The Macomber Family of Central Village
Posted on May 14, 2019 by Jenny ONeill
Westport Historical Society Collection 2000.205.001
The Macomber Family of Central Village
Hand Written By Marianna Macomber Typed By Margaret (Macomber) Douglas in 1970
(Miss. Marianna Macomber Passed Away in the 1960’s)
FACTS, HEARSAY AND MEMORIES
It is quite possible that nobody will care to read what I am writing, but yet it may
be of interest. Who knows?
I was born in Westport, November 6, 1889, the youngest and now sole survivor or eight children of John A. Macomber 2d and Esther A (Allen) Macomber. My birth is recorded in the Town of Westport Records and a more intimate record was made by my brother Edward L. Macomber around the margin of the November page of the Old Farmers Almanac with the additional information that the time was two thirty in the afternoon.
I never felt in any way unwelcome as a child, but I later understood that certain relatives felt the family large enough. Perhaps it was because my mother was rather frail. A woman from the South Westport area sent word that Finis would be a suitable name. There was no discussion I am told over my name which was that of a sister of my father who died in childhood. She was much beloved in the family, perhaps even more because she was apparently retarded. The little daguerreotype of her which is in my possession, on first glance gives a picture of a pretty, little old-fashioned child. On closer scrutiny it shows a rather vacant expression. She was, I have been told, of a sweet disposition and was in no way objectionable. I believe she died of diphtheria which was prevalent in those days.
My next older sister had been born on February 8 the birthday of the first
Marianna. My father wished to give her the name, but my oldest sister, Hattie, was extremely distressed over its use, feeling that a lack of intellect could in some way accompany the name and be a mark on the new baby. She was so upset that my father conceded his wishes and allowed her to name the baby, Mabel. She told me in later life that when I was born she felt she could no longer force her feelings and must succumb to the acceptance of what served the inevitability of lack of mind for me if I bore the name.
The genealogy of both the Macomber and Allen families has been traced. The Macomber Book was the result of the work of a Mr. Stackpole. It is out of print I believe and the copy which belonged to my brother Edward L. Macomber is now in the possession of his daughter, Elizabeth S. Vinton. Mr. Stackpole, if I recall, recognizes in the introduction the help that he received from my brother in its compilation. I can well believe that he did help as my brother’s interest in ancestry and history of Westport was very great.
I shall not try to go back father than my great grandfather and for him I have no dates at hand. His name was John Macomber and he married Mary Slade who came from Somerset or Swansea. The distinction between those towns is not clear to me. I do know that she was of the Slade family for whom Slade’s Ferry Bridge, which crosses the Taunton River to Fall River, was named. Slade’s Corner and Slade’s Corner Road in Dartmouth were named for a member of her family. In my young days a great aunt, Mary S. Macomber, took the stage once a year at Central Village which went to New Bedford “the south way” as it was usually said, to spend the day with Cousin Sarah Slade who lived in the white house at Slade’s Corner.
When John Macomber and Mary Slade married, they bought the farm in Westport on the Main Road lying between Booth’s Corner and Central Village. What is left of the original belongs of Manuel Costa, I believe. I know that it formerly embraced at the north the farm now in the Rapoza family and in my young days was owned by Joseph Lawton for many years superintendent of Beech Grove Cemetery. To the west was what was called the Case place which I only knew of in the blueberry season when my aunt induced my brother and older sisters to accompany her there. The bushes were so high then that I was never included in the venture. There were, I think, no remains of the house other than a cellar. I never knew of any descendants of that family, but know it once was a part of the farm. How far to the west the land extended or how many acres it represented I do not know, but it surely went to the brook. There were cultivated fields which could not be seen from the road and the larger crops were planted up to the “westard.” There were also hay fields there and pasture for cows.
The land across from the house belonged to Humphrey Kirby who lived in the only house on Cross road, now closed. On that side of the road the site of the present Town Office Building, possibly Lynnwood Potter’s but I am not certain of that, the two Candaeis houses, Charles Brightman’s, Milton Earle School, the Pettey house and George Howland’s were all from the original farm. Below the original house, the following homes now have been built, Dr. Kirkaldy’s, Bettencourt’s, Rhodes, Norman Kirby’s, Melvin Wood’s, Albert Wood’s, and Luther Bowman’s. Beginning with the “four acre”, known by that name in my day, began the property now owned by Charles R. Wood heirs.
The photographs of John Macomber are not I am sure flattering and show him to be a very homely man. An old man, when I was quite small, told me that I looked like him. I cried and my mother assured me that I didn’t, and that my hair being in bangs which resembled his style of hair dressing was the only resemblance. She proceeded to wet my hair, part it in the middle and brush it to each side, and my injured feelings were relieved. From what I have heard of John Macomber to have inherited some of his thrift, generosity, and sterling qualities of character would have been of more
importance than looks. I have heard him spoken of as being a man who lived ahead of his time. His wife, Mary Slade, looks in her picture with arms calmly folded across her ample, uncorseted body to have been a woman of placid disposition. She was I am sure a real helpmate.
This story has come down to me and I think it work repeating. When the young couple purchased the farm. I wish I knew what they paid for it, their ready cash was exhausted. They soon realized that a clock would be their first purchase when the money could be saved, as the hour glass required too much attention. They did not mortgage or buy on time. Great grandmother sat up all night previous to market day, spun and turned the house glass in order to awaken her husband at three o’clock that he might get an early start with his produce for the New Bedford Markets. I can imagine the purchase of the tall clock gave them a good deal of satisfaction. John then presented his brother Caleb with the house glass since he had no time piece. Caleb’s farm was below Central Village on the left had side of the road now owned I believe by Rapoza. Caleb’s contribution to the beauty of Central Village was the planting of the big tree which was Central Village’s landmark for many years. Like many large projects it had small beginnings and was the subject of much laughter and referred to scornfully as “Kallup’s tree.” His name was so pronounced in the local vernacular.
Another example of John’s generosity was that he presented some of his neighbors either less fortunate or thrifty than himself, with apples. Mary said that the gift of apples was of little value worth sugar to make the applesauce, so she contributed the sugar from her own resources. The nutritive value of eating apples in the raw was not then recognized.
Beside the regular types of farming John Macomber tried his hand at different lines. He was one of the originators of the breed of Rhode Island Red Hens. While his name does not appear on the plaque in Adamsville, he is given credit for his part in the book “Red Hen Tales.” He and Mr. Tripp of Little Compton were the two leading farmers in the section in the early eighteen hundreds and pretty much supplied New Bedford with fresh vegetables, at least to such an extent that they arranged their market days so that they might not glut the New Bedford Markets. They were on very friendly terms and Mr. Tripp on his return from the city made a practice of stopping, resting his horses and conversing on various aspects of farming and poultry raising. This led to exchange of fowls for breeding, and after some time to the present well known Rhode Island Red. My great grandfather did not live to realize the ultimate success as he was an old man, and Mr. Tripp was a young one who carried the experiments on to a finish.
John Macomber was also a nursery man and dealt in a variety of trees and fruits.
The field at the north of my former home was always spoken of as the nursery in my day although a horse chestnut tree in the center and a shag bark nut tree over the wall from the door yard were the only visible signs.
He was all his life interested in the Westport Monthly Meeting, and was, I believe, its Clerk for many years. He was very generous in its charitable work as is signified by the fact that during the terrible Irish Famine in the 1840’s he contributed a thousand dollars which was a tremendous sum for a man of his circumstances. He followed the early Friends idea of simplicity of dress and lack of color. A granddaughter of his whose mother although a Friend had a love of color and clothes went up to him and said, “Grandfather , see my red stockings and new bronze shoes.” To which he replied, “I see all I want to of them.”
Four children of Mary Slade and John Macomber lived to maturity, Lydia, Mary, Olive and Leonard, who was my grandfather. Two other sons spoken of as “very promising” died very young falling prey to “old Fashioned consumption” or tuberculosis.
