REMINISCENCES Westford Massachusetts (1847~1937) by KATE S. HAMLIN
I am a former resident of Westford who was associated with the place, either as a permanent resident, or annual visitor, for many years. I have been asked by one, whose childhood and youth were passed in Westford, and who has retained the same affection for the town and its interests that I have retained, to write, for the present generation and for those to follow, reminiscences of my childhood and to refer to some of the changes that have taken place since then.
Although it is now many years since I was personally familiar with Westford, I have kept in touch with the interests of the village by means of correspondence with friends, now resident or with those still familiar with its life and interests.
The years since 1847, when I made my humble and unconscious entrance, have brought many changes; even if they have been so gradual as to be unnoticed, or unrealized, at the time. From month to month, and from year to year, things seem stationary. Yet I find 1937 and 1847, in some respects, hardly on speaking terms. Much of the vocabulary of 1937 would be as little understood by 1847 as would Choctaw or other of the Indian dialects. I refer, of course, to those words now in common use because of the many inventions during those years.
If I had an airplane in 1847, or, perhaps, at that date I would hardly have been equal to taking advantage of it had there been one, I shall call the date about 1852. If the plane were a thousand feet above the Common, the streets, or roads, then as now, extended like the spokes of a wheel; north, south, east and west.
From the west angle of the Common, at the right, stood a large house with a piazza extending the length of its front which faced south. In the house, which had once been one of the many taverns scattered through New England, was a small hall on the second floor front, extending the length of the house and in that hall was the first dancing school I attended.
This house was owned and occupied by David C. Butterfield. The family consisted of father, mother, two daughters and a son. The older daughter’s name was Mary; that of the younger, Lydia Anna, called by all of us Liddyanna; the son was Eleazer. As I remember them they were all rather handsome. Mary had one of the first pianos in the village. I think there was also one in the Amos Heywood family; another in Mr. Sherman Fletcher’s home, and I can vision myself standing entranced as Mary touched the keys and brought forth what, to me, was wonderful music. Mary Butterfield was, for several terms, a teacher in the village school, but this was before my school days. My first teacher was my cousin, Caroline Fletcher from Pepperell, whose mother was my father’s sister.
My memory may be at fault, but I think there was a country store in the orchard a few rods west of the house, or, it may have been in the house itself. I remember distinctly — or think I do — being in the store, standing on a bench along the counter, when a dog, that to me seemed as big as a lion, (I confess I had never seen a lion) came toward me in a most friendly manner; but I, not recognizing his friendliness, was terribly frightened and screamed for help. (How well I remember the name of long ago when, now, I sometimes forget my own.) Alonzo Hildreth, whose home was where the Frank Wrights lived when I left Westford, and Eleazar Butterfield came to my rescue, led the dog away and assured me he was most harmless and only desired to show his friendship. How I came to the store I have no idea, and but for the fright caused by the dog there would be no impression of the incident left in my mind. Forgive me, I think I have side-tracked a bit, as I shall probably do many times before this article is finished.
Beyond the orchard stood a store kept by Samuel Fletcher, father of Mrs. Sherman D. Fletcher. Next to the store, and very near it, was a small yellow house where lived the Herrick family. Some years later, one of the few tragedies of the town occurred. One morning, everyone was shocked to hear that Mrs. Herrick, an old lady, had risen in the night and had fallen into the well.
In front of the beautiful home of Edward Abbot, and standing close to the road, was a large, old fashioned house owned and occupied by the Groce family. The family consisted of Preceptor, (he had once been Principal of the Academy, I believe) and Mrs. Groce and one daughter, who later married Artemus Cummings. This house stood just where the road branches off toward Graniteville, then generally called the “Stone Quarry”. A few rods along this road brought one to the house of John Osgood. And a stone’s throw farther down the hill was the Amos Heywood home. Here were two daughters besides the father and mother; and this was one of the most highly cultured families in the village. The elder daughter, Anna, married a Mr. Richmond of Lowell. Mrs. Richmond was interested in art and, especially, in literature and authors.
On a visit of Edgar Allen Poe to Lowell, as a lecturer, or public reader, Mrs. Richmond met him and they became life-long friends. Anyone, who has read a recently published life of Poe will see the name of Anna many times throughout the volume; and this Anna was the daughter of Amos Heywood. In reading the book one will also see mentioned in Poe’s letters the name of the sister, Sarah, who, for many years was well known in Westford.
Beyond the Heywood house toward Graniteville was a long stretch of road bare of houses, so I return to the Groce house. Opposite this, where now stands the house built some fifty, or more, years ago by Henry Reed, was a building very old, as I remember it. I think the roof half way down had a break — what shall I call it? — it continued as a roof but also a wall through which were the windows of the second story. The age of the house I do not know, but from the style of the architecture, it must have been one of the oldest in town. It was occupied by a family named Byam, whether consisting of one member or six I cannot say; I remember seeing only one, and that a man of perhaps middle age, and it seemed to me he lived the life of a recluse.
The front entrance was at the end of the house instead of at the side, and faced the Groce house. The feature of the place most prominent in my mind is the row of poplar trees casting their shadows, as did those which Longfellow mentions in “The Old Clock on the Stairs”:
“Across its antique portico
Tall poplar trees their shadows throw.”
And, by the way, the poplar tree seems to have been a favorite in Westford, for I remember several groups of them.
The road from Graniteville branch continued toward Forge Village. Beyond the Byam house stood a large three-story building. Was this not in early days the home of students of the Academy who came from other places? I think it was. But my earliest remembrances of it was as the home of the Southwick family. Mr. Southwick was a graduate physician. Educated at Harvard and at one time an instructor there, he was a friend of the two professors, who, one night, had a violent quarrel which ended in murder. Mr. Southwick had been in their company shortly before the quarrel. This murder trial was one of the great sensational trials of the age, and for many years after, there was frequent mention of it. I knew nothing of it at the time as it was before my day, but it is occasionally referred to even now. The family of the murderer left the country and went to the Azores; and years ago, when I was living in Troy, I was well acquainted with a lady who had lived in the family as governess, and every year while she was in Troy, she received, from members of the family, most exquisitely embroidered linens which she sold for them.
For years, it was reported that the murderer was taken down from the gallows before death and was secretly taken our of the country; but the story was never proved. In visiting at the Southwick home in Boston years later, I saw a table which had been in the room the night of the murder and the bloodstains were still on it. All this is another digression.
Mr. Southwick, in riding through the country came through Westford and seeing the large house, was charmed by it, as he also was with the village and surrounding country. He bought the house and placed his wife and family of seven children there. A great interest to the children of the village — a ghostly interest — was the boxes of human bones Mr. Southwick had brought and placed in the orchard back of the house. These he had kept from his medical student days. What became of them eventually, I do not know; they were doubtless buried somewhere. Were some to be found in after years an interesting murder story might be invented.
As we all know, one of these seven children became the wife of John W. Abbot, and for many years was a loved resident of the town.
Next to the Southwick house was the home of Mrs. Isaac Day; and what a hostess Mrs. Day was! At her company dinners, which she gave once a year to her friends, her table was loaded with every available luxury and, if one did not partake of each and every article, from turkey to cake and jelly, the grief of the hostess was evident. For years, she prepared and served the annual dinner for the trustees of the Academy, who came in full force every June for the yearly examination of the students—and for Mrs. Day’s dinner. To be an invited guest at that dinner was the greatest honor Westford could afford.
A little way beyond the Day house, a road branched off toward Littleton; and not far from this were the homes of Rufus Patten and a Mr. Flagg.
From this point, I turn back and follow the opposite side of the road, and the first house is a large white one, standing considerably back from the highway and occupied by one of the large family of Hildreths. (At that time, the names of Hildreth, Wright, and Fletcher were the most numerous in the town.) At the entrance to the yard and directly on the street, was a small building utilized as a shoe-shop. Many times I went there either to be measured for a new pair of shoes, or to have an old pair mended.
