Most of the information in this article comes from an interview, which was conducted with Elsie Winter George at her 99th birthday celebration in Wrentham, MA—October of 1984. Elsie was Patrick Murray Winter’s fifth child and second daughter. Other information came from an earlier undated interview with Elsie, earlier in the 1980s.
Elsie Winter George’s earliest memory was her first day of school (1891?). She said that she was a rather timid child and that her sister Christina had taken her and shoved her into the classroom (this would have been at the old schoolhouse in Mansfield). The children sat 2/desk—she did not remember her first seat mate! One morning during first grade she woke up with an earache and she stayed home from school that morning. By afternoon she thought that she felt better, so she went on to school. A little later she guessed that her teacher thought she was looking a little sad, so she brought Elsie up to the desk and held Elsie in her lap. She must have gone to sleep and been put in the chair next to the teacher, because she woke up to see all of her classmates gathered around the chair watching her wake up.
She had “awfully good teachers—all of them—born teachers, and stayed teachers. They were not allowed to be married.“ The first one was Miss Eastman, then Miss Pelt(?), then Miss Sheldon, then Miss Blake—and then Jack Berry. He had been around for 40 years or so by that time and was a supervisor in addition to being a teacher. He was very strict and didn’t even allow whispering. He carried a black walnut ruler which he used on the students when he felt it was necessary. He prowled around the corridors looking for kids who were skipping class. The students used slates and chalk and had to clean the slates with a wet sponge at a sink in the classroom. One day while Mr. Berry was in the hall, two boys (Rector? and Liam Grant?) started fooling around with the wet sponge, let it fly, hitting Mr. Berry in the face just as he came around the corner. The students were dumbfounded at first and then were trying desperately not to laugh. Learning to write now let Elsie write letters to her grandmother back in Scotland. When the Winter children were little they walked a lot. They walked to and from school morning and afternoon--and also walked home, had lunch, and then walked bak to school.
Elsie remembered the railroads and bicycles in Mansfield in the 1890s. The girls wore bloomers when they rode bicycles. She remembered that the family would occasionally ride bicycles up to Lake Pearl on dirt roads from Mansfield after work on Saturdays.
Elsie was 10 years old when her twin sisters were born—no warning that there were twins on the way. They were Patrick and Isabella’s 8th and 9th children and were born on April Fool’s Day, 1896—just a week before their mom’s 45th birthday. She remembered helping to take care of them. All Aunt Chris wanted to do was play ball, so Elsie took care of the babies. There had been some twins born in Mansfield not too long before and then two more sets of twins came along within a few months in the Mansfield area. Mary was the oldest and arrived weighing 4 pounds 15 ounces and Isabella was the youngest and weighed 5 pounds and one ounce. When they were little and they looked so much alike, the twins’ siblings called them “Marybella.” A number of years later Elsie coined the name “Auntie Twins.”
When asked if her mom had a good sense of humor, Elsie replied, “Not a lot was funny in those days!” One remarkable thing about the family is that all 9 children survived to adulthood. Elsie commented that it was due to her mother’s excellent Scots training and the discipline she imposed on the family. Isabella had a sewing machine and made everything. When Elsie was 10 and 12, she learned sewing in a Saturday afternoon class using Butterick patterns. They rarely had bananas to eat as they were shipped by boat up the east coast.
Patrick worked with a fellow named Brown in Mansfield in the horticulture business. They raised tomatoes, grapes, and other produce in greenhouses and used the train that went through Mansfield to send the vegetables to large hotels in Boston and New York. Later he came to work for another Brown in his greenhouses in Wrentham. The Patrick Winter family moved to Wrentham in 1899, the year Aunt Elise was going to go to high school. She remembered it vividly as everyone was excited about the turn of the century—from 1899 to 1900. She remembered when they were moving that they saw a black man driving a wagon. The Auntie Twins (who were about 3 1/2 at the time) were quite impressed as they had never seen a person of color.
