For the 3rd Grade Program, students will hear songs such as British Grenadiers to bring to life the sound of a fife which Framingham’s Thomas Nixon Jr. played in the Revolutionary War.
By Elsa Hornfischer
In the early afternoon on June 6th, 2014, I headed up the grassy slope leading to the front door of one of Framingham’s priceless architectural treasures – the Old Academy building along Framingham Centre Common. To me, this stone and pillared Greek revival building adds a traditional and timeless elegance, but also hints at Early American Folk Art.
Built in 1837, the Old Academy is one of three town-owned buildings under the watchful eye and loving care of Framingham History Center staff and volunteers. (The others are Village Hall built in 1834 and Old Edgell Library built in 1872.)
As I opened the door, I knew that another fascinating three-hour stint as one of a long list of the Framingham History Center’s volunteer docents had begun. Spending time in this old building filled with Framingham memorabilia both during and before Framingham was incorporated, reveals so many fascinating stories of the past. This, for me, is pure pleasure. There is also something timeless and comforting about old buildings and artifacts in an age of iPhones, texts, laptops, Facebook, and space travel in the hometown of Christa McAuliffe – not that there is anything wrong with them…
The Old Academy room – once a classroom – reflects a comforting, quiet elegance, dimmed by window shades to keep the sun from damaging the museum’s collection. Large Colonial period portraits of Framingham’s earliest residents, line one wall. Display cases hold early documents, costumes, toys, early posters, furniture, tools, and more. An old dollhouse perches on a table and scattered throughout are pieces of furniture hand crafted by Wallace Nutting, Framingham resident and one of New England’s first photographers. A massive Old Academy teacher’s desk nestles along the blackboard followed by smaller well-worn student desks.. There’s a dignity to this place and its contents in the dim gentile lighting of mid-day.
Executive Director Annie Murphy, in an email, told me earlier that she had something extra fun for me to do when I arrived at my duties as docent. Soon Curator Dana Dauterman-Ricciardi arrived sporting a smile and carrying a large drawer of documents – quite an understatement. It turns out that the drawer held by Dana had resided for an untold number of years in the Tree Warden’s office. It was a very large, old, and dusty, drawer filled with blueprints and documents of many different sizes. The box overflowed with various shades of faded and yellowed paper along with some that managed to keep their white color – each rolled up – many were ripped or held together with tape. Most, in their rolled state, appeared as if they could never be unrolled again, ever. I quickly sensed a challenge.
Dana set the box down on a small table, handed me a lined form, and asked me to record the date each blueprint was surveyed, who did the survey, the year it was done, and anything else that might appear unusual. Curious, I bid Dana goodbye and began my work.
I learned very quickly that I had to be very gentle with the old yellowed white paper that had apparently been rolled tightly and did not like to be straightened out. Other blueprints were ripped, faded, or taped. A reason to be careful became immediately clear: the papers hadn’t apparently been touched, rolled out, or read for a very, very long time. Each time a blueprint even moved, a cloud of dust hovered low above the box and settled on my clothes and hands. I barely noticed. I was soon transported to other times and other places in a time of lanterns, horses, dirt roads, and Franklin Stones. The only thing that seemed familiar were a few of the names of landowners and surveyors – names that appear today on some of the street signs in 21st Century Framingham.
Two hours passed… Dust lightly covered the table upon which I worked – my hands sported shades of grey. The old drawer even appeared brittle – much like the blueprints within – and as the afternoon light changed direction, shadows lengthened, but time for me stood still. Most of the documents had been surveyed – some described community parks, lots for sale, donated properties, property deeded in wills, or indicated the placement of landscaping in a park. Two hours went by and soon I was close to the end of the blueprint collection.
Then, one of the last documents – and one of the largest – got my immediate attention. It was rolled tightly, like the others, but larger – 18 inches long. Slowly and very gently, I unrolled it – only to have it roll back – seemingly on springs. Several more gentle tries yielded an almost opened map. I held two sides down with heavy books and soon got lost in the handwritten year listed in black ink before me at the top of the document:
The survey appeared to be of the Natick, Sherborn, and Framingham area. The date was followed by a long paragraph in written in black ink that was somewhat difficult to translate… By then, Curator Dana Dauterman-Ricciardi returned to the news of this newly discovered artifact. She later explained that the map, presented to the Massachusetts legislature in 1696, documents a well known scam of the 1690’s.
