Mansfield, MA Historical Society

Mansfield, MA Historical Society This is the official page of the Mansfield Historical Society of Mansfield, Massachusetts.

The Mansfield Historical Society was founded in 1951 by a group of local citizens interested in preserving the history of Mansfield, Massachusetts. Renowned local historian Jennie Copeland bequeathed her home at 53 Rumford Avenue as a permanent headquarters for the historical society. Today we continue their work by maintaining and recording our local history.

Mission: "...preserving materials and information relative to the history of Mansfield." -- bylaws of The Mansfield Historical Society

The Champion Flagpole Sitter of Mansfield  One of the most peculiar fads to take hold in the United States was the flagp...
06/25/2019

The Champion Flagpole Sitter of Mansfield

One of the most peculiar fads to take hold in the United States was the flagpole sitting trend of the 1920’s. It entailed a person climbing a pole and staying at the top for an extended period of time. A sitter would remain aloft day and night on a chair or platform affixed to the top as long as their endurance held out.

Alvin “Shipwreck” Kelly began the nationwide trend and would become America’s most famous pole sitter. Kelly set a new record in the summer of 1930 when he sat atop a pole in Atlantic City for 49 days and one hour. Kelly’s feat inspired Frank Cervelli of Mansfield to break that record.

Frank Cervelli was 18 years old when he constructed a 30-foot pole outside his mother’s house at 29 Angell Street. His pole was reported to have had a “wide platform near the top” with a “comfortable seat.” A canvas offered some relief from the elements. Frank climbed to the top of his pole at 8 o’clock on the morning of July 26, 1930, with an eye on Shipwreck’s record.

Frank’s mother Jennie ran food up the pole to keep him strong. He read and played records on a phonograph to pass the time. As word spread Frank began to attract curiosity seekers. The Mansfield News reported that “scarcely a day passes that does not bring several automobile parties from out of town.” A gang of friends came by daily to keep Frank company and offer encouragement from below.

The most trying moment came at about 2 pm on Saturday, August 9th, when a heavy storm rolled through Mansfield. “Boy, what a storm,” Frank wrote. Seeing the clouds moving in Frank asked his mother to send up his rain coat. He planned to get under his canvas when the rain began. “Then it started to rain and what big rain drops with plenty of wind,” Frank wrote. “The wind almost blew me off. The pole was bending. I did not know what to do.”

Frank tossed away the canvas for fear that it was catching the wind and forcing the pole to bend. “Then I got hold of the pole with two hands and held on for dear life. Some of the boys asked me if I wanted to come down. I said, ‘nothing doing.’” Frank escaped the ordeal unscathed.

Frank Cervelli ended his pole sitting odyssey at 8 a.m. on Sunday, September 14, 1930 after 1,200 hours, eclipsing Shipwreck Kelly. While attracting some local interest it is not clear if Frank received much national attention. Frank’s record was later broken by fellow flagpole sitters.

Frank went on to serve as a cook with the Merchant Marine, then returned to Mansfield where he worked at the chocolate factory. Frank and his family moved out of Mansfield in the 1950’s. He was living in Plymouth, Michigan when he passed away in 1996.

If anyone should happen to know more about Frank’s life, or have any photos to share, we would love to hear from you!

MANSFIELD’S REVERE BELL If you have passed by the new Mansfield Public Safety building recently, you might have noticed ...
06/12/2019

MANSFIELD’S REVERE BELL

If you have passed by the new Mansfield Public Safety building recently, you might have noticed a shiny bell mounted behind a glass tower. The building might be new, but the bell is old. Here a brief history of Mansfield’s Revere Bell.

For much of the 18th and 19th centuries, the most important building in town was the meetinghouse on what we now call the South Common. The meetinghouse served as a church and was a central location for social and political events of the day. By the 1820’s there was a growing need for a bell to alert the townspeople of church services and other events. Unfortunately, no funds were available. It was decided to approach Asa Clapp of Portland, Maine, to see if he would finance a bell.

