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“Let It All Out”: Remembering Frankie’s Place

by Evan Spring

Sharon Parish Guy outside Frankie’s Place, c. 1960.

Parish Road is a remote, gravel byway in West Worthington, but it wasn’t always so quiet and peaceful. From the 1950s to the early 1970s, Parish Road was the address of Frankie’s Place, a lively, after-work bar and hangout run by Frank Brooks, who lived next door with his family.

In August 2019, locals gathered at the Worthington Historical Society building to reminisce about Frankie’s Place for the annals of town history. During the event, Frank’s daughter Ginger Donovan summed up the bar’s appeal. “I think one of the things that attracted people to Frankie’s Place was he really didn’t have any rules. You could go in there and you could let your hair down, and you could play your guitar and your fiddle, and you could drink. You had to do something pretty bad for him to shut you off. You’d just go in there, be yourself at the end of the working day, and just let it all out. And believe me, they all did. I don’t remember anybody having a bad time there. Everybody seemed to enjoy themselves – and nobody getting hurt.”

The 2019 gathering was organized by Sheila Kinney, who lives on Parish Road, and WHS board member Kate Ewald, with the help of the Brooks family. In attendance were Frank’s three daughters Betty Parish, Deen Nugent, and Ginger Donovan, hereafter identified by their first names. (Frank had two other children from a previous marriage.) Also at the event were Ginger’s husband, Cork Donovan; two of Frank’s grandchildren, Patti Nugent Slysz and Kelly Nugent Wolf; two great-grandchildren, Allison and Stephanie Slysz; Rose Sherman, half-sister to the Brooks girls on their mother’s side; and Karen Lund, who moved into Frank’s house on Parish Road in 2003.

Sheila Kinney introduced the proceedings. “Every time I mentioned to people that I lived on Parish Road, certain people of a certain age would break out into a huge smile – a knowing smile – and say, ‘Ah, Frankie’s Bar.’ And they would start telling me stories that sounded more like myths. ‘He buried all his cash in the yard, and people would come with metal detectors to find the cash.’ There was a story about how somebody wanted his drink on the rocks one winter. He went out back, knocked an icicle off the eaves, broke it up and put it in the glass.”

Kinney opened the floor, and Frank’s daughter Deen Nugent spoke. “Frankie’s Place, for those of you that remember it, was not a place of fine dining,” said Deen. “And Mr. Clean would not have been able to perform his white glove test there. Drinks were cheap, and the customers were for the most part local. I don’t know how people even found it on Parish Road. I’m sure he didn’t advertise. It was a no-frills establishment. We all have our own memories and stories, and we’re not here to make him out as a saint or a sinner. He was who he was and his place was what it was.”

Franklyn J. Brooks, born in Dalton, was one of seven children. After serving in the Navy, he worked as a painter at General Electric before opening Frankie’s Place around the mid-1950s. As Betty explained, Frankie’s Place might have started when Frank was evicted from another Worthington establishment. “I think probably my father opened the bar when he got shut off up at Liston’s at one point. I can remember something to the story, where he said, ‘That’s it, I’m gonna build my own place.'”

Franklyn J. Brooks.

Most of Frankie’s customers were local, but the bar’s reputation could spread far and wide. Barb Pease recalled that her husband, Ken, wanted a job on the Mass Pike and went to Boston for an interview. “This man asked him, ‘Where are you from?’ and my husband said, ‘Worthington.’ He said, ‘Have you ever been to Frankie’s Bar?’ My husband was so surprised that someone in Boston knew Frankie’s Bar. He thought maybe it helped him get the job.”

Despite stories referring to a “dirt floor,” Frankie’s did have wood flooring, however trampled. Ned Jalbert recalled the down-home atmosphere. “Back in my youth I spent a lot of time at Frankie’s. It was probably the only bar that I ever knew of that you could track dirt out of, rather than track dirt into. And he was very, very proud of that.”

Sometimes people referred to Frankie’s, tongue in cheek, as a “nightclub.” As Betty recalled, “I used to have people say, ‘Ah, you’re from Worthington? Have you ever heard of the West Worthington Nightclub?'”

Ned Jalbert pictured the layout, with a walkway connecting the main area to the jukebox, some booths, and the restrooms in back. “In that walkway, for the longest time it would leak, and Frank said, ‘Put a pail in.’ So I happen to be there this one day, and somebody at the bar says, ‘Frank, for Christ’s sakes, will you fix your roof, it’s been leaking and leaking.’ Frank says, ‘Well, when it’s raining it’s too wet to get up there and fix it. And when it ain’t raining, it don’t leak.'”

Kath Whitcomb remembered entering Frankie’s and her eyes adjusting to the dim light. Along with the jukebox, there was a shuffleboard machine with pins. “There were no overhead lights,” explained Ginger. “If anything, he might have had one by the shuffleboard.” Betty remembered the stench of cigarette smoke, and Dave Whitcomb remembered a hanging blanket that separated the bar from the back room.

“Do you remember the Miss Rheingold competition years ago?” asked Ginger. “The beer company would come in, and Dad would always have these beautiful women displayed – all the ones that were competing for Miss Rheingold for the year. I remember that as a little girl, seeing all the pretty ladies up there. I think one of them was Angie Dickinson.”

Next to the jukebox was a small area for dancing. Pat Nugent recalled Ned Jalbert singing Liberty Valance by the jukebox. Others remembered the dancing talents of Phil and Winnie Arcouette.

Berkshire Eagle, November 7, 1958.

On occasion Frankie’s had live musical entertainment. “There were some Saturday nights that people from Dalton would come over,” said Deen. “They’d play guitars and sing.” Ginger remembered a duo that sang Christmas Island and Blue Hawaii, while Betty remembered guitarists, fiddlers, and a performer named Donnie Oaks from Peru.

Ned Jalbert aspired to master the shuffleboard machine. “In the last two years, two pins didn’t work and we still played. I think the most you could get was 99, but that was big.” Dave Whitcomb remembered Sy Parish as the shuffleboard champ. “He would always win, until the Grangers came by. His favorite word was, ‘Never took a lesson.'” The company that serviced the jukebox and collected cash from the vending machines also supplied a lottery-type game. Tickets cost around a quarter, and were drawn from a large glass jar.

Frankie’s was never known as an eatery. “When he first opened up,” said Betty, “he served hamburgers and hot dogs, but that didn’t last too long.” Many people remembered the snack foods, however, including pickled eggs, pickled kielbasa, pickled hocks, pickled lamb tongues, and saltines and chips.

Ned Jalbert confessed to some vandalism with the pickled eggs. He and Ben Albert Jr. ordered beers and asked for eggs. Frank handed over the eggs and went out back for the beers. By the time he returned, Ned and Ben had thrown the pickled eggs into a fan with no shroud that sat on the refrigerator and blew down on the bar. “Nobody even paid attention,” said Ned. “We finished our beers. ‘Hey Frank, can we get a couple more of them pickled eggs?’ Frank said, ‘No, nope, shut off. Don’t come back ’til tomorrow.'”