Samuel Howe had obtained permission from the Natick Praying Indians to sell 200 acres of their land – only to have Samuel Gookin assist him in selling a grand total of 1700 acres.
Attorney Thomas Sawin, whose house still stands on South Street in Natick, brought a lawsuit on behalf of the Natick Praying Indians to the legislature, along with the map. The legal settlement in favor or the Praying Indians had an immediate impact on where the boundary between Natick and Framingham would finally be…
The Scam of the 1690’s, described by former Framingham Town Historian Stephen Herring in his book about Framingham, is now supported, not only by the story and a changed boundary between Natick and Framingham, but also by this 318 year old map – the oldest in the Framingham History Center’s collection.
My thoughts as I continue to volunteer?
• I suspect I might have interested you, dear reader, in getting involved with the Framingham History Center. If so, call as soon as you can. There’s a lot more fun to be had.
• None of us REALLY knows just what we will find in the closets of the Old Academy, Village Hall, Edgell Library, Town Tree Warden’s office, town-owned building, or even in the closets of our own homes. Keep volunteering with friends, keep up the search, and have fun… One just never knows what one may find.
• At the very least, we all may learn the history behind today’s street names – a reminder of those who lived, loved, learned, worked, volunteered, and grew with the Town of Framingham.
• And last, I often suspect that the real political process involves getting involved right here in our own town of Framingham, Massachusetts.
Map of land claimed by Samuel Gookin and Samuel How
February 11, 1696 – transcription of text:
Committees Survey of the Lands in and about Natick, claimed by Samuel Gookin and How, returned Feb. 11, 1696.
The persons that purchased land of Gookin and How
Nathaniel Stone 5 a
David Rice 7 a
David Stone 12 a
Thomas Drury 9 a
Thomas Walker 12 a
John How 34 a
John Adams 12 a
Matthew Rice 60 a
John Bent 3 a
Widow Pratt 7a
To the Honorable General Court now sitting – We whose names are under written, by order of this Court bearing date December 13, 1695, being ordered to survey the Land in Natick Township claimed by Mr. Samuel Gookin of Cambridge & Samuel How of Sudbury: we have accordingly measured said land, & we find of the Land which said Gookin & How have sold and disposed of To several persons, 1700 acres full measure, which by information that we have had, the said Gookin & How have sold to the value of 156 pounds, which we account the full value of said land. We have also measured the land betwixt the aforesaid land and Sherborn line, which we have been informed has been claimed by said Gookin and How, and not disposed of, which we find to measure 1000 acres, which we value to be worth 60 pounds of which we have herein drawn a plot of the lines thereof.
We have also set out to the said Gookin and How 200 acres, according to the General Courts order, adjoining the Sudbury River at a place called Indian Head.
We have also propounded to the several persons that have purchased land of the said Gookin and How to pay something to the Indians for a confirmation of this title, but they refuse to do any thing because they have paid to the full value already as their deeds from Gookin and How will show.
Further we did notify Mr. Samuel Gookin and Mr. Samuel How of the Courts order and the time of our meeting at Natick to do the above said work.
Surveyed in January 1696,
By David Fisk
Thomas Sawin attorney for the Indians at Natick is willing that the land next to Sherborn should pay for this survey – which charge is fifteen pounds money.
Transcription by Linda de Cougny and D.D. Ricciardi, 6-12-14
By Maureen Moran
June 26, 2014
When he speaks of his experience in learning to transform the setting and rearrange the 18th Century portion of the permanent exhibit at the Old Academy, his eyes flash and James can scarcely contain his pride and his enthusiasm. Clearly, James King, this summer’s Tom Desilets Memorial Internship recipient, is in awe of each step of the museum exhibition process. James displayed his penchant for working with local history as an intern at the FHC last spring. Entering his senior year at Framingham State University, James hails originally from Peabody where he credits his AP History teacher, Mr. Smith, as the one who inspired in him a love of history. As James puts it: “He changed my whole perception of history… his methods required me to think, to analyze… to love discovering the rootsof current facts, ideas and why things are so connected.”
James’ enthusiasm is unmistakable as he enumerates the importance of careful white-glove handling of each artifact; the proper way to hold and lift and place each artifact, each farmer’s tool, the woman’s loom, the hand-carved chairs and the oxen’s yoke.. His concern that each item be carefully spaced and displayed in ways to engage the youngest third grader and the most seasoned museum patron is especially engaging. James is quick to express gratitude to those who guided him in this unique learning experience, particularly FHC Curator, Dana Ricciardi.
