As such a long period of time has elapsed since I commenced the writing of this book (some thirty years), the number of individuals who have contributed to its contents have grown to make a list too long to record here except to name those who, so to speak, helped me to “get it off the ground.” Accordingly, I would like to express my sincere appreciation for the valuable assistance provided in the preparation of this volume to the personnel at the reference desks of Newton’s Main Library and the Jackson Homestead Historical Museum.
However, after long hours of assembling the historical facts gleaned from the numerous sources involved in my research as a non-professional writer, I found someone whom I needed to make the whole mix acceptable to the reader – my editor, Fredson Bowers. He shared with me the long hours of preparation of this book for the publisher.
In addition, if the photos, each worth the proverbial 10,000 words, provide a nostalgic glimpse into the past, thanks are offered to our photo genius, Forrest Marcy, who created many of these pictures which gave life to some scenes of an almost forgotten yesterday. I also thank the many friends who over the years generously provided additional photographs for use in this book.
October 13, 1998
A question will naturally arise as to why this extensive historical record is confined to but one village instead of the city of which it is a part. The answer lies in the fact that the entity of Newton is a product of its villages rather than the reverse. Whatever historical substance it may possess was created and nurtured by these ancient centers of its early settlements.
The slowness of the growth of Newton for almost two centuries discouraged a complete recording of its development. Intimate details are hard to come by, and only the records of one or two of our first villages are available to give us a complete picture of what life was like in yesterday’s Newton. Of these I felt that the history of Newton Upper Falls would reveal a most enlightening and remarkable story. Innumerable numbers of sources produced more than historical information to make the task very much worthwhile. During the months required to bring all of the material for this volume together, I was once more made aware of the uniqueness and appeal of the subject of the book; a village and its people whose history seems to be just a touch more meaningful than other similar histories, whose very past has an allure which one could not resist exploring.
I soon learned, of course, that history is mainly made by people, and it was the spirit of generations of people of this village that seemed to bring warmth and life to each page as I slipped back through time. Their perseverance and determination was contagious and established very early an air of continuity to the village that is reflected in the atmosphere it engenders today – enough to have inspired the city to preserve it within the protective laws of an historical district. Its slow and orderly growth, albeit industrial and blue collar, early marked it as a village of substance, so much so that for a period of nearly a century it offered inspiration and leadership to its five companion villages which together created the beginning of a city.
The reader may be interested in my background and what led me to write about this subject. I became conscious of the history of the village at a very early age when my family moved from Newton Corner, where I was born, to Needham Upper Falls (East Needham) located just across the river from Newton Upper Falls. Although I attended Needham schools, most of my activities took place in Upper Falls. As history became one of my favorite subjects in school, it naturally followed that I soon became interested in stories of a local Indian tribe whose fishing grounds were located on the river not far from my home. And when Catherine Harney, acting principal of the Emerson School in Upper Falls, loaned me a short history of the village consisting mostly of the late Robert B. McLaughlin’s recollections of its historical record I was “hooked.” So after my retirement from the Engineering Department of the Penn Central Railroad the study of local history became my principal hobby, and this volume is the result of approximately 20 years of research on that subject. From preliminary work on the book in 1986 came the publication of a well-received booklet sharing the same title “Makers of the Mold”, a brief but concise account of the reaction of Newton Upper Falls village to the Industrial Revolution beginning in the eighteenth century. Copies of this work may be found in the Newton Library and, by request, a copy is on file with the State Library.
I have written a guide for a Walking Tour of Historic Newton Upper Falls which was published by the Newton Upper Falls Historic District Commission and a Walking Tour of Hemlock Gorge Reservation which, like this book, is available on the Internet. I have also written numerous newspaper articles, have appeared before many clubs and organizations and have been interviewed on radio and appeared briefly on Channel 5 television. I was a charter member of the Newton Historical Commission and currently am a member of the Newton Historical Society. In 1987 I was honored to receive a historic preservation award from the Massachusetts Historical Commission.
Kenneth W. Newcomb
A Special Word about John Winslow and George Pettee
The reader will note that scattered throughout the following pages certain personal comments by two nineteenth century residents of Upper Falls, John Winslow and George Pettee, will be quoted. Whenever their remarks refer to the subject of the chapter they will be included in that chapter. However, when they are broad enough to be considered general information they will appear under the heading ‘VILLAGE LIFE‘.
John Winslow and George Pettee were contemporaries, living in the same time period in the nineteenth century in Upper Falls. John was born October 21, 1825 and died in 1898. George, born two years later on October 28, 1827 died June 15, 1896. It is presumed they knew each other very well, living on the same street, George at 277 Elliot and John at 314 (present day numbers). Actually, they were related through intermarriage with the Everett family of the village. Nathaniel W. Everett married Deborah Ann Winslow, sister of John. His father, Joseph Everett had married Abigail Pettee, sister of Otis Pettee (George’s father).
Although both boys, John and George, attended the local Methodist Church, they did not attend the same school. Despite the short distance separating their homes, the eastern border of the village school district passed between the two houses forcing George to attend the Upper Falls District School 3/4 of a mile away on Elliot Street, while John attended the village two-room school at the junction of Ellis and Chestnut Streets. The reader may find George’s written lament about this in the chapter entitled ‘SCHOOLS‘. However, the boys could not be further apart in life-style and environment, George being the son of a mill owner and John, one of a millworker’s 16 children. Nevertheless, the reader will discover that this was no handicap to John. Both appear to be a credit to the educational system of their day; John later graduated from Harvard Law School while George graduated from Wilbraham Academy with honors. Now to the reason for the remarkable preservation of their very informative remarks.
In January 1882, at what appears to have been the third reunion of the grammar school at Newton Upper Falls, former pupil John Winslow, then of Brooklyn, New York, was invited back to give an address relating to his experiences in the old village schoolhouse and also some of his out-of-school activities some fifty years before. Fortunately, a newspaper editor of the day saw the value of his comments or had a space to fill in his paper, so that the entire remarks of Mr. Winslow came down to us in the form of some treasured newspaper clippings.
Likewise, when a year later, in 1883, George Pettee was asked at a similar occasion to relate his school day experiences at the Upper Falls District School his remarks were also preserved in the same manner as Mr. Winslow’s.
These are probably the only records by former pupils describing what school days were like in early nineteenth century Newton.