Drinks were cheap. Betty remembered 16-ounce bottles of Schaeffer beer going for 25 cents. Ned Jalbert added, “Pabst at 16 ounces for 35 cents, a quarter for the 12-ounce Bud or Miller.” Ginger specified “no fancy drinks – just out of the bottle,” though Betty remembered rum and coke. “I never saw anything over there for a buck, ever,” said Pat Nugent. “A mixed drink was like 75 cents.” Kath Whitcomb informed the crowd, “My husband took me there for dates. We’re still married. He’s a big spender.”

Big spender Dave Whitcomb remembered drinking from the bottle for hygienic reasons. “You didn’t ask for the glass, because when you put the glass on the bar, he’d slosh it through water and put it back out there.”

The scruffy ambience served nicely for an elaborate prank. Pat Nugent told how her neighbor, Frank Shea, a traveling salesman, arranged to celebrate his wedding anniversary of many years with two other couples. He told the group to dress up for dinner at a high-class restaurant. A limousine picked up the three couples, and sure enough, the first stop was Frankie’s. “They went inside,” said Pat, “and they’re standing there in these long dresses. Oh, Mr. Shea was in the doghouse for a good long time. It was a fun place, everybody had a laugh. They did take the limo to the 1898 House or something.”

Frank Brooks.

Pat also recalled that Frankie’s started as a male enclave. “It was a man’s bar when it first started. Not many women went until later in life. We burned our bras and decided we could go.” Eventually any local event could end up at Frankie’s. According to Ned Jalbert, local weddings or funerals would relocate to Frankie’s after the reception, with everyone still in formal wear.

Parish Road is hardly noticeable at the turnoff from Route 143, and Frankie’s had no sign there. Business hours were informal. “He really didn’t have an opening time,” said Betty. “If he sat up at the house he could see down to the bar, and when somebody showed up then he’d go down.”

On weekdays, according to Dave Whitcomb, “if there were ten people it was crowded.” Weekends were busier. “Friday night it was standing room only,” said Ned Jalbert. “Friday night everybody’d go there first, kind of get warmed up, then go home and take a nap and then go out for the evening.”

Closing time was “when the last person left” according to Ginger, but Betty recalled patrons arriving long afterwards. “Sunday mornings, eight o’clock, there was always somebody knocking on the door that needed a drink, and my father would go down and get a drink for him. Sunday blue laws – well if there was, he didn’t pay attention to them.”

Deen said her father was a “man of few words.” According to Dave Whitcomb, “If you complimented Frankie or you asked him a question, and if the answer was ‘yes,’ he’d go, ‘yuh, yuh, yuh, yuh.'” As for drinking on the job, Betty noted, “Sometimes he was his own best customer.”

Pat Nugent was a waitress at the Drummers Club in South Worthington and remembered heading to Frankie’s after the 2am closing time. “If there were twenty people after two, it was crowded,” she said. “He had a round table – I think it was at the end of the bar. We would sit there, and we’d order a drink. Ernie Smith was the bartender, and he would order a drink. Frankie would come out, and he’d give each of us girls a drink, and he’d say, ‘Ernie, yours is at the bar.’ He was always polite, and he was always nice to the women.”

Frank wasn’t a stickler for checking IDs, but he was particular about keeping his daughters away from the bar. As Betty confirmed, “It’s true, he didn’t want us girls in that bar at all. Every once in a while we’d stop in, my husband and I. We had been to a party out in Pittsfield, and we were going to go in and have a drink. My father wouldn’t serve us. He said, ‘Nope, you’re not getting any drinks here.’ So we went out and fixed a drink out in the car. Then we went back in and visited with the people.”

Bert Nugent, whose brother Ernie married Deen, recalled visiting Frankie’s with Ernie one night. “We ordered two beers. My beer was paid for. Ernie had to pay for his. Frank never forgot he married Deen.”

Graduation night for Betty Brooks, June 1962. Left to right: Frank’s wife Liz Brooks, Frank Brooks, and Frank’s daughters Betty, Deen, and Ginger.

Deen recalled Bobby Dodge trying to buy cigarettes when he was about fourteen. “My father wouldn’t sell them to him, and Bobby said, ‘My mother has given me permission to smoke.’ And he says, ‘Well, you tell your mother I want to talk to her first.'”

Frankie’s belonged to a circuit of Hilltown bars, few of which survive today. Pat Nugent grew up in the Littleville section of Huntington and recalled that her parents took Sunday drives with pitstops at Frankie’s, Liston’s, and Hill-top Rest, a retreat run by John and Anna Sipos on Route 112 in South Worthington. “My mother was driving. I was never allowed out of the car. At Liston’s, Mr. Liston would come out and give us an ice cream cone. And at Frankie’s we would just sit by the door and they’d go in, and my dad would get a beer.”

“Back then you’d go on a tour,” said Dave Whitcomb. “There are very few roadside bars left. Liston’s is the last one. You would start in Hinsdale at The Home Club, then head towards Frankie’s, and then Liston’s, and then down to Russell. Then after that you didn’t know where you were.” Pat Nugent mentioned some additional bars in the circuit, from Russell and Huntington all the way up to Windsor.

Across Parish Road from Frankie’s was the middle branch of the Westfield River, in its upper reaches. “There used to be a bunch that would come up from Hinsdale or Dalton on motorcycles,” Betty remembered. “Across from the bar, the brook was right there, and they would ride those motorcycles down the bank to the brook and challenge each other who could climb back up out of there on the motorcycle.” Ned Jalbert admitted to participating in this competition along with Mickey Donovan, Henry Thomas, and Dave Mathers. Others recalled groups of snowmobilers arriving from a trail that connected Frankie’s to Windsor.

Dave Whitcomb remembered a bullfighting scene at Frankie’s one evening. “Some local lady and some guy – I think it was a guy, but it might have been another lady – was holding out a blanket, and she was being a bull.”

Betty recounted another wild incident from her girlhood in the house next door. “The windows were all open, and we could hear this woman screaming up the road, up towards the Parish Farm. I don’t know if he’s beating her or what. And we went, ‘Dad, what should we do?’ So finally I yelled out the window, ‘If you don’t stop beating her, I’m gonna call the cops!’ And she yells back, ‘You mind your own business!’ I thought I was being a good Samaritan.”

Nobody recalled any fights breaking out. On the contrary, Pat Nugent remembered Frankie’s as a place where arguments were resolved. “There were a lot of politics solved between Frankie’s place and Liston’s place and the Drummers Club. I don’t think they do that now, but years ago they were.”

The Berkshire Eagle, August 15, August 18, and September 23, 1967.

Frank would often cash checks for customers, including payroll checks. “He was a local bank,” said Deen. Dave Whitcomb recalled, “When I got paid on Thursday, I’d head to Frankie’s. I never could understand how much money he had or where he got it from, because everybody came in that night, or soon thereafter, and cashed their check. Frankie was always good for cash, and of course you spent all your money there anyway.”

For a while Rose Sherman helped Frank with paperwork. “He just wanted his bills totaled for a week, but he never had you count any cash, never. Just the bills.”

A frequent rumor, confirmed by Betty, was that Frank kept his cash in the trunk of his car. According to Dave Whitcomb, “Somebody said that there was so much money in the trunk that it was down in the back.” Betty remembered her father carrying cash up to the house in a brown paper bag.

