Shirley Historical Society

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

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.

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

The Shirley Historical Society is sponsoring their second annual en plein air painting fundraiser. Last year, the painte...

The Shirley Historical Society is sponsoring their second annual en plein air painting fundraiser. Last year, the painters were able to gather on the picturesque Center Common, paint a view of one of the iconic buildings or landscapes and then gather for the evening’s reception and silent auction.

This year’s event will not involve any gatherings and will not limit the subject matter to the Meetinghouse, Town Hall, Trinity Chapel, or the Town Pound in Shirley Center. In the Village area, one could portray the President Building, the Umbagog Building, United Church, old Hazen Library, old Fire Station, old Municipal Building, Fredonian Park, Phoenix Park, St. Anthony's, Whiteley Park, MBTA depot. Driving up and down Shirley roads, there are many other interesting buildings and beautiful vistas which would make good subjects for a painting.

Artists can work at the day and time of their own convenience, then leave their painting at the Shirley Historical Society Museum, 182 Center Road in Shirley, on Mondays or Saturdays in June, between 10:00 am and 1:00 pm. We will take a photo of each work to post for sale on-line. Artwork can be any size. We request the following mediums not be used: photography, 3D sculptures and encaustics. All other media is allowed and encouraged.

Artists should state their desired price for the work. Artists will need to sign a document stating that half of the proceeds will go to them and half will benefit The Historical Society. After the work is sold, The Historical Society will pay the artists and give them a receipt for their donation to a 501(c)(3) organization.

To indicate your interest and for further information, please contact Meredith at the Museum at [email protected].

American Legion Post 183

American Legion Post 183

It was a privilege for the Veterans of Post 183 to honor the fallen in numerous services throughout the Town of Shirley today. Thank you to the Shirley Police Department and Shirley MA Fire Department for the escort! Thank you to all who came to pay their respects and to all of those that cheered during the parade through the Town. John GuthrieJohn Cardillo Sr.Paul WilsonSeth MayerAron GriffinAmy Delaney

John Cardillo took these photos around Whiteley Park honoring those who served and those who died in World War I, World ...

John Cardillo took these photos around Whiteley Park honoring those who served and those who died in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Thank you all for your service.

This year we can not have large groups of people gathering for the traditional Memorial Day programs. We can not have ba...

This year we can not have large groups of people gathering for the traditional Memorial Day programs. We can not have bands and Scouts and soldiers marching. But we can plant flowers and post flags and we can honor those who fought and died to keep our country strong and free.
On Monday May 25th there will be a vehicle parade starting at 9:45 in the morning. It will proceed along Ayer Road, up Benjamin Road and Brown Road to the Center Common, then down Center Road, across Main Street, to Lancaster Road, along School Street to Harvard Road, to Shaker Road, and end by going down Fredonian Street.and back to the War Memorial Building. There will not be any group gathering before or after the parade.
If you do not live on one of those streets to watch the parade go by, you may park along Main Street or at the Common, by the Lura A. White School, at Fredonian Park, or in the Historical Society Museum parking lot. I will bring a chair and a flag to the Museum front lawn and you are welcome to join me with your own chair and your own flag while observing social distancing.
In the meantime, here are some Memorial Day photos from a few past years: 1965, 1992, and 2017. See which people, vehicles, and buildings you recognize.

Recently, there has been much discussion about the looks of Depot Square, so I thought you all should see some historic ...