Lydia, the older child, was born deaf. After the birth of several more children who were normal the parents ceased to think of the possibility of another having the same handicap. Great was their grief when Olive, the youngest, was afflicted in the same
way. John Macomber was a great believer in education and could not bear the thoughts of his two daughters growing up in ignorance. He made all investigations concerning possible schools for them. His search led him to the only school at that time in the United States which was the American School for the Deaf in Hartford. It was so named because it was then supposed that it would be sufficient for such afflicted children on this continent. John Macomber drove with his horse and carriage to Hartford taking Lydia first, and later Olive, also. The journey for him there and back took a week. The girls were taught the common school subjects, reading, writing, the language of signs and finger spelling. Their father was very proud of their accomplishments and was thoroughly repaid for his efforts. They were loyal alumnae of Hartford even protesting in their way that water was as good as milk for many cooking purposes because it was so used at Hartford. I had a cook book belonging to one containing recipes none of which would have injured digestion by its richness, or the purse, by the cost of materials. Lydia married George Webster a schoolmate at Hartford. Later the three sisters lived in what is now Dr. Kirkaldy’s home and Uncle George Webster followed his trade which he had learned at Hartford which was that of a shoe maker. He plyed his trade in the building in the south of the yard and people for miles around came to him for repairs.
Olive never married. Aunt Lydia and Uncle George died before I was born, but I remember Aunt Olive. We children never communicated with her except by means of a small slate about 3 by 4 with a hole in it and a slate pencil attached. When we called on her she usually gave us a small piece of hard candy. She seldom went out and few people could easily communicate with her. Aunt Mary S. could sign and spell very rapidly in a very grotesque way. Aunt Olive always seemed to enjoy her canary which hung in the south piazza window. She made rag dolls called Polly or Tommy. They were very crude with flat heads and faces covered with some sort of shellac. I well remember our Polly and played with her as long as I played with dolls. While they
would have no place in a modern Baby Shop Aunt Olive made many layettes serviceable but not beautiful, which she bestowed on many a baby for miles around, especially in large families where I assume many a harassed expectant mother with little time or money received them gladly. I have often thought she must have lived a lonely life.
Leonard Macomber, the only son of John Macomber to live to maturity, had none of his father’s interest in farming, but turned to town affairs. He was Town Treasurer I believe at the time of his death. He was married to Esther Austin of Little Compton.
She was the daughter of Joshua and Diana Austin and taught school in Westport . Leonard Macomber and Esther Austin were married in the Friends Meeting House in Little Compton. In the copy of a letter to a friend, Lydia writes that they all attended the wedding and that the meeting house was crowded. In 1842, she also writes that he father had engaged men to build a house for Leonard and Esther. Perhaps it was a wedding gift, I do not know. The house referred to is my old home now owned by Norman Kirby. Five children were born to Leonard and Esther. Two died in childhood, Marianna whom I have mentioned and Edward for who my brother was named.
Elizabeth, John A., (my father), and Hannah lived to maturity. All three attended the Friends School in Providence now named Moses Brown School. A letter written from there by my father in the early 1860’s gives a little idea of the school life of a hundred years ago. These letters were written to his grandfather. In one he says, “I thank thee for working the new lot for me.” Great grandfather had presented the lot to him which is now owned by Phyllis Brightman. Perhaps he hoped by the gift to stimulate the waning interest in farming among his descendants . Like many fathers he would undoubtedly have liked to see his only son or grandson show a real interest in the land, but such was not to be. My father taught school in Westport , being especially sought after for the winter term as he was competent to instruct big boys in difficult arithmetic problems and also a master hand at keeping order, as some of the big boys had no interest in learning, but went because farm work was slack. His disciplinary methods from what I have heard would hardly be acceptable today. I have been told that he was once brought upon the carpet for his use of a chair round on one husky, refractory specimen who had put the previous teacher out the widow. When the school committee questioned him he said “Your only request of me was that I should keep order and I have done it.” He had no more trouble and if obeyed was always firm but not harsh.
During this period, he during the other seasons assisted in the farm work for which he had no liking.
Leonard Macomber’s life was cut short in his prime by the dreaded diphtheria while he was holding important town offices. He was one of a few men in Westport to be written up in a large volume, “The History of Bristol County.” I recall the names of a few others, Andrew Hicks, of whaling farm, the elder Christopher Borden, Ezra Brownell who was a County Commissioner and a William Gifford of North Westport. There may have been two or three others. He was an active Friend, and he and his parents, brothers and sisters were buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Central Village. I haven’t the date in mind, but it was prior to the marriage of my father to Esther Ann Allen which occurred May 21, 1874.
I shall now turn to the Allen family about which I have at hand a complete genealogy from B.C. 65-A.D.1900. Much of its findings of the Allens in Europe and England fail to arouse great interest in me although I have been accused of being an ancestor worshiper. That one Fitz Alan was the ancestor of the Stuart Kings leaves me cold. The name had at least a dozen spellings before settling on the present one.
In 1635 only five years after the Puritans came to Boston, George I. Allen and his
wife Catherine settled in Saugus. The following year they moved to Sandwich, Mass. His house was near the Friends Meeting House in that town. He was at first a Baptist but later joined the Society of Friends. All the Allens in this vicinity are descendants of George and Catherine Allen. Our line is the eighth generation, but carried on from my brother is now ninth and tenth.
Names in order are George, Ralph, Increase, Benjamin, Francis, Robert, Stephen, and my mother, Esther, youngest daughter of Stephen. Ralph, in Sandwich, was fined and imprisoned for entertaining Quakers. He later joined them, and he was one of those Quakers to be driven out of Sandwich by the Puritans, and also to have their cattle, tools, and cooking utensils taken away. He is mentioned in Mary Hoxie Jones’ book, “”First Hundred Years of Quakerism in America.”
Increase lived in the Allen’s Neck section of Dartmouth, Benjamin, Francis, Robert and Stephen were residents of New Bedford. Stephen later came to Westport and owned the farm on lower Drift Road recently owned by Clifford Ashley, the artist and his wife now Mrs. Stephen Delano.
Robert seemed to have acquired a considerable property, and it is recorded that he owned a large estate in the north part of New Bedford. Stephen Allen, although much beloved by his children and grandchildren was of an easy going disposition and through his lack of business ability and unmerited confidence placed in his advisers lost his share in the inheritance.
He was twice married, first to Hannah Baker in 1817 who died in 1835 leaving him with eight children. Strange as it seems to me Ann Davis, born in 1807, married him in 1841 assuming the care and training of his large family. The regard in which she was held by her stepchildren and grandchildren gives evidence that what I have heard of her life and character is true. The qualities she exemplified were innate as I am sure her advantages were few and her education limited. Many there were to rise up and call her blessed. She was the mother of four, Mary E. (Allen) Gifford and Esther A. Allen Macomber, my mother. Two sons did not live to maturity. Her parents were Job and Sarah (Gifford) Davis and lived in Adamsville. A sampler done by Sarah Gifford and a framed pen and ink sketch with a copy of a religious poem all carefully wrought are in my possession.
The death of Stephen Allen in 1863 and of his son Robert in 1866 made the sale of the farm necessary, and Ann Allen and her two daughters came to the house on Main Road below Central Village now owned by Vincent.
Ann Allen had in her young days learned the trade of a tailoress from Keziah Gifford, the mother of the George H. Gifford for whom the familiar corner in Westport in named. The story is that when she once was stooping in front of the fireplace to test the heat of the big iron goose used in pressing, that George H. then a young many came up behind and kissed her while holding her helpless by the shoulders. She, not caring for his attention, set the hot goose down on the upper part of his leg so that his trousers were so scorched as to bear its imprint.
During the long illness of her husband and following his death grandmother Ann resumed the practice of her trade and did anything else that came to hand. She took aged women to board for the price of a dollar and a half a V10ek, a far cry from present day prices. These elderly women though not related V10re called aunt. I recalled
hearing of two of them as being Aunt Amy Case, and Aunt Polly Pinder.
In 1869 my aunt Mary was married to James Gifford. My grandmother sold the home on Main Road and she and my mother went to live with them after a few years. James Gifford had purchased the farm which had belonged to great grandfather John Macomber. He had previously managed the farm after the latter became feeble and following his death still worked for the three daughters, Mary S., Lydia, and Olive.
