Welcome!

Greetings fellow historians and local history enthusiasts...welcome to the Pioneer Valley History Network's blog. You will find postings here that range from exhibit reviews to comments about life in a small museum. This is a forum to share thoughts and ideas, collaborate on events and ask advice from our neighbors throughout the Pioneer Valley. We hope you will take the time to explore our blog and add to it with both comments and postings.

If you are interested in submitting a piece to our site, please see the tab "Our Contributors" for more information.

For more information about PVHN and an events calendar for the region, please visit our website: PVHN.wordpress.com

In the meantime...enjoy!

Sunday, November 11, 2012


WHEN A BULL MOOSE CRASHED THE REPUBLICAN PARTY

By Cliff McCarthy

After the clamor and hyperbole of the 2012 presidential election abates, we cannot help but be drawn to the past for comparison, or at least perspective, on our quadrennial media orgy. What a difference a century makes.

Campaigning was different in 1912, when the nation experienced one of its wildest and most bizarre presidential elections.  That was the year that former President Teddy Roosevelt broke with the Republican Party, which he claimed had been taken over by a conservative faction, and sought election under the new Progressive Party banner.  Proclaiming himself as healthy as a "bull moose," TR vigorously stumped around the country, giving speeches from the caboose of a campaign train.  He called for stronger federal regulation of the economy and lambasted irresponsible corporate greed.  In Milwaukee on October 14, he was shot by a local saloonkeeper, the bullet lodging in his chest after penetrating his steel eyeglass case and a folded copy of his speech.  He gave the speech, then went to the hospital.

His rival, the rotund William H. Taft, disdained campaigning.  His strategy was to rely on the stature of his office and the Republican machine to deliver the necessary votes, while leading from the White House -- the first "Rose Garden campaign."  It may have been an omen when his running-mate, Vice-President James S. Sherman, died less than a week before the election.

The beneficiary of the Republicans' turmoil was the Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson, whose "New Freedom" campaign highlighted individualism and a less powerful federal government.  At that time, only one Democrat had won the presidency in the previous half-century.

Adding to the mix, Eugene V. Debs ran a credible fourth party campaign on the Socialist Party ticket, winning nearly a million votes nationwide -- 6% of the popular vote -- having spent a total of $66,000 on his campaign.  And there was even a Prohibition Party candidate.

However wild the campaign was, the result was predictable.  Roosevelt effectively split the Republican vote, throwing the election to Woodrow Wilson in an electoral college landslide.  Roosevelt became the only third-party candidate to beat a mainstream candidate, Taft, in the electoral count.

Massachusetts went Democratic that year, supporting Wilson and Eugene Foss as Governor.  However, the staunchly Republican counties of the Pioneer Valley bucked the trend: Franklin and Hampshire went for Taft, while Wilson won Hampden by just thirty-five votes.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Recovering 19th Century Cornerstones


Submitted by:  Barbara Pelissier, Westhampton Historical Society 

What do 19th century churches and lunatic asylum’s have in common?  Both had dedication ceremonies that included the placement of a cornerstone either at or near the entrance or within the facade of the structure. Often accompanied by music and a simple Masonic ritual involving corn, wine and oil, sometimes not, the placement of a sealed rectangular box (usually copper) within the hollowed out cornerstone of the new edifice was common.  What was in the box?  Current issues of the local newspapers, copies of town reports, state reports, church reports, city directories, lists of members, contributors, directors or local politicians. Frequently, a few coins of various denominations or medallions were included. Sometimes there were historic and moving letters addressed, literally, to posterity.  They had every confidence we would recover their words and artifacts.  I’m not that confident.

The closing of state hospitals and the recent consolidation of many Catholic churches in the Pioneer Valley has left the fate of these cornerstone boxes in jeopardy.  Dedication dates are easily found in printed church histories, state asylum reports, or municipal reports.  A simple search of local newspaper databases or microfilm on the day of or the day following a dedication ceremony will provide current town/city planners with valuable information about any endangered historic documents or relics that may be lost to demolition or private sale.

I would like to see demolition delay ordinances amended to allow for implementation routinely on all 19th century public or religious structures slated for demolition until a determination is made as to whether any boxes lie within. If so, contractors can be instructed to carefully dismantle the specific sections of buildings that typically contain cornerstone boxes and be on the lookout for them.  Some know exactly where to find them. Boxes should be recovered from structures slated for sale by a municipality or church.  What can you do?  Make a copy of any cornerstone information you discover in your collections or research and send it to the planning department as well as the historical commission of that town/city.

For a description of a Masonic cornerstone laying ceremony, visit Phoenixmasonry.org.

