This "Bird's Eye View" of Acton Center was taken from behind Main Street. Fortunately, some landmarks are obvious: the town hall, the monument, and the Congregational Church after its steeple was rebuilt in 1898. Where today we would expect to see houses, the picture shows trees, fields, and numerous stone walls.
When one is trying to understand Acton's history, a large challenge is envisioning what the town looked like in different eras. Often, one is imagining a mill complex in a spot that has now reverted to nature. The challenge is different in Acton center. Today, it is almost entirely residential, but in the nineteenth century, it had a shoe factory, a hotel, a blacksmith, and a number of other businesses. It is tempting to picture the center “village” at that time as a commercial/residential center with businesses and houses close together. However, reading through land transactions for our blog post on John Fletcher, we discovered that until relatively recently, even in the "Centre village," there were farms, orchards, and pastures. We found a picture in our collection that, though not very sharp, shows how rural Acton Center was.
This "Bird's Eye View" of Acton Center was taken from behind Main Street. Fortunately, some landmarks are obvious: the town hall, the monument, and the Congregational Church after its steeple was rebuilt in 1898. Where today we would expect to see houses, the picture shows trees, fields, and numerous stone walls.
We have many photos and postcards of Acton Center landmarks, but pictures taken from the back, away from the usual sights, are few and far between. We're lucky that someone thought to record a different view.
One of our members recently brought to the Society a huge portrait that had no identification. It had been used as a backing for a framed map. At first, it seemed to be a normal photograph, but looking more carefully revealed that someone had enhanced its details by adding black and white highlights. The size of the portrait and the artist’s additions make us think that the man had some wealth and social standing.
We thought that there was hope of identifying this man; his clothes might make the picture easy to date and Acton's wealthy people were relatively few. Prominent businessmen were more likely than others to have their photographs published, so we searched local histories and our own photograph collection. So far, we have not succeeded. It has been suggested to us that the era of the portrait was the 1880s, but research in guides to men’s fashion has not given us definitive confirmation of the time period.
Our only clue is that the picture was found in a barn at what is now 184 Main Street. The Society has been the recipient of other items from that barn, most related to the South Acton cider vinegar business and family of Henry Barker (1835-1917). The barn was across the street from the house of cider mill manager Frederick Burke and his wife (Henry’s daughter) Addie Barker. We know that the Burkes gave memorabilia to Harriet Cobleigh, owner of the barn. It is possible that this picture, perhaps behind a map, was part of the Barker/Burke gifts.
Could this portrait have been of Henry Barker? He was the owner of a successful cider mill and old enough to have gray in his beard by the 1880s. He would best fit our guess that it was someone of local prominence. (See blog post about Henry Barker.) Unfortunately, and surprisingly, we have not been able to find an identified picture of Henry Barker for comparison. At this point, he is only one possibility for the subject of the portrait.
Identifying unlabeled photographs is almost always a struggle. Can you help us to identify this man or to confirm the time period in which the portrait would have been done? Please contact us.
Recently, we came across a collection of pictures that were found in the attic of a house on Kinsley Road, evidently once the home of members of the Beach family. Thumbtack holes in the mats show that they had been displayed on a wall, indicating that they were all of family members or close friends.
Among the pictures were several of men in a work setting. Two were labelled “Hall Bros,” a West Acton manufacturer of wooden ware that was an important employer in the village for many years. Two were duplicates of photos already in our collection for which some Hall Brothers employees had been identified:
Our duplicate copy of this picture says on the back: "Back Row / 4th from Right Ernie Banks / First man Ben Coolige / fifth from right Archie Beach".
This duplicate of a Hall Brothers photo had no identification, but our other copy did:
Our duplicate gave the following identifications:
Back Row, standing:
Given this identification, Ben Coolidge must the man standing in the back right of the previous picture, where he would be the "first man" from the right.
The next photo featured tubs, pails, churns and other wooden products, so we easily accepted the Hall Brothers identification written on its back. However, after we scanned and enlarged the photo, we were surprised to see that a large churn was painted with the slogan “Get the Best The Blanchard Churn”, and a box said “The Blanchard Print Butter Carrier.” Now we were confused. Was our picture labelled incorrectly? Did someone assume that wooden ware must have been Hall Brothers’? Was this perhaps another company associated with West Acton’s Blanchard family?
