Sunday, November 6, 2011

The "Roosevelt Eighteen"?

As I began researching my senior thesis project (centering on the Anti-Saloon League in Westerville, Ohio) I remembered coming across Fitchburg's premiere temperance worker, Frederick Fosdick

I've come across a few documents online that link Frederick Fosdick to a group called the "Roosevelt Eighteen." I'm still researching exactly what that group was formed in response to. I believe it has something to do with Theodore Roosevelt and the 1912 Presidential election whereupon he formed the Bull Moose Progressive Party.

Time will tell...(well, Time has already told, I just need to find where it told it!)

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Subscriber Help (Town Talk)

The publishers of Town Talk tried to make a little deal with the children of Fitchburg and Leominster in 1890.
In exchange for new subscribers the newspaper would reward the children with a gold watch or safety bicycle.

Fig. 1: Ad posted in Town Talk aimed specifically at children in Fitchburg and Leominster
The ad reads:
We want to increase the number of subscribers in these places and will give any boy or girl a $35 SAFETY BICYCLE OR A GOLD WATCH to get us 100 subscribers for six months. The price of the paper for six months is one dollar. Every yearly subscriber will count as two. Any boy or girl can do this in a week or two. Commission will be paid for all over 10 subscribers sent in. Subscription blanks may be obtained at this office."

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Word on the Hiatus

Since I've started school, I will be posting less frequently.
I've finished up my H.M. Francis project for the summer and am currently developing a website through GoogleSites to show my work.

I've already begun brainstorming a few potential research topics for later projects and may use this blog to bounce a few ideas around the walls.

Until then, have a happy autumn.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Your Name in a Book

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Today, I spent the majority of my time going through the Fitchburg City Directories.
Fig. 1: A picture of the main shelf of Fitchburg City Directories at the Fitchburg Historical Society.
The directories are a great wealth of information about the residents of Fitchburg in that a person's residence and occupation are listed. It almost reads like a brief year-by-year census report without some of the finer details.
Fig. 2: Up close view of the 1942 Fitchburg Directory's spine.
You will not find information about citizens' ages or their children and it is rare to find a listing for an unmarried woman.

The purpose of the city directory sleuthing is to confirm dates, residences and full names of the Francis clientele.
While bouncing around from one bound snapshot of Fitchburg to another, it can sometimes be frustrating to constantly look for a single answer to a single question. 

Fig. 3: An open City Directory and my open notebook.
Oftentimes, and consistent with historical inquiry: one question will only lead to more questions rather than answers. However, I believe the constant run-around and question-asking makes the answer-finding much more rewarding. The time between the question and the answer allows time for reflection, consideration, humility and reaffirmation of purpose. 

For me, I know that I can never transport back to early 1900s America, but to research the lives of people who were there is very humbling. Beyond my own fascination with H.M. Francis and the buildings he designed and the architectural legacy that is now a part of Fitchburg; I am trying to tell a story. The story of H.M. Francis can only be told by he and the people who knew him. As a researcher and budding historian who is far removed from that circle, the best that I can do is tell a story about H.M. Francis.

And I intend on doing my best.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Trip to Historic N.E.

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

On Wednesday, I took a field trip to Historic New England, specifically the Otis House on Cambridge Street in Boston.
The house was designed by Charles Bulfinch and was situated in one of Boston's early elite neighborhoods.

The purpose of my visit was to view their collection of H.M. Francis drawings and add them to the inventory of known structures he designed.

Some of the highlights included:

A design for Monadnock National Bank in East Jaffrey, New Hampshire
A design for the Baxter-Whitney Mill in Winchendon, Massachusetts (see image below)
A design for a bank on Miller's River, possibly in Miller's Falls, Massachusetts
A design for a commercial block in Somerville, Massachusetts

A student drawing by Francis as well as a design for a house for Charles Harding made it into the Historic New England book, Drawing Toward Home which was published in 2010.

It was a real treat to talk to the curatorial staff at Historic New England and share in their curiosity for Francis drawings. Although Francis is often thought of as a Fitchburg-centered architect (which is true) it's beneficial and important to understand that his body of work extended past the Nashua River and into other communities.

