Southbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
Where is Southbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA?
People, Pictures and News From the Past
The area was initially inhabited by the Nipmuck and Mohegan tribes, with the Quinebaug River dividing their territories. As early as 1638, John Winthrop, Jr. purchased a tract for mining lead at what is now Leadmine Road in Sturbridge (it was thought at the time that where there was lead, there should be silver nearby).
Southbridge was first settled by Europeans in 1730 and incorporated in 1816; among the first settlers was Moses Marcy, who owned a home on the site of what is now Notre Dame church and was elected to Congress, and the Dennison family. Water power from the Quinebaug River made Southbridge a good location for sawmills and gristmills in the 18th century, and textile mills in the 19th century. After the Civil War, many immigrants of Irish and French Canadian descent came to work and live there; by the 1930s they had been joined by Poles, Greeks, Italians and others.
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Old Photos of Southbridge
1826 - William Beecher comes to Southbridge
Great old photos of Southbridge can be found here:Digital Treasures
In 1826 William Beecher, a jeweler and watchmaker, settles in Southbridge, a small town on the Massachusetts/Connecticut border. He is part of a relatively new trend — jewelers expanding into the business of spectacle making.
1830 - Water Snakes
Mr. Ephraim Wheelock, of Southbridge, Mass. while mowing, came in contact with a large water snake, measuring 3 feet 9 inches. After killing it, he cut it open, and found it to contain 43 live ones.
September 14, 1830
1833 - Manufacturing of Spectacles Begins
Within seven years of his arrival in Southbridge, William Beecher opens a shop above his jewelry store to manufacture spectacles. Business prospers. Beecher teaches one of his apprentices, a 14-year-old boy named Robert Cole, to craft the first steel-framed spectacles made in America... Southbridge becomes a center of the American spectacle-making ...
1845 - SOUTHBRIDGE. [Pop. 2,031.Inc. 1816.]
Southbridge was composed of portions of Sturbridge, Charlton, and Dudley.
The Quinebaug passes across the township, and affords abundance of water-power.
The chief manufactures are cotton and woollen cloths, boots and shoes.
Distance from Worcester, 20 miles ; from Boston, 60.
An Elementary Geography for Massachusetts Children by William Bentley Fowle and Asa Fitz, 1845
1862 - Robert Cole Takes Over
French Canadian Emigration to the United States 1840-1930
"...the emigration of French Canadians to the United States was internally caused by demographic pressures, rural poverty created by indebtedness and a host of other ills related to the climatic and geographical characteristics of the province, low productivity of the farms, the developing agricultural crisis, the lack of suitable regions of colonisation, the insufficient level of industrial development to absorb the excess population and the low wages that inevitably attended such a catastrophic situation. Externally, the proximity of the New England factories that offered easy employment, good wages by Quebec standards, and the cheap and easy access through the rail system fuelled the migration.
... Given his poverty, the French Canadian emigrant could not afford to go very far. The farther the destination, and the greater the length of time one had to travel, the greater the cost would be. New England provided the greatest opportunity at the lowest cost. However, it also minimised the cultural costs. Given the reality that French Canadians would have great cultural costs in leaving Quebec, one can only understand their large-scale emigration in the 19th century as a reflection of the serious economic problems of the time and because of the geographical contiguity of New England to Quebec. Essentially, it could be argued, these emigrants did not really leave Quebec not only because they often thought of their emigration as temporary, as will be discussed below, or because they established themselves in "petits Canadas" that resembled very closely the geographical and social patterns of Quebec, but, as well, because, in a sense, all they were doing was to slightly enlarge the borders of French Canada. In this sense, there was little difference between settling into New England or into the Saguenay region.
