visit occasionally. When I was working we were in different rooms, so we missed a lot of being able to get to know each other.

She would throw nothing away, so you can imagine how she would see the oncoming of disposable gloves. [Someone would want to] throw used gloves away, and she’s there, “I could reuse that.” [laughter] Medicine just kept progressing, and she did change. Anything that’s better sterilized, better working and such, she was in favor of. So Mrs. Bates was just a wonder woman. All these things, like doing the gauze – you’d make gauzes and sterilize them, and have them ready for the doctors. Then the examining table had cloth and everything. Now, when’s the last time you were on the examining table with your doctor? You’re sitting on paper; you don’t have cloth. She would make the appointments, too, for the doctors. One day I answered the phone and a patient said, “Is this Florence?” I said, “No, this is Worthington.” [laughter] And then she hung up on me. I said, “I blew that one.”

Hampshire Gazette, October 1, 1936. Harry Bates was a mason, builder, fire warden, and popular musician.

I remember one night – I had evening hours on certain days of the week, and I was working late. It got to be nine o’clock or so, and a person came in, a real gruffy guy, and all my patients had left, I was the only one in the room. So I got nervous, I said, “Gee, I don’t know, this guy could rob me or kill me or something.” I’m not usually that way, but some people just strike you that way. Well I saw what he wanted, and actually I treated him and he left. Well, the next morning, Harry Bates, who was Florence’s husband, comes smiling at me and he says, “Look what I found in the wastebasket. It’s a wallet, and it’s yours.” I had done that that night, and I had forgotten and went home. I’d thought, “Gee, if this guy’s gonna rob me, he’s not gonna get this,” so I threw it in the wastebasket. [laughter]

Another year there was this hot book going on down in the Valley, and everyone wanted a copy of it, and nobody could get one. So one of the people in town knew some book dealer and he got a copy of this book, and he brings it up to the library. And Arthur Capen perused it, and Florence Bates. They were on the library committee, and they decided this book is too risqué. They took it off the shelf and put it in the back room. So I’m wondering if anybody ever sees that book, on the flyleaf, to see who it was that donated Lolita to the library. [laughter]

Pat Kennedy: I’ve got a question. Why did you decide to come to Worthington?

Harry Bates playing his banjo.

Dr. Modestow: Well, in my senior year of dental training, the Korean conflict was in full force, and there was a question of whether China would enter in. So with that in mind, the United States starts building up its Armed Forces, and they put in a doctor/dentist draft. So in February, I decided – I don’t know why – I joined the Navy. In June, the end of all my training, I have to go down to Boston Navy Yard and got my physical, and they swore me in, and I was in the Navy. And I said, “Fine. What do I do now?” They say, “Well, we’ll call you when we need you.”

What had happened was, the Korean conflict ended, and all of a sudden they didn’t want extra dentists. And I’m out there hanging in the summer, and I said, “Well, I got nothing to do. I better start checking out what I can do.” And I found an ad in the dental journal that the Worthington Health Association would like a full-time dentist, and that’s how I came. I gave them the parameter that I wouldn’t be able to commit to a lifetime or anything, because I was on call. But it didn’t come, the Korean conflict ended. Well, it didn’t really end, because I guess they’re still fighting, in a way. [laughter] Do you have any other questions?

Janine Modestow: Just to clarify, for my own children and grandchildren – so you worked in the Lyceum Hall for how many years?

Dr. Modestow: ’Til the new building was built.

Janine Modestow: That was seven years?

Diane Brenner: Well, ’57 to ’66 actually. Late ’65 to early ’66 is when it became operational. So, almost ten years.

On July 30, 1953, a grateful community presented Florence Bates with a 1953 Plymouth Cranbrook.

Dr. Modestow: The thing is that there was some stability. In other words, I think Worthington got into my skin, and I really didn’t want to leave without a cause. And as such, having some stability, I think people came forth, and built the new Health Center.

Diane Brenner: Dr. Modestow represented some of the most stability. And Florence Bates. The two of you were probably the most stable forces for many years. And that was always the goal, to find a resident physician, a resident dentist, people who would live in the community if they were given the tools they needed to live here, and could practice without the costs associated with running a practice.

In May 1952, the Massachusetts Department of Health chest x- ray van arrived in Worthington, and citizens lined up for the service. Pictured above are Arthur Capen (far left) and Ruby and Eunice Donovan (far right).

Dr. Modestow: Yeah. Before I came there were a few dentists that worked here. One was a retired dentist from Greenwich, Connecticut, who had retired to Worthington – Dr. Stone. And he did children. But when you get old, you don’t relish working on kids. [laughter] He did it as a duty, so that’s why he says to the Selectmen, “I’ll keep doing this, but I don’t want to.”

Kate Ewald: Did you see any major changes in the art of dentistry, through the time that you worked here in Worthington?

Dr. Modestow: Yes. I’ve been retired for about six years, I think, and I feel right now that I couldn’t go back. It’s changing consistently. I just saw an ad in the Sunday paper that says, “See your dentist for Botox.” [laughter] I’m like, “What the hell?” This has come along since then.

Nurse Bates demonstrates the new x-ray equipment.

Diane Brenner: When you were practicing here, did you have the kind of equipment you needed?

Dr. Modestow: At the time I started, yes. But when the new Health Center was built, I got all up-to-date equipment in there. Because at the time I started, high speed was the important thing. And to get high speed, you still had belt-driven. Now nothing’s belt-driven – everything is these small hand pieces with things that twirl. It was the development of ball bearings – these minute, small ball bearings – that allowed these high speeds to work. They were just coming in when I was first starting.

The Lyceum building wasn’t the most attractive. I had an office where I could work on a patient, reach the phone, the automatic answering machine. Everything was within reach, I didn’t have to move. That was the only office I had at that time. So moving up to the Health Center, I had two chairs plus a hygienist’s chair, and a laboratory and a personal office. So it was nice moving into what the Worthington Health Association provided. One of my personal patients had a decorator come in and do my office, but that’s beside the point. The community is what grabbed me, and I stayed until – I don’t want to be dumping on the federal government coming in, but that produced a whole different way of financing and such, and it was just something I couldn’t take.

Hampshire Gazette, February 23, 1978.

Julia Sharron: I have memories of Mrs. Bates, who was our neighbor. She and her husband were just wonderful people. And Mrs. Bates reminded me of Florence Nightingale, because she was always dressed perfectly in a white dress, and she had her apron. Her hair was grey, and it was always in a pug. She always, always had a smile, and was very pleasant. And if I was visiting with her outside as we walked by, people would come, and they would have a rash or something, and she would tell them what it was, what to do. If they had, say, a headache or something, she would take care of them, she was always that way. And she would be so wonderful to my girls, because at that time, girls got dressed up with high heels and hats and all that. I would allow my girls to walk to the library and back home. She would get on the phone, and she said, “Julie, your girls went by, and I’m so excited.” She was just such a wonderful person, and you could disturb her any time of the day or night if you had a medical problem. I thought that was so marvelous of her, and she never, never complained.

Diane Brenner: I had a very hard time, Julie, finding a photograph of Florence not in uniform. There’s one that I found of her with Harry, shortly after they were married, in a dress. She married Harry in 1936 – she was 44, he was 51 at the time, and it was a second marriage for him. But in almost every photograph she’s dressed in her nurse’s uniform. Part of how she supported herself – she was paid for all of these services Dr. Modestow was talking about, but basically a pittance – was by providing a home for people who needed extra care, and often who were dying. When she first moved to town as a Red Cross nurse, she rented the WBS [Women’s Benevolent Society] parsonage across from the church. So both at the parsonage, and then continuing at her house with Harry Bates [11 Buffington Hill Road], she continued to provide long-term nursing services.

The WBS Parsonage on Huntington Road (Rte. 112) as it looks today.

Janine Modestow: I remember she used to send Dad home with banana bread every year. I think it was probably Christmas. I also remember riding my bike up to the Health Center, and Dad’s office was around the back. That’s the way I entered because I got special privileges. What you see as the Health Center now, his offices were at the far right-hand side, and had a door out the back. There was that long walk down the hall to the waiting room, and in the waiting room were – I feel stupid telling this, but remember those blocks? After they were used by the Health Center they were used by play group, and after they were used by play group they went over to R. H. Conwell – the same orange and brown blocks made of cardboard. And that thing you rolled marbles down. ’Cause as a kid that’s all you think about, how good were the toys in the waiting room. I used to love going to the dentist. I would get welcomed in, everybody would be nice, I’d be treated well. Sometimes, when I got to be a teenager, I’d say, “Can I have some money?” [laughter]

[unidentified]: I remember the drills. [laughter]

Ed Lewis: I just remember Dr. Hutchinson had that great big wheel. The big wheel would spin through a gear drive, drilling away screams, it hurt so much.

Lyceum Hall waiting room.

Dr. Modestow: One of my friends got drafted, and they sent him to Korea, and they sent him to the front lines where there was no electricity. He had one of those big spinning wheels that you had to keep running. You had a drill attached to it, and you could work on a patient on the front lines. But I don’t advise that. [laughter]

Diane Brenner: Electricity came to Worthington in 1928, but before that there was a traveling dentist, and I have a picture of the kind of chair that was used. It was like a sewing machine treadle. It was steam-powered, that was what got the drill moving. So the arrival of electricity meant a great deal.

Suzanne Kulik: I wanted to share a different memory of the Health Center, from my first years here in the late ’70s. We had a family planning clinic then, on Thursday nights, a walk-in clinic. George Scarmon, who had hair down to here, was the doctor. Peter Siersma, who also had hair down to here, was the lab tech. And I volunteered there. Women came from miles around – not just Worthington’s people, because it was a place where, on a sliding fee scale, you could get birth control. And my greatest contribution to it – you talked about the cloth on the tables being replaced with paper? Well, we wanted to make flannel gowns to use instead of the paper ones. So I met with the Coffee Hour, which had a small treasury, and supported worthy causes, for money to buy the flannel. And I bought all this beautiful printed flannel and made flannel gowns. And this motley collection of young women would be lined up in the hallway of the Health Center, waiting their turn, wearing my flannel gowns. Bonnie Rhodes was the nurse, and she would take the gowns home and wash them from week to week. Well of course we carried them in a black plastic trash bag, and eventually the day came when her husband just assumed it was a bag full of…[laughter]…and we lost the whole bag.

The Coffee Hour group, shown here in the 1968 Bicentennial program, was a major source of funding for the Health Center.

Miami Herald, October 7, 1966.

Diane Brenner: That family planning thing was actually one of the programs already in existence that allowed the Health Center to get that HEW grant. It was to run these kinds of extra services, special services. There was also a weight-loss clinic. (The family planning clinic, by the way, was defunded in the ’80s under Reagan.) Dr. Scarmon seems to have been quite a person. And the whole organization really changed a lot – well, it was the ‘70s, and it reflected that. That was the period of the so-called “insurrection,” which was framed as newcomers versus old-timers in town. You were one of the newcomers.

Suzanne Kulik: Right, but I opposed the insurrection.

Diane Brenner: There was a conceptual change, too, where people saw the Health Center as having not just traditional nursing and medical care and dentistry, but also a larger function in the community.

Suzanne Kulik: And in the ’60s the community health centers were conceived of as being more than just doctors. And so it does seem like the newcomers really did change it to be more like what the conception of community health centers were nationally. It made sense, then, that we had the grant, because we had become what community health centers were meant to be.

Hampshire Gazette, May 21, 1971, referring to the resignation of John Mackie, O.D. (doctor of osteopathy). Mackie became resident physician in July 1970, but Cooley Dickinson refused to recognize his credentials and he could not refer or treat patients there.

John Mackie.

Dr. George Scarmon joined the Health Center in September 1971.

Diane Brenner: The Worthington Health Association was always an independent, nonprofit, incorporated group. It gradually got board members, much like it is now, with members from communities served. It was barely funded by the town. The town at one point voted a grant of $3,500. That was a big deal for a town that previously never provided town funding. Chesterfield and Cummington both added $2,000. This was during the crisis, the place was going bankrupt. And the town did that for one more year, I think. But then although they agreed to the concept of supporting it financially, I don’t believe it received any town funding. And it hasn’t for a very long time. So it was never the “Town of Worthington Health Center.” It was the Worthington Health Association’s Worthington Health Center. And then part of this HEW grant was intended to explore expansion, and because of that, the Huntington Health Center –ultimately, though not immediately – became possible.

Janine Modestow: About the Arlo Guthrie [benefit] concert, how much did that help?

Diane Brenner: It made $18,000. At the time, 1975, that was a fair amount. They had predicted something like 30,000 people, and they would make $30,000. But there were only 6,000 to 8,000 people, and after all the police and whatever, the net was $18,000, which was substantial and really got them out of a hole.

Arlo Guthrie saves the day.

Janine Modestow: I just remembered the concert, and it was a big deal, as a very sheltered, small-town girl. I was all of 13 years old, and I remember being exposed to a lot of things I shouldn’t have seen – a lot of free love going on. [laughter] I remember my mother avidly turning me in other directions as we’re walking by. Luckily we were very close to the stage, because a lot more was happening out back that I probably shouldn’t have seen.

Diane Brenner: Guthrie’s group were apparently users of the Health Center at that time, which is one of the reasons it happened.

[unidentified]: He [Arlo] was also friends with George Scarmon. I was going to say, when you were talking about the budgets, that they operated under Dot Cole. Some of you will remember her as a long-time nurse at the Health Center. I remember her telling me that when she wanted to take time off to have a vacation, she had to pay that person herself.

Florence Bates, from the 1968 Bicentennial program.

Diane Brenner: There’s very little actually written by Florence – no diaries, no letters, nothing like that. But there are some pieces of writing in the newspapers. And one thing that seemed to really upset her – besides the fact that people used the Center and didn’t pay their membership dues – was that the providers didn’t give of themselves. As Doctor Modestow said, a twelve-hour day was a short one for her. And as Julie said, she’d be going that extra mile, not keeping hours, doing half of this enormous amount of work essentially as a volunteer. Keeping all the books, running the Health Center, making sure everything was sterile, all of that stuff. That was part of the job. And as time went on, other people did not see it that way, and that was very hard for her.


Florence Bates officially resigned from the Health Center on July 1, 1969. Harry Bates died in May, 1971, at the age of 86. Florence died of “respiratory insufficiency/pneumonia” on July 18, 1978, at the age of 86, after a long illness, possibly chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She is buried in the Bates family plot at North Cemetery.

The following is from “Florence Berry Bates, An Appreciation,” by Carl S. Joslyn, published in Stone Walls 3/2 (1977); the quote read by Florence is from the novel Hempfield, by David Grayson, serialized in American Magazine in 1915, when Florence was 23 and had just entered nursing school:

“Several years ago, Florence read to me a favorite quotation of hers and asked me if I knew who wrote it…I did not…it struck me as something that might have been written by Florence herself…

‘As we look backward, those times in our lives which grow brightest, seem most worthwhile, are by no means those in which we have been happiest or most successful, but rather those in which though painful and even sorrowful, we have been most necessary, most desired. To be needed in other human lives – is there anything greater or more beautiful in this world?’

That is what Florence Bates believes, one of the truths by which she has lived: that there is nothing greater or more beautiful in all this world than to be needed in the lives of others.”

Worthington and the Civil War


Broadside from Nov. 5, 1860, Boston Transcript listing electors for the Republican Ticket.


By Diane Brenner (with contributions by Pat Kennedy and Mark Clinton)


A previous version of the following exhibit was mounted at the Worthington Historical Society building in June 2015 to mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War. The exhibit was accompanied by a presentation by David Pollard on Worthington’s hero at Gettysburg, Brigadier General James Clay Rice. (Pollard’s presentation is not yet online.)


This exhibit is divided into the following eight sections:
1. The Election of 1860
2. The Draft
3. The 27th Mass. Volunteer Infantry Regiment
4. The 46th Mass. Volunteer Infantry Regiment
5. The 2nd Regiment Mass. Volunteer Heavy Artillery
6. Letters Home
7. The Home Front
8. The True Story of Russell H. Conwell and John Quincy Ring



The Republican ticket of Abraham Lincoln and running mate Hannibal Hamlin won overwhelmingly in Worthington, along with John A. Andrews, Republican candidate for Governor. John Bell and Edward Everett of the new Constitutional Union Party came in a distant second. Stephen Douglas, the Northern Democrat, got only two votes.

Before Lincoln was inaugurated, seven Southern states seceded from the Union and formed the Confederacy, sparking the Civil War.


Worthington Town Meeting record for the presidential election on November 6, 1860. People voted for electors, not candidates.

Record of Worthington Town Meeting from April 1854 opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which enabled slavery to spread westward. The Act was passed into law the following month.

Record of Worthington Town Meeting from April 1854 opposing the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which enabled slavery to spread westward. The Act was passed into law the following month.




Details of the Conscription Act from The Springfield Republican, January 31, 1863.

Details of the Conscription Act from the Springfield Republican, continued.

Details of the Conscription Act from The Springfield Republican, continued.

The Conscription Act was debated throughout late 1862 and passed on March 3, 1863. The act called for registration of all males between the ages of 20 and 45 – including aliens with the intention of becoming citizens – by April 1. Exemptions from the draft could be bought for $300, or by finding a substitute draftee. This clause led to bloody draft riots in New York City, where protesters were outraged that exemptions were effectively granted only to the wealthiest U.S. citizens.

The draft was not implemented nationally until 1863, and Worthington consistently met its quota with volunteers. The two lists below are from the Worthington Town Report of June 30, 1864, and cover men drafted in 1863 and 1864.

Draft age men from Worthington exempted for disability, with age and occupations:

Bates, Graham E. (26, farmer) deaf (partially)
Crosier, Reuben (37, farmer) missing finger, right hand
Cole, Henry A. (38, physician) hernia
Coy, Erastus C. (32, physician) epilepsy
Drake, Edward B. (33, mechanic) lost 3 fingers of left hand
Drake, Martin A. (35, farmer) right eye sight nearly gone
Geer, Austin (42, farmer) hernia
Hatch, Fordyce (42, mechanic) insane pauper
Hewitt, Cyprian P. (40, farmer) deficient teeth
Ladd, Alfred E. (27, farmer) consumption of lungs
Miller, Ira (43, farmer) broken ankle
Mayhew, Leyman (42, farmer) bad leg
Pease, James M. (25, mechanic) bad leg
Robinson, Calvin C. (27, mechanic) right eye gone
Sanderson, William D. (21, postmaster) asthma
Smith, Charles 2nd (25, mechanic) asthma
Stone, Sumner W. (34, farmer) bad teeth
Thayer, George (27, farmer) bad leg, stiff knee
Thayer, Cephas (40, farmer) deficient height
Thrasher, Charles (36, farmer) hernia
Tower, Henry E. (31, basket maker) deficient everywhere
Weeks, John M. (36, mechanic) bad leg

Patriotic envelopes were one way to drum up some fervor.