LIFE IN WRENTHAM
The Mr. Brown (Daniel) in Wrentham had a straw shop in addition to the greenhouses. It was a big business—making straw hats for men for summer wear. The men wore black derbies for winter. Women’s hats were made in Foxboro. There are old photos of the lake at Wrentham with folks all dressed up wearing straw hats. Daniel Brown employed half of the folks in Wrentham and was one of 5 people who earned more than $1000/year (the notes may say $6000/year--hard to read). Straw hats were made at the shop, which was behind the Brown’s house in the center of Wrentham near The Maples (which was built by Daniel Brown’s son Edward) until about 1910. In about 1930, it was hit by lightning one afternoon and the shop burned to the ground. Peg and Ida and all of the kids stood outside on Aunt May’s tennis court and watched all of the excitement. Patrick Murray Winter’s employer, Daniel Brown, offered Patrick’s sons a property to rent near the train station for Winter Brothers Tap and Die. It had gas, lighting, pumped its own water, and had a big vault.
The coal dealer brought coal to the houses and dumped it into the cellar—or if there was no “slide” down into the cellar, it was left by the side of the road. The coal came by train to the coal dealer in town. The train station was near Winter Brothers and the coal stop was near there, too. There were different sizes and grades of coal. It depended on personal preference what type you ordered. They did not use coal in the fireplace, but they cooked with coal in the winter—the heat would hold overnight. In the summer they would cook with wood, build a quick hot fire, cook fast, and then let the fire go out since they did not have air-conditioning.
Almost every day was washday with a large family. Laundry was done with a large tub and a scrub board Later Isabella had a washing machine with manual power. It was a large tub with rockers and rollers, which would agitate the clothes, There was a hand wringer which they used before they hung the clothes out on a line, but they had a wooden folding clothes rack indoors for days when it was cold or wet. The soaps they used were powdered—Gold Dust, Ivory, Soapene, Welcome, and Naptha. (Gold Dust came out in 1897. The icon of the African-American twins surrounded by gold coins with the tag line, “Let the twins do the work for you.” shows the insensitivity of the times, even in Massachusetts.) Years later, after WWII, Aunt Elsie got her first washing machine. Before that she used a “wet wash”—a laundry truck came by and picked up the laundry bag and brought it back wet to hang out. During the war, the service was stopped due to the gas shortage.
There was an icehouse down by Lake Archer—near Jones Beach. The icehouse was near the railroad tracks and there was ” a downhill run” to the lake with a chain drive. They would cut the ice in the winter, push it toward the “escalator,” cover the ice with sawdust, and haul it up to the icehouse. The train would take ice into Providence every day. The place where the ice got cut was the smoothest area of ice and that is where kids would skate when the new ice formed. Mr, McGaw (?) was the town man for ice. He cut the ice and placed it in another icehouse. He had a wagon and would take the ice around town. He would cut the ice to fit each icebox as iceboxes came in different sizes. He had large tongs to lift the ice with after it was cut. First he would rinse the sawdust from the ice using a bucket of water (He had the bucket—I guess the water came from the house?), would weigh the ice to know how much to charge, and then would carry the ice in and put it in the ice box. Ida remembered that she and Dave had an icebox while they were in Panama until the power finally got turned on in their house.
ISABELLA AND PATRICK
Patrick Murry Winter married Isabella Ednie. Hia brother, Chales, married Isabella Smith, she was related in some manner to the cough drop Smiths. He was "retired" as his wife had money. Brother, William Winter, married Marry Clard. He was a florist. The three brothers lived on Pleasant and Clinton Street in Mansfield, MA. They were "greenhouse men" and horticulturist. This was before refrigeration. Trains from Mansfield took the produce to the big hotels in NYC. Bannas came by boat. They had no oranges until Christmas.
Patrick had come to the US and later went back to get Isabella.They had an understanding. Her father worked as a gardener at Scone Palace. Patrick had worked there also.That is how he met Isabella. They were married in 1871. Isabella took their three boys back to Scotland for a year. Son Murray celebrated his birthday, June 6, on the boat. Isabella was seasick on both voyages. The ship landed in Liverpool.
