Crooks Gives History Lesson at Bellingham Senior Center
story & photo by Teri Borseti,, Bulletin Contributing WriterMarcia Crooks, chairperson for the town’s Historical Commission, was pleased to see how many men and women showed up at the Bellingham Senior Center on a sunny June morning to hear her speak on the subject of Bellingham’s history.
The Crooks family has lived in town for five generations, and the former teacher talked about a time in the 1600s when only Indians lived here. Before Bellingham became a town, it was part of Dedham, Wrentham and Mendon and home to Wampanoag tribes. “In the late 1600s many of the settlers who had moved to the area were forced to abandon their homes and return to Dedham. Indians had burned down houses and killed several people,” Crooks said.
In November of 1719 the town was incorporated. Sir Richard Bellingham, a lawyer, was one of the original twenty-six members to draw up the Massachusetts Bay Colony Charter, and the town was named after him.
Most of those in attendance at the program were life-long Bellingham residents with a real interest in the town’s history. The interactive group shared some stories of their own about what Bellingham was like when they were kids. Jeanne Thayer-Kempton and Gordon Curtis have known each other since first grade and enjoyed reminiscing about a time when most of the town still had dirt roads and while walking to school they rarely even saw a car. Curtis recalled the origin of the town’s beautiful Silver Lake: “There used to be a small spring that my brothers and some others dug out, and that body of water is now known as Silver Lake,” he said.
Kempton remembered how they used to clean the snow off the lake in winter and skaters would come from all over town. Curtis said skaters used to light bonfires. “We used to bring a potato from home and put it on the fire. Nothing tasted as good as those fresh hot potatoes when it was cold out,” he said.
Kempton said her father owned Thayer’s, a general store in town. “He was the original Peapod®. He used to go from house to house taking grocery orders, and then he’d deliver them in the afternoon,” she said.
The group shared stories about telephone party lines and ring codes. Many remembered when there was just one policeman in town and everyone knew their neighbors. “It was a whole different culture back then. People who had cars used to beep when they passed our house,” Kempton said.
According to Crooks, Bellingham was once home to over 40 dairy and poultry farms, but because the soil was so rocky much of it was considered wasteland. Crooks commented that when people dug to build a house they used the rocks to erect their foundations. “Back then a stake in a pile of stones served as a land marker,” she said. She added that stone walls found in the woods today were probably property markers or a way to keep animals from getting out. She also noted that there was a time when a simple handshake sealed a deal in town.
Crooks had brought a couple of historic items to the meeting. One was a framed muster roll from 1756. Information about people, where they lived, and how many pounds and shillings they were paid are written on the page in pencil. She also had a tracing of the gravestone of Nicholas Cook, one of the town’s founding fathers, who is buried in Bellingham. She passed out several pamphlets and handouts, including a copy of the Bellingham town seal.
Crooks, attending the event with her sister Diana, was happy to see her old friend and classmate Mary Gregoire, one of just 17 students in her graduating class.
There were plenty of comments and questions, and it was easy to see that the group had a real appreciation for the town’s history.
The program was planned by Sheila Ronkin, outreach coordinator and program developer for the Senior Center, where, she said, there’s always something fun going on. In addition to the center’s being open daily until 4 pm, Ronkin recently started scheduling activities a couple of evenings a week, 6–8 pm. “We offer things like chair volley ball, genealogy, yoga and Thai Chi. We also offer an informative class about digital cameras that’s taught by Nancy Bland. Now we plan to add a new program, about positive energy,” said Ronkin.
“We have monthly birthday parties, quilting, a bowling team and a regular group that plays pool at the center,” said Ronkin. The Bellingham Council on Aging works to help residents with fuel assistance, food stamps and hot lunches provided by the high school for two dollars.
Ronkin noted that there are 3,000 people over age 60 in Bellingham, and there’s something for every one of them at the senior center.