Shirley Historical Society

Shirley Historical Society Our goals are to preserve books, photographs, papers, stories, and artifacts relating to the town of Shirley, Massachusetts.
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The Museum is open for visitors, volunteers, and researchers most Mondays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. We are sometimes open on Thursdays and other days by appointment. We have new displays and programs every few months and lead tours of the Shirley Shaker Village site in the fall..

Mission: Our goals are to preserve books, photographs, papers, stories, and artifacts relating to the town of Shirley, Massachusetts.

The Shirley Historical Society will have a sale on their front lawn from 9:00 am - 2:00 pm. Come visit us.
02/24/2020

The Shirley Historical Society will have a sale on their front lawn from 9:00 am - 2:00 pm. Come visit us.

This 100 year old photo was scanned from a glass negative. The trees are different, but the house is still there. The or...
02/24/2020

This 100 year old photo was scanned from a glass negative. The trees are different, but the house is still there.
The original part of the house was built in 1763. In 1795 it had a gambrel roof and lean-to shed. By 1830 it had been modified to have a hip roof.
Helen Winslow was a newspaper woman and book author who lived here in the early 20th century.
Do you know where this house is?

Thanks to a generous Historical Society member, our 25 year old sign, pointing the way to the Museum, has been re-painte...
02/17/2020

Thanks to a generous Historical Society member, our 25 year old sign, pointing the way to the Museum, has been re-painted and re-hung. Do you know where it is?

Thanks to the good work from the gals at Gallery Sitka, we have upgraded our website. You may need to clear your history...
02/01/2020
Shirley Historical Society - Shirley, MA

Thanks to the good work from the gals at Gallery Sitka, we have upgraded our website. You may need to clear your history cache to go to the new one instead of the old one, but please check it out. Also let us know what other kind of information you wish was available. And/or - volunteer to do some research and add more historic essays to our collection. www.shirleyhistory.org

01/27/2020
19th Amendment guaranteeing women the right to vote was passed 100 years ago today

Saturday May 16th 7:00 pm, the Shirley Historical Society will have a special program as one of Freedom’s Way Hidden Treasures. It will trace the history of the suffrage movement and will tell the part played by Shirley's own, nationally known, Hazel MacKaye.

The 19th Amendment was born out of Progressive Era politics

Thanks to a grant from the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation, the Shirley Historical Society was able to purchase two extra-l...
01/25/2020

Thanks to a grant from the Bruce J. Anderson Foundation, the Shirley Historical Society was able to purchase two extra-large map files. Thanks to very helpful workers from Ayer Moving and Storage, the files were delivered and assembled inside the main workroom at the Historical Society Museum. These files will house a very important project.
Museum volunteers have been working at cataloging a unique collection of blueprints and plans which detail the history of Samson Cordage Works. That factory was in operation for over 100 years at the current location of Phoenix Park. Some of the oldest machine plans were signed in the 1880’s by the first president of Samson – James P. Tolman. Other blueprints show factory floor layouts, designs for worker’s housing, and even street plans. All these documents need to be moved out of boxes and into well-labeled archival folders and draws. New museum volunteers are always welcome to be trained and help out with projects such as this.
When the project is complete, there will be a special display at the Museum.

Please help - We are looking for any 70 year-old photos that might show the package store that was located where the cur...
01/18/2020

Please help - We are looking for any 70 year-old photos that might show the package store that was located where the current M&M Variety store is. It is most likely a black and white photo and that would be fine. Please contact the Shirley Historical Society Museum if you have such a photo and will let us scan it.

This is another of the paintings on display at the Shirley Historical Society Museum for the next few months and the loc...
01/13/2020

This is another of the paintings on display at the Shirley Historical Society Museum for the next few months and the location might be easy to identify. However, you might not recognize the building in the distance because it was demolished when the road was straightened. It has a famous name.

The new display at the Shirley Historical Society Museum exhibits paintings of various historic buildings around Shirley...
01/06/2020

The new display at the Shirley Historical Society Museum exhibits paintings of various historic buildings around Shirley as interpreted by Sandy Farnsworth.
The Museum is open Mondays and Saturdays from 10:00 am - 1:00 pm.
Do you know where this cottage is and who lived in it?

This photo of a 200 year old house is from a 100 year old glass negative. Do you recognize it? Look at the detail over t...
12/28/2019

This photo of a 200 year old house is from a 100 year old glass negative. Do you recognize it? Look at the detail over the front door. For awhile, this was a tavern owned by the Hazen Family. It still has a large old kitchen fireplace with a side oven for baking beans.