All this cash on hand made Frankie’s a target for thieves, and he was robbed several times. Eventually Frank got some guard dogs. “He could have kept his cash on the kitchen table with them wild beasts he had out in the front,” said Pat Nugent. However, as Betty recalled, “the beasts met their Waterloo” when they were shot by robbers.

Berkshire Eagle, February 18, 1970 and August 17, 1971.

Obituary in Berkshire Eagle, October 5, 1976.

Frankie’s Place burned down around 1973 or 1974, and Frank chose not to rebuild. According to Betty, the fire was started by the kerosene stove that supplied all the heating. The bar was empty at the time. Afterwards, fortune-seekers came around looking for coins. “After the place burned,” said Betty, “you wouldn’t believe the people that were over there with metal detectors.”

By this time Frank had moved in with his brother Phil in Dalton. “After it burned,” said Dave Whitcomb, “I went to his house in Dalton and begged him to rebuild. And his brother came out, showed me his – probably a thirty-thirty. A lot of people were after that gun. I wasn’t interested in the thirty-thirty. I just wanted to have that bar rebuilt. He was just done.”

Frank Brooks died in 1976 at the age of 74. The family sold the house on Parish Road to Frank’s grandaughter Patti Nugent Slysz and her husband, David Slysz, who worked on improvements. The remaining property was sold to Patti’s sister, Kelly Nugent Wolf, and her husband, Devon Wolf.

When Karen Lund bought Frank’s house in 2003, she discovered an interesting relic. “I was walking down by the old apple tree, and I saw this mass of mud. So I picked it up, brought it to the house, put it in a bath of water, and started peeling away. It turned out to be Frankie Brooks’ bank book. I’ve always heard that he didn’t deal with banks, but I have the bank book from 1971 to 1973, September. It also has checks. I had a high time getting them in one piece, but they’re as good as I could get them.” Karen has donated the bank book to the Worthington Historical Society for posterity.

A garage, pictured below, now stands at the former site of Frankie’s Place. A commemorative sign was hung on the outside wall by Karen Lund, with the word “Frankie’s” carved in wood.

Former site of Frankie’s Place.

Commemorative sign mounted by Karen Lund.

As Sheila Kinney noted in her opening remarks, the only printed accounts of Frankie’s Place are a few newspaper clippings about robberies. The WHS publication Papers on the History of Worthington, in its passages about West Worthington, tells of schools, stores, churches, a post office that lasted until 1933, drownings, and tanneries that left workers smelling awful. Frankie’s Place isn’t mentioned. Our personal memories – and now the recording of this 2019 story-sharing event – are what keep Frankie’s alive.

Near the end of the event, Kinney asked what Frank would think if he could see this gathering. Betty answered, “He’d say, ‘Where’s the music? Where’s the bar? He’d sit there and smile.”

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

Evan Spring, a jazz historian and freelance editor, moved to Worthington in 1998 and currently serves as WHS president.

Posted October 20, 2020.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Eight: Paul Strasburg and the Pull to Worthington

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

Paul Strasburg.

Harold Anderson: Paul, are you a lifelong resident of Worthington, or did you move here? 

Paul Strasburg: I was probably in my late thirties when I moved here.

HA: What attracted you to Worthington? Had you heard about Worthington before coming here?

PS: I had not in any particular way, except that in 1981, I believe, some very good friends of mine, the Lakes, moved to Worthington from Washington, DC. I was living in Brooklyn at the time with my wife and two young children, and we came up to visit. And I knew the first day that I set foot in Worthington that this place had a special appeal for me. I’d grown up in the desert in Tucson, Arizona, and really, I think, had a longing for the green. Also I’d been moving around a lot. I had a longing for a community, and I could feel right away that those were two deep characteristics of Worthington.

My wife and I rented a house not long after that first visit, down the road from the Lakes. The house was at that time owned by Walter Metzger, who just died recently. He had rented it for several years while his kids were in college. We rented it year-round. We’d come up from Brooklyn for holidays and as much of the summers as we could spend. We were really summer residents. Then in 1984 I changed jobs and went to California.

HA: Uh-oh.

PS: But for the next couple of summers we would come back to Worthington and rent a house. One we rented from Walter Korzec down in the other end of Worthington. It was paradise for my kids. When we were living in the Metzger house, right next door was a family by the name of Fisk – Pete and Sue Fisk. Had a number of ponds that they had built and meticulously maintained with stone walls around their house. My daughter literally spent all day long catching frogs who were swimming in those ponds – just loved it. Anyway, we couldn’t stay away during the summers.

Then I believe it was 1988, the Lakes told us that a farm that adjoined their farm was up for sale. They were baling hay on that farm, and there was some concern that it was going to be bought up by developers. I was very reluctant to get involved because we were living in California. I did not want a bicoastal life, but the pull to Worthington was really very strong. So we bought it.

The house at 175 Patterson Road.

The house needed a lot of work. In fact, we stripped it all the way down to the framing, basically, and had to rebuild it. But we rebuilt it the way it had been originally, and we moved in. That became our summer home until probably the early 2000s. I eventually more or less retired and started spending a full summer here. I’m here now with my current wife. I’m here six months of the year. She travels to teach some of that time in the summer, but I bale hay. I have a big garden, and I enjoy life in Worthington.

Cork Donovan dropping a boulder to break up the concrete of an old swimming pool. Paul adds, “Some lifelong Worthington residents (now at least 50 years old) will remember sneaking up to the house when it was owned by the McCutcheons and McGinnitys to take a swim in it.”

HA: When you were talking to other Californians, how would you explain Worthington? And did they really understand?

PS: Not really. Everybody in California has an idea of what New England is like. I think Worthington is actually a fairly typical New England small community, so that wasn’t too hard to imagine. What they had the hard time figuring out was how I could own a farm in New England and live in California, and why I would want to do that. Californians think that’s the best place in the world to live, but for me what was missing was that sense of real connection to the earth, and to a community. It’s amazing how open a community Worthington really is. A stranger that once lived in Brooklyn and then California could come back and feel part of this community. It started with neighbors and friends, and the network just keeps expanding. It was just a powerful magnetic draw. Something about it, as soon as I landed here, said, “This is the place you need to have some roots in.”

HA: Have you had any friends or family from the outside come and visit you? And what’s their reaction?

PS: They love it. The house we had up on the hill had three small bedrooms and living room, dining room. Before long we were sleeping friends and visitors on the floor and hallways on futons. We’d actually built a little guest house attached to the main house. We’ve had family weddings there. We’ve had neighbors’ weddings there. I did a barn-raising in 2001. I had friends from Europe and Germany and Seattle come and stay to help with the barn-raising. People love it. It’s out of the way, so they don’t tend to get back too often, but they really love it when they’re here.

Scenes from the barn-raising in 2001. Once the frame was up, a party commenced on the lawn, with a barbecue and line dancing.

HA: So what do you like to do here in your spare time?

PS: I have 25 acres of my own hay fields, and I’ve developed a cooperative haying relationship with Bart Niswonger, the son-in-law of my friends, the Lakes. Bart and his wife, Eliza Lake, still live in the adjoining farm. They raise cattle there. Then a neighbor down the road, Kip Porter, and his wife, Mary Beth – Kip’s a fifth-generation local who’s a horse logger. He and I developed a good friendship. So the three of us combine labor and farm equipment, and we bale about 80 acres of hay, about half of which goes to Bart to feed his cows, and the other half we sell. Some goes to Kip to feed his logging horses. So that takes up a lot of my time when the weather’s right. I have a big garden. I entertain visitors who like to come.

