Friday, December 25, 2015

Christmas fern


I saw this lovely Christmas fern yesterday in the woods near Ashley Reservoir (Holyoke, MA). The day was misty and mild, more spring-like than typical of December days. I recognized this distinctive fern by its little leaflets shaped like Christmas stockings all in a row. My mother taught me that identification clue years ago in Danvers, and I've never forgotten it. 

Today I saw many other examples at the Mount Tom State Reservation, and paused along the Bray Lake trail to take this photo of a few Christmas ferns by a small flowing brook: 

The New York Times published a related article online today: The Christmas Fern, a Cold-Weather Frond by David Taft. He writes, "There is little mystery about how the Christmas fern got its name. Its timing was right; it is green when much of the natural world is brown, absent or dormant. There is, however, a more subtle reminder of the holiday season to find among its fronds. Each of the pinnae — the individual leaflets of any fern — is shaped like a little Christmas stocking, and with a bit of imagination, you can picture the little feet marching up the fern’s central stem, or rachis."  
Exactly.  Merry Christmas to all!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Sleigh bells

Old sleigh bells on leather straps hung for years by our front door in Danvers – one strap on each side of the doorway. The bells were made of heavy brass. My mother called them Russian sleigh bells, but I don't know where she obtained them, or why she called them Russian. I loved the sound and the look of those vintage bells.

Years later, when I had inherited one strap of the sleigh bells, I decided to apply some saddle-soap or leather conditioner to help preserve the very dry leather belt, which felt brittle and cracked in places. As my fingers worked along that belt, rubbing the ointment into the old leather, I encountered some lettering that had been stamped or embossed into the leather long ago. The letters were English, not Russian, and spelled CHICAGO.  I also saw the name "SEARS" so I realized these were American made. Perhaps my mother considered them Russian style bells.

I now use the bells each December in Christmas concerts played by the South Hadley Community Band, accompanying my husband Ken, who plays cornet.
This photo was taken December 4, 2015, when we played outdoors on the South Hadley Commons while families lined up to greet Santa Claus.

I stand quietly with the bells slung over my shoulders, waiting for my parts.  The best one is Jingle Bells.  I jump up and down to make the bells ring. They give a wonderful sound.

I used to shake them in my hands, but they are heavy and my arms tire quickly. I prefer to use my shoulders and legs to support the bells.  It is fun to jiggle up and down, playing these bells with the band. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Rug hooked by S.M.Morse

Here is an old photo of the hooked rug made by Sadie May Morse for my parents' first house at 120 Nichols St, Danvers. My mother gave Sadie many images and ideas to incorporate into the design. Sadie patterned the rug after a much smaller Swedish "Tree of Life" rug; note the branching structure in center. Above that, you can see a couple dancing – my parents swinging in a square dance, no doubt.

Click on image to enlarge 
Look closely, and you'll find many other representations of my parents and what they loved: my mother's horse, my father's sailboat, someone playing ice hockey, a horse jumping. The symbol for the Putney Ski Club (a duck on skis) is even included. My parents were skiers and had met in Putney, VT, though I don't know if they ever skied there. My mother, Janet Cutler, worked two summers in the late 1930's as a camp counsellor with the horses at the Putney Work Camp, while my father, Nick Nichols, sometimes stayed in a youth hostel there when he came to visit his good friend Al Green, who worked in Putney.

Nick and "Cut" married June 1940. Her initials JCN and his initials NPN can be seen in corners of the rug. Another corner shows the date 1940, and in fourth corner (not visible in the photo above) is the date this rug was made, 1942.  Sadie's last name is also included in the rug, but cleverly hidden.

The geometric patterns around the border of the rug and the big zig-zag lines inside provided structure to childhood games my sister and I invented. The lines were at times "roads" or tracks for little vehicles. Various shapes and spaces on the rug became "pastures" for our farm animals, and so forth. It was a very rich landscape for our play.

See my previous post for more memories of this rug and our little house, especially my father's Tiddlywink golf course using circles and other shapes in this rug as putting greens or "holes." I am writing my next column about that Tiddlywink golf game we so loved.

120 Nichols St

I love this old Christmas card that my father made, with his handwritten message, "Greetings from 120 Nichols Street."  That house was my first home, my only home until I was fourteen. Today I found in my computer something I had written in 2007 about this house and my experiences in it.

Memories of my first home
By Sandy Nichols Ward

For the first 14 years of my life, I lived in a little house at 120 Nichols Street, Danvers, MA. It was a small Cape Cod style house with one window on each side of the front door. As I visualize that house and attempt to describe it in writing, memories come flooding back.  Each room or feature of the house draws distinct memories. I could probably write a chapter about the front door. Let’s start there.

Once upon a time I was a little girl with my first pair of new shoes. I tripped on the front door threshold and hit my forehead very hard. So I’ve been told by my parents as they explained why I had the persistent scar in the center of my forehead.  My bangs usually hung down over the scar so it wasn’t noticeable.  I don’t remember the fall or any pain associated with it, just the story and the little scar.

