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Postcards from South Worthington

by Evan Spring

This is the second in a series of four postcard exhibits from the WHS archives.

By the mid-19th century South Worthington was a distinct “mill hamlet,” with at least a dozen homes and various industries clustered around the local power supply: a rapid elevation drop in the Little River. The photographs of South Worthington below date largely from 1907 to 1913, a “golden age” of postcard writing and collecting triggered by advances in printing technology and distribution. In 1908 more than 677 million postcards were mailed in the United States.

This postcard is a “bird’s-eye” view of South Worthington, facing southwest, with the Methodist Episcopal Church as the centerpiece:

The postcard below, facing west from a similar vantage point, shows the northern stretch of South Worthington along what is now Conwell Road. Of the three buildings on the right side of the photograph, the leftmost one is the birthplace of Worthington’s most famous son, Russell H. Conwell (1843–1925). The house obscured by trees in the lower-left corner, now 10 Conwell Road, probably also belonged to Conwell at this stage.


The next postcard shows the same buildings, but facing south, with Conwell’s birthplace to the right. Upon close inspection the steeple of the Methodist Episcopal Church can be seen in the distance. The postmark is 1909, and the sender notes, “Worthington is an ideal spot and I am having a fine time playing golf for the first time today.”


The photograph above was taken from the tower below, whose function is a mystery. Was it just a viewing platform? A fire tower? Is that an empty flagpole projecting from the top, or a beacon or antenna for radio signals? Let us know your theory. The sign below the platform reads “EAGLE’S NEST.”


“Eagle’s Nest” also applied to the home where Conwell was born and raised, now 42 Conwell Road. Russell’s father Martin Conwell was a poor subsistence farmer who also peddled butter and eggs door to door. Martin was a devout Methodist and abolitionist, and the Eagle’s Nest was reportedly a stop in the Underground Railroad, visited by both John Brown and Frederick Douglass. Russell attended Wilbraham Academy and Yale, and went on to become a soldier, reporter, newspaper editor, world traveler, lawyer, minister, and philanthropist. But he was best known as an orator, and his “Acres of Diamonds” speech – delivered more than six thousand times over 54 years, with variations tailored for specific audiences – earned him over $5 million. As a minister he presided over the largest Protestant congregation in America: the Grace Baptist Church in his adopted city of Philadelphia, where he also founded the Samaritan Hospital and Temple University. In the first postcard below, probably from around 1910, Conwell appears to be standing next to a sundial.




The postcard above shows Conwell enjoying the wrap-around porch he added to his boyhood home, the Eagle’s Nest. Conwell wrote that the house was originally “almost a hovel in its construction…and the unfinished half-story under the roof was reached by a rude stairway of slabs from the sawmill.” The wrap-around porch is long gone, but the building survives and is now the home of Stonepool Pottery. In the next postcard, postmarked 1909, Conwell is seen posing with his second wife, Sarah. The second and third postcards show an outdoor lamp post.




The visitors assembled at the Eagle’s Nest in the next postcard are probably from Conwell’s Philadelphia congregation. Note also the decorative wooden “sunburst” on the roof.


In yet another portrait of the Eagle’s Nest, facing north, the house known as “the Cairn” is seen on the right.


The Cairn is featured in the next postcard, mailed in 1908.


The next two cards show the Eagle’s Nest, the Cairn, and “Hodges Bungalow” from Little Gallilee pond to the east. Today the slope is completely reforested.


Here are two more postcards of Little Gallilee and the boathouse, viewed from the dam.



Russell Conwell introduced a pair of swans to the pond, as seen in the next card. Conwell’s granddaughter Jane Conwell Tuttle later wrote that the mother swan “was such a warlike cranky specimen, for as soon as we got out in a boat she’d spread her wings and apparently run on the water straight for us and if she did get to you she made a terrible dent in you…we were terrified to go near them.”




South Worthington’s Methodist Episcopal Church, dedicated in 1848, still holds its “Conwell Memorial Service” each year, usually on the third Sunday of August. The second card, postmarked 1907, has the photograph and message space on the same side; in that year the U.S. Post Office authorized “divided back” postcards with the address and message on the same side.


The church looks much the same today (photograph by Kate Ewald):


The Episcopal parsonage, now 35 Ireland Street, was built by the pastor George Moody with financial support from the hamlet and dedicated in 1903. In 1905 Moody published a history of South Worthington known as the “Moody book.” (WHS has copies of the 1912 reprint for sale.) The home was designed in the “Folk National” style and contained one of Worthington’s first indoor bathrooms. After World War II the parsonage was sold to private owners.


In 1893 Russell Conwell bought the store and house across the road from the Methodist Episcopal church and raised it to the second-floor level, adding a school room and auditorium underneath. Thus began the Conwell Academy, a two-teacher school that emphasized (among other things) public speaking, the basis of Conwell’s fame and wealth. As of 1894 – the year Conwell also founded Temple University – Conwell Academy had 32 students, who came from as far as Huntington, Chester and Chesterfield (and had to provide their own desk and chair). The Academy closed in 1900, however, when the Town declined to provide financial support. Conwell’s granddaughter Jane Tuttle, an opera singer, later used the building to stage small operas and give singing lessons. Pictured in the recent postcard below, Conwell Academy is now the home of the Sevenars Music Festival, run by the Schrade family since 1968.


The next postcard shows the Higgins Mill, downstream from Ireland Street on the Little River. The Higgins Mill did custom sawing and provided logs for the Episcopal parsonage.


Just further downstream is Bradley falls, named for the last woodworking mill owner based there.



A handwritten note on the next postcard says “Mr. Bradley’s Express.” This is likely the same Bradley family connected to the South Worthington mill. The postcard further below has a note that reads, “The Bradleys of South Worthington take a ride.” Holding the steering wheel is Irwin Charles Bradley Sr.. Next to him are his son Irwin C. Bradley Jr. and his father C. E. Bradley. One of the women is C. E. Bradley’s sister.



The next postcard, copyrighted 1908 and mailed in 1910, shows the Witherell store on South Worthington Road, then the main route connecting the hamlet to Worthington Center. The sign projecting from the side of the store reads “New Eng. Tel[?] & Tel. Co. Public Telephone Station.”