Fortunately, knowledgeable members of the Society often can save us a lot of research time. One told us that Hall Brothers bought the Blanchard churn patent. Blanchard churns were actually a well-known New Hampshire product. A Biennial Report from New Hampshire’s Bureau of Labor (dated 1902) reported that “In December, 1900, Nashua lost the Blanchard Churn company, whose entire plant was purchased by parties from West Acton, Mass., and removed to that town.” The Boston Herald (Dec. 28, 1900, p. 10) reported that Blanchard’s stock and machinery had been purchased by Hall Brothers to enlarge their business. Searching our collection of items related to Hall Brothers’ operation, we found a piece of Hall Brothers letterhead; their logo by that time featured a list of products sold by the company including “Improved Cylinder, Blanchard and Lightning Churns,” butter molds, carriers, tubs and pails. Our picture seems to have been a good representation of the company’s business. One mystery solved. But who are the men in the picture? Given the identifications above, we believe that Ben Coolidge is on the left and Archie Beach is on the right. Can anyone help us with our identification?
Our next picture had no identification, but at least two of the young men are also in the churn and pail picture. Were they all Hall Brothers employees? Were they relatives? Is the one on the left Archie J. Beach or someone else?
The photo collection also included a wonderful interior picture of workers at a mill, many of them barefoot. We think it may be the upstairs level of the South Acton Woolen Mill. We do not know the identities of the men in the photo. We would appreciate any clues.
Finally, there were family photos. The first two appear to be nearly the same group of women:
We have no clues about the women in white blouses below:
For reference, at different times and from different descendants, we have received two copies of the following photo of the Beach family around 1905. The woman in the chair is apparently Georgiana (Munroe) Beach who was born c. 1823, in Granville, Nova Scotia, married George William Beach, lived at the end of her life in West Acton with her daughter Estella (Mrs. Ernest) Morse, and died in Acton in December, 1909. According to an unsourced/undated obituary, she had sixteen children, eighty-seven grandchildren, seventy-two great-grandchildren, and five great-great grandchildren at the time of her death, leaving plenty of room for confusion about identification of family members. Based on the pictures’ donors’ information and suggestions from other family members, we have some identifications for this picture and a number of remaining questions. Can you confirm/correct these identifications or identify others?
Back Row, from Left to Right:
We would be grateful for any help that you can give us in identifying these pictures. Please contact us.
One of the almost-forgotten aspects of warfare in World War I was the dependence of the military on wood supplies. The Allies’ war effort required a tremendous amount of lumber for their operations. It was used for shoring up trenches and mines, lining roads to make them passable after destruction by shelling and overuse, building structures such as hospitals, ordnance depots and bridges, supporting barbed wire barriers, and manufacturing smaller but necessary items such as boxes for shells.
There were still forests in Britain, many on private lands, but the manpower needs of the war had created a shortage of labor to cut them down. In April 1917, a colonel attached to the British War Office sent a cable to an American colonel in Boston mentioning this critical need. Lumbering was something at which Americans had experience to offer. Government and industry leaders in New England decided to recruit and equip ten units of skilled men and send them to the Allies’ aid. Getting approval from both sides of the Atlantic took a month, so the practical work started in mid-May.
Part of the committee that got the process going was Arthur F. Blanchard of West Acton. Each New England state pledged to equip a sawmill unit at an estimated cost of $12,000-$14,000 each, including the cost of food, lodging, medical care, and the issue of “hat, shoes, mackinaw and oilskins” (Boston Daily Globe, May 23, 1917, page 10). Private lumbering companies, including Blanchard’s, pledged money to pay for four additional companies. The British government would provide transportation to and from England and would pay the men’s salaries from the time of sailing, for a term of up to a year’s service.
According to the Boston Daily Globe (June 12, 1917, page 4), some people predicted that the venture would fail because of scarce labor in lumbering in the United States. This concern was unfounded. The committee advertised and within two days had enough men for three units. Many applications were reviewed and eventually whittled down to about 35 men per unit plus support staff. One of the units was composed mostly of men from Acton and surrounding towns under the leadership of Arthur Blanchard’s son Webster. Locally, it was thought of as the Blanchard & Gould company, but its title was New England Sawmill Unit No. 3.
