It’s been a whirlwind kind of week in preparing the Browning Bench Tool Factory for its Grand Opening this coming Saturday, the 15th. The historical society was given the use of a building that was moved and restored in 1976. It was originally a factory building used in the making of small hand tools such as hand planes.
The idea of building another building for the display of sleighs, wagons and large agricultural artifacts had been discussed during the latter part of last year but the cost of doing so was just out of reach. The Bench Tool had been used in the past for exhibits of local crafts on Old Home Day but has basically sat idle otherwise. It’s a barn essentially with no insulation but tight to the weather. It has a good roof and windows. We figured this would be the perfect annex for our agricultural display.
The sleighs, wagon, and large agricultural articles have been moved in, the smaller stuff has been making its way over. This past week with work bees we’ve sorted things to different floors and by industry, season or animal. There are displays about sugaring and skiing, tools for ice cutting and wood cutting. Dairy, haying and harvesting grains are included along with bee equipment and chicken brooders.
The third floor is a temporary exhibit on textiles and the manufacture. Shirley (the loom) is set up and being dressed this week, I will be weaving there most Saturdays through the season. There will be displays of other spinning and weaving equipment as well as some of the hand-woven artifacts from the museum.
One of the most important things for me has been the photographs. The Historical Society has a treasure trove of amazing photos and I have scanned a good many of them in the past 10 months or so. I’ve printed and mounted a great number of them to display along with the artifacts to put things in context. So while the displays come together I think the photographs will be the icing on the cake. To see the town as it was 130 years ago is an amazing thing – open fields, amazing views, industry. It’s difficult sometimes to wrap your head around it.
The trustees have come together and done an amazing job. They all really care about the history of the town and sharing it with those that are interested. If you are in the area on any Saturday through Fall from 10 A.M. to 2 P.M. stop by and see what we have in our newly expanded museum, there’s something for everyone. Also consider becoming a member or lending your support as we continue to uncover treasures to share with everyone.
It was moving day for Shirley and the walking wheel. We’ve had these pieces of equipment in our living space for quite some time and moving them out today was quite the change. There are now big swaths of open space (and endless amounts of dust).
I have finished the bulletin on Rowe’s textile history (a short course) for the Historical Society. I had to write it in such a way that a layman could understand what I was talking about and keep it brief enough so people wouldn’t fall asleep as they were reading it. No easy feat for someone who could talk about this until you pass out from boredom.
I had researched this from the 1780’s until 1900 or so in detail, the problem came when I had to put all of the research together. There was the history of the equipment, the economic history, and the social history. I had thought that the weaving history would be the fascinating part but found it was the people. When I wrapped up the writing of the article I realized I wasn’t ready to let go of them, or their way of life.
I have found wonderful diaries, day books, account books from the doctors in town as well as merchant’s account records. The beauty of this research is that it is in a town that is so small. I built genealogies of over a dozen families and found out how intertwined everyone was. With the diaries I learned about how stoic the men could be even in facing the loss of their spouses or children. One line described what one could only imagine as something completely life altering. These books all crossed with each other over a certain number of years so it gave a fuller picture of daily living. The only way that this could possibly be shared is if I wrote a historical novel. A Peyton Place sort of thing using the characters in their own time and place. On the back burner that goes.
With the research and writing done the displays are now being put together. The Rowe Historical Society will be opening an annex to their museum on July 15th. It is in an old factory building that was moved and restored for the U.S. bicentennial in 1976. The building is wonderful and perfect for the large sleighs, wagons and agricultural artifacts. The trustees are working hard to get the museum in good shape for their opening July 1st. Having done the bulletin on weaving I decided that I would move the barn frame loom and the walking wheel in for the season and do demonstrations on the Saturdays we are open. It’s nice to be a part of something that is so interesting and to watch and help it come together.
For the time being I will have to get used to the vacant spaces in the house but I have a feeling I will be seeing more of them in the next few weeks than I have been seeing them at home of late. I will also finally get a warp on Shirley and run her through her paces. I feel good that this is where Shirley needs to be right now, spotlighting how amazing she was almost 200 years ago. She’ll be teaching me right along with everyone that visits.
I’ve been reading a number of posts and memes commenting on what a horrendous year 2016 has been. If I take a quick look back I might be inclined to agree. This was a year of tremendous loss for me personally. Four people I loved dearly passed away leaving some pretty big holes. Then there was the weather – hot, hot summer, not much rain, a garden left to the weeds. We won’t even go into the news or current events.
In looking through the photographs of the year I realized that some pretty fantastic things have happened as well. With the death of my father I was given the gift of time allowing me to be involved in things that are close to my heart. This brought me into situations where I’ve met some great people and have grown in ways I never expected.
I’ve expanded my horizons by spending time with some wonderful weavers. They are the most generous people I know. The weaving I’m doing today and the direction it seems to be heading right now is pulling from the history of the craft. What began as weaving off a warp on a barn frame loom (a figure it out by yourself experience) lead to the purchase and moving of this type of loom to my house. A mention of a few of these looms available in New England started the journey into bringing one home. Snow and miles are not a deterrent to a weaver in search of a piece of equipment.
