Sunday, December 10, 2017

First snow

Fresh snow, the first real snow of the season, covers our yard. About four inches fell yesterday and another two during the night. The eastern sky has lines of pink as this Sunday begins.

I awoke very early and spent two hours reading in bed before dawn. I'm reading the draft of the Pine Knoll story, a book of family history written by my cousin Janet Nichols Derouin as she compiled entries from old letters and family diaries.  The year is 1860...

By the fourth of December Mr. Daily was working full time on the cellar hole and North Danvers had its first snow fall of the season, four inches which came in the night, and Andrew commented the next day:  1st. sleighing of the season.  I staid in office and washed Harness with castile sope and oiled Boots in AM. 
 On the eighth he wrote: went skating for the 1st. time  On Mill Pond 2 hours in PM. 

I smiled at the phrase "1st. sleighing of the season." Yesterday, as Ken and I drove home through gently-falling snow, most of the well-travelled roads were partly slush, with some wet black pavement showing.  But when we turned onto our street, the roadway was evenly white, with the snow cover rather smoothly packed into place. "Ready for sleighing," I had commented. Packing snow down, rather than plowing it or spreading salt to melt it away, was the old-fashioned method of dealing with snow on roadways.  Ken and I have neither sleigh nor horse, but we have sometimes, after snowstorms, skied along our road before the city plows arrive to spoil the fun.

Historic note: the cellar hole mentioned above was the beginning of the house that my great-grandfather Andrew would build on his newly-acquired farmland in north Danvers. That house would come to be known as "Pine Knoll" and I have many memories of it. Andrew was 23 at that time, engaged but not yet married.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Cow Tunnel

Rob Jackson, a classmate who lived in the Danvers Highlands during most of his childhood, recalls running through a "cow tunnel" with his friends. Recently he showed me on a map the approximate location of that old tunnel.

He says the tunnel was under Route 1,  connecting from the Endicott farm (east of Route 1) to property just below the Danvers State Hospital, in a low, nearly wetland (pasture), that seemed to be on or near the lowest portions of the original Watson Farm, west of Route 1.

Some years ago, from memory, he had drawn a sketch of the tunnel.  I saw his sketch for the first time on October 19, 2017. He says it is not drawn to scale.

Rob also had used an image from Google Earth (below) to draw in the location of the cow tunnel under Rt.1. He wrote in an email, "The big yellow dot marks the location of the tunnel's east end. ... The short narrow road in the photo that shows to be about 30 to 50 feet north of the yellow dot is actually the far end of the original Ingersoll Street that ended at Rt.1." 

Rob drew yellow line for cow tunnel position; looking north.

Update: Rob recently requested information from the Town of Danvers. He reports that Rick Rodgers, Town Engineer, and Miriam Contois, Technical Administrative Assistant, and others of the engineering staff for the Engineering & Electrical Division, Town of Danvers, were most helpful. They showed him "A Plan & Profile of State Highway in the Town of Danvers" – dated 1948.  He examined various prints depicting the overall changes made (or to be made) to Route 1 that include the stretch of roadway in the vicinity of the junction of Ingersoll St.

The 1948 plans show a "Cattle Pass " under Rt. 1 exactly where Rob had marked "cow tunnel" on the Google Earth image.
1948 plan with Cattle Pass; looking south.
In 2009 Rob had explored the area, trying to find evidence of the old structure. He found the east end of the tunnel (now blocked) and took these next photos.

After meeting with Rob, I wrote a summary of what we know about this cow tunnel. I've submitted the piece to the Danvers Herald, and hope it may draw comments from other people who have information about cow tunnels in Danvers. We'd like to learn about the history of this cow tunnel, when it was designed and how it was originally used.  

Mr. Richard Trask, Danvers Archives, recalled reading something about cows and Route 1 in Endicott family papers written early in the 20th century, when that farm was very active. He checked and found a May 1922 letter from attorney Ira Ellis to William C. Endicott mentioning "conditions on the turnpike running through your mother's estate" and questioning "whether or not the District Engineer had remedied the condition at the head of Ingersoll Street so that cows could be driven across the Turnpike...  If in reply to this letter you shall advise me that the cows cannot at present be driven to the pasture I will take up this matter with ... and will endeavor to impress upon him the urgency of the situation and the injury that is being caused through the delay in remedying it."

Friday, October 27, 2017


During my recent visit to Danvers, I explored two cemeteries and searched, unsuccessfully, for a third.

Somewhere on Spring Street, behind a modern house, are grave markers for ancestors in the Prince family.  In childhood, with my mother, I walked by those stones, not understanding their significance.  I've written previously about my surprised reaction when Mommy pointed to the name John Prince on a gravestone and casually commented that if I'd been a boy, I might have been named John Prince Nichols. Someday I'd like to find that stone again.  Older cousins have given me clues and instructions of where to walk, but I haven't yet succeeded in finding it.  I need a guide.

Meanwhile, I guided my friend Heather Massey to another old cemetery, one on Preston Street that is very easy to find. She and I had been indoors at a conference all day, and were eager for fresh air and exercise in the waning light of late afternoon. She kicked off her shoes and walked barefoot as I gave her a quick tour around historic graves of my relatives and of other Danvers families.

I was quite surprised to see that an old badly damaged tree is STILL standing, still alive.  I remember family gatherings around that tree we said goodbye to another family member some years ago. The tree looked terribly broken and unbalanced then; today it looks about the same.

The Nichols family gravestone also looks the same as I remember it.  Names are carved on both sides, starting with my great grandparents Andrew Nichols (1837-1921) and Elizabeth Perkins Stanley (a.k.a. Lizzie Nichols) and their eight children. They lived nearby at 98 Preston Street. Their daughter Mary Eliot Nichols, born in that house, became a beloved Danvers school teacher. She lived into her 90's, dying in the same bedroom where she had been born! I attended her funeral, in the parlor of that house, in 1966. Her sister Margaret, the last survivor of that generation, lived until 1968. Her funeral, too, was held at home in that parlor.

My friend Heather specializes in helping families care for their own dead at home, so these stories of old-fashioned family ceremonies are meaningful to her. 

Some of the monuments for other families had broken or fallen; some are laid flat on the ground. These two with the name "Swan" caught me eye.  I recall seeing an old business card from my great-grandfather with an address given as "Swan's Crossing."  I haven't yet learned the story of that name.

I had with me a directory of active cemeteries, and was surprised that the list for Danvers was quite long. Many cemeteries are clustered on Buxton Road, an address not familiar to me. With GPS, I found it. Here is a photo of the entrance sign on appropriately-named Cemetery Road, at the intersection with Rte 114.

One cemetery maintenance company is managing a number of Jewish cemeteries in that area, and advertising services for cleaning monuments.   

Some monuments are much less formal, and not even in cemeteries.  While exploring the upper end of Nichols Street last week, and trying to get a good view north to the hill where I had once lived, I walked through the woods and emerged near Rte 95. Nearby in the grassy area along Route 95 I saw this cross, comemmorating the death of a young man on 8/8/2009:

In the distance, over the cross, early morning sunlight illuminated what is left of "Nichols Hill" – my former home and site of so many childhood memories.