Patriotic envelopes were one way to drum up some fervor.

Draftees from Worthington exempted or opted out, with age and occupation:

Allen, Walter F. (44, farmer)
Bartlett, Calvin (22, farmer)
Bosworth, Lorenzo (28, clergyman) exempted
Cole, John S. (32, farmer) paid $300
Drake, William W.(32, farmer) exempted
Drake, Henry A. (29, farmer) exempted
Gleason, Solomon (38, farmer) exempted
Granger, Abraham W. (28, farmer) exempted
Knapp, Fordyce M., Jr. (26, farmer) paid $300
Leonard, David M. (22, farmer) exempted
Porter, Edward (43, deputy sheriff)
furn’shd subst.
Porter, Levi P. age (27, farmer) paid $300
Perry, A. Dwight (37, farmer) paid $300
Sanderson, Franklin A. (20, farmer) exempted
Thayer, Alfred M.. (28, farmer) exempted
Tower, Russell (38, farmer) furn’shd substitute

Record of June 1961 Town Meeting authorizing funds to assist families of volunteers.

Record of June 1961 Town Meeting authorizing funds to assist families of volunteers.


Ladder badge for 27th Mass. Regiment.

Ladder badge for 27th Mass. Regiment.

In late August of 1861, Governor Andrew asked Horace C. Lee, Springfield’s City Clerk, to form a new regiment. Lee recruited throughout the four western counties to form the 27th Mass, which began training in September at Camp Reed, about a mile from the armory in Springfield. It was the second Western Massachusetts regiment to form.

On November 2, 1861, the 27th left Springfield to join the Burnside Expedition in Annapolis, Maryland. As reported in the Republican of that date, “Baggage wagons snaked through the camp laden with tons of supplies, including hundreds of items ranging from blankets, pillows and bandages, to pin cushions, lemons and jars of pickles.” The newspaper verbosely thanked the local citizenry for donations to the regiment, including a “pot of preserved ginger” from a Mrs. Wasson. Nine hundred men traveled by train to Annapolis, where several died from measles. (For a sense of life there, see James Thayer’s letter from Annapolis in the Letters Home portion of the exhibit below.) In January 1862 the 27th Mass traveled by boat to North Carolina, and some of the men met with violent storms.

The Battle of New Bern.

The Battle of New Bern.

The 27th Mass spent much of the war in North Carolina, avoiding some of the major battles in Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, but fighting in many smaller skirmishes and battles, including Roanoke Island, New Bern, and the Goldsboro and Gum Swamp expeditions. They faced their greatest trial at Drewry’s Bluff in May of 1864. Surrounded by Confederate soldiers in a dense fog, they were forced to surrender, and roughly 250 men were taken prisoner, including Horace C. Lee. Two of the regimental flags were also captured, a significant blow to morale. Lee and some other officers were eventually exchanged and returned to duty, but many of the men were taken to Andersonville Prison in Georgia. Fewer than half of them survived the prison’s notoriously inhuman conditions. In the four weeks ending June 3, the regiment suffered 488 casualties, 62 of them killed or mortally wounded. Additional casualties followed throughout August.

Illustration of Andersonville Prison.

Illustration of Andersonville Prison.

Photograph of Andersonville Prison.

Photograph of Andersonville Prison.

In September, 179 men whose term of service had expired were sent home to Massachusetts. The rest of the regiment was returned to North Carolina where, early in March, 1865, the regiment was surrounded by Confederate troops near Kinston. Seven were killed, forty wounded, and the remaining 200-plus were captured and taken to Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia, and soon paroled and sent home. A fragment of the regiment still performed guard duty at New Bern until June 26, 1865, when it was mustered out and sent home. The survivors reached Readville, MA, on July 7, and on July 19 they were paid off and discharged. Of the members of this regiment who were taken prisoner, mostly at Drewry’s Bluff and Southwest Creek, 142 died in Confederate prisons.

Battle flag of the 27th Mass. Regiment.

Battle flag of the 27th Mass. Regiment.

In May of 1880, a veteran of the regiment visited Washington, D.C. and discovered, in a government building storing war relics, the regimental flags taken at Drewry’s Bluff. He reported the find to the 27th Mass Regimental Association officers, who were able to reclaim the flags with help from their congressman. The flags were received by Horace Lee at a celebration at Springfield’s Opera House on September 22, 1881 and given to the city’s library for safe keeping.

Note on sources: Much of the above information on the 27th Mass was taken from the website of the Massachusetts Sesquicentennial Commission of the American Civil War,

Men from Worthington, Massachusetts, who served in the 27th are listed below. Note that military records from the Civil War are often inaccurate. Most 19th-century death certificates list only death date and age. Birthdates were often approximated, or confused with baptismal dates. Also, some men lied about their age – or did not know their age.


BREWSTER, Edgar C., Private (b. May 30, 1841, Worthington, MA – d. Sep. 1896, Nebraska). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 13, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, re-enlisted Mar. 29, 1864, captured May 16, 1864 at Drewry’s Bluff. When Brewster was captured he “had about eighty dollars in greenbacks with him, all of which he saved by dividing it amongst his company, some placing it in their mouths, while others uncapped their blouse buttons and put the money within.” (Source: William P. Derby, Bearing Arms in the Twenty-Seventh Massachusetts Regiment of Volunteer Infantry During the Civil War, 1861-1865 (Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Company, 1883), 383-4). Prisoner at Andersonville, released Apr 6, 1865 ; mustered out July 3, 1865.

CANFIELD, Robert V., Private (b. c. 1838, Worthington, MA – d. Oct 23, 1863, Washington, NC, age 24). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 14, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861. Died of disease, buried at New Bern National Cemetery.

CLAIR, Matthew, Private (b. 1835, County Kilkenny, Ireland – d. Dec. 16, 1884, Northampton, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 14, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, re-enlisted Nov. 25, 1863, mustered out June 26, 1865. Died of chronic enterocolitis, age 49.

DRAKE, Edmund Turner, Corporal, Second Lieutenant (b. Jan 23, 1830, Worthington, MA – d. Jan 2, 1914, Easthampton, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 13, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, appointed Corporal Apr. 1, 1862, re-enlisted Nov. 25, 1863, taken prisoner at Drewry’s Bluff May 16, 1864, exchanged Dec. 3, 1864, mustered out June 26, 1865. According to Derby, “Thomas Bolton, private, Company A, did not know his own name when exchanged, and was saved by Corp. Drake of his company, who responded for and presented him to the ‘exchange officer.’” (Derby, 403-4). Buried in Cummington.

Gravestone of Abel C. Kenney.

Gravestone of Abel C. Kenney, “DIED in Rebel Prison.”

DUNNING, Samuel J., Private (b. 1843, Worthington, MA – d. Mar. 14, 1862, New Bern, NC). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 13, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, killed in action. “Comrade Dunning of Company A, was a member of Lieut. Spaulding’s boat crew, and after a hard day’s work in landing the troops, was told he could remain with the fleet. He replied, ‘I shall not leave you, lieutenant. If there is to be a battle, I shall be there!’ About ten minutes after the engagement opened, a ball pierced his forehead, and he fell without a struggle. He was a faithful, noble-hearted young man, of eighteen years, ‘the only son of his mother, and she a widow.'” (Derby, 92).

KENNEY, Abel C., Sergeant (b. Oct. 31, 1842, Worthington, MA – d. Dec. 15, 1864, Blackshear, GA, prison camp). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 13, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, appointed corporal, Oct. 1, 1862, re-enlisted Nov. 25, 1863, appointed sergeant, Mar. 11, 1864, taken prisoner May 16, 1864 at Drewry’s Bluff. Known by his comrades as “Noble Kinney.” He was helpless during the entire fall, but being a favorite with the men, was retained with them, which no doubt saved his life for a time. He suffered his accumulating ills without repining, and cheerfully conversed of his approaching death. He died at Blackshear, Ga., Dec. 11, 1864, and was buried in the woods north of the village, the most westerly of a group of graves. They laid him tenderly on a bed of grass and covered him with the same before filling the grave.” (S. S. Hooper’s account, in Derby, 404).

Blackshear prison camp.

Blackshear prison camp.

POMEROY, Orange Scott, Corporal (b. Aug. 8, 1842, Worthington, MA – d. Apr. 7, 1937, West Springfield, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 12, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, discharged Feb. 2, 1863 at New Bern, NC. Buried at Ringville Cemetery, Worthington, MA.

QUINN, Frank, Private (b. 1838 – d. June 3, 1862, New Bern, NC). Mechanic, enlisted Sep. 12, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, appointed corporal Sep. 20, 1861, drowned June 1, 1862 in Neuse River and died two days later at age 23.

TAYLOR, Brainard E., Private (b. Jan. 3, 1838, Peru, MA – d. Apr. 17, 1865, Danville, VA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 10, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, re-enlisted Nov. 25, 1863, wounded in left leg and taken prisoner, Mar. 8, 1865 at Battle of Wyse Fork, Southwest Creek, NC. Died of wounds at Confederate prison in Danville, Virginia, and buried in Danville National Cemetery.

THAYER, James F., Private (b. Sep. 13, 1821, Chesterfield, MA – d. July 23, 1864, Andersonville Prison, Macon County, GA). Farmer, enlisted at age 39 on Sep. 10, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, captured at Drewry’s Bluff and taken to Andersonville Prisoner of War Camp. Died within the stockade without medical care of starvation and chronic diarrhea. Buried in Andersonville National Cemetery. Letters from Thayer to his wife are in the Letters Home section of this exhibit, below.

WARD, William W., Sergeant (b. 1839, Worthington, MA – d. Jan. 1, 1890, Springfield, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 9, 1861, mustered Sep. 20, 1861, mustered out Sep. 6, 1862 at New Bern, NC. Re-enlisted Apr. 20, 1863 in 52nd Regiment, Co. C., mustered out Aug. 14, 1863 at Camp Miller, Greenfield, MA. Ward, a traveling salesman, died of pneumonia at age 51.

William Basto Watts.

William Basto Watts.

WATTS, William Basto, Private (June 4, 1844, Worthington, MA – Apr. 1, 1900, Springfield, MA). Farmer, enlisted at age 18, Sep. 9, 1861, mustered on Sep. 20, 1861, mustered out Sep. 24, 1864. Watts was hit by lightning on July 15, 1864 and survived: “The course of the electric current was marked on their persons by serpentine lines of red, and upon the guns and bayonets, by a furrow of molten steel, while the powder of all the cartridges within their cartridge-boxes was flashed.” (Derby, 118) In 1900, Watts committed suicide by cutting his throat.


BURROUGHS, Jonathan C., Private (b. 1840, Worthington, MA – d. Chesterfield, MA, Oct. 24, 1878). Also Co. G. C. Possibly wounded through left lung at Battle of Wyse Fork, Mar. 8, 1865. Burroughs, a painter, died of consumption at age 38 and is buried in Center Cemetery in Worthington.

Gravestone of Clarence P. Hewitt, Center Cemetery, Worthington.

Gravestone of Clarence P. Hewitt, Center Cemetery, Worthington.


COON, Charles Wesley, Private (b. Worthington, MA, June 18, 1836 – d. Cummington, MA, Aug. 3, 1906). Baker, enlisted and mustered Aug. 18, 1862, wounded, mustered out Sep. 27, 1864. Coon died of a cerebral hemorrhage and is buried in Worthington’s North Cemetery.

HEWITT, Clarence P., Private (b. 1840, Worthington, MA – d. July 22, 1865, Worthington MA). Farmer, enlisted and mustered Oct. 1, 1861, discharged disabled, Sep. 27, 1864. Hewitt, died from a disease contracted during the war and is buried in Worthington’s Center Cemetery.


SMITH, Miles G., Private (b. 1833, Worthington, MA – d. Dec. 7, 1899, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted and mustered Oct. 1, 1861, discharged for disability May 3, 1862, New Bern, NC. Smith died of pneumonia at age 66 and is buried in Worthington’s Ringville Cemetery.

Entry for Miles G. Smith, October 1861.

Entry for Miles G. Smith in the Worthington Selectmen ledger, October 1861.



Patch from the 46th Mass.

Patch from the 46th Mass.

The 46th Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was raised mainly in Hampden County in response to the President’s call of August 4, 1862. It was recruited largely through the efforts of Rev. George Bowler of Westfield, who became its first colonel. At Camp Banks in Springfield the different companies assembled during September and October, 1862, and were mustered in on various dates from September 24 to October 22. Company F was organized by Russell H. Conwell.

The regiment left camp November 5 and proceeded to Boston, where it took transports for North Carolina. New Bern was reached November 15, and here the regiment was assigned to Col. H. C. Lee’s Brigade. The regimental camp was established on the banks of the Neuse River near the city. Companies A and K were assigned the duty of guarding the railroad station at Newport Barracks on the railroad from New Bern to Beaufort.

Newspaper clipping on new levies of troops.

The Springfield Republican, September 5, 1862, page 2.

The first active duty of the regiment came during the Goldsboro expedition. From December 11 to 17, 1862, the 46th was present at the battles of Kinston, Whitehall, and Goldsboro, but was only slightly engaged and suffered little loss. Returning to New Bern on December 20, the regiment was soon established in a new camp near the confluence of the Neuse and the Trent. Colonel Bowler, while ill, had accompanied the regiment to Kinston. He resigned and Lieut. Col. Shurtleff was promoted to Colonel. Company A returned from detached duty, and Company F under Capt. Russell H. Conwell took its place.

On March 13 and 14, 1863, the regiment took part in a defense against a Confederate force under General Pettigrew, which sought to recapture New Bern on the first anniversary of its occupation by Union forces. Ten days later, the six companies which comprised the main part of the regiment were sent to Plymouth, where from March 26 to May 8 they formed part of the garrison. During this time, Companies F and K were absent on “detached” duty, and Companies A and I were left behind at New Bern. Soon after May 8, the six companies returned to New Bern, where the regiment was now quartered in barracks.

Massachusetts troops in New Bern, NC.

Massachusetts troops in New Bern, NC.

On May 21 the regiment took part in an expedition to Gum Swamp, returning to New Bern the following day without loss. Early in June, as the term of the 46th was drawing to a close, over 100 members re-enlisted in the 2d Mass. Vol. Heavy Artillery, which was then being organized (see the following section of this exhibit, below). The remainder of the regiment embarked June 24 for Fort Monroe.

Bounty notice for the 46th.

Bounty notice in The Springfield Republican, August 19, 1862, page 2.

On their way home, members of the 46th volunteered for service with the Army of the Potomac during the emergency caused by Lee’s invasion of Pennsylvania. They provided patrol and guard duty in the Baltimore area during early July and then moved to Maryland Heights, near Harper’s Ferry, from July 7 to 12, joining the 1st Corps, Army of the Potomac, at Funkstown, MD, ahead of the Confederate position at Falling Waters. After Lee’s retreat into Virginia the regiment was ordered to continue to Massachusetts, reaching Springfield on July 21. Here they were furloughed for one week, reassembling at Hampden Park, July 29, at which point they were mustered out of the service.

Russell H. Conwell, c. 1863.

Russell H. Conwell, c. 1863.

Men from Worthington who served in the 46th:


COLE, Daniel N., Private (b. c. 1820 – d. July 30, 1865, Smithfield, NC). Farmer, enlisted at age 42. See 2nd Mass Heavy Artillery Regiment, below. Re-enlisted Aug. 22, 1863, at age 43, in Co. D, 2nd Mass Heavy Artillery, died July 19, 1865, at Smithfield, NC, after Appomattox surrender.

COLE, Seth, Private (b. c. 1822 – d. Jan 30, 1895, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 8, 1862, at age 40; mustered in Sep. 25, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield MA. Died from La Grippe and buried in Ringville Cemetery, Worthington.

CONWELL, Russell Herman, Captain (b. Worthington, MA, Feb. 15, 1843 – d. Philadelphia, PA, Dec. 6, 1925). Student, enlisted Sep. 9, 1862, at age 19. Commissioned an officer on Sep. 25, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, in Springfield, MA. Re-enlisted; see 2nd Mass Heavy Artillery Regiment, below. Buried in Philadelphia.

DODGE, Edwin, Private (b. Oct. 6, 1847, Montpelier, VT – d. Jan 30, 1910, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 3, 1862, at age 30, mustered Sep. 25, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield, MA. Died of cerebral hemorrhage, buried in Springfield, MA.

Jotham and Mary Drake, 1862.

Jotham and Mary Sanderson Drake, 1862.

Jotham Drake gravestone.

Jotham Drake gravestone at Ireland Street Cemetery, Chesterfield, MA.

DRAKE, Isaac C., Private (b. Feb. 6, 1837 – d. June 27, 1863, New Bern, NC, Stanley Hospital). Farmer, enlisted Aug. 1862 at age 28, mustered Sep. 25, 1862. See the exhibit section on Letters Home, below. Died of hemorrhage of the bowels from injuries received at New Bern, NC; buried at New Bern National Cemetery.

DRAKE, Jotham, Private (b. Jan 3, 1820, Worthington, MA – d. June 10, 1863, New Bern, NC). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 3, 1862, mustered Sep. 25, 1862, died at New Bern, NC, from injuries received in battle.

HIGGINS, Jonathan S., Private (b. Dec. 24, 1832, Chesterfield, MA – d. Aug. 5, 1869, Worthington, MA). Mechanic, enlisted Sep. 26, 1862, at age 28; mustered in Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield MA. Buried in Ringville Cemetery.

HIGGINS, William C., Private (d. May 17, 1884, Blandford, MA). Mechanic, enlisted Sep. 5, 1862, at age 38. Mustered in Sep. 25, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield MA. Pension records show he received an invalid’s pension on October 16,1883, for his service in Company F. Died at age 59 of Addison’s disease.

SMITH, George W., Private (b. c. 1841 – d. ?). Farmer, enlisted Aug. 20, 1862 at age 21, mustered Sep. 25, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield, MA.


ADAMS, Ansel, Private (b. 1814, Chesterfield, MA – d. Feb. 3, 1869, Worthington, MA). Farmer, mustered in Sep. 20, 1861 (originally in 27th Mass Rgt, Co. K), discharged for disability, April 5, 1862, New Bern, NC. Re-enlisted in 46 Infantry Regiment, Co. K on Oct. 30, 1862; mustered out July 29, 1863 at Springfield, MA. Killed by a falling tree, and buried at North Cemetery in Worthington.

BARTLETT, Davis, Private (born Dec. 25, 1837, baptized Sep. 16, 1840, Worthington, MA – d. Apr. 18, 1885, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Oct 1, 1862; mustered out July 29, 1863 at Springfield, MA. Died of rheumatism and buried in North Cemetery, Worthington.

