The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

Visiting Dyer Memorial Library

In “The McKay Stitcher,” I presented a letter from Henry H. Warden of the Russell & Company trade firm in Shanghai to colleague John Cunningham about potential shoe business in China. In response to my post, Joice Himawan, Director of the Dyer Memorial Library in Abington, Mass., kindly invited me to see an early wooden model of the McKay machine held there. Abington resident and inventor Lyman Blake created this particular model.  


The Georgian architecture of the Dyer Memorial Library really caught my attention with its pleasing symmetry and order. The building, a trove of genealogical and historical information of the residents of Old Abington (modern day towns of Abington, Rockland, and Whitman), sits atop a slight hill on Center Street. Though this elevation makes the two-story building appear perhaps imposing, I enjoyed how the centered five-bay façade threshold with aligned windows drew in my eye and invited my curious mind to enter.

Boy, was I curious! I learned that the library opened its doors to the public in 1930 by the will and trust of resident inheritress Marietta White Dyer (1853 – 1918). Her uncle Samuel Brown Dyer (1809-1894) amassed quite a fortune as an international banker in France and bequeathed this inheritance to his niece, Marietta White Dyer.  As part of her will, Dyer established the Dyer Fund to construct and maintain the Dyer Memorial Library, leaving $80,000, land, and personal estate to the fund upon her death in 1918. Today the library collection focuses on local history with a concentration on materials by and about people connected to the area known as Old Abington.

As Old Abington's history deeply involved the 19th century shoe industry, the inclusion of Lyman Blake's early model of the McKay shoe stitcher to the library's collections makes perfect sense. I would like to thank Joice Himawan of the Dyer Memorial Library for the invitation to visit. What a great gem of 19th century shoe production history!

The library is free and open to the public. I encourage all readers to plan a visit this special library.


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 30 May, 2014, 1:00 AM

Oliver Lofts: Mapping the Traces of a Music Publishing Empire

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I moved across town from one former streetcar suburb-turned-neighborhood of Boston (Allston/Brighton) to another (Jamaica Plain). A paltry three mile journey as the crow flies, since we live without a car and get around on foot, public transit, or bicycle, this has meant learning new pathways to all of our usual destinations -- including the Massachusetts Historical Society. Along these new routes stand traces of Boston’s past, if only you keep your eyes open and know where to look for them.

Bicycling home from work along the Southwest Corridor Park, from Symphony Hall to Jackson Square, last week I happened to notice the brick facade of an old factory building turned residential lofts that announced in the stonework “Oliver Ditson Co.”

Who, I wondered, was Oliver Ditson, and what had his factory once produced? Fresh from reading Alexander von Hoffman’s history of Jamaica Plain, Local Attachments: The Making of an American Urban Neighborhood, 1850 to 1920 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1994), I knew the Heath Street area had been known for its breweries. Perhaps, I thought, our Mr. Ditson was a brewer. Happily, I work at a place where such questions can often be answered by searching our catalog and going on a historical treasure hunt! A few keystrokes and call slips later, I had discovered that Oliver Ditson and his company were not brewers but, instead, music publishers and retailers here in Boston. Ditson, born in Boston in 1811, began his career working at a bookshop on Washington Street, under the employ of Samuel H. Parker, before launching into the music publishing business in 1835. In 1858 Oliver Ditson & Co. began publishing Dwight’s Journal of Music, one of the most highly respected music journals of the nineteenth century, and was soon expanding into the Cincinnati, Chicago, Philadelphia, and New York markets.

In 1918 a history of the music scene in Boston, published by the Oliver Ditson Company, foregrounded the company’s sparkling new ten-story retail building that still stands today on the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, overlooking the Boston Common. “The focus on modern Boston’s shopping activity is at the corner of Tremont and Boylston Streets, where converge the currents of vivid life from hotels, theatres, and subways,” writes William Fisher in Notes on Music in Old Boston. “Within a stone’s throw of this teeming corner … is the splendid new home of the Oliver Ditson Company” (79). From its state-of-the-art heating plant in the sub-basement to its Tiffany show windows, “Victor Talking Machines” department,” and opulent meeting rooms, the Tremont Street headquarters was the company’s public face.


