On December 9, 1884, Levant M. Richardson was issued a patent for the use of steel ball bearings in skate wheels, reducing friction and increasing speed, ushering in the modern age of roller skating. This photograph by Leslie Jones shows three children roller skating on Boston Common circa 1939.
The general route we now know as the Mohawk Trail was once a rough footpath used by the Wampanoags, Nipmucs, Mahicans, Mohawks and Pocumtucks for hunting and trading. Early European settlers used this path as a travel route between Boston and Albany, and as a military route during the French and Indian Wars and the Revolution. In 1814, it became a stagecoach route when service began between Greenfield and Troy, New York.
But the ancient footpath received its name and fame one hundred years ago, in October, 1914, when the Mohawk Trail was dedicated and designated as a scenic highway by the Massachusetts General Court. The road had been engineered and graded for automobile travel at a time when the automobile was becoming an affordable means of transportation. It was unpaved and only 15 feet wide, still an adventurous journey for the early automobile tourist, but gas stations, restaurants, guest houses and souvenir shops soon opened to provide services to the new auto tourists, and the route became famous for its scenic beauty.
On the afternoon of September 21, 1938, a Category 3 hurricane struck Long Island and southern New England with little warning, causing over 600 deaths, and great damage to property and the environment. Winds of 121 mph, with gusts close to 200 mph, were recorded at the Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, but it was the flooding that caused the most damage. All along the coast, boats sank or were tossed ashore — even “Old Ironsides,” the USS Constitution, was ripped from its moorings in Boston Navy Yard. According to a WPA report, the New Bedford Yacht Club “was plucked bodily from its foundation and scattered in broken wreckage on the surface of the New Bedford-Fairhaven bridge.” There was also water damage inland — in Southbridge, for example, a dam burst and “the flood crashed down upon the town’s center, ripping up roads, tearing bridges.”
Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is a national holiday honoring the contributions workers have made to the prosperity and well-being of the country. The first Labor Day observance was organized by the Central Labor Union in New York in 1882, with an estimated 20,000 workers marching in support of labor law reforms including the eight-hour work day. Labor organizations in other cites held similar events the following year, and a handful of states made Labor Day an official state holiday, including Massachusetts in 1888. Labor Day became a national holiday in 1894.
This year the Digital Commonwealth has been celebrating Labor Day by posting photographs of Massachusetts workers on the Digital Commonwealth Facebook Page. These images include cranberry pickers, bakers, construction workers, clerical workers and more from around the Commonwealth, and you’ll find many more photographs of workers in the Digital Commonwealth collections.