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A Home at Last: The Origins and Construction of the WHS Building

by Diane Brenner and Evan Spring

The Worthington Historical Society building.

The Worthington Historical Society was formed in 1933, but for 62 years it had no real headquarters for storing historical artifacts or facilitating exhibits and events. Meetings took place at the First Congregational Church, the schoolhouse at Lyceum Hall (now Hillside Electronics, at 17 Buffington Hill Road), the Worthington Library, and several private homes.

In 1969, Henry and Eva Snyder donated the Capen School and its accompanying land on Dingle Road to WHS. Volunteers donated time and money to renovate this one-room, 19th-century schoolhouse, and a grant from the Bicentennial Commission helped finish the interior. The WHS held its annual meeting at the Capen School from 1974 through 1989, but it was too small and cold for regular use, with no electricity or running water.

The Snyders envisioned that the WHS would transport the Capen School to the Corners, near their home. In 1984, the Snyders’ daughter and son-in-law, Peg and Art Rolland, donated a small parcel of land on Old Post Road as a site for the schoolhouse. In 1989 the WHS received a $100,000 bequest from Peg Rolland’s estate, earmarked for a building.

Discussion was prolonged on how to establish a more permanent home. The lot on Old Post Road was deemed too small, and it was sold in 1990. At the May 28, 1991, meeting in Town Hall, the board discussed “the possibility of acquiring the property owned by the Packards north of the large common at ‘The Corners.'”

Negotiations ensued, and plans were made to relocate two historic buildings to the Corners site: the Capen School and the West Worthington Chapel, an abandoned, 1847 Methodist church in the Greek Revival style.

The West Worthington Chapel, c. 1900.

WHS President Ted Claydon visiting the West Worthington Chapel.

Interior of the West Worthington Chapel.

Proposed plan to relocate the West Worthington Chapel and Capen School to the Corners.

On November 22, 1992, the WHS received a large lot at Worthington Corners – a generous gift from Arlene and Merwin Packard.

The Packard boulder at WHS.

Moving the West Worthington Chapel seemed sensible at the time, but it was not in great shape. WHS abandoned the idea in the winter of 1993, and during the winter of 1994, the building collapsed.

The Country Journal, November 25, 1993.

There was nothing left to do but design and construct a new building. Architect Scott Heyl, who still inhabits the Jonathan Woodbridge House across from the WHS building, designed an enlarged likeness of the West Worthington Chapel. On July 7, 1994, the plans were approved by the WHS board, headed by president Edward (Ted) Claydon. At that time the WHS had only 35 members.

The groundbreaking took place on Saturday, June 17, 1995, attended by dignitaries and curious onlookers.

Arlene Packard starts the construction work with a ceremonial shovel, as State Representative Steve Kulik, Pete Packard, and Ted Claydon look on.

The first scrape.

Sign of the future.

Architect Scott Heyl and excavator Bert Nugent at the groundbreaking.

The Country Journal, June 1995.

Many volunteers contributed their time and expertise to the building. Bert Nugent donated labor and equipment for the excavation, and Charles Nugent donated his services for the foundation. The Legoy family helped with the power line. Many others joined in. The building team included David Veleta, Kent Hicks, Jim and Phil Lawrence, and Jim Dodge. 

Excavation and footings.

Brandon LeGoy helps lay the power line.

The first floor.

The walls go up.

Intrepid contractors David Veleta and Kent Hicks.

Jim Dodge at work.

Ted Claydon, WHS president, spearheading the building effort.

The roof is lifted into place.

Treeing ceremony marking completion of the roof’s highest beams.

The ceremonial tree.

Finishing the roof and belfry.

The window crew: Muriel Claydon, Lois Brown, Judy Fisk, Pat Pease, and Dottie Fitzgerald.

The building wasn’t complete in the fall of 1995, but that didn’t stop the WHS from holding the annual meeting in their new home. 

WHS president Ted Claydon addresses the 1995 annual meeting in the new building.

WHS annual meeting, 1995.

The winter of 1995-96.

Work proceeded over the next three years. 

Event on the WHS lawn, September 27, 1997.

Lyn Horton (then Lyn Horton Newell) put together an outstanding exhibit for the 1998 annual meeting.

Exhibit for the 1998 WHS annual meeting.

A Grand Opening was held Sunday, June 13, 1999, with talks, exhibits, musical performances, and skits by the fourth graders. The keynote speaker was Daniel Porter, a Worthington native and Professor Emeritus of Museum Studies at the State University of New York.

The Country Journal, June 17, 1999.

Country Journal article, continued.

Worthingtonians gather for the WHS grand opening ceremony, June 1999.

The Gateway High School Marching Band performs.

Members of Boy Scout Troop 710 raise the flag.

Historical skit presented by the fourth graders of the R. H. Conwell School.

Levi Martindale introduces the next skit. Left to right in background: Keenan Phillips, Jackson Mansfield, Kathleen Ryan, Maggie Mansfield, Zack Fay, and Luke Ryan.

Luke Ryan presents the next skit.

Christina Pease presents the next skit, with Lizzy Lewis in background.

Gravestone rubbings by the fourth grade class on display at the Grand Opening.

Amber Dodge, Muriel Claydon, and others at the WHS Grand Opening.

Since 1999 the building’s archives have expanded dramatically, and the large, open interior has accommodated a variety of exhibits, talks, oral history events, and social gatherings as well as private parties and choral rehearsals. 

The multi-year building effort throughout the 1990s was spearheaded by WHS president Ted Claydon, who turns 100 next month (October 2021). Thank you, Ted, for your vital and lasting contribution to the civic life of the town and the preservation of its history.

The WHS building in 2019.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington with her spouse, Jan Roby, since 1994. She was a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society board of directors, and continues to guide WHS in archiving and historical research. In her spare time she works at her day job as a book indexer: www.dianebrenner.com.

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

Posted September 23, 2021.

Night of the Living Dead V at Center Cemetery

by Pat Kennedy and Diane Brenner

In 2014 several longtime residents of Center Cemetery on Sam Hill Road started a local trend by emerging from their graves to convene with the living. Other ghosts of Center Cemetery were envious, and six of them emerged five years later – on the evening of Saturday, September 7, 2019 – for their moment in the spotlight.

