Hanging A Holly Wreath Of Memories Around Tiot’s Village Hall And Square.
A Merry Christmas At “The Hook” To Old And New Timers From Author
In the summer of 1915 they cut the heart out of Tiot, threw it on the railroad embankment like a dead cat, and put In a new heart, in short, they moved Village Hall away. On that day a page was sadly and quietly turned in the hie and memory of every Norwood citizen who was 15 years of age. For the huge, grey, sprawling, unsightly building, and its immediate neighborhood, had been the stage for most of Norwood’s civic history from the Thanksgiving night on Nov. 29th, 1860 when it was dedicated with a “Grand Opening Ball.” It is obviously impossible even to touch in this sketch upon all the history of this public building” which had been used constantly for half a century. I would like to tell the story of the town-meetings, the brilliant balls, the profitable fairs, the solemn funerals and memorial meetings, the formation of the Grand Army of the Republic, the exciting “Volunteer Meetings” which sent our men away to war, the inspiring graduation exercises of our grammar and high schools, with a host of other events of real historic interest. But since the Hall and Square were Santa Claus’ playground every Christmas during all that half-century, it is fitting to try and remember a few bits of the romance about them at the 1934 holiday season.
Stood on Folan Block Site
For you now-timers’ information, Village Hall stood approximately on the present site of the Folan block at Cottage and Washington streets. You can see what is left of the hall at the foot of Nahatan street. The front looks just as it always did. except the ground floor has been changed from stores to the plant of the “Messenger” and Ambrose Press. An addition has been built on the rear of the building.
South Dedham Hall Co.
The building of Village hall was a courageous and public-spirited investment, made in 1859 and I860 by Lyman Smith, Joseph Day and, I feel quite sure although I have not proved it, George E. Talbot. There may perhaps have been others in the South Dedham Hall Company. Unless you can visualize our little, dried-up, unprogressive village of the ’50’s, rent by religious bickerings, you cannot fairly estimate the nerve it required to erect a three-story building covering 15,222 square feet, which was to be rented for business and hall purposes. Nevertheless, it went up, on land which had belonged to George D. Guild and Joel M. Baker. The original building was without the rear “El” which was added later. Both were built by Tyler Thayer.
Grand Opening Ball
Dancing commenced at 8 o’clock at the grand opening ball in the new hall on the second floor. The guests, dressed for what was the greatest social event up-to-date in South Dedham, entered at the door at the extreme right of the building, climbed straight up the stairs, turned left and entered the hall through double doors and came out under a gallery which extended the entire width of the south end of the hall. I can Imagine that the naturally bare and unlovely hall was decorated, as the expression then was “to the nines.” Evergreen festoons and flags along the balcony rail and over the high arched windows. And connecting the great hanging chandeliers of kerosene lamps. The stage was at the north end—a plain, raised platform four feet high and running from wall to wall, with steps on each end. Later, the owners had an arch, drop-curtain, and wings, with other scenery, which could be set up for plays and concerts. Tonight this stage was probably open but ablaze with American flags—for this was ’60! One month later, on Dec. 26, Fort Sumpter was fired on. Civil war raged. The stage was a fitting background for the famous Gilmore’s Quadrille Band, specially imported from Boston for this great event.
“Take Your Partners”
“Introductory Music and Sicilian Circle ’ started the order of dances. The “Circle” was, perhaps, a hot-blooded Italian affair designed to melt the ice. Then, on the gleaming wax of the new floor, the guests danced 29 square and round dances, under the expert guidance of C. W. Knowlton, prompter. For years after he was Norwood’s most popular dance director and dynamo The dances included cotillons, contras waltzes, schottisches, waltz quadrilles’ polkas, and polka quadrilles. Gay sets wore “formed at the sound of the cornet,” to quote the program before me. Among the popular music, I notice: “Jubal,” “Money Musk,” “Lady. Walpole’s Reel,” “Wallerstein,’ “Chorus Jig” (you see the singing jazz orchestra is no new thing), “Hull’s Victory,” “Frederick’s Trombonioso,” “Martha,” “Portland Fancy,” “Merry Dance” and the “Grand Basket” with which Prompter Knowlton ended up the brilliant affair by weaving the crowd into a wild, laughing, hysterical mass of waving arms and low-cut, gleaming shoulders. And of course, through it. an. were the ever-enchanting strains of the two waltz kings, Spohr, and Strauss.
Who Was There?
