Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Crane School

The Original Crane School

Ah, the sweet taste of Corvus brachyrhynchos (Common Crow) which was recently consumed by my good friend and fellow local historican, James Roache. I was researching the Canton Postcard History and came across the glass ambrotype (above) of what was marked the Crane School. This image was taken sometime after 1854 and is a very early image. Folks who remember the Crane School are more likely to recall a very different building in Canton Center. Indeed, all the photos I have seen show an entirely different structure, and that is what puzzled me as well.

On April 18, 1854 a new school was dedicated in District No.3 (Canton Center) According to Daniel Huntoon, this house, when built was declared to be a building “which in beauty of architecture, completeness of design and adaptation, is unequalled” The land on which it stands has been owned and occupied by Major General Elijah Crane; for which reason the committee aptly named the school after Crane.

The Crane School housed students from the first grade to high school level. The first examination for high school level took place at the Crane School in 1866 and continued there until a High School was built in 1869. The school district system was abolished in 1868 and the Town took possession of the schoolhouses in 1870. From that time forward the “School Committee” directed all school activities.

So, if the photo above depicts the Crane School, why do we remember such a different building as portrayed in the postcard to the left? Forty years after the original structure was completed, the building exhibited major deficiencies. Poor ventilation, heating, plumbing and a floor plan that could not meet the needs of the students and a burgeoning local population. By the turn of the century the defects were still not addressed, in particular the use of individual stoves for heating of the classrooms. By 1903, no major improvements were made with exception of needed repairs for a leaky roof, broken windows and other minor repairs or painting. By 1906, the town voted to spend $16,000 for some much needed improvements to the fifty-two year old structure. Architects from Boston were hired and they produce plans that completely changed the appearance of the building. The total cost of the remodeling was $16,966.80 and the Superintendent reported that “we have a modern substantial structure" ... The change has been so great both within and without that no trace of the old arrangement remains."

Indeed, the change was great. The roofline, was entirely recreated, new systems installed throughout, and the side wings extended. Some of the signature clues of the original building remained, however, and this is where Messrs. Comeau & Roache disagreed. I absolutely saw that the architects played off of the paladian windows, the fluted columns of the pediment and entrance and the decorative quoins on the corners and below the roofline. There were other smaller and obscure clues, and I felt sure something major had changed over time. But, Mr. Roache was having none of my folderol over this building, insisting it may have been another school that Canton children had attended but not necessarily located in Canton. Then, at the Historical Society I spied another photo lying on a display case. A casual glance at an exterior view of a schoolhouse with graduates in front resurrected the friendly argument. Mr. Roache listened to my case and promised to revisit this issue in the near future. Within a few hours the answer was found and we learn that the building had had multiple lives over it's 113 year history.

By 1949, the last graduates exited the building and in 1950 the school committee turned the property over to the Selectmen. The end for the Crane School was in sight. At the end of 1954 a Planning board report on the property was completed and present by John T. Blackwell to the March Town Meeting in 1955. It was voted to accept the report and approve $6,000 to raze the building and prep the lot of possible sale. Town Meeting of 1967 finally voted to sell the lot with the stipulation that said land to be used by the purchaser primarily for a super market. The loss of this building has long remained a point of great sadness for Cantonians. All we have are the memories and the photographs, and now we have another version of the school to miss. Thank you Jim, for the Corvus brachyrhynchos, next time the dish will be mine to consume.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Arcadia Publishing
Postcard History Series
Canton, Massachusetts
written by George T. Comeau

publication release date: November 2009

Canton is a town like so many New England towns. Here you will find a rich history that extends back to early connections with the founding fathers and to an expansive industrial center made possible by superb water rights and one of the first railroads in the nation. Our town is proud of the location we occupy in American history, enriched by strong associations with patriots, industrialists, great thinkers and doers. Inside this book are postcards and photographs that capture the spirit of enterprise and pride in our community.