Caroling on Shirley Common The Preface to the authoritative The Oxford Book of Carols defines carols as simple, cheerful...
12/23/2019

Caroling on Shirley Common
The Preface to the authoritative The Oxford Book of Carols defines carols as simple, cheerful songs with a religious impulse, rich in true folk-poetry, and based upon the dance. They were always modern, expressing the manner in which ordinary persons best understood the ideas of their time in history. The charm of the carol lies “in its having been true to the period in which it was written, and those which are alive today retain their vitality because of this sincerity; for imitations are always sickly and short-lived.” Most of the old English carols were written between 1400 and the year 1647 when the new Puritan Parliament in London abolished the festival of Christmas. The carols moved underground and continued to be sung in country villages. When Charles Dickens, author of A Christmas Carol, was a boy, the carol was close to extinction. It began its revival in the last decades of the nineteenth century when carol singing became popular in the cities and new collections of traditional carols were published.
In his story A Child’s Christmas in Shirley Center: World War II Era, Harley Holden (August 1937 - December 2019) recalled caroling on the Common: “A Christmas Eve tradition for over thirty years was the singing of Christmas Carols at neighborhood houses. It began about 1930 when the Pifer family moved to Shirley; Claude and Elizabeth to teach at the Bridgman School, Claude had been one of the first American Rhodes Scholars and had acquired anglophile tastes while studying in England. Caroling was a common Christmas Eve practice in England and the three Pifer children, Joan, Betsy, and Alan soon were out caroling. As the years went by, the Pifer children were joined by other community children and adults. We would start out at Trinity Chapel and circulate around the common and community. After singing several carols we might be invited into a house or at least would be offered mulled cider and cookies at the door. The Lyons, Shiptons, and Boltons always could be counted on to reward our caroling. One Christmas Eve we stopped in front of Benton MacKaye’s Grove House. Benton, known as the ‘father of the Appalachian Trail,’ recently had retired from government service and had come back to his beloved Shirley Center, ‘the Empire’ as he called it. Our caroling was a surprise to Benton, who led an almost monastic life and took his meals at Lucy Johnson’s nearby boarding house. Nevertheless, he greeted us enthusiastically at the door with his characteristic “well, well’ and fed us crackers and cheddar cheese around a blazing woodstove in his oil lamp lit parlor.”
While this tradition of Christmas Eve caroling in Shirley Center no longer survives, its spirit is celebrated in the annual community Candlelight Vespers at the Meeting House and the Shirley Arts Community Christmas Concert in Shirley Village.
Pictured is Harley Holden in 1998 as Curator of the Harvard University Archives with the original 1650 charter of Harvard College at his elbows. Also shown are images contemporaneous to the period of the Christmas essay: a Christmas card depicting carolers.
Harley Holden’s story is found in Harley’s Toy Chest and Other New England Retirement Stories , Alan Seaburg, Editor, The Anne Miniver Press, copyright 2011.

The Shirley Historical Society Museum display about the Fredonian Street houses, mill, people, and park will only remain...
12/17/2019

The Shirley Historical Society Museum display about the Fredonian Street houses, mill, people, and park will only remain for a few more weeks. Stop by any Monday or Saturday between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm to learn some more Shirley history.

12/16/2019
Battle of the Bulge: U.S. troops stopped Hitler's last-ditch effort to turn tide of WWII 75 years ago

There is another picture of Shirley's Joe Landry in this essay. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/battle-of-the-bulge-75th-anniversary-marked-world-war-ii-allies-germany-today-2019-12-16/?fbclid=IwAR2Z1Q6lG1ZaY6BeahEDG4J0wdTMA-BqZwRUa5HozQAAVAz6xRgLiC-GQhs

U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper paid tribute to over 19,000 U.S. troops who died in one of the bloodiest battles in the nation's history

The Shirley Historical Society is starting to plan for next April's Historic House Tour. If you think your house might b...
12/14/2019

The Shirley Historical Society is starting to plan for next April's Historic House Tour. If you think your house might be interesting for people to visit, please contact us at [email protected].

Shirley's Joe Landry is in the center.
12/12/2019

Shirley's Joe Landry is in the center.

After arriving in Paris, our group headed to Reims - here are some of our Bulge veteran association members inside the surrender map room!

That is Shirley's Joe Landry on the far right.
12/11/2019

That is Shirley's Joe Landry on the far right.

The Mayor of Sissonne, France thanked our 7 Bulge veteran association members on behalf of his town - this is their first night on their 75th Anniversary tour! Stay tuned for more about their adventures this week!

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo
12/05/2019

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

I'll be INSIDE the Center Town Hall, Sunday, December 1st, from noon - 4:00 pm selling Shirley souvenirs while other fol...
11/30/2019

I'll be INSIDE the Center Town Hall, Sunday, December 1st, from noon - 4:00 pm selling Shirley souvenirs while other folks are selling crafts. Stop by and say, "hello" before the storm begins.

