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December 2017 Newsletter available now

Read more about Christmas trees and traditions and catch up on RHS news with our December 2017 newsletter available here.

2017 Holiday Open House

The Officers and Directors of the Rowley Historical Society extend a heartfelt invitation to join us as we start the holiday season with our Annual Holiday Open House Gala.

Knowing that our Puritan forebearers would never celebrate Christmas — in fact could have been arrested for doing so — we work with the understanding that the house eventually saw Christmas joy as a residence well into the 19th century, when Christmas and Christmas traditions came back into vogue. So, we have decorated the Platts- Bradstreet House and Barn in Christmas finery and invite the public to join us to celebrate the season. We hope you will stop by for a tour of the museum property and some light refreshments. As a special treat, on Saturday afternoon the LOCA Flute Ensemble from Beverly will entertain us with seasonal music.

This year our theme is Christmas Trees, and we have on display a variety of tree styles from the collections of our Board of Directors. As we do each year, we have invited the Second Grade classes from Pine Grove School to come and visit on Monday, Nov. 27th and to decorate the tree in the barn. Of course you will want to be certain to check that out.

It should be fun – it should be festive! And it’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit.  Mark your calendars – we look forward to seeing you again.

RHS Semi-Annual Meeting: The New Deal and the WPA

On September 29 the RHS met for their semi-annual dinner meeting, followed by a presentation by Dr. Stephen Russell, of Northern Essex Community College, who spoke about the Works Progress Administration (WPA). If you are interested, you can view the meeting and presentation at Rowley Community Media (Show 3198), and read more here about the WPA right here in Rowley.


The WPA in Rowley

The railroad overpass on Route 1A and the stone wall on the corner of Summer and Bradford Streets . . . were these built as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA)? Maybe you can tell us, because we are not sure!  We do know that downtown sidewalks, the original gravel Town Landing on Warehouse Lane, and several fire holes were among many projects carried out locally under the WPA.

In 1933 then President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Federal Emergency Relief Act (FERA) to help offset the effects of the Great Depression by putting people to work on needed public works projects. From the FERA came the CWA or Civil Works Administration, which eventually led to the WPA. Rowley’s Selectmen responded quickly by setting up a local WPA employment office. The first part of the Selectmen’s Administration Summary of the year 1933 explains:

As everybody knows the year of 1933 was probably one of the most hectic years in the history of our country. Millions of people were out of employment and unable to support themselves which meant just one thing the Government, State, Cities and Towns were obliged to do something and that something was to see that these people were either put to work or provided for. It certainly was a grave problem that faced every Administration from the Federal down to the Local Town Administration. Your local Town Officers realized what they were up against. On the one hand the over-burdened tax payer had to be considered and on the other the welfare of the unfortunate people with no income whatever. During the first three months of the year everybody was shivering and wondering what was coming next and then came the New Deal and along with it the C.W.A which has been a Godsend. As soon as the Local Officials were able to find out what it was all about they got busy with the heads of all the different Departments and had them draw up projects so as to get the unemployed to work and at the same time to do something around our Town that was worth while. Through the influence of the Local Board we were able to get our own re-employment office which not only put one of our local men to work but made it possible for our local unemployed to register and have preference on all work done within the Town limits.  . . .  There are a number of different things around the Town that have been sadly neglected in years gone by which can be taken care of now at a very small expense to the tax-payers. So let’s appropriate the necessary sums and do the things we have always wanted to do at about one third of what it will cost us later.

Run-on sentences notwithstanding, this bipartisan board meant what they said and got things moving quickly. At a time when the appropriation for Town Administration was $12,480, they received approval at Town Meeting for $2,000 toward materials for CWA projects. By the time the CWA had become the WPA, the appropriation was $2,500. The Administration Summary noted some of the first-year accomplishments in a later paragraph:

Our roads are in the best condition they have been for years, our school houses are right up to the minute and far surpass some in many of the other town [sic] around, our Town Hall is being renovated inside and out and if we are fortunate enough to continue receiving C.W.A. money we will have a Town Hall second to none in this locality, as you all no doubt know there are various changes and improvements taking place in our Cemetery and all the shade trees around the town have come in for their share of the care which has been necessary for years. All these changes and improvements are worth-while and although the money that was spent under the C.W.A. will not in any way reduce your tax rate it will in years following have the effect of holding your tax rate down.

