Tuesday, November 23, 2010

JFK remembered on the anniversary of his death

Community members gathered to honor President John F. Kennedy on the 47th anniversary of his death. Attending were master of ceremony, James Sullivan, U.S. Representative Richard E. Neal, William Marot, Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, former Springfield Mayor Charles V. Ryan, Hampden County Register of Deeds Donald E. Ashe, Hampden County Sheriff Michael Ashe and state Representative James T. Welch.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Holyoke's Wistariahurst Museum

Wistariahurst Museum is similar to many properties in Hampden County in that it tells the history of a family, a city and an era. Located in Holyoke, the mansion was the home to Silk magnate William Skinner and his heirs for almost one hundred years. Wistariahurst was built in 1868 and added to the National Historic Register in 1973.

William Skinner was born in London in 1824 and trained in the silk dying industry. He immigrated to the United States in 1843, eventually going into business for himself in Haydenville, Massachusetts. On May 16, 1874, the Williamsburg Dam washed away and the surrounding villages of Williamsburg, Leeds and Haydenville went with it, including Skinners Unquomonk Silk Co.

Looking to lure a thriving business to Holyoke, James Newton convinced William Skinner to relocate to a site located on one of the cities three canals. To help “sway” Skinner, the Holyoke Water Power Co. gave him the mill site rent free for 5 years. They also sold him an entire city block at a cost of $1 on which Wistariahurst now stands (the home was originally built in Williamsburg, but was taken apart after the flood and transported to Holyoke to be rebuilt). Aided by an unlimited source of power from the cities canals and inexpensive immigrant labor, the manufacturing business grew to sales of $6.5 million by 1902, employing 2,500 employees at its peak. Skinner Silk was sold in New York, Philadelphia and Boston and was known throughout the world.

The success of the Skinner business, which by 1886 included his sons William and Joseph and was known as William Skinner & Son’s Silk Manufacturing, was reflected in the lavish family home. Wistariahurst, so named for the Wistaria Vines that soon covered the building, featured two large stone lions guarding the front entrance that were purchased by Mrs. Skinner on a trip to Rome. The home had leather wall coverings, stone columns, painted ceilings, elaborate woodwork and even a driveway paved with Dinosaur footprints from the Jurassic period. The grounds were manicured by a small army of laborers; the children cared for by a nanny; and meals were prepared by personal kitchen staff.

Wistariahurst and the Skinner legacy live on in the City of Holyoke and throughout the world. The family deeded their home to the city in 1959 for cultural and educational purposes. William Skinner was a founding member of the Holyoke YMCA, the Holyoke Public Library and Grace United Church. He served as a trustee to Mount Holyoke College, Mount Hermon Seminary and Northfield’s Young Women’s Seminary. His son Joseph built the elite Orchard’s Golf Course on his South Hadley estate, so that his daughter Elisabeth would have a place to play. He also donated 30 acres to Mount Holyoke, which became Skinner State Park and is famous for the hotel at the top known as The Summit House.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Register Ashe visits Museum of Springfield History

Left to right: Donald E. Ashe, Richard Stevens, Guy McLain

DONALD E. ASHE, Hampden County Register of Deeds depicted above with Guy McLain, director of the Museum of Springfield History and the Connecticut Valley Historical Museum, and Richard Stevens, founder of the Duryea Transportation Society at the Museum of Springfield History on May 18, 2010.

Register Ashe was treated to a personal tour of the newly opened MUSEUM OF SPRINGFIELD HISTORY on May 18th by Guy McLain and Richard Stevens. Mr. Stevens is founding president of the Duryea Transportation Society and has been a driving force in bringing out the most important role Springfield played in our transportation history as the Duryea was the first gasoline powered car in America and was produced in 1893 in Springfield by J. Frank Duryea at 47 Taylor Street, now known as Duryea Way.

Many other Springfield “firsts” are on display there such as the Indian Motorcycles and Rolls Royce automobiles that were also manufactured in Springfield. The GeeBee airplane manufactured here by the Granville Brothers can also be seen.

Guy McLain has done an outstanding job of creating the MUSEUM OF SPRINGFIELD HISTORY.