BENTON, Henry, Private (b. Nov. 9, 1828, Worthington, MA – d. Nov. 20, 1915). Farmer, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863 at Springfield, MA. Died of chronic valvular heart disease, buried in Center Cemetery, Worthington.

BLACKMAN, Levi, Private (b. Mar. 20, 1837, Peru, MA – d. ?) Farmer, enlisted Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863 at Springfield, MA.

BRACKETT, Ezra M., Private (b. May 9, 1839 – d. Apr. 2, 1916). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 26, 1862, mustered out July 29, Springfield, MA.. Possibly re-enlisted. Buried in Florence, MA.

46th Mass. marked Mississippi rifle.

46th Mass. marked Mississippi rifle.

BROWN, Castanus, Corporal (b. June 6, 1835, Worthington, MA – d. July 19, 1907, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Oct 4, 1862, promoted to Full Corporal June 11, 1863, mustered out July 29, 1863, at Springfield, MA. Died of chronic interstitial nephritis, buried in North Cemetery, Worthington.

BROWN, Uriah P., Private (b. July 15, 1845, Becket, MA – d. Jan 16, 1908, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Oct. 4, 1862; mustered in, Oct. 22, 1862; mustered out July 29,1863, Springfield, MA. Died of senile degeneration, buried in Chicopee.

CARR, Edwin N., Corporal (b. Jan. 5, 1836, Worthington, MA – d. June 10, 1866, Worthington, MA). Mechanic and painter, enlisted Oct. 22, 1862, promoted to corporal, mustered out May 30, 1863, at New Bern, NC. Re-enlisted in Mass. 2nd Artillery Regiment, Co. A, July 28, 1863, mustered out July 6, 1865. Died of consumption, buried in North Cemetery.

Article from the American Agriculturalist, 1863.

Article from the American Agriculturalist, 1863.

CODY, William, Private (b. 1845, Worthington, MA – d. Oct. 29, 1917, Middlefield, MA, age 71). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 22, 1862; mustered in Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863. Died from a cerebral hemorrhage.

CONWELL, Charles H., Private (b. c. 1839, Worthington, MA – d. June 26, 1869, Worthington, MA) Student, enlisted Sep. 14, 1862, at age 22; mustered in Oct. 15, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield MA.

CUSHMAN, Emerson Baxter, Private (b. Dec. 24, 1844, Worthington, MA — d. Aug 1, 1926, Chester, MA), farmer. Enlisted Sep. 1, 1861, mustered out June 23, 1863 for disability.

DONOHUE, Timothy, Private (b. c. 1819). Bootmaker, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862; mustered Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield, MA.

KELLEY, John M., Private (b. 1842, Worthington, MA – d. Sep. 29, 1886, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 17, 1862, at age 19; mustered in Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out May 30, 1863, for disability. Died of heart disease at age 43, buried in Center Cemetery, Worthington.

KILBOURN, Alfred Bates, Corporal (b. 1831, Hartford, CT – d. Feb 27, 1886, age 55). Bootmaker, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862, at age 31; mustered in Oct. 22, 1863, promoted to full corporal on June 11, 1863, mustered out July 28, 1863, in Springfield, MA. Died of heart disease, buried in North Cemetery, Worthington.

PARSONS, Cyrus M., Sergeant (b. Sep. 3, 1825, Worthington, MA – d. May 13, 1877, Somerville, MA). Farmer, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862, mustered in Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 28, 1863, in Springfield, MA. Buried in North Cemetery, Worthington.

PEASE, John D., Private (b. July 4, 1844, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 13, 1862, mustered in Oct. 22, 1863, promoted to full corporal on June 11, 1863, mustered out July 28, 1863, in Springfield, MA

PRENTISS (PRENTICE), Dwight L., Private (b. c. 1841 – d. Oct. 8, 1927, Worthington, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 22, 1862, at age 20; mustered in Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 28, 1863, in Springfield, MA. Died of cerebral hemorrhage, buried in Ringville Cemetery, Worthington.

RANDALL, Charles L., Private (b. c. 1841 – d. June 23, 1863, New Bern, NC). Teacher, enlisted Sep. 26, 1862, at age 21; mustered Oct. 22, 1861, died in the Battle of Kinston.

Elisha Tower in uniform.

Elisha Tower in uniform.

RUSSELL, Hiram, Private (b. c. 1820 – d. June 30, 1863, Beaufort, NC). Painter, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862, mustered Oct. 22, 1862, died June 30, 1863, at New Bern, NC, following the Battle of Kinston. Buried in New Bern National Cemetery.

STARKWEATHER F., James, Private (b. Oct. 31, 1843, Worthington, MA – d. 1922, Westfield, MA). Farmer, enlisted Sep. 3, 1862, mustered Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 29, 1863, Springfield, MA.

STEVENS, Anson F. (b. c. 1843 – d. Feb. 16, 1908, Winnebago City, Illinois). Mechanic, enlisted Oct. 5, 1862, at age 19; mustered Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 28, 1863.

Newspaper clipping on Elisha Tower.

Newspaper clipping on Elisha Tower.

TOWER, Elisha C., 1st lieutenant, Captain (b. Dec. 10, 1834, Worthington, MA – d. Aug. 7, 1886, Worthington, MA). Basket maker, enlisted Sep. 24, 1862, mustered and commissioned as an officer on Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 28, 1863, in Springfield, MA. Died of chronic diarrhea.

TOWER, Lyman J., Private (b. c. 1813, Worthington, MA – d. Apr. 14, 1885, Northampton, MA). Mechanic, enlisted Sep. 15, 1862, mustered Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out June 1, 1863, at New Bern, NC, re-enlisted. See 2nd Mass Volunteer Heavy Artillery, below. Died of pleurisy.

WRIGHT, John, Private (b. Feb. 8, 1830, Clyde, NY – d. June 16, 1904). Farmer, enlisted Oct. 1, 1862, mustered Oct. 22, 1862, mustered out July 28, 1863, in Springfield, MA. Died of dropsy from heart disease, buried in Center Cemetery, Worthington.



The 2nd Regiment Massachusetts Volunteer Heavy Artillery was a regimental unit that fought in the American Civil War from 1863 to 1865. Initially formed on July 28, 1863, in Readville, Massachusetts with Company A, it was supported with 11 other companies ending with Company M on December 24, 1863 (there was no Company J). Company D formed August 22, 1863, and left for New Bern, NC, on September 5, 1863. The 2nd served in the states of Virginia and North Carolina during operations in Plymouth, North Carolina, Kinston, and Virginia.

This photography shows members of the 3rd Mass. Heavy Artillery, which would have looked similar to the 2nd.

This photograph shows the 3rd Mass. Heavy Artillery, which would have looked similar to the 2nd.

Camp of the 2nd Mass. HA, Petersburg, VA, 1864.

Camp of the 2nd Mass. HA, Petersburg, VA, 1864.

Damage to the 2nd Mass. Heavy Artillery from a Confederate attack.

Damage to the 2nd Mass. Heavy Artillery from a Confederate attack.

Dog tag from the 2nd Mass. HA.

Dog tag from the 2nd Mass. HA.

Men from Worthington who served in the 2nd Mass Heavy Artillery:

CARR, Edwin N., Corporal (b. Jan. 5, 1836, Worthington, MA – d. June 10, 1866, Worthington, MA). Originally in the 46th Infantry Regiment, re-enlisted July 28, 1863, mustered out July 6, 1865. Died of consumption, buried in Worthington’s North Cemetery.

COLE, Daniel N., Private (b. c. 1820 – d. July 30, 1865, Smithfield, NC). Farmer, originally in the 46th Infantry Regiment, re-enlisted Aug. 22, 1863, at age 43 in Company D; died July 19, 1865, at Smithfield, NC, from disease after Appomattox surrender.

CONWELL, Russell Herman, Captain (b. Feb 15, 1843, Worthington, MA – d. Dec. 6, 1925, Philadelphia, PA). Originally in the 46th Infantry Regiment, re-enlisted with Company D on Sep. 9, 1863. Absent from post on February 2, 1964. Court-martialed and discharged from Army on May 20, 1864. Buried in Philadelphia.

RING, John Quincy, Corporal (b. June 15, 1843, Worthington, MA – d. Mar. 13, 1864, Beaufort City, NC). Salesman, enlisted July 30, 1863, mustered Aug 22, 1863, promoted to Full Corporal. Died of tuberculosis at age 20 at Hammond Hospital, buried in Worthington’s Ringville Cemetery ). The Boston Advertiser of Mar. 24, 1864, p. 2, reads: “In the Hammond Hospital, Beaufort, N.C., 13th inst, John Quincy Ring, 20 yrs 9 mos, a member of Co D. 2d Regt. Mass. Heavy Artillery, oldest son of Ethan C. Ring of this city, formerly of Ringville, Worthington.”

TOWER, Lyman J., Private (b. c. 1813, Worthington, MA – d. Apr. 14, 1885, Northampton, MA). Mechanic, originally in the 46th Infantry Regiment. Re-enlisted in the 2nd Mass Heavy Artillery on May 30, 1863. Discharged without pay May 2, 1864 following finding of “mental incapacity and general unfitness for the duty of a soldier,” with the disability existing prior to enlistment. Died of pleurisy.

Hammond Hospital, where John Quincy Ring died, was created by commandeer- ing the Atlantic Hotel, in Beaufort, N.C. It had been a popular resort prior to the war. Though Hammond Hospital was offi- cially classified as a “general hospital” by the Union government, it cared for patients very differently. While the majority of the military’s general hospitals were trauma centers focused on physical wounds, primary documentation reveals that Hammond Hospital was a center of convalescence, filling the need for soldiers’ spiritual and mental recuperation amidst the chaos of war. Union physicians decided that Beaufort was well-situated to serve as a location for rehabilitation due to its “fine sea breeze, in contrast to the “bad air” created by the “dead water” surrounding nearby New Bern, referring to the still water that allowed bacteria and mosquito larvae to thrive. New Bern, forty miles from Beaufort, was better connected to the state’s transportation infrastructure and had a pre-existing trauma hospital; however, when the decision of where to establish a recovery hospital was made, the ability to facilitate long-term recuperation was prioritized over ease of access.

The Union government’s Hammond Hospital, where John Quincy Ring died, was created by commandeering the Atlantic Hotel in Beaufort, NC, a popular resort before the war. Hammond Hospital was officially a “general hospital” but it cared for patients very differently. Most of the military’s general hospitals were trauma centers focused on physical wounds, while Hammond was a center of convalescence for mental and spiritual recuperation. Beaufort was chosen for its “fine sea breeze,” in contrast to New Bern’s “bad air” created by “dead water” harboring bacteria and mosquito larvae. New Bern, forty miles from Beaufort, had better transportation links and a preexisting trauma hospital.


James Thayer, 27th Mass. Infantry Regiment, to his wife Lydia

In the fall of 1861, around sixteen Worthington men enlisted in the Massachusetts 27th Volunteer Infantry at Springfield, including James Francis Thayer, Private, Company A. (For more on the 27th, see “The 27th Mass. Volunteer Infantry Regiment” section of this exhibit, above.) By November they were in Annapolis, Maryland, where they spent two months drilling and training. The regiment then joined Foster’s First Brigade in North Carolina. On May 17, 1864, the 27th was engaged at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, where they were surrounded in the fog. Of the 252 soldiers taken captive, approximately 120 died at the infamous Andersonville Prison, including Thayer. According to W. P. Derby’s 1883 book on the 27th, Thayer “died within the stockade, without medical care, July 23d [1864], of starvation and chronic diarrhea.” He was 39 years old and left behind a wife and children. The Worthington Historical Society owns two letters written to his wife, Lydia, before his capture. The spelling has been retained, but the capitalization and punctuation have been modernized.

First page of James Thayer's 1861 letter to his wife.

First page of James Thayer’s 1861 letter to his wife.

Headquarters 27th Reg’t, Co. A, Annapolis Nov 17th Camp Springfield 1861

Dear Wife

It is with pleasure that I now take my pen in hand to answer your letter. I am well now but have had the tooth ache for a week or so but I had one pulled this morning and feel very well now. We came in from pickett guard last night we have bin out one week. We fare very well now have to drill about five hours a day now and on gard once a week.

We are encamped two miles from the city of Annapolis and about 48 miles from Washington.

There is 8 regiments here now and there is one or two comes in every day they say that 11,000 will leave here next week our Regt among the rest. Some say that we shall go Saturday or Monday shure. But we don’t know when we shall go certain. If we go we shall go on the watter down to South Carolina to reinforce the other Expedition. Give my love to Eddie and Charlie tell them to be good boys. Also give my best respects to Lew Corwin (?) and his wife and all the rest of the folks up that way who may enquire after me.

Give my love to mother and Miner (?) and Polly also to Genette Culver. tell them all to write to me and you must write to me as soon as you get this so that I shall get it before I leave here if possible for we shall not get it for one or two weeks if you don’t. We have bin trying our rifles and they will shoot one hundred rod they are tip top I shall bring my rifle home with me when I come. We have herd heavy cannonading off in the direction of Washington all day and I think you will hear of a heavy Battle by the time you receive this.

The slaves here are told by their masters that we came down here to kill them and they are as much frightened at a soldier as you can imagine. I saw Tim Warren and Scott Sampson and Edwin Bates they are here in the 21st Regt. here in Annapolis. This is the most desolate looking city that I ever saw there is scarcly a white person here and the negroes by the hundred.

James Thayer's 1864 letter to his wife, first page.

James Thayer’s 1864 letter to his wife, first page.

The steamer Connecticut that we sailed down the Hudson River in was 150 ft long we was on the boat 15 hours. I have not bin homesick but once and that was the first night in Camp Read and have bin homesick ever since. But it is almost over now in a short time I shall return to you and enjoy the freedom for which I am now trying to gain. It is getting late and I must close with a kind good night from your affectionate husband.

Direct your letter James F Thayer Co A 27th Regt. Annapolis, Md

March 28, 1864

Dear kind and affectionate wife,

I now take the time to answer your kind and welcome letter which I received in due time. I am well and hope that when this reaches you it will find you all the same. We have moved from the city of Norfolk now and are camped about three mile from the city on the Deep Creek Road. We moved last Tuesday. It snowed and blowed all day and when we got here we did not have no place to stop in to get out of the way of the storm. There was the New Hampshire camp close by where we did stop and they was off on a scout and so we occupied their camp to get out of the storm. It was the severest storm that we have seen since we have been out.

Document of Lydia Thayer's widow pension.

Document of Lydia Thayer’s widow pension.

You spoke about thinking that I was going to reenlist again. No I am not going to do no such thing it will take a great deal of money to hire me again two thousand dollars would not tempt me to enlist again.

Father wants to know if Charley has hired a horse and team and carried his mother to ride yet if so please write and let me now how the cow and Charley’s calf get along. Please write and let me know all about it.

I received a letter from you evry week. I see by your letter that you thought I had a sweetheart out here. I am very sorry you do think that of me. Please when you wright wright a long letter for that is all the comfort I get is reading your letters, for as soon as I get one read I want another. If Charley does obey his mother in everything and doesn’t swear I shall bring him the present just as I said I would. I wonder Dear Wife if you only knew how much I thought of you you would not think that I would get a sweetheart down here.

Please write and let me know those rings suit you and if they fit your finger. Please do not send anything unless I send for it. Please make them think
that you are pretty poor, not let them now what the right hand doeth. You spoke of buying a new clock. You had better let Chranchon(?) Thayer bring you one for he will bring it and it will be a good deal cheaper than I can buy it myself.

I have the rumatism so much in my back they would not take me if I wanted to enlist. That hugging and kissing that I promised you if I was there would not I do it. If the officers did not drink as you say it would be a great deal better for the privates. One of our company was married this last Thursday night and I think that he got a good woman. He is from the town of Northampton. Please excuse this short letter and this poor writing for I have written this in a hurry. Please excuse all mistakes. My love to my wife and children and no one else. This is from your true husband.

James F. Thayer

Isaac C. Drake, 46th Mass. Infantry Regiment, to his wife, Lydia

Isaac Drake's letter to his wife, Lydia, first page.

Isaac Drake’s letter to his wife, Lydia, first page.

The 46th Mass. was the second infantry regiment formed in Western Massachusetts. (For more on the 46th, see the “46th Mass. Volunteer Infantry Regiment” section of this exhibit, above.) Compared with the 27th, volunteers for the 46th were older men, more established in the community, often married with families. The 46th was mostly assigned guard duty in the New Bern, NC, area, and saw only limited action. Most were mustered out on July 28 and 29th, 1863 at Hampden Park in Springfield, MA, and a few reenlisted in the 2nd Mass. Heavy Artillery. An unlucky few died from disease before their tour was over, including Isaac C. Drake and his brother Jotham. 

Isaac was 26 when he enlisted. He and his wife, also named Lydia, had three young children. He wrote home regularly. Forty of his letters are held by the New England Historical and Genealogical Society, which shared copies of two letters with us, below. Isaac died in June, 1863, and Lydia remarried on April 4, 1865. Again, the transcriptions retain the original spelling but have modernized punctuation and capitalization.

Isaac Drake, 1862.

Isaac Drake, 1862.

Plymouth, N.C. Apr 8, 1863

Dear Wife

I received your letter to day. I was very sory that you are so unwell. I have herd too or 3 times that you was sick. But you did not want me should no it. I want you should write first how you be and if you are sick write what is the matter for I want to know all about you.

I am well as I could expect. We have to work rather hard, but don’t drill mutch. There is a number of our Co. sick now with the measels. We had one die this morning. His name was Henry Dickson from Middlefield. He was a first rate fellow and will be grately missed here in this Company.

Letter from Russell H. Conwell attesting to Isaac Drake's service.

Letter from Russell H. Conwell attesting to Isaac Drake’s service.

It has been 2 weks since we have had any mail til we got this. We don’t have a chance to send mail very often and I want you should write just as often as you can.

It is 10 o clock and the boys are all gone to bed. And so I must close.

By wishing you good night. My love to you all. Kiss the children for me. Write soon.

Ever your husband,

I.C. Drake

The following letter was written to Lydia by Austin T. Hancock (b. 1832), with the sad duty of announcing her husband’s death. Hancock was a mechanic born in Worthington but living in Norwich (now Huntington) and serving as a Corporal in Company F of the 46th Mass. Hancock survived the war and was mustered out on July 29, 1894. He had married Isaac and Jotham’s sister Martha in 1854. After the war he remarried Elma M. Rude.

First page of Austin Hancock's letter.

First page of Austin Hancock’s letter.