Here is a close-up detail revealing the store’s various wares, which probably included postcards. One of the ladies might be Isabella (“Lizzie”) Witherell, the subject of an earlier Corners post by Sean Barry. Nothing remains at the building site.


Just north of Witherell’s store on South Worthington Road was a schoolhouse, built in 1856 and pictured in the following postcard. Nothing remains at the spot.


The next postcard faces north from South Worthington Road, further upstream along the Little River. The location is just downstream from where the Little River crosses under the present-day Rte. 112. Remains of the stone embankment can still be seen today.


The “Tamarack” house in the postcards below is on Thrasher Hill Rd., just up the hill from South Worthington.


The next postcard, mailed in 1947, shows the Hill-Top-Rest resort, now 1190 Huntington Road at the southernmost tip of Worthington. In 1945 Hill-Top Rest was bought by a Hungarian couple, John and Anna Sipos, who promoted it as a refuge for displaced persons following the horrors of World War II. Aside from croquet, badminton, and outdoor movies, their brochure promised “American Hungarian” fare, and Anna reportedly cooked a mean goulash. Below the postcard is a shot of the same building today (photograph by Kate Ewald).


Hill-top-rest-todayWe conclude our exhibit of South Worthington postcards with an artful portrait of a water leak.

South-Worthington-Water-burst-in-sluice-LRTwo forthcoming installments of this postcard exhibit series will feature Worthington Center and miscellaneous views of homes, sugar houses, waterfalls, scenic drives, stagecoaches, golfers, and gas pumps.

Thanks to Jill Bradley Litherland for identifying members of the Bradley family in the car postcard.


Evan Spring, a jazz historian, freelance editor, and WHS board member, lives on West Street with his wife Zoë. He was an editor of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies and Journal of Jazz Studies, and holds an MA in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers. For 23 years he hosted a jazz radio program on WKCR-FM New York, interviewing over 200 musicians. His main research focus is the New York jazz scene of 1955 to 1964.

Posted May 9, 2014.

Postcards from the Corners

by Evan Spring

This is the first in a series of four posts featuring postcards of Worthington.

Over the years Worthington has generated enough different postcards to fill a small shoebox in the Worthington Historical Society archive. If this sounds surprising, consider that Worthington has long been a summer refuge for northeastern urbanites separated from friends and family. Also, postcards were hugely popular in the early decades of the 20th century, particularly during the “postcard craze” of 1907 to 1913 – a time when photographic images were still a rare commodity. In those days anyone could send a photographic portrait of their home or family to a printer and contract for postcards. At least half the postcards in the WHS collection were never sent, largely because families would collect them and display postcard albums in their parlors.

The postcards below all picture the Worthington Corners and environs. First up is a view facing north toward the Corners, from what is now the skating pond area on Route 112. The photograph was taken sometime between 1907 and 1917, when the Corners was a much more visually distinct cluster of buildings, thanks to extensive deforestation.

Center-main-road-view-of-Corners-pmk1910-LRThe large building in the center is the Worthington Inn, a major resort hotel that burned down in 1931. To the right of the Inn is a barn that went with the property. The large building on the far left is the “Casino” dance hall. (More on these buildings later.) Here is a similar view of the Corners from the golf course.


The next postcard shows the view facing west from the hotel, with a mostly bare Buffington Hill in the distance.


The following postcards show the Worthington Corners from within. This next one faces west from the post office, along what is now Route 143, towards the stoplight.


The next tinted postcard, postmarked 1912, faces the same direction but from the position of the horse-drawn cart above.


Now, from the same position, we turn in the opposite direction to see the familiar view of Williamsburg Road (Route 143) to the left, Old Post Road to the right, and the post office and store between them.


The next postcard is the same view down Old Post Road, from in front of the hotel.

Corners-view-east-from-hotel-LRThe post office at Worthington Corners dates all the way back to 1796. (In 1799 there were still only seven post offices in all of the Massachusetts Province.) The postcard below, postmarked 1908, shows the post office and store.



The sender, Edith, was not terribly impressed with the photo.

Edward and Cora Bligh were the proprietors of the store and post office from 1914 to 1925. At one point the ell housed a feed and grain business; now it’s the post office. The sign above the garage door reads “MAGIC YEAST.”


In 1925 the Corners store was sold to Merwin and Arlene Packard. In the postcard below, the sign above the door reads (left to right) “Country Club Ginger Ale,” “Boots and Shoes,” “M. F. Packard General Store,” “Candy and Cigars,” and “Country Club Ginger Ale” again, with “Worthington Post Office” below. The lower left window has a sign for Goodyear Airwheel tires. In 1960 Merwin sold the store to his son Cullen (Pete) Packard.

Post-office-1-LRNext up are two relatively recent postcards of the Corners Grocery, with the sign advertising “Home of Packard’s Cheese.”


The next postcard shows the present-day Worthington Inn at Four Corners Farm, along Route 143 just north of the main Corners intersection (not to be confused with the large resort hotel that burned down in 1931). Built in 1780 in the Georgian style, this house is now the oldest building at the Corners. Four Corners was once a prosperous farm and social hub, hosting agricultural fairs. The name “Elmsted,” printed on the postcard, came from the tall elm trees that surrounded the house. “Ross Stevenson home” is also written on the card; Stevenson, a summer resident from New York, owned the house from 1904 to 1925. In 1942 the house was restored by William Gass to its original 18th-century look. The second postcard shows Elmsted from the south.Debbie-Shaws-Elmsted-LRProceeding around the bend, the next postcard faces northwest along Route 143, where the Maples and Health Center are now. Next time you have to get your teeth drilled, think of it as a trip to Lovers Lane.

Corners-lovers-lane-LRThe next two postcards feature “The Spruces” at 32 Williamsburg Road (Route 143, on the left as you drive northeast from the Corners), now owned by Diane and Steven Bartlett Magargal. The house began as a tobacco barn in 1872, before the owner Horace Cole quickly and wisely gave up tobacco farming. Cole refitted the barn into a cheese factory. Later it became a basket factory run by Horace F. Bartlett and John Kinne, employing as many as sixteen men during the winter. In 1882 the barn was converted into a family home that also served as a summer boarding house. The house was named for a row of spruce trees planted as a windbreak behind the property.