Recently, there has been much discussion about the looks of Depot Square, so I thought you all should see some historic photos of the area.
The Fitchburg Railroad was incorporated on March 3, 1842, opening between Boston and Fitchburg on March 5, 1845 and going right through the middle of Shirley Village.
At that time, Main Street kept its name but was only on the north side of the tracks and the south side of the tracks became Front Street.
If facebook does not change the order of the photos, the first photo shows what a steam engine looked like in the 19th century.
Photo #2 shows folks getting ready to watch the 4th of July parade in Depot Square. The main depot building was approximately where the gas station had been. Can you zoom in and see the name Shirley on the edge of the roof? When the depot was demolished, Ray Farrar saved the sign.
Photo #3 is the band getting ready for the parade at the Main Street crossing. This is where you now cross over to get to the Phoenix Bar and Grille. The small building is where the gatekeeper would stay until he needed to lower the gates. There was another gatekeeper's shack at the Center Road crossing.
Picture #4 shows the end of the building on Mill Street. It is now a lawyer’s office, but had been a hardware store, a beauty parlor, and yarn shop and in this early 20th century photo it was the Post Office. For awhile, upstairs was also where the telephone office was and the operators would make the connections for you. Notice the tracks in the road where the trolley cars could take you from North Leominster to Ayer.
Picture #5 shows the band stand that was about where the flagpole is now. Compare the location of the fire hydrant to today.
Picture #6 is from 1907, before there were phone lines or Shirley Water District hydrants. It looks at the square from the other direction and shows the trolley tracks, The first house on the left was where the Verizon parking lot is now.
Photo #7 shows the first gas station company at this location. Notice that there were other businesses on this side of the tracks, but no laundromat.
Photo#8 – When they built the new MBTA commuter rail stop, they tried to make it resemble the former depot. Shirley resident Robert Adam and his students at North Bennett Street School came out from Boston to build the structure.
The map from 1889 may or may not help you figure out everything.

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

School-at-home families and other naturalists - Instead of hunting for stuffed bears, how about searching for Shirley’s ...

School-at-home families and other naturalists - Instead of hunting for stuffed bears, how about searching for Shirley’s rivers and streams?
Twenty-five years ago, Lura A. White School fourth and fifth grade students, in an after-school club, researched locations where streams crossed under the streets. They learned how important it is to the natural habitat to avoid polluting these waterways. The students got permission from the Conservation Commission and local land owners to erect signs at those crossings. Hand-painted by the participants, the wooden signs simply said, “Please keep it clean.”
By 2018, the wooden signs were wearing out or had totally disappeared, but the need to be aware of our waterways continued and Girl Scout Troop 73497 took up the cause. This time the team raised money, enlisted donors, and were able to fund long lasting metal signs. For the full story of their work go to

The attached antique map shows where many brooks were located. How many can you find as they cross under roads?
Can you bring a bag along on your hunt and pick up any litter you might find nearby? Using a larger map, can you trace the Nashua River Watershed and figure out how water from Shirley streams ends up in the Atlantic Ocean in Newburyport?
Send photos of your observations to [email protected] and we will add them to this post. Also, please contact us if you know the name of those students.

MILLS ON THE MULPUSIn 1836 Peter Page built a sawmill on the banks of the Mulpus Brook on Great Road in Shirley, a short...

In 1836 Peter Page built a sawmill on the banks of the Mulpus Brook on Great Road in Shirley, a short distance above its outlet at the Nashua, almost across the street from the end of Kitteridge Road.
Driving on Great Road from Ayer to Shirley, look in the woods to your left and you will first see the course of the Nashua and then the Mulpus. You will also eventually see the remains of the dam behind a white house.
Later, the Woods brothers bought the property and began a large business making wheels and carriages and giving their name to that part of town – Woodsvillage. Several homes for workers were located near the mills and workshops. During the Mexican War, 600 railroad carts at this facility.
Googlemaps still calls that general area Woodsville for the variety of mills that were eventually located along the stretch of the Mulpus, from Kitteridge Road to Horsepond Road
Still looking on your left, after the blocked off end of Hazen Road, see the foundations of the Old Red Mill. That is the mill photo with all the windows and what you would have seen if you drove to the end of Hazen Road in 1900. It started life as a grist mill but during early World War I a family was living there while soldiers were in training. When some of the practice shots made it as far as the house, they decided to move out. The rest of people living in Woodsville at that time were also advised to move out.
Meanwhile, back at the large dam, in 1856 William White and Company bought that mill property and the water privilege. The following year the mill itself burned but was soon rebuilt with enlargements and improvements.