Fig. 1: Drawing of the Baxter-Whitney Mill in Winchendon, MA. Image from the American Architect and Building News magazine.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cellphone Photos, part 2

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

A few more photographs from my cellphone:

Fig. 1: Entryway to the Wallace Building (razed in 1979)

Fig. 2: Some drawings waiting to be processed.

Fig. 3: Cover sheet to specifications for the Model Training School in Fitchburg.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Cellphone Photos

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)
I was recently able to transfer some photographs from my cellphone to my computer.
These three are some of the more recent photographs of some intriguing Francis ephemera:
Fig. 1: This is a stamp design found on many of the drawings to ensure the architect's ownership.

Fig. 2: A small business card found amongst the drawings.

Fig. 3: A drawing for a proposed Cleghorn school house.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Nearing the End

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Today, I was able to complete the list of drawings and blueprints. 
The total number of unique buildings and homes that I was able to identify was precisely 200.
Each list will be sorted by year and address before being consolidated for the overall inventory.
August will be spent cross-referencing data (dotting I's, crossing X's, minding P's and Q's) and researching more biographical information.
Fig. 1: The Francis Home on Rollstone Street (formerly Lunenburg Academy)

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New Lamps for the Library

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

In 1917, Frederick and Albert wrote to The T.F. McGann & Sons Co. in Boston to inquire about new lamps for the Wallace Library on Main Street in Fitchburg. T.F. McGann & Sons specialized in bronze and brass sculptures and was based in Boston.
Fig. 1: Letter from T.F. McGann & Sons Co. to H.M. Francis & Sons (courtesy of the Fitchburg Historical Society)
T.F. McGann & Sons wrote back to them and enclosed four photographs of cast bronze lamp brackets that they had recently fabricated under contract with the government. They informed the Francis firm that since these were under contract, they wouldn't be able to duplicate the exact same models but they could make very similar ones.
At this time, it is unknown if these lamps graced the front of the Wallace Library but their craftsmanship is stunning nonetheless.
Fig. 2: One of the attached photographs to the McGann letter. This bracket would individually sell for $337.50 in 1917. (photo courtesy of the Fitchburg Historical Society)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Rounding 2nd Base, Looking to be Waved Home

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I made considerable progress today and have inventoried all of the blueprints/drawings of Francis designed homes (save for a few stragglers that found their way into other organized collections) and have begun going over the plans for commercial/public buildings. 
I'm back on track to have this part of the overall inventory completed by the end of July. 
When that is finished, the month of August will be spent doing things like: double-checking notes, writing a narrative, writing a bibliography, writing an accompanying guide to the inventory and maybe even

....preparing for my senior year of college.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A Testimonial to H.M. Francis

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I looked through a small magazine published in 1890 called "Leading Business Men of Fitchburg."
The magazine is a well developed collection of business profiles with information about clientele and kind words of their expertise.

Fig. 1: H.M. Francis listing in Leading Business Men of Fitchburg (courtesy of the Fitchburg Historical Society)
About Francis:
"What we particularly wish to do is to call attention to the advantages gained by enlisting the services of such an architect as Mr. Francis, when it is proposed to erect an ordinary dwelling-house; or more properly, a dwelling-house of moderate cost which will not be "ordinary." To begin with, by so doing you get a house "designed to order." It suits you, embodies your views, has an individuality of its own, and is especially adapted to the lot on which it stands...The cost of the services we have sketched is, by no means, alarming, and we have yet to learn of a man who ever repented the expense incurred by employing a really competent architect."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Secret Society, Eh? (Town Talk)

Fig. 1: Call for information about Secret Societies in Town Talk
Caption: [This part of our paper will be devoted to matters of general interest to secret society members. Secretaries and others are requested to send us anything connected with the society that will interest absent members or others. To insure publication the same week, it must reach this office not later than Thursday noon.]