Born on a farm in East Mansfield, Asa Clapp went on to become a Revolutionary War soldier, a sea captain, and a wealthy merchant in Portland. Mr. Clapp instantly agreed to pay for the bell, replying as follows to Dr. Benjamin Billings of Mansfield: “In consideration of your earnest wishes and the early and sincere love I bear for my native Town, I present this bell to them in hopes it will tend to unite the good people more in one scheme worshiping God, as the scheme is not of as much consequence to man as a willing mind and a humble heart.”

The bell was cast at the Paul Revere and Sons foundry in 1827. It is inscribed as follows:

REVERE BOSTON 1827
PRESENTED BY ASA CLAPP ESQ OF
PORTLAND IN TESTIMONY OF HIS
EARLY AND CONTINUED AFFECTION FOR
HIS NATIVE TOWN OF MANSFIELD

The bell remained in the meetinghouse on the South Common until the building was moved to Union Street in 1872. It stayed there until the meetinghouse was dismantled. The bell was moved to the new Universalist Church at 96 Rumford Avenue in 1890, where it remained until the Universalist Church disbanded.

In 1936 the bell was moved again, this time to St. John the Evangelist Church at 43 High Street. There it would remain for 79 years. In 2015 St. John’s congregation disbanded and formed a new congregation in Easton. St. John’s graciously returned the bell to the Town of Mansfield. Badly tarnished after years of exposure, the bell was refurbished by New England Brass Refinishing of Brockton. The bell was stored for a time until its installation at the Public Safety building in May 2019.

Now nearly 200 years after it was cast, Mansfield’s Revere Bell has another new home, safe once again in the custody of the Town of Mansfield under the watchful eye of our police and fire departments. We would have to think that somewhere Asa Clapp is smiling!

Just for fun, let’s play Who Am I?  Here’s a famous person from Mansfield history. Let’s see if you make the grade.  Can...
05/22/2019

Just for fun, let’s play Who Am I? Here’s a famous person from Mansfield history. Let’s see if you make the grade. Can you tell us who it is? (This one should be elementary). We will post the answer below tonight.

We have a mystery, and we know someone out there can help.  Robinson Park is the small park area alongside Fulton’s Pond...
05/21/2019

We have a mystery, and we know someone out there can help. Robinson Park is the small park area alongside Fulton’s Pond. While walking through the other day, we discovered this stone, which we had never noticed before. It reads:
In Honor of
Robert C. Libbey
For Dedicated Service
To The Town
1970-1973
We don’t know who Mr. Libbey was, or why this stone commemorates his work. We asked some local citizens we thought might know. One thought Mr. Libbey might have had something to do with designing Robinson Park, but couldn’t be sure. Then on the internet we discovered this advertisement from 1963, which leads us to believe that our source might be correct. It appears Mr. Libbey had the expertise to design the park. According to Ancestry.com, Mr. Libbey was born in 1912 and died in 1977.
If anyone out there can tell us more about Mr. Libbey, and his contributions to the Town of Mansfield, we would appreciate it. Please comment below, or email us at [email protected]. Look forward to hearing from you!

You might not recognize this heap of rocks, dirt and snow.  But this untidy landscape would become Memorial Park.  It wa...
05/17/2019

You might not recognize this heap of rocks, dirt and snow. But this untidy landscape would become Memorial Park. It was built in the mid-1930’s under the Federal Emergency Agency (later replaced by the better-known WPA). One of thousands of Depression era projects designed to get Americans back to work, Memorial Park has been a community focal points for decades. Football fields, baseball and softball fields, basketball courts, playgrounds, summer camps, and at one time even a wading pool have drawn Mansfield residents to “The Park” for more than 80 years.

Here is a photo from the 1973 Town Report with the caption “dusting for evidence.”  We are not sure who it is, but someo...
05/08/2019

Here is a photo from the 1973 Town Report with the caption “dusting for evidence.” We are not sure who it is, but someone out there surely does. Please help us out!

We are honored to be working with the Mansfield Police and Fire Departments on historical displays for the new Public Sa...
04/27/2019

We are honored to be working with the Mansfield Police and Fire Departments on historical displays for the new Public Safety Building. We are fortunate to have assembled a collection of photographs to adorn the walls. But we would like to help them fill display cases they will have showing their proud histories. Between what the departments have and our holdings, we have amassed a small collection...but we would love to have more. If you have anything that relates to firefighting or policing in Mansfield and would like to donate or loan it to us for display, it would be greatly appreciated. This could include artifacts, such as those pictured here, or photographs, which could be donated or scanned and returned. If you can help us out in this endeavor please email us at [email protected]. Thanks!!!

