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The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Three: Clarence Witter, Extrovert

Jane and Clarence Witter, 2020. Photo by Evan Spring.

Note: This transcript is from a series of interviews conducted by Harold Anderson of Valley Eye Radio during Worthington’s 250th anniversary celebrations, which took place from June 29 to July 3, 2018. Valley Eye Radio, based in the Pioneer Valley, provides local news, interviews and other content to those with vision loss or other disabilities.

Harold Anderson: Clarence, are you a life-long resident or did you move to Worthington?

Clarence Witter: I moved to Worthington in 1957 out of Vermont.

HA: Had you heard of Worthington before you moved here?

CW: I did not. My mother was driving through town looking for a house with her husband at the time, my stepfather. Came around the corner on 112 from Cummington into Worthington, and could not believe how beautiful Worthington was. The house she chose to buy happened to be the Dingle Shop. It was a neat little store where you could buy crafts or smokes or ice cream. So I’ve been here since 1957. In 1958 we had a tremendous snowstorm in this town. I was going to Smith School and taking trade agricultural, and you could not see the school bus. The snow was up to the telephone line.

HA: Uh oh.

Snow arch by Emerson Davis, c. 1950.

CW: There was a fellow in this town, Emmy Davis. Emmy Davis built some tunnels into the church so that people could go to church, because the snow was too deep to shovel out. So he made tunnels and gave them arches, so they were pretty architectural. He also built the same into the town hall. It was a winter to remember, because Mason’s Hill, Route 143, was shut off completely. They had to call in relief from Boston. They brought in the first snowblower to blow the snow so people could get into Worthington. I believe that was about a week to two-week process, so people could get into Worthington on 143.

HA: Wow.

CW: But people had a way back then. Worthington still has that gift today of helping one another. I noticed changes in the ’70s when the by-laws passed. It changed the way people related to one another. It caused a little session of neighbor against neighbor, watching each other, which really grieved me, because we always were known to help one another. It kind of went through the transition.

The big show then in Worthington was Albert’s Farms. Albert’s Farms was the main employer of Worthington. He brought much progress into Worthington. I was a teenager going to Smith School, taking trade, and Ben Albert took me under his wing. As a matter of fact, he had plans for me for the future. I chose my own route, which most young boys do, but he encouraged me. He actually spent one whole winter allowing me to mess up and make all kind of mistakes as a mechanic, and never complained once. Always made me feel better about myself, encouraged me to do better. He gave the town much money. I ran a mechanic shop, and the town would come in and they would need bolts or something. He was very generous, gave everybody whatever they needed.

Ben Albert’s potato farming operation, from the 1968 Bicentennial program.

CW: I was involved with his aircraft. I took many trips with him, and he was a complete clown. He was always trying to mess me up and scare me or whatever. When my wife and I went with him and a group of ladies to Maine, he had a twin engine at the time. I was in the co-pilot seat, and he said, “Clarence, this is a boring airplane.” He says, “You just kind of watch and take over while I take a nap.” So the engine on the right side slowed down and stopped, and I figured we were going to crash. So I woke him up and he said, “Oh jeez, don’t yell. The women will start screaming and everything.” He says, “So what do you think? Where should we crash?” And I said, “I think we ought to crash in that lake up there.” And he said, “Well, you know, I think you’re smart. I think that’s a good idea.” Well it turned out that it could run on one engine. He thought that was a real comical thing.

Ben Albert had a tremendous impact on this town. It’s never been the same since Ben Albert’s Farms went under. We’re trying to get back on our feet and bring business back in, but that era – there was a lot, I think, of the Gilded Age. People socialized, they had picnics on the lawn. There was one lady that came from Texas that decided she loved it so much, she asked everybody to come. She had tables out on the lawn, checkered tablecloths and wine. It was just like what you read about back in the 1920s or ’30s. So those are special things to me.

My wife and I, we started a business in 1968, the logging business that I still own today. Later we put in a sawmill in 1977, which our family became part of. We employed people in town, we employed people out of town. And for our gratefulness to the town that supported our business by buying from us, we did a pig roast for 15 years. We used to say all friends were allowed to come, but then people would say to my wife and I, “You never invited me.” So I said, “I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna put a sign out there that all friends are welcome.” Then I put a sign outside of the road. Next thing I knew, the biggest event we ever had was in 1990. We had 700 people in our field.

HA: Whoa.

CW: We didn’t know we had friends in California, North Carolina. But this was a special moment. We never had a single troubled time. The town said, “Clarence, you really should get a permit if you’re going to put on that big of an event.” I said, “Well, these are all of my friends.” They said, “There’s no way one person can have 700 friends.”

Anyways, we had cannons there, people setting off cannons. We had horse rides, we had balloon rides. One year, hot air balloon rides. So it was a real special event. My wife and I are married 57 years right now. We’re thinking of maybe doing that again on our 60th to show Worthington how much we love it here and the people.

There’s other people that have been involved in our life in this town. Bob Cudworth used to come around in the 1970s – he was alone, all by himself. So he would come to our house, and my wife would cook him a meal. He’d sit by the wood fire, and he said that he really loved our place. So we got the neighbors together and decided that every neighbor could do something too. So I call Ed McColgan up the road. He said, “Oh, sure. Send him up to my house. I’ll feed him tonight.” We would feed him, the next house would feed him, and all the way down the line. But he would always come back to our house no matter what for dessert.

Bob Cudworth c. 1960.

CW: Worthington is one of the nicest towns I could ever live in. Matter of fact, all these hilltowns – my wife got hurt once, and we had 100 people at our house to help out that knew us from three towns. That’s what you have here in these hilltowns. God has surely blessed this town, and I pray He continues to do that. It’s an honor for me just to be able to tell about Worthington.

HA: Well, you had 700 people at the one pig roast. I have a sneaking feeling in three years if you try it again you might have more people showing up.

CW: Well that’s my gut feeling, and my wife is a little nervous. And I believe the town would have to have more security, I’m not sure. We live in a different time, but I also am an optimist. I’m not one that gets into negative conversations, I don’t like them. I like to encourage young people. My wife drives the school bus, and she is 73. I’m 77, and our mission in life is to leave this world with a legacy that people will remember, that we might have had an impact on them.

Jane and Clarence Witter, 2020. Photo by Evan Spring.

HA: Friends or family that are outside of the area, how do you describe life in Worthington to them?

CW: I go to my daughter’s that moved to Boston, and as you probably realized already – and everybody accuses me of – I’m an extrovert and very outgoing. I’m a public speaker. I confront a lot of people to try to be friendly. But you go to these other towns, and you talk to people, and they don’t know their neighbors, they criticize their neighbors. We don’t have this in Worthington. If we did, they wouldn’t last long, at least in my book.

I don’t know if anybody’s mentioned Henry Snyder to you, but Henry Snyder was the chief of police. Probably I shouldn’t make this known, but we had our own rules here in Worthington. We had some character that was patrolling our house at night. And I took a short term in GE for two months, which I hated very much. I’m an outside person. And this guy was harassing my wife around my house and stuff. I told her to get the gun out and just open the window up and take a shot out the window to scare him away. So I said, “Henry, you gotta come down here.” He said, “Clarence, I can’t do nothing. We ain’t gonna catch him.” I say, “I’m telling you what. I’m going to protect my family. I’m staying home, and this guy’s gonna be in real trouble.” He says, “Clarence, whatever you do, we’ll stand behind you because we know you’re right.” That’s the way we handled things. We tried to be fair with people. If there was a troublemaker, we warned them and tried to encourage them.

Henry Snyder at Worthington’s Bicentennial ball, 1968.

John Tredwell and Henry Snyder at the Cummington Fair.

 

 

CW: Henry Snyder was what they called a one-man town here. He was a selectman, a chief of police, he was everything. He was a self-taught man that ran his own business. He was a very successful man, and another guy that encouraged people when he saw the good in them. That’s what Worthington stands for, which you will not find in many places east of the Connecticut River.

HA: So have you noticed much of a change in the town? When you first were here, how was it?

CW: When I first was here, it reminded me of when I was a kid. People were more involved with each other, sensitive to the needs of one another. I actually counsel a lot of young kids in our church and other people, and I noticed that their whole world is either texting or their smartphones. There’s a lack of social skills, and Worthington always had that. I try to encourage that in young people. The thing that I’ve brought to their attention is that “Your perception is way off, because a lot of times what you text, you have no idea what the person is thinking.” And so I suggest that you get more involved with people.

But as far as how the town has changed, I still feel the same. I love the people here. I know most of the people in this town, although I used to know every single person. When I came here, it was 600 people. Now, it’s 1,300 or 1,400, I believe. I think they come here because they see it’s a town of love. I guess I want to say it that way, that people are caring, and so they want to live here.

HA: Did you go to school here?

CW: I did not go to the elementary. I came from Vermont. I was in the logging camps up there as a young boy, thirteen years old in a one-room schoolhouse, so the teacher came to school on a horse. I originally was from Massachusetts. My mother had to come back. She had ten kids when my dad left us when I was three years old. We all had to work to take care of her. That’s what brought her to Worthington, was the caring of the people. The big difference today that I noticed since I was a kid, the church was there to help poor people, encourage them, to help them to do better, to help them get a job. Today, the government does that, and there was a definite difference when the government decided that they would help the people rather than the people help themselves. And I think John Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

HA: What do you do for a leisure time here?

CW: In Worthington, if you’re not a golfer, you’re probably going to be splitting wood or something else. So this is a way we escape. We get together with the boys and we golf and we discuss old days and new days. We used to, years ago, in the back of the store, solve the problems of Worthington. The town meetings could be very heated at times and people expressed – there was no political correctness. And I used to love it, because people said what was on their hearts, rather than trying to be an intellectual genius. It was the common sense deal back then.

HA: You like the climate here in Worthington?

CW: Yes, I do. I traveled the world. I built a house on the island of St. Lucia for a movie star, thinking I might want to live there some day. But Worthington, there’s nothing that can beat it – the four seasons and the people. The only thing I don’t like about it is January. Everybody goes in their hut, and they don’t come out until March.

Clarence Witter and the gazebo he built around 1990, inspired by structures in St. Lucia. Photo by Evan Spring.

HA: The winters here in Worthington live up to or down to their reputation?

CW: They live up to their reputation. As I told you in 1958, we could have a return of that. I hope we don’t. I’m not so sure the people today could handle it the way they did in 1958. I think there was a baby boom population back then and I suspect it was that snowstorm.

James Clay Rice, a Worthington native, brigadier general for the Union Army, and hero at Gettysburg. Harper’s Weekly, May 28, 1964.

HA: Worthington, 250 years old. What does its history mean to you?

CW: I’m a Civil War buff, a history buff, and General Rice of this town was a big deal – he fought in Gettysburg. I felt that we should have honored him. If we had set up a regiment in the parade to honor Rice, I think that would have been a big thing with a reenactment. But it’s never too late.

HA: What’s your favorite season?

CW: My favorite season is May, spring. When the peepers come out and the daffodils bloom, and if there was ever a nicer time in Worthington, that’s it.

Posted August 17, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Two: Representative Steve Kulik

Note: This transcript is from a series of interviews conducted by Harold Anderson of Valley Eye Radio during Worthington’s 250th anniversary celebrations, which took place from June 29 to July 3, 2018. Valley Eye Radio, based in the Pioneer Valley, provides local news, interviews and other content to those with vision loss or other disabilities.

Harold Anderson: Steve, are you a lifelong resident or did you move here?

Steve Kulik: I moved here in 1976 from the Boston area with my wife. We were looking for a rural lifestyle, which was not uncommon in the 1970s. We were in our mid-20s and a lot of people were looking to move back to the land, build a house and so forth. We had first thought about northern New England, but then realized that we really loved Massachusetts, and Massachusetts seemed like a better prospect for work.

Steve and Suzanne Kulik in 1976, the year they moved to Worthington.