The logistics were daunting. Each unit was to have a portable sawmill and everything it needed to function independently for a year, including an engine and boiler, wagons, axes, saws, blacksmiths’ and carpenters’ tools, harnesses, lamps, cooking utensils, bedding, and other camp equipment. Over two thousand different items were procured, carefully accounted for so that each would go to the proper unit, and delivered to Boston. One-hundred and twenty work-ready horses were bought and kept in Watertown until it was time to ship out. On the personnel side, men had to be found who were experienced, “of good character,” and willing to sail on two days’ notice. Each man needed to be approved for a passport and to sign an individual contract with the British government. Not only were men needed to deal with cutting, transporting and milling the lumber, (in roles such as the interestingly named “head chopper” and “swamper”), but there was also need of cooks, bookkeepers, blacksmiths and veterinary support. In an amazing feat of cooperation and organization, the ten units were created, equipped, and ready to go in a month. America’s military was just gearing up at the time, and New Englanders were proud of getting help to their allies so quickly. A self-congratulatory note appeared in an industry publication: “There was not an amateur or an epaulette connected with the affair. It was worked out practically – hence its success.” (Lumber World Review, Nov. 10, 1917, p. 54)
When organized, the lumbermen convened in Boston where they stayed at the South Armory. The committee had organized a welcome for them, arranging for them to see a baseball game and be eligible for free motion picture and vaudeville performances. At least some of the men also participated in the Elks’ Flag Day parade, accompanied by their mascot, a black bear cub. The Saw Mill Unit’s send-off seems surprisingly generous, but they were in the vanguard. There may also have been a less generous motivation; the organizers seem to have been nervous about lumberjacks running amok. “The Ten Mill Units are a civilian, not a military organization, so it was impossible to impose military discipline on the men, many of them loose in a large city for the first time in their lives. However, it must be said, that the men behaved a lot better than anticipated.” (Lumber World Review, November 10, 1917 p. 54) On the evening of June 14, they were feted at a banquet at the Boston City Club. The Christian Science Monitor noted the next day the unusual nature of the dinner as members of the club and the Public Safety Committee in dress suits mingled with lumberjacks, “some in overalls, moccasins, flannel shirts and bared arms, the type of men who fought in the American Revolution.” (June 15, 1917, p 7) Despite concerns over attire, it was reported to have been a successful event.
For the organizers, there was some stress as departure-time approached, because some of the expected men did not show up. According to the Lumber World Review article, as late as the morning of the day of departure, they were missing three cooks and a couple of blacksmiths. Somehow they were able to fill the slots, “although the last cook got over the gang plank just as it was being raised.” (p. 54)
The Sawmill Unit sailed to New York, arriving on June 16th. On the 18th, they sailed on the troopship Justicia to Halifax, staying in port until June 25th, when they were joined by 4,000-5,000 Canadian troops and headed across the Atlantic. A letter written at sea by Whitney Bent described the trip. (Concord Enterprise, July 25, 1917, p. 7) Two ships accompanied them at a distance of about ¾ of a mile, one with the horses and wheat and one that carried nitroglycerine. The Justicia apparently also carried wheat and lumber. The letter did not mention where all the equipment was, perhaps with the horses. It was, fortunately, a relatively smooth sail. The men were required to wear life preservers at all times. They slept in tightly-arranged hammocks, alternating in direction of head and feet. For most of the journey, there was not much to see except the other ships and occasional whales, although the men kept busy with “church, boxing, cards and reading” and received news and baseball scores by wireless. A dog fight between different groups’ pets interrupted the monotony. On July 3, Bent added to his letter that they had been joined by “submarine chasers” and there were possible submarine sightings that day and the night before. The Boston Daily Globe, (Aug. 19, 1917, p. 36), printed a letter from Hugh Connors of Maynard who also described the trip. “We arrived, as you probably know, July 5, [in Scotland], after a long tiresome trip. The last two days we were in the war zone. We had been on the boat so long that some of the boys didn’t care whether we were torpedoed or not.” According to Mr. Connors, at the end of the trip, the boat was fired upon by two German submarines. Two torpedoes were fired, but missed by 12 feet or less. A contrasting letter, written to the head of the organizing committee back in Massachusetts by Downing P. Brown, general manager of the ten mill units, said that “For a time there was considerable conjecture about the possibility of submarines, etc., but as soon as the fleet of destroyers arrived, the tension relaxed and everyone felt safe.” (Lumber World Review, Nov. 10, 1917, p. 56) The different tone may have been because of censors. The Boston Sunday Globe (Aug. 26, 1917, a.m. edition, p. 10) quoted a letter from Hap Reed to his parents that the Atlantic crossing was “a most bitter experience – more than I can write about” and that British censors were keeping the men from revealing details of the trip. Whatever actually happened, it was a dangerous time to cross the Atlantic.