The initial patterns of emigration to New England were reinforced by what has been termed l’émigration en chaîne. Family and parochial ties played an important role in stimulating and channelling emigration. Often, the emigration of an entire nuclear family would begin with the departure of a couple of its members who would sound out the general situation in a given town and then would send for the rest of their family. Cousins, uncles and nephews would often join the initial family before bringing their own relatives down, creating a pattern of settlement where family ties became the primary source of support and information in the United States. This pattern would often ensure that certain American towns would receive French-Canadian emigrants mostly from specific towns or parishes within Quebec. For example, the French Canadians of Southbridge, Massachusetts, tended to come from Sorel and Saint-Ours. This pattern, familiar to sociologists, also served to minimise emotional and cultural costs of emigration."
Southbridge, Massachusetts - William Beecher, prominent spectacle maker, retires in 1862 and Robert Cole takes over the firm... George Wells, a schoolteacher from nearby South Woodstock, Connecticut, leaves his job to become an apprentice at Robert H. Cole and Co. Young Wells has a genius for mechanics... When Robert Cole foolishly refuses to raise...
1863 - Fire
A fire in Southbridge, Mass., on Saturday morning, destroyed the Baptist church, the Tammany Hall Building, the Amidon brick block, and Dr. Hartwell's block of stores. The whole loss is about $30,000.
The Windham County Transcript
November 19, 1863
1869 - American Optical is Formed
Southbridge, Massachusetts - The merging of two competing spectacle making companies results in the formation of the American Optical Company.
1879 - George Wells accumulates AO stock
Blacksmith Shop in Westville
"The Blacksmith shop, located between the bridge and the river bend, was operated by Mr. Charles Anger, maternal grandfather of the large Laliberte family... Waggons, buggies and farm equipment were repaired. Young boys like to stop there and watch the way different things were repaired. If the blacksmith was kicked by a horse while it was being shod, the boys would learn some words to add to their vocabulary, ones they wouldn't learn at Sunday school. It was also a good place to get a discarded wagon wheel and use it to make a rolling hoop. If a boy had mechanical abilities, he'd be helpful to the blacksmith in doing odd jobs and running errands. In return he could get help and parts to build a coaster wagon from some old baby carriage wheels or some steel for a double-runner sled." Blacksmith shop in Westville.
"The Denison School District" author unknown, Southbridge, Massachusetts
George Wells has accumulates a majority share in the stock of the American Optical Company. Wells builds the A.O. into the largest optical company in the world.
1882 - J & W Booth Advertisment
1882 Massachusetts City Directory - Webster and Southbridge
June 19, 1882
1883 - Bound to Get Away
BOSTON, June 22. - J. P. Olds was arrested at Southbridge to-day on a charge of stealing large quantities of gold from the American Optical Company. Olds had been a respected citizen, and has had change of the valuable stock of the company. When arrested he was place in an upper room of the factory in charge of an employe. He jumped forty feet thro...
1884 - FIRE RECORD. AT SOUTHBRIDGE.
Worcester, August 9. - The Columbian mill at Southbridge, with a boarding house and tenement, burned this morning. The mill had 9,000 spindles and employed 60 hands. It was owned by Providence parties.
Fort Scott Daily Monitor
Fort Scott, Kansas
August 10, 1884
1889 - Early to Bed
Southbridge goes to bed early as a rule. A stranger in town always notices how quiet the streets are after 9 p.m. Ten o'clock usually finds scarcely any one on the streets except the night watchmen, unless there happens to be entertainment at one of the opera houses. There are a number of reasons for this. The early closing of the stores on several...
1889 - Largest Spectacle Factory in the World
Southbridge, Mass., has the largest spectacle factory in the world. More than 3/4 of the gold spectacles and eyeglasses made in this country are made in Southbridge, one company alone in that town turned out 1,600,000 pairs last year.
The Indiana Democrat
March 14, 1889
1894 - DEADLY RAILROAD CROSSING. TWO KILLED OUTRIGHT AND MANY ARE INJURED.
