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.
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.
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.
Of all that bustling village life, little evidence remains.
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.
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.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
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: http://multitext.ucc.ie/d/Charles_Stewart_Parnell.
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: http://www.townofchesterfieldma.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48&Itemid=54.
3. History and Genealogy of the Families of Chesterfield, Entry 51. Source: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~torrey/Page%20323%20to%20427.htm. Her name is marked “Isabella” on the 1910 census, and her gravestone reads “Isabella M. Martyn,” though other printed records read “Isabel.”
4. Source: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~torrey/e-john%20e%20witherell.jpg.
Posted December 19, 2012.
Lest Kitty O’Shea lead you astray, I suggest you look closer to home. First, if an event was sufficiently important to have been so carefully inscribed, it might have caught the attention of the Daily Hampshire Gazette, available at the Forbes Library. Next, because of the proximity of the South Worthington Schoolhouse to the Witherall Store and Post Office, I believe the inscription may concern the transfer of property to the Town of Worthington from an abutter R. H. Conwell. An article dated June 4, 1943 says in part: “The South Worthington Schoolhouse was sold at public auction last week and bid in by Carl I. Cederholm. He will move the building to his shop and the land will revert to the property now owned by Miss Jane Tuttle.” Cederholm did move it across the road by the millstream and attach it to his shop. His estate sold it to Ralph Moran who sold it to Fred Emerson who ran the Drummers Club. Of date unknown Jason and Sylvia Kirschen later contested ownersip of the land and W’ton Selectpersons, Bert Nugent, Julia Sharron and Stephen Kulik approved the transfer on Old Main Road to them; consideration $1.00. The Hampshire County Registry might shed some light on the mystery. Have a look.
According to Gay’s Gazeteer, Hampshire County, Mass, 1654-1887, p 480, “South Worthington has one church (Methodist Episcpal), it has a basket factory, grist mill schoolhouse and about fifteen dwellings.”
I know precisely where the remains of the foundation of the old schoolhouse lie – not far from where the picture places the Witherells’ store, but far enough to make it unlikely that a large stone from the school would migrate the few hundred yards to our property & wind up buried underground (if I understand you correctly). Moreover, the school was still open and operational at the time of the carving, to judge by the photograph that I’ve seen of the school and its students (I don’t have a copy of that picture, but I’m sure someone can provide you with one). Finally, it seems highly unlikely to me that someone would commemorate the transfer of a piece of property with a monument of this sort, even if the school building and property had been transferred in 1891 rather than 1943.
There may be something to your musing on events of local significance, however. If you find anything as monumental or consequential as the death of Parnell that took place locally on that precise date, please feel free to share.
Thanks for your feedback!
Thanks Marion, for your comments. The complexities of land transfers, especially in South Worthington, as well as the frequent moving of buildings or parts thereof, make this kind of research especially challenging. Isabel Martyn (or Martin) Witherell came to this country around 1848 during the famine (another research challenge) and was only 8 or 9 at the time. She was working (with around 30 other young women of Irish descent) as a rag picker at the paper mill in Russell when she married John Witherell in 1863. They lived in Huntington and Chesterfield before moving to Worthington and running the store. It would be good to find out if she retained any direct connections to Ireland. I am inclined to think this is a boundary marker of some sort (a well-carved or well-preserved one), but you never know. There was a famous Martin involved in the founding of Sinn Fein 🙂
Thanks to all of you! I’ve been told (by Dot Nelson, I believe) that the school building was dragged down the road to the old Drummer’s Club building and is still attached to the North end of the building.
That’s correct! It’s currently the garage (more the western end than the northern, but that’s splitting hairs, really). The foundation of the school still remains, just to the north of S. Worthington Rd.
Dr. Bresnick & I poked around a bit over there & found bits of iron & what-not that appear to be the remnants of desks, but it’s so very hard to tell, given the condition of the metal. What does remain is the flat stone that served as the threshold, over which all those kids passed so many years ago, book-ties in hand…Another bit of poetic stone-work left untended in the woods.