The next house on this side of the road was owned and occupied by a Prescott. (I wonder if I am right in giving him the name of Charles Henry). I think he was a man of some wealth for those days, and an educated man. Later, the house came into the possession of the Edward Prescotts. A few rods to the east was the home of Rev. Leonard Luce. Mr. Luce, for some reason, was no longer the pastor of the Orthodox Church, but children were taught a certain reverence for him, and, if they met him on the street, were supposed to make their best bow or curtsey. The family consisted of Mr. and Mrs. Luce, of three daughters and a nephew, Alfred Ellery Luce. The boy, evidently, was not happy there; for one morning, everyone was in a state of excitement because Alfred Ellery was missing. In the night he had “run away.” What his later career was I never knew, but have an idea he went to sea, as so many boys at that time did.
Besides Mr. Luce’s duties as clergyman, he devoted much time to the raising of doves, and the cultivation of flowers. His dove cote was of great interest to the children, and his garden the wonder and delight of all; for it was almost the only one where flowers, other than hollyhocks and old-maid-pinks, were to be seen.
Crossing an old orchard I saw an old house, the home of Samuel Fletcher (sic Sherman Fletcher), which later was razed, and the present house, where now live his two great-granddaughters, was built.
A few rods beyond, stood the house of J.W.P Abbot, which, after the removal of the Abbots was occupied, for many years, by the Allan Cameron family. Across the garden from this house stood, almost on the footpath in front, a very old house, the home of Esquire Abbot, the father of J.W.P Abbot. I remember hearing, one morning, that Esquire Abbot had died. He was a man greatly respected and who, in those days, was considered very wealthy.
For many years his housekeeper had been Miss Rachel Blood, and to her he left a life interest in the house in which she lived for many years. She was rather an interesting character who attracted many to her apartment. She spent most of her time in one room, in which was an old four poster bedstead. The fireplace was surrounded by tiles with blue and yellow figures on them. Many times I visited her, and I can now close my eyes and see everything in the room. The wall paper was a great attraction to me, showing a variety of landscape pictures; a fashion in wall papers now returning. She must have been very old for she was almost blind for many years and seldom went out; yet, like many stay-at-homes, she managed to know most of the gossip and affairs of the village. After her death, the house was torn down and, later, the modern home of John W. Abbot was built in the adjoining orchard.
From this point there is a division in the road; one branch leading past the Academy building and on toward Littleton; the other following the side of the Common and continuing toward Boston and intervening towns.
The house beyond the Academy was another of those old buildings, not unlike that of Samuel Fletcher and a few others to be seen in various parts of town. I may have been four or five years old when this house, where my uncle Nathan lived, was torn down, and the present house built. I have a very indistinct memory of the confusion of the destruction of the old and of the building of the new. At that time, the old cheerful fireplaces were being replaced by stoves; but when this house was built Mrs. Hamlin, my “Aunt Harriett”, insisted on having one fireplace — not for cheer and comfort — but that she might be able to roast her Thanksgiving turkey in a tin kitchen before an open fire. This, in her estimation, was the only way in which a turkey should be roasted. So, in her bedroom, a fireplace was built. As far as I know, a fire was never lighted there except on Thanksgiving morning. In how many ways today do we return to the customs of long ago! In hotel and restaurant kitchens one can see, on rods before the flames of gas and electricity, turkeys, chickens and other varieties of meat sizzling and browning.
Keeping on the same side of the street a short distance away, stood, and I hope still stands, one of the finest and most beautiful of the famous New England elms. How I should like once more to see them! Under it was always a large, round block of granite which, lying there for many years, had sunk into the ground so that the upper side was level with the sod around it. This stone was the only reminder that once the shop of a wheelwright was near. And, again I make a detour. A few years before I came to California, I was visiting a town in Illinois, and there I met, most pleasantly, the family of a Mr. Parlin. Mr. Parlin was at that time a man advanced in years. He told me that when young he had lived for a time in Westford, and had worked in the wheelwright’s shop alluded to. He remembered with pleasure his life in the village, and asked me of many people whom he had known. In the western town he had put his mechanical knowledge to practical use and had invented, and patented, several agricultural machines which had made him a very wealthy man.
Beyond the wheelwright’s shop rose what seemed almost a mountain — the loved Prospect Hill. How we enjoyed the walk over the double stonewall to the foot of the hill, and then the climb to the top, from which we had an unbroken view in all directions to the horizon! Before I left Westford the trees had grown to such a height that the view was less satisfactory, but still inspiring and beautiful.
After one of those wonderful ice storms which leaves every tree, bush and twig encased in crystals, I went with friends early one morning to the top of Prospect Hill. Hardly had we arrived when the sun broke through a mist and, in an instant, the whole vista around us, in every direction to the horizon, sparkled with millions of diamonds, and the rays of the sun, penetrating them, produced all the colors of the rainbow. Never since have I seen so brilliant a world.
A half mile beyond the wall leading to the hill stands, on a slight elevation from the road, an old house which, apparently never knew the existence of paint and was black with age. The door stands open so, without rapping, I enter and am met by a witch-like old woman, bent almost double, showing a few strands of gray hair flying at will about her head. She knows me and seems glad to see me. I am hoping to see her son, Amos, but he does not appear; evidently he is sober, and then he is far from sociable. I make my call short for there is little to attract me.
But Amos, what of him? Amos is one of the degenerates from good New England stock. A man who, when sober, remains at home whittling out bows and arrows and all sorts of house-hold wooden implements. He is one of the last really skillful Yankee whittlers. But let Amos fill himself with hard cider, or all the Jamaica rum he can hold, and lo! Amos is no longer the solitary and quiet one, he becomes the life of the town; and some morning I hear unmelodious singing, and down the road, past the site of the old wheelwright’s shop, and under the big elm, comes Amos, a gun over his shoulder, his hands filled with the whittled articles he has so long worked on, his little yellow dog trotting beside, or behind, him. “Happy” is no word to express his feelings. He is not drunk, as another would have been, with the cider and rum; he is joyously crazy and is known, not only on his own, but in the surrounding towns, as “Crazy Amos”. He sings and dances, plays with boys, promises to make all sorts of toys, bows, arrows, doll furniture — any and everything asked for. For a few days, or possibly weeks, he is good-natured, kind and fond of playing jokes.
At the time when the Millerites were looking forward to the end of the world, and had their robes ready, one midnight, Amos went through the village blowing vigorously on a large fish-horn. A family, living in the house at the rear of our garden, belonged to the sect and their robes were ready. The wife, being awakened by the sound of the horn, thought the hour had come. She aroused her husband. The husband listened a moment, and, being less gullible than his wife, said, “Lie down, you fool, when Gabriel comes he won’t come blowing no fish-horn.”
Gradually, however, Amos changes, becomes cross, is impatient with the children, takes pleasure in frightening some lonely family, and is finally taken to a lock-up or jail, where he is kept until he is once more sober. Perhaps a year or more will elapse before he is seen again. In his prison confinement, he is not treated as a criminal — he had really done nothing to deserve punishment — he is retained simply as a precautionary measure, lest in his crazy condition he might do some harm.
Years ago, more freedom was given to the mildly insane than is the custom now.
I remember a harmless man who wandered through numerous towns — I think his home was in Pepperell. The story regarding him was that in his youth he had experienced an unhappy love affair, the result of which was an unsettled mind. On his occasional visits to Westford he was adorned with ribbons and artificial flowers of all colors. He was kind and friendly and was specially attracted to my sister. Whether she reminded him of his lost love, I do not know. Perhaps she did.