The building that would become Oliver Lofts in 2011 meanwhile, was a late arrival into the company’s holdings. The property did, indeed, begin life as a brewery -- though unassociated with Ditson. According to Historic Boston, the Highland Spring Brewery occupied the site until Prohibition brought the American beer industry to its knees. The Oliver Ditson Company then purchased the storehouse, built in 1912 and once used to house casks of ale and porter, and used the building as a print shop and warehouse into the mid-twentieth century.

Thus, one single rehabilitated industrial building I pass by on my evening commute holds within its walls traces of two centuries worth of Boston development.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 28 May, 2014, 8:00 AM

This Week @ MHS

It is a short and fairly quiet week here at the MHS with just a couple of items on tap.

Please note that the Society is closed on Monday, 26 May, in observance of Memorial Day. Normal hours resume on Tuesday, 27 May.

On Wednesday, 28 May, join us for a Brown Bag talk titled "Circulating Counterfeits: Making Money and Its Meaning in the Eighteenth-Century British Atlantic," presented by Katherine Smoak of Johns Hopkins University. Counterfeiting was a ubiquitous problem in the eighteenth-century British Atlantic, encouraged by the unstandardized and various nature of eighteenth-century currency. Counterfeiters formed regional and trans-Atlantic networks to produce and circulate debased and forged coin, both British and foreign, and faked reproductions of newly available paper notes.  Reconstructing these networks, I argue that counterfeiters shaped imperial economies in unexpected ways, impacting everything from daily economic practices to the course of economic development, and prompted complex discussions about value, worth and trust in an expanding commercial empire. This talk begins at noon and is free and open to the public.

Come back to the Society on Wednesday evening, 28 May, for "The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942," an author talk presented by Nigel Hamilton. Based on years of archival research and interviews with the last surviving aides and Roosevelt family members, Nigel Hamilton offers a definitive account of FDR’s masterful—and under-appreciated—command of the Allied war effort. Hamilton takes readers inside FDR’s White House Oval Study—his personal command center—and into the meetings where he battled with Churchill about strategy and tactics and overrode the near mutinies of his own generals and secretary of war. Nigel Hamilton is a bestselling and award-winning biographer of President John F. Kennedy, General Bernard “Monty” Montgomery, and President Bill Clinton, among other subjects. He is a Senior Fellow in the McCormack Graduate School, University of Massachusetts-Boston, and first president of the Biographers International Organization (BIO). There is a pre-talk reception beginning at 5:30PM with the talk starting at 6:00PM. Registration is required for this event at a cost of $10 (no fee for Fellows and Members). Click here to register online, or call the MHS reservations line at 617-646-0560.

Finally, on Saturday, 31 May, stop by for a tour of the Society's public rooms. Led by an MHS staff member or docent, the tour touches on the history and collections of the MHS and lasts approximately 90 minutes.The tour is free and open to the public. No reservation is required for individuals or small groups. Parties of 8 or more should contact the MHS prior to attending a tour. For more information please contact Curator of Art Anne Bentley at 617-646-0508 or


comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Sunday, 25 May, 2014, 12:00 PM

Travel Woes in 1814: JQA and Zandelin’s Not-So-Excellent Adventure

Do you remember some of the people you’ve met while traveling?  Maybe your flight got delayed (a real possibility these days!) or you had a long layover during one stage of your trip and you struck up a conversation with someone in a waiting room.  Years later will you remember anything about them or your conversation?

Thanks to John Quincy Adams' (JQA's) diary entries from May 1814, a man named Zandelin comes vibrantly to life. This is a man JQA met while traveling between Reval, Russia (present-day Tallinn, Estonia) and Sweden.  JQA had previously been serving as minister plenipotentiary to Russia and living in St. Petersburg, but in early 1814 he was appointed head of a commission to negotiate an Anglo-American peace treaty (and end the War of 1812). JQA was told the negotiations would take place in Gothenburg (although later he learned that the location was changed to Ghent, Belgium), but as of the spring of 1814 his destination was Sweden.

By May 1814, JQA had reached Reval, a port on the Gulf of Finland, and he arranged passage across the Baltic Sea on the ship Ulysses.  Mr. Zandelin, a Swedish merchant, was another passenger on the vessel.  Although Zandelin could be seen as an unimportant figure in history, his presence on the same ship as JQA and on the pages of JQA’s diaries, means that we have a more detailed and colorful picture of an 11-day stretch within JQA's much longer journey to the site of the peace negotiations.