So we started coming out to the Hilltowns. We really loved the Hampshire County Hilltowns that Worthington is about in the middle of geographically. We were looking for land to buy, with the idea of designing and building our own house. Not really finding anything right away, we did find an apartment for rent in Worthington, which is very unusual. The folks who owned the Corners Grocery, our general store in town, had recently purchased a large, old colonial home next to the store in Worthington Corners, and converted it into some apartments. There was this little three-room apartment, perfect for two people, so we decided to take the apartment and continue our search for land.

Steve building his house in Worthington.

We did find some property in Worthington a few months after we moved here, on Thayer Hill Road. We bought a parcel of 11 acres that was part of a much larger holding that had been subdivided. And we proceeded the following year to do some clearing, put in a driveway, put in a well, figure out the house, and essentially build it ourselves. We had some help with a hired carpenter from Chesterfield, but it was a great experience. Made a lot of mistakes, some of which we’ve corrected since then.

There were a lot of people our age who were moving in as well at the same time. People could get involved in town government and come to town meetings if they wanted, get involved in town committees, which I did after a few years. Eventually that little cohort of people our age who were moving into Worthington in the mid-to-late ’70s, early ’80s, all started having kids. Our son was born in 1982, which was part of a baby boom in Worthington, which actually received national attention.

HA: Really?

SK: It did. In 1982, Worthington was probably somewhere between 900 and 1,000 people – it’s a little bigger now. Typically there would be somewhere between five and ten children born in a town that size, and in Worthington, in 1982, there were 29. I think a whole bunch of people our age had moved in recently and started raising families. We got to know a lot of those folks and trade childcare.

Yankee magazine, October 1983. Photo by Michael McDermott. A follow-up in the October 2000 issue, with an updated photo, noted that all but one of the 1982 Worthington babies still lived nearby.

HA: What kind of activities did you get involved in once you moved to Worthington?

SK: I started going to open town meeting, which just blew me away – the most direct form of democracy and citizen government. That everyone could come to town meeting and have a voice and a vote, debate things. It made me a junkie for the New England-style government in small towns. So after being here for a few years and going to town meeting regularly, I decided to run for the planning board. There was an open seat, and I was elected. Then a few years later there was an open seat on the board of selectmen, and in 1983 I was elected to that.

It’s not an easy job being a selectman. You do have controversy even in a small town, and disputes about spending the town budget or maintaining roads, but I learned a lot. I came to really appreciate this community even more. I learned a lot from people I served with, and the citizens who would contact me with their complaints or suggestions. Again, it’s just so direct and grassroots in a small town like this. I loved Worthington town government.

Steve Kulik during his 1993 campaign with his children Liz and Sam.

Then in 1993, the state representative seat opened up when my predecessor decided to take a job in the Weld administration as the commissioner of agriculture. I thought about it and decided, “You know, I really think I have something to contribute in the State House.” So I ran for the State House of Representatives and was elected. I’ve been there since 1993, and that’s thirteen terms. I’m just retiring at the end of the current term in January of 2019.

HA: What kind of transition is it going to be for you?

SK: I don’t think it’s going to be a difficult transition. I really have enjoyed this work. It’s been an amazing experience to be a people’s voice and to represent them in Boston. What makes it so special is that I love my district. It’s 19 small towns that are just great communities, each one of them. But I particularly love Worthington, and I’ll be able to spend more time in Worthington and less time traveling back and forth to Boston on the turnpike.

HA: When you’re out in Boston and you’re talking to fellow legislators, what do you tell them about Worthington, and how do they react?

SK: It’s really funny – my colleagues in the legislature have a hard time wrapping their heads around a town like Worthington. They really do. They tease me about it, or they ask me questions like, “Are there more cows than people in Worthington?” The answer to that is no. They like to ask, “How far do you have to go to get a pizza? How far do you have to go to get Chinese food, or gasoline, or buy groceries, or go to the movies?” The answer for almost everything is half an hour, and the people who live in the suburbs or the city are just amazed that routinely you drive half an hour.

Left to right: Paul Sena, Melinda Hodgkins, Kyle Challet, US Rep. Richard Neal, Kulik, Kevin Porter, Mike Dondiego.

There are so many people who live in Worthington and towns like it who travel 45 minutes to an hour to work. These towns are largely bedroom communities now. A hundred years ago they were much more self-contained. There was more agriculture and small manufacturing, so you could have a sustainable life in Worthington and be employed and live here. That’s not really that possible anymore. I think that will change a little bit when we get broadband into Worthington. More people will have professional lives working from home, whether it’s a lawyer, an architect, a graphic artist, or what have you. I’m looking forward to a resurgence of people being able to work and live in Worthington at the same time.

HA: So what kind of things do you like to do here in your free time?

SK: I just really enjoy the outdoors, the open space of Worthington. One thing that sets it apart for me from a lot of surrounding communities is the large expanses of open fields. Much of the town is kind of up on a plateau, and there’s just so much sky, particularly near the Corners portion of town, with the so-called Jones Lot and the big open agricultural fields up there. You just feel like you can see sky for miles, and that you’re on top of things. I love the climate in Worthington, even in the winter, which can be pretty harsh.

HA: What’s your favorite season in Worthington?

SK: I would say fall. The air is so crisp and clear, and it smells good. There’s just something about the seasonal cycle that really hits home in the fall. I also like the real deep part of winter. Mud season is a pain when we get around into March and April. That transition between winter and spring is not my favorite.

Kulik visits Snowshoe Farm, a Worthington sugar house, with Massachusetts Agriculture Commissioner John Lebeaux. Left to right: Lebeaux, Paul Sena, Kulik, David Gage.

HA: Do you ever invite any of these legislators or any friends or family up here, and what’s their reaction when they meet Worthington?

SK: I do and people are somewhat surprised at how rural and isolated it is, how long it takes to get here, how long it takes to get anywhere else. In the winter people realize it is kind of a harsh climate. We’re at an elevation where very often we’ll get snow or ice when it’s raining in the Valley in Northampton or Amherst. We have a little bit of our own microclimate up here due to elevation and proximity to the higher hills to the west and the Berkshires. But I appreciate seasonal change, and we really experience all the seasons in Worthington.

Kulik and the Conwell School welcome Matthew Malone (far right), who served as Massachusetts Secretary of Education from 2013 to 2015.

HA: So have you looked into Worthington’s history? I know this is the 250th anniversary. And what’s your impression?

With son Sam Kulik at his Eagle Scout ceremony, 2000.

SK: Well, it’s a great history, and I have looked into it over the years. My kids, who are now in their 30s, each have a copy of the Papers on the History of Worthington, and they enjoy reading it. Things were very, very different when small, rural New England communities were settled. It took large families and a lot of hard work to earn a living off the land. I think it’s important that we understand what came before us, and the people who have made this community great. There are still a lot of people whose families have been here for many generations, and I appreciate that continuity. I’ll never be a native of Worthington – I guess my kids are, which is great, even though they don’t live here.

HA: So you were the Grand Marshal in today’s parade. How was that?

SK: It was a great honor. I was surprised when I was told this a few months ago. I really appreciate it very, very much. I guess it was a way for the town to say thank you for the time I’ve put in. It’s been almost 40 years. Almost the whole time I’ve lived here I’ve been in town government – the planning board, then the selectboard, then the legislature representing Worthington. I’ve done it because I really love the town. And being recognized as the Grand Marshal was really one of the special things that I’ve experienced in my life.

Kulik as Grand Marshal of the Worthington 250 parade in 2018. Left to right: Steve Kulik, Suzanne Kulik, Jim Dodge.

HA: So no Kulik for Selectboard signs coming up anytime soon?

SK: No, I don’t see myself going back to the selectboard. There’s plenty of very capable people on the selectboard now. That’s the wonderful thing about a town like Worthington – people do eventually step up and fill these jobs that it takes to run a town. Worthington has around 1,200 people these days, and there’s probably about 150 people involved in town government in one way or the other, whether they serve in the Council on Aging, or volunteer, or serve in the police department, or the selectboard, whatever. It takes a huge amount of input and volunteerism to make a town work.

HA: You’ll probably show up at the town meetings, though.

SK: I never miss it. I love town meeting, so I’ll be there.

Kulik with Town Clerk Katrin Kaminsky, holding Worthington’s early voting certificate, 2016.

HA: Any other final comments or reminiscence about Worthington?

SK: It’s hard to describe how special a place it is. It’s a beautiful town physically, with some great architecture. The natural surroundings are great, and yet we’re near a lot of other attractions, art museums, concerts. It was a wonderful place to raise two children, and they’ve made a lot of friends that they stay in touch with. I just think it’s a wonderful opportunity at the 250th year to sit back, appreciate what Worthington is, celebrate it, and hopefully make it even stronger going forward.

Posted August 15, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part One: Kristin Majkowski Jay, Bicentennial Queen

Kristin Majkowski Jay during the Worthington 250 celebrations in 2018. Photo by Beth Crawford.

Note: This transcript is from a series of interviews conducted by Harold Anderson of Valley Eye Radio during Worthington’s 250th anniversary celebrations, which took place from June 29 to July 3, 2018. Valley Eye Radio, based in the Pioneer Valley, provides local news, interviews and other content to those with vision loss or other disabilities. An exhibit on the Bicentennial Queen competition is further below.

Harold Anderson: Hi, this is Harold Anderson from Valley Eye Radio. We’re here in the Worthington Town Hall for their 250th anniversary celebration, finding out about Worthington residents and what it’s like to live in Worthington. I have with me now Kristin Majkowski Jay, or should I say “Miss Worthington.” Welcome.

Kristin Majkowski Jay: Thank you.

HA: You’re wearing your crown and you have your Miss Worthington sash. So what is that all about?

KMJ: Well, I’m not just Miss Worthington. I am the Queen of Worthington.

HA: I’m speaking to royalty.

KMJ: Royalty from 50 years ago. It’s hard to believe. In 1968 Worthington had its bicentennial, so there was a pageant of sorts. We had written essays and a talent contest – I can’t even think of what my talent was then – and a tea, and then there was a ball. And to my surprise I was crowned Queen of Worthington. It is now the 250th, and they have not elected another Queen. I’m told that I will be Queen until the 300th, so here I am.

HA: Well, let’s face it, they didn’t have anybody who’s as good.

KMJ: Well, thank you.

Hampshire Gazette, July 1, 1968.

HA: You were in the parade itself.

KMJ: Yes, today I was in the parade. I rode in a car with a couple of members of the 1968 committee.

HA: So what was it like at the 200th celebration? What kind of activities did they have?

KMJ: Back in the day in ’68, I had a float with a “Hail to the Queen” sign. It was a lot of fun. I had to do a lot of things, like judge the funniest beard. There was a beard contest, as there was again this year. The smallest beard, the longest beard. My brother Blaise was a Boy Scout, and they had an event going on with the Boy Scouts. The ball was quite an event that was really quite special.

HA: So you had your court as well too?

KMJ: I did have my court. There were I think four other contestants, and so they became the court.

The Queen’s Float, Worthington Bicentennial parade, July 6, 1968.

Kristin Majkowski presents Emerson “Emmy” Davis with his beard trophy.

HA: So you’re a lifelong resident of Worthington, or did you or your family move here?

KMJ: My mother, Emily Marion Milka Ilnicky Majkowski, and my father, Edward Thomas Blaise Majkowski, moved here in 1952. I was two years old at the time, and they were the children of Eastern European immigrants. It was very different living in a conservative sort of Yankee town for them, but they loved it. When people used to ask my father “Where do you live?” he didn’t say “Worthington” first – he’d say “God’s country,” because it was just a beautiful place to grow up. They raised my sister Ardith, and she has a daughter and grandchildren. I am next in line, and in 1973 I married Thomas Neil Jay. We have a daughter, Lara Emily, who married Dan (Minkle) Fury. They live in Salem, Mass, and have a tour company, Black Cat Tours – which are historical and ghostly. My brother Blaise married Carol, and they have two children, Kyle and Crystal. Then I have another brother, Lance.