Some of Frederick's Artwork

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Two weeks ago while I was sifting through pieces of the Francis archive, I came across a manila folder of hand-drawn pencil sketches. These were drawn by Frederick Francis while he was in Europe in 1891.
Fig. 1: "Statue of Antinous, Capitoline Museum, Rome" by Frederick L. Francis, dated April 7, 1891.
Here is a photo of the statue:
Fig. 2: Photograph of the statue that was the basis for Fig. 1 drawing

Monday, July 11, 2011

A "Capitalist" By Trade

I've been going through many U.S. Census records and have frequently noticed "Capitalist" being listed as an occupation.
I started to wonder exactly what being a Capitalist was all about. My first guess was that it was simply someone who had their hands in many different institutions and did not derive a single income from a single occupation, but then I thought maybe that was too vague and confusing for old Uncle Sam.

A quick Google search led me to 200 Years of Census Taking: Population and Housing Questions, 1790-1990.
Fig. 1: Cover illustration for 200 Years...
Here was my answer: "Report a person who receives his income, or most of it, from money loaned at interest, or from stocks, bonds, or other securities, as a 'capitalist'."

Friday, July 8, 2011

Once More to the Plans

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

On Wednesday, I began the long process of inventorying the architectural blueprints and drawings of H.M. Francis & Sons.
I'm expecting this process to take most of July to accomplish, but it is to be the last part of this year's inventory.

After this part is finished, more biographical research will be done about the Francis clientele as well as finishing touches to make the inventory accessible for all interested people.

One of the things that I pleasantly rediscovered was a very small collection of hand-drawn artwork by H.M.'s first son Frederick.
During 1890 and 1891, I believe Frederick was in Europe with his class from M.I.T. (he graduated from the institution in 1892).
Europe would've been the perfect place for Frederick to view iconic architecture and practice his drawing and painting skills.

As I spend more time examining these drawings and blueprints the more I feel them becoming alive.
I'm looking forward to writing more about my research throughout the summer.
Fig. 1: H.M. Francis with his young son Frederick (photo courtesy of the Fitchburg Historical Society)

Monday, July 4, 2011

A Tragedian Comes Calling (Town Talk)

From the December 13th, 1890 issue of Town Talk:
The first frame's caption reads:
"ALLEGED TRAGEDIAN: I have come again; I thought perchance, there might be an opening."
The second frame:
"MANAGER: (touching button) There is!"

Frederick Fosdick, 9th mayor of Fitchburg

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

One of the more interesting books I've read in the past few years is The Alcoholic Republic by W.J. Rorabaugh. The book focuses on many of the American temperance movements leading up to the Prohibition era. Many temperance movements began as grass-roots organizations in small cities and towns before blossoming into large organizations that spread nationwide. A Fitchburg citizen named Frederick Fosdick, who served as Fitchburg's 9th mayor, was an active participant in the temperance movement in a state and national level.
Fig. 1: Frederick Fosdick from a Fitchburg Sentinel article in 1892.
Fosdick was born in Groton in 1850 and came to Fitchburg at the age of twenty. He was a deacon at the Rollstone Congregational Church (a very early design by H.M. Francis). He was elected mayor of Fitchburg in 1886 under the Citizens' Temperance Party and later served as a chairman for the Massachusetts Anti-Saloon League.
His obituary listed an interesting admiration for Theodore Roosevelt, "...Mr. Fosdick headed the Massachusetts delegation to the Bull Moose convention at Chicago which nominated Col. Roosevelt with the presidency in 1912."

The house designed for Fosdick is of the Queen Anne style and located on Pleasant Street.
Fig. 2: Frederick Fosdick House (photo courtesy of

S.W. Huntley & F.F. Woodward

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Though I've lived in Fitchburg for ten years, I'm still developing a map of it in my head. As with many people, I frequent certain roads for most of my travels and typically do not go exploring off my beaten-path while cruising through town. One of the first big houses I remember seeing often is situated on Bluff Avenue near my old high school. It's a purple house with large windows and multiple porches.