Newbern, June 28, 1863

Dear Sister,

Circumstances beyond the power of man to control render it a duty and a painfull one to address you in this manner. I have hoped that I should not be obliged to write you as I have had to others and tell them that their companion is no more, but such is the fact and grieves me when I think of the sadness it will cause you and other Dear friends who have already the sad news that their Husband, Son or Brother is dead. And now we have another to add to the list of men who left their Wives and little ones for the defence of this Country.

Isaac joined his friends in the Spirit Land yesterday morning at one o’clock. I was with him to last attended to his last request and saw the last gleam of recognition.

I should have written you before had it been possible for letter to have reached you and my own health prevented. I wrote to my Wife that he was sick, not considered dangerous, knowing you would here by her how he was. He did not go out much after the day that Jotham died, did not attend the funeral. He lay in my bunk in our quarters and I done all that I could for him, and it was with great reluctance that I could get his consent to go to the Hospital. He went to the General Hospital the 16th. He had the best of care, could not have had better at home although things would have been pleasant at home but as far as Medical attendance and good nursing could be done was done. I shall ever remember his Nurse with gratitude to him as well as myself. It was through his kindness that I was permitted to stay by Isaac I his last hours strictly against the Hospital regulations. The physician visited him often and took great interest in his case. The Nurse would not leave him when it came his turn to be relieved but said “No! I shall stay by that man tonight. I dare not trust him in others hands.” He did not leave him and may Gods blessing ever rest upon him.

We buried him last night in the Mass. [Massachusetts] cemetery in the grounds that he and I walked over a short time ago and he made the remark that he hoped that we should not have to lie there. Chaplain Rouse officiated at the burial, the same that officiated at Jotham’s. He is a fine [man] and feels for the Soldier and his Friends. I had very pleasant walk and conversation with him after the services. There are many things I could tell you if I should live to come Home that will interest you and other Friends that I cannot write. If we both had been well we should probably have been in Virginia or our Regt have gone their. His effects I have Boxed up to go north when Co. Goods are sent. I cannot write anything to comfort you and the little ones, but direct you to the Great Comforter who has promest to be a “God to the Widow and Fatherless.”

Hoping to see you all soon if my life is spared, I remain yours in Affection,

A. T. Hancock

This 1863 article from the American Agriculturalist shows how a family of four could live on $6.16 per week.

This 1863 article from the American Agriculturalist shows how a family of four could live on $6.16 per week.


Life in Worthington was deeply affected by the war, with sharp increases in taxes and the cost of living. In 1860, the population of Worthington was 1,046 and the tax rate was 12 cents per $100 valuation. Between 1862 and 1864 the tax rate increased to between 95 cents and $1.04 per $100. By 1865, with a population of 925, the tax rate had leaped to $1.98. Note that prior to 1865, taxes included the “society tax” assessment for the church. After 1865, with formal separation of church from state, the tax bill was for town, county, and state taxes only.

Throughout this period Worthington had far more domesticated animals than people. The number of sheep increased from 1,592 in 1861 to 2,544 in 1865, while horses averaged around 200 and cows averaged around 175. Nobody counted the chickens or cats, but there were dogs and dog licenses.

Springfield Republican, June 7, 1861.

The Springfield Republican, June 7, 1861.

Money was scarce, especially coins, and barter was common among rural farmers and merchants. Local banks produced their own currency to supplement federally issued “greenbacks.”

Worthington tax assessments, 1862.

Worthington tax assessments, 1862.

Worthington tax assessments, 1865.

Worthington tax assessments, 1865.

Franklin Burr's tax bills from 1861 and 1865 show the impact of increased tax rates.

Franklin Burr’s tax bills from 1861 and 1865 show the impact of increased tax rates. The “Society Tax” in the 1861 bill was to support the Congregational Church. By 1865, separation of church and state had come to Worthington, and the Society Tax was defunct.

Currency issued by a local bank.

Currency issued by a local bank.

From the home front, the women of Worthington supported the soldiers.

From the home front, the women of Worthington supported the soldiers.

Homage to the Sanitary Commission in Harper's Weekly, April 9, 1864.

Homage to the Sanitary Commission in Harper’s Weekly, April 9, 1864.


Russell H. Conwell at the gravestone of John Quincy Ring, 1921.

Russell H. Conwell at the gravestone of John Quincy Ring, 1921.


by Pat Kennedy and Mark Clinton

Worthington’s most famous son, Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925), had an interesting and complicated Civil War experience. In 1861, at the age of 18, he was forbidden to enlist by his father, a longtime abolitionist and supporter of John Brown. But at age 19, as agent for the Hampden County recruiters, he whipped up enough patriotic fervor among the young men of Worthington and surrounding towns to fully enroll Companies F and K of the Massachusetts 46th Regiment in 60 days.

After the war, when Conwell became famous, he often referred to his humble and poverty-stricken origins as one of four children of subsistence farmers, Martin and Miranda Wickham Conwell. As a boy, Conwell attended the South Worthington School with John Quincy Ring, a neighbor who became the subject of the most famous and influential of Conwell’s many inspirational stories.

Conwell with his sword.

Conwell with his sword.

John Q. Ring (1843-1863) enlisted in the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment Heavy Artillery, Co. D, on July 30, 1863. He was 20 and his occupation – salesman – was unusual among the area’s recruits. Conwell’s skills as a salesman were well-established at this point, perhaps providing a bond between them. Captain Conwell, after finishing his nine-month enlistment with the 46th Mass Infantry Regiment, re-enlisted for a three-year term in Company D of the 2nd Heavy Artillery. His position as Captain was reaffirmed.

In September 1863, Company D, under Conwell’s command, was sent to Newport Barracks, where they spent the fall and winter. On February 1, 1864, the Barracks’ Commander received warning of a pending Confederate attack. On February 2, 1864, Conwell left the barracks and his men. During his absence, the Barracks was attacked by a Confederate force of about 4,000, and the Union forces, including Conwell’s men, abandoned the fort to the enemy.

Record of Conwell's court-martial and dismissal.

Record of Conwell’s court-martial and dismissal.

Conwell was arrested and imprisoned at nearby Fort Totten. Although he later claimed he had left his men in order to collect their back pay, at the time of his arrest he did not give any reason for leaving his post. He spent the month of February in the brig and was subsequently court-martialed. Since he refused to account for his actions, he was found guilty, and, on May 20, 1864, dismissed from the service without pay or pension. Conwell appealed the verdict, but the only question debated on reconsideration was whether he was insane or a coward. With General Bank’s concurrence, it was determined he was not insane. In later years, seeking to have the conviction overturned, Conwell claimed that Banks was “miffed” with him.

After his dismissal, Conwell purportedly joined General James McPherson’s command as an aide with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and was promised an official pardon from Lincoln. However, there is no record of Conwell’s service with McPherson, his promotion, or any contemporary correspondence related to a pardon or reversal of the court-martial. General McPherson was killed in Atlanta on July 22, 1864.

During the month of February, 1864, while Conwell was in the brig, John Ring reported sick and was sent to Hammond Hospital in Beaufort, where he died on March 13, 1864 of “Phthisis” (tuberculosis). It is likely that he already had this condition when he enlisted. His father, Ethan Crandall Ring (1812–1898), lived a long life, but his mother, Fanny (born 1818), was an invalid who died in 1862 at the age of 44, not long before her son enlisted. John Q. Ring’s body was buried on the Hammond Hospital grounds on March 14, 1864, and then sent north on April 29 and reburied in Worthington’s Ringville Cemetery.

Newspaper item on sword presentation to Conwell.

Sword presentation to Conwell, from The Springfield Republican, October 7, 1862, page 4.

Conwell’s famous story about John Ring is mostly myth. It begins in 1862 with Conwell’s recruitment of men into the 46th. According to Robert Shackleton, one of Conwell’s many laudatory and unquestioning biographers, the men of the 46th were so enthused by Conwell’s patriotic spirit that they gathered their “scant” money to buy Conwell a sword, “all gay and splendid with gilt,” and decorated with the statement, “True friendship is eternal.” Shackleton reports that Conwell later kept the sword above his bed in his Philadelphia mansion. This sword did exist, but its reappearance later in the story is highly suspect.

According to the oft-repeated myth, Johnnie Ring adored Conwell and followed him into the service as a servant rather than a member of the Company. Conwell told Shackleton that he didn’t need a servant, but “It was the only way to take poor little Johnnie Ring.” According to military records, however, the real John Quincy Ring was never Conwell’s servant. He was the same age as Conwell. He enlisted in the 2nd Regiment Mass. Volunteer Heavy Artillery, where Conwell served as Captain, and was paid as Company Clerk from October 1863 through February 1864. Ring was officially promoted to Corporal on February 1, 1864, the day before Conwell’s unauthorized departure.

Death record for John Q. Ring.

Death record for John Q. Ring. “Phthises” is now known as tuberculosis.

As the story goes, Ring read the Bible obsessively, and he and Conwell – who reported being an atheist at the time – argued frequently about religion. One day the Confederate forces unexpectedly stormed the camp in New Bern, NC, and the sword was left behind in the tent. Johnny Ring braved bullets to rescue it, was caught on a burning bridge while escaping, and died of his burns with Conwell at his side. In reality, the Confederate attack was not sudden or unexpected, and Ring died of tuberculosis in a Union hospital.

As Conwell’s life went on, he frequently retold and continuously embellished his story. In 1921 he produced a money-losing silent film titled Johnny Ring and the Captain’s Sword. The promotional poster below provides a synopsis of what happens after Ring dies: “The boy’s death made a deep impression on Colonel Conwell. Later while leading a charge in the Battle of Kenesaw [Kennesaw] Mountain, he himself was severely wounded and left on the field of battle for dead. In the long hours of pain and agony, Colonel Conwell found his God and vowed that if it were the Lord’s will to spare his life, he would go forth and do the work of two men for God, one for Johnny Ring and one for himself.”

A statue of Johnny Ring with sword and Bible stands, uncritically today, on the grounds of Temple University, the college Conwell founded in Philadelphia.

Promotional poster for Johnny Ring and The Captain's Sword (1921).

Promotional poster for Johnny Ring and The Captain’s Sword (1921).

Statue of Johnny Ring at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Statue of Johnny Ring at Temple University, Philadelphia.


Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington with her spouse, Jan Roby, since 1994 and has been a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society, serving on its board and as one of its archivists. As someone who loves the mystery and adventure of historical research, she has curated several exhibits and contributed articles and photographs to The Corners. In her spare time she works at her day job as a book indexer:

Night of the Living Dead II at North Cemetery

by Pat Kennedy and Diane Brenner

On the evening of Saturday, August 29th, 2015, as the full moon rose, dozens of onlookers strolled through Worthington’s North Cemetery and encountered six of its permanent residents standing by their graves. These dead Worthingtonians were in a talkative mood, and their memorable words are chronicled here below.

North Cemetery, Worthington.

North Cemetery, Worthington.

North Cemetery, on Cold Street near its eastern junction with Rte. 143, is Worthington’s largest cemetery at 3.5 acres. In 2004 it was listed on the National Register of HIstoric Places. Its date of establishment is uncertain, though its earliest grave marker dates to 1790. Three of the cemetery’s four sides are lined with stone walls, and the eastern breaks in the wall are marked by four-foot-high granite posts, suggesting that gates were formerly mounted on them. Remnants of a vault for storing caskets in winter – when the frozen ground made burials impossible – can be found in the southeast corner.

North Cemetery has over 700 markers, mostly of granite or marble. One of these markers – broken in half, unfortunately – belongs to a prominent Worthington citizen, Samuel Buffington, who took a break from his eternal rest to tell us his story.

Cornelius as Samuel Buffington.

Cornelius Dineen as Samuel Buffington.

Samuel Buffington (1752 – March 17, 1830)

Good evening, fellow citizens, and welcome to my cemetery! Well, it’s not really mine, but I am one of its earliest and most prominent residents. I’m sure you’ve all heard of me, Major Samuel Buffington, Esquire. Surely my many achievements have left a mark on the little hamlet of Worthington, including the magnificent home I built, Buffington Place, at the top of what the town named Buffington Hill Road, undoubtedly in commemoration!

My Federal style home was built in 1806 on 120 acres of land that I purchased from Alexander Miller, the tavern owner, for 400 pounds sterling as a favor to help him get out of debt. Although it was really beneath me, I ran the tavern for a while. I already owned several large Worthington properties that I purchased when I first arrived in the 1780s.

Two houses similar to mine were built at the same time, but neither has the superior aspect and healthy hilltop location of my home. Both are down the hill at the Corners, and stand across the road from each other. One belongs to Judge Jonathan Woodbridge, and the other to William Rice, a mere trader. Some said they were competing with me. But my house remains a beautiful and elegant testament to my wisdom and good taste. That Woodbridge house shouldn’t be worth more than a shilling by now, and the Rice house probably crumbled into dust long ago!

I have to apologize for the condition of my headstone. “How the mighty have fallen!” That’s 2 Samuel 1:25, in case some of you are not so familiar with the Bible. So many other stones, even those for the lesser devoted, are standing tall. But the stone for poor Lucy and me has been allowed to break up and fall to the ground! I have to wonder who’s in charge of things now?

My Lucy was a good, obedient wife. She was the daughter of John Parlin and came from Cummington. As I said, we arrived in Worthington in the 1780s to take up farming. When her father died, she received her portion of his Cummington estate. Of course her property became mine because the law does not permit married women to own property independently. It’s only fitting and proper that the husband take charge of worldly affairs while women remain at home, working as the helpmeets they were ordained to be. I used that farm to breed fine Gordon horses. One of my best was a bay horse called Bay Richmond. He earned me a tidy sum with stud fees.

1782 commission for Samuel Buffington's service in the Revolutionary War.

1782 commission for Samuel Buffington’s service in the Revolutionary War.

Samuel Buffington's 1828 invalid claim as a Revolutionary War veteran.

Samuel Buffington’s 1828 invalid claim as a Revolutionary War veteran.

I regularly loaned money to neighbors less well off than myself, to help them make investments or pay taxes. I already mentioned Alexander Miller, but there were many others. Although Mr. Miller and I both expressed loyalty to King George, I saw which way the winds were blowing and became a lieutenant in a Massachusetts regiment. I acquitted myself honorably, receiving a pension for my service.

In 1787 I was called out again – along with my friend, Elisha Brewster – to aid General Shepard as he put down the insurrection known as Shays’ Rebellion. On Shepard’s order, I confronted Daniel Shays at the arsenal in Springfield. I can still remember what happened that day. Shays advanced with his sword drawn in his left hand, his pistol in his right, and familiarly asked me, “How are you Buffington?” I replied, “You see I am here in defense of that country you are endeavoring to destroy.” He rejoined, “Well if you are, we are both defending the same cause.” I assured him my men would successfully defend the arsenal against him, and of course I was right. Later, as befitting someone with my military background, I had the honor of watching General Lafayette pass directly by my house when he arrived in Worthington in 1825.

In 1797 I became part owner of the Third Turnpike, which ran from Northampton to Pittsfield. The roads were impassable at those times of year we lovingly call the “mud season,” and without private investors to maintain roads, all commerce would have ground to a halt. The turnpike had many tollgates, including one right by my property. Ridge Road in those days was an extension of West Street, one of the major thoroughfares in the town.

pho Buffington Hill, currently owned by Matt and Anne Sharron Lago

The Buffington House.

I was named a Justice of the Peace, which meant I served as a local judge, a position that afforded me much power and authority. Mostly I adjudicated petty neighborhood squabbles involving property boundaries or money. Some thought of me as haughty or arrogant, but I always tried to maintain the righteous demeanor appropriate to a wise and wealthy man such as myself.

My wife and I had only one grown child. Laura purportedly “fell in love” – as if that matters – with a young upstart named Gideon Lee, and had the temerity to marry against my wishes. Lee made his living as a tanner and shoemaker at the Clark factory in West Worthington. I threatened to cut her off without a shilling and told her never to darken my door again! It’s true that after they moved to New York State, Lee became quite prosperous as a leather merchant and eventually was elected Mayor of New York City as well as a representative in Congress. But Laura disobeyed me and that cannot be undone. Eventually she named her youngest child after me, probably a sign of her remorse. Grudgingly, without other heirs, I left my entire estate to Samuel Buffington Lee. My namesake grandson must have taken his rightful place in my impressive house, where his descendants must live today.


Onlookers surround Horace Cole, risen from the dead, to hear his story.

Onlookers surround Horace S. Cole I, risen from the dead.

as Horace Cole.

Jim Bebee as Horace S. Cole I.

Horace S. Cole I (June 10, 1799, Chesterfield, MA – October 9, 1887)

Welcome, dear neighbors! How kind of you to visit me. I am Horace Cole – the first! Did you notice that our family memorial is unique, constructed of zinc? I’ve always enjoyed trying new things, and this is guaranteed to last more than a lifetime! You’d see other zinc memorials, but the only company that made them was forced out of business by the stone cutters!

Zinc headstones for the first two wives of Horace Cole.

Zinc headstones for the first two wives of Horace Cole.

Memorial to seven of Horace Cole's children who died young.

Memorial to seven of Horace Cole’s children who died in infancy.

I’m joined here by my first and second wives and many of my children. I married Sarah King from Brooklyn, New York, in 1820 and she eventually birthed eleven children. Sadly, all but one died before adulthood. The only survivor was Samuel, born in 1835; his twin, Isaac, died at birth. Sarah and I had 37 years together, but the poor woman was worn out by all that birthing and died in 1857. I had to marry again – a man alone cannot run a household and manage a business. My second wife was John Kinne’s widow, Maria. We had 16 good years together but she did not bear me any children. She died in 1873. While some might say a man of 75 is too old to need a wife, I then married Almina Hall Gunn of Pittsfield, also a widow. She chose to be buried near her first husband.

I was born in Chesterfield in 1799, and in 1815 I left home to seek my fortune in New York City. To this day I’m not sure how I made it there. I was only 16, and I walked the whole way along with some neighbors. I got to work building stone walls and the dock at the new Brooklyn Ferry. A year of that was enough for me, so I returned to Chesterfield. But farm work didn’t suit me either, so I walked back to New York, expecting to work grading roads. When I discovered that the company that hired me had failed, I couldn’t decide whether to stay or return home again. I determined to let the cane I carried decide. I dropped it. If it had fallen towards home, I would have started walking there. But it fell towards New York, so I stayed and got a job with a leather merchant in the Lower East Side. I was good at this, and honest, so I was rapidly promoted from a laborer earning $1 a day to a salesman earning twice that much. I was able to buy some skins, and then a horse and a dray, and set myself up as a leather trader. I managed to make a small fortune, and married Sarah during this time.