Jim Downey as Dr. Moses Morse.

Dr. Moses Morse (1721-1783)

Welcome to my final resting place! I see you’ve come from far and wide to honor your town’s most valuable and renowned resident. I, of course, am Doctor Moses Morse. I’m glad you found me. As the town’s first doctor I deserve to lie in a place of honor, but I can’t seem to find my impressive marker.

During the early days, settlers were buried either near home or in the community cemetery on West Street. But after Jonathan Huntington was on his cooling board, the town fathers rebuilt their meeting house on Harvey Road and created this cemetery. I must have been moved from somewhere, and they bungled the job.

Look at this nice line of relocated graves here at the west end. Where is mine? They couldn’t even carry me the mile or two from my home on Witt Hill without dumping me out of my casket! Some of those veterans who carried me were a bit long in the tooth. I heard one mutter that I was manifesting “that habitual contrariness” of mine! Imagine! My son Samuel had a Morse family burial vault built here, but it was allowed to decay and was eventually removed.

West end of Center Cemetery on Sam Hill Road.

I was born in Newburyport, Massachusetts, in 1721, when the western hills were extremely remote. The settlements along the Connecticut River were little more than trading posts. They had a time of it, raided by the French and their savage allies every few years! Back in Newburyport, thanks to the British, we were well educated and refined. I was sent to the University of Cambridge in the motherland to study medicine, and I practiced in Liverpool and London.

When I returned I joined my parents, who had removed to Preston, Connecticut, and in 1744 I married Sarah Fish. In 1765, with the Indian Wars settled and land newly available, we moved in tandem with many others from Preston to Plantation Number 3, where I purchased some prime land from Nathaniel Dwight and soon became quite a wealthy landowner. Sarah had nine children before we left Preston, and one after we arrived. Unfortunately, five died as children.

Like others in town, I had little patience for Reverend Huntington’s modern views on saving souls. He thought people could reach salvation through good works and hard personal effort. I preferred the traditional view of God’s plan – some of us are destined for greatness, others not so! We “chosen few” are entitled to the best this life has to offer.

I don’t know what this town would have done without a doctor of my caliber. They probably would have turned to the foolish cures of Rhoda Rhoades, that quack Indian doctress in Norwich. God only knows what treatments she foisted on the unsuspecting and desperate. I’ve heard that people came from as far as England to be treated by her! She pretended to be a Christian, but don’t they all say that? And the women deliver the babies, which isn’t even really medicine. Over in France they’ve suggested that disease is caused by tiny bugs that can’t be seen with the human eye! Probably another attempt by our longstanding enemies to topple the Empire! No, I put my faith in bloodletting, mercury ingestion, and leeches!

Worthington was just a wilderness despite our hard work. As the most highly educated person here, I felt obligated to participate in governance. In July 1768 I was named surveyor of highways. By the way, highways are different from byways. Building good roads from town to town was of major importance to any newly settled community. In October of that same year I was chosen as town moderator, a prestigious position. The following year I was elected selectman, another prized role. While my natural talents as a leader led to these honors, I was not, alas, as beloved as I deserved.

Unlike most of my fellow townspeople, I was a Tory and I’m not ashamed to admit it! I was well-treated by my British colleagues and felt an allegiance to them. I loved the order and safety that the British Empire provided. I doubted that this disorganized and impoverished collection of colonies could ever unite and achieve greatness. In 1774 I persuaded the town to reverse their misguided, Patriot-leaning boycott of British tea, as those folks in Boston were doing.

My talents got me elected to the Massachusetts General Court for the 1777 session, but I was quickly recalled for “flagrant toryism” and “misconduct in failing to act in behalf of the town.” The ingrates! It was my duty to do what was right, not to obey the misguided people of the town. They voted to tax unimproved land to support local troops that wanted independence from the Crown. When this tax came before the legislature, I voted “no.” Nonetheless, tempers cooled a bit, and I was later named a delegate to the state constitutional convention.

Alas, in 1783, at age 62, I died suddenly after an apoplectic fit. You’d think someone as distinguished as myself would leave a large estate. But I left no will, and my creditors’ demands vastly exceeded my assets, so I was declared insolvent. Who should I pay attention to such mundane matters? At least forty people claimed I owed them money for one thing or another.

Hampshire Herald, September 21, 1784.

It took five years to settle my estate. Samuel, my son, was named executor and ended up having to sell all our properties, including the dower share that rightly should have gone to Sarah. Oh well. She died in Worthington in 1803 at the age of 80. At least she had the children to take of her. Some of my children moved to another wilderness – a place called Ohio.

It looks as if the rebels won the revolt against King George III for now, but I doubt it will turn out well in the long run. How could it, with arrogant Southern planters like George Washington at the helm? The value of history is that it demonstrates who was right all along. Now where is that stone? It has to be here someplace?

Oh, hello there, Mrs. Eager! I wish you’d been able to get your husband to turn a blind eye to my debts. You Eagers were always such sticklers!

Sheila Kinney as Sarah Jennison Eager.

Sarah Jennison Eager (1742-1810)

Welcome, visitors! I’m Sarah Jennison Eager. I was born in Worcester in 1741 to Captain Israel and Mary Anne Heywood, and in 1771 I married Westborough native Nahum Eager. By then I was 29 and considered a spinster – almost an elderly one. I still became mother to seven, although three died too young.

My husband had arrived in Worthington in 1763, when the town was known as “Plantation No. 3.” It was purchased from King George III by five investors, who surveyed the land into 277 tracts, and then distributed the tracts among themselves by lot. Nahum’s father was a speculator in his own right, and worked with several of these original proprietors on government committees. He got them to hire his son Nahum to sell the tracts of land.

Not one of the original proprietors ever lived here, and the town’s name comes from a man who never even set foot here! The proprietors met regularly at a tavern in Northampton, and by the end of one meeting, Jonathan Worthington, Esq., of Springfield had a town named after him! I wonder what libations they served! Of course he did underwrite the costs of building the first grist mill. Still, you won’t find any of Worthington’s descendants buried here.