People that lived here in Worthington then, they were from families that were here a hundred years or so. We were part of the town, but you never were quite from here until you had lived here for a hundred years. My father lived to 2002, and he had lived here fifty years. My mother had died previous to that.

We lived on a dirt road at that time here in Worthington, Radiker Road. I grew up in a wonderful stone house that my parents kept immaculate. And at Christmas time, they outlined the whole house in the big lights. You can imagine the fortune in electricity it must have cost, but they loved participating in things like that. And Halloween was a big time, we would always have displays.

Hampshire Gazette, June26, 1968.

HA: So what attracted your parents to Worthington?

KMJ: They were living in Westfield at the time, where my father grew up. It came time for them to want their own place, so my mother and her father, Fedor (Frank) Ilnicky, went driving and came across the stone house, and my mother fell in love with it. So my parents bought the house and winterized it, and made it a place where you could live year-round. It was amazing. There were tall pines – I believe still are – outside of the house. That was always an ongoing thing, because we wanted the pines to stay, and my father kept saying, “Oh, if they fall on the house…” My parents, not officially, liked to call the place “Stone in Pines.” They had no desire to move anyplace else. My brother Blaise did not move too far away. My sister is farther, and here we are in the neighboring town of Cummington.

Growing up we had sheep, roosters and chickens, and bunnies. Not a farm really, but all our pets. And we had lots of dogs. We had a St. Bernard named Elfego Baca, and a Welsh pony that we loved dearly. We got his name by spinning the globe and then putting a finger down to stop it on “Kiang.” I don’t know how to pronounce the town or province in China, but we called him “kai-ang.” And a little Shetland pony named Tuffy.

HA: So what was it like to go to school here?

KMJ: Russell H. Conwell school, when I started out, I think there was one row for first grade, and in the same room, another row for second grade. Even up until I was in seventh grade, I want to say, seventh and eighth were still in the same room. It was interesting. I’m trying to think of memories – I remember recess a lot.

HA: There you go.

KMJ: And a wonderful, wonderful English teacher that just instilled theatre in my mind, and I went on to do some acting.

HA: Local?

KMJ: Pretty much local. I did some extra parts in film. I think probably through her I developed a real interest in art. So I’m an artist as well. And I was a teacher for a while.

HA: What kind of art do you do?

KMJ: Little bit of everything, but lately it’s been a lot of pen and ink, which I’ve had produced into cards.

HA: Any other memories?

KMJ: Oh, I could go on and on – the piano in the woods. My brother played piano, and I’m not sure how one of the pianos ended up in the woods. But recently a cousin of mine brought that up. She said, “I remember that piano in the woods. After a while it went back to nature.”

I can remember as a younger child going to a friend’s house and they were having apple pie, and my mother always made an apple pie that was rolled.

HA: Rolled?

KMJ: Similar to a strudel. It wasn’t strudel, but you rolled the crust out into a big circle, and then put the apples on it, and then rolled it all up in sort of a horseshoe. That was the apple pie that her mother had made. It was different enough for me to say, “Okay, that’s my apple pie.”

HA: Do you still make those?

KMJ: I do. It’s kind of a tradition. My sister does as well.

Harley Mason, Kristin Majkowski, and Bert Nugent during the Worthington bicentennial.

KMJ: I can remember my mother doing plane-spotting, and I can picture running around in the field. There was a little building where she would be. I would be running around in the field pretending that I was an airplane, and looking in the sky and going, “B-52, B-52.” I don’t know if that’s really what they were.

I was just remarking to my husband, Tom Jay, that we haven’t been seeing as many fireflies as we used to. Tom (or “TJ”) remembers particularly a night we went with a friend of his in the neighboring town of Windsor, and there were thousands of fireflies in the field. You don’t see that so much anymore. But as a child I remember for the Fourth of July celebration my parents would have people over, and I’d walk down the road at night, feeling that cool, hard, dirt road underneath my feet and the fireflies all around. I imagine a lot of children at that time would do this. You’d have a jar with you, with holes, so you’d put the fireflies in there and walk along with your jar of fireflies.

We didn’t have any neighbors around us, so you could pretty much do what you wanted. My mother would grow rhubarb. Later on, our daughter Lara remembers my mother giving her a little jar of sugar. You’d go out to the rhubarb patch and just have a stalk of rhubarb and stick it in the sugar. Or Lara’s grandfather taking her to the general store. They used to have a big barrel filled with pickles, and it was a treat, even then, for my daughter, who’s in her 30s now, to go and get that pickle out of the cold vat.

I’m so happy that even though in those days diversity was not embraced as much as it is now in the Hilltowns – which is so good for people that are moving here now – it still was a wonderful place to live. And somehow through osmosis, I think I’m a Yankee.

Note: The interview transcription above was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

Nannette “Nan” Modestow, head of the Queen Committee.

THE BICENTENNIAL QUEEN COMPETITION

Worthington’s Bicentennial Queen competition was headed by Nanette (Nan) Bartels Modestow, who preserved many documents of the event. Following her death in 2007, these documents were donated to WHS by her daughter Janine. For Worthington’s 250th anniversary celebrations, WHS board member Diane Brenner prepared an exhibit of the documents in the WHS building. A portion of the exhibit is below. 

The scorecards reveal that one of the judges voted for Margaret (Peggy) Shea, but then switched to Kristin Majkowski to make the decision unanimous. In 1984, Shea – whose married name was Margaret Shea-Stopa –  died in a tragic car accident.

The coronation of the Queen took place during the Anniversary Ball at Town Hall on Saturday, June 29, 1968. Dress was in period costume or semi formal. At 9:30pm, the five nominees – all just graduated from Gateway Regional 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, Kristin Majkowski, was announced.

Application form for the Bicentennial Queen competition. Contestants also had a submit a permission slip from their parents.

Newspaper clipping of the five contestants.

Jottings of criteria for judging contestants. Penciled-in criteria include “Content or expression of ideas,” “Appearance of hair – clean, shiny, neat,” and “Physical appearance,” including “Cleanliness of skin,” “Condition/appearance of nails,” and “Is cologne used to mask body odors.” The three judges were selected from outside Worthington to avoid favoritism. For the actual competition, the contestants were judged in two broad categories, “personality” and “appearance,” on a scale of one to five.

Final accounting from the Queen Committee.

Thank-you note from Kristin Majkowski.

 

Kristin’s essay for the Queen competition, page 1 of 2.

Kristin’s essay, conclusion.

Hampshire Gazette, July 1, 1968.

Posted August 12, 2020.

Afternoon of the Living Dead

by Pat Kennedy and Diane Brenner

Benjamin Graveyard, near a lonely stretch of West Street, is one of Worthington’s most beautiful and secluded cemeteries. In early 2018, WHS received a press release from five of the cemetery’s residents – Priscilla Burton Benjamin Clapp, Samuel Clapp, James Benjamin Jr., Sybil (Sibbel) Holten, and Amanda Smith Sadler – announcing they would rise from their eternal slumber to greet visitors on Saturday, September 22, at 4:30pm. We were taken by surprise, since recent ghost appearances around town all commenced in the evening. The wraiths acknowledged this matinee showing was hardly pro forma, but visitor safety was paramount, and Benjamin Graveyard is accessible only by forest trail. Here’s what transpired that memorable afternoon.

The gathering at Benjamin Graveyard, September 22, 2018.

Priscilla Burton Benjamin Clapp (1726-1797): Good afternoon, and welcome to the Benjamin Cemetery. As you can see from my beautiful stone, I am Priscilla Burton Benjamin Clapp. The cemetery is named after my family, so it seems only right that I go first and tell you something of my life.

Madeleine Cahill as Priscilla Burton Benjamin Clapp.

I never considered myself an adventurer. In my earliest life I was Priscilla Burton, born in 1726 and raised in the well-kept town of Preston, Connecticut, near New London. In March of 1750, at the advanced age of 24, I married James Benjamin, also a Preston native. We settled down to married life, which for me, mostly meant having children – eight of them by 1762.

Preston was home, but it had grown crowded and there were troubles – both outside, from the Indians led by King Philip, and within, from church matters. Sometimes it feels safer to risk a big move than stay where you are. In 1763 we learned that land was being sold to the west, and a group of us joined together to migrate there. We gathered our goods and what little money we had, filled our oxcarts, and set out for what we hoped was the promised land. Suddenly we were pioneers!

We were a good-sized group of young families. James and I went with seven of our children – I was pregnant with number nine – plus the Kinne brothers, the Marshes, the Starkweathers, and Nathan and Hannah Leonard and their brood. We made a fine procession with all our blankets and tools, clothing, pots and pans, and a good book or two. Traveling in a group was much safer than going alone, but it wasn’t easy, especially once we reached the hills west of Northampton and had to provision ourselves along the way. It was mostly wilderness, and what passed for the road was narrow and rutted. It took around fifteen days to cover the 100 miles between Preston and what was then called “Plantation Number 3.”

We had arrived – but where on earth were we? There was nothing here, just trees, rocks, streams and hills. Thankfully Mr. Nahum Eager and Mr. Samuel Clapp had been hard at work getting roads and a mill going. Some of the earliest settlers had built a few cabins, and the lots had been surveyed, with some set aside for a church and school. James bought two lots from Mr. Selah Barnard, east of what they had named West Street. We built our log cabin near a brook and started clearing the land for farming. Our son Selah was born in Worthington shortly after we arrived. Thankfully the other children were mostly old enough to help. More settlers arrived, and within a few years the so-called “unimproved plantation” became the incorporated Town of Worthington.

The scene at Benjamin Graveyard.

Let’s see – the next really important thing for me was the Church. It took awhile to find a minister willing to settle here, but in 1771 the Reverend Jonathan Huntington arrived with his wife Sarah to establish the Congregational Church in a building a ways up from us on West Street. Well, I dignify it by calling it a “building” – it was really a drafty shed. I was among the founding members who scraped together 40 pounds to pay the minister’s annual salary. He was a wonderful man, open-minded and kindly. On a single day – July 17, 1773 – he baptized all my children: Asa, Barnard, Delight, Elisha, James, Keziah, Lydia, Priscilla, Roger, and Selah. It’s amazing they had all survived.

The older children went off to set up homes of their own. Priscilla wed the Huntingtons’ son, Simon, and Elisha married our neighbor Amy Leonard Curtis. Sad to say, my husband, James, had died suddenly the year before, unbaptized and leaving no will – but he did leave me pregnant again, at the age of 47. It took a while to sort out his estate, and a lot was sold to pay off his debts, but we still ended up with around 300 acres of land.

As it happened, I had caught the eye of the very same Mr. Samuel Clapp who had greeted us upon our arrival eight years earlier. A fine figure of a man, if I do say so myself. Though modesty prevents me from saying more, we joined forces, announcing our intention to marry in the fall of 1773.

1773 banns of marriage for Samuel Clapp and Priscilla Benjamin, announcing their intention to marry.

Sam moved in to help me with the remaining children and the farm. Some of Sam’s children had moved to town by this time, living where Sam used to live up at the Corners. With their help, we made many improvements and the farm flourished.

Those were mostly happy years, despite the usual ailments and cold winters and wartime struggles. Sam’s sons joined mine to face the perils from the Redcoats. Asa walked to Lexington to join the Minutemen, and James and Roger joined the Continental Army a year later – they fought in the Battle of Saratoga. Selah also caught the war fever and joined up when he got old enough. But he was only 17 and too young not to get into trouble. In 1783 he was court-martialed for drawing bread on a forged bill – the poor hungry lad. He was given 70 lashes and a stoppage of $1 from his already meager wages.

People think of war as men’s business, but it was terribly hard on us women too. We were left not only to worry, but to manage the farms without horses requisitioned for the war effort. With the British on the run, printed money and coins were pretty much useless, so we depended on barter. Of course we met the challenge and the men all returned home, except for poor Jeremiah Kinne, who had traveled with us from Preston, and Samuel Cole.