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo
11/30/2019

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

Shop local and purchase books, oval boxes, Cats Meow collectibles, Christmas ornaments, and other Shirley-related items....
11/30/2019

Shop local and purchase books, oval boxes, Cats Meow collectibles, Christmas ornaments, and other Shirley-related items. The Museum gift shop is open Mondays and Saturdays from 10:00 am - 1:00 pm. Stop by and find a unique gift for your favorite Shirley person.

Veteran's Day began as Armistice Day.  Armistice descends from Latin sistere, meaning "to come to a stand" or "to cause ...
11/11/2019

Veteran's Day began as Armistice Day. Armistice descends from Latin sistere, meaning "to come to a stand" or "to cause to stand or stop," combined with arma, meaning "weapons." An armistice, therefore, is literally a cessation of arms. Armistice Day is the name that was given to the holiday celebrated in the United States on November 11 before it was renamed Veterans Day by Congress in 1954. The original name refers to the agreement between the Allied Powers and Germany to end hostilities that constituted the First World War—an agreement designated to take effect on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Please remember our veterans today.

“Shirley in the Movies”The title of this Tale does not refer to our town’s recent experience of being host to film crews...
10/26/2019

“Shirley in the Movies”

The title of this Tale does not refer to our town’s recent experience of being host to film crews from NE Studios at Devens. Filming of movie scenes at such Shirley venues as the Bull Run, Phoenix Restaurant and Airport Diner have become commonplace and no longer cause excitement. It was a different matter on August 3, 1938 when this title appeared in a Fitchburg Sentinel newspaper editorial.

It began “If Shirley Temple can be a success in motion pictures, why can’t Shirley Center? The answer is: It can and will. For the cinema, ‘The City’ for which sequences are now being taken in Shirley Center, has a guaranteed showing before crowds that will probably number in the millions: It will be shown hourly every day for a year at the New York World’s Fair (The World of Tomorrow). Therefore, while Shirley’s Donald, the little red-headed, freckled-faced boy who plays with his father, Amos Farrar, in the picture, may not have all the histrionic ability of Shirley Temple, he will nevertheless be assured a wide ‘public’.”

The impetus for this documentary film came from noted American planner Lewis Mumford’s new book ‘The Culture of Cities”. He wrote that unlike medieval European walled cities, “here in America a more open type was being kept in existence…The New England town during this period ceased to grow beyond the possibility of socializing its members: when near crowding, a new congregation would move off under a special pastor, erect a new meeting house, form a new village, lay out fresh fields”. The American Institute of Planners built upon Mumford’s work to create a documentary film that would show a future that would build upon America’s past and cure many of the pressing social problems of the industrial cities of America.

Lewis Mumford was a close friend of Benton MacKaye, also a regional planner and recent founder of the Appalachian Trail. Mumford was familiar with Shirley Center from his frequent visits with Benton at the MacKaye home on Parker Road. In his book “The New Exploration”, Benton MacKaye shared Mumford’s respect for the early New England village. He wrote that for the city and village, each should be for a population “what the home should be for the family. There must be a common interest and soul – something equivalent to the village Common.” Harry Johnson, a neighbor of Benton on Parker Road, played the town clerk in the film. He explained to the newspaper “They wanted to have a town that still retained what they called the ‘star fish symmetry’. That is, with the government, religion, commerce, homes, industry and education grouped around the town’s central axis, the common.”
The choice of town for the film was between East Corinth, Vt. and Shirley Center, and both can be seen in the film. A newspaper account describes the Shirley Center sequences which “depict the town clerk hanging out a sign…a farmer and son with their white horse hitched to the wagon and with the boy’s dog running alongside, put their broken wheel in the wagon and start off to the blacksmith’s. Just as they get to the common, the dog runs through the cemetery with the boy after him.” The farmer was Amos Farrar and the ten year old boy was his son Donald Farrar. Also starring was their horse Don and beagle Susie.
Newspapers covered the filming and had a lot of fun following young Donald. In one scene the boy was to look into the water at a stream crossing. “To register a properly intent expression, an old trick was used. The cameraman held a quarter in the spot where Donald was supposed to be looking. ‘Now, he said, if you can tell me what happens to this quarter, we’ll give you a dime’ Donald grinned – and kept his eyes glued to the coin. Slowly the cameraman moved it about in the air – and then it disappeared. ‘Well, where did it go?’ he asked. ‘In your other hand’ was the reply. ‘Correct’ approved the cameraman. By this time he had shot the scene to his satisfaction. ‘good’ he said, ‘and here’s your dime’. The boy pocketed it with a grin. Later, when asked if he was going to the World’s Fair to see the picture, Donald replied ‘Don’t think so’. 'Don’t you want to see yourself in the movies?’, he was asked. ‘I know what I look like’ was the surprising answer. A more obliging, cooperative boy could not be found”.
The pictures shown were special photographs from the film given to Harry and Lucy Johnson for their help during the filming. They show Amos Farrar and his son Donald in their wagon, and the wagon crossing a ford on the Old Shirley Reservoir road in Lunenburg, where Don the horse refused to stop and drink water in defiance of the script. A recent gift to the Shirley Historical Society from a grandson of Harry and Lucy Johnson contained the photos and news clippings used in this tale.