Nahum was offered two lots for his own use. He chose the property now known as Chucklebrook Farm, along what became the Post Road to Boston. What a lovely name! And what a lovely location! As a settler he was obliged to build a dwelling, clear seven acres, and improve his lots. But his vision was much larger than that. After living in a log cabin for eight years, Nahum returned to Worcester to find a wife, and he got me!

Once again he had chosen well. I was a hard worker who enjoyed a challenge. Together we established a thriving hamlet, which included a tavern, sawmill, blacksmith, cooper, tailor, and two general stores. Naturally, Nahum became a community leader, serving as the first town clerk and fence viewer. He was the first representative to the Provincial Council in Cambridge, and a member of the Committee on Correspondence. After our country won its independence, he served in the state legislature.

We goodwives were vital to the town’s success. I ran our tavern, which was the most popular in town, since the other belonged to Alexander Miller, that profligate Tory sympathizer. We were on the main turnpike from Northampton to Pittsfield and did a brisk business. I had to feed and house travelers who might stay for only a night, or for weeks. I cooked, cleaned, did laundry, made beer, and sewed almost everything we wore. My daughters and female neighbors were constantly spinning and weaving and repairing clothing.

You may not understand, but in my day clothing could be our most valuable possessions. We re-cut and re-used every scrap. When you died your clothing would be distributed to your loved ones and used for succeeding generations. People in hard times might hold a ”vendue” sale, which involved sale of their clothing at very reasonable prices. Many people elevated themselves in the world by buying the clothes of their betters and putting on airs!

One of our most memorable guests was young Dr. Elihu Ashley from Deerfield. He stayed with us for nearly a year just before the war, while he gained some needed doctoring experience. He was a lively guest, always willing to call for another bowl of rum punch for his companions. Rumor has it he was sent here to discourage a romantic attachment to an unsuitable young woman. I can credit this rumor because while he was here he got into a bit of a tangle with Lucy Huntington, the daughter of the minister, Jonathan Huntington. To cool her passion, he lied and told her he was already married!

Diaries of Dr. Elihu Ashley, published in 2007 by University of Massachusetts Press.

Dr. Ashley was critical of her father because he practiced medicine without the proper training. Lord knows that most of the doctoring in a village like ours was the province of the women anyway!  Certainly no man ever attended a birthing unless he was forced to. And some of our best medicines were herbs from Dr. Rhoda Rhoades, the Indian woman who practiced in Norwich. Well, you know how men will puff themselves up!

We women thought we had it hard until so many of our men went off to fight the British – Nahum included. He served as a lieutenant-colonel from 1775 through 1776. That’s when our woman’s mettle was tested! We had to do all our usual work and keep the farms going as well. We all pitched in to help each other. We plowed fields and harvested crops, cared for livestock and fixed whatever needed fixing. The many horses taken for the war effort made our work that much harder. Sometimes only a few old men attended Sabbath services with us women.

We were all glad when the war was over, and so few from Worthington had died. But afterward there was so much debt and hardship. You’ve heard of Shays’ Rebellion? The farmers were furious when they fell into debt, and the payments they were promised weren’t forthcoming. One of the rebellion’s most famous participants was a Worthington farmer by the name of Moses Sash! He was caught and accused of treason but never imprisoned. On the other side – defending the government against their own suffering fellow militiamen – were wealthy Worthingtonians such as Major Samuel Buffington and Captain Elisha Brewster. But that’s another story.

I went to my final rest in 1810, and I think you’ll agree that I earned it. By then our town numbered 1300 souls – a few more than you have today. So I rest here peacefully and proudly with my husband, Nahum, and some of our children. I thank you for stopping and passing some time with me.

Couplet from Sarah Eager’s gravestone: Let not the dead forgotten lie / Lest living men forget to die.

Oh look! I believe that Elisha Brewster’s great-nephew up there has something to share with you.

Kevin O’Connor as Charles Kingman Brewster.

Charles Kingman Brewster (1843-1908)

Welcome, my fellow Republicans and loyal supporters of presidents Lincoln and Grant, to our state convention!

What’s that you say? This isn’t a convention? I’ve missed them so much! Oh well, I’ll start over. Greetings, fellow citizens of Worthington. I am Charles Kingman Brewster, son of Elisha Huntington Brewster, grandson of early settler Jonathan Brewster. I’m also the grandson of the town’s first minister, Jonathan Huntington. Brewsters have been in Worthington since 1777.

Call me “C.K.” – everyone does. I was born in the Brewster family home at the Center in 1843. That same year, my father built the general store next to our house. He ran the store for many decades. There was a school attached to it as well.

My mother was Sophronia Kingman. Her father, Isaiah, owned the house next door and ran a tavern there. Town meetings were held there during very cold winters. Isaiah was also a tailor by profession.

My father was a well-respected lawyer, Justice of the Peace, and a trial judge. He was a Whig. Whig, you ask? Who are you people? The Whigs flourished during the 1830s and 40s and favored a strong federal government. They believed people could become wealthy through education and hard work, as long as some government help was provided in times of need. The Democrats were largely ignorant and foolish farmers who didn’t want any government interference in their lives.

My great uncle Elisha helped put down Shays’ Rebellion. Like many others he owned slaves, but sold his family of four in 1784, because legal slavery was ending in Massachusetts. My father, a man of strong opinions forcefully expressed, was opposed to slavery on principle. As a member of the state legislature, his focus was on roads and railroads. He was also on the Woman Suffrage committee, which formed in 1869. Like most of his colleagues – all men – he was not a supporter. Massachusetts women couldn’t vote until 1889, and that was only for local school committee members.

For 16 years my father also served as a Hampshire County commissioner. He was criticized because he and his fellow commissioners chose the cheapest design for a dam in Williamsburg that later collapsed, killing over 100 people. So unfair! It wasn’t his fault that he trusted the designers. Those poor souls who lost their lives were often in our thoughts and prayers.

I was groomed to follow in my father’s footsteps, as I proudly did, helping him run the store and becoming a lawyer. In 1863, heeding Lincoln’s call, I registered for the draft, but as a store clerk I was too important to actually serve in combat. Like others, I paid to have someone serve in my stead.

Right after the war I married Celina Baldwin from Windsor. Our first child, Sophronia, was born several months prematurely at the end of that same year.