The next postcard of the Spruces is postmarked 1907. The postcard industry mushroomed that year, thanks to the U.S. Post Office authorizing “divided back” postcards, with both the message and address on the back and an image covering the entire front. This postcard has the images and message space on the same side, so it was probably printed before the new rule went into effect. G. F. B. is Guy Franklin Bartlett.


Not surprisingly, the WHS archive has more postcards of the Worthington Inn/Lafayette Lodge than any other landmark. Jacob Bartlett opened a hotel at the Corners in 1858, and when it burned down forty years later, the Worthington Inn was built on the same spot. This resort hotel was quite famous in its day, with the uncommon luxury of indoor baths and toilets. An early circular for the Inn boasted of “delightful walks and drives, golf, tennis, pool and English bowl…In connection with the Inn is a small farm, from which guests are supplied with fresh eggs, milk, butter, and pure spring water…automobiles at reasonable prices may be obtained from the Inn.” “English bowl” refers to cricket.

Here is the north-facing front of the Worthington Inn, viewed from in front of the present-day post office and Corners Grocery.



The next tinted postcard is postmarked 1910.


The postcard below shows the south-facing rear of the hotel.


The next four postcards reveal the lobby and office areas. The last view of the staircase shows a flax jenny (spinning wheel) on the landing.





In 1916 the Worthington Inn was sold, and the new owners changed its name to the Lafayette Lodge – a reference to General Lafayette’s overnight stay in Worthington during his 1825 U.S. tour. Fifteen rooms were added, bringing the guest capacity to 75.


In the next postcard of the Lafayette Lodge, the lower-left insert shows a large extension projecting south from the rear of the building. This structure began as a barn situated off Buffington Hill Road. The barn was converted into “The Casino,” a dance hall and important gathering place for Worthington’s turn-of-the-century social life. In 1917 the new managers of the Lafayette Lodge somehow moved the entire Casino to the back of the hotel, to serve as a dining and dancing area.


The next postcard shows both the inside and outside of the Casino extension.


The next postcard, from around 1920, is a bird’s-eye view of Worthington Corners, facing east. The large building is the Lafayette Lodge, and the casino extension can be seen on close inspection.

The next postcard, also post-1917, has a clear view of the Lodge and adjoining Casino from the south.

This postcard was made for advertising through the mail.


This one has an inset of Lafayette himself.




On the windy night of February 27, 1931, the entire Lafayette Lodge, including the Casino extension, burned to the ground in about half an hour. The next postcard shows the Casino dance hall at its original location south of Buffington Hill Road, behind the present-day library.


This next view of the Casino faces northeast, and the library is seen immediately to the right. The library was built in 1915, and the Casino was moved in 1917, so the photograph must fall within that short time span.


On June 13, 1825, the French aristocrat and military officer Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, Marquis de La Fayette – better known to Americans as “Lafayette” – passed through the Worthington Corners during his triumphal U.S. tour. The postcard below shows the building where Lafayette enjoyed his dinner banquet and stayed the night. At the time of Lafayette’s visit, the building was a tavern run by Noah Pierce, or Pearse, on the site of today’s library.


In the early 1900s the Lafayette House was disassembled, and many of the materials were added to the rear of a neighboring home (now the Epperly residence). This addition is clearly visible in the next postcard, a view of the Corners from the south. The hotel is just off the frame to the right.


We conclude our postcard tour of the Corners with three views of our library, named in honor of Frederick Sargent Huntington. Born in Wisconsin, Huntington came to Worthington as a young man and served as a minister for five years before dying in a typhoid epidemic in 1888, at the age of 36. Huntington proposed the idea of a library during one of his sermons, and proceeded to solicit books from the townspeople. The library began in the second floor of the Corners store, and then moved to the Lyceum Hall on Buffington Hill Road. The current library was dedicated in 1915, with an endowment from Huntington’s estate.



Library3-pmk1924-LRStay tuned for more postcard posts from the WHS archives. The next three installments will cover Worthington Center, South Worthington, and “Miscellaneous” – postcards depicting everything from Ringville Cemetery to golfing ladies in heels.


Evan Spring, a jazz historian, freelance editor, and WHS board member, lives on West Street with his wife Zoë. He was an editor of the Annual Review of Jazz Studies and Journal of Jazz Studies, and holds an MA in Jazz History and Research from Rutgers. For 23 years he hosted a jazz radio program on WKCR-FM New York, interviewing over 200 musicians. His main research focus is the New York jazz scene of 1955 to 1964.

Posted May 6, 2014.

18th-century Virginia Court Documents Found in Worthington Attic: Stolen by Union Troops in 1862?

by George H. Bresnick

The countryside around Stafford, Virginia – bordering the Potomac River, and now part of the Washington metropolitan area – was devastated by the occupation forces of the Union Army in November, 1862. So severe was the physical damage and the loss of population that it is said that the land and the populace around the township of Stafford Courthouse didn’t recover fully from the War until almost 70 years later.

Two-thirds of the documents in the Stafford County Courthouse were either burned or stolen. Only two have been repatriated: a deed book returned from Maryland shortly after the War and a court ledger book stolen by a Massachusetts officer and returned recently to the Library of Virginia by a library in New Jersey that recognized its provenance.

Against the loss of human life and suffering, the loss of a cultural patrimony pales. Yet there are certainly practical effects, such as verifying the deed to a property one would like to buy only to find that most of the evidence prior to 1862 is gone. Of significance also is the psychological impact resulting from the destruction of the written records of a culture by an invading military force.

In 2009 an elderly woman who lived in the old Methodist Episcopal Parsonage, in the village of South Worthington, Massachusetts, across the street from my home, passed away in a nearby convalescent home. When a family member, who was the executor of her estate, asked me to help triage the contents of the house, I found a packet of papers in the proverbial “old trunk in the attic.” The papers were mainly deeds, letters and documents relating to the adjacent village of West Chesterfield. Although I urged the family member to give the papers to one of the local historical societies, she was under too much stress to attend to such details, and the papers were sold to a local antiques dealer along with all the contents of the house. When I learned of this, I tracked down the dealer and bought back the papers for their possible historical significance.


