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.

Calm Before the Storm

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

Sorry, still research talk here, no commentary on the recent uptick of stormy weather in Massachusetts.
I've completed the data entry for the previous H.M. Francis inventories (mentioned here) and all that is left to do is go through the physical blueprints and architectural drawings once more.
Total number of entries thus far, for those of you keeping score at home is 438.
There are duplicates as well as possible incorrect entries in this total and it will be widdled down to a more approximate number soon.

This year, I wanted to combine all previous Francis lists into one and then delete duplicates and add more information accordingly. Last year, I took a similar approach but did not effectively keep track of where certain information was coming from. The resulting inventory from last year, although a good general idea of structures designed by Francis and his firm, was more confusing than accessible -- hence the starting over process.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Alfred A. Wyman (Mini Road Trip)

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

Tomorrow I'm taking my first mini road trip to the public library in Lunenburg to see if I can find out information about Alfred A. Wyman's summer cottage on Whalom Lake. According to a past inventory, the cottage was built in 1895, and that is all the information I have about it currently.

The only information I was able to find about Mr. Wyman the person was that he resided on Beacon Street in Fitchburg and was the treasurer of C.A. Cross, Inc.

I'm hoping a trip to the library may shed some light on this old house.

Albert C. Brown

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

Albert C. Brown was another great example of a very community-active Fitchburg resident.
Brown was born in 1859 in Ashburnham, graduated from Fitchburg High School and had his eyes set on becoming a teacher after attending the Worcester Normal School. However, he had an opportunity to join the Worcester North Savings Institution as a junior clerk and worked his way up to the position of President in 1933, a position he held until his death in 1943.

Brown also served as treasurer of the YMCA in Fitchburg, and was a prominent member of the Fitchburg Board of Trade and Merchants Association.
Fig. 1: Albert C. Brown in a picture for the Fitchburg Merchants Association
His obituary listed his wedding date as April 6th, 1893 to Anna B. See. He had one daughter, two sons and five grand-children.

Fig. 2: Albert C. Brown's obituary (03/26/1943)
A memorial resolution was drafted by members of the Worcester North Savings Institution that listed some of his contributions to the bank. "...he gave devoted attention, bending every energy to its upbuilding and during the period of his service, it grew from an institution of 4396 depositors with deposits of $1,699,000 to one of 21,800 depositors and over $19,000,000 of deposits."

The memorial also includes the popular hymn, Only Remembered:

"Up and away, like the dew of the morning,
Soaring from earth to its home in the sun,
So let me steal away, gently and lovingly,
only remembered by what I have done.

Up and away, like the odors of sunset,
Sweetening the twilight as darkness comes on;
So let me pass away, peacefully and silently,
Only remembered by what I have done.

Need I be missed, if another succeed me,
Reaping those fields which in Spring I have sowed,
Who plowed or sowed is not missed by the harvester,
But he's remembered by what he has done."

Fig. 3: Memorial for Albert C. Brown
The inventory entry for Albert C. Brown lists his residence on Mount Globe Street in Fitchburg, tucked behind Academy and Prichard Streets. The year on the inventory is 1909, one year after the death of Henry Francis. This house may have been one of the first designs when the firm was helmed by Frederick and Albert Francis.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Some Mistakes to Learn From

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

Hindsight is always 20/20.
Looking back on last year's inventory efforts, I'm beginning to see gaping holes in information that should've been fixed before.
The main issue seems to originate from my use of a legend to make sense of what plans were physically on-hand at the Historical Society. The system that was intended to make the inventory more accessible ended up making it more daunting.
After examining ways to clean the data from last year, I made the bold decision to essentially start the inventory over again.
This time, rather than using Microsoft Excel, I'm using FileMaker. FileMaker will allow me to make multiple lists of information and import them into one master list. I'm sure Excel has similar capabilities, but the user-friendliness of FileMaker is what won me over.

The information map will basically look like this:

A list of Francis structures, dated 1987
A list compiled by a past researcher, dated 1997 
A list made from MACRIS
List made from physical blueprints, drawings, etc. on-hand at the Historical Society
The final inventory.

By using four distinct lists it will be easy to synthesize the final data for cleaning and verification.
Duplications and gaps in information will be more easily identified and corrected.

At the completion of the final inventory I'll be able to use city directories, and a housing survey done in 1999 to find more information about the clients of H.M. Francis & Sons which will help put many of these structures and homes into a more appropriate historical context. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Albion Downe

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

As I sit on my desk trying to make a concise report on Albion Downe's house, I am finding a few things I'd like to re-examine when I go back to the Historical Society tomorrow.