After landing in Liverpool, the “lumberjack unit” took a train to northern Scotland where they were to work in forests on private estates, including that of Andrew Carnegie. Unit No. 3 worked at Ardgay. They had to wait for their equipment to arrive by boat. The Concord Enterprise (Aug. 22, 1917, p. 3) reported that the “Blanchard & Gould mill known officially as Unit No. 3. had the distinction of cutting and sawing the first lumber on foreign soil for the cause of the Allies, by an organized body of men and complete equipment from the United States.” The first work was done by Burpee Steele of Boxboro and G. Howard Reed of Acton. Three officers from the general staff were present and inscribed a piece of wood with “First Lumber Sawed by American Lumbermen in this Country, July 28, 1917 at 3:20 p m.” A portion was inscribed by Reed and Steele and given as a gift to Arthur Blanchard for Christmas, 1917. The Society has a picture of the inscription.
Once the mills were up and running, the men worked hard. Friendly rivalry seems to have boosted their productivity; letters home periodically mentioned units’ records relative to the others. An unsourced newspaper clipping in the Society’s collection (from sometime after March 23, 1918) reported that Unit No. 3 was proud to have been the first to reach the million-foot mark. They were also pleased that they increased their productivity enough in December, 1917 to maintain their weekly average output despite Scotland’s low sunlight at that time of year and a week off at the end of the month.
The men of the whole Sawmill Unit were treated well by the local inhabitants of the region and seem to have caused little trouble, though a retrospective article in the Northern Times mentioned occasional rowdiness, attributed to the locals being a bit too generous in supplying alcohol. (It also mentioned one serious accident that we did not find in our local newspapers.) Published reports of the time generally focused on lumber production, not leisure activities, but we do know Unit 3’s clerk Glenn Gould was considered the unit’s musician and seems somehow to have had access to a phonograph. We also know that about half of the sawmill men took the train to London for their December break to see the sights. There must have been some time for mingling, because according to the Boston Sunday Herald, “more than a dozen Scotch wives” would head to America when the Sawmill Unit returned (June 30, 1918, p. B2)
By all reports, the Sawmill Unit was a success. The men produced more than 20,000,000 feet of lumber for the Allies. Though they were exempt from the draft during the term of their contract with the British government, they worked long hours and completed the job early. According to a Boston Globe article, the New England Sawmill Unit was commended by the British government for doing “twice the work at half the cost of any organization producing lumber for war service.” (Dec. 1, 1918, p. 16) Their efforts were also noticed by soldiers in the trenches. The same article quoted a soldier’s letter that having boards lining the trenches “was particularly appreciated in wet weather, when we were protected from the mud and water which otherwise would have been around on all sides.”
Though the Sawmill Unit fulfilled their contract, the war continued. Most of the men of the unit, as soon as their work was completed, enlisted in the military. Apparently, their status had been subject to much “diplomatic correspondence” between the British and American authorities. “Many of the young men resented the fact that they were published in their districts as delinquents [from registering for the draft], though their records were ultimately cleared.” (Boston Globe, June 16, 1918, page 7) Over a hundred of them joined the U.S. Army’s 20th Engineers who dealt with overseas forestry activities. Six Acton men from Sawmill Unit No. 3 were among them. A large number of the sawmill men, including Webster Blanchard, went into the Navy. That sounds surprising, but there were significant naval operations near northern Scotland.
We did not find any mention in newspapers on this side of the Atlantic of what happened to the animals and equipment after the sawmill unit disbanded. However, we did find a June, 1919 ad in the Aberdeen Press and Journal stating that the Timber Supply Department of Scotland was selling ten portable New England Sawmills, complete with spare parts. That September, the first reunion of the New England Saw Mill Unit was held in Boston. Twelve local men attended, and “Webb” Blanchard presided.
The Society is lucky to have a collection of Webster Blanchard’s photographs showing Unit 3’s and other sawmills in operation, the Unit 3 crew, the horses, and even the pets that they brought over with them. You can view the photographs at Jenks Library during our open hours. We would like to add to our collection; if anyone has photographs with members of Unit No. 3 identified, letters written by them from Scotland, or any other Acton-related World War 1 pictures and materials, we would be grateful for donations, copies, or scans.
A reader of our blog post on Acton's early baseball kindly sent us a studio picture of another local baseball team. One of the players is identified; the man seated at the far right is Jim O’Neil, born in Acton in 1878. The picture was estimated to have been taken sometime around 1898.
