The fast growing village of Newton Upper Falls in the early nineteenth century attracted a diverse population ranging from the poorly educated working man to the sophisticated mill owner. Each strata of society demanded its own type of entertainment and social diversion. As the surrounding villages in those days were entirely rural, they offered. little or nothing to attract the more urban oriented segment of society in Upper Falls. One recalls that it was General Simon Elliot and his brother-in-law, Thomas H. Perkins, who had financed the building of the Federal Street Theatre; the first theater in Boston, in 1790. With the completion of the Worcester Turnpike in 1808 and the coming of the railroad to Newton in 1834 avenues of transportation were opened to the village, allowing musical organizations and artists of every type to come from Boston to entertain the "well-to-do" in their new residences scattered along High Street and across the crown of Prospect Hill.
From the many available newspaper accounts of the period cover covering the latter half of the nineteenth century, Upper Falls appears to have been an outstanding center of social activity in the city. The numerous fraternal, literary, benevolent and social groups mentioned show the wide variety of social activities which attracted the villagers of that era. In addition there were, of course, many organizations connected with the numerous churches.
The agenda at meetings of the literary and social clubs generally followed. the same pattern: visiting lecturers, book reviews and. similar activities. The literary groups promoted functions such as lyceums and concerts, both instrumental and choral. There were readings and recitations including poetry and songs, sometimes written by the members themselves. In addition, there were innumerable banquets and suppers.
Add to this the musters and picnics of the local firemen as well as the outdoor activities of other organizations together with annual reunions of the graduates of the Prospect School and the political gatherings, and the reader will have some idea of what the people of the village were doing socially during the "gay nineties" - when they were not working those long hours in the mills.
While the following news item has no reference to a particular organization it might serve to indicate the mood of the times:
|"October 1891: - Tomorrow Messrs. Chas. Edes and Roger Linton will open their oyster saloon and shooting gallery, corner of High and Summer streets. With this new attraction, a bowling alley, a billboard with pictures, it is not necessary to go out of town for entertainment."|
The following are some of the principal societies of the village that flourished in the "good old days."
One of the earliest societies in the village and the city of which there is a record, was the Upper Falls Benevolent Society, organized in 1836. This was some 40 years prior to the next recorded women's society in Newton. It was a charitable organization and in a village largely made up of workmen who relied entirely on the local industries for their livelihood, its help was very much appreciated. It appears that this organization functioned until 1933 which was the year of the last recorded annual meeting, a remarkable record of 93 years of community service. This feat deserves some recognition here. An examination of nearly a century of records reveals the following highlights, starting with the opening lines of the minutes of their first meeting;
THE NEWTON FEMALE BENEVOLENT SOCIETY
|"A few Ladies of Newton Upper Falls, feeling the importance of relieving the sick and destitute in their immediate vicinity, agreed. to meet on the first of January 1836, to form themselves into a Society, for that purpose."|
The name of the organization was later changed. to "NUF Ladies Benevolent Society." Among their first officers, these titles - "First & Second Directress" Also, from the minutes of some of their meetings held over a century ago, these items of interest:
Yielding to the pressure of the great Temperance movement sweeping the country in the mid-nineteenth century, the following was recorded. on May 2, 1844:
|"At an adjourned meeting of the Ladies of this place, for the purpose of forming a Temperance Society, in connection with the Benevolent Society already existing..."|
This was followed by the Preamble of this new organization which begins:
|"We, the Ladies of Newton Upper Falls, knowing that Intemperance, with its blighting and deadening influence, has had. a sad and demoralizing effect on many in our midst..."|
Eight articles of organization followed ending with the complete text of the "Washington Total Abstinence Society Pledge." Subsequent meetings were held under the name of "Ladies Total Abstinence Society," then later as the "Ladies Benevolent Total Abstinence Society," and finally back to its parent name, "Ladies Benevolent Society". Some other highlights from their meeting records:
Advertisements of entertainments in those days often contained the word "Levee", one rarely seen in these modern times - such as "The Elliot Association will hold a levee in Prospect Hall, etc." Modern dictionaries give us this definition of the word (among others), a reception or formal gathering of visitors usually held early in the day by a person of rank or distinction." - which does not seem to fit the above.