Elsie remembers writing letters to her grandmother when she was 7 or 8. Behind the bank was Mann's or Bryant's pool. The Pond Home was run by the King's Daughters, a charitable institution. Daniel Brown, son of Edward Brown built the Maples as his home. He employed more than half the people in the town. He was one of five in the town who earned more that $1000/year. William Sweatt, a benefactor of the town, left funds for an ambulance. The park behind the bank is named for him. Winter Brothers gave a pickup truck to the town to be used as an ambulance.
Isabella worked part-time for Carl Pond in Wrentham. Mary was working in Boston for Conveyors Insurance. Chris was at home, doing better. Isabella had been out of real competition when one of the men at Mary's company started in business for hiself. He neededs someone to work for him , so Isabella went to work on Mary's recomendation Br. Blariney went from one office to another without knowing they were twins. He got very quiet when he saw Isabella. he asked the boss what was going on and the boss said, "you didn't know there were two of them?"
On Sunday afternoons, often Great-Grandfather Patrick Murray would take the kids for a Sunday afternoon walk of a mile or two while Isabella had some quiet time. This started with Charlie, Elsie and Bob--and after the twins came, he would take the whole crew. Bob pushed the stroller with the twins in it. They would get back home to the house on Franklin Street and mother Isabella would be sitting at the table having a nice cup of tea. Great-Grandmother Isabella had long, very curly hair, which she wore in a long bob tied with a velvet ribbon. Granddaughter Marion Winter Thomson remembers as a child standing behind the “slipper” chair where her grandmother was sitting and reaching up to pat her lovely curls. Her grandmother turned around and caught her at it and scared her half to death (she was about 4 at the time). There would be a candy dish filled with lime drops (Aunt Peg said that she had the lime drop dish now) or horehound drops. Each child could have one piece of candy. Nancy then remembered that years later our grandfather Bob would buy us Canada Mints at Davis Store--next to Aunt Bertha’s bank. There was an old organ in the parlor, which Uncle John had bought with some of his first earnings. At some point in his life Uncle John had played the flute.
Patrick developed stomach cancer and ultimately starved to death. Life was very hard for the family after he died. Everybody helped to look after the twins.
When Beth Winter was born her mother died shortly thereafter. Wilfrid was little. Murry moved home.
Patrick Murray made sure that folks knew his middle name was Murray--an English name--not Irish. He died of stomach cancer in 1901 when Grampa (Bob) Winter was only 10 and the twins were only 5. Life was very hard after that as there was no insurance. The older boys came home to help and everyone helped look after the twins. Murray and John paid themselves at the same rate as their workers. When Bob, Sr., was in his early teens he became ill. Elsie remembered that he was just down on the couch--not obviously sick. The twins were still small and running around. It was first diagnosed as rheumatic fever and later diagnosed as polio. As part of his therapy he had to saw 4 pieces of wood each day with a brick saw. His right arm was withered--just skin and bone, but it improved with therapy. In spite of the weakness of his arm, he became an excellent carpenter and later went to the Rhode Island School of Design. Robert Sr. made the cross on the altar at the Congregational Church out of pieces of wood from the steeple which fell in the 1938 hurricane. Bob Winter Sr.'s polio was first called rheumatic fever and later diagnosed as polio. As part of his therapy he had to saw four piees of wood each day with a brick saw. His right arm was withered–just skin and bone. He spent a lot of time on the couch.
Murray Winter was easy going and calm. After graduating from high school, he work as an apprentice for Card Tap and Die in Mansfield, rising to the position of foreman. He worked 7 am to 6 pm, six days a week. Alan was not rugged, he had a leaky heart valve and couldn't stand the cold. Winter Brothers had a hard time getting started. They all worked 6 a.m. till 10 p.m. for 2-3 years while getting it going. Alan gave out and moved. John gave up his Providence job. His wife Minnie didn’t want to leave her home in Providence and didn’t like Wrentham, so they compromised by moving to North Attleboro. Things didn’t go very well. John had thought he would settle her in a good house like Murray’s. Minnie died of pneumonia in Florida. Elsie says Minnie wore herself out. Dorothy had just graduated. John wanted her to go to a training school, but Dorothy wanted to keep her house.