Fig. 1: Purple house on Bluff Avenue (photo courtesy of
I never knew much about it as a high-schooler, other than it was big, purple and very interesting to look at from the road. When I began researching H.M. Francis at the Fitchburg Historical Society, I was eager to discover it was indeed one of his designs.

The house was built for S.W. Huntley sometime around 1877. Huntley was an agent with the Old Colony Railroad.
A very small write-up in the Fitchburg Sentinel in 1883 described Huntley's sale of his home to F.F. Woodward, also of Fitchburg. At the time of purchasing the home on Bluff Avenue, Woodward was a cashier for the Safety Fund National Bank.
Fig. 2: F.F. Woodward in uniform. (photo courtesy of the Fitchburg Historical Society)
Frederick F. Woodward, born in 1842, enlisted in Company A of the 53rd Regiment of the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia on August 23rd, 1862 and was mustered out on September 2nd, 1863.  According to an 1892 Fitchburg Sentinel article, Woodward spent most of his military term in Louisiana. Woodward was also a prominent businessman selling wholesale grain. He was a member of the Fitchburg Grain Company and also Washburn & Woodward, Flour and Grain which later became F.F. Woodward Grain.
Fig. 3: F.F. Woodward from Fitchburg Past and Present.
In addition to his business pursuits, Woodward was also the President of the Fitchburg Historical Society from January 1907 through December of 1909. The 1910 U.S. Census lists Woodward with four daughters and one son. His daughters were named, Stella, Ruth, Margaret and Helen. His son was named Richard.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Something To Eat. (Town Talk)

Fig. 1: "Something To Eat." from 11/22/1890 issue of Town Talk
Here are two recipes for cake found in the November 22nd issue of Town Talk submitted by "Friend."


Feather Cake. Two cups of sugar, one cup of milk, two eggs, two-thirds of a cup of butter, four teaspoons of baking powder, and one-half cups of flour.

French Cake. One cup of sugar, one and one-half cups of flour, one cup of currants, one-fourth cup butter, one-half cup of milk, a few slices of citron, cloves and nutmeg, and one teaspoonful of baking powder. Bake in sheets, ice and cut in squares. These two are very nice recipes."

Edward A.A. Lamere and the S.S. Volendam

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Edward Aime Arthur Lamere graduated from Harvard Dental School in 1893 and set up a dental practice in Fitchburg.
At one time his office was at the Safety Fund National Bank on Main Street.
Fig. 1: Edward A.A. Lamere
In the Harvard Alumni Directory, it lists that prior to Edward A.A. Lamere he was known as "Arthur John Lamere."
The house that was designed for Dr. Lamere was on Pleasant Street.

I wasn't able to find much biographical information about Dr. Lamere at the Historical Society, but I was able to find some useful information online.

Fig. 2: The S.S. Volendam
I was able to locate a 1930 manifest for the S.S. Volendam, a large passenger vessel that Lamere had traveled on. The information I found said that the vessel primarily sailed from Holland to America and had a capacity of 1,800 passengers divided into three classes.

Ten years after Lamere traveled upon this mighty ship, the S.S. Volendam was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Luckily, the ship was able to make it to port without sinking and the none of the 300 children on board perished.
For more information about the attack on the S.S. Volendam, click here.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

William A. Emerson (short biography from Town Talk)

Fig. 1: William A. Emerson, picture from Town Talk (11/08/1890)
William A. Emerson was a skilled engraver, responsible for Fitchburg Past and Present as well as Fireside Legends, both books about early Fitchburg history.

Town Talk featured a short biography about this skilled artisan, the beginning of the biography is as follows:

"William A. Emerson is a native of Douglas, Mass., and was born July 31, 1851. He learnt the engravers' art in Providence, R.I., and afterwards went into business for himself there. On account of poor health he went back to his native place and carried on a small business at East Douglas. For two or three years he did such work as came his way and then opened an office and carried on a good business. He came to Fitchburg about six years ago, after living some time in Leominster and Worcester. Mr. Emerson has done some good work in publishing histories of different places, and is now at work on a history of Athol. His first publication was a little work on engraving, which was afterwards enlarged and re-published by Lee, Shepard & Co. of Boston. His Fitchburg Past and Present and Fireside Legends are well known here. His Leominster Historical and Picturesque is a very fine book..."