I wish I had a picture of that farm house tom down about 1903. I still have a clear mental picture of it. It was lacking in architectural beauty, but I venture to say that Mary Gifford made it the most hospitable home for miles around. Perhaps I can as well pay a tribute to her here as anywhere. She always made all the stepchildren and grandchildren of Ann Allen welcome on the many visits made her. In those horse and buggy days, book agents, peddlers of every sort and anyone passing through the town found it a convenient house at which to arrive at mealtime or for a night’s lodging. One more never made any difference . Traveling ministers always found a V10lcome for a meal, a night’s lodging or a stay for several weeks . Aunt Mary was a very religious woman and was made a minister in the Society of Friends. She was naturally gifted in her speaking and was highly respected throughout the town. She was especially gifted in the conduct of funeral services and was called to bereaved homes more times no doubt than any other minister in town. She was often called in the neighborhood to officiate at births, all sorts of illnesses, emergencies, and to carry comfort at any time.
She was I am sure the best known and most highly respected woman in Westport .
To return to the house as I knew it. It was low studded with windows reaching the eaves. There were two windows each side of the front door, no hallway but a very small entry. There were three bedrooms, and as people spoke of them, four fire rooms. I cannot account for the fact that there were no fireplaces in my day. The kitchen was huge, the floor covered with a homemade rag carpet. The cookstove was always in use for heating or cooking the ample meals. The johnnycake griddle always intrigued me as it was so long as to extend over the two front stove covers. Many were the johnnycakes made there to accompany the hearty breakfast of homemade sausage or home cured ham topped off with molasses and sugar cookies and doughnuts. The huge stone crocks filled with these were never allowed to be empty. Beside the closets for dishes and cooking utensils was a very large one called the milk room, where the shelves seemed always to be full of large pans of milk set for the cream to rise. Everything was cooked on a large scale and in the early summer of a Saturday morning I have seen by the well a big wooden tub filled with potatoes, beets, carrots, spinach, etc., washed, to be cooked for dinner and still have enough to be rewarmed in various ways for the Sunday dinner. The long table in the kitchen had places for, beside the immediate family and the usual company, chairs for several hired men, always two or three and in the haying season or when the threshers came two servings were required, and the quantity of food prepared was inconceivable.
Beyond this kitchen was an unfinished room where cooking was done in summer leaving the big kitchen cooler for eating. Beyond this room was a woodshed and still father an inside toilet far superior to that of any other house of its time to my knowledge.
The upstairs rooms were very low and there were several over the kitchens for the hired men, and others over the main house.
In the spring of 1874, John A Macomber married Esther A Allen. They lived at the original John Macomber farm in the family of James and Mary Gifford and Grandmother Allen for a little more than two years. It was there that my oldest sister, Hattie, as born. Quite a considerable amount of building had been going on in parts of the original farm. The three sisters, Lydia, Mary S. and Olive had built a home for themselves, the house now belonging to Dr. Kirkaldy. Grandmother Macomber called by her grandchildren Grandmother Mac, her two daughters Elizabeth (Aunt Lib) and Aunt Hannah left the home place which had been Leonard’s to my father and mother who came there before the birth of Edward Jan. 26, 1877. The house built by my grandmother and aunts is the one now owned by Albert Wood. Next to that and about the same time the one now owned by Luther Bowman was built by a widow, Phoebe Slade and her daughter “Lizzie Ann.” Phoebe was the widow of Nathan Slade and had lived on Main Road. The brook called Slade’s Brook in my day ran at the foot of Hick’s Hill. Later Lizzie Ann married John Taylor who came from Maine to teach school at Westport Point. He brought his young daughter, May. Another member of that household was Daniel Macomber, Phoebe’s brother. He was not related to our branch of Macombers. The community was building up and the type of architecture was changing. The builder of these three houses was a man named Dillingham, I believe from Acushnet. Perhaps his Quaker affiliation was responsible for the business. I have been told that each of the houses was built for $2000. My two aunts felt that their old home then had become very old fashioned. One of the new features they most desired in the new house \Here rooms high enough to stand up in straight in every part. They achieved their desire and some later occupants found them a heating problem. They were all houses of from ten to fourteen rooms each built for three people. The tendency then being for large houses with several rooms only intended for use on special occasions, bedrooms with beds made ready and immaculate, parlors all with drawn shades and all air tight against dust or a marauding fly. The home of Grandmother
Mac, and after her death also was always spoken of by my brother, sisters and myself, as “the other house.”
I return now to the home established by John A and Esther at the Leonard Macomber place. As I have said Edward was born there in 1877, Alice in 1878, Benjamin, who died in infancy , in 1881, Sophia in 1882, Stephen who died at nine mothers in 1886, Mabel in 1887, and I in 1889.
A picture of the house just prior to my grandmother’s leaving shows the now huge linden tree in the corner of the yard as a very young specimen. Great grandfather
John must have been a little over generous when planting trees for Leonard’s front yard. An arborvitae, one maple, and a small Norway spruce \Here crowded out. Another Norway spruce grew to great height and when returning from New Bedford the tip of it could be seen from the hill near Capt. Chase place on Drift Road. It was broken in half by the 1938 hurricane.
My father taught winter school a few winters, and was then following his father in town affairs and became Town Clerk about 1876. I do not know the exact date when he became engaged in the undertaking business, buying from Charles Brownell who was also postmaster at Central Village and village storekeeper. With this business transaction my father bought from Charles Brownell also the carriage maker’s shop, for the sign read Wheelwright, now home of Alton Wood, and also the blacksmith shop which stood where his garage now stands. I believe that the Undertaker’s shop now occupied by Arnold Spooner was built by my father. Joseph Bowman, father of Luther Bowman, rented the blacksmith shop for many years. Lysander Howland, father of George Howland was the carriage maker. He also did work relative to the undertaking business. In those days the living and trimming of caskets was done by the individual undertaker, and my mother often went to the shop and assisted in such work. I know that one of Lysander’s duties was to wash and dust the hearse. When my father sold out the business in 1892 there were new pieces of fine white cashmere and other supplies. I recall that my mother dyed some of the material a beautiful blue which combined with a plaid made one of my prettiest dresses in which I felt much dressed up. This feeling was in no way lessened by one of my older sisters says, “Have on your casket lining dress, today, have you?” In recent years when reading of the early life of the English professor and novelist, Mary Ellen Chase, I was surprised to find that she wrote of a similar experience when she in childhood was happy to receive boxes of precisely the same materials sent by an uncle engaged in a like business as my father. The business necessitated our possession of only black horses for many years, Jim and Fan have been referred to many times. Fan was considered a beautiful horse, but of rather too light a build for the hearse. I do not remember her but old Charles Luthan a sorrel stayed in our possession as long as he lived and was kept for family driving, and at an advanced age I recall showed a good bit of spirit and would not want to have stood patiently by for my slow moving of today in getting into a vehicle.
Another of the byproducts of the business was used only by me. They were large, well bound catalogues of caskets, handles, name plates, pillows and such articles. When making a childish scrapbook I cut out numerous of these caskets and with no feeling that they were unsuitable they are pasted besides suspenders and men’s long underwear cut from some catalogue. It was simply using the material at hand. I recall one casket that was small and white and from the bottom hung a small object which looked like an angel. This I thought beautiful and when showing the book I explained that it would be for a baby. The colored pictures then to be found were few and far between. I recall one of a grocer dressed in blue, pushing a flour barrel, and another of a curly haired child standing on a chair winding a tall clock. By way of ornamentation in form of color, small colored striped penny candy bags were cut so that a page might have two pink or four purple stripes around the edge. There were no tubes of paste, but it was made of flour and water for me by my busy mother, and all these choice prints were pasted in an outdated copy of Acts and Resolves of Massachusetts . The cutting and pasting must have occupied a child of four for many hours. I sometimes wonder what modern child psychologists would think of it.
During the period while my father was engaged in the undertaking business he was filling various town offices besides being Town Clerk. He was a member of the School Committee for several years. One of the upstairs north bedrooms went by the name of “the committee room” until long after I was grown up, and it would slip out even in later life. This did not mean that it was used for committee meetings, but all school supplies were kept there. I recall a hand bell which remained and a few old readers plus two copies of Bradbury Eaton’s arithmetics, one primary, and one advanced.
Apparently school registers were not sent to the State Department as they were later. A large wooden box filled with them and seemingly useless afforded us much pleasure on rainy days. We became familiar with names of children from over town.
As before stated the undertaking business was sold in 1892 to the firm of Hicks and Potter. Harry Potter was the father of Kenneth and Jonathan Potter, the latter being named I feel sure for Jonathan Hicks or John as he was commonly called. My father then became increasingly active in Republican party politics. In 1894 and 1895 he was a member of the Massachusetts Legislature. He was elected to represent the towns of Dartmouth and Westport. During that period he was chairman of the Committee on Towns.