Students had 9 years of elementary school and 3 years of high school. Aunt Elise went to the practically new Center School (built in 1896, shown at right) in Wrentham when she started high school (1899).
It was a multi--purpose building. The town offices were there, the town nurse had an office there, the selectmen met there, elections were held there. The old school building had burned—near where the old Fiske library was. Uncle Bud always claimed that he was the last kid to slide down the banister in that building as it burned one night after a traveling circuit show was presented there. Discarded smoking materials were thought to be at fault (not traceable to Uncle Bud!). The last year Aunt Peg was at the Central School (1938) was the last year of 12 grades. Then younger students went to the new Vogel School.
Elsie was slow and moderate. Alan called her “lnaminute.” She was always reading–Dickens, Austen, Leatherstocking Tales, Three Men in a Boat—to say nothing of the dog! Elsie was in a play–she played a nice little old lady in a lavender dress and powered her hair.
It was not the custom to marry right out of high school. Elsie married at 27 and Velma (White) married at 29 or so. The school superintendent’s daughter went on to college, as did the daughters of a few of the rich manufacturers in town. None of the boys went to college. After graduation, a few of the girls worked in the straw shop. There was a room for the female workers, and they put on the hatbands and the bows and the tape inside which held the lining. Most girls went to Plainville and worked in the jewelry shops, only marrying when they were in their twenties.
Right out of high school Elsie worked in the Winter Brothers shop office, replacing Chris who was anxious to get into Boston. Chris had been taking night classes (a clerical course) and then was teaching shorthand and typing in a school. Elsie graduated from high school in 1903 and married in 1912. Before she married, a group of young people spent a lot of time together—including Bertha, Velma, and Alden White, Elsie, Charlie, and Bob Winter, plus Walter and his sisters Emma and Fanny. When asked if Walter got down on his knees and proposed, Aunt Elsie laughed and said, “No, he didn’t do that, but sometimes he did get down on his knees and help me with my skates!” He would see her home from church after Sunday evening services. Alden White also courted Elsie. He even wrote her some letters and a poem, but Walter won the day. Walter’s brother Al also showed some interest in one of the Auntie Twins.
The biggest change Elsie George commented on was the arrival of the automobile in Wrentham. The first cars in town were Stanley Steamers. The son of the Browns who owned the straw shop had the first one and the Weavers had the next one. The first car that Elsie and Walter had was a Ford Model A. Daughter Ida thought that was when she was about 5 or 6 years old, (more likely 10 or 11 since Model A came out in 1927.)
There was an electric trolley system that went through Wrentham along South Street, which was built while Elsie was in high school (1899-1903). Houses did not have electricity, but the trolleys did. They got electricity and town water after the trolley line was built. Elsie remembered taking the trolley to Franklin to the movies once or twice—and once to N. Attleborough to see “The Pied Piper of Hamelin.” The Odd Fellows Hall would occasionally have a movie there, but there was never a cinema in Wrentham.
After the trolleys were no longer used, the ties were taken up. There were good-sized pieces of wood, which were being torn up. The George kids and neighbors asked if they could have some of the wood and were told that they could. They loaded up their sleds, one piece at a time and got enough wood to build a small cabin, which they enjoyed for a long time. They notched the wood to fit the pieces together log cabin style. They added a roof and a door and one glass window. They had a ladder and built 3 little bunks, which were rectangles of wood covered with burlap—very narrow—up on a tiny second level. There were three more tiny bunks tucked into a floor level wall. They added a stove, which they found in the town dump (They were not allowed to use that.). They stayed there a few nights, but quit using it as there were too many mosquitoes! They played in it for a long time though. Peg George is shown at left in front of the cabin.