The old Methodist Episcopal Parsonage in South Worthington, 1915.

The same building in 2001.

The same building in 2001.

Almost all of the papers were from the 19th century and belonged to the Cole and Smith families of West Chesterfield. Amaziah and Rebecca Cole were the progenitors of the family, having migrated from Plymouth County, Massachusetts, to West Chesterfield in the 1770s. Among the papers were deeds to properties belonging to the Cole and Smith families, as well as a date-list of family births and deaths and several handwritten essays and poems. But there were two peculiar documents that differed from the rest: they were from the 18th century (1753 and 1776), and both were legal documents from Stafford County, Virginia.


Court document commanding that Robert Ashby Jr. be taken before the justices at the Courthouse (Stafford County) on the second Tuesday in May, 1753. The text reads: “George the second by the Grace of God of Great Brittain France & Ireland King Defender of the Faith &c. To the sheriff of stafford County Greeting We comand you that you take Robert Ashby Junr. & him safely keep so that you have his Body before our Justices of our said county Court at the Court House of the said County on the 2nd Tuesday in May next to satisfie Patric & Wm. Bogles three pounds & two shills. & nine pence half penny (with Interest thereon from the 21st of December 1753 till paid) recorded against him in our sd. County Petition also 79 lb tobo. 7/6 costs of sd. Petition whereof he is c[illegible] as appears to us of record. And have then there this writ Witness Henry Tyler Clk of our said Court this 8th day of April in the 33d. Year of our Reign. Henry Tyler 60/” [Transcription by Jerilynn MacGregor.]

The older document (above) is a court order informing the sheriff of Stafford County to bring a Robert Ashby Junior to the Courthouse for a hearing on the second Tuesday in May, 1753. Apparently “Patric and Wm. Bogles” were tobacco merchants with roots in Glasgow. The other document (below) was a promissory note obligating Joel Reddish to pay “eleven pounds four shillings six pence half-penny current money of Virginia” on a loan provided to him by the James Ritchie & Company of Glasgow, Scotland, dated 24 February, 1776. Reddish was a Virginia tobacco farmer, and Ritchie, the owner of the Company, was one of the “Tobacco Lords” of Glasgow who made vast sums of money importing tobacco from the Colonies and selling it on the Continent. The Tobacco Lords established their own banks and regularly lent money to tobacco farmers in Virginia and elsewhere, enabling the farmers to plant their cash crops. I couldn’t at the time figure out why these documents were found in a cache of family papers almost 500 miles away from Stafford, in rural western Massachusetts.


Promissory note, dated February 24, 1776, obligating Joel Reddish to pay James Ritchie & Company of Glasgow.

As I was very eager to find out more about the two principals mentioned in the documents, I contacted the Stafford County Library and was told that I had probably reached a dead end, since most of the official records of the County were stolen or burned during the Union Army’s occupation of Stafford Courthouse. I immediately seized on the idea that someone connected with the families was among the occupying forces.

According to federal census records, one of Amaziah Cole’s children, Amaziah Cole Jr., had a daughter, Lucy, who married Wareham Smith, originally from nearby Chester, Massachusetts, and like the rest of the Cole family members in the area, they raised their children as farmers on Ireland Street in West Chesterfield. Wareham and Lucy Smith had two sons, Ptolemy and John D., both of whom were of military age at the start of the Civil War in 1861. For some reason, only John entered service, mustering in as a private in the 37th Massachusetts Regiment Volunteers in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in September, 1862. He and his Company D were sent first to Washington, D.C., and then on to Stafford Courthouse, where they remained camped for two weeks in October/November 1862, in preparation for what would become the Battle of Fredericksburg.

I assumed that it was during that sojourn that Private John D. Smith acquired the two stolen court documents and subsequently sent them to his family in West Chesterfield as “war booty.” They could have been sent in the regular regimental mail from Virginia. However, in the summer of 1863 the 37th was sent to New York City to help quell the Draft Riots instigated there primarily by Irish immigrants who felt mistreated by the U.S. Congressional draft laws. During that stay in New York, Private Smith might very well have sent the two documents by mail to his family back home.

With the help of the town clerk of Chesterfield, MA, and the chair of the Chesterfield Historical Commission, I was able to obtain a list of 96 Chesterfield men who served in the Union Army during the Civil War, including in most cases their dates of service and regiments. There were at least eleven men who served in the 37th Massachusetts Regiment Volunteers, but only John D. Smith seemed to have had a close relationship to the Cole/Smith families. A review of the regimental histories of the other units represented revealed that only one other (the 7th Massachusetts Regiment Volunteers) had camped at Stafford Courthouse, but again there were no men from that regiment with obvious connections to the Cole/Smith families. Thus by elimination, the most likely source for the documents was Private Smith. Sadly, he never returned to Chesterfield, as he was killed in the bloody Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia on May 6, 1864, and was most likely buried in a mass grave at the Wilderness Battlefield. One other company member from Chesterfield was wounded at the Wilderness, and he subsequently died in a Washington, D.C., hospital and was buried in Arlington Cemetery.

Ptolemy Smith, the brother of John D., married Mary E. Smith, and moved down the road from West Chesterfield to Worthington in 1866, where he was an active member of the South Worthington Methodist Church, as were his mother Lucy Cole Smith and father Wareham Smith. It is likely that it was through Ptolemy and his descendants that the Cole/Smith family papers ended up in a trunk in the attic of the Parsonage. Ptolemy and Mary had a daughter, Idella, and a son, Howard Clayton. Idella married Wilbur T. Hale, a minister of the Methodist Episcopal New England Conference, in 1896. They lived in many places around the State where Wilbur was minister, settling finally in West Springfield, MA, after his retirement. Wilbur died in 1955 and Idella in 1959 leaving no immediate heirs. Howard Clayton also moved to West Springfield as a young man, and had two sons: Rexford and Wayne C. Smith. In Idella’s obituary, printed in the Springfield Union newspaper, Wayne C. Smith is listed as the executor of her estate. One year later, in 1960, Wayne C. Smith purchased the Methodist Parsonage in South Worthington from the New England Conference of the Methodist Church for $1. In 1968 he sold the old Parsonage to Beatrice Mercer, the elderly woman who kept the Smith/Cole family papers and the Stafford court documents in a trunk in her attic. It is likely that they were left there by Wayne Smith, who acquired them either from his aunt Idella or from his father Howard Clayton.