Another front door story caused pain to my mother every time she re-told it.  But it was also very funny, so we loved the re-telling. The story begins with the creation of a beautiful hooked rug for the living room floor. An old woman in Marblehead hooked the rug by hand with strips of wool dyed to particular colors. My mother had specified that she loved the color that blueberry leaves turn in the fall; she wanted that color as the background for the rug. The design of the rug followed a “tree of life” pattern, but with details changed to reflect my parents’ interests. The figures of my parents dancing together could be seen, as well as their initials, marriage date, and other meaningful images. It was a lovely rug, brilliantly colored in those days. Unfortunately, a house painter added a color that was not intended. He was up high on a ladder painting the exterior of the house with white paint. He had leaned his ladder against the front door. The front door was not locked. At some point the door burst open and the ladder, painter, and can of white paint came crashing into the living-room. I didn’t witness this, but I certainly heard my mother’s disdain for the stupidity of anyone who would prop a ladder against an unlocked door. My poor mother worked hard to clean the paint off that special rug. She did a pretty good job, for the rug was attractive for years. Only as the wool worn down did we begin to see the remnants of the swath of white paint, still adhering to the base of each woolen loop. By then the rug had plenty of patches, too. My mother used sections of denim from old bluejeans (or “dungarees” as she called them) to reinforce the back side of the rug as she tacked down loose loops and stitched together places where the burlap backing had deteriorated. That rug was lovingly maintained over the years. (It is rolled up and stored in my house today – too fragile to use but too much of a treasure to discard. In the 1970’s a rug conservator told me it should be in a museum as a piece of Americana, patches and all, but I didn’t have the required funds to have it professionally repaired and cleaned.)

The size of that rug is telling. It seems very small now, but I know it filled the available space in our living room. It touched the couch on one side, and the fireplace hearth opposite. One end reached the trestle table my grandfather built for us, and the other extended to the desk that sat inside the front door. The patterns on the rug provided tracks or background for our games. Sometimes my sister and I would place our bare feet on the angular lines that zigzagged around the border of the rug, turning as we stepped from line to line to line. The challenge was to keep going in spite of the dizziness induced by the turning. At other times my father set up a Tiddly Wink golf course on the rug, using different patterns as the “holes.” He inverted a dictionary in the middle to separate two small ovals in the rug pattern. We could try to jump the Tiddly Wink OVER the book in one turn, or move around the sides in multiple turns. The final hole of the “golf course” was to land the Tiddly Wink up into a cup on the couch. My father was very skillful with Tiddly Winks and few could beat him. We had lots of fun on that hooked rug, which measures 54 by 86 inches (4’6’’x7’2’’). 

Given the size of that rug, I estimate that the whole living room was only 9x11 feet or possibly 10x12. It seemed plenty big to a child. But looking back, I realize the entire house was quite small. At first there were only four rooms: living-room, kitchen, and two bedrooms, plus a bathroom and very tiny hall connecting from living room to bedrooms and bath.  There was not enough space in the kitchen for a real table, only a fold-down ledge under one window. Grandfather Cutler built us a long narrow trestle-style table to fit in the south end of the living room. We used that as our dining table. He made a wooden bench for one side, and we used wooden arm chairs at either end. He didn’t make a bench for the other side because there was no room; the table had to be against the wall and window. The bench he made could be converted to coffee-table height by removing a few bolts and taking off the footings at the bottom. These footing pieces slid conveniently into a rack under the bench seat, ready to be used again. I have happy memories of using that bench also as a slide. We’d put one end up on the couch, and position a pillow on the floor beyond the other end, and then slide down. Whee!! We also positioned the bench in front of the fireplace and sat there to toast marshmallows, or lay there to dry our hair in front of the fire.

Eventually the house was expanded in two directions. An addition on the back added kitchen space and a back entry hall, where our dog Heidi slept. An addition on the north end split one bedroom to create a longer hall and add a new bedroom beyond. What remained of that older bedroom became my room. It measured 7x9 feet. I’m told that I used to rock so much in my crib that I banged the crib frame against the wall, chipping out a place in the wall. What I remember is the bunk-bed I slept in for years. My parents acquired it from Army Surplus, and it still had the Army drab color. It was only three feet wide, much narrower than a twin size. The frame of the bunk bed entirely filled one side of my room, eliminating 7x3 feet of space. That left 7x6 feet, just enough for the big, tall chest of drawers from my grandfather’s house, and a little desk and chair. There was barely room to swing the door open. When the door was closed, I had a small space to play in the middle of the room.  

I spent many hours alone in that room. My mother believed in “naptime” even if I wasn’t sleepy. I had to play quietly in my room while my younger sister slept in the front bedroom. My mother worked on her typewriter or adding machine in her adjacent bedroom, which doubled as her office; she had been a school teacher, but then became an office assistant and accountant for my father’s small business. The sounds of her office machinery were comforting to me. I never objected, years later in college, to the sounds of a nearby typewriter; those sounds could lull me to sleep.