Southbridge, Massachusetts 1890
Southbridge is a prosperous and important manufacturing town lying in the southwesterly part of Worcester County, 27 miles from the city of Worcester, and 70 miles. from Boston; being connected directly with the latter by a branch of the New York and New England Railroad. Charlton lies on the northeast, Dudley on the east, Sturbridge on the west and north west, and Woodstock, in Connecticut, on the south.
The assessed area is 12,029 acres. There are nearly 4,000 acres of forest, consisting mostly of oak, chestnut, ash, pine and hemlock. The public ways, also, are bordered by many elm and maple trees, of which some are very large and old. The principal rock is ferruginous gneiss and dolerite. The soil, in parts, is loamy and sandy. The land is broken, and rises into several beautiful eminences, the most commanding of which is Hatchet Hill, whose summit is 1,016 feet above the level of the sea. The Quinebaug River, a steady and generous stream, flows southeasterly through the centre of the town, affording power for several factories. The affluents of this stream are Cady and McKinstry brooks on the north, and Lebanon, Cohasse and Hatchet brooks on the south.
The 77 farms in 1885 yielded products to the value of $102,206. The chief factories are those of the Hamilton Woollen, the Central Mills, the American Optical, the Hyde and the Harrington companies, and of the Southbridge Print Works. These employ about 2,000 persons. The manufactures are woollen goods, cotton goods, prints, spectacles, cutlery, shuttles, bricks, stone, leather, boots and shoes, house-lumber and boxes, carriages, clothing, soap, and food preparations. The value of goods made in 1885, as appears by the census, was $1,968,107. The Southbridge National Bank has a capital stock of $150,000; and the savings bank at the close of last year held deposits to the amount of $1,349,590. The population was 6,500, of whom 1,050 were legal voters. The valuation in 1888 was $3,178,050, with a tax-rate of $21.50 on $1,000. There were 899 taxed dwelling-houses.
There is a new and excellent town-hall, also a new high-school building. The other 12 school-houses, with their appurtenances, were valued at $19,900. The public library contains about 12,000 volumes.
There are two weekly papers published here — the "Herald" and the "Journal,"— each having a good circulation. The churches are one each of the Baptists, Congregationalists, Methodists Free Evangelicals, Universalists, and Roman Catholics. In addition to those already mentioned, the Public Library, the Soldiers' Memorial Hall, Ammidown Block, the bank building and several private residences are noticeable for their quality. The villages are Southbridge (centre), Globe Village and Sandersvale, the first two being post-offices.
This town was formed from parts of Charlton, Dudley and Sturbridge, and incorporated on February 15, 1816. Hon. William Learned Marcy (1786-1857), an able editor and statesman, a governor of New York, and U. S. secretary of state under President Pierce, was a native of this town.
A Gazetteer of the State of Massachusetts, with Numerous Illustrations Rev. Elias Nason, M.A.; revised and enlarged by George J. Varney. Boston: B.B. Russell. 1890, 724 pages
WORCESTER HAS ANOTHER ARGUMENT AGAINST THE GRADE CROSSING.
Worcester, Mass., Nov. 30. - The most horrible accident which ever occurred in Southbridge happened there yesterday morning, and turned the day into one of sadness instead of thanksgiving, as the lives of two young men were shut out in a flash, two more were fatally injured and 18 others...
1899 - $2,000,000 for Southbridge People?
SOUTHBRIDGE, MASS., March 17. - It is believed here that the family of Mrs Lucier, mother of Michael Lucier, of Southbridge, has fallen heir to $2,000,000. Word was received here to-day of the death of Rev. F. R. L. Belthosor at San Jose, Cal., who, it is said, left this fortune. Mrs. Lucier is his sister. There are other Southbridge relatives.
The New York Times
New York, New York
March 18, 1899
1904 - Town Stricken With Diphtheria
Southbridge, Mass., Oct. 24. - An epidemic of diphtheria prevails in Southbridge to an extent that alarms the members of the board of health, who will appeal to the state board for help in stamping out the disease. A total of ninety cases and nine deaths is reported.