That’s the strongest thing for me, the beauty of the place. There are so many places to go, and sit by a stream and a waterfall or an open field or a pond, and take your canoe. I feel so connected to the earth here – that’s really a major draw for me.

 

Kip Porter raking hay. Paul adds, “Kip and I started mowing, baling and selling hay together in 2006. We started out thinking we could do it mostly using his horses, but quickly realized we would never get a crop in that way. So we gradually mechanized to a more ‘modern’ operation.”

HA: So what kind of festivals or celebrations occur in town? Do you get involved in any of the town activities?

PS: I’m a fairly active member when I’m here of the small church in West Cummington, just up the road. My good friend Steve Philbrick is the minister there. We go to the craft shows, the art shows, the pottery tours. My wife loves the artwork here. We go to concerts. When she’s not here I’ll go over to Tanglewood to music. Poetry readings. The place is just rich with cultural life, so any time you want to entertain yourself you can.

HA: What would you say is Worthington’s best feature?

PS: I think what’s especially important for me is the community bonds that are here. People really step up for other people when they need them and they’re there to support them. They celebrate with them, and they share with them. Our guest house has been occupied four or maybe five times, for lengths of time from three months to a couple of years, by neighbors. One neighbor’s house burned to the ground. He and his family moved in for almost two years. Another neighbor moved here and his house was not ready, so they moved in and stayed. That’s what’s happened on my own little place. I see it all the time when somebody’s sick or needs help.

I’ll never forget the night that out neighbors JP and Marian Welch’s house burned down. We told them they could come stay with us as long as they wanted to. They ended up staying, thank God. But we live on top of a hill. We have a quarter-of-a-mile dirt drive to get up from the dirt road at the bottom of the hill. All evening long, people were walking up that road bringing food, bringing clothes, bringing themselves, just to support the Welches, knowing they’d lost everything in the fire. I’ll never forget that. That’s the soul of a community that beats pretty strongly.

Balloon ride with Paul Strasburg, JP and Marian Welch, and Marian’s parents, piloted by Paul Sena of Worthington Ballooning.

HA: Have you noticed much of a change in Worthington in the years that you’ve been here?

PS: Yeah, sure. I don’t know so much in the fabric of the community. The social structure to me seems like it hasn’t changed much at all. I have friends here that I’ve had now for thirty-some years – we’ve just kind of grown old together.

One thing that’s changed is the technology of everything. I have great memories of the very early years, walking the maple syrup routes with Bob Mason. He was getting older then, but with a pail in each hand, emptying them into a five-gallon bucket and carrying the five-gallon buckets down the hill in the snow and emptying them into a larger tank, and back up the hill again to the next tree. Now of course I have a lot of maple trees on my land. JP Welch taps most of them. It’s all tubing and high-tech and reverse osmosis machines. It’s fun to see that change, but there’s still that romantic idea of grabbing a pail and getting the sap, and that doesn’t happen anymore.

I’m in a fairly remote part of Worthington. We still don’t get very good phone service or internet service, so Comcast is about to come and wire the town. That’s a huge change.

HA: What do you think’s going to happen?

PS: That’s a really good question. This 250th celebration has made me read the history a bit more, and I marvel that there are 1,100 and some-odd people here now, when at the peak it was 1,400 back in the late 1700s, and it dropped off to as few as 375. But I think it’s going to continue pretty much the way it is. I think people who live here like it for what it is, and with the way the community operates and decisions are made, I think it’s going to be preserved as the kind of sweet rural community that it is. One thing that could threaten it, I think, is if they ever put an interchange on the turnpike between Westfield and Lee. Then we’ll see a lot of land price increase and suburbanization.

HA: Any last comments or memories you’d like to add?

PS: Golly, memories. My son riding in a backpack on my back while I mowed the lawn. His first word that we could discern was “blue,” which was his word for blueberry. When we’d go picking, he’d be in the backpack on my back, and I’d pop a blueberry in his mouth every time he said “blue.”

My son grew up riding around on the fender of Bob Mason’s big old tractor while he hayed. My son now owns a hay farm of his own in Montana, and went out of his way to go online and find a remodeled version of the same tractor that Bob Mason had back in the 1980s. That’s what he drives out there.

View from Strasburg’s front yard.

Posted September 17, 2020.

Postcards of Bygone Worthington

by Evan Spring

This is the fourth and final online exhibit of vintage postcards from the WHS collection. Previous installments were Postcards from the Corners, Postcards from Worthington Center, and Postcards from South Worthington. These exhibits will be continually updated as new cards come to light.

The WHS archive holds dozens of postcards of bygone Worthington, mostly dating from 1907 through the 1920s. Additional cards continue to surface on Ebay and our Facebook group, revealing the breadth of postcard sending and collecting in those days of long summer retreats, poor communications, and slow transport. In 1912, the daily stage route to Williamsburg took at least four hours – which brings us to our first postcard, postmarked 1909. Let us know if you can identify any occupants of this surrey with the fringe on top.

Detail of stage passengers.

The Worthington Transportation Company was incorporated in 1909 to take people to and from the railroad in Huntington. Horse-drawn stages took three or four hours one-way, but the company advertised a “large Knox machine” (some kind of motor bus) that could carry 18 people plus freight and make the trip in 60 to 90 minutes. This venture hoped to attract weekend visitors from the Springfield area, who could leave Worthington at 6:45am Monday morning and arrive at work by 9. The next postcard, postmarked 1924, likely applies to the same company.

This postcard of the Worthington Transportation Company is not in our collection, but popped up recently on Ebay.

Other postcards in our collection feature horse-drawn transport through picturesque countryside. In both of the following examples, the people and locations are unknown:

Here’s a detail of the two ladies, in case you know them (or want to admire their hats). The card is postmarked in 1907 from South Worthington.

Horseback riding was also something to write home about.

Unsurprisingly, the Chesterfield Gorge was a popular postcard subject. This natural landmark is in Chesterfied, not Worthington, but whoever made the following postcards fudges the matter. The first card, from around 1920, faces north (upstream) from the west shore of the Westfield River. The photographer was likely standing on an abutment of the abandoned bridge, and the “Smith Pyramid” is seen in the background. The second card is taken from the same vantage point, but facing south (downstream).

The falls in West Worthington were another popular destination. 

 

Another beautiful waterfall card appears in our collection, but we’re unable to confirm if it depicts “Bradley Falls” on the Little River just below South Worthington, or Glendale Falls in Middlefield.

This artificial pond was apparently on the Little River between South Worthington and Ringville.

Indian Oven Road in Worthington was named for a rock formation near the north side of the road. The consensus at WHS is that the formation was never used by indigenous people for any purpose.

 

 

The formation is smaller than it appears on the card. Here’s a photograph from our archive for perspective.

 

 

 

The Worthington golf club was established in 1904, just in time for the golden age of postcards. This postcard is backgrounded by Worthington Corners, dominated by the Lafayette Lodge resort hotel, which burned down in 1931.