Another sound I recall came up through the floor of my room. “Pah-ping, pah-pong, pah-ping, pah-pong” could be heard at night when my parents played Ping Pong in the cellar below. They liked to entertain friends there and played many rounds of Ping Pong. The cellar ceiling was rather low, and the ball sometimes got caught in the rafters, causing a rapid-fire volley right under my floor. The sound pattern would change to “Pah-ping, pah-pong, pah-ping, pah-pong, pah-BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM” and then laughter as people retrieved the errant ball and resumed play.

On Monday nights I heard classical music from the radio in the living room. My mother loved to listen to the Firestone hour: Voice of Firestone, a weekly program of excellent music sponsored by Firestone Tire Company, at 8:30 pm EST every Monday for decades.

I remember the bumpy feel of the woven mat on my bedroom floor. The mat was mostly a natural tan color with thin lines of color running in two directions, creating a plaid-like pattern of squares. I used to sort things into those squares, perhaps an early indication that I would become a librarian. One day I used bright crayons to mark each square, and learned that my mother did NOT approve of coloring on the rug! Nor did she approve of my first word written in cursive style. I was so proud that I had figured out how to connect the letters, writing “trees” on the door. That crayon-red word remained on the back of my door for years.

I loved the view out my bedroom window. I could look right into the crabapple tree my mother had planted near the house. I liked to eat the bright red crabapples, even though they were quite sour. My mother made crabapple jelly. I remember sunlight coming through the jars of crabapple jelly sitting on a kitchen window ledge – a beautiful sight!

I also remember one day when I was about seven, and my friends from the neighborhood gathered under that crabapple tree and knocked on my window. Could I come out and play?, they asked. No, said my mother, it was still naptime. I didn’t have to nap, but I had to stay inside my room during that period. I felt much too old to be confined for naptime; none of my friends had such restrictions. Well,  If I couldn’t go out, I figured they could come in. I opened the window and helped them climb in. That was fun. But my mother had a fit. Apparently it was a very BAD idea to invite boys into my bedroom, but I didn’t see why. I thought it was a clever idea. I bet this incident led to the eventual ending of “naptime” for me.  

That's where my 2007 piece ended.  More could be written...   Other memories of my time in this house include playing in the attic on rainy days, the funky ladder that we had to climb to reach the attic, and so forth. Some stories have already been shared elsewhere in this blog. I know I've written about water leaking into the cellar, and the garter snakes that sunned themselves on our front door step, and my pet raccoon leaving sticky paw prints on the dark blue kitchen floor. I'm sure I'll write more stories as they come to mind. In my next post, I'll add a photo of that hooked rug.

[Note to readers: you may use the SEARCH BOX in the upper left to find any keyword within my blog postings. That search tool has been very handy when I've wanted to find a detail I know I had researched earlier, but forgotten. Try typing "spring" in the search box, or "rug" or whatever you wish to find.] 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Hand-made cards, & rug

This morning I happened upon a webpage showing Christmas cards designed and hand-printed in 1930 by Sadie May Morse of Marblehead, MA. Three of her card designs were reproduced 70 years later by owners of a bookstore in Great Britain.

Memories of homemade cards now flood my brain. My father was adept at drawing sketches that turned into cards. He also made cards using photographs he had taken of our home, or of our family. I remember standing on a tall ladder outside our little Danvers house, posing there with my sister and parents for a family photo to be incorporated into a Christmas card. I also recall his hand-drawn maps of our neighborhood and of his ski trails. He wasn't an artist; he was an engineer who could visualize things and make clear drawings of his ideas.

There were real artists in the family and also among my parents' friends, so each year we received many lovely homemade Christmas cards. The unique designs and different styles were fascinating, much more fun than commercially-produced cards. We tended to keep the artistic ones; the commercial ones we cut and recycled into gift tags for the following year. Somewhere I have a bundle of Christmas cards by Danvers artist Richard V. Ellery; Dick and my father were very close friends.

My mother had a connection to Sadie May Morse. I grew up hearing the name "Sadie May Morse" in connection with our living room rug, a hooked rug designed and hooked in 1940 by this woman in Marblehead. How my mother met Sadie May is unknown to me, and I never met her. But I feel a very strong connection through that unique hooked rug on which I played. It had geometric patterns and various colored shapes that provided structure for some of our childhood games.  

I was trying to write about one of those games this morning, and as I began to describe the rug, I decided to double-check the spelling of Sadie's name. Hence my Google search... and discovery that Sadie was an artist in many media, including handprinted Christmas cards.

How did Much Ado, a bookstore in England, come to have Sadie's card designs?  Here's one clue:
"Much Ado’s roots are in a colonial seafront town just north of Boston, Massachusetts. Marblehead, self-proclaimed Yachting Capital of the World, was our home for more than 20 wonderful years.
But we crossed the Atlantic ... years ago to open a new Much Ado in a Medieval English village."
I'm happy to learn that Much Ado "gave most of Sadie May Morse's collection to the Marblehead Historical Society."  That suggests a good way for me to learn more about the woman who created the very special rug that warmed our living room, and enlivened our games, so many years ago.