I was included in the first census conducted right after the federal Constitution was adopted in 1790. Of course you won’t find my name there, because until 1850 the census only listed “heads of household,” and women were named only when no men were around.

1790 census listings for the households of Samuel Clapp and James Benjamin Jr.

I died in 1797, in my 71st year, and may have been ready to rest my weary bones. But maybe not. It seems I didn’t mind a bit of adventure. Now, I would like to introduce my son, James Benjamin, Jr. – but wait, who is that??

Samuel Clapp (1725-1809): [Drops his shovel and pickax.] Is this where my Priscilla, my darling Priscilla lies?

Priscilla: Here I am, Sam! [They embrace.]

Sam: Oh Priscilla, I’m so tired of lying alone over there in New York. I was hoping I could move in here with you, just like the old days. I’ve brought my tools.

Priscilla: Later Sam! There are people watching. Why don’t you introduce yourself?

Norm Stafford as Samuel Clapp.

Sam: Samuel Clapp at your service. Like so many buried here, I came from somewhere else – Scituate, over near Plymouth. I was the first son of John Clapp and Marcy Otis, both of proud Mayflower stock. The Captain, as we called my father, fought in the French Wars, and lived to tell of it. He ran the grist mill built by my grandfather and great-grandfather, and was also a fuller, finishing woven cloth so it could be sewn into clothing – wet, messy work. I followed in the Captain’s steps and learned the value of hard work, though never took to fulling, however much it helped pay the bills.

In 1751, I married the fair Lusannah – Lucy Dwelly as she then was called. [Priscilla rolls her eyes.] Lucy also came from an old Scituate family. Her relatives weren’t so lucky when the Indians came rampaging. Well, after the first few children had arrived, things between us got a little, er, “complicated,” and we decided a change of scene might be needed. So in 1754 we joined some Scituate neighbors seeking new pastures in New York State. There we hoped to be safe from the Indian raids. We settled in New Salem, about 25 miles north of Hoosic, and our last three children were born there. We thought that cursed war with the French and their Indian allies would never end, but it finally did.

By 1763 Lucy and I decided we were done with married life together, and hearing that the King of England was selling off land to the east, over in Western Massachusetts, I left Lucy and the family in New York and joined Mr. Nahum Eager in the wilderness then called “Plantation Number 3.” The place was rough, but it had potential. I was the first settler to build a house – of logs, of course – and the first to be deeded land by the five proprietors when they first divided up lots. My lot covered pretty much all the area known by you folks as Worthington Corners.

Record of lots sold to Samuel Clapp in 1763.

I wasn’t looking for a handout. I paid them good money, and like all of us early settlers, I worked hard on clearing land and building roads and bridges. We got paid, of course, but those proprietors kept careful expense records and weren’t quick to part with their money. That old shovel and pickax there could tell many a story.

Record of payments to Samuel Clapp in 1763-1764 by the original proprietors of what would become the Town of Worthington.

But I liked that work a whole lot better than fulling. It didn’t take long before I had enough money to buy a second lot, this time from Mr. Worthington, along what you call Brunson’s Brook on Capen Street.

We were building a whole new town. There was such excitement when Worthington, as they named the town, was finally incorporated that June in 1768 – around 250 years ago, I think, how the time flies! And my hard work and familiarity with the roads was recognized. At the first town meeting I was named a co-surveyor of highways, and a few years later I was named constable.

Like everyone else I was a churchgoing man, though I can’t say I was very devout or well-behaved. It was at the Reverend Huntington’s church that I first set eyes on the beautiful Priscilla Burton Benjamin. I knew she was married and had a brood of little ones. And though I loved her from the first I saw her, I bided my time. Right after she was widowed in 1772, I let her know how I felt.

Priscilla: Oh Sam, you were always too much the gentleman.

Sam: Well, no woman should be alone in this wilderness, especially with so many children. So after ten years on my own, I moved into Priscilla’s log home near what is now Almon Johnson Road. We posted our intention to marry the next year, though I can’t recall if we actually got around to the marrying part – my own marital situation being a bit unclear, if you get my meaning. I think it took ten years to actually tie the knot, not that I have the paper to prove it. But Priscilla did take my name, as you can see on her gravestone.

Priscilla: And proud I was to own it!

Sam: Priscilla’s children took to me. At their request, I became guardian to several of them, and they did well. In the War of Independence I counted myself a patriot, and would have joined the 55 Worthington men who walked all the way to Lexington to fight with the Minutemen, but at 51 I didn’t want to be a burden. My son, Lemuel, who had joined me in Worthington by that time, walked in my stead. My sons Isaac and Stephen enlisted shortly after that, also serving for the town of Worthington.

After we won and became a nation, I was counted among the 631 men listed in the very first Worthington census in 1790. Our household by then was just me and Priscilla.

After Priscilla passed to her heavenly reward in 1797, and the children grew up, age and sadness weakened my once-strong body. I eventually returned to New Salem, where I was cared for and died in 1809. The Clapp name is still honored in New Salem to this day. Lucy Clapp also lived in Salem until her death, two decades after mine. My stone is in a New York cemetery, but my heart lies here, with Priscilla and her son, James. [Picks up shovel and starts digging.]

Oh, one other thing. My daughter Lucinda married Asa Cottrell from Connecticut and settled here in Worthington to be near me. And their daughter – my granddaughter, Wealthy Cottrell – married William Rice from Conway. They used some land I owned to build a fine home right at the Corners. Wealthy’s granddaughter lived in that house too. I hear she became a famous playwright named Katharine McDowell Rice – is she here anywhere?

Priscilla: She is busy, Sam, and sends her regrets.

Sam: I’m told she got into quite a tiff with some of James’s descendants over a library. Here’s James himself – he can tell you about it.

James Benjamin Jr. (1757-1821): So, good friends, you’ve heard from my mother and stepfather. It’s time for the younger generation to take over, though I fear I compare poorly to their mettle and courage.

Priscilla: Oh James, don’t be so modest!

Jim Downey as James Benjamin Jr.

James Jr: I was but seven years old when we traveled from Preston in 1763. For me it was a great adventure foraging for food, drinking from brooks, sleeping in the woods. I wasn’t aware of the hardships. Even after we got here, it was still an adventure – for a while, at least. But I began to doubt I liked farming all that much. Unlike Preston, there were so many different things to plant and raise: wheat, rye, potatoes, corn, peas and beans; cows, and pigs, and sheep for wool; the trees that gave us sweeteners and cider; and the herbs we used as medicine. About the only things we bought from the store were sugar, salt, the occasional bolt of fabric or sheet of paper, and, of course, rum. Other stuff we needed – leather, tools, barrels, pens – we made right here in town. Mostly we bartered. Pennies were scarce and we had to mind each one.

Sam: You did good, lad. You were a hard worker.

James Jr.: Well as you’ve heard, my father died without a will in 1772. That took a while to sort out. With provision made for my mother’s well-being, his estate went to my oldest brother, Elisha, who had married our neighbor, the widowed Amy Leonard Curtis. Amy Leonard had traveled with us from Preston, and her land was joined with ours. After my sister Priscilla and brother Elisha left home, I happily allowed Mr. Clapp here to become guardian for me and my young brothers. We children had to agree in writing. It was a comfort that he liked my mother, too.

We had no end of chores. Not just the farming – we picked berries, churned butter, put pails on the maple trees in winter, chopped endless wood. We also trapped and hunted when we could. We carted our grain to Ringville, where Mr. Adams had the second grist-mill in town. The first was built by Mr. Worthington along Bronson’s Brook, near the Albany road around the Chesterfield border. That was the main reason the town was named for him.

I had to learn my letters, too – mostly through studying the Bible and the spelling books. The first school wasn’t built until 1773, when I was 16 and too old for school anyway. It was a log building near where the Holtens lived, around the intersection of what are now Radiker and Huntington Roads.

A couplet from Benjamin Graveyard.

But there was a lot more than hard work and book learning to keep a youth’s mind focused. At church meetings there were constant discussions about events around Boston, and how the British were wearing out their welcome. We were getting ready to fight, and as I grew to manhood I was more than ready. The town had created a Committee of Correspondence, naming Mr. Nahum Eager to represent us in Boston. The Town Meeting voted funds for citizens to buy ammunition in case we were attacked, and vowed to provide financial support to soldiers and the women and children left behind. I wasn’t going to be left behind – well, I didn’t get to walk to Lexington in 1775, but in 1776 I joined Captain Oliver Lyman’s regiment out of Northampton.

Sam: I wish I might have gone with you.

James Jr.: You had to stay here to move the Albany road so it could pass Nathan Daniel’s tavern. We were glad to hear that the tavern of that scoundrel Tory, Alexander Miller, wouldn’t get any more business!

Anyway, from 1776 through 1777 I was stationed at East Hoosick and served in the Battle of Saratoga, our first major victory against the British. I left the service after that, and

came back to our farm to discover that Town Meeting had instituted price controls, as I believe you’d call them. These were to prevent profiteering after the embargos on British goods, but they added to our hardships. Town Meeting also capped wages. Men could only earn 3 pence a day for their labor, while women earned only 3 pence a week. You can learn more if you read James Clay Rice’s fine history of Worthington [LINK]. James Clay Rice [LINK] was also Mr. Clapp’s grandson, and died a hero during the Civil War.

My brother Elisha died suddenly in 1781, intestate – what a blow! His father-in-law was the executor of what turned out to be a meager estate. Elisha was declared insolvent. But I managed to purchase his property at auction in November 1782 to help pay his debts. No more log cabins! The new home I built on his land was in the Federal style, a testament to the classical democratic principles our new nation was founded on. It was a fine house, with five bays and a crowned door with sidelights. It still stands proudly, looking much like when it was first built.

The house built by James Benjamin Jr.

At age 27 I married the widow Eunice Bromley Worthington – no relation to our esteemed proprietor, who lost a bit of his shine when he sided with the Crown. We settled down in our new home to raise a family. Eunice was born in Preston, like me. She had married Calvin Worthington in 1779, but was childless. We had ten children. Sadly, she died at age 45, just two years after the birth of our youngest, Francis Franklin Benjamin.

Gravestone of Eunice Benjamin at night. The verse reads, “My flesh shall slumber in the ground / till the last trumpets joyful sound / then burst the chains with sweet surprise / and in my Savours [Savior’s] image rise.” Photo by Evan Spring.

I stayed in our home, raising the children and farming until my death in 1821. I was also intestate – what were we thinking? – but by no means insolvent.

Sam: Don’t forget to tell them about Kezzie, James.

James Jr.: Right, Mr. Clapp. My children mostly did quite well. You know how children are, some make you proud, some are doomed to disappoint. They scattered the Benjamin name far and wide as the West opened to settlement. My daughter Keziah married Jesse Stone, who came from Worthington, and they moved to Columbus, Ohio, where their daughter Adelia was born. Adelia’s cousin Dwight Stone ended up buying that fine Woodbridge house [LINK] in Worthington Corners. You might have heard he wanted to donate land for the library and have it face his property. He and those Rices had quite a set-to about it. Well, the Rices won, of course, but –

Sibbel Holten (1723-1822): That’s enough, you Benjamins! And you too, Sam! You’ve always talked too much. Everyone, come up here to our quiet corner. We don’t get many visitors, just that kind Mr. Feakes with the odd British accent and young Ricki Chick who works so hard keeping our stones neat and straight!

Diane Brenner as Sibbel Holten.

I am Sibbel Holten, spelled with an “e,” so I’m told. In 1723 I was born near Worcester in what was still wilderness. Like most everyone here, my childhood was marked by that infernal warring with the French and their Indian allies, who tried to roust us from our homes. At one point things got so bad that the settlements of Deerfield, Hatfield, and Northampton had to be abandoned. The raiding didn’t stop until 1763, when the French finally gave up their claims to what the British liked to call New England. By then I was a grown woman.