During the early 1890’s the High School which had been for one or two periods first at the Head and then at Westport Point was in Central Village and was held on the upper floor of the old Town Hall, now the Hall belonging to the Catholic Church. The teachers were from out of town. The first two Mr. Eldridge and Mr. Murdock boarded at the Taylors. The next, Mr. Bray, who came from Yarmouth, boarded with us. He occupied two rooms, a small bedroom on the north and the northeast front room. In this he had a wood fire so that it was a private living room whenever he wished to be away from a large family, and Town business transacted in the combination living and dining room. For his two rooms, board, and laundry he paid five dollars a week, and he had no “weekends” away. I cannot say that I remember him, but he was much liked. I believe that these three only taught for one or two terms each. During this early period Edward did the janitor work for the High School. I cannot say how long, but the next teacher Mr. Weeks, a graduate of Bates College taught for several years. Hattie, Edward, and Alice were all under him as well as the previous ones and later, Sophia. He boarded with us also.
In 1894 the first diplomas were given out. They were three in number and were received by Edward, Kate Chase (Tallman) and Carl Cutler, the son of the minister at the “Stone Church” at Adamsville. I feel sure these three studied some Latin, Algebra, and Geometry . Some boys studied elementary Bookkeeping. That fall Edward and Alice entered Friends School in Providence now called Moses Brown. Edward entered as a Sophomore and Alice as a Freshman. It is of course obvious that the High School standing was low. Hattie had no desire to go, never having cared for school, and it seemed best as it was quite customary for a girl to stay in the home. I remember the departure of these two and the purchase of two shiny new trunks, looking much alike on the outside, but Alice’s contained a hat box at one end of the top tray. Edward’s had small compartments at each end instead to be used for socks. These trunks with their leather straps seemed to me the last word in luggage. Alice’s wardrobe, too, I felt left nothing to be desired.
As it was at this time that my father was in Boston, the family seemed quite depleted but certain chores had to be done as we then had a horse, one cow, several flocks of hens, two or three family flocks, and one each the private property of Edward and Alice. In addition to livestock there were wood boxes to be fitted and coal to be brought in, the consequent ashes to be removed. The arrangement was made whereby Andrew Borden of Acoaxet who wished to attend the High School was to stay with us from Monday to Friday and have his board for doing these chores. As my father was free from his duties in Boston over the weekend it worked well.
The Lizzie Borden famous murder case was still fresh in people’s minds. I had been too young to hear it discussed, but one day an older child at school said to me, “I should think you would be afraid to have Andrew Borden at your house for he is cousin to Lizzie.” My answer was, “Why should I be afraid of Andrew? He is nice to me.”
I remember one week when my father returned he came in saying that he was sick. My mother looking at him said, “I guess you are, you have measles.” He had enough to give the entire family, except my mother who had every disease in childhood including smallpox. A dressmaker at our sewing machine when my father came in left the room at my mother’s diagnosis, but she too had them. My Aunt Lib gave much assistance and also Aunt Mary Gifford during the siege. This must have been the year before Alice and Edward went away as I know they were victims of the measles. They, with Hattie, or Harriet as it became more customary to call her, were really quite ill.
Harriet was especially so, and a doctor from New Bedford was called out to consult with Dr. Parris. She had pneumonia which was very serious in those days. My worst trouble was earache. I recall my mother holding me on her lap with my head on a pillow and a big fat raisin heated in my ear.
I believe at this time a passenger train ran from Fall River to New Bedford and stopped at the old Watuppa Station or possibly Hemlock. If my father was detained late on Friday he came down there Saturday morning. I remember on bitterly cold morning Alice insisted that she would drive up to the Narrows, as people usually said, instead of Edward. She wanted particularly to get into the edge of Fall River to buy stick pins which no young girl felt adequately dressed without. If you had a variety so much the better. They were pins about two inches or so long with a fancy head. They might be jabbed into a bow at neck or belt. Mother expressed disapproval, but no sufficiently strong to frustrate Alice in her desire for new stick pins. She had her own money as she was enterprising enough to keep her own flock of hens. Mother, as an added protection, had hot soap stones wrapped for her feet and pinned a heavy shawl over her coat. It was a long ride over the frozen roads, rutted from previous mud. The horse, James Henry, was so resolute, Mother always said, and not having much exercise, when he reached the wide sweep of wind at the Narrows broke into high speed, Alice lost her hat and shawl blew over her head. She clung to the reins and James Henry calmed down. I presume Alice got her stick pins. She had to relate enough to account for the loss of her hat, but someone later who knew our horse told Father of the flying shawl and the tenacity with which she held the reins. Her resoluteness was on a par with James Henry’s as in later years many refractory boys could testify. In recent years several have said to me, “She was hard, but always fair.”
I started school in the spring after I was five in November. In those days spring was considered the best time for starting, as a small child could get in two terms of schooling before the bad weather came. The school where we started was on the Adamsville Road on the left had side just below Sodom Road. All the town schools were numbered and this was No. 9. I think I have somewhere the numbers for each school. There were two-roomed building at the Point, farther down than the present one, and one on Main Road in the “Cornell Town” district. The one on lower Drift Road, often spoken as of Tripp’s Wharf, and one about where Kirby Road entered Drift Road. There was one on the Cross Road between the old and new road in Acoaxet , and one on Sodom Road. The So. Westport school was just down Horseneck Road. Horseneck School was just above Aiken’s Corner. Also on the east side of the river there was one on Pine Hill Road. On Main Road was a school called Kirby’s Corner near Charlotte White Road and another at Brownell’s Corner. There were two buildings at the Head, the one now in very poor condition called Alumni Hall, and the little Primary School across the river. The Mouse Mill School stood near when the Alice A. Macomber School now stands. There was one on Sanford Road, now Legion Hall, and another at No. Westport . A two room school at Westport Factory was the Union School and supported by both Westport and Dartmouth.
As nearly as I can tell my family were connected with the schools in at least one way, and sometimes in two or three, either as Committee, pupil or teacher continuously for seventy years.
Previously I mentioned my father being on the school board. Another member was Charles Fisher. Fisherville Lane off Horseneck Road derives its name from his home in that section. I seem to remember that he came to the house more often than any other. When he had secured a teacher, he felt he had done well he would often say, “I guess she’ll be good, at least she is good sized.” I believe he was really interested in the schools. Size I presume was sometimes a deterrent to certain types of behavior although some small women had a power from withinfrom within for control.
The schools in the town were divided into three sections, and the board members were especially in charge of school nearest to them geographically. It was expected that he made at least one visit a term. If he was found to have failed in this it could be held against him when he was up for re-election. The teacher could report a broken pane of glass, a smokey chimney, or lack of dry wood. Some members habitually made a speech to the school. I recall one who came to No. 9 school. Albert Manchester from Acoaxet, was a fine old man, or perhaps not as old as I thought then. I do not remember what he said, but I believe he was a solid citizen. Another of a different type always on rising to speak lifted the stove lid and emptied his mouth of a large quantity of tobacco, and his opening sentence was, “I don’t expect any of you will be presidents or president’s wives, but you can be good citizens, etc.”
