December 2019 Museum Musings

Leslie Howard named WHS Board President

The Westford Historical Society and Museum is pleased to announce
Leslie Howard of Westford as the new President of the Westford Historical Society.

The Board of Directors voted in Mrs. Howard at their board meeting on November 20th. Mrs. Howard previously served as Vice President of the Board (2018-2019) and has served on the Board since 2014. Mrs. Howard has lived in Westford since 2009 and is raising three children with her husband, as well as writing a book about presidential elections. Prior to that, she was Membership and Advocacy Manager at the New England Museum Association and held positions at the Nichols House Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, and the Museum of Science. She holds a BA in History with a minor in Writing and an MA in American History both from Providence College and an MA in Museum Studies from Harvard University. Her thesis was All History is Contemporary: Collecting Contemporary Objects at History Institutions. She is looking forward to serving as President and helping to create more programming, exciting exhibits, and engaging the community.

Other officers elected at the meeting were Dan Lacroix as Vice President, Kelly Ross as Treasurer, and Lisa Sama as Secretary.



Holiday Shopping Hours at the Westford Museum Store 
December 6, 13 and 20   9:30am-1pm
Order on-line and pick up at the museum or shop our stores.
Westford hats, tees, books, ornaments and glassware
Museum Office Hours MWF 9-1



Visit the Westford Regency Family Funfest Festival of Trees
December 6-27
  Celebrates Westford Academy Graduates (1792 to present)
See the Westford Historical Society’s Tree and join us for the opening reception. Held at the Westford Regency on Friday, December 6 from 6pm – 8:00pm with light refreshment, music; voting most popular tree, wreath and gingerbread creation; start of the silent auction and more fun.   The Westford Festival of Trees is sponsored by the Westford Regency Inn, Circle Health/ Lowell General Hospital, Enterprise Bank, Westford Business Association, Whole Foods of Westford, and Emerson Hospital.

Time to Renew Your Membership!

It’s time to renew your membership to the Westford Historical Society!  You may renew online with a credit card or pay by check. If paying by check, please follow the instructions on the website to mail in your payment.

Westford Notable of the Month~ Mary “May” Balch

Mary “May” Balch was born in the Parkervill section of Westford in 1875. She graduated from Westford Academy and the Massachusetts Normal Art School in Boston in 1896. May became an artist-painter, who also printed greeting cards; she also made dresses and costumes. Miss Balch wrote a novel “The Stronger Light” which was published in 1922. In addition, she wrote poems and music. Her original painting of the original Westford Academy building hangs on the museum wall.
May’s  long elaborate yellow flowered  dress she made for graduation from the Normal School still survives as do many of her water color paintings, and greeting cards.
Miss Balch became supervisor of drawing in the South Hadley school system until the death of her mother, she then returned to Westford to care for her father, Wayland Balch, a Civil War veteran.
She participated in the 1929 historical pageant celebrating the 200th of the incorporation of the town of Westford.

Docent Academy ~ Lake Shore Theatre ~By Jim VanBever

The next time you drive or walk by the Nabnassett Country Club take a look at the old foundation that still stands in front of the current Country Club.  This old foundation was once the site of the Lake Shore Theatre that held plays and shows from 1934 to 1941. In fact, the theatre held 1,200 people and was one of the largest summer theaters in the United States. Such performers as Ethel Barrymore Colt, the daughter of Ethel Barrymore, once graced its stage.

photo of Franklin Trask
Franklin Trask, ca. 1930, Frost School Principal, Founder of Lake Shore Theatre

The theatre was founded by Albert Franklin Trask, who was once the principal of the Frost School, his wife Agnes, and Westford resident Fisher Buckshorn. In 1934, Mr. Trask was able to obtain the barn from the Lake Shore Realty Company of Boston, which was developing the area around Nab Lake. The lots were being sold for as low as $89.00. Purchasing a lot included membership in the Nabnassett Country Club and free tickets to the Lake Shore Theatre. The venture became the “National Little Theatre”.

The Lake Shore Theatre also operated an acting colony that attracted college students from all across the United States. Most of the students stayed at the “Mansion,” formerly the John William Abbot House at 45 Main Street, which is now the site of the Northern Bank & Trust in Westford. In 1934, 1,200 students applied to the Lake Shore Theatre, but only 80 were accepted. Students took such courses as Acting Techniques, Directing, and Playwriting.  Tuition was $300 but was usually waived because of private donations.  All students were required to take part in at least four plays that were held at the Lake Shore Theatre.

During the years from 1934 to 1936, the theatre attracted some notable performers. Aside from Ethel Barrymore Colt who performed in 1935, Arthur Fiedler, conductor of the Boston Pops, was the guest of honor at “Gay Nineties” week in 1934. Other notables included actress/author Cornelia Otis Skinner who later appeared in such films as “The Uninvited” and “The Swimmer”; Walter Hampden who would later appear in such films as “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “The Adventures of Mark Twain”;  Malcolm Lee Beggs an actor/director whose work included films such as “Houdini” and “Botany Bay” and later appeared in early television shows that included “Hopalong Cassidy” and “Hallmark Hall of Fame.”

Although it appeared the Lake Shore Theatre was thriving in 1936, Franklin Trask and his wife Agnes decided to leave Westford and move his theatre company and colony to Plymouth, MA and form the Priscilla Beach Theatre.  In 1937 and 1938 the Lake Shore Theatre continued under the direction of Robert Hooven Eshleman who continued the theatre with national casts and directors. In 1939, the theatre became the Westford Playhouse and was operated by the Blackfriars Repertory Theatre.  The Blackfriars ran the theatre until 1941, which was its final season. The ensemble was by then made of local performers.

During World War II, the theatre barn was made into a factory for the weaving of steel nets to entrap enemy submarines.  It is believed that fire later destroyed the building.

Docents Wanted! Interested in becoming a docent? Email the museum today!

Upcoming Museum Programs

December  6-27: Family Funfest Festival of Tree, Westford Regency
December 6, 13 & 20: Museum Stores Holiday Shopping
December 8, 15 & 22: Tour the Westford Museum Galleries
January 5: 
Distaff Day hosted by the Westford Spinners
January 26: 
Daughter of the American Revolution~ Citizen Day

March 8: Photographs of Quincy W. Day, Westford Then and Now
May 17: Fibers of Life; Textiles from the Westford Historical Society’s Collections
Westford Celebrates Women’s Right to Vote
A Look into the 19th Amendment and Its Legacy
February 10: Massachusetts in the Woman Suffrage Movement: Revolutionary Reformers, Book reading and talk by Barbara Berenson
February 24: After Suffrage: A 20/20 Perspective on Women’s Rights, 1920 – 2020 Barbara Berenson
March 6: Harriet Tubman speaking on women’s suffrage rights. Gwendolyn Quezaire-Presutti: Living History performance of Harriet Tubman
March 19: “I Now Pronounce You Lucy Stone” performance by Judith Kalaora
May 22: “I want to go to Jail” performance – A one-act play written by Pamela Swing and Erika Dabanka

Click HERE for more information on upcoming events




We wish you a very Happy Holiday season and a peaceful and prosperous New Year.