It is possible that the photograph may have been an East Acton baseball team. We found a July, 1897 article that listed the team at that time:
M. Hayes, catcher
F. O’Neil, pitcher
S. D. Taylor, shortstop
H. Holt, 2nd base
S. Guilford, Left field
C. Smith, 1st base
J. O’Neal, centerfield
F. Davis, right field
T. Hayes, 3rd base
Players moved around, so it is also possible that Jim O'Neil played for another team. Trying to research the 1897 East Acton team's players, we found players M. Hayes and T. Hayes on a Concord Junction team in 1902.
Can anyone help us to identify this team or any of its players? Please contact us.
The Society has in its collection a picture of an Acton baseball team. Unlabeled, its only clues are the team uniforms, most of which say Acton, and a sweater with a date that indicates that the picture was taken in the first decade of the twentieth century. Trying to find out more about the history of Acton baseball in the Society’s archives, we were surprised to find that our collections do not have a lot of detail about the sport or early players in town. Perhaps baseball was so commonplace that most people did not think to record its history or to save souvenirs.
There is disagreement about when “base ball” actually started, but we know that the game goes back to 1840 or before. The earliest mention that we found of the sport in Acton was a comment in the School Committee report of 1861-1862 that in the school yard, the “bat and ball and every other boyish play” had been replaced by military exercises deemed better physical training in the Civil War years. (page 11) We do not know exactly when adult teams were organized in Acton. Newspapers covering Acton news before the late 1880s are hard to locate. The earliest local team that we could find was mentioned in the Boston Journal, August 23, 1875 (page 4), playing the Edens of Charlestown. The Boston Daily Globe (Jan. 15 1917, page 15) reported that a reunion was being planned of the New England players of 1873-1875 who played against the Bartlett Club of Lowell. Among them were the Actons. We also found an entertaining report on West Acton’s 11-inning outing against Fitchburg in 1876. The article detailed the exploits and occasional errors of Acton’s players Campbell, Conant, Driscoll, Gardner, Marshall, Mead, Taylor, A. Tuttle and J. Tuttle. (Fitchburg Sentinel, July 31, 1876, page 3)
Phalen’s 1954 History of the town of Acton mentions “Mr. Hoar’s” recollection of “Acton’s first knights of the diamond,” which probably overlaps with the Fitchburg game list, (though he dated the first team at 1877): James B. Tuttle, Frank Marshall, George Reed, Edward F. Conant, Charles Day, Arthur Tuttle, Simon Taylor, John Hoar, William Puffer, Lyman Taylor, and Dennis Sullivan. (page 225)
One would assume that in the earliest days, local teams were organized with local players. A manager handled arranging games and finances; he would have had to find equipment and (eventually) uniforms for the team, locations at which to play, and a way to travel to games. By the time we find Acton teams in local newspapers, team composition was not necessarily all native. Small towns might not have had adequate “talent” to cover all positions. In May of 1888, the Concord Enterprise reported that the Acton team had procured a baseman named Baker who previously had been captain of the Marlboro team; “He is just the man Actons want, and we are glad the managers were able to secure his services for the coming season.” (May 12, page 2) In turn, Acton’s previous second baseman transferred to the Nashua team. Concord apparently managed to field its own team that year. A very pleased reporter from Concord reported on a June 1888 victory over Acton. Piling on insults, he turned around the often-repeated assertion that it was Acton men who had done the fighting at Concord in April 1775 and then made sure to mention that Concord’s baseball team was made up of Concord residents:
“They came, they saw, but alas! They were conquered..... How true it is that history oft repeats itself. It is only a little over one hundred and thirteen years ago that Concord furnished the field for Acton corpses, and Saturday afternoon she repeated the operation... There seems to be some doubt, however, as to the entire remains belonging to the town of Acton, it having been whispered that certain other towns contributed their quota to aid Acton in its endeavor. If this rumor be true, then all the more glory for the boys of old Concord.” (Enterprise, June 30, 1888, page 3)
The author also had opinions on the behavior of some of the 200 people at the game: “A large delegation from Maynard, Acton and Westvale came down to see the fun and cheer the Actons to victory. They were anxious to bet, even as high as 2 to 1 on their favorite nine, but fortunately for them they struck a town where such a use of money is not countenanced.” The author made some suggestions to the public, urging them to support the team and “above all things don’t guy [ridicule], or give advice to the players; it is neither witty or wise, and is very annoying to both the public and the players.”