Later — and many in the village now living must remember him — came “crazy David”. Poor man! Gentle and kind, yet, more or less suspicious of people. He always carried a tin pail, in which he made his tea; for he would not accept any already made. Courteously, he would ask the lady of the house, “Please marm, will you give me a little tea, and let me boil some water on your stove?” He would ask for nothing more, but would gratefully accept a piece of pie, or slice of bread and butter, if offered him. His home was in Billerica, and, wandering about as he did, was a grief to his family; but if restrained, he was most restless and unhappy.
It may be of interest to dwell for a moment, on the care of those unfortunates who were mentally unbalanced, but not dangerously insane. As asylums for that class were not the well-managed institutions of the present day, the mildly insane, often unhappy in their homes, were placed as boarders in some pleasant family where they often appeared perfectly normal. A relative of Ralph Waldo Emerson, an aunt, I believe, was thus a boarder in the home of my father’s cousin, Dr. Cyrus Hamlin, when he was a boy in school Dr. Hamlin told me of her kind and loving influence in the family, and of the help she gave the children in their studies. He remembered her with sincere affection.
We have come a long way from the home of “Crazy Amos”. From there we cross the road and turn toward the village. The first house is that of Sylvester Hildreth. Ten, or eleven, sons and daughters were in the family, although, at the time I knew the place, only three remained.
The house of Boynton Read was the next one toward the village. As this house was at the end of a lane, or private road, in the ignorance of childhood, I thought I had reached the end of the world.
Leaving the Read house the road leads up a gentle incline, until we come to a house — again an old one — on the site of one later built by Charles L. Hildreth as a home for his mother and sister. The mother lived to celebrate her hundredth birthday; and it being one Sunday when a band concert was being given on the Common, the musicians were asked to go to her home and play some of the old hymns and songs. They gladly went and, as they played, the old lady sat at her open window, in her black silk dress and white cap, and smilingly hummed the airs to the accompaniment of the band. She did not live to celebrate another birthday.
The house next to this, known as the “house with the brick ends” was occupied by Mr. George L. Burt, with his wife and three children, two of whom were twins. Mr. Burt was a man of high character, and one of the small band of “Free-Soilers” in the town, all of whom were anti-slavery men. Of the activities of these “Free Soilers” I knew nothing, except what I was told later. While Westford was not one of the “underground stations” of the Slavery days, it was in touch with Lowell which was one of the stations. At that time, the anti-slavery men were interested in assisting all run-away slaves on their way to Canada. Once there, the slaves could not be reclaimed by their masters. A fine of one thousand dollars was levied on anyone caught assisting a run-away slave. The fourteen “Free Soilers” of Westford agreed, in case any one of the number was found aiding a slave, to share the fine between them, that it might not embarrass any of the members, none of whom were rich. One day, word came from Lowell that a young colored man had reached that place, and the dogs and slave hunters were on his track, and Westford was asked to send someone for him and put him in a place of safety. The only available covered wagon was the large delivery wagon of S.D. Fletcher, who, I am sure, was one of the “Free Soilers”. Two men took this, went to Lowell found the boy and brought him to Westford. He was kept in hiding for some days in the brick end house under the care of Mr. Burt. There, the boy was well cared for until it was considered safe to send him to Canada. He was then given a substantial lunch and started northward, When he reached Stony Brook, he forded the stream in order to throw off the dogs, that might be following him, off the scent. He reached Canada safely and sent grateful word back to his Westford friends.
It is of interest to know that the descendants of those run-away slaves who reached Canada, are several grades above the average colored man of the South, proving hereditary influence, for only young slaves of unusual courage and ambition would have risked their lives in the attempt to escape.
I did not know about this young man until the time of my father’s death. Mr. Burt, who many years before had moved to Harvard, had remained a life-long friend of my father. He came to the funeral and passed the night with us. In the morning, as he was talking of his former life in Westford, he told me the story I have just recounted.
He also told me of Charles Sumner’s election to the U.S. Senate.
At the time, and for many years later, as all know, Unites States Senators were elected by the legislatures of the states. Two men were candidates for the office; Charles Sumner and another, whose name I do not know. Sumner was, of course, an anti-slavery man. The other may have been also, for all I know, but the anti-slavery men of the state, and the “Free Soilers”, were most anxious for the election of Sumner. In the 16th district were two candidates for the state house of Representatives one of whom was Nathan S. Hamlin. The “Free Soilers” went to him and told him that if he would promise to cast his vote for Sumner all the “Free Soilers” would put shoulder to the wheel and work for his election. He promised to vote as they wished and the result was that Mr. Hamlin was elected. His vote was important, because there was a tie in the state legislature in regard to the election of a senator for the United States, and the vote of the representative from the 16th district would settle the matter. Hamlin was sent to the legislature, he cast his vote for Sumner who was elected. Mr. Burt, in telling this, said, “There was considerable lobbying done, but the Lord blessed it and Charles Sumner went to the U.S. Senate.”
Probably the little house next to the one with the brick ends is still standing. It may be of interest to know that the original part of the building was the office of a physician, Dr. Drinkwater. It stood near the present home of Leonard Wheeler. When the doctor left Westford, my father bought his office and it was moved to its present site, where it was used as a home for our hired man, if he chanced to be married.
By the way, the first family that occupied that house was that of Jerry Sullivan. The family had left Ireland in the time of the great famine. As I remember Jerry — rather indistinctly, I must admit — he was a man superior to his position. He had a dignified manner, a serious face, and evidently belonged to a better class of Irish than many who left Ireland at that time. Of his children, the oldest was Hannah, who, for many years, was a loved and respected friend in the home of John W. Abbot.
Just here an incident of the long ago comes to mind. My sister was a most energetic child and was always aiming to do what she called “some good in the world”. One Sunday at Sunday school, she heard a missionary from foreign lands tell of the benighted conditions of the heathen. Being full of enthusiasm, she decided it was her Christian duty to do something. As she was not more than nine or ten years old she knew that she could not leave the country for missionary work, so she decided she must look about her for something. She had the idea that Catholics were in the same class as the heathen, so made up her mind to begin with Jerry’s children. Hannah was about my age and Timmy a few years younger. We had a playhouse in the barn on top of the hen house, which we reached by putting our toes in the spaces between the boards, and climbing as by a ladder.
One Monday morning the evangelist was all set for her missionary work, and when Hannah and Timmy came to play with us, as they often did, she told them that, being Catholics, they were as bad as heathen and must be converted.
She decided to start work with Hannah by teaching her the Lord’s Prayer. I, being rather backward in my religious education, was told to teach Timmy “Now I lay me etc.”. Now, these children probably knew far more about praying than we did, but we had them kneel before us, Hannah on her knees before my sister, and Timmy in the same position before me. We were hardly under way in our work however, before Jerry appeared in the barn, and seeing his young hopefuls on their knees before us, and imagining what was being done, called them down in a hurry, and so our missionary work ended.
To pass now a short distance to the angle where the Littleton and Boston roads meet there stood, and I hope, still stands, my old home, in which five generations of my family had lived; three of whom were born there. In days long past the house must have witnessed many interesting scenes, as, for many years it was another of the many New England taverns. Before the days of the railroad, travelers arrived by stage, or more frequently on horse back. Daniel Webster, in one of his rides through the country, met and fell in love with Grace Fletcher whom he married. She was the niece of my step-great-grandmother.
The small orchard adjoining the home of the Nelson Tuthills [sic Tuttle], on the Boston road, was willed to Grace Fletcher by her aunt, and after her marriage, the orchard was bought by my grandfather, and the deed, long in our possession, bore the signatures of Daniel and Grace Webster.
Almost at our door was the old school house consisting of two stories, the lower, used in summer for the village school; but in winter, when many older boys were supposed to attend school, the upper story was used for the younger children, under the care of a female teacher, and the lower story for the older boys and girls, taught and disciplined by men.
How dreary to me those school days were! I remember once, when a big snowstorm was raging, my father’s hired man came and took me home on his shoulders.