To conclude the record. of this remarkable organization we list the names of the few remaining members in 1932:
The Pierian Club, from which the Newton Upper Falls Woman's Club was born, was formed with 22 members in 1896 "as an inspiration to personal culture and community service". In 1897 it joined the Newton Federation. Its subjects of study included literature, history and travel. It contributed to philanthropies and held social evenings and musicales. Membership was limited to the capacity of the homes of its members. From a report in 1907 of the president, Mrs. F.A. Thompson:
|" Socially we have had gentlemen's nights each winter. We have given an entertainment at the Stone Home (Institute) for a number of seasons; given receptions to the teachers of the Ralph Waldo Emerson School, and a story-telling recital for the children.|
|In the way of philanthropy, according to our members, we feel we have accomplished much. The club has given $l0 to the Boston Floating Hospital, $10 to the Wellesley Convalescents' Home, $20 to found the Penny Savings system (and here it may be said that the school children of Upper Falls have deposited more and drawn out less money than those of any other part of Newton. ) We have given $65 toward the new Domestic Department of the Newton Hospital. $l00 for a frieze in the Ralph Waldo Emerson School, and $50 toward repairing Wade School hall....|
|Interest has been manifested in woman suffrage, nearly all our members being registered. voters."|
The Quinobequin Association was organized in 1868 and was an all male organization. With its Indian name it might seem at first thought far removed from the Shakespearean societies that were springing up in Newton at the time, but the purpose of the group was similar. The members of the Association, numbering about 50, devoted much time to study, and with constant practice became quite proficient in debating. Over the years they built up a library of over 500 volumes. Meetings were usually held on a monthly basis and a news item indicates that they first met in "the Stone Bldg. - Needham side" [Note: The building is still standing on the Wellesley side of the river on Route 9. It served as the meeting place as well as the golf clubhouse of the Association.] before moving to Fanning's Hall (probably Nahaton Hall) and finally to High Street as recorded in this news item of Nov. 11, 1887:
|"The Quinobequin Association dedicated their new hall on High Street on Monday with a house warming. The Association at present is in a very flourishing condition and bids fair to increase in popularity during this coming winter."|
It would appear that they refurbished the old hall over Trowbridge's Tin Shop vacated by the Odd Fellows in October, 1887. Their regular meetings were not open to the public but occasionally a drama or other event was staged to which the village was invited. They also built or restored a bowling alley on the high rise of land next to the Baptist Church and many old timers in the village today recall it there, one or two informing the writer that they had once set up pins in the old alley.
For 30 years the Association was a positive force for good in the life of the village but gradually interest began to wane and though it did not dissolve officially, the few remaining members did not maintain many activities. As stated earlier in our reference to parks in the village, the Association operated one of the first golf courses in Newton as they are reported to have laid one out on the old Bixby farm north of Boylston Street prior to 1900.
The Village Improvement Society of Upper Falls was organized in 1901 and became active at once. President I. M. Sweet gave this report in 1907:
|"This society was organized Oct. 31, 1901. Its funds are raised by having lawn parties and various entertainments. The proceeds of these for the last three years were used to give prizes for the best kept lawns and yards and places showing the most care and improvement.|
|The Society has also placed bulletin boards about the village; secured a bath house; located some new sign boards, and called the attention of the city to some dangerous gutters and culverts.|
|The use of the hall in the Wade School has recently been obtained for entertainments, and the society at an expense of about $250 has put into the hall, a stage with curtains, scenery, new lights, etc.. and sets for the accommodation of nearly 400 people.|
|A playground, possibly in connection with Newton Highlands, is one of the projected plans of the society. ***|
|From time to time, matters needing correction have been called to the attention of the street railway and city officials, and usually they have been remedied."|
*** A substantial portion of the present Upper Falls playground was purchased by the villagers and local industries in 1909 and presented to the city.
Of a more serious nature was an activity that was promoted Upper Falls in the early nineteenth century. A movement which sponsored a series of public lectures called "Lyceums" was formed in England in 1825 by Lord Henry Brougham. The theme of these lectures was based on the arts and sciences, and the movement resulted in the formation of societies to discuss non-controversial subjects such as the establishment of libraries for workingmen and the publication of moderately priced books. A similar movement was promoted in New England in 1826 by Josiah Holbrook. In 1835 lyceums could be found in l5 states and by 1839 the 137 lyceums in Massachusetts alone were drawing 33,000 citizens. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a strong advocate of these lyceums in the United States and lectured at many of them. Since he was residing in Newton Upper Falls during the early periods of their introduction to this country it is strongly believed that he promoted the movement that was quite popular in the village.
