Posted by: jeannineatkins | May 12, 2009

A Few Ways of Looking at History

Last night our Friends of the Library group sponsored the last event in our series, Treasures of Whately, and it was a big success. We had about forty people from a town of about 1400 come listen to three people from the Historical Society. And they didn’t even know we’d serve cheesecake, which, note to self, we may have to offer next time. Adelia Bardwell, Society President, introduced members from left to right: Neil Sanderson, Lois Bean, and Fred Bardwell.

Neil Sanderson lived pretty much all his life on the same hillside, and he talked about a farm that still exists, though it’s much smaller than its original three hundred acres, mostly corn fields grown to feed the animals. There was a boarding house for good men from Vermont who came to work and about 125 Holsteins, 25 registered Guernseys, and three thousand chickens. Weathervanes on barns, ice houses, and chicken coops. Neil became sad talking about how many good men left the farm for factories or the Smith and Wesson armory down in Springfield. The owner put the farm up for auction in 1943, when Neil was sixteen. He choked up as he ended his talk saying, “Mr. Wells died six weeks after the auction, while cutting corn.”

When someone asked about the next owners, who stayed for a few decades, Neil said firmly, “My history ends here.”

Lois Bean talked about Whately pottery, which dates back to the 1700s when red clay was dug from local rivers to make jars lined with lead mined from hills along the West Whately/Conway border. Thomas Craft (1802-1851) had eight children; the boys became potters, and the girls married potters, and maybe, Lois said, designed some of the blue cobalt patterns. This was a good business to be in around the time of the War of 1812, when people couldn’t buy British pots or pitchers. The last kiln burned down – these fires were common, since, Lois told us, the wood-burning kilns had to be 2000 degrees for about five days — in 1868 and ended the local business.

Fred Bardwell talked about the mills along West Brook, which showed a lot of activity for a town where now most people drive to work. The water powered mills that made wagon hubs, broom handles, spinning wheels, stockings, chassis springs for buggies, cheese presses, cabinet ware, screws for cider mills, plows, ox yokes, coffins, wagons, sleds, tobacco-cutting tools, paste blacking for ink, ovens for baking umber and sienna for paints, and barrels for hard cider and rye gin. Fred talked about how the brook was mentioned as a place for an armory, but Springfield was chosen instead. He said, “If that happened, we probably wouldn’t be sitting in this town hall.”

My favorite line of the night was, “My history ends here.” I wondered about the choices Neil made at sixteen, and what other losses would come his way, that year when World War II was getting closer to those farms. All of us get to decide when to begin and end our stories, as memory moves through us.



  1. “My history ends here” may be a true statement, but I feel certain his legacy will live on. And isn’t that also true for all of us who are willing to share our memories/stories with others?

  2. Oh, yes, I agree. I think it’s more about wanting to claim the particular place of ending a story, which, of course, may echo.

  3. Sounds like a wonderful evening (even without the cheesecake). And thank you for sharing this:
    “My history ends here.”
    I can hear his quiet dignity from here.

  4. I was charmed to see a gentleman tear up when talking about a neighbor’s death 66 years ago.

  5. ike a penny in my pocket
    Tracie, you must have wonderful pockets, full of old words.

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