Despite the Concord reporter’s gloating over the victory of a purely “Concord” team, it was clear from news reports that teams paid to get good players, either for a season or on a temporary basis to fill holes in the roster. On May 31, 1889, the Concord Enterprise explicitly reported that the West Acton club would need to pass the hat around “owing to the large salaries paid to new players.” (page 2) The Boxboro base ball club in 1892 “intent upon defeating their ever victorious rivals... procured, at considerable expense” players from Boston to help them defeat the strong West Acton team. The result was a classic game of neighborly rivalry. Boxboro led 6-0 after eight innings, to the elation of “the large delegation among the spectators of Boxboro farmers who had left the hay field and taken their families to the game...” Unfortunately for the Boxboro crowd, in the ninth inning, West Acton managed to score three runs. With two outs, Conant, a noted member of the “old Actons,” hit a grand slam into the woods, clinching the game for West Acton. (Enterprise, July 29, 1892, page 4) One can only imagine the reaction from fans on both sides of the contest.
Venues varied. In the early days, the town did not provide athletic fields; teams had to find owners of land who would allow them to play. (We did not find any mention of rental fees paid until much later, so we do not know whether it was a business decision or pure generosity on the part of the owners.) The August 18, 1888 Enterprise (page 2) mentioned that “The Actons can boast of one of the finest ball grounds in the state, and all through the kindness of Mr. Barker who gives them the use of the ground and also keeps it in first-class shape. But it must be distinctly understood that his apples are not free, and the acts of last Saturday must not be repeated.” Presumably, the generous field owner whose orchard was raided was Henry Barker; he owned the South Acton cider mill. In South Acton, we also found mentions of games played at the Prospect Street and School Street grounds, Fletcher Corner, and at the back of Warren Jones’ place. West Acton teams played at various times at the cemetery (Mount Hope) grounds as well as fields described as Hapgood’s, Blanchard’s, and “opposite the Aldrich farm.”
The teams played near-by rivals most often, of course, allowing for cheaper travel and easy attendance by friends and family. They also played teams from farther afield, including, among other places, Pepperell, Clinton, East Cambridge, and Boston’s Custom House. In the particularly ambitious season of 1897, the Acton team did a tour that included Hinsdale, NH and Rutland, VT. (Fitchburg Sentinel, September 2, 1897, page 2 and September 7, page 6)
Inevitably, umpires were the source of complaints. (“Mr Hoar’s” recollections in Phalen’s History indicated that originally, there were no called strikes or ground rules and that hits were common. However, players and fans still found things to complain about.) In 1876, the Fitchburg Sentinel reported that despite inadequate umpiring, all of the players kept quiet except for Acton’s second baseman, “who, to say the least, was at times a little ‘emphatic.’” (July 31, 1876, page 3) In August of 1888, the Concord Enterprise reported that in a home game against Chelmsford, the umpiring was so bad that the Acton team forfeited the game in the sixth inning, walking off the field in protest. (August 25, 1888 page 2)
More baseball drama occurred the next year; the Acton team disbanded in July, 1889. As reported in the Concord Enterprise, “The game at Lexington was the ‘straw that broke the camel’s back.’ Some of the ex-members we are informed will seek consolation in another enterprise where there is less danger from flies and foul tips.” The Maynard reporter helpfully added, “We hear the Actons have disbanded. We reckoned they would after their remarkable record at Lexington.” (July 26, 1889, page 2) Investigation showed that Lexington had won the game 29 to 1, stealing 17 bases in the process. (Enterprise, July 19, 1889, page 2) Tempers cooled eventually, and the team was back in business in the 1890s.
Funding was an issue for all teams. Evidently, admission fees were charged in Boston. Fitchburg tried that, but the local newspaper complained that people were finding holes in the fence and other means to avoid paying the small price of admission. (Fitchburg Sentinel, July 31, 1876, page 3) The alternative, as in Acton, was to pass a hat at games for voluntary donations. Newspapers encouraged townsfolk to attend the games and to be generous when the hat came around. The teams also did fundraising in the off-season. Dances seem to have been a good source of revenue. For example, in December, 1888, the Enterprise noted that the Acton Base Ball Club’s fundraising ball had brought in 100 couples. One reporter called it a grand affair. (January 4, 1889, page 2) Another noted that “All had a good time, barring the dust.” (December 28, 1888, page 2). Branching out, in the winter of 1904, a benefit production of the Lothrop dramatic company was staged to aid the Acton baseball team (Boston Daily Globe, March 26, 1904, different editions pages 2 and 5). The crowd was described as “One of the largest audiences on record,” presumably meaning at South Acton’s Exchange Hall.
