Friday, November 22, 2019

260 years ago

On the 22nd of November two hundred and sixty years ago (1759),  a young woman named Mary Vial married Dr. Edward Augustus Holyoke.  She was 21; he was 31.  It was her first marriage, his second.  [The Doctor's first wife (Judith) and an infant daughter had died in 1756.]

Here are two portraits of Mary:
Mary Vial at 15 years old (painted 1753)
Mary Vial Holyoke at 33  (painted 1771)

By the time of the 1771 portrait, Mary was the mother of 8 year old Margaret ("Peggy"), her second child. Her first child had died before the age of four.  Five other babies had arrived, but each died in infancy. This must have been a very difficult period for Dr. Holyoke and his wife.

Mary was pregnant again in 1771, giving birth that September to Elizabeth ("Betsy"), who would live until 1789.  In all, Mary birthed twelve babies!  I am descended from the 11th one, Susanna, born April 1779.  Mary lived to age 64 in 1802, with three daughters surviving her and living on for decades.

Dr. Holyoke lived "one hundred years and eight months, lacking one day" – according to the introduction to the Holyoke Diaries [published by the Essex Institute, 1911].  He was a well-known doctor in Salem, "very attentive to his medical practice." "His charge books show an average of eleven professional visits a day for a period of seventy-five years."

On this November 22, I am thinking of the wedding anniversary of Dr. Holyoke and Mary Vial, and the family connections, leading eventually to my family in Danvers.

Their daughter Susanna, my great-great-great-grandmother, lived a long full life, into her 80th year.  Susanna's daughter Mary, born in 1800, lived to 1880. The next generation included Mary's son Andrew Nichols, who was born in 1837, built the Pine Knoll cottage in Danvers in 1861, and lived there until his death in 1921. His youngest son, William, born 1872, became my grandfather and in the 1940's and 1950's lived right next door to us, so I remember him very well.  I didn't at that time care about history or pay much attention to family stories about ancestors. Now, in my older years, I'm looking at the connections back through the years.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Pine Knoll Story update

I am pleased to announce that Part II of The Pine Knoll Story, covering the period 1861 to 1880, is now available for sharing. I have spent months editing the draft that my cousin Janet Nichols Derouin created. Today I posted the results on my website about this family history project:

Select the tab for "Janet's Book" and you will see information about the organization of her book, and links to pdfs of the finished parts.  Part I (The Courtship Years, 1856-1861) has been available since last December.  Part II, posted today, was so large that I needed to divide the file into two segments:

  • 1861-1870 (149 pages)
  • 1871-1880 (270 pages)
For the Danvers Archives, I will offer the entire Part II in one file (pdf, 2.5 MB).  I regret that it has taken me so very long to prepare this material. Mr. Trask had expressed interest in obtaining a copy of Janet's book draft more than a year ago.  I had already started editing Part I by then, and wished to complete the editing project first.  Many delays and distractions of everyday life interfered with my ability to make progress on the editing. I'm relieved to have reached this milestone.

Part II begins with the September 1861 wedding of my great-grandparents, Andrew and Lizzie Nichols. For a quick introduction to the story, read the excerpt in my December blog posting, "Farmer Takes A Wife."   

Friday, September 6, 2019

Pears and other fruit

We had a large pear tree in the backyard of our small house at 120 Nichols Street. It produced lots of fruit, but I remember my mother's frustration that the neighborhood kids climbed the tree and sampled the fruit before it was ripe. They'd throw down the hard fruit after tasting it, thus spoiling what would have ripened. The next week they'd be back, tasting more pears, hoping for sweet ones, but lacking the patience to wait.  The pears were Bartletts, I believe, with yellow skin.

We had more luck with our crab apple tree, which grew by the back door. My bedroom window looked out on that tree. The fruit was tart, and tasty. That tree produced plenty of fruit and my mother made crab apple jelly each year. I remember the beautiful color of that jelly as light from the kitchen window passed though the small jelly glasses lined up in our kitchen.

