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.

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