In a time before fire hydrants existed, fire prevention was a focus of the projects. Keeping Town Brook clear helped in this regard, and the gravel installed at Town Landing was a bonus for boaters, but its intent was to support a fire truck in case water from the river was needed. Additionally, at least four reservoirs were dug (Summer, corner of Main & Haverhill, Hammond, and Independent Streets), fire lanes were cleared, and the fire siren (now defunct) was installed on Town Hall to summon volunteer firefighters (the only kind we had, back then).

We don’t know the details of all the projects, but we do know that Rowley used CWA/WPA funds to install and upgrade sidewalks, plant and prune shade trees, clear and burn brush, seed clam beds and remove predators from the clam flats, mend and relabel library books, update Town Hall, survey cemetery property, paint inside and grade the grounds of the Ezekiel Rogers School (on Wethersfield St.), battle elm beetles and moths, improve streets, and create a playground. There is mention in the various Town Reports of a “typing project,” but no one saw fit to elaborate on what was being typed.

The Center School, now the Town Hall Annex, received considerable attention during this period. WPA monies were used to clean and paint classrooms, replace ceilings, install a new floor, refinish all blackboards and desks, sand and re-varnish all woodwork, install drains in the basement, and install indoor toilets, as well. Incidentally, the Highway Department Supervisor demonstrated the frugality of the period in his report following the installation of those toilets:

… Since that time by utilizing odd-time and welfare labor [W.P.A.] and various means at our disposal we have acquired for your protection a discarded wood-shed for a blacksmith shop, your old lavatory from the Center School for a tool and store-house, both of which we now have wired and lighted as the occasion requires.

Waste not, want not!

As World War II progressed and increased the demand for munitions, uniforms, and the like, the economy improved and more people returned to full time work. The WPA was deemed no longer necessary. Article 18 of the Report of the Annual Town Meeting March 1, 1943 closed out Rowley’s participation with a vote “to allow the $1,482.49 balance in the W.P.A. appropriation to revert to free cash.” We may never know the extent of the WPA projects in town, but we know that many have withstood the test of time.

Chowder Fest / Movie Night A Great Success

Rowley Historical Society partnering with the Rowley Grange is happy to say that the Chowder Fest Movie Nights were a wonderful time that was had by all on both evenings. Thus begins the “ROWLEY 375” Celebrations…

Getting ready for “13 Rue Madeleine” movie & waiting for popcorn at the Chowder Fest Movie Night March 22, 2014…

Movie Nights! Fri Mar 21-Sat Mar 22

The Rowley Historical Society & the Rowley Grange are Proud to present:
CHOWDER FEST MOVIE NIGHT for 2 evenings – Friday, March 21, & Saturday
March 22, 2014 at the Rowley Grange Hall on Central Street in Rowley, from 4:30 -6:00 p.m. This evening will feature a dinner of Chowders – Clam & Seafood, Soups – Lentil & Minestrone, Corn Bread, Rolls & Butter & Oyster Crackers. Dessert will feature Pumpkin Delight with Whipped Cream.

After dinner is complete the Movie: 13 Rue Madeleine will begin at 7:00 p.m. in the Grange Hall where Pop Corn & Water will be available.

This is a 1947 World War II spy thriller starring James Cagney some of which was shot at the Fenno Estate known to us today as The Seaview Retreat. Many of our citizens in Rowley remember when this event was happening right here in our town.

Tickets: Adults $10.00, Seniors $8.00, Children 5-12 $5.00, under 5 Free
Purchase at: Town Clerk’s Office or call 978-948-2070 or 978-948-5054

When Hollywood came to Rowley…

It was the year 1946 when our small, rural town had visitors from the film & entertainment world. They were creating a World War II flick call “13 RUE MADELEINE”. This was a full length feature film (95 minutes long) that was released in January of 1947. The movie starred James Cagney, Annabella, Richard Conte & Frank Latimore. After searching for different locations a connection was made with Mrs. Fenno for the use of her home in some of their location shots. Today we know this home, as the Seaview Retreat at the top of Kittery Avenue. The whole movie was shot on multiple locations in Boston & Quebec. But we are proud to have hosted and been part of this movie for a short period of time.