Over 200 photographs, many never before published, are collected in one book that showcases the outstanding history of Canton. Landmarks that have long been lost and new ones to be discovered are part of a fascinating book.

Order your copy today. Or, fill out the form below and you will receive invitations to release events and scheduled talks. Read more about this book in a recent article that appeared in the Canton Citizen.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Looking North

Looking North

While writing the upcoming book that features early views and postcards from Canton, I came upon plenty of great material that just could not fit into the space provided. And so the blog is a perfect place to share these images and build upon some great material that would otherwise still be in obscure places. 

This is a glass plate negative that is in the collection of the Canton Historical Society. It is amazing to search the basement cabinets and find negatives that have not been seen in over 100 years. In this case, there was a dusty box, heavy with dirt and placed in a lead lined draw - the boxes contain the fruits of the Kanton Kamera Klub (KKK) and the photography is at times beautiful, poignant, and plain. The glass plates are fragile, quite old, and remarkable in their clarity and detail. Modern scanning equipment does away with the need for a darkroom and enlarger as well as chemicals and a printing process. The result is immediately gratifying and always with a sense of "wow".  

The photo was taken after 1897 and the photographer is standing just to the front of Memorial Hall on Washington Street looking north. The scene is wonderfully familiar because the Trinity Episcopal Church (now Schlossberg-Solomon) is a great focal point. This photo was taken the around the same year the church was built at a cost of $5000.00. There is a wonderful story about the bell that hung in this belfry. In 1906 the Revere & Sons Company began to dissolve the property on Revere Street. During the Civil War the Union Army would confiscate cannons, armaments, and bells to be shipped north and into the hands of the Revere Company in Canton to be melted down and recast into cannons for the war effort. A bell that had been cast in 1856 was confiscated during in New Orleans and shipped with other heavy scrap to Canton. The peal and ring of this bell was so beautiful that it was saved by the Revere Family (no stranger to bells) and used on the property. Edward H.R. Revere donated this bell to the Trinity Episcopal Church in 1906.  By 1969 the church had outgrown it's small building and a new home was established at the foot of the Blue Hill. The bell was moved to bell tower and continues to ring out as it has for more than 150 years in four locations. 

Another observation in this photograph is the Blue Hill Street Railway BHSR tracks that run through right side of the frame. The tracks actually help date the photo. The mystery is that clearly written on the paper sleeve that protects the glass plate is 1897 - but I do not think this is entirely accurate given that the BHSR was not chartered until 1899. There are a few other glass plate negatives that were taken at this same point and on the same day, so more research is in order. This is, however, a wonderful glimpse looking at Washington Street as an unpaved dirt road that hints at a future Canton.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Postal Train Wreck

The Postal Train Wreck

As a commuter to Boston, every day for the past twenty-six years, I have often thought back over the many aspects of the railroad that connects Canton with Boston and Providence. The Viaduct and Junction have always held a certain fascination for me. I occasionally see a train buff down at the siding photographing the Acella as it speeds through at 100 plus miles per hour. And, with the great speed and congestion along the routes it is always comforting to know that advanced switches and sensors ensure our safety on each trip into Boston.

This was not the case on the morning of Monday, August 8, 1898 when residents awoke to the sounds of a deadly and devastating crash at Canton Junction. Hundreds of residents rushed to the scene of the fatal crash that involved Train 70; the Boston Bound Mail Train. The train carrying fourteen mail clerks and comprised four cars left New York City at 11:30 PM Sunday night. As the train approached Canton Junction in an instant the cars slammed off the track. The train plowed towards Canton Junction and the speed caused them to quite literally dig into the stone track bed. Three men were killed and fourteen mail clerks were injured.  The clerks described being “tossed around like dice” in the railroad cars. It took some time to rescue the clerks, and the dead men were extracted late the same day. 

The Canton Journal reported from the scene and the New York Times picked up on the story the next day.