October 24, 1904
1910 - BANK TREASURER NOT FOUND.; Shortage in Southbridge Savings Bank Believed to be About $100,000.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass, Jan. 22. - John A Hall, the Treasurer of the Southbridge Sayings Bank, which was closed yesterday by an injunction after the discovery of discrepancies in its accounts, is still missing to-night. Some of his friends here say that the missing man is a suicide, and the woods near the town were searched to-day, but without revealing a...
1913 - REVIVE GRAND TRUNK WORK. Construction of Southern New England Line to be Resumed.
Special to the New York Times.
SOUTHBRIDGE, Mass., Sept. 22 - Work is to be resumed immediately on the Southern New England Railway, the Grand Trunk subsidiary planned to connect the Canadian system with tidewater at Providence.
The construction stopped ten months ago, and it was charged that this was due to an agreement between C. S. Mellen,...
1918 - Help Wanted
Help Wanted - Help Wanted in Southbridge, Mass., to work in Hamilton Woolen Co., established nearly 100 years, employing 2,000 hands. Easy work, steady employment, best of wages, especially good for boys and girls. Southbridge is a proseperous town with a population of 15,000, situated on N.Y. N.H. R.R. and the Worcester & Springfield trolley ...
1934 - SOUTHBRIDGE DIRECTORS VOTE TO LIQUIDATE MILL
MEANS THAT 1,000 WOOLEN WORKERS MUST FIND JOBS ELSEWHERE
Boston, Dec. 19 - (AP) - The board of directors of the Hamilton Woolen Co. of Southbridge late today voted to recommend the liquidation of the company.
Their decision was arrived at after several hours debate behind closed doors and it was announced early tonight. It means that 1,000 wo...
1938 - New Mask Invented - His Face Is Dirty
His Face Is Dirty - Seeking to combat silicosis, lung malady suffered by those who work in dust, researchers for the American Optical Company of Southbridge, Mass. have developed a mask. Its efficacy is demonstrated by the laboratory worker above, who has taken off the mask, after emerging from a chamber flooded with carbon black. Nose and lips wer...
1945 - Maker of Bomb Very Depressed
Maker of Bomb Very Depressed - Southbridge, Mass. August 17 (UP) - A scientist who helped develop the atomic bomb said today, with permission of the War Department, that he became so depressed over the possibilities of the projectile, that he hoped its eventual use "would fail".
Dr. E. D. Tillyer and Dr. Alexis G. Pincus, research scientists at ...
1945 - Radio Phone for Pocket Use to Be On Market Soon
"Radio Phone for Pocket Use to Be On Market Soon -- Southbridge, Mass., August 23 (UP) - A pocket-size radio telephone for civilian use, which will cost about $25 and will be effective for distances up to three miles, will be placed on the market within six months, Richard Mahler, general manager of the Harvey-Wells Communications, Inc. announced t...
1946 - Women See Colors Better
Women See Colors Better - Southbridge, Mass (UP) - The American Optical Co., studying the incidence of color blindness, discovered that 90 percent of the nation's color blind are men.
Oswego Palladium Times
Oswego, New York
Tuesday, December 24, 1946
1951 - New Goggles
American Optical Co. of Southbridge, Mass. has a new airtight industrial goggle for use in working with gas fumes or smoke. The headband of the goggle is fastened to the outer frame. The inner frame is of rubber and when fitted perfectly give a gas-tight seal.
Utica Daily Press
Utica, New York
Saturday, July 7, 1951
1951 - New Machine Take Blood Directly from Veins for Red Cross
New Machine Take Blood Directly from Veins for Red Cross - Southbridge, Mass. - (UP) - A new miracle machine that takes blood directly from your veins for the Red Cross was announced today by the American Optical Company.
Thursday, July 26, 1951
The machine is the culmination of years of work at Harvard in splitting blood to make plasma and m...