We also had Concord grapes. The grapevines grew along a fence at one edge on our yard.

In summer we had wonderful blueberries. "High bush" blueberries. My mother had planted those bushes around the edges of the laundry yard south of our house, on a lower level close to the pond. In springtime when pond water flooded that level, Mommy would wear tall rubber boots as she hung out the sheets and clothes. Those bushes thrived. They grew taller and taller, eventually overshadowing parts of the laundry lines. Mommy let them grow, as she valued those small wild blueberries.

Granddaddy, meanwhile, preferred the large cultivated blueberries that grew on medium-sized bushes he'd planted along the garden path that ran west from our yard towards his yard. It was a friendly rivalry: cultivated blueberries versus wild ones, trim round bushes versus tall gangly ones. The big cultivated berries certainly looked better, but the small, darker wild ones had just as much taste, if not more.

Yesterday I began writing about fruit because of what I was reading in The Pine Knoll Story written by my cousin Janet.  Here's another quote, so timely for this season.

"At Pine Knoll, what apples hadn't dropped in the storm were beginning to ripen, 
and the children were back in school."

She was writing about September 1879.  Those children included seven-year-old Willie, who would grow up to become, among other accomplishments in his long life, a loving grandparent to Janet and her younger brother Bill, and to me and my younger sister Jean.

For a time in the 1950's, while Jean and I were in middle school and high school, and Granddaddy (William Stanley Nichols) was in his eighties, cousin Janet and her husband and their young sons lived with him, next door to us. Pine Knoll, the family home where Willie had been born and raised, was within easy walking distance, and two of his siblings (whom we called Great Aunt May and Great Aunt Margaret) enjoyed our visits.  Such memories!

Thursday, September 5, 2019


Today, as I edited a few more pages in Janet Derouin's book about our Danvers ancestors, these words jumped out at me: 

"...and everyone who had a peach or pear tree on their property
had windfall fruit to give away." 

Janet was describing the beginning of September in 1879.  She wrote those words decades ago.  As I read them now, in September 2019, I smile and think of all the peaches waiting in the kitchen. My husband planted a small peach tree in our yard a few years ago. Squirrels claimed most of its meager fruit in its early years.

But THIS year, for the first time, the fruit is coming in such quantities that we can hardly keep up. Fruit falls to the ground daily, even as we try to pick the ripe ones before they fall and get bruised. We eat peaches morning, noon and night. We give peaches to neighbors. We took peaches to friends last weekend. What a crop of delicious peaches!

So of course I'm struck by the coincidence that I happen to have reached this page in Janet's book just as I'm having my own experience with a September surplus of peaches.

Here are a few photos of our peach tree (in Holyoke, Mass).

I don't recall having peach trees in Danvers in my childhood, but we had other fruit, which I'll write about in my next entry.

August 29, 2019
Planting the peach tree, August 2015

Same peach tree (pruned), May 2016 

I did not expect such a bounty of fruit from the very small tree we had planted in August 2015. 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Night Blooming Cereus

I remember attending a late night party at my cousin Janet's home in Danvers to watch the opening of an unusual flower. I'd never before heard of a "Night Blooming Cereus" and thought it very strange that a plant would produce a flower ONLY once a year, and ONLY at night!  I was young at the time and had never been invited to a midnight party, either. So this was a special, memorable occasion.

The white flower was large and impressive!  I was sad that it would only last that one night, but very glad to have witnessed the bloom.

Today, while editing a family history that Janet has compiled from diaries of our 19th century relatives, I noticed this entry: 

July 9, 1875:
I went to J. Robinson's saw 4 Night Blooming Cerius blooms on 1 stalk.
The woman who wrote that diary entry was Mary Ward Nichols, sister of my great-grandfather Andrew Nichols. She was also very much interested in plants, and taught Botany classes.

