Growing Up in Framingham Centre During the 1920s — Part II

Originally published in the Spring 1985 Framingham Historical & Natural History Society Newsletter by Dr. Bruce Brown (1917-2010)centre common postcard

During the Twenties there was only one grammar school serving the educational needs of Framingham Centre: the Jonathan Maynard School. It covered grades one through eight and was also a training ground for “practice teachers” from the Normal School. This brought some relative youth into the teaching program but also required the regular teachers to be capable of teaching the practice teachers as well as us. This was no mean accomplishment, and because of it, I suspect, we were blesses with unusually talented instructors.


Jonathan Maynard School, Framingham Centre Common, 1920s

To be frank, however, the learning process is blurred in my memory. The principal was Miss Lena Cushing, of regal bearing and stern mien. She ran a tight ship and remarkably obtained attention under any circumstance by clapping her hands. We seemed to have frequent assemblies at which all grades gathered and heard announcements such as a proclamation from the governor commemorating, in flowery language, various holidays. Why this was necessary was unclear, unless to further imbue us with a sense of patriotism. We also sang patriotic hymns, such as the Battle Hymn of the Republic, under the tutelage of Mr. Archibald, a music teacher from the Normal School. He had a moustache and a pitch pipe, and we produced noise if not music under his leadership. Of course we pledged our allegiance to the flag each morning and started the day with a prayer. Jonathan Maynard School was a light and airy structure with one exception – the toilet facilities, which were located in the basement. When need demanded, one always asks: “Can I go to the basement?” Rapid adaption to the dark was required when you reached these depths, which were illuminated by a small ground level window and not much else. Along one dark wall was a running trough for boys. I always had fears of falling into this canal before I had adequately adapted to the dark.

Most of us walked or rode our bicycles to school. Only those from such distant outposts as Nobscot came by school bus. This was before Route 9 was built, so no great danger was posed by coming down State Street, across Worcester Road, and finally down Vernon Street to Jonathan Maynard. Many of us returned home for lunch and rode back again for the afternoon session. The playground was the Centre Common and it received maximum wear and tear. A number of games would be played in various quadrants of this area before school, during recess, and for the higher grades, after school was out. One of the proud accomplishments in my life was making the Jonathan Maynard baseball team as second baseman. This outfit was coached by Ralph Noonan – more recently known as Colonel Noonan moderator of Framingham Town Meetings over a span of years. We played other grammar schools such as Saxonville and Memorial School. Our record escapes me, but I remember we reach received an “athletic letter” during the eighth grade year. It was one of my cherished possessions – the letters J.M.S. in yellow on a green background.

Many changes have taken place in this school. Our two older children attended Jonathan Maynard in the Fifties but only through grade six due to the population explosion after World War II. By the time our daughter matriculated in the early Sixties, it accommodated only grades one through four.  Now it is closed as a school and a long career has come to an end, sad to say.

Fun “on this hill” took many forms. The Normal School was an ever present opportunity for devilment. The various buildings were serviced by underground tunnels which carried steam pipes. The entrance to these catacombs was reached by a short canyonlike alley which led to a door at the foundation of one of the buildings. This door was usually unlocked and therefore the catacombs could be invaded as long as one practiced stealth. Our major obstacle was a Mr. Johnson, whose title as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds and Resident Constable made him a formidable foe. He walked with a pronounced limp and was therefore referred to as Peg Leg Johnson; never, of course, to his face. Forays were made into the tunnels with the secret hope that we might be detected and therefore chased. He was handicapped, we were not, and therefore usually escaped capture. However, such trespassing on state property did at times get back to our parents with resulting strict admonitions to stop.

The student body of the Normal School was one hundred percent female in those days. There were two team sports; field hockey and basketball. It is fair to say we were spectators of these sports for several reasons; one, the surprising noise generated by girls playing games; secondly, an opportunity to observe girls in long stockings, bloomers and middy blouses. The reason for this latter interest, I am sure, was not fully understood but undoubtedly had something to do with early sexual stirrings.

State Normal School Picture of Original Building erected in 1853

State Normal School Picture of Original Building erected in 1853

There was a marvelous cement sidewalk that led through the campus and joined State Street where it dropped steeply to Worcester Road. This was a tempting speedway for bicycle riding, which was also an activity frowned on by the Normal School authorities. Along this walkway were placed relatively short light standards with single shade bulbs. The bulbs could be reached if you were a good shinnier. I was not particularly adept but had a friend who was. Not only was such unscrewing of light bulbs an accepted sport but there was an even more demanding assault on a standard street light at the corner of Church Street and Maynard Road. A very accurately propelled stone could effectively neutralize such illumination. One of my friends had an unerring eye and arm. This eventually led to a personal visit from one of Framingham’s policeman; it well may have been Officer Ralston. The result was permanent cessation of this activity. The individual in question with this remarkable hand and eye coordination became an orthopedic surgeon and served in the Framingham community with great devotion and skill for many years. I would naturally hesitate to divulge his name even at this late date. He is now enjoying a well-earned retirement.