The fraternal orders in the village were numerous and quite popular. A list would include the following:
Among the fraternal groups it is known that the Independent Order of Odd Fellows organized its first lodge in Newton, the Elliot Lodge #58, which was established in Upper Falls on January 30, 1805. However, it survived but a few years and on May 30, 1851 surrendered its charter. On April 3, 1873 it was reorganized under the name of Home Lodge #l62 and meetings were held in a new hall built above Trowbridge's Tin Shop on High Street. It was 22 X 30 feet in size and could seat 175 persons. Members met here until October 1887 when the lodge was moved to Newton Highlands.
Another early lodge, Nahaton Lodge #229, Independent Order of Good Templars was organized here in 1867. It survived for some time until internal dissension forced it to give up its charter as indicated by this local news item of March 11, 1882:
|"The Nahaton Lodge No. 229, I.O. of G.T., after several previous unsuccessful attempts surrendered their charter last Wednesday evening on account of no interest being taken in its welfare. They have in money and property over $200, which they have voted to divide evenly between the Baptist and Methodist Sunday Schools and the Benevolent Society. This lodge was instituted in 1867 and has until recently had a most prosperous life, as its treasury never was in want, and its members active in its welfare, but a 'house divided against itself must fall.'"|
Little is recorded about Oak Lodge #170, A.O.U.W. except that it was organized in January 1894 by a group of women in the village who were interested in the affairs of the laboring man.
One of the few references to the Echo Bridge Council #843 of the Royal Arcanum is from a news item of January 3l, 1885 covering an entertainment given by that organization in Prospect Hall.
The other fraternal groups were The Catholic Order of Foresters, Orders of Eagles, Red Men, Sons of Saint George and Sons of Italy. These were of more recent origin and will be familiar to some of our older readers.
Forester's Hall was the old Prospect #1 school purchased from the city in 1904 by Joseph Barney and moved across Pettee Street to make way for the new Hose #7 fire station. Forester's Hall was razed in 1953 and the fire station was demolished in 1955.
Do you yearn for the good old days when you read of this gay time recorded back there in a news item of July 8, 1882?
|"The Grand Order of Bright and United Comets held their annual supper on the night of July 3rd 'up river' where an excellent clam chowder was provided...and after the eatables had 'been disposed of, short speeches were given ...and at a late hour the party separated , - to meet again one year hence. The affair was one of great interest and enjoyment, and its results were such as to more firmly cement the bond of friendship that now exists between the members of that order and their friends."|
(It would appear from the list of the members present that this order was made up of local firemen...Ed)
With the rash of organizations which developed in the 1880s, one wonders how this one failed to get off the ground. Another news item records it:
|"An attempt was made recently to organize a lodge of The Knights of the Golden Cross, but it was unsuccessful, only three persons being present to listen to the explanation of its agent."|
But success crowned the efforts of this society as we read from a news item of August 6, 1881:
|"The Catholic Society held a picnic at Highland Lake Grove last Saturday, over 700 tickets being sold, They proceeded via Mill River Junction, and enjoyed a pleasant trip."|
Advertisements of entertainments in those days often contained the word "Levee," one rarely seen in these modern times. An examples is "The Elliot Association will hold a Levee in Prospect Hall, etc." Modern dictionaries give us this definition (among others) of the word, "A reception or formal gathering of visitors usually held early in the day by a person of rank or distinction." This definition does not seem to fit the above.
Because of the unbroken stretch of river for miles upstream, boat clubs were quite popular for years. Typical of their affairs is this one recorded in a news item of May l5, 1886:
|"June 17th will be a gala day here, the Echo Bridge Boat Club will then present their first river entertainment, which will consist of boat races of all descriptions including the Flagg-Dyson two mile race...There will also be a tub race...a dinner will also be served, further particulars later."|
As did other clubs, the Echo Bridge Boat Club also held social events on shore:
In the 1880s another boat club known as the Upper Falls Racquet Boat Club was organized. The club had its boat house by the bridge at Needham Street. A picture about that date shows this house to be on the north side of the river where South Meadow Brook empties into the river, next to the present day Village Falls condominium and office building complex.
There were two other boat houses on the Charles in the village which some of our older readers may recall. One was operated by the Lucas family on Keefe Avenue next to the river.
The other was located on the Needham side of the river opposite the present day Village Falls development (see copy of advertisement appearing in 1905). As both houses were located above the mill dams, one could paddle or row over twenty miles upstream without interruption.