Like most good Republicans I prospered after the war. As my family grew, so did my career. I became a partner in my father’s general store, eventually owning it outright. The store was a major source of goods for the neighborhood, and the back room was for recreation and privacy. The men would come for a game of pool and some fortification. I became a Mason of course, and by the mid-1870s, on the basis of taxes paid, I was the fifth-richest man in Worthington. Of course I was paying way too much.

I was elected Town Clerk and Treasurer in 1883, and I’m proud to say that under my fiscal leadership Worthington became a model for other towns. I was named postmaster that same year. As an officer of the Northampton Institute for Savings and a director of the Hampshire Mutual Fire Insurance Company, I was proud of the opportunities I could provide to my less fortunate friends and neighbors. I loved Worthington and tried to honor it when I revised and updated General Rice’s history of our town.

My passion was politics. I was an eager and distinguished attendee at every Republican convention held in the area, heading committees and hosting meetings and dinners whenever possible. I was elected to the state legislature in 1889 but failed in a bid for the Senate. But I did serve as Hampshire County Commissioner, just like my father, until my death.

Endorsement for C. K. Brewster in the Berkshire County Eagle, October 23, 1890.

From a profile article on C. K. Brewster in the Springfield Union, June 26, 1900.

I loved all things modern, and in 1904 partnered with our local doctor to create Worthington’s first spring-fed, public water supply, serving the store and homes in the Center. My neighbors now had water available in case of a fire, and could dispense with wells that could get contaminated. Eventually our water system merged with the larger system that was created at the Corners to serve that big hotel. I was less successful trying to bring an electric trolley to our area.

Celina and I had seven children and lived across the street from the home I was born in. Our home had a beautiful wrap-around porch, and matched in elegance the Hewitt house across the street.

Sadly, two of our daughters didn’t survive childhood. Our oldest son, Eliza Hume, inherited the Brewster family house. He had a very successful career as a lawyer and judge in Springfield and in Boston, building a small office on our property. During his frequent visits to Worthington, he was respectfully called “the Judge.” Our daughter Sarah married Russell H. Conwell’s son Leon. They lived in Somerville, where Sarah admirably fulfilled the duties of the mayor’s wife. I understand their granddaughter, Gloria, has recently returned to town.

Our son Charles, my namesake, was a successful businessman in Connecticut. His daughter Janet Huntington Brewster married the famed reporter Edward R. Murrow. She had her own career as philanthropist, writer, and radio broadcaster.

Finally, our baby, Kingman, was also a distinguished lawyer. His son, Kingman, Jr., became president of Yale University and served President John Kennedy as ambassador to England. That meant he was no longer a Republican, but I was proud of him anyway. And the Democrats were different by then.

Fitchberg Sentinel, October 1, 1908.

I am embarrassed to say I dropped dead at the Cummington Fair in 1908. I was only 65. It caused quite a stir. Celina survived me by another decade.

I am dying to attend another Republican convention. Could one of you arrange it? Why look! There’s my neighbor, Josephine Hewitt, over there beckoning for you to join her.

Diane Brenner as Josephine Stone Hewitt.

Josephine Stone Hewitt (1870-1960)

(Blowing her nose) Darn these allergies, you’d think I’d be over them by now. Is it my turn?

My name? Don’t you recognize me? I know I’ve changed some since my demise, but I am Josephine Hewitt! I was born in 1870 at the corner of Sam Hill Road, in the house with the big white barn. Unlike C.K. there, I never married. In fact I rarely left home. Why would I? I was always busy. Of course I knew everyone in town and they knew me. I was, after all, related to half of them.

Jesse Stone.

My ma-mah, Delia – Adelia Benjamin Stone Hewitt – was born in Columbus, Ohio. Was she ever a force to be reckoned with! Her father, Jesse Stone, was born in Worthington, but moved as a child to Ohio, where he ran a dry-goods store. His wife, my grandma-mah, Keziah Benjamin, was the daughter of Priscilla Benjamin, whom some of you met last year.

It isn’t polite to talk about it, but Ma-mah was very rich. In addition to selling dry goods, my Stone grandfather and his brothers were cotton brokers. They provided cotton used in the uniforms worn by Union soldiers. Conveniently, a third brother owned cotton plantations in Louisiana and Georgia. So like many Northerners before the Uncivil War, our family made a lot of money off those poor slaves down South. I was born after the war and never had to experience that unpleasantness.

My pa-pah, Cyprian Parish Hewitt, was the son of Daniel Hewitt and Matilda Parish. They came to Worthington from Connecticut in the early 1800s. Poor pa-pah! His mother died when he was barely a teenager. His father built the house where I was born. He ran a general store there, and also made leather goods. My father, who didn’t get along with his new stepmother, lived and farmed with his brother-in-law, Alernon Granger, until he married my mother in 1863.

Papah was nearly 40 and Ma-mah 27, and it was a second marriage for both of them. Colonel True, Ma-mah’s first husband, abandoned her and moved to the West Indies, leaving her with a daughter, Hellen. I never really liked Hellen, and I don’t think Ma-mah did, either. No one talked about my father’s first marriage, and it wasn’t polite to ask.

My mother bought Daniel Hewitt’s house. Within six years of my parents’ marriage, my father was worth $15,000 and his household included my mother, three daughters, two domestic servants, a carpenter, and a farm laborer. My grandfather Hewitt, who lived right next door, seemed very old to me, and he didn’t see very well. I remember the day he tripped over our sow pig while he was out picking an apple. That pig raced around in circles with a big fur ball attached to her snout. That was how we discovered Grandpa wore a wig!

Our house was very crowded and we needed a bigger one. Thanks to Ma-mah’s money, we added an addition, a second story, bay windows, and some very fancy etched doors that you can still see today. It might sound as if we lived in luxury, but my sisters and I always had to work very hard. Our menfolk, not so much. By 1880 my father was describing himself as a “gentleman farmer” with six daughters and a son. My brother, Grosvenor, was two years younger than me and very spoiled. Not that I had anything to do with it!

My parents were devout Congregationalists – at least my mother was. My father loved the horses and became a horse trader. Right after the church burned in 1887, he built himself a huge new barn with a cupola that overlooked all of Worthington. The horse stalls reused columns taken from the church. It was a beautiful barn, very well built, with a gilded horse weathervane at the top. The barn is still standing, though I have no idea what happened to our weathervane.