Christmas was not elaborately celebrated at that time. Christmas time was the only time they had oranges—a real treat. The family was together at Christmas—or as Elsie said, “We were all together anyway!” The Christmas tree was at church. All of the children were given square boxes of hard candy at the church party. It was a long tradition at the church as Elsie remembered getting candy and so did Peg and Ida years later. Peg and Ida noted the great fun of the double cousins among the Winters and the Georges (Siblings Elsie and Charlie—both Winters—married Walter and Fanny—both George siblings). They all spent Christmas Eve at a celebration at Grandma Winter’s house and got presents there. There would be 45-50 at Christmas dinner, which was celebrated at Aunt Fanny’s and Uncle Charlie’s. Later on Christmas Day there would be another party at Aunt May and Uncle Murray’s, which included the Winters and the Kirktons with close to seventy folks in attendance. They often would show a movie as they had a movie “machine” long before anyone else in town. The kids loved it when the movie was reversed and everything would go backwards. They really enjoyed a movie of Goldilocks (probably the 1907 Edwin Porter silent movie called “The Teddy Bears.”) Some Christmases, Aunt May would hire a magician from Sheldonville who kept everyone entertained. At some point the little kids would be put down for a nap and the rest of the folks would play parlor games—charades and a nursery rhyme game at which Uncle Murray excelled. He knew them all and always won. Ida commented that she would never have slid down Aunt May and Uncle Murray’s banister, but Peg said that she had when Aunt May was out!
Chris was quick and sharp–always poking Elise, because she was slow. She knew Annie Sullivan, Hellen Keller's teacher. Sullivan and Keller had a home in Wrentham. Aunt Chris was quite the independent sort. Stories are told that she was a suffragette. Aunt Chris went to California with a friend, Olive Higgins, who had terrible asthma. Olive was a nurse and when Chris got sick with pernicious anemia in California, she was helpful in taking care of Chris until they could get back home. They made the trip out and back by train. Chris said that she was not going to die in California. Fortuitously, two doctors who were studying pernicious anemia found a cure for the disease—eating a pound of raw liver a day (Doctors Murphy, Minot, and Whipple—2 of them in Boston-- discovered the way to keep sufferers alive in 1920—before that it was always fatal). Aunt Elsie said that Chris ground the liver up in a food chopper and mixed it with orange juice . Many relatives have said that, as far as they were concerned, the cure was worse than the disease. The liver had to be raw because the cooking process destroyed much of the vitamin B12 that was necessary. Dad used to eat small bits of raw liver—at first to encourage Aunt Chris, but later as an adult because he enjoyed it. He never convinced any of his kids that that was a good idea! Later the doctors developed a kind of serum, which she could drink but Chris thought that was worse than the raw liver. During WWII, when everyone’s meat ration was cut, Chris got her liver ration at the butcher shop in Cambridge. Later on, Vitamin B12 shots were developed. Sometimes she could go as long as two weeks without a shot. She lived to be 87!
During WWII the Auntie Twins sent Care packages to Mardie Winter in Perth, Scotland. They wanted Spam and prunes. They used to store eggs in "waterglass."
Walter (Elsie’s husband) George’s family had longtime ties to the area—back to about 1640 in the Dedham area. In 1868, Walter’s grandfather bought the house in Wrentham that Elsie and Walter lived in, at that time called Shepherdville . George families were large in the 1640s,and a long ago grandmother had 13 children and lived to be 97 years old! Elsie gave birth to all of the children at home. The doctor would come, but did not get there in time for Ida’s arrival. Walter helped at that point.
Aunt Elsie remembered that the best jack o’lanterns came from the area around the town dump—Morse’s dump. Ida remembered that the best mud pie she ever made came from the dump. She found a can of very rancid shredded coconut and some very yellow mud and created a pumpkin pie with coconut crust! There were also cranberries, which grew in a bog near the dump--and a better bog down by the Sportsman ‘s Club.
Robert asked another question about how the Winter and George camps at Lake Archer came to be. There was some discussion of how the railroad tried to get the right of way to go through Wrentham (about 1890) but Wrentham voted against it. They didn’t want “foreigners” in town. The railroad went through Mansfield to Providence instead. The stagecoach came through town before the railroad. When they finally did get the right of way, the railroad owned all of the property to the lake’s edge and as far as Wampum Corners. For a few extra dollars in rent to the railroad, folks like Mr. Rogers set up a little rowboat business where Jones Beach came to be. There were some “young bloods” in town called “The Owls” who also got a place.