In 1828, fearing I was losing my health, I turned toward home and bought a large farm on Ireland Street. We had 30 dairy cows and sheared upwards of 1,600 sheep a year. I also traded wool for the Northampton Woolen Company. But I was a restless type, so in 1845 I bought the general store that Hiram Bagg operated at the Corners. Bagg had just been declared an “insolvent debtor,” so I only had to pay $495 for the store along with his house and barn. Sarah and I moved into Bagg’s house. The store also housed the post office at Worthington Corners, and I served as postmaster. (Worthington had six post offices at that time.) In 1867, my son Samuel joined with me as a partner, and we renamed the store “H. Cole & Son.” In 1875 he took it over completely. The building burned down in 1859, but I rebuilt it in the fine Greek Revival style you can still admire.


The Corners Store, bult by Horace S. Cole I. Around the turn of the century, E. J. Bligh bought the store from Horace Cole II.

In 1855, I invested $20,000 to build a boot and shoe factory up on Buffington Hill, employing over 50 men. I also had a contract with the House of Corrections in Northampton to employ inmates. I built several large houses on the Post Road (now Old Post Road) to shelter all these workers. That worked out pretty well, especially during the War, but I eventually sold the business. For a spell I owned the pen factory down in South Worthington, plus I bought and sold real estate. I liked to keep myself busy.

In 1875, at the age of 77, I had some time on my hands and decided to build a cheese factory that came to be known as “The Spruces.” It could handle milk from upwards of 150 cows. The Magargals came to own it. I also tried my hand at tobacco, but it didn’t grow well in the clay that passes for soil here in Worthington.

One thing people don’t know about me is that I became a very accomplished wrestler, able to carry very heavy weights. Three times each year, on “training day,” I hosted and refereed matches between men from Worthington and Chesterfield. Training day is when the men gather to practice in case a militia is called up. We would train in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. I’ve learned through experience that I can always do more than I think I’m capable of. My son Samuel might look slight, but he too is very strong. As a young man he could lift a barrel of sugar, weighing near 300 pounds, up onto a counter. I was always proud of Samuel and prouder still that he named one of his fine sons after me.

Portrait of Horace Cole.

Portrait of Horace S. Cole I.

Among my other achievements, I was instrumental in getting our district #1 school, Lyceum Hall, built right next to my shoe factory so that the children would have a warm and spacious room for studying. And since I had a little extra time, I got elected a selectman. I served in both Chesterfield and Worthington, though not at the same time!

I am particularly proud of my role in building the fine, white Methodist Society Meetinghouse in South Worthington. I had joined the Methodist congregation after my return to Chesterfield in 1828. In 1848 I helped organize the building effort and contributed $100 to get things going. Then in 1865 I was among the voters who argued that the Congregational Church should be funded by members of that congregation, not by all the Worthington taxpayers regardless of religious affiliation. Deacon LaFayette Stevens, who is standing over there, surprisingly joined me in that opinion. And through our efforts, separation of church and state finally came to our town – admittedly a little late. In Chesterfield that happened in 1828.

I died of dropsy at the age of 87. I’d had a long and interesting life for a self-taught man. I believe my success was due to a willingness to fully engage in everything I did and to try new things. I guess few people here remember what I looked like, but at least these zinc gravestones will stand as a reminder of me and my family for a long, long time to come.

David ? as Lafayette Stevens.

David Madden as Lafayette Stevens.

Lafayette Stevens (November 30, 1824 – December 24, 1895)

Well, well, well, what a fine crowd! My, how our town of Worthington must have grown from its small population of 1,134 souls in 1850! And look! Over there the cemetery is expanding, so I’m sure the town is now bustling with farms, mills and factories!

I’m Lafayette Stevens, born here in 1824. My parents arrived in 1811. I was the youngest of seven. My father built the Aaron Stevens and Sons saw mill and hoop factory on Stevens Brook, near the border with Chesterfield. My brothers and I helped him run these operations. Besides sawing wood, we made drum, tambourine, and embroidery hoops. The work was monotonous and exacting, and we could only work during daylight hours, but it was a successful business. When the mill burnt down in 1837, we rebuilt a larger one. But that burned down too when stoves were left unattended. Of course we rebuilt again. We also had to rebuild those dams we needed for power every time they washed out, which was not infrequently. Eventually my brothers Aaron and Nathan bought the family mill and operated it for another 37 years.

The Stevens Mill at Stevensville.

The Stevens Mill at Stevensville.

In 1845, when I was 21, my father deeded me the family homestead across from the mill, with the understanding – written down in a mortgage – that I would care for my parents in their old age. That I have faithfully done. I lifted the original house and added a first floor to make a very respectable Federal-style home. It’s in Stevensville, of course, and still standing.

By 1857 I was in business for myself, and I built a grist and flour mill adjacent to our original mill, just across the Chesterfield line, for grinding corn, wheat, and buckwheat. Eventually I turned it into a woodworking mill, where we made embroidery hoops, drumsticks, and mousetraps, all necessary items in a farm house – well maybe not the drumsticks! We produced and shipped out these items by the thousands each year. We also made picker sticks for cleaning out the grooves in mill stones, and tree taps for maple sugaring. Every household with a maple tree needed those. We were pretty self-sufficient in Worthington back then, with many of our needs provided by local businesses such as ours.

The Stevens Mill c. 1910.

The Stevens Mill c. 1910.

I’ve kept a diary almost every day of my life, so people often ask me about the weather. I remember once in 1873 there was five feet of snow in April on top of the gravestones. When Mrs. Burton died, we had to draw her body by hand from the Corners to the tomb here in North Cemetery. The most terrible thing I ever saw, though, was when that dam collapsed in June of 1874 down in Williamsburg. The reservoir behind it gave way, and the Mill River flooded all the way down to Northampton. About 200 people were carried away by the torrent and drowned. I went down there with a lot of other folks to look at the awful destruction and it was hard to believe! Worthington’s Mr. Brewster was Hampshire County Commissioner and an overseer when that dam was built; it was rumored that he and the other commissioners allowed the builders to cut some corners.

I was a faithful congregant in the Congregational Church and was made a deacon in 1870, collecting taxes and helping to organize the Sabbath School in 1872. The worst fire I remember was when our church burned in 1887. A stove had been left unattended. Nothing was saved but the big Bible and the hymn book. The Sunday after the fire, the reverend was away and it fell to me to deliver a sermon. I chose for my text Isaiah 64:11: ”Our big and beautiful house where our fathers praised Thee is burned up with fire, and all our pleasant things are laid to waste.” Luckily we had some insurance and started rebuilding right away.

I was fortunate in my family life. In 1846, aged 22, I married Laura Packard from Cummington. We had six fine children, three boys and three girls. Only dear Ella died, when she was only four. We all worked hard and got ahead in the world. Of course we didn’t have much cash – country people like to barter goods and work. Laura knits mittens to trade for calico fabric.

I always took a keen interest in affairs of the day. I was strongly opposed to slavery, attended abolitionist meetings, and always voted Republican. I once heard Henry Ward Beecher speak in New Haven. In 1863 I registered for the draft, but luckily I never got called to serve. Not that I wouldn’t have been glad to go, but by then I was 38, and I had a family and a thriving business, and millers were considered important to the well-being of the town.

In 1874 I was elected as a state representative from Worthington. While in Boston, taking the oath of office, I shook hands with President Ulysses S. Grant. And he wasn’t the only famous man I’ve had the pleasure to meet. When just a babe of seven months, I was introduced to General Lafayette as he made his tour from Albany to Boston to lay the cornerstone for the Bunker Hill Monument. My father held me up and the General declared me “a promising child”!

By 1883 I was one of the four richest men in Worthington. I paid $190 in taxes. Our tax rate was $28 per $1000 valuation of our property. It would have been only $16, but the state stopped supporting the schools and forced the towns to take over. My son Alfred and his son, Eugene, eventually took over the mill work. The youngest, Flora, stayed at home to take care of the old folks, so she inherited the house the same way I did.

Eugene Stevens working on banjo hoops at the Stevens Mill.

Eugene Stevens working on banjo hoops at the Stevens Mill.

Death notice for Laura Stevens, Lafayette's widow, Springfield Republican, November 25, 1897.

Death notice for Laura Stevens, Lafayette’s widow, Springfield Republican, November 25, 1897.



I kept up my diary until a week before I passed at the age of 71. I had a stroke and Laura had to take over, since I could no longer write. She kept it up till her death two years later. Alfred also kept a diary, and he lived to be 87. And so did Flora. So between us Stevenses we covered a lot of years in Worthington. You can read our diaries at the Historical Society if you’d care to.

In 1980 a student at Tufts read my diaries and concluded that I was the perfect example of the rural nineteenth-century New England male: an honest family man and a hard-working Christian. I wonder who will be interested in what I’ve written, and whether the good people of Worthington will continue to honor the Stevens of Stevensville?

Diane Brenner as Anny Huyck Stone.

Diane Brenner as Anna Huyck Stone.

Anna Huyck Stone (May 27, 1849 – June 18, 1929)

Hello, everyone. I am Anna Huyck Stone. Everyone calls me Annie. I’m not used to speaking like this in public, so let me know if you can’t hear me. Actually, I’m not sure why I was invited tonight. You’d think that standing here I’d be someone important, but I’d bet none of you ever heard my name before. I did suffer a lot in my life, but I survived my 81 years thanks to lots of hard work and the help of my family. Well in truth, the family didn’t help all that much.

I was born Anna Elizabeth Mattoon in 1848 in Canaan, New York, the eighth child of William Mattoon and Margaret Short. My father was a carpenter and a mean man. We youngest children learned to stick together to protect ourselves. We all had to go to work when we were very young. The next oldest, my brother John, was sent to a farm in Connecticut when he was thirteen to help out three maiden ladies. They treated him nice, but as soon as the war to save the Union started, he joined up – he was full of war fever and foolishness. We weren’t abolitionists or Republicans. We were Union Democrats and determined to save the Union, even if it meant the folks down South got to keep their slaves. John joined the 21st New York Cavalry and loved soldiering so much he went out west to help fight the Indians in Colorado.

At the age of 14 I was sent to serve at a house in Pittsfield, and the work was hard. I wrote John about how my back was always feeling sore, and how unwell I was. John wrote back, mostly about soldiering, but at least he wrote. I was rescued by my married older sister Charlotte, who brought me to her home in Chatham, New York, to help care for her growing family. I liked helping her out but wish she had listed me as her sister, not her servant, when they came to take the census in 1870.

Death record for Edwin Huyck.

Death record for Edwin Huyck, indicating suicide.

No matter, by 1877 I was 28 and had married Edwin Huyck from Stockbridge. He was six years older, a carpenter like my father, and we had a small farm in Springfield. Well I can’t exactly swear we were married legally, but we lived like we were. I was Mrs. Huyck and nobody cared one way or another. I enjoyed the farm life and things were looking better for me, especially after my daughter Jennie was born in 1881. Ruby followed four years later.

Springfield was too expensive, so Edwin and I looked for someplace cheaper. In 1889 we bought a nice little farm from Howard Bartlett, right up the road here on Cole Street (now Cold Street), where it connects with the Ridge Road – a house, barn, and 83 acres for $1,600. I owned it in my own name. Edwin was never very good at managing money. Jennie and Ruby went to school down at Lyceum Hall. Things were going pretty well.

Then at the age of 54, Edwin hanged himself in the barn, right in the middle of a beautiful June morning. I’d always worried about his dark spells. There was a big article about it in the 1897 Springfield Republican, which you can go read for yourself. I can’t bear thinking about it. At least they didn’t have to bring him far to be buried – he’s lying right here near where I’m standing.

So there I was, 49 years old, a widow with a bad back and two school-age children. By auctioning off the land and all the farm animals and tools, we were able to hold on to the house. As you can imagine, our life was pretty hard.

The Lyceum Corners School, 1902, with Jennie and Ruby Huyck among the pupils.

The lower grade of the Lyceum Corners School, 1902. Jennie Huyck is seated far left, in the dark dress, and Ruby Huyck is seated fourth from the left, in a white dress, with short hair.

But life keeps changing, and soon my Jennie, almost 18, married Arthur Witherell from South Worthington. He was 23 and a good man with industrious, hardworking parents. Jennie and Arthur settled down on Ireland Street. And a few months after Jennie married, I remarried. My new husband was Sumner Stone, of the wealthy Stone family of Worthington. He’d had two wives before me, but I didn’t care. I had to provide for my Ruby, didn’t I? Sumner was 70 years old and rapidly turning into an invalid from what they called a “creeping paralysis,” but I had promised to take care of him and I keep my promises. Ruby and I moved into Sumner’s house in Worthington Center. I sold the Cole Street farm for $1,000 and gladly shut that door behind me!

Front side of postcard below.

Front side of postcard below.

In August 1900 Jennie’s son, Harold, was born – my first grandson. Two years later my first granddaughter, Frances, arrived. Unfortunately she was Ruby’s daughter. Ruby was barely 17, and only 16 when I had to give her permission to marry George Vebbers, a ne’er-do-well who lived down the road. Of course he couldn’t support a wife and daughter, so young Frances ended up living with me while George and Ruby moved around trying to find work. Sumner died four years after we married, so there I was, a widow again at 56, with a bad back and an infant to care for!

1910 postcard from Anna to her sister.

1910 postcard from Anna to her sister. She writes, “No I shall never move again until I can go into a home of my own. It nearly killed me to move last fall. I have not got over it yet and begin to think I never shall. It is dreadful to go through what I did and I am not well enough to move around. I do not like it here. The tenement is so unhandy and small but I shall not go unless I am carried to cemetary. Love to all, sister A. H. S.”

By 1909 I could no longer afford to live in Sumner’s house, so I sold it to Mr. William Granger for $1,400. Frances and I were forced to move into a rented apartment. We called them tenements. I was miserable. Luckily I could share my misery with my sister Charlotte, who saved the postcard I wrote her in March 1910.

But things do change. And two months later I was able to buy a house on Basket Street in Huntington. Ruby, George and Frances moved in with me. Jennie was happy raising her four children over on Ireland Street and working for that Reverend Mr. Conwell during his summer visits.

In 1914 Ruby’s husband George finally found steady work at the quarry in Becket. But a week after he started, he fell 80 feet off the ledge – crushed his skull and died instantly. No one was very sad. And pretty soon Ruby remarried Ernest Burke, a solid Canadian who worked building bridges in Huntington.

Death notice for Anna Huyck Stone.

Death notice for Anna Stone.

Frances at age 17 married Milton Agard, also a construction worker, and they had a son right away. So there were six of us in the Basket Street house together. Sadly Milton died untimely too – he was crushed during the demolition of the gym at Williams College. By then I was a great-grandmother twice over.

My own death was a quick one. I’d gone for a drive with Ruby and Ernest in their motor car. It was another lovely summer day. We were passing through North Chester when I felt the need for a drink of water. So we stopped at the store, and when they got back to the car I was dead. Heart attack! To bury me, they had to carry me a lot further than Edwin here, but I’ve never minded a bit of trouble. At least my back doesn’t hurt anymore!


Madeline Cahill as Katharine McDowell Rice.

Madeleine Cahill as Katharine McDowell Rice.

Katharine McDowell Rice (1859 – 1945)

Ah! Just a moment, my friends, let me finish writing this down. I’ve heard so many good stories today! Welcome everyone, welcome. For those of you who don’t already know me, I am Katharine McDowell Rice. I am a playwright. During my 86 years I wrote many plays, mostly in the comedic vein.

Katharine McDowell Rice.

Katharine McDowell Rice.

I was well ahead of my time. There were very few women playwrights. And I was also a careful businesswoman. I never gave away the rights to my plays, but charged royalties or fees – always reasonable – depending on how the play was being used. I kept careful track of every inquiry and payment, every manuscript sent out, every response I wrote back. Any profits I donated to a worthy cause. It is my belief that women can excel in anything if determined enough and given a chance.

Have any of you seen my plays? “Dr. Hardhack’s Prescription”? No? “Mrs. Bagg’s Bargain Day?” No? “Uncle Joe’s Jewel?” How disappointing. Well, maybe you will someday. My plays were called “farces.” They were always well received by the audience as well as the press. We produced many at Lyceum Hall, and I either acted in them or directed. My younger sister Susan, always the helpmeet, often served as stage manager. Opening nights in Worthington were gala events, attracting people from near and far, all dressed in their finest.

I could attract such a glittering audience because, simply put, I was a “Rice.” We were a distinguished family. My grandfather William A. Rice Sr. arrived here in 1806 and married Miss Wealthy Cottrell. They had twelve children. The house they built at the Worthington Corners was kitty-corner from the Pearce Tavern, Mr. Cole’s store, and the Woodbridge House. When my sister Susan and I lived there, it was the oldest house in Worthington still occupied by its original family. My grandfather, a trader who served in the War of 1812, headed the delegation when General Lafayette visited Worthington in 1825. The town celebrated the centennial of that event in 1925 with much fanfare, and you can still read my interesting article about it.

Katharine McDowell Rice.

Katharine McDowell Rice.

Many of my relatives moved to Albany. You’ve probably heard about my uncle James Clay Rice, who acted with such humble bravery at Gettysburg and later died of wounds received at Spotsylvania Courthouse. My father, William A. Rice Jr., attended Worthington’s Mountain Seminary and later became a successful druggist in Albany, where I was born. My mother was Hannah Seeley. We were four children: me, then Susan, then William Gorham and finally Josephine. We three girls attended Mme. Charlouis’ Select School in Albany. That was the extent of our formal education. Most women didn’t go to college, though we did get to travel.

We summered in Worthington and then moved her permanently when my father retired in 1883. My dear father was a cultured man who loved literature and could quote Shakespeare extensively. He helped found the Worthington Library, and in 1888 he served on the building committee for the new Congregational Church, influencing its elegant European design. He learned French at the age of 60 and helped me become a woman of fashionable good taste, as you can tell from my elegant clothing.

I was a late bloomer. I was 36 when my first book, Stories For All the Year, was published by Harpers in 1895. For a while I tried to develop a career writing children’s stories. Luckily I was financially independent, so in 1898, seeking new inspiration, I embarked on a year-long trip to Europe. That voyage started dramatically when the ship caught fire and had to return to New York. Those of us in first class were only a little distressed, but those below were inundated by smoke. I returned from Europe the following year invigorated and ready to commit to my true love – the theatre.

Notice of Katharine McDowell Rice's role as trustee and librarian for Worthington Library, Springfield Republican, September 15, 1899.

Notice of Katharine McDowell Rice’s role as trustee and librarian for Worthington Library, Springfield Republican, September 15, 1899.

Susan and I happily shared a home in Worthington that we called “The Maples,” and I never saw the need to marry. Luckily Susan – buried right here by me – was very sociable and we were never lonely there. She was an excellent cook, and also wrote and edited stories and verses for children. She was quite religious, and we often hosted guests of all ages from her many mission projects.

