One of the truly rewarding aspects of our work here at the Historical Society, and in particular for the team that is working to catalog and put our collection online, is the connections that we are helping others make – with families and with people who share interests in things historical.
One of those came to light last week when I received a call from Chris Hadsel in Burlington, VT who was asking about the Parker Street Hall — she had come across a photograph in our online collection. It turns out she is part of a group that restores theatrical backdrops/curtains called “Curtains Without Borders” and she knew who the artist was who painted the curtain in Parker Street Hall! (She was calling hoping that it existed so they could consider restoring it.)
Chris told us that the Parker Street curtain was painted by Helen Tooker. Chris provided this short biography: Helen Tooker was born in Attleboro, Massachusetts in 1906. In the 1920’s, she studied art for a year at the Boston Museum, then married and moved to Taunton, MA, where she set up her “Bay State Studio” and taught art as part of the WPA. In the mid-1930’s, she and her sister and her best friend added theater curtains to the wide variety of art, calligraphy and sign painting that provided her with a living. The three young ladies would set out together and persuade local businesses to buy ads that were then painted on a muslin rolldrop. Although she produced theater curtains throughout northern New England, the only known surviving examples are this one at the West Windsor Historical Society at the former Ascutney Mountain Grange Hall, and two similar curtains in Maine. Helen passed away in 1997.
We will continue to look for more photographs of the backdrop for Chris’s records, and while the Parker Street Hall curtain is almost certainly gone you can visit some of the places where Helen’s work is still on display and get a sense of what it was like to be in our hall in the 1930s…
You can see more on our photo of the Parker Street Hall in our online collection.
Please visit the Curtains Without Borders website to learn more about their wonderful work restoring these beautiful works of art across New England (and they are looking to expand across the nation).
We were so happy with how the automatic text recognition worked on the 1971 history book I went back and did a pass over the 1921 Gutteridge book. It, also, worked pretty well and I have uploaded the book with the text.
For those who don’t know what I’m yabbering about, the documents we are making available online are “scanned” pages, essentially pictures of each page all bound together in a single file (the PDF file). Your computer only knows that there are umpteen of these images (which it calls pages) but nothing else. The fact that there is text on them or not is irrelevant. But with some extra work we can instruct a program to “read” these pages and try to locate the text on it and turn it into words that the computer can understand. This is a task that in recent years has become pretty reliable for printed materials (handwritten work or poorly typed pages is typically unusable). This is what we did to the 1921 Gutteridge PDF file and now you can search for words, names, etc. within it — not just flip through pages. The process is far from perfect, but we’re seeing a high enough level of accuracy to make it available to the public. This makes the file much more useful for research.
So, for anyone who downloaded the book prior to today (18-Mar-2010) please download it again to get the updated version with the searchable text:
History of Maynard – 1921 – WIlliam Gutteridge
Just over a year ago we released a digital version of the 50th anniversary (1921) history of Maynard by William Gutteridge.
After completing that project we sought a sacrificial copy of the 1971 history of the town so we could make that important document available to everyone. Roy Helander was kind enough to donate one of his paperback copies and it sat in my “to do” box for several months — it’s a hefty book and it would take some time. I needed a couple of pages scanned for an upcoming presentation, so today seemed like a good time to attack this project. Armed with a microplane rasp I removed the adhesive binding and then carefully worked the pages off the staples that held the book together. It was scanned at 200 pixels/inch – which makes for a nice file size and is reportedly a good resolution for OCR (optical character recognition). I processed the file with Adobe Acrobat’ s OCR and it cranked away for a few hours. The results were pretty good (as OCR goes)! So the text of this book is also searchable (I wouldn’t trust it 100%, but my random sampling implies that it works pretty well for casual searches.)
So here we are in February 2010 and the second major history of Maynard is now available on any computer in the world. (I wonder if the 3rd one will even make it to paper?)
If you look at the book the last page is 234, but due to the way it was published pages with photographs weren’t numbers. The actual page count is 366, not counting the cover pages. So this is a substantial work and full of wonderful details about Maynard. It is the current bible for town history buffs and we hope you will take advantage of this electronic copy.
You can download it from the Maynard Historical Society web site. The file is just under 100 megabytes:
The History of Maynard, Massachusetts 1871-1971 (pdf, 95MB – right-click to download)
The book was published by the Maynard Historical Commission and encapsulates the work of numerous people, many in the Maynard Historical Society, in anticipation of Maynard’s Centennial celebration. 1000 copies were printed (400 hard-bound and 600 soft-bound).
We’ve just completed the digitization of nearly 40 video tapes in our collection. The majority of these are recordings of various Society programs, but some document interesting events from our town’s history.
If you have a videotape of historically significant event / subject / person related to Maynard, please let us know about it and consider letting us make a digital copy of it for our archives.
Eventually we plan to make these videos, like everything else in the collection, available for everyone to view — but that might take awhile.