H.G. Townend

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Harry Garthwaite Townend lived a very prosperous life in Fitchburg. He was born in Ohio and his parents emigrated from England. His father was a soldier guard at the bier of Lincoln when his body was laid in state.

Townend moved to Fitchburg in 1884 to be a teller at the Fitchburg National Bank, he was later promoted to cashier in 1888. His obituary mentions that he was given a three months leave of absence in March of 1889 and during this time he went to Colorado. When he returned from Colorado his health was still not good and he resigned from his position at the bank.
Following his initial career at the bank, he worked in the census bureau in Washington, D.C. until the death of W.J. Stearns at the Fitchburg National Bank. After Stearns's death, Townend returned to Fitchburg to resume his prior job as a cashier.
In 1912, he was named president of the bank, succeeding Herbert I. Wallace, brother of Rodney Wallace.

Townend's obituary gives a rather lengthy description of the events that may have caused his death in 1928. 
The obituary mentions that "overwork caused impairment in his health prior to auto accident" which reminds me of the verbiage used in Frederick Francis's obituary.
Fig. 1: "HARRY G. TOWNEND, PROMINENT BANKER, DEAD" headline in the 12/24/1928 Fitchburg Sentinel
According to his obituary, "The inroads on his time and energy during the period of the war greatly affected his health. This became more apparent during the past summer. On Sept. 12, while driving through Rowley, their car, driven by Mrs. Townend, crashed into a tree as the driver attempted to avoid a child who ran into the street. Mr. Townend received injuries which greatly weakened him and resulted in his death."

Townend's obituary also mentions his love for photography and that he had many photographs exhibited in public. In the 1903 edition of "Fireside Legends" in Fitchburg, I think I have found one of Townend's photographs.
Fig. 2: "Fitchburg Savings Bank Block" photograph from the 1903 edition of Fireside Legends. "Townend" is credited as the photographer
This photograph is of the Fitchburg Savings Bank Block on Main Street in Fitchburg. In addition to working for the Fitchburg National Bank, Townend was a trustee at the Savings Bank for eighteen years.

The house that was designed for Townend and his family still stands on Ross Street in Fitchburg. It was built in 1911 and is of the Colonial Revival style.
Fig. 3: H.G. Townend's Ross Street Home (photo courtesy of

Monday, June 27, 2011

On the 1890 Congressional Election (Town Talk)

In the November 1st, 1890 issue of Town Talk, there was an interesting short comment about the (then) upcoming congressional elections.
Fig. 1: Comment on the congressional election of 1890 from Town Talk
The write-up says, 
"Before another issue of TOWN TALK appears the voters will have expressed their preference at the polls. The question of representatives and congressmen will have been settled, and those whom the voters do not want to represent them will have been gently or forcibly reminded of the fact. The situation in this district is quote interesting, and will probably be more so after election. Both the great political parties have received additions in new voters by naturalization and by young men coming of voting age, and, while the leaders of the parties may know very neatly how the new comers stand, they may change the complexion of things somewhat after all. Prophesying the results is not exactly in our line, but we do not entertain much doubt that the Republicans will again prove victorious. But if the Democrats should win we believe business will be carried on as usual, and therefore no tears need be shed."

In this election, the Democrats gained a total of 86 seats in the House and the Republicans lost a total of 93 seats.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Frederick N. Dillon

