Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Happy Holidays 2015 from Natick Historical Society!

In honor of the holiday season I wanted to share a few of the holiday postcards that we accepted into our collection this year. The Betty Murray Collection, named after its donor, consists of over eighty holiday cards sent to Betty's ancestor, Carrie Goerke, of South Natick from 1910-1916. These charming greeting cards are not so different from the holiday cards we send today and give us a colorful glimpse into the seasonal celebrations of Natickites past. 

From everyone here at the Natick Historical Society we want to sincerely wish our readers a very Happy Holiday. We've had a wonderful past year in 2015 and look forward to what the next year has to offer!

The Natick Historical Society will be closed December 25th and 26th as well as January 1st and January 2nd. We will be open until 1 pm on December 24th and until 4pm on December 3st. Copies of our latest book, Have You Ever Wondered...? Natick Explained are still available so be sure to pick one up today. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Henry Wilson's Shoe Shop and a New Book!

Henry Wilson's Shoe Shop
In any town as full of history as Natick, there are bound to be a number of historic sites to see and visit. One of our more well-known historic landmarks is Henry Wilson’s shoe shop. Henry Wilson, the eighteenth Vice President of the United States, lived most of his life in Natick and earned his initial success here as a shoe maker. The shoe industry was hugely important to Natick’s economy in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Most of the shoes produced in Natick were brogans, a kind of heavy leather work shoe, often used for slaves in the American South.  Mills and factories grew exponentially in Natick, especially after the Boston/Albany Railroad came to town in 1834. For a period in the 1880s, Natick was one of the biggest producers of leather shoes in Massachusetts.

The growth of Natick’s industry did not go unnoticed outside the community. Waves of new immigrants moved into the Natick area, bringing diversity to the town. News of the opportunities afforded to young men brought in new Natickites from all over New England. One such enterprising young man was Jeremiah Colbath, who at the age of twenty-one walked just over a hundred miles from his home in Farmington, New Hampshire to seek his fortune making shoes in Natick. This humble Natick cobbler became a lot more well-known after he changed his name to Henry Wilson.

Henry Wilson entered the shoe business in the same way many young men did. He began operating his own business making shoes out of a small “ten-footer.” Ten-footers were small outbuildings used as a work spaces for a variety of purposes. They were previously relatively common throughout New England.  It was a small shoe shop like this one where Wilson learned to make leather shoes and where he paid rapt attention to his colleagues’ political discourse. Later in his life Henry Wilson would say that these early political debates were among the things that inspired him to become interested in politics and social reform.

Postcard Depicting the Wilson's Shoe Shop 
Wilson’s business and wealth grew over time. He expanded beyond his small shoe shop and eventually opened his own shoe business. This enterprise brought Wilson a comfortable level of prosperity which allowed him to formally enter politics. While the larger Wilson factory building no longer exists, Henry Wilson’s original ten-footer still does!  This building has been restored a number of times and can still be visited in Natick Center on Central Street. It has been a major point of interest in Natick since Wilson’s Vice Presidency. The interior of the building is not often open to the public, but it can be viewed from the outside year-round.  Maintenance and care of the Henry Wilson Shoe shop and the park where it is located is the responsibility the town of Natick.

To learn more about Henry Wilson’s Shoe shop and a number of other local places of interest be sure to check out the newest publication from Natick Historical Society, Have You Ever Wondered...? Natick Explained. This book explores the stories of notable people and places from around Natick. Full of vibrant photographs and wonderful pieces of history, Have You Ever Wondered...? is available now at select businesses around Natick, as online at the Historical Society’s website, and of course here in the Museum.

To purchase the book online, visit our website here. 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lydia Maria Child

Engraving of Lydia Maria Child
“Over the river and through the wood to grandmother’s house we go…”

This famous poem, a classic of the holiday season is one of the most well remembered poems relating to Thanksgiving. Natick has a surprisingly rich literary history for a town of our size. A number of world-famous authors have called Natick home for a period of time. Harriet Beecher Stowe, the renowned author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was a frequent visitor; Horatio Alger Jr. spent much of his later life in Natick and is buried here. Lydia Maria Child, the author of the famous Thanksgiving poem quoted above, spent a little over a year of her life in Natick and visited several times afterwards. Though the famous house in question is in Medford, in honor of the Thanksgiving season we thought it would be appropriate to take a closer look at the life of this extraordinary woman with an interesting Natick connection. 