When JQA made arrangements with Captain Brinkmann (of the Ulysses) on May 3, he was told that the ship would leave a few days later.  However, several factors including tricky sailing conditions (unfavorable winds and the fact that there was still a significant amount of ice in the harbor) delayed the departure of the ship.  It wasn’t until the evening of May 15 that JQA was asked to board the ship.

When JQA arrived on board the Ulysses he found Mr. Zandelin surrounded by about a dozen men wishing him (Zandelin) farewell.  These men departed the Ulysses via the same boat that shuttled JQA from shore out to the ship. 

I immediately finished the packing of my Clothes, books and Papers, and came on board the Vessel-- The Ulysses, Captain Brinkman-- It was between 9 and 10 in the Evening. Mr Ross with ten or twelve other Gentlemen were on board; to take leave of Mr Sandolin, a Swedish Merchant, who freights the Vessel, and is also going in her as a Passenger-- They returned on shore in the Boat, in which I had come on Board--

Despite favorable winds at 4 AM on the morning of May 16, 1814, the ship couldn’t depart because the officer of the guard ship didn’t arrive with the vessel’s pass and JQA’s passport until around 8:00 AM. The interactions with the guard took some time, and by the middle of the day, when the ship was cleared for departure, the winds had died down.  A light breeze started in the evening, and despite the captain’s apprehension regarding the “floating masses of ice” he did attempt to set sail partly in response to the urgings of JQA and Mr. Zandelin. However, the unfavorable winds and ice prompted the captain to turn the ship around early on the following morning (May 17) and return to Reval.

Once the ship, crew and passengers were back where they started from—Reval’s harbor—a couple of Mr. Zandelin’s friends returned to the ship to visit with him, "In the afternoon, two Gentlemen of Mr Zandelin's friends came on board, and spent an hour with him--".

The temperatures were so cold that JQA had trouble holding his pen.  However he continued to write diary entries every day of his journey, and they indicate that he spent a great deal of time reading.  He was travelling with many books including a multi-volume memoir of the Duke of Sully entitled Memoirs of Maximilian de Bethune: Duke of Sully, Prime Minister to Henry the Great.  Each published volume was divided into numerous "books," and when he boarded the Ulysses JQA was reading book 12, and by the time he departed the ship he was reading book 30.

JQA’s diary notes that the wind conditions on the morning of May 18, 1814 were favorable, but the ship remained in the harbor.  The captain had gone onshore for the day and didn’t return until the evening.  Then on May 19 the ship couldn’t depart because the winds were once again unfavorable.  JQA didn’t mention the level of his own frustration, but he wrote about Mr. Zandelin’s dwindling patience:

After a Night totally calm, there was again a light breeze this Morning. West by North-- It was impossible to move. The breeze continued freshening all day long; and by 5 in the afternoon, the time of the New-Moon, had risen to a brisk Gale. It blew hard, the whole Evening; with some Rain. My fellow passenger Zandelin, for fear of losing his good humour, took to his bed, and slept, the greatest part of the day-- 

Despite Zandelin’s preemptive measures not to lose his good humor, it was all gone by May 20.  JQA’s brief words clearly describes the situation:

At 6 this Morning the Wind was at North-North-East; and Mr Zandelin was in a flame to get immediately under weigh-- The Captain was reluctant, and fearful; because none of the other vessels laying in the harbour shewed any signals of sailing-- 

Captain Brinkman overcame his reluctance, and the Ulysses did indeed set sail (again) on May 20.  Difficult wind conditions and "ice islands" prevented it from making significant progress during the next two days (May 21-22, 1814), but the vessel did slowly move along the shore of Finland.  On May 23 Mr. Zandelin had reached his limit, but was thrilled to find more favorable traveling conditions the next day.  Zandelin's low and high are both described by JQA: 