On the right, continuing along the Boston road, the first house was occupied by the family of the Millerites whom Amos had aroused with his fish-horn.
The next, a low one story building was owned and occupied by the Whiting family. That, however, was before my day, although I heard much of them. Besides the father and mother, were two sons, Augustus and Newton. Ambition stirred in these young men, and they both left Westford to seek fortunes elsewhere; Augustus, to New York,; and Newton to Columbus, Ohio, at that time, the far west. In New York, Augustus laid the foundation of a large fortune by the purchase of land. This land greatly increased in value, as the city grew, and Augustus Whiting became one of the wealthy men of New York. After his death the property continued to increase in value, and his family became prominent, but conservative, citizens of New York and Newport.
When the parents died in Westford, it was found that a life interest in the home and land had been given to Mr. Carroll, a man who had been many years with the family. Mr. Carroll lived in the little house until his death, at the advanced age of eighty. For many years he was known and respected in the village as “Uncle Moses”.
The neighbors of the Whitings were Wrights. The family consisted of father, mother, two sons and two daughters. Mr. Wright was a cabinet maker by trade. What he made I do not know, beyond the fact that he made all the coffins required in the town, and, as they were hastily finished for the funeral, the fragrance of varnish was stronger than that of roses. His shop was in the yard of his house; and I remember the fascination it had for children; they would climb up and look through the window, when, seeing a newly made coffin, or one in the making, they would jump down and run as if pursued by ghosts — or something worse. The old hearse house, which stood in the rear of the Unitarian church had the same fascination for children. Who can account for this singular morbid strain! I think it is in George Elliot’s “Silas Marner,” that the making of a coffin was gruesomely heard one midnight.
Looking out from the Wrights, no house was seen on that side of the road for about a mile, when a house owned by the Minot family appeared. As this sketch is confined to the center village, we do not go beyond this junction, but retrace our steps up the hill. On the right, is a large white house shaded by a beautiful elm. This is the home of one Tom Davis. He is a man little known, but he seems to have had some sorrow, some disappointment, which makes him sad and unsociable. What became of him I do not know.
A stone’s throw from the Davis house was one occupied by a family named Bailey, consisting of father, mother, and four children. Mr. Bailey was a Puritan of the Puritans, unsocial, strict and severe. It was told of him that at one time he stepped into the midst of a cotillion set of young people ready for a dance, and, waving his hands said, “This will never do!” But the couples joined hands and danced around him.
Later, the Bailey family moved to another part of the town and the place became the property of Mr. Luther Wilkins.
The next house, now occupied by the Nelson Tuthills (Tuttle) was for many years the home of Marcellus Fletcher, the father of William Fletcher who became notorious in connection with Spiritualism. William Fletcher finally died in Boston — probably a suicide.
In the early history of Westford, only one church stood in the village, not dignified, however, by the name “Church” for that would have been too suggestive of the religious tyranny of England, from which the Puritans had fled. Instead, it was the “Meeting House”, and was used not only for religious services but for secular meetings. Under Channing and other liberal and advanced thinkers, a split occurred among the members of the congregation. The “Meeting House” remained with the advanced, or liberal, members, and the conservative, left and built the Orthodox Church, now standing on its original site, by the southeast angle of the Common. The date of the building must have been in the eighteen twenties.
Later the term “Orthodox” was gradually dropped and replaced by “Congregational”.
In the front of the auditorium, and almost touching the ceiling, was a gallery where the choir sat. This gallery faced the pulpit, and during the singing of the last hymn at the close of the afternoon session, the weary audience rose and turning their backs on the minister, faced the singers.
A special feature of the service always interested me. If a member of a family of church members had died, on the Sunday following the funeral, the family was publicly prayed for. The custom was old, and, for aught I know, is still continued. Whittier, in his poem “Mary Garvin”, referring to the custom, says:
“Uprising, the aged couple stood, And the fair Canadian also, in her modest maidenhood,”
while the pastor earnestly prayed for them.
One instance stands out in my memory: a young boy died, the only son in a family where there were three daughters. On the following Sunday before the sermon, the pastor announced, “Mr. and Mrs.—with their daughters, desire the prayers of this congregation, that the death of their son and brother may be sanctified to them for their spiritual good.” The family then stood while the pastor gave voice to a long and earnest prayer. I have a suspicion that some went to church that morning chiefly to witness the ceremony, and to see how the family would “take it.”
I wonder if the custom of tolling the bell on the death of a resident of the town is still continued in Westford?
Beyond the church was the house of John B. Fletcher, and a few rods away was the large colonial house of Dr. Benjamin Osgood. What a dear old doctor he was! In his earliest practice he made his rounds on horseback, carrying his medicines in his saddle-bags. When he became too old for that method of travel, he used a two-wheeled gig; this consisted of an arm chair set on an axle with springs. He continued to carry his remedies in the saddle-bags. (I think the saddle-bags are now in the Library Museum.) I remember standing at his knee while he measured out his powders on the end of his pocket knife, and carefully wrapped them in papers. In my presence, also, he rolled his pills, and I wondered what they were made of. Pinkroot and senna seemed to be his universal remedies, for, no matter what the ailment, those words were always in the directions to my mother.
Dr. Osgood stood high among the physicians of those days. But what changes in medicine and surgery have taken place since then.
Before the days of the discovery of ether, a brother of my grand-father, living in Maine, had an infected leg. To save his life, amputation became necessary. And the question was a most serious one. When the physicians were ready, the man, who was not a drinking man, was plied with liquor until he became unconscious and “dead drunk”. The case was considered so serious that prayer meetings were held in his and the neighboring villages during the operation. A case of this kind makes us realize the wonderful blessing that ether and other anesthetics have brought to thousands of sufferers.
I hope all have seen the beautiful monument on Boston Common, or in the Public Gardens, which commemorates the discovery of ether.
Of Dr. Osgood’s family, during my last years in Westford, there remained only the widow, one son and a daughter. The principal features of the interior of the house were the wide beams protruding from the ceiling midway of the rooms, and the posts in the corners. The most interesting piece of furniture was a cabinet standing in the parlor filled with a complete set of Lowenstoft china — a rare possession. The house was probably the only one in the village which had an ancient knocker on its front door instead of the modern bell.
Next [to] the Osgood house was the home of Mr. and Mrs. Proctor. Their front yard was always most attractive in summer because of its tulips and pansies.
As one continued on his way and followed the road to the right, he would see no house on the same side until he came to that now occupied by Oscar Spalding. When I was a child the family of David Whitney lived there. The sons had left home and gone into business but two daughters remained.
Neighbors and life-long friends of the Whitneys were the Lelands, who lived but a stone’s throw away. Over the Leland lawn roamed the one peacock of the town, and a multitude of guinea hens, and the air was alive with their cries. Elizabeth Leland married Hiram Whitney. To Mrs. Whitney the young people should be eternally grateful because of the playground she willed them.
If we had crossed the lawn from the Leland home we should have come to the Old Lowell road and would have gone down the hill to the “Snow Burying Ground,” now the “Fairview Cemetery.” From that point we would turn, cross the road and soon come to a collection of cottages often called “New Jerusalem,” because most of the dwellers belonged to the sect of Millerites. They believed that the end of the world was at hand, and that Christ would once again appear on earth.
Near the top of the hill was the house and shop of Deacon Rugg. This shop was a most interesting place to children. The Deacon, as he was called, was a jack-of-all-trades and could make, or mend, almost anything under the sun. His wife was equally ingenious in her way.
The only magazine contributor of the village was Miss Amanda Hale. Her stories were mostly published in the “Waverly Magazine”. She lived in a rather large house with her mother, and it is probable their income was mostly from the daughter’s writings. As Mrs. Hale was a recluse who apparently never went out, and was seen only occasionally in her garden, children did not think very highly of her and thought she must be rather disagreeable. I was told, however, that she was far from that; a woman of some cultivation who suggested many of the plots which her daughter used.