The marker on this photo reads “No. 9” and “319 Yds.”Here’s hole no. 4 at 258 yards. The woman hitting the ball has a “W” stitched into her sweater.

This later postcard of the golf club shows the wraparound porch before it was walled in to form the dining area.

Up Ridge Road from the golf club was a small hotel called the Rose Briar, which issued the postcard below.

Detail from reverse side of postcard.

The next card, postmarked 1908, features an enormous abandoned chimney at a site known informally as “Mt. Parnassus,” a reference to classical Greek mythology. Mt. Parnassus does not appear on any Worthington map. A 1912 booklet called The Western Hampshire Highlands, Massachusetts, published by the Western Hampshire Board of Trade, includes Mt. Parnassus on a sightseeing tour, placing it somewhere near West Street south of Curtis Road, and calling it “the windiest spot in town.” Worthington native Ben Brown and another witness remember a large cellar hole at a high point on the road that proceeds west into state land from “Parker Four Corners,” at the intersection of West Street and Almon Johnson Road. The cellar hole was filled in by a logging company in the 1970s or 1980s, before the land was sold to the state. Only the barest evidence of a home site remains, about 300 yards in from West Street on the right. This spot is almost certainly Mt. Parnassus, as the topography would have afforded views in all directions before reforestation. The 1873 map of Worthington shows no home site here, so the chimney was perhaps built by the original purchaser of the lot.

The WHS postcard collection is chock full of house photographs, as townspeople would contract with photographers to show off their homes on postcards. Below is a postcard of “Buffington Place” at 140 Buffington Hill Road. This elaborately detailed house in the Federal style was built by Samuel Buffington, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his wife, Lucy, in 1805-1806.

The house below – identified as “Twinbrook Farm” on the postcard, or the “Brewster-Dolby House in the WHS publication Forty Worthington Houses – is located at 135 Kinne Brook Road. The house was built in 1784 in the Federal style by Jonathan Brewster, Jr., who served as town selectman and state legislator.The Huntington Parsonage at 115 West Street (corner of Sam Hill Road) was built way back in 1771 to house Worthington’s first minister, Jonathan Huntington, and his wife, Sarah. The postcard below was made well before Jerrilee Cain restored the parsonage in the 1960s and 1970s.

Local sugar houses also had postcards. This one at Kinne Brook Farm still stands, but is no longer operational.

Windy Hill Farm’s sugar house on Sam Hill Road looks much the same today, serving up great breakfasts in sugaring season and the fall.

This postcard of the medical center on Old North Road (Route 143) is postmarked 1968.

The next postcard photo, taken around 1925 on Witt Hill Road, depicts Ringville Cemetery and its caretaker, Albert D. Bird.

Detail of Albert D. Bird.

We close this postcard exhibit with three picturesque scenes, starting in summertime. 

Postcard detail.

Postcard detail.

 

The next postcard, dating from around the 1960s, shows Earl Robinson, Dan Porter, and David McEwan logging in winter with a team of three horses.

And finally, a nice spot for a couple to relax – but not too comfortably.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR

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

Posted September 11, 2020.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Seven: Norm Stafford Finds His Place

Norm Stafford.

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

Harold Anderson: Norm, are you a lifelong resident or did you move here to Worthington?

Norm Stafford: We’ve only been here nine years, which in the annals of Worthington is not a very long time.

HA: Did you know about Worthington before you moved here, and what really interested you in this town?

NS: Well, that’s a good question, because one of the things that occurred to us when we were looking at a house that was listed in Worthington was, “Where the heck is Worthington, anyway?” We didn’t even know where it was. We moved from Amherst.

HA: And so how did you choose Worthington?

NS: The picture of the house in the ad that we saw was just the house that we wanted. It had always been our tradition to move every seven years, but we were not in a mood to move. But we said, “Well, we’ll go look at it.” And when we looked at it, we fell in love with it. It’s a very nice house on Old Post Road. It was owned by Dr. Modestow when he was the dentist in town.

Moving from Amherst to here, we’d picked a local company to help us move. My wife spent hours and days packing everything up. Then the group of young college kids came, put everything in the trucks, and moved it up here. It was a Friday afternoon and everybody’s exhausted. We finally get everything off the trucks and say, “What’s around here for restaurants?” And they all said, “Oh, Worthington, you don’t have anything – well, you could go to Liston’s. You’ll love Liston’s.” They all knew Liston’s very well. So we went down to Liston’s for dinner.

Liston’s in the late 1940s or 1950s.

We had never been there before, and they didn’t know us from Adam. But when we walked in the door, we see a lot of nice people sitting around having dinner, and it’s a very social atmosphere. And we’re welcomed to the restaurant by Steve Magargal, the owner, and he wants to know what’s going on. Where are we from? And we tell him our story, “We just moved into this house on Old Post Road.” And he said, “Oh, the Modestow house?” And I said, “Yeah, that’s the one.” And he said, “Ah, you’re gonna love that house.” Steve commenced to introduce us to a few people.

Back then Listons had bands in every Friday night. Steve took over the floor, and took the mic away from the band, and he said, “Hold on, I gotta introduce you to some new people in town.” And he introduced us to the whole crowd there at Liston’s. We just felt so welcome. My wife, to this day, remembers that. My son is 25 now, he remembers that day. That’s what Worthington is about – the openness, the wonderful people. And we’ve had the 250th parade today, and everybody was just as happy as could be, waving to everybody in the parade. It’s a great town, I love it.

Norm Stafford as Worthington pioneer Samuel Clapp (1725-1809), Benjamin Graveyard, 2018.

HA: So what do you like to do in town?

NS: I belong to the golf club, so I play in the men’s league. I have a little wine grape vineyard out in my backyard. I go out and pick the Japanese beetles off the leaves every once in a while. I take care of my lawns. I sit on my big porch and read books, and every once in a while, I write a little book. I’ve written a couple of little stories about Worthington history that I’ve treated as little novels, vignettes about events of Worthington.

We had a counterfeiter in Worthington back in the 1950s, so I had to write about him. That was George Humphrey. We’ve got a lot of history going back to when the potato farms were the biggest thing around here. Ben Albert was the biggest potato farmer on the East Coast, flying all over the place to take care of his various farms and operations that he owned and managed. Lots of stories about Civil War encampments down on River Road. The little story I wrote about the brothel on Harvey Road. They didn’t publish that one, but it was a fun story to research. [Editor’s note: The “brothel” refers to unconfirmed rumors of prostitution at a summer boarding house run by Bessie Ames on Harvey Road into the 1930s; the rumors do not implicate Ames.] We have all kinds of stories in Worthington.

HA: So what impresses you most about Worthington?

NS: I would say it’s just the nature of the people that choose to move here. We’ve got a lot of new people on my street, and they just love Worthington. Hopefully when we get high-speed internet we’ll have more young professionals that are willing to come and live here for the beauty of the town. We had a town meeting in May that was amazing. Everybody in town showed up. You don’t see that when you have a city council and people vote anonymously. At town meeting you stand up and say what you want to say and people listen to you.