During the early 1890’s Westport and Dartmouth hired their first superintendent. He was Seth Crocker. He lived at Head of Westport in what was originally I believe the Christopher Church house, later owned by Charles A. Gifford. He and my father had been schoolmates at Friends School in Providence, now Moses Brown. Mr. Crocker was not a Friend, but as now many pupils who were not Friends took advantage of what it offered. Mr. Crocker was not popular. This was in part due to the fact that many of the town’s people felt that a superintendent was a needless expense. I presume it must have been voted upon at Town Meeting as I do not believe the Committee could have been granted such funds otherwise, as it would have entailed. He was a man of some ability as he invented the Crocker Number Wheel for which he had a patent. It was used in many schools. Although No. 9 was outfitted with one, I felt especially favored to possess one of my own with which he presented me, probably in lieu of the now customary hostess gift of chocolates or flowers as the hospitality he received at our home in the way of meals or overnight lodging was frequent. He also gave me a sample primer such as we had at school. Its first lesson was, “See me, see me said the little rat. Oh see me run ‘when I hear the cat.” He drove over Westport’s and Dartmouth’s miles of roads with a horse and buggy. I think he had two horses, but I
remember best a jaded white one. Mr. Crocker was evidently a poor financial manager, as being unable to pay my father for money borrowed off him on his departure from Westport , we were recipients of the buggy and white horse. The horse turned out to pasture in the present Milton Earle School yard failed to recover sufficiently to be ‘worth keeping over the winter, and I well remember the day my father hired a man to shoot him and his unmarked grave is down near the edge of the woods. The value of the buggy was high in my estimation judged solely by the fact it seemed quite elegant as it had sidelights, which so far as I knew only a doctor had on a buggy. They carried little weight with my father and he soon disposed of it to my dismay without ever lighting the lamps. The next Superintendent was Charles E. Brockway. I know that he was here in 1896 as I have before me samples of cards which he gave to pupils for regular attendance and no tardiness. I know that it was during his regime that the designating schools by numbers was dropped, and the schools received names. Some were given names of sections of the town such as North Westport, Westport Point, or those of roads Sanford Road, Mouse Mill or Horseneck Road. The school on Pine Hill Road was called East Side, the one on lower Drift Road was Riverside, and the upper Drift Road was West Side, indicating their proximity to the river. The Sodom Road became State Side indicating its nearness to the Rhode Island line. Classes now began to be called grades. All of these schools had eight grades if the community provided the pupils, with the exception of the two-roomed building at the Point and the Head. The upper elementary grades at the Head were on the lower floor of what is now called Alumni Hall, and the younger children in the little school across the river. Mr. Brockway was an elderly man, at least I thought of him as such, because he was bald with a gray fringe of hair.
The next was, strange to say, another man named Crocker, Winthrop N. He was very young, just out of Bridgewater . He had many new ideas, one of which was very frequent Teachers’ Meetings. These were very unpopular among the teachers as they meant giving up an entire Saturday, in contrast to the Workshop idea of today with a short session. At that period new teachers were given examinations in all school subjects before being hired. Ernest P. Carr followed the second Mr. Crocker and he by Albert S. Cole. By this time, about 1908, Dartmouth felt that it had become large enough for a superintendent of its own and the union was dissolved. Westport was then
for a period of a few years in a union with Freetown and either Cuttyhunk or Gosnold. I shall not discuss personalities of these later school heads, some were good, and others were poor.
Having digressed to the town schools as a whole, I want to return to school life as I knew it at No. 9, or Macomber’s corner, as that name was given to it I presume because Clarinda Macomber owned the farm below where Sodom Road connects with Adamsville Road. As I said, I started at five with Kate Chase (Tallman) as teacher . At that time she was a young student in the two year town High School called to fill a vacancy. She probably had a natural ability for teaching and was fond of children. She gave me that first and only valentine I had during my childhood. I still have it today.
She drove from her home on Drift Road just about where it was entered by Kirby Road. Sometimes Mabel and I had a ride with her and her horse called “Old Nab”. We were very fortunate in our next teacher too, who came from Cambridge, a Miss Corbett. She was very well liked. I believe she had received some training. She went to Wisconsin to teach next. She later went to California. I knew nothing more of her until perhaps fifteen years ago when she by chance met a woman by the name of Macomber who had lived in Westport . Miss Corbett spoke of having had two pupils by that name and we then began a correspondence which continued until her death. From then on the teachers perhaps did the best they could but for the most part it was “just a job” and some had little to give.
The mile and quarter walk to school was a long one. If the weather was bad my father would drive us in the covered wagon, not “the covered wagon” of the Westerns , but just what its name implied, a two seated wagon with a cover, but not dignified enough to be called a carriage. My cousin Evelyn always rode with us and as many others as could be piled in along the way. I think I was always a timid child. I had a constant fear of a stray cow on the road, something scarcely ever seen nowadays. I think I was more frightened as then cows were not dehorned. We passed the pound on the way, but the poundkeeper was never on hand. Another fear especially in the spring was of meeting tramps. These stragglers having spent the winter under cover began to travel the country roads. Many women began to keep doors locked as I was not the only one who feared them. The farmers dreaded them too, as they would often go into a barn after dark to sleep on the hay causing a fire hazard. For this reason the town maintained a tramp house at the Town Farm. By getting a permit from the Overseers of the Poor a tramp could have a bed and breakfast. Since my father was on the Board, just at dusk of a spring evening in May or June, the two worst months, it was a frequent occurrence for a tramp to appear at the door for a permit, but at any time of day they might come along asking for food. We always had a horror of being late for school, and I cannot recall that we ever experienced it.
The first day of the fall term we looked forward to seeing what renovating might have been done in the summer. I will say that the buildings were always cleaned during the summer , the blackboards, which were really boards, were painted, and the stove had a coat of polish.
I can see that room as plainly now with the teacher’s desk. There was a row of books along it usually selected for her as being in the best condition. A small call bell and also a hand bell stood at the end of the books. There were a few extra books, one a new acquisition with a pale green binding which contained poems. The one that stands out clearest is “Bingen on the Rhine”. It begins, “A soldier of the Legion lay dying in Algiers, There was lack of woman’s nursing, There was dearth of woman’s tears.” With a little prompting I could continue. I sometimes asked permission to take the book to my desk to peruse it, which interested me much more than Arithmetic.
There were two other books of great interest. Carpenter’s Geographical Readers of
both North and South America. The books were always placed in order of size and at the end was a very small book on Manners. As I recall there were chapters on manners at home, at church, at school, etc. It seems that I should have heeded manners for girls, but the injunction to boys, that in case of shipwreck they should save women and children first seems to be uppermost in my mind. I trust some of it was absorbed unconsciously.
When I was quite small I recall looking with awe at the children in the back seats who could recite Memory gems as a morning exercise. Some always chose short ones as, “Make hay while the sun shines,” or “Strike when the iron is hot,” or “If a task is once begun never leave it till it’s” done. The solemn tragedy of the last line of this one appalled me. “Lost somewhere between sunrise and sunset one golden hour set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered as it is gone forever .” Before I was ready to be a back seat scholar the practice was a thing of the past.
There were the two entry’s on the front of the school house, the boys’ was larger and wood, both pine for kindling and the regular wood was kept there. Each entry had a shelf for lunch boxes or dinner pails. Many pails were Cotteline pails. Cotteline was a fat used in place of lard. It was considered a privilege to be able to put your dinner box in the comer of the shelf and was an indication of being one of the bigger girls. Before I achieved suitable age Mabel had become one of those and by virtue of her authority she said that mine could go next to hers, and my cousin Evelyn’s could be put below mine. The priority existed in the choice of the first hook in line. In winter these entries were frigid, and to escape frozen sandwiches the lunch boxes and bails encircled the stove. The rear of the room was often cold, especially in the morning if the teacher or boy who might be making fires had not gotten there early enough. “Please may I come near the stove?” was a frequent request. When one’s face looked like a boiled lobster from the heat he would return to his own place.
In warm weather thirst was as much of a problem as the cold in winter . A galvanized pail and dipper which was kept in the girls’ entry was brought in and a big boy went up and down the aisles and we proceeded to slake out thirst from the common receptacle. It was far from sanitary or desirable, but no casualties came from it so far as I know.
As I recall, the behavior was not as bad as in many schools, but it had its weak points. When the big boys made their trips to the spring for a pail of water they often found small green snakes with which to tantalize the younger girls. If the teacher went to her boarding place for dinner it gave opportunity for the boys to fix the long stove pipe so that a section or two might part company and emit smoke and soot later and cause a little excitement delaying the afternoon lessons a bit.
No reminiscences of No. 9 would be complete without reference to “Clarindy,” really Clarinda, but nobody young or old ever said it. She was a widow who lived almost across the road. Many times the teacher boarded there. Clarindy was a self appointed supervisor of most school matters. I do not think she took any hand in the making of, or following the curriculum, but she was the school nurse so to speak, and children went to her to have small cuts bandaged, and many doses of peppermint did she give for stomach ache. In the matter of coughs many children came provided with cough drops during the season, and a hand would be raised to announce, as he placed the well known box of S.B. cough drops on the desk, “My mother wants me to eat these in school.” So the long bewhiskered gentleman administered to many many children what some thought a pleasant remedy.