I did write something about that rug, especially the red color of its background, in a column in the Danvers Herald in 2008: The Color of Blueberry Leaves in the Fall.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Mary Vial

This image of Miss Mary Vial has hung in my home for years:

Click on image to enlarge it

The portrait was made in 1753, when Mary was 15 or 16.  (Since her birthdate was December 19, 1737, she would have been only 15 for most of 1753.)  She was the only child of Boston shopkeepers, according to a book I'm reading this week:
A Day at a Time: the Diary Literature of American Woman from 1764 to the Present. Edited by Margo Culley. (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 1985)
Her diary writing began soon after her marriage (November 22, 1759) to Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke, a prominent physician in Salem, MA. Short excerpts reprinted in the book above document the births and deaths of many of their children. Life in the 18th century was difficult. Dr. Holyoke had already lost his first wife (Judith Pickman) and first-born child in 1756.  In September 1760 Mary gave birth a daughter who lived for only 3 years. Her second child, Margaret, survived and lived a long life (1763-1825). But Mary lost other babies in 1765, 1766, 1767 and 1768.  Out of 12 births, only three of her children grew to adulthood. I am descended from her eleventh child, Susannah Holyoke (1779-1860).

Recently I have been corresponding with descendants of Mary's ninth child, Judith (1774-1841). They asked me to send a photograph of Mary Vial's portrait. I have had trouble making a clear photo of the framed portrait because the glass protecting it reflects light. I am unwilling to remove it from the frame because of this fragile handwritten note attached to the back of the frame:
"Mary Vial (Grandmother)
Second wife of Edward Augustus Holyoke
Her daughter Susanna married Joshua Ward.
Their daughter Mary married Andrew Nichols."
Yesterday my husband used a scanner to capture the portrait image in spite of its glass and frame. Today we compared that scanned image, which you see at the beginning of this blog entry, to the one reproduced facing page 47 in The Holyoke Diaries (Essex Institute, 1911). The aspect ratio is slightly different. Perhaps the photographer in 1911, faced with the same problem of glass reflection, shot the picture from above, foreshortening the image a bit. Or, perhaps my framed version is not the original portrait, but a copy made from it. Because of its small size (8.75" x 7.125") and lack of color, I have long suspected that this might be a only reproduction.

Here is a comparison of my small framed copy and the Holyoke Diaries book:

I have now rediscovered (11/29/15, in a file box in my house) additional information about this portrait. Ten years ago my cousin Janet Derouin sent me photocopies of photographs of several family portraits. On the back of each photograph was the stamp "Robb, Photographer, Salem, Mass." and handwritten notes by "Aunt May" (our great aunt Mary E. Nichols who lived at Pine Knoll).  For this portrait Aunt May wrote,
Mary Vial second wife of Edward Augustus Holyoke M.D. ...
Portrait by Greenwood.  Owned in 1952 by a great great great granddaughter, Ruth (Preston) Goldsmith in Buffalo, N.Y.
I conclude that the real portrait went to New York long ago. What I have inherited is a copy.

Another portrait of Mary Vial was made in 1771, when she was about 33 years old.
Mrs. Edward A. Holyoke
[scanned photocopy of photograph of 1771 portrait]
Aunt Mary's notes on verso of photograph

My cousin Stuart Brewster emailed, "I have been reading Mary Vial Holyoke's section of the Holyoke diaries and found an entry on March 27, 1771: "First sat for my picture." A footnote by the Essex Institute editors in 1911 adds, "A pastel by Benjamin Blythe, now in possession of Andrew Nichols of Danvers, Mass." That pastel portrait hung for years in the Pine Knoll parlor just to the right of the fireplace. (See photo in my previous blog entry, Portraits at Pine Knoll.)  As Aunt May noted, her sister Margaret owned it in 1952.

Stuart's daughter Andrea, an artist, has researched the artist Benjamin Blythe and found a wonderful resource that reproduces many portraits attributed to Blythe (also spelled Blyth), including 1771 portraits of both Dr. and Mrs. Edward Augustus Holyoke.  See the Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800 by Neil Jeffares: online entry for Benjamin Blyth  (Scroll to 3rd page to find Holyokes).

In Mary's diary on March 12, 1771, she wrote, "Doctor Sat for his Picture." The 1911 footnote there adds "Probably the pastel by Benjamin Blythe now in possession of Mrs. Charles S. Osgood of Salem."   Where these portraits are today I do not know.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Portraits at Pine Knoll

My cousin Dave Brewster has once again delighted me by sharing a batch of scanned images from old Brewster family photographs and slides. I never know what I'll find in each batch, but it is always worth looking. The batch he sent November 14 was titled "Nichols Parties 1961-1978" and contained some photos of my parents as well as many other recognizable relatives. What really grabbed my attention, however, was a series of photos of the portraits hanging on the walls at Pine Knoll.

For instance, look at this photograph of "The Holyokes"...

A few weeks ago a woman in Canada reached out to me, inquiring about my Holyoke ancestry. She is a descendent of Edward Augustus Holyoke, and wondered how we might be related. I called her on November 11. We introduced ourselves and shared enough details of family history to convince ourselves that we are indeed cousins of some sort.

Specifically she was curious about my connection to Mary Vial Holyoke. We exchanged email addresses and I followed up by sending her a list of my lineage going back to Mary.  I wrote, "My father's family goes back to the Holyokes via his father William Stanley Nichols, grandfather Andrew Nichols, great grandmother Mary Holyoke Ward, great-great grandmother Susanna Holyoke, whose parents were Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke and Mary Vial."