I’m Carl Cederholm’s daughter and I’m fascinated by all of this information. Yes, my dad bought the school house before I was born but my older half-brother Carl attended school there. It was added on to the Cederholm Manufacturing Company, where my dad’s measuring wheels were made for years and years. (And continued to be made in TX until 1997). The property wasn’t sold by my dad’s estate in 1956 (my dad was alive and well in TX until 1987). When I visited in the summer of 2011, I met some people in the neighborhood and later shared all of my photographs of the house and shop from the early to mid-1950’s and some newspaper articles about the use of the machine shop during WWII and that opera singer Ms. Tuttle was working there. However, I subsequently lost all of that material in the Central TX wildfires, Sept 2011, and am waiting for someone to send me copies of what I sent them. I had the school bell from the one-room schoolhouse but I believe it was also lost in the fire. Perhaps some of the local families who are still in the area could shed some light on your marker, etc. Mollisons? Donovans? I used to have pictures of Guy Thrasher’s store across the street also.
Sorry it has taken me so long to get back to you, Carol. We have only a brochure about the Cederholm wheel in the Historical Society archives. I have taken the liberty of posting you comment on our Facebook page. If you have access to Facebook and want to join, just search for the Worthington Historical Society or click the link on the home page to this website. Hope we can locate some of that material.
Kate Ewald is the person that I sent all of the photos and articles to in 2011. I never got a response to my email request for copies of those to be sent back to me. The photos were from the 1950s. Thanks for any help.
I recently purchased a Cederholm Measuring Wheel, and found this thread while researching its background. I found the wheel in the estate of an incredible structural engineer that also operated ranch/ farming interests in the Texas Panhandle. She had an appreciation for real, and functional design, and the wheel’s design pointed toward a great find.
So far all I know is that it appears to be model described in the 1950 patent, and was manufactured in Bastrop. The lack of a model number leads me to believe that it was “The” Cederholm Measuring Wheel at the time.
What suggestions can you make for forwarding my research of the wheel?
Where can I forward photos of the wheel that I will put to work, just so I can show it off on the jobsite?
Hi. I’m sure there are many Cederholm wheels around and still some in use. They are very sturdy and we had several wholesale dealers in the TX panhandle (Becknell, Amarillo Hardware, Nix Implement, etc). There was a model AR, the regular 6.6 acreage measuring wheel, a model PR, the peg wheel for sandy soil, and a 5 ft wheel used for fencing, real estate, etc. If you email me, I have some of the materials we retrieved from the machine shop which we sold in Bastrop May 2013. We have the prototype original wheel hanging on our pottery studio in Clermont GA. I have a few photos of the shop in South Worthington and a couple newspaper articles. I have the circular and instruction sheets. My dad invented this model of measuring wheel when the agricultural college (now U Mass Amherst) approached him with the idea in 1930s.
Again email me for more info and I’ll copy what I have. We rescued 3 or 4 wheels for family members, some without counters, unfinished ones lying around the shop. Contact us at email@example.com or look for us on Facebook at Clear Mountain Pottery and Nature Photos. Thanks for your interest. My dad was a fascinating idea man and my life was interesting growing up hanging out in the machine shop.
Hi Carol and welcome to the conversation. So sorry to hear about your losses in those horrendous fires. I suspect you lost more than some old photographs. I will check the Historical Society archives to see if any of those materials made their way to us. It would be great to locate them. Would you be interested in writing up something about the Cederholm Manufacturing Company for this blog? Your father’s photo with his wheel is in The Papers on the History of Worthington. His business is described there as one where “ten or so workers made small metal parts.” It sounds, from what you say, that there is a lot more to the story than that. Anyway, I will do what I can to find out about the missing articles and photos.
Lost everything. I don’t have a picture of my dad or a Cederholm Mfg CO brochure. He had several patents and the measuring wheel was the main product manufactured there. Yes, they did do other machine work and made parts.
Found a few old items in the machine shop. The stuff that burned was in my house. I have a few photos, old brochures, and instruction sheets for the wheel. I also have one good picture of my dad. I made some copies to forward to y’all in So. Worthington. Still dreaming of buying the old place, love the way the bldg (even with most of the 2nd story gone) hangs over the brook, but I’ll never have enough money.
Many thanks, Sean, for your article. I am especially interested in the deed of B&S “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 Anables (and all the other spellings) are related to the Watt / Watts’. Samuel is the grandson of my 4th great grandfather, Nathaniel Annibal (Anable). Thank you for your article.
You may find this entertaining; I did.
“The King-Maker (Brighton — October 1891)” an imagined colloquy between Charles and Kitty.
Hi Carol, I will check it out. Thanks, Diane
Found them! Kate will be in touch.
Thanks for the inquiry about the Cederholm wheel. I will get back to you after I do a little digging.
Thanks Carol, Any memorabilia or copies of the same are welcome! Wish you had the money, too!