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Frederick Dillon was the son of David Dillon, the founder of D.M. Dillon Boiler Works, Inc. Frederick Dillon was one of Fitchburg's main industrialists in the early 1900's. Aside from being Vice President and Treasurer of D.M. Dillon Boiler Works, he was also President and Treasurer of Brown Bag Filling Machine Co., a member of the Fitchburg Park Commission from 1898 to 1911. A graduate of M.I.T., he was also Oak Hill Country Club's first president.
Fig. 1: Frederick N. Dillon
The house that was designed for Dillon is on Prospect Street. The style is a Colonial Revival and it was also remodeled in 1913 by Frederick and Albert Francis.
Fig. 2: Frederick Dillon's Prospect Street Home (photo courtesy of
When I was looking for more information about some of Dillon's civic activities, I stumbled across a photograph of the McKinley Cruiser.
Fig. 3: The McKinley Cruiser and her crew
This cruiser was built as part of the 1896 Presidential Campaign for William McKinley. The cruiser took part in many parades through Fitchburg, Leominster and other nearby towns for a few years. With the presidential campaign over, the Cruiser was put in Whalom Lake where it remained until it fell into disrepair and ended up sinking. I found the blog of a U.S. Navy veteran collecting Navy postcards and photographs who also wrote about the McKinley Cruiser, you can read about his research here.

A second photograph that accompanied the photo from above depicts the Cruiser's officers, which included Dillon.
Fig. 4: Officers of the McKinley Cruiser. Frederick Dillon is last on the right in the upper row
Aside from his business pursuits, Dillon was also very fond of birds. His obituary says, "He was familiar with the habits and songs of all local birds and his wide travel gave him opportunities to study and become familiar with birdlife in other sections of the world."
A 1946 editorial about Dillon written in the Fitchburg Sentinel also highlights his love for birds. "...Mr. Dillon's keen interest in bird lore and his intimate knowledge of bird songs and bird ways were surpassed by few, if any amateurs in this region. In the midst of a discussion with friends on business or civic affairs he would sometimes stop and call the attention of the others to a songster outside the windows whose melody had passed unnoticed by them."

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Did You Hear Some of That Town Talk?

I recently downloaded two large PDF files containing Town Talk issues from 1890 - 1891.
They have been very amusing to read so far, it's like an informal newspaper with similarities to Coffee News.
In between posts about H.M. Francis, I'm going to start posting some of the various stories and cartoons.

I will cite author/artist names when applicable.

Let's start with my favorite so far:
Fig. 1: After The Play
The text that accompanies this piece is:

"SHE: Shakespeare is simply marvelous.
YOUNG TALKLEY: He is indeed! Even the names he gives his minor characters have a deep significance. Look at Pistol, for instance. He was always loaded."

Two Important Things Accomplished

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Today, I accomplished two important steps moving forward in my research.

First, I went through over fifty building/labor specifications for H.M. Francis buildings and added them to the growing inventory. Some highlights included a house in Athol that was moved twenty feet further from the road before being remodeled and an abundance of boiler systems installed in many of the commercial buildings.

Second, I found the obituary for Sidney Francis, H.M.'s nephew. He died while in New Haven, CT and I thought it would've been easier to find his obituary in the New Haven Register. At the end of the day today I decided to check the Fitchburg Sentinel to see if there was a death notice or maybe an obituary as well. (Sidney was a former resident of Lunenburg).  Lucky for me, a very detailed obituary was published in the Sentinel. The obituary gave me a few key dates that corresponded with his tenure at Yale University as well as other architectural firms he was employed with.

The specifications were very detailed and interesting to read. They allowed for a more technical aspect to be taken when considering all of the intricacies and nuances in a particular building. The Sidney Francis obituary helped to iron out more dates and names to understand more about the talented Francis family.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Alfred Marshall, Marshall's Apple Farm

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

I've never thought of Central Massachusetts as "Apple Country", but the more I think of it, perhaps it is. I can think of four apple orchards off the top of my head in Worcester County and I'm sure there is more. I know that "A is for Apple" and "An apple a day keeps the doctor away" but I'm still curious as to what makes the apple so popular around here.
Local lore suggests it could stem from one of Leominster's more legendary characters, John (Johnny Appleseed) Chapman.
Fig. 1: Johnny Appleseed
Johnny Appleseed is believed to have planted many of his apple trees in Ohio and Illinois, but Leominster is still proud of her native son. Each year there is a Johnny Appleseed parade in town and I even attended the elementary school named for him.