Next to the dam, the Whites built an ice house so that ice could be harvested from the mill pond over the winter and stored in sawdust for use the following summer. (The ice house does not show in that photo.)
Next to the ice house was the building that housed the water-powered up and down saw. Some of the cut lumber was turned into shingles and shaves, amounting to 500,000 pieces annually. In the photo, you can see the ice pond which was used to float lumber before it was needed.

Right on the road, next to these buildings was a shop for making baskets of every grade and size, from those that held four quarts to “mammoth” ones that held four bushels. Some of those baskets for household use were peddled to local farmers and others were sold to manufacturers and merchants. In 1883 the White Brothers were producing fifteen thousand baskets every year. A picture of basket makers at work is attached. The two men holding their hats in the photo are Elbridge and Sanford White. At the Shirley Historical Society Museum we have baskets, basket molds, and work stands from the mill.
Across the road from the mill was the home of the Whites which some folks may remember as Snapper Newhall’s. The house had been added onto several times with one renovation including a hidden room for escaping slaves. The 18th century home and its outbuildings were demolished in 1991. Many school buses are parked on the property now.

Shirley historian Sandy Farnsworth wrote and illustrated a book called A Promise to Keep, Dolly of Woodsvillage. This book is based on stories that Sandy heard from her mother-in-law, Dolly Kemp Farnsworth, with much additional research added to round out the picture. The book gives insight into the life of those who worked at and around the White Brothers’ mill during the early 1900’s. It is for sale at the Shirley Historical Society Museum for $17 with shipping and handling included. Mail a check to Shirley Historical Society, PO Box 217, Shirley, MA 01464 or go to the website and use paypal.

There had been some confusing facebook posts about where Shirley and/or Devens might have had a hospital. I will attempt...

There had been some confusing facebook posts about where Shirley and/or Devens might have had a hospital. I will attempt to straighten this out.
#1 – In the Shirley Shaker Village there was one 18th century building that was used as a Shaker infirmary. That building was moved twice. The first photo below shows what it looked like when it had been moved to north Lancaster. It has since been moved again and has been restored and is on Parker Road in Shirley.
#2 – In 1904, the town bought 2.73 acres land on Randlett Ave. off of Holden Road and built a contagious hospital for those who had caught small pox. It was nicknamed the Pest-House and was used into the 1920’s. It is now just a cellar hole and Randlett is just a hiking path.The last photo below shows someone suffering from smallpox and why we are so grateful to have effective vaccinations now.
#3 - In World War I a hospital was built on Camp Devens. It would have been on Jackson Road, where the current buildings for Mount Wachusett Community College are located. This is where over 800 young men died from the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 and 1919.
#4 – From 1940 to 1941, during World War II, two hospitals were built on Devens, within Shirley borders. The Lovell Hospital was on the current Lovell Road. It can be reached by walking to the end of Nashua Street in Shirley or by driving down the hill past the middle school and taking your first right over the bridge. If someone is listed as being born in Shirley, that is where they were born.
An addition to the Lovell hospital facility was built where the middle school is now. Those hospital buildings were later turned into housing units.
#5 - The photo of the brick building is listed as Station Hospital on Devens but I do not know its history. It is located on Antietam Street, the hill next to the Field where children go sledding.
#6 – Cutler Hospital was built on Patton Road, Devens, in 1971 and was kept busy with returning Vietnam War soldiers. Just like they could use the PX, families of veterans could be treated at that hospital for many years. It is now the Federal Medical Facility and has had many infamous patients.

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

Shirley Historical Society's cover photo

Freedom's Way National Heritage Area

Freedom's Way National Heritage Area

We're kicking off our Hidden Treasures Photo Challenge today! We hope you'll join our new Freedom's Way National Heritage Area Group and share original photos of the treasures you've discovered within the 45 communities of the Heritage Area.

Here's how it works:
- A new theme will be announced each Friday through the end of September 2020.
- Participants are invited to post original photos that express the current theme in the Group.
- Photos may be old or new, but should be from within the Heritage Area (see list in the About section of the Group).
- Each week, one participant will be selected at random to receive a $25 gift card to a local business.
- Photos posted throughout this challenge may be shared on Freedom's Way National Heritage Area's social media accounts and combined into a slideshow that will be presented at the organization's Annual Meeting in October.

