Autumn in the North Cemetery.

Sixty miles west of Boston, Massachusetts there is the small New England town of Sturbridge. Located at the junction of I-90 (The Mass Pike), and I-84 it has become known as the "Crossroads of New England". The town was first settled over 300 years ago, and like other small New England towns it has grown just enough over the years to be in a difficult place today. How do we embrace the future without forgetting how we got to our present? How do we attract the right kind of growth, and maintain who we are? And, what about our culture out here in Central Massachusetts?

These pages will cause one to think about how to protect what we have, our future direction, and how to move on in the very best way.

Those thoughts, and other ramblings, will hopefully inspire more thought, conversation, action, and occasionally a smile...

...seems to be working so far

Sunday, February 9, 2014

It's Time To Pass On Some Treasures

A number of years ago, soon after I arrived in town, I began collecting all sorts of Sturbridge related material.  I scoured Ebay, and after a period of time, I had accumulated many post cards, maps, books, and papers related to the town.

One day, the daughter of the late town historian, Winifred Tillyer, waved me over into the driveway of her childhood home across the street.  Debbie had invited me over to look through the family barn, and to take whatever I felt worth keeping.  The family was cleaning out the barn, and had a large dumpster in the driveway already containing material from the barn.  She knew of my love of history.

I was dumbfounded. It was as if the daughter of King Tut had invited me over for a play date in the pyramids, and oh, by the way, you can have whatever you think "is worth keeping".

I looked through the barn, and found a lot of old antiques, and empherma.  There was a stack of old town reports, dog license forms from the early 1900's, and other assorted items strewn about the barn along with old trunks, tools, posters, and antique clothing.

I found that someone had begun filling the dumpster, so I dove in.  There were a few large green trash bags filled with papers, along with genuine trash.  I threw the promising bags out onto the drivewa, and with Debbie looking on, I began to go through the bags.  I found a lot of papers, old maps, more town reports, and the like.  I asked her if she was serious about her offer, and she reconfirmed she was.  She wanted to make sure that no worthwhile items went to the landfill, and the ones that were worth saving went to someone who appreciated the history of the town.  I was living across the street, and had been spending my spare time rehabbing the house I was in.  She knew the house well since her family had owned t for well over a hundred years, and knew of my appreciation of history.  What I didn't want would either go into the dumpster, or to a reputable antique dealer that was scheduled to come the next day.

Hearing that, I was like a honey badger, and shifted myself into overdrive.  Soon I amassed a large collection of stuff that I had no clue what it was.   As I was packing up the items,  Debbie told me that several years before, when her mom was still alive,  an antique dealer stopped by, and offered to clean out the barn of any old "junk".  Mrs.  Tillyer agreed that he could help himself to the old "junk", but to leave the more valuable items alone.

The man cleaned her out of almost everything, and the family was heartbroken.  The family confronted the man, but he denied he had taken anything other than what he said he would.  The family knew better.  Now, Debbie was glad that the remainder of the historical town papers were going to someone that would protect them.

I was given a great responsibility that day, but I was also concerned about the items that had been taken from the elderly Mrs. Tillyer.  I wanted to see if I could somehow track them down, and what a better place to find them?  Ebay.

I was always finding Sturbridge items on  Ebay, many from the same seller that at one time had lived on Chamberlain Street with his parents.  His parents were long time collectors, and when they passed, he began to sell off their collection before putting the house on the market.  I bought a lot of those old Sturbridge items, while continuing my search for the Tillyer stolen papers.

One day, while on Ebay, I found a new listing of Sturbridge historical empherma.  It was a conglomeration of birth certificates, wedding pictures, and marriage announcements.  There were maps, booklets, and a trove of miscellaneous  items all dealing with Sturbridge, and the Tillyer, and Chamberlain family.  I was curious about where this specific collection had come from, and wrote to the seller.  He said he had recently obtained the items at an antique dealer who had bought them from another.  The items sounded a lot like the ones taken from Mrs. Tillyer.  With the help of my friend, Todd McLaren, I purchased the items from the dealer.

The items arrived a week later, and the box was loaded with what appeared to be none other than the items taken from the barn years ago.  Among the items were Mrs. Tillyers birth certificate, marriage license, and other family papers.  I called Debbie, and the next time she came up from Maryland, I presented her with the family treasures.  She was amazed, and thankful for their return.  The other historical items, that had been part of the purchase, she had no use for, and hoped I would care for them as I had the others she had given me.

The papers in my possession are priceless, and go pack to when the land was first surveyed by the order of King Charles.  I have many of the maps that historian Levi Badger Chase had drawn, and others that had been drawn by those original surveyors.  I also have the original proprietors map of the Sturbridge.  This map showed all the parcels in town that had been awarded the first settlers. There is a copy of this map in the Joshua Hyde Library, but I have the original, and mine is hand colored.

I also have a map drawn by the original surveyor of the land of Tantasques, and a hand drawn  copy by Levi Chase.  The Quinebaug River is shown in both maps, as well as the location of beaver dams, forests, lakes, and wigwams.

It is time to pass on this history to others that have the desire, location, money to preserve them, and place them on display.  Years ago I approached Bob Briere, and Charlie Blanchard of the Historical Society,  about the papers.  They were very interested in obtaining them, but I did not want them stored away in closet somewhere, and never be seen.  There was no Sturbridge Museum in town; not even a room in the town hall for displaying of historical artifacts.  I asked them for $900.00 to restore, preserve, and frame the proprietors  map. I did this because I would not only be assured the item would be taken care of, but displayed as well.  All the items would go along for the ride,and when space was available, they could be displayed.

I will never fully understand, but they turned down the offer, and told me that the Historical Society had no money for the the purchase.  I feel today, as I did then, if you want to retain these priceless relics of our past, then an investment has to be made to preserve them.  They deserve to be seen.

I have waited for a number of years for the Historical Society to come up with the funds to secure the items.  I left it with Bob, and Charlie that I  would hold the documents, maps, and books for ten years, then move on.

It's been ten years, and it's time to move on.  So, I have made the decision to pass on my collection of Sturbridge empherma, maps, booklets, and papers, but to begin with I would like to sell other items that I have bought over the years.

It is time to do some redecorating.

Those older, more historical items will be available once all these items are gone.  I hope to work out an arrangement with the town for their preservation, and display in either the town hall, or the office building.  If not, they will find a home elsewhere.

I have posted a few photographs below; look them over, and if you are interested, make me an offer, and if we can agree, it's yours.  Please pass this along to someone you fell may enjoy a bit of local history.

A automobile license plate advertising the Sturbridge Fair.
The fair was held at the fair grounds where the Host Hotel is today.

After the Fair ground was no more, one of the first drive-in theaters in the nation was on the site.
These movie posters are from 1938, five years after the first drive-in Camden, N.J..

Some of the many Sturbridge postcards I have hanging on the walls,
and sitting in a drawer.

The fair grounds was a very popular spot in town.
I had this item profesionally framed.


  1. What can be done to preserve a town's historical treasures when the town itself seems not interested? I've posted this question to the New England Genealogical Society and the Massachusetts Historical Society FB pages in the hope that someone will have some suggestions.

  2. Hey, how about incorporating a "Sturbridge Tourism and Cultural Center" in the middle of the new traffic circle? It would be a "one stop shop" for all things that Sturbridge is trying to promote: such as tourism, trekking, and even have space for a Sturbridge Museum that would house all the items, ephemera and memorabilia that Wally no longer has room for. Just a thought.

  3. How do we contact you? There are some items mentioned that my library would be interested in.

  4. Hi, my email is listed below: I am also in the book.


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