If any of our readers had visited the Society in the past 10 years or so while we were still in the lower level of Maynard Town Hall you might have noticed some fairly large wooden structures tucked in the corner collecting dust. These were pieces of a loom that came from a Fairfield Street house and was used to make carpets at the turn of the 20th century. Since we acquired this piece we’ve never had the room to assemble it — until last week…
During one of our Wednesday morning work sessions Len Palmer, Paul Boothroyd and I brought a bunch of pieces out to a work area and we took our shot at putting it together. We didn’t think we’d get it right on the first shot (and we had a couple of small errors along the way) but we think we have an accurate reconstruction.
Today I spent some times working on the heddles. If I’ve counted properly the loom is set up for 88 warp threads. Untangling them after a decade of storage and at least 3 moves took a bit of time.
We are looking forward to having some folks familiar with looms and weaving help us with the next stages.
We’re going to do a light cleaning of the loom to remove (or mitigate) some mildew and dirt. The loom needs some wedges to secure the major elements. The weaver’s seat is also missing and we’ll likely cajole a local craftsman into building a replica.
Sometime next year we hope to load some warp threads on the loom and perhaps start weaving some cloth on it, perhaps, for the first time in 90 or 100 years. When we do so, we’ll be sure to make a video of the process and share it with everyone.
Peg Brown has kindly supplied the slides she used for her January 2009 presentation on maps of Maynard. We had a number of people ask for them at our February meeting, so here they are!
Download a PDF version of the Mapping Maynard Slides (16MB)
Through a odd twist of fate, the Maynard Historical Society (and, for the most part, I) managed to become a highly cited resource for the Boston Post Cane – a tradition that started in 1909 as part of a publicity stunt for the now defunct newspaper.
We published Ralph Sheridan’s article about losing and finding the cane in Maynard and he included a lot of information about the cane from towns around New England. I started updating the list based on news accounts that I would run into on the web and then people started sending us updates. After a few years we, rather accidently, became a custodian of recent history of the cane.
Keeping this information up-to-date has been a problem for years. In 2008, as part of the overall redesign of the Maynard web site I tried to design a new way of managing Boston Post Cane information and simply didn’t have time to do it properly. After a year of not updating the page because “the new thing is coming” – I figured out a way to get the job done.
And now we have a great set of resources for the Boston Post Cane, just in time for its 100th birthday (the tradition started in August 1909).
While it wasn’t planned, I’m proud to have the Maynard Historical Society (and Maynard) be frequently cited for news and background information on this unique New England tradition, and look forward to providing more and better information in the coming years.
Interested? Head on over to the Boston Post Cane resource site.
In this podcast Dave Griffin discusses one of the more significant historical books in the collection: a 1930 appraisal of the properties held by the American Woolen Company.
Maynard Historical Society Podcast #9
While the Mill and the town were founded by Amory Maynard, as Amory grew older and infirm a new management scheme for the mill was required. In 1862 the ownership of the Maynard Mill complex moved from the Maynard family ownership to a corporation called the “Assabet Manufacturing Company” (of which Amory Maynard, was listed as the “agent”). This corporation lasted through the Civil War.
Assabet Manufacturing Company ran until poor business conditions drove it to insolvency on Dec 31, 1898. It stayed operating under receivership until May 1, 1899 when it was purchased by the American Woolen Company for $400,000. The American Woolen Company was a conglomerate of textile mills in New England and at the time the Maynard Mill was the largest woolen mill in the country with 350 looms.
By the early 1920’s the American Woolen Company had 27 mills, 7,200 looms, and clothed an estimated one in six men in the United States (the cloth was used primarily for men’s suits). By that time, despite its size and expansion to nearly 800 looms and 2,500 people the Maynard Mill was no longer one of the major mills in the company.
The appraisal of the 267 non-mill properties owned by the American Woolen Company provide an insight into what it was like to live in “company town” back then, the living conditions of the mill workers and the town in general. For those people who currently live in one of the properties listed, it provides a unique slice of history about their home.
Here are a few pages from the book:
As part of the digitization of the collection, the entire 209 page appraisal is available for download from the Society’s web site. The file format is Adobe PDF. Please note that this is a relatively large file (90MB), so you don’t want to download it unless you have a reasonably high-speed connection.
Cindy Mello is writing a research paper and would like some help. She writes:
I’m doing a research paper for a business college class that’s due in two weeks and I could use your assistance. The paper is entitiled “The Evolution of the Maynard Mill and It’s Impact on the Town”. In addition to the history that’s on your website I need information from book, magazine and interview sources. I love discussing history with the most senior of the town, so please point me in the direction of those that would be willing to speak with me and any additional resources you think would be useful, especially from your archive room. In addition to my contact information below, I’ve listed some key reference items that I could use your assistance with gathering. Thank you in advance for your help.
Cindy is seeking:
- Someone locally who worked at the mill when it made textiles that she could interview.
- Someone locally who worked at the mill when it as DEC/Digital that she could interview.
- Someone at a business in Maynard that has been operating since the mill produced either textiles (or Digital)
- Photographs of the mill or downtown area during the textile and Digital days. (She’d love a picture of someone heading downtown from DEC at lunchtime.)
- Resources for finding out things like: the number of people who worked at the mill when it was textiles vs. digital, the town population and the business economy during these various stages…who opened, closed, etc., as a result of the mills prosperity and downturn.
If you would like to help Cindy, you can contact her at email@example.com