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.
One of the best things I have done in the past year is become a trustee for the Rowe Historical Society. I’m now one of the few that remember its founders and the excitement of putting the museum together and having tours conducted by them when I was a child.
Last summer the trustees had to move an entire room of things in order to do some repairs and refinish said room. While doing so we cataloged the things that were in there. It was a real hodge-podge of articles from large farm equipment to cameras to kitchen utensils. As we were cataloging we moved many things to other parts of the museum that were more directly related to what they were. I was cataloging a box of smalls when I found a 3″x 4″ printing block with the name Franklin Manufacturing Company on it.
What caught my eye was the line “superior fabric, colour and finish”. That’s when I knew it had to have come from the Satinet Factory that was in town during the 1800’s. I brought the block to a friend, then a friend of a friend who teaches printing made a few copies of what I imagine was a tag of sorts for the fabric woven since No. Yds. is at the bottom of the print.
The print is beautiful.
I am currently working on the yearly bulletin for the Historical Society. It usually has a little story about some interesting thing in town history and maybe a genealogy or story about the occupants of a particular house. I originally chose the really broad subject of manufacturing but with the continued study of this print and what it meant I realized that what I knew about the Satinet Factory was limited and had seriously peaked my interest.
The last month or so has seen an immersion into the manufacture of satinet and textile mills in Western MA during the early 19th century. Textile history is American history, it played huge roles in the American Revolution and the Civil War.
Now being a hand weaver and reading more and more about this particular cloth I decided it was something I needed to weave to get a perspective on what it is since I have yet to find any of it to look at (the search continues at the museum though). Satinet is a fabric woven with a cotton warp and wool weft. It was produced at an inexpensive cloth used in coats, uniforms and trousers. There are a few weavers that out there that have been more than helpful in this little quest and hopefully in the next few days I will put a warp on my loom to do a little sampling (something I never do but curiosity has gotten the better of me).
I’ve found a few photographs of the factory building after it had been abandoned (1876) and have looked at the location (under feet of snow). I also read about “Factory Village” as the center of town was known at the time. The Satinet factory was the single largest economic enterprise that has ever existed in this town yet it seems to be a footnote in the town history and I think that’s because no one really knew what satinet was and how it fit into the scheme of the local and state economies.
I could go on and on about this but there isn’t room (and I dare say interest). What began as a small article could very well turn into something much larger with a little more digging. There is an amazing textile history right here and I’m just beginning to piece the artifacts together with the research. Thank goodness for the internet but at the same time I feel like it’s the technology that keeps people from becoming interested in the things that are right under their noses. Maybe I can do a little to change that.
Yesterday was the first work bee I have attended at the Rowe Historical Society. Like most small town museums there is a decided lack of space. This is something that creeps up with collections growing year after year.
One storage space had flooding a while back and our task was to remove all of the covering from the basement walls in preparation for painting.
Getting to the walls was a whole different issue.
The group of eight split along gender lines as it always does with the men doing demo on one end of the room and the women sorting and categorizing everything to move into spaces better suited for each item. For me it was a pretty awesome experience and not unlike going through the barn or coop here with decades of stuff collected.
I have to say everyone worked diligently to get to the end of the task but there were many, many light moments surrounding the question “What the heck is this?”.
I daresay this may be an issue with most museums, especially those that are trying to make sense of collections without policy taking place since the sixties. We are not alone. There is so much knowledge in this group that there were maybe 3 items in that room that were left unidentified. That’s pretty cool considering the amount of stuff that was there.
We each have our own strengths. Mine is photography and textiles but having grown up with a nutty,
hoarding collecting father it extends to sawmills, lumber and vintage farm equipment. Old Sturbridge Village taught me the use of household items in 1840 so that helped too.
There is only one member that I knew when I started this a short month ago but I see this as building community within a community. We have a common interest. These bees will continue as well as individuals working on their areas of interest. Trying to bring centuries worth of belongings into the present. Knowing what there is, why it’s there and how best to share it with the community. It always amazes me just a little bit when strangers come together with a common goal and through that friendships are built or made stronger.
There are families that embraced photography wholeheartedly when it was introduced. I think of them as being sentimental. They understood that life was fleeting and it was important to them to remember moments in time. Not all families are like that. My father’s side was very sentimental and there are hundreds of old photos of my grand and great grands as well as my father growing up. They go back even further to the ambrotypes and tintypes although those are fewer. My mother’s side was not recorded quite as well but there is still quite an archive.
I have always been the “keeper” of the photographs. When households were emptied the boxes of photos were brought to me. I have closets full of boxes of photographs dating from the 1850’s to the present. I have to say the advent of digital photography makes organizing and making sense of this archive much easier.
Recently I volunteered to digitize the photographic collection at the Rowe Historical Society. I became a trustee and am hoping to organize their collection to give everyone access and help make sense of some of this imagery. I have to tell you I’m extraordinarily happy that Rowe is an extremely small town. I can’t imagine trying to make sense of a collection that is much bigger.
This was also self-serving in some respects – I wanted to see more of the photographs of Fort Pelham Farm back in the days of rolling fields and farming. I was also in search of angles of the house from the south side. I had never seen any. The Wrights were photo centric people. They were very social, had a wide circle of friends and family and took pictures at many occasions. They also kept many of their photographs glued in albums. This helps give a timeline to the images you are viewing. You have to be a sort of sleuth to figure out what is going on because all of the players are long gone and the names and dates often went with them.
Last week I scanned roughly 400 photographs from a few albums. I haven’t taken the time at this point to really examine them. There were a few that caught my interest because they were what I was looking for but an interesting thing has happened along the way. Not all of the albums belonged to the Wrights but there were many photographs of Fort Pelham Farm in albums belonging to families I’m unfamiliar with. One of these albums was fairly well labelled as to who, what, where and when. I pulled out the genealogy and realized just how many people were related to each other in town.
I think I love doing this sort of project because of the stories that form while you’re looking at the images. The body language, the clothing, the history that is shown even though they weren’t aware of much of it at the time. The stories grow as the collections come together. It takes some patience and a good memory for detail to make this all work but the technology we have today makes it all so much easier. With a little luck and some time this story should come alive and an archive will be available for everyone.