Steam launches were later part of the local river fleet as indicated by this incident reported in the TOWN CRIER of August 26, 1910.
|"The waters of the Charles River were unusually disturbed last Tuesday going up to Dedham. The San Toy and Mary Jane, rival steam craft of the river fleet, were having one of their sharply contested races. The Mary Jane, 'tis said, would have won, only it was the reverse. The reversing gear broke, so although the engine would turn, the propeller would not. It was '23' for the 'busted' boat; but the San Toy crew magnanimously towed her home to Upper Falls."|
Musical societies and singing schools were very popular in the early nineteenth century and were often connected with religious organizations in the village.
John Bartlett of Boston, who sang in the choir at the dedication of the Upper Falls Religious Society in 1828, taught a singing school in the old tavern house on Boylston Street in the fall and winter of 1827-1828. Jonathan Colburn, who played. an instrument in the church, also taught a music school in the old tavern for several winters prior to 1832. It is also recorded that Jonathan Aldrich conducted a singing school in the hall of the tavern in 1826, while in the same period Benjamin C. Wade was conducting a similar school for the purpose of practicing the choruses and anthems from the Handel & Haydn Society's Collection.
An interesting note in connection with these musical societies or singing schools is found in news items regarding their activities where reference is often made that they were to meet for the purpose of practicing "glees," a term not often used today. This word is defined by the dictionary as meaning "a musical composition for several male voices, without accompaniment" which, of course, was the reason these groups became known as "Glee Clubs."
No up-and-coming village could long exist without its band or bands and, beginning in 1841, Upper Falls produced its share. We are pleased to find in the TOWN CRIER'S issue of April 10, 1916, a fine account of the early bands of the village which Editor Temperley commenced with a sub-title reading "Welkin Rang With Melody in Old Days Before Coming of Sporadic Fife and Drum Corps. A few Band Members Still Survive." This is the story that followed:
|"The Upper Falls branch of the Newton Public Library recently received the record book of the bands which have existed in that village (Upper Falls). The first, the Elliot Band, flourished from 1841 to 1844, the second in 1846 and t he third, the Newton Upper Falls Cornet Band from 1875 to 1880. It also contained the records of the Harmonic Society of brass and string orchestra which had. a short existence in the latter forties.|
|The Elliot Band was organized in August 1841. Its members were Martin B. Sturtevant, Enoch Richards, Charles Wellington. James Richards, L. P. Cobb, Charles Mead, Bradford Beals, Edwin Farwell, Joel Gay, Bradley Lawrence, George Gould, Newell Woodward, Samuel B. Everett, E. F. Thayer, J. A. Whiting, George K. Reed., Samuel McIntosh, Alexander H. Randall, William Mason, Liberty Bullough, Horatio Clarke, R. S. Warren, Walter Hagar, Alonzo Bosworth, Milo Lucas, Simon Clark, James Nicholson and John A. Sibley. Its last meeting was June 3, 1843.|
|Another band organized April 15, 1846, which consisted of some of those who were members of the Elliot band. After a few meetings, its clerk, M. B. Sturtevant, wrote in the second book, 'The above, the second band formed in Newton Upper Falls, had a short existence and went the way of all bands.'|
|The Harmonic Societies had as short a life as the second band and held but few meetings which are without a date.|
|The third band, which was the largest and best of the three and existed the longest, was the Upper Falls Cornet Band, organized Oct. 5, 1875. Its last meeting was held March 16, 1880. This band was organized by Charles F. Butman who was its leader in June 1876, when he resigned and was succeeded by Joseph T. Hall. In June 1876 the Newton Highlands band consolidated with it. J. B. Newell was its president. Melvin M. Gould was its secretary until February 1876, when he was succeeded by Joshua L. Randall who held that position continuously until the band went out of existence.|
|The other members of the band during its existence were, Lyman Wilcox, Harley A. Smith, Alson A. Smith, Charles S. Bird, E. M. Clapp, C. Frank Warren, H. H. Easterbrook, George E. Doty, D. M. Flagg, Wallace F. Curtis, William H. Smith, John H. Brundrett, Charles M. Randall, William Mowry, Samuel Harrison, Aaron R. Cook, Charles E. Ewing, Mr. Foss, Benjamin Gourley, Albert Gourley, Mr. Elkins, Edmund G. Pond, William Stowell and Joseph Bragdon. The meetings of the band were held in the old school house. In 1976 a bandstand was erected on the ledge at the High Street bend, by popular subscription which was procured by Minnie A. Warren."|
In those early days when society was not quite as mobile as it is today and the baleful eye of the TV tube had not yet appeared on the horizon, there was more communication between people and these many gatherings became forums for the free exchange of ideas. Politics were taken seriously and undoubtedly our barber shops and fire houses and street corners reverberated with heated discussions of the political antics of the day, silenced only when the church bells were stilled on July 4, 1881 as President Garfield lay dying from an assassin's bullet; or noisy as controversies raged when pastors refused to read to their congregations proclamations from unpopular governors.