Everyone who pretended to be anybody was undoubtedly present. It was Norwood’s first great get-together. Although the guests did not realize it, this was perhaps the beginning of the end of the quarrel between the two largest Protestant churches—a sort of love-feast. And the war gave them something to think about except their petty church squabble. All I can say definitely is that my father dances the fifth, cotillon with Henrietta Doane, and the eighth and eighteenth cotillon with the girl he married in May two years later, the ninth cotillon with Mrs. Pend, and the seventeenth with a lady by the name of Turner. The nineteenth contra he had with Martha Day—but it was scratched on his dance rider.
The floor managers were A. N. Winslow, M. C. Hoyle, J. H. Birch, F. E. Everett. Lewis Day and J. E. Smith. Little did Johnnie Birch realize that jolly evening that three years later he would die of fever on Aug 15 at Over-ten Hospital, Memphis, Tenn. In January 1863, he wrote home from “In a fitting climax which made the hall front of Fredricksburgh ‘ . . . ‘ The echo and throb with the stamping and wagons and large suns got stuck in the mud, so we have to lay on ours for a time. The mud is very deep and it is almost impossible for the teams to get along. The Rebs have poles stuck up on the side of the river and a board on them, and inscribed thereon: “Old Burnside Stuck in the Mud.” That is tough bully for the Rets! . . . I would like to see Lewis Guild out here on the wet ground. His eyes would run worse than they did when he got up late and came to shop without his bitters. That’s what’s the matter! Alfred Ellis and Clinton Bagley joined us last Friday. They find things different from what they expected.”
Village hall teetered on the edge of a volcano that crisp Thanksgiving eve!
In a few weeks, the lava of war swept over quiet Tiot Village. A grim sign “Volunteers Wanted” was stuck over the door which is now the entrance of the Messenger office. Village hall had begun to function. Here, in a long, narrow room which was later to be the post office and newspaper store of Anson “Pod” Gay, and later still the editorial rooms of the Messenger, was the recruiting officer. Through this door the South Dedham boys came, with an ache in their heart and a brave grin on their faces. To many, it was the door of a tomb. To some, the beginning of life-long illness and suffering. To all, the beginning of an experience which was to change their entire outlook on life. And this room, with the main hall upstairs, became the contact-point of South Dedham with the Civil war for five endlessly-long years. Beside this door was the bulletin board of “Dead” and “Wounded.” And when it was all over, it was in Village hall for many years that the G A R. held its meetings—where fiery speeches were made— where the Woman’s Relief Corps made up the floral pieces for Memorial Day in the same spot where they had scraped lint and rolled bandages. Here the veterans formed for the long, dusty march up the hill to Highland cemetery—and here they returned to eat the Memorial Day luncheon prepared by the women of the Corps and the Sons of Veterans. Now both hall and veterans are gone.
Two Priceless Relics
Yes. they have gone, But two priceless relics remain of the first “Volunteer Meeting” called at Village hall to whip up enthusiasm and cannon-fodder.
Village hall was packed with old and young. President Lincoln’s proclamation of war was pasted on the bulletin board downstairs. The insult to Sumpter’s lowered colors was burning in every heart. It is likely that this same loved red. white and blue met the eye at every point.
The front seats were occupied by a full company of recently enlisted volunteers, who had marched up from the Readville training camp that day and drilled in the Everett Schoolyard previous to the meeting. This, to the intense excitement of every small boy in Tiot, including Ralph Fogg, from whom I get this information.
Addison Boyden was the chairman of the meeting. You can be sure Parson George Hill made a speech which drove the audience to a frenzy. Other local men fanned the blaze higher. And between speeches, urging the young men of Tiot to go to war, the South Dedham band under the baton of Whiting Smith, played all those marching tunes of the Civil war which will never die. “Johnnie Get Your Gun , “Tenting Tonight,” “Dan Tucker” Yankee Doodle,” all the old favorites, which were new favorites then- blared through the tense atmosphere of this memorable meeting.
Then Addison Boyden arose and said- “Ladies and Gentlemen: We have had the pleasure of listening to this excellent and full-sized band. Now we are going to hear a miniature band. Here it is—” And he led forward a little twelve-year-old girl, in a black-and-white checked dress with low-cut shoulders. Her black hair was parted exactly in the middle. Her black eyes danced with excitement. She held in her arms a large French accordion.