I became very involved with the Worthington Library, serving as its librarian for two decades until Mr. Capen took over in 1926. The library had outgrown its location in Lyceum Hall. We formed a corporation to erect a new building and I served on the board. I had quite a fight with my neighbor Dwight Stone, over at the Woodbridge House, about who would donate the land for the building and which way the door would face. Of course the Rices won out, and the new library building, dedicated at a very gala event in 1915, now faces the Rice Homestead.

Dedication of Worthington Library, September 2, 1915.

Dedication of Worthington Library, September 2, 1915.

Stage set for "Guilty O'Trespass."

Stage set for “Guilty O’Trespass.”

During those years I wrote upwards of 20 plays, nearly all of which were produced, some in Boston! My “Guilty O’Trespass” played four times daily at the Bijou Theatre in 1912. I always made sure to include strong and clever women characters. When I was 50 I determined to study with professor George Baker, who taught dramatic literature and theatre at Harvard and Radcliffe College. He was a renowned supporter of the modern theater and writers like W. B. Yeats, and a mentor for female dramatists. I was admitted to Radcliffe in 1909 as a special student, graduating in 1912. So I got to attend college after all, and an excellent one at that.

Poster for staging of "Guilty O'Trespass" in Northampton.

Poster for staging of “Guilty O’Trespass” in Northampton.

The Great War and the Spanish flu epidemic proved a dark time for the theater; many stood empty. And I had other concerns as well. In 1915 I helped found the Boston branch of the Women’s Peace Party, working to bring an end to the Great War through direct action. Jane Addams of Chicago’s Hull House headed the organization. We were among the first to use public demonstrations to get our points across. I later created the Worthington League of Nations group and continued to actively work for world peace. I was a supporter of prohibition and proud to register and vote as a Democrat.

After the war there was little demand for my style of playwriting – people wanted longer, more serious plays. Instead I wrote articles for the newspapers and focused on distributing my comedies. Schools and dramatic societies continued to find them appealing and excellent for fundraising events. I returned to Europe several times and worked on the parsonage project of the Women’s Benevolent Society. And of course Susan and I kept up our busy social life.

Susan died in 1937 and I felt her loss keenly. I continued to live in our Worthington home, but it was unheated and hard to maintain. After a few years I agreed to move to a nursing facility in Altamont, New York. I died in December 1945, the first born and the last to go. But time means nothing to us and I flourish here, reveling in the endless comedy of the afterlife. I applaud you for joining me.


Helen Sharron Pollard as Eurma Tower.

Helen Sharron Pollard as Eurma Tower.

Eurma Eddy Tower (June 12, 1900 – June 10, 1990)

Good evening, friends! How nice of you to visit with me here on this lovely evening in this beautiful place! I’m Eurma Vashtie Eddy Tower, and I’m happy to lie here next to my dear husband, Walter. It says Walter on the stone there, but everyone knew him as ”Walt.” We married in the summer of 1918, when I was 18, at the Congregational Church right in the middle of town. My Walt is descended from Samuel Tower who first came to Worthington in 1781. Samuel served in Captain Cushing’s company during the Revolutionary War, and his son, Samuel, Jr., was among the first Towers to be counted in a Worthington census in 1798. Walter’s family continued in Worthington for many generations. I was born and raised in West Chesterfield, but was happy to live my whole married life here in Worthington. I know I will never be a native, but I do feel like one.

Our home was built in 1777 by Jeremiah Prouty. It was passed down from William Tower to Walt’s father, Henry, until it was Walt’s and my turn. The house is just down the road on the left going toward Williamsburg. It’s a dark red color and hasn’t changed much. What did change was the road, which used to pass on the other side of the house, so what you see now from the road is actually the back side of the house. Sometimes I miss the slow, curvy dirt road we had before – except, of course, during mud season.

My husband and I were famous for our maple sugar business. The Tower family has sugared on our 100-acre farm for more than 130 years, and Walt and I kept it going for sixty of them. He was proud to use wooden buckets, taps and other tools made by his father. Wooden buckets keep the sap cooler, and cool sap doesn’t grow as much bacteria, so it makes a better syrup. In the early days we used horses and oxen to get back into the sugar bush, though eventually it was cheaper and easier to use a tractor. Don’t have to raise the hay to feed a tractor.

The Tower sugar house and home, c. 1980.

The Tower sugar house and home, c. 1980. Photos by Lois Ashe Brown.

In the years before lumbering got so big around here, everybody had a maple sugar bush and tapped a few trees for their own use. Our syrup and sugar was especially good for spreading on toast or waffles or just putting in your coffee. Many people stopped to buy it or sample the sap as it boiled. During boiling season the school kids would come and help collect sap, which had to be collected three or four times a day and immediately boiled so it wouldn’t go bad. Many of them spent their school vacations here helping out. They loved to gather eggs and then hard-boil them in the hot sap. Sometimes we had ”sugar in the snow,” where the kids would drip hot syrup on clean snow and make maple candy. And the Grange hosted an annual sugar eat at the Town Hall, where the syrup was served on shaved ice. That was a big social event during the sugaring season.

In 1908 you could buy a gallon of syrup for $1.85. By the 1950s, the price was up to around $12. We helped found the Berkshire Pioneer Maple Producers Association, which organized us together to buy supplies at wholesale prices and get a fair price at market. Sugaring is so dependent on the weather that you need all the help you can get! In the 1950s, photographs of our sugaring operation were included in The Face of America, a book put out by the publishers of the Saturday Evening Post.

In the summer I grew a beautiful field of gladiolas next to Walt’s vegetables. People drove by just to see the colors!

The Friendship Guild c. 1950.

The Friendship Guild c. 1950. Eurma Tower is seated in the second row, fourth from the left, in the dark dress. The Friendship Guild was associated with Worthington’s Congregational Church.

Sometimes we women needed a moment to ourselves. I was one of the ladies who started the Thursday Morning Coffee Hour in 1963. We met every week at someone’s house for almost twenty years. It was our way of welcoming new women to town. We kept the meeting time to one hour, and children were welcome. Whoever came put 35 cents into our kitty, and it added up. In 1981 we donated $8,000 to the Health Center to buy equipment. We donated to other worthy causes in town as well, and even got an award from the Grange for public service!

The Grange was important to farmers throughout the country, allowing them to organize, find the best deals on seed and equipment, market and advertise their goods, learn about farming methods, and – very important when you lived far from your neighbor – socialize. Walt and I were active in the Grange and helped run the Cummington Fair, which was the big summer event around here; I saw in the paper today that it still is!

Many of us women also ran the fair at the Congregational Church every summer. I sewed and sold aprons and baked cakes for the cake walk fundraiser. You may not remember how the cake walk worked. It was like “musical chairs.” We’d sell numbered tickets and mark off a grid with squares that matched the tickets. Then someone would play music and everyone would march around, until the music stopped and a number was called. The person standing on the square with the number won a cake! The bakers competed to see who could make the most beautiful cake.

In my fifties I began to feel very ill. I started going deaf, then grew confused. I couldn’t stand to eat anything, my stomach hurt so much. I just got weaker and weaker, and couldn’t keep up with chores. The doctors were stumped, so I was sure I was going to die. But luckily a doctor finally figured out I had lead poisoning from the water pipes in our house. A lot of old houses had lead pipes then, and some probably still do. We replaced the pipes and I gradually got better enough to live another 35 years or so.
Walt and I had one child, our daughter Dot, who married Howard Beebe of Chesterfield. She had two girls of her own.

Dot and Eurma Tower with a pair of oxen trained by Dot for gathering sap.

Dot and Eurma Tower with a pair of oxen trained by Dot for gathering sap.

Footstone of Walter and Eurma.

Footstone of Walter and Eurma.

Walt and I were married for more than 60 years. He passed a few years before me, but now we’re here together, enjoying each other’s company again. I had a wonderful life here in Worthington, where people work hard and are good to each other. I think I’m the last person you’ll hear from tonight, so thanks to all of you for stopping by and listening to us chatter for so long. We appreciate being able to share our stories. And be sure you drive carefully on your way home.

Memorial at Horace Cole's gravesite.

Memorial at Horace Cole’s gravesite.


Pat Kennedy teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. She came by her interest in cemetery care and preservation by way of genealogical research. Most of the information about burials in Worthington was not online, so she started producing burial lists with the help of Diane Brenner and Ed Lewis of the Worthington Historical Society. The Worthington Cemetery Commission has undertaken the task of repairing and cleaning stones in our cemeteries and has made significant progress over the last few years, thanks to the generosity of the Rolland Cemetery Fund.

Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington since 1994 and has been a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society, serving on its board and as one of its archivists. As someone who loves the mystery and adventure of historical research, she has curated several exhibits and contributed articles and photographs to The Corners.



Much of the material presented in these scripts was drawn from the WHS publications Papers on the History of Worthington and Forty Worthington Houses, along with newspaper articles, obituaries, advertisements, census records, deeds, probate records, church records, and other sources.

A paragraph on Samuel Buffington’s service in the Revolutionary War is found in the 1896 book Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War.

A one-page biography of Horace S. Cole I is found in the 1879 book History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers, Volume 1, by L. H. Everts.

The diaries of Lafayette Stevens are held in the WHS collection.

The interest in Anna Huyck Stone was sparked when a postcard she wrote to her sister (seen above) was purchased by Diane Brenner on eBay. Letters from her brother John Mattoon were published in the 2008 book Manhood and Patriotic Awakening in the American Civil War: The John E. Mattoon Letters, 1859-1866, by Robert Bruce Donald.

Materials on Katharine McDowell Rice – including account books, scrapbooks, Radcliffe College yearbooks, plays, and photographs – were donated by the Rice family to the Worthington Library’s Rice Room, and are on loan to WHS for storage.

The article “A Conversation with Walt Tower,” by Glenda Laubeck, appeared in the journal Stonewalls, Vol. 5 No. 1 (1978), p. 22. Lorraine Kerley also provided Pat Kennedy with information about the Towers.

The dead Worthingtonians were played by Cornelius Dineen (Samuel Buffington), Jim Bebee (Horace S. Cole I), David Madden (Lafayette Stevens), Diane Brenner (Anna Huyck Stone), Madeline Cahill (Katharine McDowell Rice), and Helen Sharron Pollard (Eurma Eddy Tower). Their photographs were taken by Evan Spring.

The Ruins of Ringville

By Dave and Cath Whitcomb, with photographs by Kate Ewald

On September 28, 2014 – a glorious fall day – a contingent of amateur historians and interested residents followed David Whitcomb of Witt Hill Road on a tour through industrial ruins of the Ringville section of Worthington, Massachusetts, at the convergence of Watts Stream and Ward’s Stream.

Dave Whitcomb orients the walkers.

Dave Whitcomb orients the walkers.

The Little River at low flow.

The Little River.

The headwaters of Watts and Ward’s streams spring from the foot of Knowles Hill, the second-highest point in Worthington, at an elevation of 2,011 feet. By divergent routes the streams flow to Ringville, where they merge to become the Little River. These waterways were critical resources to the Ringville hamlet, providing both power and potable water. Water privileges for dams and mills could be sold independently by property owners.

The Ring brothers, Elkanah (1809-1899) and Thomas (1812-1863), saw the hamlet’s industrial potential and bought an old oil mill (perhaps linseed oil). The Rings added floor space and began manufacturing window shades (resembling venetian blinds) in 1830. Later they entered the lucrative business of manufacturing “Ringer” wagons, forerunners of Conestoga Wagons. They also made baby carriages and children’s sleds, sold nationally. The brothers were active in town affairs, developing houses in the area and starting a mail route between Worthington and the railroad’s mail drop in Huntington. It was around this time that the hamlet became known as Ringville. (A joke ran that Elkanah had three wives, thus three rings, thus “Ringville.”)

In 1858 the Ring brothers’ operation in Ringville, which employed nearly 50 people, was destroyed by a fire. (By this time the Ring brothers had expanded their operations to Knightville.) After the fire, the Ringville mill site was sold. A new mill was built and then sold in 1878 to Hayden & Sons, sled manufacturers. By this time Ringville was considered the industrial heart of Worthington, supporting a number of mills. Ringville had its own post office (one of four in Worthington) and one of the Town’s twelve schools, located on property currently owned by the Rida family.

Exterior of the Hayden & Sons / Ring brothers mill site.

Exterior of the Ring brothers / Hayden & Sons mill site.

A submerged dam is still visible.

A submerged dam is still visible.

Dave Whitcomb and Pat Kennedy among the ruins.

Dave Whitcomb and Pat Kennedy among the ruins.


Map of the Ringville ruins by Cath Whitcomb.

Map of the Ringville ruins by Cath Whitcomb.

Plane manufactured by the E. and T. Ring Company.

Plane manufactured by E. and T. Ring & Co. c. 1840s-1850s.

Interior of the Hayden-Ring mill site.

Interior of the Hayden-Ring mill site.

Another lucrative business of the late 1800s was the harvesting of pond ice to cool milk and cream in summer. Traces of an ice pond can still be seen in Ringville, on Watts Stream, just upstream from the Ring brothers’ factory dam. Axe handles, sledges and buggy whips were also manufactured at various times in Ringville. The hamlet’s last viable manufacturing operation was a creamery whose 1903 output was 6,500 pounds of butter. The Ringville Cemetery, established in 1866 on Witt Hill Road, was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.


The former ice pond.

The former ice pond.

Foundation to the mill for ax handles, buggy whips, and barrel bands.

Foundation to mill for ax handles, buggy whips, and barrel bands.

Chiseled ruins of Ringville.

Chiseled ruins of Ringville.

A well head.

A well head.

Exterior of the Hayden-Ring mill site.

Exterior of the Hayden-Ring mill site.


Dave Whitcomb has been making summer visits to “Aunty Flo’s” house and exploring the Ringville property since his childhood in the 1950s. He and Cath have been Worthington residents since 1974.

Kate Ewald, an amateur photographer and assessor of human health risk for hazardous waste site cleanup, lives in Worthington with her husband, Evan, and serves on the WHS Board.


Old postcard of Ringville Cemetery.

Old postcard of Ringville Cemetery.

Night of the Living Dead at Center Cemetery

by Pat Kennedy and Diane Brenner

On the evening of August 9, 2014, as the full moon rose, WHS vice president Pat Kennedy led about 30 onlookers around Worthington’s Center Cemetery on Sam Hill Road. As the group would shortly discover, several residents of the cemetery had taken a break from eternity to tell their stories to the living.

The evening begins at Center Cemetery.

The evening begins at Center Cemetery.

Pat began with some background:

“In 1765, when Worthington began the process of incorporating, there were about sixty settlers and their families living here. The center of town was around what is now the intersection of Sam Hill Road and West Street. Worthington’s first parsonage still stands at that corner, and the first meeting house and burials were on the north side of Sam Hill Road, where the Mollison pasture is now.”

“There were probably lots of private, family burial plots from the time of earliest settlement, but the locations are mostly lost to us. In 1769, town meeting voted to establish three burial places, including Center Cemetery. The earliest burials associated with the church were moved to the present location from up the hill. The earliest recorded death date here is that of Ashel Rowe in 1790, but there may be older dates that can no longer be read.”

“In 1801, town meeting voted to look into future burial ground needs. In 1803 it was decided to raise money to ‘fence the grounds,’ and in 1831 to ‘procure a hearse, a harness, and a place to house’ the hearse. Elijah Gray was hired to ‘handle the hearse at 50 cents per funeral for anyone over the age of six.’ In 1842 the town decided that the hearse could be used for ‘any deceased person of any age that it may be called for.’ Each cemetery had a commissioner, who often acted as undertaker, hearse driver, gravedigger, and record keeper. As we’ll see in the case of Ella Crosier Burr, the commissioner’s wife might also be called upon to assist.”

“Although the last plot in Center Cemetery was sold in 1969, the burials continue.”

“We ask that you follow us as we visit some of the stones in a certain order and try not to trip over anybody. We will go a little out of chronological order to avoid having to walk back and forth around the cemetery. But I see in the distance that our first minister and his wife are waiting for us!”

Note: Some of the following text for Jonathan and Sarah Huntington is taken directly from Jerilee Cain’s 2007 paper, “Sarah Huntington: 1738/1790.”


Lincoln Fishman as Jonathan Huntington.

Reverend Jonathan Huntington (1734?–1782)

Welcome everyone to my cemetery. Well it must be mine, I was one of the earliest people buried here. My name is Jonathan Huntington, and I was the first minister of Worthington. Don’t ask what Church, that goes without saying. There was only one Church.

I accepted a call in 1771 to minister to the early settlers of this beautiful wilderness because, well, I had a wee bit of trouble with the Congregational Church hierarchy back in Connecticut. Plus here they were willing to pay me 40 pounds a year to start. Even as a child, I loved to think about theological questions. My father’s friend, the Reverend Ebenezer Devotion, came to visit often and we discussed many new ideas that turned out to be disturbing to the elders of the Congregational Church.

Our home in Connecticut was light-hearted and fun-loving and famous for its parties. My mother was bright and creative and known for her intelligence and sense of humor. People say I took after her! Of course I liked to have a little fun, but my reputation for revelry and drinking was overrated. My dear wife, Sarah Huntington, brought me stability and direction. She encouraged me to apprentice so I could learn medicine, which she thought was more suitable to my temperament, so I did that for awhile.

However, I couldn’t resist arguing about theology – it was such an exciting time and we were talking about such revolutionary ideas! For example, I believed that no matter how sinful a person had been, he could still enter the Kingdom of Heaven if he were truly sorry – even without the blessing of the Church! My free thinking, love of music and jokes, and my occasional fondness for libation meant it was hard for me to find a congregation in stuffy Connecticut. Plus I wanted to experience some adventure. So I ended up in the “wilds of Worthington,” preaching to this growing community of about 650 folks. Of course, not all of my parishoners agreed with my way of thinking, especially that Nathan Leonard and his kin from down along the Kinne Brook, who got themselves elected selectmen. Deacon Leonard thought I was too permissive and didn’t hesitate to say so.

As well as preaching, I had a farm and built a grand house where I saw patients. And the children kept coming! But we weren’t wealthy; our fortunes depended on the fortunes of the town, and sometimes the farmers can spare neither corn nor labor. I’ll admit, I sometimes got away from the domestic side of my life by partaking in spirits and lively conversation at the tavern of my good friend, Timothy Meech, over on the Post Road.

The Huntington Parsonage, 1885.

The Huntington Parsonage, 1885.

My brother Samuel, who championed the colonists’ cause, kept us informed of the troubles brewing with England. I believed in our cause and to prove it, I invested my money in the new Continental currency. Overall, life has been good in Worthington. My most fervent wish was that the good Lord grant me a long, peaceful life here, free of debt and worry, as I watch my liberal ideas blossom and my children and their children grow up in optimism and prosperity.