Many men from the village sought out and served local and state political positions - George Pettee failed election as mayor by 56 votes, with no mention of a recount requested. In 1868 veteran Union Army men rallied around their old commander, General U. S. Grant, when he ran for the office of President. From a local news item in the NEWTON JOURNAL of September 25, 1868:
|"The Newton Upper Falls Grant Club men appear to be wide awake. Another general rally of the members at Elliot Hall in that place announced for Monday evening next at half past seven. Mr. Charles K. Burns, Union Scout throughout the war, and Lt. Caleff will attend the meeting."|
Later, in another edition, these men were referred to as "Grant and Colfax men of the Upper Falls."
It is perhaps appropriate that we conclude this section of the social scene in the good old days by recounting the activities of the youth of those days. Prior to the formation of the Boy Scout movement in America there was a nationwide-wide organization called the "United Boy's Brigade of America." Mr. William Loud of Waban is said to have been one of the founders. Perhaps because of his influence, a troop was formed in the First Methodist Church about the year 1910. Mr. Karl Nutter, late of Needham and a former resident of Upper Falls, was a member of this group and he told us before his death that their uniforms consisted of a regulation Union Army hat, blue coat and white linen trousers. They drilled with real rifles, modified by wooden inserts which rendered them harmless. Mr. Nutter recalled that they took part in the April 19th (Patriot's Day) celebrations at Concord and often paraded in the Upper Falls Fourth of July parades. Drilling was conducted on occasion in the old dance pavilion at Hemlock Gorge and in the vestry of the church. The organization was strictly military and non-sectarian in nature, however.
The Boy Scout organization, founded. by General Sir Robert Baden-Powell of England, was incorporated in this country in 1910 as the Boy Scouts of America. By 1914 there were 169 scouts in Newton, and within the next two years this number had doubled. Perhaps one of the earliest Scout organizations in the city, Troop 13 was formed in 1913 in the Methodist church in Upper Falls, a fact confirmed by a TOWN CRIER news item in its October 31, 1913 issue. It was organized by the pastor of the church at that time, the Rev. James T. Carlyon, as a non-sectarian body in accordance with the rules of the organization. The troop has operated almost continuously in this location since that early beginning although its designation was changed from 13 to 14 and then to its current title of Troop 214. Mr. Nutter was also active in this organization and recalled that the late John Coward, who formerly lived on High Street, was either the first or among the first scoutmasters. Mr. Nutter recalled one incident in the early days of the troop when they helped serve during the disastrous fire that leveled large areas of the city of Salem. Along with many other scout troops of the greater Boston area they were called to the stricken city to act as couriers for the various relief organizations. Mr. Nutter said that as he was about 17 years of age at the time he was assigned to traffic duty to handle the hordes of sightseers which flocked to the scene following the fire.
Troop l2 is another Boy Scout troop in the village which had a long and colorful career. It was organized by Messrs. Edward Daly, Robert McLaughlin, Joseph Warren, Charles Marden and Dr. Warren F. Hoey about the year 192l under the sponsorship of the Mary Immaculate of Lourdes Church. Both scout troops of the village were active in their local council and each of them had very fine cabins in the Nobscot scout reservation in Sudbury for use on weekend field trips.
Later we can recall an outstanding scoutmaster and leader in the scout movement in this area, the late Herbert Kestle.
At one time there also operated here, quite successfully, a group of Sea Scouts which was an organization made up mostly of older boys.
Girl Scouts were also organized in Upper Falls about the year 1920. Caroline Freeman and Doris Lovell are recalled by some of the early members of the troop as the "outside" organizers. Margaret Gould and Gertrude Osborne were two of the local girls who helped in the organization. Later, it may be recalled that Mrs. Samuel Oldfield and her two daughters were very active in promoting this group locally. One of the daughters, Helen, went on to hold various executive positions in the state and national organization of the Girl Scouts.
Over the years there have been, of course, the junior groups of these scouting organizations such as the Cub Scouts and the Brownies. They have been a favorable influence upon the younger children and have supplied many recruits for the older groups in their organizations.
Copyright 1997, 1998 Kenneth W. Newcomb and The Friends of Hemlock Gorge. All rights reserved. This page last modified October 10, 1998.
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