My husband, Israel, lying here beside me, was born in Salem, Massachusetts – yes, that Salem. [Looks down suddenly.] Israel, can’t you see I’m busy? Ah, Israel wants me to tell you about Salem – so are you ready for a ghost story?

You may have visited Salem and noticed Holten Street, right at the center of town. Israel was born in the house at the end of that street [LINK] in 1720, the son of Benjamin Jr. and Lydia Holten. Israel’s grandparents, Benjamin Sr. and Sarah Holten, had lived there before. Their neighbor was a widow, Rebecca Nurse, a respected churchgoer who had inherited money and a great deal of land. She wasn’t one to let people push her around, and got involved in several lawsuits with the wealthy Putnam family, who wanted some of her land.

1893 illustration by Freeland Carter of the trial of Rebecca Nurse.

The Holtens kept pigs, none too carefully, and Rebecca didn’t care for them raiding her garden and rooting up her vegetables. One Saturday morning in 1689, she strode over to the Holtens and railed at Benjamin Sr., cursing and threatening harm to his pigs. Very angry, unladylike behavior to be sure. A few weeks later, Benjamin Sr. was dead after suffering horribly, with no apparent diagnosis!

Around two years later, Rebecca Nurse and a few other locals were charged by the Putnams with witchcraft. Sarah Holten was certain that her neighbor’s curse killed her husband, and her vivid testimony at the trial was crucial in condemning Rebecca to the noose. After Rebecca was executed in July 1692, the Putnams finally acquired some of her land. And not long after that, Sarah Holten married Benjamin Putnam and lived another fifteen years –unhappily, I hope. But enough about Salem!

Gravestone of Rebecca Nurse.

Israel and I married around 1741 and wandered from Worcester to Leicester to Marlborough to Spencer, all towns nearby each other. Israel was a shoemaker, and our family was growing ever larger . We moved so much because we weren’t always welcomed. We were even “warned out” of Spencer in 1762! That was common in those days. If a newly arrived family might become a burden on previous settlers, town authorities would forbid them to stay longer than three months. Most people made their own shoes at that time, and it was hard to establish a business in only three months. That soured me on “town authorities,” but we moved on quietly with our heads held high.

From Spencer, we moved to Brookfield and then on to Worthington among the earliest settlers. Finally we found our home! We bought Lot 38 from Mr. Barnard of Deerfield, at the intersection of what you call Huntington and Radiker Roads. Our son Samuel – child number ten – was born there during that cold winter of 1769, when I was 46. We were glad our home was close to the first school, so our children didn’t have far to walk. I was proud they learned their letters. I never did, and had to sign documents using my mark.

With plenty of good leather around, Israel settled down to ply his shoemaking trade. He was also one of the church founders, along with those Benjamins over there. He was among those baptized on a single day in October 1771 by the Reverend Huntington. Six years later Israel was dead, without a will, and the settlement took nearly three years. Dying without a will was expensive. Those esteemed town fathers – Misters Eager, Leonard, and Marsh – appointed themselves executors and charged 60 pounds for their services. Another 68 pounds were needed to settle Israel’s debts, and he was owed just 12 pounds for unpaid work.

Pounds, you ask? After declaring independence from England, the Province of Massachusetts became a Commonwealth, and while we started using dollars for some things, pounds were still used for legal matters. The word “dollar” referred to European silver coins, so that term was chosen to distinguish American from British currency. It was very confusing for quite awhile.

The estate, including the farm with 100 acres, was valued at over a thousand pounds, but there was little actual money. Most of the value was in furniture, clothing, animals, tools and Israel’s shoemaking materials.

Estate inventory for Israel Holten.

At one point, while conducting their inventory, the executors kindly allowed me three bushels of rye, sixteen bushels of corn, a half-bushel of pork, six pounds of butter, and nine pounds of suet for maintenance and support. And can you believe they took 18 pounds from the estate for it!

Allotment of food to the widow Sibbel Holten.

As was the custom for fatherless boys, Mr. Eager became the legal guardian for Sam, who was 12, Rufus, 14, and Benjamin, 15. Rufus and Benjamin were apprenticed out by then. Rufus was living in Ware, and Benjamin was with his oldest brother, Israel Jr., in Charlemont. The boys inherited their father’s light blue great coat, used shirts, and braces. In the end, the estate still owed a total of 500 pounds, which Israel Jr. and I scraped together.

By the time the estate was settled, the war against the British was in full swing. Our son Artemus signed up with Col. Wesson’s 9th Massachusetts Regiment. He was right glad of that 20-dollar bounty he was paid, and also got to wear a blue coat. Artemus didn’t come home to bury his father, but remained a soldier until May of 1780, serving at Saratoga and Valley Forge. Eventually all my children left. My daughter Sibella moved to Braintree. John went to Maine, and my daughter Phoebe set out for Illinois. Maine and Illinois weren’t even states then, and I never saw them again. My home, land and belongings all had to be sold, and I ended up boarding in other people’s homes.

I saw another war come and go, though I’m glad the War of 1812 drew less enthusiasm than earlier ones. I died in August of 1822, in my hundredth year – 99 years and 7 months, to be exact. It was an “advanced” age, as they say, but many folks in Worthington lived long lives, thanks to their clean living, hard work, and devotion to the Almighty.

But some didn’t. Why don’t you visit poor Amanda over there? She’s never stopped grieving.

Amanda Sadler Smith Edwards Spencer (1819-1908): Good evening, everyone, and thanks for paying a visit to us here in Benjamin Cemetery! I hope you saw the beautiful view when you came in. When I first settled here you could see over the bare hilltops for miles. We used up much of the standing timber and had those wide-open fields. That’s why so many farm families raised sheep! But I see the forest has reclaimed its rightful place.

Sheila Kinney as Amanda Sadler.

My name is Amanda Sadler Smith Edwards Spencer. Like the other ghosts this evening, I came here from somewhere else – the town of Orange. I was born on April Fool’s Day in 1819, the same year my poor father died. Five years before, he deserted the army. The scoundrel made sure to get the suit of clothes they owed him before he scarpered. My mother was left with us children and an estate worth $69.16, mostly just clothes and household items.

We moved west, like so many others, and settled in Ludlow, where I met my first husband, Phineas Smith, who sleeps here beside me. He was born in South Hadley, but was living in Worthington. We married in 1848 and soon moved in with his parents, Rufus and Salome Smith, who established themselves here in the 1820s next to the Leonards and Curtises. Rufus had a small working farm of 100 acres with one horse, a pair of oxen, several cows and near 40 sheep. Those sheep provided the bulk of our income, though we also produced corn, peas, rye, maple syrup, and other items for trade and sustenance. Our cows were good producers too, and their esteemed butter was sold nearby at The Creamery in Ringville.

1853 was a terrible year in Worthington for sickness. Twenty-three people died, including my entire small family! First, my son, Albion, only four years old. Then two weeks later, his sister, Amelia, only two. Imagine my despair when my dear husband was taken from me just two weeks later! I was with child that awful summer, and in September gave birth to my son, named Phineas after his father, only to lose him two weeks later! Like me, he never knew his father. I lost my three children and husband within two months.

23 deaths recorded in Worthington for the year 1853. The long division at the bottom computes the average age of death to be 28.56 years.

Gravestone for Phineas Smith Jr.

They died of what we called the bloody flux, which you know as dysentery – a terrible sickness that takes over the poor body. Oh, they suffered such pain! No one knew why it struck only my dear ones and one of the Leonard children, but now I surmise that something fouled our food or water. To think I might have fed them something that killed them has given me many restless nights. I searched my soul for a sin that might have caused God to rain this horror down upon me. Why I wasn’t taken too I cannot say.

If not for my husband’s parents, I would have found myself all alone in this place. But I couldn’t stay here – a young, childless widow living with her in-laws. I can’t say they blamed me, but things never felt right. So I moved down to Northampton and found a place as a servant on the Strong farm. In 1862 I married a kind man, Mr. Charles Edwards, and helped care for his children and his aged mother. Mr. Edwards died in 1880 and I married Mr. Spencer Parsons, also a farmer. He had a lovely daughter, Ruth, who became my dear companion. Mr. Parsons and I shared the pain of losing a young child – his son, Joseph, died at age two. I never had another child of my own. After Mr. Parsons’ death in 1891, Ruth and I stayed together, moving from rooming house to rooming house, until we finally settled at 105 Prospect Street in Northampton for the last ten years of my life. We used to laugh because she had no husband and I had had three! She died just two years after I did.

When I died in 1908 I had seen more sorrow than most, but I was brought back here to dwell peacefully in this beautiful, quiet spot with my dear Phineas and my beloved children.

I see our time on this sweet field must end, and we must return to the spirit world. On behalf of the other wraiths, I want to thank you all for coming to learn something of our joys and sorrows – much like your own. Be careful returning to your homes and remember to get your wells tested!

A couplet from Benjamin Graveyard.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

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: www.dianebrenner.com.

Warm thanks to Madeleine Cahill, Norm Stafford, Jim Downey, Diane Brenner, and Sheila Kinney for their sterling impersonations of the dead.

Posted August 7, 2019.

Postcards from Worthington Center

by Evan Spring 

Worthington Center, previously known as “Center Village,” lies at the town’s geographic center along its main north-south artery. The Center has hosted the Congregational Church since 1790, and holds the town commons. Town Hall was dedicated in 1855, and the Consolidated School (now known as Russell H. Conwell School) joined the neighborhood in 1940.

Most of these Worthington Center postcards were printed from 1907 to the 1920s, the “golden age” of postcard writing and collecting. The originals are stored in the WHS collection.

Our first card, postmarked 1909, looks north from the intersection of Huntington Road (now Rte. 112) and Sam Hill/Harvey Roads. Town Hall is straight ahead, with the Congregational Church just visible to the left. Note the well-used footpaths on both sides of the road:

The next card, postmarked 1907, shifts perspective to capture the Church:

The next card takes a wider view, with the store on the right:

This strip of road was then known as “Main Street.” The following postcards also capture Main Street, but from the opposite direction, facing south:

The southern boundary of Worthington Center was never set in stone, but we’ll begin our postcard house tour with the “Chauncey Pease House” at 343 Huntington Road (Rte. 112), above the Radiker Road intersection. The WHS postcard collection includes many house portraits, as homeowners would commonly contract with photographers to issue postcards of their homes. Built around 1888, this elaborate house was architect-designed in late Gothic Revival style as a summer retirement home for Chauncey Pease, a New York-based piano manufacturer. The extra-wide veranda survives today, if not the tennis court:

Moving north we come to Pine Brook Farm at 311 Huntington Road. This property was bought by Canadian native Alberie E. Albert in 1932, and became the headquarters for the Albert family’s vast potato business. 

The next postcard shows a croquet match in progress:

The next photograph was taken from the east side of Huntington Road, near the present remains of the air strip:

Continuing north and turning right, we shortly arrive at the “Ames House,” also known as “Hilltop Farm,” at 22 Harvey Road. In 1883, a nurse from Boston named Bessie Ames bought the property and hired an architect to design this Colonial Revival home. Ames boarded summer visitors until the late 1930s, accommodating 16 to 20 people per season at $10 per week. The house later belonged to potato farmer A. E. Albert, who leased it to his employees. More recently the house was restored by John Newell and Lyn Horton:

At the southwest corner of Huntington Road and Sam Hill Road (4 Sam Hill Road) is the “Hewitt House,” first built in 1837 and initially owned by Daniel T. Hewitt (1797-1879) and his wife, Matelda (née Parish, 1797-1840). For several years Mr. and Mrs. Franklyn Hitchcock operated a restaurant here called The Golden Horse, a reference to the barn’s weathervane. This postcard dates from around 1918:

The next postcard of Hewitt House faces west along Sam Hill Road. Note the fire hydrant under the street sign. In 1912 John D. Willard, a Worthington minister, described “Center village” for the periodical Western New England: “Here we notice a feature unusual in the hills; fire hydrants. Worthington has just installed a new system of water supply, of unusually good quality.”