Photograph of Town Hall and the second Congregational church, which burned down in 1887. The picture was likely taken from the Corners.

Pa-pah spent most of his time by the woodstove in the barn office, hanging out with the Brewsters and other local friends. He liked his drink, bought it by the case, and hid it from Ma-mah under the barn floorboards. Rumor has it he was kept on a limited allowance and would report his horses stolen to collect the insurance money. Of course I didn’t know anything about that. I went to the primary school across the street.

In the mid-1880s my father bought a house in Northampton. We spent the winters there while I attended Northampton High School. I didn’t love school. My passion was the piano, which I played from an early age. I also played the organ at the church – until Mr. Capen replaced me. All us Hewitts learned to play an instrument, and we had some wonderful times playing together. My father died in 1902, and not long after, Ma-mah had a stroke which left her paralyzed. She lived another six years, with me and my sisters to take care of her.

My mother left all her property to her daughters equally – except Hellen, who was disinherited. Ma-mah’s personal possessions went to us unmarried girls. She had already given Grosvenor 100 acres of land, so he was well taken care of.

The Springfield Republican, May 16, 1907.

My poor oldest sister, Elizabeth, was disappointed in romance. She had fallen for the young and vibrant minister, Frederick Sargent Huntington. The feeling was reciprocated, but she was robbed of marital joy when he died suddenly from typhoid fever. He was only 36. Lizzie became a nurse, leaving home to live with the families she served. By 1910 all my sisters were married or had moved away. So it was just me and Grosvenor, living in the Sam Hill house along with our very helpful farmhand, Peter Kent.

The farm plus the income from our mother’s estate sustained us. Grosvenor was just like his father – a connoisseur of fine horses, hunting, and alcohol. He kept his accounts on the barn walls. Peter and I really ran the farm.

Josephine Hewitt sweeps a category in a fowl competition. Springfield Daily News, December 16, 1914.

For 50 years I was a proud member of the Hillside Pomona Grange, which met at Lyceum Hall on Buffington Hill Road. The Grange helped farmers learn new methods of agriculture and how to save money on feed and equipment. Lyceum Hall was the center of town activities. There was a public school and library, and everyone from town gathered there to gossip and have a grand time. We’d listen to music, hear interesting speakers, watch Katharine McDowell Rice’s plays, and dance.

The Springfield Republican, April 13, 1928 (left) and July 18, 1933 (right).

The Springfield Republican, January 16 (left) and 23 (right), 1934.

The Springfield Republican, August 24, 1937 (left) and February 7, 1938 (right).

I often played the piano at those events, and worked with Emmy Davis on the flowers. Grosvenor played the drums, and formed a popular dance orchestra with Harry Bates and his first wife, Hattie.

Berkshire County Eagle, February 15, 1950.

I loved the church – the sense of fellowship and community. Much of my time was spent with the other church women, fostering good works. The Friendship Guild, the Women’s Benevolent Society, and the Missionary Society all claimed a good portion of my time. We had sewing and quilting parties, welcomed new folks to town, and hosted get-togethers to learn about needy folks in other parts of the world and raise money to help them. I was an excellent hostess – in fact my refined monthly teas at the golf club were especially renowned.

Grosvenor was only 66 when he died in 1938. He was taken care of by Harry Bates’ second wife, a nurse named Florence, at her rest home and hospice across from the church. After Grosvenor died, C. K.’s son Charlie took over the barn office for his own business.

I was at loose ends – the house was so big and empty. I spent time visiting my sisters, or they came and stayed with me. I worked with the Grange, and our church groups were busy doing their part for the soldiers fighting in the Second Great War. Afterwards we helped the refugees.

Wraithlike image of Josephine Hewitt in the 1930s.

My last surviving sister, Edith Lapham, and her husband, Harry, would spend the summers with me. Sometimes the neighbor children worked for me. They called me “Auntie Jo,” and seemed to enjoy the cookies I made for them, and the buffalo nickels I paid them from the silver bowl in my front hall. Of course they snuck into the barn to climb into the cupola or jump off the hayloft, but I always caught them. Those stairs were so unsafe!

In 1959 I entered a nursing home in Westfield, where I lived until my death a year later. I was nearing 90! Some people called me a recluse, but I was simply a homebody who lived a long life. It appears I was the last person in Worthington to wear a pince-nez. No one would call my life dramatic, but it suited me just fine.

Obituary for Josephine Hewitt, Springfield Union, June 3, 1960.

Who’s that! Why Lordy! Is that you, Peter? I never expected to see you again. Why let’s catch up a little.

Richard Mansfield as Peter Kent.

Peter Luther Kent (1861–1935)

Well hello there, Miss Josephine. You are looking well.

Welcome to my corner of the Center Cemetery, where I’ve lain for almost 90 years! I thought I’d someday go back to my old home in Colchester, Nova Scotia, but that was not to be. Oh, I forgot to give my name – it’s Peter Kent.

Like so many others, I came from far away. I was a handyman and knew what needed doing on a farm. Some that I worked for just wanted a helping hand. Others were wealthy owners of second homes, and my job was to come ahead and open up their houses for summer living. They would arrive by car from the train station in Huntington and waltz right into their airy homes. There would be food in the pantry and ice in the icebox. After electricity came to town in 1928, the radio would be set up and ready to play programs from the big cities, like Fibber McGee and Molly and the baseball games!

You may wonder how I, a man who was never much more than poor, ended up here. I was the second son of Alexander and Mary Kent, and one of nine children. My grandparents came to Nova Scotia before 1770, as did so many others from Scotland. I was born in 1861. My father died when I was 16, and my brother became the head of the family, taking over my father’s work as a miller.

My mother managed to keep me at school until I was twenty, but there wasn’t much work in either Canada or the States. There was a terrible long depression in both places after the American Civil War. It seemed I’d have more of a chance trying my luck across the border. So with the new century looming, I packed my bags and ended up here.

I lived with the various families I worked for, and did odd jobs wherever I was needed for the town. I dug a bunch of graves here when I worked for Franklin Burr, the town undertaker.

The families I worked for were good to me, but I did have to move every now and then. In 1900 I was living with the Osgoods. Then for nearly twenty years I lived with Grosvenor Hewitt and his sister Josephine in that big white house at the corner – you can see the barn steeple from here.

