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Bellingham History Series Continues at Senior Center

Oct 31, 2014 06:00AM ● By Marjorie Turner Hollman

Shown at the recent Bellingham History presentation (L-R): Bill Eltzroth, Pauline Gaudini, Mary Gregoire, Diana Crooks, and speaker Marcia Crooks

“Up to the 1880s Bellingham was mostly farms,” Marcia Crooks, Chair of the Bellingham Historical Commission, explained to the crowd gathered at the Bellingham Senior Center to hear about Bellingham history. She used data taken from the 1790 and 1800 censuses to demonstrate what a small, close-knit community Bellingham was at that time. In 1790, almost half of Bellingham’s population shared one of only eight last names.

She touched briefly on Deborah Samson, renowned as a woman who disguised herself as a man to fight for independence during the American Revolution. “Deborah enlisted in Bellingham,” Crooks noted. Samson also enlisted in Uxbridge, then traveled to New York, a twelve-day journey. Crooks offered information about additional women who disguised themselves to fight for independence and related some stories that made the point that these women knew how to handle muskets and were serious about supporting the war effort.

While on the topic of the American Revolution, Crooks provided a list of ninety men from Bellingham who had served. Some of the names sound odd to modern ears—Phineas, Ichabod, Thaddeus, Amariah. Some of the last names survive in families who live in this area today, others as street names or references to specific areas here or in neighboring towns: Cook, Rockwood, Pickering, Thayer, Scott, Belcher, Chilson, Clark, Daniels, and Arnold.

Crooks noted that one of the old Boston Post roads traveled through Bellingham. She explained that there were three—upper, middle and lower post roads that connected Boston to Hartford, Connecticut. The middle post road ran along what we now know as Hartford Avenue, and since this road was headed toward Hartford, CT, the name of the road makes perfect sense.

Crooks passed around a photograph of what looked like a large slate tombstone. In fact it was a mile marker, originally posted along the Boston Post Road in Bellingham. It was moved several times and was last posted on Hartford Avenue in front of the old North School. The marker now safely resides in the Ernie Taft Memorial Historical Museum.

We learned a little background about the old town hall during Crooks’ presentation. She noted that the building was called a town house, and that several town houses were erected in different locations prior to the one that stands at the intersection of Rts. 140 and 126 in Bellingham Center. The present building was erected in 1802 for a total cost of $1000 and was designated for multiple uses. All church denominations were open to use the building, as was the town. Crooks noted that in 1814 an organization called the Bellingham Rifles was created to protect the community (not to fight in the war of 1812). It remained an active organization until the 1880s, and the numbered racks on which the rifles were stored remain in the town hall to this day.

The 1880s was a time of change in Bellingham—mills were built along the upper Charles River and in the south end of Bellingham. Caryville, in the north end of town, had a grist and woolen mill; River Road, off Rt. 126 just north of the center of town, was the site of a boot mill; and another mill was constructed on Mill Street (now closed to traffic); Silver Lake was created by damming the Peters River for the purpose of supplying power for a cotton mill.

Crooks pulled a pair of boots out of her bag. The boots looked much like what we might wear today—in fact, they looked pretty fashionable. As we passed them around, Crooks explained that the boots had been made in Bellingham over one hundred years ago at a local boot mill and had been owned by Bellingham resident Charles Burr.

As we talked about different areas of town that bear reminders of their past, Crooks pointed out that the neighborhood at the end of Lake Street and Wrentham Road was called “Rakeville.” (The office of the Bellingham Bulletin is actually located in that very area on Rakeville Circle.) She explained, “They had a factory behind the buildings that now stand at that intersection on Wrentham Road. They made rakes and other farming tools.”

Throughout the presentation people added simple comments and remembrances. Upon noting that a large barn had burned on the site of what is now the bus barn on S. Main Street, Historical Commission member Bill Eltzroth noted, “I helped fight that fire.”
There were lots of smiles, nods of recognition, and expressions of interest from both those who are life-long residents and those newer to Bellingham. If you join the fun next month, you can count on looking at our town with new eyes, when Crooks returns to the Bellingham Senior Center on Monday, Oct. 27, at 11 AM, to talk more about Bellingham history.
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