Jerilynn MacGregor, one of the local historians with the Stafford County Historical Society, has provided more context on the two documents:

The two 18th-century documents being returned by the H. Stanley Bresnick Foundation provide fascinating glimpses into Stafford’s early history. The Robert Ashby, Jr. document reveals that Ashby owed the mercantile firm of Patrick and William Bogle £3.2.9. This company operated a store in the town of Aquia, now part of Aquia Harbour subdivision.

While the 18th-century economic system was based upon tobacco, it had some striking similarities to the financial structure of our own time. Prior to the American Revolution, Virginia’s economy was centered on tobacco and credit. Tobacco, represented by “tobacco notes,” circulated and was used to purchase goods and real estate and to pay taxes, fines, and debts. Individuals maintained accounts at local stores, purchasing items on credit with the expectation that they would pay their bills after the fall tobacco harvest. Merchants ordered their store goods from England and Scottish suppliers, also on credit. They were unable to pay the suppliers until their customers paid their store accounts. A bad growing season could mean economic disaster for customers, merchants, and suppliers alike.

In coastal Virginia most of the merchants were Scottish. They were noted for their tenacity and even ruthlessness when it came to debt collection. The Ashby document most likely records the Bogle Company’s efforts to collect a past due store account. In addition to the £3.2.9 debt, Ashby was required to pay 79 pounds of tobacco as a court fine. If he failed to do this, the Stafford Court would sell so much of his personal property as would satisfy the debt and fine.

Robert Ashby, Jr. (c.1720–c.1780) lived in the upper part of Stafford now occupied by the Quantico Marine Corps reservation.

The Reddish document is similar in content. Joel Reddish (1748–c.1826) lived at Reddish Hill (now the site of Margaret Brent Elementary School and Mountain View High School). This document is a promissory note in which Joel pledges to pay James Ritchie and Company £11.4.6. Ritchie and Company were merchants and tobacco shippers who also operated a store in the town of Aquia. A Loyalist, James Ritchie returned home to Scotland at the outset of the American Revolution, leaving numerous uncollected debts. This promissory note was likely an attempt to create a legal paper trail on those owing money to the company.

After the Revolution, the British Mercantile Claims Commission was established to track down those who owed pre-Revolution debts to English and Scottish merchants. Documents such as Joel Reddish’s note would have been used to prove outstanding debts due creditors.

On November 13, 2013, in a ceremony at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington, D.C., the U.S. Representative for western Massachusetts, Richard Neal, unofficially presented the two Stafford County documents to Robert J. Wittman, the U.S. Representative for Virginia’s first congressional district. On the following day I repatriated the documents in person by donating them to the Stafford Courthouse. The Clerk of Court received them, and will display them permanently in a glass case in the Courthouse.


(From left to right) Rep. Richard Neal, Rep. Robert Whittman, and Dr. George Bresnick meet on November 13, 2013 for a symbolic transfer of the Stafford County court documents.


George Bresnick has been researching Worthington history since moving to the village of South Worthington in 1999, and has continued his interest in the area even after relocating to St. Paul, Minnesota, in 2010. During his tenure as Chairman of the Worthington Historical Commission, the South Worthington Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places. As founding director of the H. Stanley Bresnick Foundation, George reconnects material objects of historical significance with people or organizations closely associated with those objects. The repatriation of the Stafford County court documents to the Stafford County Courthouse is part of that effort.


I am grateful to Ms. Jerilynn MacGregor and Mr. Al Conner of the Stafford County Historical Society for information regarding the Union Army’s occupation of the Stafford Courthouse and the ill fate of the court documents. I offer thanks to Sandy Wickland, town clerk of Chesterfield, MA, and Dee Cinner, chair of the Chesterfield Historical Commission, for information regarding the residents of Chesterfield who served in the Union Army during the Civil War. Also thanks to Diane Brenner of the Worthington Historical Society for genealogical information regarding the Smith family. Finally, I appreciate the efforts of Anita Dodd, chair of the Historical Commission for Stafford County, and Barbara Decatur, clerk of the court for Stafford County, for arranging to receive and display the Stafford County court documents.

For further information: This New York Times article from December 5, 1862, details the “utter ruin” of Stafford County Courthouse during the Union Army occupation.

Posted November 30, 2013.

The Kitty O’Shea Stone


The stone.

by Sean Barry

In our garden stands a stone with a date inscribed upon it: “Oct 6 1891.” A squared pillar of micaceous schist about four feet high, the stone bears some resemblance to the hitching posts homeowners frequently prop at the edge of their lawns, though it lacks either the iron ring or the notches that lend those stones their appeal.

For many years, the stone lay buried at the bottom of what is now our property at 9 South Worthington Road. The house had been abandoned for several years before we purchased it in late 2003, and it had suffered as neglected homes will – blooming with mold, leaking where unskilled hands had slapped on careless additions. To be made liveable, the entire place had to be gutted. Moreover, the septic system had failed, necessitating a complete replacement. During the course of these renovations, a backhoe dislodged the stone and placed it in the retaining wall that served to buttress the new leach field.

That would have been the end of the story, but for the children.

We were hosting dinner guests one evening in the spring of 2004 and stood about drinking wine and conversing when my daughter and her friend burst in, announcing that they had found something special among the mayapples. For young children (five and six at the time), anything that spring had to offer qualified as a momentous discovery. Just moments before, they’d flown in gushing about the “fairy-palm village” they stumbled upon (the mayapples with their tiny fruit) so naturally we thought they had come across some similar delight. Wine in hand, we humored them, and followed them into the thicket of sumac and ash saplings to see what they had found.

Purely by chance, that backhoe had positioned the stone in the retaining wall so that its lone graven side faced outwards. And carved in that face, inverted in the loamy bank though clearly legible, was a date: “Oct 6 1891.”