Aside from teams that represented “Acton” or its villages, there were games between other groups. There was, for example, the very popular tradition of the Married versus Singles game. (Concord Enterprise, August 2, 1900, page 8) In June, 1911, the Enterprise announced: “This is the time of the year when the old men feel young again and the young men feel their importance. So to give expression to these pent up feelings they are arranging to crush the exuberance of each other and on the morning of July 4th they will meet in a game of baseball, the great event of the season – Married vs. Single Men – on the School st. grounds.” (June 28, 1911 page 8) Sometimes teams were created for workplace rivalries, for example pitting “the morocco shop” against “the piano stool shop players.” (Enterprise, August 2, 1900, page 8) The Acton team played a game against the Boston & Maine/ Boston YMCA team in 1907. (Concord Enterprise, July 10, 1907, page 8) By that era, there was even enough organization to have an inter-grammar school competition between the schools at Acton Centre and South Acton. (Concord Enterprise, May 15, 1906, page 8).
For a while, Acton had a high school that was able to produce a team. In 1892, the Acton High School team, formerly having been known as the West Acton Stars, was looking for opponents. The manager C. B. Clark advertised that the average age of the players was 17. (Concord Enterprise, June 10, 1892, page 5) Presumably, during the period in which Acton exported its high school students to Concord, there was no longer an Acton High School team. A news item from 1911 mentioned the Acton Centre team was mostly made up of Concord High School players. (Enterprise, June 28, page 8) It is likely that the majority of them actually lived in Acton. After the new high school was built, according to Phalen, an athletic field was cleared of ledges and boulders, and a school team was again in operation in 1929. (page 336)
Phalen also mentioned pictures of early teams. One, once in the possession of James B. Tuttle, showed Acton’s team wearing white caps with a blue A and wool shirts with a shield featuring buttons and a navy blue “old English A.” The Society has no photograph of that team or uniform. Another photograph that Phalen mentioned, at the time owned by Mrs. Charles Smith, was of the high school team of 1903 in navy uniforms with striped socks. (It included Harold Norris, George Stillman, Carl Hoar, Edward Bixby, Ralph Piper, William Edward, Richard Kinsley, Clayton Beach and Harold Littlefield who became a professional baseball player.) Though our baseball photograph seems to be of the same era, it must not have been of the same team. (Our picture features people of the mixed ages and different uniforms.) If anyone can help us to identify our picture, give us more information about Acton baseball, or find us copies of pictures of early Acton teams, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us.
Old photographs allow us priceless glimpses of times past, but it can be hard to relate to the people pictured because of their serious expressions. Many of us learned that early photography required people to be still too long to make smiling practical. However, by the mid-nineteenth century, the technology existed to capture more fleeting expressions. Other possible explanations are that it wasn’t standard to smile in photographs because of bad teeth, cultural bias, or imitation of the solemn expressions in portrait paintings.
Whatever the reason, most of our older pictures at the Society feature people looking serious, including many from the schools. However, even among early photographs, there are some surprising moments of personality. One of our favorite school pictures was taken of the West Acton Grammar School around 1886. The photographer must have had a good rapport with the children and, very unusually, let them hold objects. There was obviously no technical difficulty in capturing their smiles.
In a picture from South Acton school around the beginning of the twentieth century, several students were smiling. Perhaps the reason was the boy apparently hiding behind the back row with another boy gesturing in his direction. The captured moment was a typical one in the life of a teacher, but an unusual moment of spontaneity in a class photo. (The teacher may not have felt like smiling at that moment.)
Sometimes, the choice of subject is the most telling part of the picture. A carefully composed image from another glass plate collection shows that there were also cat lovers among Acton's Brook Street Smith family. The hand at the bottom right shows that someone was trying manage the dark cat's reaction to being on display.
For us in this era of photographic abundance and ease of culling and editing images, it is good to remember that those serious people in old photographs had just as much personality as we do. It was not expected that they smile in a photograph, but they may have cracked a joke or simply smiled in relief the moment after the photo was taken. That's something we all can relate to.