If you’re from Mansfield and have Italian heritage, you might want to take note of this picture that we recently redisco...
04/23/2019

If you’re from Mansfield and have Italian heritage, you might want to take note of this picture that we recently rediscovered. It is identified as having been taken at the “Big Seven Grove” on the Norton Reservoir, circa 1940. We are not sure if that location is Mansfield or Norton. We are also not sure of the purpose of the gathering, but it is likely a gathering of the Sons of Italy lodge. We had an “old timer” identify the men for us about 20 years ago. You will notice that five of the 49 men are not ID’ed, so if you know who they are, please chime in. And if you think anyone is misidentified let us know that, too. We also don’t know some of their first names, so that info could be added, too. Check it out!

PS: The picture is a little clearer on Twitter if you want to check us out there: @mansfieldhist

1. Constantino Sibilia
2. Mr. Carnevali
3. Lorenzo DePillo
4. Sam Cutillo
5. Alphonse Tartaglia
6. Salvatore Bruno
7. Mr. Lombardi
8. Jim Petrillo
9. Mr. Cardinute
10. Pat Matto
11. Unidentified
12. Mr. Palladino
13. Unidentified
14. Salvatore Fiore
15. Joe Musto
16. Mario Morini
17. Nino Moro
18. Mr. Arena
19. Pete DeLutis
20. Mr. Cirello
21. Mr. Patrignani
22. Tony Sibilia
23. Vincent DeClemente
24. Harry Straccia
25. Patsy Fiore
26. Luigi Scialoia
27. Mr. Leonelli
28. Nick Falotico
29. Unidentified
30. Louie Fiore
31. Angelo Tartufo
32. Angelo Garafalo
33. Unidentified
34. Cesare DiMarzio
35. Paul Morini
36. Andrew Avalloni
37. Rocky Pisano
38. Maurizio Carnevali
39. Fred Ragno
40. Sam Santucci
41. Mr. Crescitelli
42. Chico Signorelli
43. Joe Todesco
44. Ralph Speizio
45. Sam Santucci
46. Joe DeLauri
47. Ralph Palladino
48. Pat Pascucci
49. Unidentified

‪Walter Lowney’s chocolate factory was built in 1903, expanded in 1907, changed hands several times and ceased productio...
04/18/2019

‪Walter Lowney’s chocolate factory was built in 1903, expanded in 1907, changed hands several times and ceased production in 2011. Work is now well underway to convert the old factory to housing and business use. It is great to see the historic structure continue on!‬

You might recall our post of March 10, when we discussed Cobbler’s Corner off Willow Street, where a member of Myles Sta...
04/17/2019

You might recall our post of March 10, when we discussed Cobbler’s Corner off Willow Street, where a member of Myles Standish’s survey team stopped to cobble his shoe. That land is now part of the Taylor’s Hill conservation area, open to those looking to stroll through those historic woodlands.

In that March 10 posting, we included a map furnished by the Natural Resources Trust of Mansfield, which has worked to maintain access to the area, including a footbridge over the Rumford River. The NRT’s map includes the location “Devil’s Rock,” which generated interest on social media.

It was such a nice day, we decided to go out and have a closer look. With much rain recently the Rumford River is flowing rapidly. The historic marker for Cobbler‘s Corner still stands, erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1940s. (There is some minor vandalism, the plaque could use refurbishment). The trails are marked, and while one has to dodge some downed trees, the walk is very pleasant. At certain points you are walking surprisingly close to Route 140 and Route 495.

And yes, we found Devil’s Rock. We have not been able to turn up much about the origins. The late and very great Mansfield historian Harry Chase recalled hearing the name as early as the 1940’s, and wrote that a hermit once dwelled there. We are not sure why, but legend has it that the Devil left a hoof print in the rock, and after clearing away some dirt and moss, we found it. This legend seems to mirror the story of George Leonard of Norton, who sold his body to the Devil in the early 1700s in return for wealth here on Earth. The Devil supposedly left a hoof print in a rock outside Leonard’s house as he carried the body away. But that doesn’t explain Devil’s Rock here in Mansfield. Until (If ever) we find more, just enjoy these pictures we took today...and if you get a chance, get out there sometime and enjoy the Taylor’s Hill conservation area!