Our house was built in 1891, and at our closing we were given a copy of the original deed, a handwritten document describing how the land (“0.91 acres, more or less”) had been purchased by John E. Witherell from Samuel Anabel and his wife Wealthy of Northampton for $50 and stipulating, among other items, that the stone wall marking the property line was “to be maintained forever.” The deed made no mention of any other buildings, perhaps because it had been drafted before the house was completed, but we would later learn that another building – a general store – then stood at the bottom of the property, and that the square arrangement of stones we had originally believed to be the remains of a well was in fact the foundation of a spring house, a structure commonly used to keep perishables cool in the years before refrigeration. Beyond this, however, no other sign of the former life of the property remained. Or so we believed, until the children found the inscribed stone.

My neighbor, the potter Mark Shapiro, wondered aloud whether the stone might mark a grave of some sort, perhaps for an infant. I doubted this, as those nameless memorials tend to be tiny. What’s more, it seemed unlikely that someone would have erected a memorial of that sort on the property (or even more unimaginable, buried the child there). Another neighbor, Dr. George Bresnick, speculated that perhaps it was a border marker.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was customary for town officials to walk the borders of adjoining towns on a given date in order to fix the precise length and location of these borders. These officials would meet at a predetermined spot and carve the date into a marker to indicate that they had performed their duty. (Minutes from the Worthington Town Hall meetings of the period attest to setting dates for these symbolic meetings of representatives from adjacent towns.) Dr. Bresnick had seen markers of this sort before, mostly on private lawns, where the stones had been moved by someone indifferent to the historical significance of their markings. Some time after our discovery, another neighbor, Brian Rowe, told us that he knew where such a stone could be found, at the convergence of the Worthington, Huntington, and Chesterfield lines.

Brian, Brian’s son Caleb, Dr. Bresnick, and I hiked the mile or so from South Worthington along the Little River, crossing over to the eastern bank beneath the ridge that runs alongside Route 112. There, deep in the woods, Brian showed us the stone. It stood about the same height as ours and bore dates ranging from the late 1780s to the mid-1800s along with what I assumed were the initials of the carvers. Though similar in size, this stone was obviously a very different affair. These dates had been rudely hacked away, whereas the “Oct 6 1891” in our stone had been lovingly carved, with artful letter spacing and carefully wrought serifs.

Charles Stewart Parnell.

Charles Stewart Parnell.

I did a casual search to see if I could turn up any notable events that took place on October 6, 1891, but all I could find for that day was the death of Charles Parnell, the Irish nationalist political figure and leader of the Irish Home Rule movement. Jokingly, I began to refer to the stone as “The Kitty O’Shea Stone,” an allusion to Parnell’s long-standing affair with Katherine O’Shea, the wife of Captain William O’Shea, an Irish Member of Parliament. Katherine O’Shea eventually divorced her husband and married Parnell, but the Catholic church, intolerant of divorce, deemed that “by his public misconduct, [Parnell had] utterly disqualified himself to be…leader.”1 Much of Ireland rallied around Parnell, believing that he represented the nation’s best hope of unification and eventual independence from Great Britain. Yet the loss of the church’s support proved insuperable. Parnell strove to retain his position as leader of the Home Rule efforts, but the challenge proved too great, and his already poor health gave out under the strain. On October 6, 1891, he died of a heart attack in the arms of the woman for whom, in a very real sense, he had given his life. He was 45 years old.

Kitty O'Shea.

Kitty O’Shea.

James Joyce immortalized the nation’s agony over the loss of Parnell in an early scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In this scene, the tensions between Parnell’s supporters – embodied by Mr. Daedalus, the father of Joyce’s alter ego, Stephen Daedalus – and his detractors – embodied by Stephen’s aunt – explode, and the family’s holiday meal devolves into impassioned argument. Joyce was one of many who felt that Ireland had been betrayed when Parnell was given up, and that the death of Parnell meant the end of hope for the Irish cause. Joyce concluded his essay “The Shade of Parnell” (1912) with the following paragraph:

In his final desperate appeal to his countrymen, he begged them not to throw him as a sop to the English wolves howling around them. It redounds to their honour that they did not fail this appeal. They did not throw him to the English wolves; they tore him to pieces themselves.

When I mentioned this possible connection to Dr. Bresnick, he declared that it wasn’t as far-fetched as it might seem. The previous owner of his house on Conwell Road had found a clay pipe bowl marked “Home Rule” on the property. What’s more, Ireland Street ran right through South Worthington.2 Might there be some Irish link after all?

Dr. Bresnick decided to do some genealogical research, and discovered that the original holder of our deed and the man who built our house, John Emerson Witherell (1840–1912), had a wife, Isabella (née Martin or Martyn, 1840–1925), known locally as “Lizzie.”3 According to the 1910 census, Isabella was born in Ireland, emigrated in 1848, and married Witherell in 1863. After some further research, we determined that the spring house – along with a structure that once stood where our leach field now lies – had been part of the Witherells’ general store in South Worthington, where they sold groceries and sundries to the families that farmed the local fields or worked at Theron Higgins’ basket mill, which then stood upon the banks of the Little River.


1908 postcard of the South Worthington store built in 1882 and run by the Witherells. The woman on the left is likely to be Isabella “Lizzie” Witherell, who was then 67 or 68.

1908 postcard of the South Worthington store built in 1882 and run by the Witherells. Collection, Worthington Historical Society.


Detail of photo above. One of these women is likely Isabella “Lizzie” Witherell, who was then 67 or 68.

Of all that bustling village life, little evidence remains.

Gravestone of the Witherells.

Gravestone of the Witherells, in the northwestern quadrant of Chesterfield’s Center Cemetery.4

There is the small Methodist church on Ireland Street, which now lacks a congregation; Russell Conwell’s former meeting house, now home to the Sevenars concert series; a handful of private houses; and the red office building at the corner of Ireland Street and Route 112, where the basket mill formerly stood (and which is still commonly referred to as “The Drummer’s Club” after its notorious incarnation in the 1960s and 1970s). The thriving, independent village the Witherells supplied has vanished, as has the one-room schoolhouse that once stood on South Worthington Road. Yet for me the most compelling bit of evidence of their bygone world remains this simple stone, with its undertones of collective grief.