Then Murray and his brothers leased a small section of property along the lake for $25/year. They built a small boathouse with a hammock across the middle and a hammock on the porch. Uncle Murray had a sailboat at the lake. They built a smaller boathouse for the canoe. They also built a small sailboat, creating quite a fleet. Helen Keller by that time was spending time in Wrentham and wanted a place to swim. In the 1910s, the Winter brothers gave Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan a key to the boathouse so that they could swim in the afternoons. Elsie met Helen Keller several times but Chris and Elsie knew Annie Sullivan better. (Helen Keller’s bathing suit was left there and at the 1997 reunion in New Hampshire Cathy Brown modeled it. It is now at the Wrentham Historical Society) See article at end of this interview.
In 1901 or 1902, Walter George and his uncle started building a cottage after they leased a plot of land on the lakeshore. It had two floors—a large main room and a kitchen on the first floor and two big bedrooms on the second floor. Walter was about 15 at the time and Elsie was still in high school. She graduated in 1903. She knew Walter for a long time before they ever married. She also knew his two sisters. When Elsie was 18 she enjoyed going to the lake. It was not considered ladylike to swim.
VELMA AND YOUNG ROBERT
In response to a question by Robert about Dad (Bob, Jr.) as a youngster, Aunt Elsie told the story of a visit that Velma made from Woonsocket where they were living to Wrentham with the infant Robert, Jr. She was visiting with Aunt Fanny at her house on South Street and took her son in the baby carriage over to visit Grandmother Isabella, some blocks away. After young Robert woke up from his morning nap, Velma suddenly realized that it was almost noon and she took off almost sprinting, pushing the carriage, so that her baby’s lunch meal would be served promptly at noon! Isabella thought it was quite funny that Gramma thought that a few minutes would make such a difference. Dad did have problems with gaining weight when he was little--weighing only 13 pounds when he was a year old. Everyone worried about him, but Elsie said that he grew longer and he was happy and cheery anyway, even though he did not gain weight. Solid food took hold at some point and then he did fine.
Dad was not particularly mischievous—and then he and his parents moved to Detroit and the folks in Wrentham didn’t see him as often. Elsie said, “He didn’t do much in the mischief line.” They would come back in the summers to visit and Ida always looked forward to Dad’s visits.
THE 1938 HURRICANE
In 1938, a hurricane came and caused terrible damage to much of New England. Earl Stewart saw the steeple of the church come down but did not have presence of mind to use his camera (which he had with him) to take a picture when it was happening. There was no warning that the hurricane was coming. Uncle Bud thought it was a local storm. Finally he went out and turned on the car radio and heard that it was a huge system. The chicken houses at Green Acres Farm were destroyed (where Gramma Brown and family lived). Lois Brown was working at the Corner Store when the storm hit. She and her boss (Billie ?) hid under tables until it passed—and then Lois walked home through downed trees and power lines. Grampa Winter (Bob Winter, Sr.) made the cross on the altar of the Congregational Church out of pieces of wood from the steeple.
The Winter families had always stayed in touch, even though many of them never met. During World War II, the Auntie Twins sent care packages to Mardie Winter in Scotland. She wanted them to send Spam and prunes—which they did. Mardie stored eggs in a liquid called “waterglass” in a crock. The eggs would keep for some time that way.
Dorothy Winter, daughter of John Winter and Minnie (Holman), then entered into the conversation (83 at this point). She was born in 1901 in Providence and then moved to Wrentham when she was 3 months old. They lived “up at the top end of Lake Archer, this side of Red Farm and this side of Dr. Vogel’s house.” She referred to herself as the “antique niece’ and Elsie laughed and said that yes, she was the oldest niece of that generation. Dot remembered when Aunt Elsie worked at the office at Winter Brothers, it was just a little bit of a factory.