Fig. 2: Johnny Appleseed School in Leominster, Massachusetts
The apple orchard I remember visiting the most when I was younger was Marshall's Apple Farm in Fitchburg. Located on Marshall Road, the apple farm is situated on a tall hill that gives a great view of Fitchburg. The farm was also a popular destination in the fall to check out the foliage and pick up pumpkins for Halloween. I think I begged my mother to buy me a cheap pumpkin carving kit almost every Halloween. They would always be the kind with the tiny tools and illustrations that you could tape to your pumpkin of choice and trace with a knife. As I got older, I remember the farm adding a petting zoo and having inflatable play areas for kids but it still never lost its scenic charm.

The house up on Marshall Road wasn't designed by Francis, that had been built many generations prior. The house that was designed by Francis is on Prospect Street.

Fig. 3: Alfred Marshall's Prospect Street Home (photo courtesy of
I believe the house was built in 1880 and is a Queen Anne. The 1903 Fitchburg City Directory listed Alfred Marshall as being a "pulley covering mfr. and fruit grower." According to a 1990 Sentinel and Enterprise article about the Marshall Farm, Alfred grew strawberries and peaches prior to 1903 when the first apple trees were planted. The article quotes a genealogical book in saying that, "Alfred Marshall became known as the Apple King of New 1914, the crop produced 7,000 bushel boxes of apples. out of 7,000 trees on the farm, 1,200 were Baldwin apples, 3,500 bear the Macintosh reds name, the remaining trees were equally divided between Sutton Beauties and Wealthies."

Fig. 4: Some apples waiting to be picked
A 1964 advertisement for Marshall Farm reads, "History, romance, success and fame are built into this outstanding Fitchburg institution where pride of product has been upheld for over sixty years. There's an enviable reputation, too, that surrounds this tremendous fruit-growing atmosphere that reflects pride of product so well-known to us locally. Marshall Farm has long since earned its place on the Roll of Honor of Fitchburg accomplishments."

In our increasingly technological world, it's important to remember how important agriculture was to citizens in prior generations. There is still a great number of U.S. citizens who devote their time and way of life to farming, but before the Industrial Revolution that number was much higher. The next time you want to take in autumn air, head up to a local apple orchard and support your local agriculture. The bag of apples and gallon of cider you bring home will be well worth the trip.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Manufactured Nostalgia: "The Town That Never Was" and "The Tiny Town that Time Forgot"

A recent article by Heather Cox Richardson in The Historical Society centered on a model maker named Michael Paul Smith, who has used sophisticated modeling and photographic techniques to create an entirely fictitious town called Elgin Park.

Fig. 1: A downtown scene of Elgin Park (photo courtesy of
 In a detailed explanation of his fine craftsmanship, Mr. Smith commented on his influence for Elgin Park:

"My fictional scale-model town of Elgin Park is based on my hometown of Sewickley, Pennsylvania. I have no idea where the name Elgin Park came from, but it feels right. For me, it conjures up the essence of  “Small Town.” It also says stability; a bit isolated but not desolate. Family. Unlocked doors. Home. Sewickley itself is only one square mile and touches the Ohio River. Granted, every town has its secrets and skeletons, but when you walk down those tree-lined streets and hear the train whistles echoing off the hills along the river, everything seems OK. It's that Ok-ness I try to capture in my models and photographs."

Mr. Smith believes that by taking a "less is more" approach, he can allow the viewer to project themselves into the image without bombarding them with too much detail or any people. The photography of his landscape creates a "snapshot" feel to everything, allowing the viewer to walk themselves down Main Street to the corner drugstore.

Fig. 2: Smith adjusting a Studebaker to the curb outside this ideal home (photo courtesy of
This brilliant use of art to create a three-dimensional and fictional small town U.S.A. reminded me of another person who does practically the same thing...except with his voice.