Lydia Maria Child was an influential writer and activist who took on several roles that were fairly uncommon for women at the time. She was heavily involved in a number of social movements including the fight to end slavery and campaigns for women’s rights and for the better treatment of Native Americans. Her initial writing provided advice for homemakers, but over time, Child’s determined political spirit entered into her literary works which alienated some of her more conservative readers. Today she is better known for her poetry, especially the poems she wrote for children.

Born Lydia Maria Francis in 1802 in Medford Massachusetts, Child eventually married David Lee Child at the age of twenty six and moved to nearby Wayland.  She was good friends with William Lloyd Garrison, the outspoken and sometimes controversial Boston abolitionist. Her father, David Convers, also eventually left their native Medford.  Following his wife’s death in 1814, David retired from work and soon began moving around to other local towns, including Natick.  David Francis lived in Natick for about four years, between 1836 and 1840. He lived at 20 Pleasant Street and was locally known as “Daddy Francis” to his fellow Natickites.  While her father was here, Lydia Maria Child came to live with him on Pleasant Street for a little over a year, staying with “Daddy Francis” from the spring of 1836 to the summer of 1837. Child continued to write during this period and two of her published works, a romance set in Ancient Greece titled Philothea, and a guide for Home Nurses, were produced while she lived in Natick.

A Very Happy Thanksgiving From All of Us
Here at the Natick Historical Society

Child had mixed feelings about Natick. While she admired the abolitionist spirit of the preacher who spoke at the Church in Natick Center, she found that many of her neighbors couldn’t match her progressive fervor. In a letter from 1836, Child says that she found in her Natick neighbors  “an absence of all intellectual excitement.” That said, in the same letter she still seems to have found the quiet and pleasant atmosphere of Natick to be “a good place to work.” Perhaps this “good place to work” was what inspired her to produce more pieces of writing, as she hadn’t produced any new works for two years prior to her stay here.

While living in, and later returning to visit Natick, Lydia Maria Child met many of the townspeople. According to some reports she was good friends with Henry Wilson, who had moved to town just a few years earlier in 1833 and often sought her advice. Surprisingly, Child did not seem to become acquainted with the other acclaimed female author of South Natick, who stayed with her in-laws at 2 Pleasant Street. Lydia Maria Child and Harriet Beecher Stowe did not meet until 1861, at a party in Weston, after Child had left Natick. The two women got along well, unsurprising, considering they were both authors and staunch abolitionists, yet somehow their paths never crossed in Natick even though they stayed in houses on the very same street.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Hail to the Chief Elects Good Cheer

As part of our schedule of fall events, Natick Historical Society recently hosted a very special program titled "Hail to the Chief", partly funded by the Natick Cultural Council. This original musical play was put on by Boston-based theater group In Good Company. It  saluted presidential campaigns songs from throughout history by performing them with a very talented cast of twenty four actors and several musical accompanists. We were treated to a number of lively campaign songs including even the one for Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Wilson's running-mate. The performance was a lot of fun and we were glad to see so many members of our community come out and join us! For those of you who missed our program we've included some pictures from the event below.

To stay up to date on upcoming programs and events with Natick Historical Society, follow us on Facebook HERE or visit or website HERE


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Exploring the South Natick Burial Ground

There are a number of historic sites around the town of Natick and we’re lucky enough that several of them are within walking distance from us here at the Natick Historical Society Museum. The South Natick Burial Ground, located at the corner of Eliot and Union Streets, behind the Eliot Church is one of the oldest burial grounds in Natick.  The parcel of land was given to Reverend Oliver Peabody, the third minister to preach in the South Natick meetinghouse, in 1731. This land was used by the early European settlers of Natick as a place to bury their dead. Today the burial ground is no longer actively being used, but for anyone interested in genealogy or Natick's history it can provide a wealth of knowledge.