John, Minnie, and Dorothy moved then to Taunton Street (Jennie Ireson’s house). It was further down Taunton Street this side of where the McGaw’s lived (the ice house people). She went to first grade in Wrentham, but she did not like Miss Randall who was the teacher. John, Minnie, and Dorothy then moved to Attleborough and stayed there the rest of their lives. When Dorothy was in her thirties, the family went to Florida to spend the winter. Minnie got pneumonia and died the second day they were there at only 62 years of age (1935). Dorothy said it was the saddest thing to be coming back so soon with her mother’s coffin on the train.
John’s eyes went bad fairly soon and Dorothy stayed on to help her dad. She kept house and acted as chauffeur. John stayed very active for many years (he ice skated until he was in his 80s), even though his eyes were bad. When John died many years later at age 96 in 1969, she was so glad that Bud Brown, a minister, Peg’s husband, said that he would take care of the service for her and she was so grateful.
Dorothy allowed that she had stayed so healthy because she worked out in the yard and cleaned her own car. She remembered that the first movie house in the area was in North Attleborough. It had been a stable earlier (Phillips Stable). It cost 25 cents to get in. One time the Auntie Twins came to stay for a weekend and Dot’s mom took the girls to the movies. Saturday afternoons were set aside for youngsters and also Thursday afternoons after school (especially if there was a Tom Mix movie). There were also movies shown at the Lake Pearl amphitheater. Dorothy remembered an old motorboat that was docked near there. If the motor gave out, her dad and Uncle Murray would take the motor to Winter Brothers factory and fix it there. There was an amusement park at Lake Pearl, but the 1938 hurricane destroyed it. Elise, Ida and Dorothy remembered big picnics there with lots and lots of clam chowder. Dorothy remembered wonderful coconut cakes at the Lake Pearl amusement park--they were noted for them. There was a merry-go-round, which was too small for Dorothy’s taste, but Ida liked it. Ida remembered that Uncle Alfred George worked at the ticket booth and would give them free rides. There was also an outdoor bowling alley and there were horses to ride. For the big picnics, a band called the Orangemen would come in from Boston on the train. The train would stop at the stop at the train bridge on Creek Street, just down from Lake Pearl and the band would troop down to the park. The train stopped once a day at the station in town but only stopped at this stop during the summers. There was a Jewish hotel at the lake (Weinstein’s Lake Pearl Manor), which burned a long time ago.
Dorothy’s first car was a Buick, which was bought in Franklin. She started driving in 1918 when she was 17. She did not have to take a test for a driver’s license but had to drive 500 miles safely. She then went to the town office, applied for a license and was granted one. She and her mom would drive her dad to Winter Brothers in Wrentham from Attleborough where she would drop him off. She did not know how to turn the car around, so she would drive the car around the block. Her mother never learned to drive, but she had the nerve to come with Dorothy while she drove! Elsie never took a driver’s test, but she did know how to drive.
Helen Keller’s bathing suit has been donated to the Wrentham Historical Society and was on display at the September meeting about Anne Sullivan. Elsie Winter George had saved the suit for years and her daughter Margaret continued to hold it until recently when she decided that it should return to Wrentham.
Helen Keller's Bathing Suit Comes Home
And how did Elsie happen to have Helen’s suit? A bit of Wrentham history is needed here. In 1900, the railroad was an important part of the town and the station was a busy place. The railroad at that time owned land beyond the station and the coals sheds clear down to the shore of Lake Archer. The Patrick Murray Winter family had moved to town and the three older boys, John, Murray, and Allan had started the Winter Brothers Tap and Die business near the railroad station. (Elsie served as bookkeeper, paymaster, and packer until she married Walter George). With the business doing well, and having a good reputation, the brothers obtained permission from the railroad officials to construct a small boathouse/bathhouse on railroad-owned land on the shore of the lake. The young men had canoes and built a sailboat and the place became a nucleus for the young people of town. There were many festive times, with boat parades, water games and races, often in competition with the folks from the Franklin St. end of the lake.