Postcard of the Hewitt residence c. 1918, from Main Street. Sam Hill Road goes off to the right.

By 1930 I was living with the widow Martin and working as a house painter. One way or another, I always kept busy and roof over head.

I worked hard but never accumulated enough money to buy property of my own. In 1910, so many Worthington homes were abandoned that the town offered free building lots “to parties looking for home sites.” But I couldn’t have managed the building part.

The Great Depression that began in 1929 made it hard for some smaller farms to get by, and the town’s population fell to under 495! We depended more and more on the summer folks and visitors for our cash income. The old Kinne-Benton Farm became a golf course in 1904, and golf became a favorite pastime of the summer folks and locals alike. The ladies hosted afternoon teas there once a month. Miss Josephine Hewitt used her buggy to bring linen, china, and silver for the afternoon teas, and I would help.

I was, at heart, a farmer. Like many Worthington folks I belonged to the Hillside Pomona Grange, which focused on farmers but did so much more for the town. They served meals at town meetings, installed gas lights at Lyceum Hall, and restored the sidewalks along the main street. In 1931 the Grange received a state award for community service.

I witnessed some astonishing changes in farming over my 35 years in Worthington. Mechanized tractors and combines took over from the horses! We almost had the railroad here, but it was routed through Huntington instead, so we had to travel a long distance to take our produce to market. But farming will always be part of Worthington, I expect.

Like some other older bachelors of Worthington, including my friends Emmy Davis and Guy Thrasher, I was considered a bit odd. Once, while living at the Hewitts, I sleepwalked right out of a second-floor window and ended up in the hospital with a whole lot of bruises!

Headstone for Peter Kent.

As I got older I spent the winters away from Worthington, coming back in the summers to work as usual. I was in Russell in February of 1935 when I died suddenly of heart failure at the age of 73. I was brought back here and buried in the spring after the ground had defrosted. This fine headstone was a gift from Miss Hewitt, who always looked out for me.

I’m buried here in the far corner of this cemetery, which was kind of a pauper’s section. I’m surrounded by children who died at birth, or soon after, and weren’t baptized and don’t have headstones. Over the years these forgotten children have become dear to me. I’m glad I was put here and can watch over them.

Oh, look, there’s Mrs. Glidden. Now she owned a house I would have liked to work at.

Madeleine Cahill as Florence Cheney Glidden.

Florence Cheney Glidden (1881-1964)

Welcome to my home away from home – I am Florence Cheney Glidden. Isn’t this a lovely stone? A little different, wouldn’t you say? And the inscription – “A Life of Beauty and Strength” – so very fitting. As you can see, the Glidden family believes in excellence in all things.

My early years weren’t the happiest. I was born in Somerville, or perhaps it was Cambridge. I had two birth certificates – one dated 1881 and another dated a year later. I have no idea how that happened. My father, Harvey Cheney, was 18 years older than my mother, Anna Moore. She was either 16 or 18 when they married, depending which document you look at. My father had served in the 24th Mass Artillery during the Civil War, and worked as a wood moulder.

I was an only child. My early years were spent in Cambridge, but soon, my parents – who didn’t really get along – shipped me off to the Northfield School for Girls. Boarding school suited me. I especially enjoyed the art lessons, and being with so many people. I graduated as class president and captain of the basketball team.

At 18 I moved back with my mother, who was living in an apartment on Park Avenue in New York City. In the 1900 census she’s listed as a “widow” even though my father was still alive. He didn’t die until 1909. A lot of women did that at the time. It did not suit me.

Then I met Nathaniel Glidden, Jr., a dashing and accomplished Harvard upperclassman. He was born in Medford, MA. His father, the first Nathaniel, was a merchant and a traveling salesman whose pride was marketing gas regulators. Nate’s lifelong interest in utilities probably started there. Like me, Nate enjoyed sports and – unusual for a Harvard freshman – was awarded a varsity letter for high-jumping. But he was far more interested in squash, a passion inherited by his four sons.

We married in 1903, right after Nate’s graduation. Like his father, he worked as a traveling salesman, all the while learning about finance and banking. As a dutiful wife I followed him around New York state to Buffalo, then Oneida, then Binghamton. By 1913 we had one daughter, Elizabeth, and three sons, Arthur, Nathaniel III, and Germain. Our fourth son, John, was born in 1918 at our home in Englewood, New Jersey.

Englewood was a lovely community for raising children and an easy commute to New York City, where Nate worked as an investment banker with the US Treasury. It was wartime, so a beginner had a chance. He set up a bond brokerage company, Glidden, Morris & Co. and bought himself a seat on the New York Stock exchange.

I was quite lonely, although we had lots of live-in household help, and my son Germain and daughter Elizabeth were good company. I took painting lessons and joined the Englewood Woman’s Club. I was proud that Germain showed artistic aptitude. The other boys took after their father.

The Springfield Union, August 25, 1956.

It wasn’t all beer and skittles. Our Elizabeth had contracted polio, the scourge of rich and poor. We could afford the best of treatment, and she survived but wore leg braces. She was unstoppable. She founded the Englewood Junior League, and under her direction, well-off young women raised money to provide braces for poor children. She also was president of the amateur group, the Englewood Players.

Nate was officially a financier, though “wheeler-dealer” sometimes comes to mind. In 1922 he sold his seat on the exchange for the nice sum of $82,000, though had he waited a few years it could have been worth six times that amount. He became involved on the boards of several utility companies and worked on reorganizing others. He grew ever more wealthy.

It turns out he was also a womanizer. He was smitten by a Mrs. Mary T. Bird, who had four children. He divorced me and they married in the late 1920s. In the 1930 census, Elizabeth was living with her father, stepmother, and step-siblings. I did not report either myself or the four boys in that census – I just wanted to shrivel up, I was so embarrassed. They managed to stay together six years.

In 1932, my dear and talented Elizabeth died! She was only 26 and had been hospitalized for weeks following mastoid surgery. She left a small estate that included a behest to the Junior League to set up a Glidden Fund to purchase prosthetics. She also left a fund to help pay for her brothers’ education. Arthur and Nathaniel had finished college by then. Germain was a junior at Harvard, and a many-time national squash champion who illustrated for the Lampoon. John was still at home with me, though he later went to Harvard as well. Those were tough but productive years for me. I painted whenever I could and launched the art department of the Englewood Woman’s Club, becoming its first chairman.