For more about the Night Blooming Cereus (and photos), see any of these resources:

    How to Take Care of Night Blooming Cereus
Four different plants are commonly referred to as night-blooming cereus. These include dragon fruit (Hylocereus undatus), also sometimes referred to as pitaya or strawberry pear, and Dutchman’s Pipe (Epiphyllum oxypetalum). The other two (Peniocereus greggii) and (Selenicereus grandiflorus) share yet another commonly used name, queen of the night. All four are desert cactuses that bloom once a year in the summer when the temperature drops at night. Their large, fragrant flowers are showy white (or sometimes pink) and present a startling display in contrast to their typically unassuming appearance.
   How to Make Night Blooming Cereus Bloom

   Time-lapse video (YouTube)   12 hours in 40 seconds

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Wistaria at Pine Knoll

Yesterday my cousin Janet Nichols Derouin shared this photo with me:

Wisteria on the garage at Pine Knoll
I recognize that Pine Knoll garage and cousin Annie Brewster, bending over to pat a cat.  (There were always many cats at Pine Knoll.)

Today, July 4th, is a fitting day to think of Pine Knoll.  The annual 4th of July picnics at Pine Knoll drew family members from far and wide.  As a child I didn't know all their names, but I participated in the gathering and enjoyed the scene. We sat under the shade of the large trees and ate festive food, always including watermelon. And I'm sure I spent some time following (chasing?) cats and kittens around.

This photo, however, is a spring one, with the wisteria vine in full bloom.  Janet tells a story about it:

"Our grandfather lost the battle to have the wisteria climbing all over the garage (see attached) cut back and he grumbled about it."  His older sister, our great-aunt May Nichols, said it couldn't be cut back because "Papa planted it" (referring to Andrew Nichols, the builder of Pine Knoll and father of the large family raised there). Our grandfather was a practical man, concerned that if not pruned back, the wisteria would collapse the garage. And it did. That garage did collapse – though Janet and I do not know how many years elapsed between that sibling argument and the eventual collapse. 

Perhaps others in the extended Pine Knoll family will share what they know of when and why that garage collapsed. Stuart Brewster, son of Annie, mentions that termites were also part of the problem. (See his full Comment, linked below).

For more about the 4th of July picnics at Pine Knoll, see my blog entries in July 2007 (with photo) and July 2009.  For photos of great Aunt May and information about her life as a teacher, see July 2013.  In yesterday's email, Janet wrote of Aunt May:  "... large kind brown eyes but she was very school teachery when she took me around and explained the history of things in the house.  She was very much the family historian."  Janet then shared a "funny story about her being in charge" – the issue about pruning the Pine Knoll wisteria.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Earl Clay

I have fond memories of Earl Clay, who taught Geography in the Danvers public schools. I recall him in the Richmond Jr. High building next to Holton High.  Remember his classes?  Or remember him as Coach?

I also knew him as a relative, married to my cousin Betty Nichols Clay. Through family members yesterday I learned of his passing, at age 93, on April 11, 2019.  Betty had died last summer. We'll miss them both -- a wonderful loving couple. 

In October 2017 I enjoyed an afternoon visit with Earl and Betty in their home on Nichols Street. We had a delightful time sharing stories and laughing over past events.

Here is a link to Earl's obituary:

Here's a photo from 10 years ago, when I and other relatives (from Idaho and New Hampshire) were visiting with Earl, left, and Betty, right, at their Danvers home:

May 23, 2019: Earl Clay, Bruce & Nancy Dreher, Emily Haggerty, Betty Clay

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Sledding on Newburyport Turnpike

I remember hearing my grandfather (William S. Nichols) talk about his boyhood experiences with the old Route 1 (Newburyport Turnpike) that ran right by his home in Danvers. In the 1950's he told us about the fun of sliding on sleds on that hilly roadway. I could hardly believe him; it sounded much too dangerous, but he said that it was safe because he and his friends could always tell when traffic was coming by the sound of the bells on the horse-drawn wagons or carriages.  Oh! That was an entirely different era!