Helen Keller already knew and loved Wrentham and its lakes from summer trips to the Red Farm on Franklin St., but when Helen bought the house on East St. and moved to Wrentham, the east end of the lake was much closer. Elsie’s older sister Christina seems to have been the one who first became acquainted with Anne Sullivan, Helen’s teacher and companion. Chris invited Anne to bring Helen down to the boathouse. Since most of the young people worked all day, the boys soon gave Anne a key so the two ladies could come and go as they desired. For convenience, Helen would leave her suit hanging in the boathouse, where it remained after they moved away from town.When the railroad sold the land, the boathouse had to be torn down, but Elsie rescued her own suit and Helen’s and kept them for these many years. Helen’s suit is in good condition. It has a black dress-like top with pointy hemline trimmed with white bias tape, which was worn over big black bloomers. Elsie’s suit, also donated, is a much-worn dark blue romper-like suit trimmed with braid and a separate knee-length skirt goes over it. Black stockings, rubber bathing shoes, and a bouffant cap or scarf over the hair completed the costumes. In the photo at the right Ellie Reppucci and Cathy Brown model Helen Keller's (l) and Elsie Winter George's (r) bathing suits at a 1995 Winter-Brown family reunion.
The demise of the Winters’ boathouse was not the end of things, as Walter George had bought a small piece of property down the hill from Creek St. and built a boathouse and cottage there. So the bathing suits and the activities just moved down the shore a bit. Walter married Elsie Winter and their family had many wonderful summers at the lake. In the mid 1930s, Elsie’s younger brother Charlie (who had married Walter’s sister Fannie) bought the property next door to Walter’s and the two cottages now became the aquatic center for the younger Winter/George generation and their friends.
Helen Keller the Maid of Honor
Helen Keller, the famed deaf-blind social activist, was living with her teacher, Annie Sullivan, on a 7-acre farm in Wrentham, Massachusetts in 1905. She had graduated from Radcliffe College the year before, and she and Sullivan had purchased the farm at about the same time.
Helen had published her first book, The Story of My Life, in 1903, and a young Harvard English instructor, John Macy, had worked with Helen as the book's editor. Macy became a friend of Helen's, and of Annie Sullivan's as well, and on May 3, 1905, Macy and Sullivan were married in the sitting room at the Wrentham farm.
An article in the May 3, 1905 Boston Daily Globe indicates that Edward Everett Hale performed the ceremony. (Hale, a minister, activist, and author, was well-known for his story, "The Man Without a Country," and was the great-nephew of patriot Nathan Hale.)
Even then, Annie took second billing to Helen, with the headline for the article reading "Helen Keller the Maid of Honor", and Annie and John (and Dr. Hale) mentioned in the sub-heading.
The bride wore "a dark traveling gown and the groom a gray Prince Albert with light vest and tie." The ceremony was small, with only a few dozen guests, and was conducted "in a quiet and unostentatious manner."
Among the wedding gifts received was a "handsome clock and candelabras from Prof. Alexander Graham Bell." Interestingly enough, I have found (online--and still looking for corroboration) the text of a letter from Alexander Graham Bell to Helen Keller, dated April 14, 1905, which reads in part as follows:
I wonder whether you could keep a secret from teacher, and from Mr. Macey? I have just received $194 which I never expected to get, and your note of April 7, telling me of teacher's proposed marriage to Mr. Macey has suggested the thought - why not spend this on a wedding present for Miss Sullivan. The trouble is I don't know what to get that would please her and I want someone to help me. Why not you? I enclose a check for $194 payable to your order and would be very much pleased if you could spend the money for me on a wedding present for Miss Sullivan and not tell her anything about it until you give her the present for me.
In 1896, Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller came to Wrentham, MA to stay for the summer with friends and spent the year 1897-98 there as well. During the summers of 1898-1903, Annie rented a cottage on Lake Pearl. In 1903, Annie purchased the home and seven acres at 349 East Street with sugar stock that she and Helen jointly owned. In 1907, Helen purchased six and a quarter acres of land between East Street and Woodland Road. In 1914, Annie purchased the home and seven acres at 343 East Street and rented it out. In 1917, Annie and Helen sold all their property to the Jordan Marsh Company who used the home as a vacation place for their employees from 1917-1941. In 1946, the back section of the 349 East Street house was relocated to a corner of Helen's former land.