In 1936, at the age of 23, Germain – who was working as an instructor at the Arts Student League in New York – bought me a farm in the country. In those days women could own property but often found it difficult to arrange financing. Why he chose Western Massachusetts I never learned. Perhaps his father put him up to it. For $1000 we acquired the Cora Pease farm at the corner of Kinne Brook Road and the state highway. I renamed the 150-acre property “Denworth Farm” and arranged immediately to have a studio built. The farm was originally homesteaded by the pioneering Leonard family, and later farmed by Israel Burr and his wife, Relief Eager, granddaughter of Sarah Eager, who you just met. I loved the house and the town from the beginning.

The Record (Hackensack, NJ), October 16, 1944.

Nathaniel had been separated from the second Mrs. Glidden for a few years when we remarried in October 1944. All our sons were in different branches of the service, so our second wedding was a quiet affair. Worthington was a healing place for the both of us. Nathaniel made arrangements to restore the property, adding an office, tennis courts, and the big fan lights that marked our home as distinctive and elegant.

I joined the Golf Club and a supported the Worthington Medical Center, which was then located at Lyceum Hall. I also hosted meetings of the Historical Society, including a 1949 meeting where plans for a modern history of the town were first proposed. My proudest achievement, though, was founding the Palettes and Trowels Club. The area was home to a number of artists with established reputations, and the plan was to provide monthly programs where artists could show and receive critiques of their artwork. I also love flowers, so flower arrangements were displayed as well. Invited guests gave talks.

Our first meeting was held on June 23, 1950, at my studio. Thirty women attended. I was elected president. Ann Rausch, a very talented artist, was our first treasurer and would later take over. Our first exhibit was held a few months later at the Golf Club and was attended by 150 people. We held regular exhibitions after that, using the Town Hall. In 1953 we hung artwork on the snow fence along Denworth Farm, so passing motorists could see our work. This was Worthington’s first outdoor exhibit, and it attracted more than 300 people, though strong winds made it hard to keep the paintings affixed to the fence.

The Springfield Union, August 3, 1953.

Nathaniel spent more and more of his time in Worthington, although he continued to commute to his office in New York, where our youngest son, John, joined him in the bond business. On one occasion in 1950 he flew down to the city from Worthington with Franklin Burr as a passenger. Always a joiner, he served on the Golf Club board. His maple sugaring operation eventually became the largest in town and provided a fair amount of employment.

The Springfield Union, April 9, 1958.

We used our money to benefit the town. Nate underwrote the purchase of books and equipment for the Library and the Conwell School. He also donated prizes for the Cummington Fair. In 1954, with Roy McCann, we established the Glidden-McCann prize, a silver plate presented to the best student graduating from the Conwell School, which went through 8th grade. Our young neighbor Andy Burr received a plate in 1959. This practice stopped in 1963 when Worthington joined Gateway School District.

Nate considered himself the official greeter of returning summer residents, and readily offered praise and advice to anyone undertaking home improvements. A fixture at the annual town meeting in February, he exhorted everyone to appreciate and take pride in their town, listing all new construction and businesses as well as our annual gift for the town. In 1960 our gift was improvements to the war memorial in front of the church.

In 1955, Germain, who had become a successful portrait painter, turned over the Denworth property to his father and me. We were part of the summer social scene of course, hosting many a weekend party and family wedding reception. In 1963 Nathaniel suffered a stroke and was taken to the nursing home of Mrs. and Mrs. Rackham on West Street. I died at Denworth Farm the next year, and he died a year later. 

Obituary for Nathaniel Glidden, The Berkshire Eagle, July 6, 1965.

Obituary for Florence Cheney Glidden, Springfield Union, December 2, 1964.

At the time of my death I had 13 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Elizabeth is buried with her Glidden relatives at a family cemetery in New Hampshire. I miss her, but we text. Nate and my sons are buried here with me. I think we make a beautiful family.

That’s it, everyone. On behalf of all the wraiths, we are so pleased you were able to join us.

ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTORS

Pat Kennedy teaches English at Holyoke Community College and is the commissioner for Center Cemetery. She came by her interest in cemetery care and preservation by way of genealogical research. The Worthington Cemetery Commission has undertaken the task of repairing and cleaning stones in our cemeteries, thanks to the generosity of the Rolland Cemetery Fund.

Diane Brenner has lived in Worthington with her spouse, Jan Roby, since 1994. She was a longtime member of the Worthington Historical Society board of directors, and continues to guide WHS in archiving and historical research. In her spare time she works at her day job as a book indexer: www.dianebrenner.com.

Great thanks to Jim Downey, Sheila Kinney, Kevin O’Connor, Diane Brenner, Richard Mansfield, and Maddie Cahill for serving as avatars of the deceased.

Posted August 28, 2021.

The Worthington 250 Interviews, Part Nine: Brad Fisk, singer and icon of Corners Grocery

Brad Fisk at the meat counter of Corners Grocery, Worthington.

Note: On July 30, 2021, at the age of 92, Bradford Porter Fisk passed away surrounded by his family in the home he built 69 years before. With his wife, Judy, Brad Fisk owned and ran the Corners Grocery for 25 years. He also served as president of the Worthington Elementary School PTO, president of the Gateway Regional Athletic Booster Club, president of the Worthington Golf Club, and board of trustees member and deacon at Worthington’s First Congregational Church, where his singing talents were renowned.

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: Brad, are you a lifelong resident of Worthington?

Brad Fisk: Actually I was born and raised in Huntington. I’ve been around Worthington since the late ’40s, probably. My home is not in Worthington, either – it’s just over the line in Middlefield. But my connections are all in Worthington. I’m right on the middle branch of the Westfield River there.

I was in the building business with a partner of mine who would live next door for 25 years. And he was older and he retired. Then the owner of the [Corners Grocery] store here, Mr. Packard, wanted to sell, and he called me up and he said, “What are you gonna do?” And I said, “We’ll probably keep building.” He said he’s looking for somebody to come in for two or three months and learn the business and see if they wanted to buy it. At first I didn’t think much about it, but then I said, “Why not try it?” That was 1970, and I finally decided I’d give it a go. And I bought it in early 1971.