The headstone of Major John Morse,
a veteran of the American Revolution
Oliver and Sarah Bacon's Memorial is one of the
 newer monuments in the burying ground,
made out of pink granite. 
Oliver Peabody's headstone, in Latin--
 notice the distinct geometric face design at the top
Many of the original European settlers of Natick are buried in the South Natick Burial Ground. Some of the family names on many of the headstones here will likely be familiar to most Natick residents. Names of places throughout Natick take their names from these old families. Walking around one can see the headstones of Morses, Bacons, Broads, Bigelows and other early settlers of Natick. 

Oliver Bacon and his wife Sarah are both buried here. Oliver Bacon was responsible for the creation of the Bacon Free Library, the building shared by the Natick Historical Society. Sarah Bacon ran a small lending library out of her home, and after she passed away, her husband Oliver donated money to fund the construction of the 1880 Bacon Free Library in her honor. Oliver Bacon was also one of the early members of the historical society provided that the lower level of the building is used as a space for the Natick Historical Society and we’ve been here ever since!

The beautifully carved headstones are certainly eye-catching and meaningful. Headstones in this burial ground date from the eighteenth to early twentieth centuries. Natick veterans from the Revolutionary War and the Civil War are marked with American flags and markers. Angels, willow trees and skulls, common in early American grave stone designs, can be seen on headstones. The Peabody family, longtime residents of Natick, has a set of rather unusual headstones here. The simple geometric designs of these faces are quite different from the more common ornate designs. 

If you are interested in learning more about some of the fascinating stories associated with the South Natick Burying Ground, please be sure to come to our upcoming Walking Tour on Wednesday October 21st at 4:30 PM and 5:30 PM. Following the walking tours at 7:00, the Bacon Free Library presents the Gravestone Girls, who will be talking headstones and graveyard designs in New England and Natick. If you are unable to join us, we’re glad to say people will also be able to take a self-guided tour of the burial ground using our new brochure available here in the NHS Museum.

We hope to see you there! 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Museum Tips for Preservation

Framed objects being conserved 
This summer we have spent a lot of time here at the Historical Society cleaning, preserving, documenting and working to maintain the objects in our collection. This is an ongoing project  for the museum and it can vary quite a bit.  The Historical Society has quite an eclectic collection of objects which all need to be cared for  in different ways. Whether it's gently dusting off a passenger pigeon specimen or preserving some travel letters from 1872, different techniques need to be used for specific items.  Many of these techniques apply outside of a formal museum setting as well and we wanted to share some basic tips about caring for family heirlooms or antiques. Using some museum-style techniques for preservation may help you and your family to enjoy important pieces in your personal collection for generations to come. 

One of the easiest tips we suggest for any heirloom or antique owner is to write things down. Whether you plan to one day offer them for donation to a museum or hand them down in your family, take the time to document your objects now.  The stories that surround objects are usually the most interesting part about them. By writing down even small snippets of oral history, object origins or personal memories about a particular piece you can guarantee that people will remember and appreciate the stories and people that surround an individual object. Write in pencil on the back of images to identify them or the people present in images. Tuck notes into drawers of larger pieces or in the same box that individual objects might be stored in. Computers can be very useful for this. Scanning images or keeping digital records can be a great way to preserve object histories. 

Storage is an important part of object conservation. Store precious things in the same kinds of environments in stable, dry and relatively cool environments. Drastic temperature changes can damage or age some objects. The material your items are stored in can also have a big impact. Be sure to take advantage of the archival safe albums and materials widely available at craft stores to ensure that your object storage won't damage the objects it is meant to protect. For storing textiles, clean cotton sheets make great wrappers which you can roll up to store them in, keeping them away from wood or old paper. These outside irritants may damage and discolor them.

We’re happy to offer further advice about good storage and documentation, and hope these tips may be helpful to you. If you have further questions feel free to drop us a line by email or schedule a time to come by the museum. Our archives might even be able to add to your appreciation of your family heirlooms.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Summer Updates!