We reported in an earlier blog post the story of Harriet M. Turner and Estelle B. (Turner) Davis, sisters who collected songs in the South and played them for northern and European audiences, enjoying a brief period of fame. We recently came upon a piece of their sheet music entitled Rain that is owned by the Society. It was published by H. M. Turner, 113 Pinckney Street, Boston and has the Misses Turner's photo on the front. Newspapers seem to have used this picture (or nearly identical ones) as well; Estelle's marriage announcement in the Boston Globe in 1916 and an article about Harriet in the Boston Post in 1919 both used close-ups that allow us to confirm that Estelle was on the left and Harriet was on the right:
The Society may also have other Turner family photos. Opening a long-unused drawer in the Hosmer House revealed a small stack of photographs, among them this one from Columbus, Georgia, where Harriet and Estelle Turner grew up. We believe the photos may have come from the house of Estelle (Turner) Davis who lived in East Acton in her later years.
Could the young man be a relative of the Turner sisters, possibly a brother? (See below for information on the Turner family.) The photographer was Alpha A. Williams. We are trying to narrow down the dates. This photo must have been taken sometime after 1879 when A. A. Williams had a studio at 59 Broad. An 1886 map of Columbus showed his studio at the corner of Broad and 12th streets but did not show his exact address. In 1906, he was listed in the Columbus directory as working at 1151 1/2 Broad.
Are the other portraits of relatives? If you can help us to identify them, we would love to figure out who they are.
Turner Family Background
Parents of the Turner Sisters:
Alonzo Turner (born 1827 in NY, carpenter, lived in Columbus, Georgia by 1850, died 1904, buried in Linwood Cemetery, Columbus, GA)
Sarah E. Yarborough (born about 1838, birthplace given variously but probably Georgia, apparently was living with another family in Columbus, Georgia in 1850, married Alonzo Turner in Russell County, Alabama in 1856, had at least 7 children, was still in Columbus, Georgia with Alonzo in 1880, was living with daughters in New York City in 1900, death so far unknown)
When this photograph was donated to the Society, no one was sure that the picture was of an Acton team. The only person identified was Ernest R. Teele (front row, second from the left). He was born in 1877, so the picture was probably taken in the mid-1890s to early 1900s.
Scanning and enlarging the picture showed that some of the light uniforms are marked “W A.” Guessing that they might have been from West Acton, we searched for mention of a village team in Acton newspapers available in online archives. Available West Acton news items yielded nothing. However, newspapers of the time tended to publish “locals” from nearby towns. It turned out that for the period in question, searching the archives of the Concord Enterprise was much more productive for us. The earliest confirmation of the existence of a West Acton village football team was in the December 5, 1895 issue that reported that West Acton had played Maynard on Thanksgiving. (An October 25, 1894 issue mentioned a practice game between Maynard and “Acton.”) The September 24, 1896 issue stated that “the West Acton football eleven, Captain Wm. G. Rodway” was about to play its first game of the season against the Concord High School team. Other games were announced in the October 10, 1896 Boston Post (with Burdett College) and in the November 5, 1896 issue of the Concord Enterprise (with Maynard). The Concord Enterprise of November 12, 1896 even yielded the team’s roster at the time: Rodway (captain, back), Steele (center), Smiley (guard), Perkins (tackle), Barteaux (end), Losaw (guard), Littlefield (tackle), King (end), Holt (quarterback), Allen (fullback), and Guilford (halfback). Apparently, a Boston Daily Globe article (Sept. 27, 1896) had reported on the Concord game, listing the team as the “Actons;” the roster had seven identical players (Bateaux, Rodway, Smiley, Holt, Littlefield, Gilford and King) and four others; Blood (end), Beach (tackle), Sawyer (halfback), and Souther (fullback).
The Boston Daily Globe, November 21, 1896 stated that the West Acton eleven were looking for a Thanksgiving afternoon opponent and would pay half of the expenses for 14 men, inquiries to be addressed to B. S. Holt.
Maynard's news items had a different perspective. In the November 5, 1896 Concord Enterprise, West Acton's victory over Maynard was reported, along with a statement that the referee had favored the West Acton team in every decision. We found only one mention of the team after 1896, a Maynard news item in the Acton Concord Enterprise of December 2, 1897:
“The football game scheduled for Thanksgiving morning between the Maynards and West Actons did not take place, as the visitors failed to show up.”
Thanks to the Concord paper and an aggrieved Maynard reporter, we now know that West Acton did indeed have a football team in at least the late 1895-1897 period. There were also, at various points in time, a baseball team that played in the summers and a basketball team that seems to have played indoors at Littlefield's Hall according to a February 17, 1904 Enterprise article. We would love to know more about Acton's early teams; if you have more information or pictures from that era, please contact us.