The Hale house was but a short distance from the angle where the Depot road and the Lowell road met. On this corner was the house occupied by the Goodhue family. East of the house was a black-smith’s shop.
Leaving the Lowell road and turning toward the railroad station, a mile away on our right is the Fisher house. Who lived there before the Fishers took it I do not remember. A Mr. Flint lived in the small house next, and of that family I remember comparatively nothing.
But what a wonderful place was the Davis home next. Wonderful, why? Because there lived the town — one might almost say — the county, milliner. Most of the bonnets and hats of the Westford women and children, and those of the surrounding towns, were made or trimmed by Mrs. Davis. Going into the room where she kept her ribbons, feathers and flowers gave us the delight only equaled in witnessing the elaborate spring and autumn openings in the most fashionable city shops of the present day.
The only son, Albert, an ambitious and scholarly youth, struggled through college, and after graduation was principal of the Academy for several years before his death from consumption.
Crossing the road from the Davis home we turn toward the Common, the starting point, and past several houses occupied by interesting families. The graceful spire of the Unitarian church rises before us and we realize that the village has been completely circumscribed.
Most of the houses that have been noticed have changed ownership, and most of the owners I do not know, and some new houses have risen where there were orchards or gardens.
I have thus far tried to give a picture of the village as it was long ago. Now, I hope to be able to tell something of the social and economical life and to mention some of the events of importance.
The first important social event that I remember was the James Buchanan ball. As it was given after the election of Mr. Buchanan it must have been in the winter of 1856 or ’57. There was great excitement and all the Democrats of whatever age were interested. Mr. Fisher and Mr. Nathan Hamlin were going, and were “going to dance too” they said, although they had not danced for years. The ball was held in the town hall which was then the lower floor of the Unitarian meeting house. As the hall was lighted only by oil lamps attached to the various posts, the brilliant colors of the American flag and of the buntings, which decorated the hall, were not very distinctly seen. The costumes of the ladies may have been up to date but those I do not remember. I had, the previous winter, attended a dancing school and was “crazy” to dance. But this wonderful Buchanan ball was not for children. However, my father took my sister and me to watch the dancing for a while. But what a delightful surprise! It happened that a cotillion had been formed and one couple was lacking. All the ladies were on the floor, and, yet, the set was incomplete. Just then, a tall man — as I looked up at him he seemed eight or nine feet tall — and, wonder of wonders! He asked me to dance with him. I was rather small for my age, and it must have been exceedingly funny to have seen this tall man — I remember he was William Hildreth — leading by the hand such a little girl. I can see him now, leaning down to take my hand when the call, “All Promenade” was heard. No picture of my young days is more vivid in my mind than that dance at the Buchanan ball.
As you all know, the years of the Buchanan administration were years of great excitement throughout the country, and Westford was not immune. Even if a child had no comprehension of the meaning of it all she could but realize the tenseness of something unusual in the air; so when she heard the excited voices of disputants, she felt a thrill and knew that some great matters were somehow at stake, although she had no idea how great they might be. Indeed, how few older people fully realized the tremendous seriousness, and no one visualized the four years of horrible war.
The town was divided in its sympathies. While many were strongly opposed to slavery, there were few, if any, active abolitionists; and the enthusiasm upon the election of Lincoln was far from unanimous. My immediate family, and most of their friends, were anti-slavery and rejoiced in his election and naturally I, too, was for Lincoln.
The great blow, which stirred all, was the news of the fall of Sumter. Immediately, some said that meant war; but, even if it came, it would be short.
When the President’s proclamation came, calling for volunteers, the call was for three months, (or was that first call for nine months?) Now, we know that men could not be satisfactorily drilled for service in that time.. But from all parts of our little town, men rushed to answer the President’s call. And the air resounded with the song: “We are coming, Father Abram, three hundred thousand more.”
The recruits had no idea of the tragedy before them. They were confident they would soon return, leading a band of captive Southerners, and the war would be over.
My father was then forty-six years old. One morning at the breakfast table, he said, “The war must be short, and if I were younger, I should enlist.”
The New York papers came to us every evening on the down train from Ayer, and it was the duty of the young people to go to the station for them.
Company C of the 16th Massachusetts regiment, to which the first volunteers from Westford were assigned, was in camp at Groton. One day the company, led by Captain King, came to Westford to encourage enlistments. What a day that was! It stands in my memory as one of the red-letter days. The music, the officers with their swords, the
soldiers with their guns, and the American flag at their head, as they marched through the village streets, all was most thrilling. If I am not mistaken, the ladies had prepared a great repast for them. Perhaps I am dreaming this.
These young soldiers, not yet accustomed to long marches, walked to the station where they boarded the train for their return to camp. We could not bear to see the last of them, so walked beside them down the hill as they left. They had evidently enjoyed the day, and it had been a wonderful day for us.
It was not long before news came of the attack on Baltimore, as the regiment attempted to cross the city. Whitney and Ladd, two of the men were killed. In a little square in Lowell stands a monument which the city raised to their memory.
A large percentage of the men, who enlisted from Westford, were killed in battle, or died from wounds, or illness. The young people of the town should not fail to read with reverence the long list of their names on the tablet in the Town Hall.
The only military funeral in Westford for a boy who died in the war, was that of Harvey Bailey. His body was returned to his home and the funeral services were held in the Congregational Church. The church was crowded and many stood outside during the services. Whether his death was from wounds, or from illness, I do not know. He could not have been more than sixteen when he enlisted.
I remember the sad faced crowd, and the solemn music. The people seemed to realize as never before, the terrible seriousness of the war.
Soon after the outbreak of hostilities, another youth of the village, Edwin Wilkins, enlisted. When his father learned the news, he said, “He shall not go alone, I, too, shall enlist.” The two, father and son, went together and I think they came out of the war safely.
As there is no evil without some good, so it was with the war. Various factions, which previously had never worked in harmony now united their work and enthusiasm for the Sanitary Commission. Throughout the war the women met weekly at the various homes and made needed garments for the soldiers and for the wounded in hospitals. Knitting was in every woman’s hands in all her leisure hours. Funds were raised by fairs and other methods; and at the weekly sewing circles it was the pleasure of the children to pass the plate for the regular fee from the members. The Abbot Worsted Co. was most generous in furnishing all the yarn that could be utilized. As antiseptic bandages and lint were not purchasable at that time, every home was ransacked for materials for bandages and every bit of old linen scraped for lint. One of the war songs contained the phrase, “Scraping the lint.”
Judging from the variety of articles I, personally, knit during the World War, I think the variety was more limited in the Civil War; that most of the knitting was for stockings.
It was quite common, for letters to go with the various articles sent, and often, a pleasant correspondence resulted. At least one young lady in Westford became engaged to the soldier who had received her first letter, and after the war, the two were happily married. This case I know of, and it is probable there were many others.
No social gathering was held in which time was not given to the singing of the popular war songs. “John Brown’s body;” “We’ll hang Jeff Davis to a sour apple tree;” “Tenting tonight on the old camp ground;” “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;” and multitudes of others.
It must not be forgotten that much of the interest of the women in their work was inspired by two well known women who gave their services as nurses. One, Miss Emma Southwick, a sister of Mrs. John W. Abbot; the other, Miss Weeks, sister-in-law of Rev. George Rice, at that time the Unitarian clergyman. From these women Westford heard of the immediate needs, and much of their work was sent directly to them to use at their discretion.
It is sad to be obliged to relate that there were some in the town who were not in sympathy with the cause for which so many of our brave men were fighting and dying.