She was Miss Amelia Savels, later to become Mrs. George O. Capen, mother of our Miss Ciara Capen of Vernon St. Mr. Boyden’s little joke was that her nickname was “Minny”—the miniature band, you see. And Minny proceeded to play on her French accordion, with precision and fire, all the pieces which the big band had just rendered! It was a fitting climax which made the hall echo and throb with the stamping and applause.
Today, in a clear daguerreotype owned by Miss Capen, you may see “Minny” just as described above, with the accordion In her lap. And if you are musical (and a friend lof Miss Capen’s) you may take the accordion out of its original box and play “Yankee Doodle” upon it, if you are able. For it is in perfect condition, every ivory key on the job, with nary a hole in the gaily checkered bellows. Both the daguerreotype and accordion are destined, some day, to go to Day House and be tenderly preserved by the Norwood Historical Society.
Early Hall Tenants
There were two large stores, on the ground floor of Village hall.-The one to the right of “Pod” Gay’s paper store was Moses Webb’s grocery emporium-later taken over by Harvey L. Boyden. Next to Webb’s was L. W. Bigelow’s dry goods store. Both concerns started as soon as the hall was built. Bigelow’s continued under that style until the hall was moved away, a half-century of service to the community. One of the first of Mr. Bigelow’s pretty sales-people was Francina Morse, known by hundreds of friends and customers as “Tina” Morse. She was the mother of our Mr. Ray Alden. Many other young people were employed by Mr. Bigelow during the life of the store.
A Country Dry Goods Store
The original store was small. Later it was extended back into the addition and also took in the basement. “Bigelow’s” was the Christmas mecca for hosts of people in and far around Norwood for many years. It was just a rather dark, cluttered-up country dry goods store, with an overpowering smell of calico and many generations of customers. No one worried much about ventilation in those days. One could buy almost anything at Bigelow’s. And if it was not stocked. Mr. Bigelow would get it in Boston-—eventually. When he put in a line of Christmas toys in the ’90’s, it. was an event. I’ll bet he even advertised it in the Advertiser and Review, our local rag at that time! To the Norwood boy and girl, a Christmas trip to Bigelows with their parents was as thrilling almost -as a trip to Boston. Bigelow s—Boy -den’s—Village Hall! Do they remind you of anything, old-timers?
“Pod” Gay Introduces Peanuts
An innovator deserves his niche in history. Mr. Anson Gay lived in the house on Washington street Ellis, now owned by Mrs. George Bird. For a long time, the humble goober was regarded aS a low-life vegetable – vulgar food and a country fair racket Nevertheless Mr. Gay decided to feature peanuts at his paper-store and Post-offlce in Village Hall. And being a thrifty yank he raised them on his farm down at Ellis and imported them into Tiot. It was regarded as a great joke by the boys around town. So Mr. Gay was christened “Pod” in honor of the peanut.
Tiot Boys Draw The Line
He used to advertise his peanuts by keeping a huge bag of them standing by his store door on the Hall platform which ran the entire length of the building The Village dogs, however, got the mistaken idea that peanuts grew on trees and that the bag was a tree. The all-seeing Tiot kid, noting this quaint error of the dogs, never under any circumstance, would buy or eat any of “Pod’s” peanuts. And it is said that in after-years, Norwood men had a decided aversion to the luscious goober. John Gillooly, to this day, can’t abide even the smell of peanut butter.
“Pod” also featured a homemade spruce beer to which Sumner Ellis prefixed the classic title, “Pod Gay’s East Wind.”
Orient Lodge Buys Hall
On July 17ih. 1858. Lyman Smith and Joseph Day, as trustees of the South Dedham Hall company, sold the land and the Village Hull building to Chauncey C. Churchill. John E Smith and William S. Gay acting as trustees for the Orient Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons, for the sum of $7590.00. Thus the Masonic organization became the owners of the property which it held until The Hall was moved to Broadway. Soon after they acquired it, they furnished the third floor as a lodge room. In 1876. they built a large extension on the rear of the building, in the third floor of which I understand, they found more commodious quarters for the lodge activities. Here they stayed until they built their present Day street building.
A Good Investment
It is safe to say that this was the best real estate investment ever made in Norwood, in proportion to the capital invested. For $7500 the Masons secured a property in the heart of the business section. It was used constantly for half a century. It never was damaged by fire. All three floors were rented The Masons did not. have to pay any lodge-room rent, being owners There was scarcely a tune when there was a foot of space vacant in Village Hall. It was the only available, large meeting hall in town. The main hall itself used to rent, for around $30.00 for a full day (for a fair etc.), or $15 to $20 for an evening affair. The store rentals were not excessive, but they were not cheap. And aside from the addition mentioned above, the Masons never spent any great amount of money on improvements or overhead. All in all, Messers Churchill. Smith and Gay must have bought something for their brothers on that July day in 1868.