Well, what a surprise to see among Dave's images this week one captioned "...fireplace with Mary Vial Holyoke..." !   See below.

Mary's portrait can be seen just to the right of the fireplace. As a child visiting Pine Knoll I hardly noticed these portraits, nor did I pay any attention to who was who. I wouldn't have been able to tell anyone where Mary Vial's portrait had hung.  I only became familiar with these portraits years later when I read The Holyoke Diaries (published in 1911 by The Essex Institute). Facing page 77 in that book is an illustration of the very portrait we see above.  The index of illustrations lists it as "Mrs. Mary (Vial) Holyoke, age 33."  The caption under it gives this information:

From the pastel by Benjamin Blythe made in 1771 and now in the possession of Andrew Nichols.

Pine Knoll is where Andrew Nichols lived. He built the home in 1861, expanded it in 1880, and lived there until he died in 1921. The portraits on the walls of his home remained in place for many decades longer; two of his daughters lived at Pine Knoll until the late 1960's.  The Pine Knoll parlor, in particular, remained unchanged, with many many portraits on the walls.

Here is a closer look at the portrait of Mary Vial's husband, Edward Augustus Holyoke:

Other images of Pine Knoll parlor walls and their portraits:

This last photo gives, I think, a better idea of the real colors in that parlor.  The pinkish photos above may have been taken with a flash, or faded over the years, or both. I thank Dave Brewster for scanning and sharing these old slides and photographs. (I don't know the original format, nor whether his father David, or his uncle Dudley Brewster, took these pictures.)

In 2012 I wrote a column about my memories of this parlor and included a black-and-white photograph taken by Julie Snow in 1968. It was published in The Danvers Herald November 2, 2012. See Parlor at Pine Knoll.

Sunday, October 25, 2015


Occasionally I am contacted by people who have stumbled upon this blog and enjoyed reading an entry. Sometimes they want to add a comment or ask a question.  Often they want to share a related memory.  It is fun to discover that I have new readers – real readers out there in the world, sometimes from far away.

On October 17, this email arrived: "Dear Sandy, I am the editor of the Essex Aggie Alumni Newsletter and I am asking if I can use your article about the Hathorne Post Office in an up coming newsletter. Thanks, Pete."  We exchanged emails and then had a long conversation by phone. I learned that Pete lives in Arizona, but was a student at Essex Aggie in the 1970's.  For the Alumni newsletter he was researching the old train station, seeking to learn why it was called Hathorne. An Internet search pulled up a mention in my blog.  Then he read other parts of my blog and wanted to tell me how much he enjoyed the Screech Owl story.

Coincidently, I had just selected that Halloween story to send to the editor of the Danvers Herald!

And today, a reader of the Facebook group "You know you grew up in Danvers Massachusetts when...."  posted a link to my Screech Owl story, which had been published this week in the Danvers Herald.   (I hadn't known whether it would run this week or next, so I appreciated learning of its publication.)

Other comments on that Facebook group this weekend have left me smiling. I've added replies to some questions asked (e.g., about the old Hathorne school). And I've thanked the readers there for their kind comments about my blog.  It is fun to learn of new readers.

Thank you, readers!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Changing schools

In my elementary school years in Danvers, I was moved from school to school, each September starting in new place.   I've written about this in a column published in the Danvers Herald Thursday September 3, 2015.  It was posted online  today; you can read it by clicking this:

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Joshua Ward House

Cousin Stuart sent me a newspaper clipping about a new chapter in the history of the Joshua Ward House on Washington Street in Salem:

Ward House in Salem to Host Chic Hotel (Salem News, Aug 17, 2015)

Our family has connections to this house, and I recall a lovely tour by Bob Murphy, then owner, in May 2009.  He eagerly showed us the bedroom in which President George Washington, as a guest of Joshua Ward in 1789, had slept. Bob was in the process of restoring that room, working on some of the window shutters.
Bob intends to restore this bedroom to the way it looked when George Washington was a guest here.  He's working on the window shutters.
For more photos of my 2009 visit, visit my photos of Joshua Ward House tour
(In that gallery, scroll down to follow the tour in sequence, with captions.)

Most of the rest of the house was devoted to his business, the Higginson Book Company. My head is now spinning with questions. When did Mr. Murphy sell the house? Does his book business continue? Apparently so. See
Today I located a January 2014 announcement of the house being for sale, but it doesn't mention Bob Murphy.
For Sale in Salem: Warning, Possibly Haunted (Salem Patch, January 2014)
"The Joshua Ward House in downtown Salem is up for sale."

In 2008 I wrote a piece about my family's connection to this house.  See Which Joshua Ward?
Now I probably should write an update. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Tintype: 5 women

This summer I discovered, among miscellaneous family papers, an old bent tintype in a torn paper casing. The image on the small piece of metal (measuring 2 1/4 " x 3 1/2") shows five well-dressed women.