1955 - WESO On the Air
March 20 - Radio Station WESO goes on the air for a first time. Announcers and newscasters are Bob Binet, John Bunnewith, Joe Capillo, Esther Costa, Bob Harris, Mildred Henshall, Bill Mindy, and Bob Nims.
1958 - Ames Worsted Textile Company
Milton and Irving Gilman open their first store in the Ames Worsted Textile Co. mill in Southbridge. This is the start of Ames Department Stores, which at its peak operated 700 stores in 20 states.
1961 - Keeping Out Noise
Southbridge, Mass. (UPI) - A new plastic, anti-noise ear plug for military and commercial aviation purposes has been developed by American Optical Co.
The device is about three fourths of an inch long and comes in three sizes - small, medium and large. While the device sharply reduces industrial noises, it still permits the wearer to hear conve...
1975 - Ames Has Grand Opening At New Amenia Store
From a humble beginning in an old factory building in 1958 to a modern new store in Amenia to serve the residents of the Harlem Valley area, Ames Discount Department Store has developed a unique history in the modern age of discount store retailing.
In 1958, Ames opened its first small store in an empty mill factory building in Southbridge, Mass...
1980 - Making Eyes
In the days of old, someone who lost an eye wore an eye patch. That was replaced by getting a glass eye: now, American Optical of Southbridge, Mass. uses a light-weight plastic eye that can be modified in shape and size so the fit is exact. Here, an artist paints an eye to match the real one its owner still has. (UPI)
Auburn, New York
Tuesday, January 15, 1980
THE BACK ROAD (About the AO Tunnel) by Joe Capillo
Over the years, hundreds of thousands have walked its darken underground paths across the Quinebaug River.
The AO service tunnel was a Wells family engineering marvel but after 80 years of existence it will no longer be in use.
Franklin Realty Advisors, leasing agent for the Southbridge Business Center, today closed the tunnel to workers and ...
2002 - Out of Business
Ames Department stores, which began in Southbridge in 1958, goes out of business
Ancestors Who Were Born and/or Died Here
We currently have information about 442 ancestors who were born and/or died in Southbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.
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Ancestors Who Were Married Here
We currently have information about 81 ancestors who were married in Southbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA.
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Cemeteries in Southbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA
St. Mary's/Sacred Heart Cemetery
St. George’s Cemetery
Old Notre Dame Cemetery
New Notre Dame Cemetery
Oak Ridge Cemetery
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Am I Royal?
My Memere always told me that she was French. Her family had came to the U.S. from Canada. It never occurred to me (or to her) that her family might have been partly German. We never wondered why the Lippe name didn't sound very French. We never linked it to things in Germany such as the Lippe River or the castle in Detmold, Lippe, Germany. I suppose that's because we didn't have Google back then…
It began with a search for my ancestors, beginning with my four grandparents, tracing their families back in time as far as I could. The first few steps backward were easy. I had heard the stories about my memere's father, Omer, and his wife, Marie Louise Peloquin. In fact, I even had seen pictures of them. Omer's father, Gilbert Lippe and his wife, Sophie Anger, are buried in St. George's cemetery (Southbridge, MA) not far from my memere and pepere. The stone was easy to find.
It became a little more difficult from there as Gilbert was the one who came here from Canada. Luckily, he had quite a few children with his first wife, Adaline Page. The footprints left behind helped me trace back to Gilbert's birth and parents, Joseph Rene Lippe and Sophie Beaugrand Champagne.