Garrison Keillor, the host of A Prairie Home Companion has a weekly monologue where in a voice similar to an elder neighbor, he informs you of the recent goings-on in a fictional town called Lake Wobegon, Minnesota. A place often called "The Tiny Town that Time Forgot."
Mr. Keillor combines nostalgic prose and light-hearted humor to bring the listener on an audio journey to Lake Wobegon where they soon feel as though they are right at home. Mr. Keillor, like Mr. Smith uses a "less is more" approach when it comes to some of the buildings, churches and vehicles in Lake Wobegon, but fully develops his human characters with a skill that rarely requires different voice inflections when switching between them in conversation. Rather than carefully arranging 1951 Studebakers and Dad's shiny red Datsun on a sun-kissed Main Street, Mr. Keillor talks about certain hotspots in Lake Wobegon like the Chatterbox Cafe, the Lake Wobegon Lutheran Church and the Sidetrack Tap to bring more "reality" to his stories.
Fig. 3: Keillor delivering a monologue
Part of the popularity of Mr. Keillor's monologues stems from the fact that he delivers them live to an audience without the use of a script or teleprompting device. 
Each monologue famously ends with, "Well that's the news from Lake Wobegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average." In that one sign-off, Keillor evokes the pristine of a small-town that is not at all extravagant, nor comprised of larger-than-life characters but more importantly that everyone seems to be taking care of themselves and each other.

Mr. Smith's models and Mr. Keillor's narratives have the ability to transport their audience into a place they've never been, nor will ever visit and thus is the beauty of art and storytelling. Their creative efforts are important for historians to consider. All humans have a way of understanding the experiences of a large community, through storytelling and shared experiences, we are able to learn how we can relate to each other in the past and present.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Francis Cousins at Yale

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Last week, I was sifting through stacks of H.M. Francis & Sons building specifications. I was looking for building dates and addresses that corresponded to images of houses I had found in a few books about Fitchburg. In a neat orderly stack at the end of the table was a set of papers with "YALE UNIVERSITY" typed across the top. These papers referenced building projects at the Ivy League university involving dormitories and campus grounds. I quickly looked through them looking for a name or date and finally came across Sidney Houghton Francis.

I had heard of Sidney last year when I was doing my initial research on H.M. Francis. Sidney was born in 1877, one year after H.M.'s second son Albert. Sidney was the son of Alpheus K. Francis, brother of H.M.
Interestingly enough, when I went to the Lunenburg Public Library on Saturday to try and find information about Alfred Wyman, I found some information about Sidney and his father. The Ritter Memorial Library in Lunenburg was designed by Sidney's father Alpheus and completed by Sidney in 1909. Alpheus was an accomplished builder in Lunenburg with Sidney following in his footsteps.
Sidney graduated from Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 1900 and was employed by the firm Carrere & Hastings as a superintendent during their construction of the New York Public Library.

Fig. 1: Biography entry about Sidney H. Francis
Among the paperwork for building projects at Yale, there was an application from Sidney seeking a type of architectural license. In the application, he mentioned his W.P.I. graduation as well as being a superintendent of construction at Yale.
Reading this application piqued my interest, specifically because I recalled in Albert Francis's obituary it mentioned Albert's tenure as resident architect and superintendent of construction at Yale from 1927 to 1932. After reading that application, I wanted to try and find Sidney in a New Haven city directory, and possibly also find Albert.

I was able to find the page in the directory with Sidney and I believe I found Albert as well. I had looked for Albert in the 1930 Census in both Fitchburg and New Haven and to no avail. I had a sneaking suspicion that Albert may have boarded with Sidney in New Haven and also worked with him at Yale. While I was unable to find Albert in the census entry with Sidney, I think I found him in the city directory.

Fig. 2: A page from the 1928 New Haven City Directory
Sidney is listed as: "Francis, Sidney H. construction supt YU r 89 Trumbull" The "r" is a typical abbreviation for "residence" and I had found 89 Trumbull to be the residence of Sidney on his license application.

The entry that I believe is Albert, is listed as "Francis, Albert F h 1175 Chapel" I'm not sure what the "h" abbreviation corresponds to. But 1175 Chapel is relatively close to the campus of Yale.

I'm hoping to do have time to read through the stack of Yale University papers to see if I can find out what projects Sidney and Albert worked on together while at Yale.