Three Other Little Tenants
There’s a few other small tenants who must not be omitted. They are James Jennessc, “tailor and gent’s furnishings”, to quote an 1890 directory. Warren E. Rhodes and the Norwood public library.
Jim Jennesse had a tiny tailoring shop back of “Pod” Gray’s store, with an entrance on the north end of the building up an outside flight of steps. Jim crawled into this snug little hole early in the Hall’s history and stayed there until ho died in the late 90’s. He was a rather lonely and forsaken one. He is important in the picture because every boy in Norwood knew Jim and patronized him. Not for clothes—but for tops, marbles. fish-hooks, bats, balls, dime novels, pistols, cartridges, caps, and a world of other things a boy holds dear. There was a glass-covered case on the left-hand side as you entered. To me, and to hundreds of other youngsters, it was a treasure chest. I almost rubbed my nose off on the glass. It was a popular sport with some of the more unscrupulous lads, to go in with a gang, and while some engaged the near-sighted old German in a fake prospective purchase the others in the crime would swipe a bat or a couple of balls or what have you. In the rear was the work shop where Jim sat cross-legged on a wide, low shelf while he sewed the worn pants of Tiot. I have often sat with him while he talked softly of the old days in the old country. To this day I don’t know if he had a family or not.
Rhoad’s Fish Market
Down in the basement, under “Pod” Gay’s store, was Warren E. Rhoads fish market. This was in the ’80’s. It was a great hang-out for a gang of old cronies, including Charlie Rogers. John Courtney. George Draper. Tommy Ellis, and George E Stewart.
Library Rents Twice
In 1866. the church library of the Congregational Society was moved from the church vestry, corner of Walnut avenue and Washington streets, to two -mall rooms on the third door of Village Hall. But the rooms were hard to reach, and dark and hot when you shinned up to them. So in 1873, the library stockholders offered the 1400 vols. to the new town as a gift, with the stipulation they would become a free public library. They were accepted and moved to Hartshorn’s block over Tinker’s store. Here the public library began to flourish under Miss Fustlna I. Thompson, the first regularly employed librarian. In 1885 the circulation had grown so large that it was decided to move the library back to Village Hall. The new quarters consisted of one large room on the ground floor of the rear addition of the building on the south-west comer. One reached It by walking along an outdoor platform extending the entire width of the building. Previously this room had been used as a small hall for various organizations, such as the “Band of Hope”, “Sons of Temperance”. “Women’s Relief Corps”, and the like. Hence the 5000 volumes of the library were distriributed until they were moved to the new Morrill Memorial Library in 1898.
Tiot’s Social Center
It is of course utterly useless to try to give a picture of what the large auditorium in Village Hall was to Norwood as a social center during its half-century of existence. It would fill a small book of excellent reading. Just to pick two episodes at random:
Edison’s First Record
Dr. Ralph Fogg, when a boy. attended a fair in the hall where a man was exhibiting a curious machine that reproduced the human voice. It was in the ante-room at the rear of the hall under the gallery. where Catere-Police-man Warren Rhoads usually dished out the See cream. In the room, Dr. Fogg says he saw a large box with a big horn on it and a crank on the side. The man started the machine buzzing and a small cylinder, covered with tin-foil, to whirling. Out of the horn came a man’s voice reciting was the first master-record Edison “Mary Had a Little Lamb”.” It was the voice of Thomas Edison, the inventor of the first phonograph. The exhibitor gave Ralph Fogg a piece of this tin-foil, about two by three inches in size, with Edison’s recording on it in distinct hills and dales. He has it today in perfect condition. The writer has seen it. Sometime it will become one of the most valued possessions of the Norwood Historical Society.
Just as the first phonograph record in the world was heard in our old hall, so the first wireless apparatus was demonstrated there. The writer remembers one winter afternoon, after school, when he went down to Village Hall to see something all the Everett School kids were discussing. This was sometime in the ’90s.