This was also a year of reunions. I’m not sure if it had to do with the loss of mutual friends or it was just timing but I spent more than a few of my weekends with people I love from past lives. Calls out of the blue from friends I haven’t talked to in decades. Calls from people on the other side of the world. Calls to gather and just remember how much we truly like each other.
It was a year of new-found friendship as well. Like minded people coming together to work on projects of mutual interest. Being more involved in a town of this size has brought me great satisfaction, friendships new and renewed and an understanding of the effort needed to keep it all together and keep politics out of it. No easy feat.
I think what I really learned is it was is all a matter of perspective. My photography has helped with that – I’m a glass half full kind of photographer. I try to share the wonder and beauty around me. I realized a long time ago that worrying about the big picture is pretty destructive. It’s not that I have my head in the sand it’s just that on a grand scale I know there’s very little I can to about it. You can’t spend hours in the day projecting what is going to happen down the road, you don’t know. Things unfold the way they unfold and it’s always in slower motion than you think it’s going to.
Going into 2017 my goals are to learn more about the things I love and share that knowledge with those who will listen (and even those that won’t – sorry). Perfect my crafts and teach others how to do these things. Be kind and generous with my time. Stay connected in a meaningful way to my friends – old and new – because you never know who needs what when and sometimes big change can happen by doing what you think is the littlest of things. Most of all, never lose that sense of wonder. There is so much to see and learn even in the smallest of things.
Lena and Elmer Alix – June 29, 1930 – both were working in mills at the time.
Every Wednesday I eat lunch with my Dad at the assisted living facility he lives in now. It’s always interesting for one reason or another. This week we talked weaving, which is one of my favorite subjects. My father is one of the few people left that can tell me the stories of the woolen mills where almost his entire family worked for his childhood, adolescence and young adulthood.
He’s been telling me these stories for my entire life, they are part of my being. It wasn’t until this past year that I had a much greater understanding of what he was talking about. He always tells me about the mechanics of the mill, how the looms worked, how the fiber was carded and spun, the kinds of fiber they were using.
When I began my weaving class my goals were twofold – I wanted to learn the process but I also wanted to better understand the stories – my family history. I knew if I didn’t do this a good part of these stories would be lost.
Wednesday Dad talked about winding warps for the looms. The looms they were using were 72 inches in width (that’s pretty big). Each warp thread came off of its own spool. He didn’t know how long the warps were but he often has told me about my grandfather knotting the warp threads as they ran out while beaming the warp. He could tie the knots with one hand. This must have been pretty amazing because Dad never looks more delighted than when he tells me that.
We talked about my grandfather’s weave books. Dad told me this was the book he was using at Charlton Woolen in the early 1930’s. Today I took it out and realized that the length of the warp was decided by whatever the job was. This book never ceases to amaze me. He saw this in his head, he designed on paper and knew what it was going to do – wow. I understand it but at this point I’m not able to visualized what the warp and weft are going to do without doing a draw down (and I struggle with that at times – it makes my head hurt from thinking too hard).
The heddles were all threaded by hand – look at this page – 6 harnesses with 1800 ends. It would take me a month. Yikes! Often there over a dozen harnesses, talk about making your head hurt.
Today I will finish weaving my scarf for the Eastern States Exposition (Big E). I will take it off of the loom, fringe it, weave in any loose threads, then wash and block. I think one of the reasons I enjoy weaving so much is it has helped me to understand the kind of thinking my ancestors did while doing what they did for a living. This has been a great journey.
A common question asked is why is this known as Fort Pelham Farm?
The original parcel of land (the entire town of Rowe) was originally sold by the General Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to Cornelius Jones who later sold most of the land in 1779.
” The land transactions recoded in the Franklin County Registry of Deeds show that the next owner of the Fort Pelham site was Dr. Pardon Haynes of Rowe, the town physician from 1788 until his death in 1834. His estate inventory indicates that he was not only a “gentleman,” but a wealthy one, and by the time of his death he had acquired a great deal of land over many years. The heirs of Dr. Haynes sold the property during the 1840s and 1850s to the Gould family. By the first two decade of the twentieth century, it had passed into the hands of Edward Wright when it was known as Fort Pelham Farm. The Fort Pelham Farm was sold in 1942 to Florence E. Neal, who presented it to the Rowe Historical Society in 1956. The site (which had been open pasture until about 1930) had returned to second-growth bush and trees, and was not easy for the casual visitor to find. Today, much of the brush has been removed and the site is marked by a large boulder with an inscribed stone plaque.” From The Line of Forts by Michael Coe
The reference to the Wrights is where the name comes in. With the advent of better transportation the town of Rowe became somewhat of a vacation spot. It was advertised as a place of peace and tranquility. The brochure below was probably used in the early 1900’s.
The dining room is the largest room in the house and remains very much the same as it was in 1900. Photos show how it was set up for their infamous chicken dinners.
There are many photographs of people playing lawn sports on the property such as croquet. What I find most interesting is the household chairs in the driveway.
The Wrights took great pride in the history of their property. The family had owned it since Pardon Haynes built it and moved in. You have to wonder if the oral history of the fort was passed down for a number of generations, whether it was a sort of common knowledge within the family when they named it Fort Pelham Farm. The name has stuck with the property and probably always will so rather than being known as the old Wright place or the Alix place it will continue to be known as Fort Pelham Farm.