The morning was clear and when crossing the Viaduct engineer Sheldon could easily discern the signals, which indicated a clear track. Apparently there was no warning to the doomed men. As a rule with a clear track express trains slide over the bridge at fifteen to twenty miles an hour and on reaching the straight track the throttle is opened and by the time the depot was reached the speed is practically doubled. This appears to have been the case this morning.. It seems doubtful if steam was shut off before the switch was reached. Those in the cars felt no application of brakes and the few lookers-on were too horrified by the sudden catastrophe to be able to recollect just what was the condition at the moment the engine left the rails.

The rails turned the locomotive from the straight track and the momentum being too great to allow the heavy machine to be so abruptly turned from its course, it plunged diagonally across the switch and dived like an immense plow into the space between the tracks. The road bed was excavated to the depth of a yard for some fifty feet, the planking in front of the baggage-room carried away, and leaving the forward truck in front of the depot, the machine fell on its side and with well nigh everything stripped from boiler and frame, lay blowing off steam just north of the depot on the outbound track. The first car of the train followed the engine till its fall, when it also turned on its side, falling over on the turn-out west of the outbound track and slid by the tender cutting off the top of the cab and catching one of the unfortunate men on the engine under its forward end, crushed him into the ground beneath it. The other two men were found beneath the ruined cab. In this car were five mail clerks, who were thrown around, to use the expression of one of them, "like dice in a box." All were more or less injured and their wounds being temporarily dressed, were taken to Boston on a train at 6:30 to the hospital, where they were attended to and with the exception of Buckland sent home. The latter remained at the hospital, but is not thought to be dangerously hurt. The trucks of all the cars, the gas tanks, brake cylinders and all the rigging underneath the cars stuck in the trench dug by the locomotive in front of the baggage door and only the forward locomotive truck passed that spot. The second car laid right side up diagonally across the three tracks, while the third formed almost a right angle with it, the front end lifted high on the wrecked trucks lacking only a few inches of driving into the shelter roof of the station. The fourth car alone remained on its trucks, but the forward one was broken to such an extent as to require heavy chains to hold it together and was terribly strained. The track and interlocking signals were torn up and scattered in every direction.

By all accounts this was a horrific crash. The three dead were dug out several hours after the crash and after being viewed by the medical examiner, were taken by a local undertaker. The train crash was duly investigated and a faulty switch was discovered at the point where the Stoughton Branch joins the main-line.  Railroad historian Ed Galvin devoted a full chapter in his seminal A History of Canton Junction which he published in 1987. Galvin's book features additional photographs and a complete  discussion of this fatal accident.

The Canton Journal also remarked upon the huge number of people who came to view the "ruins" and observed several "cameras" in evidence.  This photo was probably taken Fred Endicott or W. Ames - both of whom were there that day and were members of the Kanton Kamera Klub (KKK). The KKK was a group of local men who took great delight in discussing and taking photographs of Canton landmarks and everyday life. The train wreck is another example of history passing through and we have witnesses who still speak to us one hundred and eleven years later.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Friary

The Friary
As you drive down Pleasant Street heading towards the Luce School, on your right is a stone entrance to a subdivision known as Chapelgate. The subdivision was built in early 1993 and has several handsome nondescript homes designed and built by CanFour Development a local building company that has been headed up by part of the Jenkins Family. The roadway is in the same location as the driveway in the photo featured this week.

I was there the day they tore this stunning building down. Just hours prior I had walked through the grand house, had perused the closets and even saved an art-deco desk from the wreckage. Time had ended for this building and under the precepts of "highest and best use" it was time to transform the acreage into luxury homes. The only remnant of the past are the names on the streets - Chapelgate and Abbey Lane - alluding to the past use of the property.

The building that I remember was the Sacred Heart Friary owned by the Franciscan Fathers and was located at 540 Pleasant Street. Polish Franciscan Fathers used this country estate as a retreat and they tended to large gardens on the grounds. The building was acquired by the Polish Fathers around 1938 and used for many years. The stately estate had a mansion that contained 15 rooms, 5 tile baths, a caretaker’s cottage, and extensive orchard and garden, a three car garage and eight acres of land. Most of what I have learned was from a simple property advertisement that listed the land and buildings for sale for $14,000 in the early 1930’s. As in the photo, the house was well set back on the property and was quite an imposing structure. 