Currently, supported by the tutelage of Annie Murphy and volunteer Nancy Prince, James is involved in the formidable task of examining, analyzing, and archiving, the vast Dennison Collection. According to James, he loves ”…being right in the thick of it, learning to select what is most representative of the company’s history.” It certainly appears that the FHC has once again hired a remarkable young scholar for its Desilets Internship –chosen wisely and very well indeed.
Have you ever wanted to be the smiling face that welcomes people to a place that is significant to your local community? Are you interested in reading and transcribing Civil War and post-Civil War diaries? Have you considered volunteering but not sure how to do so or what you wanted to do?
The Framingham History is currently searching for dedicated volunteers to act as greeters for our two buildings, the Old Academy and the Edgell Memorial Library, during the open hours Wednesday through Saturday from 1-4 PM. Our current exhibitions on view are “Four Centuries of Framingham History” and “Framingham Remembers… The Civil War”. Continue reading
by Annie Murphy, Executive Director
February 12, 2014
As we continue to peruse the newly arrived Dennison manufacturing archives, Pat Lavin and I came across the following letter from John Kenneth Galbraith to a former Director of the Framingham History Center as she was preparing for a Dennison exhibition in 2002. It helps us understand the impact Mr. Dennison had not only on his company and Framingham, but on the nation as well with his progressive economic thinking. Note the “Framingham is an agreeable center…” comment at the end. These archives are amazing! Galbraith writes:
“He [Dennison] was an early follower of Keynes. Alas, I took a more orthodox view: monopoly, imperfect competition was the program of the Great Depression. Only later, the year 1936, did I become persuaded of what amounted to modern New Deal fiscal policy by John Maynard Keyes. Dennison had already been there — the newly accepted liberal view.
Framingham is an agreeable center and makes an intelligent contribution to the economic and social life of the country. But nothing quite equals the contribution of Henry Dennison and Dennison Manufacturing. It gives me great pleasure to approve and applaud this exercise, [our exhibition], not only in community but in larger national history.”
by Charlene Frary
December 20, 2013
Wow. It’s hard to believe that I’ve been flexing my creative muscle for more than 2 years at the Framingham History Center!
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m the “face” behind the FHC’s Facebook page, and part of the program team at the Framingham History Center. While I’ve had a 25+ year love affair with the FHC that has involved a number of volunteer projects large and small over those years, I have for the past 2 years or so invested 20 paid hours or more per week working on membership, annual appeal, donor cultivation, a daunting constituency database switch, fundraisers, website, and my favorite – PROGRAMS: childrens’ programming, living history programming, roundtables, and academic presentations. I’m gratified with the tangible proof of my work; we’ve grown from under 250 Facebook fans to over 500. We have more than 125 new members. We’ve introduced a summer childrens’ series. Our programs draw larger audiences and garner more significant attention. And through all of it, the most rewarded beneficiary has been me.
What I’ve loved most about working at the FHC, aside from the group of caring staff and volunteers, is that I’ve honestly learned something new from something old every single day. I have a much greater appreciation for Framingham’s 20th century transformation. When you understand where a town comes from, it’s easier to understand and perhaps help have an impact on where it is going. (As a Framingham native, I’ll always consider Framingham my hometown even though I live in an adjacent community.) Looking more inward, I’ve been inspired by those women who have lived here before me, most particularly Mary Ware Dennett, whose story is one that I’ll never forget and one that I think every divorced woman and single mother could benefit from hearing. The wealth of intriguing material that springs from our collection is seemingly endless, with something of interest for everyone. I hope that if nothing else, I’ve encouraged others to dig in a bit and embark on their own path of discovery here at the FHC.
So as I leave, returning fully to my real estate profession and growing next generation of family, I’ll not go so far afield. I look forward to indulging my passion for Framingham’s diverse housing and architectural appeal by chairing the 13th Annual Framingham House Tour in a volunteer position, and I’ll look forwarding to joining other volunteers on the FHC’s Program Committee. Above all, I look forward to all of the fascinating stories I’ve yet to hear, the artifacts I’ve yet to see, and the similarly enthusiastic folk I’ve yet to meet at the Framingham History Center.