by Mary Bell, Assistant Director
Wilbraham Public Library
This unassuming photograph of a couple in a horse-drawn carriage and two men standing outside is the best proof I have of Wilbraham’s involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Handwriting on the photograph describes this scene as part of a pageant during Wilbraham’s 150th anniversary in 1913, and identifies the couple in the carriage as Elsie Farr and C.E. Edson. The Springfield Union, Friday evening edition of June 20, 1913, describes the celebration in the language of the day as follows: “The children sang ‘The Prison Cell’ and as they were closing, the audience was surprised to see coming down the hill, pursued by men, old-time slaves, who, just as they were about to be seized by their masters, were rescued by Glendale people and borne away to safety. This was intended to typify just such scenes as occurred in the North 60 years ago when Glendale was a famous underground railroad station.” Elsie and C.E. were playing Lucia and John Calkins, abolitionists who – rumor has it – were early conductors on the railroad.
The photograph was taken on June 20, 1913, the third day of the Sesquicentennial celebration of Wilbraham’s incorporation. The bulk of the day’s events was the unveiling of a boulder at Glendale Cemetery honoring the town’s veterans, especially American Civil War veterans who were present at the ceremony. The photograph is fascinating as a celebratory moment in time – and what would have been considered an acceptable pageant a century ago – in addition to a hint of the past.
In the Civil War period, the Glendale section of Wilbraham would have included what are now two towns, Wilbraham and Hampden. The people of Glendale established a Methodist church and an abolitionist movement, which included a few neighborhood families – notably the Ames and Calkins families – who are said by local historians to have been conductors on the Underground Railroad. When this photograph was taken sixty years after the fact, several people were still around who could have contradicted the story of John and Lucia Calkins as told in the pageant but did not. While the evidence is circumstantial at best and may not convince the skeptic, this photograph reveals an early story in Wilbraham history about involvement in the Underground Railroad.
by Mary Bell, Assistant Director
Wilbraham Public Library
The Glendale Collection is a treasure-trove of local history and genealogy, and is the newest in the Wilbraham Public Library’s collections in the Digital Commonwealth.
The collection was in an unlabeled box of miscellaneous photographs found among our uncatalogued collections. We gave it the name Glendale Collection because several of the people and places featured were from that section of town, up the mountain on Glendale and Monson roads.
Genealogists especially would be interested in the portrait photographs of families that lived in that area. Seavers, Bennetts and Benedicts are among those featured. This one of Allyn Delos Seaver and his brother-in-law Cassius Benedict is one of the oldest in our collection, as Cassius died in 1872. They were both trustees of Glendale Methodist Church. In addition to the men’s dapper dress, I love the detail of the patterned floor they’re standing on.
Most of the photographs in the collection are from the early 1900s. Several feature the ceremony on June 20, 1913, unveiling a memorial boulder for Wilbraham veterans at Glendale Cemetery, an event that served as the third day of festivities during Wilbraham’s 150th celebration. Though unnamed, the men in this photograph were veterans of the Civil War, and were honored in the ceremonies that day.
These are just a few highlights that can be found in these and other photographs in Wilbraham’s local history collection. We only digitized photographs we were reasonably sure were in the public domain, so if you’re interested in seeing more come to the Wilbraham Library during our regular hours and we’d be happy to give you access to the full collection.
All of May’s contributors are return customers. The Boston Public Library has added significant holdings of prints and drawings. The Atwood House Museum of the Chatham Historical Society has contributed more nautical charts while the Wilbraham Public Library has digitized more photographs. Special mention has to be made of the Lawrence Public Library, which has added fourteen collections ranging from 1 to 68 items.
Most striking are the photographs of the aftermath of the “Great Cyclone” of 1890. Eight people died and 65 were injured. The tornado did $60,000 worth of damage. ($1.5 million in today’s money) The house on the left is just one of many that did not survive the storm.