#HiddenTreasuresPhotoChallenge #FreedomsWayNHA #VirtualHeritageAea #StaySafeStayInspired

May 1st is coming soon. Were you already planning how to surprise your friends with May baskets? Read Paul Przybyla's es...

May 1st is coming soon. Were you already planning how to surprise your friends with May baskets?

Read Paul Przybyla's essay about this old custom.

Once a charming ritual of Spring, the hanging of May baskets on neighbors’ doors has sadly been forgotten. It was an ancient tradition in English villages on May 1 to choose a King and Queen of May and set up a maypole around which children would dance holding colorful ribbons attached to the pole. In America the Puritan settlers frowned upon this pagan festival of maypole dancing but in the 19th century it became popular to revive the custom of hanging May baskets on the first of the month.
This ritual consisted of filling decorative May baskets with Spring flowers and candies and leaving them at the doors of friends, neighbors, and loved ones. For children, it became a game of hide and seek, where one would stealthily hang a basket on the door then run for cover. If the basket-hanger was found by the recipient, they would be given chase and try to steal a kiss from the basket-hanger.
A 1907 entry in the diary of Hattie Barnard Holden of Horse Pond Rd. described May Baskets containing flowering sprigs of Trailing Arbutus (Mayflowers) from local woods, chocolates, maples sugar candies, and such exotic fruits as oranges, figs, and bananas. She couldn’t help but note her displeasure that once her son Robbie’s baskets had been filled with the previous season’s Christmas chocolates. Baskets were delivered at early evening and she records “ There has been a constant rapping on the door, hanging May baskets, there has been the sound of opening and shutting doors, and the scampering of flying heels, Robbie went out a while with the crowd and got kissed by Miss Pike his old School Teacher.”
(Note: Mayflowers are now in blossom in the woods at Farandnear, but please do not pick them.)
Another example of this May 1st tradition in Shirley can be found in a 1918 letter written by Clara Sargent Holden of Hazen Rd. to her son Arthur who was serving in the army in France. In her entry she referred to his younger brother Richard “I must tell you how I hung Dick a May basket. He was out in the field hunting for (rifle) shells until almost dark and I put the May basket on the step and when he came in his father told him he thought someone must have hung him a May basket as he had heard someone around the front door. He went to the door and started out hunting and he hunted for more than half an hour. He certainly had a great time all to himself. When he came in he decided it was me and we had a good laugh at the way he had looked for someone.”
(Note: this story took place when the Devens soldiers who were training for World War I would practice in Shirley fields.)
Benton MacKaye cherished his boyhood memories in Shirley so it is not surprising that at age 46 he would still delight in a ritual of his youth. In 1925 he was on a visit to the family cottage on Parker Rd when he wrote to his sister Hazel “I had fun here Saturday night. I had a pounding on the front door, went down and found two May Baskets. Out on the lawn were the two ‘Barbaras’ and Mary Lyon. I chased them around the house and out to the road where a flivver, containing Tom and Doris, was drawing up stealthily. I saw their game. I caught the two Barbaras, one in each hand as they were trying to climb into the machine and kissed them both. Then got after little Mary on the other side of the car. She raced around and I got her after she had got into the car and we rolled around therein all six of us in a heap. They laughed and yelled. It was the old stuff over again. Those Symon-Dunns are sublime.”
Pictured below Paul's essay are First Ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Lady Grace Coolidge accepting gifts of May Baskets. Notice how you could gather wild flowers, buy fresh cut flowers, or make paper flowers to leave at a friend's door. Also notice the other May Day custom of dancing around the Maypole.


182 Center Rd
Shirley, MA

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


(978) 425-9328


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Contact The Museum

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Our Story

The Museum Curator is on duty at the Museum most Mondays and Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. and often on Thursdays. She is able to be contacted by telephone and email. It is our hope that we will find a way to safely re-open for visitors, and volunteers. We also hope to have new displays and programs every few months and to lead tours of the Shirley Shaker Village site in the fall. Please stay in touch, remotely.

Nearby museums


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.
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!