It’s been a very busy season here at the Natick Historical Society! After the very successful series of school programs that we finished this spring, this summer has been filled with new projects. We’ve been renovating, researching and even getting in a little seasonal cleaning! This post should bring our readers up to date on some of our more recent projects and what you can look forward to seeing the next time you visit our museum.

The Natick Historical Society- Now with More Room! 
One of the biggest changes you might notice when visiting the Natick Historical Society museum is that we have rearranged our gallery space. The large exhibit case that previously dominated the entrance to the galleries has been removed. This gives us significantly more space for public programs, school groups and other functions.  The exhibit
it previously housed, “Project Passenger Pigeon” has temporarily flown the coop, so to speak.  However, a new exhibit, focusing on our passenger pigeon specimen, conservation and the history of birds in America will be opening this fall at the Morse Institute Library in Natick Center.

Our bird specimens, patiently waiting to be cleaned 
An especially exciting change has been the redesign of our Birds of America case. The Natick Historical Society has a rather large collection of taxidermy mounts of birds, dating from our early history as a historical and natural history society. Many of these birds are now over a hundred years old and are just as much historic artifacts as they are scientific specimens. Our newly redone case has been painted, cleaned and had new lights installed to really show of the brilliancy of some of our birds plumage. The birds have been carefully cleaned so that they can show of their bright colors and plumage. The bird specimens were originally preserved using arsenic, which in the late 1800’s was not an uncommon practice. This makes interacting with these pieces for long periods of time somewhat dangerous, so our conservation and cleaning of the birds had to be a very careful process.  The birds have now been thoroughly primped and cleaned and are back in their case looking better than ever. We’ve printed new labels for all of the birds and reorganized them within the case so that this unique part of our collection can be highlighted to the extent it deserves.

Finches, warblers, buntings  and more from out new Birds of the Americas case

A Golden Olive Woodpecker, previously called a Guyana Woodpecker, after being cleaned 

One particularly interesting part of this case re-installation was researching the new labels for each of our specimens. Many of the scientific and common names for our birds have changed since 1880. A number of the birds were labeled using the names found in James Audubon’s The Birds of America, which are no longer in use in the scientific community.  Discovering the exact identities of many of our birds proved to be quite the challenge! But, with a good deal of research and some help from our friends at the Broadmoor Audubon Wildlife sanctuary, we have been able to successfully identify all of our birds. To learn more about the early history of the society and some of our bird specimens you can read previous blog entries here.

The next exhibit change that is already underway is our new hallway exhibit. This exhibit, titled “Our Story” will be making its debut this fall. This exhibit will feature several items from our collection and will tell the history of the Natick Historical society as well our building, the Bacon Free Library. Exhibit construction is already underway and we are excited to be able to share the history of our museum with as many people as possible.

We have a very busy fall planned here at the Historical Society, with events every month and several other new exhibits in the works. Be sure to check our Facebook page for updates as they develop and we hope to see you this fall!

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Grandmother's Mincemeat and More

Natick has been the home to a number of businesses over its history. From our early days manufacturing leather shoes to the now growing commercial center, around the Natick Mall, this community has always had an eclectic and strong commercial history. One former Natick business institution was Grandmother’s Mincemeat. This particular brand of mincemeat began being commercially produced here in Natick in 1899. The company would continue operating for over a hundred years, until it was sold in December of 2003. The company’s founder Harrison L. Whipple had been manufacturing mincemeat using his grandmother’s recipe for several years before 1899, when he began to produce it commercially.  In 1899 he formally started the Whipple Company to produce and distribute their already popular product. Due to the recipe’s origin Whipple, marketed his products using actual images of his grandmother, Mrs. Sophia Tuttle, and branded the products as Grandmothers’ Mincemeat in her honor.