The house pictured below is at 217 Huntington Road, across from Hewitt House at the northwest corner of Huntington and Sam Hill Roads. This winter postcard from around the 1930s faces west down Sam Hill Road:

A later postcard features the same house after the paving of Main Street:

Across the street, at the northeast corner of Huntington Road and Harvey Road, was the Brewster Store (now 218 Huntington Road). In the early 1900s it was simply known as “the Center store,” with a substantial inventory of staples, tobacco, medicines, fabrics, clothing, tools, and hardware. The store closed in 1941 and is now a residence. This postcard is postmarked 1907:

The next postcard shows a team of oxen hitched to a sleigh in front of the store. The sign reads “Franklin H. Burr,” who ran the store for about a decade starting in 1906:

The next postcard identifies the owner as H. J. Welch, and the sign at the right reads “Horse Shoeing / General Jobbing”:

The next postcard, from around 1918, captures the street view looking north:

Just north of the former store is the “Brewster Homestead” at 212 Huntington Road. The house was first built by Elisha Brewster, who fought in the Revolutionary War. This postcard, with leaves obscuring the house, refers to judge Elisha Hume Brewster (1871-1946), the first president of the Worthington Historical Society:

The house in the next postcard is across the street at 209 Huntington Road. John Z. Frissell (born Peru, MA, 1861) and his wife Edna Leslie Frissell (born Worthington, 1868) ran a boarding house advertised as “Ideal country home, beautiful location. All fresh fruit and vegetables served in season; home cooking. Terms reasonable.” The Frissells are buried in North Cemetery.

Returning to the east side of the street and continuing north, we come to the “Isaiah Kingman House,” also known as “Russell Cottage,” at 202 Huntington Road. This property was once a tavern. The following postcard dates from around 1915:

Further north is “Dr. Lyman’s house” at 196 Huntington Road. Dr. William Robinson Lyman (1880-1957) lived and practiced from this house in Worthington during the opening decade of the 20th century:

Continuing up the east side of Huntington Road/Rte. 112, we come to the “W.B.S. Parsonage”  at 188 Huntington Road, built in 1894 by the Women’s Benevolent Society (originally the Ladies Aid Society) in an unadorned Queen Anne style. A number of ministers lived here with their families. In the 1930s the house was leased to the town nurse, Florence Berry, for patient services and hospice care. The house was transferred back to the Church In 1945, and was sold as a private residence in 1977.

Next up is a particularly prized photo in the WHS postcard collection, showing the Congregational Church that was built around 1825. This church burned down in 1887, and the current church is at the same location. The viewpoint is the Corners, and the smaller building to the left is Town Hall. As the photograph dates from 1887 or before, this is a rare case of an early 20th-century Worthington postcard using a historic photo:

The current Congregational Church was dedicated in 1888, the year after the fire, complete with steeple, bells, organ, and new stained-glass windows. This church is a major star in our postcard collection:

Town Hall, built in Greek Revival style to celebrate our democratic heritage, was dedicated in 1855. This postcard shows Town Hall before the lettering was added to the front:

Power lines came to Worthington in 1928:

The next postcard view is “from the Town Hall,” according to the caption, but the viewpoint is from across the street, below the church, facing south across the town common to the W.B.S. Parsonage:

Behind Town Hall was an unusually shaped house that was donated to the Town by Ralph Moran but recently demolished. The house was once known as “Parsons camp”: 

Our postcard tour of Worthington Center ends with the Russell H. Conwell School, originally called the Consolidated School and built in 1940:

This is the third in a series of four exhibits of Worthington postcards. The fourth installment will cover the golf course, waterfalls, stagecoaches, country lanes, and everything in between.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Evan Spring is a jazz historian and freelance editor serving as WHS president. He moved to Worthington in 1998. 

Posted May 18, 2019.

Moses Sash: Black Worthingtonian of Shays’ Rebellion

Portrait of Moses Sash by Bryant White, https://whitehistoricart.com. Posted courtesy of the artist.

by Pat Kennedy, Diane Brenner and Evan Spring

Among Worthington’s unsung heroes is an African American man by the name of Moses Sash, remembered mostly for his significant role in Shays’ Rebellion. Sash was born in 1755 in Stoughton, Massachusetts, to Moses Sash and Sarah Colly (or Colby) Sash. His family appeared to be free people of color for at least two generations before his birth, and Moses Sr. served as a private in the French and Indian War.

Moses Sash Jr. moved to the town of Cummington before or during the War of Independence. Like many other East Coast settlers, he probably came for cheap farmland. In August 1777 Sash enlisted on the colonial side as a private in the regiment of Colonel Ruggles Woodbridge of South Hadley, serving over three months. In April 1780 he re-enlisted for a three-year term and served in the 7th Massachusetts regiment around West Point, New York, under Colonel John Brooks, starting in December 1780. For his service he received a “stipulated” enlistment bounty from the town of Cummington.

1752 marriage record for Moses Sash and Sarah Colly (or Colby), the parents of Moses Sash Jr. The record identifies them as “Mulatoes.”

In 1783, according to Daniel Porter’s Selling Worthington, Sash purchased Lot 69 in Worthington from Aaron Willard, one of the town’s five original “proprietors.” This lot is located near present-day Cudworth Road, behind the Capen-Riverside schoolhouse off Dingle Road. Town records of the time refer to “Moses Sash, black yeoman.” Sash’s original house site has not been confirmed.

This map, made by Frank Feakes for the WHS publication “Selling Worthington,” superimposes Worthington’s current roads on a property lot map made around 1763. Lot 69, which was sold to Moses Sash, is in the vicinity of the present-day Dingle Road (Rte. 112), Cudworth Road, and Clark Hill Road.

On March 17, 1785, Sash married Abigail Richardson of Cummington, and by 1790 they probably had at least one or two children, as the first federal census of that year refers to “Moses Sash and 4 free people, not white.” The only other “free person, not white” appearing in Worthington on the 1790 census is included in the household of Dr. Jonathan Brewster.

Daniel Porter reports in the WHS publication Forty Houses of Worthington that Brewster moved to Worthington in 1770 “with wife, children, and one slave.” Slavery had essentially ended in Massachusetts by 1790, but there were instances where former slaves continued to live with the families who had owned them, so the person listed in 1790 in Brewster’s home could be the same person identified as a slave in 1770.

Headings for the 1790 census.

1790 census listing for the Worthington household of Jonathan Brewster, indicating one non-white free person.

1790 census listing for the Worthington household of Moses Sash.

Sash’s military records describe him as “a farmer laborer” who was 5’ 8” with a “black” complexion and hair of “wool.” Sash likely continued to farm in Worthington until the unrest of 1786-1787, which came to be known as Shays’ Rebellion in honor of its leader, Daniel Shays. Sash was called back to action alongside his fellow veterans, who resisted what they considered unfair taxes imposed by the new colonial government to address its war debts. Farmers who couldn’t pay their taxes were jailed as debtors and lost their farms through foreclosure.

On January 25, 1787, Sash participated in Shays’ failed attempt to seize the Springfield Arsenal. Sash was then 31 or 32 years old. Government troops scattered the insurgents with mortars and pursued them to the north and east. Shays’ men regrouped and sent out parties to secure food and weapons. Sash was apprehended in South Hadley on January 30, where he was allegedly procuring or stealing guns. On February 4 government troops invaded Shays’ camp in Petersham, Massachusetts, but most of the rebel leadership escaped north into New Hampshire and Vermont. In late February a small band of insurgents marched on Stockbridge, Massachusetts, but the Rebellion was soon suppressed.

Sash was indicted by Hampshire County authorities in Northampton on April 9, 1787. Over 200 indictments were issued in Northampton that day, and in Sash’s packet of 33 indictments, Sash was the only African American, the only “labourer,” and the only person charged with two indictments. Only three other black men are known to have participated in the insurgency. Shays’ Rebellion was led chiefly by farmers, and not many African Americans were landholders. Other Worthington participants in Shays’ Rebellion include Nathan Leonard, Elijah Morse, Samuel Morse, Obidiah Palmer, and Hezikiah Partridge. At the same time, Samuel Buffington and Elisha Brewster were called up on the government side to help defend the Springfield Arsenal, pitting Sash against at least two other townspeople in battle.

The first indictment against Sash was for sedition, and the second was for stealing two guns for the “rioters.” The first indictment of Moses Sash reads as follows:

“The jurors of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts upon their oath present that Moses Sash of Worthington…a negro man & Labourer being a disorderly, riotous & seditious person & minding & contriving as much as in him lay unlawfully by force of arms to stir up promote incite & maintain riots mobs tumults insurrections in this Commonwealth & to disturb impede & prevent the Government of the same & the due administration of justice in the same, & to prevent the Courts of justice from sitting as by Law appointed for that purpose & to promote disquiets, uneasiness, jealousies, animosities & seditions in the minds of the Citizens of this Commonwealth on the twentieth day of January in the year of our Lord Seventeen hundred & eighty seven & on divers other days & times as well before as since that time at Worthington…unlawfully & seditiously with force & arms did advise persuade invite in courage & procure divers persons…of this Commonwealth by force of arms to oppose this Commonwealth & the Government thereof & riotously to join themselves to a great number of riotous seditious persons with force & arms thus opposing this commonwealth & the Government thereof as aforesaid &c the due administration of justice in the same, and in pursuance of his wicked seditious purposes aforesaid unlawfully & seditiously, did procure guns, bayonets, pistols, swords, gunpowder, bullets, blankets & provisions & other warlike instruments offensive & defensive & other warlike supplies, & did cause & procure them to be carried & conveyed to the riotous & seditious persons as aforesaid in evil example to others to offend in like manner against the peace of the Commonwealth aforesaid & dignity of the same.”

Written on the back of this indictment are the words “a Captain & one of Shaises [Shays’] Councill Misdemr,” implying Sash had an official rank and prominent role in the Rebellion. No other indictments in this packet of records contain similar markings. Sash was eventually pardoned by the new state governor John Hancock, along with almost all other participants charged in the Rebellion.

Sash probably lived in Worthington after the Rebellion until at least 1793, as he is listed in the “Valuation Taken for State Taxes” that year. In a 1797 census, Sash is apparently listed in Townshend, Vermont. The Sashes had family connections to the Peters family in Hinesburg, Vermont, as detailed below, though Townshend and Hinesburg are not close to each other.

The 1800 census shows Moses Sash still living in Worthington with six additional non-white free persons. By this time the census shows 20 non-white free persons in Worthington altogether, including two other heads of household.

By 1810 the Sash family had moved to Hartford, Connecticut, where he appears on the federal census as “Moses Sash, Black, 4,” suggesting a household of four persons.

In 1820, for his service in the Revolutionary War, Moses Sash received a pension of $8 per month. His statement to the court reads, “I have no property real or personal. I am by occupation a day laborer at farming can labor but very little. I have a wife aged 56 in tolerable health my wife’s mother aged 97 & have no other family. I have been partly supported by the town of Hartford for several years cannot subsist without a pension & that is not sufficient to support myself & family without some aid from the charitable of Hartford.”

1820 pension application for Moses Sash.

In February 1820, a few months before submitting the pension application above, Sash sued Samuel Peters, a black resident of Hinesburgh, VT (now Hinesburg) for $1000 as repayment for the care of Peters’ mother. Sash won the lawsuit, but Peters was ordered to pay only $300 in damages plus $23.02 in court costs. According to Elise Guyette’s book Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890, Samuel Peters was the brother of Sash’s wife Abigail, even though her maiden name was Richardson. Abigail and Samuel had another brother named Prince Peters, who, like Sash, enlisted for the War of Independence in Cummington. Prince Peters appears in the 1800 Worthington census, heading a household of seven people.

A daughter of Moses and Abigail Sash died in 1805 at age 20. It is unclear whether the Sashes had any surviving children when Moses applied for his pension, despite his claim of having “no other family.” Marriage records do show a Huldah Sash marrying John Wright, both “people of Color,” in Hartford on December 27, 1821. Moses had an older sister by the same name.