I picture a middle-aged Isabella Martyn Witherell, now settled in her hamlet in the western hills of Massachusetts, learning of the death of the great leader of her home country. I imagine her commissioning from a stone mason a memorial, something straightforward, something plain – yet something that would declare to anyone with a stake in the matter her allegiance with the Fenians and her faith in the cause of an independent Ireland. I picture that stone displayed prominently on the property or alongside South Worthington Road, as meaningful as the ogham stones and dolmens of her homeland.

This is who we are, it declared. This is what we believe.

It’s impossible to know with any certainty what she felt or intended, of course. To the best of my knowledge, Mrs. Witherell left no record of what might have driven her to commission the carving, if indeed she was the one who had it carved. Yet the pieces fit. And those pieces form a compelling and lucid picture of the need to fix that date in stone.


The stone at its new home.

The stone at its new home.

That stone now stands in our garden, dug out from its spot in the retaining wall and placed where it can be appreciated. I can see it clearly from our dining room table, and often gaze at it and at the valley beyond, past the elegant white shape of the Sevenars concert hall in the foreground and down the wooded notch where the Little River courses on its way to join the Westfield. It is, in many ways, an unremarkable stone. A simple and blunt bit of testimony. It says nothing about what it must have been like 120 years ago to live in this place while mourning for that other place, to grieve for a dream that died along with the leader who embodied it. Yet its very persistence possesses a sort of eloquence, calling forth as it does the loss Isabella felt, as her nation had felt it, and the urge to commemorate its meaning.



Sean Barry is an award-winning playwright and lyricist. Nearly three years ago, he and his wife, the composer Jenny Giering, left behind their Brooklyn life to move full-time into their South Worthington home along with their son Liam and daughter Devon. Sean and Jenny have collaborated on Saint-Ex, a musical about the life of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and together with playwright Laura Eason are currently writing a new musical, Summertime, about the sisters Fox, America’s first spirit mediums. Sean is also at work on a novel.



1. “Charles Stewart Parnell,” University College, Cork. Source:

2. South Worthington is right on the Chesterfield border, and most of Ireland Street is in Chesterfield. Chesterfield’s town website reads: “In its early days, the town supported a largely agricultural economy, with wool from Merino sheep as a major product. However, there were sawmills and tanneries in operation as well as cloth dressing mills, and in the early 19th century these superseded farming and brought in a small immigrant population that was mostly Irish.” Source:

3. History and Genealogy of the Families of Chesterfield, Entry 51. Source: Her name is marked “Isabella” on the 1910 census, and her gravestone reads “Isabella M. Martyn,” though other printed records read “Isabel.”

4. Source:

Posted December 19, 2012.

The Chair at the Corners

by Diane Brenner

Peter McLean’s sculpture, Jacob’s Ladder, at the Worthington Historical Society. (Photo by Kate Ewald)

Photographs are by Diane Brenner unless otherwise indicated.

You may have watched it arrive. The large metal chair-like sculpture recently planted at the edge of the Historical Society lawn has a lot of people perplexed. And the title – Jacob’s Ladder – what does it mean? Why a chair? And why honor the Jacob’s Ladder Trail, the scenic byway on Route 20 from Russell to Lee? (Spoiler alert: it is a chair, it does not honor anything along Route 20.) There’s history here – going back, in New England, to the 1690s – as well as some surprising links to the Worthington of today.

The sculpture was designed by local artist Peter McLean and his collaborator Christopher Horton in 1992. It is one of a series of “chairs” they envisioned as their entry for a competition held by the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Committee. The Committee was seeking to memorialize those who suffered through the bleak but enduringly influential period in 1692 when the Puritans, having fled persecution in England, were first establishing themselves along the New England coast.

Jacob’s Ladder was fabricated in 2011 by Gene Flores of Plainfield. The sculpture, made of black welded steel, is 18 feet high and weighs 850 pounds. The bottom portion measures 42″ x 42″ x 42″. The distance between ladder rungs represent a Fibonacci series, also known as the “golden ratio,” in which each distance is the sum of the two distances preceding it. The first distance is the small slot at the front of the seat portion.

Until recently, the sculpture graced the yard at the McLean house on Sam Hill Road; its journey to the Worthington Historical Society lawn is just a part of the story.

Peter McLean Sr., Peter McLean Jr., and Gene Flores being lifting sculpture onto Gene’s truck.

Peter McLean Sr. watches from his lawn.

Almost ready.

En route.

The Salem Witch Trials

A map with the purported location of Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts, made by William Freeman in 1933. (Source:

During the summer of 1692 – on June 10, July 19, August 19, September 19 and September 22 – men and women, all convicted of witchcraft, were carted to Gallows Hill in Salem where they were hanged. Their death warrants were handed down following a brief, hysteria-fueled period of evidence gathering and trials. A total of 19 people were hanged, and an octogenarian was pressed to death for refusing to submit to a trial. Hundreds of others were accused and dozens jailed for months with or without trial – where they had to pay for their own food and lodging – as the witch hunt extended rapidly from Salem and Andover throughout the Puritan Massachusetts Bay Colony. Then almost as suddenly it stopped, although rancor, recriminations and legal battles continued for decades. The section of Salem where many of the accusers and victims had lived separated from Salem Village and was reincorporated as the town of Danvers. Many of the participants moved away.

A petition on behalf of the accused Rebecca Nurse, signed by many of her friends and neighbors. It did no good.

The death warrant for Rebecca Nurse.

There are numerous accounts of what happened as well as a huge archive of documentation created by those who prosecuted and adjudicated the proceedings. And while the witch hysteria in this country was brief, its effects have been long-lasting. The complex religious, cultural,  economic, medical and physiological factors underlying it have engendered much discussion and generated vast amounts of scholarly writing as well as enduring art and literature. As noted on the Salem Memorial Site: “To this day, the events of 1692 are used as a yardstick to measure the depth of civility and due process in our society.”

Christopher Horton enjoying one of his favorite places. (Source: Amherst College website)

Peter McLean playing the dobro. (Source: Country Roads website)

The Salem Tercentenary Witch Trials Memorial Contest

In 1991, in anticipation of the 300th anniversary of the trials, the Salem Witch Trials Tercentenary Committee announced an international design competition with a $100,000 prize, seeking a memorial “to honor the victims of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692.” 246 submissions were received.