According to the faint pencil notes on the back of the paper case, my great-grandmother Elizabeth Perkins Stanley (Mrs. Andrew Nichols, of Danvers) is one of these ladies:
(Click on image to enlarge)
Which one is she? Who are the other women?  When was this taken? Why? What was the occasion?

Answers to some of these questions are emerging, but this is an on-going research puzzle.  If you have any information to add, please submit a Comment or contact me via the email form. Thank you!

Today I learned an important clue: the tintype photograph is a direct positive process, resulting in a  reversed, or MIRRORED image. See

Richard Trask, of the Danvers Archival Center, writes, "The image is a Ferrotype (tintype), a thin sheet of metal coated with a dark lacquer used to support a photographic emulsion. This image was placed into a decorative paper mat. I believe it dates to the late 1870s/early 1880s."

My recent photo of the pieces of this tintype

Below is a scanned image of the back side of the paper case, including penciled notes (which may have been added much later, and are incomplete, only identifying four women):

Here's what I have deciphered so far, with help from Richard Trask, my cousin Janet Derouin, and a magnifying glass:

 "Standing from left to right 
    Maria L. Fowler  Mrs. John Lummus
    Elizabeth Perkins Stanley  Mrs. Andrew Nichols
                    Perkins  Mrs. Rev. Leonard Jarvis Livermore
                                  Mrs Phineas Corning, a Shoe
                                           manufacturer at Danversport "

After some hours spent searching the Internet and reading old Danvers documents (accessible via Google Books), I can now add more information about these four women and their connections to Danvers history.  I will number them here, and I may eventually create a separate blog entry for each.

1.  Maria Louisa Fowler    (probably unmarried at time of this tintype)
     "Maria Louisa Fowler is the daughter and ninth child of Samuel Fowler, the builder of the Fowler House in Danversport, Massachusetts."  See portrait.  See also photo of her in the parlor of the Fowler house in Danversport.
       Online, I found a genealogy of the Lummus/Lumas/Loomis family (in Essex Institute Historical Collections, 1917).  Maria Louisa Fowler was the 3rd wife of John Lummus, a miller and grain dealer at Danversport. They married June 3rd 1890.

2.   Elizabeth Perkins Stanley (Mrs. Andrew Nichols)   (1836-1929)
      My great-grandmother. See a photo and her obituary in a blog entry I wrote in July 2014. She was a founder of the Unitarian Congregational Church of Danvers, and an active volunteer there and with many other community organizations.

3.   Mary Anne Catherine Perkins (Mrs. L. J. Livermore)  (1823-1906)
    Her husband, Rev. Leonard Jarvis Livermore, was pastor of the Unitarian Congregational Church of Danvers from 1867 to his death in 1886.

4.  Clara M. Corning  (Mrs. Phineas Corning)

5.   [5th woman not yet identifed]

Friday, July 3, 2015

July 3 poster

Today, while researching something else, I happened to see an attractive Danvers poster announcing tours of Colonial Gardens and Homes on July 3rd.  The date seems to be 1930.  Although this was before my time, I do recognize many of the buildings pictured on the poster.

Danvers Tercentenary
John Greenleaf Whittier Day
Colonial Homes and Gardens Open
July 3

 Click here to see this 1930 poster.

Or use this full address:

Description: "Poster of the Danvers Tercentenary promoting the John Greenleaf Whittier Day Colonial Homes and Gardens open on Thursday, July 3, 1930. Poster includes exterior views of: the Peabody Institute Library; the General Israel Putnam Birthplace; the Rea-Putnam-Fowler House; the Judge Samuel Holten House; Oak Knoll, the home of John Greenleaf Whittier; the Page House; the James Putnam House; and the Rebecca Nurse Home."

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Route 1 construction 1950-52

Photo 1 [Click on image to enlarge]

This photo shows a portion of the old Newburyport Turnpike (Route 1), looking north at the Preston Street intersection in the Hathorne section of Danvers. The driveway going diagonally to the left led to "Pine Knoll" – the Nichols family homestead at 98 Preston Street. This photo was taken by one of the Brewster boys, three brothers who were grew up at Pine Knoll, sons of Annie Nichols Brewster.  I frequently walked up that driveway to visit with cousins Annie and Marian, and great aunts May and Margaret Nichols. Annie was my piano teacher.

The date of this photo must be about 1951 -- just as the traffic was being re-routed in the midst of the constructions project that widened Route 1 and built a bridge and a cloverleaf system to replace the traffic lights at the intersection with Route 62 (behind the photographer, down the slope to the south).

The next photo shows the view looking south from Pine Knoll.  The traffic sign in center island says,
so it seems that the right-hand side of the highway wasn't completed yet.  

Photo 2 [Click on image to enlarge]

Note the piles of tree trunks cut from the Pine Knoll property.

Photo 3 [Click on image to enlarge]

Below are additional images scanned from Brewster family slides.  