My wife belongs to the Arts Alliance group, which is fabulous. You should have seen last weekend – they had 26 open studios on the tour, and every one of them was packed with people coming to see art in the Berkshires, and art in the hilltowns – all kinds of art. My wife is a watercolor painter and she just loves it up here, just for the collaboration with other painters.

Painting by Natalie Stafford for a card of the Corners Grocery.

Painting by Natalie Stafford for a card of the Corners Grocery in winter.

HA: So what do you think of the climate here?

NS: I love it. I mean, four feet of snow in the winter. I’ve got a big snow blower.

HA: So you’re a year-long resident?

NS: We live here year-round, yeah. My son doesn’t want us to ever think of selling the house, and we don’t think we ever will. We had that period in our lives where every seven years we’d sell and move someplace else. Not anymore. This is probably it.

HA: You found your place.

NS: Yeah. This is it.

Norm Stafford with his grape vines.

Posted September 10, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Six: Ed Lewis, Birder, Skier, and All-purpose Treasurer

A familiar sight around town: Ed Lewis on roller skis.

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

Harold Anderson: So Ed, are you a lifelong resident or did you move to Worthington?

Ed Lewis: I grew up in Maine, Lewiston-Auburn area, and then went to school near Albany, New York, and met a girl there when I was 19 and she was 18. Many years later, we now have three kids together. She is from far-western Pennsylvania. To find a place to live that was more or less between the families, we wanted to move to the Albany, New York area.

I was working for the Folgers Coffee Company in New Orleans, Louisiana. I had a fellow from Pittsfield, Massachusetts, General Electric Company call me and ask if I was interested in taking a job to set up environmental compliance programs for General Electric defense systems. I said, “Well, I don’t want to live in Boston.” He says, “Well, Pittsfield is not in Boston.” And I said, “If I can get there in an hour’s drive from Albany, I will interview with you.” He says, “Well, you can.”

So I interviewed out there, and I got the job offer on the spot. What’s going to keep you from coming out here? My wife needs a job. She’s an electrical engineer. “We want her more than you.” So out we come.

We moved into Dalton, Massachusetts, which is right on the Appalachian Trail, but we did want to move further to the country. I’m from Maine – I wanted to live in a place more like Maine than Dalton was, and we’re looking more rural, because I grew up in a small, rural town. We saw a newspaper ad for a house in Worthington, which we never heard of. We came out and looked at the house, and my father said, “You gotta buy that house. I like the town. Move out.” That was Memorial Day week in 1985, and we’ve been here ever since.

My major interest is outdoor sports, and I said, “If I’m going to move, I want to be able to go skiing out the back door of my house without having to drive.” So indeed, I found a house that is handy to the international snowmobile trail, which runs through Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick, all the way to the north shore of the St. Lawrence.

It so happens that we own part of that snowmobile trail. There’s a very active snowmobile club here in town, and although I’m not a snowmobiler, I am a skier. So I host part of the trail, and it’s a huge community thing. Community is a big thing here in this town, which we particularly like. I maintain that part of the trail, I ski on it, and they run their sleds over it and have a good time.

HA: Definitely have a little bit of a snow around here.

EL: That’s what they all say, though I did like the winter in Quebec and Maine better. Winter is more touch-and-go here. I would like to see more steady deep powder snow from December through the end of March, and I don’t like all that winter rain and ice they get out here. But it is the way it is – everything’s a compromise. It’s a great town to live in. Brought up our kids here, and there’s employment here. Now I’m self-employed – I do environmental compliance consulting for a number of major companies in the area, and my wife is a senior program manager for General Dynamics Corporation out of Pittsfield. We’ve had very good employment and it’s undeniably a beautiful area.

HA: What do you like most about living in Worthington?

EL: The ability to get out and go skiing. I took up road skiing during the warm months and go snow skiing during the cold months. In fact, I’m probably better known in town for road skiing than for who I am. I go out on the roller skis, skiing on the roads all over  town.

We do a lot of birdwatching. We participate in Cornell University’s “Project FeederWatch.” This is a primo birdwatching area – good diversity of habitat.

Local bird sightings photographed by Ed Lewis

HA: We’re at the 250th anniversary celebration of Worthington. What does Worthington’s history mean to you?

EL: A lot of my skill is computer-type of stuff, so I got drafted to become the treasurer of the Worthington Historical Society back in 1996. That’s over 20 years ago. I let it be very well known that I know nothing about history. I can do all your accounting for you, but I don’t know history at all. But I served, and that job has morphed to become treasurer of many other organizations in town, including the Worthington 250 celebration.

I do find it very interesting to read some of the old journals, as to what it was like here back in 1900. There was a lot less forest. I love steppe desert. I think the most beautiful part of the country is Western Nebraska and Central Wyoming, where it’s open country without so bloody many trees. Worthington looked really beautiful then in 1900 – this rolling landscape without all these trees that make it so claustrophobic. One reason why we live in this town is there are some big fields, potato fields, so I can find solace in a couple of places to see a horizon without trees.

View of Worthington Corners c. 1920s, in the days of extensive deforestation.

HA: So are you involved in the town meetings and the town events?

EL: I am peripherally. I put in a lot of hours for the church as treasurer, for the historical society as treasurer, for the Worthington Swim and Tennis Club. That’s a sad story. Worthington Swim and Tennis Club was owned by the Worthington Golf Club for 51 years, and it was a fabulous partnership. It changed ownership earlier this year, with the result that the pool is shutting down. It operated so well and brought so much entertainment for the kids, and a social venue for the adults. We got a lot of our summer social life down at the pool. And unfortunately that’s gone.

HA: What would you say is Worthington’s best feature?

EL: I like the people. It’s a nice, rural, easy town – trust anybody. The general quality of life is very high. Certainly doing the Worthington 250 has been a tremendous community event, and I’ve gotten to know other people much better than I would have otherwise. The chairman, Evan Johnson, and the activity parade coordinator, Bobby Dodge, have done just a magnificent job pulling this thing together. And it’s brought a lot of us together from different walks of life, different experiences. I’m working on the committee doing the sales with a gal who has lived all of her life here. So it’s been a real pleasure getting to know and work with her and with the other folks on the committee.

Posted September 9, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Five: Why Carol Labonte Likes Living in Worthington

Why I Like Living In Worthington

by Carol Labonte

Before we moved to Worthington 41 years ago, we lived in Easthampton. We had homes on both sides, across the street, and behind us. People were always concerned with who was doing what.

As a child, I used to go through Worthington with my four siblings and my parents as we went to a cottage every weekend that my uncle owned on Ashmere Lake in Hinsdale. I was always an outdoor person that enjoyed hiking, walking in the woods, etc. I saw what the hilltowns looked like compared to Easthampton.

When a friend of my brother’s had some land for sale here in Worthington, we bought it. We cleared the land and had a house built and my husband and I and our two children moved out of Easthampton. I really enjoy the wildlife, the peace and quiet and the friendly people. People wave and talk to each other even if they don’t really know who you are. It’s a more relaxing life – no hustle and bustle like in the cities. It has also been a safe place to live in with this Covid-19. Our two dogs love it here. We bring them out and they have plenty of room to run around.

Worthington is a beautiful town with beautiful people.

Carol Labonte with her toy poodles, Misty and Sassy, in 2020. Photo by Evan Spring.