During my early school years slates and slate pencils were still in use. A bottle of water and a small cloth were kept in the desk. A small perfume bottle with a small opening was the most desirable. Those who were not sufficiently provident to be equipped with these tools drew upon their supply of saliva. The water bottles froze at times and burst. Ink, too, often froze in the large bottle from which the wells were filled. Unless the person filling the ink wells was very careful the ink might run down into the desk with disastrous consequences.
We were asked at the end of the school day to give account of ourselves. The desirable comment was, “Tried to be good and haven’t whispered.” If you could come up with this you received a small merit card, and when you accumulated ten you were given a colored picture.
It was quite common in those days if a woman wished to go for a day’s shopping or had some special job on hand such as spring cleaning to send a younger child to school. As I had no younger brother or sister I felt so unfortunate that I would ask to take a neighbor child occasionally. That practice could be at times so overdone as to become quite a nuisance. Much more could be told of No. 9, but I should hasten on.
Peddlers were in those days very important factors in country life. We had two meat carts. One from Cornell Road then Mosher and Sylvia on Tuesday and Friday; Wednesday and Saturday Charles Austin’s from Central Village came. The butcher would raise the back panel to display on a high shelf hams, shoulders, link sausages, and cuts of pork. In the back were small wooden tubs of tripe, liver, and pickles in brine. Then there were pot roasts and different qualities of steak. A long box below contained the various cuts of corned beef. We always had a fish cart Mondays. A man from near us went down to Seakonnet Point Sunday night to get the fish. His coming was always heralded by the blowing of a horn. These peddlers were to be depended upon regularly and other men might bring along fish, clams, quahogs, sea clams, and herrings at such time as they were plentiful.
Gideon Gray kept the grocery store at Central Village. It was well stocked, and he also did a good business in grain. It was he who built the large barn now Mr. Cassidy’s shop. It was considered topnotch. Most of our groceries were bought at Gray’s. A man came and took orders and delivered. Some of the commonest of needs then are no longer seen. Every other week at least in winter the five gallon can of kerosene had to be replenished to supply fuel for the kerosene lamps which at best gave a puny light. Then there was an earthen jug for vinegar and another for molasses. The latter was used much more in cooking than now. It went in the weekly brown bread, and the batch of molasses cookies beside gingerbread and Indian meal puddings. It was often used to eat with bread. It was commonly eaten with steamed bread, something I have not seen anywhere in many years. If bread or biscuits were left over they were put in the steamer which fitted into the teakettle and thereby refreshed. The New Orleans molasses was best, but if we were obligated to get Porto Rican a little cream took away the strong taste. It is only a few weeks ago that I saw for the first time in print the name of a summer drink called “switchel.” My father, who kept pretty clear of any cooking or household tasks, would occasionally on a hot night announce that he would make switchel. I do not know the proportions, but the ingredients were fresh well water, vinegar and molasses. It took the place of Pepsi Cola and the present bottled sodas.
I see that I have strayed far away from the other grocers with which I was familiar. My mother liked to patronize more than one. Shorrock’s team came from Head of Westport with a well laden team, and my favorite grocer was Ben Allen who had a small store at Handy’s Corner. His groceries were probably of the same quality, but when he delivered he always brought a little striped bag of candy to me. Sometimes a few conversations lozengers, or the little lozengers wrapped in a long roll with the paper bearing a job which took the place of present day Funnies. The, to, they might have “My Old Kentucky Home” or “Way Down Upon the Swanee River”. I think the little baked beans with a peanut inside were my favorite. These gratuities caused me to implore my mother to give Ben Allen our entire trade, but to no avail. My one regret at beginning school was that I would miss Ben Allen. Harriet’s comment was, “Do you want to miss your education for that?” A few weeks ago a friend of mine met an elderly lady who had boarded one summer many years ago near Hix Bridge and hearing that I lived in the vicinity wondered if I had ever known Ben Allen. Did I?
One incident of my acquaintance was one day when coming on the Wednesday morning for orders he invited me to go home with him for dinner and come back in the afternoon as his grandchild of about my age was there on a visit. Of course I was delighted, but going down Handy Hill sitting beside him in an express wagon, the seat of which had nothing to cling to I was as terrified as if on the top of Empire State Building. When that ordeal was safely over the rest of the day stood out memorably as, the day I went to Ben Allen’s. He was a most genial, kindly man.
Thursdays Richmond’s Bakery cart came from New Bedford. It was driven by a young man who had lived in Central Village in his childhood, and he usually spent a few minutes in discussing neighborhood happenings. My mother did not buy much “baker” food. There was one little round cake which she thought good for lunch boxes. It was frosted half white and half chocolate. It cost fifteen cents. I wonder if it would seem as delicious to me now as it did then. The most wonderful thing they carried was box called Fort Phoenix Lunch Cake. It was a square white box with a picture of the fort in blue. It was lined with a paper lace edged napkin, and when opened revealed the most mouth watering assortment. There was a piece each of cherry nut, and white mountain
cake, also two or three lady fingers and macaroons. It cost fifty cents, and my mother bought it for each one of us on our birthdays. It took the place of the nowadays birthday
cake which I never saw then. Boughten cookies were seldom to be found in our pantry. The exception was when Dewey of Spanish War fame honored by having his name on a cookie. I recall that my father, in spite of peaceful beliefs, bought a large wooden box of them.
A seasonable peddler was Joseph Artingstall who came along Tuesdays in
winter with hot hulled corn in wash boilers. I never recall seeing my mother eat anything else between meals, but as soon as the hulled corn came she sat down with a bowl of it with milk and sugar.
The store of Charlie Gifford at the Head had quite a line of Dry Goods. His well filled cart came Monday afternoons once a month. It was driven by Elmer Sisson. The red tablecloth which covered the big table afternoons was left off in preparation for his coming as he would bring in armsful of goods for display. He carried bedding, towels, table linen, underwear , stockings and all kinds of sewing supplies. Besides ginghams and calicoes he had one bolt carefully covered in paper of black silk warp Henerietta. This, in case you don” know, was as the name indicates fine material for a black dress, one at least of which every woman must have. It was considered improper for anyone to go to a funeral in any other dress, and older people felt they must have a good one hung away to be buried in. I have heard Amy Wing, our dressmaker , say that you couldn’t buy better Henerietta in New Bedford than at Charlie Gifford’s.
Then there were the itinerant Pack Peddlers. Some were considered untrustworthy and not allowed inside, but everyone, I think, trusted Abram Isaac. He was an elderly Jewish man, bent nearly double by carrying his huge pack, wrapped in bed ticking, on his back. He had a waterproof covering too, for it and his basket which he carried as he trudged the country roads. He carried many of the same goods as Elmer Sisson, but of cheaper quality. The black dress goods was missing from his pile. In place he had a pound calico. Much of it was hideous in color and design. My great aunt Olive, whom I have spoken of as deaf, was a very good customer of his, and thought I should be beginning to engage in the useful occupation of making patchwork. She bought several pounds as a beginning for me. She even cut and basted quite a few squares and these I laboriously finished. I was never ambitious enough to prepare more for sewing, and Mabel and I appropriated the few really pretty pieces for doll clothes. Mabel was designer and cutter placing the doll on the cloth and cutting two squares for front and back, then cutting off diagonal pieces for shoulders. There was the waist ready, and the skirt was a straight one to be gathered. It was ready for me to take over, and to escape the time spent for hemming a piece with a selvage edge was selected. I have digressed from Abram Isaac. He was a very devout Jew, and always returned to Fall River Friday night. It he hadn’t finished his route in our section, he would sometimes leave his heavy pack and basket until the next week. Mother used to make tea for him to soften the hard unpalatable looking biscuits which he carried.
There was Billy the Barber with his sharp shears and his bottle of wonderful smelling bay rum. I, who only employed him to cut my bangs, was favored with a few drops.
Then too, scissors’ grinders made their rounds. There were none of these for whom there was any personal friendship as for Abram Isaac.
A tin cart made its rounds and a new broom for spring house cleaning, a dust pan, stove pipe cover holes in summer could be bought. Ours had a picture of General Sheridan in the center. Then, too, a new coal hood, shovel or square of oilcloth, the predecessor of linoleum, could be purchased to put under the air tight stove. If any of these peddlers came while I was at school I felt much chagrined to have lost the chance to see their goods and to try and impress my mother without desperate need of some article which took my fancy.