Moses Sash’s wife, Abigail, died on May 21, 1826, in Hartford. Moses himself died May 30, 1827, also in Hartford, leaving an estate valued at $32.04. Both he and Abigail are buried in the “Ancient Burying Ground” of Hartford’s Center Cemetery.

Death notice for Moses Sash, Hartford Times, June 11, 1827. Sash was a private in the Revolutionary War, not a captain, but ironically he was referred to as a “Captain” in a notation on his indictment for participating in Shays’ Rebellion.

Death notice for Moses Sash, Connecticut Observer, June 18, 1827.

Probate inventory for Moses Sash, 1827.

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Carvalho, Joseph. Black Families in Hampden County, Massachusetts: 1650-1865. Boston: New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2011. Carvalho assumes Sash was present at the Battle of Petersham on February 4, 1787, without direct evidence, while Kaplan’s 1948 article below relies on court documents to show Sash was captured on January 30. Carvalho also claims Sash was “sentenced to hang” before his pardon, but provides no citation; Kaplan says, probably correctly, that the court never pursued the indictments. Carvalho also mistakenly traces Moses Sash to Clarence, New York, after his wife’s death in 1826.

Guyette, Elise A. Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England, 2010. This book has some information on Moses Sash’s 1820 lawsuit against Samuel Peters.

Kaplan, Sidney. “A Negro Veteran in Shays’ Rebellion.” The Journal of Negro History 33/2 (April 1948): 123-129. Kaplan researched the court documents with Sash’s indictments, and some details of his findings were apparently misconstrued and then repeated over the years. For instance, Carvalho’s book (above) and other sources claim Sash was the only African American and only laborer among those indicted in Northampton, but Kaplan’s article notes this applies only to the “packet” of 33 indictments that includes Sash.

—. “Blacks in Massachusetts and the Shays Rebellion.” Contributions in Black Studies 8 (1986): 1-10. Available free online at https://scholarworks.umass.edu/cibs/vol8/iss1/ This article is not about Sash, but addresses why some African Americans in Boston offered to help the government quell the insurgency.

Shays’ Rebellion & the Making of a Nation, website of Springfield Technical Community College: http://shaysrebellion.stcc.edu/

Calliope Film Resources. “Shays’ Rebellion.” Copyright 2002 CFR. http://www.calliope.org/shays/shays4.html

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Pat Kennedy, vice president of the Worthington Historical Society (WHS), teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. Diane Brenner, a book indexer, has lived in Worthington since 1994 and has been a longtime WHS board member and archivist. Evan Spring, jazz historian, editor, and WHS president, moved to Worthington in 1998.

Posted May 2, 2019.

Arthur Capen and the Worthington Library

Arthur Capen at the church organ.

At the WHS Annual Meeting on Sunday afternoon, September 27, 2015, attendees reminisced about Worthington’s Frederick Sargent Library (then celebrating its 100th anniversary) and its venerable librarian Arthur Capen (1881-1981), who was also a teacher, church organist, Grange member, and clerk or treasurer for several town organizations. The following transcript of this discussion has been very lightly edited for readability. The proceedings began with an introduction by Julia Sharron, one of Capen’s successors as town librarian.

Arthur Capen as an infant.

Julia Sharron: Arthur Granville Capen was born December 4th, 1881. He was the only son of Granville Capen and Hattie Blackstone, and they lived in the Capen home – number 4 Capen Street – that was in the family for many generations. Then Arthur’s father died at 67 years old, and that meant his wife, Hattie, was a widow. So Arthur did take care of her. They moved to Enfield, Massachusetts, and Mr. Capen taught for about ten years in Enfield, from 1917 to 1926. At that time there was discussion on building the Quabbin Reservoir, so the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich and Prescott were demolished to make the reservoir, and everything had to go.

Arthur Capen grew up in this house built by Elijah Drury in 1813, now 4 Capen Street. Arthur’s grandfather, Daniel Capen of Windsor, bought the home in 1850 and moved there in 1863 with his wife, the former Irene Tower, and son, Granville (1857-1924). In 1880 Granville married Hattie Marie Blackman (1859-1950), and their son Arthur was born in 1881. The Capens lived here until Granville’s death in 1924, after which Hattie sold the house and moved with Arthur to Enfield, MA, where he was a teacher. In the late 1920s, when Enfield was subsumed in the Quabbin Reservoir, Arthur and Hattie settled back to Worthington on Old Post Road.

Arthur Capen and his classmates during the 1887-1888 school year.

Arthur Capen, center, c. 1897, assisting teacher Jennie Higgins at the Riverside-Capen School. Around 1909-1910 he returned there as head teacher.

Julia Sharron: Well, Mr. Capen was not only a teacher there in Enfield, he was also the librarian there for ten years. So he was able to get about 720 or more volumes of books that he brought to the library here. And also he brought about $5,000, which at that time was a lot of money. That’s how our library got its second addition, with that $5,000. And I might be wrong, but there might still be books there from Enfield. I know when I was a librarian they were there.

Mr. Capen was a confirmed bachelor. He was a caregiver for his mother, Hattie, for many years. He was active in Worthington in all aspects of life. He was an organist for the church for 50 years, which was tremendous. He was a teacher in school here. He also taught at Lyceum Hall for a number of years. He was a clerk for the water district for 36 years, and that in itself was incredible. He was a member of the school board, and he helped build the R. H. Conwell School, and later on he was instrumental in helping with an addition there. He was also correspondent for 21 years for the Berkshire Eagle. And of course we can’t forget that he was the librarian at Frederick Sargent Huntington Library for 67 years, starting in 1909. He was instrumental in having the Cutter system put in place – that’s the system of finding books by authors and so on. Later on he developed the Dewey Decimal System, as is used throughout the United States.

Howes brothers photograph, c. 1908, of Arthur Capen and his pupils at the Ringville School.

Arthur Capen, right, teaching upper grades (5 to 8) at the Corners School in Lyceum Hall, 1914.

The school at Lyceum Hall. As you can see, students skied there in winter.

Julia Sharron: Every time you went into the library you would hear, “tick-tock, tick-tock,” and that was the clock. It was so quiet in there. Mr. Capen paid very close attention to detail – everything was perfect. The books were around the walls, and we didn’t have the shelving that we have now. And if you were going to pick out a book, he would watch you, so you had to hurry up and get that book. [laughter] And he would also tell you what new books had come in, because he had a screen that went from almost the ceiling to the roof. He would take the outside cover of the book and hang it up, and that way you knew there’s a new book here. And if he didn’t like a book, it went in the fire. [laughter] I never knew if Peyton Place made the shelving or not. [laughter]

During the winter months and holidays we would have Ida Joslyn and Mrs. Lucie Mollison at the library. And by the wonderful fireplace he would have a fire going, and they would be reading Dickens, which was very nice. And we did have a little entertainment on occasion – he played the piano. He would have a couple students come in and play every so often. Helen [Sharron Pollard] played once, or somebody would sing. There would be refreshments served, but it was simple. Also during the holiday, say, Christmas week, you would go into the library and he would have a little Christmas music going – very softly, but really very nice.

Hampshire Gazzette, June 1, 1937.

Berkshire Eagle, June 16, 1947.

Julia Sharron: Now Mr. Capen didn’t have an automobile, and he would walk to the library. If it was slippery he had cleats on his rubbers so he wouldn’t slip. And I love this photo here, because that was typical of Mr. Capen going back and forth from the library to the store. He wore his black jacket always, his gloves, his chapeau. He carried that tote, and in that tote was his lunch or whatever. Because when he was at the library, there was no running water, no bathroom facilities, nothing. There was a dirt floor.

Sometimes I would ask if he would like dessert. He always liked desserts, and he would say, “Yes, that would be very nice.” And Damaris Fernandez-Sierra and Mrs. [Lois Ashe] Brown were very nice to him, and helped out all the time. They would bring soup or whatever. The library would be closed, but he knew you were coming, so you could come in. At that black walnut table that’s still there now, he would set out his placemat and tableware. He would have a certain place for his napkin – everything had to be okay. So you came in with his dessert or whatever, and he would say, “Okay, you could put that right here.” He was very careful about that. On occasion he would walk to the store and buy a little Dixie cup, that was his treat.

Mr. Capen was very, very nice. He was a gentleman all the time. He wore a suit, and he never hesitated to say hello when you came in the library, very meekly. The whole place was as neat as can be. Now when it was time for his vacations, guess where he went? He went to the Y in Pittsfield, that was his favorite spot. [laughter] Sometimes Emmy Snyder or other people in town would take him there. And he loved eating, and desserts. He never thought he was a good cook, so in Pittsfield he would eat out and have the desserts of his life and all. And when he came back home I’d say, “Well, Mr. Capen, did you have a good time?” And he’d say, “Oh yeah, I ate a lot, it was really good.” [laughter]

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

On April 16, 1959, Arthur Capen’s friends surprised him with a “This Is Your Life” celebration, modeled on the popular TV show of the same name. Friends and relatives gathered to reminisce, and Arthur’s gift was a portable TV set.

Julia Sharron: One time we got this overdue notice in the mail – it was really orange, so you could see it – three children’s books. And I said, “Oh my gosh, I don’t remember seeing these books.” So I asked my girls, “Did any of you take these books out?” and they said, “No Mom, we didn’t.” So the next time the library was open, I went over and said, “Mr. Capen, I’ve talked to the girls, and we did not take out these books.” And he’s looking at me, and he says, “Well, you have so many kids, I can’t keep track of them, and I just thought they were your kids.” [laughter] And so after that I started to be a little bit more careful about writing down every time the kids took out a book.

Now Mr. Capen did not like women interfering with him very much, he would get a little upset with Damaris on occasion and maybe Mrs. Brown, but she knew how to put him in his place. [laughter] So I would gradually say, “Well, Mr. Capen, could I somehow have a couple of kids’ programs?” And he would say, “Well, I’ll think about it.” And finally one day he said, “Yes, that would be nice if you could.” So I started with a few stories and so on, and that worked out very well.

Now as he was getting on in life, he was holding up, but he was coming and going, and the winters were bad. And Damaris, Mrs. Brown, and myself, we would communicate by the phone and say, “Okay, can you take Mr. Capen home today, can you pick him up?” We’d go back and forth like that so he wouldn’t have to walk home, and that worked out. He would always say, “I don’t really want you to do this,” and we’d say, “We know you don’t, but we’re gonna do it anyway.” [laughter]

But he was such a wonderful fellow. I was so glad that I had known him. It’s hard for me to believe that I really knew somebody that was born in the 1800s, besides my grandparents. I really thought a lot of him. He was very nice to the children, and he was soft-spoken, and he was always a gentleman.

Mr. Capen died at the age of 99 in 1981. He was in the Hampshire Hospital, and as I said, he was the only son. He had cousins, but I never knew any of them. He was buried where his mom and dad are in Northampton – there’s a family plot there. He was cremated, and that’s where his ashes are.

 

Helen Sharron Pollard: My mother is correct – Arthur Capen was such a sweet man, but he scared me to death. [laughter] When I was a little girl, I’d go into that silent library –the ticking of the clock, it was so quiet. And the fire going, and the hissing of the water as it dripped down the chimney into the fire. It was lovely to be there. I am the oldest of my mother’s “so many” children, and for me going into the library had a special meaning. It was very quiet, there was nobody else there. I had my own time to peruse the shelves and read all the books I could possibly get my hands on. While there were a number of children in town, Mr. Capen knew who I was, I was just there so much.