The original property was even larger. As you drive past Chapelgate you will also pass the Knights of Columbus Hall. In 1960, a portion of the land owned by the Franciscan's was sold to the Columbian Associates, Inc. and became the property of the Knights of Columbus where they erected the Council headquarters.

Another example of using land to the greatest and highest use. The property today generates a fair share of tax revenue to the town as the sixteen homes are well manicured, plush, and typical of late 20th century architectural sensibilities that have classic non-intrusive values. The homes themselves are full of modern conveniences - Jacuzzi's, cathedral ceilings, multi-zone heating and central vacuum systems. A far cry from the original estate house.  In time the names of the streets will be the only ghosts that remain.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Coming Soon

Postcards of Canton
publication date - November 2009
Reserve your copy today
(order form below)

I think that my first postcard of a Canton landmark was of the Blue Hill Weather Observatory. And while strictly not "Canton" it was close enough for me. Over the years of traveling to various antique stores and print shops, invariably it was the box of postcards that would occupy my time. searching for a card that was from my hometown was so elusive, and yet over the years a card or two would pop up and I would buy it for a dollar or two.

This all changed in 1996 when eBay opened up a word of connections to postcards and buying became as simple as typing in a search command. Of course, other collectors quickly discovered the virtual postcard box and competition was fierce. Cards that would cost one or two bucks were now commanding twenty dollars. Local collectors were stealthy in both their identity and tactics. Over time the collection grew, and still the question remained - how many cards are there?

Postcards are stories, short messages to loved ones and a view of a landmark that would be considered "prominent". Many cards were sent home from workers in mills, or immigrant laborers who began to call Canton home at the turn of the last century. The views of the Neponset Woolen Mills, Paul Revere & Sons, Washington Street, local churches, historic homes and our public buildings.

Earlier this year Arcadia Publishing agreed to produce a book that features all of the best images from Canton's history as connected by postcards produced in the early 19th century. The idea for the book came from this blog and from working closely with key local collectors and historians. My small collection along with cards from the Canton Historical Society and the Canton Public Library - Daniel Keleher Collection were the foundation. Charles Crespi and Peter Sarra gave access to their extensive and fine collections which provides a rare glimpse into superb and rare sets.

After six months of research, scanning and writing captions what emerged was a collection of over 200 photographs that show Canton through the eyes of postcards. The stories are simple and short and place the reader in a town that is very different than that of today. The photographs are vaguely familiar yet distant. I suppose it was my hope that the book would be a local travelogue that could be taken around town and compared with views of today. As for the answer to the question of how many cards feature Canton sites... at this point I know of over 300 images many of which were privately produced and extremely rare.

The book will be available in November from local bookstores and online at as well as through local shops and direct from the author. This is a terrific companion volume to the Images of America: Canton, by R. Marc Kantrowitz published in 2000.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Congregational Church

The Congregational Church 

When you look at this picture, it will be almost impossible to place this location today. Both the building in the foreground and the church in the background are long gone. The snapshot was taken in April, 1969 and the photographer is standing on Washington Street. The corner is at the intersection of Neponset Street where the small convenience store is now. 

The church is the Congregational Church and the classic structure was dedicated in 1860. The total cost was $6895.00 and in a large part the families of the community donated generously. Built by John Ellis Seavey whose family has a long and illustrious connection with Canton. 

Of interest is the fact that the interiors, pews and pulpit along with the top of the steeple  were all constructed by one man; Hugh MacPherson. According to the stories, MacPherson was simply visiting the town of Canton when the first loads of lumber arrived to build the church. A devout Baptist, MacPherson nevertheless assisted and soon became a deacon of the very church he helped to build. Thus is the power of transformation. 

