Prior to the 1880s, most community funerals and wakes were held in the home of the deceased. The coffin, available for purchase at Abbott and Doty General Merchandise, would be taken by wagon to the Village Cemetery for interment. In 1882, the citizens of Worcester approved at Town Meeting the purchase of a horse-drawn hearse.
Built by A.C. Chase of Northfield in his carriage factory on East Street, it was described in a newspaper article thusly: "This elegant conveyance was finely trimmed with heavy silver plating by Mr. Chase, ironing by A.O. Smith, turned work by A.F. Spaulding and painting by William R, Bean." Usually two black horses with black plumes in the harnesses drew the hearse, which featured glass on three sides so the coffin within could be viewed as the black draped and fringed conveyance passed by. When not in use, the hearse was stored in the shed at the south end of the Village Cemetery.
Above the old hearse is pictured at the Bicentennial parade, but its ownership and location is currently unknown. Town records reveal no information about its possible sale. If anyone has knowledge of its whereabouts or information about its disposal, please call 802-223-5625 and ask for David. The Worcester Historical Society would like to bring it home.
Happy holidays to one and all from WHS.
One of the really neat things about history is the adventure of discovery. It's so cool to find something you didn't know existed.
For a number of years I wondered what the first village school looked like. I knew that before 1854, village students attended classes in what was called the Hunt School, located near the Old Tavern Farm about a mile north of the village. I also knew that School District #1 purchased a quarter acre lot in the village from David Poor in 1854.
Local tradition is that upon the original school's demolition in 1893, portions of the school building erected on that lot were incorporated into the Robert Martin residence, owned at that time by Robert Bruce. What I did not know was what that building looked like.
A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a Charlie Farrell from Milton. He was doing research on old one room school houses and wanted to come to Worcester see our collection. Fortunately, we have a pretty thorough display about those schools. During our visit, Mr. Farrell mentioned that he had a picture of one of our schools, which he had discovered at the Vermont Historical Society. Lo and behold, it turned out to be our original village schoolhouse! On the back of the picture is written, "Later moved across the street where Robert Bruce resides."
If you recognize anyone, please let us know in the comments! Check out the fence.
– J. David Book
After The Cow That Tried to Swallow a Potato was published in 2017, quite a few folks with Worcester connections wrote the WHS about their own experiences and memories of our little hamlet. These stories have not been shared and need to be, because many of them clearly demonstrate the character of the place we call home. So from time to time, we will do so in this column.
This one is shared by Donna Smith Ryan of Bridgewater, MA, whose great grandparents, Edward and Etta Smith, lived on Hampshire Hill from 1910 to 1912. She writes, "The people of Worcester Village saved my family twice.”
The first instance occurred when Worcester residents responded to a plea from Edward's brother, the Reverend George Smith, then pastor of the Worcester Methodist Church, to come to the aid of Edward and Etta, whose newborn son needed to move away from the damp, wood and coal smoke-filled atmosphere of Boston, where they then resided. Ms. Ryan explains, “Someone offered a job logging in the woods for a dollar a day. Someone else had a farmhouse to rent. Another offered a horse, and the generosities went on from there."
Edward and Etta moved to Hampshire Hill in October 1910 and found a wonderful community on the hill and in the Village. From time to time, says Ms. Ryan, “someone left a small stove on the doorstep, or a bushel of apples, or a food basket. It was very humbling for them to be the recipients of such charity.” The newborn, their ninth child, grew stronger and flourished.
The second rescue was a bit more dramatic. In April 1912, Edward, a man of small frame weighing only about 120 pounds, was working a log jam on the North Branch when he set the key log free. He was immediately tossed into the ice cold river and was pummeled by logs while men raced along the bank trying to save him. Despite attempts to reach him at a bridge, one of the rescuers only managed to touch his hand but could not grasp it. For more than 20 minutes, Edward Smith felt his life was over. Right before reaching the falls and rapids, however, the log he was gripping was swept into a quiet eddy and he was able to drag himself to the shallows where the men made a human chain down an embankment to get him out. One of the men, Everett Morse, took him to his home and stayed up all night with him, providing him with warm drinks, warm blankets, and hot bricks around him. Bruised and battered, but with no broken bones, Edward fully recovered.
Ms. Ryan concludes her letter: "So, thank you for saving my family. Your kindnesses have never been forgotten."