Photo 4 [Click on image to enlarge]
This seems to be an earlier photo, showing the old two-lane Route 1 and the beginning of construction beside it. View south, looking from Pine Knoll property.  Compare to next photo, which lacks the utility poles (moved? place underground?)
Photo 5 [Click on image to enlarge]
The next two photos show a house that had to be relocated. Whose house?  Where did it go?  My cousin Stuart Brewster responds, "This was owned by the family and was just beyond the [Pine Knoll] tennis court.  It was rented to numerous families. ... I do recall that Uncle Andrew and Aunt Bunny lived there for a time. There once was talk by Aunt Margaret that she would open a restaurant here since in those days there were few clean places to stop. It never happened. The house was re-located up the Pike at North St."
Photo 6 [Click on image to enlarge]
Photo 7 [Click on image to enlarge]

The next two photos are looking north, perhaps showing the same location after that house (and several on other side?) had been removed?  

Photo 8 [Click on image to enlarge]
Photo 9 [Click on image to enlarge]

Determining the sequence of these undated photos is a challenge. I suspect that the old Route 1 pavement seen in photos 4-8 above was used for a while during the construction, and then – after the new east side of the highway was completed and in use (photo 9 above), the old roadbed was ready for re-construction, as seen in photos 10 and 11, below.  

Photo 10 [Click on image to enlarge]
Note the cat observing the scene above.  This view is looking north towards Topsfield.

Photo 11 [Click on image to enlarge]
Photo 11 is looking south, probably on same day as photo 10.  Pine Knoll on the right.

These next two photos were taken a few years after the construction had been completed.  The photographer stood at the new paved driveway into Pine Knoll, looking northward, capturing a procession of antique cars on a Glidden Tour, 1954.

Photo 12 [Click on image to enlarge]

Photo 13 [Click on image to enlarge]
Note the cut-through in the median, allowing U-turns in either directions.  (That cut-through was later eliminated, for safety reasons.)  My father's new factory for UNEX Laboratories would eventually be built (1964?) on the lot at the right edge of these photos.  Later, the Berry building replaced the UNEX building there.  Many changes over the years – including of course the removal of the Hathorne School building (see my previous post) to make way for these improvements to Route 1.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Hathorne School doomed

My cousin Dave Brewster recently scanned and shared some old newspaper clippings, including this one of my old school being moved from its location on the Newburyport Turnpike:

(Click on image to enlarge)
I was a first-grader in that school during 1950/51, its final year. We all knew that change was coming. The school yard was reduced in size as the construction project at the intersection on Route 1 and Route 62 reshaped the landscape, adding a cloverleaf around the school.

One of my first columns for the Danvers Herald in spring 2007 described my experiences as a student in that one-room school house. You can now read a copy of that column on this blog:
  First Grade at Hathorne School

Dave Brewster's on-going project of scanning old family photos and clippings has brought to my attention many images I'd never before seen. Last year he shared a series of photos of the construction along Route 1 (Newburyport Turnpike) as it was widened in 1951. It had been my intention to post some of those images in this blog, but I didn't take the time to do so.  Now, seeing this photo of my school being moved out of the way, I'm motivated to find those other photos.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Ice cream trucks

I remember waiting in line at the ice cream truck after school, trying to decide which treat to buy: a push-up? a popsicle? an ice cream sandwich?  I recall colorful popsicles with double sticks, and the way you could divide the popsicle in two to share with a friend.

One of my favorites was the ice cream sandwich, in spite of the somewhat soggy outer wafer that left chocolate-colored bits stuck to my fingers. 

The ice cream truck parked strategically near the school, catching us as we came out to wait for our bus home. I lived on a small road in a rural part of Danvers – not on the route of any ice cream truck, so this school-side truck was my one chance to buy from a mobile ice cream vendor.

Here's a photo I took in 2009 when I visited the new Danvers Middle School. I was delighted to observe the preservation of familiar scenes from the past: Richmond School and an ice cream truck! Beyond the truck the windows of my 6th and 7th grade classrooms (in 1950's) are still visible.

The middle school students still line up for ice cream, just as we did.

Here's a link to an interesting webpage about the origin of ice cream trucks:

How a musical truck hijacked an elite dessert and delivered it to the people.

Update: On June 25 the Danvers Herald published a column I wrote titled Buying treats from an ice cream truck (posted onilne June 17, 2015).  

Monday, May 4, 2015

Speedwell School

This week I visited my cousin C. Stuart Brewster in California. As usual, he loves to share stories of his boyhood in Danvers, and I love to hear his stories.

Stuart speaks fondly of his elementary school, which was Speedwell School, a small private school held in rooms on the second floor of the mansion at Locust Lawn, on Nichols Street, Danvers. His older brothers, David and Dudley, attended the school first. Stuart began in Kindergarden (1932 or 33?) and stayed until May 1941, then enrolled in Proctor Academy as a sophomore in fall 1941. "The number of students varied each year, never more than a dozen during my time there."

The Kindergarten used Froebel methods and materials. (See for more information). Froebel was the German founder of the Kindergarten movement.  Dorothy Jenkins Bartlett taught Kindergarten as well as early grades. She was an artist and taught art for all levels in this school. Stuart writes, "There really were not Grades per say, everyone seemed to be at a different level."