As for our friend Hugh MacPherson, I have seen a series of photographs taken at Revere & Sons Copper Yard after they moved from Canton and the watchman was named McPherson - which is spelled a bit differently but it is believed to be the same person.  The photo to the left shows McPherson with his dog. A query to Jim Roache yields great additional information. Roache found the death record for Hugh MacPherson indicating that he died on January 22, 1924 and was born in Glascow, Scotland in 1836. In fact, in 1868 there are only two MacPhersons living in Canton; Hugh and David. Hugh lived on Church Street - around the corner from the new Congregational Church. David MacPherson seems very well off being taxed for 8 horses and nine carriages, but living at home. My sense is that it is likely that David was John's brother and lived here in Canton when John came to visit in 1860. David enlisted in the 24th Mass at age 21 (1861) as a Drummer, Appointed Pricipal Musician May 1863, re-enlisted Jan. 1864 and was discharged Jan. 1866. David was also born in Glasgow, Scotland (1844) but gave his place of residence when he enlisted as South Reading. 

But I digress, and now back to our church. There are a few vestiges of the original church as reminders to Canton. The organ was donated in 1958 by Mildred Morse Allen and is still in use today at the new church on Washington Street. Also, the four sides of the clock are still in town - and the clock itself and one face is proudly keeping time atop Memorial Hall. As you walk in the Canton Historical Society, immediately on your right is another clock face from the steeple.

In 1961 the church was renamed the United Church of Christ. After 103 years the church needed to be replaced. Largely the congregation had outgrown the church and families needed more space for programs and fellowship. By 1963 a new church was opened near St. Mary's Cemetery on Washington Street and the congregation moved to their new home. The church property was sold to the Mobil Oil Corporation in 1969 for $50,000 and was soon demolished. The parking lot on Neponset behind the convenience store is all that is left of the property. As is often the case, these are ghost images from another time, but in our place that still have bits and pieces connected to our town today.  (photo credit: Kelleher Collection, Canton Public Library)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Howard Johnson's 1941

Howard Johnson's 1941

Another classic from the film vault. The Howard Johnson's in Canton was located at the foot of the Blue Hills along Royal Street. There is a Dunkin Donuts in  what was the original building which was still used as a Ho Jo's until the mid 90's.  Here is a true piece of Americana - the roadside history that was the hallmark of the mid 20th century.  In fact, the Howard Johnson's in Canton was the prototype restaurant for the chain. Originally opening n the 1930's, by 1941 this location was the test design for what would become known as the "Canton-type". 

It would appear that Canton's Howard Johnson's was the test model for the expansion in the 40's and the style and interior and customer service efficiencies were all modeled at the Canton location. By October of 1949 new Canton-type Restaurants featured updated dining room furnishings including a new and innovative type of table that could be enlarged by a sliding panel. The table had a divider between the table opposite, and many family style restaurants continue this innovative practice still today. 

By the early 1990's after the Howard Johnson Company itself had been split apart, the Canton restaurant came to be operated by Franchise Associates Incorporated. The restaurant chain was in decline and Franchise Associates used the Canton location to make one notable attempt to create a Howard Johnson's of the future: again a new prototype restaurant in Canton, Massachusetts.  Among the new design features was a modern arch over the entrance with a logo prominently displayed. Also, half of the legendary orange roof was changed to gray and the cupola was removed. It closed in 2000.

The film clip shows several happy patrons - one in fact licking his fingers as he leaves with a smile on his face. Also, watch for the starched uniforms of the employees as they come out for a publicity walk.  All great fun and ushering in the early years of roadside dinning along Route 138 in Canton.  Share your memories of Howard Johnson's in the comment section below.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Comet at Canton Junction

The Comet at Canton Junction

The railroad has always been a major connecting point for the Town of Canton. It all began in 1834 when Joseph Warren Revere, the son of Paul Revere was a director on the fledgling Boston & Providence Railroad. Several routes were laid out for the connection between Boston and Providence, Rhode Island, but the one that won out was a line that would run directly through the property owned by Paul Revere & Sons Copper Rolling Mill.

