If you enjoy spending time exploring the various rail trails
and pathways around our town and those nearby, you might notice some grapevines mixed among the trees. These plants were cultivated and eaten by Native Americans before the arrival of Europeans. It’s also possible that, at one time, these grapes were cultivated by local mill workers and the workers who helped build the reservoir. Grapes are easy to grow and could serve as a supplement to a poor worker’s diet. The grapes can be made into juice, and the leaves of the vine are also edible (but we don’t recommend you eat the grapes or their leaves, just to be safe). Birds are also especially effective in spreading grape seeds far and wide.
The descendants of grapes grown for food by past inhabitants still grow alongside the trails we have carved through the woods. The next time you go for a hike, keep an eye open for a vine or a broadleaf among the foliage.
The Old Farmer’s Almanac is the oldest consistently published periodical in the United States, first published in 1792 by Robert Bailey Thomas. Published annually, the Almanac provides meteorological, astronomical, and botanical information—as well as a slew of recipes, anecdotes, and related articles—of that current year. But what makes The Old Farmer’s Almanac so important to the Beaman Memorial Library and to West Boylston? Because the Almanac’s founder was another of West Boylston’s local celebrities.
Robert Bailey Thomas lived in West Boylston for most of his life. Born in Grafton, he moved to West Boylston in the late 1700s and studied agriculture, astronomy, and weather. In 1792, he published the first volume of the Almanac, and it was an instant success. He sold thousands of copies within the first few years, and the sales tripled as the decades rolled on. He originally called the publication The Farmer’s Almanac and added the “old” to the name in the 1830s when his almanac outstripped the success, accuracy, and vitality of similar periodicals. Today, the Beaman Memorial Library boasts one of the only complete collections of the Almanac in the United States; the only other institutions which hold this honor are the Library of Congress and the Almanac headquarters.
The south entrance of the Beaman Memorial Library houses two beautiful bronze statues. The Rawsons received "La travail" as a wedding gift in 1888 from Eli Holbrook, a local mill owner, grandfather to George Rawson, and a prominent resident of town. Then, years later, in 1943, Mrs. Rawson donated the statues to the library.
The taller statue is a bronze replica of the National Monument to the Forefathers at Plymouth, dedicated to the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower. It depicts a woman, the manifestation of Faith, standing atop a high pedestal, extending a hand to heaven. Below her are seated four figures who represent the virtues upon the Pilgrims founded their society: Morality, Law, Education, and Liberty.
The second statue is a replica of "La travail" (also called "The Workman") by 19th-century French sculptor Charles-Auguste Lebourg. A blacksmith sits upon his anvil, weary from the day's labor.
Here are some cool pictures of West Boylston before the reservoir.
First, a man drives a horse-drawn cart up a dirt road. The description attached to the photo is "Driving Up From the Valley." The valley housed many of West Boylston's businesses, mills, and houses; now, of course, it is the Wachusett Reservoir. Though this photograph doesn't come with information about the cart's location or the identity of the man driving it, it gives us a glimpse of what an average day in pre-reservoir West Boylston may have looked like.
The second photo depicts East Main Street (now underwater) looking down toward a park, visible at the end of the street on the right. The closest building on the right is Goslin's Blacksmith shop. The next building down is a shoe shop, and the next one is a market called Sawyer's. This street contained numerous local businesses. On the left are numerous residential buildings and a prominent stone wall in the foreground. Again, this photo doesn't come with great detail, but it shows us a slice of what the town looked like before it was flooded.
A few faces, fashions, and locations from West Boylston's pre-reservoir past
1) H.O. Sawyer & Co., a business in the grim trade of embalming and undertaking, with four men standing outside along with two horse-drawn carriages.
2) Two brave women embark across the frozen surface of the Mill Pond.
3) A man enjoys the weather while sitting on a bench at the intersection of Old Worcester Road and Prospect Street.
4) Three women and three children, with a small wagon to share, stand in the middle of Clarendon Street, possibly posing for the photographer.
Before the reservoir, West Boylston's town center was a hub of activity. Pictured below is a strip of businesses in the heart of the old town; these businesses backed up against the Mass Central Railroad and faced a small, pretty park. The first building on the right is Grand Army Hall and the local Provisions Market, outside of which a man and a dog relax on the porch.
Beside the Grand Army Hall is the police station, where a horse and carriage await a missing driver. Next to the station is the West Boylston House and D. Nault's Livery Stable, where local horse-owners or weary travelers could pay to house their horses for a night, for weeks, for months, or longer. The final visible building in the row contained a drug store and a millinery, a shop which sold women's hats.
Click here to read more about the Reservoir.