Marian Bill Nichols, Stuart's "Aunt Mayon," taught the upper levels. She was also the owner and administrator of Speedwell School, which had been founded in the 1920's at the Locust Lawn property, which was owned by John Holyoke Nichols, her uncle. She had previously taught at Miss Hammond's School in Salem, after graduating in 1915 from Jackson College, the woman's part of Tufts University.

Here is the text of a small flyer promoting the school:


    A Day school for boys and girls between ages of four and ten.
    The location is ideal for nature work as well as a quiet spot for study and ample space for all out door games.
    The work of the child is practically individual although there is the stimulus of group work.
    The tuition fee is $100.00 for the first year and an increase of $25.00 for each succeeding year, this is payable at the beginning of each term. All books are furnished by the children and there is an additional charge of $5 to cover incidentals such as paper, pencils, etc.
    School opens the first of October and closes the first of June. The regular holidays are observed as well as Christmas and spring vacations.
    For further particulars apply to
Marian B. Nichols
                                      98 Preston Street, Hathorne, Mass.
or Telephone 1321-W Danvers.

According to Stuart, the name Speedwell comes from that of the second boat that was to bring Pilgrims from England in 1620 but was forced to turn back when it proved to be un-seaworthy. "I have often wondered just why she chose this name. Maybe because of the Brewster connection to William Brewster who was on the Mayflower?"

Stuart has reminisced about making May baskets at school and the fun of gathering tiny wildflowers at Locust Lawn – Bluets, Indian tobacco, blood root, wild violets – as well as periwinkle and lily-of-the-valley.  School recess was extended for this flower picking. He also recalls trips to the pond to collect polliwogs in jars, which were placed in a classroom for watching.

I 'd like to learn more about this school.  Please add comments (below) or contact me if you attended Speedwell School or have other knowledge of it.  Thank you.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Chess set

My grandfather had a very special chess set of carved wooden bears. He taught me to play chess when I was a young girl, and I loved those little wooden bears. Some bears were light brown, and some were dark, so we could tell the two teams apart.

I wish I had a good photograph of it from the 1950's.  By 2008, when I took these photos, the light-brown bears had darkened with age, and were almost indistinguishable from the dark bears. It would be too confusing to play a serious game of chess with them now.

Some people thought it was confusing to have bears instead of more traditional chessmen shapes, but in our family we were accustomed to playing with the bears, and we didn't always use the standard names for the pieces. For instance, a medium-sized bear leaning forward with one foot raised behind him was called a "runner" instead of a Bishop.

In this photo you can see a Castle, King, and Queen on the left front, and a Bishop (a.k.a Runner) and Knight (a.k.a. Horse) on the right.

This scene in my sister's home in New Mexico filled me with nostalgia for the past as I recognized the chess set (under glass cover) on her window ledge, and a familiar book end, left, and our favorite board game, Scrabble.

Closeup taken by my sister in 2015
Click on image to enlarge.

I've written a column, "Playing chess with Granddaddy," published in the Danvers Herald on Thursday April 30.  It was posted online April 29: Remembering Danvers: Playing chess with Granddaddy.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Scrap of paper

While sorting some items in an old box from the attic yesterday, a small scrap of paper floated out onto the floor.  Oh!  A rush of memories came to mind. Wonderful memories of a special gift.

On that tiny rectangle of aging paper, in my sister's careful penmanship, are these words:

To Sandy

in view of 
summer nostalgia
winter storms


No date. No other clues, but I recognize it instantly, and recall sitting in the living room of our home at 121 Nichols Street, Danvers, that Christmas morning opening a large present. Inside the box was a huge furry thing, which turned out to be a vintage raccoon coat. And that little note with it was perfect, honoring my nostalgia for the baby 'coons I had rescued and raised in past summers.

The raccoon coat was heavy and warm. The fur on the outside was of variegated colors of brown, tan and black, arranged in broad vertical stripes – much broader than you would see on a live raccoon. Inside, under the cloth lining, I was able to see that the coat had been constructed out of many, many small pieces, often just half an inch wide, oriented to bring similar colors together into wide color bands. I realized that much labor had been invested in the creation of this thick, handsome coat.

The coat was well-worn, no doubt acquired from a local thrift shop. My frugal family had a long history of shopping for bargains at thrift shops, so I was accustomed to wearing second-hand clothes. I also knew that my sister did not have much money, so this was a very reasonable gift. She hadn't killed any raccoons to create it; she was rescuing an old coat and bringing it to me for a new life.

I was delighted. I wore that raccoon coat for years and years. When I was in graduate school in New York City, that heavy leather coat was just the thing to shelter me from the strong winter winds that whipped along the city streets. Riding subways and reaching high for an overhead strap or bar, I sometimes heard stitches snap or bits of the leather tear. Occasionally I attempted, with needle and thick thread, to repair the damage, but it was tough to sew through the old dry leather. The coat gradually deteriorated, but I continued to love it well past its prime.  My mother-in-law refrained from direct criticism, but gave me a new fashionable coat one Christmas, and another coat another year.  I think those were supposed to be hints. But, except for a few real "dressy" occasions, I continued to wear my old raccoon coat that carried such good memories of my sister and of summers with raccoons.

For photos and stories of my pet raccoons,
see previous blog entries: