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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.


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

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

Warm thanks to Madeleine Cahill, 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.


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, 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.


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 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:

Calliope Film Resources. “Shays’ Rebellion.” Copyright 2002 CFR.


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.


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

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

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Detail of carving in Addie Smith’s gravestone.

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

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

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

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

Another excerpt from the letter:

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

can be compared to Ezekiel 3:2:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portrait of John Hampden.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Posted May 26, 2018.

Worthington’s 1968 Bicentennial celebrations

by Evan Spring

Parade float by the Drummers Club.

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

Guidelines for sprucing up the town were officially posted.

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

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

Leaflet with bicentennial schedule.


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

Ticket for the Anniversary Ball.

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

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

Emmy Davis as innkeeper at the Anniversary Ball.






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

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

Unidentified couple at the Anniversary Ball.

The Bicentennial Queen and her court.

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

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

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

The Drummers Club in South Worthington.

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

Monday, July 1: Conwell School exhibit and Bicentennial Concert

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

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

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

Ticket for The Quilting Party.


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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, July 3: Youth Day and Musical Revue

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

Kevin Porter in costume on Youth Day.

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

Program for the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

Scene from the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

Scene from the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

Musical performance from the Worthington Bicentennial Musical Revue.

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

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

Card issued to beard contestants to protect their reputations.

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

Baseball team fielded by beard contestants.

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

Harley Mason, Kristin Majkowski, and Bert Nugent.

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

Friday, July 5: Horse draw and two dances

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

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

Paraders in colonial garb.

Grand Parade scene.

Boy scouts marching in the parade.

Brownies on parade.

Saturday, July 6: Grand parade

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

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

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

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

Stagecoach with Stanley Nash leading the oxen.

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

The Queen’s float.

Float by the Texon company in Russell, Massachusetts.

Rustic parade float, likely a smithy.

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

The Shriners paraded in their miniature antique cars.

Parade offering from the Huntington selectmen.

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

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

This marcher painted his donkey with zebra stripes.

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

Sunday, July 7: The shave-off

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

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

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


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


Official recognition of the Worthington bicentennial from the Massachusetts legislature.

Posted March 17, 2018.

Florence Berry Bates and the Worthington Health Center

Harry and Florence Bates in the 1950s.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Dr. Modestow: Yes.

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

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

Hampshire Gazette, December 11, 1950.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hampshire Gazette, 1955.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry Bates playing his banjo.

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

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

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

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

Janine Modestow: That was seven years?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nurse Bates demonstrates the new x-ray equipment.

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

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

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

Hampshire Gazette, February 23, 1978.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lyceum Hall waiting room.

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

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

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

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

Miami Herald, October 7, 1966.

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

Suzanne Kulik: Right, but I opposed the insurrection.

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

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

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

John Mackie.

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

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

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

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

Arlo Guthrie saves the day.

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

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

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

Florence Bates, from the 1968 Bicentennial program.

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


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

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

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

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

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

Posted August 29, 2017.

Worthington and the Civil War


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


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


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


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



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

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


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

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

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




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Patriotic envelopes were one way to drum up some fervor.

Patriotic envelopes were one way to drum up some fervor.

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

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

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

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


Ladder badge for 27th Mass. Regiment.

Ladder badge for 27th Mass. Regiment.

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

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

The Battle of New Bern.

The Battle of New Bern.

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

Illustration of Andersonville Prison.

Illustration of Andersonville Prison.

Photograph of Andersonville Prison.

Photograph of Andersonville Prison.

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

Battle flag of the 27th Mass. Regiment.

Battle flag of the 27th Mass. Regiment.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Gravestone of Abel C. Kenney.

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

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

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

Blackshear prison camp.

Blackshear prison camp.

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

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

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

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

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

William Basto Watts.

William Basto Watts.

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Entry for Miles G. Smith, October 1861.

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



Patch from the 46th Mass.

Patch from the 46th Mass.

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

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

Newspaper clipping on new levies of troops.

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

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

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

Massachusetts troops in New Bern, NC.

Massachusetts troops in New Bern, NC.

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

Bounty notice for the 46th.

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

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

Russell H. Conwell, c. 1863.

Russell H. Conwell, c. 1863.

Men from Worthington who served in the 46th:


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

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

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

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

Jotham and Mary Drake, 1862.

Jotham and Mary Sanderson Drake, 1862.

Jotham Drake gravestone.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

46th Mass. marked Mississippi rifle.

46th Mass. marked Mississippi rifle.

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

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

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

Article from the American Agriculturalist, 1863.

Article from the American Agriculturalist, 1863.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elisha Tower in uniform.

Elisha Tower in uniform.

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

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

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

Newspaper clipping on Elisha Tower.

Newspaper clipping on Elisha Tower.

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dog tag from the 2nd Mass. HA.

Dog tag from the 2nd Mass. HA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Dear Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 28, 1864

Dear kind and affectionate wife,

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

Document of Lydia Thayer's widow pension.

Document of Lydia Thayer’s widow pension.

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

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

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

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

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

James F. Thayer

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

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

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

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

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

Isaac Drake, 1862.

Isaac Drake, 1862.

Plymouth, N.C. Apr 8, 1863

Dear Wife

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ever your husband,

I.C. Drake

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

First page of Austin Hancock's letter.

First page of Austin Hancock’s letter.

Newbern, June 28, 1863

Dear Sister,

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

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

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

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

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

A. T. Hancock

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

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


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

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

Springfield Republican, June 7, 1861.

The Springfield Republican, June 7, 1861.

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

Worthington tax assessments, 1862.

Worthington tax assessments, 1862.

Worthington tax assessments, 1865.

Worthington tax assessments, 1865.

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

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

Currency issued by a local bank.

Currency issued by a local bank.

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

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

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

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


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

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


by Pat Kennedy and Mark Clinton

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

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

Conwell with his sword.

Conwell with his sword.

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

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

Record of Conwell's court-martial and dismissal.

Record of Conwell’s court-martial and dismissal.

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

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

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

Newspaper item on sword presentation to Conwell.

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

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

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

Death record for John Q. Ring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statue of Johnny Ring at Temple University, Philadelphia.

Statue of Johnny Ring at Temple University, Philadelphia.


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

Posted January 25, 2017.