Blur Flashes Without Wires
Two elaborate machines were set up in the main hall. One was on the stage and the other was back the length of the hall, under the gallery. Each had many wet batteries, wires, and other gadgets. A thin pole with a knob on the end rose from each. When the man on the platform did something to his machine, bright blue sparks shot from the knob on his antennae (for that is what it was, of course). At the same instant, similar devilish sparks crackled from the antennae under the balcony. The group of men giving the demonstration, which was free made it plain that there were no wires connecting the two machines. And during the short sales talk which those stock-salesmen gave, they made the laughable statement that this “wireless telegraphy” was going to do away with the telegraph poles with which we boys wore familiar, and all telegraphy would be done without wires’ Then the .salesmen made a mighty effort to sell stock in the Marconi Company at $10 a share. I do not remember seeing anyone buy any. I do not cven know if the show was on the level. But if it actually was the first Marconi system. Tiot lost, a good chance to get in on the ground floor of radio.
Flood of Old Programs
Somehow or other, since I began to write this story of Village Hall, the news has got out and I have received many free offers from kind friends of local programs of affairs at Village Hall. It is certainly mighty nice of you folks and I deeply appreciate it. Aller all, the story of Village Hall is the story of the town meetings, fairs, balls, funerals, patriotic and memorial meeting,. high and grammar school graduations, and the other thousand-undone public affairs in this one large hall of Norwood’s. I suspect that Charlie Hayford and Miss Clara Capen alone have enough program material tp enable me to write a book on Village Hall. But the Messenger, unfortunately for me and luckily for you is not a book. But if you like this yarn, send ’em along to me, friends, and I’ll write another piece. I will end this story with a brief description of a Universalist. Church fair, because it was an annual Christmas event that half the town worked on and the entire Village attended.
A Booth for Each Month
Quoting a December Issue of the Norwood Advertiser and Review of 1887 we get the following picture of a Universalist Fair at the time when they were at the peak of popularity and success:
“The Universalist Fair of 1887 is over and like its predecessors, is a grand success. In artistic beauty and display it excelled all others ever held here and people remarked frequently that they never saw the Hall look so well. It was a brilliant idea in arranging the twelve booths according to the twelve months, and the idea was most elaborately carried out. January was a thatched roof with cotton and mica for snow and frost, and a snowman at the side. Here were woolen goods of various kinds. Mrs. Allen Talbott and Mrs. James Hartshorn were in charge.
“February, a snow and evergreen booth used for a Post Office. Mrs. Fredrick H. Hartshorn was the Post Mistress. March, a straw roof with a picture of a March wind and umbrellas turned inside out. Mrs. Lewis Day and Mis. Albert Webb attended this breezy booth. Small and useful household articles found here. April, covered with Japanese parasols, was the candy booth and Mrs. Davis S Fogg and Mrs. Charles Pond attended many customers.
May, a colored bunting canopy, with stuffed birds mounted here and there. It was Mrs. George W. Gay’s apron table, with Mrs. George Bateman assisting. June, a canopy of lace draperies. attended by Mrs. Henry W Barrett. Mrs. Sarah Thompson and Mrs. Marcia Winslow. July, flags and Chinese lanterns—the refreshment table, with Maria Colburn and Nellie Babcock doing the honors. August, a boat with sail set—the fish pond with Mrs. Stanford Mitchell and Mrs. F. W. Talbot. as the managing anglers. September, straw, wheat and corn covering the decoration—the harvest home of canned fruit, and vegetables. Mrs. Addie Cragin and Mrs. Perley Thompson were the housewives. October, a covering of furs with sluffed animals for decorations- the cake table with Miss Fannie Cragin and Mrs. Fred Colburn as managers November, snow-covered roof with embroidered draperies, fancy goods, table with Mr.Frank Fales and Miss Susie Wheelock as saleswomen. December. a roof of evergreens. the Christmas Home of Dolls and Christmas goods. Mrs. Albert Webb, Mrs. Charles Pond and Mrs. Ezra Hubbard in charge.
The first night of the fair saw a big crowd present and a good crowd on the second night, not withstanding the rain. The music of the home orchestra of five pieces was very acceptable each night and the farces were given in a most entertaining manner, with great credit to the participants. The tables were well patronized and the money taken will doubtless go ahead of former years. The ladies of the Circle have worked hard for success and were well repaid for their toil. No definite figure can be given at this writing.”
Kindly, Whimsical Ghosts!
I don’t know how you feel about it. Old Timers, but this Tiotian finds no place in Norwood where the kindly, whimsical ghost of the past crowd and press so instantly as they do around the skeleton of Village Hall.
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