State Street was lined along its eastern side south of the Normal School by a row of stately maples. There were naturally cherished by householders. There were about five of these trees fronting the Brown property. The Twenties was a period when many boy’s books dealt with tales of opening up the West. The importance of blazing trails came up repeatedly in said stories, and it was inevitable that a trail would be blazed down State Street. The maple trees were the recipients of such mutilation. The reaction of house owners was obvious. Naturally, my father and uncle were among these enraged individuals. Fortunately the trees, although wounded, survive to this day.

From Porcelain Dolls to Pirates: A Day in the Life of a Curator

by Stacen Goldman, FHC Curator

Here at the Framingham History Center we’re undergoing a huge transition, rethinking our collections storage and work space. The first step in this process is to take stock of what we have and the space we have available for storage. This is a really exciting process for me as a relatively new staff member, because it’s almost like a foreign language immersion program – just spend one year reorganizing the FHC’s collection and you will be fluent in all things Framingham!

dolls nightgown

Doll Nightgown made by 7 year old Eliza D. Upham

One of the very first projects I threw myself into, even before I began working on our upcoming costume exhibit (which you may remember from my last blog post), was taking stock of boxes full of dolls, doll furniture, and doll clothing that had somehow made its way into our textile storage space. These items were taking up valuable shelf space in a room that we had designated for a specialized purpose, so we needed to remove them for reorganization and rehousing. Doing this properly would, of course, require an inventory, some of which I undertook myself, and some of which was done by our Desilets Memorial Intern, Colleen Jenkins.

As we were performing the inventory, one item in particular caught my eye. It was a simple doll’s nightdress, white with very little decorative trimming, but one eye-catching detail: a hand-written note that said “Made by E. D. Upham, age 7 years.” Now, I don’t know about other people, but I can’t see an inscription like that and not go hunting for more information about the little girl who made a nightdress for her doll! With the help of Ruthann Tomasini, a dedicated member of our Research team, I began the hunt for little E.D. Upham in the historical record.

dolls nightgown signature

“Made by E.D. Upham, age 7 years”

It turns out the dress was made by Eliza D. Upham, who was born in Framingham in 1830 and who would eventually marry Abiel S. Lewis in 1854 (she would be the second of four wives, a sad testament to the high mortality rate at the time). Abiel came to Framingham from Boston in 1851 and was elected to the State Senate in 1856. This information piqued my interest – although I was trying to learn more about Eliza, the fact that Abiel was a State Senator meant that he was more likely than your average person to show up in the historical record. Perhaps he would lead me to Eliza.

AS Lewis

A.S. Lewis. Collection of the Boston Athenaeum.

What I found instead was Issue 2907 of the United States Congressional Serial Set (a publication of all House and Senate documents from 1892) with a report regarding a claim Abiel S. Lewis had filed against the United States for compensation for a ship and cargo belonging to his father that were seized by French privateers off the coast of Guadeloupe in 1798. Abiel, as the executor of his father’s estate, was granted $8,480 from the United States, which took on responsibility for France’s unlawful seizures of American cargo when it ratified a treaty with the French Republic in 1803.

I was amazed! I had gone from a doll’s nightgown sewn by a little girl in Framingham to a real-life pirate story in the Caribbean! (Well, technically a privateer story, but the difference is essentially semantic). In this case, looking for Abiel didn’t help me find Eliza, but it took me to an incredible and unexpected place.

I love my job because surprises like this are typical in a day’s work. One item can take you from New England to the tropics or from domestic life to swashbuckling on the high seas – it really expands your perception of the stories a small historical society can tell!  Having this experience so early in my tenure here at the FHC means I’ll never lose sight of the fact that communities don’t exist in a vacuum – local history can also be global history.

You can read the senate report on Abiel Lewis’s claim here.

Artifact Detectives – The Case of the Buried Spoon

by Laura Stagliola, FHC Museum Assistant/Education Coordinator

August 26, 2016



The other day the Framingham History Center received an inquiry about an old spoon that was found by an 11-year-old girl in her back yard. Her mother was asking if she could bring her daughter Carla in to learn more about the spoon. While we do receive a fair amount of historical inquires, this was one special. Carla was helping her parents with some yard work and came upon the spoon while raking. Her parents assumed it was from the 1950s as their home was built in 1959. However, after some research here we learned that the street was developed in 1945 and it is possible that the spoon was from then.