Brad and Judy Fisk outside the Corners Grocery.

That’s when there were more locally employed people in town. There were big Albert farms that raised potatoes, and they had several employees. But we had a full-service store there. And one of the enjoyable parts, in my way of thinking, is once we got established, I started a little coffee klatch in the back room. The guys used to come in on their way to work, and there would be ten or a dozen guys in there, all telling stories and telling what was going on in town.

Some of the characters in town, like Emerson Davis, he was in Worthington when I got here. He seemed like he’d been here forever. He never had a car – he actually lived in this building [Town Hall], he took care of it. They had a table and he’d sleep on that.

HA: Really?

BF: Really eccentric, intelligent guy. He could raise vegetables, make maple syrup, and thought everything was his to do with the way he wanted to do it. He actually had an old truck, and if he got tired driving, he’d just stop. He’d go to sleep, sometimes in the road.

HA: He wouldn’t pull off?

Robert Cudworth (1902-1985).

BF: Yeah. People would stop and see if he’s alright. He said it’s none of their business whether I’m sleeping or whether I’m dead. You get people like that you remember forever. Another was Robert Cudworth. He was another character that didn’t really go by the book. He came in one day in July, very hot. I said, “Robert, what have you been doing?” He said, “I’ve been burning brush.” And I said, “Don’t you have to have a permit to burn brush when it’s dry?” He said, “I don’t need a permit. God gave me a permit 75 years ago.” Those are the people you remember most.

As time went on, the store had the post office attached. That’s one of the reasons the guy that owned it had to sell, or else give up his postmaster’s job. The Postal Service told him that he could not do both. They’d keep a separate unit for the post office, which was attached. So he decided to sell and just do the post office. Then we took on the lease with that. That helped with our income, actually, to keep things going.

Brad Fisk at the meat counter of Corners Grocery.

We had a full-service store. It was good meat and had a liquor license, it had gas pumps. And we made it go 25 years. Everybody had to change with the times because it became more or less a bedroom community. People would be out of town, then shop in town and come in. They liked to buy the meat we had, and beer and wine were good sellers. So we managed to keep going, and in 1995 we sold and retired from that.

Everything we did was in Worthington. Middlefield wasn’t easy to get to. So we came to church here and took part in a lot of the things that were happening in Worthington. That made us our living and got our kids through school, which was testing sometimes.

HA: So what do you like most about Worthington?

BF: The people. They believe in being neighborly and helping people out. One of the biggest boosts we got in the summer were wealthier people who would go to Florida for the winter. They’d come back, and they didn’t like shopping at big stores. They liked shopping at our stores.

I can remember [former Secretary of State] George Shultz, who has a house in Cummington. He’d come over here to play golf with some of the local guys. I always got a kick out of it, because he’d come over with his whole entourage of state police and Secret Service and the dogs to sniff out the explosives around the clubhouse. Then later in the day his wife would drive over on her own to shop. No security there, just all alone. Those are the kind of people that really keep you going. He used to order a huge sirloin, two-and-three-quarter inches thick. He called from Washington to order it when he was going to be here. I’d always get it ready for him. One time in particular he says, “I want your usual good steak, because I’m going to feed the President.” So that was a kick in the pants, ’cause it makes you feel good.

HA: The President came here?

BF: No, he took it to Washington.

HA: Never found out whether the President enjoyed the steak?

BF: I’ve got the book that Reagan wrote with all his hand notes in it from every day. And he told about that he was going to Shultz’s house, and he cooked a huge steak in an odd way. I asked him how he cooked it, and he said, “I get a fire in the fireplace and get the coals all burned on so they’re red hot.” And he said, “I salt it both sides, and I throw it in the coals.” Two minutes on each side. Always said it came out good.

Diary entry of President Ronald Reagan, June 3, 1983.

So that’s some of the experiences we’ve had, and we’re still here. We still consider ourselves Worthington people because we go to church here and all our friends are here. My wife worked in the store for a while after we sold it as a clerk, and everybody loved her. She’s just so nice to everybody. I was always known as Judy’s husband.

HA: So now that you’re retired, what kind of activities do you get involved in around here?

BF: When I first retired there were people in town, especially elderly people that might be widows or widowers, looking for people to do some carpentry work or some repair work on their houses, nothing big. So I took on some of those and it got to be a full-time job.

HA: Uh-oh. There went the retirement.

BF: I didn’t charge a lot of money for doing them. These are people that didn’t have a big enough job so a contractor wanted to come in. So I did a lot of those.

Brad Fisk at the vocals.

I sound like I’m bragging, but one of the things I do is sing. Years ago I sang at some of the bigger churches where they pay a quartet to sing. I did that for several years until the store kept me busy, then I stopped and I just sang at this church. It’s one of the things that takes your mind off other things and I enjoy doing that.

HA: So are you in your church choir?

BF: Yes, we had a choir. Right now, the choir is rather thin because people change. The organist and choir director we had moved away, and the new organist we hired didn’t want to direct the choir. I solo still, but I’m almost 89 years old, and I don’t think that’s going to last very long.

HA: So how do you think Worthington’s changed over the years?

BF: Well, we had a man in town named Henry Snyder that had a lot of connections. He was a selectman in town. In those days he was also the Chief of Police and he was the Board of Health.

HA: Many hats.

BF: And those were the days things were easier. Now you can’t hold a meeting without some problems. He left the town quite a big sum of money for different organizations, which was nice. But most of the people that I knew when I worked here up until 1995 – the town has changed. A lot of people I don’t know.

Bradford Porter Fisk.

HA: Any other memories you’d like to mention about your time here in Worthington?

BF: Years ago we used to put on shows, here in the Town Hall. Musical stuff. But I think just generally being part of Worthington is good. It’s a beautiful town. People wonder about roads in the winter, but they’re always taken good care of. And some of the characters you really remember. I don’t know what more to tell you, just that it’s a great place to live – good people and nice town.

Posted August 13, 2021.

“Just 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.

On August 18, 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 (not in Worthington, but close to our hearts) was a popular postcard subject. 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.