Judy Babcock as Sarah Huntington.

Judy Babcock as Sarah Huntington.

Sarah Huntington (1738–1790)

My name is Sarah Huntington. I was born in Lebanon, Connecticut, in 1738. My father, Simon Huntington, was a poor farmer who died when I was fifteen. My mother, left with seven children, remarried. You may be wondering why my married name is also Huntington. I married my cousin! This happens often in the colonies. There aren’t a lot of people to choose from, and most marriages are arranged anyway. It’s one way of knowing something reliable about the person you marry.

As it turned out, I grew to love my husband, Jonathan. We married in 1757 and our first child, Sarah, was born nine months later. She died within the month. But we were blessed by the arrival of Lucy in 1759. I knew Jonathan wanted to do something other than farming, so I encouraged him to study medicine. But I soon realized that Jonathan’s true inspiration came from those new and revolutionary ideas that were threatening the cohesion of our Congregational Church!

The Huntington Parsonage today.

The Huntington Parsonage today.

We were not wealthy and the babies kept coming, so I was relieved when Jonathan finally became a doctor. As a doctor his rebellious, fun-loving wit might be acceptable. But his heart was never in it and he just had to become part of the Church controversy, so he entered the ministry as well. I had hoped my husband would be appointed to a wealthy, prestigious church in Connecticut. Instead, he accepted the offer of a new church here in Worthington. We arrived here in 1771, not long after the town was incorporated.

I insisted on at least having a nice home, so Jonathan acquired a beautiful house, which he had moved to West Street. You can still see my lovely home if you look up the road to the corner. The church was built across the street. What a poor thing that church was – not much better than a barn! And it was never finished! Birds flew in and out and roosted in the balcony! But Jonathan believed that the physical structure of the church was not so important, as long as the spirit flourished. Although the town promised to pay him at least 40 pounds a year in coin and produce, he was never paid regularly.

I did manage to keep him respectably clothed in a black wool suit, which I made out of wool I had spun and dyed myself. He even had silver buckles on his shoes! The children were well-dressed too, and as they got older they helped farm; eventually some married and settled nearby.

Promise of payment to Jonathan Huntington from Worthington residents, 1780.

Promise of payment to Jonathan Huntington from Worthington residents, 1780.

Meanwhile, Jonathan continued to involve himself in Church and governmental controversies. He spent a bit too much time at the tavern of Timothy Meech, where revolutionary ideas were being discussed. As he mentioned, we ended up getting into fights with the Leonard family, who were pretty powerful in both the Church and the town (which really were the same thing in those days). They just couldn’t appreciate Jonathan’s friendly and relaxed style, but my dear husband was so well loved that his congregation remained loyal to him.

Then we lost our money! My husband had invested in Continental currency, which became worthless. And the people of Worthington couldn’t pay Jonathan with cash or goods. My dear husband, harried by the Leonards, was heavily in debt, preaching in that awful, drafty building, and worrying about how to feed his family. He caught sick and died, imagine! He was only forty-eight. My children and I were penniless and our creditors and the Leonards were our ruination.

After our debts were paid I was left owning a one-third share of my house as my “Dower Rights.” My son Simon inherited another third, and my brother-in-law Samuel bought the last third so that I did not have to share my home with strangers. But I was only allowed to use the back stairs, and only at certain times of the day. I was given a portion of the barn so that I might keep a cow. And my boys were given one suit apiece from my husband’s belongings.

Those Leonards took control of the church and had it moved over east to Harvey Road. They also hired a new minister, that boring and pompous Jonathan Pomeroy. My heart broke when they moved the graveyard to a place halfway between the new church and the old one on Sam Hill Road. My baby Sybil’s stone was lost!

But as my children grew up and married – and some married very well, like my namesake Sarah, who married Elisha Brewster – my life improved. I didn’t remarry and died ten years after my husband. But here we are in this lovely spot, facing the setting sun every day, in the beautiful town of Worthington.

Gravestone of Jonathan Huntington.

Gravestone of Jonathan Huntington.

Gravestone of Sarah Huntington.

Gravestone of Sarah Huntington.

Rose Cherneff as Ella Crosier Burr.

Rose Cherneff as Ella Crosier Burr.

Ella Crosier Burr (September 1860 – May 21, 1930)

Oh! There you all are, I was waiting for you to get over here. Just standing here counting gravestones to pass the time. There are a lot more now than I remember from the last time I was here. I am Ella Crosier Burr, though I was a Burr for many more years than I was a Crosier. I was married to my Clement for nearly 60 years at the time of my unexpected passing.

He was from an old Worthington family, as you can see from all the Burr gravestones around here. I was an outsider, from Chesterfield. We had five sons, and two of them, Frank and Joe, lived here in Worthington, too. They were all born in our farmhouse on Kinne Brook Road. It’s still owned by a Burr and standing proud for all to see. The boys were a bit wild. I remember the day they were brought a gift of a doll, and when I next looked out the window they were shooting arrows at it. We sent them to be educated at the Conwell Academy down in South Worthington.

My Clement courted me for several years before I agreed to marry. He kept on pestering his “Nell” with letters and asking me to write back, even when he was sent away to see if he liked life in Illinois, which he didn’t. Then he came back just to be with me, and since I really liked him anyway, I gave in. His father had just died and someone was needed to take over the Burr family farm. That was back in 1870.

Mostly I spent my life as a farm wife. You know what that means – working from dawn to dusk. I was always good with numbers so I kept the books, not just for the farm but also for Clement’s business as an undertaker. (That was one of several Burr family businesses.)

Parsonage of the Women's Benevolent Society.

Parsonage of the Women’s Benevolent Society.

I was also Secretary-Treasurer of the Church’s Women’s Benevolent Society for decades. I was one of the original members in 1888, and one of the original incorporators in 1894. Mrs. Chauncey Pease loaned the WBS the money to build a parsonage, and I was especially proud, in 1920, to deliver our final payment to her. We were grateful that she only charged interest every other year! And I am proud to say that my son Frank’s wife, Harriett, eventually took over from me as treasurer of the WBS.

But really I am not here to tell you about myself. I want to tell you a sad story not too many people know about.

There used to be a lot of small factories in Worthington making things mostly from wood: sleds, tools, drums for banjos, pen holders, you name it. Pen holders – you know – the handles for metal pen nibs! Many of these factories hired young men in the summer to help out.

During the summer of 1912, three German boys arrived to work at Bradley’s pen factory in South Worthington. On September 12 they all went for a swim in Russell H. Conwell’s Little Galilee Pond – you can still see it off Ireland Street. Hermann Sachtleben, poor lad, drowned. He was only 18! He was buried two days later in Ringville Cemetery. The boys who were with him came to the funeral. They spoke little English but Mr. Willard, the preacher, said a prayer in German and at least they understood that.

Death certificate for Hermann Sachtleben.

Death certificate for Hermann Sachtleben.

Now I’ve had five children, and can only imagine what a grief it would be to lose a grown son, especially one so far away. So I wrote to Hermann’s mother, Bertha, telling her of his death and including a photograph of his grave. And she wrote back – two letters in fact – with a photograph of her family, including Hermann.

The Sachtleben family.

The Sachtleben family.

Such a fine young man he looked to be, and his mother’s heartbreaking grief was terrible to read. She wrote in German, but I was able to get Mr. Williard to translate. Here’s what she wrote:

Letter from Bertha Sachtleben to Ella Crosier Burr.

Letter from Bertha Sachtleben to Ella Crosier Burr.

We are honored dear Mrs. Burr, and deeply grateful that you have told us that you yourself had a share in preparing our dear child for his last rest. We know now that he sleeps quietly and softly, and this is a great comfort for us. For my mother-heart would not otherwise be quiet. May dear God richly repay you, Mrs. Burr, your great love and goodness which you have done to our child and so to us…And I venture to…make another request. On the second of December is the birthday of our Hermann, when he would have been 19 years old. We would be very pleased if on this day we might know that there was a wreath on his grave. Would you, my dear Mrs. Burr, be willing to undertake this?

I wrote to assure her that we would do as she requested, without cost to her. A year later I got one more letter:

My dear, most honored, Mrs. Burr –

Surely, you must have been surprised to remain without a message from us for so long. I will soon explain…accept our most heartfelt thanks for your loving endeavors concerning the grave of our beloved Hermann. We are comforted to know that…our poor child, who has gone so far away from home, does not lie abandoned on his birthdays…Oh, dear Mrs. Burr, the painful wound is not yet healed…

Now I will finally tell you why my letter has been so delayed. Our uncle in America, Klocke is his name, lives in Mayville and he wanted to talk with you about erecting a tombstone for our son. We have waited a very long time for news from our uncle about this visit, and it seems a letter must have gone missing; otherwise we cannot understand what happened…Please do not think…we wished to refrain from attending to the care of the tombstone – we were waiting until our uncle appeared in Worthington with you. Should he be further delayed, then I ask you, dear Mrs. Burr, to once again decorate the tombstone of our beloved son on the anniversary of his death, the 8th of September. We are regretful to hear that you, dear, honored Mrs. Burr, have suffered so in your eyes. We hope wholeheartedly that you are once again in good health.

Uncle Klocke never showed up and this was the last letter I received from Hermann’s mother. Sadly, Hermann’s grave in Ringville Cemetery remains unmarked, his memory in Worthington mine to keep and share now with you. Ach! My heart breaks for those people.

Clement and Ella Crosier Burr, c. 1880s.

Clement and Ella Crosier Burr, c. 1880s.

My health started to get worse and by the late 1920s I couldn’t do most of the things I once could. I was often bedridden, besieged by headaches and painful joints. I lost a lot of weight. I didn’t go to church or go out to visit. I couldn’t go upstairs or wash dishes or do any housework for nearly a year. While I was ailing, my husband, Clement, along with some of the boys, did the cooking, laundry, cleaning and washing up, and the repairs as well as all the farm chores. I could talk with folks on the telephone we had put in – other folks from nearby houses could listen in on the party line, but that didn’t matter. I also went out on automobile drives from time to time, and got to watch Lindbergh’s mother fly over our house in an aeroplane.

Clement and Ella Crosier Burr c. 1930.

Clement and Ella Crosier Burr c. 1930.

We also had one of those new radios, and while I couldn’t move much out of the house unless someone helped me, the whole world opened before me. Who’d have ever thought I could listen to the speeches of both Herbert Hoover and Al Smith after each was nominated for president, or that I would get to hear the election results as they were happening? (By the way, Clement voted for Mr. Hoover, but Smith won handily in Worthington.) Then there were Douglas Fairbanks and John Barrymore speaking right to me, and Gene Tunney’s knockout fight, sounding like it was happening right in our living room.

We read a lot too, although those electric lights were a bit too bright for our taste. Each Thanksgiving, Clement and I would think and talk about the things we were grateful for. We never lacked. Just sitting there with him, after all those years together, always seemed enough. I am glad we can continue to be together here.

Samuel Follett Hills (1846–1930)

Greetings folks! I was born back in 1846 in my house up the road, built by my great-grandfather, Sam Follett, in 1783. He was a Revolutionary War hero who fought at the Battle of Bunker Hill and voted for George Washington. In his time there were half a dozen houses up there, and the church, parsonage, and burial ground were just down the hill near West Street. It was pretty much the center of town at that time. Follett is my middle name, and I am sure proud of it! When my great-grandfather died, the property was left to his granddaughter, Elizabeth Follett Hills, my mother. She had married Julius Hills some time before and had two sons. My mother wasn’t allowed to own the property because she was a woman, but she could keep it in trust for me and my brother Daniel until we came of age. My house isn’t there anymore, but parts of it can be found in other houses all over Worthington.

Sam Hills in front of his house c. 1925.

Sam Hills in front of his house c. 1925.

The farm contained 100 acres, much of it cleared, and we raised cows and sheep. We also had a large orchard. The road ran from West Street past my house and continued west over to the middle branch of the Westfield River. The part that ran through Horace Bartlett’s property had gates across the road at the start and end of his pasture to keep his cattle from wandering too much.

Every time I came or went I had get down from my wagon and open and close them. What a pain! Well, I went to town meeting and tried to get those fool selectmen to help me change this, but to no avail. I finally had to sue the town. They knew they were in trouble because I was already famous for taking my law books to town meeting. One day in court the judge asked me if the gates were “pretty fair gates, as gates run?” I replied that I “never saw a gate run,” so I couldn’t really say.

The case cost the town several hundred dollars, which was a lot of money in those days. It took a couple of years, but it was finally settled in my favor when Deacon Bartlett agreed to fence the fields and remove the gates. This solution cost $15 and that was that. Eventually they named the road for me, but of course they got my name spelled wrong. It’s “Hills” with an s, Sam Hills! Any fool would have known that. But I guess Sam Hills Hill Road would have sounded strange.

I was just a boy when the Town Hall was built in 1855. It was built on land donated by Mr. William Coit. He stipulated that a four-and-a-half-foot fence be built around the building – folks were big on gates and fences in those days. Anyway, Mr. Coit lived up on the Old Post Road, near the Bartlett place, which became the Bartlett Hotel and then the Worthington Inn. He made such a fuss when they built the new Town Hall, making them move it just south of the church so he could have an unobstructed view of the church from his home. There were a lot fewer trees in those days. That was the church that burned in 1887.

Jesse Rothman as Sam Hills.

Jesse Rothman as Sam Hills.

Speaking of the old days, another thing you young folks might not remember is what we called a “turkey shoot”. They were held near the basket shop at the Corners. The hen was placed on top of a barrel and weighted so it couldn’t get away. The fee was 10 cents a shot, at a distance of 8 or 9 rods (40 or 50 yards for those of you who don’t know anything). I brought my great-grandfather’s flintlock gun. They laughed at my old-fashioned gun, but I didn’t let that bother me. I succeeded in shooting several hens. When Mr. William Ward tried out my gun he got his hen all right, but the gun kicked him over and his wig flew off! We got a good laugh out of that.

I was around long enough and was enough of a bother that I eventually was elected as a selectman myself, a couple of times if I recall correctly. Loved to debate any chance I got, and especially loved showing off those law books at the annual town meeting.

In 1871 I married Josephine Mayhew, who had grown up on the next farm over, and we had a son and two daughters. We had a good life here in Worthington without hardly ever having to leave town. And I lived to be eighty-four!

Sam DeBosky as John Adams.

Sam DeBosky as John Adams.

John Adams (May 4, 1804 – July 29, 1873)

Good evening, kind folks. My name is John Adams. I was born right here in Worthington on May 4, 1804. Although my father was from Connecticut, my mother, Elizabeth Watts, descended from one of Worthington’s earliest settlers. After my father became president of the Union Bank in Boston, we moved there and that’s where I spent my childhood.

I married Mary Ann Bryant of Chesterfield on New Year’s Day in 1838. I was 34 and she was 24, and we came back to live in Worthington. I set up as a hardware merchant, as well as a farmer. My first house was near the town’s first schoolhouse, about a mile south from what was called Worthington Center.

The Adams house.

The Adams house.

Just before I married, I bought a 146-acre farm off of Luther Higgins for $5,300. It stretched on both sides of what is now Huntington Road. That house was too small and mean for a growing and prosperous family like ours was going to be, so I had it torn down and by 1843 had replaced it with a modern house in the Gothic style with a two-story entry porch, board and batten siding, and those beautiful bay windows. The kitchen and carriage houses were conveniently in separate wings on the back. People whispered that it was just too modern and not like the other houses around here, but I didn’t care. I thought it was handsome and so did Mary Ann. You can still see it up there on what they now call Radiker Road, though it has suffered some over time.

I was voted selectman from 1842 to 1844, which shows not only my commitment to the town, but that I commanded respect and was viewed as a man of influence.

In 1852 I joined with my neighbor Elisha Brewster to start the Agricultural Society. We got 150 members just like that. Three years later, we changed our name to the Green Mountain Agricultural Society to include other towns. For a decade or so we held big cattle, sheep and horse shows every year on the Town Commons surrounding the church. That was a highlight of the summer’s activities. Eventually we became The Grange. By then I was a prominent member of the Church, and in 1856 I was elected representative to the general Court of Massachusetts. An honor, of course, but it meant I had to undertake the difficult trip to Boston more than I wanted to.

My wife and I farmed and were lucky enough to have five children, three boys and two girls.

You may not know this, but from the time the town was first settled, the town government and the Church government were intertwined, like peas in a pod. The community was officially called the Parish of Worthington. Each year when we got a tax bill, half would go to maintaining the town – the roads and schools and the like – and half went to the Church. The idea of separation between church and state was not appealing to many of the citizenry of this fair community. At the annual town meetings, parish as well as secular business was the order of the day. The elected town officials managed the day-to-day operations of both town and Church, although the Church retained the exclusive right to discipline its members. By 1862 I was back to being selectman, and two of us (I won’t name names) felt that the town and Church should be independent of each other. We spoke up about it until the state, in 1865, ordered the town to call a meeting and separate town and Church – separate money, separate management. Needless to say, some of the powers-that-be were not so happy about this and it might be said they knew how to hold a grudge.

These particular years may not have special meaning for you folks any more, but the nation had splintered following Lincoln’s election in 1860 and was then at war. The War of the Rebellion was what we called it. The President called for 75,000 volunteers, and in 1861 the Worthington selectmen voted to pay $50 for each volunteer, and to pay families left needy by the departure of a loved one up to $2,000 to help them get through. We didn’t think the war was going to last much longer than three months.

My son was one of the first volunteers, though he did not sign up in Worthington. William enlisted in the New York 61st Regiment in October 1861, but he never made it into battle. He died in an Army hospital in Alexandria, Virginia, on December 26, 1861. For him the war did only last three months! Volunteers weren’t very easy to find in Worthington, even after we upped the bounty to $125. In 1862 my other son and namesake, John, enlisted with the 86th Illinois Regiment, Company H, and was made quartermaster. He died in Nashville, Tennessee, in February of 1863, of a fever. Imagine how my poor wife felt when she learned that her boys lay dying in distant field hospitals, and she unable to get to them. In John’s regiment more men died of disease than were killed outright in battle. This was, unfortunately, pretty typical.

The call for a volunteer army didn’t work out and in 1863, President Lincoln instituted a draft. Many of Worthington’s young men went to serve, but not a few found themselves paying the nice sum of $3,000 for someone else to go in their stead. This was perfectly legal and pretty common at that time.