My inventory only listed "Bond Street" as an address and 1909 as a year, I believe I got that from looking at building specifications at the Historical Society that did not have an address number. When I go back to research tomorrow, I will find the building specs once more to double-check for an exact address and confirm the year.

After looking at the housing survey in Fitchburg conducted in 1977 and 1999, I have found an entry for 62 Bond Street, that listed the house being of the Queen Anne style and it's resident as Albion Downe. This might be the information I need, but I'd still like to re-examine the building specs. The year for the build date is listed as 1895-1910.

The only information I found about Albion Downe the person was a single letter of correspondence between a former director of the Historical Society and a person that may have been researching him.

Some of the information from the letter is as follows:

"His father, Edwin P. was with the Fitchburg Mutual Life Insurance [Company]. His mother was Jennie. A brother, Albro F., and a sister, Sylvia, are also in the family."

Albion worked as a clerk for Parkhill Mills and rose to the position of paymaster. From 1929 until 1952 he was with the Fitchburg Savings Bank.

Fig. 1: Parkhill Mills in Fitchburg (photo courtesy of
According to the letter from the director, Albion Downe seemed to be constantly moving. "In the 1909 Directory he is listed at 50 Arlington Street; in 1921 at 32 [which may be 62] Bond Street, and from 1922 to 1956 at 38 School Street. In the 1957 Directory he lived at 35 Pearl Street and was there until his death."

A.P. Kimball

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)
The house of Alpheus Porter (A.P.) Kimball was erected in the 1870s on Garnet Street.

Fig. 1: A.P. Kimball's house (photo courtesy of
A.P. Kimball's father (also named Alpheus) made a living manufacturing scythes in Fitchburg, where the Fitchburg Paper Company later built their mills. A.P. dabbled in scythe-making, but also took up selling watches and jewelry under the business name of Kimball & Lowe and later in a partnership with J.G. Whitcomb.

A.P. Kimball's obituary underscored the many contributions he made to Fitchburg.

Fig. 2: Alpheus Kimball's obituary
According to his obituary, Kimball's "public services were chiefly in the suppression of crime and protection from fires. Long before the police force was established his fearlessness as an officer and skill as a detective made him a terror to evil doers."

In the biography folder for A.P. Kimball, there are two interesting documents.
The first is a genealogy sheet, possibly completed by one of his sons or other descendants that features information about A.P.'s birth, death, marriage and children.

Fig. 3: An ancestry sheet about A.P. Kimball.
The document lists his children as:
Frank, Aug. 17th, 1860
Arthur Huntley, Dec. 11th, 1862
Herman Porter, May 3rd, 1866
and Richard Edwin, April 28th, 1872.

The second document is an article from the Fitchburg Sentinel, dated September 21st, 1956.
The article is about A.P.'s nephew Edward F. Kimball's planned celebration of his 99th birthday.

Fig. 4: Article about the 99th birthday of Edward F. Kimball.

Edward Kimball was the son of A.P.'s brother (General) John W. Kimball.

According to the article, J.W. Kimball also worked in his father's scythe factory but left town with the Fitchburg Fusiliers after President Lincoln called for Union Army volunteers. The Fusiliers were assigned to the 15th Regiment and fought at Antietam, Ball's Bluff, Gettysburg and the Wilderness.

Fig. 5: Picture from Fitchburg of Gen. John Kimball and his horse Prince.
The caption of the photograph reads:

"GEN. JOHN KIMBALL AND PRINCE. Upon accepting command of Company K of the 53rd Regiment in 1862, Col. John W. Kimball was given equipment and a fine four-year-old horse named Prince by 43 friends and leading citizens of Fitchburg. Colonel Kimball and Prince later saw battle in New Orleans, and Kimball was later promoted to general. In the reunion of 1887, the general mounted Prince for this photograph and had a copy made for every man in his command."

The Kimball Family's roots in Fitchburg stretch as far back as the American Revolution and many of their descendants lived dedicated lives to their community and country.

Friday, June 3, 2011

A.B. Sherman (according to the Sidewalk Sifter)

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

The filing cabinets that house biographical records at the Historical Society are always a treat to go through because many of the file folders contain newspaper snippets, obituaries, family letters, family pictures and sometimes small family trees that help explain a person's origin and social activities. When looking up information about A.B. Sherman (a resident of Goodrich Street), I found a peculiar photocopy of a publication called "Town Talk" which was edited by the enigmatic 'Sidewalk Sifter.'"

