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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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.
Oh look! I believe that Elisha Brewster’s great-nephew up there has something to share with you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Who’s that! Why Lordy! Is that you, Peter? I never expected to see you again. Why let’s catch up a little.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.