Carla came to the Old Academy with her Mom, Dad, and younger sister and we discussed how the spoon could have ended up in her back yard and who might have owned it before it was lost. She thought that someone might have been digging in the dirt with it and had forgotten to bring it back inside. Her parents thought it might have been from a load of dirt that was trucked in for fill. The spoon was bent and oxidized but it had a beautiful flower design all the way around the handle. On the back there was a small space for where the label had been stamped. The green-gray tarnish that covered the entire spoon, except for a circle of what looked to be silver, had filled in the stamp so we could not read the label.



Ruthann, a volunteer researcher at the FHC, also inspected the spoon and after seeing the tarnish-free circle, began researching the type of metal it could be. She concluded that this kind of oxidation happened to silver-plated spoons. While this did not mean much to Carla, it was a step closer to identifying the spoon’s age and make.

We were able to rub some of the stubborn tarnish away and we could start to see letters emerge. I quickly took out a magnifying glass and could read COMMUNEY. It did not sound like a manufacturer’s name, but Ruthann went to Google and immediately we found Community/Oneida Silversmiths with an image of the same floral design as was on the handle. This silver plated serving spoon that Carla unearthed was in the Coronation 1936 pattern[1]. Carla was excited to hear it was from 1936 and she did the math to find out that her spoon was 80 years old! Pleased with her knowledge of the spoons’ age, Carla seemed equally excited to give her family a tour of the museum. Having been inside the Academy as a 3rd grader, she took on the role of “junior docent” with great gusto! It was wonderful to have Carla and her family visit the Framingham History Center and it was a fun to interact with this budding young historian!

Coronation 1936 spoon

8 1/2″ silver plated table (serving) spoon, from Community / Oneida Silversmiths, in the Coronation 1936 pattern from Etsy

[1] Origin of the Coronation 1936 patter. From a blog titled “Silver Threads, Silverplated Flatware,” came this explanation:

In 1936 Edward VIII became King of England upon the death of his father. Before his coronation could take place, however, he abdicated the throne to marry Wallis Simpson. His younger brother, George VI (father of the present Queen Elizabeth) was crowned in his place. In the same year, Oneida introduced a pattern named Coronation in its line of Community silverplate. This same pattern was marketed in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth as Hampton Court.


Detail of Coronation pattern motif


Question Solved: What Does a Museum Worker Really Do?

by Colleen Jenkins, 2016 Tom Desilets Memorial Intern

This is my last week at the Framingham History Center. It is very hard to leave this summer behind and return to Framingham State University. I feel like it was just last week that Stacen (FHC Curator) was teaching me how to use Past Perfect and asking me to clean out the attic. And now, ten weeks later, almost every room in both buildings of the FHC has been altered for the better by me, my researching skills have improved, and I’ve had a lot of laughs with the great staff here (especially over lemonade from Thursday’s Farmer’s Market). Never before have I had a summer job where I was treated with so much respect and kindness by people so willing to share their knowledge with me. The success I had with this internship would not have come without this wonderful crew of volunteers and staff with me every day. I was reminded what it means to study history for the sake of learning new things, and got to share my enthusiasm about the past with everyone here in one way or another. I felt welcomed and accepted by the hardworking (and all female!) crew, and had the most fun ten weeks I have ever had while working.

Colleen's last blog imageI don’t know if museum work is in my future, but I do know the skills I took away from the history center will help me throughout my career. I look forward to coming back as a volunteer and a member to watch all the things I have started continue to grow, such as the completion of the Dennison Mfg. Co. Archives, the allocation of the Smith Collection and the new fashion exhibit coming in October. I know these dedicated people will continue to make the museum grow, and I cannot wait to see it.

In my first blog I addressed the fact that I was trying to learn what a museum worker does. And while I could list numerous things many would not think of, I think the most important thing that everyone here does is promote Framingham in the past and now. We keep Framingham alive. We go out of our way to tell stories that are hard to tell and to recover people’s lives that otherwise would have been forgotten. A museum worker keeps history moving forward, doing whatever it takes to tell the world a story they think is important. To answer questions no one thought to ask. Even I as a historian in training, I never understood the impact places like the FHC have on the surrounding community. I encourage everyone who is associated with Framingham to take the time to check out the museum and see what you can learn from it. Thank you to everyone who read this blog and encouraged me along the way. I am leaving with a great sense of admiration and gratitude to the FHC.