CHAMPION OF MODERN RAILROADS.
NORWOOD. June 21, 1902—One of the unique and interesting characters in Norwood is Jabez Sumner, who lives alone in Nahatan st, a very pretty residential thoroughfare, and who, for two or three generations, has been one of the best-known men in the village. He leads in part the life of a hermit, but takes his meals at one of Norwood’s best-known and most popular boarding houses.
His residence is a long, one-story building, looking something like an old-fashioned schoolhouse. This dwelling is by no means as antique as it looks, having been built in the 70’s; that is, a little less than a quarter of a century ago.
Mr Sumner, or “Jabe” Sumner, as everyone calls him, is the son of Jabez Sumner and was born in what is sometimes called the “Pigeon Swamp,’’ in Hawes neighborhood, a remote part of Norwood, bordering on North Sharon and East Walpole. He was born in the year 1818 on what was afterward known as the Moses Richards farm, a place now occupied by W. S. Bateman. “Jabe” was the eldest of a family of seven children and is a direct descendant of the same family to which the noted Gov Increase Sumner belonged and with which the great Charles Sumner was connected. Jabez Sumner’s grandfather, Ebenezer Sumner, was a soldier in the revolutionary war.
In his early youth the stage coaching era was in full swing, and “Jabe” has distinct recollections of it. The stages stopped at the old South Dedham tavern for relays of horses and refreshments. Another stop was made at the store and tavern of David Morse in East Walpole, and in South Walpole, there would appear to have been two taverns in those days. These stages passed over the old Providence turnpike, still known as Washington st over its entire distance. The stages had from four to six horses, the latter number being used in muddy weather.
There were two seats on the top of the coach and three inside. The coaches could carry 20 passengers, but 15 was an average number. The trip between Boston and Providence usually took about 12 hours, or from 4 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon. The coaches often accomplished not more than four miles an hour.
In Jabez Sumner’s boyhood, the arrival of stages was a source of considerable delight and excitement, especially to the youthful population. There was a particularly large amount of fun when a company of sailors came over by stage from Boston to Providence. These hardy seamen usually patronized the bar pretty extensively, and there was pretty sure to be much jollity and singing of sailor songs.
The old Providence railroad was first built from Boston to Canton, and later on to Providence, when Mr. Sumner was about 16 years of age.
Nearing manhood at a time when railroads first came into existence, Mr. Sumner has come to have almost an idolatry for railroads and railroad systems. He has watched their growth with delight and wonder from their very beginning, and his love of railroads may be said to be one of his leading characteristics. He has watched closely the building of most of the roads in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and has worked at the construction of some of them.
When a new railroad has been built, “Jabe” has watched its construction from its first inception with the greatest interest and solicitude. If the road was not too long he has often walked over the entire roadbed before the construction was completed. He has been very indignant with anyone who has opposed railroad building, and he regards all modern improvements with a more or less kindly eye.
He was especially delighted a few years ago when after some 40 years of waiting East Walpole, which is much nearer his own birthplace than the present center of Norwood, had its first railroad.
A month or two ago he walked over the entire roadbed of the projected new electric, line from Foxboro to Wrentham, a distance of some eight miles. He does not, however, regard electric roads with the same feeling that he did steam railroads. They seem to him less interesting and less rich in possibilities than the old steam roads.
Mr. Sumner is 84 years of age. He does not at the present time use tobacco nor has he used it for a number of years. He has never been much addicted to the use of intoxicating liquors. He has worked as a farmer, a roadbuilder, and a railroad builder, but has seldom been tied down to hard work very long at a time and his life has been on the whole a somewhat leisurely one.
About 30 years ago Mr Sumner injured his foot, and the stocking in turn injured the wound. Since that time he has left off wearing stockings, either in summer or winter nor does he wear any underclothing, with the exception of a single cotton shirt.
The genealogist of the Sumner family says they have been largely productive of deacons and soldiers, but Mr. Sumner is not religiously inclined. He has also studiously avoided military service.
He prides himself on being a follower of the teachings of Thomas Paine. His old age is passed very quietly, and he is full of an easygoing philosophy that he applies to all matters.