Fig. 1: Front page banner for "Town Talk."
My mind quickly envisioned a group of 1940s newspapermen in brown trenchcoats all doing their best Columbo impression ("Just the facts, m'am.") before scribbling down the scuttlebutt of the day to publish in ink. I hope there were many "Sidewalk Sifters" who kept their noses clean and ears to the pavement, waiting to latch on to the latest hubbub. Cue up some lightning, smooth saxophone notes, a dark alley, some-- ok, before I get carried away, I'll leave the movie-making to the professionals. The real story behind "Town Talk" may not be as flamboyant and Hollywood-esque as I have described, but it's always fun to romanticize about history, even just for a moment. 
There was a brief biography and photograph about Mr. Sherman that was helpful in understanding what brought him to Fitchburg from his native Plympton, Massachusetts.

Fig. 2: A.B. Sherman biography in Town Talk
The text of the biography reads:


    The subject of this sketch was born in Plympton, Mass., April 10, 1829. His father, Capt. Zaccheus Sherman, followed the sea 14 years and commanded a vessel about 12 years. Mr. Sherman was educated in the district and private schools of his native town, and on reaching the age of eight years worked diligently during vacations in summer on the farm and in winter in the saw mills, etc. In 1849, he left home and entered the country store of J.M. Harrub, of North Plympton. After working there a few months he went to Boston and entered the dry goods store of Samuel Ellis & Co. After acting as manager and salesman for some years he came to this city in February 1855, and after acting as salesman for this firm about six months he decided that Fitchburg would be a good place to locate, bought the stock and set up business for himself. The late L.J. Brown was one of his salesmen before going into business for himself. For over 30 years he has been in business alone and has during those years done a large and profitable business. Mr. Sherman has also been interested in shipping and has been part owner in eight different vessels and one has borne his name. Mr. Sherman has served one years in the Common Council and two years in the Board of Aldermen."

After reading this biography I began to think my previous information about the Sherman home was wrong. I had it dated as being built in 1916 and according to this biography, Sherman would've been 87 years old when it was built. It wouldn't be too peculiar for an elderly man to be moving into a new home, but it was something I did not expect. I went through some of the census records for A.B. Sherman and found my answer: one of his sons was also named Andrew B. Sherman. The 1920 census lists Andrew B. Sherman (aged 37) living on Goodrich Street.

Fig. 3: A.B. Sherman (Jr.)'s Goodrich Street home. (photo courtesy of
The other intriguing fact about this home is that it was built after the death of H.M. Francis (who died in 1908). This house was designed during the era of Frederick and Albert Francis being the main architects of H.M. Francis and Sons.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A.A. Farnsworth/Henry Jackson

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

Today at the Historical Society, I began gathering information about Francis's clients by jotting down names attached to the inventory. The first name was A.A. Farnsworth. In my initial search through the archives, I did not find out much about Mr. Farnsworth, though I am going to delve deeper next week. What I found by re-examining the inventory was that his house was built in 1887, on Mount Vernon Street in Fitchburg. The house was designed in the Queen Anne style, a popular style of the time, as well as one of Francis's more prevalent architectural styles.

Fig. 1: A.A. Farnsworth House, built in 1887 (photo courtesy of
According to the 1892 City Directory, Henry Jackson the auditor for the city of Fitchburg lived in that house. I was able to find a brief write-up about him in a Souvenir edition of the Fitchburg Sentinel dated 06/18/1892.

Fig. 2: Write-up about Henry Jackson from Fitchburg Sentinel
The text reads:

A WELL-KNOWN citizen and public official of Fitchburg is Mr. Henry Jackson, whose vast experience has made him a valuable man to the city and its residents.
Born in Leominster, his parents came to Fitchburg when he was five years of age, and he has grown up with the city, residing here ever since. He obtained a good schooling at the academies of Framingham and this city. He was elected town clerk as far back as 1866, to which position he returned each subsequent election. When the city was incorporated he was elected city clerk. In the capacity of clerk he served the town and city until 1887, a period of 21 years, a most remarkable record, equalled by few city or town clerks in the state. Before the city was incorporated he also served as clerk of the Board of Selectmen until 1873. From 1872 to 1883 he also held the office of water registrar, while he was also librarian of the public library from 1866 to 1873. He was a member of the auditing committee of the town from 1867 to the time Fitchburg was made a city. Since 1887 he has held the office of city auditor, and is well fitted by ability and experience to perform its important duties. His repeated re-elections show his popularity in this city, while he is justly deserving of the confidence the public repose in him."

Over the years, the house was probably renovated with modern amenities, but a very thoughtful addition came in the shape of a sign on a street-facing window.

Fig. 3: Sign on the A.A. Farnsworth house (photo courtesy of