 Lewis E. Whipple, Harrison’s son, took over business in 1908 and began expanding their range of products to include other kinds of pie filling as well as preservatives, jams, syrups and more, all under the “Grandmother’s” brand.  Other recipes for different flavors of mincemeat were introduced to keep up with changing demands but the original recipe from Sophia Tuttle remained in use throughout the company’s existence. Grandmother’s products grew in popularity through the 1900s and even absorbed several other local food companies. The Whipple Company purchased A.A. Knights in 1960 and the producers of Bostonia Brand Soda Fountains in 1962. Throughout the company’s existence their central production factory was located here in Natick though it moved several times within the community as the company expanded. Their last location on North Main Street, where they moved in 1947, proved to be their longest lasting location.

Over the company’s long history, the Whipple Company and Grandmother’s Mincemeat found a number of different ways to promote their expanding market of products. Below are a series of promotional materials from our archives that Grandmother’s put out over its long history.

This image is a promotional illustration that was part of a Christmas themed Grandmother’s Mincemeat advertisement. Mincemeat pies are a popular holiday treat and many of the company’s ad campaigns focused on holiday themes. 

This trade card is another Grandmother’s Mincemeat advertisement, this time in the form of a promotional song. The singer’s pilgrim hats are another attempt by the Whipple Company to connect their product to the holidays, when mincemeat would likely be most popular. 

This longer print advertisement for Grandmother’s mincemeat references the classic song “Over the River and Through the Wood.” Grandmother’s branding focused on promoting their product as being connected to the holidays and especially connected to family; which considering the company’s origin was appropriate. 

Unlike the previous advertisements this one could be run at any time of the year. The rectangular  white and black flap was intended to be folded back so that a jar of mincemeat could be placed in the opening allowing the ad to stand up straight as a promotional  piece in a store window. 

Grandmother’s didn’t just make mincemeat. As the Whipple Company expanded, the Grandmother’s brand did too. This advertisement for a variety of fruit based pie fillings shows how the company expanded its reach beyond standard mincemeat. Different fruit flavors like lemon and raspberry could be sold year round and had less of a seasonal association the way mincemeat did.

By expanding into other products beyond mincemeat the Whipple Company also expanded their branding, though they continued to use themes related to Natick. These Strawberry preserves also made by the Whipple Company but were part of their Walnut Hill Brand of jams and preserves, named for Walnut Hill in Natick. Though this is not technically Grandmother’s brand, the image of Grandmother Tuttle is still present on the label. 

The Natick Historical Society is lucky to have an extensive collection of items and archival materials related to this important part of the commercial history of Natick. Our archives relating to the history of the Grandmother’s Mincemeat Company were recently reorganized by an archival intern here at the historical society. Many of these objects are on display in our permanent collection detailing Natick’s commercial history.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Sleep Tight, Mr. Vice President!

"Sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite!” Everyone has heard this phrase today, but what exactly does it mean?  It’s often just a quaint way of saying goodnight but it was not that long ago that the phrase carried a very different meaning.  While bedbugs are unfortunately a memory that has not quite faded into the past, the idea of keeping one’s bed “tight” isn't something that most of us usually have to worry about.  For much of history however, keeping one’s bed tight was actually quite the concern.  Rope beds, which supported a mattress using a network of interconnected cords, were very common until the 1840s. Instead of being supported by a wire spring frame, as is more common today, the mattress would be supported by the web of cords that were stretched between pegs around the outside of the bed’s frame. The weight of the mattress and sleeper might eventually cause the ropes to slacken and slump. To ensure that the ropes remained taught and secure, a key like this one would need to be periodically be inserted between the ropes and frame and twisted to tighten the network of cords. This would keep the bed flat and the mattress comfortable.

Henry Wilson's Bed Key
This particular bed key happens to be more than just an exemplary artifact of furniture history. This key belonged to one of the most famous former residents of Natick: Vice President Henry Wilson. Originally born in Farmington New Hampshire, Wilson moved to Natick as a young man and became an apprentice to a local shoemaker. He would remain in Natick for most of the rest of his life and eventually set up his own business here, as a cobbler. His traditional “ten footer” shoe shop is still standing.  This was the bed key he used in his home here on West Central Street in Natick.

