Monday, July 11, 2016

Five years ago

Another birthday passed this weekend.  I considered writing something about my experience with summer birthdays, and illustrating it with a well-remembered photo of one party.  This morning I arose early with that composition in my mind.  Wondering if I had already posted that photo on this blog, I typed "summer birthday" in the search box.  Fortunately, that search function works well.

Yes, I had posted the photo AND written a column in summer 2011.  

Unfortunately, the link to the Danvers Herald column no longer worked. Nor could I find it easily via the newspaper's online site (   I did find my original on my own computer, dated 5/30/2011, and here it is:

Summer birthdays and a reunion
By Sandy Nichols Ward

I was born in July, an inconvenient month for celebrating a birthday with school friends. I felt a bit jealous of my friends who had birthdays during the school year. Recognition of their special days came more easily, or so it seemed to me. I don't recall whether our teachers made announcements of birthdays or whether word just spread informally among the students, but I know that I felt left out of the school-based loop for communicating about birthdays. By July there was no one around to pay attention to a birthday, except my immediate family and a few neighborhood friends. 

My mother was not in the habit of planning big parties for birthdays.  Birthdays in our family were usually simple affairs: a homemade cake, a few sensible gifts, and the singing of "Happy Birthday to You."  It was rare to invite guests. 

I can only remember one large party organized for my birthday.  My friends and I sat outside around a large table set up under the trees near the big barn.  I've found a few photos of this party; I count fourteen children around the table, including myself and my sister Jean.  The photos are not dated, but from various clues I've decided that this was probably my 7th birthday, July 1950, the summer after first grade, or at most one year later.  Raymond Dirks is on my right, and I recognize the faces of Janet Hoberg and Gordon Lindroth.

Coincidently, I hope to see some of these SAME friends in Danvers this summer, not because anyone is organizing a birthday party, but because my classmates are all invited to the BIG FLING, the 50th Class Reunion of the Holten High Class of 1961!  I look forward to attending this reunion, which actually falls on the weekend of my birthday, July 8-10, 2011.  At last! A school event on my birthday! 

I'll bring along the old photos of the 1950 party, hoping that others may recognize faces and have fun identifying the guests at that long-ago party.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Old wiring at Pine Knoll

Recently my cousin C. Stuart Brewster and I reminisced about Pine Knoll (the old family homestead at 98 Preston Street, Danvers) and the condition of its electrical wiring, which has been quite visible in the rooms, running across or along the edges of ceilings. We both recall older family members there bragging about the early adoption of electricity. The family was proud that Pine Knoll was one of the first homes in Danvers to be electrified. Stuart had heard that it was the very FIRST such home.

Is that true? Was Pine Knoll one of the first homes to have electric lights? When and how did electricity come to private homes in Danvers?

Neither of us knew that history. I sent an inquiry to Mr. Richard Trask at the Danvers Archival Center, and he looked into the records of the Danvers Electric Light Department and reported these facts: 
·       The light plant on Burroughs Street opened and 72 arc* street lights began functioning in Danvers on January 2, 1889.

·       Danvers was the first municipality in Massachusetts to generate and distribute its own electricity.

·       In 1891 the state legislature approved Danvers’ request to make and sell electricity to businesses and residences (Chapter 378 of the Acts of 1891).

·       According to a brochure by the Department, the house at 24 Berry Street “was the first private residence to receive electric service.”  That house was built in 1896.

·       August 1897 “A. Nichols” was charged $1.33 for “Domestic Incand.” electricity.

Pine Knoll may well have been the first private house in that section of Danvers (then called Asylum Station, later called Hathorne) to be wired for electric lights. In any case, it was an early installation, soon after December 1896 when such service began in Danvers.

*Arc light systems were high voltage direct-current (D.C.) systems, and could not supply household electricity.

If you are curious about the politics and arguments involved in obtaining state approval for Danvers electric light service, here's a document I found on the internet: 33 pages of testimony by Daniel Crowley, a lawyer representing Danvers:
       Argument ... in favor of municipal lighting, before the Committee on manufactures of the Massachusetts legislature, March 24 and 25, 1891.
It is long-winded and full of exaggerations, but does give you a flavor of those times. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Rev. William S. Nichols

Today, as a historic church in Marblehead, Massachusetts, celebrates its TriCentennial (1716-2016), I am thinking of my grandfather, Rev. William S. Nichols, who served as minister there 1943-46.  His portrait hangs in a room now called the Nichols room.

For more about the TriCentennial, visit

I had hoped to attend today's ceremony.  Instead, I'm at home selecting some photos of my grandfather to scan and share here.  For instance:

Rev. William S. Nichols
Click on photo to enlarge

Rev. Nichols at Star Island
Photo reproduced in a booklet in his memory
published by the Unitarian Church, Marblehead, 1960.
I love this photo of him in front of the stone chapel at Star Island (Isles of Shoals). He attended Unitarian conferences there every summer for many, many years, I'm told. Unfortunately he had died before I, as a teenager, first discovered Star. I worked several summers on that island, and people sometimes exclaimed that it was good to have a Nichols on Star again. (At first, I didn't understand the reference, not realizing that my grandfather had preceded me.)

Here is a 1952 photo of my grandparents, Granddaddy and Nana, as I knew them in their retirement years.  I remember them so clearly! We lived right next door to them in Danvers. We ran freely from our yard to theirs, and spent many hours in their home. Grandaddy built us a playhouse, and took time to read books and play games with us. A delightful grandfather!

I want to share, from the 1960 "In Memoriam" booklet, some information relevant to family history and the history of the Marblehead church.  Here's an image of the booklet cover:

A Preface states that this "little brochure" was prepared and published by the Fund Raising Committee of the Unitarian Church of Marblehead "in loving memory of Doctor William Stanley Nichols, minister emeritus"  who "though already retired, gave in good measure his valued services during the years of World War II."  Four of his sermons were selected for reproduction in this booklet.

From the "Editor's Forward" (see below), we learn that my grandfather preached again in Marblehead May 18, 1958, just days before he died. 
Click on image to enlarge
The editor, Ruth Goodwin, wrote at the end, "Thus do we quote, remember and honor our valued friend and leader who was the great great great grandson of Edward Holyoke, who was ordained the first minister of our Marblehead Unitarian Church two hundred and forty-four years ago this month." She was writing in April 1960. 

Now it is 300 years since my ancestor Rev. Edward Holyoke started that church. I gather from the history posted on the website that he didn't intend to create a new church. A controversy erupted when he, as a candidate for minister of an older church, was not chosen; people who favored his candidacy broke away and established a new church for him. He served there for 21 years, until appointed to become President of Harvard College.

Growing up in Danvers, I heard relatives speak of a famous ancestor, Edward Holyoke, who was a president of Harvard long ago. I didn't then comprehend the connections to Marblehead or to ministry. (All presidents of Harvard in those early days had to be ministers...)  Nor did I see my grandfather as a minister.  He was 100% "Granddaddy" as far as I was concerned.