Prices were so high that many were unable to purchase needed articles. Ordinary cotton cloth, that before the war could be bought for ten or twelve cents per yard, advanced to sixty or seventy cents. When sugar reached the price of forty cents per pound, my mother ceased using it in her tea. But how little our sacrifices compared with that of the women in the South!
For four years the army fought and the work of the women continued. The spirits of the people were up or down, according to the news from the war.
Finally came word of the surrender of Lee. Those who recall the joy, which everywhere prevailed, when armistice was declared, that meant the end of the World War, can imagine the relief and happiness of all, when news of that surrender came.
But how close ever are Joy and Sorrow! A few weeks after the inauguration of Lincoln for his second term, word came of his assassination. All felt a personal loss. The flags that had waved so joyously, only a brief time before, dropped to half mast, and hung, as though they, too, were in sorrow. The air, no longer, resounded with shouts of victory, but was filled with the moaning of thousands of tolling bells. In homes, and on the street, one spoke in softened tones, or whispers, as in a house where a loved one has passed away.
Services were held in all the churches, for even those who had been enemies of Lincoln were saddened. The paper appeared in deep mourning, and those which had been bitter enemies of Lincoln for four years had the heaviest black, as if the were not only in mourning for the President but also in mourning for their sins of injustice and vilification.
Leaving the war and returning to the years of my childhood, as I remember the inhabitants of the town, and village, there was no family not of good respectable English descent. As far as I know, there was no family who could have traced its ancestry directly to the Mayflower, however. A friend of my sister, speaking to her one day, told her she was the only New England woman he had ever met whose ancestors had not arrived in the Mayflower, and he thought the ship must have been most expandable.
There were degenerates, now and then, as we have noticed in the case of Amos; but most people could trace their ancestry back to English settlers.
There were no “servants” in the families — if assistance in the house, or on the farm, was needed, sons and daughters of neighbors were found who gladly came as “help”, and were members of the family.
There were two exceptions. From somewhere, two young colored women, sisters, came to the village. “Susan” worked for Mrs. John B. Fletcher, and “Martha” for my mother. She was the first negress I had ever seen and, at first, I was afraid of her. I distinctly remember one thing in regard to her. In our kitchen was a large wood-box near the stove. I crouched there, where Martha could not see me, watching her about her work with interest, but with fear. Though before she left us, I had lost my fear and had become very fond of her.
Soon after this time the great famine in Ireland sent many Irish to America and a few reached Westford and secured work there. Jerry Sullivan was one of them. As the years passed, the racial character of the people changed, for various causes, until now, there are probably many to be found there, other than those of pure English stock.
No change in Westford is more marked than the industrial life of the people, particularly in that of the farmers. I remember the farm as a place of little money income. The farmer’s trading was largely that of barter; eggs were exchanged at the village store for groceries of various kinds. Milk was made into butter which was also bartered for groceries, except a few pounds that were sold to neighbors. Grains were taken to the mill to be ground into meal or flour. Apples were dried for winter use or made into cider, which, when it reached the stage of “hard” cider was one of the worst of drinks; if over indulged in, it made a man “fighting drunk”. A few things, like potatoes and other vegetables, were sold outright for cash. How the New England farmer ever got sufficient money to pay his taxes and clothe and educate his children is a mystery. Fortunately, life was simple and luxuries were almost unknown. Later, times and conditions were to be changed. A few intelligent, and far-sighted, men looked over the country and their eyes were opened to the fact that fruits and berries, all about them, were growing wild; and they realized that the soil was naturally fruit producing soil, and suitable for the cultivation of many varieties of fruits. First, a few farmers put out strawberry plants and found a demand for the fruit in the neighboring cities. The first berries marketed were sent without the hulls and beautifully packed in quart boxes.
After the Concord grape was produced and the vine found to be a hardy one small vineyards were planted, here and there, as favorable spots were found. To be sure, once in every five or six years, or so, the frost came just before the time of gathering, and claimed the whole harvest; but, unlike the western farmer whose sole dependence is too often on one thing only, the eastern farmer had a dozen others; a patch of corn, marketable vegetables, some potatoes, peaches, plums. apples, or pears, which were not injured by the frost. Perhaps another year, the warm February sun started the peach buds; and a few days later came a severe freezing spell, and good-bye to all peaches for that year. But the philosophical man said, “Well, I expect this every few years and of course I am disappointed, but the other crops are promising.”
Perhaps no one fruit has done more for the prosperity of the Westford farmer than the black-berry. Some years ago, an article appeared in the Boston Herald entitled, “Westford, the Home of the Blackberry”. During the years I have been away there may have been changes; but I am very sure the fact remains that, because of improved methods in agriculture, and the increased number of varieties of vegetables and fruits demanded by the cities, the New England farmer, particularly the Westford farmer, enjoys a greater degree of prosperity than his ancestors enjoyed. He is fortunate in being so near the Boston market that his fruits can go by truck, from the orchard, direct to the market in a few hours without re-handling; thus avoiding all injury by change from truck to train, and again from train to truck. The fruit reaches the market in as good condition as when first packed.
Too much cannot be said in favor of the Agricultural College, which has been the means of education many young men in a scientific and practical knowledge of everything pertaining to the profession of farming, for it is a profession as worthy and dignified as any of the so-called learned professions. Prosperity in any business or under-taking is far reaching; and the prosperity of Westford, largely through the improved methods adopted on the farm has had much to do in enlarging the opportunities of the people. Successful farming has been the means of opening avenues to hundreds of opportunities undreamed of by their fathers.
In my early years in Westford what were the intellectual advantages? The town as a whole, to say nothing of the center village, was fortunate in having a good proportion of educated people. From circumstances beyond their control, that education may have been narrow, and the opportunities for advancement extremely limited. But the natural refinement and basic culture existed. As I knew the village better than the outlying sections, I can speak more truthfully of the village itself. An unusually large percentage were cultivated men and women. As I mentioned before, the Academy and Library were largely responsible for this fact. It is noticeable that in all the towns where the Academy was established, the rate of intelligence was higher than in surrounding towns not fortunate in having that influential factor.
Westford Academy was highly favored in its early years in having at its head, from year to year, men of exceptional ability, if the records are true, and the influence of these men on the students who came under their teaching, and, incidentally, on the citizens of the village was uplifting.
The first principal — preceptor, — as he was then called — whom I remember, was Luther Shepard. I think he was succeeded by John D. Long, a young man, fresh from college. Mr. Long was a man of enthusiasm and broad culture. On taking his place as head of the Academy, he immediately gained the respect and love of the students; and the institution was, during his principalship, at the peak of its prosperity. But the life and influence were not limited to his interest in the students alone. In a way, he became the instructor and inspirer of the whole people. The Debating Society, which he was interested in forming, reached to all parts, not only of the village, but to the outlying sections. Men and women, whose voices never before had been heard in public, were interested in the question weekly considered, and took active part in the debates. I think the women took no part in debating, but they edited the “Literary Gatherer”, which was one of the prominent features of the weekly meeting. Like all periodicals the “Gatherer” varied in interest, depending on the ability of the editresses and also on that of the contributors.
Able principals followed Mr. Long, but no one succeeded to the high government positions in which he was honored. At the time of the Spanish War, he was secretary of the navy with Theodore Roosevelt, assistant secretary. He was also governor of Massachusetts. During the campaign for his election, was heard everywhere, “We want but little, but we want that little Long.”
To the end of his life he kept his interest in Westford and, especially, in the Academy.