Vice President Henry Wilson
Wilson was eventually elected to the U.S. Senate in 1855 and would serve representing Massachusetts for eighteen years. Wilson also served in the United States Army and on the Senate Committee for Military Affairs. Throughout his political career Wilson was a staunch reformer, pushing for equal pay for African-Americans enlisted in the Union Military Forces and for the end of slavery in the United States. He led the Massachusetts 22nd Regiment for a few campaigns early in the Civil War before returning to politics. Wilson’s views and his military accomplishments put him in favor with a number of leading Republicans at the time. He was eventually chosen by President Ulysses S. Grant to run with him for his second term in office as the Vice President in 1873. He would die in office only two years later.

 The bed key was donated to our collection by Margaret Coolidge Sturtevant. It is currently on display in the Natick Historical Society Museum as part of our exhibit on the life of Vice President Wilson, connecting us not only to a very important historical figure but also serving as an excellent example of how daily life has changed so much since the early 1800s. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Considering Colonial Compasses

We get all kinds of interesting requests for research here at the Natick Historical Society. Following some recent research requests on Colonial surveyors I started looking into the tools that were used to describe, measure and survey land in our early history. The buying and selling of large plots of land was an important business throughout Colonial Massachusetts. Subdividing land and acquiring new property were especially important parts of the early years of Natick’s history, when European settlers parceled off and purchased land from the Native American residents. In the collection of the Natick Historical Society we have a number of different items that would have been used by surveyors:  chains, stakes, and compasses that would be used in different ways to determine the size, shape and characteristics of pieces of land. Two of these pieces, a pair of surveyors compasses manufactured in Boston in the mid-1700s, are especially striking.

John Dupee's  Surveyor's Compass
Thomas Greenough's Compass 

Detail of John Dupee's Compass, notice the specific directions to his shop in Boston

    These compasses or circumferentors to use the technical term, were created by Thomas Greenough and John Dupee respectively and both represent excellent examples of American Colonial craftsmanship. The compasses are generally similar in dimension and style, and both are approximately the same size and design, which was typical for compasses used for surveying. There are a few differences; Dupee’s compass is made of wood, which was more common in surveyor’s equipment. Greenough’s compass is made of brass, though he regularly worked with wood as well. Dupee’s wooden compass also has extensions at either end of the compass face that were useful in surveying to extend the North/South Axis when measuring angles, a feature Greenough’s compass lacks. Both men worked in Boston in the mid-1700s, and while Greenough was younger, they were contemporaries and worked in Boston during overlapping periods.

Deacon Thomas Greenough (born 1710) and his son, incidentally also named Thomas Greenough, produced a number of mechanical devices used for sea travel, navigation and surveying land. Both Greenough men worked making compasses and would label them, as our piece has been, with their name “T. Greenough,” though without a designation for Junior/Senior it is not easy to determine whether our piece was created by the father or son. Thomas Greenough, Senior was a Patriot and served on a Committee of Correspondence in the years leading up to the American Revolution in Boston. He died in 1785 and is buried at Copp’s Hill Burial ground in downtown Boston.

John Dupee’s life is not quite as well-documented. His shop was established in Boston in the early 1700s and only a few of his pieces still survive. Though the exact details of many parts of his life remain unknown a small part of his life’s story has survived. Born in France under the name Jean Dupuis, he fled France as a Huguenot refugee to Boston as many other Protestant Frenchmen were doing at the time, including Paul Revere’s father. Upon arriving in Boston Dupee anglicized his name. He married and had several children before his death in 1743. On his compass the arrow pointing north is marked with a Fleur de Lis, possibly an imported French style and possibly a nod to the maker’s birthplace.Around the face of the compass is also a maker’s mark giving credit to John Dupee along with rather odd instructions on where to find his shop. The Inscription reads “Made & Sold by John Dupee, North Side Swing Bridge Boston NE”. In a time before most businesses had individual addresses, they were instead referred to based on land marks or by an image on a sign that hung outside.

The Dupee compass is currently on display at the Historical Society’s museum. The Greenough compass can be seen by scheduling an appointment with me here at the Historical Society. For more information about Thomas Greenough, John Dupee or any of the other exciting pieces in our collection, feel free to send me an email at curator@natickhistoricalsociety.org