On a happier note, Lawrence Public Library also digitized a collection of sheet music. It almost doesn’t matter how tuneful the songs are when the covers are this colorful. (See below.)
Have you kept your New Year’s resolution to digitize your historical treasures? These institutions did. Anna Maria College’s The Travel Postcards of Charles Bumsack Collection includes this view of Smith College’s Observatory (left). If you explore more, you’ll also find views of the Crab, Dumbbell and Horsehead Nebulae. I kid you not.
If whimsy is not your cup of tea, the BPL has added some significant correspondence collections and Barre Historical Society has added maps. (See example below.) Wilbraham Public Library chips in some photographs of the Glendale section of town while the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) has added prints, sculptures, photos and more in its six collections.
Earlier this month Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, so we have six more weeks of winter. Plenty of time to visit all these great collections.
Admit it. You took it easy last month. After exams or while planning office parties, you let some things slide. The digitization team working on the Lawrence Public Library collections added twenty three collections in December: 23. No slackers there. Take the Stereo Slide Collection for example. It contains 108 items, including the Frozen Fountain on the Common slide (Left). Is it too soon after our own deep freeze to appreciate this icy monument?
Maybe you would find the variety of the Hamilton Historical Society’s collection of photos of parades, historic houses, town celebrations and prominent citizens cozier. For Civil War students, we have letters from the Jubb brothers courtesy of the J. V. Fletcher Library in Westford. As always, we have maps. December saw the Leventhal Map Center add yet more to their collection while the Wilbraham Library’s Maps Collection included the Hampden and Hampshire highway map below.
This post was written by Mary Bell, Adult Services Librarian at Wilbraham Public Library.
Maybe it’s because I’m interested in family history and genealogy, but my favorite photographs in Wilbraham Library’s local history collection are of people. Knowing about people, seeing their faces and learning their stories, can make history’s potentially dry dates and facts come alive.
Take, for instance, this photograph of James Addison and Hannah (Butler) Bennett. The Bennett family was one of the earliest families in the Town of Wilbraham, moving in sometime before 1790 when their son Ralph was born here in town. As a side note, I have many photographs relating to this branch of the family that would be a treasure trove for any genealogist. But this particular picture of James Bennett and Hannah Butler is full of character. There’s the old-fashioned stove, a “Riverside Park” sign and this older couple staring stoically at the photographer. Riverside was the name of the amusement park in Agawam, Massachusetts before Six Flags purchased it, and would have been operative at the time of this photograph. I have to wonder if this couple or their children were the enthusiasts. James died in 1919, and the calendar on the wall is dated December 1916, so I know the date it was taken within a few years as well.
One of my other favorites is this photograph simply labeled “Mrs. DeWitt Mowry.” With a little help from the person who donated the photographic collection and some research on Ancestry Library Edition, I was able to identify the woman – whom I affectionately think of as the knitting lady – as Sarah Emiline “Emma” Collins. She was born in Wilbraham in 1856, married DeWitt Mowry, and had three children. Her son Harold died of typhoid in 1906 at the age of 19, and her daughters grew up and stayed close by after they married. By 1912, Emma was a widow. She was a contemporary of the Bennetts, and a photo of the family tombstone in the local cemetery indicates she died in 1922, so this photograph was most likely taken around the same time as that of James and Hannah. But her whole countenance could not be more different, smiling when many people were straight-faced for cameras and just exuding joy. Don’t you want to sit down with her and have a cup of tea and a conversation?
History fascinates me: not the bare bones facts, but the people who lived it. Here are three individuals who lived and died in Wilbraham, raising a family, and living through the first World War. Seeing their faces and getting a taste for their personalities bring that history to life. These are some of the people who lived in my hometown 100 years ago. What else – who else – might you discover in our history collection? I can’t wait to find out!
This September, Digital Commonwealth added many new collections that you can now search for on the website! These collections consist of many type of materials including photographs, personal paper, maps, and even a scrapbook! Make sure you check them out!