The film “The City” can be found on YouTube by searching under “The City (1939)”. Famous American composer Aaron Copland wrote the music score for the film. As an interesting sidenote, the film was financed through a grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Many years later, in 1967, Shirley native Alan Pifer, who grew up at Meadowbend on Center Road in Shirley Center, became president of the Carnegie Corporation and the Carnegie Foundation. And, in case you are wondering, the young star of the film Donald Farrar is the father of Butch Farrar, retired Shirley building inspector, and Paul Farrar, retired Shirley DPW director.

Last Monday we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Fredonian Park. The Conservation Commission, under the guidance of Shi...
10/19/2019

Last Monday we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Fredonian Park. The Conservation Commission, under the guidance of Shirley L. Griffin, worked for several years and obtained grants, donations, and volunteers to improve the landscape and lay down trails. Shirley's American Legion Post #183 gave the flagpole and VFW Post #10340 gave the memorial stone. Lou Perlstein gave the bandstand in memory of his parents and the other people who worked and lived in the Fredonian Street neighborhoods 40 years ago. Eric Shapiro of Phoenix Park sponsored the band for the anniversary afternoon concert which was enjoyed by the visitors and people sitting on their porches up and down the street.

Next year is the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the Women's Suffrage Amendment. The Shirley Historical Society will...
10/15/2019
Hazel MacKaye | Freedom's Way National Heritage Area

Next year is the 100th Anniversary of the passage of the Women's Suffrage Amendment. The Shirley Historical Society will have a program in May and a hike in August explaining and celebrating the event and the involvement of our own Hazel MacKaye. The following video gives you a preview. It is narrated by Representative Jen Benson and illustrated with items from the Shirley Historical Society Museum collection. Make sure you click on heritage stories and then Hazel MacKaye. http://freedomsway.org/programs/heritage-stories/hazel-mackaye/

Pageantry & Passion for Women’s Suffrage: Hazel MacKaye Hazel MacKaye (1880-1944), a skilled theatrical professional, added her talents to the many diverse approaches used to argue the cause of voter rights for women. MacKaye designed, directed and wrote four political pageants for suffragists to ...

Address

182 Center Rd
Shirley, MA
01464-0217

General information

Anyone is welcome to join the Historical Society just by paying the annual dues.

Opening Hours

Monday 10:00 - 13:00
Saturday 10:00 - 13:00

Telephone

(978) 425-9328

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The Townsend Historical Society warmly welcomes you to visit for a daylong celebration of our revolutionary history. On Saturday, October 5, history will come alive at the Reed Homestead with tours, hearth cooking, and craft demonstrations. Docents will lead you through our Federal-era dwelling, which is well known for its Rufus Porter murals. Volunteer reenactors will set up camp, perform military drills and musket firings throughout the day. Civilians of the same period will be demonstrating period crafts such as candle dipping, writing, toys, and games. Last, you’ll be offered a rare glimpse into cooking on the hearth and beehive oven as our chefs prepare a demonstration of a noontime meal in the house’s kitchen. This daylong celebration is for you and your family. Admission is free but we encourage you to join the Townsend Historical Society if you like what you see. Come down and experience history hands-on. See you there! This event is rain or shine. For any questions, please contact the Townsend Historical Society: 978-597-2106. https://www.facebook.com/events/362996417638343/
I just picked this up on eBay the other day
Please help us spread the word. History will come alive once again this fall at the Townsend Historical Society's Open House on Saturday, October 13 from 10-4. This year we feature a minuteman encampment with the Townsend and Stow Minutemen Companies. They will occupy the Reed Homestead (72 Main Street in Townsend Harbor) and draw us back into life of yesteryear. The event is great for all ages. There will be a full array of displays in the circa 1809 Federal house and adjacent cooper shed. You won't want to miss this exciting and hands on way to link the past into present. All are welcome and admission is free. Hope to see you in October.
Note information about Benton MacKaye in this Boston Globe article:
Part 2
I was just reading the Spring Newsletter and feeling I recognize the house on the bottom of page 2. Could it possibly be our former homestead at 64 Center Road. AKA the Birthplace of Lura A. White? Or am I mistaken?
Last Chance to be on the Shirley Town wide yard sale participant list.... DEADLINE is tomorrow at 6 pm!!!!! (No Exceptions) It's Free to Participate and be on the list! This will be the Last town wide in shirley til Spring! Contact me via Email [email protected] or via facebook message to get on the list! Date of Sales are This Saturday October 7th from 8-3!