Take the time to treat yourself to a fascinating look at our city’s proud past. Perhaps you will get an idea for our future while there.

21 Edwards Street

Replica of the original Duryea built by Richard Stevens

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Springfield's Connection to the Vanderbilts Thanks to the Duryea Automobile

On March 15, 2010, Vanity Fair magazine featured an article, "Driving with the Vanderbilt's II", about the son of the world's richest man at the turn of the century, George Vanderbilt. His estate, Biltmore, located outside Asheville, North Carolina, at 175,000 square feet, remains the largest private residence in America.

George Vanderbilt was focused on "automobiling" as his favorite passion. He had six cars registered at his estate. Only one remains and it is a great rarity. "A handsome and huge seven-passenger 1913 Stevens-Duryea Model C6 Touring". The cost of this luxurious auto new was over $5,000.00, or the equivalent of $111,000.00 in today's currency. The company's motto was "There is No Better Motor Car". Therefore, George Vanderbilt definitely had to have one!

Click here to read the full article....

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Joseph Moore House

The Joseph Moore House today.

The Joseph Moore House in the late 1890's

In 1751, Joseph Moore purchased a plot of land in Southwick, which was located in an area on the outskirts of Westfield, Massachusetts. Soon, he built a home for his wife, Mary, and their eleven children. Upon the death of Joseph after the American Revolution, the home was passed down to his son, Roger Moore (1752-1838), who lived there his entire life. Due to numerous boundary changes, Roger Moore managed to live in two colonies; the two states of Massachusetts and Connecticut; Hampden, Hampshire and Hartford counties; as well as the four towns of Westfield, Southwick, Simsbury and Granby, all without ever moving out of the home his father had built!

After the settlement of the Springfield/Hartford region, a large population influx in the area created a concern over non-established boundary lines. As a result, the Bay State hired two surveyors to run the southern boundary line of Massachusetts. Upon completion of the survey, it was found that they had fixed the line too far south and at one point by almost 7 miles. Given its geographical location, the Joseph Moore House would find itself embroiled in the boundary dispute between Massachusetts and Connecticut. The two states spent 162 years arguing over their shared boundary line, which included appeals to England, numerous denied proposals, as well as some compromises.

The home is situated in the southern third of the town at 86 College Highway, in an area referred to as the “Jog” or the “Southwick Jog”. When Joseph Moore purchased the land and built his home, it was located in Westfield, Massachusetts. The settlers in this area became weary of traveling each Sunday to Westfield for service and petitioned to separate from Westfield and become their own town. In 1770, the Town of Southwick was established, which included the Joseph Moore House. Then in 1774, the residents of the southern portion of Southwick successfully petitioned to become a part of Connecticut. This reduced the size of Southwick by one-third. As a result, the Joseph Moore House was now in Simsbury, Connecticut. Given Massachusetts’ preoccupation with the growing tensions between itself and Britain, its loss of control over southern Southwick received little contention. In 1786, Simsbury sliced off its Salmon Brook area to create the town of Granby. The “Jog” was included in this separation, making the Joseph Moore House now a part of Granby, Connecticut.

After the Revolutionary War had ended, Massachusetts and Connecticut resumed their battle over the rightful ownership of the “Jog”. Connecticut stood firm on its rightful jurisdiction since the area clearly lay below the Massachusetts borderline, and emphasized the inhabitants’ desire to be a part of their state. Massachusetts was quick to remind Connecticut that in 1749, it had allowed them the jurisdiction over Suffield, Enfield and Woodstock even though it was in violation of the 1713 compromise which claimed that land belonged to Massachusetts. In 1801, Massachusetts made a proposal to divide the disputed area at the Congamond Lakes into two. Connecticut would get the portion to the east of the lakes, while Massachusetts would get the portion west of the lakes. Connecticut refused, but in 1804, they finally agreed, which returned the “Jog” to Massachusetts jurisdiction, where it has remained to this day.

Ownership of the Joseph Moore House was transferred to the Southwick Historical Society in 1990. It is currently being converted into a museum by the Society and is expected to open to the general public by the summer of 2010. For more information regarding the museum opening, please email the Southwick Historical Society: southwickhistory@yahoo.com.