Although I remained an active selectman, in my personal life I despaired and became a recluse, refusing to leave the house to attend church or to pay my Church taxes. It was compulsory in those days to attend church, and the Church retained the authority to strictly discipline anyone who failed to abide by its requirements. To be named someone “who walks disorderly” could spell financial and personal ruin. I was visited by a committee of my former friends and “warned” to mend my ways. Ha! I didn’t want to have any further concert with those hypocrites who couldn’t understand my grief! I went so far as to apply for permission to join the Methodist Church in South Worthington, though I never went through with it. In the end I was suspended from the Church by a vote of 18 to 1. Discipline triumphed over compassion.

I eventually returned to the Church. In 1868 I wrote a nice letter to Deacon Lafayette Stevens, agreeing to let bygones be bygones and pursue the path of peace.

Peace had come to our reunited country three years earlier. Our sons were two of over 700,000 boys on both sides to give their lives in that terrible conflict. Imagine how I felt in 1866, when I was part of a committee asked to study a proposal to “see if the Town [would] raise money to refund to individuals the money paid by them for substitutes.” The men who could afford to pay another man to take his place in the draft – and quite likely take his place in a shallow grave – wanted to be reimbursed! We voted no!

I lived ten years longer than my two boys, which just isn’t natural or expected. And I never really got over the loss of them. A farmer needs many sons to build a future for. Well, thank you for your time. It looks like there’s a lady over there beckoning, so you best hurry along.

Lila Cherneff as Bessie Ames.

Lila Cherneff as Bessie Ames.

Bessie A. F. Ames (1856 – 1951)

Over here! I am Bessie Anne Fletcher Ames, born in Marshfield, Massachusetts, on March 26, 1856. Let’s see, that makes me 158 years old! I don’t look at day over 95, do I? And I lived through three great wars and a few lesser ones!

I’ve always been Bessie Ames, never Mrs. anybody, so you can call me Miss Ames, if you please. My father, Luther, was a shoemaker, and my mother, Mary Spinney, kept house. We were five children. By 1880 my family had moved to Cheshire, New Hampshire, so my father could farm. At that time I was 23 and a certified bona fide nurse – one of the first graduates of the Boston Training School for Nurses, established by the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1873. I spent the winters nursing in Springfield and the summers farming in New Hampshire.

By 1883 I had saved enough money to buy my own house. Worthington seemed like a fitting town for a young woman making her own way in life, and I was able to buy a house on Harvey Road that was originally built by Sidney Brewster. I paid the grand sum of $1,500. I was surrounded by Brewsters in those early days. I joined the Congregational Church in 1888, the same year the new church building was completed, and became one of the earliest members of the Women’s Benevolent Society – just like my friend Ella Burr over there.

The Bessie Ames house.

The Bessie Ames house.

But then – oh, it was horrible! – the house burned to the ground. Luckily, with a little help from my friends and some hard-working neighbors, I was able to rebuild a very large, commodious Colonial Revival house. You can still see it. Very tasteful and well-built, don’t you think? It meant I could take in boarders, and by 1900 my aging father, his second wife, four boarders, and a lovely young Swedish servant named Frederika were all living with me. I continued to do winter work as a nurse at my office at 68 Court Street in Springfield. The house was too cold for winter boarders.

I had quite a lot of land, and rented it out to the neighbor farmers. Besides overseeing all my tenants and rebuilding the house, I became active in the Women’s Benevolent Society and served as president for six years, starting in 1912. Those were exciting years, when all sorts of new ideas were getting discussed – especially about what women could or could not do!

Springfield Daily Republican, August 14, 1913.

Springfield Daily Republican, August 14, 1913.

I can still see the audience at the WBS meeting in Lyceum Hall that day in August 1913 when, as president, I introduced Miss Amy Wren. She had come from Brooklyn, New York, to talk about the legal status of women (which wasn’t very good, I can tell you). The front of the stage was covered with masses of green foliage and yellow flowers, and large yellow “Votes for Women” banners were draped all around. Miss Wren was a commanding speaker and the audience was rapt. She told of how women had been considered property throughout most of our history, and how things were changing – mostly due to women’s own efforts, but thanks in part to those brave men who were willing to put themselves on the line. The applause was so loud – too bad there were so few men there to see and hear her.

I finally did get to vote seven years later, in 1920. I was lucky that I was already thirty, which was the legal age for women. There was a presidential election that year, and I chose between Warren Harding (whose running mate was our neighbor from Northampton, Calvin Coolidge) and his opponent, James Cox (whose running mate was the handsome and youthful Franklin Delano Roosevelt). By the way, men could vote when they were 21. I won’t tell you who I voted for because my vote was secret. But I did vote!

By this time I was getting older, and spending time as a nurse every winter was getting harder. So I decided to turn my home, which I had named Hilltop Farm, into a summer guest house. My nephew John Ames had been living with me since after the Great War, and he helped out. He complained when I asked him to sleep in the barn during the summer, but really, there wasn’t enough room and I needed every penny I could get. During this time Worthington became what you folks now like to call a “destination.” There was the grand Worthington Inn run by the Trows at the Corners, that lovely new golf course, a casino, and many other attractions. Several of my neighbors took in summer guests as well.

Hotel Register for Hilltop Farm.

Hotel Register for Hilltop Farm.

My house was special. I could serve lunch and dinner in the dining room, and many folks from around town came here just to eat. I charged $10 a week for the rooms and most of my guests were lovely people, up from the cities – Springfield, New York, Boston – women who came with their children for a week or for the whole summer while their husbands visited on the weekends. Some came from as far away as California and England.

Of course there were always a few complainers, especially the man who told me I should get running water piped in from the new water system that was built in 1911. I had a perfectly good well. I told him the hand pump in the kitchen was good enough for him if it was good enough for me, but he made it clear that if I wanted to keep my customers, I needed to get more modern. I wasn’t against being “modern” – it was the cost! Everything was so expensive and running a guest house isn’t cheap, I can tell you that. I did put in the running water, and made a private bathroom, but I put a box on the top of the tub so that anyone who wanted to use the water could pay me 10 cents a bath. Water doesn’t grow on trees, you know. But I admit, it was nice to be able to take a hot bath once in awhile.

While I have your attention I want to let you know that there is absolutely no truth to the rumor that on weekends I rented rooms to working girls who came from Springfield. Of course since I’d been a nurse down there I knew quite a few girls of all kinds. And even if I did rent out the occasional room, whatever they did in there with their gentlemen friends was their business. I ran a respectable guest house and many of my customers returned year after year.

By the 1930s, though, things were not so good with the economy. The Lafayette Lodge (the name the new owners gave to the old Worthington Inn) burned. People found it hard to find the money for long summer vacations, or even for the gas to come up to the hills. The air and food might be good up here, but not worth spending the rent money for.

Also my nephew John had fallen for one of those tubercular girls who were recovering in that sanitarium across the street (I think someone named Gerrie Kennedy lives there now). He wanted to marry her! So he built her a house across the street from me, with lots of windows and no screens anywhere, so it could be full of fresh air and breezes. He moved in with her, but then a few months later she died! What was he thinking? He eventually married another woman, Hildy, and we got along just fine. She was a churchgoing woman and into good works, and eventually she and John helped me as I had helped John when he was younger. I lived through another awful war and didn’t die until I was 95, but those last ten years are a bit of a blur – I was told I could be quite a hoot! I guess I always was.

So that’s some of my story. Glad you could come visit us all today. If you stick around for a bit we’ll be glad to share a toast to the living and the dead!



Pat Kennedy teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. She came by her interest in cemetery care and preservation by way of genealogical research. Most of the information about burials in Worthington was not online, so she decided to start producing burial lists with the help of Diane Brenner and Ed Lewis of the Worthington Historical Society. The Worthington Cemetery Commission has undertaken the task of repairing and cleaning stones in our cemeteries and has made significant progress over the last few years, thanks to the generosity of the Rolland Cemetery Fund.

Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington since 1994 and has been a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society, serving on its board and as one of its archivists. As someone who loves the mystery and adventure of historical research, she has curated several exhibits and contributed articles and photographs to The Corners. The original owners of the 19th-century home she shares with her spouse, Jan Roby, are buried in nearby Center Cemetery. Her other main focus is public health, and she serves on the Worthington Board of Health and as president of the board of the Hilltown Community Health Center.


As mentioned above, some of the text for Jonathan and Sarah Huntington was taken directly from Jerilee Cain’s 2007 paper, “Sarah Huntington: 1738/1790.” Information on Sam Hills and John Adams came from various papers in the book Papers on the History of Worthington. Additional information on Sam Hills, John Adams, and Bessie Ames came from the book Forty Worthington Houses, by Daniel R. Porter III. For Bessie Ames, Pat Kennedy interviewed Ted and Shirley Porter, and Diane Brenner found newspaper articles documenting the women’s suffrage meeting in 1913 and Ames’s involvement with the Women’s Benevolent Society. Newspaper obituaries were found for Sam Hills, Ella Crosier, and Bessie Ames. We’re very fortunate to be able to consult the work of other researchers who’ve contributed to telling the story of Worthington, including Elizabeth Payne, Carl and Ida Joslyn, Lois Brown, Kathy Baker, and Beverly Smith.

The material on Ella Crosier Burr came mostly from the Burr Family Archives, including the Sachtleben letters and Clement Burr’s diaries from 1868-1869 and 1929. The second Sachtleben letter was translated from the German by Shannon Godlove.

The idea for a series of WHS walks was proposed by Rose Cherneff of Worthington’s Sawyer Farm. It was also Rose’s idea to invite some deceased Worthington residents to visit with us.

The dead Worthingtonians were played by Lincoln Fishman (Jonathan Huntington), Judy Babcock (Sarah Huntington), Rose Cherneff (Ella Crosier Burr), Jesse Rothman (Sam Hills), Sam DeBosky (John Adams), and Lila Cherneff (Bessie Ames). Their photographs were taken by Evan Spring.

The Brown Family Bottles

Ben Brown in 2007.

Ben Brown in 2007.

by Diane Brenner, with photos by Kate Ewald

Ben Brown grew up in Worthington and has been collecting old bottles since he was five. His enthusiasm encouraged his father, Harold (“Brownie”) Brown, to begin collecting as well. The photographs below show only a part of Ben’s collection, which was catalogued for a 2007 exhibit at the WHS building.

The Brown bottle collection – all excavated from Worthington soil – includes some marvelously beautiful objects that provide a window on our daily lives in the not-so-distant past. These bottles held patent medicines, beauty products, food and beverages, and other household items – some whose names remain familiar, and others that have, often deservedly, been forgotten.


Until relatively recently, composting was so much the norm that it didn’t even have a name. Every Worthington home not only composted but also had one or more dump sites for uncompostable materials: old cans and bottles, broken dishes, unrepairable shoes, bent nails, rusted carriage parts, you name it. These sites were often pits located away from the house and eventually covered over with dirt. Often they were located near streams, whose steep banks were convenient for moving materials out of sight. Some dump sites still exist, but they are ever harder to find and their contents are increasingly broken and decayed.


In the photo above, the five-inch-tall bottle on the far left, from the Williams & Carlton Co. in Hartford, held root beer extract and dates from the late 19th century.  The third bottle from the left, which reads “USE RENNE’S PAIN KILLING MAGIC OIL,” is from the early 20th century and the “magic oil” probably contained an opiate.


Among the Brown Collection are many other questionable home remedies. One patent medicine bottle from the late 19th century, embossed with “DR. KING’S NEW DISCOVERY FOR COUGHS AND COLDS,” contained a mixture of morphine and chloroform that was both seductive and toxic. The “New Discovery” brand was marketed starting in 1885 as a cure for consumption.

Another curiosity in the collection – found near Elderberry Lane, just northeast of the Corners Grocery – is an amber, pear-shaped bottle embossed with “VALENTINE’S MEAT JUICE.” This combination of glycerin and meat extract, prepared by Mann. S. Valentine of Richmond, Virginia, was promoted in the late 19th century as both a restorative food and a medicine, achieving popularity among prostitutes as a supposed cure for sexually transmitted diseases.

Advertisement for Valentine's Meat-Juice.



This faceted, amethyst-tinged bottle stopper from the mid-19th century was Ben’s first find at age five. The stopper was partially exposed above ground near 43 Witt Hill Road.


The second bottle from the left, from the early to mid-19th century, was found at the same spot and reads “DR. LANGLEY’S ROOT & HERB BITTERS, 76 UNION ST., BOST.” Bitters is an alcoholic herbal preparation, still used today.

The taller bottle in the middle reads “DR. D. KENNEDY’S FAVORITE REMEDY, KINGSTON, NY.” This patent medicine from the late 19th or early 20th century was a cure-all for kidney, liver or bladder trouble, not to mention – according to their advertisements – “all weaknesses peculiar to women” and “all the unpleasant and dangerous effects on the system produced by the use of whiskey, wine or beer.”


Second from the left is a hexagonal, late 19th-century ink bottle, 5.5 inches tall, with fluted panels, and embossed with “NOT TO BE TAKEN.” The tall cobalt bottle in the middle is an apothecary jar from the late 19th century, possibly used as storage for tablets, cotton balls, and so on.




In the late 19th century, Carter’s Cathedral Ink was sold in these dramatic cobalt bottles with gothic arches embossed on hexagonal panels. This special edition bottle is eight inches tall.


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Many older bottles can be dated or identified by their “pontil scars,” the marks formed on the bottom where the glass-blowing rods were removed. Later bottles tend to be blown into molds and do not have pontil scars.

The second bottle from the left, from the mid-19th century, is almost two inches tall and once held ink for dipping a quill or steel-nib pen. The third, octagonal bottle is also an ink holder, flanged out at the base, from the early 19th century.


The four-inch-tall bottle on the left, found near Conwell Road in South Worthington, contained liquid soap or glycerin. “J.D. Larkin, Manufacturer of Plain and Fancy Soaps” started his company in Buffalo, New York in 1875, and soon expanded from laundry bars into soap powder, harness soap, and oatmeal soap.

The bottle on the far right is embossed “STEPHEN SWEET’S LINIMENT INFALLIBLE.” Sweet’s Liniment, an oil-based pain-relieving lotion, was manufactured by Richardson & Co. in Norwich, Connecticut. As noted in an 1861 history, Dr. Sweet “was most remarkable for his skill as a bone-setter, and a preparation made in accordance with his prescription has been advertised by this firm wherever newspapers are printed.” This bottle was blown in a mold, and then the top was reheated and an “applied top” was added.


The teal-green bottle resting on its side, found at the Witt Hill Road site, is from the mid-19th century and reads “GARGLING OIL, LOCKPORT, N.Y.” The brand name was Merchant’s Gargling Oil, manufactured from 1833 to the early 20th century. This topical ointment treated humans, horses and other animals for ailments ranging from burns, sprains and bruises to hemorrhoids, piles, toothache and sore throat. Other veterinary applications included garget, mange, roup in poultry, horn distemper in cattle, foot rot in sheep, and ringbone, poll evil, and foundered feet in horses!


The green bottle on the left likely held a liqueur in the mid-to-late 19th century.

The quart-size amber bottle with a coat of arms reads “DUFFY MALT WHISKEY COMPANY, ROCHESTER NY.” This company was founded before 1881 by Walter B. Duffy and closed down after 1925. Though basically whiskey with a high alcohol content, Duffy’s was also marketed as a medicine and the company was a member of the Proprietary Association of America, an early lobbying group devoted to preventing regulation of patent medicines. In any case, the people of Worthington went for it – Ben found this bottle at several different sites.



The bottles resting on their sides have rounded bottoms and were known as “ballast bottles,” because they were used as ballast in ships traveling to and from Europe and the Caribbean. These specimens are from the mid-to-late 19th century and likely held beer or rum.

The somewhat uneven bottle on the far right, with the applied top, reads “THIS BOTTLE NOT TO BE SOLD” and was used for soda or beer around the late 19th century. Though such bottles were indeed sold, the warning was intended to discourage people from taking or not returning the bottles, or, even worse, selling them to rival bottlers. This bottle was found near 343 Huntington Road.




This amber bottle, almost eight inches tall, with its original stopper, dates from around the late 19th century and probably held peroxide. The bottle was found near the Corners Grocery, and still contains some of its original contents.


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The second bottle from the left is 6.5 inches tall and reads “ATWOOD’S JAUNDICE BITTERS, MOSES ATWOOD, GEORGE-TOWN, MASS.” Atwood manufactured this product from 1840 to 1850, when he left for Iowa.

The bottle on the far right reads “NERVINE” in an arc just below the neck. In the late 19th century, nervine was a popular sedative made from inorganic bromides and used to treat any case of “nerves.”


The narrow-necked bottle in front held ammonia.

The bottle with the embossed floral pattern held lime juice manufactured by L. Rose & Company, founded in Edinburgh by Lauchlan Rose in 1865. To prevent scurvy, the disease caused by vitamin-C deficiency, sailors on long trips were supplied with lime or lemon juice preserved in 15% rum. Rose, who was born into a family of shipbuilders, patented a process that prevented fermentation and preserved fruit juice without alcohol. The signature “lime leaves & fruit” pattern adorned the bottles from the beginning. Rose’s Lime Juice is still sold today.

The bottle on the right, found near 343 Huntington Road, is embossed “GREAT BEAR SPRING, TRADE MARK, FULTON, N.Y. THIS BOTTLE IS LOANED, NEVER SOLD.” The Great Bear Water Works Company was founded in Fulton, New York in 1884. The business expanded rapidly and for decades sold and distributed water throughout the Northeast.

In the photo below, the pinkish bottle in back held olives (or perhaps oysters) and was probably dumped by the Worthington Inn/Lafayette Lodge, the large resort hotel that burned down in 1931.


Almost all the bottles in the Brown Collection were gathered in the 1960s. Ben says there was always some surface clue to a dump site, and he never had to dig around with a shovel to locate them. He would excavate the sites carefully with a potato hook or some other tined implement. Bottle collecting for fun and profit caught on in the 1970s, and all the visible sites were soon picked clean.

You may still have a concealed dump site containing beautiful bottles on your property. All you need is a little luck.


Diane Brenner moved to Worthington in 1994 and shares her large white house with her artist spouse, Jan Roby. She is an indexer with a background in public health and an avid interest in historical research and genealogy. She is a longtime member of the board of the Worthington Historical Society, and has been active as one of the society’s archivists, helping to create many recent WHS exhibits including the one discussed in this article. She also serves on the Worthington Historical Commission and Worthington Board of Health, and is president of the board of the Hilltown Community Health Centers. At her home she has found a few tantalizing pieces of old plates and one or two bottles, but she is still looking for the main dump.

Kate Ewald is an amateur photographer living with her husband, Evan, in Worthington, MA and serving on the WHS Board. She received her PhD in Environmental Health Sciences from the University of Massachusetts, so when not photographing she assesses human health risk for hazardous waste site cleanup.

WHS board member Evan Spring provided supplementary research for this article.