The world suffered a tremendous loss today with the inferno that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral.  While not on the scale ...
04/16/2019

The world suffered a tremendous loss today with the inferno that engulfed Notre Dame Cathedral. While not on the scale of the events in Paris, Mansfield suffered the jarring loss of three houses of worship over the years.

The first occurred when the original Saint Mary’s Church burned to the ground. Constructed of wood in 1871, the church remained in use until the early morning hours of July 29, 1914. At 7 o’clock in the morning a neighbor, Mrs. John Driscoll, observed smoke coming from Saint Mary’s. She immediately contacted the fire department, but they had difficulty getting the “auto truck“ cranking. On arrival the nearest fire hydrant was over 300 feet away, and the water pressure was extremely poor. The fire department managed to save some sacred items, but the building was a total loss. The parish rebuilt a brick church on the same location.

The Mansfield News passed along a humorous anecdote in the wake of the fire: “Squirrels were making their home in the church and when the fire started were seen on the roof of the building. [Pastor] Father [Hugh] Harrold and Fire Chief [Herbert E.] King were talking of this fact while in the ruins after the fire and were discussing the possibility of the animals having caused the fire, when one of the animals came out of the ruins and sat looking at them. His tail was badly singed and he seem to protest the insinuation.”

Tragedy struck again just six years later, this time at the First Christian Church in West Mansfield. Founded in the 1830s, the congregation built a new church at Elm and Otis Streets in 1873. That wooden structure stood until it caught fire in the early evening hours of November 8, 1920. According to newspaper reports, the church was located outside of the regular water and fire district. No water was available to fight the fire so saving the church was impossible. Nothing could be done but let it burn and try to save the surrounding buildings. Plans were immediately made to rebuild, and a new stone church was dedicated on January 9, 1923 in the same location.

A third devastating fire struck a Mansfield church in the early morning hours of April 10, 1987. Constructed in 1838, the original Baptist Church was located at 52 North Main Street. Smoke was spotted early that morning and the fire department arrived in the 6 o’clock hour. Unfortunately the blaze was already too far advanced, and the building was a total loss. Television news crews from Boston came to Mansfield to cover the event. Once again, the congregation rallied and built a new wooden church on the same spot.

Many of you seemed to enjoy our trivia question from this morning:  the Mansfield News has published a weekly edition co...
04/08/2019

Many of you seemed to enjoy our trivia question from this morning: the Mansfield News has published a weekly edition continuously since 1873. In 146 years, it has only failed to publish once. What event caused that failure?

Most of you guessed either the Hurricane of ‘38 or the Blizzard of ‘78. Those were good guesses, because one of them was correct! The Blizzard of ‘78 struck at mid-day on Monday, February 6, 1978, and continued into the early morning hours of Wednesday, February 8. Despite the massive snowfall, which approached four feet, reporters were able to get to the News office and file their reports for the scheduled publication of Thursday, February 9. Unfortunately at that time the paper was printed in Attleboro, and virtually all roads between Mansfield and Attleboro were closed. A state of emergency banned unnecessary vehicular traffic during that span of time. As a result the paper scratched the February 9 edition of favor of a double edition that came out a week later and was dated February 9, 16, 1978.

Just some random Mansfield trivia to keep you thinking on a Sunday morning....the Mansfield News has published a weekly ...
04/07/2019

Just some random Mansfield trivia to keep you thinking on a Sunday morning....the Mansfield News has published a weekly edition continuously since 1873. In 146 years, it has only failed to publish once. What event caused that failure? We will give you the answer tonight!

A. The armistice ending World War I
B. The Stock Market crash of 1929
C. The Hurricane of ‘38
D. Pearl Harbor
E. Assassination of President Kennedy
F. The Blizzard of ‘78
G. 9/11

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53 Rumford Ave
Mansfield, MA
02048

Telephone

(508) 339-8793

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