In the spring the ladder man’s two horse drawn vehicle came along bringing ladders, step ladders, porch settees and rockers, and alter the wonderful lawn swing. I presume the porch settee which we had was purchased of the ladder man. My oldest sister said she could not remember when we didn’t have it. If everybody had been as careful as we the ladder man would have had little business in that article. My father announced to me, as I presume he had to each older child, that it was to sit on and never to stand on. I do not think it ever occurred to me to stand on it any more than it would have to stand on the dining table. This care probably accounted for the fact that after eighty years of use it was in perfect condition.
Spring was the time for herrings and men other than our regular fish peddlers probably saw a chance to put a few dollars into their pockets nearly empty by slack work in winter. They caught the herring, salted them and put them on a stick. The stick punched through the sightless eyes was repulsive to me, but we always had a stick hanging in the crib. Herring to my mother was the choicest of foods and she said that nothing refreshed her so much after a hard day of spring house cleaning as a hot cup of tea and a herring. I remember that we had some bone dishes given us and eating herring with the fingers was permissible, my mother always tore up some pieces of old cotton cloth, wet them and placed one in each dish to wipe our fingers on.
Since I have mentioned spring cleaning I may as well describe it as it is never done now quite the same way. Of course some of it is no longer necessary as furnishings and equipment are so different. The pantry or closet as we usually called it was cleaned as soon as the weather was mild enough as it was on the west side.
Another necessity was selecting a day when Jerusha could come. I don’t know how old she was, but I think she must have been nearly eighty. She was toothless with white hair always combed neatly with little spit curls about her face. She was the cleanest person I ever saw and I can see her now in a blue checked starched apron when she arrived. My father usually tried to go for her. She was a widow, and lived alone at Booth’s corner in the north end of the house now owned by Mr. Wilde. Her last name was Howland. Her son Emerson lived down near the river in the house now owned by the Brayton’s. Emerson was just as neat as his mother, and I have been told that when carpenters came to shingle his house, when they returned each morning there was no sign that they had been there the previous day. Emerson had picked up every single and raked the grass of every sliver. Well, to return each dish was brought out of the closet and it was a great treat if I was allowed to help carry out some of the choicest and least used pieces. Usually by night when we returned from school everything was back with glass shining and fresh paper on the shelves which along with drawers and cupboards had been scrubbed by Jerusha. When it came to bedrooms a sunny day was essential as all feather beds and pillows had to be sunned and aired. In the bedrooms and living rooms all carpets were taken up. Mabel and I liked to take out a few tacks in the morning, but they came out very hard and interest soon waned.
Carpets were hung on the clothes line and beaten with a carriage whip, or better a flat beater made of rattan. Then they were dragged on the grass. Several children could assist in dragging. One child would sometimes jump on, fun for her, but not the ones who were dragging. When it came to putting them down during the taking process, if it were the light weight English carpeting so called, my mother put on her rubbers and scuffed the carpet to make it very taut as a loose carpet was very unsatisfactory. Fires smoked up ceilings and it was necessary to get a man to whitewash, which was the common way to freshen the ceilings. Stoves had to be taken down, ashes removed, stoves blackened and carried away to closets and covered with old red tablecloths or
blankets. They heavy coal stove was a different matter. We had several rollers to avoid too much lifting but even so it was usually necessary to call in a neighbor or two for taking down the stove, and also in the fall for putting it up. Then the chimney must be taken out and cleaned. If papering had to be done it was customary to save the cost of paying the paper hanger by the family removing the old paper. If you could pull off a fair sized piece it was fun, but some came off in inch pieces by the aid of a steel kitchen knife. No prepared paste-my mother always made a huge pan of flour and water paste from flour kept from the scrapings of the flour barrel. When the spring cleaning was over everyone concerned was very thankful.
I don’t imagine that today any child is interested as to when the Town Officers meet, but the last Saturday of the month was something special. My father always carried to the Town Hall necessary books such as the Dog License book, the Marriage License books, blanks to make out Burial Permits and a few of the current record books of Births, Marriages and Deaths. These were kept in a large safe in our front hall as long ago as I can remember. To the best of my knowledge the safe is now in the basement of the present Town Office Building. If it is I would recognize it. I recall seeing different officers drive past. I remember especially Albert Sherman, grandfather of Wendell Sherman. He sat up in one seated open wagon, and his sidewhiskers floated out in the breeze. He was a selectman. Although of course I am writing of time long before women had the right to vote franchise there was one women on the School Board, Annie Sherman of North Westport . She drove a smart little horse and an unusual one-seated canopy top carriage. The Town Hall was then what is now the Catholic Hall. I do not know the exact date but in the middle ’90’s when the High went permanently to the Head, the upper floor was free for Town Meeting purposes and the lower floor was transformed into offices. It seemed very grand. The first two rooms were the School Committee room on the right, and the Public Library on the left. The treasurer had an enclosure with an iron grating in front for his protection and all teachers near enough to do so went there for their pay in cash, as did workers on roads. Grocers who supplied the Town Farm and anyone who supplied fuel for school houses was paid there. These rooms relieved the home of officers from some of the business. In the earlier days, I do not remember, but I have heard my mother say that the Registrars of Voters met at our house. If they were working on a voting list she
provided dinner for all. After they went to the Town Hall I remember on registering days they came up in relays to supper so as not to leave the place closed. A great deal of business was transacted in our living room. Dog licenses, marriage licenses, and burial permits were made out. It was not uncommon in summer when Daniel Sanford, the constable who had been forced to visit homes where there were unlicensed dogs whose owners had been tardy since April 1st in coming across with the two or five dollar fee to spend an entire morning in the chair beside my father’s desk. Some of these tardy owners expected to pay, but found it easier to wait for Daniel’s visit than to make the trip to Central Village. We understood perfectly that \Ne should make no disturbance of any sort when people were there. We were allowed to sit on the other side of the room in cold weather and play some quiet game. People sometimes would sit there a whole morning looking over records. Selectmen were always coming to see Town Meeting records to see what a certain vote might have been. Beside Albert Sherman, I recall two others, Andrew Sowle of Westport Point, and George Eddy Handy of Horseneck Road.
Town Meeting day was one of the high lights. It began for me before it actually opened by looking out and if possible be the first to announce that Richmond’s Bakery cart was going down. That meant Town Meeting cake without which no Town Meeting was complete. If the weather was suitable long tables were stretched on horses in the yard, if not in the lower hall inside. As I recall there were three sizes, small ones for five cents each, the next two for a quarter, and a large size for twenty-five cents. They were in content much like an old fashioned bun and contained large raisins sparingly used.
Most men munched these with a mug of coffee. The most affluent could obtain a dinner in the Grange Hall. Nearly every man on leaving carried home a paper bag of Town meeting cake, and if you looked in the dinner pails of children the next day it would be only a rare one which did not contain more or less of it. It was always the day for company. Women from other parts of the town availed themselves of a chance to visit friends or relatives while their husbands were attending to the town’s business. My mother began making pies early as no telling how many would come for the day, and her Saturday rack full of pies was usually depleted over Sunday. Then too, horses had to be “parked” for the day. As we had a large barn there were several vacant stalls and .
often horses were hitched on the threshing floor. The barnyard and dooryard were filled with carriages. Most men were considerate enough to bring feed for their horses, but occasionally somebody would dig into our grain barrels. Some men never failed to come to our barn year after year.
Our carriages were always undercover. There was room for four. There was on shed with no floor for the two second best-a covered wagon and an open wagon. The carriage house had during the time my father was in the undertaking business been occupied by the hearse. That I do not remember, but later when a new carryall was brought home was a very proud day. It was a very good carriage made especially to order by George L. Brownell of New Bedford. A little metal plate on the back bore his name. The seats were upholstered in a very dark green felt and there was nice carpeting on the floor. It was well equipped with well fitting buttoned curtains and a rubber boot for rainy weather to keep one dry. There was an opening in the boot for the reins to go in. When not in use the boot could be neatly folded and placed under a flap on the dashboard. I would have liked a “canopy top” which was then coming into style, but these my father said were fine in summer, but very impractical. So I took solid comfort in feeling that no one that I knew of had a better looking carryall. A large tan colored cloth which had formerly covered the hearse to keep the dust off now covered the carryall. It shared the carriage house with a buggy.