This weekend I had an unexpected opportunity to hear my grandfather's voice again. My cousin Janet sent me audio files made from old tape recordings related to our family. A friend of hers had skillfully rescued the sounds from an old tape that had seemed unplayable. One of the segments on it gave me MORE information about this sledding, or "coasting" as he called it -- stories I had not heard before, or did not recall.  I'll quote his words below, but first, a bit of context.

William S. Nichols was born in 1872 at the Pine Knoll homestead at the corner of Preston Street and Newbury Street (now known as Route 1). He lived there from 1872 to 1892, his first 20 years. Later, after education at Harvard and Oxford and his career in ministry in other locations, he retired to Danvers and lived the rest of his life in a house only about a block away from his birthplace. I grew up next door. At some point Granddaddy wrote essays about the remarkable changes he had witnessed in his lifetime, including the changes to Route 1 from horses to cars. I recall my father asking him to read some essays aloud so that his voice and essays could be recorded. I sat in our living room as Granddaddy read, and Daddy operated the recording device. That was 1958. I loved hearing again some of the turnpike stories and was glad they were being saved. My grandfather died a few months later, at age 86.

Here are the words of this 86-year-old man recalling winter fun in Danvers in the 1880's:

Winter time on the pike is what I remember most vividly. In the days of my youth, coasting was the great outdoor joy. On a turnpike hill just by our house was a favorite coast for Danvers youth. I wonder if Danvers youth today would drag their double-runners all the way from downtown – 2 miles or more – for an evening of coasting. They did in those days. 
There was keen competition in the double-runners, not only in the making of them, but in the proven ability to go faster and farther than others. Much ingenuity went into the making and in the fitting out. The natural way was for the steerer to lie on the board on his stomach and grasp the front end of the forward sled and make it go where you wanted it too. The trouble was this took up too much of the board, and limited the numbers of riders. The more riders you had on, the faster and farther you went. So most of the double-runners would be fixed with a steering bar or wheel to the front sled. Then 4, 6, or 8 or more riders could get on behind the one who steered.
There were nearly always enough riders waiting at the top of the hill. All were welcome to get on if they could find room. There were spills, but I do not hold in my memory any serious accidents. 
It was a glorious sport and as the coasters came by our house with their laughter and noise, they might be heard quite late into the evening. 
Nichols Street* crossed the pike at the top of the hill and the additional pitch and the needed skill to turn the corner successfully often added pleasure and spills. At the foot of the long hill just beyond the Allen farm, there was quite a rise in the road. When the coasting was at its best, it was possible to go over that rise and go beyond North Street – quite a distance.  It would be a long hard pull up the hill back. It was over a half a mile. The rope attached to the sleds would purposefully be long and everyone would take hold. That long pull often decided the ever-raised question of whether we would take one more coast down. The number of riders at the top would begin to thin out.  ...
The walking that had to be added to the riding made coasting a rugged exercise for our youth.
What a treat to have my grandfather's description of his boyhood fun on that road! I'm glad to share it here.
* This was the former route of Nichols Street, when it proceeded north over the western shoulder of Dale Hill. The turnpike, too, had higher hills in those days. They were bulldozed down in 1949/50 as Route 1 was widened.

Thursday, January 31, 2019


Look what I found recently on a table in a game room in Easthampton, MA.  Memories of playing Skittles with Daddy came rushing back.  What fun we used to have playing Skittles! 

I immediately grabbed the wooden spinner, wound the string around it, placed it at the start, and pulled  -- just as we used to do. Ah, the sound of that wooden top careening around and knocking down pins! 

This Skittles set is smaller than the one we had had in Danvers, but it worked as expected. I was happy to see it and try it again. This was an unexpected joy, discovered just as I was about to leave. I'd come to the place to play one round of mini golf and to speak with the owner about whether his business might contribute to a local library fundraiser. The mini golf was fun, as expected; the rediscovery of Skittles  – which I had not thought of in YEARS – was an extra treat.  

Do YOU remember Skittles?  Did you ever play Skittles with my family in Danvers?  It was a fixture in our home at 121 Nichols Street for many years. We must have acquired it sometime after 1957 (when that house was built), perhaps in 1958-1960 period.