A general history of cornerstones can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cornerstone

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Making of a “History Nerd”


Submitted by Penni Martorell, Wistariahurst Museum Curator and Holyoke City Historian.

In recent years, I have proudly brandished the title of “history nerd.” It was only recently that I realized that I was not like most of my peers. I have always been the one who wanted to know more about an item or artifact--who made it, where did it come from, how was it used and why don’t we still use them. As I reflect, I realize this character trait comes from spending many days after school at my aunt and uncle’s antique store. Many hours were spent in “The Shop” under the guise of dusting for a few cents spending money. But mostly I was imagining, playing with, and handling the many wooden, ceramic, glass, decorative and furniture items. I can still conjure up the smells, textures, and colors of many of the standard items—ceramic jugs, wooden bowls, candle holders and molds, tin boxes and all sorts of chairs.

What a gift my aunt and uncle gave to me, allowing me to experience these material items, with a quick lesson in colonial American history as my Uncle walked by posing questions--what it was used for, where did I think it was made, and why it might be valuable. The wash basins, the cooking utensils, the medical instruments, the tables and chairs—they all had a story. I learned to distinguish the claw and ball feet of certain chairs; how a flintlock rifle mechanism worked, and how dovetailed drawers are put together. Documents, newspapers, books, and photographs backing up the history I was learning at school. But nothing was more exciting than helping out at the local historical society on occasion. Here there was a colonial schoolhouse set up with desks, slates, and primers for children like me. And oh what fun it was when my Aunt donning colonial period clothing as the school marm and teaching school for visiting patrons.

For me History has always involved material culture—the physical objects of the past left for us to examine and explore, and providing all the fodder necessary to drive an historians’ research and inquiry.

So it is no surprise that museum work was a natural fit. For me there is nothing more satisfying than seeing a child engage their imagination with what it might have been like in the past; to hear their questions; to see their faces light up with curiosity; to hear the who, what, when, why and how questions uttered with hands raised and the “Oo, Oo, Oos!”.

Thankfully there are many folks who have never grown tired of pondering history. The pioneer valley is full of small historical museums, societies and associations staffed by tireless volunteers who also enjoy sharing material culture with anyone who is interested. Perhaps they too had a historically engaged childhood.

I encourage you, reader, to take advantage of these local historical sites to challenge your children to ponder and question the materials that fill the rooms. And if you don’t know where to start -- it is here -- exploring the Pioneer Valley History Network website.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Northfield Riverboat Tours


By Betsy McKee

Earlier this summer we booked a tour on the Quinnetukut II, which is supposed to be a replica of the boat from the old movie “African Queen.”  Our captain took us on a tour down the Connecticut River to Turners Falls, with a guide telling us facts about the river, the geology, the wildlife, the power plant and local history.  The boat was comfortable and spacious. We saw great blue herons and swans, though the bald eagles made themselves scarce.

The Quinnetukut operates Friday through Sunday from late June to mid October. The tour takes about 90 minutes, and you can charter the entire boat for a special event.  The main building includes a parking area, classroom, displays and restrooms.  A short distance up the road in Northfield you can find treats and ice cream. 

For more information, check out their website: www.firstlightpower.com/northfield/riverboat.asp

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Carnegie Hero Fund Awardees

By Barbara Pelissier

Did the individual you are researching perform a heroic deed or even die while trying to save the life of another?  If so, there’s a possibility that a Carnegie Hero Award was bestowed upon that individual or, posthumously, upon their surviving family members.  Such was the case for Patrick O’Connor of Southampton, Massachusetts.  

In the winter of 1908 Patrick died while attempting to save two young brothers who had fallen through the ice on a mill pond in the neighboring town of Northampton. With Christmas approaching, the Daily Hampshire Gazette newspaper established a fund for Patrick’s widow and two young children.  As contributions from readers and Valley residents poured in, the Gazette’s editor wisely pursued long-term relief for the surviving family through the Carnegie Hero Fund. By early spring, Harriet O’Connor was awarded a monthly allotment of $35 for life . Both children received $5 per month until the age of 16.  The Fund also sent Mrs. O’Connor a Carnegie Hero medallion, which Patrick’s grateful grandchild now treasures. A Carnegie Hero gravestone marker will soon adorn his final resting place. In the meantime, the descendants of Mr. O'Connor recently gathered at his grave site to honor his sacrifice: Patrick O'Connor of Southampton Honored by Family for 1908 Rescue Bid

Locally, Longmeadow’s W. Howard Aureswald, Florida’s Chester A. Burdick, Northampton’s Ubald A. Arel and, posthumously, Springfield’s Cirlo Achille were all Carnegie Hero Awardees. 
Because heroism never goes out of style, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission keeps busy with their investigations and awards.  Their inspirational centennial book, A Century of Heroes, can be requested by phone or online.  Their newsletter, imPULSE, is also free of charge.  The June 2012 imPULSE featured 19 year old awardee Nathan Yassen, from Brockton, Massachusetts. Fortunately, Nathan recovered from the effects of smoke inhalation after saving his 97 year old neighbor when her house caught fire one night last year.
   
The Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, based in Pittsburgh, PA, is a private foundation established in 1904 by Andrew Carnegie.  Contact them at (800) 447-8900 or email: carnegiehero@carnegiehero.org Search for awardees or learn more about the Carnegie Hero Fund at: www.carnegiehero.org

Friday, August 10, 2012

Travel the Tiffany Trail – Springfield Museums

By Maggie Humberston

On a hot, muggy afternoon in the Valley sometimes an exhibit comes along that just seems to re–write your soggy, wilted script. The Tiffany Trail at the Springfield Museums is doing that for me this summer. The D’Amour Museum of Fine Art is hosting
Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Art. You enter a cool, low-lit gallery full of botanical shapes, unexpected textures and glorious colors – all executed in glass. One thing I like is that right away you’re oriented to the craft involved; two cases at the beginning of the show feature samples of the glass used in the pieces and the process of joining those pieces together into an artistic leaded glass whole. This gives the visitor an immediate appreciation of what’s involved in the creation of these decorative art lamps. As you walk through the show, the colors from the lampshades glow from their electric light, allowing you to see every intricate detail in their make-up. The show features a number of pieces of leaded glass, but also has blown glass, and my favorite, “favrile fabrique,” which renders glass into pleated folds that looks like cloth. Supplemental photos in large format depict the Tiffany Company workshops and sales rooms in New York, newspaper advertisements, and some of the botanical inspirations for the work. The show runs through Sept. 9th.

Accompanying the show is the MFA’s exhibit of its own contemporary glass. It features works of older masters like Rene Lalique and Louis Comfort Tiffany himself, along with contemporary glass artists like Josh Simpson and Dale Chihuly.

On to the George Walter Vincent Smith Museum, built in 1895 and appropriately late Victorian in d├ęcor, to see the newly restored Tiffany windows which were commissioned by the Smiths themselves. Upstairs don’t miss Tiffany’s “The Light Bearer”,  given by the Bowles family, owners of the Springfield Republican, to the Church of the Unity, one of Henry Hobson Richardson’s churches, once holding court across State Street in Springfield. Sadly, it was demolished in the 1960s – to put up a parking lot.

Finally – and I did say it was a trail, right – you should go over to the new Wood Museum of Springfield History to see the Tiffany engraved guns on the second floor. There are lots of great photos of Springfield in the early 20th century on the walls to take you back to the heyday of Tiffany himself, and while you’re there you can see the kinds of industrial innovations and neat luxury cars that were the capstone of his era.       

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Locating Final Resting Places and Viewing Images Online

By Barbara Pelissier, Westhampton Historical Society 

Discovering as much information as possible about the person you are researching generally includes finding a final resting place.  Whether compiling documents of your town’s veterans or researching your own personal genealogy, an accompanying image of a headstone and the location of the cemetery helps to round out a good search.  Thanks to the legwork of countless passionate volunteers, cemeteries from Hampshire County to Zimbabwe (yes, Zimbabwe!) have been photographed and indexed at www.findagrave.com.  Best of all, the results are available online at no cost. You don’t have to travel to the other side of the country or wait impatiently for the snow to melt in a Vermont graveyard to see your ancestor’s headstone.

Chances are good that you’ll find even the oldest ‘hidden’ cemeteries have been digitally cataloged, photographed and posted online.  One fine example is the headstone of Ramsford Avery and his wife Polly, shown here:

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GScid=2329244&GRid=51785916&. 



This stone stands in a remote cemetery on a steep hillside along a sparsely populated road in Hampshire County, Massachusetts.  But the Averys are not alone in their resting place…a total of 93 headstones have been photographed and cataloged on the website, as well as photos of the cemetery itself and driving directions.

For those who don’t drive or are physically unable to scramble up that hill, www.findagrave.com is simply invaluable.  Individuals who cannot physically navigate a cemetery can successfully navigate www.findagrave.com. You can view every stone in that cemetery or visit cemeteries thousands of miles away without spending a single cent on gas. Leave your bathrobe and slippers on and virtually stroll through the graveyards at midnight, if you like.  These gates don’t close at dark!