Building the railroad meant building over a 70 foot span of the Neponset River. To do this would require building a bridge, and so the Canton Viaduct was created. The engineering firm of Dodd & Baldwin was enlisted to design a granite structure that would stand the weight of engines and the test of time. Indeed, this had been done at a time with no heavy equipment and with the labor of Irish immigrants.  What stands today, still in use, is the Canton Viaduct. The structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an engineering landmark.  

The film clip features a rare view of The Comet as it arrives at Canton Junction.  The Comet was built in 1935 for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad by the Goodyear Zeppelin Company. It was initially placed into service between Boston, Massachusetts and Providence, Rhode Island on a 44-minute schedule; later, intermediate stops were added at Back Bay, Boston and Pawtucket/Central Falls, RI on an advertised "44 miles in 44 minutes" schedule. It ran 5 daily round trips on weekdays, and was often used for weekend excursion trips. This service lasted until the beginning of World War II.  The train was scrapped in 1951. 

While this is a black & white film, the Comet was brightly whorled with a blue and gray enamel paint job. The front end had a futuristic bullet shape and this was a formidable looking train.

Also, as a bonus are a few shots of the Canton Viaduct which made the rail lines through Canton possible.  Rail fans will undoubtedly have much to say on this subject, so please feel free to post your comments on the history of this rail line. In 2010 the Viaduct will celebrate 175 years of service, I am sure we will find many people that will be willing to support the demisemiseptcentennial. 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Emile Verzone's Dogs

Emile Verzone's Dogs

One of the strongest memories for me growing up on Walpole Street was of my Great Grandfather Emile and Great Grandmother Cesira who lived in the next house to us.  "Nonno" and "Nana" Verzone were traditional Italian immigrants who had arrived in Canton in the early part of the 20th Century.  

Emile had worked his entire life for the great hotels in New York and Boston. Principally employed by the Copley Plaza in Boston from the day it opened in 1912. Raising his young family on Columbus Avenue in Boston, he yearned to live in a place that would allow him space and clean air to live in a country setting. Surrounded by his brothers, and all from a small village in Italy called Brusnengo, he had heard about a small town just 14 miles from Boston that had a number of Italian immigrant families living in close proximity. 

Canton had, in the early 190o's burgeoned with Italian Families. The second wave of immigrants to come to Canton after the Irish had arrived in the early to mid 1800's. Family names like Fiori, Dardano, Berteletti, Zanazzo, and Crevola surrounded the patent leather factories and the industrial concerns of the town. All of these families had emigrated to Canton from the same village in Italy called Gattinara, and for Emile this was testament enough to move his family to Canton.

The house was a large rambling federal-style structure that he purchased from a family that had a bakery on the site. A large barn was just behind the house, and a few acres of fields and streams completed the idyllic picture.  Emile commuted every day to Boston to work at the Copley Plaza, and he spent many evenings and weekends building a gentleman's farm on Walpole Street.  Over time he began raising springer spaniels and eventually started raising beagles for sale as AKC registered pups. His dogs had names like Cantonia and America, the former was a champion dog and won many ribbons.  Verzone's beagles were widely sought after and he sold his dogs to many great hunters including the baseball legend Ted Williams. 

By the time I was born, there were only a few litters of puppies left and I had a small beagle pup as a companion. By the late 1960's there were no longer any yips and barks from the house next door and a few years later my Great Grandfather died. The memory is strong though and as a tribute to the family, the small road that leads past my boyhood home and down to the Verzone home is now called Postfield Lane in tribute to the Postfield Kennels that sold AKC registered beagle puppies - the first in Massachusetts, and right here in Canton.

The movie clip is very short and was shot in 1941 as part of a community-wide film. My Aunt Nadine and my Great Aunt Florence are shown doting over the puppies in the kennel just outside the barn. And, while we have some very nice photos, this is a rare piece of film that tells the story of my family in a wonderful way.