While one did not have to think of whether or not there was gas, wheels had to be greased. Sometimes a carriage would go by, and the squeaking noise told that someone had neglected to grease the wheels. It also made it much more difficult for the horse. Then, too, the spokes of the wheels would become dry and shrink. It was considered a good plan I recall to drive through the brooks not only to let the horse drink, but it was good for the wheels and also for the horse’s hooves which became dry and sometimes cracked. There were visits to the blacksmith shop, and to the carriage maker “to get the tires ser when rims became loose. I always thought these were free services as I never saw any money passed, but learned that as my father owned both these buildings these seemingly free services were a part payment of rent.
I always hoped to get to New Bedford at least twice a year-spring and fall.
Sometimes for a new hat, coat, or shoes. My coats were often “hand me downs” but hats were usually new. Nichols & Damon’s shoes store was elegant with its long plush seats. Both these men and the clerks always seemed to recognize us and called my father by name which I considered a great honor. Haskell & Tripp, Whiting’s, Moynan’s, and John Spare’s were the leading dry goods stores. Briggs and Lav.1rence was the predecessor of Wing’s, but Waite’s carpet store was patronized by my mother because her cousin was the manager there. I always felt very grand when we entered Kirby & Hicks’ stable on Elm Street in our new carryall, and a colored man came to take our horse. Perry’s stable was close by, but as both Kirby and Hicks had come from Westport my father patronized them. The ladies’ room with its red plush seats rivaled over Nichols & Damon’s, and the flush toilet was a source of wonder. When it came time to go home, the carriage was sometimes let down by some mysterious contrivance from a higher level where it had been parked during the day. “James Henry” was brought out and hitched to the carryall, and usually went prancing out of the stable, anxious to get on his way back to Westport.
As far as stores were concerned a visit to Abraham Manchester’s in Adamsville as a good substitute for a trip to New Bedford. There was a large assortment of almost anything I can think of except furniture and ready made clothing. Although Deborah’s name did not appear on the sign she was a very important partner. If ever there was a saleswoman Deborah was one. I don’t suppose she ever had a course in salesmanship . She must have had an inborn talent for her work, and I believe thoroughly enjoyed it. She would wait on customers as fast as possible, and at the same time keep the store full of waiting ones feel that they were recognized and not being neglected. She would call out a cheery greeting to one, make a comment on the weather, ask how this one’s grandfather was and find something personal to say to everyone. She would always say, “Now, Mr. Macomber, let the children look around all they want to, and they are all welcome to go upstairs too.” Once I recall being much enamored with a little tin horse and milk wagon with a little driver on the seat. Deborah noticed my admiration of it, and that I was making it known to my father and called out, “That’s right, I’m sure he will buy it for you.” I went home with it and every child in the last seventy years enjoyed this fifty cent toy. A few years ago when going through Adamsville I had a desire to go in, but nothing was the same except the cheeses for which they were noted. Deborah’s as we often called it is just a memory. This year I passed through Adamsville and it caused me a pang to find it closed.
As children we had a pretty good supply of books. I have one now with the date of 1892 in it. It was much read, still intact, with the back carefully sewed to keep the pages together. I am happy to still have several. We had all the customary games such as dominoes, checkers, jackstraws, parchesi, authors, tiddledy winks, and many spinning games. Sophia had one game called “Poultry Show.” The board had brightly colored pictures of a turkey, hen duck, and rooster in the corners. By spinning and obtaining the right number you might land on a spot giving a prize for turkeys, etc. This was a favorite game and treated with utmost care by Sophia, and she instilled it in Mabel and me also to a certain extent, but not sufficiently that she could trust it to me unless she was present. Mr. Weeks who boarded with us carefully made a board for me coloring in squares, and I played alone with it by the hour impersonating him as another player. Sitting by the coal stove, I recall interrupting his studying to say, “I beat you, Mr. Weeks.” His usual reply was, “You probably cheated.”
How I could have omitted an account of him when speaking of High School teachers I can’t imagine, but suppose I was sidetracked. He was at our house for several years, first as a teacher, and later studied law by himself as I believe was customary then rather then attending Law School. He came to feel very much at home and often took the liberty to express himself on our behavior. He was very fond of me and I also of him. Once I recall when I felt he had overstepped his self-imposed authority, I boldly stated to him, “You are neither my father, my mother, or the boss of this house.” I cherished for long after I could not wear it a little ring he gave me. He took me once to May Taylor who did some photography in a small way , and had a picture taken of me with my arm on his shoulder.
During the time he was studying law he became very ill with rheumatic fever, and it was a very long siege. His funds were very low, and my mother and father cared for him as best they could for weeks. Since he was a Mason some of the members came to their relief by planning for two to come each night “to watch” with him. While this plan allowed my parents a night’s sleep it was of dubious value to my mother as the “watchers” possessed excellent appetites and consumed large quantities of food. I can remember the big pot of coffee, doughnuts and mince pie put in the top of the coal stove as well as other things at hand. When the long illness was over the Masons presented my mother with a workbasket in recognition of her care.
To return to our amusements, beside our owns books the library, small as it was, filled a need and no Saturday afternoon passed without several of us going for books.
We had sleds in the winter, but mainly we played in the house. The big combination living room, dining room, and town clerk’s office was the center of family living. We did play in the porch chamber warmed by the kitchen fire, but couldn’t in the evening as lamps up there were too dangerous. So dolls, doll carriages, doll beds, and toy tin kitchens were left for games around the big table. Thursday night as very special as the Youth’s Companion never failed to arrive. Some of its stories and other books were read aloud. One winter evening task was the wrapping of the soap stones to be placed in the beds in rooms as cold as ice, and often an extra dashing trip was made upstairs through the icy rooms to change them around. When Aunt Lib next door bought the first hot water bottle it was fine and much more cozy than a stone. Gradually they were relegated to the past. They had been used, too, for the carriage on winter drives to the city. The long handled warming pan which could be filled with hot coals to slide over cold beds became an ornament with its polished brass cover.
The daily trip of the stage was an event each morning and night. It not only brought the mail, carried passengers, but the stage driver had the carefully wrapped newspapers which he tossed out to the customers. Arthur Lawrence was the driver for many years and beside his regular duties did all sorts of errands for people along the way. There were four seats in the stage, the back seat, the middle seat, the one going backwards and the front seat. There was a rack on the back. In the summer the rack, heavy with the trunks of summer boarders, caused the back to sag, and the inside was so full of passengers that Arthur Lawrence sat down on the foot board. These were the days of the hotel, and I recall seeing the long piazza full of summer visitors when we drove down to the Point to take our fist ride over the then new bridge which is no more.
Beside the hotel, summer boarders found meals and lodgings in private homes at the Point. I recall especially the name of Charlotte Macomber. Many who did not give meals let rooms.
As I am writing now in May, May baskets come to mind. In our locality May baskets were not only hung the first day of May but continued all through the month if one’s money held out and the baskets were made small. They might be group affairs which lessened the expenditure of the individual. Half the fun was hiding, being chased and caught, and the last part which was always going inside to help eat the contents of the baskets. Our pastures produced quantities of violets for decoration.
As summer came on huckleberrying filled many, many days. Form it most of our spending money came. Blueberries came first, but they were not plentiful in our locality and if there were any I was not tall enough to pick them. We had an especially good market for our berries as Uncle James Gifford went to New Bedford twice a week with produce in the summer and was always glad to have our berries. Monday morning we all started out with two pails tied around our waists with a string of a discarded apron, a small pail to pick in and a larger one to empty it into when full. The first checkup was to call out “The bottom on my pail is covered.” This of course produced comments as the size of the pails varied. Aunt Lib gave us early instruction and often looked in to see if it had been carried out. “NO use to put a stem or green berry in your pail,” said she. “It must only be picked out later.” With this training in picking and picking over again when we got home, by the time they were measured and put in wooden butter boxes and canner pails there was no stem to be seen. These containers were washed each time in suds, and put out to dry and sweeten in the sun. Sophia took charge of the marking which she did with a piece of chalk both on the outside and inside of each cover ex. S.E.M. 6 qts. Etc. I always felt it a little unfair that her initials implied the berries were all hers. Many times we made a second trip in the afternoon and by the time we had walked up to Uncle James’ to carry the fruits of our labors we were really tired. Uncle James never had any trouble to dispose of our berries and we had many relatives who asked for our berries especially because there was no waste.