Thanks to the wonderful records kept by the Catholic churches in Canada and the Drouin Collection, it was easy to discover that Joseph Rene Lippe was the son of Joseph Sulpice Rene Zur Lippe and Marie Anne Hetu. The Zur Lippe name was beginning to not sound French at all. Researching French-Canadian records from the 1700s can be quite a challenge, especially when the researcher doesn't know the language very well. I pressed on…
Then, it got interesting: According to Joseph Sulpice Rene Zur Lippe's baptism record, his father was Ernst Lippe and his mother was Marie Francoise Fuseau dit Roch. Many attempts to find a marriage record for this couple proved unsuccessful; however, I did manage to find quite a few of Joseph's siblings. Numerous Google searches shed light on a possible theory that Ernst Lippe was Rene Ernst Phillip II Lippe of Alverdissen, Germany. The theory is that he married Ernestine, Princess of Saxe-Weimar 6 May 1756 in Germany. Sometime around 1763, he traveled to Canada (perhaps for military reasons). He either married Marie Francoise Fuseau dit Roch or had a long affair, during which several children were born. Around 1774, he supposedly faked his death and returned to Germany. In 1777, he inherited the Schaumburg-Lippe territories following the death of his cousin Wilhelm. In 1780, he married Juliane, Princess of Hessen-Phillipsthal. He reigned as Count until his death on the 13 February 1787 when he was succeeded by his son Georg Wilhelm.
I found it to be an interesting theory, but without a lot of proof, I was ready to dismiss it. In May 2007, I received an interesting email from a man named Simon from Quebec. He is also related to Rene Ernst Philipp Lippe (married to Françoise Fuseau). He told me that a historian from Montreal is working on "something that would explain our Germanic and royal roots. Ernst Lippe was supposedly a German Prince who came to Quebec to escape from his party...
This historian's wife is a Lippe and some of his related family own many artifacts from this Prince (watch, rings etc) and they have the royal crest on it!"
It all makes me wonder… Am I royal? Even if the theory isn't true, there's a good bet that my memere's Lippe family came from Germany to Canada before ending up in the U.S.
The Great Reno, Escape Artist
While looking for ancestors in a local cemetery, I came across a stone that read "The Great Reno (1890-1965)". I thought it was pretty funny that someone might have that on their gravestone. Knowing that some of my relatives had the last name "Renaud", I thought there might be a connection, so I took a picture of the stone.
Many months went by and the picture remained on my computer in the vast dumping ground of files that I would probably never do anything with. One day, a man named Roger Renaud introduced himself to me via email. He had been talking with my grandfather's cousin, Lionel, (see "I Met My Grandfather’s 93-year-old Cousin on the Internet"). Roger sent me a huge file with family history information about the Renaud family. Someone had clearly spent a great deal of time documenting this family. Some of the family members were my "Renaud" family. As I gazed upon the many branches of this Renaud family, I came across the "Great Reno". He was born in Southbridge, Massachusetts in 1890. By the time he was 16, he was performing in vaudeville as an acrobat. He went on to perform strong-man tasks as well as being an escape artist. For more information on the Great Reno, visit The Great Reno - Escape King.
In 1914, he was arrested on the eve of his wedding. The headline in the Boston Journal dated January 8, 1914 read "Arrest Acrobat on the Eve of his Wedding - Southbridge Man Accused of Embezzling $1100 by Old Flame - Widow with nine children complains - Admits to writing love letters to acrobat while her husband was dying". For more details on the story, see article on the left.
I dug up the old photo from the depths of my hard drive, dusted it off, and created a page for Frank Xavier Renaud as a colorful member of my family tree.
Southbridge, Worcester, Massachusetts
I grew up in Southbridge, as did my parents and 3 out of 4 of my grandparents. It used to be a booming town back when the American Optical (AO) was around. To get around town, you would time it so as not to "hit" the AO traffic. The fire station would blow its whistle at 6:00 every night. Since the AO left, the town has been on the decline. The fire station no longer sounds the whistle. Population had decreased and quality of life has also decreased. It's sad to see this happen to such a beautiful place. Southbridge still has one of the most picturesque downtown areas around. Unfortunately, most of the businesses have left. I hope that someday Southbridge can return to its thriving past.
10/23/2008 12:00:00 AM -
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