A few words of Mr. Whitman, who preceded the loved and honored Mr. Frost. Mr. Whitman may not have been a success as a disciplinarian, but he was a very able man in his specialty of biology. All who knew him remember his scientific interest in the study of birds and also know of his collections all many varieties. He would go out before dawn to look for migrating birds that were not native to his locality, but had rested in the neighborhood during the night. By going out before dawn, he often found birds that were native to places far distant. Later, as is probably known by his Westford friends, he became Professor of Biology in Chicago University. Thirty years ago when I was in Chicago, I spent a day at his home. He was then married and living near the University. He had kept up his interest in birds and at that time was endeavoring to trace the genealogy of the native dove. In his yard, and even in some of the rooms of his house, were cages in which were pigeons he had gathered through bird dealers from many parts of the country. Mr. Robison, an extensive dealer in birds in San Francisco, told me that he had orders from Professor Whitman to send him any bird that came to him, that might in any way belong to the pigeon family, and he had sent him several rare birds.
At Mr. Whitman’s home was a Japanese artist who painted the birds, and the paintings were such exact reproductions of the live birds that one could almost fancy a bird could coo to him. Mr. Whitman told me that only a Japanese artist had the patience to do the work with the exactness required. The artist would take the bird to his studio, and study it in the most meticulous detail, and spend a whole month on his work before he called it finished. At that time, he had completed the painting of two birds. But sad to relate, not long after, Professor Whitman died, and the work was never finished.
Of the work of Mr. Frost in the Academy, I need not speak. Many of those now living were students of his, and knew him better than I, who have been away so many years. I am sure his influence for the good of the Academy, and the town, will be long felt.
Perhaps few realize what a large number of professional men, of the past generation, were prepared for college in the Academy.
Many years ago, I met a prominent lawyer who told me of his student days in Westford.
Of the assistants in the Academy — the preceptresses — there were, at least, three women who reached high positions. When I was very young, I heard the name of Margaret F. Foley, an assistant at that time. She was an artist, and on leaving her position in the Academy went to Italy where she continued her studies in sculpture and produced figures which were favorably noted in the art world. If I mistake not, she died early in her career.
The second of the assistant teachers who made her mark in the world was Harriet B. Rogers. Her work, under Alexander Bell, the inventor of the telephone, using his system of Visible Speech, was most successful in the Institute for Deaf Mutes at Northampton. She was specially fitted for the work, having great patience and decision of character, and one whose speech was so clearly articulated that students, after a little study, could easily read her lips.
Neither of the two women mentioned, however, gained the international recognition accorded Miss Nettie Stevens. Westford has special reason to be proud of her, as she was long a resident of the town.
After a few years engaged in teaching, she entered Leland Stanford University in California. Later, her success in biological work resulted in valuable scholarships which enabled her to continue her studies in laboratories in Italy and Germany. For a paper published by her in 1905, she as awarded a prize of one thousand dollars. At the time, the prize had been awarded only three times, and she was the second American to win it. Her entire life, not excepting the months of her summer vacations, was spent in research work in various laboratories.
Miss Stevens, however, was not the pioneer in the march of Westford women toward a college education. It was but a few years after the close of the Civil War, when Miss Ellen Swallow knocked at the doors of Vassar College and was admitted. I think she was the first of Westford young women to enter college. She was graduated with honor and soon after became the assistant chemist in Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Later, she married a Professor Richards, and, if I am not mistaken, was awarded a full professorship and she did much valuable work.
Vassar, as all know, was strictly a woman’s college, as it is today. The colleges for men had then not become sufficiently chivalric to allow women to enter their sacred portals. Later, however, the bars were removed from some of the doors, and women, one by one, entered. The University of Michigan was one of the first to say, “Well, come in, if you insist”. The first year after that invitation, three young women accepted. The year following, about twenty were admitted, among them, another young woman from Westford, my sister, Sara Dix Hamlin. She was the first from Westford to enter a man’s college.
Now, we know, all but very few of the colleges and universities in the country, welcome women as cordially as they welcome men. A large number of high school graduates, today, look forward to four years of college.
While in those early days, we lacked many of the improvements, inventions and conveniences that now are common to all, knowing nothing of them we did not miss them, anymore than we, of the present day, are conscious of missing those that may be common a century hence and of which we now have no conception.
You ask, what did we have for lights? Well, the ordinary family had tallow candles mostly; the common every day affairs were dipped candles, while those, for special occasions, looked a little more elegant, have been made in molds. Some whale oil lamps were used, and the fragrance from them was suggestive of an igloo. Occasionally, a family used a species of fluid, but because of its exclusive properties, this was not much favored, especially where there were children.
One of the many duties of the housewife, during the autumn, was the dipping or molding of the candles for the long winter evenings. This was rather an interesting, if laborious, process. For the dipping a large wash boiler was used, filled with the melted tallow, and the children were required to keep their distance from it. Rods, perhaps, a dozen, were in readiness, on which hung candle wicking the required length of the candles. The dipper would carefully take up one rod, plunge the wicking carefully in the hot tallow; taking it out, the hot tallow would quickly harden, and putting the rod on a place prepared for it, the dipper would continue until all had been dipped, when the process would be repeated and continued until the candles had reached the desired size. Of course the larger the candle the longer it would burn when lighted.
Molding was much less interesting, and also less laborious. The hot tallow being simply poured into the molds, in which had been placed the candle wicking; but fewer candles could be made in the same time.
Other essential occupations of the autumn, in preparation for the winter, were making soap and cider apple sauce. As there were none of the many canned fruits on the pantry shelves, as there are now, the housewife must have a quantity of dried fruits. The drugstores being unknown in the country, many herbs must be gathered and kept for winter use. Among those that I remember, were worm-wood, chamomile, sarsaparilla, sage, pennyroyal, peppermint, and spearmint. After drying, these were hung on the attic rafters ready for use.
A few of the older women were expert at the spinning wheel for the spinning of wool. The flax wheel had passed out of use; but in a few of the attics might still be seen the small flax wheel.
Yes, we had the district school — but not graded as most of the schools are today; and, as the teachers were often changed, the work, from term to term, was far from continuous. I don’t know how many times I went over the same pages in geography, as a new teacher, for some reason, would think it best for me to review.
I am afraid I was a backward child, for I remember the difficulty I had in learning my letters; at that time, we could not be promoted to the primer class until we had mastered the alphabet. The letter “S’, the “crooked letter”, I soon learned, but I met my Waterloo with the b’s, d’s, p’s, and q’s, and even now, I am not quite sure which is which, unless I see it in some familiar word. If considerable homework had not come to aid me, I fear I should still be struggling with that alphabet. The children of the present day cannot be sufficiently thankful for the great changes that have been made in the methods of teaching.
For games, we were rather limited. We had handball and beanbags, but not tennis or golf, and croquet came in only years after we had left the primary class. I must confess, however, that if I compare the children’s faces as I remember them, with the faces of children I see today, those of my childhood were as happy and joyous as those I see now. After all, it is not what we have, but what we are, that brings happiness.
Sunday was rather a dull day. We could go to church in the morning and after that, to Sunday school. In the afternoon we could go for walks which were decidedly limited. A favorite one was to the top of Prospect Hill. Another, to Snow’s Burying Ground, where we wandered among the old tombstones searching for odd epitaphs. I remember one which was recently brought to my mind, through an inquirer in the “Safety Valve” of a San Francisco paper. Someone wished to know in what “poem” the lines,
“As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.”
I remember seeing on one of the old stones the following lines:
“Stranger, pause as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for Death and follow me.”
I was one of those who answered the inquirer, and was interested to learn in how many graveyards this same epitaph was to be found. One was on a stone in an English or Scotch yard; another from the Middle West somewhere and from other places.
But if our pleasures on Sunday were somewhat restricted, we were far from unhappy. There was little of the old Puritan strictness in our family, but I remember two or three families where the children were not allowed out of the house on Sunday, except to walk in the most orderly and dignified manner with their parents to and from church. At home, they could read only the Bible, and Sunday-school books issued by the American Tract Society.
During the week, we did have a certain amount of freedom and recreation. In summer, we enjoyed the freedom of the country pastures, gathering the wildflowers or picking the luscious berries which everywhere abounded. In the autumn we gathered the nuts and the brilliant forest leaves.