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

Harold Anderson: Carol, are you a lifelong resident or did you move to Worthington?

Carol Labonte: We moved to Worthington 39 years ago. We were living in Easthampton and I just wanted to get out of Easthampton, and my husband did. We had two small kids. We just wanted someplace peaceful, quiet. We bought four acres of land, we had a house built, and here we are.

HA: So how old were you when you moved to Worthington?

CL: Let’s see, 39 years ago, and I’m 71 – that’s about 32.

HA: So what was it like for you moving to Worthington?

CL: It was actually hard because when we bought the land, we’re on a dirt road, and we were the very first house. We were a mile in, and nobody told us it was not a gravel road. Our house was supposed to be finished in December, but it didn’t get finished until April. Up here we have six weeks of mud season, and we were trying to move in during mud season. We had four-wheel drive stuck on the road trying to get our furniture in. We almost lost a lot of friends. But we did it.

We could only get within about, say, three-quarters of a mile away from the house. We had to park, so all the groceries had to come down either by toboggan, if there was still snow on top of the mud, or wagon. I had a big van, and I’d have all the groceries in the van. If it was warm I’d bring all the cold things down, and if it was cold I didn’t want things freezing, so I’d bring the canned goods down. And when my husband and two kids got home, I’d say, “Okay, the food is up the road, let’s go.” We did that for about six years before they finally graveled the road.

HA: So at what point did you settle in and decide, “Yeah, I’m going to make a life of it here”?

CL: We were only living here maybe a year, and we just knew that this was the place to be.

HA: And what brought that to your mind?

CL: Quiet, peaceful. We’d get deer in our yard. We’d get all kinds of wildlife. We’ve got woods all around us. Cooler in the summer. When you come down Route 66 and you take a right on 112, or you come up 143, it’s like a curtain. All of a sudden it’s just cooler, and it’s just so quiet and peaceful, and that basically is what we want.

HA: So what do you like to do in Worthington when you have some free time?

CL: Gardening, walking in the woods, things like that.

HA: You get together with your neighbors and friends?

CL: Yeah. We go out to dinner once in a while, or just hang out at each other’s house, play cards, whatever.

Carol at home with Misty and Sassy. Photo by Evan Spring.

HA: So when you have friends or family who have never been to Worthington and they come here to visit, what’s their reaction like?

CL: “What are you, crazy? You like living here?” They like the city life, they like being not out in the wilderness with bears and everything else around.

HA: So what would you say is Worthington’s best feature?

CL: I’m going to say the peace and quiet, and the people up here are very friendly. You go up to the store or the post office, and everybody’s saying “Hi.” You’d be out in your car driving along, people wave and it’s a very, very friendly town – a lot of nice people.

HA: Do you have a lot of people moving in, if you will, for the summertime?

CL: Yeah, there are a lot of summer residents up here. They live in Boston, New York, in different places, and they come here for the summer. I have a cleaning business, so I end up getting them all set to get into their homes for the summer.

HA: So I see that you were involved in this Worthington 250th celebration.

CL: I got involved back in probably the end of January, beginning of February. There were these sheets around the store that said, “What would you like to see happen?” So I made out a list of different things, and one of them was an auction. And I said, “I’d like to volunteer to help.” And next, from Evan Johnson, I got an email saying, “Our next meeting is such-and-such a date. See you there.” So I showed up, and he said, “You wanna do an auction?” And I said, “Yeah.” He says, “You’re in charge.” I thought, “Oh my gosh, I’ve never done this.” But it worked out really good. It made about $3,200.

HA: Did you have to go out and solicit?

CL: Yeah, I hit all the towns around Huntington and Williamsburg and Chesterfield, all over, getting donations. I called a lot of people in Worthington – potters and artists and things. And gift certificates from businesses. It really worked out well – a lot better than I thought.

HA: Anything else you’d like to talk about, any of your memories here?

CL: Well, one of the things is a man that I met, Guy Thrasher, when we first moved into Worthington. With a new house, you need to plant things. We kept driving by this little stand down on 112, and there would be this elderly man. He’d sometimes be standing out there, sometimes sitting. And he had all these flowers. So one day I had our kids with us, and I said, “We need to buy some flowers. Let’s stop in and see what he has.”

Guy Thrasher at this store.

So we met Guy Thrasher. He right away starts talking, and he said to me, “Are you summer people or are you permanent people?” And I said, “We’re permanent. We just had a house built on Scott Road.” So I picked out different plants and flowers that I wanted to buy, and I was paying for them, and he says to me, “I have something for your new home.” And he handed me a pot with a little plant that wasn’t more than about eight inches high. And he said, “I dug this up in the woods. It’s a wild azalea. Plant it at your home.” Then he gave each of our kids a little flower that they could bring home and plant. And now I look out my window, and at the corner of the garage, where I can see through my living room window, is the wild azalea that Guy Thrasher gave me. It’s now about ten feet tall.

HA: Wow.

CL: It’s the most beautiful bush. Every time we went there, Guy Thrasher always gave us something free. He gave the kids more flowers, and by the end of the summer they had their own little flower gardens. He was one of the nicest men I ever knew. He’d really made an impression. And that kind of taught me what Worthington people are like. They’re all friendly and they just want to be nice to everybody, and it’s a great way to be.

The azalea bush given as a gift from Guy Thrasher to Carol Labonte and family.

Posted September 9, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Four: Kevin Porter, Worthington Native

Kevin Porter and his alpaca, Porter. Photo by Evan Spring.

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

Harold Anderson: Kevin, are you a lifelong resident of Worthington or did you move here?

Kevin Porter: I am a lifelong resident, one of the few natives still left here in town.

HA: So how long has your family been in Worthington?

KP: Since around 1958. But I’ve had ancestors that were here before that as well. My grandfather was born here in Worthington, where the golf course is today, back in 1900. My father grew up on a dairy farm, and his father’s farm wasn’t big enough to keep him busy. So my father broke off to start his own dairy farm, and he purchased a farm here in Worthington around 1958.

HA: So what do you like most about Worthington?

KP: I like it being a nice, small-knit community where everybody knows everybody and helps out thy neighbor as much they can, whenever somebody’s in need or needs a little helping hand.

Kevin Porter at the Worthington Bicentennial celebrations, 1968.

HA: What was it like going to the schools here?

KP: It was a quiet, small community, so everybody knew everybody and it was pretty easygoing. Everything was nice, but once we had to graduate and go to junior high down at Gateway, then that was a big, big change.

HA: How so?

KP: The grammar school here in town was just up to fourth grade. Then junior high is part of the Gateway school system. You’re in a bigger school with six other communities, so there was a lot more students to get to meet and be friends with and learn different cultures.

First-grade class at Russell H. Conwell School, 1971. Kevin Porter is in the middle row, far right.

HA: So what would you say is Worthington’s best feature?

KP: Probably the open fields that we still have here in town. There was a large potato farm here in town at one time, and all those fields are still open. A few of them have houses in them, unfortunately, but for the most part there’s still a lot of good open farm country here.

HA: A lot of people do farming here?

KP: Thirty, forty years ago there was a big farming community. Today, not so much as it used to be. But there’s a lot of smaller, organic, new-type of farming starting to come back alive in the area.