McLean and Horton, both professors at the Hartford Art School had a longstanding interest in public art and monuments. They proposed a series of sixteen, slightly abstract steel chair sculptures each symbolizing a factor that contributed to the anti-witch hysteria in 17th-century New England. They chose chairs because in European cultures they are symbols of “comfort, power, position…hospitality, governance and sociability.” They also provided a structure for representing “the complexity of the Salem witchcraft phenomenon.” Each chair was to be placed randomly throughout the cityaccompanied by a written text that explained its meaning. They were “meant to be surprising, unsettling and thought provoking…not decorative” and to “challenge viewers with their simplicity and strangeness in a public space.” Their proposal, which consisted of drawings, received an Honorable Mention. (You can see the winner here.)

A drawing submitted for the contest, showing the chairs along a two-dimensional grid designed to give a sense of their relative size. (Photo by Kate Ewald)

More from the original submission.

The Maquettes

The maquette for Jacob’s Ladder. The original label reads:
HEAVEN (Jacob’s Ladder)
Belief in God and in an eternal afterlife in heaven was almost universal among colonial Americans. In the harsh conditions and constant threats of frontier existence, the notion that a whole life of Christian sacrifice, religious devotion, and good works could be destroyed by the machinations of the devil must have been most horrific to contemplate.
Almost worse than accusations and executions was excommunication from the church, breaking off the ladder to heaven. (Photo by Peter McLean)

Unwilling to give up on their good idea, and hoping to interest other communities and historical societies in the project, McLean and Horton decided to expand the number of chairs to twenty (reflecting the number of victims) and built a wooden maquette (three-dimensional scale model) for each one. The maquette was accompanied by a description of the piece that explained its symbolism and its relationship to the events at Salem. The original designs were modified slightly during the maquette-building process.

In the case of Jacob’s Ladder, the chair – with its rungs arranged in harmonic progression from the lowest level to on high – represents the path to heaven, the goal ascribed to by many Puritan settlers. (In the original drawing, the rungs run the other way and the top isn’t broken.) The name refers to a passage in Genesis 28:12: “And he dreamed and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.” The broken top is symbolic of the devastating loss of the possibility of entering heaven that many of the accused faced when threatened with excommunication.

Sadly, Chris Horton died in 2002, and the project was abandoned.

The Exhibit

In 2009, McLean approached the Worthington Historical Society to mount an exhibit of the Salem maquettes. The board agreed, providing that some links could be found to Worthington. These links were not too hard to find. Following the trials, many of those affected left the Salem area, moving eventually to the part of southeastern Connecticut from which several of Worthington’s “pioneers” migrated. We discovered current residents – members of the Cleveland, Dodge, Randall and VanGuilder families – who are descended from those who were executed, notably Rebecca Nurse, Martha Carrier and Simon Wardwell. The pioneering Kinne family turned out to be related to a key trial witness.

The maquettes at the center of the main room of the Worthington Historical Society. (photo by Kate Ewald)

The maquettes.

Exhibit accompanying the maquettes: Ideas in development.

From the exhibit: The victims with connections to Worthington, along with genealogies.

Viewers at the exhibit: (from left) Pat Kennedy, Bob Randall, Elodi McBride, Peter McLean, and Oliver Wiley.

For the exhibit, the maquettes were mounted on small platforms at the center of the main room of the Worthington Historical Society. Along the walls were displays with the original drawings illustrating the design process, as well as information about the artists, the contest, Puritan-era Salem, and the accusers, judges and victims, plus genealogies with links to folks living in Worthington. The show attracted much interest.

The Sculpture

Peter McLean had always hoped to build full-size versions of his models. In 2012, he finally amassed sufficient funding to build the first one. Working with Plainfield metal sculptor Gene Flores, the original design was slightly modified and then fabricated from steel. At a towering 18 feet, it was not easy to find a location for it, and it was initially installed at McLean’s home on Sam Hill Road. After a series of discussions, the board of the Historical Society accepted McLean’s proposal to loan the Society the sculpture and provide it with a home until a permanent place could be found. On September 22, 2012, Flores, McLean, and Peter McLean Jr. removed the 850-pound sculpture from McLean’s yard, mounted it on the Flores truck, carted it to the Historical Society lawn, and installed it. The process took about three hours and is documented below:

Peter McLean Sr. saying goodbye.

Twisting into position.

Loading onto the truck.

Checking the rails and understructure.

McLean Sr., Bob Epperly and Ted Claydon watch McLean Jr. during the leveling process.

Ted Claydon: It’s level.

Chair in situ.


Accused, the next maquette to be fabricated as a full-size sculpture. The original label reads in part: “In the late 17th century in Salem, Andover, and surrounding towns, deep paranoia and fear existed among the colonialists. Old slights and feuds, disagreements over possessions and land, suspicious behavior, jealousy, spite, conflicts over inheritance, rumor, and reports from afar especially about commingling with Indians were some of the bases for accusation and persecution. Like a bolt from the sky, anyone at any moment could be accused of consorting with or being a witch.”

A second chair, titled Accused, has been commissioned and will again be fabricated by Flores. Where it will reside is still undetermined. McLean is hoping to use the full-size sculptures to entice a museum – ideally along the North Shore where the events originally occurred – to provide a permanent home for these evocative and powerful works.



Diane Brenner moved from Egremont, MA, to Worthington in 1994 into a white elephant she shares with her spouse, Jan Roby. She is an indexer with a background in public health and an avid interest in historical research and genealogy. She is a longtime member of the board of the Worthington Historical Society, and has been active as one of the society’s archivists, helping to create many recent WHS exhibits – including the one discussed in this article. She also serves on the Worthington Historical Commission, the Worthington Board of Health and the board of the Hilltown Community Health Centers.


For More Information

If you want to learn more about the Salem Witch Trials, the Wikipedia article is a good place to start. It has an extensive bibliography and references. For those who like their history “raw” or only lightly processed, you can’t beat the University of Virginia’s Salem Witchcraft Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project. And for those interested in historical correctness, you might be interested in the debate about the exact location of Gallows Hill. Go to Peter McLean’s website If you would like to see all the maquettes up close, and read their descriptions.

Posted December 9, 2012.