The Night was nearly calm. My fellow passenger Zandelin had exhausted his Patience, and told me last Evening that if the wind continued as it was it would kill him-- About 5 this Morning he came down from deck, in an extasy of joy, and said, Sir, I do not know whether I dare to tell you...We have the fairest wind in the world--just this moment sprung up-- I answered that he needed not to have told me: for I had seen it in his face, the moment he opened the cabin door-- This wind continued fair, the whole day; a light breeze, and scarcely a cloud to be seen--

The Ulysses reached Sweden on the following morning (May 25, 1814) and by the end of the day had navigated through the tricky channels and anchored in the harbor of Stockholm.  During this final part of their journey on the Ulysses, Mr. Zandelin gave JQA information about why some of the channels were almost impassable.  This is the last time JQA mentioned Zandelin in his diary.  In the evening, JQA disembarked and found lodging at the English Tavern.

JQA's diaries contain a lot of information, but the diaries don't (and can't) include everything.  Although it would be interesting to know how frustrated JQA was with the slow pace of the journey from Reval to Sweden, we don't know.  Although it would be interesting to know if JQA was bemused or irked by Mr. Zandelin, we don't know. We don't really know what JQA's and Mr. Zandelin's interactions were like during the long voyage, although it is tempting to picture every interaction as a stark juxtaposition of a gregarious and emotive fellow with a composed and non-flappable man.

However, we do get to see references to Mr. Zandelin on the pages of JQA's diaries, written by JQA in his steady and readable handwriting.  Thanks to JQA, we do have glimpses of Mr. Zandelin from 200 years ago.


The quotes above are from pages 104-107 of John Quincy Adams diary 29, 1813-1816, from the Adams Family Papers.  These pages, as well as all of JQA's diaries (51 volumes comprised of more than 14,000 pages), are available online at the Massachusetts Historical Society's website.


MHS has been tweeting JQA's line-a-day diary entries 200 years after the day he describes.

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Friday, 23 May, 2014, 8:00 AM

Coming Soon to MHS: Four New Teacher Fellows!

As we all know, teachers look forward to summer vacation just as much (if not more!) than most students. Each year the Society helps teachers relax and recharge their batteries through our workshop offerings and fellowship opportunities. The Society has awarded more than sixty-five fellowships to K-12 teachers over the past fourteen years, and this summer we will welcome four more very talented educators to the MHS. Our fellows are a diverse lot, coming from public and private schools across Massachusetts and the United States. Over the years they have explored topics such as eighteenth-century medicine, John Brown’s abolitionist network, Massachusetts and the Anti-Imperialist League, and Massachusetts women in World War I. This summer’s fellows have chosen equally intriguing topics, and we look forward to learning more about how they will use MHS collections related to these subjects in their classroom. 

    • Kass Fellow Sara Belk is the Lead Enrichment Teacher and Drama Specialist at the Park Street School in Boston. She will explore different periods in American history, including King Philip's War and John Eliot and the Praying Indians, as well as the abolition of slavery in Massachusetts. She will ultimately write a series of history plays for classroom use based on her research at MHS.

    • Swensrud Fellow Kelly Benestad teaches U.S. and World History at St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. She will investigate the rise of the American party (also known as the Know-Nothing Party) in Massachusetts, considering both the local and the national social and political conditions that led to the Party’s popularity in the antebellum era.

    • Swensrud Fellow Emmitt Glynn, III, teaches history to high school students at the Port Hudson Career Academy in Zachary, Louisiana. He will examine resources related to the Civil War, in particular letters and diaries that reveal the war experience in the South. Many Massachusetts soldiers served in Louisiana and participated in the 1863 Battle of Port Hudson!

    • Swensrud Fellow Michelle Hubenschmidt teaches at Mulberry High School in Polk County, Florida. She will analyze ten to twelve significant land and sea battles from the War of 1812. Her students will then make connections between propaganda from this era and the emerging sense of nationalism that occurred during and after the war.

Although each teacher creates a different type of project based on his or her needs, our teacher fellows ultimately help to make interesting materials from the Society’s collection available to teachers and students who could not necessarily visit the Library themselves. In their own classrooms, schools, school districts and beyond, our teacher fellows are wonderful ambassadors for the MHS. If you would like to become part of this esteemed group of educators, visit our education page to learn more about how the fellowship program works, or contact the education department for more information. 

comments: 0 | permalink | Published: Wednesday, 21 May, 2014, 8:00 AM

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