HA: So when you were growing up, what was Worthington like back then?

KP: It’s funny how times have changed. As everybody says, thirty years ago things were a lot quieter and easier-going. You could go up to the store and a post office here in the center of town, and you would know everybody that you’d bump into up there. Today, you go up there and you might not know half the people because there are new people that come to town, and we just don’t socialize enough to get to know your neighbor as good as we used to.

HA: What kind of activity did you have here in Worthington?

KP: I did start working for Ben Albert in the potato fields at the age of twelve. I wasn’t supposed to, but Ben gave me the job because he trusted me. For state laws, insurance reasons, you weren’t supposed to be that young to work, but I did, and I also picked potatoes for Joe Sena. We used to pick potatoes by hand years ago.

HA: Potatoes, you have to dig them out of the ground?

KP: They would go through with a harvester and put the potatoes on top of the ground. Then you would go along and everybody had a barrel to fill up. Every person had a bunch of cards with numbers or a letter on it. You would fill a barrel, put your card on that barrel. They would keep track of how many barrels you picked in a day, and you were paid so much a barrel for picking potatoes by hand.

HA: So what kind of potatoes did they grow?

Bag for State Line potato chips.

KP: Well, there was a lot of different varieties and I can’t remember them all. But they were special potatoes for State Line Potato Chips, a big company in Wilbraham years ago. A lot of the potatoes went there.

HA: So years ago, when I was eating a bag of State Line Potato Chips, I might have been eating something from Worthington.

KP: There’s a very, very good chance of it, yes.

HA: I know there’s also maple sugaring in the area, did you ever get involved in that?

KP: I did. There was a farmer in town years ago, Howard Mollison, a big sugar maker. I worked for him as a young person during sugaring season, hanging the buckets on the trees and then collecting the sap. Then at the end of the season, collecting the buckets back off the trees and spending the weekend washing buckets. That was quite a project when you had to wash the buckets by hand.

HA: When you had some free time when you were growing up, what would you do?

KP: Well, there was another family here in town, the Sheldon kids. And the Nugent kids I grew up with. We’d get on our bicycles and go all over town. Also there’s a lot of trails in the woods, and there’s this group of people that ride snowmobiles through the trail in the wintertime. We would take our bicycles through the woods on the snowmobile trails and we’d travel all over. One of the other favorite spots was Albert’s Pond. It was a very popular swimming hole in town and everybody went swimming down there. There was one summer my mother bought me a membership at the Swim and Tennis Club. But I spent more time at Albert’s Pond than I did at the town pool, and she was upset about that. So she only did that one summer.

HA: Do you have friends or family that come visit you, and what’s their reaction when they first come to Worthington?

KP: Oh, just being so nice and quiet and peaceful. You don’t hear traffic going by, you don’t hear trains, you don’t hear sirens like you would in the city. I think the quiet tranquility of it all, the peacefulness.

HA: You ever do any farming yourself?

KP: Presently my wife and I have an alpaca farm. We have six alpacas right now, and we shear the animals once a year in the spring. Then we send the fiber to a place down in Fall River, Mass, and they process it all for us. We get back hats, socks, mittens, all kinds of wintertime garments.

HA: Oh, that’s appropriate for here.

KP: And that is a very nice product, much better than wool. One of the things I explain to people about the difference between the alpaca fiber and the wool is, the alpaca fiber is silky smooth. If you had a pair of wool socks, you always get a little bit of a scratchy itch to them. But the alpaca fiber is silky smooth, and it is the best pair of socks you’ll wear in the wintertime.

Kevin Porter and Porter the alpaca. Photo by Evan Spring.

HA: So do you sell them locally?

KP: We do. It’s hard to sell them on a day like today when it’s 80 degrees outside. We go to a few craft shows in the fall, at the beginning of the Christmas season when people start shopping.

HA: So I see you’re a part of the 250th celebration here. You’re part of the committee?

KP: Yes, I joined. I came into it a few months afterwards, because I work for the state highway department and couldn’t get any time to come to the meetings. But once spring finally broke, I’ve been coming to the meetings and helped out. I’ve been a member of the Volunteer Fire Department here in Worthington for 35 years, so I got chosen to contact all our neighboring towns to come and participate today in our parade. We had a good turnout for fire trucks today in our parade, along with everything else.

Kevin Porter on duty with Worthington’s Fire Department.

HA: So what’s your favorite season here?

KP: Oh, probably everybody would say the fall, with the nice, cool, crisp air. Then when the trees start turning, the colors are beautiful up here on the edge of the Berkshires, when the foliage starts changing. That’s a beautiful season, September, October.

HA: You mentioned being involved with the highway department. Do winters in Worthington live up to or down to their reputation?

KP: Oh, they live up to it very well. It gets very cold and snowy and windy up here. That is one of the issues with having our open fields for the agriculture and the farming industry. When that wind gets to blowing the snow, that really drifts and blows into the roadways. It keeps us busy plowing snowdrifts in the winter months and the windy nights.

Eunice Bartlett with children on a terraced snowbank in Worthington, 1950s.

Posted September 7, 2020. The interview transcription was funded by a grant from the Worthington Cultural Council, a local agency supported by the Mass Cultural Council, a state agency.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA: Uh oh.

Snow arch by Emerson Davis, c. 1950.

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

HA: Wow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA: Whoa.

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

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

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

Bob Cudworth c. 1960.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry Snyder at Worthington’s Bicentennial ball, 1968.

John Tredwell and Henry Snyder at the Cummington Fair.

 

 

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

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

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

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

HA: Did you go to school here?

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

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

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

HA: You like the climate here in Worthington?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA: What’s your favorite season?

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

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

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Two: Representative Steve Kulik

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

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

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

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

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

Steve building his house in Worthington.

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

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

HA: Really?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA: What’s your favorite season in Worthington?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HA: Any other final comments or reminiscence about Worthington?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kristin Majkowski Jay: Thank you.

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

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

HA: I’m speaking to royalty.

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

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

KMJ: Well, thank you.

Hampshire Gazette, July 1, 1968.

HA: You were in the parade itself.

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

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

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

HA: So you had your court as well too?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hampshire Gazette, June26, 1968.

HA: So what attracted your parents to Worthington?

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

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

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

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

HA: There you go.

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

HA: Local?

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

HA: What kind of art do you do?

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

HA: Any other memories?

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

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

HA: Rolled?

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

HA: Do you still make those?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE BICENTENNIAL QUEEN COMPETITION

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

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

The coronation of the Queen took place during the Anniversary Ball at Town Hall on Saturday, June 29, 1968. Dress was in period costume or semi formal. At 9:30pm, the five nominees – all just graduated from Gateway Regional High School – each made their grand entrance with an escort. They carried nosegays of rosebuds across the stage and took their place on the red carpet. Emcee Chet Dragon detailed their interests and aspirations. A sealed envelope was opened and the Queen, Kristin Majkowski, was announced.

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

Newspaper clipping of the five contestants.

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

Final accounting from the Queen Committee.

Thank-you note from Kristin Majkowski.

 

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

Kristin’s essay, conclusion.

Hampshire Gazette, July 1, 1968.

Posted August 12, 2020.