Many of our citizens who have grown up in Rowley, do still remember “the bright lights up on the hill”. And others who have viewed the movie long ago say they can recognize parts of the house, itself.

In celebration of Rowley’s 375th Anniversary
The opportunity has come for all the Rowley community to see this film as the Rowley Historical Society & the Rowley Grange presents: CHOWDER FEST MOVIE NIGHT.

Tickets are available for this “Dinner & Movie” 2 night event;
March 21st or March 22nd ; now at Town Clerk’s office
or by calling 978-948-2070 or 978-948-5054.

Annual Christmas Open House – Dec 7 & 8

The Rowley Historical Society invites friends and members to join us for our Annual Christmas Open House Gala on Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 7th and 8th from 1 – 4 pm.

Our theme this year will be “Christmas around the World” with an added bonus of an exhibit in the barn: “Ice Industry in Rowley” featuring artifacts pertaining to Rowley’s Ice Industry of the 19th and early 20th Century.

There will be live entertainment, home baked goodies, hot mulled cider, friends, family and fun.  Please join us for Holiday Tours of the House and Barn – Free Admission

Pine Grove School 2nd Grade Tours – As has been our tradition for many years now, we look forward to be hosting Holiday tours of our house and barn for Pine Grove School’s 2nd graders on Monday, Dec. 2.

Newsletter: November-December 2013

Read the November/December Newsletter
Download our latest newsletter (PDF) 

Help us get the word out about the Holiday Open House!


Quilt Documentation Project

On Thursday, October 10th, the RHS was delighted to participate in the Mass Quilt Documentation Project. 

According to their website:  “Since its establishment in 1994, the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project has documented over 6,000 quilts originating or currently owned in this state.  Dozens of historical Societies and hundreds of private owners have been served.

“MassQuilts encourages the study and preservation of quilts and demonstrates that these textiles convey important insights about the lives of Massachusetts women from the colonial period to the present.”

Documented quilt owners receive:
–       A copy of the documentation report including an approximate date, description of the fabrics, construction and patterns.
–       A photograph of the quilt
–       A special label to attach to the quilt signifying its inclusion in the documentation project
–       Instructions on the care of Antique Quilts

The ladies of the Documentation Project were very enthusiastic about the quilts we brought them, especially the Album Quilt that has hung on the quilt rack in the old kitchen for many years.  The Society, in the form of Shirley Todd, provided lunch for the Quilt Ladies and everyone had a lovely time hearing how passionate they are about the quilts they document.  By the end of the day, they had inspected over a dozen quilts owned by the Society – they even hitched a ride back to the house to assess the quilts still actually on the beds!

The painstakingly thorough process was fascinating to watch and the depth of knowledge and passion for their subject that these women possessed was impressive.

At the end of the day, as promised, we had all the promised documentation for each of our quilts and a primer on the care and preservation of antique quilts:

Displaying your Quilt:

  1. Display your quilts out of direct sunlight and bright indoor lighting – also away from kids, pets and other critters.
  2. Wall or standing quilt racks work well for displaying large quilts – however, quilts should not be in direct contact with wood, use acid free tissue paper or clean cotton sheets as a buffer.
  3. Muslins sleeves can be hand sewn to the back of a quilt for wall hanging.

Cleaning your Quilt:

  1. Clean your quilt with a very gentle vacuuming through a flexible plastic screen – or nylon stocking.

Storing your Quilt:

  1. Store in an acid free box with acid free paper or folded into a clean cotton sheet
  2. Do not stack
  3. Do not store in plastic bags or other air tight containers.
  4. Store in dry area away from extreme temperatures – not the attic or the basement!
  5. Quilts should be unfolded and refolded in a different orientation every three to six months.

We extend our thanks to the members of the Massachusetts Quilt Documentation Project who came from all over the state to assess our quilt collection.  More information about this project may be found at their website:

Pine Grove FALL FEST – Oct 25

The Rowley Historical Society would like to extend its Thanks to the Pine Grove School PTA for allowing us to participate in its wonderful FALL FEST. This is a fun filled event for the local children on Friday, October 25th a part of this festive occasion along with all the other contributors. The Society would like to offer our THANKS to Jeffery Head of the Chickadee Hill Farm in Rowley for his generous donation of all the pumpkins to give away to the children at our Pumpkin Decorating Table. WE are especially grateful to Jeff for his generosity.