The winters, too, were far from dull. We had coasting, snowballing, skating, etc. Now, Californians go with delight to the Yosemite or to Lake Tahoe for those same pleasures which were at our very door.
For evening amusements we had the singing and dancing-school, and semi-occasionally, a ball. And what a treat that was! Our evening pleasures ended on Friday. In earlier times, the Sabbath begin Saturday at sundown and ended at sundown on Sunday. Later the hours were changed, and Sunday began, as now, on Saturday at mid-night and closed Sunday at midnight. Although for a long time after the change, a few continued to keep Sunday according to the old way. Therefore influenced by the old custom, no parties, or entertainment of any kind, were planned for Saturday evenings.
The two great days of the year were the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving Day. Christmas was not celebrated to the extent it is now. To be sure, we hung up our stockings and had a few presents. On the Fourth of July we got up before dawn and rang furiously the two church bells and that of the Academy, and then fired off our harmless torpedoes, or fire-crackers. At school, we could choose whether we would have Christmas or New Year’s Day for a holiday — we could not have both, so we usually chose Christmas, because that came first.
It was during the Civil War that the great comet appeared, and for many nights it was a wonderful sight among the host of stars. The comet was visible for so long a time that we almost regarded it as a fixed feature of the heavens. From Prospect Hill, where the view to the horizon was almost unbroken, the firmament with its countless stars, the full moon in all her majesty, and the comet riding gloriously along among the heavenly hosts was a never-to-be-forgotten sight.
Not the last of the pleasures was the pleasant drive, some Sunday morning in June, to visit the Harvard Shakers, that peculiar religious sect now nearly an organization of the past.
In regard to wild game, all that was left, in my childhood, of the great abundance, was a few wild pigeons. My grandfather, in his youth, had been an enthusiastic hunter, and when he was quite old he was fond of trapping pigeons. He had a place, not far from home, which he kept baited with grains of buckwheat. One morning, he returned home beaming with joy, for he had trapped in his net a flock of one hundred and fifty pigeons. I think that was the very last of the wild pigeons in our section of the country.
Immediately after the war, and probably for years before, to a certain extent, the question of “Women’s Rights” was constantly brought up. It is largely to the brave women of those days that we are indebted for the many blessings we enjoy today. When the agitation was at its height, I attended a Women’s Suffrage meeting in Boston one day. On the platform, sat Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony, and many other women, all earnest workers for the cause. On the platform sat Wendell Phillips, a staunch advocate. He was called upon to speak. Absolute quiet was in the vast audience, for all knew of his eloquence. His speech consisted simply of the following story: “In Concord, on the morning of the Concord fight, a woman walked behind the militia with a broom on her shoulder. She was jeered at, and asked what she could do with that broom. She replied, “I can show which side I’m on!'”
This meeting of the women Suffragettes was during the popular lecture period. This period, which lasted for several years after the close of the war, was a most delightful and inspiring influence after the death and horror of four years. Lecture courses were a prominent feature in every town, and the most intellectual and eloquent speakers were to be heard. In cities, the largest halls were filled to the very doors with eager listeners and the conversation everywhere was of the latest lecture.
When a town was not large enough, or rich enough, to arrange for an independent course of lectures, several towns would unite; a part of the lectures being given in one town and a part in other towns. The audience then composed of subscribers from all the places. The sleigh rides over the snow to the jingling of many bells was not the least of the pleasures. My memory fails me to name all those we heard: Julia Ward Howe, Wendell Phillips, Henry Ward Beecher, John F. Gough, are but a few of them.
Although far from the excitements of city life, and knowing comparatively little of the questions and movements of the world at large — save that gleaned from the newspapers — news of what was passing elsewhere, occasionally, reached the quiet of the town.
About the time of the Civil War, a new religious sect arose, and aroused in the minds of many a substantial hope — a hope that the world beyond the gates of death had been brought in touch with this world. Some young women, sisters, in New York, claimed to be able, by means of furniture movements and peculiar rappings, which they believed came from departed spirits, to communicate freely with their friends still on earth. The new cult soon had many followers; and not a few were among the citizens of our little town. It was not strange. Loved ones had crossed, what had, here-to-fore seemed an insurmountable Great Divide. If means had been revealed, by which it could be proved, beyond doubt, that those loved ones were still near and could help and advise, the pain and sorrow, because of their departure from this world, would be replaced with a new hope, and the present dread of death would be forever banished.
Many placed implicit trust in the new doctrine; but others, of practical, or scientific, turn of mind studied the manifestations with more or less doubt. The fact cannot be denied that many lives have been made happier because of this faith. So, perhaps, it is well.
The news of the discovery of gold in California soon reached Westford as it spread over the entire country. A few years after the discovery, some young men from the town — three of whom I have a faint remembrance as they had worked for my father — caught the gold fever and determined to seek their fortunes in the far West. These men were Alonzo Sweetzer, Oscar Wheeler, and Jonas Hutchins. They were all residents of the south part of town. Of the three routes to California, that across the plains, that around Cape Horn, and that by the Isthmus, they chose the Isthmus, believing that the quickest and least expensive route, expense being a major consideration. They little realized the enormous sums it would be necessary to have, and their capital must have been very limited. Whether they had planned to cross the Isthmus on foot, I do not know. Perhaps they had. Before they were able to reach the Pacific coast, that dread disease, yellow fever, seized them, and they like hundreds of other died without ever reaching their El Dorado.
A few years after the excitement caused by the discovery of gold, the Mormons, who had settled in Utah, and were desirous of increasing the members of their faith, sent missionaries and literature over the world, promising comfort and wealth to all who would join them. In foreign countries, as well as in our own, many hundreds accepted the promises as gospel, and turned their eyes and steps toward the promised land.
A family, father, mother, two sons and a daughter, living in the north part of Westford, tired of the struggle on a small unproductive farm, became filled with enthusiasm, sold their property and pledged themselves to join the new sect in Utah. Going as far as they could by train, they continued their journey across the plains by the usual covered wagon. Their hardships were many. Saddest of all, the daughter died and was buried on the lonely, endless prairie.
Finally, they reached Utah. Soon however, the bubble of enthusiasm burst. After much secret management, and with courage far beyond their age, the sons secured release from the Mormons and succeeded in persuading their father and mother to return to their former home. Some months after they left Westford — so full of joyful hope and high expectations — they returned, minus their old home and the money they had received for it. In place of that, a sad and bitter experience. The husband came to help my father, and the wife to be a helpmate in the house.
There are, doubtless, many other events of interest that might be mentioned; but I fear I have already written too much.
The century to come will bring many changes to the world; all of which will, to a greater or less degree, affect our country, and even our little town. It is well that the crystal does not reveal those changes. This country has a glorious, and, I trust, a firm foundation; but that foundation will be worthless unless those, who build the structure rising upon it, shall be worthy of those who so bravely laid those foundation stones.
It rests with the present generation, and with the generations to come, whether or not the future of our country shall, not only be worthy of its past, but shall be far beyond it in all that is highest and best.
In closing, I must say that I have fond memories of Westford. I should love once more to roam over its hills and meadows; once more to hear the harmony of the Sunday morning church bells; once more to tread its shaded streets; once more to gaze upon the vista of mountain and valley as they are lost in the far distance. But I am no longer young; my feet are planted on California soil, and Westford is far away.
The poet truly sings:
“Whatever poet, orator, or sage
May say of it, old age is still old age.
It is the waning, not the crescent moon;
The dusk of evening, not the blaze of noon.”
But he adds with optimism:
“Age is opportunity no less
Than youth itself, though in another dress;
And as the evening twilight fades away
The sky is filled with stars, invisible by day.”
Retyped from the original by Ellen Harde, January 1, 1997; updated by M. Day in Jan. 2004.
Very slightly edited for syntax, grammar and vocabulary.