Northborough, Massachusetts, 1833...
As I was conducting research on a recently discovered 1898 photo album belonging to the Allen family, I came across this memoir about the Allen Family of Northborough that takes place circa 1830-1840, written by the granddaughters of Reverend Joseph Allen (1790-1873). Some of the names of actual family members have been changed, but the notes for the reader indicate the story is largely accurate. The front pages of the attached digital copy identifies the actual family members and denotes their corresponding story names. (see images at the end of this article.)
The story revolves around a "pretty New England village" at a time when villagers "went to meeting" and the parsonage was a strong community presence. The colorful memoir follows the parson's family and provides valuable tidbits of what was unique to live in that place and time. Along with the quaint descriptions of typical Victorian days in a country town, there are even more enlightening explanations of how the town functioned without the modern conveniences we take for granted today.
One example, found as the children ran out to play after a long night's snowfall, was the explanation of how the roads of the town were plowed, providing access to the outlying farms where the majority of the townspeople resided:
"Later in the morning, borne through the still and sparkling air, were heard the shouts of farmers down the road, hallooing to their oxen. And now appeared, ploughing their way through the drifts almost over their backs, nine yoke of oxen with a sled, the broad, smooth track left by the runners promising a fine place for sliding, as the children loved to do, one foot before the other. The custom or village regulation was for those farmers who lived furthest from the centre to start out with their ox sleds and plough out the road to the next house, when the neighbor would add his oxen to the team, and go on to the next, who added his oxen, and so on, till from every road they met at the [Northborough] Tavern and took a good dinner. "
Interestingly, there are also handful of photographs in the volume, likely to have been taken by Margaret Elizabeth Allen (1863-1951) as at least one of them is identical to ones credited to her in the photo album I am studying. One notable photo in this book is of the famed "horse-block" at the Meeting House, which was used by disembarking horse and carriage passengers. The rock stands to this day, as do many of the other places, even though the landscape has dramatically changed over the last 115 years.
Allen, Caroline. The Children of the Parsonage; a True Story of Long Ago. Boston: G.H. Ellis, 1900.
Beth Finch McCarthy