My little sisters would ruin books. They’d write in them, they’d tear covers off, and I always felt terrible about it. But one day I was reading under a tree, and I left my book outside and it rained. I felt so bad about it, but he was just very nice to me. I thought he was going to yell at me – there was fire and brimstone behind him – but he was very sweet. I had the book under my coat to keep it from any further damage, and I’m sure he burned it. [laughter]

He always wore a beautiful white shirt, and a black tie, and his black suit. And if you had an overdue book – for three cents or what have you – you’d have to put it in the little change bucket. I guess I was there enough that when he needed some help – when I was maybe 15 or 16 years old – I got hired over one summer to help him put the stamps on some of the books, and tape or paste in the field and this and that. But one day I stacked a set of books on a glass table, and I cracked the glass, and I’m not sure I got asked back. [laughter]

But my memories of him are just of a sweet, wonderful man. And looking back on it, he’s one of those people that was an institution. He was the library. His character and his personality really defined what that building was for a very long time. And as a kid, it’s a wonderful thing to see how much a person’s energy, or spirit, can really own something like that.

Evan Spring [to Julia Sharron]: You were saying he would decide which books he liked and didn’t like. What was his taste?

Julia Sharron: Well I don’t know his taste per se, but if there was something that was a little grey written in the book – like a “damn” or something – that was his way of throwing it out.

Helen Sharron Pollard: Oh, but there were nude photos upstairs. [laughter] It was a photography book with nude pictures, and it had on it: “This is not to be taken out of the library.” [laughter] It was upstairs hidden in a corner, but I did find it because I was cleaning and helping.

Evan Spring: These were “artistic” pictures?

Helen Sharron Pollard: I don’t know as a child that I could say that they were artistic, but they were interesting.

Pat Kennedy: Was the fireplace the only heat?

Julia Sharron: Yes. They didn’t have heat for a long time. Maybe in the seventies.

Diane Brenner: Wow. When did the bathroom go in?

Julia Sharron: Same time, yeah.

Diane Brenner: Was there an outhouse?

Julia Sharron: Well, as I said earlier, it was a dirt floor in the cellar. Figuring, you know – [laughter]

Sheila Kinney: Reading some of the old minutes, there was a comment that the selection committee rejected some books for “low moral tone.” [laughter] I’d love to know which ones they were.

Evan Johnson [to Julia Sharron]: What year did you start driving him? How old was he?

Julia Sharron: Well, we didn’t move here until the sixties, so it was in the seventies perhaps.

Evan Johnson: So he was doing it well into his eighties?

Julia Sharron: Yes, yes.

Hampshire Gazzette, January 31, 1976.

Helen Sharron Pollard: I think he was librarian ’til probably 1976, because there were four students, me included, that were librarians after him, until you [Julia Sharron] started. I was in high school. But he couldn’t stand by himself at that point, and it was kind of dangerous to leave him alone in the library. He would hold on to the desk, because otherwise he’d be unsteady.

Diane Brenner: He looked to have visual problems too. I know he had eye surgery at one point, which might have been cataracts, which was a much bigger deal then.

Julia Sharron: But he was so proud he wouldn’t tell anybody.

Ben Brown: There were other people, no doubt, taking care of him in his advanced years – bringing groceries, and checking in on him, and so forth. And I vaguely remember about the light, a light system signal of some sort.

Julia Sharron: If he needed help at all, the light was on.

Ben Brown: Yeah, people were looking out for him. I have just the memories of a little boy, and I apparently didn’t spend as much time in the stacks as you [Helen Sharron Pollard] did. [laughter] Never did discover the nude photographs. But you mentioned the tick-tock of the clock, that takes me back. You’d open the front door, creak. And there he’d be, right straight ahead, with the little librarian lamp with the green glass shade. And the musty smell, and the leather chairs. It was just the same, every single time. Just a timeless library experience. And he’d have his visor on, and he’d say very quietly, “Hello?”

While he was there I didn’t spend much time except in the children’s room, that little back room that had kids’ books. And I took out the same Doctor Seuss books over and over and over again. But also I lived across the field from Arthur Capen. He was rarely seen in the yard. Never mowed the yard – it was always long, shaggy, overgrown, as I remember it. And this is probably in his later years, but he did keep the rainfall records that my mom [Lois Ashe Brown] eventually took over, and he did it for an extremely long time. The few times that we would see him outside of his house – other than walking back and forth from the library, with tiny, mincing steps – would be checking the rain gauge. He was not somebody that tried to keep us out of the back yard, like some of his neighbors did. He was just laissez-faire – “It’s not my domain, go ahead.” But yes, he was very soft-spoken, and refined, and gentlemanly, exactly that. Always dressed with the same –

Arthur Capen leaving for work on his 91st birthday, December 4, 1972.

Julia Sharron: Chapeau.

Ben Brown: Chapeau hat, yeah, carrying his valise.

Diane Brenner: My understanding was that the rain records were part of his job as water district clerk, to help the water district sustain itself. He received a citation for that particular aspect of his work from the state water district commission or whatever, because of drought and keeping the water supply up. There were many, many articles over the years about, “The water table’s up, the water table’s down.”

Arthur Capen was clerk-treasurer of the Worthington Fire District for 36 years, and in that capacity recorded daily precipitation levels.

The Worthington Grange chapter, now defunct, was organized in 1903 to promote farming cooperatives, agricultural fairs, and educational and social programs. Arthur Capen, though never a farmer, was a charter member and served as secretary, lecturer and representative to conferences throughout the state and New England.

Hampshire Gazzette, December 6, 1972.

Diane Brenner: When I started gathering this information about him, he was like the clerk of everything, or treasurer of everything. He was the clerk of the Grange. He was the clerk, actually, of the Historical Society, too. The church, the school. He was on the board of the Conwell school down in South Worthington, before it closed. When did he do all this? And some of it, like the library, he did when he was teaching in Enfield. He apparently got the job from Katharine McDowell Rice, who was the first librarian, when she quit in 1909. So he was librarian from 1909 ’til whenever – 1976, you said. Some of those years he wasn’t here, but he did maintain the job. He was still coming to meetings, and so –

Julia Sharron: Yeah but don’t forget, the library wasn’t open that many hours, like it is now. So that made a difference as well.

Diane Brenner: So how often was it open?

Julia Sharron: Well, it was 10 to 12 and 2 to 7 for many years.

Helen Sharron Pollard: On Wednesdays, and then Saturday from 10 to 5.

Julia Sharron: But he lived very frugally, and he had little wants. And he was a bachelor – no one to answer to.

Hampshire Gazzette, August 2, 1941.

Jim Downey: So did he remain in the farmhouse, even when he was living in Enfield? He kept his mother there?

Julia Sharron: Yeah, about three years. And then he sold it.

Jim Downey: And then he brought her to Enfield.

Julia Sharron: Yeah, and then they came back on Old Post Road.

Diane Brenner: My reading of it was that Granville Capen, his father, died in 1924. And Arthur was back here pretty much full-time by 1928.

Julia Sharron: Yes.

Diane Brenner: So he wasn’t down there in Enfield that long, as mother and son.

Julia Sharron: Right.

Jim Downey: And when was the Quabbin Reservoir?

Julia Sharron: That was started in 1910, actually, in the planning stages. Then maybe ’38 or so, and by 1940 it was completed.

Jim Downey: So the towns were gone.

Julia Sharron: They were completely gone, yes.

Ben Brown: Do you have a sense of when they arrived on Old Post Road?

Diane Brenner: I think it had to have been 1928, because I couldn’t find any record of him anyplace else.

Julia Sharron: That’s what I’m thinking too.

Ben Brown: By all appearances, he’d been in the house forever.

Julia Sharron: But he never drove, never had an automobile. Mr. Snyder used to pick him up in Enfield, even, and bring him back, and people would take him to Pittsfield.

Jim Downey: His little vacations were just a week in Pittsfield?

Julia Sharron: Yeah, and that was heaven to him – believe me, he loved it.

Pat Kennedy: Well Pittsfield was a happening town then.

Julia Sharron: It was then, yes. And he’d travel, too.

Hampshire Gazzette, September 5, 1965.

Diane Brenner: It looked like he traveled a fair amount. He went to Grange conferences, and he was involved in this Western Mass school thing that would have conclaves in Springfield, or Rhode Island, or wherever. Or he was involved in the church and went out to some place in California for that.

Jim Downey: Was he a college graduate?

Diane Brenner: No.

Julia Sharron: No.

Diane Brenner: He went to a special program, apparently, at Lyceum Hall, that Harry Bates apparently also went to. But that was it, as far as I know. And then he was teaching, sort of, at 15 or so.

Julia Sharron: In those days all you needed was certification. You didn’t need a diploma at all.

Pat Kennedy: I think you had to go through the eighth grade.

Diane Brenner: I’m sure he did that.

Pat Kennedy: Now how did he get to Texas?

Diane Brenner: It was a missionary program. The Congregational Church had a missionary program.

Julia Sharron: Yeah, they had to provide transportation.

Diane Brenner: Yes, train to Austin. It was a black college, which is sort of interesting. He was only there for a year, though.

Pat Kennedy: What did he teach?

Diane Brenner: History and math.

Scenes from the 1916-1917 catalog of Tillotson College in Austin, Texas, where during that same school year Arthur Capen taught history and math as head of the Junior and Elementary School grades. Tillotson served African American students and was built and maintained by the American Missionary Society of Congregational churches. Tuition in 1917 was $2 per semester.

Sheila Kinney: One of the things I was always curious about was his library numbering system. Was there a theory behind that? Because I remember, I got to be 6A. [laughter]

Helen Sharron Pollard: I can answer that question, because it used to be numerical. And my parents moved into town in 1967, and their number was 1515. And when I got old enough, and I was taking out books, I got my very own number, and it was 1655. So it was numerical, but then when he left it was close to two thousand names. And Damaris thought that was too big, and she started over, so I was 1-A.

Arthur Capen first assumed the role of church organist at age 17 in 1898.

Diane Brenner: Jim, did you know him?

Jim Downey: I knew him as well. We came in ’65, and I would spend a few hours there in the summer afternoons. I didn’t recall the limited hours. I guess I was only there for a brief period – I was ten or eleven or twelve. But I would ride my bike around, put it in the bushes, when the Lafayette Barn was still there. Olive Cole and Chris Henry, he ran that little shop there. And then I would cut through the bushes and go sit in the library.

Arthur Capen was a very kind man, a lovely guy. You knew something important was going on in that building. He had that air, that if you come in his room, you need to be here for the pursuit of learning, and knowledge, and betterment. He gave you that in a non-communicative way. He was a little intimidating, but very friendly – a man of few words. But that march to the store, when you would see him take those little baby steps with those cap-toed, black shoes, as thin as a rail. And then back with a little Dixie cup and a wooden spoon. Like that was the high point of his day.

Helen Sharron Pollard: And beautiful white hair. And beautiful skin, long fingers.

Pat Kennedy: No romance that we know of?

Julia Sharron: No, no.

Pat Kennedy: She’s pretty definite about that.

Sheila Kinney: He left money in his will to the library. I don’t know who else he gave money to.

Arthur Capen’s will.

Diane Brenner: Well, his will is over there, if anybody wants to look at it, and the letter from the lawyer afterwards. He left his estate to two cousins, both of whom actually predeceased him. Also to two towns – I think Worthington and Peru – to take care of gravesites for his grandparents. And the church and the library, in shares. The letter from the lawyer says he had $1,600 in his bank account when he died. He was going to use it to pay for his debts and funeral expenses, and any remaining money would go to the towns.

The family’s plot is in Northampton, at Bridge Street Cemetery, because when his father was dying, they moved down there so he could be near a doctor, and he died in December. And so rather than ship the body back to Worthington, they bought a plot in Northampton. And when his mother died, that’s where she was buried, and of course that’s also where he’s buried. But the Capen Stone, which is huge, they only own half of it – the front half. The Capen side is one side, with three plots, and on the back of the stone is another family unrelated to the Capens.

The Capen family gravestone.

Posted April 12, 2019.

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.

Ben Albert and his foreman Henry Dassetti in 1950. Photograph courtesy of Aida Albert.

Posted February 17, 2019.

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.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

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: www.dianebrenner.com.

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

Posted September 15, 2018.

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.

I

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.”

II

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.

III

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.

IV

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.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

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.

Posted May 26, 2018.